Author's note: I wanted to create a piece that would make the reader question whether humans, at their core, are good or evil.
The 70’s were a nice change of pace, Ike thought. He stood squished between two rows of seats, looking out the window. Outside, grand oak trees swished past him forming a beam of brown and dark green. “The air is still pure here” he said, sticking his nose out the window.
“Indeed” said a plump woman sitting directly behind him. Startled, he turned.”Yes. Anymore tea?”
“No thank you” she said, shaking her head. Sapphire orbs dangled from her pale ears. “You know, I’ve been time traveling with Shogun Express for some time now, but I am still amazed by how handsome their employees are”.
Ike’s pale face churned rosy red. “Well” he stammered. “the trick is having a rigorous workout program”.
“Oh” the woman said, feigning interest. She was bored and just wanted conversation.
Ike could sense her curiosity. “Oh yeah, I’m eating all the right foods too. Apples, nuts, protein shakes.”
“Ah, so you’re an attendant here?”
“Yes. But I’m also the delivery boy.” Ike said smiling.
“I didn’t know Shogi delivers. Isn’t that dangerous though?”
“I don’t remember paying you to chit chat with our costumers.” A voice said from behind their seats.
“Ye, yes sir” Ike stammered.
“I have an important delivery for you.” Mr. Shogi said. He turned around and headed toward the private area, knowing his delivery boy would follow.
“What could we possibly be delivering here in Hollowwood sir?”
Mr. Shogi’s glasses gleamed under the bright fluorescent lights above them. “ This next delivery is very dangerous. I’ve discovered an illegal empathy in our cargo.”
The two men walked into the discussion room and shut the door behind them. With no windows, a few candles were their only source of light. Mr. Shogi sat down on a small wooden chair and pressed his palms against his face.
“How long has it been onboard?” Ike asked.
“ A few weeks maybe. It’s still in its cocoon stage, but it can hatch at any moment”
Ike’s hands trembled. A creature known to have devoured whole cities was no more than a football field away. “How did it get on board?”
“No idea. Maybe a rival business is trying to finish me. I’m going to launch a full-fledged investigation when we get back to the 28th century”
“This is crazy”.
“Yes. I wish I could toss the cursed thing in Antarctica. But we can’t risk leaving an empathy on this train.”
“It feeds off of human emotions, right?”
“Yes” Mr. Shogi said, rubbing his temples.“ And in a place like this, who knows what can happen. We don’t know the kind of passengers we have on this train. Who knows what kind of devil the thing can develop to be”.
A bizarre splashing sound surrounded the room. Ike raised his heads towards the ceiling. “Its raining. Pretty rare for Arizona”
Mr. Shogi thrusted his hands into his pockets and retrieved a hankerchief. “ A bad omen I suppose.” He blew his nose and then continued, “I’m counting on you. Find an abandoned area, leave the thing there, and come right back”
“What if someone finds it?”
“I doubt anyone will find it if you hide it well enough. Hollowwood is a sleepy town of hard working people. They don’t have the time to frolic around and stumble across packages.”
The majestic train that was Shogun Express made a sudden, abrupt stop. Ike held onto the wooden table to keep from falling. Outside the room, he could hear the screams of new customers unfamiliar to the train’s harsh stops.
“I have to go” Mr. Shogi grunted. He rose from his chair and headed towards the door. His back to Ike, he said “You’ll find your package in the back of the train. Head out through the back door and make your way to a secluded area and dispose of it. Understood?”
“We’ll be back in three weeks to make sure it’s dead” The door creaked behind him.
Ike Adams began jogging towards the back of the train. Passing through the passenger sections, he could hear their frustrations.
“You have to be kidding me” a husky voice said. “In all my dreams, I never imagined seeing my parents again in such terrible weather.”
A skinny, dark woman chimed in “ How am I suppose to document the social atmosphere of small rural towns in such weather. No one is going to be out and about!”
Slightly peeved for having to stop jogging, Ike stopped and answered universally, “Sorry folks. We can’t control the weather. Please make the best of your stay. You can find the acceptable clothing of the time period near the front of the train. Thank you for boarding Shogun Express”
Ike could vaguely make out their criticisms as he rushed towards his delivery. Finally, near the back, he came across a large box wrapped in glittery blue gift wrap. How ironic, he thought. Such a dangerous thing all wrapped up in a pretty packaging. He lifted the box and secured it under his arm. He half expected the empathy to move, but nothing. Taking a red umbrella with him, Ike opened himself into a rainy Sunday morning, in the sleepy town of Hollowwood, Arizona.
