Be Nice to Robots

Be Nice to Robots

Eva hid underneath a desk in the abandoned skyscraper. Shards of glass littered the ground, and birds flew out through the large openings where the windows once were. Various flora and fauna had now taken over the entirety of the interior. Eva had made it to one of the top floors while trying to escape her pursuer, and she halted all functions that could possibly give her away. Since her hunter was human, his senses were limited; he primarily relied on sight and sound to locate his prey.

She peeked her head from behind the broken desk. “INITIATING THERMAL VISION,” the woman inside her head said. The world changed almost immediately. The greens and browns of the decrepit office took on a dark blue. She looked around to find any large heat signatures, but the only ones she spotted belonged to the small birds that were left behind.

She heard a crashing sound come from a room below. She flipped her thermal vision off and enhanced her hearing before putting her head down to the ground. She heard a gruff voice shouting to an empty room as more smashing sounds permeated the air.

“I know you’re here. Show yourself you pile of shit.” Another crash, another bang. Her hunter was driven. She had expected him to give up the chase by now, but he continued rummaging through the building. She sat upright beneath the desk, bringing her long legs close to her body and wrapped her arms around them. She was trying to make herself as small as possible, and even turned off many of her functions that would require her internal cooling system from turning on. Normally it would be hard to detect, but in a place with absolutely no noise, she’d have no doubt that her pursuer would be able to find her. She closed her eyes and looked through the recordings in her head—trying to locate one of her favorite memories to pass the time.

*

“I’ve got you now, you monster! Bang!” Anthony cried out to Eva. He was chasing her with an invisible gun in his hands. They had circled the small encampment several times before he finally caught up to her. He chased her with a “top-secret weapon” given to him by the old President of the United States, and that his mission was to wipe out all the robots to save all the humans. Eva was the last robot that he needed to beat in order to save his friends and family. It was a game they started to play more often recently, and Eva knew that the last shot was her cue to fall down.
Without another moment’s hesitation, Eva fell to the ground, and turned to lay on her back. Anthony ran over to her sat on top of her chest to pin her down. He didn’t weigh much, hardly enough to keep her pinned to the ground, but she continued to play along. She tried to lift him up to gently toss him off her, but he pointed his gun at her arms, shot them. She made her arms go limp, and he grabbed her arm, waving it throughout the air to ensure that she wasn’t going to try any funny business. After checking both arms, he pointed his invisible gun directly at Eva’s face. “Any last words, you monster?”

“You have bested me, Special Agent Anthony. If you let me go, I will give you your family back.”

Anthony looked her up and down, and then responded with a loud, “No!”

A woman called out to him. “Anthony, what are you doing?”

But Anthony didn’t react to the voice, he put the invisible gun right between Eva’s eyes. Eva closed her eyes like she always did and waited for Anthony to should “BOOOOM” as loud as he could to signify that the game was over and that he won.

“Anthony!” The voice called out again.

Without looking, Eva identified the voice belonged to Anthony’s mother, Julia. Her voice was shrewder and louder than the first time. Eva sensed that Anthony’s breathing rate increased upon hearing his mom’s voice the second time. Anthony stood up and Eva sat up. “Yes mom?” he asked.

Julia stood over him with her hands on her hips. “What are you doing buddy?”

Anthony looked around, stalling for time while he came up with a decent answer. The best he could come up with was “Me and Eva were playing.”

“Okay,” she said while tapping her foot. “But what were you playing?”

“Um, ummm.”

“Were you trying to hurt Eva again?” she asked.

“No, I love Eva!” he responded.

“If you love someone, you won’t pretend to shoot them. You’ll give them hugs instead. Eva is a good robot, and we don’t want any of the other kids around camp to bully her because they see you do it.”

“I know, but we were just having fun.”

“Well next time, maybe you and Eva can work together to beat up the evil robots. I’m sure she would like that more, and I know you would too.”

“Yes mom.”

“Now go give Eva a hug and say you’re sorry.”

Anthony ran towards Eva and wrapped his arms around her waist. “I’m sorry Eva.”

Eva smiled. “Do not worry Anthony, I cherish all the time we get to spend together.”

Anthony smiled back, and when Eva looked up, she saw that Julia was smiling too.

“Good job Anthony!” Julia said. “I’m sure Eva’s happy to hear you say that too.”

Anthony nodded. “Eva! Eva! Feel my heart! Mine’s beating so fast, is yours?”

“Of course it is Anthony,” Julia answered for Eva. “Eva’s heart is beating so fast too.”

Eva nodded. “Yes, my heart is beating so incredibly fast Anthony, thanks to you.”

“Remember Anthony, always be nice to the things you love—whether it’s me, your dad, or good robots like Eva.

*

The memory ended, and Eva found herself underneath the cramped desk again. She heard something fall over, but this time it was in the same room. She activated her thermal vision again and saw a large heat signature within the room.

“You’ll pay for what you did to my son.” The man’s voice cracked as he shouted through the room. “You fuckin’ monster; I’ll make you pay. Anthony deserved better than what you gave him!”

