Alice Through the Prism, PartIV

Alice Through the Prism

Part IV- EDDY

 

Wombat Goes Missing

Wombat Abducted by Aliens

 

Alice re-read the two headlines she’d written, and groaned. The second headline was ridiculous, of course, but the first headline didn’t seem to convey what had happened at the football game. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to make the missing wombat the center of her article, though it was all the students seemed interested in.

So Long, Wombat

 

Alice smiled; this was much better. So Long, Wombat could refer to both the missing wombat, and the Wombats’ defeat on the football field. She could focus on the game in the article, and add a short paragraph at the end of the article about the missing wombat. The picture she’d taken of the empty wombat cage should be enough of a teaser to get the curious kids reading.

But what had happened to the wombat, Alice wondered. Everyone she’d interviewed swore that the wombat had been abducted by aliens, but Alice hadn’t seen any aliens, and she had conducted enough interviews over the past couple of years to realize that eyewitnesses embellished their stories. All Alice had seen, and she was willing to bet this was all anyone had seen, was a bright light in the sky. Had it been some strange atmospheric phenomenon, like ball lightning? Had pranksters shone a spotlight on a thin layer of clouds? Had the strange, alien music been played over the stadium’s PA system?

More importantly, Alice thought, was why weird things wouldn’t stop happening at this school. Alice had lived in another city during her sophomore year, and there hadn’t been a single Alien abduction. The most mysterious thing that had occurred back then had been a bomb threat that had, it turns out, been called in by a prankster.

When Alice had begun writing, she’d been plagued by petty gossip and speculation. She’d been drawn in by it all, until following an ugly rumor about a teacher-student affair had taught her a valuable lesson- don’t dig too deeply. The world was really as boring as it seemed, 99% of the time.

But life at her new school didn’t seem boring, even on the surface. She was less and less able to avoid weird rumors. Weirdness was shoved in her face every day.

“Students,” Mr Bertram called from the front of the classroom. “Gather around- I have some things to tell you.”

Alice stood up and joined the small crowd around Mr. Bertram’s desk, squeezing in-between Greg Parker and Lauryn Selwig.

“I have just a couple of announcements. First, I wanted to let you know that last week’s Prism was excellent. The principal thinks this might be the best school paper we’ve had in years. Good job.

“Next, I want to warn you that there’s a group of pranksters in the school that are causing a lot of trouble. If you have any leads to their identities, come see me at once.”

“Are you talking about the Aliens, or are you talking about EDDY,” Chelsea Jensen asked.

“Both,” Mr Bertram replied.

“Who is Eddie?” Alice asked.

“I was just getting to that,” Mr Bertram said. “People have been getting e-mails that say ‘Hi, I’m EDDY,’ in the subject line, and we don’t know who is sending them. If you get an e-mail like this, delete it right away. Don’t open any attachments. Use common sense.”

Lauryn laughed. “We’re in high school. Sense isn’t common, here.”

She looked around with a smirk, as though expecting someone to praise her cleverness.

“Anyway,” Mr. Bertram continued, “we don’t know if the same people are behind these pranks, but it seems likely that they are. Just let me know if you hear anything.”

 

#

 

“Hey Alice, are you ready for your next piece of evidence?”

Later that afternoon, Alice turned around to see Lucy racing down the hall to meet her. “You don’t have class, do you?”

“I have English class,” Alice said. “I only have a couple of minutes until it starts.”

“You already have an A in the class,” Lucy said. “Just ditch.”

“I can’t just- wait, how do you know I have an A?”

“I’ve been spying on your school records.” Lucy paused, obviously trying to keep her face straight, but her lips kept twitching until she laughed. “I’m just kidding. You just seem like the straight A type.”

“Well, I’m not going to ditch class.”

“Ok, that’s fine. Just sit by a window facing the gym, if you can. At 2:30, you will see something really cool.”

“No, really- don’t do anything that will get you in trouble.”

But Lucy was already gone, having merged into the crowd of students moving back down the other side of the hall.

