Life is stupid. Just stupid. You know, people often have these great stories about all these cool things that happen in their lives, but here I am just rotting away. I’m not like the Evans in their fancy house on the hill, or like the beggars down on Regi street. Not that I want to be like them. The Evans are just a bunch of sweet, gushy people with no concept of personal space; and though I'm sure the beggars have a lot of fun running around doing whatever they want, they're...well...beggars. I like my life how I want it to be: organized, clean, and productive, if you know what I mean. Life is boring as a result, though. Whatever.
Jumping onto my quad, I pedal down the driveway onto Lycan street. I like my town. It isn’t really big, but it has all the modern conveniences that the government can afford. I can’t imagine how awful it would be to have to live in the Capitol, everyone a trail of ants lost in endless traffic. In a town like this, people don’t mind me taking up some room on the sidewalk with my quad. I usually go riding at least once a day, so people step aside and wave as I pass.
I have my specific route that I do, too. It’s the best way to get a good workout, miss all the huge hills, and get a glimpse of how the town is doing. I see how business is going at the market or check out the factory, where basically everyone works. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, I see my favorite guard, and she tells me about the new technology they are working on inside. Most of the stuff is sent off to the government (which makes some townsfolk really angry.)
Occasionally, I go down Regi street, but I don’t really like it. The street is really cluttered, and last time I went, I had to push my quad out of a mud pit. I feel for the people who live there, but there's nothing I can do about it. I'm not an Evans.
My favorite place to go is the orchards. I like the smell. The freshly watered earth and the fallen fruit, slowly fermenting in the sun, fill the air with a pungent aroma. Also, I can often get some fruit if I come at the right time. Alison, my best friend, works there.
I am just about to turn off Main Street when I see Diane Evans waving at me. I groan. Yes, I should be kind, but she's so...fluffy.
“Hey, Shelly! I am so glad I caught you this morning!”
Her dark brown curls are all piled perfectly on her head with a bunch of pins, probably some weird city fashion. Why does she bother? No one here can even compete. I give her my uninterested look. Yes, it is a specific look. I used to practice it in the mirror so people know to cut the small talk.
“Sorry, Shelly...but I was just wondering if you would be interested in joining a group of us that are going to a special school-”
“Diane. You lost me at school. Not interested.”
“Shelly! This has nothing to do with school. It’s just at the school. A guy is coming to talk about the Foreigners.”
Now that is interesting. Why didn't she start with that?
“For reals? When?”
“Tomorrow at 6. There’s a potluck afterward.”
Food? Seriously? Now she tells me all the important stuff. Even if it had been a discussion on the importance of pincushions, I would have come for the potluck. Some of the people in this town can really cook. They put together the best receptions. In fact-
“Will you? Please?”
I completely missed what she said.
“Will you spread the word?”
“Oh, yeah, sure!”
“Thank you, Shelly.”
I pedal faster. It’s not every day one hears about Foreigners. Technically, it’s not legal to hear about Foreigners, but over here in the Northwest, nobody really cares what’s legal or not. Most of us don’t like the government anyway. As long as not too many people are taken away to their “system”, and the taxes aren’t high, we have no reason to rebel. We don't follow their every whim though either. I, for one, am very excited to finally get some substantial word on what is going on outside the border. We don’t really know much except what we get in our history lessons in school, and I never really listened.
I breeze past a couple of boys from school. Maybe they would like to know? Their moms make good food so better invite them just in case. I slam my feet into the ground.
“Yo! Boys! Tomorrow at 6 o’clock... a man is coming to talk about Foreigners. It’s at the school, and there’s a reception afterward too.”
“Wow! Seriously? That’s legit!”
“I know, right? Make sure to tell your mom. Bye!”
Next, I head straight for the orchard, which will be the best place to get it out. Lots of people work there, too, and they’ll be able to talk with each other as they work. In the factory, the machines make too much noise for talking. Coming up to the fence, I call out.
