Plugged In, Chapter Eleven: Professor Pathos

“Can you talk or what?”

     Delaney waved a hand in front of Armin.  She had a face that was made for smiling: high cheekbones, arched eyebrows, and sparkling eyes.  Her extremely curly hair was thrown back into a pony tail, and her tan complexion was soft in the moonlight.

     “He could a minute ago.”  Satchel clapped Armin on the back.  “But I think that frizz fest on your head might’ve sent an electric current through the air and shocked him.”

     “Oh, shut-up.”  She held out a hand, and Armin took it awkwardly.  “I’m Delaney Hobbs.”

     “And this is Armin Fisher,” Satchel supplied.  “Hey, listen, is your dad around?  I’ve got a bit of a problem.”  He moved his hand, revealing a blotch of fresh blood. 

     Delaney gasped.  “What happened?  Are you okay?”

     “I’ll be better once I see your dad.  Where’s he at?”

     “Behind you might be a good place to look.”

     Satchel turned around, breathing a deep sigh of relief.  “Hey, Hobbs.  Think you could help me out?”

     Armin, after another long glance at Delaney, turned around, too.

     “YOU!”  Armin shouted, taking several steps backward and glaring at the newcomer with wide eyes.  He had seen that man before–he knew him well.  He had booed him episode after episode, cheered when Hem-V had, again and again, triumphed over his evil powers.

     Professor Pathos was staring right at him.  He looked more relaxed than during any episode, but it was undoubtedly the same person: same curly brown hair and thick glasses.  He wasn’t wearing the usual scientist lab coat, but instead was wrapped in a raggedy bath robe.

     “I see,” Professor Pathos began mildly, “that my fame precedes an introduction.”

     “You tricked me!” Armin shouted, rounding on Satchel.  “You’re part of his plan to create an army of Twickens–recruit, debriefed–how could I have been so stupid!”  He made to run away, but two pairs of strong arms held him back.

     “Calm down, kid!”

     “Yeah, you’ll get lost runnin’ off at this hour!”

     Armin continued to squirm: two men, both probably in their early twenties, were holding him back. 

     “Let me go!”

     “Looks like you’ve brought a live one, Satchel,” another voice supplied, and with a surge of terror, Armin realized there were more of them: they were coming from behind the buildings, staring at him, laughing.  More Twickens–all tan and stronger than him.

     “I’ll never join you, Pathos!”

     A chorus of laughter.

     “Satchel,” one of them, a girl with short, choppy red hair, admonished, “it’s your job to explain everything.”

     “This wasn’t my typical run. I–ouch!”

     “Sorry,” Pathos muttered.  He was examining Satchel’s wound.  “What did you do, use needle and thread?”

     “You can thank my surgeon, after he’s done freaking out,” Satchel muttered. 

     “I would’ve thought Dav could have–wait, where is Dav?”

     All the laughter disappeared as quickly as water sucked down a drain.  Armin, still struggling, was the only person making any sound at all.

     “Dav’s dead,” Satchel said quietly.  “I think they went after his family and he… he got mad at me for it.  So–”  He nodded to where Pathos was now working diligently, using materials from a first aid kit Delaney had fetched for him.  “So he stabbed me.  It was awful.  I think… dammit, I think he wanted me to see him die.  He… he really blamed me for what they did, and he wanted me to suffer by… by watching him–do I have to say any more?”  He gave Pathos a pleading look, and Pathos shook his head. 

     “That’s enough, Satchel.  We all get the picture.  Luckily, you’re okay.”

     “You can thank him.”  Satchel nodded to Armin, whose flailing resembled a fish trying to break free from a net.

     “Then let’s.”  Pathos straightened and approached Armin, who only began to fight harder, grunting and groaning.

     “Thank you for saving our dear friend.”

     “If I’d known what he was a part of, I woulda turned him in!  He tricked me, he–”

     “Come on, kid,” the redhead said with a sneer.  “That’s a TV show.  You don’t honestly think that’s the evil Professor Pathos, do you?”

     “Don’t fault him too harshly, Bly.  The line between reality and fiction is easily blurred, and the Governance knows it.”  He grinned at Armin in a way someone would when talking to a tantrum-throwing toddler.  “Allow me to introduce myself using my preferred name.  I am Milo Hobbs, former scientist for the Governance Research Facility.”

     Armin didn’t stop struggling.

     “I trust you saw my video I made a few years ago?  I also hope you realize that I was right–the Governance has been restricting the populace, using a nonexistent threat to exert their control and force.”

     “Yeah right.  I knew I shouldn’t’ve followed Satchel!  You’re all–”

     “Twickens?  Well, if the logic is that being exposed to chemicals makes you a Twicken–if it doesn’t kill you, that is–then aren’t you also now a Twicken?”

     Armin stopped struggling.  “What?”

     “Aren’t you also a Twicken?  Tell me, do you have a craving for spleen stew?”

     Nervous laughter spread through the group.  The hands on Armin’s shoulders slackened, then let go, and Armin didn’t try to run.  He realized he must have looked very silly, reacting as though a fictional villain was right in front of him… but he was.  That was Professor Pathos.

     “I’m sorry,” Armin said.  “I just–”

     “Reacted the way the Governance programmed you to.  My dear boy, no one can blame you for that.  Believe me, compared to some recruits, you were downright tame!”  The laughter became stronger, and soon everyone was welcoming him, introducing themselves.  Armin had never been around so many people, had never been touched by so many unfamiliar hands.  His eyes, however, sought just one other: Delaney came up to him, slapped him playfully, and said, “That’s for thinking my dad was a crazed super-villain.”

     “Your dad?”

     “Yeah.”  She smiled.  “And this–” She gave him a light peck on the cheek. “–is for helping Satchel.”

     “Not a problem,” Armin wanted to say, but it got caught somewhere in his throat.

     “I didn’t raise my daughter to give out kisses like they were chocolates!” Hobbs shouted from where he had returned to Satchel. 

     “Just a thank you.”

     “At least learn his name first,” Hobbs argued, squirting clear liquid onto a clean rag.

     “I do know his name.  It’s Armin Fisher.”

     Hobbs dropped the rag and the bottle; the strong smelling liquid soaked into the dirt and Hobbs swore loudly, grabbing it and standing bolt upright.

     “Fisher did you say?”

     “Yeah,” Delaney confirmed.

     Hobbs raised an eyebrow at Armin, then turned on Satchel.  “Fisher?”

     “Yeah, so what, Hobbs?”

     Hobbs spun on the spot, staring at all three of them in turn–Delaney, then Satchel, then Armin, then Satchel again.

     “Okay, okay, we can… we can do this.  Come on, Satchel, you need to lie down.” 

     The two of them, Hobbs now whispering fiercely in Satchel’s ear, walked off, leaving Armin feeling alone and confused with his overly-eager welcoming party.

     “Is there a problem?” he asked no one in particular.

     “Don’t worry about it,” Delaney said with a shrug.  “That’s just my dad for you.  Sometimes he gets worked up.  The things he’s seen will do that to a person.”

     “What has he seen?”

     “Oh, he’ll explain all of that.  But first–” Delaney spun around, grabbing his arms and leading him forward, towards the metal monsters, “–a tour!”

     “Yeah,” the redhead–Bly?–agreed.  “Now that you’re here, you’ll need to know your way around.”

     Feeling suddenly warm (a sensation that started at Delaney’s hands and migrated all the way through his body), Armin followed the two of them.  They told him all about the amusement park.  Apparently, this had been a place of fun and entertainment.  People had created these “rides” as a way to get a cheap thrill.  There had been games and food, and sometimes little shows.  It sounded like the kind of story his mother would have told him–except this was real.

     “What’s it like to ride that?” Armin asked, pointing to the giant circle that had first caught his eye.

     “The Ferris Wheel?”  Delaney asked.  “It’s great.  I’ve only been on once though.”

     “Why?  I mean, if you live here–”

     “We don’t run the electric stuff very often.  We have these back-up generators, but Dad’s careful with them.  Only emergencies or special occasions, he says.  He doesn’t want the Governance to know where we’re hiding out.”

     “Hiding out?”

     “Dad will explain.  Come on, he’s probably ready to talk to you now.”

     Delaney (again grabbing both of his hands) led him to the very center of the Park.  Everyone (about ten people, the youngest about fourteen, the oldest in their mid-twenties) was gathered around a comfortable bonfire.  Satchel was seated in a carved out boat, with peeling pink paint and a faded inscription that read T NN L O L VE.  He was stretched out in it, eyes closed. 

     “Come on, Satchel,” Delaney quipped, smacking his shoulder. “I’m not letting you milk that little cut for more than it’s worth.”

     Satchel stuck out his tongue.  “Your Dad said I could have the best seat in the house.”

     “Bet he didn’t say you couldn’t share it.”

     “Didn’t say I had to.”

     Delaney slapped him again, and Satchel moved into a sitting position. 

     Armin stared at them, eyes squinted slightly, and looked around for some vacated spot.

     “Armin, there’s room for three.  Come on.”  Satchel motioned him over, and with a sigh of relief (always better to sit with someone you know), Armin climbed into the boat as well.

     Hobbs came out of one of the buildings, carrying a fold-out chair.

     “Oh–see we’ve got enough, then,” he said, seeing the three huddled into the boat. With a shrug, he took the fold-out chair for himself, placing himself right in the center of attention.  Everyone became very quiet as Hobbs took a deep breath, collecting his thoughts, then:

     “Armin Fisher, if there’s one thing I believe in, it’s truth.  And this kind of strong belief can only come from someone who’s been both lied to and a liar himself.  Only someone who’s played on both sides of the field can truly understand what a glorious and dangerous thing the truth is, so before I say another word, I have to ask you–do you really want to know something as delicate as that?”

     Armin glanced at the pair beside him.  Satchel was staring straight ahead, but Delaney’s encouraging nod was all the encouragement Armin needed to say:

     “Yes.”

     “Okay.”  Hobbs scratched his neck, resituated himself on the chair, then said: “The beginning of a very long story: I wake up every morning wondering if I am a good man.  I figure I must be a better man than I used to be, but here I sit, in an abandoned amusement park, surrounded by people–young people with their whole lives in front of them–who would be safer if they were ignorant and at home.  And yet, I’ve taken them from their little havens and from their families, and I’ve told them the truth.  Does that make me a bad person?  Some days, I think that it does.  Others, I think I’m working for some sort of greater good, but who the hell elected me as the sole person to decide what the greater good was?  It’s a fight I have almost every day, but I keep doing it because, deep-down, I feel that the Governance is worse.  And as long as I think that, I won’t be able to stop educating people.  That’s what we’ve got going on here–an education program.