 

#

 

When Alice made it to her English class, she was dismayed to see that the only desk left was one on the end of the front row, right by the window. Alice didn’t want to see Lucy’s display, whatever it would be. She didn’t want to be party to Lucy’s madness.

The English teacher stumbled into the classroom late, her arms full of loose papers, and ordered the class to read quietly to themselves.

Alice had already done the assigned reading, so she decided to review the material, and perhaps read ahead if she had time. She tried to keep her eyes on her book, but she kept glancing out of the window, toward the gym.

2:15 pm.

Alice took a notebook out of her bag and turned to a fresh page. Perhaps taking notes would keep her mind occupied.

2:20 pm

Alice’s watch seemed to tick louder and louder.

2:25pm

Alice gave up and looked out the window. The sun shone brightly on an empty field that stood between the school and the gym, and glared off of the gym itself, which stood like a ziggurat nearly three stories high. There were no students on the lawn. Even the trees, which grew in a cluster near the school building, barely stirred.

2:28 pm

A small, dark-haired girl ran across the field and toward the gym. She moved at an impressive speed, with a stride that seemed too long for her small stature, but her upper body were relaxed, as though she merely walked.

She reached the gym and started to climb the wall. High and higher she climbed, all the way to the top, despite the lack of any visible footholds on the side of the building.

2:29 pm

Lucy reached the top of the building and climbed onto the roof. She stood, perched on the edge, and raised her arms in a gymnastics pose.

Alice’s breath seemed to catch in her throat. That was it, wasn’t it? Please let that be the whole show.

2:30 pm

Lucy jumped.

Alice jumped out of her own seat and screamed as Lucy’s tiny body plummeted toward the earth. Time seemed to slow down.

Lucy flipped over once, twice, and three times, holding her legs tight to her chest like a high diver. Then she landed on the hard-packed earth, on two feet, as a cloud of dust billowed around her.

Lucy turned to the window, bowed, waved, and ran back across the field.

“Alice, what is the meaning of this?”

Alice turned back to the classroom, and saw her teacher striding toward her with a stern expression. Everyone in the class was staring at her.

“Well, Alice? I’m waiting.”

Alice opened her mouth to reply, but all that came out was a strangled nrrrrrg sound. She couldn’t very well say, ‘I saw Lucy jump off the roof, but don’t worry- she’s fine.’ No one else in the class seemed to have seen Lucy jump. All eyes were on her.

“I- I’m sorry,” Alice said. “I guess I drifted off. I had a bad dream.”

The teacher sighed. “This isn’t like you, Alice. You’re usually so attentive.”

“I’m sorry, Ms. Austen,” Alice repeated. “I’ve been having trouble getting to sleep, lately. It won’t happen again.”

“You must be stressed,” Ms. Austen said. “I’ll give you a flyer for a yoga class I’d thought about trying. It looks like you need it as much as I do.”

The class laughed, and Alice sat back down.

 

#

 

That night, Alice flopped down on her bed- a comfortable, but tiny brass daybed that she’d long outgrown- and closed her eyes in thought.

Lucy must have faked the stunt, Alice thought, even though she had no idea how it could have been faked. Faking the stunt would have taken a lot of planning, money, and ingenuity. The real question was how likely it was that Lucy had the resources to fake her stunt, versus how likely it was that she could jump off of tall buildings.

Alice honestly didn’t know.

Perhaps Alice should have gone to Brendan’s house to study, after school. He didn’t like Lucy, but his advice was usually good, and it was always helpful to have an outside perspective.

Alice switched on her laptop to send Brenden an IM.

Damn. Brendan wasn’t on.

However, before Alice could log off, a chat window popped up.

Hello the message read. My Name is Eddy.

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Alice through the Prism- Part III

 

Alice Through the Prism

Part III- Sightings

 

Alice looked up at the cloudless sky, which was unnaturally empty. Where there should be stars, there was only a vague, silvery glow. It felt as though the football stadium, in its bright bubble of light, was suspended in an empty universe.

Then a steady drumbeat started, rumbling in Alice’s stomach and stirring up her heartbeat, and she was back on earth, in the world of team spirit and football.

