“It’s kind of like Survivor, isn’t it?” It was calm place – a pebbled beach, with water gently lapping at the stones, the sun breaking over the jungle-y forest in the east. Large rocks were scattered around, but the beach seemed to go on for miles, before it curved out of view. I can only imagine the panic if we’d appeared on top of a volcano or in a mountain. There were worse places to step onto, but it had still been a nightmare. There had been a hundred of us, and we all had something to be worried about, people to mourn – if I’d thought about this when I had been living on Earth, in my small townhome in Irvine with two roommates, I would have never thought that people would have gotten along within the first two hours. Maybe if there hadn’t been a woman dying in front of us, we wouldn’t have. But the Stealing – we still haven’t given it a proper name, but I feel this is the most fitting – didn’t care who or what we were. There had been a hundred of us, exactly. We’d been stolen, kidnapped, transported, teleported, whatever you’d like to call it, all out of our normal lives and into this new or old world, without a blink. One moment I was walking on the sidewalk in the warm California heat, headed back to my small townhome after a visit to the farmer’s market, and then I was stepping onto a pebbled beach, a cool morning breeze washing over me. It had taken me two steps before I realized everything was terribly wrong. I had been one of the lucky ones. Many people had been working when they were stolen, pulled from office buildings and construction sites, from classrooms and restaurants. The only concrete connection we had was that none of us had been asleep when we had been stolen, though that hadn’t meant that everyone was in a safe place. Those in chairs had fallen on their rear ends. Jordan, Maisie, and Susan had been teleported while in cars. Their cars had not been stolen with them, and so they’d appeared in odd positions, midair. Luckily, Jordan was able to walk away with a sprained ankle, but Maisie and Susan had been far more injured: Maisie’s broken leg and Susan’s broken wrist were going to cause far, far more issues. They were fortunate, though, even still. No one could complain about their injuries – not after the shrieking started. It had been just enough time for confusion and concern to lead to talking amongst ourselves – I remember someone laughing, “It’s kind of like Survivor, isn’t it?” Near the end of the beach, a woman had fallen from several feet in the air. No one had approached her, everyone more caught up in the fact that they had been in one place and were now in a very, very different new place. It didn’t help that there had been no scream until several minutes after we had teleported in. I don’t think it mattered, that we didn’t get to her sooner. I don’t think we could have done anything for her, even if we’d had ten minutes more. The woman’s chest was cut open, her organs exposed to the cool breeze. She had been in a hospital gown, light blue, which made the blood running down her sides far starker and alarming. Her noises of agony had echoed on the shore. No one could have missed it. People had sprinted over from where they had appeared, more focused on the noise than to talk about what was going on. Not everyone had gotten close – some of us had smartly stayed away from the noise, but we had still gathered. Those closer had circled around her, unsure of what to do. Her screaming went on for easily five minutes before her voice had petered out. A man in his 20s had come up to her – Jon, who I later learned was still a student in medical school – but didn’t touch her. The silence on the beach after the shrieking ended was deafeningly horrible. A sob from a woman in the crowd had ended the silence, and it caused a catalyst – any pretend light-heartedness had vanished, and people were somber and serious. We immediately began taking stock of ourselves. If we included the still woman, there were one hundred of us. Forty-six women and fifty-four men. The youngest of us was seven, and the oldest was ninety-three. Not all of us spoke English, though most of us did. Those of us who were bilingual or multilingual were able to help translate, but any knowledge we had to share was minimal. No one knew what was going on. The solemn atmosphere had been broken by one of the children, asking about the stone in her hand. I’d noticed it almost immediately, when I had gone to check my watch for my location, before the screaming, but it just … hadn’t had the same priority as the fact that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. I think a lot of people had done what I had done, but the child’s question brought new worries to light. Embedded in our hands was a gem – most of ours were a grey of varying brightness, the murky ribbons of grey color shifting within. There were a few that were different colors. Jon, the medical student, had a teal-colored stone. Maisie, who had broken her leg, had a deep crimson stone. Another man had a yellow stone. None of us had any idea