     “It started about two years ago.  As I’ve already told you, I was a scientist for the Governance.  Our job was to create poisons–”

     “Poisons?” Armin interrupted.  “But the Governance promised that no chemical warfare would ever happen again!”

     “And so they did. The key word being ‘warfare.’  They told us–the scientists that is–that the poisons we were creating were to be used to crush any rebellions.  They said they had created a near-utopia, but human nature being what it is, there was always a threat.  They claimed that they used it against Twickens–feeding our gullible minds with an urban legend.”

     “An urban–?”

     “The Twicken myth has existed since the Great Fissure itself.  The Governance has consistently used it to their advantage.  Something that has never existed outside of the masses’ imaginations and the Governance’s machinations.  But I’ll explain more about that momentarily.”  Hobbs cleared his throat. “Anyways, we scientists thought we were creating something special, something to help everyone.  We thought of ourselves as the world’s first line of defense, a rather testosterone-inducing idea for a bunch of brainiacs.

     “Well, the day came when I decided I wanted to do more.  Why stop with just this poison? I asked myself.  Why not try and do something that would help people expand their very limiting lives?  So, on my own time, I began running experiments on the environment.  What a hero I would be, I thought, if I could discover a way to dissipate the chemicals.  But do you know what I found?”

     Armin thought he knew the answer, but he stayed quiet.  Everyone had adopted disgusted expressions, and he did his best to copy them.

     “I found that the chemical traces were so minute they might as well have not been there at all.  Oxygen levels were stable; water contamination was extremely minimal–possibly even better than before the Great Fissure.  With this new information, I decided to run possibly riskiest experiment of my life.  I took a step outside.”  Hobbs smiled. “Then I took another, and another.  And then I took a whole walk!”  He released a humorless laugh.  “What a discovery!, I thought.  I was going to be the first person to tell everyone that the outside world was safe; we could leave our computers and start rebuilding the old life again.  But there was a bit of a kink in my plan–the Governance already knew.  Had known for years.  And they swore me to secrecy, when I refused…. When I refused, I came home to find a dead wife and a crying daughter.  My own poison, the one I had helped to create, had been used against me.”

     Armin glanced at Delaney; Satchel had placed a comforting hand on hers.  He wanted to do the same, tried, then stopped.  He must’ve looked like he had a nervous tick, because Delaney gave a little smile.

     “They always go after the spouse first.  They send a message.  Then they can use your kids as blackmail.  Except I wasn’t going to take it.  I told Delaney to leave home, to run, and I’d leave to.  We eventually found each other, and we continued on, with only limited rations, until we came upon this Park.  Since then, we have gardened and fished, and lived like right pioneers.  Well–”  He shrugged, “–if pioneers lived in an amusement park.”

     “The Governance killed–” Armin began, but then he realized how insensitive that sounded.  “I’m sorry.”

     “It’s okay, Armin.  Don’t apologize for something you didn’t cause.”  Hobbs looked around at the other faces, sparks from the fire framing his head.  They crackled and popped for a few minutes as Hobbs prepared the next part of his story:

     “Before I made a run for it, though, I managed to send out a video.  Apparently it went viral like that.” He snapped his fingers.  “Unfortunately, the Governance was prepared.  They used my little try at rebellion as an opportunity for propaganda.”

     “Propaganda?” Armin had never heard the word before, but Satchel supplied a definition before Hobbs could even open his mouth:

     “When someone powerful uses the media to make you think a certain way.”

     “Oh.”

     “Couldn’t have said it better myself,” Hobbs confirmed.  “They created Hem-V, a hero who’s antics constantly warn about the dangers of going outside and the inter-everything that the Governance relies on.  And, the best of course, warning against Twickens.

     “They designed Professor Pathos after me.  With a look alike and a lot of technical magic, they made me a fugitive without ever having to admit that someone was living outside with no chemical threat.  They made sure that anyone seen walking outside–such as Satchel–would be feared and, if possible, destroyed.  Wasn’t that your first impulse?”

     Armin didn’t answer.  How could he have been so used? 

     “Which brings us back to my little program,” Hobbs continued.  “It is Satchel’s job to do whatever he can to recruit as many new people as possible.  He’s proven himself to be both persuasive and stealthy, so he’s a natural at it.  We have a few other recruiters as well–”  He nodded at a pair, one boy and one girl, both in their late teens. “–but Satchel still holds the record for most recruits.”

     “It’s a title I hold proudly.”

     “The rest of us are runaways,” Bly offered.  “We couldn’t stand being under the Governance like that, so we left and came here.”

     “Sometimes just refusing to belong is the best rebellion there is,” Delaney explained. 

     “The amount of what we can do is limited,” Hobbs agreed with a sigh. “The Governance is many and powerful and we–well, take a look around.”

     Suddenly, the Parkseemed like nothing more than a hunk of twisted metal, tossed away and ignored. 

     “But it’s a start, and–” Hobbs shared a significant look with Satchel.  “–we’ve recently gained a new advantage.

     “But that’s us.  Who we are, what we stand for.  Not really all that dangerous, just a little… rebellious.  Though, of course, the Governance would think otherwise.  Do you have any questions, Armin?”

     All eyes were now on Armin, and he gulped.  He’d never had an audience before (the hundreds of people online suddenly seemed less real than the bodies sitting around him).  “Um… can I ask one?”

     “Please do.”

     “Were the chemicals ever real?”

     Hobbs breathed a long sigh.  “Yes, they must have been.  I said there were minute traces, remember.  And there have been skeletons discovered, mid-activity, many right here in the Park–don’t worry, you won’t find them.  We gave them proper burials.  But yes, there was some sort of warfare.  The Governance must have seen it coming.  I don’t know much about how they did.  Those who like a good conspiracy seem to think that they were a renegade bunch of radicals who slowly infiltrated the biggest governments of the day, initiating and instigating the warfare.  I, myself, think they were either a government that existed and saved a few successful or powerful people–”

     “But there’s compounds supervised by the Governance all over the world!” Armin argued.  “On the other side of the ocean!”

     “Yes.  I said one government was in charge of it.  I didn’t say they didn’t have allies in other countries.”

     “Oh.”

     “Either that, or they could have been a group of people–maybe a cult or something–that predicted a doomsday event like the Great Fissure.  So when it happened, they and their followers throughout the world were ready.  Whatever theory you believe–because I’m sorry to say that the Governance has done a good job in keeping the truth very fuzzy, even for me–but ultimately, they were prepared.  They had created the compounds, stored the food, water and oxygen, and utilized the interweb to its fullest potential.  The Governance, in the beginning, is what saved us, but now, it the very thing imprisoning us.  So is the way with power.” 

     “Satchel told me,” Armin began with a wary look at Satchel, who’s hand was still–(still? Armin thought)–on Delaney’s.  “Well… um… he told me that the Governance wanted to keep us inside.”

     “And so they do,” Hobbs agreed.  “It is much easier to control people who are contained than people who are free.  What’s more interesting is the complete lack of interest to go outside.  That video I sent out–the one that recreated me as the evil Professor Pathos–Satchel is the only one I have found who took that advice, took the risk, and stepped outside.”

     “You’ve been with him for three years?”

     “Not quite,” Satchel clarified.  “It took me a while to find him.  My dad went with me, but the Governance caught up with us.” Satchel swallowed.  “I hid, but the Governance took him… I don’t know where.”

     “How did they find you?”

     “We were clumsy and stupid.  We tried to hide in the compounds, but that didn’t work.  Late at night, Governance officials comb the areas, doing what they have to do to keep people inside.  If you don’t know their schedules–which I have since memorized–then you’re in trouble.”

     “Maybe your dad’s still alive.”

     “Yeah, maybe,” Satchel muttered, though his voice didn’t sound very confident.  He’d removed his hand from Delaney’s, and was staring off in the distance.

     “The interweb is more than just a way to keep people from getting cabin fever, more than entertainment and communication,” Hobbs continued.  “It’s a way for the Governance to watch everyone.  The Governance knows everyone probably better than they know themselves.  And not because they’re spying or invading, but because they’re just reading.  That’s it.  People post pictures and comments, statuses and Quips–have you ever realized how personal they are?  It takes so little to get to know someone when they put everything out there.  The Governance trains people to study those traits, and then learn how to use them against their victims.  Keeping people inside keeps them inter-connected, and that keeps the Governance in control.”

     “Basically,” Satchel supplied, sitting up and looking from Armin to the gathering around them.  “It takes three things to create a Governance: A dollop of fear.  A pinch of imprisonment.  And a liberal cup of spineless choice.  Do you realize how much of this happened just because no one stood up and said no, how much of this is the result of people letting the Governance in?”

     “People are lazy,” Delaney interjected.  She was sitting as straight as Satchel now, wide eyes furious.  “Why would they fight the Governance? They don’t have to work; everything is given to them!  All they have to sacrifice is their freedom for lives of luxury, and let’s face it, for most people that’s a fair trade.”

     “Doesn’t seem fair to me,” Armin muttered.  Only hours outside of the compound, and there was an almost physical reaction to being outside and with people.  It made his heart race and his skin prickle at the very thought that he was doing something real, rather than digital.  It was unbelievable, almost dreamlike.

     But there he was. And, even better, there she was, smiling at him and saying:

     “I knew I liked you.”

     “Thanks,” he said dumbly, smiling around at everyone else, who looked just as happy as Delaney.

     “Excellent,” Hobbs said.  “One more down.”

“Can you talk or what?”

     Delaney waved a hand in front of Armin.  She had a face that was made for smiling: high cheekbones, arched eyebrows, and sparkling eyes.  Her extremely curly hair was thrown back into a pony tail, and her tan complexion was soft in the moonlight.

     “He could a minute ago.”  Satchel clapped Armin on the back.  “But I think that frizz fest on your head might’ve sent an electric current through the air and shocked him.”

     “Oh, shut-up.”  She held out a hand, and Armin took it awkwardly.  “I’m Delaney Hobbs.”

     “And this is Armin Fisher,” Satchel supplied.  “Hey, listen, is your dad around?  I’ve got a bit of a problem.”  He moved his hand, revealing a blotch of fresh blood. 

     Delaney gasped.  “What happened?  Are you okay?”

     “I’ll be better once I see your dad.  Where’s he at?”

     “Behind you might be a good place to look.”

     Satchel turned around, breathing a deep sigh of relief.  “Hey, Hobbs.  Think you could help me out?”

     Armin, after another long glance at Delaney, turned around, too.

     “YOU!”  Armin shouted, taking several steps backward and glaring at the newcomer with wide eyes.  He had seen that man before–he knew him well.  He had booed him episode after episode, cheered when Hem-V had, again and again, triumphed over his evil powers.