The drums beat faster and faster, and a fanfare joined in. The cheer squad, pom-poms waving, ran onto the field. A small, short haired girl in a cheerleading uniform followed close behind, turning handsprings.

Alice stood up, intending to pull Lucy off of the field, but Lucy jumped out of her last handspring, waved at the crowd, and then fell into formation with the other cheerleaders. As Alice watched the cheerleaders perform their first routine, it was plain that they’d all practiced it together.

Alice sighed. Sure, Lucy was crazy, but she had deserved to be on the cheer squad. Alice vaguely wondered if Kaitlyn had been forced to put Lucy on the squad- after all, Lucy’s talent had made it fairly obvious that Kaitlyn was playing favorites when choosing the new squad mates, but Kaitlyn looked fairly happy. In fact, Alice could have sworn she saw Kaitlyn wink at Lucy, and Lucy wink back.

Alice wandered to the edge of the field, where she took a few pictures of the cheer squad and a few more of the football players as they tore through the paper banner. Then she headed for a bare spot on the bleachers to get a good view of the whole field.

Just then, the cheering in the stadium gave way to boos.

The opposing team’s marching band was filing into the stadium. The two drum majors in front were carrying a large, blue and gold cage between them. They were flanked by flag girls, who both carried large banners that read:

All Hail the Wombat

Alice tried to frame the scene for a picture, but just then the bleachers shook, and when Alice steadied her hands, the band’s formation had broken up.

“Sorry I’m late,” said Brendan, who had apparently been the culprit. The bleachers shook again as he sat next to Alice. “Did I miss anything?”

“Now much. We’re booing the Wombats’ mascot, now.”

“Do they have a real wombat in that cage?”

“I think so- it looks real from here.”

“I wish the district would outlaw live mascots. It’s cruel.”

“Why don’t you ask the district to outlaw them? Use your clout as student council president.”

Brendan snorted. “We both know how much power I really have. By the way, who is the new cheerleader- the one who just did the double backflip. That’s not Lucy, is it?”

“That’s Lucy- I’d recognize that backflip anywhere. I guess she made the team, after all.”

Brendan bit his lip, bus said nothing.

“I know she’s a little strange,” Alice said, “but-”

“She’s not just strange- she’s a drug dealer.”

“A drug dealer? Lucy?”

The cheer squad was forming a pyramid, with Lucy at the very top. Lucy pulled her foot up behind her to touch the back of her head, and then she was tossed up into the air and caught again.

“Lucy doesn’t seem the type. She’s ambitious- maybe a little too ambitious.”

“That’s why she does it. She calls the drugs ‘performance enhancers.” She and her friends are trying to get the whole school hooked on them. The lunch she gave you was laced with the stuff.”

“How do you know this?” Alice asked.

“I know because she told me.”

Alice fell silent, fiddling with her camera settings to avoid an awkward silence. Alice wasn’t sure she should take this claim any more seriously than Lucy’s claim that she was a cyborg, and yet, why would Lucy incriminate herself? Even if she really had tried to drug Alice, why would she confess?

 

#

 

“We’re getting trounced out there.”

Alice, having taken enough depressing shots of the first two quarters of the game, let her camera dangle from the strap around her neck and stood.

“I’m going to get some water- you want anything?”

“No, I’m fine,” Brendan said. “The halftime show is starting- look.”

Brendan pointed to the field, where Kaitlyn was dragging the quarterback off of the field, waving the team playbook in the other hand.

Alice laughed, “well, have fun. Let me know if she kills him.”

When Alice turned to head toward the concessions, however, she heard a familiar voice call her name.

“Alice! Wait up. I have some more evidence for you.”

“Hi Lucy,” Alice said, slowing down so that Lucy could catch up to her. “Congrats on making the squad.”

“Thanks,” Lucy said. “Listen- I’ve been thinking, and I guess you’re going to need more than a thumb trick to convince you that I’m a cyborg. I’ve decided to give you a whole lot of easily-digestible bits of evidence until you’re convinced.”