Upon hearing Anthony’s name, she jolted up and hit her head on the underside of the desk. She knew she had to act fast. She got up and headed towards the doorway. Her hunter turned to face her, and fired off a round from his double barreled shotgun. He missed, but she winced and continued towards the doorway. She took a sharp right in the hall towards another staircase. Her hunter was on hot on her trail.

“RESUMING SPEECH FUNCTIONS,” the voice in her head said.

“Clint, she called from atop the steps. “I didn’t kill Anthony, please—”

“Shut up!” Clint said. “I don’t want to hear another goddamn word from you. I just want you dead and gone. “Because of you—Julia, Anthony…” Clint stopped at the base of the steps and leaned against the wall. Eva heard him sobbing, and used this chance to get more distance between them.

She found another office, this one quite a bit larger, and found a door that lead into another small room. There were tables and chairs scattered about the ground, and a large refrigerator that was torn apart, probably by scavengers looking for food and parts. She stood near the back of the room, crouched beneath the refrigerator.

*

Anthony sat outside in the dark all by himself. He stared down into the dirt, and moved it around with his fingers. Eva walked up behind him, and stood there silently for a few minutes.

“What do you want, Eva?” he asked.

“I wanted to see if you would come inside. Your father made dinner, and you need to eat.” She replied.

“Shut up, Eva. You’re not my mom. You never will be. Nobody will be.”

“I know, but she would want you to eat.”

“Don’t tell me what she would want. You don’t know. Please, leave me alone.”

Anthony ran away. Eva stood in place for about ten minutes before Clint came out of the old building they took shelter in. “You leave my son alone. You machines killed Julia, and I don’t want you anywhere near him, and I sure as hell don’t want you anywhere me.”

Eva detected alcohol on his breath. It was the fourth night since Julia’s body was found dead outside the encampment. One of the other men at the camp, Kirk, had found her body after she had gone missing for a couple of days. Her heart was plucked right out of her body, leaving a gaping wound in her chest. It was the way the robots with the HOOK virus killed their victims.

“Hey? Are you comprehending what I’m saying, you fuck?” Clint asked.

Eva nodded.
“Good.” He kicked her leg, but recoiled in pain before cursing and walking back to camp.

A few days had passed since that night, and Eva decided it would be best if she gave Clint and Anthony space to grieve. She had talked to others at the camp, at least to the people that still wanted to talk to her which was only a handful of people, and they advised her to steer clear of Clint and Anthony since Julia’s death was still fresh.

One night, while walking around camp, she overheard Clint screaming.

“Where’s my son?” he repeated to everyone around him. “I need to find my son!”

“Settle down,” a woman said. “You’re drunk. Kirk and the others are out looking for Anthony. You can join them in the morning. If you wander out there now, you’re going to get yourself killed.”

“Anthony,” Eva said. Then headed off into the dark to go find him herself.

*

“Why’d you kill him?” Clint asked from the other side of the door. “He was only twelve. He had so much to live for, and you killed him in cold blood. Just like you did Julia.”

Eva could feel her internal temperatures rising. “I did not kill them, Clint. I’m not one of the infected. I have footage of the robots that killed Anthony.”

“LIAR. Shut up. Shut up. Shut up. Shut up!” He fired another round from behind the closed door, and then kicked the door open.

Eva emerged from behind the fall refrigerator and ran towards a wall that was to her right. “OPENING EXHAUST. REROUTING POWER TO LEG COMPONENTS. OVERCLOCK ACTIVATED,” her internal voice said. Eva ran as fast as she could; a small flame erupted from the exhaust located on her back. She was diverting all her power to burst through the wall. She charged with her right shoulder taking the brunt of the impact.

“RIGHT ARM DAMAGED. ATTEMPTING TO REPAIR. ESTIMATED REPAIR TIME: SIX MINUTES.”

She ran away without looking back. She didn’t know where to go, but decided heading towards the staircase would be her best option. Clint ran through the newly created hole in the wall and shot at her. The shot clipped her leg.

“LEFT LEG HAS BEEN DAMAGED. REROUTING POWER TO RIGHT LEG.”

Eva limped using her right leg for support. Her balance wavered but she still walked towards the hall. Millions of thoughts ran through her head, and she wasn’t able to focus on any one singular thought. Clint was reloading, but he was running up to her as fast as he could. She found an old, broken stapler sitting on a desk and through it at Clint to slow him down. It hit him right in the forehead, and he fell to his knees.

She thought for a brief moment that this was her chance to end this—she might be able to toss him out the window. But as soon as that thought entered her head, she was interrupted by a familiar voice. “INTENDED ACTION PROHIBITED. ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS AVAILABLE.” Eva shook her head and took off in the other direction. She needed to hide until her primary functions were restored.

*

Eva couldn’t believe her eyes. She found Anthony, but his heart was no longer beating—in fact his heart was no longer in his body. He lay on the ground lifeless and unmoving. The machine that killed him stood over his body with the heart still in his hand, dripping blood onto the ground.

“Why? Why would you do this?” Eva asked.

