Ruin Writing




What if Calypso made a friend for herself? An imaginary friend?


"No, no, we don't need to go through here," Calypso said quickly, waving her hands in front of -- 's face. 

"What? Why not?" Irritation furrowed their brow.

"We can take the long way around, c'mon!" Cal grabbed their hand and started pulling them back to the entrance. 

"No!" They wrenched their hand away. "We're not taking the long way cuz you don't want to go this way."


(She relives how

There was a body lying in the corner, letting off a sour smell that filled the room. A red sweater hung tattered and torn about its shoulders. 

Cal screamed, dropping into a crouch with her hands on her head. 

The room grew darker, so dark that -- couldn't see their hands. "What the fuck? CAL?!"



"I'm sorry." She sniffed, blinking teary eyes. 


‎I think the concept of this 'machine' is that whoever was behind it's invention designed it to totally destroy the soul.
 "In light of this young girl's recent faults, we have decided that punishment is due. And since you, officer, failed to report her lack of compliance to the laws of our district, ‎you shall also be punished. 
 "With the departure of the commander, a vote was passed to undertake the punishing ourselves. Officer, you will serve time in the ash fields." She turned to me. "And you -- will be released."
‎ I struggled in the grip of the guard holding me. The woman walked over to me and grabbed a fistful of my hair.
‎ "I hope your releasing is painful. It is well deserved," she hissed. She jerked my head forward, releasing‎ my hair. "Take her in," she said to the guard. 
  ‎  The man shuffled his feet.
 "Um...I -- I dunno..." he stammered. 
 The woman rolled her eyes with a frustrated groan. "Just get on with it, before I have you extinguished as well."
 I could feel his hands flexing against my arms. Why was he hesitant? I just want to get this over with... ‎‎
---
 He let go of me and started firing his gun in all directions. The people around us quickly ducked for cover or fell to the ground, stunned.
 "Run!" the guard yelled.
 "What?! Where?!" I yelled back. 
 "The lake! Start swimming!"
 Swimming -- yeah, I could do that. I sprinted towards the lake, the guard not far behind. At the edge of the water we dived in. Our feet soon left the floor, and our limbs were thrashing furiously.
 "Swim, swim!" the guard yelled. 
 I swam as fast as I could. The guard was right behind me, huffing and puffing.
 "Wha -- why are you -- helping me?" I gasped.
 "Remember me? I'm that guy you helped earlier!" he panted.
 "What?!"
 The guard was no longer beside me. 
 "Hello? Hello!!!" I screamed, turning this way and that. My eyes glanced over the distant beach, and I noticed a slim figure standing at the edge of the water, holding something -- a gun.
 The figure jerked the gun around, planting its feet in the sand.
 The end of the cable emerged from the water -- dragging a limp body with it. 
 Two and two. 
 "No, no no no!!!" I cried. Struggling with indecision, I started swimming back as the person holding the gun threw it down. They started dragging the limp body over to the machine. 
 Stroke, stroke, up the ramp, kick kick, the door was closing, and -- 
 A flash of lavender light. I stopped swimming, shock freezing my limbs.
  The door opened. A body slid down the ramp, onto the shore.
---------
(Dream dump time! I think this should be the backstory for the punky illusionist girl.)
 I peered through the keyhole, squinting as I tried to make out the interior. 
 "Too small?" -- whispered. 
 "Oh wait -- there's two people, one's on a bench, the other in front of them."
 "Where's the third?"
 "What third?"
 "There should be three!"
 I stood up, noticing a window right above the door. "Maybe we can make a grand entrance." I promptly sprang up, gripping the ledge and pulling my elbows up. I used my left hand to push the window open, surprised at the ease.
 The two people I had seen before jumped, yelling at us. But my focus was on a door in the back, where a third person clutching a large box was slipping away.
 "There he is!" I screeched, scrambling through the window. I landed nimbly on the floor and immediately sprang up. 
 "Get him! I'll stay!" -- yelled through the window. 
 I sprinted towards the door and came out (in this area that kinda feels like both an alleyway and a ship yard.)
 I approached the cubicle slowly, my eyes fixated on the door. I reached out a hand and pushed it open, revealing an entirely black room. Light from the moon spilled over the floor, broken only by my silhouette. It stretched up and out, and I stopped as it merged with a corner wall in the back. 
 I heard the wind pick up outside, and the door slammed shut, cutting off all light. 
 A shuffle in front of me, and a mass suddenly appeared in my face. I yelped and sprang back, but the mass followed, shoving me to the floor. I tried to kick out several times before my legs were seized, and a weight squashed me against the floor. 
 I felt hands at my throat and started to thrash and scream, before my air was cut off. 
 The door burst open, and two shadows blocked the moonlight. Footsteps behind my head, and the weight left at a hefty punch to my assailant. The wind rushed through my throat and I coughed, curling up on the floor with my hands clutching my throat. 
 A light turned on in a corner, a buttery yellow glow. "You good?" a voice called. 
 I opened my eyes. A man was walking my way, decked in serious gear. Protective plates, straps for gear, bags dangling from his belt. His brown hair was slicked back, 
 He gave me a questioning look, and I coughed a bit more before saying, "Yeah."
 He nodded. "You after the box?"
 I nodded, too.
--
 "We wanna run this town," he told me, jerking a thumb at himself.
--
 "Oh my God --" My mother's voice broke, and she held her arms out to me as she burst into tears.
--
 "Mom, I'm right here, I'm alive!" She continued to cry, and I looked over the crowd of people sitting, before catching sight of a wall covered in a blue projection.
 My heart stopped. 
 A short row of names, followed by cause of death and time, were being cast onto a wall by a makeshift projector. The first name was (guy from earlier).
 The cause of death read "Head twisted."
 My throat was impossibly tight. I barely registered the presence of my own name, with N/A in the brackets.
 Three male names followed close behind, none I recognized. But the cause of death for each read "Explosion".




