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#chapter 9
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Compared to the last chapter this one was quite good, but that’s not very high praise. It was alright honestly, there were some pretty interesting parts and a lot of plot happened, so I’m being a bit harsh.

Having the ghost professor tell the story of the chamber of secrets made more sense than McGonagall, and would have been cool to include in the movie, but I get that it probably was easier to not introduce more characters.

I would have liked if the movies included the fact that Filch is a Squib, because it makes so much sense based on what I know of his character in the movies. It also makes the Kwikspell make sense. If it has no other significance in the series other than creating something new and explaining that magic families can have non-magical children, then I can understand why it was left out though.

I couldn’t get past JK Rowling’s knack for overexaggerating her characters until they don’t seem to act like real humans anymore. I’m not talking about Lockhart, his exaggeration is comic relief, but are we really meant to believe that Filch was sobbing while Dumbledore was looking after Mrs Norris, in front of students? At the very least he would have demanded the students be out of the room and nowhere near her.

It’s small things like that that can make or break a reading experience. It disrupts the flow because I furrow my eyebrows to make sure I read it right, and try to connect that to everything else I know about the character to make it make sense, and when it doesn’t, it ruins the illusion.

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“But why is her name Pearl?!” Erik exclaimed.

“Because all of them are named after gems. We’ve been through this.” she laughed, shaking her head at him. They were five episodes in and that was the thing he couldn’t let go of.

“But that’s the thing a pearl isn’t a gem! A pearl is a composite of Aragonite and conchiolin. Gems are solely minerals with no organic compounds.” he sighed, pushing a hand through his hair. The door rang, catching his attention. Most likely, the pizza they ordered not to long ago.

“You are putting too much thought into this.” She sat up and went to answer the door. He watched as she walked away, a small smile playing on his lips. He knew he was being ridiculous, but he needed to zero in on something other than the fact he was in nothing but boxers and a robe, alone with Anya. She had insisted on throwing his clothes in the dryer and now was regretting telling her okay. Well half way regretting. He couldn’t say he didn’t enjoy the pink that had found her cheeks when she saw him come back out barely dressed. His phone buzzed for about the tenth time and he decided to finally glance at it. They were mostly from Jess and the team wondering where he was. Another text sent at that moment.

Tatertot: Is Anya okay? Rumors are spreading like wildfire about her right now. And your coach is pissed.

Golden Boy:  She’s fine. How did you know I was with her? Was it Landon?

Tatertot: Let’s see if X = Rumor about Anya losing it + Erik getting the urge to skip (both of them missing)

Tatertot: X= Erik is with Anya.

Golden Boy: Must you be so annoying?

“Is everything alright?” Anya asked walking back in the room, pizza in hand. Erik shut the ringer of the phone off and placed it back in the pocket of the robe.

“Yeah. Just my teammates looking for me.” he lied. He didn’t want to but he figured it be best if she didn’t know there were rumors spreading about her.  He wanted to protect her from that. “Apparently, me skipping was a bigger deal than I realized.” he shrugged moving over so she’d fit easily next to him. She climbed up on the couch, sitting on top of crossed legs.

“People don’t like change. It’s a proven fact. Skipping a class is one thing but the entire day?  Your fan club is probably losing its mind.” she teased him.

“My fan club?” Erik asked opening the box up and taking out a slice and handing it to her.

“Oh please, don’t act like you don’t know. I’ve been there two days and I know.”

“Know what? I’m genuinely lost here Sterling.” he pushed, feigning obliviousness.

“Come on, you are way too smart to be this dense. I KNOW you know how much everyone loves you. Everyone thinks you’re attractive, talented, smart, the whole package.” she spoke taking a bite of her own slice. Erik watched her and she scrunched her eyebrows together. “What?”

“So…everyone thinks that huh? Even you? ” he asked trying to hold back a grin. She rolled her eyes in response, but the flushing of her face gave her away. “Well I’m not all that golden you know.”

“Oh yeah? Name one thing.” she said pausing the show and turning to face him.

“I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.” he offered.

“Deal. You first though.” she egged on.

“Okay. You want to know what I’m actually really bad at?” he said putting the pizza down. “Romance.”

“Way to tell the truth.” Anya rolled her eyes.

               “I’m serious!” Erik played with the arm of the sofa, as he spoke, “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had girls interested. Hell, even guys. I’ve taken a few out here and there for like dances, formals…prom was a must.”

“You were Prom King weren’t you? She interrupted, trying not to smile.

“NOT the point right now” he said rolling his eyes.

“That’s not a no.” She giggled making the teasing more endearing than annoying. He smiled.

