1.1 Mascot

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Averton, Washington, USA – Saturday, the 26th of May, 2012. 07:26 PM.
 
 
It was one of those evenings that started out as pleasant. None of the Chungs had an inkling as to how it was going to end. It was Helen’s homecoming day, an occasion worthy of celebration, and everyone had gathered around the dinner table to give her the spotlight she deserved.

She was, after all, the one Chung daughter who’d been accepted into Harvard.

Chris observed her family’s familiar interaction patterns with amusement. She more or less had ceased to exist the moment her older sister had stepped through the front door, which was nothing unusual. Helen was the sun her parents revolved around. Chris was more like a distant comet, drifting along the edges of the family universe, always trying to avoid a collision course.

At least Barney still loves me more, Chris mused, glancing down at the German Shepherd who was resting his head on her sneakers.

Over the dinner table, her mother cooed over every little word Helen said, even if she just requested for the salt shaker to be passed to her. Her father dug out all of the old cop jokes for Helen’s boyfriend, Ryan. They all looked so happy, so caught up in their discussion of Helen’s East Coast adventures that Chris felt no urge to interrupt. Ryan had been her BFF once—only a couple years ago, actually—but then he’d met her sister and everything changed. Chris could tell that her mother was already seeing him as a potential son-in-law.

Good for them, she told herself, trying not to care. She’d find another BFF eventually. The dog could fill in in the meantime.

“Ryan, dear, how is your mother? I’ve been meaning to drop by to see her,” Chris’s mom fussed.

“She’s fine, Mrs. Chung,” Ryan answered in that appeasing tone he only used since he and Helen had hooked up. “Thanks for asking.”

Then, right on cue, the attention turned to Helen once again. “How is your research going?” Chris’s father asked as he passed the corn cobs to Helen. “I heard you’re writing an article about power surges and that Shanti person in India.”

“Professor Greene suggested the idea,” Helen replied. She gracefully extended her hand to help support the platter. “The effect of transitions on world politics has been discussed everywhere, and surges are transitions of a larger scale. The total number of Evolved humans worldwide peaked at three hundred late last year. If surges are the next step up, then they’re going to have an even bigger impact on the international community than Prophet’s transition did in 2010.”

Everyone’s talking about powers these days, Chris thought, using the distraction to slip Barney another morsel under the table. No one’s trying to solve world hunger anymore.

“Helen, is your article going to get published in one of those science magazines?” her mother asked eagerly.

Helen daintily waved a hand, dismissing the statement. “Probably not. I’m not a scientist, Mom. I just ask questions and try to find answers for them.”

“And you’re very good at it,” her father said. “It’s a shame I couldn’t recruit you for the Police Academy.”

And now we’re back to cop jokes, Chris observed.

Having heard all of those before, her attention began to wander. She settled back in her chair, passing a glance over the decorations she’d prepared for Helen’s homecoming: a garland of silk flowers along the banister leading up to the second floor, potted chrysanthemums on the small ledge above the sideboard and, hanging on the wall behind her sister’s chair, the collage of family photos she’d crafted late Thursday night when she should have been doing her calculus homework. She had combed through the box of family photos, carefully avoiding any recent images with stuffed animals, car seats, or baby bottles in the background. Her family was in a happy mood right now. Any memorabilia from Dylan’s short life would have spoiled it.

She sighed before diverting her eyes to the oversized Chinese lantern hanging above the dining table. It was her mother’s homage to their family’s supposed diversity, even though their Seattle-born father was as American as their fair-haired Midwestern mother was.

“…Preacher’s sect, which has gained millions of followers since Shanti’s power surge,” Helen was saying, responding to a question Chris had missed. “The fact that Shanti’s range suddenly increased to a mile provided a boost to his Godkin theory. More and more people are starting to worship Evolved humans as divine beings.”

“That’s a little scary, isn’t it?” Chris’s mother fussed. “If those ‘Godkin’ gained enough supporters, they could do so much harm to our democratic society….”

“Fox News did a two-hour special on Preacher last Saturday,” Ryan said. “His Guides of Destiny sect is believed to be some new kind of religion. Mostly harmless.”