     Professor Pathos was staring right at him.  He looked more relaxed than during any episode, but it was undoubtedly the same person: same curly brown hair and thick glasses.  He wasn’t wearing the usual scientist lab coat, but instead was wrapped in a raggedy bath robe.

     “I see,” Professor Pathos began mildly, “that my fame precedes an introduction.”

     “You tricked me!” Armin shouted, rounding on Satchel.  “You’re part of his plan to create an army of Twickens–recruit, debriefed–how could I have been so stupid!”  He made to run away, but two pairs of strong arms held him back.

     “Calm down, kid!”

     “Yeah, you’ll get lost runnin’ off at this hour!”

     Armin continued to squirm: two men, both probably in their early twenties, were holding him back. 

     “Let me go!”

     “Looks like you’ve brought a live one, Satchel,” another voice supplied, and with a surge of terror, Armin realized there were more of them: they were coming from behind the buildings, staring at him, laughing.  More Twickens–all tan and stronger than him.

     “I’ll never join you, Pathos!”

     A chorus of laughter.

     “Satchel,” one of them, a girl with short, choppy red hair, admonished, “it’s your job to explain everything.”

     “This wasn’t my typical run. I–ouch!”

     “Sorry,” Pathos muttered.  He was examining Satchel’s wound.  “What did you do, use needle and thread?”

     “You can thank my surgeon, after he’s done freaking out,” Satchel muttered. 

     “I would’ve thought Dav could have–wait, where is Dav?”

     All the laughter disappeared as quickly as water sucked down a drain.  Armin, still struggling, was the only person making any sound at all.

     “Dav’s dead,” Satchel said quietly.  “I think they went after his family and he… he got mad at me for it.  So–”  He nodded to where Pathos was now working diligently, using materials from a first aid kit Delaney had fetched for him.  “So he stabbed me.  It was awful.  I think… dammit, I think he wanted me to see him die.  He… he really blamed me for what they did, and he wanted me to suffer by… by watching him–do I have to say any more?”  He gave Pathos a pleading look, and Pathos shook his head. 

     “That’s enough, Satchel.  We all get the picture.  Luckily, you’re okay.”

     “You can thank him.”  Satchel nodded to Armin, whose flailing resembled a fish trying to break free from a net.

     “Then let’s.”  Pathos straightened and approached Armin, who only began to fight harder, grunting and groaning.

     “Thank you for saving our dear friend.”

     “If I’d known what he was a part of, I woulda turned him in!  He tricked me, he–”

     “Come on, kid,” the redhead said with a sneer.  “That’s a TV show.  You don’t honestly think that’s the evil Professor Pathos, do you?”

     “Don’t fault him too harshly, Bly.  The line between reality and fiction is easily blurred, and the Governance knows it.”  He grinned at Armin in a way someone would when talking to a tantrum-throwing toddler.  “Allow me to introduce myself using my preferred name.  I am Milo Hobbs, former scientist for the Governance Research Facility.”

     Armin didn’t stop struggling.

     “I trust you saw my video I made a few years ago?  I also hope you realize that I was right–the Governance has been restricting the populace, using a nonexistent threat to exert their control and force.”

     “Yeah right.  I knew I shouldn’t’ve followed Satchel!  You’re all–”

     “Twickens?  Well, if the logic is that being exposed to chemicals makes you a Twicken–if it doesn’t kill you, that is–then aren’t you also now a Twicken?”

     Armin stopped struggling.  “What?”

     “Aren’t you also a Twicken?  Tell me, do you have a craving for spleen stew?”

     Nervous laughter spread through the group.  The hands on Armin’s shoulders slackened, then let go, and Armin didn’t try to run.  He realized he must have looked very silly, reacting as though a fictional villain was right in front of him… but he was.  That was Professor Pathos.

     “I’m sorry,” Armin said.  “I just–”

     “Reacted the way the Governance programmed you to.  My dear boy, no one can blame you for that.  Believe me, compared to some recruits, you were downright tame!”  The laughter became stronger, and soon everyone was welcoming him, introducing themselves.  Armin had never been around so many people, had never been touched by so many unfamiliar hands.  His eyes, however, sought just one other: Delaney came up to him, slapped him playfully, and said, “That’s for thinking my dad was a crazed super-villain.”

     “Your dad?”

     “Yeah.”  She smiled.  “And this–” She gave him a light peck on the cheek. “–is for helping Satchel.”

     “Not a problem,” Armin wanted to say, but it got caught somewhere in his throat.

     “I didn’t raise my daughter to give out kisses like they were chocolates!” Hobbs shouted from where he had returned to Satchel. 

     “Just a thank you.”

     “At least learn his name first,” Hobbs argued, squirting clear liquid onto a clean rag.

     “I do know his name.  It’s Armin Fisher.”

     Hobbs dropped the rag and the bottle; the strong smelling liquid soaked into the dirt and Hobbs swore loudly, grabbing it and standing bolt upright.

     “Fisher did you say?”

     “Yeah,” Delaney confirmed.

     Hobbs raised an eyebrow at Armin, then turned on Satchel.  “Fisher?”

     “Yeah, so what, Hobbs?”

     Hobbs spun on the spot, staring at all three of them in turn–Delaney, then Satchel, then Armin, then Satchel again.

     “Okay, okay, we can… we can do this.  Come on, Satchel, you need to lie down.” 

     The two of them, Hobbs now whispering fiercely in Satchel’s ear, walked off, leaving Armin feeling alone and confused with his overly-eager welcoming party.

     “Is there a problem?” he asked no one in particular.

     “Don’t worry about it,” Delaney said with a shrug.  “That’s just my dad for you.  Sometimes he gets worked up.  The things he’s seen will do that to a person.”

     “What has he seen?”

     “Oh, he’ll explain all of that.  But first–” Delaney spun around, grabbing his arms and leading him forward, towards the metal monsters, “–a tour!”

     “Yeah,” the redhead–Bly?–agreed.  “Now that you’re here, you’ll need to know your way around.”

     Feeling suddenly warm (a sensation that started at Delaney’s hands and migrated all the way through his body), Armin followed the two of them.  They told him all about the amusement park.  Apparently, this had been a place of fun and entertainment.  People had created these “rides” as a way to get a cheap thrill.  There had been games and food, and sometimes little shows.  It sounded like the kind of story his mother would have told him–except this was real.

     “What’s it like to ride that?” Armin asked, pointing to the giant circle that had first caught his eye.

     “The Ferris Wheel?”  Delaney asked.  “It’s great.  I’ve only been on once though.”

     “Why?  I mean, if you live here–”

     “We don’t run the electric stuff very often.  We have these back-up generators, but Dad’s careful with them.  Only emergencies or special occasions, he says.  He doesn’t want the Governance to know where we’re hiding out.”

     “Hiding out?”

     “Dad will explain.  Come on, he’s probably ready to talk to you now.”

     Delaney (again grabbing both of his hands) led him to the very center of the Park.  Everyone (about ten people, the youngest about fourteen, the oldest in their mid-twenties) was gathered around a comfortable bonfire.  Satchel was seated in a carved out boat, with peeling pink paint and a faded inscription that read T NN L O L VE.  He was stretched out in it, eyes closed. 

     “Come on, Satchel,” Delaney quipped, smacking his shoulder. “I’m not letting you milk that little cut for more than it’s worth.”

     Satchel stuck out his tongue.  “Your Dad said I could have the best seat in the house.”

     “Bet he didn’t say you couldn’t share it.”

     “Didn’t say I had to.”

     Delaney slapped him again, and Satchel moved into a sitting position. 

     Armin stared at them, eyes squinted slightly, and looked around for some vacated spot.

     “Armin, there’s room for three.  Come on.”  Satchel motioned him over, and with a sigh of relief (always better to sit with someone you know), Armin climbed into the boat as well.

     Hobbs came out of one of the buildings, carrying a fold-out chair.

     “Oh–see we’ve got enough, then,” he said, seeing the three huddled into the boat. With a shrug, he took the fold-out chair for himself, placing himself right in the center of attention.  Everyone became very quiet as Hobbs took a deep breath, collecting his thoughts, then:

     “Armin Fisher, if there’s one thing I believe in, it’s truth.  And this kind of strong belief can only come from someone who’s been both lied to and a liar himself.  Only someone who’s played on both sides of the field can truly understand what a glorious and dangerous thing the truth is, so before I say another word, I have to ask you–do you really want to know something as delicate as that?”

     Armin glanced at the pair beside him.  Satchel was staring straight ahead, but Delaney’s encouraging nod was all the encouragement Armin needed to say:

     “Yes.”

     “Okay.”  Hobbs scratched his neck, resituated himself on the chair, then said: “The beginning of a very long story: I wake up every morning wondering if I am a good man.  I figure I must be a better man than I used to be, but here I sit, in an abandoned amusement park, surrounded by people–young people with their whole lives in front of them–who would be safer if they were ignorant and at home.  And yet, I’ve taken them from their little havens and from their families, and I’ve told them the truth.  Does that make me a bad person?  Some days, I think that it does.  Others, I think I’m working for some sort of greater good, but who the hell elected me as the sole person to decide what the greater good was?  It’s a fight I have almost every day, but I keep doing it because, deep-down, I feel that the Governance is worse.  And as long as I think that, I won’t be able to stop educating people.  That’s what we’ve got going on here–an education program.

     “It started about two years ago.  As I’ve already told you, I was a scientist for the Governance.  Our job was to create poisons–”

     “Poisons?” Armin interrupted.  “But the Governance promised that no chemical warfare would ever happen again!”

     “And so they did. The key word being ‘warfare.’  They told us–the scientists that is–that the poisons we were creating were to be used to crush any rebellions.  They said they had created a near-utopia, but human nature being what it is, there was always a threat.  They claimed that they used it against Twickens–feeding our gullible minds with an urban legend.”

     “An urban–?”

     “The Twicken myth has existed since the Great Fissure itself.  The Governance has consistently used it to their advantage.  Something that has never existed outside of the masses’ imaginations and the Governance’s machinations.  But I’ll explain more about that momentarily.”  Hobbs cleared his throat. “Anyways, we scientists thought we were creating something special, something to help everyone.  We thought of ourselves as the world’s first line of defense, a rather testosterone-inducing idea for a bunch of brainiacs.

     “Well, the day came when I decided I wanted to do more.  Why stop with just this poison? I asked myself.  Why not try and do something that would help people expand their very limiting lives?  So, on my own time, I began running experiments on the environment.  What a hero I would be, I thought, if I could discover a way to dissipate the chemicals.  But do you know what I found?”