Ike was glad to have escaped the hectic scenery that was Hollowwood’s central train station. He was use to stopping at abandoned railroads, not busy, lively ones.
He took deep breaths, sucking in the rich air. Rain still poured from the sky, crashing onto people’s homes. The dark woman before was right, no one was out and about. Still, it was a breathtaking sight. White willow trees stood on every corner, giant oak trees filling in the spaces in-between. Ike felt like he had stumbled upon a small village within the rainforests of Brazil.
Above even the high trees however, was a magnificent bell tower. Looking around Ike realized this was not the secluded area he was hoping to find. He walked onward, hoping to find some bridge where he could dump the package.
Hollowwood was built on the side of a mountain, and as he followed the curved sidewalk, he could feel himself going higher and higher. Bored, Ike began calling out the names of the places he passed by. “Black-hawk Elementary” he said slowly. “rottenwood avenue. Blake’s barber. Cassette Studio.” Ike laughed at that. Cassette Studio.
Slowly, the scenery began to change. The willow and oak trees were replaced by rows of dark, twisted bark. A bright, orange fox peered at Ike from behind tall bark. Its yellow eyes pierced through him. This could be the place, he thought. He looked around to make sure he was utterly alone. That is when he saw it. Still farther up, he could make out what seemed to be a small wooden house. Squinting his eyes, he noticed broken windows. Excited, he sprinted towards the strange house. “Just as I thought,” he said, breathless. All its windows were broken and mildew infested the exterior of the house. Above, a lone white willow tree invaded the house, forcing its head through the roof. Intrigued, Ike entered the willow tree’s home; the mysterious package safely wrapped in his right arm.
Inside, a chorus of chirping warmly invited him in. A family of flinches had made their home on the branches of the willow tree. Ike knelt down under long, spaghetti-like leaves. Gently, he placed the glittering blue box under them. The box could still be seen, but it reassured the delivery man nonetheless. Sighing, he bid a farewell to his new friends and walked out into the rain. The whole way back Ike prayed that he did not just unleash a demon onto such a serene, beautiful place.
Julian trembled under his bed. He dug his finger nails into his matted hair and bawled. The bells from the tower let out an eerie chime.
“Who is he, huh?” his father said.
“John he’s just a friend I swear” his mom lied.
Julian heard the familiar sound of plates shattering. “I saw you” John said behind clenched teeth. “You let him, touch you”
A cool breeze fell in from his window. The house fell silent. Fearing someone was hurt, Julian crawled out and creaked open his door. He saw mom wrapped around father, pressing her lips on his neck.
“No John. Never. I’m yours. Only yours”
Father’s eyes were still and wide; looking for something. Something he had lost. He shoved her away.
She shrank into the floor. Laughing, she said “Well what do you want me to do, huh? It’s so funny. I’m the wife, but my husband’s the one who gets to stay home”
Father’s eyes grew dark. He inched closer to her, animal-like; menacing.
“I’m tired of being a druggie’s wife” she said. “Kill me”.
Julian’s feet froze. He wanted to save her, but his body wouldn’t budge.
“Julian!” Father cried. “How long you been there?”
Julian fled into his room and locked the door. He could hear his parents pounding, begging for him to come out. Covering his ears, he dashed towards his window. He couldn’t be there any longer. Wearing his striped, blue pajamas, the nine year old jumped into the night.
Rain crashed onto him. Shocked, he hid under an oak tree. Finding a leafy branch, he used it as an umbrella and continued his escape.
Strong winds pushed him back, begging him not to go on. In the pitch blackness, his hazel eyes served a sharp contrast. With every step his determination grew stronger. “I’m not going back”
Rogue leaves danced in the wind, cheering him on. He had no idea where he was going, but seeing hawk-eye elementary, he knew he hadn’t gone far enough.
Two beams of light pierced the night, demanding attention. With a slow rumble, a car positioned itself near him. “What the hell?” A voice said.
Julian could see a blonde haired guy with a goatee through the window. Relieved that it wasn’t his father, he kept walking.
“Hey. Kid. What the hell are you doing out?”
“Go away” Julian said.
Shaun couldn’t believe this kid’s attitude. And here he was, about to save him from the rain and give him a ride home. “Listen prick. No one likes an attitude.”
Julian kept walking.
“Prick” he breathed, and drove away. Through his rearview mirror, he could see Julian in drenched pajamas waving his branch like a maniac. “S***”. He punched the car in reverse.