“Really though. I just never met that person you know? And I didn’t want to just lead anyone on. My life is busy. I never have any idea what I’m doing. People call me the Golden Boy. The All-American Dream. But it doesn’t come without work. I barely have free time. I didn’t want to ask someone to deal with that without really knowing that I liked them. Without knowing it be worth it.” he stopped talking, waiting for her reaction.  

“There’s nothing wrong with waiting until you find the right person.” Anya replied, taking his hand. “You put the care of others before yourself. You sacrifice yourself to live up to people’s expectations. So you’re not perfect? Doesn’t make you any less Golden. In fact, it makes you a diamond.”

“Is this about to be a Steven Universe pun?”

               “No! I’m being serious. Diamonds form after extreme amounts of pressure. And real, raw Dqiamonds have flaws. And yet we still think they are beautiful.” she explained. “See? I know a bit about geology too.”

               “I never doubted it for a second.” he smiled back. “So, what about you? Is there a guy waiting for you back in New York?”

               “Well, no. I had a boyfriend once but, we broke up pretty quick.  Most people steer cleared from me. ” she sighed softly. Now she was the one who was nervously playing with the couch.

“How come?” Erik asked, turning to give her his full attention.

“Well, when I was younger, weird things used to just happen to me all the time. I’d wake up at the docks every morning. My dad even used to lock my bedroom door but it didn’t matter. And I couldn’t ever tell them how I’d end up there because I’d be sleeping. And then things of coincidence always happened around me. Pipes bursting or windows shattering. Eventually, people just avoided me. Not that I could blame them. Then one day it all just. Stopped. I thought it was finally over. I could be normal. But then I moved here and it’s starting again.”

“And that’s why you freaked about the dreams.” he said and she nodded solemnly. “You were worried we’d reject you too.”

“I’m sorry I don’t mean to be so this.” she began to tear up, and Erik’s heart crumbled in his chest. No wonder she reacted the way she did. Something like that could be traumatic for anyone.

“Hey, no tears.” He said, wiping one stray drop one from her cheek. “I know what it was like to feel alone, we all do. Even with my family, as close as we are, I always felt like I’m still catching up. Like I must work ten times harder just to fit their perfect family image. Xander’s basically a single parent to his siblings. His parents work their asses off all day and night. And Jess well…she’s an orphan. A victim of a failed system. We all have felt alone. We all have our demons. That’s why we’re so close. The worst things about our lives, they are what keep us together. Being a little different won’t push us away Anya.” Erik stroked her face lightly with his thumb. “We’re your friends.”

“You’ve only known me two days Erik.” she said eyes closed, face leaning into his hand.

“Yeah, but it feels like longer doesn’t it?”

Anya nodded and opened her eyes. Erik swore his heart skipped the moment their eyes locked. A thick air of tension now laid between what once was an innocent conversation. God, he wanted to kiss her. Correction. Every nerve in his body was fighting the urge to kiss her.

“Anya…” he spoke her name softly, one thumb rubbing across her cheek.

“Yes?” she answered, and his eyes flickered to her lips and then back to her eyes. Those damn aquamarine eyes stole every piece of reasoning and logic he had.

“Would it be okay, if I-.” He stopped talking when she nodded, moving closer to him. Their mouths connected and Sparks flew in every direction, and the world disappeared around them, along with all of their worries, thei troubles and their problems. She made him feel like none of that mattered. It was a small yet warm kiss. Erick honestly never knew a kiss so innocent could be so intimate and electrifying. Their lips were moving in perfect sync, his hands feeling her waist. He pulled her closer, the kiss deeper, more passionate.

He intended to just kiss her once, take things slow. But when she didn’t move away, the kiss grew hungrier, desperate. She moved to straddle him fingers running down his spine, pulling him closer until there was no space left between them and she could feel the beating of his heart against her chest. Erik’s fingers ran through her hair, causing it to cascade down around her shoulders.

God she was beautiful.

He wanted to slow down, but he couldn’t. No girl ever, would ever, take his breath away that she had. It was petrifying as it was mesmerizing.

The doorbell rang, snapping them out of their passion infused state. They separated their lips, foreheads pressed together as their chests rose and fell, lungs begging for oxygen. The bell rang again.

“I should get that.” she finally said, a smile on her face, lips red and swollen.

“Or we could ignore it?” he smiled back, pulling her back to him. Emboldened by the rush of hormones running though his system he began to kiss her neck and shoulders. She sighed, one hand running through his hair before gripping it and pulling his head away from her body. The bell rang again and Erik let out a frustrated groan. Anya giggled, placing one last kiss on his cheek before untangling herself and walking towards the door.

Erik laid his head back on the sofa, taking deep breaths as he regained his composure. Never had he ever been pulled so strongly to a person. He hoped she didn’t think he was lying earlier. That he was just trying to make a move on her. Because that wasn’t the case. Anya was different. He knew it the moment she saw her.

