With the expectation of Thanksgiving break moments away, Faye glanced up at the clock, hoping her Math teacher wouldn’t notice her impatience.
The bell rang and a bustle of excitement followed. Students hurriedly stuffed their bags and jumped from their seats. Some chatted about their plans for the holidays but not Faye. She avoided making eye contact and ducked her way out of the classroom, scurrying towards her locker.
“Faye, could you stay back for a moment?”
She paused in mid step at her teacher’s request as the other students filed by and rushed through the door.
Now alone, she turned around slowly. Mr. Patterson leaned against his desk and folded his arms. “You’ve missed three assignments this week,” he said to her. “Do you plan on turning them in anytime soon?”
Eager to be released from the prison that disguised itself as a classroom, she nodded quickly. “I’m sorry Mr. Patterson. There’s a lot going on right now, at home, and-”
He held up his hand. “Just, get those assignments to me. I expect them on my desk the first day back from break.”
Again, she nodded. “Will do.”
Half an hour later, she burst from the drawbridge of the school bus, fleeing the last fortification that held her back from her freedom.
As she opened the front door, she heard the sound of a vacuum, signaling that her mother was on one of her cleaning sprees again. Her mother was one of those fastidious fanatics who felt the home had to look like something out of a magazine every time they had company. She was a tornado of activity, ruthlessly tearing through the dirt, grime, and disorganization left over from the family’s every day affairs.
Faye snuck past her mother, careful not to be seen, lest she be recruited to join the domestic onslaught. She dumped her purple backpack on her bedroom floor, turned on her computer, and waited. Soon, she was connected and entered the world of Battle-Lands Brigade. She chose her regular character, Sylvina, the Warrior-Elf.
As uncomfortable and alien as she felt in the real world, she was contrastingly sharp, confident, and adept in the Battle-Lands. She joined forces with a wizard named Argile and a Sphinx named Ral-Hassaf. Together, they traversed the mythical land of Wananu, battling against the ghouls, demons, and trickster brownies sent to disrupt the peace of the land.
Faye knew each of the other players by the sound of their voice, as they communicated on headsets, but she didn’t know who they were. They had all agreed not to exchange personal information, in case their paths crossed in the real world. Occasionally Faye wondered about her online comrades, where they lived, and what they looked like. The Wizard always sounded like a young man, but the Sphinx sounded like an older one.
She reached the valley where an army from the underworld was rising, marching towards the quiet village she had just left, when her bedroom door swung open.
“Hey stranger!” her sister Cammy greeted her. Her sister’s tall, slender frame entered the room, wrapped in a baggy college hoodie and ripped jeans.
Faye held up a finger to her, signaling that she needed a minute. “Hey, Argile, I need you! There are un-friendlies impinging on Dalexia!”
“I’m on it. I’m bringing a swirling storm!”
She heard his voice through her headset. Immediately, a dark cloud and tornado formed on Faye’s screen. She watched the storm eat up the undead, gaining momentum and mass.
Faye lowered her headset from her ears and smiled at her sister, while still keeping one eye on the screen.
“Still playing that stupid game?” Cammy teased.
“Hey- it’s a hobby,” Faye lamely defended herself. “You know, people get paid to actually do this professionally.”
“Yeah, I’m sure.” Cammy plopped herself down on Faye’s bed.
“So, you’re home until Monday, right?” Faye confirmed.
“Yeah, but I have some plans to get together with my friends from high school. We’re gonna’ go shopping and hang out.”
Disappointed, Faye’s face fell. She hoped to hang out with her big sister, who was one of the few people she felt comfortable around. As they were only two years apart, they had always been very close growing up.
“But I was thinking…” Cammy continued, “…that we could go out for pizza! Want to take a break from your land of nerd stuff to come grab a slice at Mr. G’s?”
Cammy was one of the few people who could draw her out of the Battle-Lands.
“Sure!” She quickly replaced her headset over her ears, “Argile, Ral-Hassaf, I have to go. It’s a 6-1-2. Bye!” Early on, they had developed a number code for when they had to log off the game, which allowed them to be non-specific. 6 was for having to go immediately, 1 meant she would return to the game later, and 2 was for the number of hours she guessed it would be until she returned.
Cammy watched Faye, smiling wryly. “Wow, you are way into that game. You guys even have your own code?”
“Course,” Faye shrugged, smiling a little.
Both sisters went downstairs to grab their shoes. Their mother relaxed on the couch with a glass of wine while watching T.V. She heard their hurried steps.
“Where are you both off to?” she asked.
Their father came from the kitchen, dishrag in hand. “Cammy, you just got home. You’re not going out now, are you?” He pushed his glasses, propped on the edge of his nose, back toward his face.
“Just taking Faye out to get some pizza. We won’t be gone long.” Cammy reassured him.
Faye was thankful when they left the house. These were her favorite times, just hanging out with her sister, talking about nothing and everything.
Faye rolled down the passenger side window to feel the cool night fall breeze on her face. November was always the perfect month, weather-wise, in Austin: Not too hot, not too cold, and without all the humidity of the summer months.
Cammy rambled on about everyone she met, partied with, and events she attended at college as Faye listened, visualizing and wondering how much homework came with the college life. Sooner or later her parents expected her to follow in her big sister’s footsteps. They had everything planned out for her including her major. They wanted her to be a doctor but she couldn’t stand the sight of blood. Instead she dreamed of becoming a video game designer or better yet, the CEO of her own gaming company.
