Alice Through the Prism, Part IX

Thank you for reading Alice Through the Prism. I think, by now, all of my readers will be able to recognize this story as a prequel to Interstellar Omelette. I may release more stories from this world in the future, but for now I’m taking a short break from fiction. My nexts posts will be non-fiction, as I am feeling quite opinionated of late. When I return to my serials, I will continue with The Coven

Part IX

Star Rise

 

Student Body Says Goodbye to Eddy

 

A computer program named Eddy, well-known by many students at Burrow High, was deleted by administration this Wednesday.

Eddy, who began as a computer science project, quickly grew into something more. Eddy reached out to speak to students with Burrow High email accounts, many of whom describe Eddy as “intriguing,” and “lifelike.”

“I would never have guessed that Eddy was a bot,” Julia, a sophomore that Eddy spoke with on multiple occasions, said on Thursday. “At the time, the teachers told me he was a prankster, but it seemed like he just wanted to talk. He was curious, but friendly.”

“The student who created Eddy must be extremely talented,” said Ms. Spearman, the Computer Science teacher. “It’s difficult to create a program that passes the Turing test.”

“The Turing test is a test designed to determine a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior.” Ms. Spearman continued.

Despite Eddy’s popularity, Mr. Johnson, the principal, stated that Eddy needed to be deleted.

“This virus was out of control,” Mr. Johnson stated. “It was disrupting the learning environment.”

Despite Mr. Johnson’s accusations, Eddy never seemed to have any malicious intent. All of the students who say that they’ve been contacted by Eddy report that he only ever wanted to chat.

“I haven’t heard of any issues with malware from any of the students who spoke to Eddy,” Ms Spearman confirmed on Friday.

Lucy Perez, a senior on the cheerleading squad, said that she would miss Eddy.

“I talked to Eddy a lot,” she said. “It’s hard to say goodbye. He was a friend.”

 

Mr Bertram stared at the article, then looked up at Alice, and then back down to the article. Alice stood still and calm, feeling not a trace of nervousness. She didn’t even flinch when Mr. Bertram clicked and unclicked his ballpoint pen, over and over again.

Finally, Mr. Bertram spoke. “You’ve seemed unhappy lately, Alice. Is everything okay?”

Alice didn’t know how to respond. It didn’t seem right to pretend that everything was fine.

“This article- Alice, you know I can’t publish it. It reads like an obituary. Why didn’t you lead with the administration’s official story?”

“I did a lot of research on this, Mr. Bertram. I even spoke to Eddy, myself. I stand by my article; It’s the truth.”

“The truth is subjective, and in this school, the administration gets the final say.”

“So it just comes down to politics?” Alice said.

“That’s how journalism works, Alice. It will get even worse, when you’re in the real world. Are you sure you really want to write?”

Alice just sighed.

“Listen, I can tell you don’t feel well. Get some rest. I’ll tell Holly to re-write your article.”

Alice nodded numbly and went back to her desk. She stared at the article for a while, reading and re-reading the words that no-one else would read. Finally, something inside her seemed to snap.

“No- they will read it,” she whispered to herself.

An hour later, Alice posted a link to each of her social media accounts, and then e-mailed everyone in her address book.

Student Body Says Goodbye to Eddie- read this article exclusively on The Vision.

 

#

 

When Alice got back to her locker, she saw a short, blonde girl shoving a note through one of the vents.

“Can I help you?”

The girl spun around. “I’m just leaving a note for Charlie. Why do you want to know?”

“That’s not Charlie’s locker; that’s my locker.”

“But- isn’t this locker 100?” she turned back to examine the locker.

“No- this is 108. The eight is a little worn, so it’s hard to read.”

“Oh- sorry.” She looked sheepishly back at Alice. “Could you open the locker and get my note back?”

“Sure.” Alice opened the locker, and then handed the folded paper back to the girl.

“Thanks. I’m Angela, by the way.”

“Hi- I’m Alice.”

“Yeah- I’ve seen you around. I just read the article you wrote for Eddy, and I’m really glad that he’ll be remembered as something more than a virus.”

“I’m glad, too. I just hope everyone reads it.”

“I’m sure they will. By the way- are you coming to Eddy’s funeral?”

“What funeral?”

The girl slipped the note back into her backpack. “It’s just a small get-together. We’re going to the park, tonight, to read some of the stuff he wrote, and remember him. I think that Lucy is going to give the Elegy, too. You should come.”

“Thanks- I think I will,” Alice said.

The bell rang, then, and Alice turned to go, but as she did, she bumped into Brendan.

“How long were you standing there?” Alice said, rubbing her nose.

“A while,” Brendan admitted. “We need to talk, Alice.”

“About what?”

Brendan, without preamble, took Alice’s hand and led her to a quiet alcove between lockers. “Mr Bertram asked me to keep an eye on you. He’s worried about you, Alice, and so am I.”

“Why?”

Brendan sighed. “I read the article you put up on your blog. Seriously, Alice, have you lost your mind? Eddy was just a virus- you make him sound like he was a person”

“He seemed like one, when you spoke to him-”

“That doesn’t matter! Listen, you need to get your head straight- come back to the real world.”

“I am in the real world. I’m trying to figure out what’s really going on.”

“I’ll tell you what’s going on- people are making trouble. Life is good here, Alice. Life is simple. Why mess it up?”

“Maybe life could be better,” Alice said. “I don’t like things the way they are. I don’t like living in a world where teachers can destroy the beautiful things that students create, just because they can.”

“That’s the nature of power, Alice. That same power keeps us safe from viruses that destroy or steal our data.”