“I won’t let you take me back” Julian coughed. Exhausted, he tossed the branch.
“Take you back where?”
“My parents. I won’t go back.”
Shaun rubbed his temples. “Where you heading?”
“My aunt’s house” he lied.
“Get in, I’ll drive you there”
Julian thought for a moment. He didn’t want anyone’s help, but he couldn’t take much more of the rain. And he could always just pretend a house was his aunt’s, then leave when the guy drove away. “Okay” he said finally.
Shaun placed a towel over the passenger’s seat. “Alright, come in to my castle”.
“Your castle?” Julian squeaked with excitement. Apart from a “hang ten” sticker on his dashboard, there wasn’t much else inside but black leather seats. “Some castle”
“The trick, my young friend, is in the music” he said putting in a cassette. Shaun bumped his head to the disco beat. “You feelin that?”
Julian began second guessing his decision to get inside. This guy was weird, and why had he been driving around at midnight in the first place. “You’re not a pedo, are you?” he said with genuine fear.
“What the hell? Do I look like a pedo to you?”
Julian didn’t answer.
“That hurts kid” Shaun sulked.
“Then why were you driving around so late?”
“I was coming back from a party. S*** kid, loosen up.” Shaun lit a cigarette. “Guess I can’t blame you though. There’s all kinds of creepers out here nowadays”
Julian stared at him. “Nice goatee”
“This old thing” he said rubbing his chin. “Thanks. I’m Shaun by the way”
“I’m Julian. Um, just go up this road” he pointed.
The car rumbled as they made their way up the mountain. The farther they went up, the deader the trees. “I’ve never been to this side of town. Kinda creepy”
The rain had calmed down and become a drizzle. Something farther out caught Shaun’s eye.“Is that your aunt’s house up there?”
“Yeah that’s the one” Julian said, not looking. He hoped they had driven far enough where his parent’s couldn’t find him.
“Little man. You sure this is your aunt’s house?”
“Oh yeah this is it”
It didn’t take long for Shaun to notice a willow tree protruding the house. He was about to say something, when he saw a flurry of orange through the trees. “This place is creeping me out man.”
“Oh yeah. My aunt’s one of those hippie types. She loves trees” Julian got out of the car,” Thanks for the ride.”
“Wait a minute. Why are the windows broken?”
“She likes the fresh air”
A flash of white struck the sky. Shaun regretted ever picking up the kid. He would have been safe inside his apartment by now.“I don’t believe you. Tell your aunt to come out so I can see her”
“She’s sleeping by now. Later”. Julian went inside.
“S***. Is this kid B’sing me right now?” Shaun tugged at his blond hair. “What I do, What I do”.
He was pacing around the mud, when he saw the orange blaze from before. Pints of yellow shot at him.
Shaun flew into the abandoned house and slammed the door behind him. “There is something out there! Something crazy kid, we need to leave, like right now.Kid?” A filthy, pasty mold infected the home’s floorboards. Shaun hopped across the living room until finding salvation in a small, pink couch. Only then did he notice the family of finches resting on a coffee table.
“Kid.” He whispered, “Julian”
“I’m over here” Julian yelled. He sat, Indian style, in front of a blue, glittery box.
“Whisper, you idiot” Shaun said, pointing at the coffee table.
“Oh” Julian smiled, “Hey, look at this.”
Beneath a waterfall of leaves, sat a peculiar blue box. Outside, clouds spat out their final drops, and were whisked away by the Northern winds.
“What is it?” Shaun said.
“I have no idea. Should we open it?”
“I dunno. Would your aunt be ok with it?”
Julian laughed. At a snail's pace, his hands moved onto the box. One by one, his pale fingers gripped its lid. Behind them, the finches rose like the morning sun and dove into the forest. He looked at Shaun for reassurance, and then lifted the lid into the air.
Inside the box was a large cocoon blazing with color. Streaks of yellow and pink shot into the air.
“What the hell is that?” Shaun said, shivering.
Julian’s eyes reflected the rainbow before him. Without thinking, he stabbed the cocoon with his finger.
“Don’t touch that” Shaun cried, grabbing the boy’s arm.
A buzzing sound enveloped the room. The cocoon of color rose into the air. Suspended, it shot rays of color through the broken windows.
Julian was too shocked to scream. He stared, mesmerized by the being he unleashed.
Shooting one last ray of blackness, the cocoon fell onto the floorboard.
Minutes passed, and the reality of what had happened struck them. “Far out” Shaun mustered.
Julian crawled near the cocoon.
“Get away from there!”