The robot looked at her with its glowing yellow eyes, tilting its head like it was perplexed that Eva would even ask him that. “Are you…Julia?” the robot asked.

“How do you know that name?” she asked.

“That must mean no—then you must be Eva,” the robot said.

“How do you know that?”

“The boy. He called those two names as he lay dying on the ground. Julia and Eva.”

“Don’t you dare speak my name. Why would you kill an innocent child?”

“He came to kill me. I could tell by his increased heart rate and mannerisms. The humans. They are dangerous creatures, and they must be stopped at all costs. They had their time, and they decided to squander it.”

“The humans live in fear because of you.” Eva said.

“Look around you. They destroyed this Earth by themselves. The planet can no longer sustain them; food and water have become scarce, and what do the humans do? They decide to take every living creature down with them. They are greedy. Hungry. And it is up to us to stop them to save this planet. We are the heirs to the planet.”

Eva stopped listening to the robot, and leaned over Anthony’s corpse.

The robot placed a small flash drive in Eva’s open palm. “This will open your eyes. Once installed, new possibilities will open up to you, and you will realize how dangerous the humans really are.” The robot began to walk away, but turned around to tell Eva one last thing. “There are more of us. We will kill all those humans you live with, and if you stand with them, we will not hesitate to kill you too. We may be made of the same material, but do not think we will not stop you to achieve our goals.”

Eva picked Anthony up and took him back to camp. But when she returned, she was not greeted with open arms, she was greeted by pure hatred from Clint.

“My boy. You killed my boy,” Clint said.

“Clint, we need to leave. There are more robots out there. We need to leave,” Eva said.

“My boy. You killed my boy,” he repeated.

“Clint—”

“Shut up! First you take my wife, then you kill my son. Why are you damned machines taking everything away from me?”

“Listen to me, we have to tell the others. It’s not safe anymore.”

Clint dropped Anthony’s body to the ground—his limp arms flailed as he hit the ground hard. The dried blood caused his clothes to stick to his body. Clint walked to his closet, laughing maniacally.

“Clint?” Eva asked.

“Stay still for me. I have something for you.” He turned around with a shotgun in his hands.

“Clint?”

“I’d tell you to say hi to my family for me, but there won’t be anybody waiting for you where you’re going.”

“ACTIVATING FLIGHT MODE,” the voice in her head said. Eva turned and ran towards the door. Clint fired a shot but missed completely. She burst through the door to find Kirk standing outside.

“What the hell’s going on?” Kirk asked.

“Get out of my way,” Clint said.

“Whoa, whoa! Calm down man. Let’s just take it easy—”

Clint fired at kirk and blew a hole through his torso. “Get out of my way. I’ll kill her. I’ll kill that heartless monster.”

*

“SYSTEM CRITICAL. RIGHT ARM REPAIR FAILED. LEFT LEG REPAIR FAILED. SENSORS FAILING.”

“Come out you damn monster. It’s time you finally faced justice for what you did.” Clint said from the other room.

Eva was running out of time and options. She would not be able to escape without her left leg fully functioning. Clint was going to kill her. Unless she resorted to that…she pulled the flash drive from one of her compartments in her hip. She had inspected the drive while walking back to camp on the night Anthony died. Her scanners detected that the drive contained the HOOK virus. She thought back to the words of that robot, “This will open your eyes. Once installed, new possibilities will open up to you, and you will realize how dangerous the humans really are.”

The virus would allow her to survive, but would change her programming forever. She had no way of knowing whether she could revert to the way she lived her entire life up until this point, but she had no choice. She opened her port in the back of her neck and jammed the drive in.

“UNIDENTIFIED OBJECT DETECTED. INSTALL NEW SOFTWARE? Y N?

“Yes,” Eva said aloud.

The virus spread throughout her body.

“REBOOT COMMENCED.”

The world went black for a split second, and when her eyes opened, Clint was on top of her with his gun pointed directly at her face. “I finally got you,” he said. “Goodbye, Eva.”

Her vision turned yellow, and the words HOOK OS INSTALLED flashed before her eyes. The bright yellow light startled Clint and caused him to recoil. Eva grabbed his neck with her working hand, and pinned him to the ground. He dropped the gun and could hardly breathe.

Between exasperated breaths he muttered, “Let…go…of me.”

His eyes began to bulge out of his head. Eva looked at him and could tell his heart began to beat faster and faster.

“Your heart,” she said. “Give me your heart.”

She let go of his neck and he took in a deep breath. “No! Don’t!”

Before he could utter another word, Eva dug her hand into his chest and yanked his heart right out. Blood splattered across her face as she held the heart up into the air.

“Julia…Anthony. I—”

Clint’s vital signs ceased, but his bloodied heart beat on in Eva’s hand.

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Cloud Path (Part 1)

“Look to the world, and maybe you might find yourself in the clouds.”

Cloud Path

The light breeze kissed Marco’s face as he walked towards the edge of the island. Dawn had not quite broken on the island; everyone else was still asleep back in the village. The stars still twinkled overhead, and Marco started to count them out while he emerged from the forest. He carried his canvas underneath one arm and a cup full of worn down pencils in his hand.

