Amanda sits on the couch, playing video games. She has short faux dreadlocks, brown eyes, and a serious look on her face. She looks out the corner of her eye and sees her heavy-set, balding, baby-faced dad, Logan, sitting next to her.
Logan taps his fingers on the buttons of the video game controller and locks eyes with Amanda. “I predict someone’s getting ready to cry. It’s now or never. We’ve stalled the inevitable long enough. If we win, hooray. If we lose, I might still love you.”
Amanda’s six-year-old sister, Saira, sits on the other side of Logan. She has green eyes and two curly puffs that look like Mickey Mouse ears for hair. No matter what happens, she always has the same absent facial expression and monotone voice. “Please hurry and end this.”
Amanda’s mom, Jean, who has a beautiful, freckled face and a pixie cut, sits next to Saira. Jean smiles. “I think it’s time for you two to die!”
Amanda leans forward and looks around Logan to see her sister. “Saira, if you’re really my sister, you should know what I’m thinking right now. I refuse to be defeated again by Mom and Dad.”
Saira remains expressionless as she looks around Logan at her sister. “I don’t know what you’re thinking. Let’s hurry and lose, so I can go back to my room.”
“What? Speak up!” Amanda quickly turns around on the couch and looks around. “What the hell? I think a fly just blew cold air on my back.”
Jean shivers. “Amanda, that doesn’t make sense, but I just felt a cold breeze on the back of my neck, too.”
“I just felt one, too. Did someone leave the window open?” Logan asks.
“It’s probably a ghost. I read somewhere that you feel chills or some type of breeze when a ghost walks through you,” Amanda observes.
“It’s a deity, not a ghost,” Saira says.
Jean stands up from the couch, becoming even more engaged in the game. “There you go, sweetie. Free your mind. Have fun. No need to be serious all the time.”
“It’s probably going to kill you all,” Saira says.
Amanda’s eyebrows rise. “What? Am I the only one scared of Saira? It’s hard to tell when she’s joking, since her face doesn’t move, and her tone never changes.”
“I would like to go back to my room, please,” Saira says.
Logan stands. “You can go right now, because we just won.” He faces his wife, and she gives him a high-five.
Jean waves at them. “Better luck next time, girls.”
Amanda stomps her feet, then looks over at Saira. “If you’re so smart, why do we keep losing?”
Saira points at the score on the TV screen. “Look. I didn’t die at all, but they killed you twenty times, resulting in our loss.”
Amanda drops the controller and crosses her arms. “Well, I’m tired of losing to these losers.”
“Hey! No reason to be rude. You should treat winners with a little more respect,” Logan gloats.
Saira’s controller goes flying across the room, though she hasn’t moved her hands. Everyone looks at Saira in shock.
“That wasn’t me. My deity, Boop, did that,” she says.
Jean rolls her eyes. “Sure, it was.”
“So, if Saira dies today, does she go to hell for worshipping an imaginary deity?” Amanda asks.
“Amanda, shut it!” Jean gives her a threating look. “Alright, ladies, you have about two hours to kill before it’s time to go to my company picnic. Do as you please. Except you, Amanda. We need to have a talk.” Jean sits down on the couch next to Amanda.
Amanda sighs. “Uh-oh. I know what this is about.”
Saira gets up from the couch and begins floating up the stairs. “I’m not going.”
Logan stares at the TV screen, admiring his score. “Yes, you are.” Like everyone else, Logan is too distracted to see that Saira is literally floating up the stairs until she’s out of sight.
Jean looks over at Logan, who’s still watching the replays of his character killing Amanda’s in the game. “Hey, can you cut that off and go get the pamphlets? Please and thank you.” Jean offers a forced smile as Logan mumbles a response, grabs some papers off the table, and tosses them on the couch.
Logan places his hands on his hips. “Alright, young lady, it’s time for you to make a decision. Your deadline is quickly approaching. What college do you want to go to? You have your choice of any community college in the area.”
Amanda shuffles through the papers, looking at each one. “I want to go to a university and leave this state to explore. I don’t want to go to a community college and have to stay here. That’s boring.”
“You can go to college here and figure out what you want to major in. Then, maybe you can transfer to a university. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but your scholarships cover little to nothing because of your grades,” Jean explains.
“I know what I want to major in: partying!” Amanda sticks her tongue out and begins dancing on the couch. Jean and Logan both give her stern looks.
“What? I was just kidding.” Amanda stops dancing.
“I find myself saying this way too much lately, but can you take this seriously? Can you take anything seriously?” Logan asks.
“Alright, here’s my serious answer. If my only option is community college, I’d rather pursue a career in karate. I’m already good at it.” Logan and Jean both throw their hands up in disbelief. “I mean, I have potential. Look, if I continue to practice, I could end up in the UFC.”