“I missed the special,” Chris’s father said. “I’ve heard that Preacher is one of those nutty evangelists who prey on the uneducated. One of the patrollers called him a ‘pitchfork priest.’” He chuckled at the term, clearly pleased to try out some new jargon.

“Was it Paul who said that?” Chris broke in, speaking for the first time since they’d sat down to the table. “The traffic cop who dates his cousin?”

“Christina!” her mother hissed, shooting her a disapproving look that said, Why must you always bring up unpleasant things at the dinner table?

The room fell silent for an awkward, long stretch of time, with only the faint scraping of Helen’s fork and the ticking of the grandfather clock filling it.

Whoops. Chris shrank a little. She’d only meant to point out that Paul’s ideas and opinions were a little unconventional, but, now that her words were out, she couldn’t take them back. Ryan sent her a small half-smile across the table, clearly unoffended.

Helen salvaged the situation by reaching for her father’s forearm to give it a gentle squeeze. “Have you sent out the invitations for your birthday party yet?”

The conversation picked back up, and as usual, Chris was left feeling like a dork in Helen’s presence. Her older sister had been gifted with a special kind of charisma that easily drew attention. And, to top it all off, she had inherited that particular mix of Caucasian and Chinese genes—almond eyes, silky black hair, long shapely legs—that weren’t just attractive, but gorgeous.

The German Shepherd beneath the table gazed up at Chris with pleading eyes and a lolling tongue. He didn’t expect her to charm anyone. He only wanted a scratch behind the ears or, alternately, the remains of her steak.

Chris shifted in her seat to stroke the dog’s fur, letting the dinner conversation drift past. Her mother was laughing at something Ryan said while her father nodded in avid agreement. Her sister smiled, eyes locked onto Ryan’s face with a sparkle of conspiratorial mischief.

Having missed the joke, Chris straightened in her seat before setting her fork down to indicate that she was done. She needed fresh air and a moment of solitude, and the addict inside her was craving a smoke.

“Why aren’t you talking, Christina?” her mother asked, glancing at her.

Because I don’t have a boyfriend, and we never talk about soccer, Chris answered in her head, not wanting to create another awkward silence.

Everyone was looking at her expectantly now. This was where, in theory, she’d have provided a witty response. Something that hit just the right note of modesty, intelligence, and optimism. But she wasn’t Helen, and she didn’t have a clue as to what she was supposed to respond to in the first place. Chris spent a few seconds by racking her mind, searching for something that would satisfy her family until the spotlight was refocused on her sister.

She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She wiped her hands on her napkin instead, half of her attention turned to the darkened front porch beyond the living room window. It was still early enough for a trip to the soccer field.

Or maybe she’d go to the cemetery. It had been weeks since she’d visited Dylan’s baby-sized grave, and she longed for the feel of the cold gray stone beneath her cheek. It gave her the sense of atonement she occasionally needed, especially when her mother was giving her one of those I don’t blame you, but you were responsible for him looks. Helen’s presence warded the looks off for the moment, but they would return. They always did.

“I’m done. May I be excused?” Chris asked.

Her dad responded with the good-natured ease which was always part of his family reunion act, especially in front of guests. He spread his hands, pointedly looking over the dinner plates. “That should be fine, Christina. It looks like everyone is finished eating. Helen, Ryan?”

Helen and Ryan both nodded, Ryan’s characteristic partial smile tugging at one corner of his mouth.

Chris pushed back her chair and was on her feet in an instant, hoping to make her way out the door before her father changed his mind. The last time Helen had been home, they’d leafed through the various family albums for hours, noting the cute, clever things her sister had done in pretty much every photo. Chris wasn’t in the mood for a sequel to that. In seconds, she was through the kitchen and pulling open the front door.

“And no smoking!” her mother called when she was far enough away from everyone to pretend that Chris hadn’t heard.

Once the door had closed behind her, Chris felt better, revitalized by the scent of the late spring evening. It had rained a short while ago, and the air was rich with fresh earthy smells. She could close her eyes and forget the steady approach of summer and the impending doom of life after high school graduation.

Chris knew all too well she wasn’t on her way to professional success and widespread acclaim like her sister. She still remembered the disappointed looks on everyone’s faces when she’d told them that she’d been rejected by all of the colleges she’d applied to, even their local community college. No, things weren’t looking too bright for her after graduation. She was bound to disappoint everyone who mattered.

