By: Annabel Kermaier
The Hunter was standing by the river. He watched the swirling currents and tides, the crashing rapids in the distance, and the frantic scurrying of water to move along. His head filled with the rushing, jumping notes of the River Song, as he switched on his weapon, and heard it hum in recognition. He hummed back, the complexities of his tune overlapping, flowing, rising, and finishing off in one piercing note. The weapon hummed in response, just two notes, an affirmation, and the Hunter settled back on his haunches, satisfied.
He peered through his goggles into the distance, nearly as far as the weapon could sense, but he was distracted, a complicated tune weaving through his mind, one that he planned to share at that night’s ceremony. The Hunter had been working on the tune for many months now, and it was finally nearing completion. The tune told of hardship, of loneliness, and ended with the low, penetrating note, the one that meant belonging, the note that compelled the others to join in, sweeping everyone away on a tide of togetherness. The Hunter hummed his happiness as he pictured the entire tribe, grown large after tens of hundreds of years of Deaths, humming along in his wake.
The Hunter was so absorbed in his future, in his music, and in his mind that he failed to notice the Prey bounding towards him faster than the notes of the River Song, so fast that its legs became a blur and it looked as if it were flying through the air on a speeding pillow of color. He didn’t notice, until the Prey was a mere two miles away, and the Hunter had just enough time to blink, to emit a half note of surprise, before the Prey was upon him.
Its hooves crashed into him, knocking him over, and pounding with such force they pierced the Hunter’s rib cage and shattered his skull, and the body seemed so stunned that it forgot to bleed for a moment, forgot to die. Then reality caught up, and hot, red blood poured out, until it looked as if the Hunter could have drowned in a lake of red.
With the blood, there also came something else, something that whistled, something that sang, a song that seemed to capture in it and drag through time anyone who were to hear it, so slowly, so, so slowly. But really, the whole song was one note, and that one note the song, and it passed in a blink of an instant, so insignificant, really, so short, and yet so staggeringly vital. Some small Prey, that could fly, were perched in the skeletal trees scattered around, and they tilted their heads to listen. Some Prey that had burrowed underneath the ground froze in their place to hear. But the song and the note that were one, that were old as life, yet so perfectly unique, drifted away, undetected by the fallen Hunter’s weapon, that just sat there, humming softly.
At the place where the tribe had camped, an important ceremony was taking place, one that had been honored ever since it had been discovered, and one that was the reason why the tribe was so large. The ceremony was called Death, in reverent tones, with high, piercing notes hummed over low, foreboding ones, and tonight was the Death of a Hunter. One of the tribe’s healers had filled the hole in the body’s chest with a plastic metal, and had attached the pieces of its shattered skull with a clear, hard coating. The tribesmen hummed, as one, the familiar and simple tune, the one that told of living forever through Death, the one that reminded the tribe of a time when Death meant something else entirely, and then the moment when it changed, when Death became a guarantee of immortality. The tribe was singing the Death Song.
Then, at the crescendo of the song, when every tribesman’s mouth was open, singing their past, their present, and their eternal future, one small girl scrambled into the empty ring that held the body on display. Notes dribbled out of the girl’s lips to match the ones flowing from the people around her, but they were not her focus. She was holding a small capsule in one hand, like a metal pill, and a thin, straight stick in the other.
The girl stood beside the body, dwarfed by the power of the song that pooled around her, shaking like a leaf in a hurricane. Then, suddenly, she stood up ramrod straight, and a strong, high note was wrenched out of her. Then another. Soon, the tremulous little girl was leading the whole tribe. The song died out, and the tribe, as one, leaned forward in anticipation. The girl bent over the body, and slipped the tiny capsule into his nostril. Then, she used the thin stick to expertly guide the tiny computer into his empty skull, where his brain used to be. The capsule quickly grew, attaching itself to the inside of his head, and taking control of the body. Then, with a head full of metal, the man stood up, and hummed the note of togetherness, of belonging, and the whole tribe joined in, formally accepting the him as a Hunter once again.
The Hunter switched on his weapon, and heard it hum in recognition. He hummed to it what Prey he would hunt that day, and the weapon hummed, just two notes, in affirmation. The Hunter settled back to wait.
He watched through his goggles, scanning every motion, dismissing those that were not his chosen Prey. Today, the Hunter had no song playing through his bones. He had only his task, and his concentration, his weapon, and his Prey.