Jean gives Amanda a plastic smile. “Sweetie, go to your room.”
“Fine, but I was being dead serious. I want to do karate.” Amanda gets up and begins stomping away.
“Wait a minute.” Logan stops Amanda in her tracks. “I’ll make you a deal. If you win the tournament coming up, you can do karate full-time while you attend community college full-time.”
Amanda skips over to Logan with her pinky finger out. “Deal.”
Logan hesitantly locks pinkies with her. Amanda grins, then runs up the stairs.
She goes to her sister’s door, peaks through the crack, and sees her typing on her laptop on the bed. Amanda forcefully opens the door with her foot. “Boo!”
Saira doesn’t react, continuing to use her laptop. Amanda walks in. “Hey sis, let’s go outside and play for a while.”
“No. It’s too hot outside. I’ll play a game of Shogi with you if you want.” Saira closes her laptop and goes over to the closet.
Amanda chuckles. “Sure, bring it out.” Saira grabs it from the closet and sets up both sides.
Amanda sits in front of the Shogi board. “Ha! Prepare to lose,” she brags. She stares at the board, rubbing her chin, then touches a piece and draws her hand back. “Alright, I have no idea how to play this. You have to teach me.”
Saira breaks down the board and puts it back into the closet. “I guessed that before we even started, but your poker face and confidence made me doubt myself. I don’t feel like teaching. With your level of intelligence, it’ll take days to teach you, and I don’t have time for that.”
Amanda sighs and lies flat. “I’m not sure why you’re interested in this! It’s in a different language. Do you even know what this stuff says?” Amanda quickly sits up. “Wait, did you just insult my intelligence?”
Saira sits back on the bed, opens her laptop, and begins typing. “Yes to your first question, and I just stated the facts for your other question.”
“Of course you do to your first answer, and that’s not a fact to your second answer. It would take me an hour to master that game, but I don’t feel like it right now. Let’s go outside and jump some rope, or play hopscotch, or do something a normal six-year-old would do.”
“Like I said before, it’s too hot outside. That heat will have demonstrable effects on the brain.”
“De-what? Never heard of that word, but I play in this type of heat all the time, and I’m fine!”
“You play in this type of heat all the time, and it shows. No brains and no brawn.” Saira points toward her door.
“Look, I’m Saira. I know big words and talk like a robotic mouse.” Amanda mimics her sister’s soft, flat voice. “No brawn needed to kick your smart ass. Now that sounds fun to me. Come on, put up your dukes.” Amanda hits her own hand with her fist.
“No, thank you. Say that to someone who’s better at fighting than you.” Saira continues pointing at the door.
Amanda begins bouncing around, throwing punches in the air. “I will in a few days. Are you going to come and watch me fight?”
“Nope, I’ll be busy.”
“You were fun before you knew what a Shogi piece was.” Amanda pouts.
“Sorry to disappoint you.” Saira continues pointing at the door.
Amanda grabs Saira’s hand and sits on the bed with her. “What happened to you? A month ago, you were a normal little girl. Now, you just sit in your room, on the internet, becoming smarter at an unusual rate. You speak three languages. No six-year-old can teach themselves that. You’re not my real sister, are you? You’re an alien that’s taken her place. That’s the only logical explanation.”
Saira snatches her hand away and begins pointing toward the door again. “Something’s happened to me that I can’t explain.”
“You can at least try, or help me understand. Whatever you’re going through, you don’t have to alone,” Amanda pleads.
“I am alone. I’ve explained it to you, Mom, and Dad more times than I feel like counting. I’ve even shown you all what haunts me every day, and every time I do, you all always forget. So, I’m done explaining everything. I’m not being put on meds or wasting my time seeing a doctor, so I’m done talking about it. I search the internet looking for answers, but it’s hard to separate the facts from the fiction,” she explains in her usual tone.
“Is this about the deity you see? Sis, it’s not real! That’s just your six-year-old mind playing tricks on you!”
“I’m a genius. Let that sink in. I have better things to do with my brain than scare myself with my imagination, dumb-dumb.” Saira repeatedly flicks her index finger, signaling Amanda to leave.
Amanda becomes hostile. “How about I let my foot sink into your chin?”
“Amanda, Saira, get dressed! We have to leave early and make some runs before the picnic,” Logan screams upstairs.
Amanda grabs Saira by the collar. “Saved by the bell. We’re going to finish this conversation when we get back.”
Amanda walks out the room and pulls the door behind her but doesn’t close it all the way. The door shuts without anyone touching it.
“Thank you,” Saira says.