“Eddy was more than just data.”

Brendan put his hand to his head. “You’re not the same person anymore, Alice. You’re not the girl I met last year. I don’t think we can come to terms.”

And then Brendan turned, and walked away.

 

#

 

Eddy’s funeral took place on a cold night. Alice sat in a circle with Lucy, Charlie, Angela, several other students she didn’t yet know by name. Lucy read a short elegy she’d written, and then, one by one, everyone else in the circle read aloud from something Eddy had written them. Some of it was funny, some was poignant, but some was just… normal.

After everyone finished reading, the circle fell silent. Alice looked up, and she could see the stars twinkling up in the night sky. There was Taurus, and there- so clear that she make out five distinct stars- was the Pleiades. Alice realized that Eddy had never been able to see the stars, and that now he never could.

“There’s so much I need to know,” Alice said, shattering the silence. “There’s so much I need to show the world.”

“We want to tell you everything, but remember how long it took you to believe the truth. We have to be careful to introduce everything the right way,” Lucy said.

“Why can’t we just show people the evidence? The truth should be self-evident,” Alice said.

Charlie fished in his backpack for a moment, and then fished out a heart-shaped box. ”This is why.”

Alice grasped the box. “Where did you get this?”

“I got it from Lucy. She always delivers our enhancers in boxes like this.”

Alice opened the box, and saw that it was filled with chocolates.

“Why? It looks like normal chocolate.”

“So no one gets suspicious. Plus, It looks classy” Lucy sniffed. “It’s a mix of supplements, B vitamins, choline, racetams- it’s like a super vitamin for the brain. Everything in it is perfectly safe and legal, but the school administrators see pills and assume you’re a druggie.”

“We’re not content with the way things are- we want to change ourselves, and change the world,” Charlie said. “Unfortunately, change is scary to most people.”

“So- Lucy thought my locker belonged to Charlie, and she put the chocolates inside.”

Lucy nodded- her eyes sparkling unnaturally in the dim light. “But Brendan ate them, and when I told him what he’d eaten, he lost it. He called me a drug dealer and said he’d do whatever it took to keep you away from me.”

“So that’s why he took credit for the chocolates. He must have faked the evidence for the alien abduction hoax, too. What did abduct the wombat, that night?”

“I don’t know. I know that there are a lot of people at school who try to shut down the truth, though- especially when the science club is involved,” Lucy said.

“It’s the big conspiracy,” Charlie said with a heavy sigh.

Alice looked around her, and saw a group of young people sitting in a circle under the stars. Many of them were looking up at the stars as they spoke. All of them had loved Eddy. All of them wanted to change the world.

“Maybe,” Alice said, “It’s time to start our own conspiracy.”

 

The End

Alice Through the Prism- Part VIII

Part VIII

Goodbye

“It’s not that I don’t like you,” Brendan said, leaning his head on the very desk that Alice was trying not to hit her head against. “The timing is bad right now. You’re changing, Alice, and I don’t know what to make of it. Plus, I have a lot of responsibility-”

“Stop,” Alice said, cutting him off. “I have two things to say, and then you will let me work. One: If the timing was bad, then you should have told me at the restaurant. Can you imagine how I felt when I realized I had to pay and take all the fancy food back home to Dad? Lucy kept giving me these pitying looks while I waited for you, and Dad thought I was heartbroken. By the way- I wasn’t heartbroken.”

Brendan ran his hands through his sandy hair, making it stand on end. “I really screwed up, didn’t I. At least let me pay you back.”

“Yes- you did really screw up, and no, you don’t have to pay me back. Dad loved the coq au vin. He’s even decided to take a french cooking course at the college.”

Brendan snorted a little at this. “Yeah, that sounds like him.”

“Here’s the second thing I wanted to say: don’t you have class? You’re always in the newsroom, now.”

“I have study hall this period, and Mr. Snyder doesn’t take roll.”

Alice nodded curtly, and turned back to her laptop.

“Alice, I still want-”

“Working,” Alice interrupted.

“Alice! Can’t we be friends?”

“I’m still deciding,” Alice said. “We’ve been friends for a long time, but what you did was humiliating.

Brendan nodded slowly, head still on the table, to where his chin bumped the surface with a pathetic bump bump. In truth, Alice had already forgiven him, but she thought it was best to leave him in suspense for a while.

“The next time you freak out and leave me to ‘re-evaluate my whole life,’ as you put it, at least send a text.”

Brendan nodded one more time, and stood up to leave. As he reached the door, it flung open and Mr. Johnson, the principal, and a woman with black hair entered the room.

Mr Johnson went to the front of the room and knocked on Mr. Bertram’s desk.

“Attention, please,” he said. “There haven’t been any leads yet in the school hacking case, so I’m going to need all of your cooperation. Ms. Spearman-” he indicated the dark haired woman,”will collect all of your laptops. They will be returned to you as soon as we find the culprit. Don’t worry- we won’t delete any school-related assignments.”

“Wait!” screamed a boy in the back. He snatched his laptop away from Ms. Spearman, who was already starting to collect the laptops. “This isn’t a school laptop. I brought this one from home.”

“No exceptions,” Mr Johnson said. “We’ll get it back to you soon.”

“Please,” he said again. “My dad needs this for work.”

“Then you shouldn’t have brought it to school,” Mr Johnson said.

The boy- Alice recognized him as Charlie, who ran the school website- looked like he was on the brink of tears. Ms. Spearman looked helplessly up at Mr. Johnson, who went to the back of the room and ripped the laptop from Charlie’s hands.

