*Chapter 1*

"Each friend represents a world in us,

a world not born until they arrive,

and it is only by this meeting that

a new world is born."

-Anais Nin

The day I met her, I was walking home from school, and it was raining harder than it had in months, a huge ominous cloud had rolled in and wind whipped my long black hair in my face. I hurried across the street with my binder over my head, scurrying with my face down. I looked at the sidewalk to avoid tripping over my gangly legs.

Late autumn was chilly in Kachina Village, Arizona. As if it was slowly giving itself up to winter, handing over its beauty for winter to crush in its cold hands, the leaves shriveling and blackening, rotting slowly. I hated it.

I couldn't ride the bus because we lived outside the school district, but I didn't mind. In fact, I considered the long walk home my favorite part of my day. Most days that is, not this one. My breathing grew ragged as my steps slowed and I began to walk as I checked the time. 2:20. I sighed and looked up again. The cloud seemed to stretch on forever and the rain showed no signs of giving up. So I decided I would have to sit it out. I dashed under a huge oak tree nearby and settled down, pulling my coat closer to my body as I shivered violently.

As I sat there pondering many different things, I heard a rustling from above, and a shower of fall leaves rained down on me. I looked up curiously and backed away from the tree trunk. That was when I saw her, the girl sitting on a fat knotted branch high above the others. She had mousy brown hair with assorted twigs and leaves tangled in it. Her eyes were large and colored azure, standing out on her pale freckled face. Her lips were thin and her nose was small and turned up. The girl glanced at me with her slanted eyes and I felt like I was captive in her gaze. We looked at one another unblinkingly until a large gust of wind made me shiver again and I looked away.

"You don't live around here do you?" My question came out sounding accusatory and harsh. I bit my tongue and scolded myself silently. She continued to stare at me and I shifted awkwardly. Her gaze pierced my skin and seemed to look into my very soul. Then, as suddenly as she had appeared, in a whorl of leaves, she was gone. Fleeing nimbly and swiftly like she belonged in the trees.

I sighed and stood up, the rain had cleared momentarily and I hurried home, my thoughts about this strange girl in the tree tumbling in my brain.

When I saw the familiar olive green house, I sprinted the last couple meters to the door, yanking it open and stumbling inside. When I felt the cold room I sighed and walked past the couch to the fireplace, adding wood and starting a fire. We didn't have enough money to pay the electricity bills so we had to do without for most of the day until mealtimes where we briefly turned it on to cook. I heard a soft mumble and I saw my mom standing wrapped in a blanket behind me. I smiled at her and ushered her into her bedroom, assuring her that I was fine.

She nodded and smiled a sideways grin as she sat down at her easel and began to make rapid brush strokes at her canvas. I smiled as I saw the picture take shape, it was my mom and I sitting hand in hand on the bench at our old house, the sun shining brightly and the flower in my hair glowing bright orange. I began to leave as her shoulders relaxed and she got a peaceful expression on her face.

Painting was one of the few things she could do that relaxed her. There was a sort of rhythm in her that seemed to make it easier to clear her head and think straight. Nighttime was the worst, she cried for me every night until I finally moved my bed into her room so I would be able to comfort her when her mind tortured her like it did. But, alas, that was all I could do to ease the pain. I took care of the house, keeping it neat to keep away those nosy neighbors.

Life was hard but I managed to make do. My mom's name was Alice, and there was no one I loved more. She used to be beautiful, before she got worse, with long golden brown hair that flowed down her back in waves, and bright blue eyes that sparkled with excitement. Now... now her hair was dull and limp, flying astray unless I brushed it for her. Her eyes had lost the sparkle, leaving them dull and lifeless. The only time it returned was when she was painting, the ability she cherished most.

I moved into the kitchen and sat down on the brown armchair by the fire, the flames dancing in front of my eyes. My head fell to the side and I dozed off into the blissful silence, only interrupted by the comforting sound of a paintbrush moving across the canvas.

*Chapter 2*

"A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom."