Chris crossed the patio, passing stone Zodiac figurines and African daisies as she pondered the option of a spontaneous jog along the museum parkway or, better yet, down to the beach. Running had always been her refuge from the pressures of life. Besides, since it looked like it was going to rain again soon, she didn’t think the guys would be headed to the soccer field tonight.

She didn’t know why all of her friends just happened to be guys. It had always been that way. She just didn’t click with the girls in her class, maybe because she couldn’t muster up any interest in social pecking orders, the latest fashion crazes, or doing the popularity act.

As Chris stood at the edge of the patio, a painful throb pulsated through her head and cut off her train of thought. For a second, her brain felt like it was being stretched beyond its capacity. As if a massive swarm of supersonic bumblebees had passed through on its way to find a new hive. At the same time, she picked up the unmistakable sound of a female scream from her left somewhere followed by something crashing on the ground and a barrage of swearing.

Then nothing. The pain and noise faded as quickly as they’d manifested, leaving her confused and disoriented.

What the hell was that? Chris thought, trying to make sense of what she’d just experienced. She bowed her head and covered both temples with her hands. Was that what a sudden migraine felt like? She dropped her arms and moved down the front steps to look for the source of the scream. She was glad her dad didn’t seem to have heard it. He would have gone into Robocop mode if he had.

The cry had sounded like it had originated from somewhere close, almost right beside her. She crossed the front yard to get a better view of the Chapmans’ house on the left.

Everything seemed to be in order there. No screams were coming from within and nothing seemed to be in disarray. There were no suspicious vehicles parked out front. No, if it was a scream, she would have heard. And then whatever had caused it would have been visible. Right?

Maybe the neighbors were just arguing, it wouldn’t be the first time. If Chris left her window open at night, she overheard more of the neighborly rants than she cared to.

She inched across the neighbors’ wet lawn, then caught a glimpse of Mr. Chapman as he moved past the front window. He had a newspaper in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other. Not exactly a felony.

Chris watched the window for another minute until Mrs. Chapman came into view. She was passing a vacuum cleaner over the living room carpet with a sour, but determined, look on her face. She didn’t look happy, that was for sure, but she didn’t seem to be in danger either.

I must be losing it, Chris thought, making her way back to the Chungs’ front steps to settle on the one at the bottom. When she was halfway comfortable, she began rubbing her temples with small circular motions. It was a tic which helped her ward off headaches and deal with overwhelming situations. Still, she couldn’t get the memory of the screaming sound out of her mind.

From where she sat, Chris heard her mother and sister laughing so loudly that their muffled guffaws were coming through the double-layered front windows.

If they’re having fun, so can I, Chris decided. She abandoned her seat and made her way to the other side of the patio where her mother kept a pot of butterfly weed that Helen had brought along on her last visit. It was too close to the road to attract any butterflies, but the fact that her mother never needed to water it made it for a perfect cigarette cache.

Chris had picked up smoking a year ago, not long after her baby brother had died. She’d told herself it was to deal with all the pressure of struggling to play in Helen’s league, but the biggest reason was to spite her parents—especially her dad, who wanted everything to be regimented and picture-perfect. As an added bonus, the discovery of her habit had gained her some remarkably intense attention.

Chris retrieved a well-worn plastic baggie from its hiding place, then reached inside to pull out a crumpled cigarette packet. She removed a smoke and retrieved a lighter from a pocket of her hoodie. The sweatshirt was baggy and slightly too big for her shape, but the fact that it had been a gift from Ryan a few years ago increased its value. Besides, it featured a number of pockets that proved useful whenever she spent the day outside.

She looked down at the garment. The front was imprinted with a slogan: strong mind, strong body. She didn’t think the words applied to her, but it was nice that Ryan had thought of her on her birthday.

Yeah, he was a pretty nice guy.

Chris lit the smoke and drew in a long drag, forcing down any remorse she felt over the loss of Ryan’s friendship. She’d known that things between them would never be the same after he’d left for Harvard a couple of Septembers ago. But finding out that Helen was dating her former best friend had been a shock that Chris was still struggling to absorb.