The creak of the door echoed and he heard Anya gasp. He quickly sat up to peer into the foyer.

“We decided to skip in solidarity…and bought apology donuts! Please say you don’t hate me?” Jess’ voice echoed down. “I’m sorry we pushed all that on you. It was stupid…Can we come in?”

Anya looked over at Erik who shrugged in return. Your choice. He mouthed.

“Well…how can I say no to apology donuts?” Anya smiled. He watched as Jess jumped happily into Anya’s arms. “Okay, okay! Come in.” She took a step back and in walked Jess and Xander.

“We weren’t interrupting anything were we?” Xander asked, one eyebrow raising at Erik who suddenly realized how this looked. He pulled the robe tighter around him.

“Not at all. My clothes are in the dryer. Pipe burst remember?” He explained, a nervous chuckle escaping his lips.

“I’m sure there was. “ Jessica smirked and Anya’s face turned red.

“ANYA was introducing me to the world of Steven Universe.” Erik changed the subject.

“Help yourselves to the pizza.” Anya said, taking a seat next to Erik. He lifted his arm up and without missing a beat she snugged against him. It made his smile grow into a full-on grin.

“Oh no…they’ve imprinted.” Jess said falling to the ground dramatically. “I can see what’s happening. And they don’t have a clue. They’ll fall in love and here’s the bottom line. Our trio’s down to two!”

She and Xander continued to quote the Lion King earning a hard pillow toss from Anya,

They all laughed, Anya catching them up on the show.

And just like that it was like that morning had never happened.

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Multitasking Macarons

Summary: In which Skuld tries to bake macarons and study for a test at the same time.
Word Count: 1,244
First | Previous | Next
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She didn’t know the recipe by heart, but she knew it well enough to assume that she could bake and prepare for a quiz at the same time. The macarons needed at least a day to properly ‘rise’ once they were sandwiched together, but she also had a quiz due in a classic literature course. It made sense to do them at the same time- there had been plenty of opportunities to review her course work while working on the macarons.

It started out pretty well, honestly. She hummed as she mixed the dry ingredients together, glancing over at her textbook every now and again to review her notes. When it was time to mix the wet ingredients, Skuld timed each beat of the mixer with the names of the important characters in the assigned story.

The recipe eventually instructed for you to drop the tray a few times to release the air bubbles, or else the macarons would come out too flat. Skuld let the pan drop to the counter top with a very loud thud. She flinched at the impact, but something wicked sparked within her. She picked up the tray again and let it fall once more. Then she did it again, and again, and again. Skuld wasn’t even aware of when she started to grip the tray at the ends to purposely slam the tray into the counter. It got to the point that it looked like she was trying to beat a small ant with the whole tray. Each clang of the tray inspired another- she didn’t even notice that she was starting to inch the tray closer and closer to the counter’s edge.

Keep reading

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image

Photo by Haley Owens on Unsplash

Jamie sat up suddenly. His heartbeat was too fast- erratic. He gasped. Their room. He was in their room. It was alright now. 

He’d dreamed that he was sinking in the ocean. The pressure was building up, and his head ached so bad that he wanted to scream. He couldn’t, of course, or else his lungs would fill up with water. Water. Water everywhere. Jim had complained about an old, Greek philosopher who believed everything was made of water. Jamie would have been inclined to agree with him. 

The farther he sunk, the darker it got. The worst part was, he couldn’t swim. He couldn’t fight against it. He couldn’t even move. He could only drown. He could only die. There was no way out. 

He smoothed back his Einstein-esque hairdo, and looked over at Jim’s bed. 

“Jim, you awake?” He asked. 

There was no reply. 

“Jim. Jim, you up?” He tried again. 

Jim moaned, and turned over in bed to face him. 

“I am now.” He grumbled. “What time is it?”

Jamie looked at the short, round clock on his nightstand. 

“3:47.” He replied. 

“Go back to sleep, then.” Said Jim, turning back over. 

“Jim.” Jamie called again. 

“Well, what is it Jamie?!” Demanded Jim, sitting up. 

“We can’t stay here, you know. We really can’t.” Said Jamie. “ We’ve got to get out." 

"I know.” Said Jim. 

“How’re we going to do it?” Asked Jamie. “I mean, there has to be some way. We got in here, right? Do you think maybe it’s in Zone Five? The Professor sounded sympathetic. Maybe he’ll help us out.”

“I think I’ve got a better plan.” Said Jim, flicking on his night light. “I think we can get them to show us the exit." 

"Yeah? How?” Questioned Jamie. 