-Robert Frost

I woke to the sound loud mumbling. I sat up quickly and ran to the front of the house. The door was wide open and I saw my mom shuffling across the street in her blanket and slippers. She had a dazed look on her face, the one she gets when she is having a really bad fit. Fear overwhelmed me as I ran to her and put my arm around her, half dragging her back to the house. She fought like a wildcat, screaming obscenities at me, her eyes wild and angry, saliva spitting from her mouth as her limbs thrashed furiously.

"He is there! I need to go to him and tell him I am sorry. He is waiting for me and I have to..." Her voice weakened. "I have to say sorry."

"No!" I found my voice to be surprisingly angry and vicious. "You don't have anything to be sorry for. He should be the one apologizing, not you." I reached the threshold and pushed her inside. She collapsed on the tile floor, sobs wracking her body.

I gently led her back to bed and then made the fire again. When I had made sure my mom was comfortable, I checked my watch and hurriedly grabbed my backpack and journal. I put my hair into a messy ponytail and pulled on a tee shirt and jeans. Not that it mattered what I looked like. No one would notice. I set out on the road. Words jumbling in my head as I thought up verses of my favorite poems.

I had an obsession with poetry, I had memorized hundreds of poems by numerous writers and I repeated them in my head as a sort of game to calm myself down. Much like my mother and her painting, it helped me organize my thoughts. And most importantly it helped to keep away the voices in my head. The voices that spoke to me, tried to console me. I didn't want consolation; I didn't need it.

School. The drab grey building stood across the street milling with kids, and adults on their way to work honking their car horns furiously. Its dingy walls had graffiti covering it completely. Spelling out lewd and pointless messages across the bricks. I sighed and trudged across the road, my feet willing me to keep going.

That was when it started, the whispers, the indiscrete muttering, it emanated from all directions as I walked hurriedly down the hall. I knew it would come…it always did. I nearly ran as I got my binder out of my locker and rushed to my seat. The teacher was writing something on the board…Conference week: make sure to fill the forms out completely and return by tomorrow.

"Call home and schedule your conferences with your parents." Mrs. Smith's shrill voice, one I had come to hate, for no good reason, rang out in the room. Everyone got to their feet or pulled out their phones, eager to be able to use them during class. I sat, my heart pounding nervously, ducking in my seat. Trying to do what I did best, be invisible.

"Diana, why aren't you calling home?" The room grew quiet as everyone looked at me, knowing they were witnessing a rare event when a student dared to stand up to Jennifer Smith. But I had to protect my mother, so I adopted a calm and cool voice

"Because I don't want to. And it is none of your business what I do Mrs. Smith." I watched as her face twitched in anger and she adopted a sickly sweet expression.

"Well, in that case…please go take your "business" to Mr. Reynolds." And with that, she spun on her heel and walked back to her desk.

Great I thought, more attention. I walked out the door and walked down the long hallway. More whispers, more stares. I knew what they thought. I had heard it all before. They thought my dad was in jail and my mom was a drunkard. It didn't matter. I didn't care what they thought. I simply ignored them. I had no friends but I truly didn't mind. I had my mom, and that was all that mattered. I couldn't let her be taken. She was the last thing holding me the ground, holding me back from the brink of insanity.

I don't know what made me do it, I really don't. But when I saw the principal sitting in his chair in the office, tapping his foot and looking at me expectantly, I ran. I ran like never before. I was angry, angry with myself, at my nosy neighbors, at my teachers, at my mom, and most of all, I was angry with my dad.

I ran all the way to my street where I finally slowed to a walk, blood roaring in my ears. I calmed down and cursed myself for my stupidity. Now I would suffer worse consequences tomorrow. I dragged my feet up my driveway up stopped dead when I looked at the garage. My feet planted as my brain was doused in a cold wave of shock. There was a car parked in the garage. And the letters on the side seemed to mock me, Coconino County Sheriff.

I woke from my daze to harsh reality and ran as fast as I could to the door. It was already wide open.

"Ah, I assume you are Diana." A kindly plump policeman spoke from the corner of the room. "Alice has been telling me all about you"

I was disgusted at the docile and blank face my mom wore on her face as she stared innocently at me. She was sitting on the armchair, sipping a mug of coffee.