The overseer turns and looks at me.
“Shelly! Get away from the fence! Honestly, I think you are the sole cause of production loss in this orchard. I’m surprised any of the produce actually gets out of here.”
“Oh, come on. I don’t eat that much.”
He just gives me the look.
“Anyway, I’m here to give you a message to pass on to all your slaves.”
He throws his hands up. “They’re not my slaves! They're actually treated so easily that we barely meet our quota!”
It was my turn to give my look. “Well, anyway, tomorrow at 6, school. A man’s coming to tell us about Foreigners. Reception afterward.”
“A reception? That should bring half the town. I’ll make sure my wife brings her famous cookies. She’ll not be having any other woman beat her display.”
I grin. Mission accomplished.
“Anyways. See ya!”
I briefly stop by the factory and make sure that my favorite guard passes out the message to the people as they leave work today. I tell my favorite vendor about it too. Trust me, there is no better place to get food than at Kivtori’s Corner. They have this special dish of mashed potatoes with corn, black beans, butter, and garlic salt...lots of garlic salt. When each ingredient is layered perfectly it tastes amazing. No other place does it well. It’s the perfect meal to have after a long quad ride.
Everybody may be here to learn about the Foreigners, but I’m here for the food. I take a look and what a spread! I just hope the meeting doesn’t take too long. I stand by the door to the auditorium watching everyone stream in. When the last few people head in, I follow them and take an aisle seat. I want a direct path to the food.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for joining us tonight. Our guest speaker is a FEEL Agent. It has taken a while for us to be able to procure him due to the current circumstances, and we request that, as such, you all use discretion.”
Blah Blah Blah. Come on, Mr. Evans...get down. Finally, the speaker gets up. He isn’t tall or imposing, but there is a calm confidence in his manner.
“Thank you all for coming tonight. For those of you who don’t know FEEL, Foreigners Entering Every Life, is an organization designed to help these refugees be safely incorporated into our countryside and cities. The government believes that these...people...are hostile and has declined them permission to enter our borders.”
Someone raises their hand.
“Why are they refugees? What is wrong with their own country?”
“It is currently ruled by a tyrannical dictator who is basically... massacring them. They wanted to flee through our lands, but the government denied them safe passage. It was then our organization was founded, to try and sneak Foreigners into the borders to safety. Unfortunately, the government has now declared war on them. This has made life extremely hard for them. They are already fleeing for their lives.”
Someone else speaks up.
“If they are simply refugees running for their lives, how have they been able to keep our army at bay?”
“Ah, see...this is why the government sees them as a threat and has labeled them Foreigners. They are not like us in many ways. They do not eat or speak as we do. They have a humanoid form, but other than that, the similarities between us and them are very limited. The easiest way to describe them is to say... they live off of emotions. "
"They what? Ok, that is terrifying, " I murmur before my mom shushes me.
"This is actually why we made our acronym spell out FEEL. They have a highly advanced ability to release and receive the chemicals and hormones that we associate with emotion as a means of communication, entertainment, eating, and resting. They also have technology, which though not necessarily more advanced than our own, is very specific to them as a people. At FEEL we examine some of their technology to see how it can help us improve our own. "
The agent paused, a troubled look crossing his face.
"Honestly, there is so much we need to learn from this new culture. Instead of being afraid of change, we need to accept it with open arms. This is an opportunity to jumpstart an incredible future.”
After what has seemed like an eternity, the meeting ends. Don't get me wrong, I found it fascinating, but now I finally get food. There are at least ten different cookies on my plate, and I have two different ones in my hands. This is going to be a great night.
It’s been close to 24 hours since the meeting, and the whole town is still buzzing. The defenses have been lowered and FEEL is coming to set up a “Relations Base” here tomorrow. Peachy.
I lie on the grass as my little rabbit George hops around my head. Every evening I bring him onto the front yard and let him explore. Most of the time he just sits there, twitching his nose, but today he seems excited, almost crossing the yard before nuzzling up next to me.
