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Memoir of a Dying Universe- chapter 2
“All right, kids. You get going.” my mother said cheerfully, casting me a brief warning glare before returning to the fake grin. Smirking, I led David away into the sidelines.
“So are we gonna sabotage their date, or what?” David asked nervously as they walked away. I laughed.
“No, idiot, we're gonna enjoy ourselves. See these?” I held up my hand. Clenched in it were two “all rides free” bracelets. “Maybe this guy isn't so bad after all. He decided to pay me to go away, with these.”
David laughed and secured one around his wrist. “Let's try the Deathcoaster. I'd like to see you survive that.”
The coaster loomed, ominous and black, above us. Chatty teenagers dotted the ground in the line, and as heads turned to glance at the coaster I led David in a series of vaulting over line fences. The front approached.
When we had been seated in the uncomfortable red cart, an attendant pulled the lever. Wind whipped at my hair and face as the ride jolted to a speedy start, creaking on the rusty rails. David let out a whoop and laughed. “I've never been on one of these before!” he yells over the thundering noise of the rails.
I yell a reply but it is lost in my shriek as the coaster goes over a steep hill. David is laughing his head off like a maniac as we descend down what seems to be a vertical set of rails. My shriek fades as we hit the bottom, and I return David's fist bump as we go into a spin.
A few minutes later, the ride jolts to a rough halt in front of the lever. The attendant's eyes are unusually dull as he opens the door. “This way, ma'am.” he mutters, but David grabs my sleeve and pulls me back as I begin to get out.
“Um, our family's on the other side.” he says, then drags me away in the other direction. Before I can spit out a protest, we are on the main road of the park.
“What was that, David? The dude was just—“
“C'mon, man! Let's go on that rapids ride!” he says, interrupting me, and as we fasten our seat belts to get drenched I forget my words.
Several hours later, I meet my mother and her cheap date by the entrance. Grinning, face caked with ice cream and funnel cake, I wave at her. She scowls at me as we approach each other.
“You kids have fun?” the date says. He's not a bad-looking guy, I think to myself as I nod. No sickening aroma of drugs. Sandy hair, tall, genuinely kind face. Maybe he won't be as bad as Mom's other boyfriends. “Cool!” He shoots me a thumbs-up sign. “Should I come over with you guys before I go home for the night, or head straight home?”
I shrug, and before my mother can respond he nods. “Well, I guess I'll see you tomorrow then?”
I give him a warm grin and we depart. David slides out of the car, with a wink at me, as we pull up beside our house. “See ya tomorrow, Ary.” he says, and slams the door.
I slip out of my own side and close the door quietly. My mother hums happily to herself as she enters the house. At least he's an interesting guy. Maybe he'll fix up this wretch of a woman. Sometimes I wonder, what would happen if my mother had never turned to drugs in the first place, after the divorce. Things would probably have gone a lot better than this mess she's dragged herself into now.
My door welcomes me and I slip inside, texting David as I fall onto my bed.
Aralyn says: Hey.
David says: Listen closely, Ary. There's something important I have to show you.
Aralyn says: Dude... what? What u talkin about?
David: Tomorrow morning, at 6, meet me around the back side of the woods by your house. Okay?
Aralyn says: David what are you talking about.
David says: Just do it, okay?
David says: And... bring clothes. And anything important.
-DAVID- has turned off phone
“What in the...” I sigh, but close my phone and step into old pajamas. He's probably got some weird problem with his dad or something. “Let's hope I wake up at six.”
Or perhaps... he wants to run away, and me with him? But I dismiss the thought. David wouldn't pull something like that, not this suddenly.
Yawning, I crawl beneath my covers and slumber softly.
Much to my surprise, I awaken at five in the morning. Yawning and listening for the tell-tale creaking of my mother's footsteps, I slide out of bed. There is no sound. Sighing in relief, I pull on pants and a sweatshirt over my pajamas. What did David say? Bring... important stuff?
Sighing, rolling my eyes slightly, I look around. Nothing really of importance stood out to me, why should it? It's not like I have anything special lying around here. Never been able to afford it. But with a groan I toss some clothes and my cell phone into a bag, and then shove in all the money I've saved up. Money from what I've found on the sidewalk, or change that my mother never remembered to take away from me. Forty magnificent dollars.
Listening again for footsteps, hearing none, I open my window quietly and leap out. My feet crunch softly on the dry grass, sinking into the ground, and with a wave of my hand to close my window I begin to make my way into the dark forest.
The moon shines dimly above, its beams poking through the trees and casting circles of light on the dead autumn ground. No bird calls this early in the morning, a lon =g time before the sun is up, and only the nighttime insects crawl across the floor of the forest. I let out a tiny cry as I feel something on my ankle, quickly silencing myself as I lean down to look. A small tick, not yet filled with its bloody repast, crawls slowly up my leg, and with a small noise of disgust I sweep it away. Continuing, keeping away from the spiderwebs of the trees and stepping over the thick mossy patches on the earth, I slowly make my way through the forest until I can see the edge of it. The moonlight shines bright on the empty highway ahead, but begins to fade as the sun, very slowly, begins to creep over the hills behind me.