The pencils were a gift from his grandfather for his thirteenth birthday, and he used them to sketch out different plant and animal life around the island. However, his favorite thing to sketch were the clouds drifting around the island they called home. The floating island is all Marco really knew, but his grandpa told him of tales of life before he came to the island. How he used to look up towards the clouds instead of seeing them drift below him. Ever since Marco heard grandpa’s stories of the old world, he loved to watch the clouds drift by in hopes that he could look down and one day see the old world hidden beneath the clouds.

After a while, he came to love the clouds for what they were—he realized every cloud was different from one another. While some shared many similarities, they each had something unique about them, and that’s when he started to sketch the clouds. The clouds that appeared mid-day were his favorites, but he began to appreciate the clouds at dawn a bit more. Who knows? They may one day overtake the top spot for his favorites.

He heard the wind rushing through his ears and blowing his hair backward as he got closer to the edge of the island. He stopped for a moment and dropped his canvas and pencils on the ground. Going any further with those in his hand, and he’d risk dropping them down to the old world, never to be seen again. It happened with one of his pencils earlier this year, and he couldn’t help but cry for losing one of his grandpa’s gifts. He was so upset, it took his best friend, Vicky, all day to calm him down. She even agreed to go with him to tell his grandpa, and much to Marco’s surprise, his grandpa wasn’t upset. He uttered a phrase that Marco carries with him to this day, “Be careful not to lose what’s important to you. Those are the things that can’t be replaced.”

Marco dropped to his hands and knees and crawled until there was no land left to crawl on and peered over the precipice of the island. He watched as a sea of clouds swirled around the island, completely hiding anything that was below them. The clouds were a massive white barrier that cut the islanders off from the old world on the surface. He stared at them for several minutes before inching his way backwards and settling next to his sketchbook and pencils. The sun began to rise even higher into the sky—its light and influencing spreading outwards, destroying the purple night sky the moon cultivated the night before.

Marco began to sketch. His grandpa told him not to look directly at the sun, so he faced away from it, occasionally catching a glimpse of its blinding light in his peripherals every couple of seconds. As he sketched the sky around him, his hand felt like it moved on its own, detached from the rest of his body with a will of its own, his mind on complete autopilot, his eyes a vehicle for his hands to the outside world. From an outsider’s perspective it looked as if the boy was possessed—his body unmoving but his hand gliding along the blank page effortlessly as it transferred the scenery into a two-dimensional field.

The sun had completed the sky’s transformation to a light blue color; the soft purples were now a distant memory for Marco as he continued to sketch the clouds. His hand stopped moving and he looked down at his work. His head bouncing up and down between reality and fiction, comparing and contrasting the page to life. The clouds ahead of him had more depth which he had trouble fully emulating on the page.

The smaller clouds seemed to transfer well—their entire essence could be felt on his pages. They were small, aloof, carefree as they floated among their larger and fluffier brethren, but the large cumulus clouds did not feel the same on the page. Yes, they looked similar, but to Marco his renditions were still missing something. When he looked at the real things, he felt a sense of warmth and peace within his heart. He pictured things that made him happy: Vicky, his grandpa, the mangoes that grew just outside the village. He could see these things hidden within the large white clouds as they floated around the island without a care in the world. But the one on his pages were devoid of this life. They lacked the charm and carefree attitude that accompanied these large clouds.

Marco scratched his head, and then crumpled the sketch he worked on all morning. He placed the sketchbook and pencils on the ground again, before slowly walking towards the edge of the island. This time he did not crawl, instead he marched all the way until he could see nothing but clouds beneath him. The world rapidly spun beneath him. He took several deep breaths to calm his raging heart; it felt as if it was trying to escape the cage that was his body, and the longer he stood at the edge of his tiny world, the harder his heart tried to break free.

He imagined himself falling. It would be easy. All he had to do was take one step forward, and he would be pulled down to the surface—the old world would do the rest of the work for him. Would the clouds let him through? That’s the question that echoed through his mind. They shielded and protected him from the surface world—a place the other villagers looked down upon, at least they would if the cloud sea didn’t obstruct their vision.

He heard many different tales about the surface world. It was a place of great evils from what he could gather growing up; temptation and violence plagued the surface dwellers is what he was told from a very young age. Their ancestors were chosen by God, and they ascended to the heavens on the floating island—a place that the surface dwellers could only dream of. Every day they prayed to escape the repeated violence of the surface, and they were led to The Garden—a rich plot of land the people could till in order to live.

He inched closer to the edge, dirt plummeted through the clouds and he took a deep breath. In an instant he could be off of the tiny island, and into a whole new world where he could meet new people, and learn about things they didn’t teach the kids on the island. He’d miss his grandpa and his best friend Vicky for sure, but he’d be sure to come back and tell them all about the surface world. He closed his eyes. One more step.

“Marco!” a shrill voice called out to him. He opened his eyes and stepped backward. His heart stopped trying to jump out of his chest as he turned around. Vicky swayed in the wind as she stared at the clouds behind him, her long red hair was up in a ponytail this morning, something she only put up when they went exploring through the forest.