The sunset has blazoned the sky a harsh scarlet, but I still don't head in. Alison should be on her way back from work soon, and we have plans to make. With any luck-
A force hits the house, sending glass showering over George and me. I quickly scoop him up, trying to brush it off him. What on earth was that? I rush into the house just as my mom comes careening down the stairs.
“It’s fine, Mom! I’m down here.”
"Are you ok?”
“Yeah...sure. I’m cool.”
“That wasn't an earthquake."
"Yeah, it felt like some sort of shock wave. I’ll head out on my quad to see if anything’s up.”
“Shelly! It could be-”
“Don’t say dangerous, Mom. Nothing happens here. And if something finally has...” I grin.
At least ten other people are rushing down the street. Hopping on my quad, I join them. We turn around the corner and head towards the Main Hall. I stop and glance up. A weird shimmer hovers on the horizon. A terrible feeling settles in my stomach, but I keep going. My quad allows me to move to the front of the pack.
Suddenly, time seems to stop. Everyone is staring at where the Main Hall should be. A huge titanium ball is lying on top of the blazing ruins. It’s not a bomb or... I don’t even know what else to compare it to. With a roaring crack, it starts to break open like an egg.
People start screaming and running left and right. I find myself frozen to the ground. I have to know what this is. A bright white light shines through the cracks, and the earth begins to rumble and shake. I fall to the ground, not able to keep my balance. A dark shadow emerges from the ball. Piercing shrieks sound through the air, making me clap my hands over my ears. Nothing should sound like that.
The light from the ball is so bright I can’t make anything out except for the vague silhouette leaving the ball. I try to see where it’s going. Squinting, I make out the forms of people fleeing...screaming. The creature doesn’t touch them. It merely passes through them like an Angel of Death. The people grow limp as it passes, pooling onto the ground. I stand up, despite the quivering earth, and run to the nearest person. Their eyes are still open, and their lips move...but there is no sound. I shake the man.
“What’s wrong? What did it do to you?”
No response. Nothing.
I look ahead and see the creature turning around. I duck, trying to hide behind this husk of a man. A strange hum fills the air. Immediately, every person on that street begins crying out. Yelps, screams, hollering, wails...some jerk or roll, while others double over. Between his cries of agony, I hear the man beside me get out, “God, no! Please...please...no!”
The creature lifts an arm and a bolt of lighting stretches over the street. Every house catches on fire, and the bodies of the people start to break as if torn apart by an unseen force. The sound sickens me. It’s the sound of hundreds of lives being ripped to shreds in one moment of sheer anguish. Blood and...stuff... sprays through the air, like an autumn fog. I scramble back, the carnage searing itself into my memory. I gasp for breath and run. I have to get away...I have to.
I look and see Alison running out of the school doors searching for me.
I wave at her, trying to grab her attention. Before I get halfway towards her, a black meteor flies over my head. It crashes, obliterating the school.
The explosion sends the earth careening away from my feet. I reach out, yelling at the top of my lungs. I’m not even sure what I’m saying. The force hits me in the chest, and I go flying back. Fires burst out of every window and door. I can’t see Alison anymore. As I land, everything goes dark.
My head shoots up, and all I can see is flames. I scramble to my feet and struggle to breathe. I try to reach my house, but even my street is gone. Everything is just a pile of rubble. I press my lips together. The heat is drying everything out. My eyes sting, and I feel like oxygen is being sucked out of my lungs. I have to get out.
I manage to find an open path and climb up the southern hill outside my town. Behind me, huge pillars of fire rise from it, like some temple from hell. Tears flow down my face, my eyes stinging from the smoke. I collapse. Curling up in a ball, I try to push away the realization of everything that’s happened. I can't, I can't let myself think about it. Bile edges closer and closer up my throat. My limbs tremble uncontrollably, and despite the massive heat rising from my pillaged town, I feel cold. My vision tunnels until everything goes black once more.