(Four thousand seventeen, Four thousand eighteen, Four thousand nineteen...) Have I been walking for hours, minutes, days, seconds? I did not know. My heart burned in my chest, reminding my body that this frozen wonderland was unhealthy. My mind corrected my heart notifying to it that this diamond-veiled forest was only a dream. (Six thousand seven hundred and seven, six thousand seven hundred and eight) A recurring dream. The translucent trees, crystal, adorn the snowy realm. I walked through tangled unmoving branches, my shoulder touches the celeste branches, still unmoved, they rippled in color. Like the northern lights, an aurora of color begins to burst. Eight years I've had this world deep in my heart, eight years and this realm has not lost its effect one bit. (Eight thousand and four)

I located the largest tree I know of, the branches, almost like stairs spiraling beautifully. I began ascending, each motion created a nebula. I savored each step. The sun, emitted a warm blue glows in the sky. (Nine thousand nine hundred ninety-three) This world has a cruel curse. Time seemingly had no effect in this dream, but my actions did. (Ten thousand) I can take ten thousand steps in this world. I sat down, careful to not move my feet. I hear scurrying beneath me, one of the odd inhabitants of this land. Like a serpent, a small dragon, composed of sapphire, appears. Beneath him a small ruby salamander. In this realm they are only two of my many friends, I stood to greet them properly. (Ten thousand and one)

Oh no.

The tree, like ice, melts in an instant. The sun burns to a fiery gold etching itself into my eyes. My melting surroundings began to overwhelm me. I panicked reaching for my flying serpent friend, but the second I touch him, he deforms into an aquatic substance. The water, rising, forces me to plummet. Underneath the sun ripples in its black starless sky. I become paralyzed with fear, the more fearful I am the deeper I go.

"Al, It's time to get up! I have to go to a meeting, and I want to make sure you don't sleep all day!" a voice booms into my room.

Curled in the fetal position, petrified, I tried to produce a sound of confirmation. I began to sob uncontrollably.

"Alexander?" the voice asked. The owner of said voice gently walked into my room.

"H-hi d-dad. I'm... I'm g-gettin' up." I barely conjured the words, but I could not hide the fear that still bore its way into my heart.

Without saying a word, he begins to unravel me from my knot of a position. He sits me straight up against the wall leaving my feet to dangle off the side of my bed. He sits down, the same as I. He wraps his arm around me and puts his head on mine. I begin to settle down.

I break the silence. "Dad you're gonna be late for work," I sniffled.

"Yeah, you're right. Are you going to be okay on your own?" he asked.

"Yeah, I'll be fine," I chuckled. "Get out there Professor Silvess, go… teach that class?"

Letting go of me, he began to walk to the door.

"It's just a teacher meeting today; I don't start teaching at the college until after you start your senior year," he corrected.

"God, don't remind me," I started, "but don't be late Dad."

"I won't Al." he smiled, leaving me in my room. It was then, when he stood under the hallway light, I realized his suit was drenched in sweat. Likely from me.

"Call me if you go anywhere!" My father shouted from the living room.

"What if you don't answer?" I called back.

"Then let your mother know!" he retorted, shutting the front door after him.

I stood up, leaving my sheeting drenched with my sweat. I started for the bathroom. In there, I was surprised by my father's face. Only to realized it was my own. Ash brown hair, hazel eyes, tan skin. I'd be a spitting image if I had not inherited my mother's round nose and, oddly enough, her birthmark. A small speckle above my upper lip.I stripped out of my pajamas and prepared for my shower.

Water. Water was my biggest fear. As for where it stemmed from I did not know. My dreams when everything melts away? A suppressed traumatic experience? I did not know. I received minor discomfort from showers; none from beverages, but the feeling of being submerged and the mere sight of a large pool filled my heart with discontent.

After bathing, I got dressed in my most comfortable outfit: my dad's ancient navy track jacket, a pair of paint stained jeans, and a cool gray t-shirt. I dragged myself down the stairs, and collapsed on one of our two living room sofas. School would not start for another nine days, my final summer vacation was almost over. I buried my face in the throw pillow. Nine more days, and I had no plans on how to spend them. I lifted my face from the pillow; there I witnessed a shade of sorts as it dashed past the window.