“It’s calling out to me” Julian whispered. He collected the cocoon with his palms. “Do you hear that?” he said.
Julian put it to his ears, “chirping”
“You’re a freakin nut job. I’m getting the hell out of here”. Shaun was almost to the door when the chirping grew louder.
The cocoon began to melt and twist itself. It grew wings and a beak, shaping itself into a finch. With a flash of white, the cocoon evaporated, and all that remained was a small, blue bird.
A shroud of silence fell onto the living room. For a long while no one moved.
“Julian” Shaun whispered. He motioned his hands toward the door.
Julian slowly crept up and headed towards the door. Sweat dripped from his forehead onto the mossy floorboards. He was halfway to the door when the blue bird jumped onto his shoulder.
“Get off me!” Julian screamed. He twirled franticly around the room trying to pry the bird off him. “Help me!”
Shaun hesitated. He turned his head towards the door and took a step back.
Julian began tumbling across the floor, screaming.
“S***” Shaun said rushing towards him. “Stop moving kid.”
Julian stopped. He was on his back, and wide eyed. Shaun hovered above him. Lips trembling, he motioned with his eyes to the bird on his shoulder.
Shaun stared at the bird, hesitant to attack. Finally, he closed his eyes and blindly flung his hands out. Feeling something, he opened his eyes. “Did I get it?”
“No, you nark!” Julian cried. Shaun was pulling at his ears.
“Sorry kid.” Shaun laughed hallowly, “Guess I got scared.” He looked around the room. “Where’d it go?”
“In there” Julian said, pointing to the blue box.
In seconds the blue bird swooshed back out and perched itself onto the living room coffee table. In its small beak was a large white envelope.
Shaun and Julian both looked at each other.
Julian, seeing that Shaun was trembling like a wet dog, took it upon himself to retrieve the envelope. Heart pounding, he crawled towards the coffee table.
The blue bird’s beady eyes looked down on him. Biting his lip, Julian reached out his hands and grasped the letter. Their eyes clashed. Hauntingly, the bird’s beady eyes turned green, then brown, before finally settling on a hazel color identical to Julian’s.
Julian held his breath. After what seemed like hours, the creature finally released the letter from its beak. Breathing again, Julian crawled back to Shaun.
“What does it say?” Shaun asked breathlessly.
“Not sure” Julian said. He turned his head back. The bird had rested its head on the table and seemed to be asleep. “I’m scared to open it”.
Shaun was afraid too, but his curiosity got the best of him. He grabbed the envelope and ripped it open. Fireworks burst out of it spelling the words “CONGRATULATIONS”. The sparks then fell onto the floor, causing the floorboards to pulse blood red.
Julian was awe struck. Next to him, Shaun’s body was convulsing and he was in a mad fit. “We are going to die! Why, Why God why me?” He would have continued screaming if he hadn’t begun to throw up.
Then, as quickly as it happened, the pulsing stopped. Above them, words began forming onto thin air.
Dear Sir or Madam,
Congratulations on your new pet! We here at Medley incorporated insure that you will find him most satisfying.
You see Empathies are not like any other pet. He is no emotionless robot or brainless dog. He is the most intelligent of creatures and has been created as the ultimate partner for the individual human.
How so, you ask? Empathies live off the emotions of the humans around it. This creature will adopt the language, personality, and even appearance of the beings around it. In essence, its owner will be the building block of its development.
In empathy, you will find a long lasting friend who will always agree with you and be by your side.
The words faded and bold letters replaced them.
Empathy 000292, LUCAS
“Lucas” Julian mouthed.
“What did I get myself into” Shaun said. “I should of never picked you up kid. Never”
Lucas stared at Shaun awkwardly and then repeated, “What did I get myself into. I should of never picked you up kid. Never”
Lucas’s voice reminded Julian of his mother’s voice after she had been yelling for too long; raspy and forced.
“You’re the devil” Shaun yelled forming a cross with his fingers.
“You’re the devil” Lucas replied.
“Lucas!” Julian scolded. “mimicking others is rude”
Shaun twisted his head back. “What are you, his mother? Julian, you don’t actually plan to keep him do you?”
The mysterious letter from before rang in Julian’s ears. In empathy, you will find a long lasting friend who will always agree with you and be by your side. The thought of a real friend made his stomach tingle. A friend. Someone he could actually play hide and seek with and catch fireflies with. It was as if God came down and created this being solely for him.
Julian reached out his hand and petted Lucas on the head.
Lucas dove his beak affectionately into his arm. “Ju-Le-In”