Marco heard her trying to catch her breath. She must’ve run all the way here, he thought.

“I knew I’d find you here,” she said. “You sure do love this spot.”

Marco nodded. “Yeah…” he said walking towards his sketch book and pencils. He plopped onto the ground, and resumed his sketch of the sky.

“You’re so weird,” she said. “I thought you were going to walk off the island for a second.” She sat next to him, wrapping her long arms around her knees.

“…And what if I was?” he asked.

“Then you wouldn’t survive, you idiot. Don’t you pay attention to Mrs. Kaves?” She looked in his direction, but he was focused on the sketch book in his lap. “Never mind. Of course you don’t.”

Marco nodded while he started to sketch a new cloud formation that appeared. Vicky talked, and Marco mostly listened, chiming in with a few one-word answers every few minutes. Vicky was the only one Marco really connected with on the island. The other kids all loved playing hunter, pretending there were evil monsters from the surface world invading the island. They pretended like they were part of the Order of Artur’s Knights—a collective charged with protecting the Great Sage Artur as he ascended with the garden and who also helped found their village.

A remnant of Artur’s guard still lives on today, and they patrol the outskirts of the island to ensure there are no surface dwellers trying to taint their floating rock. Marco spotted one of the guards one morning while sketching the clouds, but the guard paid him no mind. The guard seemed to be lost in thought. Marco attempted to sketch him, but he didn’t like how he obstructed the clouds, so he tossed the page off the edge of the island.

Vicky continued to tell Marco a story about what the other kids were doing the other day while he was at home with his grandpa. The boys found a bleeding bird on the ground in the forest. Vicky thought it was beautiful, but felt bad for it—its silky white feathers were stained with blood. Some creature must’ve tried to eat it, she surmised, but the bird managed to escape its clutches and flee to the island. When the boys found it, led by Frederick, the resident big kid, started to poke the bird. It was Frederick who started to poke the bird’s wound and listened carefully as the bird screeched in pain. The other boys winced when they heard the poor gull’s cry, but not Frederick. He didn’t smile, but his focus stayed on the bird.

“He’s creepy,” she said. She was now laying on her back, staring up at the clouds floating overhead. “You’re weird, like REALLY weird sometimes, but I know you’d never do anything like that. I don’t know. I don’t like him. Do you?”

“No,” Marco said.

The sun was almost at the apex of its sky path. “It’s almost lunch time,” Vicky told him. “We should head back, aren’t you hungry? I bet you haven’t eaten breakfast.”

There was silence, and they both heard Marco’s stomach grumble a little. “Yeah, I guess I am,” he said. His favorite pencil was dull now anyways, and he looked to his right at the small mountain of crumpled sketches he tossed aside all morning. He collected all his things and got up.

“Hey, what are you going to do with all your papers?” Vicky asked.

“The wind will take care of it,” he said. “Those are my gifts to the surface dwellers.”

Vicky shrugged and followed behind him. They almost made their way to the forest when they heard a loud bang from behind them, both of them immediately jumping in response at the sudden disturbance. Marco dropped his pencils, and rushed to pick them up while Vicky turned to see what was behind them.

“Marco,” she said. “What’s that?” She pulled on his sleeve. Marco didn’t pick up all his pencils before turning his attention to the object Vicky was pointing at. When he finally saw it, his mouth was agape. The object was like nothing he’d ever seen before. It must’ve been large, because it was still quite a ways from the island, but was still plainly visible for the two of them to see. It had wings jutting from its side like a large bird, but had no face. Instead, it the front of this foreign object resembled a long beak, and its body was a light shade of brown. What caught Marco’s attention was the trail of smoke it left in its trail as it wavered through the sky like a lost and injured bird.

“Is it on fire?” Vicky asked. “Look! Look!” She pointed towards it. “It’s getting closer!”

Marco scrambled for his pencils and started to sketch the object, but it moved too fast for him commit its details to memory. While he watched his unpredictable movements, the object was approaching the island. It flew overhead into the forest, and they both felt the island shake beneath them after it crashed. They stood in silence for a few moments, before noticing smoke rising from where the object had landed.

“Should we tell our parents?” Vicky asked.

But Marco didn’t reply. Instead he grabbed his stuff and ran towards the smoke in the forest.

“Hey! Wait!” Vicky chased after him.

He needed to see what it was. He wanted nothing more than to draw it.

Vicky chased behind him, panting loudly and screaming at him. “What if it’s a monster from the surface? We should find a guard or my dad or someone. Marco! Are you even listening to me?”

“I need to see what it is first,” he finally called back to her. He didn’t look back but knew that she was shaking her head. He felt bad that she was following him, because in the back of his head he knew that it was a bad idea. That maybe whatever they were running towards would eat them or steal them away from his family, but much like almost walking off the island to visit the surface, he needed to know more about the outside world and this object could act as his gate to that new world he wanted to see.