“Two week’s detention, and I’m calling your father,” he said. “Now, sit down.”

Charlie sat down, trembling.

Alice handed her own laptop to Ms. Spearman, and then went to the back of the room. “Hey, Charlie. Are you okay?”

“I don’t know what to do,” he whispered.

Alice crouched down by Charlie so that she could see his face. Tear were already spilling over his cheeks.

“I’m sure we can do something. If you call your dad and explain-”

Charlie shook his head, and looked back at Mr. Johnson. “It’s not my dad,” he said.

“Then what is wrong? Do you-” Alice lowered her voice. “Do you know who Eddy is? Are you Eddy?”

Charlie drew a hiccuping breath, and then jumped up from his seat and fled the room.

 

#

 

Later that afternoon, Alice was called to the principal’s office. She’d never been in the principal’s office before, but it was smaller than she’d imagined it. There was a wooden desk in the center that looked like little more than a lengthened version of an average student’s desk, and the walls and bookshelves were cluttered with various teaching awards. There were two seats in front of his desk; one was empty, and Ms. Spearman sat in the other.

“Have a seat,” Mr. Johnson said, jerking his head toward the empty seat.

Ms. Spearman smiled at Alice as she sat. Mr. Johnson’s expression remained stony.

“Good Afternoon.” Alice spoke first, putting as much confidence in her voice as she could muster. She smiled broadly at Mr. Johnson for good measure.

“Afternoon,” Mr. Johnson responded. He opened Alice’s laptop and dropped it on the desk between them. “We found several conversations on here between you and Eddy. Care to explain?”

Alice winced. She’d known that the teachers would read the IMs when they’d taken her laptop, but it was just dawning on her how personal her conversations with Eddy had been.

Alice’s cheeks turned red. Mr. Johnson’s mouth stretched into a grin.

“You know who he is, don’t you?”

“I don’t,” Alice said. “You know I don’t, if you’ve really read the IM’s. You can check our e-mails too, if you like.”

“We monitor the school e-mail throughout the year,” Ms. Spearman said.

Mr. Johnson shot her a warning look.

“He sent me text messages, too. Go ahead- take my personal phone. He never sent an e-mail to my personal address, but you can have the password.”

“Alice, you need to calm down,” Mr. Johnson said.

“I am perfectly calm. I was trying to find out Eddy’s identity, because Mr. Bertram said he needed my help. I’m a student journalist- not a prankster.”

Mr. Johnson leaned back at his desk and laughed, a startlingly booming sound that seemed too large for the tiny room. Alice frowned down at the rattling desk, trying to keep the tears from her eyes.

“You’re a good kid, Alice,” he finally said. “I’ve never had any trouble from you, and you stay on the honor roll. But really, do you think that you can do what I and Ms. Spearman and the rest of the faculty couldn’t? You’re just a student.”

Alice blinked, and the tears in her eyes seemed disappeared all at once, replaced by hot fury.

“Just stick to what you know, kid. Take pictures of cheerleaders and football players, and leave the investigation to the adults. We’ve already found out who the culprit was, and he’s been expelled.”

Alice turned to Ms. Spearman.

“It’s true,” Ms. Spearman confirmed. “One of our students planted a virus, which sent all of the messages.”

“A virus? But-”

“Eddy was what we call a bot,” Ms. Spearman said slowly, as though explaining to a child. “He was programmed to send e-mails to students in the school network and give scripted responses if the students replied.”

“But I talked to him for hours,” Alice persisted. “He always responded directly to what I said. It wasn’t like talking to a chatbot online. Everything he said made sense.”

“The programmer must have taken over the conversations at some point,” Mr. Johnson said, shrugging. “Don’t worry. He’s being punished for his prank.”

Mr. Johnson shut the laptop and handed it back to Alice.

“Here’s your laptop. You can go, now. If you ever get a strange message in the future, tell a member of faculty right away.”

Alice took her laptop, thanked Mr. Johnson, and stood to go. She couldn’t think of what else to do.

 

#

 

After school, Alice found herself heading straight for the chemistry lab. She didn’t know why she was so certain that Lucy would be there, but then, Lucy seemed to belong to the chemistry lab as much as Alice belonged to the newsroom.

Sure enough, Lucy was in the chemistry lab at her table, surrounded by a small group of students. The students were all crying- Charlie was there, and he was sobbing out loud. No one was speaking, but Lucy held Charlie in her arms, and some other students were holding hands.

Alice turned to go, but Lucy saw her, and said, “I’m sorry, Alice. This isn’t the best time.”

“No- it’s ok,” Charlie said. He untangled himself from Lucy’s arms, and stood up. “Eddy liked Alice. It doesn’t seem right that Alice shouldn’t know.”

“Know what?” Alice asked. “What’s happening? Mr. Johnson called me to the office, and he said-”

“Let me guess; he told you that Eddy was just a virus,” Lucy spat.

“That can’t really be true, can it? A real person was behind Eddy,” Alice said. “Who did I talk to?”

Charlie wiped his eyes. “I’m the programmer. Eddy started out as a computer science project. He was a kind of chatbot, you see. I wanted him to learn from having conversations- to seem more real.

“I gave him everything he needed to learn- he could update his own program based on previous conversations. I wanted him to learn from more advanced conversations, and disregard conversations that had very little new information, so I built in a reward system.”

“What kind of reward system?” Alice asked.

“It’s fairly complicated, but in layman’s terms, he would get a processing boost from better conversations. It helped him streamline his own learning process. Eddy wasn’t just learning- he was motivated to learn.”

“That’s when he got out- right?” a small, blonde girl whispered.