“David!” I whisper, as I reach the edge, stepping out onto the shoulder of the road. “You there?”
“You don't have to whisper.” he says softly, emerging from a black patch of shadowed forest.
“David, why am I out here? What the heck is going on?” I groan, glaring at him. He rolls his eyes and begins to speak.
“Aralyn, something's wrong. We've got to get out of here.”
“What the hell? Is it something to do with your dad?” I yawn. David shakes his head, and I prompt him to go on.
“There's no time to talk. Do you have the stuff I wanted you to get?”
“You mean the clothes and stuff? Yeah...”
“Good. I don't have a dad, so don't bug me about that. We don't have time. Come on!” he says, and grabs my wrist. He starts running and dragging me along.
“What are you doing?” I yell. “Wha—David—“
“My name's not David. Come on! You're in danger.”
I try to yell something but it is lost in the wind as not-David sprints along the road. “Our ride's waiting up here.” he yells. “Get ready to move fast. If we don't catch them, they'll leave without us.”
“Who'll leave without us?” I call, bewildered.
“The Sandkeepers, now hurry up! I'll explain on the way!”
As we reach the top of a hill, a black car screeches up in front of us. A girl nowhere near old enough for a license sits in the front seat, opening the doors with a click of a button. “Get in.” she says softly, and not-David shoves me in and slams the door behind himself.
“Who are you?” I blurt, not bothering to buckle my seatbelt. “What's going on?”
“It's like I told you before, Ary. My name's not David, and I don't have a dad. You know that man at the theme park? Who tried to make you go to the other side of the platform?”
“That... that was just a worker! Why do you—“ I splutter. David puts a hand on my shoulder and shakes his head.
“That was no worker. He was a Pawn. The Pawns try to chase down people like us. Like you, in particular.”
“What?” I shake my head, then curl up in my seat. “I don't like this prank, David. It's not funny.”
“My name's not David. It's Shaxet. The girl in the front is Maepallor, but she'll want you to call her May.” At David-Shaxet's words, the girl— May— turns around and holds out her hand, grinning. “Nice to meetcha, Aralyn!”
“May! EYES ON THE ROAD!” David yells as the car swerves to the side, and with a giggle the girl turns back to the wheel and floors the gas once more.
“How... how old is she?” I stammer in a whimpering tone, reaching for my seatbelt as the car zooms across the road, ignoring lanes and stopsigns as if they didn't exist.
“Oh, she's twelve.” David-Shaxet says. “But don't worry. She's perfectly qualified.”
Gulping, shake my head again. “Remind me what the hell I'm doing in this car.”
Shaxet sighs. “We'll explain later. We're almost there... you'll need some, well, rest after we initiate you.”
“Initiate...?” I begin, but I am cut off as the car screeches to a halt.
“C'mon, guys! We're here!” May says cheerfully, and once again opens the doors. With a fearful look at Shaxet, I slide out of my seat and onto hard dirt.
A large, plain brick building stands in front of me, lit by the now-rising sun. A couple of kids are looking through telescopes at the fading stars. Not telescopes, I realize as May and Shaxet lead me forward, but some strange golden instruments with swirling patterns inside of them. The brick building is large and extensive, I now see as we approach its front gate, with many other buildings around it.
May knocks on the front door of the building, and the sound resonates through its massive metal frame. “May and Shax, reporting. We've got the initiate.” she calls in, and the door opens to reveal the smiling face of a young man.
“So you're...” the man consults a paper in his hand. “Aralyn?” He grins and holds out his hand. I shake it bewilderedly.
“Will someone please explain—“ I say faintly, and Shaxet cuts me off.
“Don't worry, okay? I'll explain when we get inside, during the initiation. It's the standard.” he says, and leads me in as I protest. We enter a small side room containing nothing but a cot, three chairs, and a table with several small glass bottles on it. The young man directs me to sit down on the cot and introduces himself as Kyren, then gestures at Shaxet to talk. Shaxet drags over one of the nearby chairs and sits on it in front of me, blowing his hair out of his face.
“All right. I guess it's time I explained this to you, okay?” he says softly, and pulls out from under his shirt a small glass vial like the ones on the table. It is oddly decorated, with brass spirals twirling down the sides, and it holds what appears to be a swirl of golden-red sand. He holds it in front of me.
“This is my Sand. It came from my mind. And it's got an entire universe inside of it, if you just look close enough. And you're the same way.” Before I can react, he pokes me in the forehead. “You've got a whole universe inside of that head. And now that the Empress has found you, you've got to start looking after it. But it's still inside your mind.” He pauses for a moment, and I stare blankly at him before motioning him to continue. “See, the thing is, the Empress is basically the ruler of a... very interesting universe. And she's looking for an heir. More of a body, really. She wants to turn her universe into a living, breathing person, and she won't stop until she's found the right person. So she captures us and tries to see if her universe will fit inside our bodies. And she found you at the theme park. So now you're in the only safe place you can ever be. But the first thing we have to do is get that universe out of your mind and into your Sand, before it grows too big and kills you.”