of what they meant. But … the woman on the beach, the first of us who had died – her hands were bare. One theory at the time was that the crystal symbolized our lives – that this was a second start at life, that we had something to atone for, and could have this single redo to do so. I’m not sure I subscribed to that idea. But I’m getting distracted. A lot happened that first day, and the first hour or two on the beach was only the beginning. I think back to the first day often, about what would have happened if things had been different. Would we all have developed the same way? Would we have followed someone different? Would we have grouped together at all? The little girl who had asked brought ideas, a different thing to think about than the dead woman. People compartmentalized what they’d just watched and moved on to the more pressing issue – we’d all been stolen from our lives, faster than a blink, and a gem had appeared in our hands. Talk about gods and magic had lit up immediately, as we’d all began to talk to the people next to us. Some people stayed around the woman, but most did not, creating a distance that made other conversation more comfortable. We’d formed smaller groups, and I … it sounds bad, I know, but I hadn’t forgotten the off-handed comment about Survivor. If this was Survivor, the trick always seemed to be that you needed to be with the smarter people, the stronger people, the people who communicated well. If you were especially lucky, you’d find yourself allied with someone who was all three. Is it weird, that I had wanted to make sure I was talking to people who looked a little stronger and smarter? Looking strong is one thing, but how do you gauge intelligence from the way someone looks? I had moved away from the people near me and looked for the man who had gotten close to the dying woman: Jon. I didn’t know if he was smart or clever, but he had been the only one to get close to her – he would be someone important. People would recognize and remember him. Jon had been talking to a bulky man and man with peppered grey hair and lots of wrinkles. They were comparing their gems, and I – in my infinite wisdom – simply walked up and asked to join, quietly, my own left hand held out to theirs. They had shuffled outward, allowing me into their cluster. We had examined our gems in silence. The grey in my gem was paler than Marley’s and Oscar’s, who both had darker greys in theirs. Jon’s gem still had hints of grey but there was no mistaking the teal ribbons swirling around with the grey. Jon introduced himself as a medical student in his last year of school. He had been walking home from his school’s hospital after a long shift, in New York. The older man, Marley, had been gardening in his backyard in Texas. His gloves and small shovel, I noticed, were still in his back pocket. Oscar, the bulky man, had been working out in a family-run gym in LA. I told them the truth – That I was from California and had been on my way home from a farmer’s market. It was a risk, but I needed to put my trust in them, and they needed to see me as trustworthy. Survivor – who would have thought it could have actually taught me anything? It wasn’t long until we were joined by others, who maybe had similar ideas to me. Maisy had joined us, hobbling on her foot – “Just a sprain,” She had told us, though the pain in her face spoke of a different story. Jon immediately helped her to the ground, as he began to poke at her leg. While he did so, a teenager joined us, Steven. Steven was excited and eager to talk, and while Marley had looked annoyed, we all treated Steven like he was an adult. Something about the situation just made everyone seem more real – this wasn’t the place to discriminate. Scottie, a tall man with a military haircut approached us shortly after. He and Marley had taken to one another like syrup and pancakes, especially once they’d realized they were both from Texas. Oscar and I had looked at each other as the two men expressed their delight, hiding our laughs. Once Marley’s joy had faded, though, he had turned to me. “You went to this farmer’s market. I was gardening. I brought with me what I had on – did you?” I had known immediately what he was asking. My canvas backpack, still on my back, was full. It was full and valuable. We were in a survival situation, on a beach no one had recognized, and food was going to be scarce. More importantly, I had bought raw foods which meant they were things that could be replanted. “Yes. I think it’s almost all plant-able,” I had told him, quiet. We both knew what it could mean. “This needs to be a secret. Don’t tell anyone, Kora. If anyone asks, even in front of us, your bag contains schoolbooks,” he told me, serious. I nodded, and he turned to the others, asking secrecy from them as well. Everyone had agreed, so Marley (who I’d now realized would not be brawn, but the brains) told us his plans. Oscar, Jon, Scottie, and Marley would begin pulling people together that looked like they could help us and would be reliable. Steven, Maisy, and I would