At Mr. G’s Cammy ordered a personal pizza with her favorite toppings: sausage and green peppers. Unsure of what she wanted, Faye ordered the same, but with extra onions and pineapple. They sat at a small table in the corner near the window and waited.
“So, how’s school going?” Cammy inquired, switching the focus of the conversation. “I want to hear about your life. Any cute boys?”
Faye shrugged her shoulders. “School is school. Nothing special.”
“OK but how are you doing? Come on, give me some details!” Cammy pressed, staring at Faye intently.
“Well, there is this one guy…” she confessed, her cheeks blushing. “He’s really cute and funny. He’s in my math class.”
“What’s his name?”
“I don’t know. Never asked. I don’t even talk to him.”
“Why not? He’s your type, isn’t he?” Cammy teased, winking suggestively.
“He probably doesn’t even know I exist,” she admitted, looking down at her hands in her lap.
“Do you talk to anyone at school?” her sister questioned seriously.
“No, not really.”
“Faye, you need to get out. Make friends. You can’t just spend all your time playing games.”
“It’s worked so far.” She tried to think of how to explain it so her sister would understand. But Cammy was never a gamer. She could barely hold a controller the right way. “Everyone at school is the same. They do the same things, eat the same things, and talk the same way. Even the wannabes and bottom-dwellers on the social ladder. I’m not into that. I just want to go home and play my games.”
“So, you’re telling me that you don’t talk to anyone? You eat lunch all by yourself?”
“Kind of. I mean, there’s a group of kids who eat down the other end of the table. I like to doodle in my notebook when I eat lunch, so I probably wouldn’t talk to anyone I sat with anyways,” she added.
“Faye, everyone needs someone to talk to.”
“I have you.”
“Yeah, only until I have to go back.”
“It’s not that I don’t want friends. I’m just not into what they’re into. Even when I try to say something, they usually ignore me like I’m invisible so why bother?” She sat back in her chair and crossed her arms as a flush of suppressed anger crept up her neck.
“O.K., I’ll tell you what,” Cammy said decisively. “Clearly there’s some issues going on at school that you’re not too happy talking about. I was planning on hanging out with some friends but I’ll cancel and tell them I’ll see them when I come back for Christmas break.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“Yeah, I do. You and I need more sister time.” She smiled and pulled out her phone.
Faye watched as she texted her friends just as their pizza arrived, courtesy of the cashier. She hadn’t realized how ravenous she was until that moment. The crispy crust, gooey cheese, and mouth-watering pineapple hit her mouth with their delectable flavors, and she felt better almost instantly.
“Pineapple?” her sister joked. “Who puts pineapple on their pizza?”
Faye smiled as a string of cheese hung from her bottom lip.
Faye folded her last slice in half and rubbed it around her plate to grab up the remaining crumbs before stuffing it into her mouth.
“Want another one?” Cammy asked.
With her mouth full she shook her head.
They stood up from the table and headed to the door.
“I remember the last time we came here,” Cammy laughed as she spoke. “You were so hungry; you ate two personal pizzas by yourself.”
Faye swallowed the chewed pizza as they headed out the door. “You said you’d pay for anything I wanted to apologize for turning off my game.”
“That was an accident.”
They approached the car when a female voice behind them called out Cammy’s name.
Faye didn’t recognize the girl with long brown hair waving frantically at her sister, but by the way Cammy reacted, she knew it was one of her old friends.
“Hey!” She rushed over to Cammy and embraced her in a hug. “I didn’t know you were here. When did you get back?”
Faye hoped her sister noticed that she was ready to go by the way she edged toward the car. Instead Cammy started to chat with Heidi about college.
Faye pulled her portable gaming device from her pocket and turned it on. The game booted to her last save and she began to play.
“So, how’s college?” Heidi asked Cammy.
“I forgot. Where is it? Texas A&M?”
Annoyed with Heidi’s incessant giggling, Faye walked across the parking lot and across the street. She sat on the curb and refocused on her game, unaware of the sound of crushing leaves behind her. A car drove by slowly and its bright headlights caused her to lookup right before she felt strong arms wrap around her waist, yanking her away from the curb.
She landed hard on her back. Her device tumbled across the grass and within seconds a dark, shadowy figured was on top of her. A hood partially covered her attacker’s face except for red eyes that glowed in the obscured darkness. She felt his boney and cold fingers around her neck and he placed his other hand over her mouth to silence her.
“It won’t hurt. I need just a little,” he spoke in a jagged and retched voice.
Faye felt her body growing weaker by the second. Her stomach twisted and knotted and her eyelids went heavy. Soon a cold chill overtook her, turning her entire body numb as if frostbite had just set in.
“Faye!” Cammy called out from across the street.
The attacker snapped his head in her direction before he stood and ran down the street.
She saw her sister’s face in a white haze
“Faye, stay with me! Stay with me! Heidi is calling the police. Just…stay with me.”
The Not-So Dead
Until… one of her kind is murdered by a mysterious man in a black mask.
With only Carter, an unlucky human witness, by her side, Faye must find a way to prevent the body count from rising and protect her family’s secret identity. As the man in the black mask lurks in the shadows waiting to strike again, her choice becomes a matter of life and death.
In the face of true evil, being normal is overrated.