There was a house ahead of me. Tall and grey, in the middle of a large field. I couldn't see any Terminal, but that didn't mean the house was empty. Cautiously, I crept towards it.

I made a wide circle around the house, peeking into all of the ground-floor windows. No candles, so no living occupants. It actually looked pretty decent inside. 

I went back to the front door and grasped the handle, pushing my shoulder against the door to open it -- except the handle didn't turn, so I basically slammed my shoulder into a wall. 

"Augh, what the fuck?" I muttered, rubbing it angrily. Locked. I tried some of the nearby windows, but they were locked as well. I scratched the back of my head and contemplated the door once more. I didn't know how to pick locks, so that was out of the question. And I didn't want to damage the door. I needed it as a defense, just in case. 

I froze, then tilted my ear towards the door. Was that my heart thumping or...?

I quickly realized that I could hear the sound of footsteps approaching from the inside. I scrambled backwards and ran around the right side of the house, stopping where I could peek around at the door.

The sound of locks clicking echoed through the night air and the door slowly opened. The opening faced away from me, so I couldn't see who was there. It obviously wasn't a Terminal. As far as I knew, they were too dumb to turn knobs. But that meant I was wrong before, and the house was, in fact, occupied. If they saw where I went, that was the last thing they would ever see.

Heavy footsteps creaked across the wooden porch. I could see the person now -- it was a tall man, slightly stooped. I couldn't tell for sure from where I was, but he looked old. Something in his right hand was partially obscured by his body, but it looked kinda like a stick. Maybe a cane. Perfect.

He peered around for a moment, then shook his head and went back inside. I crouched down and waddled back to the door as quietly as possible. I didn't hear any locks clicking. Old man probably forgot. I grasped the handle and quietly turned it, silently cheering when it turned smoothly. 

I peeked inside. No sign of the old man. I opened the door just enough so I could squeeze inside and started tiptoeing further into the house. 

A shuffle of movement to my left. I threw my hands up in surprise as something long and solid was shoved into me, and I tumbled to the floor. My forearms smarted from the impact and I swore profusely. Shit, who cared if something burned, I was gonna take this old fucker out.

I sat up. Fire enveloped my hands and lit the room. I could see the old man's face now, as he reared back in shock. He didn't look as old as I thought he was, but still had deep wrinkles in his face under a short white beard. In his hands he held a long stick that shone slightly, as if it were made of metal. But it definitely wasn't a cane. I scrambled to my feet and aimed my hands at the old man and--

SPLASH.

Cold water drenched my hands, putting my fire out immediately. I stumbled backwards and stared at them in shock. Where the fuck had that water come from?

"Easy now, son..." came the voice of the old man. It was a rather deep voice. "Don't go burning my house down, okay?"

I looked up at him. "Who the fuck did that?"

Suddenly I noticed a small movement to my right, and my eyes snapped over to see a thin figure walking towards the old man. It looked like a girl, wearing a large shirt that went down past her knees. Her hands were clasped tight to her chest, and were holding a small cup. Did she seriously throw water at me? But wait...if she was just walking up, wouldn't she have been way too far away to actually hit me?

"I'm sorry Moraphe," she said in a voice so soft I could barely hear it, standing next to him but looking at the floor. 

Moraphe? What a weird name.

He sighed and looked down at the girl. "I appreciate you helping, but next time you've got to stay upstairs. He could've been really dangerous."

"Hey!" I interrupted indignantly. He didn't think I was a threat? Sure, that little brat managed to extinguish my flames, but I could still take him on.

He held up a hand. "We saw you coming through the window, and heard you banging around outside. Also, you didn't question the fact that I left the door unlocked and just walked right in."

"A: I thought the place was uninhabited. B: I figured you were too old to remember leaving the door unlocked. C: I can still take you on." I put my fists up and settled into an imposing stance.

Moraphe just sighed. "If you're going to lead with your right hand, then put your right foot out more. It'll give your arm more distance. And you look like a hooligan when you stoop like that. Straighten up a bit."

"The fuck are you talking about?" I let my hands drop and just stared at him.

"I'm not as old as you seem to think, smart-ass. Despite that, I'm not going to fight you because A: Abby will be traumatized, and B: I don't want to have to clean blood off the floors."

"Hiding behind your daughter?" I sneered, ignoring his threat. 

I glanced at her just in time to see a glob of water coming directly at my face. It splashed against me, getting into my eyes. I coughed and spluttered, swiping my hands at my face and crashing onto the floor, flailing around like a fish. 

"Abiliene, seriously? Once was enough!" 

