O-Reyna-Gami

O-REYNA-GAMI
By SF Hades

Static… 
Static… 
Sigh.
“It’s funny, y’know. A month ago I wouldn’t have suspected for a moment that, y’know, that Mac Astley would be all I have left. But that’s the funny part about this town– you never get what you expect. What you want. No, no, no, this town, now, it won’t stop until it takes… everything.” Choking up. “Everyone I cared about, it- it feels like they’re gone. But they’re right there. I’m- I’m scared. But I can’t show it, I can’t show any f#(%ing weakness because- because if I act scared, if I act human, if I act like this is F’#%ING BOTHERING ME?? They’re gonna lose hope, they’re gonna lose hope. Everyone’s gonna blame me for this… they always do. No one knows what to do. No one knows what- I don’t know what to do, half the d@$( time.” 
“I’m sorry… I’m sorry that I can’t be the man everyone wants me to be. I’m tired. I feel like I haven’t slept in so long. And nobody knows what we’re doing. All these friends we lost at Caesar, Ximena, Lina, Ch- Charlie… and they blame us for making this school but we don’t know what the f’#( we’re doing either. They don’t realize that me, Mac… Edward, August, Keana. Dennis, Peyton, we’re- we- we’re in the same f@!]ing boat as all of them.” 
“Flynn, he took something from me. He keeps taking from me- he has been taking from me for three years now. And I feel… different, only now. Maybe I’m only realizing it now- now that everything’s okay. Now that everything is supposed to be okay.” 
“I’m going to kill OrigOlympus if it’s the last thing I f’#(ing do.” 


WASHED UP
By Sebastian Merrick 

The cold water jolts the walking corpse I call my body to life, the glistening water only highlighting the details of myself in which I hate. 
I guess I was hot once, I don’t really see it. Now, my hair is in knots. I tried combing it after a few months but… the comb got stuck. It’s stuck there now, I suppose. There’s thick bags beneath my eyes, dark and almost swollen. My eyes are bloodshot, and anyone with a brain can tell I’ve been crying. 
I’m wearing nothing but a wife beater and my underoos, and hell, both of them are stained with the color white. I slam my head into the sink, without making note of the pimple on my forehead. Ouch. 
And then… oh god, no. I quickly huddle over, from the seat to the bathroom, trying my best not to collapse face first into my own urine. Not like last time. 
The vomit falls from my mouth into the sink like Chase Kemp onto pavement. 
That was uncalled for. I’m so sorry. 
It’s… what? 3:00AM while I write this. I just got back from the fair, actually. Isn’t that crazy?
A day so perfect, then I wake up and wam. Everything’s coming back up. Both mentally and, even more unfortunately, physically. 
Godd$)#it. Chase, Charlie, Mac, Lina… I can’t get them out of my mind. Not anymore. 
I sneak out, not like anyone would’ve cared to stop me. Mom left weeks ago, and Dad’s passed out. Cold. 
I started walking down the jaded sidewalk, making careful note of, well, the little details. Each and every crack– the story behind them. 
That, that’s what distracted me. Before I knew it, (or really, after I jaywalked and almost got hit by a car) I had reached my destination. 
Debbie Don’s Dance Dojo. The keys looped around my charred and bloody fingers, too long, nails too short. I put them in the keyhole, careful not to make a creak. Sometimes, I found, Lance would sleep here. 
I did not want them to see me like this.
I’d say I went to town on the bag, but that would be a bit of an understatement. To say that I clawed at it like the monster I had become, that’s a clearer picture. 
I was doing so well. I hadn’t thought about them, hadn’t cared about them in so, so, long. I had shut the memories out and then– I saw him. 
Seeing Flynn again sent me into this supernova of emotion that I still feel today. 
I grab a jolly rancher on my way out of Debbie Don’s, a feather still falling from the punctured punching bag. 
Walking home, I throw up again. This time in the ditch. I wondered, for a moment, what it would be like for my enemy to find me like this, hunched over a ditch, vomiting up rice and chicken, the small sliver of bone I swallowed on accident getting caught and separated from the crack of muddy water, caught on the corpse of a bird. 
And then I imagined that bird falling. 
And then I imagined Flynn– maybe he’d pity me. Maybe he’d feel bad. Or maybe, maybe this is what he wanted. That’s the thing about people like me and Flynn. 
Neither of us know what we really want. 