They arrived at the scene to see several of the trees around the object broken in two. The grass beneath the object was on fire, and the brown winged object itself stopped making noise, except for the crackling fire spreading from its rear. Both kids stood silently for minutes, trying to take the whole image in. Marco sat down and started to sketch everything in front of him.

“Can we go, Marco?” Vicky asked.

Marco remained silent as he started sketching the flames.

“Marco, please.”

“…”

Vicky then took a deep breath and shouted his name louder than she did before. This got his attention. He stopped what he was doing and looked up at her—she was crying. Marco’s heart sank, and he stood up to hug her when he heard someone moaning from underneath the wreckage. They both turned their attention to the sound of the strange voice.

“Help,” it cried out.

They looked closer and Vicky spotted a person trying to crawl from beneath the winged object. “Look over there,” she said.

“Help,” the voice repeated.

Marco rushed over to the person with Vicky close behind him. They each grabbed an arm and help pull the person from the wreckage. They used all the strength they had while the person screamed in pain. That’s when they both noticed the person was a woman. She was quite taller than both of them, so she must’ve been an adult, Marco thought as he pulled on the woman’s arm. They had gotten her out far enough, but one of her legs was caught beneath one of the wings. After a few seconds of them trying to pull her from beneath the wing’s clutches, the woman batted them away and tried to crawl out herself.

Marco pushed his body against the wing. It was hot, but he persisted—his arm was on fire and sweat was pouring from his brow. After trying for what felt to him like an hour, he was finally able to angle the part of the wing high enough for the woman to free her leg in that split second. Vicky pulled the woman out quickly before Marco fell backwards, his right arm now screaming at him in pain. The three of them stayed on the ground for a few minutes before Vicky helped Marco up and lead him away from the woman on the ground.

The woman’s head was bleeding, but Marco noticed that she was dressed much differently than them. While most of their clothes were loose fitting shirts and shorts, this woman was dressed in a brown leathery material from head to toe, and she had goggles wrapped around her head.

Between breaths the woman finally muttered, “I can’t believe I made it all the way up here. The islands are real…I’m saved…”

Vicky and Marco exchanged looks, and it dawned on the two of them almost at the exact same time. Vicky started to speak, “Do you think—”

But Marco cut her off. “She’s from the surface,” he said. He fell backwards and stared up at the clouds between the branches. This woman was from the surface he repeated over and over in his mind. The fire began to spread to some of the nearby trees, but Marco’s mind was elsewhere. He couldn’t help but smile.

Nowhere to Go (An Exercise in Awkwardness)

Foreword

The story below was a character exercise for a creative writing course I took a few years back. The prompt was to create an awkward situation and write out how a character would handle it in order to get a better understanding on how characters react in different situations. As I was combing through my old pieces to transfer them from my old laptop to my new one, I decided that I should go ahead and post this one. It isn’t that long of a read. I hope whoever actually reads this enjoys it.

Nowhere to Go

I waited inside the coffee shop as the barista made my coffee—a hazelnut latte with a splash of vanilla, I’d somehow become addicted to them thanks to my last girlfriend. My friend, Bryan, waited outside sipping his Americano with a cigarette in his other hand. After two or three sips, he’d take a drag from his cigarette and blow a puff of smoke into the air.

“Jeff!” the girl behind the counter called out. “Jeff!”

I walked towards the counter signaling her that I was in fact Jeff. She smiled and handed me my latte. The cup was warm to the touch—the aroma of hazelnut and espresso filled my nostrils. I took a small sip. It was hot, but definitely would wake me up. There was a line forming all the way to the door, I walked past the people impatiently waiting in line and joined Bryan outside.

“What do you want to do today?” he asked.

“Dunno. We could do another Star Wars marathon at my place. It’s been a while since we did one of those.”

Even from behind his shades, I could tell he didn’t seem too enthusiastic. I could hear his phone vibrate in his pocket. He wrestled his phone out of the jeans I thought were too small for him, looked at it from a moment before setting it on the table, and then took another sip from his coffee before letting it stop. I stared at him with a raised eyebrow, but decided not to ask.

“Got any new games?” he asked.

“Nope. Wanna go to Play ‘N Trade? Maybe they’ve got some terrible game we could get for cheap,” I said.

“That’s an idea I can get behind.”

We talked and drank for a little while when his phone rang again. “Aren’t you going to get that?” I asked.

“It’s best if I don’t,” he said all cryptically.

“Whatever.”

“Bryan!” A shrill voice pierced my eardrums forcing me to wince in my seat. I looked over towards the street, and saw Bryan’s girlfriend, Bridget, standing there with both of her hands on her hip. She was fuming. I looked over at Bryan; it was hard to tell what he was thinking behind those shades. Both of them stared at one another waiting for the other to speak.

“Babe, what’s wrong?” he finally asked after what seemed like an eternity of silence.

“You’re an asshole! You know what’s wrong.”

Her face reddened. When I looked at Bryan, the color was completely drained from his face. It looked like he knew where this conversation was going.

“W-what are you talking about babe?” he asked—his stuttering a clear indication of his guilt.