“Ok,” Alice said. “As long as you don’t do anything weird.”

Lucy paused. “Um- Alice, that’s the whole point of this. You need weird evidence for a weird phenomenon. Besides, weird is what I’m all about.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed. Just keep your shirt on this time.”

Lucy laughed. “Ok- ok. Now for my evidence- do you see that vending machine, over there?”

Lucy pointed to a soda machine that stood a little ways from the concession stand.

“That soda machine is in a really inconvenient place- I think it should be moved.”

Lucy walked over to the soda machine, wrapped her arms around it, and lifted it off the ground. She walked a few feet over to the left, as far as the cord would allow her to go, and dropped it back down with a loud thud.

“Hey!” a tiny, white-haired man leaned out of the concession window and shook his fist at Lucy. “Don’t bang on the machine. If it took your money, call the number on the side.”

Lucy stuck her tongue out at the man, and turned back to Alice.

“So- what do you think?”

Alice walked over to the machine and attempted to pick it up. She couldn’t find an angle to get a good grip on it to pick it up, and even her attempts to push it over to its original spot were fruitless.

“That’s a pretty good trick,” Alice finally conceded.

“Trick? It’s not a trick. I have super-strength. My skeletal structure is reinforced with a super-rare metal alloy, and my joints are all hydraulic.”

Alice raised her eyebrows. “If you have super-strength, then why would you need to take performance enhancers?”

Alice didn’t know what answer she expected to this question, which may have been the reason she asked. If Lucy had been anyone else, she would have expected a denial, and perhaps an accusation that Brendan was lying. Alice thought that Lucy might simply laugh it off.

Instead, Lucy spoke matter-of-factly. “I distribute the performance enhancers, but I don’t really need to take them, myself.”

“So Brendan was right? You’re a drug-dealer.”

“Oh no- I’m not a drug dealer. I would never take money for the stuff. I’m just performing a public service.”

Before Alice could reply, a cheer rose from the stadium- the game was starting once more.

“Ooops! I’m late for the second half,” Lucy said. “By the way, stick around after the game. Something awesome is going to happen.”

Lucy waved at Alice, and ran back to the field, kicking her feet up behind her.

 

#

 

The second half of the game passed much quicker than the first. The home team had rallied, and Alice was kept busy taking picture after picture of amazing plays, between which she took notes.

In the end, the home team won. The cheerleaders chanted a victory cheer, and the crowd went wild.

“G-R-E-A-T, that’s what spirit means to me, V-I-C-T-O-R-Y, the only limit is the sky!”

Just then the stadium lights all went out, and the cheering turned into nervous laughter. The cheer squad and the marching band went silent.

After a few moments of darkness, the sky began to glow silver. It grew brighter and brighter, dazzling Alice’s eyes until she had to look away. A strange music, soft and pure like a heavenly choir, swelled around her, seeming to come from all directions. Then there was a loud *whoosh* and the sound of music faded away. The silver light dimmed, and Alice looked up again in time to see a globe of silver light soar over her head and disappear over the horizon.

The stadium lights switched back on, and the crowd exploded into chaos.

“Hey-” shouted a band member over the noise. “Where’s the wombat?”

Alice picked up her camera and zoomed into the wombat’s cage. Sure enough, the wombat was gone.

Alice Through the Prism- PT II

Alice Through the Prism

by Bridgett Kay

Part II- Eat Me

Please note- all of the “research” cited in this episode is purely fictitious, and fairly fallacious besides. Never trust the results of 10 minutes’ work from a fake high-school student.

 

The older a student becomes, the uglier their school grows.

Alice’s elementary school had been a small, red-brick building surrounded by grass, trees, and colorful playground equipment. Ample sunlight had poured through open windows into the classrooms, which were filled with green plants and colorful drawings.

Alice’s junior high had few windows, and fewer decorations. The hallways had been filled with old, beat-up lockers.

Alice’s high school looked like a public restroom in the middle of a parking lot.