move to the beach’s edge, and begin walking. Marley made it clear to Steven that his job would be to watch out for Maisy and the boy happily agreed: Maisy was, after all, a short, cute blonde in her early twenties. She was absolutely too old for him, but he didn’t know that. We would follow the shore up until we found a river, and if the men hadn’t joined us by then, we would keep there, staying under the shade of the trees. It would be important, we all agreed, to keep out of the sun once it reached midday. Once we were all together, with whatever recruits were found, we would follow the fresh water up until we found an open space. From there, we would scout the area, looking for food, and a way to build small shelters. We would need space for a farm and the sooner we could begin that, the better. If we stayed silent about the food on my back, if we found a way to grow what I had … we didn’t discuss it, but I could only imagine that we were all thinking the same thing: That would be key to our survival, long term. Before we split up, Marley had asked to look at my bag and I agreed, opening my bag to show the man what I had. I didn’t take anything out, but I didn’t need to. I was sure he could see most of what I had from a light peak – the apples, corn, potatoes, onions, and the green from the herbs would have been visible. I had some fruit, a bell pepper, and two avocados bundled up in a plastic bag at the bottom of the bag, along with a notebook and pencils. I wasn’t sure he could see those, but I was sure the gardener was making plans with what I had on top. If we had time, all of those would be very durable foods that could last. If. Part of me had wondered, then, if it was right to split up the hundred of us, for my own survival – but it wasn’t just up to me by then. All seven of us had agreed to this path. Marley had put his gloves and trowel into Jon’s bag and gave it to Steven. Scottie had revealed to us his small sidearm, a pistol. I had to will myself to not panic – Scottie was on my team. We were working together. It would be okay. Oscar only had a small Swiss army knife, which he placed in my hands. There was trust in them giving us what they had. We all knew that we relied on each other. We were quiet, and there was no arguing. And then, we split up. Maisy, Steven, and I walked away, following the edge of the forest, but not getting too close. It hummed with the noises of bugs and odd bird chirps and I wasn’t prepared to face a spider the size of my hand, thank you. The four men on the beach continued to talk for a moment, before they dispersed amongst the crowds of people. Other people had grouped together like the seven of us had, and they each went to join one. As Steven, Maisy, and I walked away, I would turn to look at them, occasionally. The three of us weren’t the only ones to leave the group. There was one massive man who had headed out into the forest on the edge of the beach by himself. Another group, of five, seemed to have gone the opposite direction we had. A third group went into the forest as well, with eight people. One of the children was following us, hiding behind the larger rocks on the beach whenever he thought I was looking. Maisy and I were amused by it, but Steven seemed annoyed. I had convinced Steven that it was fine. I pulled the young boy away from his rock and made him walk with us. The boy, Theodore (not Teddy, he had insisted), was ten. He had two sisters and a dog and was very excited for eighth grade, and his favorite book series was Percy Jackson, and he was so excited for the new Disney+ tv series that was being filmed – had we heard of it? It was very telling that he didn’t mention either of his parents. Theodore filled our silence with conversations about his life, and I felt myself settling into an odd mood. I wanted to protect the boy. He was … sweet, and innocent, and I wanted to go back to Marley and demand we bring along all the children and keep them safe. But I didn’t know what horrors this world had, and so I didn’t turn around and run back down the beach to figure out what was going on. I felt like a coward, as I continued to walk down the beach, refusing to look behind me. The men had decided, without the three of us there, that they would pull as many people as they felt could be good workers. This was far more easily said than done. Maybe thirty minutes after we’d left, Marley had told me later, a man had pulled a gun on everyone, demanding people strip what they had on, or be shot. Four people had been killed before a woman had pepper sprayed him, and then Scottie shot him. All five of the dead had lost their gems. Conversation after that was rough. Weapons were held out in the open, and people weren’t willing to be positive. Those groups that had formed stayed closer together. They did a recount – there were seventy-six people on the beach. It had been good we’d left. Everyone was forced to show what they had, any weapons or tools. Another woman had been doing her shopping, Marley had told me. She’d been holding two bags of food