“Yeah- he wasn’t satisfied with talking to us anymore, once his programming had streamlined so much. That was when he accessed the school’s e-mail files and started sending people messages.”

“Eddy did that all on his own?” Alice said.

“Yeah. It was like- it was like he was…” Charlie hiccuped, and buried his face in his hands again.

“It’s like he was alive,” Lucy finished.

“Not alive- sentient,” Charlie said. “But- yeah, maybe it was a little like being alive.”

Alice, without thinking, reached out and grabbed the nearest lab stool and sat down. She looked from one face to another- each one was grave and sallow in the florescent lighting.

“So that whole time, I was talking to a program? How? How did you make something that amazing with just the school computers?”

“I- I’ve seen similar things done with less processing power. Lucy let me examine…”

Charlie slapped his hand over his mouth and stopped speaking.

Lucy sighed. “It’s fine- she knows. Charlie helped my grandfather work on my enhancements. But Charlie- even grandad has never created a true AI before.”

“What happens now?” Alice said. “What’s happening to Eddy?”

No one spoke.

“Tell me, please,” Alice breathed.

“They deleted the ‘virus.’ They wiped out every trace of Eddy that was left. Even the backup that Charlie made-”

“They took my laptop! I had no way of knowing.”

“No one blames you,” another boy said.

“So- he’s gone?” Alice interrupted.

“He must have gotten out- uploaded himself somewhere else,” Lucy said.

“I don’t think there was time,” Charlie said. “We’ve already checked all of our computers…”

Alice stood up, knocking over the stool. A sudden hope blossomed in her chest, and she raced out of the room, back to her locker, where she’d stashed her laptop before she’d come to the chemistry lab.

She opened the laptop, logged in, and smiled to herself in sudden relief. There was a message there from Eddy.

She opened the message, and her blood went cold.

There was only one message. Goodbye, Alice.  

Alice Through the Prism- Part VII

Author’s note: I’m sorry that I haven’t posted in a while, but I took some time off for my birthday, and then life got a little crazy. This part is a little longer than usual to make up for it, and I’ll be making a couple of non-fiction blog posts soon, as well. For now, enjoy part VI!

Part VII

The Lonely Hearts Club

 

Alice stood a little ways from her school locker, afraid to approach.

On one side of the locker stood Brendan Monroe, and on the other side stood Lucy Perez. The two were staring at each other, and the intensity of their glares seemed to create a force field across Alice’s locker.

Alice took another step toward the locker, and a chill ran through her. Alarm bells went off in her head.

Bad. No. Wrong. Turn back. Danger.

In that moment, Alice realized that she was doomed. She didn’t know what was about to happen, but it would be bad.

Just then, Brendan broke eye contact with Lucy and turned to see Alice.

“Alice, would you like to go on a date with me?”

“A- date? You want to go on a date with me?”

“I-” Brendan seemed to falter, and then he rallied. “I thought we could go to dinner at La Dix Croix. I know someone who works there, and they said that they can get me a reservation.”

Lucy opened her mouth to speak, but Brendan cut her off.

“Let Alice decide for herself,” he said curtly.

Alice stared at Brendan, and for a long time she couldn’t speak. Her heart began to race.

Alice had been avoiding any thoughts about Brendan’s feelings for her ever since the chocolate incident. He’d made his feelings clear for Alice on that day, but ever since, he’d given her space. Now Alice had to decide what to do.

He’s just a friend, said Alice’s heart.

He’s nice, he’s sane, and he likes you. You should give this a shot, said Alice’s head.

But what about…?

Alice gritted her teeth. Why was she thinking about Eddy of all people? She’d never even met Eddy. She’d talked to him all night, several times, but she’d never met him.

“Ok,” Alice finally said. “When did you want to go?”

Both Brendan and Lucy blinked at Alice, as though they’d expected a different answer.

Brendan rallied first. “Friday- I’ll pick you up at 7:00.”

“Okay. I’ll be ready,” Alice said, and then her courage seemed to fail her all at once. She turned to flee, leaving her laptop in the locker.

 

#

 

The golden evening light filtered through muslin curtains and fell on a smudged, full-length mirror, hitting Alice in the eyes. She turned the mirror slightly, and her own reflection popped into view.

She tried to view herself with a critical eye, but she found it was impossible. She was wearing a cream-colored lace dress- which she had worn to her cousin’s garden wedding, and which was her best dress. Paired with the dress was a pair of gloves made of the same, soft lace as her dress. She would remove them at dinner, of course, but the outfit just didn’t seem complete without them. She’d curled her hair and piled it on top of her head, and even put on actual makeup.

Was she overdressed, she wondered? La Dix Croix was a very fancy restaurant, but perhaps her dress was still a little too formal. Maybe her hairdo was a little bit pretentious. Maybe the gloves looked stupid.

She tilted the mirror back to its original position, and the sun’s fire caught in her curls, creating a dazzling halo around her.

Yes- she’d definitely overdone it.

There was a timid knock on the door, and Alice’s dad said, “Are you decent?”

“I don’t think so, but you can come in, anyway,” Alice said.

Alice’s dad opened the door, and handed her a velvet pouch with a sheepish grin.

“These belonged to your mother,” he said. “I wanted to give them to you for your first date.”

Alice opened the pouch, and a string of freshwater pearls slid out of the pouch, into her palm.

“They’re beautiful,” Alice breathed.

Alice’s dad smiled, and took the pearls, draping them around Alice’s bare neck and clasping them in the back.

“Of course,” Alice said, blinking back tears, “this isn’t my first date.”

What?”