Although the odds were against them, the student council had still attempted to make the high school look festive in time for the first football game of the season. They’d covered trash cans with mums, strung banners across filthy walls, and draped festoons over the top of the graffitied lockers.

The school looked like the bad side of fairyland.

“We tried our best,” Alice’s best friend, Brendan, explained as they walked down the hallway Friday morning. “You know, I can’t decide whether high school students can’t keep a school nice, or if adults don’t put as much effort into our school after we stop being cute.”

“Well, if you figure it out, write an article. There’s some space on the back page of the paper we need to fill,” Alice said absently as she reached her locker. She moved a festoon aside, opened the locker, and groaned.

“What the hell?”

“What’s wrong?”

Alice took a large, red, heart-shaped box from her locker and showed it to Brendan.

“Can you believe this?” she asked.

“Yes, I can. Someone gave you chocolate. Didn’t you know that you’re pretty?”

Alice just rolled her eyes.

“There’s a card,” Brendan said. “What does it say?”

“It just says ‘eat me.’ How original.”

Alice took the box to the nearest mum-covered trash can.

“Don’t throw it out!”

“This is obviously a prank. The chocolates are probably filled with hot sauce or laxatives.”

Brendan sighed, took the box, and opened it.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Alice said.

Brendan smiled and took a bite. “They’re pretty good. Are you sure you don’t want one?”

“Yes, you can keep them. I’d better get to the newsroom. I’ll see you tonight.”

“Okay- bye.”

 

#

 

When Alice arrived at the newsroom, there was another yellow sticky-note on her

desk, though it was written in a loopy, oddly-familiar script.

Anonymous tip for Alice: the school’s Math/Science team has been doping.

 Alice crinkled her nose as she read and re-read the note.

“The Math/Science team? Really?”

Alice picked up the sticky note and noticed that some writing in black marker that  bled through the back. She turned the note over.

Meet me under the bleachers at the 50 yard line at half-time.

Alice finally recognized the handwriting; it was the same loopy writing that had appeared on the chocolates. If she really had a secret admirer, Alice thought, then they must be pretty desperate.

The newsroom door opened and a moment later, Brendan entered the room.

“Sorry Mr. Bertram,” Brendan said. He ran over to Alice’s desk and slapped a paper down.

“Here- I did some research and figured it out. My sources are all there.”

“You- what?”

“I did some research, after we talked. I did a meta-analysis on studies linked to school funding and found a definite correlation to cuteness. There’s a decline in interest to fund schools just here- after the kids his puberty. Of course, there’s not a causal link yet, but this is promising. I also included some information on the halo effect.”

Brendan slapped a folder down next to the paper. “Here are the studies I cited in my paper, if you’d like to check their validity.

Alice looked over the paper. “Wow- Brendan, I thought we were kidding.”

“So did I, but I got curious.”

“This is good- way too good for the last page. You did it all this morning?”

“Yes- I had a few minutes of downtime first period.”

Alice stared at Brendan.

“Anyway, I have a geometry test next period, so I’d better go. Don’t thank me- I’m happy to help.”

 

 

#

 

Mr Bertram decided to feature Brendan’s article on the front page of The Prism, and push Jensen Cornwall’s cafeteria food expose to the back page. Alice tried to find Brendan during lunch to give him the good news, but she couldn’t spot him in the crowded cafeteria.

As she turned to leave the cafeteria, she came face to face with Lucy Perez.

“I’m glad I found you,” Lucy said. “Would you like to have lunch with me? I have a private table.”

“A- private table?”

“Yeah- follow me.” Lucy grabbed Alice’s hand and dragged her down the hall, taking a sharp right at the chemistry lab.

“My table is in the back. Sorry it’s covered in lab equipment, but at least it’s quiet.”

“I didn’t know you were still allowed in here,” Alice said.

“Oh sure- I helped to re-build the lab, after all. It’s half mine, legally. Well, maybe not legally, but no one’s contested my claim, yet.”

“Right-” Alice said, perching awkwardly on a lab stool.