She heard the front door swing open. Wincing, she pushed the cigarette packet back into the planter. Then she spun around, keeping her hand with the cigarette behind her back. But instead of facing a parent, she found herself face to face with Ryan. He cocked an eyebrow as she let out a relieved puff of smoke.

“You of all people shouldn’t startle me like that.” She brought the glowing cigarette back up to her lips.

“Sorry, but I had to get out. They’re making fun of us guys now.” He jerked a thumb at the illuminated window behind him. “Your dad is holding the line, making a last stand. How’re things out here?”

Chris suspected that he was just checking up on her, making sure she was okay. Yes, that was something he’d do. She shrugged. “Peachy. Looks like it might rain again, but I was thinking of going for a run anyway.”

Ryan made his way down the stone steps with the casual ease of someone who was perfectly comfortable with himself and the world around him. He took a seat beside her, then turned to face her with his head bowed in that hangdog way he sometimes used to get her to open up. “You sure everything’s good?”

Chris nodded. Since dinner he’d done his shoulder-length brown hair up in a small top knot. It would have looked ridiculous—maybe even feminine—on anyone else, but not on Ryan. In combination with his athletic physique and the aura of confidence that clung to him, the hairdo emphasized his chiseled features. She had to grudgingly admit that he and Princess Perfect were a pretty good match.

A faint lightness settled within Chris’s stomach as she looked at him, and she inhaled another lungful of smoke to keep herself anchored in reality. Her former BFF was way out of her league. It didn’t matter that she possibly knew him better than her sister did, or that she’d known him longer. He’d never looked at her the way he looked at Helen.

Chris had stopped trying to compete with Helen by the time her sister had reached puberty. Even back then, Chris had known that she wasn’t particularly pretty, or feminine, or successful at school. She was athletic then in a tomboyish sort of way, and she still was. There was nothing girly or graceful about her. She just wanted to be comfortable. She always kept her dark hair tied back in a short, unfashionable ponytail to keep it out of her face. It was too unruly to let it grow below her shoulder.

Beside her, Ryan draped his forearms over his knees and hooked his thumbs together. He leaned forward to gaze up at the dimming sky beyond the porch roof, squinting at the sunset. “Have you decided what you’re going to do after graduation?” he asked.

“Yeah. Going to aim for a professional parkour career, and maybe get a job at the mall until that works out,” she joked.

He nudged her side with his elbow. “A parkour pro, huh? As if anyone would ever pay you to scale fences and jump over dumpsters,” he joked back. He’d always found her interest in free-running street obstacles amusing. “But be serious, Chris. What’s your plan?”

Did my parents put you up to this? she wanted to ask him, although she knew him well enough to realize that he would never do her parents’ bidding. “Well, Coach Dunlop said he knows a few people who might be able to help get me into Averton Community College a year from now, when I’ve been out of school long enough to be considered a ‘mature student.’” She mimed air quotes. “I guess Helen told you that no college would take me because of my conduct reports. Because of that fight I got in….”

She grimaced at the memory of how she’d lashed out at some of her jerk classmates back in junior year. They’d kept on pushing her with pranks and snide remarks until she’d pushed back.

“But I don’t think I even want to go to college,” she went on definitively. “I mean, what would be the point? In a dream world I would try for the pro circuit in soccer, or maybe the national team, but who am I kidding? Even I know that the odds of that happening are, like, zero.”

There was a pause and Chris’s words hung in the air.

“Dad suggested I try for the police,” she went on, “but … I dunno.”

“I think you’d make a great cop,” Ryan said with sincerity in his voice.

She pulled a face. “I’m not becoming a cop.”

“Does that decision have anything to do with your dad?”

“Pretty much,” she admitted. “I just know he’d be even more of a pain in the ass than he already is. He’d have certain expectations of me, and expectations equal …” she trailed off, taking a drag on her cigarette to hide the tremor in her voice. “Expectations equal more control and disappointment in the end.” She couldn’t take her eyes off her sneakers.

Ryan was silent for a moment before speaking. “Don’t let anyone pressure you into any kind of role. Just go with your gut, and something will come along that feels right. Besides,” he continued as he took her half-finished cigarette from her hand and snubbed it out on the stone step, “you’re smarter than you give yourself credit for. Even smarter than Helen, as far as I can tell, and I won’t deny that she’s brilliant.”