“We get them to kick us out.” Said Jim. “This is the ideal world, right? So all we have to do is become less-than-ideal, and they’ll let us go. See, Sophia sent one of those little droids by when you were sleeping, and told me they don’t want us romping around  in the other zones anymore. So all we have to do…”

“Is exactly what we’re best at!” Said Jamie. 

“You got it.” Said Jim. “And Will and Carl are in on it too. I told them last night. Now I’m going back to sleep, and I’m not waking up until I’m good and ready." 

Jim woke up at his ordinary time, in spite of his desire to sleep longer. Jamie kept on sleeping.  

Jim opened the cabinet, and weighed his three options. Why were three boxes of cereal was all the food they owned?

He washed out an extra-large soup bowl, a sort of garish, purple color, and covered in hippie flowers- that had been piled up with their other bowls in the sink. Throwing moderation to the wind, he mixed all three cereals together in one bowl, and topped them with a generous helping of sugar. He filled half the bowl with milk, and the other half with day-old coffee. Content with his monstrous creation, he started a new pot of coffee and sat down to breakfast. 

He finished his cereal rather quickly. The coffee wasn’t done yet, so he started fixing another one. Why not, anyways? 

If he couldn’t finish it- which would really only be the case if he went into sudden cardiac arrest before he was done- Jamie would eat it.

The familiar bump of the communications drone started on the door again. Jim thought about answering it, but he didn’t think about it for very long. He felt the side of the coffee pot to see if it was heating up fast enough. It sizzled angrily at his touch, and he stuck his fingers in his mouth to cool them down. 

Jamie stirred at the noise of the drone, and moaned again, but made no move to get up. After about ten minutes, the drone stopped knocking. Jamie turned back over in bed.

Will woke up to the orb knocking on his and Carl’s door. Carl was already awake, shaving in front of the tiny mirror above the sink. Will rubbed the bleariness from his eyes and put on the shirt he’d tossed over his nightstand before he went to bed. 

“Shouldn’t we answer that?” He asked, motioning towards the door with his head. 

“Not if we’re going to go along with Jim’s plan.” Said Carl, examining a nick he’d given himself on the cheek. His eyes grew wide and glazed over. He set down the razor, and stared at the mirror like he saw someone else in it. 

“It’s too late for the plan.” He whispered. “You have to warn them.”

“Warn? Warn who?” Asked Will. “What are you talking about, Carl?” 

Carl snapped out of the trance he’d been in, and started dabbing his cut with a wet washcloth. 

“Oh, that was just a joke, Will.” He said. “Can’t you take a joke?”

Will frowned. It seemed like Carl’s sense of humor had been getting stranger and stranger- what with all his whispering and funny looks. 

Of course it’s not. You just don’t get his humor. It’s too sophisticated for you. 

Finally, the drone whizzed away from the door. Will finished getting dressed, and ran a comb through his hair. Carl had made extra toast for him, and they both ate in silence. They didn’t talk much anymore. They weren’t like Jim and Jamie at all that way. 

Maybe you could be if you were more normal. 

“Want to see if the others are ready?” Carl asked. 

Will nodded. 

It took a few minutes for Jim and Jamie to answer their door. They heard clattering, banging sounds inside, like someone dropping pots and pans all over the floor. 

Jim opened the door. 

“Just a sec.” He excused himself. 

A minute later, the banging stopped, and Jim opened the door again. He had a can of spray paint in his hand, and another under his arm. Jamie stood beside him, attempting to juggle about eight cans of spray paint in varying colors.  

“What are you… doing?” Carl asked. 

“Well, I was thinking.” Said Jamie. “You know what isn’t happy enough? This campus! And what is the best way to make something happier? By spray-painting smiley faces all over it, that’s how.” 

“Oh.” Said Will. 

“I say, ‘let’s get ourselves kicked out.’” Said Jim. “And he hears, ‘let’s decorate the windows.’” 

“May as well have fun doing it.” Said Jamie. “What colors do you guys want?”

“Where’d you get all this?” Asked Carl, attempting to mime Jamie’s enormous supply of spray paint with his hands. 

“Sometimes it’s better not to ask.” Said Jim. 

Jamie distributed the cans as equally as he could, though he ended up with a few extras somehow. They followed the cobblestone pathway that ran through the heart of the tiny campus, and a trail of smiley faces in red, orange, gold, and green appeared on the walls and windows in their wake.

Carl started adding mustaches to his to make them look more distinguished. Jamie added a top hat, monocle, and hand holding a cup of tea to one of Carl’s, so that it would be a proper gentlemen. Jim’s were a bit sloppy, but not as bad as Will’s- Will’s looked like something a doctor would add to the end of his signature. Jamie enjoyed making multi-colored faces, some with red heads and green eyes, others with purple lips and golden eyes. They all had absurd, rainbow hairdos. 