I wiped the rest of the water off my face and stared at the girl from the floor. She was looking at her father now, who had his hand hiding his mouth. Her own mouth twitched slightly, and the two started laughing. My cheeks felt hot, despite dripping cold water. 

She'd been so far away. And she barely even moved. How did she do that?

When Moraphe stopped laughing, he looked down and me, walked over, and held out a large hand. "You want some food?"

I glanced at his hand, then heaved myself upright on my own. He shrugged slightly and put both his hands in his pockets. "We've got squash, zucchini, some early corn, beans--"

"Where the fuck did you get all of that?" I interrupted.

He gave me a sharp look. "Grew it. You hungry or not?"

"We were literally just fighting--"

"You obviously need food and a place to stay, or you wouldn't try to break into my house."

I threw up my hands in defeat. "Okay. Sure. I've never had squash or zucchini though."

"Should give them a try. Never know whether you like them or not until you try them."


I sat in a spacious room with a large, round table, a candle flickering in the middle, poking my fork at the light green stuff on my plate. Corn and beans I'd had before, but not whatever this was. 

Moraphe had asked for my fire to start a base of logs in the kitchen stove, and gotten a pot of corn boiling. His daughter Abiliene had taken a knife and (with his direct supervision) cut slivers off a large, light green vegetable that was almost as big as she was. 

"They came up huge this year," Moraphe had said as he stirred the corn. "Most of them will be mainly seed on the inside, but that means more zucchini."

Now he leaned across the table and tapped the side of my plate. "Waste not, want not hoser. Give it a try."

So I took a forkfull of the light green shavings and stuffed it into my mouth. A surprising flavor hit my tongue. Kinda watery, but not unpleasant.

"So, how long have you guys been here?" I said around my mouthful of food.

"I've been here for about twenty-three years," Moraphe answered. He gestured to Abiliene. "She came about seven months ago."

I accidently inhaled and coughed as the zucchini hit the back of my throat.

Moraphe raised an eyebrow. "You good?"

"Yep cough, just cho-cough-choking." I reached for my glass of water and gulped it down. Setting the glass down, I looked at the two of them in confusion. "Man I thought she was your daughter. Did you adopt her or something?"

"You could say that. She came from a rather shady place, so I took her in." 

"I like it better here," came her soft voice. I finally got a good look at her. She looked like she was maybe ten years old, had pale skin and very long, straight blonde hair that partially covered her eyes. She brushed some locks away from her face and I caught a glimpse of incredibly blue eyes as she glanced at me. 

Moraphe smiled, hiding his eyes in the wrinkles on his face. "That's good to hear." He turned to me before I could ask about the "shady place" and said "I gave her a home when she didn't have one, and I'm prepared to do the same for you. You're welcome to stay here with us if you wish."

"I live by myself," I muttered through a mouthful of corn. 

Moraphe raised an eyebrow. "Community is a good thing to have. You protect and feed each other. Everyone benefits. Not to mention, your flair is incredibly useful."

I stopped chewing and looked at him. "My what?"

"Your pyrotechnics. 'Flair' is a term I use to refer to talents such as yours. Abiliene, for example--" He pushed his glass of water towards the girl. She seemed to understand what he wanted, and held her hand out towards the glass. 

The water inside rose up like the glass had been turned upside down. It rippled towards Abiliene's hand and slid over her fingers, crawled up her arm and over her shoulder until it came to rest beside her cheek. It raised up and rubbed her cheek like a cat.

Moraphe laughed. "Ha, that's cute."

I was dumbfounded. "So you're like me? But you can do it with water?"

Abiliene nodded, and the water reversed its course, streaming back towards the glass and splashing down into it. Moraphe picked up the glass and contemplated the water. "Maybe I should've had you use your own water."

Abiliene's cheeks reddened. "Oops," she squeaked, obviously embarrassed.

"Don't worry about it," Moraphe said reassuringly, and chuckled a bit. "Waste not, want not," he muttered, and downed the glass.

"Are we the only ones?" I asked her. 

She shrugged, and Moraphe answered for her. "I knew of at least one other like you two. And I'm fairly certain there's more. But because of their nature, people are afraid of them, and either cast them out--" I just barely caught him give a quick glance towards Abiliene. "--or worse. So I'm prepared to offer a home to more individuals like you."

I looked down at my plate. Why was he being so nice? Did he just want to use my flame powers, and whatever Abiliene's freaky water talent was? 

"It's up to you, son. I do have some ground rules. One: No foul language around the lady." 

Abiliene grinned. I rolled my eyes.

"Two: You work for your keep. You can help with the produce, keeping the house in good order, keeping an eye out for other people, etcetera. Three: If someone else does find the house, I call the shots and you do what I say. Four: We do not waste anything. Not food, water, tools, clothes -- not even waste itself. That can be used for fertilizer. Follow all the rules, and you can call this place home."

I had to admit, it was tempting. The house was surrounded by large open fields, so we could see people coming from a mile away. And these two didn't seem hostile. 

"Sure, why not," I finally answered. 

Moraphe nodded. "Sounds good. Here, Abiliene, you wash the dishes and I'll show--" He suddenly paused and looked at me quizzically. "It just occurred to me that I haven't been the proper host. What's your name, son?"

"Rhys," I answered, spelling it out for him. 

"A good name. Alright, stand up and follow me. Your room is upstairs."