Lucy sat on the stool across from Alice and placed two box lunches on the table. “Anyway, I thought it would be best for us to conduct the interview here.”

“Interview?”

“Yes- you got my e-mail last week, didn’t you? I’m sorry I haven’t had the chance to follow-up with you yet, but I’ve been really busy. You must have a ton of questions for me.”

“Sure I do,” Alice said. “Here’s question one- what is with your pathological need for attention?”

Lucy stared at Alice for a few moments- eyes wide with shock- and Alice braced herself for an explosion of anger that was sure to follow. Lucy, however, just threw her head back and laughed.

“I should have realized you wouldn’t believe me. I’m used to this sort of thing, and I forget that others aren’t. That’s ok. I can prove I’m a cyborg.”

She reached down and started to unbutton her shirt.

“No- that’s ok, really. I have a test to study for, so-”

“Don’t go- you have to see this.”

“No I don’t. I really don’t. Keep your shirt on,” Alice said, squeezing her eyes shut.

Lucy sighed. “Fine, but how can I prove this to you without removing my chassi and showing you my circuit board? You saw me doing remarkable feats of agility and strength at the cheerleader tryout, but you still don’t believe me.”

Lucy put a hand to her chin in thought, and Alice took the opportunity to begin edging off of the stool.

“I know- look at this.”

Lucy pulled her right thumb back until it touched her forearm.

“See? I’m a cyborg.”

“Amazing,” Alice said. She slipped off the stool and started to back toward the door. “That’s truly incredible. I’ll need to come up with some better interview questions, and then we can reschedule. Just stay here and wait for my e-mail.”

“Ok, but don’t forget your lunch,” Lucy said. She held one of the box lunches out to Alice.

“I made this to thank you for the interview, but you might as well eat it now, right?”

“Well, sure. Thanks,” Alice said. She took the box lunch, and then fled the room.

 

#

Alice spotted Brendan in the hallway near her English class. Brendan was leaning against his locker, pressing his hands against his eyes with his glasses perched on his head.

“Brendan, are you ok?”

“Hi Alice.” Brendan took his hands away from his face and let his glasses fall back over his bloodshot eyes. “Yeah, I’m fine. I just had a pretty exhausting morning, and I didn’t have a chance to eat lunch.”

“Well, I’m probably not going to eat this, so you can have it,” Alice said, handing Brendan Lucy’s box lunch.

“Thanks.” Brendan opened the box and smiled. “Hey, this looks great. Thank you, Alice.”

“No problem. I wanted to let you know that Mr. Bertram loved your article. It’s going to be on the front page.”

“Awesome,” Brendan said around mouthfuls of sandwich. “I don’t know what came over me this morning. The idea popped into my head and I had to write. I had been planning on studying for my Trig exam, but luckily I still aced it.”

“That’s good, but don’t exhaust yourself over offhand comments I make. If you need to study-”

“Don’t worry. I’m not exhausted. I feel awesome, in fact. I’ve never been so productive. And thank you for the lunch. It was just what I needed.”

“I’m glad. Just- let me know if you need anything.”

“I will.” Brendan closed the lunchbox and smiled. “By the way- I know you’ll be busy taking pictures at tonight’s football game, but will I see you at halftime?”

“Halftime? I-” Alice froze, and regarded Brendan through narrowed eyes.

“Brendan, how did you know that the chocolates were safe, this morning?”

“Ah- well I…”

“Did you give me the chocolates?”

Brendan laughed, and then looked down at the ground, blushing. “You work really hard, Alice, but you never get any recognition. I thought you deserved something nice.”

“That’s really sweet,” Alice said. “I’m sorry I didn’t eat them.”

“That’s okay. Next time, I’ll sign my name.”

Alice smiled, and then turned to go.

“I’ll see you tonight. Sit with me on the bleachers, near the 50 yard line,” she said before she disappeared into the crowd of students rushing to class.

Brendan sighed as he watched her go, and then froze. A chill went through him, and he could feel the hair prickle on the back of his neck. Someone was watching him.

He turned around and saw a small girl with dark eyes glaring at him.