You think? Chris was nowhere near as convinced as Ryan seemed to be. There were some really smart people in her class, and she didn’t connect with them at all. She just didn’t care like they did.

She must have made a face because he went on. “But it’s a different kind of brilliance. Helen follows the established trajectory, then excels. You get bored and frustrated with the establishment, then break the rules. But don’t let people tell you that you’re not going places, Chris, because you’re full of potential.”

Potential. Something about that word had always been a double-edged sword for Chris. Her dad always seemed to use it against her. But in Ryan’s mouth, it didn’t seem so bad.

Ryan broke into a rapscallion grin and brought a hand up to rub a thumb along her jawline. It was the smile-summoning ritual he’d come up with a few years ago, back when she’d first started rebelling against everything and everyone.

“Come on, now,” he said. “How about some optimism? You’re almost free. Don’t you remember how much you used to look forward to getting out of high school?”

“Yeah,” she conceded, swatting his hand away from her face. She did her best to flash him a smile, though she wasn’t sure how cheery it looked.

“Keep your chin up, kiddo.” He lowered his hand to her shoulder and gave it a squeeze. Brief as it was, his touch had an electrifying effect on her skin beneath her hoodie. The hoodie he’d given her. She felt goose bumps spreading around the point of impact, and that awful dizziness settled within her stomach again.

She desperately wished that she still had a cigarette to hide behind. Instead, she busied her hands by pulling at a hangnail on her thumb as she tried her best to keep a poker face. She hoped he hadn’t caught on to what she was feeling. Shit, that would be awkward.

“You should get back to my sister,” she said.

“Yeah, I guess I should,” he replied, rising to his feet in one fluid motion. He started towards the front door, then stopped and turned back around. “Helen and I are headed to the movies. Feel like catching a flick? We’re going to grab milkshakes along the way.”

No, she wanted to say. She didn’t feel like seeing Helen in action tonight.

“Yeah, sure,” she said instead.

 


 

Before heading up to Interstate 5 to catch a movie downtown, they stopped by Bob’s Body Shakes to grab Helen’s choice of milkshakes. The place offered a low-fat variant advertised to have the same taste and consistency as regular milkshakes, and Helen had been dying to try one. Chris had wanted to go to her favorite shake shop by the wharf, but she agreed to go to Bob’s because Ryan asked nicely.

She could have stayed in the car and sent the others ahead with her order, but the spring weather was nice enough to lure her off the back seat so she found herself trailing a few steps behind Helen and Ryan. The two of them spent the three-minute walk from the parking lot to the shake joint with their arms draped around each other, speaking in low, soft tones, their faces glowing with happiness. Chris jammed her hands in her pockets and felt dispensable. She tried not to care, but it still hurt somewhere deep inside.

As they rounded the corner before reaching Bob’s brightly lit storefront, Ryan looked over his shoulder to give her a thumbs up. Chris pulled her right hand from her pants pocket and gave a small wave of her fingers. It was a pitiful imitation of Helen’s dainty, ladylike wave because Chris’s fingers were just too stiff and uncoordinated to do the trick.

Ryan opened the ice cream shop door for Helen, then held it for Chris. They ordered three signature low-fat shakes at Helen’s insistence. Ryan refused to accept Chris’s crumpled bills and paid for them all. On the way back to the car, Chris tried a sip of her pomegranate smoothie. It wasn’t as bad as she’d expected.

She was trailing behind again as they made their way to the parking lot. They were midway when Chris’s senses flared abruptly—all of them, simultaneously with a cranked-up intensity that was overwhelming. Chris stopped walking, and raised her free hand to her temple to ward off the onslaught. Then a new sense resonated through her entire body, overpowering everything else with a single message: danger.

Chris slumped down to her knees with a breathless grunt, every conscious thought knocked out of her mind. The plastic shake cup slipped from her hand, sending

                        crimson fluid

red berry milkshake spilling across the sidewalk.

Something told her that a car was approaching, and somehow she knew that the vehicle was about to lose control—that the driver was

                        alcohol, pills, effect just kicked in

intoxicated, almost delirious. Chris felt, rather than heard, screeching tires drawing closer. The vibration of rubber on pavement sent a tremor through her bones.