     Armin thought he knew the answer, but he stayed quiet.  Everyone had adopted disgusted expressions, and he did his best to copy them.

     “I found that the chemical traces were so minute they might as well have not been there at all.  Oxygen levels were stable; water contamination was extremely minimal–possibly even better than before the Great Fissure.  With this new information, I decided to run possibly riskiest experiment of my life.  I took a step outside.”  Hobbs smiled. “Then I took another, and another.  And then I took a whole walk!”  He released a humorless laugh.  “What a discovery!, I thought.  I was going to be the first person to tell everyone that the outside world was safe; we could leave our computers and start rebuilding the old life again.  But there was a bit of a kink in my plan–the Governance already knew.  Had known for years.  And they swore me to secrecy, when I refused…. When I refused, I came home to find a dead wife and a crying daughter.  My own poison, the one I had helped to create, had been used against me.”

     Armin glanced at Delaney; Satchel had placed a comforting hand on hers.  He wanted to do the same, tried, then stopped.  He must’ve looked like he had a nervous tick, because Delaney gave a little smile.

     “They always go after the spouse first.  They send a message.  Then they can use your kids as blackmail.  Except I wasn’t going to take it.  I told Delaney to leave home, to run, and I’d leave to.  We eventually found each other, and we continued on, with only limited rations, until we came upon this Park.  Since then, we have gardened and fished, and lived like right pioneers.  Well–”  He shrugged, “–if pioneers lived in an amusement park.”

     “The Governance killed–” Armin began, but then he realized how insensitive that sounded.  “I’m sorry.”

     “It’s okay, Armin.  Don’t apologize for something you didn’t cause.”  Hobbs looked around at the other faces, sparks from the fire framing his head.  They crackled and popped for a few minutes as Hobbs prepared the next part of his story:

     “Before I made a run for it, though, I managed to send out a video.  Apparently it went viral like that.” He snapped his fingers.  “Unfortunately, the Governance was prepared.  They used my little try at rebellion as an opportunity for propaganda.”

     “Propaganda?” Armin had never heard the word before, but Satchel supplied a definition before Hobbs could even open his mouth:

     “When someone powerful uses the media to make you think a certain way.”

     “Oh.”

     “Couldn’t have said it better myself,” Hobbs confirmed.  “They created Hem-V, a hero who’s antics constantly warn about the dangers of going outside and the inter-everything that the Governance relies on.  And, the best of course, warning against Twickens.

     “They designed Professor Pathos after me.  With a look alike and a lot of technical magic, they made me a fugitive without ever having to admit that someone was living outside with no chemical threat.  They made sure that anyone seen walking outside–such as Satchel–would be feared and, if possible, destroyed.  Wasn’t that your first impulse?”

     Armin didn’t answer.  How could he have been so used? 

     “Which brings us back to my little program,” Hobbs continued.  “It is Satchel’s job to do whatever he can to recruit as many new people as possible.  He’s proven himself to be both persuasive and stealthy, so he’s a natural at it.  We have a few other recruiters as well–”  He nodded at a pair, one boy and one girl, both in their late teens. “–but Satchel still holds the record for most recruits.”

     “It’s a title I hold proudly.”

     “The rest of us are runaways,” Bly offered.  “We couldn’t stand being under the Governance like that, so we left and came here.”

     “Sometimes just refusing to belong is the best rebellion there is,” Delaney explained. 

     “The amount of what we can do is limited,” Hobbs agreed with a sigh. “The Governance is many and powerful and we–well, take a look around.”

     Suddenly, the Parkseemed like nothing more than a hunk of twisted metal, tossed away and ignored. 

     “But it’s a start, and–” Hobbs shared a significant look with Satchel.  “–we’ve recently gained a new advantage.

     “But that’s us.  Who we are, what we stand for.  Not really all that dangerous, just a little… rebellious.  Though, of course, the Governance would think otherwise.  Do you have any questions, Armin?”

     All eyes were now on Armin, and he gulped.  He’d never had an audience before (the hundreds of people online suddenly seemed less real than the bodies sitting around him).  “Um… can I ask one?”

     “Please do.”

     “Were the chemicals ever real?”

     Hobbs breathed a long sigh.  “Yes, they must have been.  I said there were minute traces, remember.  And there have been skeletons discovered, mid-activity, many right here in the Park–don’t worry, you won’t find them.  We gave them proper burials.  But yes, there was some sort of warfare.  The Governance must have seen it coming.  I don’t know much about how they did.  Those who like a good conspiracy seem to think that they were a renegade bunch of radicals who slowly infiltrated the biggest governments of the day, initiating and instigating the warfare.  I, myself, think they were either a government that existed and saved a few successful or powerful people–”

     “But there’s compounds supervised by the Governance all over the world!” Armin argued.  “On the other side of the ocean!”

     “Yes.  I said one government was in charge of it.  I didn’t say they didn’t have allies in other countries.”

     “Oh.”

     “Either that, or they could have been a group of people–maybe a cult or something–that predicted a doomsday event like the Great Fissure.  So when it happened, they and their followers throughout the world were ready.  Whatever theory you believe–because I’m sorry to say that the Governance has done a good job in keeping the truth very fuzzy, even for me–but ultimately, they were prepared.  They had created the compounds, stored the food, water and oxygen, and utilized the interweb to its fullest potential.  The Governance, in the beginning, is what saved us, but now, it the very thing imprisoning us.  So is the way with power.” 

     “Satchel told me,” Armin began with a wary look at Satchel, who’s hand was still–(still? Armin thought)–on Delaney’s.  “Well… um… he told me that the Governance wanted to keep us inside.”

     “And so they do,” Hobbs agreed.  “It is much easier to control people who are contained than people who are free.  What’s more interesting is the complete lack of interest to go outside.  That video I sent out–the one that recreated me as the evil Professor Pathos–Satchel is the only one I have found who took that advice, took the risk, and stepped outside.”

     “You’ve been with him for three years?”

     “Not quite,” Satchel clarified.  “It took me a while to find him.  My dad went with me, but the Governance caught up with us.” Satchel swallowed.  “I hid, but the Governance took him… I don’t know where.”

     “How did they find you?”

     “We were clumsy and stupid.  We tried to hide in the compounds, but that didn’t work.  Late at night, Governance officials comb the areas, doing what they have to do to keep people inside.  If you don’t know their schedules–which I have since memorized–then you’re in trouble.”

     “Maybe your dad’s still alive.”

     “Yeah, maybe,” Satchel muttered, though his voice didn’t sound very confident.  He’d removed his hand from Delaney’s, and was staring off in the distance.

     “The interweb is more than just a way to keep people from getting cabin fever, more than entertainment and communication,” Hobbs continued.  “It’s a way for the Governance to watch everyone.  The Governance knows everyone probably better than they know themselves.  And not because they’re spying or invading, but because they’re just reading.  That’s it.  People post pictures and comments, statuses and Quips–have you ever realized how personal they are?  It takes so little to get to know someone when they put everything out there.  The Governance trains people to study those traits, and then learn how to use them against their victims.  Keeping people inside keeps them inter-connected, and that keeps the Governance in control.”

     “Basically,” Satchel supplied, sitting up and looking from Armin to the gathering around them.  “It takes three things to create a Governance: A dollop of fear.  A pinch of imprisonment.  And a liberal cup of spineless choice.  Do you realize how much of this happened just because no one stood up and said no, how much of this is the result of people letting the Governance in?”

     “People are lazy,” Delaney interjected.  She was sitting as straight as Satchel now, wide eyes furious.  “Why would they fight the Governance? They don’t have to work; everything is given to them!  All they have to sacrifice is their freedom for lives of luxury, and let’s face it, for most people that’s a fair trade.”

     “Doesn’t seem fair to me,” Armin muttered.  Only hours outside of the compound, and there was an almost physical reaction to being outside and with people.  It made his heart race and his skin prickle at the very thought that he was doing something real, rather than digital.  It was unbelievable, almost dreamlike.

     But there he was. And, even better, there she was, smiling at him and saying:

     “I knew I liked you.”

     “Thanks,” he said dumbly, smiling around at everyone else, who looked just as happy as Delaney.

     “Excellent,” Hobbs said.  “One more down.”

To be continued.

Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021

Plugged In, Chapter Ten: Motorbikes

There was no use in shouting.  Armin knew that; there was no one who would dare open their doors to someone’s useless “help” right before the chemicals began to do their work.  Armin watched as the door closed with an ominous hiss, and as Satchel, the same deplorable grin plastered on his face, appeared in the window.  Armin shut his eyes tight, holding onto his arms in a weak attempt at protection.  Any moment, the burning would start… the pain… the disintegration….

     The coolness?

     Armin, breathing so heavily he sounded like a bull, pried his eyes open.  The night air was cool against his skin.  The air smelled sweet with… what was that smell?  It was far away, but clear and deep.  There was no danger… nothing like what he’d seen in videos or read about in chat rooms.

     Had Hem-V taught him nothing?

     Apparently, yes.

     Another whoosh, this time signaling that Satchel was walking outside.  Right before the door closed, he stuck a piece of cardboard in the doorjamb.  “Kink in the system.  Just give that a wiggle, and the door’s emergency mode will kick in and make it reopen.  Got it, Armin?”

     Armin couldn’t answer.  He was standing outside.  Outside!  And he was whole and healthy and–

     “What the hell?”

     Satchel’s eyes were sparkling.  “That was my reaction, too.”

     “How is–what is–” Armin waved his arms around uselessly.  There were no words to describe what had just happened.

     “I like when I see this in a recruit.  I hate the ones who cry or act scared.  A little rebellion when you realize you’ve been lied to is a good thing.  That’s what my dad always used to say.  ‘Don’t get scared, Satchel.  Get angry.’  Advice like that’ll save your life, if you ask me.”

     “Lied to?”

     “Who told you all this stuff about the chemicals?  About the Twickens?”

     “The…”  Armin couldn’t finish the sentence.  The Governance.  And by extension… his dad.  But no, his dad was a lot of things, but he wasn’t a liar.  Especially not to his only son. 

     “Does everyone in the Governance know it’s safe?”

     “I don’t think so.  Only the higher ups know everything.  Your average worker, like the Officers and such, are probably just as clueless as your five-minute ago self.”

     Armin breathed a sigh of relief–outside.  He couldn’t get over it.  He was breathing (and living) outside. 

     Satchel placed a hand on his shoulder, and Armin was surprised by the amount of weight that came with it.

     “I’m still… uh… kinda weak, Armin.  Mind if I rest just a sec’?  Then we can get goin’.”

