There is a lot about the world that we do not know. I mean, there is a lot we DO know, certainly, but there more that we don’t know than we do. Think about the vastness of space, for example? If there are what, a billion stars right now, and 0.00001% of them had life on it, then at any given time there are a least a hundred other planets with intelligent species on them. Life. Creatures–or beings–with hopes, dreams, passions, and fears. Beings that we could only HOPE to—
Late for school again. I really need to stop waxing philosophical while laying in bed.
I throw myself out of the covers with a quick whip of the sheets and plant myself firmly on my bedroom floor. My toes stretch out and creak like an old rusty wood shed. I reach out my arms and legs to the four cardinal directions as far as I can until I hear the usual snap that designates I am properly stretched. Quick glance at the clock and see that I have approximately 10 minutes to get down the block to the bus stop. I stop to sniff a shirt and a pair of jeans that lay crumbled up at the foot of my mattress like some sort of offering to the bed-God. Fresh enough. I didn’t do much yesterday after school except for play some video games in my room, so I doubt I exerted much sweat. I throw it on against my pale, slender body. Dad’s right, I really should get some sun sometime.
I flick on the bathroom light and start the morning ritual, albeit, a summarized one this morning. I grab the toothbrush from the Yoda cup I have sitting on my sink.
“MMmmmm,” I moan as I spread what’s left of my Colgate Extra Whitening onto the lightsaber toothbrush, “plaque you will not have. Clean teeth you will.”
With one hand I feverously brush the coffee stains from my teeth, while I attempt to liberate the wax from my oversized ears with the other.
I throw the 2-day-worn shirt on over my head, which exclaimed proudly to anyone who took the chance to read it that ‘My other ride was a Battlestar.’ In one swift move I shove both legs into my pants and grab my book bag from off the door handle. I clear the stair case in three easy strides. Kind of easy for someone of my height. I’ve been running this path for fourteen years, three of which where I have been above the six-foot level. Piece of cake.
“Bye Pa, love you, see you after school!” I shout as I round the landing and slide towards the door, in a move that would make Tom Cruise in his riskiest of businesses jealous. I shove my feet into two red low-top Converse sneakers and snatch the house keys off the wall hook. I slam the door shut, but not before making sure I check the top and bottom locks. Can’t be too careful nowadays.
Running down the block to get to Broadway, I can see the 6:45 bus pulling up. Mrs. O’Leary is watering her petunias on the corner and her angry, half-blind, 14 year old bulldog Sassafrass is tied to the Stop sign, both blocking my direct line to the bus. In a split-second decision I decide not to run over the poor 80-year-old lady who is just trying to brighten up our little corner of the world and instead decide to take a running leap over the dog. With the grace of a drunken swan who hasn’t tied his shoes yet, I manage to somehow not trip over the dog, or myself, and almost get hit by some rust bucket flooring it down the street, obviously running as late as myself.
I get the signal to cross and speed over to the door, managing to shove my right arm in as the doors clamp down on it and urgently wave my Metrapass at the angry, but amused bus driver.
“Thanks man,” I manage to wheeze out as I board the bus, “I owe you.”
“Yeah, yeah. Just get in.” he fires back.
I dip my card into the reader and take a seat near the back of the bus. I dig out my phone and plug the giant noise-canceling headphones onto my head and hit play. Jukebox the Ghost’s “Adulthood” blasts into my ears.
Singin' this - is my word
But somehow we never get heard
There's just an echo from a lost and lonely world
And I dare you to survive
Being grown for the rest of your life
From adulthood - no one survives
Oddly appropriate music. This has been happening to me a lot lately. Like, I’ll look at my phone the exact moment I am about to receive a text or a phone call. I’ll turn on the TV and it will be on the news and be talking about something I am very much interested in. Songs will play an appropriate soundtrack to my life. I should look into this phenomenon.
After about ten blocks I arrive at the corner, just in time to hear the school bell ring announcing that the day has begun at Long Island High School of Technology. Teach is not going to be pleased with my tardiness again. Taking long strides down the quickly emptying corridors, dodging in and out of foot traffic with the deftness of a ninja, I manage to make it inside the archway when the second bell rang.