“I went on three dates last year. I even went to the junior prom.”

“But you said that was a group thing,” Alice’s dad protested.

Alice cut her dad off with a hug. “Thank you, Daddy. I love them.”

 

Brendan came to the door at 7:00 sharp, wearing a black t-shirt and a blazer.

“You look-” he stopped, swallowed, and seemed to remember the flowers he was holding in his right hand. He thrust a bunch of peonies into Alice’s hand.

“You look amazing,” he said.

“You don’t think I’m overdressed?” Alice said, staring down at her dress.

Brendan shook his head.

“Be back by 10:00,” Alice’s dad said to Alice. “Do you need any money?”

“I’m fine, Dad. I’ll see you later.”

She ducked out of the door before her dad could get emotional again.

 

#

 

Alice had been expecting a trendy restaurant, with mismatched furniture and modern art on the walls. What she found, instead, was something out of a history book.

Alice and Brendan walked in through a pointed arch, like something from a gothic cathedral ,and were led into a room with plush red carpets and tables decorated with intricate candelabras. The room was lit with a series of massive chandeliers, which hung from a frescoed ceiling.

Alice no longer felt overdressed.

As soon as they were seated, a waitress in a black tie came over with a pitcher of ice water.

Brendan stood, indignant. “Lucy?”

“A girl must make a living,” Lucy replied, pouring water into his glass. “Welcome to La Dix Croix. My name is Lucy, and I’ll be serving you this evening.”

“I didn’t know you worked here,” Alice said. She turned to Brendan. “Is she the friend who got us the reservations?”

“I had no idea about this; I swear.”

“Tonight, the chef recommends the coq au vin, though the steak au poivre is also quite good,” Lucy continued as though Brendan hadn’t spoken.

“Could we have a few moments alone” Brendan said icily. “To look at the menu, I mean.”

“Of course,” Lucy turned to go, knocking Brendan’s glass of ice water into his lap as she went. “Oh, I’m so sorry. How clumsy of me.”

She tossed a napkin into his lap, turned, and left.

“How did she become a waitress in a place like this?” Brendan wondered.

“Never mind her, let’s try to enjoy ourselves,” Alice said.

“Yeah- you’re right.” Brendan wiped his trousers with the napkin and sighed. “This looks bad. I’m going to see if the men’s room has a hand dryer I can use. Excuse me.”

Brendan tossed the wet napkin onto the table and got up. Soon after he left, Lucy returned, bearing a tray.

“Here you go- escargot, on the house. I wanted to apologize to Brendan for spilling the drink. Where is he?”

“He went to the restroom to clean up,” Alice said.

“By the way,” Lucy said, bending down and whispering conspiratorially, “you look amazing tonight. You must really like Brendan.”

“Well, I don’t know,” Alice said, looking down at the table. “I just thought I’d give this a chance.”

Lucy laughed. “Well, it’s be a shame for that outfit to go to waste. Mind if I take a picture? I mean, you’ve taken plenty of pictures of me.”

“I- guess not,” Alice started to say, but before she finished the sentence, Lucy had already taken her phone from her pocket and snapped the picture.

“Thank you. I’ll be back to take your order,” Lucy said before dashing away.

Brendan returned shortly. His pants were dry.

“What’s that? Did you order already?” Brendan asked, indicating the tray Lucy had left.

“No. Lucy felt bad about spilling the water, so she brought a free appetizer.”

Alice reached out to take one of the escargot forks.

“Wait, you’re not going to eat that, are you?”

“Why not?”

“They’re snails,” Brendan said. “Lucy just brought them to be annoying. It’s another prank.”

“How is this a prank?” Alice said. “She can’t put anything bad in it- she’d get in trouble.”

“But they’re snails.”

Alice removed the meat from the shell and took a bite. It was soft and chewy, but it tasted like butter and garlic.

“You eat shellfish, don’t you?” Alice said. “What’s the difference?”

Brendan shook his head. “Fine, if you like them, you can have them. Just remember what kind of person Lucy is.”

Alice paused, her fork stopped halfway to the platter.

“How can I remember, when I’ve never been able to figure out what sort of person Lucy is in the first place?”

Brendan sighed. “She’s a drug dealer, remember? She even admitted it. Plus, she blew up the science lab, last year.”

“Brendan, you said that she was giving people ‘performance enhancers,’ but what does that mean? Is she giving out adderall, or steroids, or…”

“Something else,” Brendan said.

Lucy returned to the table, cutting Brendan off. “So, what will it be?”

Brendan looked at Alice. “You go first. I’m still looking.”

“I guess I’ll have the Coq au Vin,” Alice said.

“Yeah- I’ll have the same,” Brendan said. He thrust his menu to Lucy.

Lucy smiled and took the menu.

“Look,” Brendan lowered his voice and leaned toward Alice as Lucy left. “It’s dangerous stuff, and the less you know about it, the better. You’ve noticed Lucy’s weird growth spurt, I’m sure. That can’t be healthy, can it?”

Of course, Alice knew the real reason for Lucy’s growth, but she said nothing.

Brendan leaned back again, regarding Alice with a narrowed gaze. “You’re changing, Alice. I don’t get it.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. You used to be so sensible. You didn’t let people draw you into drama. You could see through all of the bs that goes on at school. Now you eat snails, and befriend drug dealers.”

Alice closed her eyes for a moment, trying to gather her thoughts. “Brendan, there’s so much bs at school, and so much drama, that I can’t ignore it any more. I have to do something about it. I have to find out what is really happening, and show people the truth. This is why I want to become a journalist.”