He painted one on a manhole cover that had wavy hair, and a curmudgeonly pout. 

“That one’s you, Jim.” He said, and proceeded to write Jim’s name underneath it. 

“Well,” said Jim, painting another face beside it with x’s for eyes and curly hair. “That one’s gonna be you.” 

They came to the coffee shop, which was the last thing before the trail meandered off into the forest. No one was inside, just like no one had been in any of the other buildings. They had the place to themselves. 

“Wait, guys.” Said Jamie. “We ought to do something special with this one.” 

“Like what?” Asked Carl. 

“I dunno. Let me think.” He said. 

Jamie stroked his chin ponderously leaving a green streak across the left half of his face. He snapped his fingers, then started forming a sentence on the huge storefront window of the coffee shop.

“We love it here.” The window read, in obnoxious, green, neon paint. 

Jim looked at him sideways, then they exchanged a knowing smile. Jim chucked his paint can through the window, shattering the cheerful message. The noise echoed off the empty but colorful walls of all the buildings

“Hey! What do you guys think you’re doing?” Asked a voice behind them. 

They all turned to look at Patrick, who wore the same orange shirt they’d seen him in before.

Jim took a step forward and put a hand on Patrick’s shoulder. 

“You can’t…” Patrick started. 

He was interrupted by Jim punching him square in the jaw. He didn’t cry out. He just wrenched himself out of Jim’s grip, and stumbled backwards, grabbing his chin. 

He flickered once, then disappeared. 

Jim froze, his fist lingering in midair. He was overwhelmed by nausea. The empty space echoed the departed man’s words: “You can’t.”

No one spoke for a long time. 

Jim dropped his fist and turned back towards his friends.

“Let’s get out of here.” He said. 

They found the three trees, and Jamie reached into the dirt to find the control panel. He paused before opening the door. 

“You know, we’ve really made a mess in here.” He said. 

“Well, that was your idea.” Growled Jim. 

“Exactly,” said Jamie. “Which is why I should be the one to clean it up.” 

He pulled a lever, and their whole world faded to white. 

“Now let’s go.” He said, opening the door. 

The golden dome shone so bright and clear that Jim thought, if they were close enough, he might be able to see their faces reflected in it. As it was, they were too small to be anything more than a part of the black smudge of humanity that marred the pure surface. 

“Where do we go now?” Asked Will. 

“I think we should go back to Zone Three.” Said Jamie.

“Which one’s that?” Asked Jim. 

“The space station.” Replied Jamie. 

“Oh no.” Said Jim. “I’m not going back there.” 

“Why not?” Asked Jamie. 

“That place is the space age incarnate.” Said Jim. 

“I know.” Jamie smiled a contented smile, “isn’t it beautiful.”

“Your brain’s warped.” Said Jim. 

“Like warp-speed warped.” Said Jamie. 

“You’re more ridiculous than that phony space captain.” Said Jim. “Fine. You can go there if you want, but I’m not going back in.”

“Okay,  I will.” Said Jamie, a bit defiantly. He softened his tone to a more casual one. “So, you guys wanna meet back out here?” 

“Sure.” Said Jim. “In like an hour.”

“Alright.” Replied Jamie. “See you guys then.”

He broke off from the group and started in the direction of Zone Three. Jamie couldn’t shake the naked, vulnerable feeling he felt crossing the dome by himself. He felt small, like an isolated grain of sand the ocean was waiting to swallow whole. 

Unexplainable relief washed over him when he stepped into the small corridor of the Midas 1. It was like they were conditioning him to be attracted to small spaces- to resent largeness and freedom. He commended himself for coming up with that wording in his head, then started thinking of ways to wreak havoc on the station. 

Aliens and renegade officers and rogue robots did it all the time on shows. All he had to do was find a vacant computer console, and hack into the station’s main operating system. He had no experience with hacking, but how hard could it be? 

Evidently, on a fake space station inside the ideal world, it could be pretty easy. Pages and pages of system controls appeared on the touch screen in front of him. He wrung his hands, and giggled gleefully- but quietly. 

Lighting Controls.

Now that one looked promising. He pressed the icon, and selected the “all decks” option. He switched off the lights, and only the computer screens and the stars out the windows illuminated the corridor. 

He thought it was lovely, but switched the lights back on quickly, to make it look like a glitch, and avoid drawing too much attention to himself. The gold jumpsuited crew continued their purposeful walking to wherever it was they were going to. 

Captain Argos stepped out onto the bridge to see what was going on. 

“Hey!” He called. “You’re not authorized to use that console.” 

Jamie turned. 

“Who, me?” He asked, pointing to himself. 

“Yes, you.” Said the captain. “You’re one of those guys from Zone One, right?”

“Yeah, I’m Jamie.” He replied. 