     “Goin’?”

     Satchel was smiling widely; it was an expression that was both terrifying and exciting.  “This is only the beginning, Armin.  We Twickens have a whole world the Governance would just love to get their grubby little hands on.”

     Armin’s heart raced.  An hour ago, he’d thought he was going to be something’s dinner; a few minutes ago, that he was going to be flambéed.  And now… now he didn’t know what to expect. 

     “If you want to, that is.  I don’t force anything.  But understand, please, that I’m going to disappear if you don’t want to come.  Just thought I’d offer you the chance to, you know, really live.”

     “What’s that supposed to mean?”

     “If you’ll come along, I’ll show you.”

     Armin hesitated.  His dad would kill him… but why did his dad need to know any of this?  Armin straightened, looked right into Satchel’s eyes, and nodded.

     “Great.”  Satchel released a long puff of breath, then continued in a tour guide-like voice.  “Right this way.”

     What Armin expected next was a dodge-and-roll spy sequence, full of tiptoeing and specialized sign language.  What happened was Satchel limping slightly, leading the way, talking in a quiet, but animated, voice.  No blinds opened to watch the two of them doing the unthinkable; no Governance officials fell upon them like spiders on flies.  Everything was quiet.  The only hesitation was when they passed the same spot where Satchel had been found.

     It had been cleaned, and the other body was gone.  Satchel paused, an unreadable mask replacing his usual carefree features.

     “Can I ask what happened?”

     “There’s a time and place for questions, the best of which being when I know I’ll only have to say it once.”  Satchel’s jaw tightened.  “Come on.”

     They continued in silence for a while; Armin wondered who could have taken the other body.  But the answer came to him more quickly than he’d expected–some people in the Governance knew it was safe to walk outside.  They must have come to pick him up after the Drafting had ended for the day.

     The Drafting.

     “Unbelievable.”  Armin stopped, his shadow stretching in front of him.  Satchel turned, an eyebrow raised.

     “The Draft–there’s no reason for it.  If we could all go outside and get the things we needed–and if there’s no chemicals–then the Drafters are useless!”

     “Not useless.  All part of the elegant system of keeping people inside.”

     “I don’t understand.  Why would they–?”

     “You know, I’m not the best one to explain that.  Once we get to the Park, you’ll be debriefed, ‘kay?”

     “Debriefed?”  Armin sped up to walk alongside Satchel.  He’d also called Armin a “recruit.”  What was he joining exactly, an army?

     “That sounds bad, doesn’t it?” Satchel grinned painfully, clutching his side and leaning against one of the many concrete boxes that people called their homes.  “We like to think of ourselves as an ‘education program,’ does that make you feel better?”

     “Yeah, yeah,” Armin agreed uncertainly. 

     “Okay, let’s get going.  We’re nearly at the wall.”

     And after only a few more minutes of walking, they came to the final row of houses, snuck behind them, and met with the ten foot stretch of concrete that surrounded the compound.  Armin craned his neck to see the top.  He’d always known about it: there were maps that he’d studied during lessons, glimpses from the tram window.  But it had always just been a part of the landscape, a simple fact.  But, then again, the chemicals had once been that, too. 

     But now, the wall was taller than he remembered.  In his mind it had simply been a boundary: here’s where the compound ends, here’s where it begins.  No more imposing than drawing a line in the dirt.  But now, there was something prison-like in the way it obscured the stars and sent dark shadows over him and Satchel.

     “Well, we can stare, or we can climb.”

     “Huh?”

     Armin spun around.  Satchel was lifting up a loose piece of concrete, near where the ground and wall met.  He reached in, pulling out a rope and grappling hook. 

     “I’m gonna go first, just ‘cuz I’m gonna be slower than usual and I’ll need a lookout, ‘kay?”

     Armin didn’t respond; he’d only seen tools like that in the regimens.  He watched with awe as Satchel threw it over the wall (it took a couple of tries; he kept cursing, rubbing his abdomen).  But he eventually got it, and began the incredibly long (and judging by how often he groaned and swore, painful) climb up the wall.  When he got to the top, he clutched his side, and half-shouted to Armin.

     “I’m bleeding again.  Didn’t happen to bring a first aid kit, did you?”

     “No.”

     “Okay, whatever.  I’ll be fine.  It’s not bad.”

     “Are you–?”

     “Sure?  Do I look like a Medical Officer?  No, I’m not sure, but I’m hoping, so hurry up.”

     Hurrying up wasn’t exactly Armin’s strong suit.  He’d climbed walls before–digitally.  There was a difference between waving your hands in front of a sensor and actually commanding your own body weight to move at a ninety degree angle.  It took several tries for him to even get momentum going, but Satchel never once acted bored or frustrated.  In fact, he did his best to disguise the pain that Armin knew he must be feeling.

     “You’re actually doin’, good, Armin.  Way better than most.  Don’t worry about how long you’re taking.”

     “How-how long did I-I take?” Armin panted, his shirt soaked with sweat, when he finally met Satchel at the top.

     “About a half hour, but who’s counting?”  Satchel gave a half grin, then checked the grappling hook to make sure it was still secure.  He pushed the rope over the other ledge, then said, “Going down’s way easier.  Not afraid of heights, are you?”

     “I don’t know.”

     “Well, I guess we’ll find out, huh?”  He passed Armin the rope.  “Just hold onto this, and face the wall, then sort of… walk down it, ‘kay?”

     “Aren’t you going to go first?”

     “Are you kiddin’?  This is your first time, so trust me, you’ll feel better knowing someone’s up here steadying the rope a bit.”

     Armin didn’t argue, but did exactly what Satchel had said.  After all, he’d gone this far, why not see where this little adventure led him?  Going down was much easier–and he must not have been afraid of heights, because the entire sensation was a little exhilarating. 

     “Great job, Armin! Hold on, I’m coming!”

     Satchel did, with a kind of grace that could only come with having propelled up and down that wall many times.  He landed with a clumsy plop, though, still grabbing at his side.  Armin couldn’t see any blood, though he was sure Satchel was doing his best to keep it hidden.

     “Welcome, Armin Fisher,” Satchel said, regaining his tour guide demeanor, “to the Wonderful World of Twickens.”

     Armin squinted in confusion, but with a nudge from Satchel, he turned around… and gasped.

     There were trees, and bushes, and flowers… all just outside the compound.  He was standing on grass, not concrete.  That smell that had fascinated him… it was coming from here.  From a wood that breathed in and out with the wind, each individual blade, petal, and leaf releasing a bit of itself with every gentle breeze. 

     And it went on for miles.  So far that Armin couldn’t see the end of it.  Master your life, control your world–what he saw stretched in front of him was more than any person could ever hope to overpower.  Suddenly, the interweb seemed very small indeed.

     “I thought the chemical warfare destroyed all of this.”

     “Once, but that was long ago.  There’s someone who can explain all of this better, though.  Wanna come meet him?”

     Armin turned; Satchel’s voice was farther away than it had been a few minutes ago.  He was beginning to walk into the wood, motioning for Armin to follow. 

     He didn’t need to be asked twice. 

     Branches hit his face; leaves got tangled in his hair; birds and bugs chirped and buzzed around him–talk about a sensory overload.  His mom had always worried that Hem-V would be too much for him but this… this….

     This was something his mother would’ve loved.

     “I wish my Mom could see this.”

     “Where is she?  I didn’t see her–”

     “She’s dead.”

     “Oh.  Oh, I’m sorry.”

     “It was two years ago.”

     “Doesn’t make it any easier.”  Satchel opened his mouth, seemed to think better of it, then said, “I ran away from home after my Dad died.  I have no idea what Mom’s up to.  Haven’t seen her in forever.”

     “Maybe I’ll do the same.  Not like Dad cares.”

     “He said he was worried about you.”

     “Worried the same way a chess player is when a pawn gets taken.”

     “Oh.”  Satchel didn’t seem to know what to say, so he walked ahead, with a bravado that didn’t seem entirely genuine.  “Well, parents or no parents, this is the life, let me tell you.  Just wait ‘til you get to the Park.”

     “What’s the Park?”

     “You’ll find out in about an hour, but trust me, it’s somethin’ alright.”

     They came to the edge of the wood.  There was an ancient road–all asphalt and ghosts of yellow lines.  Satchel disappeared behind a clump of bushes.  When he returned, he was holding onto a machine that Armin had only ever seen on archeology websites.

     “That’s a–”

     “First of all, it’s not a ‘that,’ it’s a she.  And her name is Priscilla.”

     “That’s a motorbike.”

     “Well spotted,” Satchel said.  “You’re better read than a lot of the recruits.  Normally, I have to explain.  Now, you gonna get on, or are you gonna hurt Prissy’s feelings?”

     “Sure, I’ll get on… Prissy.”

     “Whoa, whoa.”  Satchel stepped in front of him, holding up a hand and wearing a would-be stern expression.  “I’m the only one who gets to call her Prissy.  Priscilla to you, mate.”

     “Right,” Armin said, barely stifling a laugh.  “What was I thinking.”  He leaned down to the motorbike, his reflection distorted in the curved metal.  “May I take a seat, Miss Priscilla?”

     “I’m bringin’ home a gentleman!  What a find!”  Satchel laughed, tossing Armin a helmet, and taking a seat himself.  Within seconds, they were situated, Armin holding awkwardly to Satchel’s waist.

     “Don’t get any ideas, cowboy,” Satchel joked, and he revved the motor.

     It made a sound like a lion waking from a nightmare.  Armin understood for the first time what it meant to hear something “rev to life.”  The tram didn’t make a sound like this, nor did his computer.  This wasn’t a sound made to move through the system efficiently; no, this was a sound that said “I am here.”

     “Ready to go?”

     “I guess!”

     “Then hold on!”

     And the motorbike roared onto the road.  Armin had never ridden something so fast and so smooth; it easily avoided the cracks and crevices that time had made.  The wind made Armin’s eyes water and the movement made the back of his spine prickle.  Was this normal?  Should his body be reacting like this? 

     He hoped the answer was yes, because he loved the sensation. 

     Satchel kept glancing behind him, smiling at Armin’s expression (which was somewhere between awe and uncertainty).  With both of Satchel’s hands preoccupied, Armin could now see the small, steady flow of blood staining his shirt.  He hoped they’d get to–the Park?–soon, and that Satchel could get better help there.

     “Can you see it?” Satchel shouted after a while.  “Up ahead?  It’s kinda dark, but if you squint, you can totally make it out.”

     “What?” Armin had no way of hearing him over the roaring gusts surrounding them.

     “Look up ahead!”