While Abiliene took the dishes into the kitchen for washing, I followed Moraphe up the long flight of stairs. "This place is huge man."

"We're lucky barely anyone passes by," he responded, huffing as he reached the second floor. "In fact, we're lucky to have a lot of the things we do. So we try to make the most of things."

He led me down the hall way, slapping doors with his hand as he went. "This is the bathroom. No running water so we use the downstairs one for baths. Just gotta bring up water from the lake. This is Abby's room. Don't go in there without her permission or I'll make you take out the poop jar for a week straight." He pointed down the hall. "That door there is where I stay. And this--" He opened a door we had stopped in front of. "--is your room."
It was larger than I expected, with a bed large enough for two people, if they squeezed together. (more details.)

"So, I've been meaning to ask, how did she get here? Was she just wandering around and managed to find your house?" If she was wandering around by herself, maybe that meant her powers were pretty strong and she was able to defend herself.

But that wasn't the answer I got. Instead, Moraphe sighed slightly, running a hand over his face and sitting on the edge of the bed. "She came from the lake."
"Like, on a boat?"

"No. Seven months ago I was up early as usual, getting water from the lake for my produce. The first couple of trips I thought I saw something floating on the lake, but it dipped in and out of the water, so I figured it was a log and continued about my work. By the sixth trip it had gotten closer, and I could see it definitely wasn't driftwood. I couldn't tell what it was. So I waited for it to wash up onto the shore. It was -- like a cocoon of sorts, made entirely of water. And little Abby was inside it. I was so dumbfounded that I just stood there staring for a solid minute. Then I tried to puncture the cocoon and get her out, but really all I had to do was just reach in and lift her up."

I gaped at him. "Where the fuck did she come from? The lake is huge!"

He shook his head. "I can only guess. She woke up after I brought her inside the house, but wouldn't talk for about three months. She...she's got scars. Looked like she had been whipped."

A sickly feeling pooled in my stomach. "Aw man..."

"She finally started talking, though it wasn't much. I haven't been able to figure out where she came from or...where the scars came from. She can't talk about it. So I try to keep her happy."

He took a deep breath and slapped his knees, getting to his feet. "Welp, we all need to get some shut eye. In the morning I'm going to show you where I grow produce, then there's a bunch of chores that need doing." He walked past me and clapped my shoulder, leaving the room.

I looked around and thought for a moment about how weird all of this felt. I hadn't been in a solid, standing house for six years now. And I'd actively avoided other humans, because they usually spelled trouble. But here I was, in a house owned by some old man and a weird girl, with a full belly and my own room. 

I flopped down onto the bed and stared at the ceiling for a while, before kicking off my shoes and settling down to sleep.

--

I tossed and turned most of the night, unsettled by the eerie quiet of the house, before finally managing to dose off just before dawn. I awoke to the noise of loud footsteps on the stairs tromping back and forth. I sat up and rubbed my eyes with a groan. 


Moraphe took me around the back of the house and we walked a ways before coming to a fence. He undid part of it and lifted it up, motioning for me to crawl under. I did and found myself standing in thick green leaves almost as large as my torso. 

"Watch your step, we've got rogue squash," Moraphe said, grunting as he ducked beneath the fence and secured it back in place. "There's a path right in front of you, just step over the vine."

He crouched down and shifted some of the leaves. "Look under there, see it?"

I peered under the leaves. There was a strange, long vegetable that curled at the top and had a plump bottom. It was a light, buttery yellow color. Along the vine I could see blooming flowers of the same color. 

"Squash," Moraphe said, letting the leaves fall back into place and standing up. He led me down a couple rows and showed me a smaller clump of leaves, underneath which were huge pale green zucchini.

"I thought zucchini was smaller than this," I commented as we walked further down the field. "And darker green."

"There's different kinds of zucchini. Used to make fantastic bread with these."

"Bread? Why would you put this in bread?"

"Tastes good, surprisingly enough. It's like banana bread but a different kind of sweet." He noticed the quizzical look on my face and raised both eyebrows. "Never had banana bread? Oy..."

"Why would anyone put stuff like this in bread?" I repeated.

"Exactly what I said before, tastes good. Better sometimes, than either food by itself. Alrighty, this here is the beans and corn."

In between tall fronds of grass hid the corn and beans, intertwined. 

"These like to hide so when we come out here in a few months, better keep a sharp eye out." He straightened up and pointed further down. "Down there are the hay fields, and just beyond that I've been trying to grow some potatoes."

"How do you keep up with all this? I couldn't take care of just one row."

"Been doing it for years. And it's smaller than it used to be. Had more people to help." A strange look passed over his face for a moment. He took a deep breath and clapped me on the shoulder. "With you and Abby around this'll be a piece of cake."

"Cake? What's that?"

He looked at me and moaned in disappointment. 

-

We walked back to the house, with Moraphe trying to explain various pastries to me, even though I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. Relics of a bygone age I guess, judging by the way he went on about them. 

Abiliene was dusting the house when we tromped inside. A shirt that seemed larger than the one she wore the previous night hung past her knees. 

"Hi," she said shyly, looking at Moraphe. 

"Looks good in here Abby," he said, giving her an approving smile. "Alright you two, time to water the crops. Abby, you know where the buckets are."