“Glad you could join us Mr. Collins.”
“No problem-o. Have to keep you on your toes, you know, in your old age. Don’t want your reflexes going bad on you.”
“Please sit down, Mr. Collins,” he said, with all the personality of a pet rock.
Mr. Johnson was my History teacher. I should say he was my judge, jury and executioner. I was currently cruising through his class with a solid F. I had about ten weeks to get that up to a C, or else I wouldn’t be graduating with my classmates, and would have to go to summer school. That was not an option. It’s not that I don’t get care about History. I just can’t pay attention to it.
Last year I took my ACTs and SATs in preparation for college and scored within 95th percentile in my district. A record high for my school, a-thank-you-very-much. I just couldn’t find the strength to muster up enough energy to pay attention to old guys shooting muskets in a straight–yet orderly–line before 9:00 am. It was becoming a real problem. Dad was riding my case hard, and if I had ANY chance of getting into a good institution, I needed to average at least a 3.5 by the end of this year. I slid into my desk near the back of the room, slipped my stainless steel thermos out of my bag, and poured myself a cold cup of stale joe.
“Blech!” I muttered aloud.
Nothing like cold, day-old coffee to perk the old senses.
History class dragged on, as it usually does, but I made it through with out falling asleep more than twice. I even got an answer to a question right! I mean, I got two wrong before it, but who’s counting? The rest of the morning went pretty uneventfully, until lunch.
The lunch room is always a zoo. Over 300 hungry, angry, tired, hormonally challenged kids shoved into a small room together and having to eat, socialize, and leave in a matter of 45 minutes does not a stable environment make. Having forgotten my lunch for the umpteenth time this month, I walk in and grab a barely baked cookie, a pizza puff, an apple, and throw five dollars down on the counter without missing a beat. The lunch lady just smiled and shook her head as I walked by, but the rest of the impatient line was not as happy. The slew of expletives was thick, I’m sure. Thank God for the noise cancelling headphones.
I saddled up at the far table with the other miscreants. Most of my close friends didn’t have this lunch hour, so I had to make due with what I had. My table consisted of a rag-tag group of outcasts, under-achievers, and just general nere-do-wells, of which a few I decided to make lunch companions out of.
There was Justin, the super-senior. He had been attending our fine institution for five years, and if things go well, he might break the record and be attending senior year for the third time this fall. Fingers crossed! He sat slouched over his pizza slice, sucking back a soda and eyeing the room aggressively. He was dressed in the usual black metal shirt/black jeans combo, used combat boots, and leather jacket, emblazoned with graffiti and other flare that just enforced his oh-so-cheery personality. I gave him a nod, and he returned it. That was the extent of our contact with each other.
Across, and kiddy-corner from Justin was Sarafina. Sarafina was a transfer student from Spain, and barely spoke any English. She looked gorgeous, I mean REALLY gorgeous. Long, jet black hair waterfalled down her body to mid back. Her makeup was always on point, yet understated. A natural beauty. She had on a tight tank top, and form fitting jeans. The kinds with no pockets on the back, which for some reason always made girl’s butts look fantastic. I should really write a letter to the designer who created those. Looks could get you far in high school, but since she had unfortunately been placed in the home of John Wolfe, she had been deemed an outcast.
The Wolfe family was our generations Rockefellers. Rich beyond reasonable measure. Like, I couldn’t even contemplate the amount of money they made a minute, let alone a year. They were never able to conceive; so yearly they took in transfer students from around the world to give them a “proper American education.” Noble cause, for sure, but as I stated before, we are an ornery, sexually charged mass, and the only people that paid any attention to her were the douche-y jock-types who just wanted another notch above their bedpost. We took her in around the third week of the school year.
“Domo arigato, Sarafina.” I said as I sat down.
“¡Por el amor de Dios! I not Japanese. Deja de ser tan racist.”
“Right back atcha,” I replied with a wink. She just looked down and shook her head, but I could see the faintest trace of a smile cross her face. I’ll have to file that away for later.
