False Dawn #17: Out of the Pan
Part Three of Five: Time Constraints
Short Story Edition
Devin Leigh Michaels
I’ve been to Savannah. I’ve puked right over there!
“So, if you’re Destiny, is there a Fate, too? How ‘bout Old Man Time?” I challenge.
Kainoa looks at me with twin irises of electric blue, shrugging. “My grandfather is pretty old. He might qualify.”
I blink. “Dude, come on. There is no way you can get me to believe we’re in 1860s Georgia. I mean, seriously. Look around—how is any of this—”
“You! GIRL!” a soldier upon a horse shouts. “Your worth has reached its end.”
“Do what you must, General Sherman,” replies Casia, “but please, spare my brother.”
I turn to the gathering of generals and high-ranking soldiers of the Union Army before our porch. In the middle of the pack stands a young girl, perhaps fifteen at the most, with long fiery hair pulled back in a braid and a homemaker’s dress. Her chin is raised to defy, and God, if I don’t know that expression of haughty brilliance.
Then I see the man in chains on the ground. He’s older than Casia by a handful of years and by the looks of it, has been beaten from Atlanta to Savannah. His farmer’s shirt appears to have been washed in blood and his face attacked by fists and clubs. He still manages to speak, snatching her hand.
“No…we are in this…together.”
“Lance?” I murmur.
“You know them?” Jayden asks.
“Of course he does,” Rio answers. “He’s immortal.”
“No,” Kainoa snaps. “He’s not.”
I whirl to him. “I’ve drunken from the Universal Pancreas.”
“The Fountain of Youth, the Elixir of Life—yeah, I know its names, but you’re not immortal. Trust me. I’d know.”
“Trust me.” He looks up at me with those intense, almost horrifying blue eyes. “I’d know.”
“Do not fret, boy,” General Sherman replies, his voice cutting through any discussions in the Union Army. “You’ll be together—in death. KILL THEM BOTH.”
“No!” I use the railing as a launching point when in a flash of blue, Kainoa stands before me, pushing me back. “You can’t interfere! You can’t change what has already happened.”
“They’re my family! I just can’t—”
“I know how difficult this is, but you can’t.”
I fight him, struggle, and I finally manage to knee him the groin. Jumping onto the front yard, I race toward the Union Army, and just before I reach them, I’m tackled from behind.
I can’t let Jayden touch me. I can’ t let him take me away from Lance and Casia, but as Jayden’s fingers brush against my forehead, the last thing I see is a tanned soldier with salt and pepper hair raise his gun to shoot my “parents.”
“And who knows how to solve for x? …Ah, Ms. Johnson, show us on the board.”
My mom and uncle have been kidnapped by shadow demons. I’m half aforementioned shadow demon. For the last six months I’ve been traveling the East Coast with a were-phoenix and a reincarnated squire, and now after almost being killed by my new stepdad, I’m a prisoner in a government-sanctioned facility with the sole purpose to turn me and others “like me” into their slaves. Oh, and = sitting in a room with a blackboard, a teacher with a tight bun and a long dress, and books Albert Einstein wouldn’t want to read, I’m stuck in school.
Can this get any suckier?
“Ah, Ken. Why don’t you show us how to do number three on page one-eighty,” Ms. Martin asks, and her smile even reminds me of Ms. Heller’s from Anthony Wayne Middle School. She was—and probably still is—the personification of evil.
A pencil stabs me in the back before a paper football flies over my shoulder. With the teacher’s back to me, I quickly unfold it.
“It’s not what you think,” cursive writing tells. “Being in the past—you see things that already happened. The execution was over a hundred years ago.”
I pretend to scribble in my notebook but write back, “So I should let them go through it again?” With my hand behind my back, I feel the note disappear.
Another paper football lands almost perfectly on my first algebra problem. “Nothing you could have done would have changed what happened. NOTHING.”
Another football. “I was sold into slavery before I can even remember.”
What? Jayden couldn't have - I turn in my chair to see if he’s telling the truth, then stop. In a chair made for high schoolers sits ten-year-old Rio. He smiles sheepishly and reaches for the paper.