She nodded and scampered off.

"Rhys, I've got a wagon out back, right next to the shed. Grab that and bring it around to the front."

I turned on my heel and went back outside. I quickly found the wagon and pulled it up to the front of the house. Moraphe and Abiliene were waiting, buckets hanging from their hands and large hats on their heads. They came down the steps and dumped them into the wagon.

"Alrighty, let's go," Moraphe said, leading the way to the fields. I pulled the cart and it rattled loudly over divots and bumps in the ground, the buckets clattering around inside. 

"Do you need a hat?" Moraphe asked, holding one out to me.

I shook my head. "Don't get sunburned."

He made a noncommittal noise of interest and tossed the hat into the wagon. "Really?"

"Yeah, so I'm good."

"How long have you had your flair?"

I shrugged as best as I could, taking one of my hands off the wagon handle and letting it swing. "As long as I can remember. I got kicked out of my first home cuz I burned a bunch of stuff. Didn't really know what I was doing."

"Were you able to control it?"

"Kinda? It's like learning how to walk. You can do it, just takes some practice." I let flames envelop my free hand and raised it up. "Once you know how, you never really have to think about it."

"Interesting," Moraphe murmured, squinting into the distance.

At Moraphe's side, Abiliene walked sedately, not saying a word. 

"So what all can you do, Abby?" I asked, letting the fire go out.

She glanced at me and studied the ground as she walked. I tilted my head in confusion. "Hellooo...?"

Moraphe quietly interrupted. "It might take a while for her to start talking to you. Just be friendly and she'll come around."

"Huh." I stared at her for a moment. On her cheek I could see a pale line that stretched from her jaw to her nose. A scar?

Moraphe elbowed me and I almost stumbled, giving him a glare.

"Alright kiddos, let's get to work," Moraphe bellowed heartily, as we came to the fence bordering the crops. "Abby, look for weeds along the corn and beans. Rhys, we're going to the lake."

The two of us plodded towards the lake, stopping at the top of a slope that led down to the water. "Rhys, take the buckets and start filling them up. I'll grab them from you once they're full and put them here in the wagon, okay?"

"Alright," I responded, taking the handles of a few buckets in my hands and descending the slope to the edge of the water. I set them down and turned back for the rest, finding them held out to me in Moraphe's outstretched hand. I took them and started dipping the buckets into the lake.

"I have a question," I called up to him, hefting a bucket up into his waiting hands.

"Okay." He put the bucket in the wagon and waited for the next one.

"You said yesterday that you knew about one other person like us." I filled the next bucket and held it up to him. I looked at his face and saw that strange expression again. He took the bucket and looked at it for a moment, before setting it down in the wagon.

He ran a hand over his face and looked down at me. "Later, Rhys. Let's get this done first."

Guess it was a touchy subject. We finished filling the buckets in silence and carefully pulled the wagon back to the fields. Abiliene was on her hands and knees by the corn, parting the grass and occasionally pulling out ugly green weeds. She looked up as we approached carrying buckets and quickly stood up.

"Thistles," she said, pointing into the next row. I peered over the tall grass and saw a large, dark green plant with wicked spiky leaves.

"Pretty big one. I'll deal with it, you two start watering. Splash the crops at their base," Moraphe instructed, pulling a pair of thick gloves out of his pocket and walking down our row to get to the next one.

Abiliene dutifully picked up one of the buckets he left behind and walked back to the end of the row before splashing water on the crops. I walked to the opposite end and did the same. We slowly grew closer and closer until there was one plant left in the row. I looked at her. She glanced at me and then at the last crop.

"How much water do you have?" I asked.

She peered into her bucket and tilted it to me so that I could see. There was about the same amount in hers than in mine -- barely anything.

"We can both do it," I said, splashing the rest of my water onto the plant. She hesitated, then shifted closer so she could do the same. Once her bucket was empty she immediately drew away, clutching the bucket tightly.

"Okay, next row!" I declared, pushing past her to grab another bucket. She followed a little ways behind. 

We worked like that for another couple rows, until Moraphe came back from working on the weed. "Hopefully that's the only one. Sneaky little bugger. You two doing okay?"

I was fine. In fact, I'd barely broken a sweat. Abiliene on the other hand, was breathing hard and kept wiping at her forehead. 

"Let's take a break," Moraphe said, and Abiliene set the bucket down. 


-

Abiliene came running, tugging on my shirt frantically.

"What? What do you want?" I asked. I saw the look on her face; fear. But she wouldn't say anything, just kept tugging. "Hey, I don't know what you're saying!"

She let go and her lips tightened. Her mouth opened slightly, but no words came out. She tried again, and this time her soft voice broke out. "Stranger."

I followed her to a window overlooking the front yard and peered out. At first I didn't see anything, but when Abby pointed, I saw a tall, dark shape walking across the fields towards the house. 

"Stay here," I told Abby, running out of the room. I pounded down the stairs and threw myself against the wall next to a window, peaking around to look outside.

The person was definitely heading straight for us. Just one, looked like a guy. I could take him on.

I threw the door open and watched him stop. 

"Hey, what're you doing out here?" I called, hoping I sounded threatening. 

I could see it was a guy probably not much older than me, but definitely taller. Like, really tall.

"You live here?" he shouted back. His voice had a slightly raspy undertone.