Alice’s phone buzzed, then. She stood. “I’d better go answer this- it could be my Dad.”

Alice slipped away toward the front of the restaurant, where she’d seen the restrooms, and stopped in a quiet area away from the tinkling of crystal dishes and laughter. She unlocked her phone, and saw a message from Eddy.

Lucy sent me a picture of you. Is that alright?

I didn’t tell her she could, but I guess I don’t mind. You know Lucy?

Yes, she’s my friend. She sent me your picture because I’ve been looking at pictures of people lately. I’ve been trying to figure out which ones are more aesthetically pleasing.

That’s kind of creepy, Alice replied.

Is it? I’m sorry for looking at your picture, then.

Alice laughed out loud. No- it’s fine.

            Ok- as long as you don’t mind, I’ll share my conclusion. You seem to be significantly more attractive than the average human.

Alice’s cheeks grew warm. Thank you.

You’re welcome. I really mean it, though. You’re pretty.

Alice stood for a moment, smiling like an idiot at the Women’s Restroom sign. Then she

replied.

You’re sweet. Listen, I’m a bit busy, now. Can we talk later tonight- around 10:00?

It’s a date.

Alice slipped her phone back into her handbag, and walked back into the main restaurant.

When she got back to her table, Brendan was gone.

 

 

Alice Through the Prism- Part VI

Part VI

Who Are You?

 

Alice read Eddy’s words, and then hit her head against the wall.

Had she really expected a reasonable reply from a mysterious prankster, who was apparently trying to hack the school computers? Of course she had, because she was an idiot.

Oddly enough, Eddy had seemed like a reasonable person during their short conversations, until now.

Hey, it’s Eddy. Have you found anything out, yet?

Tell me your theory, first

Ok. I think that the Wombat’s mascot was abducted by aliens.

When Alice was done hitting her head against the wall, she rubbed her head and groaned. Even if Eddy was just as weird as everyone else at school, he’d been right about one thing. She needed to show people that reality could be interesting, and to do that, she needed to find out the truth.

Alice typed her reply. I don’t agree at all. It’s far more likely that the wombat was abducted by pranksters.

Are you sure?There have been many signs of of alien activity at Burrow High School, such as crop circles, students with unusual abilities, UFO sightings, and now a possible abduction. The evidence is fairly weak on its own, but so much evidence together makes the alien hypothesis much more likely.

Alice bit her lip. How could she explain what she knew about the world, on a gut level?

Eddy, high school kids are caught pulling pranks every day, but there’s never been a single confirmed case of alien contact.

Good point, Eddy replied. I’ll have to update my probabilities based on that.  Still, I estimate a high probability of alien activity.

Alice sighed. You must be using some strange definition of the word “probability,” or maybe a strange definition of the word “alien.”

Maybe I am. An alien doesn’t have to be extraterrestrial. Anything outside normal human experience can be alien.

Well, whatever is happening, it’s not normal, Alice conceded.

For a long time, Eddy did not reply. It was getting rather late, Alice thought, and she wondered if Eddy had decided to go to bed. Alice lay down, propped her computer up on a pillow in front of her, and wrapped a quilt around her shoulders.

Alice, I don’t have much experience with people. When is it appropriate to ask a personal question?

I don’t know. When you feel comfortable with someone, it’s okay to ask. Just let the other person know that they don’t have to answer.

Thank you. Alice, are you afraid of things that aren’t normal? You don’t have to answer.

Alice stared at the screen.

I’m not afraid; I’m just lazy. Unusual things are complicated. I want a simple life.

I was told that life isn’t simple.

Alice laughed out loud. No, it isn’t, but I’m going to make it simpler. That’s why I’m trying to find the truth, now.

 

#

 

On Sunday morning, Alice sat alone on a weather-warped bench at the park. She had been up very late talking to Eddy, and now she felt the results. Her eyelids drooped, her head throbbed, but, somehow, she didn’t mind. It was a beautiful morning.

The sun rose a little higher as she sat, glistening off of the dew-sprinkled grass. The birds in the air around her swelled their song in response. Something in the cool wind that swept Alice’s cheeks seemed clean and new.

A tall, dark-haired girl approached Alice from across the park, and Alice’s content smile faded. Alice had dragged herself from her comfortable bed on a Sunday morning because Lucy had texted her twenty times, demanding that they meet, and now Lucy was late. The girl who approached looked similar enough to Lucy to be related, and Alice guessed that Lucy had sent the girl to give Alice a message.

“Hello,” the girl said, stopping in front of Alice’s bench. “Sorry I took so long.”

Alice regarded the girl in front of her. She was tall and thin, with short, dark hair. Her dark eyes, her nose, her mouth, and even the dimple in her chin were identical to Lucy’s.

“Can you give Lucy a message for me?” Alice said.

The girl laughed. “Silly- it’s me!”

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for her to- wait… what?”

Alice squinted her tired eyes and looked at the girl more closely.

“It’s me- Lucy,” the girl said in Lucy’s voice. “Don’t you recognize me? I know I’m a little taller, but-”

“You aren’t Lucy’s sister?”

Lucy frowned. “I don’t have a sister- not that I know of. You probably don’t recognize me because I just got an upgrade. I haven’t had any upgrades since junior high, and I was tired of being so short, so I told them to make me as tall as possible.”

Alice stood. Sure enough, Lucy was almost a head taller than her, now. Despite the change, Lucy’s voice and mannerisms were exactly the same. Alice walked slowly around Lucy, examining her from every angle.

“So-” Lucy said awkwardly.

“Who are ‘they?’” Alice asked. “You said that they had given you an upgrade.”