"Yes, I am." I spoke, forcing my voice to remain calm and steady. "But what business do you have breaking in like this?"

"Diana. This," She gestured to my mom and our house, "Has to stop. Ms. Johnson next door said she saw your mother having a fit outside and she was concerned for your living conditions. We are here to help Diana, your mother could have a much better life with us, and so could you." The woman spoke as though she were pacifying a cougar to be nice. I looked her straight in the eyes when I spoke; this was my only chance to save my mother.

"We don't need help Ma'am. We have food and my mother is happy here. We don't have problems with living conditions or anything. Please Ma'am, just let us be together."

"I pulled up your records and I called the man who is leasing out the house to you, Mr. Robertson, he says you are already in debt. He had no idea your mother was…incompetent. I have to do this. There are plenty of foster homes out there that would love a girl like you to live with them. Diana, you have done your best, your mom told me about your troubles here. She deserves better."

"Deedee?" My mom's soft voice broke through our conversation.

"Deedee, I want to go with the nice lady. I want to go live somewhere nice. I told her about our problems and how you can't take care of me good. Please Deedee…maybe Jason will be there and he will take you home. So we can all live together. Deedee. Please, please let me go. He loves me. I know he does. Those things he said weren't real Deedee, he just wasn't thinking.

"I think that finalizes this." The officer stood and gently began to lead me away. Her colleague took my mother; I was numb, cold, and frozen. Then something shattered my icy brain.

"I hate you! I hope you're happy! I hate you! And him! How can you think he loves you, he left, he left for another woman, he didn't want us. We weren't a perfect family, and he knew that, so he discarded us like trash. I have no life because of him, no life at all! No friends, no money, but that was ok with me. But now, all because of you, we aren't going to be together anymore. I wont even have you, the only thing I had left. Why did you get sick, why? Why did you have to make Dad go and leave us in this dumb little town? It's your entire fault. Go away and live in your fancy home, go and be happy. But don't expect me to come knocking. You didn't even think about me did you? I don't want to have a new family. I don't!" Tears were streaming down my face as I screamed and tried to lunge at my mom. I wanted to hurt her, to punish her for these things that, somewhere in the back of my head, I knew weren't her fault.

I sobbed wildly as the officer kept a firm grip on me and placed me in the car. I fell silent, a miserable lump of despair welling up in my throat as I attempted to swallow. It was only a small moment of time before I began to scream as I lunged at the driver and yelled hysterically.

As the car pulled away from the house, I caught a glimpse of a small brown haired head disappearing around the corner of our street, then I felt a prick in my arm and my vision faded away, leaving me in utter darkness and bliss.

*Chapter 3*

Doctor Whitmore

January 8th, 2025

Today we put Subject No. 33 in position. It is one of the best and I am confident it will succeed. The girl is troubled by our change in her situation, but # 42 was getting in the way of her path. I can only hope that No. 33 will set her right.

January 13th, 2025

No word from No. 33 yet. It is waiting to appear. It is hesitant to jump in. It doesn't want her to suspect. It is very wise; she will fall for it I am sure. They all do eventually. It is for the best. It must happen.

January 19th, 2025

We received shocking news today, No. 1 is still activated. I hope it doesn't interfere. It wasn't supposed to develop emotions. It was the first, the only one that we made from a human being. It has gone rogue. It must be terminated before it does something even time cannot reverse.

*Chapter 4*

Nature's first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf's a flower; but only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, so dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.

-Robert Frost

When I came to I was in a small cheery room. It looked like it belonged to a little kid, with its bright colors and cheery demeanor. I got out of bed and stretched. That was when it hit me again worse than before, the cold hard truth. My mom was gone. I was going to be put in a foster home. There was nothing I could do about it.

I screamed. I screamed till my throat was dry and I sat, exhausted on the floor, huddled in a ball, rocking back and forth.

I lay back down, wincing and fell asleep to the sound of the fan whirring above my head. It's cold metal wings flying dizzyingly in my eyes, as I fell back into a deep slumber.