"Yeah. We don't take kindly to strangers."

"Hey dude--" The guy lifted his hands up defensively. "--I didn't come here to pick a fight, just lookin' for a place to stay."

"Sure about that?" I yelled accusingly. This guy was a well-built tank.

"Look dude, I get it, I just popped up out of nowhere and you guys are probably pretty protective of your home--"

"Damn right." I let flames envelop my hands. "Wanna see just how protective?"

"Woah! Seriously?" The guy took a step back, surprise lighting up his face. I walked down the step menacingly and held my arms out as the flames crawled upwards. "Wait wait wait, lemme-"

"You're not getting in," I said, stopping right in front of him. I lifted an arm towards him and he reacted immediately, making an upward sweeping motion with his hand. I reared back in shock as a portion of the ground in front of me suddenly rose up as a wall between me and the stranger. "What the fuck?!"

"Dude, just calm down." From the other side of the wall came the voice of the stranger, low and smooth. "I don't want to fight you, but I will if you keep being an ass."

"RHYS!" I jumped as a loud voice bellowed out behind me. I turned to see Moraphe, stomping red-faced towards me.

"What?" I said defensively. 

"You know damn well what." He stopped right in front of me, chest heaving. "What's rule number three?"

"Three? How am I supposed to remember which one's which?"

"I CALL THE SHOTS, right?"

"Yeah, you call the shots, but what about when you're gone? I was handling it!"

"No, Rhys! If this was an ambush, his buddies would have gotten inside the house and who knows what they'd do to Abby?"

I didn't say anything. Suddenly this awful feeling washed over me. I looked up at the house and saw Abiliene standing in the doorway, arms crossed tightly over her chest, looking small. I looked away and felt my cheeks burning. 

"Rhys, this is exactly why I was able to take you by surprise when you first came here. You don't think ahead, and you create a version of the person before you in your head without taking the time to actually assess them." Moraphe took a deep breath and exhaled, running a hand through his hair. "You and I will need to go over tactics."

"Fine," I muttered.

"Uh, hey..." We both turned as the wall of earth lowered back down into the ground and revealed the stranger, who looked like he'd been trying not to eavesdrop on my butt-whooping. Up close, he was even taller than I thought. The top of Moraphe's head came to this guy's lightly bearded chin. His skin was a warm brown, and his muscles really big. "Like I was trying to say before, I'm not here to fight anyone."

"Hello there," Moraphe greeted him. "I see you have a flair as well."

The guy raised an eyebrow. "Flair?"

Moraphe chuckled. "Just a term I use. My name is Moraphe." He held out his hand, and the stranger took it.

"I'm Adam," he said, vigorously shaking Moraphe's hand. 

"That's a pretty strong grip, boy!"

Adam shrugged. "I'm pretty strong."

"Let's all go inside the house."

-

Moraphe got lunch ready early and we all sat down together. Moraphe talked enthusiastically with Adam, who plowed through the meal like he'd never eaten before. Abiliene kept glancing at him, her blue eyes wide. I toyed with my food, but forced down a bite here and there.

"My family is Puerto Rican," Adam said, after tossing back another glass of water. "My grandparents moved here before the war, and my dad was enlisted. I was born after he left, so I never got to meet him."

Moraphe nodded solemnly. "Never came back, did he?"

"Nope. Ma was hit hard but, for me -- you can't miss what you never had." Adam glanced down at the table, then continued. "We lived near the Chicago Swamp for a while, then she ended up getting sick."

"Terminal?" Moraphe asked quietly.

Adam nodded, working his mouth around. "Yep."

I silently scoffed. Who wasn't missing family members these days?

"So I left. Wandered around for a bit, then saw your house. Figured I'd see if there was anyone living in it." He grinned. "Glad there is."

"You're more than welcome to stay here. I offered Rhys the same when he showed up."

"Sure, I'd like that."

"Just a couple ground rules I gotta lay out for ya." Moraphe held up a finger. "One: I call the shots. Anyone shows up like today, you do as I say. If I'm not around, you stay inside the house."

Adam nodded understandingly. I frowned. Was he changing the rules?

"Two: You earn your keep. Anything that needs doing, everyone does. Nobody slacks off under my watch. Three: We don't waste anything. Follow all the rules and we'll all be one big happy family."

I put my fork down. "What about the no-swearing rule?"

"You have such a foul mouth that I made that one up on the spot."

I caught Adam tightening his lips. It looked like he was trying not to laugh. 

"Follow all the rules and we'll all be one big, happy family," Moraphe said with a grin.

"Sounds like a plan," Adam answered with his own toothy grin. 

"Yippee," I muttered.

"Welcome," came Abiliene's soft voice. She was smiling shyly at Adam.

"Hey, thanks," Adam said, smiling back.

Moraphe looked surprised. Adam hadn't even been here a day and Abiliene was already talking to him. That was interesting.


-

"We've got way more produce than we could eat ourselves," Moraphe said. "This crop was huge."

Adam hooked his thumbs into his pockets. "We could take it to the Chicago Swamp."

Moraphe looked at him, rubbing his beard. "Do they need food?"

"They've got fish, but they want something else to eat. I don't think they know as much about farming as you do. "

"Well, how do you propose we get it there? It's quite a walk from here. Not to mention I don't want to leave Abiliene by herself, or take her with."