“Mr. Dawson!” Ms. Martin’s screeching voice jolts me, and I whirl. Rio’s hand swipes the note, and tiny white flame burns the note to ashes in his hands.
No…the flames are ice blue.
“Mr. Dawson, eyes up front, and perhaps you’ll like to show us how you found the answer to problem four?”
I didn’t even do problem one, but right now, my stomach decides it has priority.
“Ms. Martin, can I go to the bathroom?”
“May you, and after you show us problem four’s procedure.”
“Uh, Ms. Martin?” Rio’s little chubby hand rises. “Ral was showing me how to do problem three. May I try problem four on the board?”
The teacher’s eyes linger on my mine for a few moments in disbelief, then nods. “Sure, Mr. Santiago. Mr. Dawson, you make take your leave.”
As Rio limps past—he’s still healing from my wound—another note drops in my lap. I’m not quite sure where the toilet is, but I just need to get out of here. Exiting the room, I see a water fountain a little down the hall and head toward it in a trance. Rio…he’s ten—maybe…
“Looks like you’ve seen a ghost,” a teasing, high-pitched voice called.
Over my shoulder leans a woman older than Lance by a half-decade in a black suit minus the tie, wearing sunglasses inside.
“You’re Agent Skylar.”
She nods. “Call me ‘Holly.’ So…tell me. How’s your first week at Project: Avatar?”
“You mean Camp Stepford?”
A soft, sympathetic smile perks her cheeks, and her hand grabs my shoulder warmly. “It will get better. I promise. Being the newbie is always hard.”
“Why did you bring me here?” I demand. “And don’t tell me it’s for the bacon. I’ve tasted it. It sucks.”
“Nah. For the grits. Seriously. Paula Deen can’t make them better.”
“None of us are normal, Raleigh, but here, you can be yourself.”
“I was myself where I was from. My family—”
She smiles, and her soft hand touches my cheek. “Maybe you were lucky, Ral. Your parents were immortal, but where are they now?”
I look away.
“They abandoned you—”
“They DIDN’T abandon me!”
“Well, they are no longer here. Now, those of the project are your family. Here you will find what you’ve lost. You’ve already begun to. A blue hoodie is such an honor. You will wear it well.”
I stare at her—really look at her dark sunglasses, and I wish I could see her eyes. “You drink the Mountain Dew, don’t you?”
“I’m more of a Cherry Coke type of girl, but this place—it fosters you, guides you, teaches you to control the gift that has been given to you.”
“And just what gift do you have?”
I jump and whirl, and Sierra storms down the hallway, sparkles about her hands. “What are you doing out of class?”
“Uh…bathroom? And I was talking to Holly.”
Sierra looks beyond me, and I look at Holly, who shrugs. “She cannot see me. Not many can.”
“You are not many.”
Sierra snags my hood like a mother cat and drags me back toward class. “I will see you in detention, Mr. Dawson.”
“Here, it’s more than just clapping erasers and putting up the chairs.”
She’s not kidding.
The Blender’s been repaired, which doesn’t shock me, and a handful of my peers weeping doesn’t help my nerves.
“Please…” a nerdy-looking teen with block, black glasses and sticky-hair whines. “Please…I didn’t mean it. I’ll be better.”
“You promised that last time, Clarence,” Towne replies, coming to stand before us. Sierra “watches” our backs, while two other blue-hoodie storm troopers flank the gym teacher. “You know what happens to repeat offenders.”
Sierra’s sparkling hand falls upon his shoulder.
Looking away, I feel a flash of heat before it fades, and when I look back, Clarence’s glasses are gone.
His eyes are pure white.
“Wa—Where is everyone? Hello! HELLO!” Clarence puts out his fumbling hands to hit something, anything, but he can’t see to do so.
They took his sight.
“I—I can’t see! It can’t—”
Sierra’s hands grab him before he touches the camp counselor. “Come along, Clarence. You were looking to escape, and now you can’t look for anything. I believe that is a fair trade.”