Knock! Knock! A familiar rhythm.

"Alexander! Alexander! Open the door! Open the fucking door!" a familiar shouted.

My brother.

I rose from my niche walking drowsily to the front door, unlocking it. "It's unlocked," I mumbled. Within the second, my brother charges through the door, slamming it shut with his foot.

"Where's your key, Jay?" I asked.

"Hell." he retorted.

"Define 'hell.'"

"Left it at Michael's."

It was at this moment I realized the odd parcel he held in his arms.

"What's with the box?"

"Nothing." he snapped viciously.

Julius "Jay" Silvess, my twin brother. He was shorter than I was and wore large brown eyes. His complexion was darker than both our father and mother, but he still had our mother's face. You could tell we were related, albeit not directly. He wore a beige t-shirt and red shorts; his outfit was… newer than mine.

Knock! Knock! An unfamiliar rhythm

I slowly walked to the door, my brother ran to the back room.

"Who is it?" I mumbled against the door.

"O-Oliver Seymour. Uh, hi Alex. Is Jay home?" he asked.

I opened the door, His face was beet red. He was clearly the one chasing my brother.

"Hello, River. Sorry, but Julius just ran through the back gate. You might be able to catch him... if you hurry." I said in my most "sincere" voice.

He stared at me, almost as if he was scowling. His face was still burning red. I could tell he was not pleased.

"I'll see you later!" he charged to the back yard.

I slammed the door.

"Why in the world was River at our doorstep?" I shouted to Jay.

"That's none of your business." my brother stated, walking back into the living room, without the box.

At that moment I could hear fidgeting at the front door.

"Hello boyyys!" my mother said, posing against the door frame. "Did I miss anything 'special?'" she said playfully, winking at us.

"Nope, nothing." my brother said calmly.

"Really?" her face shifted from playful to flat. "Then why was Oliver Seymour running through our back gate?"

"No reason!" his calm facade shattered, "I mean- Why was he running through our backyard Al?"

"Probably because of that stupid box you were carrying." I scoffed.

"Snitch." he scoffed back.



"Wait a minute. What does that make me?" our mother interrupted.

"The most beautiful thing in the universe. He's hellspawn because of Dad." he joked.

"That makes you a hellspawn too you know." she played along.

"It's a sacrifice I must make." he retorted.

"Anywayyys. What's with the box?" Mom asked.

"A cracked pyre cooler. I found it in the… junkyard?" he claimed

"Then why was River chasing you, dumbass?" I asked

"We've finished the name-calling for today. So, why was Oliver chasing you, dumbass?" she jokingly asked

"Uhh… it was in his… backyard." he confessed

"Give the boy back his pyre cooler Jay," Mom demanded.

"But-" he couldn't finish.

"Why do you need one anyways?" she foolishly asked.

"Why, for our senior prank, of course!" his eyes sparkled, "By applying fire magic to the pyre cooler, it will cause the cooler to overheat and while it has this crack it will burst open!"

"Like a bomb." I inserted.

"Nothing like a bomb, because a pyre cooler has a semipermeable membrane surrounding it that will contain any explosion by expanding. If the students each add a bit of their essence into the sphere it will grow and reveal a spectrum of color!" he exclaimed.

"Did River agree to this 'prank' of yours?" My mother knew the answer.

"No, but-" he began.

"Give it back, or not. I don't care, but if you feel a twinge of guilt you'll do the right thing," she said earnestly.

My brother look at the box in his hands, clearly torn.

"Anyways I have a date tonight! So I want my three favorite men to help me pick an outfit," she stated.

One thing that should have been mentioned is that my parents are divorced. When they lived west inHelianthos (modern day California), they were close friends. Their families, also close, set them for an arranged marriage. My father, at 19, ran away from home, but for unknown reasons returned three years later. They were married then. Mom told me they lived in a mansion together for six years. It was that sixth year when we were born. Wanting a life distant from their families, they moved to Mustela, the capital of Kalmia (modern day Pennsylvania). Here, my parents bought a two-story, four bedroom house. Days later, my father confronted my mother and told her that he could never love her the way she deserved to be. He loved his best friend, but as nothing more. He encouraged her to find a new love here, with her children. She agreed. Now, seventeen years later. They still live together as our parents, but also as each other's roommates.