I stare blankly at him. “Sorry, but I don't believe you. Why should I?” I say, and cross my arms. “For all I know, either you're some freakish child kidnapper, you're clinically insane, or this is some dastardly prank. So get me out of this... place, back to my house, and out of my life.”
Shaxet-David shakes his head no. “Sorry, Aralyn. But it's not safe out there. Kyren...” He makes a vague hand sign at the man and turns back to me, genuine sadness in his eyes. “I'm really sorry about this.”
I gasp and whip around as there is movement to my left, but a needle in Kyren's hand sinks into my arm, and as I lunge for him in what seems to be slow motion, my body fails and I fall back into darkness.
I awake into a blurry haze with only the feeling of a bottle mouth pressed lightly against my forehead. As the haze clears more, I feel an odd sensation as if liquid is seeping out of my skin.
“She's awake, are we done?” May's voice sounds, and I hear a faint murmur of affirmation. “Then pull off. We don't want to hurt her.”
The bottle mouth is lifted from my head and the seeping sensation stops. A hand shakes me, and Shaxet speaks. “Come on, Ary. Wake up.”
“...What?” I murmur as I sit up woozily in bed. “What's with the sedative?” As I speak, I struggle to move quickly. Perhaps to fight my way out. My fogged brain is unsure.
“Sorry about that, Ary. But you would've resisted anyways, and I didn't want you to get hurt. And if you had gotten past us, the Pawns would've caught you within the day. Now come on, and I'll prove to you that what I'm saying is the truth.”
He helps me to stand up, and despite my protests I cannot walk on my own from the sedative. Eventually Maepallor draws a small, gold-tinted glass flask from her pocket and hangs it around my neck. As I lift it and glance at it I can see that it is full of sand, swirled midnight blue and pale gray. “That's your Sand.” May says cheerfully. “You can look at it later. For now, we'll look at—“
“Mine.”Shaxet interrupts. “We'll look at mine as a demonstration.” He shoots May a somewhat pitying glance, and she returns with a fierce one, but I see thankfulness in her eyes. Without another word, Shaxet pulls out his sand-bottle and leads me over to what looks like a large golden bowl. It appears to be about three times the size of a basketball as I approach, and is filled almost to the top with solid glass. He pours the gold and red contents of his bottle onto the glass.
I step back with a gasp, stumbling in my fogginess before May catches me, as the sand begins to swirl and form itself into patterns. As I am led back into view, I can see that it has shaped into a large spiral, like a galaxy. “This is my universe.” Shaxet says softly. “It's called Stalaria.” As he speaks, he reached out and pinches the sand on one section of the universe. It zooms in like a touchscreen. The sand rearranges itself to form a picture of a single planet, with rings around it resembling those of Saturn. “And this is its head planet. You see, if I choose, I can physically visit a chosen planet in this universe. But I can only ever visit one, except in certain and dangerous cases. So I picked this one, Tiberil.” He pinches the sand again, and it forms a picture of six odd figures standing on two legs, working in a field. “And this is how I manipulate the planets. I can do this with any one of them.”
He briefly reaches onto a shelf, which I now notice contains many bowls, each holding a different color of sand. Shaxet withdraws his hand, holding a single large crystal of blue sand, and drops it onto the planet's surface. One of the figures looks at it, scratches its head, and then reaches down and seems to drink the grain, magically vanishing half of it.
“The colors of the sand can represent a lot of different things. For instance, the planets in my universe tend to be largely desert. I generally have to control the water supply. Golden and red sand are normally dry and rocky. And yours... well, you'll have to see for yourself.” Shaxet holds his bottle over the sand, and it rises and collects in the bottle.
I stand in silence for a moment, gathering my bewildered thoughts, then promptly sit down on a nearby table. “Okay. So what you're saying is true. There's a universe inside my head, and this is some school, or whatever it is. But you expect me to just give up my life back there? My school? My MOTHER? My friends, my everything?”
Shaxet nods sadly. “Unfortunately, yes... and by now, you don't have a choice.” He shoots Maepallor an uneasy glance, and I stare, confused, for a moment before I realize.
“What do you mean, no choice? What did you do?” I yell out, standing up. Shaxet shrinks back and shakes his head somberly.
“We already wiped their memories clean of you, while you were out— it took two days to remove all of your Sand. Everyone who knew you. We have magic-users in some universes, they can do a between-worlds memory cleansing. So... even if you go back, nobody will remember you.” He bows his head, his tone hushed. “The best we can do is to show you something. We can give you a glimpse of them through your own Sand, if you want. But I'm afraid it's irreversible by now.”
I sit in silence on the table for several moments, staring blankly at my captors, before a single tear wells up in my eye, and I break down sobbing.