from Albertsons when she was stolen, as she’d been bringing groceries from her car to her apartment. She had more than I did, but not all of it was growable – included in the groceries was a giant bag of rice, a package of frozen chicken breasts, a box of pasta, alcohol, a bag of onions, four lemons, and a container of tomatoes. It had been added to the pile of stuff, and that was it. A group of seventeen left, saying they would take the rice, and leave the rest of their stuff: The large bag of rice had been taken, in exchange for a water bottle, a wallet, and a sweatshirt. I didn’t think it had been a fair trade (it certainly hadn’t been all their stuff, either), but no one had stopped them from leaving, so the trade had been done. That group went into the forest. Fifty-nine people were left on the beach. An older woman, Bridget, began talking to the group, and Marley had been quick to join her. The two of them were able to convince most of the people on the beach to work together, because grouping together meant survival. A woman in the group, angry, had argued with them, demanding to know why they were in charge. Marley hadn’t needed to reply – Bridget had replied. I don’t know entirely what was said, Marley kind of skipped over everything, but there was something about Bridget having a handgun and Scottie, with his gun, saying he’d back Marley, and then people were clamoring to agree that yes, this was likely the right thing to do because we needed weapons to survive and to not murder each other and because who knew what was out there? Marley suggested finding a river, and this was easily accepted by Bridget, who had her own handful of people supporting her, and then they and the rest of the massive group headed in our direction. We didn’t know any of this had been going on, though, and were a long way away. Steven, Maisy, Theodore, and I had simply been walking down the pebbled beach, albeit slowly. Maisy’s foot and leg had been causing issues, though she had sworn Jon’s prodding had helped ease the pain. Theodore had oooo-ed and awed over her crimson gem. On the walk, with Theodore’s prodding, we’d learned that it was uncomfortable for another person to touch your gem. It didn’t hurt, it just … didn’t feel right. Something inside us itched. Around the gem – on the palm – was fine, just … touching the gem was not okay. The other person didn’t feel different at all. Or at least, that’s what Theodore said, who was more than eager to touch all our gems. His own gem, on his right hand, was the darkest grey I’d seen yet. It wasn’t black, though. Staring at it for too long made my head hurt. I think I’d realized it on that beach, but the gems … I never agreed with the idea that they represented our second life. As we were walking, I realized it would be very weird for us to be accepted by the group Jon, Scottie, Oscar, and Marley would bring, depending on what they’d told the others. At this time, though, I hadn’t realized they’d be bringing everyone. Maisy, Steven, and I spoke about it in between Theodore’s ramblings: It wasn’t too fancy, our story was that we were helping Maisy get as far as we could, without slowly anyone else down, that was all. It wasn’t a stretch, but it wasn’t the full truth. The boy didn’t stop talking, but I didn’t mind it. It had helped pass the time. The shadows cast by the trees on our left had vanished, the sun now casting shadows into the forest, instead of onto the pebbled beach. I didn’t know how long we had been walking, but Maisy wasn’t doing well, no matter how much she protested otherwise. Her leg was bent funny, and Steven had been holding her up as she walked for quite some time now. Fortunately, we had caught sight of our destination – a river, rushing into the ocean. It felt weird to call it a river, when it was so wide – it was a massive waterway, but I could see land on the other side. After hours of walking, though, it felt glorious. We’d followed the forest, but now we approached it more closely, coming to a halt. In the distance, we couldn’t see people following us, but the bend of the land had made it difficult to tell. Steven and I made space on several rocks, clearing away some of the moss, before helping Maisy up. She and Theodore would wait there, and keep watch, while Steven and I would explore a bit around in the jungle-y forest, to see what foliage looked familiar. I’ll be honest, though. I was never someone who inspected plants in my before-life. I, for the most part, lived my life in a small room, coding away behind a computer. Sure, on occasion I’d get out with family and go backpacking or hiking, but it was rarer than I’d liked. I didn’t know much about foliage. What I did know is that the forest on Earth didn’t move like the forest here did. There were bugs everywhere. Some were tiny little things, buzzing around trees and bushes. Others were larger, much larger. It didn’t take long before I bailed, rapidly exiting the forest. I had good timing – I had been in there for maybe ten minutes before the large beetle the size of my hand had