A/N: And with my own rendition of demons comes my own rendition of aliens. This will follow Alezae from her current age up to her teenage years, with particular emphasis on that time period.
Warnings: Language later on, sexual content, some gore.
1 - Shiver
The universe is infinite.
That was a difficult concept for anyone to grasp. The thought that we humans, who had conquered an entire planet and ravaged the land to suit our purposes, were floating aimlessly in a cosmic comedy of convenient mistakes did not come easily to most. We were the worst kind of replication error. A virus that slowly seeped across the Earth's surface until it could gnaw through the outer flesh to the vulnerable tissue underneath.
Recognizing yourself as part of the problem rather than part of the solution presents another quandary, one that has led to stagnant debates. Are we the problem? Is humanity's slow destruction of Mother Earth the issue, or has Mother Earth been doomed from the beginning? She's a middle-aged woman in desperate need of reprieve, covered in wrinkles far too early and struggling to keep up with our rapid expansion. Maybe it was drawing nearer to her doomed day.
These kinds of thoughts afflicted me far too early in life. Life was fickle: a fragile creature teetering on deception and reality. I'd woken up that day in my small northern Maine home to the scent of bacon and eggs downstairs, excited about the beginning of my winter break from second grade. It was December and my seventh birthday had recently passed, complete with ample snow for playing in.
Mom and dad were sitting at the table drinking their coffee and my breakfast was already set out. I hopped in my chair and dug in hungrily while my mother rolled her eyes. We were a group of blondes with blue eyes—mom was from some country in Europe I could never remember the name of and dad was an American. They met when mom was away on a business trip and the rest was history.
"Will you relax, Alezae?" mom asked, grimacing at how quickly I was eating.
I rapidly swallowed my food and grinned widely. "It's the last day of school for a whole two weeks, mom! How am I supposed to relax?!"
Back then, I had been fairly outgoing and energetic. I didn't struggle making friends and mom pushed me to participate in a lot of extracurricular activities in our provincial little town. We were surrounded by woods on all sides, somewhat cut off from the big cities my parents hailed from. They wanted to raise me in a quieter environment.
Dad smiled at me. He was more demure than mom and wore thick glasses. "Allie, we don't want you to get sick and miss your last day. Don't you want to play with your friends after school?"
"Oh! You're right, dad!"
Though I was an only child we had neighbors who lived an hour away closer to the center of town. Jack was the youngest of three and had two older sisters, Mia and Lily, who were both in high school. He was in fourth grade but still hung out with me a lot and adventured with me in the woods.
When I finished shoveling down my breakfast, irritating my mother further, she helped me finish getting ready and brought me to school. I was hopping up and down in my seat with excitement. One more measly day and I would be back home to build snow forts with Jack and peg his sisters' windows with snowballs. Winter was my favorite time of the year.
Mom kissed me goodbye outside the entrance to my small elementary school. It was old—our town didn't exactly have high revenue and what we did get usually came from tourists during the summer. The building was in poor condition and we had desks that looked like they were from the fifties. I hurried inside to get out of the cold and ran down the hall to my classroom, prompting a teacher to snap at me to slow down halfway there. There was only one class per grade level.
Jack was waiting outside my classroom, intently reading a book in his hands. He wore glasses just like my dad and I liked to take them and hide them from him. As a result, Jack was always flinching when I came too close. Or so I thought. Nothing else really seemed to make sense.
"What's up?" I said when I approached.
My friend blinked and closed his book. He had black hair and dark eyes.
"Nothin'," he said. "Are we still making a snow fort later? I have a new video game we can play after and dad said we can make hot chocolate."
Jack only had one parent. His mom had passed away during childbirth and sometimes Jack's dad complained about it. I shouldered my backpack and nodded excitedly.
"Yes! That sounds fun. Meet me here after school and we can both go home with my mom."
Plans were made like usual. Though I had a few female friends, most of them didn't care for rolling around in the mud or putting frogs in buckets like Jack did. We clicked.