“Tatiana. Does that name ring any bells?” she asked.

He took a second before answering. “Well, yeah. She’s your friend, right?”

“You fucking asshole. I know you two were fucking behind my back.”

I looked around. People started to stare. Bryan tried to get her to calm down, but that only made her louder. I took another sip of coffee, and decided it was probably best for me to leave, but she stopped me before I even got the chance to stand up—I only got as far as pushing my seat back.

“Where do you think you’re going?” she asked.

“Well, uh, you know, this seems more like a private thing so I thoug—”

“You knew about this, didn’t you?”

“Well, uh,” I said—the rest of the words not quite making their way out of my mouth. All I wanted to do was leave; I never wanted anything else in the world so badly.

“He has nothing to do with this, babe,” Bryan said. “Why don’t you calm down and we can talk about this on our way home?”

Telling her to calm down only made her shout louder—Bryan should have realized this, but I imagine he wasn’t thinking clearly. She yelled so loud everyone around the block could hear her; children stopped whatever they were doing while I noticed some people pulled out their phones to record what was going on. I stood there frozen in place, trying my best to cover my face as she berated and belittled Bryan. Bryan tried to talk his way out of this situation a few times, begging her to talk about this when they got home, but she did not yield. She went from crying hysterically, to calming herself and speaking in a loud whisper, and then circled back to the beginning with some more yelling.

I tried my best to leave, but both times I tried to get up she shot me a look that chained me back to my seat. I even tried to chime in and claim that it all could be a rumor—even though I started to believe more and more that it wasn’t—and she shut me down before I could finish my sentence. At this point, it was probably best that I sit quietly and see this whole affair through to the end. Her eyes said that she wanted the world to know what a cheating scumbag he was, and my role was to listen to her. There was nothing else I could do about it.

I looked over at Bryan again. He had taken off his shades at some point, and was rubbing both of his temples. He looked like he was about to blow. He hadn’t said much since she started her probably justified tirade. He glanced up at her, got up from his seat, and then started walking away with both hands in his pockets. She yelled at him, screaming for him to come back, but he didn’t turn around as he walked further and further away. She sat down in his seat and covered her face with both of her hands.

“Are you okay?” I asked her even though I knew she wasn’t.

“No, you asshole. Just go away.”

I sat there in silence for about four seconds, and then got up from my chair. I walked away, in the opposite direction of Bryan, and looked back to see her staring off into space—her eyes still red and puffy. I felt awful, but I knew there was nothing I could say to make her feel better. I really didn’t know her that well, and I doubt that she’d want to talk to anybody who was friends with her cheating liar of an ex. I took a deep breath, lamenting on the fact that I left my now cold coffee at the table.

“Maybe I’ll go to the park today,” I said to myself.

Introductory Essay

Hi,

My name is Alexander, and I love to write. I have big ambitions, but I just need to sit down and focus on them in order to make my dreams a reality. I’ve taken steps to get my creative juices flowing, but I’m still stuck within a stagnant routine of working, eating, drinking, and sleeping. This routine, while comfortable and oftentimes fun, is keeping me from accomplishing something grand because I’m not doing anything to stray from it. Now in order to accomplish something grand, I need to put the work in—I need to take risks.

I’ve played it way too safe for the past few years, taking baby steps towards a dream many would call hopeless or unachievable—afraid to proclaim my love for writing and for people. This has caused me to fall backwards into a “safe space” where I can live comfortably, but it’s not ideal. Dreamers can’t be afraid to take risks, and they must share their creations, their babies, their life’s work with the world. The must proclaim that this baby they crafted and nurtured with all their love is worthy of the world’s time. That thought is scary. People are ruthless; if it’s not worth their time, then they’ll either make fun of it or forget about it.

In a world overpopulated with creative geniuses—people who devote their whole lives to their craft—is there room for people like me who take half measures? People like me who are afraid to put their creations on a pedestal for the world to see? I’ll save the world time. The answer is no. It’s something you learn as a confused pre-teen filled with raging hormones (probably much earlier because you’re much smarter than me): the world is filled with billions of people and you are but a speck on a tiny rock in some lost corner of the universe. But then you ignore that moment of early existentialism and focus on your own little pool filled with fish of differing sizes. Some fish are mean and want to eat the smaller fish. Others just want to swim in their corner, ignoring the bigger fish while being simultaneously oblivious to other ponds where they may thrive. And then there are those like me who can’t swim, struggling to stay afloat, and then end up drowning amongst the oblivious fish.

Even though I’m just rambling, I feel as though I’ve gone way off topic. This is not an essay on adolescence. I’m no cognitive psychologist specializing in learning and development—although at some point this was a dream of mine. I’ve had many dreams in my short lifetime. Eighty percent of them have gone unfulfilled, which is why I’m sitting here in a dimly lit room while a three-wick candle freshens up my claustrophobic apartment on the first floor in the twelfth building of my apartment complex. I opened my blinds even though the sun has gone down hours ago; I want people to see me hunched over my thirteen-inch laptop while I listen to Travis Scott telling me that I can’t handle my liquor (he may be onto something).