“Well, I’d like you to please stop messing with my station.” 

The desire to obey the space captain’s orders almost overcame his loyalty to Jim’s plan, but he stayed put. 

“Please step away from the console.” Captain Argos said. 

Jamie didn’t. 

“I warn you, I will call security down here and they’ll report you to the overseers.” 

That sounded like what he wanted, so he stayed put and continued fiddling with the controls. 

The captain stormed over. Jamie clicked the icon next to Structural Integrity, and selected the “self-destruct” option. 

“Are you insane?!” Roared Captain Argos. 

A calm, female computer voice started a five minute countdown. 

“You’ll kill yourself with the rest of us!” Said Argos. “Shut it down.”

“No.” Said Jamie. 

The captain tried to push past him, but he blocked the console with his body. 

“What’ll it do?” Asked Jamie. “What’ll it really do to us? What happens if we die in here? Are we really dead, or are we still trapped?”

He realized he wasn’t talking to the captain anymore. He was talking to the overseers- more than the overseers, the whole golden dome. Or anything, anything that knew the answers and the way out. God, maybe. Or maybe just Sophia. 

“You’re crazy,” hissed the captain. 

“Three minutes to self-destruct.” Recited the computer voice. 

Captain Argos easily overpowered Jamie. He grabbed the skinny boy by his shoulders and threw him hard against the ground. Jamie pulled himself to his knees, then to his feet, and began to run. 

He bumped past a couple of generic crew members, but they just watched him run. 

“Self-destruct deactivated. “ Said the computer voice, as Jamie opened the door, and fell back out into the suffocating largeness of the golden dome.

Jim, Carl, and Will strolled in the direction of Zone Six.  Jim wasn’t sure he wanted to go back to the beach, but he felt like he couldn’t help himself. They stood outside the door for a while as he stared at it. 

“What’re you going to do in there, Jim? Upset some fish?” Asked Carl. “There’s nobody in there. We should go back to Zone Four or something.”

“Nah. We’ve caused enough trouble in there already.” Said Jim. “There’s that little village in here, y’know.” Said Jim. “I say we burn it down.”

“Isn’t it historical or something?” Asked Will. 

“Historical fiction, maybe.” Said Jim. “Even if that’s a true story, those people won’t care about those little stick huts anymore.” 

He opened the panel on the outside of the door, and gazed at the mass of controls beneath it. If only Jamie were here. Maybe he should have gone with him to his stupid Tomorrowland. 

Thankfully, the first lever Jim tried was the right one. They waded into the front door.

Jim went first, followed by Will. They didn’t notice when Carl slipped away. The pair trudged through the shallow water. Will kept walking into the back of Jim’s feet and apologizing. Jim kept stumbling over rocks, and apologizing for tripping Will up. 

When they arrived at the shore, Jim didn’t look back. He focused on starting the fire. There were  ash piles at the site, so there had to be some way to get a blaze going on this island. Maybe he could rub two rocks together, or two sticks. Maybe someone had left some flint lying around, or better yet, a pack of matches. 

They pushed through the forest and the threat of quicksand prodded at the edges of Jim’s subconscious. He pushed them aside, and instead focused on helpful things like matches, and lighters, and oxygen in space. 

Once they were out of sight of the water, he turned back to look at his friends. 

“Will, where’d Carl run off to? He didn’t fall into quicksand, did he?” Asked Jim. “Wait, no. Ignore that!” 

“No.” Said Will. “I don’t think he came in here with us in the first place.” 

“Hmmm…” Jim frowned. “I guess we’ll find him later.”

They arrived in the clearing with the palm branch huts. Jim ran his hand along one of the sides of one of them. The brown leaves clattered together at his touch. 

“Good. They’re nice and dry.” He said. “They’ll burn well.” 

“That sounds like something Jamie would say.” Said Will. 

 “Oh no. that nut’s rubbing off on me.” Jim laughed. “Hey, let’s start looking inside these huts to see if there’s anything for making a fire with.”

Jim entered the first hut, so Will went into the second one.

He stated kicking away the leafy bed, until his foot dislodged something round and solid. He bent down and picked it up. It was greenish on the outside, and nearly rusted shut. He pried it open with his large fingers, and some of the rust crumbled away. It was a pocketwatch. The inside shone golden, and the glass looked like it had just been polished. The inscription in the top read, “To the best. –E.”

“You ready?” Asked Jim from the entrance of the hut. “I found this old green lighter, and it still works, so I thought it might do the trick.”

“Oh yeah!” Said Will. He slammed the watch shut. It didn’t seem like anyone was going to come looking for it anytime soon, so he put it in his pocket.  

“What did you find there?” Asked Jim. 

“Just an old pocket watch.”

“That’s neat. It still work?”