She focused all of her efforts on shifting her concentration to the here and now, pushing the barrage of sensations aside in order to consciously take in what was happening around her. But her wobbly limbs reacted only sluggishly as she struggled to get up. She managed to lift her head enough to see Helen and Ryan, a good twenty feet ahead, stopped on the sidewalk while looking back towards her.

Looking in the wrong direction.

As a black Mercedes was careening wildly around the corner, Chris opened her mouth to shout a warning. She only managed to force garbled noise from her throat so she gritted her teeth and focused on moving forward. To crawl if she had to.

But when she finally changed position, her momentum defied reality. It surged forward, carrying her across the twenty feet of sidewalk separating her from Helen in the blink of an eye.

What the… Chris thought, flabbergasted by the speed of her movement. She couldn’t tell whether she was hallucinating, but Helen’s widening eyes told her that she wasn’t.

The screech of tires finally pulled Helen and Ryan’s attention to the oncoming vehicle. Helen’s milkshake dropped to the ground as she and her boyfriend stood frozen, too startled to react.

At the same time, Chris’s consciousness filled to the brim with feedback from senses that weren’t her own. She made a frantic attempt to process them all: the driver’s frustratingly slow reactions to his own vehicle, Helen’s heartbeat pounding in her chest, he sound of the roaring car engine, now less than ten feet away.

Just before that final explosion of flesh and material, Chris lost herself in the feeling of extending outwards. There was a burst of energy, with her at the center, and the car collided with that energy in a shuddering burst of force. Then she was surrounded by countless flying pieces of flesh and material that didn’t interact according to physics or logic.

The impact was deafening, but some part of Chris which wasn’t incapacitated registered that it had barely budged her body. That sudden burst of energy had extended around her and had taken something from her, something that absorbed the brunt of the collision. And it hadn’t just protected her. It had reached farther, somehow, from her to Ryan and maybe Helen. Chris couldn’t tell for sure. There was too much happening at once to process it all.

When Chris regained control of herself, she saw how two energy spheres—one around her and another around Ryan—stood out like transparent shields, warding off crash-induced debris and grime. There were thousands of small shards of glass and metal, littering the ground in a three-foot radius around them. Trailing rivulets of amber and black fluids coursed around their feet, also stopping an arm’s length away. The car wreckage fenced them in on two sides, as though it had been bent around a telephone pole that didn’t exist. A lifeless arm was dangling from the shattered driver’s side window.

Chris failed to piece together exactly what had happened, or why, or how. Still, she instinctively felt that she’d done … this. Whatever this was.

She looked over at Ryan. Suspicious amounts of a wine-colored substance were suspended in the air, splattered over the far side of the energy sphere surrounding him, but he didn’t look hurt underneath it. He stared down at the sidewalk at a mangled, bloody doll wrapped in something which looked like the color of Helen’s clothes. His features were so devoid of expression that he barely looked alive.

Chris sucked in a gasping breath. She was aware of the broken body that had been

                        her sister

a person just moments ago, but she couldn’t look too closely. If she did, she’d scream. She focused instead on a small section of sidewalk a few feet away from the carnage, where a silver Harvard pendant was strewn alongside its broken chain. The little coat of arms was proudly displaying its message of truth amid a backdrop of horror.

After what felt like an eternity, but was only seconds, she ripped her gaze away. She wanted to say something, an apology, an explanation, a question—anything—but she only managed to force a ragged sob from her throat.

She turned to face Ryan, outstretching her hand so that she almost touched his arm. Somewhere in her consciousness she was aware that she could dismiss the energy field, but she didn’t want him to get all that blood and grime on him when the sphere collapsed.

“Ryan? Are you okay?” Her voice sounded small in her own ears.

He didn’t respond. She was about to repeat her question when his body folded in on itself and he dropped to his knees. Then he was crouching beside the bloodied doll, rocking back and forth. His face was twisted into a grimace of black despair, and he looked so unlike the friend she knew that the sight of it cut deeper than anything else. She wished she could have shut out the heartrending moan that escaped from his throat.