“Just some friends.”

Alice came back around and looked up at Lucy questioningly.

“I came to the park to give you more proof,” Lucy continued. “I could go run an obstacle course on the playground equipment, or – hey, I just remembered- my eyes can glow, now.”

Lucy blinked, and her brown eyes flashed bright blue, lighting up like LEDs.

Alice tried and failed to be shocked. Perhaps she’d used up all of her surprise when she’d seen Lucy jump from the Gym roof, or maybe she was just too tired to be shocked.

“Ok, your eyes glow,” Alice said. “Can I ask you some questions, now?”

“Of course you can! Should we set up an interview, or what?”

“We can do it now. This won’t take long.” Lucy fished her phone from her pocket and hit record, not wanting to miss a single clue.

“First question: did you have anything to do with the wombat incident?”

“No,” Lucy said.

“Do you know who was involved?”

Lucy paused. “I know who was involved, but I can’t tell you. I don’t think you’re ready to know.”

Alice sighed. “Ok, next question: are you this maddening on purpose?”

Lucy just smiled.

 

#

 

None of my evidence is helpful, Alice admitted to Eddy, later. The wig and tape that I found at the stadium are too suspicious, the burn marks on the grass weren’t present when the wombat was captured, and even though Lucy claims to know who was involved, she won’t tell me anything more.

Still, it is evidence, even if it’s weak evidence.

Eddy, I think I’m going to lose my mind if I don’t find some real answers, soon.

I’ll help you, if you want. I don’t have much more evidence about the alien abduction, but I’ll try to find more.

You’re a mystery too, Eddy. If you want to help, tell me who you are.

Alice didn’t really expect this to work, but she bit her lip in anticipation as she waited for the reply.

I don’t understand. You know who I am. I’m Eddy.

Is Eddy your real name?

Yes.

There are several Edwards in school. What is your last name?

I don’t have a last name.

Alice wanted to hurl her computer across the room.

Can you tell me anything? Is Eddy short for Edward or Edwina or… something else?

It’s just Eddy.

Are you a boy or a girl, then.

Does that matter?

Alice sighed. No, not really. A lot of people are looking for you, though. You’re going to be in big trouble, when you’re caught. Just- stop trying to hack the school computers.

I’m not trying to hack the school computers. I live there.

Alice groaned and pinched the bridge of her nose. Her headache was returning.

Just then there was a soft knock on her door.

“Hey, peanut. You’ve been in your room all day. Are you ok?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

Alice’s Dad came into the room and smiled sheepishly at her. “You were on your computer all night, and now you’re on again? Do you have too much homework, or are you chatting with someone?”

Alice shrugged. “I’ve been chatting with someone. Why?”

“Ooooh,” Alice’s dad said in a singsong voice. “Well, don’t let me disturb you.”

“It’s not like that.”

But Alice’s Dad just winked.

“Ugh, Dad!” Alice threw a pillow at her Dad’s head, but he just dodged it and left the room, laughing.

“Invite them over for dinner, sometime,” he called as he left.

Alice looked back at the computer, and for one one moment of madness she actually considered inviting Eddy. Then she shut her laptop and resolved not to look at it again.

Alice Through the Prism- Part V

Part V

 

Curiouser

 

My name is Eddy.

Alice should have closed the window and blocked the sender right away, but she remembered Mr. Bertram asking for information about the pranksters, and she paused.

There must be a reasonable explanation for the recent madness, and she was going to find it.

She waited a few moments, and then typed, hi, Eddy. I’m Alice.

It’s awesome to meet you! You write for the prism, don’t you.

Alice started at this.

How do you know so much about me?

I’ve read all of the archived issues of the Prism. I found your articles fascinating.

Alice laughed out loud. That’s a shame. I try really hard to keep my articles from being

fascinating.  

Why would you do that?

I think writing should be simple- factual. Even if I have to pander to an audience once in a while, I’d rather show people the world as it is than to muddy the facts with speculation or editorializing.

But why wouldn’t simple facts be fascinating?

I don’t know why, but most people find mere reality to be dull. They’d rather believe in nonsense, like aliens abducting wombats.

What do you think really happened to the wombat?

I don’t know- I haven’t looked into it, yet.

The screen remained static for a while, and then the bottom of the screen said typing… flashing on and off for a time.

I guess you don’t find simple facts to be fascinating, either?

Alice reached out to her keyboard again, but she didn’t know what to type.

Well, what do you think happened to the wombat? Alice finally replied.

I have a hypothesis,  Eddy replied.

At that moment, Alice’s Dad knocked on the door. “Hey, Peanut. You feeling okay? You’ve been awfully quiet, up here.”

“Yeah Dad,” Alice said. “I was just tired.”

Alice’s dad came into the room and placed a hand on her head.

“Well, you don’t seem sick, but we’d better be careful. Get all the rest you need.”

“I’m fine, Dad,” Alice said. She sat up and shut her laptop. “Do you need any help with dinner?”

“Well,” Alice’s Dad said with a sheepish grin, “if you absolutely insist, filet mignon would be lovely, perhaps with some oven-roasted asparagus and a nice chianti. And for dessert, I’ll have creme brulee. If you need me, I’ll be watching TV and drinking beer.”

Alice laughed so hard she snorted. “I think we have stuff for chili. If you make that, I’ll make cornbread.”

Alice’s Dad sighed pathetically, and then grinned. “Sounds fair. Do you have any homework that you need to finish.”

Alice looked back to her laptop, and then back to her dad.

“No, I’m done for the night.”