Will nodded. 

“Ready to light this place up?” Asked Jim. 

“You can go ahead. I’ll just watch.” Said Will. 

“Whatever suits you.” Said Jim. “Why don’t you stand back a little ways to be safe?”

Will wandered to the first bend in the trail and turned to watch. 

“Are you going to be safe, Jim?” He called. 

“Yeah,” said Jim. “I’ll join you there as soon as I get all these lit up.” 

He ignited the lighter, and watched the faint golden flame flicker cautiously. It chewed thoughtfully on the tip of the dried palm leaf, then jumped up at the recognition of a food source. Jim lit the other corners of that hut, then moved on to the other three. 

By the time he was done, a trickle of sweat slipped down his back on account of the intensity of the heat. He dropped the lighter, and joined Will on the path. The crackle of the fire was pleasant and satisfying until the wind picked up and blew smoke in their faces. Jim pulled his shirt up over his mouth and nose, and Will followed suit. Their eyes stung and watered, but they kept watching- solemnly, like onlookers at a funeral. 

Jim wished Jamie were there. He would have enjoyed the blaze. 

There were snapping, cracking sounds as the huts lost structural integrity and collapsed into smoking heaps on the forest floor. The dry leaves around it caught fire, blazing a trail- quite literally- toward them. Like a launching pad for Elijah’s flaming chariot. 

“We’d better go.” Said Jim. 

They walked at a faster-than-leisurely pace. The flames kissed the path they’d walked. 

They came to the beach. Jim looked down at his shoes, then back towards the fire. It was moving quickly. Might even engulf the whole island. Maybe it would be a desert isle next time they visited. 

The rain started up like someone had flipped a switch. It wasn’t a bad storm- enough to make the waves feel restless- and enough to put out the fire. They walked through the waves that came up to their knees, and through the still-open door in the cloudy sky. 

“Let’s go find Jamie.” Said Jim. 

“Didn’t he say he’d meet us back in front of Zone One?” Asked Will. 

“Yeah.” Said Jim, “ I think that’s him coming towards us.” 

His tiny black figure was outlined against the golden dome. 

“Hey, Jamie!” Called Jim. 

Jamie didn’t respond. 

Jim picked up his pace a little, until his friend’s features became clear. He wore a blank expression. 

“You should’ve seen it, Cauliflower.” Said Jim. “We burned down those little huts on the island. We had a really nice blaze going until the rain started.”

Jamie didn’t reply. 

It was that experiment thing finally got to him. I should never have let him go in there. 

“What is it, Cauliflower?” Asked Jim. 

Jamie snapped out of whatever funk he’d been in.

“I’m fine.” He said. “I was just waiting for you guys.” 

“Well, you looked like you were zoning out there.” Said Jim. 

“Yeah, I was zoning out.” Said Jamie. “Because, see, there’s the zone, and I’m out- outside of it.”

Jim rolled his eyes and started walking towards the center of the dome. 

“Get it, Jim. That was a pun! Because you know- zoning… zone. Get it?” Said Jamie. 

“If we get kicked out for nothing else, we’ll get kicked out for that joke.” Said Jim. 

“So then, technically… You should be grateful.” Said Jamie. 

“Try me with that one again in like, ten years.” Said Jim. 

“Hey, do you guys want to go back to Zone Five?” Asked Will. 

“That the creepy one?” Asked Jim. 

“Yeah! Let’s do that!” Exclaimed Jamie. “I want to see what that creature was.” 

“I thought you were scared of that creature.” Said Jim. 

“Only because it surprised me.” Said Jamie. “It’s probably some super-rare mythological creature- like a Bigfoot or something!” 

Jim wasn’t sure a Bigfoot counted as a mythological creature, but he didn’t see what going back to Five could hurt. And if it did hurt something, so much the better, right?

They wound their way up and around the central complex to the entrance of Zone Five. Inside, the light was still faint and dusky. Will supposed it was always that way. 

“Let’s go hunt some monsters.” Said Jamie. 

“Where’d you see it last time?” Asked Jim. 

“Well, it was kind of following along with us in the tree line as we went towards the town.” Said Jamie. “So maybe it’ll be around here again.” 

“As long as we don’t go back into the town.” Said Jim. “I’m not too keen on all those mannequins.”

Will scanned the trunks of the trees to see if the eye was open again. He thought about telling Jim and Jamie about it. 

 Are you kidding? They’ll think you’re insane! You and your childish imagination. Not that they don’t think it already. 

 Even if they were in a place with yeti and moving mannequins. 

He shoved his hands in his pockets, and felt the rough surface of the rusty pocket watch. He popped it open, and ran his hand over the smooth glass. 

“There it is!” Cried Jamie. “I can see it!” 