Finally the only other person that sat in our section was Bill. I never knew his last name, and as far as everyone else that seemed to know Bill, they didn’t know it either. He was like Madonna. Or Cher. Or Jesus. Wait – was ‘Christ’ Jesus’ last name? Or was that a title? I digress.
Bill was your average white bread of a human being. Bespectacled, but otherwise plain faced, with short cropped strawberry blonde hair, neatly right parted. He was rocking a plain white dress shirt, with navy blue slacks. If I didn’t know any better, and were I to run into Bill on the street, I would assume he was a Tax auditor. For as far as I knew, he WAS a tax auditor and he was currently undercover.
“Hey big Bill, how’s it hanging?”
“This morning has been thoroughly adequate. I surmise the afternoon should equal in its mediocrity.”
“Sounds just super, pal,” I fired back.
I started to dig around in my backpack, hoping to find a discarded half empty bottle of Gatorade or something, when my fingers found a small box with a note attached to it. I pulled it out. It was a small, smooth, jet black box with a hinge on one side and what looked like a small one-inch by one-inch glass portion on the front. I opened the note:
I hope to God you find this in your bag before school, and put it on. It is imperative. Please put it on and I will explain everything to you when I see you next. I know I always hound you about your grades, but today I think you should take the day off of school. If you happen to read this after already going, please feign illness and return home immediately. Remember – I love you.
I was just about to savor my second bite of the pizza puff, and contemplate these eccentric ramblings of my father, when an explosion rocked the building. The windows held fast, thankfully, since we were sitting right by them, but a few ceiling tiles came down. Instinctively, I screamed like a little girl and ducked under the table. Real manly, I know. Justin just stood up and threw horns in the air shouting “Ragnarok” and making air guitar noises. I really need to choose better lunch companions. Bill and Sarafina joined me under the table.
“This is a rather peculiar turn of events,” Bill stated matter-of-factly. Man, does anything faze this kid?
“Bill, that is the understatement of the century,” I replied.
Another explosion. This one closer. One of the windows exploded into the crowded lunchroom in a shower of glass. Kids started running towards the lunchroom door, but a bottleneck had formed. I grabbed a discarded lunch tray and used it as a shield as I stood up and made way to the back of the kitchen. There was another exit that way that lead out into the far end of the hall, but it was closer to the street. I guess I had to take my chances.
“C’mon guys,” I shouted over the screams and general chaos, “this way!”
I ran to the door and held it open while the four of us, and a few other stragglers, rushed through. Taking my lead, some of them grabbed lunch trays for protection. One even went as far as to grab a clean pot from the floor and use it as a helmet. That’s the kind of ingenuity I need on my Zombie-apocalypse survival team, which OF COURSE I thought we were in the middle of having. I would gladly take the lead on repopulating the planet with the help of Sarafina. I mean, it would be our duty right?
We pushed passed the refrigerator and rounded the corner to the door that lead out into the hallway. I heard some loud bang sounds, followed up by a third explosion. Was someone shooting in the hallway? What the hell is going on? I peaked through the window in the door to see what was happening. The hallway was destroyed. There was a large chunk of wall missing to where I could see out into the street. Cars were turned over, and on fire. Lockers laid in a hodgepodge all over the floor, and papers were fluttering everywhere.
“Um, guys,” I whispered as I slunk down the wall into a crouching position, “I wouldn’t go out there if I was you.”
“Fuck you man,” said Justin as he stood, “I’m getting the fuck out of her–“
He was silenced abruptly as a burst of three bullets ripped off the top half of his skull.
Sarafina started to scream as the door behind us started to open. As soon as it did I swung the tray around at what I assumed was crotch level to whomever just ended Justin’s 5-year reign at school. Direct hit. A man, dressed in tight black leather armor, carrying an automatic weapon and other accouterments dropped to the ground, releasing his grip on the weapon and crumpling over into a heap onto the floor. I don’t know what makes me reach out for it, but I pick it up and sling it over my shoulder. I mean, I’ve done this for hours online; being a soldier should be easy right?