“Ryan? I’m … I’m … sorry. So sorry. I’ll make it … good. I’ll make it be okay,” she stammered, barely recognizing her own voice. “Ryan? Say something, please.” Her hand was still outstretched in the air, reaching out for his forgiveness.

Some cars were stopped in the road now, their doors flung open as concerned drivers stood in the street, cellphones in hand. A number of pedestrians clustered around the parking lot entrance, staring at the wreckage with blank faces.

After what felt like an eternity, Ryan looked up. “Why did you do? She’s your sister!” His voice broke on the last word, so raw and ragged that it was barely comprehensible. His reaction hit her with the force of a sledgehammer. His eyes were full of confused agony as they fixed on hers.

Chris didn’t have a response. What could she say, when she couldn’t remember what she’d done and when none of the things she did remember made any sense? “I’m sorry,” was all she could manage.

His next words sounded lost and far away. “So you’re one of them now.”

She had no answer for him.

A police siren whined in the distance, condemning her in its own way. Her hand dropped from the air and she wrapped her arms around herself instead.

Whatever it was that had just happened, it didn’t look good for her. And even if the Covenant didn’t show up to nuke her out of existence, her parents would do something along those lines. Her mother was only just beginning to overcome the emotional and mental collapse that she’d suffered after Dylan’s sudden death.

Another death in the family Chris hadn’t been able to prevent.

Now their beloved Helen was gone, too. For a moment, Chris considered just sitting down on the pavement to wait for the Covenant to sort her out in whichever way they wanted. But she knew that if she was going to have any sort of chance to make amends with anyone, she had to get away. She had to buy some time to figure out what she could do so she wouldn’t feel like some sort of monster.

Most of all, she had to get away before Ryan gave her another one of those sad looks.

Chris wheeled around and broke into a run, a superhuman flash of movement along the darkened stretch of road.

 

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23 thoughts on “1.1 Mascot

  1. I’m a little excited, and a little anxious. This is a pretty large step after so many years of never publishing anything. But I’m not alone in this, you guys are with me, right?

    Please post any questions you have as comments, if there is anything in particular you’d like to know more about in future chapters, I can try and work it in.

    I’m looking forward to the next update in one week.

    • I noticed that a lot of people stop reading after this chapter, and if anyone has an idea why, it would be really helpful for me to know. Too much negativity, maybe? Or the fact that what happened to Helen and why is too unclear? I’m planning to clear that up in an interlude after arc 2.

      • Your prologue started off with Somebody getting offed by a government hit-squad for no reason other than “she cured cancer and aids”, and then we get this.

        Grimdark puts it lightly.

        • The story is fairly dark, yeah. Probably not at the level of some of Worm’s later arcs, but I personally prefer harsh plots to butterflies and happy endings. There will be brighter moments later on and throughout the plot – arc 2 has a completely different tone, for instance.
          But if it’s unclear that there is a reason behind the killing in the prologue, I’ll do some editing soon. I’d like to encourage readers to find out more about the reasons later on, not scare them away completely.

  2. Good chapter. I am intrigued by Chris and her powers, and I really want to know what will happen next with her family, the police and the Covenant (the same guys who visited Shanti, perhaps?).
    I liked it as an introductory chapter. It’s got a good first line and I really liked the fact that it seems to jump directly to the action. People say that a good story should start as close to the action as possible and I think you managed it here.
    Now, a small criticism if I may. I really think your use of Purple Prose is hurting your writing, in a way. While such a style may help a work by setting the right mood (e.g. H. P. Lovecraft use of obscure terms and flowery descriptions helped by adding to the creepy, antiquated feel of his stories), more often than not the “floridness” just ends up being intrusive and distracting from the action and the dialogue.
    I think your story would benefit more if you traded the flowery descriptions with shorter, straight-to-the-point sentences. Maybe that will also help with the whole “looking for tools and techniques to speed the storyforging process up and make it less of a slog”. *wink wink*
    Anyway, I should stop raining in your parade now, hehe. :$
    P.S. „Why did you save me and not her? She’s your sister!“ –> Typo with the opening quotation mark.

  3. And there it is: the first official post of Arc 1!
    Nice and catchy start – but I believe I already told you so on Myth Weavers 😉 Seriously, keep it up and I am looking forward to reading more.