Clarence whimpers and sobs as she leads him from the room.
“Let that be a lesson to you all,” Towne announces. “Follow directions. Accept your Fate. You belong here…with us.”
He motions toward the door. “All of you may leave…”
“…except you, Mr. Dawson.”
They took Jayden’s voice, Clarence’s sight. Oh, I’d so like to feel the heat of Casia’s flames or hear Lance call me “Page” right now. Okay, I actually hate both those things, but…
“No need to look so scared, Mr. Dawson.” The man places a hand on my shoulder. “I wanted to speak with you personally since I helped bring you to Avatar.”
“With your partner, Holly.”
“I prefer to work alone,” he admonishes, then pats my shoulder like the big brother he’s not. “I asked you to stay after so I may explain certain things to you, about how we run things here at the project. I’ve heard that already you have seen as a potential troublemaker. We don’t particularly like troublemakers, Mr. Dawson.”
“So I’ve heard,” I mutter. Please don’t kill me.
“However, you are very important to us, so I figure we’ll teach you a lesson today, instead of letting you learn on your own like Clarence and Jayden.”
A coldness sweeps through the Blender, like a ghost’s whisper upon my neck, and I’ve felt that before.
Blue flames erupt in the middle of the room in a tall flare and part like wings. They fling back to reveal an older teen, perhaps Kainoa’s age, with a devious smile and sadistic eyes. He’s sporting a blue hoodie.
“Hello, Raleigh Dawson. Or do you prefer ‘Prince of Darkness’?”
“Reger,” I breathe.
“Oh, good. You remember me. Remember what I did to Casia? Let’s see how well that works on a mortal.”
He tears forward.
Even with Jayden’s words echoing in my head—“What they don’t know, they can’t use”—I pivot and race back, my hand flying out toward the nearest shadow. Weaving it behind my hands, I throw up a shadow barrier between me and him, but with a blow of blue fire, he shatters it.
I search left, then right. I’ve back myself into a corner. I’ve—
“That was the trick. Now he’s the TREAT!”
Blue fire erupts about me like the Skadoian Lord did to me earlier, like Kalias burned me back in Skadoia. Blue crystals form upon my legs and creep up my thighs, then my stomach. It’s only a matter of time before the coldness takes all of me, and I can’t breathe. I can’t—
Instinct mixes with fear, and the next thing I know, my eyes slam shut as warmth and light explode from my hands. When the light lowers enough for me to see, my left hand burns with blue fire and right burns with white.
“Huh,” Reger muses. “Well, that’s new.”
I smirk like I’m Batman baiting the Joker. “Brand-spanking.”
And I hurl a flare of white fire at him.
“And you’re still a rookie.” He overwhelms me with blue.
“You see, Towne, you can’t be nice with this one.”
The coldness coursing through my veins leaves me flopping on the floor.
“His father is Skadoian—of the darkness. His mother was the queen of Zenith’s Rise—of the light.”
“Now she sits on the thrown of Skadoia, and the boy—well, the boy was born here—in Knightsdale.”
I manage to attack when the agents come for me. I hit Towne right in the cheek, kick a second in the groin, and elbow a third in the chin. I dash toward the exit, but Reger stands in my way.
“You are and always will be a threat.”
I stab a shadow lance through his side as I pass. “HELL YEAH!”
I can get out. I can get out. I know I can make it.
But then Sierra slips through the doorway, a sad smile upon her lips.
“We do not tolerate troublemakers, Ral.”
And my world explodes with sparkles.
I can’t see or hear anything. Not a first. Feeling still works, though, as hands claw at my arms and waist. Cable ties chaff my wrists and ankles, and only once I feel my back slam against a cold plate, and metal gauntlets slap on my appendages does the world rush to greet me once more.
A mouth plate clips into my place, holding my cheeks and cutting off my words. I glance about my new confinement—a small lab in a basement—and to my left, ethereal blue eyes demand I meet them.
Kainoa watches me, a mixture of resignation and sympathy radiating from his gaze, and I realize there’s no escape.
TO BE CONTINUED…