Some of the other kids drag the man inside and lock the door. Someone else jams a chair up against the entrance to try and deter any other surprise visitors. Some of the kids kick the soldier a few times about the body, who does his best to protect himself from the onslaught of angry shoes. I think a few even connect with his groin, making him relive the previous pain. Bill, Sarafina and myself, being pacifists ya know, run back towards the lunchroom, only to find it being overrun with more soldier/terrorist looking types.
I duck down and hide behind the stove, and the other two follow suit. I hear some screams and a few gunshots and the screams are silenced. I peek around the corner and see the soldier propping himself up into a sitting position, favoring one side. He’s holding a service pistol in his hand and was in the middle of reloading it when he stops.
“Oh no…no, no NO,” the man starts to scream. He was looking at his wrist and tapping it with his other hand and then holds it up to his ear, “this can’t be happening! FUCK!”
The hallway door in the kitchen implodes and two more soldiers come shuffling in. After a quick scan, and assessing the situation, one of them offers a hand to the fallen soldier.
“C’mon Boone, we can’t be lingering here any longer. HQ has all the data they need,” one of them said.
As he stands up he exclaims, almost apologetically “My watch! My watch! It’s broken!”
The second soldier takes off his mask. He is a grizzled man, of about forty-to-forty five. Short, gray buzzed hair cut of a career soldier, and a scar running down the right side of his face, through his eye. His cornea is white as his hair, and he is sporting a decent five-o’clock shadow. He looks so much like a cliché movie villain I would laugh out loud if I weren’t fighting the urge to piss myself.
“What do you mean, it’s broken,” he says with a deep vibrato in his voice.
“These fucking kids, they jumped me,” he replies after finally getting up. He finishes loading his pistol and unleashes a few more bullets into the dead bodies of students at his feet, “and one of them must have kicked it!”
“That’s a shame,” Scar replies. I’m going to call him Scar from now on.
In one smooth motion, Scar pulls a large knife from its sheathed position on his lower back and slides it effortlessly across the man’s neck, causing a burst of red mist to shoot out from under his mask. His hands instinctively go to his neck as he starts to drop to his knees, but Scar grabs one of his arms and holds it straight up in the air, leaving the soldier to dangle inches off his knees, and bleeding out all over the kitchen floor. Once the life leaves his body, Scar takes off a watch from around the dead soldier’s wrist and let go, leaving him to land in a pool of fresh blood with a satisfying plop sound.
After waiting what seems like forever, we look out again. The gunfire and explosions seemed to have stopped for the time being. It was at that moment I remembered my dad’s note and package. I took it out and try prying it open.
“What is that you’re toying with,” Bill asks calmly.
I swear, that kid is a robot.
“I don’t know. My dad left it for me in my bag with this,” I handed him the note, “but I have no clue what’s inside. Or how to open it.”
Bill scans the note quickly. “Ominous,” is all he says.
He takes the box from my hand and flips it around a few times, scanning it intensely with his eyes. When his thumb lands on the small square glass panel on the front it beeps once and a robotic voice says “Access Denied.” It was the voice of my father.
“Gimmie that!” I say as I snatch it back. I place my thumb on the glass panel.
“Access Granted,” the box says, obviously pleased with itself, and with a slight thunk sound, opens. Inside is a stainless steel watch, with a fairly oversized face. I take it out and start to examine it. It is very modern looking, and sleek. Heavy too, for a watch that is. I unclasp it and put it on. As soon as I fasten the clasp, I feel a sharp pain in my wrist as what I assume is several small needles piercing into me, causing the watch face to lay flush up against my skin. The face turns on, and in bright neon blue letters it says the words “Aura-sync Complete”, then transitions to numbers. From what it looks like to me, it was a count down. But to what?
“Ominous,” Bill says again.
I examine the watch, which I found now could not be removed from my skin. I hear the familiar, and now suddenly comforting, sounds of sirens approaching the school. I motion for us to move towards the front of the building through the now hole-in-the-wall that was the door, to the sounds of safety. Kids were already piling out into the street. As I finally reach fresh air, I start to feel nauseous. My eyes glaze over, and I start to see stars. I wonder if there is any life on them I think to myself as I start to fall towards the sidewalk, and into blackness.