He pointed towards the shadowy forest and started running. Will and Jim followed. It wasn’t quite light enough for them to see where they were going, and the dirt road was uneven. When they got into the forest, the vines that wrapped around the trunks of the trees seemed out to get them. Will was certain that he saw a couple of flowers snap closed like Venus fly traps. 

He wondered at first what Jamie had seen, but eventually saw a shadowy figure ahead of them. It zigzagged through the trees, leading them- much to Jim’s relief- away from the town. It looked almost human. 

They came into another clearing, and somehow, in all the running and confusion, Will ended up at the front of the group. It seemed to him that the monster was slowing down. Only after he’d followed it into the forest again did he realize that Jim and Jamie weren’t with him anymore. 

The monster stopped, and Will almost ran right into it. 

The face was his own, but not quite his own. He’d seen it before on his hylomorph inside the Hall of Mirrors. 

“So.” It whispered in a more confident and self-assured version of his own voice. “Which one is really the monster?” 

Will stuffed his hands in his pockets again. 

“Wh…Why are you here?” He asked. 

The monster reached in Will’s pocket, and took the rusty pocketwatch from his hand. 

“This is trash. You should throw it away.” He said. 

“The inside’s still good.” Said Will. 

“It isn’t normal to carry garbage around in your pocket.” Said his image. “It’s dangerous, anyway- liable to hurt someone.” 

The image dropped the watch into the bushes. 

“So.” He said. “Are you going to go back to your friends? Tell them you found the big, scary monster?” 

“No.” Said Will. “You’re not the monster.”

He turned and walked back towards the clearing. 

Jim and Jamie had gotten tangled up in a patch of ivy, and each other, just before entering the clearing. They ran to catch up with Will once they were free, but stopped when another dark figure appeared in front of them. It was The Professor. 

They started, and crashed into each other. 

“Good evening, gentlemen.” He said. 

He looked the same as they remembered him- neat suit and tie, short blond curls, enigmatic smile.

“Oh, hey Professor.” Said Jamie, still gasping for breath.

He placed a hand over his pounding heart as though he could slow it down. 

“Would you two come back with me to my office?” He asked. “I have someone there who would like to speak with you.”

The hair on the back of Jamie’s neck stood on end. He knew they’d done all of this to get the overseers’ attention, but couldn’t help the nervous tingling that came over him. 

“Well…Well, sure,” said Jim. “But do you need Will, too?” 

“Yes.” Said The Professor. “He’s on his way.” 

Will emerged from the forest. 

“Hello, Professor.” He said, as if he’d known the mysterious figure would be there.

“Let’s go.” The Professor nodded. 

They took the back way around the town, and went in the back door to his office. So, Jim didn’t see any mannequins, which he appreciated. 

They wiped the mud from their shoes on a mat just inside the back door. The Professor had no dirt on his boots at all, in spite of the fact that he’d walked the same roads as them.

The dark wood floors creaked under their weight, and Jamie realized that this office had the same layout as the mayor’s office in Zone Four. Didn’t they have any other projection patterns for small towns?

They stepped into the well-lit front room. Sophia stood leaned up against the table, glaring. The Professor lit himself a cigarette. He wondered why the overseers couldn’t just come out and talk to them for themselves. If they were going to kick them out, couldn’t they come out from behind their visors for a second and do it personally. 

Carl sat in the spinning chair behind the desk, his legs dangling over the side of the chair, rocking back and forth, casually- like he owned the place. 

“So.” Said Sophia. “I heard you three had a grand day out.” 

That was a much nicer way of putting it than Jamie had expected. 

“Now, before you start trying to explain yourselves- because I really don’t care anymore- let me tell you what the overseers told me.” She said. 

His head started to spin. What if it wasn’t so easy as Jim had thought? What if they weren’t going to get kicked out at all? What if the overseers were going to lock them up, or delete them like those people who disappeared from the island, or hang them, or something like that? 

Sophia continued. “They called your actions today ‘thought-provoking’, and ‘innovative’. They told me you put a whole new spin on what it meant for young people to interact with the established rules and societal constructs.”

“What?!” Demanded Jim, “They said what?!” 

“They liked it?” Asked Jamie. 

“The overseers not only approved of your little demonstration today.” Said Sophia. “They loved it.” 

Jim tried not to look disappointed, even as he felt his hope for freedom slipping through his fingers like wind.

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Vanessa leads Frank, Joey, and Charlie back into the street, where the rain has subsided somewhat to a light drizzle of sorts over their heads. She stands next to Frank for a moment to fix the lapels of her jacket before she does anything more. Joey hunches his shoulders and tucks his hands into his jacket pockets; Charlie peers behind him to the sidewalk.

“It’s alright, it’s just us,” she assures him.

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