The Hunter saw the Prey through the goggles, and immediately gave a sharp blip of a note. The weapon fired, a pulse of deadly sound rippling outward, and through his goggles he saw the Prey fall, saw that it was not yet dead. He picked up his weapon and went over to the Prey, to finish it off. When he got there, he fired the weapon once more, and this time, the Prey died.
This was a death in the old sense of the word, though the Hunter did not think of it like that. Maybe he would have, if he could have heard the song that was contained in a single, slippery note, that rose from the dead Prey, and drifted off, carrying with it the memories of a lifetime.
By: Brooke Schwartz
Her laugh reverberates inside my head. The one sound I can’t forget.
Sitting here entombed among plastic and metal and surrounded by stars, I escape into my memories of her.
She has large, soft brown eyes and tan skin. Wavy brown hair. She’s laughing at a joke I just told, her smile the best thing I’ve seen all day. It took a long time to coax it out of her, with everything that’s happening. The ships surrounding Earth. The threats. The aliens, with their slick black skin and gaping maws.
Her grin disappears when the sirens go off. When there is a shard of metal sticking out of her skin.
She is grabbing my hand, pulling me close. Please, she rasps.
There is blood. Coating her hands, coating mine. It’s everywhere.
She’s choking on something. Stiffening, then relaxing in my arms. Gone.
I stand, directionless. Someone ushers me somewhere. I hear words I don’t process until later. Things like Get you to a safe location, spacepod, and NASA. And then I’m gone. Gone from my father, from my home, from my life.
I stare at the blackness outside the window, but I can’t find Earth. I guess I’m not facing it, but it would be a comfort to me as I sit trapped in this tiny pod. There’s barely enough room to lie down. Above me are a First Aid kit and several weeks’ worth of food, along with some water. Just enough to survive. Not enough to live.
They told me I’d be back in a few days, maybe a week or two, as soon as they could get things running again and find my father. It’s kind of bad when you misplace the President of the United States. Better send his son to space before he goes missing, too.
I guess they refrained from mentioning that our planet is being invaded by aliens whose most rudimentary tech is light-years beyond our most specialized equipment.
I wonder how I’m going to die. Whether I’m just going to drift off into nothingness and starve, or whether they’ll find me here, a sitting duck with some useful metal scraps to play with.
I imagine her face again. That smile. Lost on a planet I probably will never see again.
Suddenly, light appears from everywhere and nowhere, white and blinding, forcing itself through the windows. I shut my eyes tight, but it still tortures me through my lids. As I move to clap a hand over my eyes, it disappears.
I’m used to feeling weightless after two days of aimless floating, so it’s a shock when the artificial gravity kicks in and I hit the floor hard. I look up as the door hisses open, wincing from the pain and not sure what to expect.
The aliens are standing to either side of a narrow hallway lit by harsh fluorescent lights, ushering something forward.
I recoil in shock when I see who they’re sending to greet me.
By: Brooke L. Kohl
“Ugh, my nose is bleeding,” Meghan complained. She and her best friend Charlotte were lying on the field behind Meghan’s father’s house, looking up at the space bubble surrounding them. Ever since they had moved to the colony on the moon a month earlier, they had loved lying on the grass there, in the perfect spot for them to see the Earth.
Meghan fished a tissue out of her pocket and looked over at Charlotte, expecting to see an encouraging smile. However, Charlotte had stood up, a strange look in her eyes.
“Char? Are you okay?” Meghan asked, standing up to join her friend. Charlotte didn’t answer.
Meghan tentatively reached out to put a hand on Charlotte’s shoulder but jumped back when Charlotte snapped her teeth at her and turned away.
Charlotte snarled as she reached for the sword hanging from her belt. She drew it and pivoted on one foot so that she was again facing Meghan, holding it out threateningly. “Please, Charlotte,” Meghan begged, confused. Mixed in with the confusion in Meghan’s eyes was fear. So much fear.
Charlotte paid no attention to the fear. As soon as she saw Meghan draw her sword, Charlotte lashed out with hers, cutting into the side of Meghan’s leg and making her scream in pain. If anything in Charlotte regretted what she’d done, she didn’t show it. She thrust her sword at Meghan again and again, each time managing a small cut on a different body part. Leg, arm, other arm, ear. Charlotte grinned evilly. Meghan had never been a match for her at sword fighting.