But hey, the chicken and rice was FIRE. 


THE WEDDING
By Mac Astley

She looked so beautiful in that dress. I could say that about a lot of people. My girlfriend, Ximena. Maybe a local femboy, like myself or Edward. 
But no, tonight I stood in awe of perhaps the best woman I’ve met in my life. My Mother. She had been kind to me lately, especially since I came out to her. But tonight, I really, really, didn’t want to focus on myself. I want to focus on my Mother. 
I wasn’t there for her first wedding. Obviously. But I was glad to be there for her second. 
I still remember coming home from the fair, talking to Tyler. He didn’t know I saw him ask my Mother to marry him, and so pretending to be surprised sure was a blast. 
He had taken us home to his place, this big place just outside of town. Despite how close they’d gotten, they never had time to pack up and move. 
My Mom was fast asleep, and so that left me and Tyler. And Tyler’s dog, Vernon. 
“How’s the therapy going?” He asked. 
“Really, really well. Dr. Oscar said I just needed time to let it all out.”
“Glad you’re making progress,” he said, “It’s good to have someone to talk to. Back in my day, we had all these crazy adventures, too. I didn’t bring it up with William. Or Estelle, for that matter,” he laughed, “But I guess you could say I had it rough growing up.” There was pain in Tyler’s eyes, followed by them jolting to life, “Y’know, I hate to give you more to think about but… your Mom. I asked her to marry me.”
A shocked face! Maybe a hand to my cheek, “Really? Who could’ve guessed that!”
He chuckled, awkwardly, “Yeah… are you- are you okay with that?” 
“Are you… asking for my permission?” 
“I mean… not so much permission. I already did. But she’s your Mother, and I wanted to talk to you by yourself. Especially now that things have settled down. I just- I just wouldn’t feel right without talking to you about it. Man to man.” 
“Man to man,” I repeated. 
I thought about Tyler. I guess, the first thing I could think of was how often he was there for me. It was obvious that he cared, obvious that he wanted to care for me. I never told him this but– I looked up to him. 
And then I thought about my Mother. How she would smile, and she would laugh, and she would be happy around him. 
I couldn’t help but smile at him. “Yeah. Sure,” I said, “That’s a great idea.” 
And then he smiled, really, and I’m talking really wide. 
“Thank you,” he said. 