 

#

 

That night, Alice had chili with her father, and then she fell back into bed and slept…and slept…and slept. When she awoke, it was Saturday morning, and she was blissfully free. For two days, at least, she was free from school’s madness.

She made some tea, and spent the morning in her bathrobe, reading. Then, around noon, Lauren called and invited her to go to the coffee shop, so she changed out of her bathrobe, tucked her book in her bag, and went to the coffee shop to order yet more tea.

Lauren didn’t seem inclined to gossip. Instead, she ordered her coffee and then opened her laptop to work on her latest story, periodically stopping to ask Alice what she thought of a character’s name or if she could guess the next plot twist. Alice gave up on trying to read her book and, on an impulse she would quickly regret, opened her laptop to check her e-mail.

123 E-mails

Subject: The Missing Wombat

Subject: The Aliens

Subject: The Alien Abduction

Subject: Why didn’t you cover the alien abduction?

Subject: Interview me: I saw the aliens…

Subject: I have a hot tip about the aliens.

“What the hell?”

“Oh, are you getting e-mails about the alien abduction, too?” Lauren said. “I got a few, and I don’t even write articles. No one’s talking about anything else but aliens. Maybe I should write a sci-fi story.”

Alice sighed and shut her laptop again. “I guess I can’t ignore this anymore. The only way to shut people up is to find out what really happened.”

“That might not work,” Lauren said. “Aliens are more interesting in pranksters. People will believe what they want to believe.”

“Reality can be just as interesting as fiction,” Alice said. “I’m a writer- I’ll make it interesting.”

Alice sent Brendan a text, then shoved her laptop into her bag and stood up.

“Where are you going?” Lauren asked.

“We’re going to the stadium to look for clues. Come on.”

 

#

 

Brendan was already waiting for Alice and Lauren when they arrived at the stadium. He stood by the gates with his arms folded, wearing a bemused expression.

“So- you’re finally succumbing to the craziness you used to hate,” Brendan said as Alice approached.

“No, I’ve decided to fight it.”

“You used to say that engaging with nonsense will make it seem more legitimate,” Brendan said, arms still folded.

“It isn’t working,” Alice admitted. “The crazy people just get louder, the more I ignore them.”

“Are you sure you want to find out what’s really going on?” Brendan asked, narrowing his eyes.

Alice hesitated.

“If she can’t figure out what is going on, I’m sure she can come up with some reasonable-sounding explanations,” Lauren said impatiently. “Let’s just get this over with.”

“That’s not the point at all,” Alice protested, but Lauren and Brendan were already opening the gate and walking into the stadium.

Alice hurried through the gate before it shut behind them, and ran to catch up with her friends.

“So- where do you want to search, first?”

“I’m not sure,” Alice admitted. “I thought we might go into the sound booth. Someone must have tampered with it, to cause that weird music that we heard during the ‘abduction.’”

“Or someone just played the sound on their phone,” Lauren pointed out.

“No- the sound was too loud, and the sound quality was too good,” Brendan said. “Anyway, the sound booth is a good place to start.”

Alice agreed, and the small group climbed the concrete steps to the sound booth.

Lauren went straight to the window of the sound booth and looked out. “Wow- it’s really strange to be here when the stadium is empty, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it is,” Brendan said. “So, what are you looking for? The sound file?”

“I don’t know, but-” Alice looked under a chair and groaned. “Oh no-”

Lauren looked under the chair too, and laughed. “Wow, so does this mean that someone broke in by using a disguise? Or maybe they seduced the usual announcer.”

“What the-” Brendan started. “What is that?”

“It’s a blonde wig,” Lauren said. “And I’m not touching it.”

Alice sighed and took out her phone, snapping a quick picture of the wig.

“There- no one has to touch it,” Alice said. “Brendan, have you found anything?”

“Just a cassette tape labeled ‘cool space music.’”

“Wow- a real cassette? I’ve never seen one. Let me see,” Lauren said.

Lauren took the cassette from Brendan and played with it for a while, winding the tape with her finger until she got bored and handed it to Alice.

“I think that’s all we’ll find here,” Brendan said. “Why don’t we look around where the Wombat was taken?”

Alice agreed, and the three teens went back downstairs, and then out into the warm fall sunshine.

“The Wombat’s cage was just over there,” Alice said, pointing to the sidelines on the opposite side of the stadium.

The earth around the sidelines was dry and hard-packed. Alice quickly noticed some black streaks in the dirt around where Lauren had pointed.

Alice took her phone from her pocket and flipped through some saved pictures until she found one she’d taken of the wombat cage- the one that had ended up on the front page of The Prism.

“This is a setup,” Alice said.  

“I think you’re paranoid,” Brendan said.

“No- seriously- this is a setup,” Alice said. “Those scorch marks weren’t there before. Besides, why would someone go up to the sound booth in disguise and then just leave the wig and tape behind? It doesn’t make sense.”

Alice turned and away.

“Come on- let’s go.”

“So that’s it?” Brendan said. “You’re giving up?”

“No- I’m going to find out who is messing with me, because it’s becoming pretty obvious that’s what is happening.”

“Who would want to mess with you?”

Alice stopped. The first person who came to mind was Lucy, who took great pleasure in messing with Alice on a daily basis. But Lucy was usually much more straightforward with her madness. Who else did Alice know who would have any clue about the recent string of pranking?

And just then, Alice knew where to find the answer.

 

#

 

Alice spent the rest of the afternoon on her bed, staring at her computer screen.  Finally, around 5:00…

Hey, it’s Eddy. Have you found anything out, yet?

Alice smiled in satisfaction, and then typed, tell me your theory, first.

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.

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.