"Dad's at a meeting so he won't be home until, like four or something," I told her.

"Ughghgh, fine. Just the two of you will do." she settled

"No, actually, just one of us. Al will be taking this box to River's house." Jay said.

"What the fucking hell? No the hell I won't!" I exclaimed.

"Watch the language." my mother demanded.

"What the fucking heck? Why will I be returning something you stole?"

"River will beat the shi-" he caught himself, "crap out of me. Also, I know how to properly dress." he gestured to my outfit, "Mom will appreciate my expertise!" I didn't like him insulting my outfit, but he wasn't wrong.

"Fine. Where does he live?" I asked.

"Somewhere on Lincoln Street." he hazily recalled

"No address?" I inquired.

"The house is beige, with the paint peeling."

"...Thanks." I slowly walked upstairs and grabbed my keys from my bedroom, "I'll catch you later." I said, grabbing the package, I left the front door.

I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and began texting my father.

"I need to go drop a box off on Lincoln Street. I told Mom already" I sent

"I wuld ask y, but Im midconfernce rn. BE SAFE!1" he replied.

I began my walk. Across the street, behind my neighbor's house was the fastest route, a twenty-minute walk. The sun was beaming, it was not the day for my long-sleeve track jacket. As I was on my course the wind started picking up. I held the package tightly. The sky went from clear to cloudy in a matter of seconds. Whether it was magic related or not, I knew this incoming storm was foreboding. I was able to make it to Lincoln Street as it started drizzling, but that was only half the journey. Now I need to locate River's house. Each house was broken in some way. Each house had its own array of boarded windows, patched roofs, and ruined paint jobs. I scanned the houses, most were beige in color. I then scanned the inhabitants of the countless yards, trying to see if there was anyone resembling River.

Three houses from where I stood, a young man in about his early twenties appeared next to an open garage. He had the same tan skin and black hair as River, this man's hair being longer. He wore a wore a loose button down shirt with an uneven black tie. Both his sleeves were rolled up revealing large tribal tattoos. Whether he was related to River or not truly didn't matter. It was a good start. The wind started to blow harder and with it the rain. I jogged over to him.

"Hey." I greeted.

No response. It was then I realized he had earbuds in his ears.

"Hey!" I shouted.

He glanced over at me, it was then I realized he had a tattoo on his neck as well.

He removed the wrinkled cigarette from his mouth "Are you Verdan's guy?" he asked. Who in the world was Verdan?

"No?" I replied, I could feel my clothes getting heavy from the rain



"Then why are you here?" CRACKLE the sky flashed with lightning "Ohhh… you're here for Diane aren't ya?" he threw his lit cigarette to the side, "Follow me."

"Actually I'm loo-" before I could finish he was already at the end of the garage, gesturing me inside. I ran up to him, "I'm here for River. Does he live here?"

"Yeah, but Leilani said he left earlier chasing some guy." BOOM the thunder rang in the distance. "Stay until he shows," he demanded.

"I just came to drop off this box, so I'll just lea-" he grabbed my arm.

"You're a fucking mess. Dry off, let the storm-" TSCHSZZZ, the lightning struck something "subside…" I followed him inside.

A woman, looking not much younger than the man, sat at a table eating a bowl of some off-brand cereal. She wore a white tank top and large lime colored pajama pants. Her hair reached down her back and was just as frizzy as the man's, "Hey, Tony. How was work?" she asked.

"God awful. Sirius fucked up one of his tricks and almost burnt the bar down." he complained, "Luckily, Talia was there to put that shit out."

"Aww, your little girlfriend is a hero. Big sister Anthea is so proud," she mocked.

"Talia is not my girlfriend." he flustered. They started ranting about this Talia figure for about a good ten minutes.

"Mhm, sure. Who's this guy?" she changed the topic.

"Dunno, he's here for Aster."

"I'm here for Oliver." I corrected.

"Yeah, that one." he replied.

"Sit down already kid, you're making me uncomfortable." the woman, supposedly named Anthea demanded. I complied. "Whatcha call yourself?" she asked.