I had brought Sebastian along with me, my cousin saying he was like my date. Still, he was the one who cried like a baby. You’re probably wondering: Why didn’t I just bring Ximena alongside me? Well, academic functions have started at Caesar. Which means, at least for her, summer is over. Figures. 
My Mother does not like Ximena. I always wondered why. 
Sebastian snickers at the song playing, “Who chose the Speedwagon?” 
My cousin, Carmen, from across the “kid’s” table seemed hurt. She blew a strand of blue hair out of her eyes and made a face at Sebastian, “I did.” 
Sebastian stuttered, “Oh, oh my god, I am so sorry.” 
“‘Fight This Feeling’ has been a part of our family for years, Sebastian. My grandpa died to that song, man.” 
Sebastian began to play with his hands, avoiding eye contact as best as he could. My grandpa had not, in fact, died to the voice of Kevin Cronin. But I liked pretending that he did. 
It made Sebastian sad. 
Once the wedding ceremony was over, and my Mother and newly appointed father figure rode off to their honeymoon in the family Prius, that left us kids with Carmen. 
Or more accurately, it left me and Sebastian at Tyler’s house. With a bunch of boxes. And a trail of dust. 
Thanks for the help, Carmen. 
Sebastian pulled out his phone, a brand new one. I never really considered the idea that Sebastian was a rich kid, but it made sense. His first friends– Ximena, Lina, and Dennis– all had some pretty nice homes. Crazy to think I’m related to Lina. 
Even crazier to think about how just disjointed that fact was. 
Contrary to what you might think, I did have a grandpa. And he did die, very recently. It was all over the news. 
Only thing is– I never met the guy.
Oh well, too bad, too sad. I had a new family to make room for. And that family consisted of Estelle… Willigens? And Tyler Willigens. 
And the dog. I like the dog. 
While I unlock the door, Sebastian convinces his Mother to let him spend the night. I’m going to need the company. 
As the door swings open, Vernon bolts out the door and jumps on Sebastian, giving him a wet kiss. One thing I’ve noticed, animals seem to go crazy around Sebastian. It’s always fun to watch. 
Especially considering the fact that Sebastian is afraid of dogs. After an awkward amount of screaming from both parties, Sebastian gets up, covered in the Great Dane’s slobber. He pats himself down, sighs, and continues into the house, carrying a box that sits outside the porch. 
As I mentioned before, Sebastians’ house is pretty big. It’s not a mansion or anything, but it’s certainly a step up. Certainly more than any teacher had the right to live in. 
I led Sebastian to what was now my room, and Sebastian smiled. 
“So, what’s the plan here?” 
“Well,” I gesture at the wooden desk, “I’d say we move that across the room, prop it against the windowsill. That’ll get some good light in for homework.” 
“Oh, you know what would be cool?” 
“What?”
“If we used that origami paper Edward gave us to, like, make a bunch of dragons. Hang them up along the wall.” 
“Y’know what? That would be so cool. We’re talking about the Canada paper, right?”
The Canada paper had been an inside joke between us for a few months now. One day we were at the Qwikpick, joking about All Tomorrows memes, and Sebastian’s eyes lit up with joy. 
Bowie Arts and Crafts. Origami paper with red stripe and leaf. ($30.00)
Sebastian tried to shoplift it, he tried so hard to shoplift it and yet… nothing. He had to pay for it. 
Still, it was money worth spending. We split the twenty sheets between the four of us guys, and that left me with four pieces. I was ready to make the Canada dragon. 
…It was my destiny. 
Dude, before I knew it, my room was decked out. Computer was set up, (we even had time to change my stupid Attack on Titan screensaver) dog was fed, hawaiian shirts and emo bands tees lined my closet. 
I was ready, excited even, to completely ruin this beautiful room in four to five business days. Like I said, it was my destiny. 
Me and Sebastian took a step back, admiring not only our handiwork but the Green Day poster we had put up on my door. 
“Ah yeah,” Sebastian rubbed his hands together, “It’s all coming together, now.” 
He smacked the bed. He’s kind of a weird guy. 
“Y’know, Sebastian, I think we did a pretty good job.” 
“All you’re missing are some weird unnecessary light fixtures. Then you’ll be the perfect white woman.” 
I elbowed him, “Go f— yourself, man.”