spooked me enough to leave. As I exited, though, I could see people, half-way down the beach. In front, Jon was speed-walking over. I realized he must’ve spotted Maisie, who was still draped over the rock, leg dangling in a way that did not look quite right. Our conversation was brief, as Jon told us to remain quiet and let him do the talking while he bent over Maisie awkwardly, touching her ankle. The sigh of relief from Maisie was audible, and both Jon and I exchanged glances. I turned my left hand outward so he could see, then turned it back in. His eyes widened, looking at the bright blue in his own hand, and I knew he’d caught on. He probably had earlier, but … this situation was odd. As the others approached us, Jon stood, clasping his hands together. He announced, “It’s okay, they’re not a danger.” My turn. I cleared my throat and said, “We left because of her leg and the little one – “ I gestured to Theodore. “ – and didn’t want her to get more hurt. There’s another one of us, he’s in the forest right now looking at the plants. We were hoping to fin-“ “Yes, yes, that’s fine.” An older woman interrupted me, clearly impatient with the situation. “We’re at a fresh water source, we’ll go up the river, find a place to settle in for a bit. The girl’s going to be dead weight. I don’t know if we take her. And the other has stuff. Marley?” Marley shuffled out from behind the older woman, looking quite annoyed – more than he had with Steven earlier that morning. He approached me, quietly telling me to give him my bag. Facing away from the group of people, he opened it, careful to make sure nothing poked out. To me, he whispered to keep my mouth shut, before he pushed my bag back at me and turned around to the rest of the group. He loudly declared that I was, “Clean – nothing too valuable here, a few schoolbooks.” Maisie, though, grabbed Marley’s wrist. “You can’t leave me behind. You need me.” A cold sense of unease washed over me, my skin prickling. Maisie didn’t seem like someone who would’ve put us at risk but being told she’d be dead weight … well. It was clear what that would mean. It didn’t matter. The old woman heard us and moved up to Marley. The rest of the group (I spotted Oscar near the back, holding a little girl’s hand, and Scottie in the middle, talking quietly to someone I didn’t recognize) mostly stayed back. A few people got closer, wanting to hear the drama, but no one interfered. “We don’t need you, girl. Do you see how many of us there are? Do you know how many calories it will take to feed everyone?” She scoffed and narrowed her eyes at Maisie. “You broke your leg getting here, you’ll be unable to do anything for weeks. That dead woman on the beach – if we’re not careful, that will be all of us.” The worst part was that I knew the old woman was right. Maisie wouldn’t bring in food, wouldn’t be able to go scout, wouldn’t be able to build. But I’d made a bond with Maisie, and I’d be damned if we left her behind. I opened my mouth, but Jon spoke first. He was gentle, but firm, as he said what we’d all been thinking – “No one gets left behind.” If we aren’t on earth – and, if we forgot the gem embedded on our hand and the line in the sky, that blue spider I saw told me we weren’t – then we shouldn’t lose anyone else.

Maisie beat me to it. “You need me because I know what this does.” Maisie held out her right palm (was she left-handed?) to show Marley and the woman the crimson gem

the purple, we soon discovered, had some sort of warding properties. The little girl who held up a purple gem to stop the monster that had approached found herself both pleased to make the monster go away and upset that she didn’t have cool tricks like fire-boy did.

“Okay, Daliah. I need you to trust me, okay?” I looked down at the little girl, sitting in my lap. She nodded, gripping my hands tighter. The chill of her hands worried me, but I put the worry out of my mind. She was the youngest child we had left now. Sitting here in front of the fire, as close as we could safely get, sharing warmth, the blanket wrapped around her … it was the best we could do right now, but she insisted she wasn’t warm. Her cold grip proved her right. “Close your eyes.” I couldn’t see her, but her silence made me sure she had. “Good. I want you to keep your eyes closed, okay?” There was a small nod. “Can you see the fire?” She shook her head. “Good. I’m going to tell you a story but I don’t have any pictures, so I want you to use your imagination as best as you can, okay?”

. I’m going to describe it for you. I want you to see it in your mind – let go of my hands when you can see it, okay?” Daliah nodded again, her clutch tightening. I looked away from Daliah, back to the fire in front of us. We weren’t alone – the hut was filled with a handful of others, also all huddled around the fire. The crackling of the wood was just audible over the light chatter from the others. Everyone’s light chatter wasn’t enough to drown out the crackling of the wood, but it – I wasn’t sure I could start there. No, we would start within.