     Armin tried; it was difficult to keep his eyes open.  After a few seconds, he began to see something on the horizon.  It was a dark imprint in the night sky, like an embossing.  He’d never seen something that looked like it before; it looked a little like a giant abstract art piece, all odd angles and curves. 

     “That’s where I live!” Satchel shouted, his voice shaking with the motorbike.

     “How?”  Armin didn’t think it looked like a building, at least no building that he’d ever seen.

     Satchel laughed outright; his only response: “Just wait til we get closer.”

     As the motorbike advanced on the Park, it began to take shape.  It wasn’t just one giant metal monster, but a lot of them.  There was one that resembled a giant circle, another that looked like a huge snake, and yet another that seemed to be a slide.  There were little buildings scattered throughout the area (Armin could just barely make these out), and dull light (like a fire) shone from the center.

     The motorbike came to a stop right outside a main gate that read: “Cluster County Amusement Park.”  An aisle, lined with buildings advertising things Armin couldn’t understand, welcomed them.  Armin read each sign as they entered: TICKETS, COTTON CANDY, HALL OF MIRRORS, GUESS YOUR WEIGHT, FRIED VEGETABLES, SHOOTING GALLERY. 

     “What is this place?”

     “This was the kind of place people used to go to before the Great Fissure,” Satchel explained, and, with a pang of worry, Armin noticed he was swaying a little when he walked. 

     “You sure you’re okay?”

     “Yeah, yeah, Armin.  That was just more than I should’ve been doin’ is all.  A bit strenuous for someone who just got stabbed, ya know?  Just need to lie down.  I’m fine, really.”

     “You’d better be, Satchel Benedick Monroe!”

     A voice–a girl’s voice–shouted from the shadows of one of a building that had PALM READINGS written in peeled, glittering letters.

     “Ouch–middle and last name.  Why don’t’cha just throw acid in my face?”

     The girl’s voice laughed.  “I would if I thought it’d make that ugly mug of yours look better.” 

     Satchel smiled a little at Armin, but the second he turned to the voice, his face was nothing but haughty.  “Reduced to physical insults, Delaney?  Surely your well of insults hasn’t run dry yet.”

     “You wish,” Delaney replied, exiting the shadows and standing directly in front of the two of them. 

     Armin’s mouth went dry: he was staring at a beautiful girl, one with full, curly brown hair, a slender figure….

     And huge blue eyes.

To be continued.

Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021

Plugged In, Chapter Nine: Open Doors

It’s been a while, but I’ve finally had time to write again. If you need a refresher on what happened last in this story (waaaay back in April), then check out the last chapter here.


It’s loose!

     Armin had run into his house, bidding the Nuptial Officer and Murf a too-fast good night.  He had whipped off his helmet and nearly tripped getting out of his safety suit, sprinting into the living room… and then he had stopped dead in his tracks.  The makeshift ropes he had used to tie the Twicken to the couch had been torn apart and were now lying on the couch like dead snake skins. 

     Why didn’t he kill the thing when he’d had the chance! Now it was loose… and surely hungry.  First, it would corner him, licking its lips, right before it would begin its feeding frenzy.  Then, satisfied and energized, it would leave his house, searching for its next fix….

     What if it went after Murf’s family?  Or those twins? Or that newlywed couple?  Or–

     “You don’t have mouthwash do you?”

     Armin yelped and jumped backward, against the wall. He reached for the nearest thing–an empty rations box–and thrust it in front of him like a shield.

     The Twicken was leaning against the kitchen doorway, a goofy smile on his face.  He looked healthier than when Armin had left him: his eyes were brighter, his hair and skin completely clean of any residue, his skin a deeper shade of bronze.

     Bronze?  What kind of color was that for skin?  It looked unnatural, as though someone had painted over the should-be pale color that everyone else had. 

     Yet more proof he’s a freak, Armin thought, brandishing his cardboard shield with what he hoped was a courageous flourish.

     Satchel chuckled.  “Calm down, Lancelot.”

     “I told you my name is Armin.”

     “Right, sorry–I’m terrible with names.”  He laughed again, and the sound wore on Armin’s nerves like an elephant on a piece of thread.

     “Stay where you are!”

     “Or what?  You’ll give me a papercut?”  A little snicker. “I think you and I both know I’ve had worse.”  He motioned to his stomach, where the poorly-mended gash was now hidden by a clean t-shirt.

     “Hey,” Armin shouted.  “That’s my shirt!”

     “And pants.  I also used your shower.  I hope you don’t mind, but I… well… godliness is next to cleanliness–wait, no, it’s the other way around.”  He shook his head in mock-exasperation. “You know what I mean.”

     “Listen, you need to just stay away from me.”

     “I don’t need to get close for you to hear me.”  Satchel relaxed all his weight against the doorway.  “Though I’m still  a little weak-kneed.  Would you be so kind as to grant me a seat?”  He motioned to the couch, where the blood stains Armin had been unable to clean were already starting to turn brown. 

     “Uh… okay, right.”

     Armin stayed where he was as Satchel reclaimed his place on the couch.  He sat with a comfortable groan, stretching his legs out so that they rested on the coffee table.  “Much better.  Man, this is so not like me.  Normally, I’m the life of the party.”  He looked at Armin, who, between the frozen stance and pallid complexion, resembled a wax figure. 

     “You’re a twitchy little fellow, aren’t you?”

     “And you’re a Twicken.”

     Satchel sighed.  “I think our problem is rooted in a disparity of definitions.”

     “A what?”

     “Disparity–noun, meaning difference.”

     “I know what the word means, I just–”

     “Don’t get how it fits in the situation.”  Satchel nodded to himself.  “They never do.  Though, I promise, Lancelot, I’ll explain.”

     “My name is–”

     “Armin, right, right, I know that.  It’s called a nickname.”

     “I don’t like it.”

     “Really?”  Satchel shrugged.  “Okay, whatever.  But sit down one way or the other.  Ain’t no dragon ‘round here.”

     Armin was convinced he was speaking in tongues.  Did Twickens do that?  Either that, or he was trying to use some sort of weird mind trick.  One way or the other, Armin wasn’t going to fall for it.

     “I’m good here.”

     “Fine, whatever.  Doesn’t stop me from–”

     Beep, beep.

     Satchel froze.  “What’s that?”

     “My dad!” Armin exclaimed.  He dropped the box and ran to the computer.

     “Not a word, please!” Satchel begged, and his cool demeanor was suddenly replaced with panic as he ran into the kitchen, clutching his side the entire time.

     Armin hesitated.  He’d let chance after chance slip past, and now his best opportunity for losing the Twicken was waiting for him to answer the video call.  There was no way he was letting this one go, too.

     “Hey, Dad,” Armin said, taking a seat at the computer.  Rune Fisher looked livid.

     “So you do remember our arrangement of talking each night?”

     “Of course I–oh.”

     “Oh?  You completely forget to contact me last night, and all you can say is ‘oh’?  You’re a Drafter, Armin, and I had no idea where you were.  Do you have any idea how worried–”  Rune stopped.

     “You were worried about me?”

     “It is not in my business to fail, and that includes parenting,” Rune answered simply, though he couldn’t quite meet Armin’s eyes.

     “I’m fine, Dad.”

     “I can see that.  Though your carelessness makes me seriously doubt whether your current living arrangements are plausible.”

     “What?”

     “One thing.  I ask you to do one thing each night, and you completely neglect–”

     “Only one time!”

     “That is no excuse, Armin.  I see you didn’t even add anything to your profile–no Quips, no comments, nothing–yesterday.”

     “I was busy.”

     “With what?” Rune asked suspiciously.

     There was his opportunity–all dressed and ready to greet him–and all Armin said was:

     “I’m not a baby.  I don’t need you knowing every second of my life.”

     “Your life is only as real as the world you create.  And this is the second time you’ve been absent from it.  A seventy-two hour absence not long ago, now this….”

     “I had a good reason last time!”

     “A little heartbreak?  Armin, that’s no reason to unplug!  Quite the opposite.  Connect more when there’s something huge in your life.  Make your life bigger with it.  That’s why the Governance uses the interweb, to–”

     “Maintain inter-knowledge and protect inter-peace.  I know, Dad.  Anyone who’s sat through five minutes of a lesson would know that much!”

     “Stop taking that tone with me!”

     “Stop acting like a paranoid freak, I’m fine!”

     Rune deflated, though his stare didn’t waver.  Armin kept his eyes even with his father’s: brown meeting brown through wires and digital signals.  Armin was breathing heavily; Rune appeared calm.  When he spoke, it was in a much lighter, controlled tone. 

     “You’re a teenager,” he began. “A little attitude is to be expected, but I suggest you get it out of your system before we talk next.  I do not appreciate it, Armin.”

     The screen pixilated for just a moment, and then went black, NIC’s emblem replacing his father’s face.  Armin didn’t move.  It wasn’t until Satchel was directly behind him that he even looked away from the screen.

     “Your Dad sounds like a real disciplinarian.”

     “He likes to think he is.  He’s nothing but a Governance worker, though.”  Armin met Satchel’s eyes.  “Just a cog in the Governance, but the brain that controls me.”

     “Sucks.”

     “Sometimes.”

     They both turned away from the computer; Armin took a seat in the arm chair, Satchel on the couch.  There was a silence that could only come after a fight: careful and delicate, like a perfectly set table, waiting for someone to pull the tablecloth out from underneath it. 

     “Thank you, by the way,” Satchel began.  He looked straight at Armin, and he saw for the first time that Satchel’s eyes were a bright green.  “I’ve built up quite a life debt to you.  I know you think I’m dangerous, and you’ve had ample opportunity to turn me in.  You haven’t.  I won’t forget that.”

     “Good,” Armin muttered sarcastically.  “Does that mean you’ll do me the favor of knocking me out before diving into my flesh?”

     Satchel released a nervous chuckle.  “I think that’s where we need to start, Armin.  First of all, my definition of a Twicken, and yours are very, very different.  And only one of them is right.  Guess which one?”

     Armin didn’t answer immediately.  “That’s what a Twicken would say. They’re masters of trickery, you know.”

     “Oh, we’re masters of something alright, but what you call trickery, we call education.”

     “Huh?”

     Satchel grinned mischievously.  “Tell me what you think a Twicken is.”

     Armin gulped.  “It’s someone who’s lived outside with the chemicals, and built up a resistance to it–” 

     “How does that work, exactly?  If the chemicals immediately kill anyone who comes in contact with them?”

     “Um… I don’t know… over generations–”

     “But they burn and sizzle immediately, don’t they?”

     “Well… I guess in a place where the chemicals are weaker.  Yeah, that’s what it is.”