My teacher wasn't very happy with my impatient sighs throughout the day. She bristled once or twice and threatened to call my parents but I was too happy to care about that kind of stuff. I bolted out of my chair when class was dismissed and met Jack right outside the classroom exactly where he promised to be. He beamed at me and we went outside to meet up with my mom, who was more than happy to let Jack come over for a while. She liked him quite a bit.
We put on our snow gear back at my house and hurried outside into the cold. I was much faster at making snowballs than Jack was and pretty soon he was running for his life through the silent forest that was only disturbed by the sound of our laughter. We knew the woods very well—I'd learned plenty of trail markers over the years and dad always reminded me to look from the smoke from our house.
I paused in a small clearing, listening for Jack. We were getting close to the lake near the back of my house, where my dad told me not to go unless I had an adult with me. I strained my ears against the soft silence of the snow before a snowball pelted me in the side of the face.
Jack was in the lead again. Laughing, I ran from the clearing and hurtled through the woods, pushing aside branches with ease and panting the frigid, thin air. Crows flew by overhead in their search for food. I stumbled over a log and tumbled through the snow into a large bank, still giggling to myself and struggling to push my wavy blonde lock out of my face. Jack was good at sneaking up on me.
"Jack?" I called, sitting up and dusting off the snow. "I know you're out there!"
The wind moaned through the trees. No reply.
I got to my feet and looked around curiously at the squirrels racing up trees and wondered where on Earth my friend had gone. He'd been right behind me only seconds ago, and he was such a nervy guy that he usually answered when I called him. I folded my arms over my chest and turned in circles, briefly looking at the lake that wasn't too much farther away. Did he go there to walk on the ice?
Crows littered the branches of increasingly small trees that dotted the edge of the lake. It was kind of dirty and weedy; not a good place to swim or bring your boat, but dad would bring me down to fish for the big carp that lived near the bottom. I shuffled through the thick plumes of snow and my teeth began to chatter. It was awfully cold out. Jack wouldn't have walked that far, right? Maybe he was just being a good hider and hadn't heard me call his name.
The sun was beginning to set, casting a red glow across the sun and encouraging the crows to begin raucously calling to one another. I glanced up at them, mildly nervous, but pressed onward toward the serene lake. It didn't have a name, so dad called it Allie's Bathtub. I liked it.
Please… help me…
And I stopped dead in my tracks.
I whirled around, searching for the owner of the voice with a pounding heart. It didn't sound like Jack. This voice reverberated through my head and it was way too deep to belong to a nine year old. Blinking furiously against the blinding glare of the snow, I scanned the quiet forest for any signs of human life.
"Hello?" I called. "Is anyone out there? If you're lost, I can help!"
There was a pregnant pause.
Over here… in the water… please…
I stumbled backwards in fear. The voice was a little stronger now and frighteningly urgent. It wasn't someone calling to me—it was in my head.
My throat felt tight. "I… who are you?"
Help… me… I'm begging… you…
After all those horror movies I had seen with my cousin Jeremy when I was five, I had no desire to stick around. I turned tail and ran like a bat out of hell through the woods, never pausing to even take a breath. My eyes were wide in terror and I was struck by a few branches along the way but I didn't care. Alezae's Bathtub was haunted! I needed to tell everyone before the ghost attacked us.
Jack was standing outside with my parents, who both looked very worried. Mom ran over and hugged me when I emerged from the forest and dad heaved a sigh of relief. Jack was stony-faced but I could see he had been crying. How long had I been gone? A while?
Mom held me at arm's length, crying. "Alezae Susanne Moore, if you do something like that again I will never let you and Jack play in those woods again! Do you hear me, Alezae?!"
I nodded quickly, clutching my mother's wrists.
"Mom, there's a ghost in the lake!"
"This isn't pretend, Allie!" she scolded, pointing her index finger in my face. "I can't lose you. Do you hear me? Stay away from that damn lake and don't you ever walk away from Jack again!"
Dad looked upset, too. Sometimes I forgot that I used to have an older sister.
We went inside the house to have hot chocolate instead of going over to Jack's. Mom was trembling a lot and had to call aunt Grace to try to calm down. I felt terrible and sipped my drink while dad played a football video game with Jack, who was finally starting to relax again.
If there was a ghost at Alezae's Bathtub, it was my responsibility to get rid of it.