At each cut, Meghan bled more, becoming weaker and weaker. But Meghan’s spilled blood only seemed to empower Charlotte. For each drop of blood that touched the ground, the fury in Charlotte’s eyes intensified, and as the blood came into contact with the grass, it fizzled and melted away into ominous moonrock.
Meghan rallied her strength and stuck out her sword, able to catch Charlotte’s blade. Charlotte froze, staring at Meghan, who seized the opportunity.
“Charlotte,” she said. “What are you doing?” Charlotte didn’t answer. Meghan saw her muscles tense, as though she was about to attack. “Please, Charlotte,” Meghan pleaded. “I don’t know who this monster is, but it is not you. You-you’re my best friend. And you don’t do this. You don’t fight like this. You’re the most gentle, caring person I’ve ever met. Whatever’s come over you, you can beat it.”
At her words, Meghan felt Charlotte’s grip relax a little. She shook her head, as though trying to clear it. “What just happened?” Charlotte asked.
Meghan sighed as relief flooded through her. She lowered her sword and therefore freed Charlotte’s. “I don’t know. My nose started to bleed, and you completely flipped out. Look.”
She showed Charlotte all the cuts she had, and Charlotte’s nose began to twitch. “I-I don’t know what’s happening!” Charlotte exclaimed. “I feel like my body is being taken over by something, or someone, else, and it’s forcing me to attack you. As we are talking, I feel like it’s about to take over.”
Meghan paled. “Let’s go back to my dad or something,” she said. “He might be able to help…” she trailed off, knowing it was useless. Her dad wouldn’t know what was going on any more than she did.
“No,” Charlotte said. “No. No one can help me. I know what I have to do.”
She lifted her sword with a shaking hand. “Goodbye, Meghan,” she whispered. Meghan’s eyes widened, realizing what was about to happen. She lunged for the sword, but Charlotte was too fast, plunging the sword into her own stomach. She flopped over onto the ground, took a few shuddering, final breaths, and within seconds was still.
Meghan, sobbing, threw herself on top of Charlotte’s body. And as she touched Charlotte, she felt a shock pass between them and felt her body being taken over by someone else.
By: Samara Taubenfeld
The taste of Victoria’s caramel latte was still fresh in her mind. The warmth and creaminess of the beverage comforted her on this frigid and uninviting November day as she strolled away from her and her friends’ favorite cafe. Moments ago she had been having a typical conversation with Amber and Zoe about the upcoming dance and the difficulty of the chemistry test earlier that day. Victoria knew it was cliche, but she found comfort in routine, which is exactly what this was between her and her friends. However, their time was cut short when Victoria’s mom asked her to come home and help prepare dinner for that evening. So she gave them each a hug and a peck on the cheek, and set out towards her house.
It was in that moment she was thankful her mom forced her to wear her extra warm boots from seventh grade, not the new sneakers Victoria had purchased that weekend and had been so eager to show Amber and Zoe. These boots definitely get the job done despite how ugly they are. As she stared at the matted fur on the outside of each boot, she noticed that the man walking on the sidewalk ahead of her had dropped what appeared to be his wallet. Unsure of what to do at first, Victoria considered leaving it on the gray concrete with no way of ever being returned to its owner. But as she stared at the owner who continued to maintain his pace away from the wallet, she knew what she had to do. I would want someone to do the same for me. Bending down to pick up the black, leather square, she called out:
“Um, excuse me! You dropped your wallet sir!”
Expecting him to turn around, concerned with his identity being in the hands of another, she was shocked to see the man begin to hurry his pace away from her. He seemed desperate to not interact with her, even putting his hood on and placing his hands in his pockets. Did he even acknowledge what I said? There’s no way he didn’t hear me, the whole block basically turned around except for him. Before she even knew it, the strange character had turned the corner, his dark coat flapping in the wind behind him.
Victoria stood there baffled by what had just happened. If he obviously heard me, why wouldn’t he want his wallet back? Isn’t there information in here he might actually need? With that, she realized that she could use this potential information to possibly locate the man, and opened the wallet. To her surprise there was not a single bill or card of any kind. Rather, a classic polaroid picture, tucked away in one of the slots amongst the other empty ones. Curious, she carefully took it into her hand and studied the photo.
There were three girls, smiling and laughing, all dressed in conventional fall attire. They were seated in what appeared to be a coffee shop, filled with baristas and other customers bustling about. One of them was wearing the ugliest boots Victoria had ever seen.
It was a picture of her just minutes earlier, the caramel latte still steaming in her hands.