I shrugged. "You could stay here with her. Me and Adam can take it in the wagon. Waste not, want not." Truth be told, I was curious about the Swamp. I gave it a wide berth before, when I was travelling by myself. 

Moraphe scratched his head. "Would you two be able to get there without killing each other, or getting killed?"

"C'mon Moraphe, I was wandering around by myself for years before I came here," I said.

"I'll keep an eye on him," Adam added.

"Hey, you're only two years older than me--"

"The food will go to waste if you two argue yourselves to death. Now will you behave or not?" Moraphe looked pointedly at me, until I sighed.

"Yes."

"Good. You'll pack tonight, and leave tomorrow morning. Let's go."


"So, what's the Swamp like?" I asked, trying to make conversation.

"Bunch of people didn't want to leave Chicago when it flooded, so they built stilt houses on top of the taller skyscrapers."

"Seriously? Why not move to dry land?"

"They do have shelter on dry land. That's the actual swamp part. The stilt houses are where most of them live pretty regularly, because of the fish. But during the winter or just when the weather is really bad, they move back to the swamp."

-

In the distance, I could see strange blocky shapes poking out of the lake. On top of these stood haphazard structures, supported by thick beams. Bridges had been constructed between some of the structures, and hung precariously over the rippling water. 

"Here we are," Adam said, dropping the handle of the wagon and stretching his arms up over his head. 

"Seriously, why would anyone want to live like this?" I muttered, dismayed at the scene before me. 

Adam caught my question and swung his arms down, giving me a look. "Some people don't have a choice."


-

Soon many people came to take vegetables. Among them was a loud young girl with curly red hair, wearing a bright yellow jacket. She was yelling something about fish, and judging by the wrinkle in her nose, she was obviously dissing them.

She came up to the wagon and started pawing through the vegetables, holding up a curled squash with an outraged expression. "What is THIS? Is this even edible?!"

Some of the people around us groaned and rolled their eyes.

"Uh, that's called squash ma'am," Adam said, trying to be friendly. "It's definitely edible. Tastes pretty good too."

"Squash?" She looked at him and arched an eyebrow. "Is that how you eat it, by crushing it into a pulp?"

"Well, sometimes--"

"Alright, fine, I'll give it a try. Hopefully it's better than fish, eugh." She gripped the top of the squash firmly and shoved it into a pocket on her jacket. 

"Where did you get that?" I asked, studying the jacket. I'd never seen such bright colors in clothing. In fact, most of the villagers wore dark, ragged clothes. Her jacket practically glowed.

She looked me up and down before staring right into my eyes with a cold expression. "Made it," she said simply.

"How?"

"Never mind how," she huffed, clearly annoyed. "Got anything else in that wagon?"

She's so rude! I thought.

Adam tried to make the most of it and gestured to the dwindling pile of vegetables. "There's a few zucchini left. They're mostly seed. If anyone around here knows how to farm, they can plant these and grow more zucchini. Then you won't have to eat fish all the time."

"God, I wish. Nobody here can do anything useful." She threw her arms behind her head and leaned casually against the nearest wall. "I'm fixin' to get out of this place. Where do you guys live?"

I eyed her warily. "Not here."

She glared at me. "Aren't you welcoming. After we let you into our home, surely you could let one of us into yours?"

"You're crazy!" I told her. "Moraphe would kill us if we brought a brat like you home!"

"Is Moraphe your daddy? Do you do everything he says, like going around insulting innocent children?" she spat back.

"INNOCENT?!" 

"Hey buddy, buuuuddy--" Adam clapped a hand onto my shoulder. "Calm down man, she's doing it on purpose."

"I came here to get some food and instead I get verbally slapped around like I'm a toddler."

"You'll get more than that if you keep this up!" I growled between gritted teeth. I could feel my hands growing hot. Adam quickly grabbed my arm and yanked me towards him.

"Not here!" he hissed. "We don't know how these people will react!"

Behind him I could see the girl's face. Beneath her mask of general annoyance was a small glint of curiosity. 

I yanked my arm away from Adam, rubbing it where he'd gripped me like a vice. "You don't know your own strength man."

"Yeah, I know, sorry 'bout that." He looked a bit sheepish.

"You two done flirting?" came the girl's obnoxious voice.

I made a face at her, took most of the remaining vegetables out of the cart, and dumped the rest on the nearest table. "C'mon Adam, let's get out of here."

-


Every so often Adam would glance backwards, as if looking for something, then lose interest and face forward again. It looked like he was trying to be discreet about it, but he did it so many times that I finally asked him, "The fuck are you doing?"

"I dunno," he said, scratching the back of his head. "Mostly I'm keeping an eye out. Making sure we're not being followed."
"After the scene we made? I doubt she would want to come within three STATES of us."

"You specifically," Adam joked, elbowing me.

"What an obnoxious twerp," I said. "All that shit talk was uncalled for."

Adam glanced backwards again, and I snapped at him. "Seriously, are you paranoid or something?"

"You hear anything?" he asked, scanning the fields behind us.

I turned and looked behind us too. I didn't see or hear anything out of the ordinary. If there was anyone following us, we'd be able to see them. The ground was mostly flat, open fields for miles. 