  4. Okay, first batch of critiques:

    Suddenly! Never use it! Eradicate it from your dictionary. You should show that something is sudden through people’ sure actions and its effects on the world.

    “The door opened,” vs “the door had opened.” Be careful with your tenses here.

    Energy spheres- you never describe what they do/look like/where they are.

    That’ small for now. I may come back later when I’m more awake.

  5. Mascot? Well that mass got something alright.

    Whew, that girl is a wreck! Helen, I mean. She got a body that could stop a car on a dime. Wouldn’t survive the stopping too well, but that’s the tradeoff. A booty that can make a grown man and woman cry. Got a little thunk in her trunk. Well, thunk in his trunk.

    That’s the thing about milkshakes. It brought all the boys to the yard a little too quickly. No use crying over spilt milkshake, though.

    Get used to all the bad jokes. If she’s a speedster, then it’s only right she get a large dose of horrible cheese. The Flash got Captain Cold, Captain Boomerang, the Trickster, Mirror Master, the Top, Weather Wizard, Heat Wave, Dr. Alchemy, Gorilla Grodd, and a guy named Rainbow Raider whose real name was Roy G. Bivolo. The Chinese Rocket there can expect plenty of horribly-named people tossing one-liners her way in no time flat. I scream, you scream, when her sis is caught in the high beams…

  6. Just started reading this. I can say that the car accident is very confusing. I’m guessing at least some of that is intentional, since Chris would have been confused too, but I have a hard time piecing what exactly happened. It sounded like Chris ran past Helen and Ryan, and then took the brunt of the hit herself. Then it looked like Ryan was there helping her. Then we are told that she was actually saving Ryan, but Helen got hit. So I’m having a hard time visualizing what actually happened.

  7. Some jarring typos for me in this paragraph “Something was off about this. But Chris feel like getting involved in that, so she made her way back to the porch steps and settled on the one at the bottom. When she was halfway comfortable, she rubbed her temples with small, circling motions.” Perhaps change to “Something was off about this but Chris didn’t feel like getting involved in their drama. She made her way back to the porch steps and settled on the one at the bottom. Once she was halfway comfortable, she rubbed her temples with small, circular motions.”

    • Thanks for that! My writing and English weren’t as developed when I wrote those early arcs, so any and all comments are welcome. I’ll look into fixing this tomorrow.

      I can promise that the ebooks will be near flawless, and I’ll repost the first three arcs at ebook release quality as soon as they’re done. The first arc should be ready in a week or two.

  8. Sweet chapter. I like how it has so far played out. I thought the beginning sentence was a great hook and you handled the action scene in the end and the heartbreaking scene well.

    Here are some of my highlights:
    On Helen’s homecoming day, none of the Chungs had any inkling about the family apocalypse that was waiting to happen.

    Helen was the sun that her parents revolved around. Chris was more like a distant comet that drifted along the edges of the family universe.

    He didn’t expect her to charm anyone; he just wanted a scratch behind the ears. Or, alternately, the remains of her steak.

    She just wasn’t a people person, and that wasn’t likely to change. She shifted in her seat to dig her fingers into the dog’s fur, letting the dinner conversation drift past.

    She opened her mouth, hoping the words would just come to her like they seemed to come to Helen, but no sound came out. She wiped her hands on her napkin instead, half her attention turned to the darkened front porch beyond the living room window. Fresh air. Solitude. Or maybe a pickup game of soccer with the guys.

    Yeah, Princess Perfect had definitely landed another awesome boyfriend. Hot and nice. Anything else would have been . . . what? Cosmically impossible?

    She focused instead on a miniscule section of sidewalk a few feet away from the carnage, where a silver Harvard pendant was strewn alongside its broken chain. The little coat of arms was proudly displaying its message of truth amid a backdrop of horror.

    She wanted to say something — an apology, an explanation, a question, anything — but she only managed to force a ragged sob from her throat.

    His next words cut through her like a hot knife. “So you’re one of them.”

    Nice stuff! Gonna read the next chapter and give you my thoughts 🙂

  9. I’ve only read the Amazon prologue, so I have no insight into what the covenant is. Hope that doesn’t affect the reading.

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