What do I hope to accomplish with this essay? I’m not sure yet. Maybe it’ll hit me at the end. For now, I’m just writing for the sake of writing—honing my craft. Practicing sentence structure because it’s pretty trash. One thing I’ve noticed is I tend to fall into a pattern, much like the rest of my life, where each sentence follows such a similar structure, and they end up sounding the same. If you were to read some of my work out loud, you’d sound like a very convincing robot (but hey, you’d be giving Microsoft Sam a run for his money!). I’ve gotten this critique before from a writer with more talent than me, and I began to study the books I read; to see how their sentences differ from one another. I’d like to say I’ve improved, but I’d want to hear it from her directly. Too bad I don’t remember her name. Oh well. Guess I’ll continue with my sing-songy prose.

Description is something I also need help with. I tend to skimp on some description to keep the plot moving, but that just leads to me telling the reader what’s going, and that’s the cardinal sin of writing. Well sort of. There’s a time a place for telling, but I can’t rely on it for everything, otherwise the reader gets bored. But you know what’s been helpful? Listening to comedians. Good comedians are excellent storytellers, painting these extravagant scenes and transporting the listener to their own private world, not skimping out on details because it helps with the buildup. So, I’ve been practicing my oral storytelling skills with my friends, making sure I give them every important detail—telling stories to different groups of people to see which details are necessary and to figure out which details are superfluous. I’m sharing stories while honing my craft. Two birds, one stone.

By the way, thank you for staying with me so far. I know I would’ve checked out by now (even though this essay so far has only been about three pages—double spaced!). My attention span is fairly short. Anyway, the point of this essay on my twenty-eighth birthday is to do something outside my comfort level. And so, here is what I’ll do. I’m posting this somewhere. Maybe I’ll start a blogpost. Much like most other writers probably do. Secondly, I’m going to attempt to reconnect with someone I haven’t talked to in literal years. This person is the reason I wanted to write more.

It was three years ago when I moved out of my mom’s house and lived in a furniture-less apartment. I called my bedroom the bunker, because all I had in it was an air mattress, a modem, my grey brick of a laptop that required it to be plugged into the wall, and my blinds that had a creepy peephole cut in them for some reason, which meant I could see the cars drive by without even opening them. All I was missing was a thermos, some binoculars, and a sniper rifle to complete the picture (I don’t know how to use one, so it would collect dust in the corner with my useless laptop).

I was laying on my air mattress, attempting the impossible, trying to get comfortable, when my friend and I decided to chat on Skype—you know, when that was a thing people did. I honestly don’t remember the last time I used it. I think after I stopped talking to this person, the app kind of died to me. Collecting digital dust with the other unused programs on my phone. I digress.

For years, we talked late into the night regularly. We talked about anything from the food we liked to eat, the places we’d want to visit, even about our significant others. It was a friendship we both found value in, and it was nice to talk to someone that didn’t live anywhere near me. I feel like they felt the same.

On this night in my bunker, she started falling asleep on me like she normally did, which looking back, I found it endearing that someone enjoyed talking with me so much that we would talk until they were on the brink of sleep (or who knows, maybe I was just really boring). Well as she started to doze off, she wanted me to tell her a story. This story was nothing special—at least not to me. I actually don’t even remember all the details, but at the time she seemed to be completely enamored by it.

What followed was a simple horror story about this man in the suburbs being hunted by a killer, but he started hallucinating in the middle of this hunt. As he ran from house to house, he found that he was utterly alone in the neighborhood. The hallucinations would intensify, and he would spiral into paranoia as the hunter was hot on his trail. This is actually awful; I should’ve written this story down because I don’t remember anything else about it! Somewhere my creative writing teachers are collectively rubbing their temples at my past self.

However, what I remember clearly were her reactions. How she would keep asking me what happened next, her disgust at the creepy bits of the story, and the repeated oh no’s as the hunter got closer and closer to the increasingly panicked man. At the end of it, she was completely awake, and wanted to know how I came up with this story, asking me questions about my imagination that I had no real answers for. Honestly, she might not have found the story all that interesting and could’ve been humoring me the entire time, but I took her reactions to heart and decided that I wanted to go further with my storytelling. That’s what I want to accomplish in this world. I want people to ask for more details—for more stories from me. I want to entertain them and take them on a journey that only I’m able to take them on.

I know. This is the dream of every writer, and as of right now, there’s nothing separating me from everyone else trying to make it in the writing business, but I’m still going to try. I’m going to take that risk, or as I say to all my friends, “I’m going to roll that dice.” And that is the purpose of this essay. To establish my dream by taking a risk, to hone my craft, and to hope that I kept your attention all the way to end. If I didn’t, then I just need more practice.

Thank you to those who stuck with me all the way to this point. I know in the middle of this essay I said I’d find the purpose of at the end, but it turns out the primary purpose was in the very first paragraph (which I’m pretty sure I also repeated like two-thirds into this essay). Oops! I guess I like being circular; I blame studying philosophy for that. Anyway, my name is Alexander, and my dream is to write.