"Alexander, I'm just here to drop this off," I answered, referring to the box

"So what's in it?" this started to feel like an interrogation.

"A pyre cooler. It's cracked." I stated.

"He already has one of those, doesn't he?" a teenager appeared, wearing nothing but a pair of gym shorts. "I mean he's always talking about it, so y'know."

"This is his," I stated. They all looked at me astonishedly.

"I'm sorry?" Anthea choked.

"This is River's, I'm here to return it," I said.

"Why do you have Oli-" the teenager began, but was quickly interrupted by the sound of the front door opening. It was slammed shut.

"I'm home." a familiar voice grumbled. River stood at the front door. His jacket hung on a coat hanger, and his shoes made a SCHLOOP sound when he ripped them. "How'd I let that-" he looked dead at me. His face was the same red as earlier. "H-Hey Alex, what's going on?"

Did he hate me because of my brother? "I came to drop this off." I stood up and gestured to the box on the floor.

"Is that my pyre cooler?!" he asked excitingly.

"Yes, and, as much as I hate him, please don't get onto my brother for taking it. He wanted to use it for a prank or something." I requested.

"Where the hell did you come from?" Anthea asked River.

"I was trying to get my PC back from Julius Silvess."

"My brother," I added.

"Welp, now Olie has it back. Woopty-doo." the nameless teenager said.

I started for the door, "I guess that's my queue to g-"

Tony stepped in front of my path.


"I told you not to leave until the storm subsided." he glared down at me. I could he was trying to be "host"ly, but it came off as threatening.

I needed a moment to get air; the rain left me tense"Okay... can I go use your bathroom then?"

"Third door, left, upstairs!" River shouted. I flinched.

"Thank you." I started upstairs. I could hear the family talking behind me.

"Why didn't you send him to the bathroom down here?" Anthea asked.

"Last I saw, Diane used it. So it is liable to be tons of makeup on the counters." River exclaimed.

"Where is Diane?" the shirtless teen asked. As I climbed the stairs, their words became less clear.

Upstairs, clothes littered the hallway. I dodged them on way to the door cutely labeled bathroom. I entered. I began to text my father, "I might be with the Seymour's for while, at least until this storm subsides." No immediate response. Must be an intense meeting. Despite not using it, I flushed the toilet and washed my hands. When I walked out a girl, no older than thirteen shoved me to the side. She wore a pink beret and t-shirt, her shorts were beige. Chasing her, a girl around fifteen. She wore with a yellow flower in her hair, and a matching skirt.

"LEILANI! GIVE ME THE PHONE THE NOW!" the older girl screamed.

"It's my turn, Diane! Cynthia needs help with her homework!" the younger girl, presumably Leilani, shouted back.

"Homework can wait, CJ is having a crisis!"

"She cut her hair an inch too short!"


"Borrow, Anthea's phone!"

"Yeah! I'll grab it as soon as she's done with it!" Diane yelled, with a tinge of sarcasm.


"If I give him twenty bucks!"


They stopped running "Do you know where that's been?"

"I wish I didn't."

"Diantha!" the River's voice roared from the room right across from the bathroom, he walked out "Take mine. I don't need it right now."

"When did you get back? I thought you were chasing Jay?" Leilani asked.

"That doesn't matter, thanks, Olie!" Diane said as she ripped the cell phone from his hands.

"No-" Diane ran into a very pink room at the end of the hall. "Problem…"

"Thanks for handling that for me Olie!" Leilani smiled hugging River, she then ran down the stairs.

"Busy family, huh?" I said.

"You don't even know." his face turned red. Did I already anger him? He avoided eye contact.

"Don't worry. I'll leave soon, then you won't have to deal with me any longer."


"You obviously can't stand me, so I'll leave as soon as your brother lets me."

"I don't understand, why would you think that I can't stand you?"

Was he serious?! "I mean, you always turn red with anger. Then you glare at me or avoid eye contact altogether. You make it very obvious."

"Wait." he took a deep breath, his face flushed to its typical color, "Better? I promise I don't hate you."

"Oh, um, okay."

"Want to, er, wait in my room until the storm ends?" I either had the choice of him or the onslaught of the rest of his family.

"...Sure." I calmly replied.