     “Hmm… seems like a weak cover for a plot hole.  Maybe the Governance should hire new writers.” He gave a little wink, then urged, “Go on.  Tell me more about myself.”

     “Well, the chemicals make them go crazy.  They became cannibals and–”

     “Must… eat… your… brains….” Satchel mimicked in a low, guttural voice, holding his arms out and tilting his head stupidly to the side.  “Are we talking Twickens or Night of the Living Dead?”

     “Night of the–”

     “Wouldn’t expect you to get the reference.”  Satchel waved the thought away.  “Go on, go on.  You’ve got my interest.”

     “Well, they break into houses, and they eat people, and… that’s it.”

     “Fascinating.”  Satchel leaned back, stroking his chin in a would-be-debonair way.  “Do you think I fit those criteria?”

     “Yes.  I found you outside, and the chemicals didn’t hurt you.”

     “Fair point.  But have I eaten any flesh?  Have I acted as though the chemicals have addled my mind?”

     “Well… no.” 

     “And yet I can assure you, I am, in fact, a Twicken.”  Satchel rose, walking to the hallway.  Armin, curious, followed.

     “You’re not making sense.”

     “Oh, sure I am.  I promise you I am one-hundred percent Twicken.”

     Armin snorted.  “What are you, some sort of vegetarian Twicken?”

     “Towards cannibalism, but I like a cheeseburger as much as the next guy.  Like I said, it’s all about definition.”  He groaned, clutching his stomach and leaning against the door that led outside.  He was quiet for a moment, but when he continued, he was smiling, considering Armin carefully.  “My definition is simply someone who doesn’t live in a compound.”

     “That’s impossible,” Armin argued.  “The compounds are the only safe places.”

     “Not for Twickens.”

     “I think your brains are addled.”

     Satchel shrugged.  “Maybe this is something only another Twicken would understand.”

     “Probably,” Armin muttered, beginning to back away.

     Satchel’s grin turned wicked as he said, “I’m glad you agree.”  Then, with a strength that he had been hiding, he reached for Armin with one hand, hit the button that opened the door with the other, and, with a hysterical laugh, tossed Armin outside.

To be continued.

Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021

A Forthcoming End: Sneak Peek

Like I’ve said during my Friday posts: I’ve been busy at work planning for Summer Reading. What does that mean? It means I don’t have a lot of time to write–at least, not write chapters in my current stories that I think are up to the quality they should be. And yet it is story day on the schedule, so… quite a dilemma. But then I thought it might be fun to try my hand at some “flash fiction.” It would be a good writing exercise for me and still (hopefully) provide an enjoyable read. So I found a prompt and challenged myself to write that story in only 500 words or less.


As per the prompt, I decided to head back to Todd Everett the crazy world of spies and prophecies. To read the first story in the Forthcoming series, start here.

Prompt: Write a “sneak peek” of a story that you haven’t worked on in a while.

It wasn’t simply raining–torrents were lashing against the window, streaking along the glass like clear snakes across black sand.  The view outside the window was dark.  The trees that surrounded the small house were invisible to the storm outside–the only evidence that they even existed were the sounds of branches thrashing in the wind.  Nothing could be seen save for the reflection of the man staring fervently at the glass.  He was a rough man, with a beard as coarse as the thoughts racing through his mind. 

Henbane eyed his reflection, though he was hardly taking any notice of it.  He numbly realized that his blonde tresses were longer than he liked; some of the bristles were actually beginning to resemble hair.

            But time had been a precious commodity lately, and personal grooming was among the lowest of his priorities.  The highest priority, however, was the cell phone placed carefully on the table in front of him.  He refused to look at it, unsure of what sort of news he was really wanting–he knew what he was expecting.

            And what he was expecting would surely be a good report.

            For Cyrus, at least.

            Henbane turned his head slightly.  The image in the window copied the action, displaying the black patch that was placed over his eye.  Golden thread was finely woven into the material, but the elegance of the fabric did not detract from what it hid–a gaping hole where his eye used to be.  Henbane’s jaw clenched at the memory.

            Losing an eye was dramatic.  But a person was supposed to lose it because a bomb exploded, sending shards of glass into the retina.  Or a stray bullet struck the iris.  Heck, Henbane would’ve even settled for a bee-bee gun accident.

            He glowered, his fingers tightening reflexively into a fist.  It wasn’t the injury itself, it was how he’d gotten it–a pen shoved right into the socket.  Not dramatic at all. Not spectacular.  In fact, it was comedic. 

            Henbane didn’t do comedic.

            But, of course, there are some people that laugh at everything.  People who make jokes to hide their insecurities.

            Henbane thought this made those insecurities all the more visible; it was like putting a building in front of a neon sign–it might be concealed, but the sign’s light can still be seen, flashing dangerously below the surface.

            Henbane preferred fighting–there was no way anyone could doubt how he was feeling if his fist was connecting with someone’s jaw.

            He grinned.  Some people only feigned control over their emotions–and by “some people” he meant the exact person responsible for his missing eye.  Henbane breathed deeply.  That certain person (he thought each syllable with venom) had slipped past him too many times.  His luck was bound to wear out soon.

            Henbane would make certain of that.


Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021

Looking Back on Series that Shaped Me

I’ve had another week where there wasn’t much time for any sort of writing–even very short stories. So I thought I’d take another moment to write about some of stories that have most inspired me. This time: Favorite series. I’m only going to include series I’ve actually finished, so the list is pretty short.

My Favorite Book Series

(4) Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan

(3) A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett

(2) Wayward Pines by Blake Crouch

(1) Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

(Wow… only four. I think I need to actually finish some of the series I’ve started. Other great ones that are still “in progress:” Across the Universe by Beth Revis, Discworld by Terry Pratchett, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, and Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer.)

What are your favorite series? I’d love to hear them!

Words of Advice

I’ve not had much time this week for writing, so instead of a story (even a short one), I thought I’d share some quotes on writing that either: (A) Inspired me to be a writer myself, or (B) Have helped me figure out what kind of writer I want to be.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” — Stephen King


“Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job: it’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins.” — Neil Gaiman


“Wasn’t writing a kind of soaring, an achievable form of flight, of fancy, of the imagination?” — Ian McEwan


“To hell with facts! We need stories!” — Ken Kesey


“Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.” — Mark Twain


“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” — Robert Frost


“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” — Ray Bradbury


“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” — Dr. Seuss


“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” — Jack London


“Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

What quotes inspire you? I’d love to hear them!

200 and Counting

Like I’ve said during my Friday posts: I’ve been busy at work planning for Summer Reading. What does that mean? It means I don’t have a lot of time to write–at least, not write chapters in my current stories that I think are up to the quality they should be. And yet it is story day on the schedule, so… quite a dilemma. But then I thought it might be fun to try my hand at some “flash fiction.” It would be a good writing exercise for me and still (hopefully) provide an enjoyable read. So I found a prompt and challenged myself to write that story in only 500 words or less.

Prompt: Write about someone who keeps picking up different hobbies but never manages to stick with them.

                Adelia always thought she was indecisive. Sitting still had never been option for her, but never had settling down. She had gone through so many hobbies: She’d tried stamp collecting, but had ended up turning them into collages.

But when she tried making collages, they turned into scrapbooks. When she tried scrapbooking, she found her photography was too artsy. And when she tried to be a photographer, she found she enjoyed the walking and hiking to find the perfect picture more than the picture itself.

So she started hiking, only to find that it wore her out and the time she spent sitting down, jotting down her thoughts was much more enjoyable. So she decided to try poetry. But she couldn’t keep her thoughts short enough to be true poems, so she decided to try writing novels instead. But writing people was difficult, so, as research, she started people watching.

That was a lot of fun, but then she noticed all of the many, many ways others occupied their time: Reading, and dancing, and kickboxing, and drawing, and videogames, and a million other things.

                So she decided to try them all, but each one only lasted for a while. As enjoyable as each hobby was, it always led her to something else that seemed even better, even more fun.

                In the end, Adelia counted up that she had tried over 200 different hobbies–from collecting lunchboxes to mountain-climbing.

                Perhaps, she thought, she just wasn’t meant for a hobby. Perhaps she was too inattentive, too easily distracted.

                She scrolled through the photos on her phone–each memory, each excursion….

                And then she smiled.

                She did have a hobby after all!

                Her hobby… was to collect hobbies!

                With renewed energy and enthusiasm, she leapt up from her couch. What hadn’t she tried yet? Surely another 200 hobbies awaited her….

                Next stop… mountain biking! And then maybe beekeeping…. or axe throwing…. or….


Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021

Characters Anonymous

Like I’ve said during my Friday posts: I’ve been busy at work planning for Summer Reading. What does that mean? It means I don’t have a lot of time to write–at least, not write chapters in my current stories that I think are up to the quality they should be. And yet it is story day on the schedule, so… quite a dilemma. But then I thought it might be fun to try my hand at some “flash fiction.” It would be a good writing exercise for me and still (hopefully) provide an enjoyable read. So I found a prompt and challenged myself to write that story in only 500 words or less.

Prompt: Write a story entirely in dialogue.

Note: This one is me kicking myself a little bit. Ah… all those poor characters I’ve abandoned thanks to Writer’s Block. The first character is from a story I started for this blog–it starts here. I’m hoping one day to come back to it. In fact, it’s probably highest on my priority list. (Just don’t tell the other characters.)

                “Um… my name is Bo.”

                “Hi, Bo.”

                “Right… well… this is my first time at, um, Characters Anonymous.”

                “Welcome to the meeting, Bo. I know it can very hard to admit that the Writer has forgotten about us.”

                “Yeah, you can say that again.”

                “Why don’t you tell us your story?”

                “Well, I can tell you what I have. You see… the story started out with me as an old man–”

                “But you don’t appear to be any older than… 18, 19?”

                “That’s right. Because then the story went back to when I was a teen. And I was running away. But then I got kidnapped by this guy who left town a few years before.”

                “Is he here with us?”

                “No… he’s still holding out hope that the Writer will come back to our story. She took a lot of time and care describing him.”

                “Denial is all part of the process. Tell us what happened next.”

                “Nothing. She left the two of us driving down the road, going to Montana.”

                “Why Montana?”

                “I don’t think she knew.”

                “We all understand. Would anyone else like to share their stories–or at least the stories that they have.”

                “My name is Shad.”

                “Hi, Shad.”

                “I only got one chapter. All I know is that I like exploring caves and I want to go to college to be an archaeologist.”

                “Not much to go on, huh?”

                “No. I feel very lost.”

                “Bo, do you understand that feeling.”

                “Literally. I’m on a highway going nowhere!”

                “At least you’re above ground. The Writer left me in a cave!”