– Option 1 “Inside you, in the center of your body, there is a tiny spark,” I began, hesitant. I hadn’t walked someone through a meditation cycle, let alone a child, but I’d listened to several. That wasn’t going to work here. “That is your own fire. It is small, just a little flicker, kind of like you. It helps keep your whole body warm. Every little spark from your flame helps send heat up and down you. The center of the fire is the color of your hair – yellow. Around it, orange, carefully keeping the yellow center protected from the cold winds around it. The edges of the orange flames are red. The fire in front of you is just like your own spark – only, it’s here to help feed your spark, to make suyre – option 2 “The wood sits several inches below the ground,” I began, hesitant. I hadn’t walked someone through a meditation cycle, but I’d listened to several. “It is built in a square, one piece on top of another, with the thick white wood. A small orange spark is placed on top of the loose twigs and leaves. The spark was tiny, but it burns through the leaves happily. They feed the spark, encouraging it to grow, to burn more. More leaves, and twigs, burning under the small fire’s wrath. Its heat grows with it, as it licks through the twigs, and begins to attack the edges of the lumber. The wood is firm in its protest, but the small fire licks at its bark. It crackles and pops, each a sign of the fire growing, winning. The little orange spark grew and now it is a large flame, red and orange and yellow, caressing the white timber, overtaking it. It flickers in glee, heat escaping. The warmth is consistent now, as the fire pushes out. You can feel it on your skin, the fire’s warmth, flicking as the flames do, as they eat away at the lumber, growing. It is big, now.” My eyes haven’t left the firepit, which does crackle at the wood. I’ve personified the fire, hoping the young girl would find it easier to picture it, but her hand still holds mine. “It crackles softer now, not as angry. It Spits, crackles, pops, sparks An ember has caught the wood, caressing the edges of the wood, regardless of the wood’s crackling protest. The small, red embers grow. The wood crackles in protest, shuddering at the heat that attacks it. No matter how strong the wood, the fire prevails.” I paused, giving Daliah time to listen to the noises of the burning wood. “With the wood, the fire grows. Licking at the white timber are small red and orange flames, caressing the white timber, slowly growing to overtake it. The red and orange flames dance, with small bursts of yellow flickering in the dark crevices of the wood. As the wood snaps and pops, the flames win, and they burn. They burn the wood, they burn the air, becoming brighter, heavier, settling in victory over the wood. The flames’ small heat grows with it.” I had started, but I wasn’t sure how to finish it. It was important, though, that she could feel this, and so I needed to let her know. “As the flickers of fire burn away at the wood, you can feel it – the warmth, tingling the top of your hands.

As I spoke, I felt warmer – the fire wasn’t any bigger. My own words, helping me stay warm? Her grip on my hand went slack, and I looked down at her. On her forearm, there was a red mark, a U, but the left side slightly lower than the right. It looked like someone had scratched it onto her, but no one had come close to us, and it certainly hadn’t been her – her hands hadn’t left mine. I looked back at the fire. At first glance, I didn’t think anything was amiss, but the flames – they were larger than before. Had someone added a new log? No. I looked back down at Daliah’s left arm, and the red mark that was getting darker, and then back at the flames. Yes, they were continuing to grow. This – was this magic? I knew we’d been teleported to a new planet, to a place with creatures that did not exist, but we were all humans – we didn’t have magic. But the mark on Daliah’s arm was getting redder, darker and the flames were getting bigger, far bigger than the wood in there should allow for. Instinctively, I knew that if I moved her, it would break whatever trance she was in, it would break whatever was happening. I could stop this. But I didn’t want to. No. I wanted us to have this magic in this cruel world we were trapped in. I wanted a trump card, something to help us level the playing field, even if just by an inch. I wanted Daliah to live, I wanted to live. So, I did nothing. Instead, I watched the ‘U’ on Daliah’s forearm, as something underneath her skin scratched away until it broke the surface of her skin and blood began oozing out. I almost moved, to grab her hands, but the blood began to crust over almost immediately, and I had to stop myself. That was not how scabs worked – not on Earth, and not here. This was part of this new magic, somehow. “The fire!” Someone shouted, rushing towards us, towards the ever-growing fire. I forced myself to remain still, to keep Daliah from being moved. As another person thudded towards us, I had to quash the panic – Daliah had to remain still. I briefly looked down at her marking, which was healing rapidly, scarring into a thin white line. It was almost done, whatever it was. Raising my voice, I called out, “Wait! It’s okay!” My voice was lost in the sea of worried voices,

Her eyes were wide open, staring deep into the fire. Her — It began as a small spark. —

Girl dreams of fire,

Planet: Earth Population: Approaching maximum capacity. Option provided: Start over? Continue playing? Conditions: Limited resources. No access to . Selection: New chances

  • [[wiki:thestory:notes1]]
  • wiki/thestory/notes1.txt
  • Last modified: 2023/01/31 04:21
  • by megan