“I hate you,” she said.

“Excuse me?” he said. “Who are you?”

“My name is Lucy, but that’s not important. What’s important is that you’re a liar, and I’m going to tell Alice.”

“I’m Alice’s best friend,” Brendan said.

“Well, good luck with that,” Lucy said. “By the way, the effects from the chocolates will wear off, soon. If you want to know who really sent them, it will cost you. Also, give me back my lunch box.”

Alice Through the Prism- Part I

Alice Through the Prism

By Bridgett Kay

Featuring the Voice “Talents” of Reiella42

 

Part I

The Loser Files

Listen to the Broadcast

It was a warm Monday morning in early fall, and Alice was considerably more cheerful than her fellow students.

After all, Alice reasoned, why shouldn’t she be happy? She was a senior student with a very light course load. She had a couple of academic subjects in the afternoon, but she spent her mornings in the classroom used by the senior Journalism class, who also ran the school paper. She had two free periods after class to linger behind and work on her projects.

Her projects were always simple. This morning, for example, there was a yellow post-it stuck to her desk that read:

Cheerleading Tryouts, Girls’ Gym, 4:30.

Alice sighed in satisfaction. The journalism teacher and unofficial editor of the school paper, Mr Bertram, never needed to give detailed instructions. She would go to the tryout, interview the cheer captain and a couple of wide-eyed hopefuls, take some impressive action shots, and turn in a flawless assignment. Writing, after all, followed a very simple formula, and digging too deeply into any subject only ever resulted in a mess.

“Hey Alice!” Mr Bertram called as Alice left the classroom at lunch. “I’m looking forward to another great article.”

 

#

 

“A lot of students are trying out this year, but we can only take twelve…”

Alice tried to concentrate on the interview, but she was distracted by all of the noise of the pre-tryout practice around her, and it seemed like the cheer captain, Kaitlyn, was just as distracted.

“There seem to be a lot of talented prospects-”

“Prospects?”

“Prospects- people trying out for the team.  Are there any particular qualities you’re looking for?”

“Yeah- I already told all my friends I’d let them on the team.”

“Ugh- Kaitlyn,” Alice turned off the audio recording on her phone. “You can’t just say that. Say that you’re looking for people who will work well with the other team members, or something like that.”

“Ok, yeah- that. Thanks.”

Alice shrugged, and thanked Kailtyn for her interview. Then she turned to watch the practice.

The gym had been divided into two halves by a line or orange cones. On one side of the cones, a crowd of students stood in neat rows facing a senior cheerleader, who was teaching them a cheer routine. Alice was able to take some pictures of the whole group as they practiced, a close-up of the senior cheerleader, and a very nice action shot of a hopeful with the school mascot painted on her cheek as she executed a high kick. Soon, though, the students began to notice Alice, and they lost the ability to practice without looking into the camera.

Alice stepped away from the dance group and moved past the cones to the other half of the gym, where another crowd of students stood around a long gymnastics mat. A small girl with short brown hair was doing handsprings at an incredible speed, gaining more and more momentum until she reached the end of the mat and did a double layout- *buzz* – followed by  front flip- *buzz.*

The crowd clapped.

“Hey, do you know who that is?” Alice asked a boy who stood at the edge of the crowd.

“No, but I think she’s a Junior, or maybe a Senior. Wait- I know who that is. That’s Lucy

Perez. She blew up the chemistry lab last year.”

“Thank you,” Alice said, and before the boy could repeat any more *unpleasant* rumors, she went to the other side of the mat and crouched down with her camera.

Alice adjusted her shutter speed and set to work, timing her shots just before Lucy reached the height of each jump. The lighting was great, and it would have been the perfect photoshoot, if not for the incessant buzzing noise.

*buzz* *buzz*

Every time Lucy readied a flip, the buzzing occurred without fail. In fact, it was like clockwork, just before Alice pressed the button on her camera. Alice checked her camera, but it seemed to be working properly. She looked round at the crowd, expecting to see some prankster or rival trying to distract Lucy, but everyone in the crowd was applauding.