                “Anyone else?”

                “My name is Cal.”

                “Hi, Cal.”

                “All I know about me is that I’m a troublemaker, but that I’m best friend with a good, upstanding kid named Jeremy. We’re roommates in college.”

                “Anything else?”

                “I think I’m funny. The Writer was smiling when she wrote some of my dialogue.”

                “That’s more than I got….”

                “We all feel for you, Shad. We understand. But now it’s Cal’s turn.”

                “It’s just that… here I am, with this imagined life, but nothing to do with it. I’m just–”

                “Stuck?”

                “Yes.”

                “We’ve all been there. We’ve all felt lost. We’ve all felt stuck. But here’s what we have to remember: The Writer hasn’t stopped writing.”

                “So there’s hope?”

                “As long as the file is on the computer, there is always hope.”

                “Do you think my story will be next?”

                “Why would yours be next?”

                “Mine should be next!”

                “No, mine! Come on, archaelogy! That’s a great start!”

                “What part of ‘kidnapping’ did you not understand?”

                “But I’m funny! That makes mine way more enticing, right? Right?”

                “Everyone, everyone–please calm down!”

                “She’s going to pick me!”

                “No, me!”

                “QUIET!”

                …..

                “The computer is turning on.”  

Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021

Letters: Chapter Two

Chapter two of the old fan fiction I posted last week. And, of course: I own nothing. JKR owns it all. High School Sarah just borrowed Remus for a bit to imagine what his time at Hogwarts must have been like. (Of course, if Ms. Rowling wanted to write a prequel about the marauders giving us just that… well, then all of my dreams will have come true.)

Oh, and obviously this was written WAAAY before Pottermore. So Remus’ parents were characters of my own creation, as, at the time, I didn’t have any canon characters to use. But I really wanted to explore what it would have been like for the Lupins to send their only child–who was also a werewolf facing major prejudice–to Hogwarts, alone. This chapter explores that idea.


Jonathan Lupin was sipping his morning cup of tea when Felicitus, the owl he had bought Remus in Diagon Alley, flew through the window and landed importantly on the table. The owl had a very proper nature, and stood alert atop the table, holding her leg out. Jonathan took the extremely thick letter, and passed the owl a bit of toast. “There you are, girl,” he muttered, before the owl flew away toward the old barn outside, leaving Jonathan alone with the letter.

            He looked down at the—was that two rolls of parchment? Jonathan frowned; if Remus had that much to say, that could mean two things—he was having a great time and had a lot to write about, or he was having a horrible time and wanted to come back home, both of which seemed equally likely; Jonathan hoped it was the former.

            Jonathan drank the rest of his tea before calling into the living room, “Lucinda, I have a letter from Remus.”

            Lucinda was by his side in a flash, her light hair falling across her face. “Is he okay? Does he need anything?”

            Leave it to Lucinda to be worrying before the letter was even open; she’d been doing so all week, thinking about the boy who had hardly left her side since he was an infant.

            Jonathan smiled wryly, “Cindi, I haven’t even opened the letter yet. Give me a moment.”

            And with that, Jonathan unfurled the parchment and laid it on the table so the both of them could read it:

            Dear Mum and Dad,

            Well, it’s been a week already and so far things have been great. I’m sure you’ve already heard that I was sorted into Gryffindor, which was fantastic—I’ve made a lot friends really quickly, especially with the boys I share a dorm with. First, there’s James, I sat with him on the train on the way up. He’s really into Quidditch (he’s still upset about not being allowed to play on the House Team), and really knows how to have a lot of fun. Then, there’s Peter. He likes Quidditch too, but he’s a lot like me and wouldn’t even consider playing it. He collects chocolate frog cards like I do, and his collection is almost as large as mine! We’ve been trading and now I’ve finally got Ptolemy! Anyways, then there’s Sirius. He was sitting on the train with us too, and he was absolutely shocked when he got into Gryffindor. You see, he’s a Black; I don’t really see what the big deal is, but everyone seemed to be so surprised what House he was in. Maybe I need to get out more… But anyways, he loves being in Gryffindor and says that it’s a right bit better than Slytherin any day. He and James are a lot alike; he likes to have fun too.

            Okay, let’s see what else has happened. I’m really enjoying my classes. I like Defense Against the Dark Arts especially. The new teacher they have is really good; he has a lot of practical lessons, and he jokes around a bit too. His classes are really funny. Then there’s Transfiguration and Charms, both of which I like as well. I don’t care much for Herbology; I guess I don’t have much of a green thumb. Sirius is fantastic at Astronomy; he could already name half of the stars up there and got Gryffindor five points. Oh, I almost forgot, I got five points for Gryffindor too! In Defense Against the Dark Arts, the teacher was just seeing how much we know about different Dark Creatures and so forth in general, and I was able to tell a few things about werewolves; a real surprise there, right?

            Oh, and I don’t think I’m going to be any good at Potions. Professor Slughorn said the potion we were brewing was very simple, but I sure had a hard time with it. And as for Flying Lessons? I don’t think you have a Quidditch player on your hands, Dad.

            Oh, I forgot to tell you about Lily. She’s another Gryffindor in our year, really nice. I think James may like her, but he hasn’t admitted to it yet; Sirius’ is giving him a hard enough time about it already.

            Mum, Dad, you probably want to know what they exactly set up for me here, don’t you? For… that time of the month, you know? Well, I’ll be going to this house, through a passageway. It’s perfectly safe because over the entrance there’s a Whomping—

Love,

Remus

            Jonathan stopped reading and looked at Lucinda, whose eyes had widened in shock. Jonathan’s did too; it was impossible that something could have gone wrong, but for Remus to trail off with the final word “Whomping” made him feel slightly uneasy. It was so unlike Remus to just stop midway through anything.

            “Jonathan, do you think everything’s alright?”

            Jonathan nodded, clearing his throat. “I’m sure it is, Cindi.” He smiled again nervously at her narrowed brow, as she began to scan the letter again.

            “Anyways, it sounds like he’s having a good time.”

            Lucinda didn’t seem satisfied. “Hanging out with a Black? A dark wizarding family, Jonathan?”

            “The boy’s in Gryffindor, he can’t be that bad.”

            “What does he mean about this James and Sirius boy liking to–” she turned back to the letter, “‘Have fun’?”

            “I’m sure it’s nothing, Cindi.”

            “It better be nothing,” Lucinda agreed, turning to the living room again. “Write him back and tell him to tell us properly about full moons. I’m worrying about him enough as it; I don’t want to be left in the dark about those arrangements.”

            Jonathan nodded; he didn’t want to either.

Letters: Chapter One

I’m going to take another story from Past Sarah. I’ve been busy (you all know the drill–Summer Reading), so I’ve been going through some old stories. I actually had fun sharing an old fan fiction not long ago, so I thought I might share another one. Fan fiction was a good writing exercise for Past Sarah, and I had a lot of fun re-reading it. Plus, it’s a great way to connect with fellow fans. Any other Remus Lupin fans out there? He was always my favorite. (Yes this another Harry Potter story.) Anyways, this story has two-parts. I’ll post one chapter this week, and another one next week. My focus is still (obviously) on my own original fiction, but… hey, you’ve gotta have fun sometimes right? (And, if I’m being honest… I need a brain break.)

So, enjoy. (Oh, and also…. I obviously don’t own this. Thank you, JKR, for giving us characters like Remus that we couldn’t get out of our heads and inspired us to put pen to paper ourselves.)


Remus frowned at the parchment, the ink he had dabbed onto his quill dripping onto his hand; he’d never been any good at writing letters. After a moment he sighed, and placed the tip of the quill to the letter he was trying to write; after all, he had promised Mum and Dad he would write, and he most certainly wanted to. But how did he put everything he’d done this past week into words?

            Well, maybe not everything.

 Remus thought it would be a good idea not to mention how many times he’d snuck out after curfew with James and Sirius, or about the prank he’d helped them pull on that one Slytherin boy—what was his name? Saphron or something? No, that’s a spice; Seffrus? Ah well, it doesn’t matter any; it was just one harmless prank.

            Nonetheless, Remus couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt. Sure he was a Slytherin, and he had called that nice Lily girl a Mudblood, but he couldn’t help but feel as though charming a bottle of bubotuber pus onto his head (but first making sure to plant a sticking charm onto his chair) in Herbology was just a little bit harsh.

            Remus frowned again; how did he get himself off topic? He’d come up here to write a letter home while Sirius, James, and Peter watched the Gryffindor Quidditch team practice, and so far all he had done was write “Dear Mum and Dad”—pathetic.

            He cleared his throat, rolled up his sleeves, and put quill parchment again, writing:

Dear Mum and Dad,

            Hello from Hogwarts, I was sorted into Gryffindor, and I share my dorm with three other boys. First, there’s James, who—

            Remus frowned. That sounded horrible; though he couldn’t help having smiled: Hello from Hogwarts; a few months ago, he never would have even dreamed he’d have written that. Remus crumpled up the parchment, and threw it into a nearby dustbin, which belched in response.

            Okay, no more goofing off. Let’s get to it so that when James and the others come back, you can—whatever it is they want to do—with them.

            Remus smiled, slightly, suddenly realizing exactly what he wanted to write. After a few moments, his hand was racing across the first parchment—and a second. He didn’t know how long he’d been writing, when he was suddenly shaken from his thoughts by Sirius’ bark-like voice. “Oi, Rem!”

            Remus jumped back slightly, spilling ink over himself. “Bloody–” he muttered, then looked up to see James, Sirius, and Peter all smiling up at him; Peter was smiling rather bemusedly, and James and Sirius’ mischievous grins reached up into their eyes.

            “You still writing?” Sirius asked, a sarcastic drawl to his voice. He raised an eyebrow and waggled it, before withdrawing his wand and pointing it directly at Remus.

            “Scourgify!”he exclaimed, and within moments, Remus’ robes were immaculate. “There, so you done writing?” he asked, his voice brimmed slightly with accusation.

            “Well, I–”

            “Well, finish up!” James exclaimed, he was practically jumping up and down, his hair scattered more helter-skelter atop his head than was normal.

            “Why?” Remus asked; he could feel his own curiosity ebbing at him, mixed with slight mischief; he was very eager to find out what had his friends so excited.

            “Just sign it and come on!”

            Remus frowned slightly, then eagerly obeyed. He’d stopped mid-sentence, but oh well, close enough.

            “Come on!”

            “What are you two on about?” he asked the pair of them, as Peter trailed behind Remus.

            James whipped around, his hazel eyes sparkling, “You’ll never guess what we found behind the statue of that humpbacked, one-eyed witch! Hurry up!”