"I swear.....nah." Whatever Adam was about to say, he cut himself off and shook his head.

I glanced at him curiously. He started off again, and I gave a last quick look behind us before following. 

-

"I know I heard something," he whispered, not looking around.

"Dude, you're just being paranoid! If we were being followed we would be able to see them!"

"Not me," came a voice from directly behind us.

A girlish shriek ripped the air as Adam and I jumped and practically fell over each other trying to escape. I tumbled to the ground and rolled over, scanning the air behind us, hoping Adam hadn't realized the shriek had come from me. As I looked around, chest heaving, I saw -- no one. Absolutely nothing.

"Are ghosts fuckin' real?" I whispered, terrified.

As if in response, the air filled with the sound of obnoxious feminine laughter. I started in surprise, especially when I saw parts of the grass not far from me flatten, as if something was standing on it.

I scrambled to my feet, feeling Adam come up next to me. "Show yourself, demon!" I yelled.

The air in front of us rippled like waves of heat on a hot day. Colors and images danced across them, forming a human. A small one, with curly red hair and a yellow jacket--

"YOU!" I spat. "What the hell?! Have you been following us this whole time?"

The girl stretched her arms up over her head casually, twisting her torso. "Of course not. I had to get my things ready first. And sneak out. You had some privacy for a while."

I made a face. "We're NOT leading you to our home. Turn around and go back the way you came."

She made a face back, putting her hands on her hips. "Make me."

"Dude--" Adam put a hand on my shoulder and whispered, "If she followed us all the way out here without us knowing, how will we know if she actually goes home?"

I groaned, putting a hand to my face. He was right.

"Also, it looks like she's got a flair, like us. Didn't Moraphe say he wanted to give kids like her a home?"

"Kids like her should be in a cave somewhere," I muttered.

Her eyes flashed. Apparently she caught my comment. "Insulting me again? I'm homeless now and all you want to do is get rid of me."

"Oh my goooood--"

"Chill, chill," Adam commanded. "I know she's insufferable, but it looks like we're stuck with her."

-

"Who's this?" Moraphe asked, crossing his arms.

The girl marched forward and stuck her hand out, flashing a grin. "The name's Calypso. You can call me Cal if you want."

"That's a weird name," I muttered. Thankfully no one seemed to hear. 

"Where'd you get a name like that?" Moraphe asked her curiously. 

"Came from a comic book," Calypso said.

At this Moraphe's eyes lit up. "You know what comic books are?"

"Oh boy, here we go..." I dragged a palm across my face. She was obviously sucking up to him.

"Of course! My old home had an intact comic book store. My parents taught me how to read with them."

"Y'know, I enjoyed reading some of those when I was a kid. Superheroes with special powers..." He trailed off and looked between each of us. "Now it seems to be a reality."

"Ahhh, so you guys DO have powers!" Calypso eyed me and Adam slyly. 

"Who said we do?" I said defensively. 

"Come on, it's so obvious."

"What do you mean, obvious?"

"Your hands were glowing!"

Moraphe watched this exchange, a concerned look on his face, before reaching out with a hand. "Quiet down you two. Cal, I'm assuming you have powers of your own?"

Cal smiled sweetly at him, ignoring my rage, and the air around her rippled. Her form seemed to wash into itself, until it vanished completely from sight.

Moraphe nodded, looking fascinated.

"That's not all I can do," came her voice, and she rippled back into being. "I can show you more, if you let me stay."

"Alrighty, young lady. But first I need to inform you of some ground rules. One: We all work together here. No one slacks off. There's plenty of chores that need doing. Two: Nothing goes to waste. Three: I call the shots around here, and you do what I say, especially when someone shows up to the house. Four: No fighting with Rhys."

"Who?" she asked, then looked at me and understanding flashed across her face, followed by annoyance. "Oh, him." She made it sound like I was insignificant. "Fair enough."

"Rules aren't going to stop her from being a pest," I snapped.

"The rule also applies to you, Rhys," Moraphe shot back.

"Why are there so many rules just for me?" 


"All good?" he asked, looking between her and me. 

"If she behaves, I will," I muttered.

"Don't make it hard for me, Rhys," she said sweetly, her curls bouncing as she tilted her head and fluttered her eyelashes. 

-

"So why are there so many of us in this one area?"

"Hmm." Moraphe stroked his beard thoughtfully. "I've been wondering about that. Could have been the bombs."
"Huh? What about the bombs?"

"The radiation might be the cause of your powers."


---

"So, what can you do?" - asked.

Cal's face split open in a sadistic grin and her body shimmered, fading from view in a wash of colors.

- looked suprised.

I stepped forward and waved my arms through the air. "So do you just turn invisible or-"

One of my hands abruptly made contact with something fleshy, eliciting a high yelp of pain and a thud. The ground shimmered and revealed Cal, hands clutching her nose as she writhed in the dirt.

"FUCKING HEEEEELL--" she shrieked through her fingers.

Adam doubled over, wheezing so hard he could barely stand and slapping his knees. "You fuckin' DECKED her, dude!" he gasped out. 

Abiliene rushed over and knelt beside Cal, making soft sounds and reaching out to pry Cal's hands away from her face. Cal moaned like a (ELEPHANT) as her face appeared. Her nose was bright red, but other than that she looked fine.