Alice put her camera down, pinched the bridge of her nose, and sighed.

“The closer I look at the world, the weirder it gets.”

“I know- isn’t it great?”

Alice looked back up, and saw Lucy standing a few feet away, pressing a water bottle to her sweat-free face.

“By the way, you have my permission to use any photos you’ve taken of me in any way you see fit. If you want me to sign a model release, just let me know.”

“You don’t have to sign anything, since you’re a student- but thanks for the permission. Is your name Lucy?”

“Yes, and you’re Alice, from The Prism– our school paper.”

“That’s right. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

“Not at all. In fact, let me give you my standard press bio- I’ll wait for you to start recording, if you want. I’m Lucy Perez, 17 years old, and I’ve been studying gymnastics for two years.”

“Just two years?”  Alice blinked in surprise. “You look like you’ve been doing it all your life.”

“I’m here today-” Lucy continued as though she hadn’t heard Alice, “not merely to try out for the cheerleading squad, but also to inspire my fellow students.”

Lucy turned to face the crowd.

“All of you have the potential to succeed,” she shouted, raising her arms in a gymnastics pose. “Humanity has no limits!”

The crowd applauded once more.

Who is this girl, thought Alice, a cult leader?

Lucy bowed and turned away from the small crowd, in time to face Kaitlyn, who was stalking toward her with a frown.

“You’re trying out with the next group,” Kaitlyn said.

“Ok, thanks.” Lucy turned to throw a kiss at the crowd, winked at Alice, and walked away.

 

#

 

“Before you go, Alice, I need to talk to you about your article.”

Alice looked up from her laptop to smile expectantly up at Mr. Bertram. She had just put the finishing touches on her article for The Prism, and submitted it to her teacher with her usual satisfaction.

“Thank you, Mr. Bertram,” Alice said. “I was so happy with the lead photo. I’ve never taken a photo that good, before.”

Alice had managed to capture Lucy at the height of a layout, her legs and arms stretched out as though she were flying, and with her hair fanned out, giving the picture a sense of motion.

“It’s a spectacular shot. You need to remove it.”

“Thanks. I- what?”

“I think you ought to lead with the squad photo, instead. The new members might think it unfair to lead with a photo of a girl who didn’t make the squad.”

“Yes, but the article is about the tryouts, and Lucy did try out,” Alice said. “Besides, as crazy as Lucy is, she deserved to make the squad. Lucy was good, and Kaitlyn pretty much admitted to me that the tryouts were rigged.”

“That may be, but we don’t get to decide who should have made the team. That decision has already been made.”

“But-”

Mr. Bertram sighed. “Listen, Alice; Lucy is a troublemaker; I know you’ve heard rumors about the chemistry lab incident.  Let’s not give her the attention that she craves.”

“Ok, Mr. Bertram. You win.”

“I knew you’d understand. Thanks for your hard work, Alice.”

Alice nodded, and Mr. Bertram returned to his office.

Alice’s pride stung, but she knew that Mr. Bertram was right. From the display she’d witnessed at the tryout, his assessment of Lucy’s character seemed accurate. Alice dutifully replaced the photo of Lucy with the new team photo, and updated the caption. Alice sent the revised article to Mr. Bertram, and then clicked on the photos she’d taken of Lucy and dragged them to a folder titled The Loser Files. There, it joined other rejected articles and photos- a set of photos of “crop circles” that had appeared in the grass on the soccer field one morning, eyewitness interviews to the chemistry lab incident, and an editorial about a smear campaign conducted by a former student council candidate. She kept them all to inspire herself to do better next time.

The lunch bell rang, but Alice wasn’t hungry. She decided to check her e-mail before heading to her next class.

 

Alice,

Thank you again for your interviews, and for the photos you took of me at the at the cheerleading tryouts. I’m sure they were amazing.

I’m writing you to let you know that I am, in fact, a cyborg.

Lucy

 

On second thought, Alice could stomach a sandwich. She closed her laptop and shoved it in her bag.

Posted on Web Fiction Guide