WAKE ME UP

By Charles Emily

“Dad, Dad, wake up.” My son, Edward Emily, is jolting me to life. Edward’s all decked out in his outfit today, and I gotta admit. I’m proud. My own son’s outfit– ripped jeans, v-neck sweater over a v-neck shirt? Daring, I admit. Still, it puts my striped pajamas to shame. 
I’d like to say he awoke me from a dream of being locked in a Walmart and forced to fend myself against a pack of rabid serpents. In actuality, I was dreaming my parents were murdered. 
My Father had died recently. Yet he and I, as well as the rest of the family– I hadn’t spoken to in years. Well, there was the diner.
There was the diner…
I shuck that thought out of my head, as a new thought popped up, like a fishing bob through the ocean. 
Oh s—. 
Oh s—.
Oh s—.
I had gotten so used to thirty years of opening the Qwikpick at nine I had… neglected to change my own inner schedule. I had but thirty minutes to get dressed and make the… what? Five minute walk? From here to… the school. My school. 
The school I had spent an entire summer building and a good three years building. My daughter was here, too, but she really wasn’t on speaking terms. Not with her brother, not with anyone. Not even with herself. 
As quickly as I can, I put on my green button-up, a little eagle carrying a torch serving as a little symbol on my left side. Beneath it read: “The Athens-Carter Institute.”
I think green was a great color for the school. It was not, however, a good color on me. The shirt seemed to hug my gut in a weird way, and the stubble surrounding my balding head left one thought in my head. 
I was forty three years old. 
I had seen a crash in Wall Street, the Berlin Wall, and a pandemic. I guess I had reached an age where I could assume nothing would get to me anymore. Maybe I was just resilient, or maybe a small part of me is as stupidly naive as I was in the nineties. 
Either way… this scared me. Sure, I spent my twenties– hell, my thirties, too– studying under some of the smartest people and most well versed people in the country. I had enough degrees to get a job in any field I dreamed of.
….If I moved out of my hometown, that is. People heard the name Charles Emily and would always think the worse. 
But today, I was determined. I was determined that me and my son would be able to change things. 
We were in the car now, Kaitlyn had asked to take the bus and my wife was holding down the fort at the Qwikpick. That left me and my son, listening to our favorite band. Our favorite band. 
Queen. 
It felt nice, it felt really, really nice. And my son was on the phone, talking to his boyfriend about who knows what. I really hope my son marries that boy, I really do. 
For the first time in my son’s miserable, miserable life he seems happy with August. 
And driving past all the old homes felt nice– each and every one of them felt like the same old places I grew up with. The only difference is that hopefully, Athens-Carter will give them new life. 
Hopefully, we all get a fresh start. 
But as we parked the car, and I saw the lady leaning on the flag pole, I feared that maybe everything wouldn’t go as planned. 
I gestured at my son through the windshield, mouthing the words: “He’s here.” 
She shrugged. 
I mouthed another set of words, those ones much less kind. Edward was so involved in his conversation that it appeared he had not even seen her. Thankfully. 
I hoped I would never have to see her again. 
“Edward, you wait here. I’m going to unlock the place and get the lights going.”
“Alrighty tighty,” Edward said, firing a finger gun. 
“Hi Mister Emily!” August yelled over speakerphone. 
“Oh my god, hi August!” I said. 
I stepped out of the car and slowly picked up speed. I gestured for her to follow as I frantically flipped through my keys to unlock the building. 
“You shouldn’t be here,” I said, “You have a job to do.” 
She frowned, “It’s been almost a year and that’s the f—in greeting I get?” 
“Oh, and before that you abandoned me for thirty years. Who’s the real lord of darkness, now?” 
My sister put her hand on her hip.
“…Though I heard your students have a different name for you.” 
She frowned. “Charles, believe it or not. I’m not completely evil.” 
“You’re right, sis. I don’t believe you.” 
She sighed as I walked off, as frantically as I could. “I don’t believe you are, either.”
I turned around. I didn’t trust her, no. But Varsity had sparked my curiosity. 
Varsity stepped towards me, her blue heels clicking on the tile floor with each step. It wasn’t long until we were almost nose to nose. 
But I’m still taller than her. 
Varsity pleads with me, and yet there’s still that same twinge of annoyance in her voice. In her life. 
“I just- I just wanted to wish you good luck, Charles.” 
I raised an eyebrow, “Is that all?” I asked. 
She nodded, “Now that Dad’s gone,” neither of us made eye contact at the mention of him, “Hopefully we can be a family again.” 
I smiled. Hell, I almost laughed. 
“Yeah. And hopefully David Bowie can come back to life, because that’s just as likely. And would be infinitely cooler.”
Varsity sighed, on her way out of my building. My building. The one she once owned.
“I’ll see you around, Charles. I love you.” 
I hung my head, almost at a loss for words. She did this to me. It’s all her fault. 
I wish I could say I know. I really wish I could say I knew– because I’m supposed to know. 
Because I’m the Qwikpick guy. It’s what I do. 
So I guess you’re wondering what I did say, after all? 
I said “Okay.” 
And then I went to sit down in what was once her office, and in which I kept perfectly intact. Right down to our High School graduation photo. The one place in 5his building that stood, frozen in time. 
But time freezes for no man, not even for myself. And so I looked at the clock. 
7:15. The children would be arriving soon. 
I didn’t know it yet, but that one visit with my sister– that one conversation that felt all too long and all too short, all at once– it was a warning. 
Because I, Dr. Charles Spot Emily, B.Sc., M.Sc., M.A., Ph.D., ScD had officially sealed her fate.


THREE WEEKS LATER…
By Sebastian Merrick

Now, I can’t sleep. 
Usually, that’s not a surprise. I’m a bit of an insomniac, and what’s worse than that, a caffeine addict. Still, I thought I’d get some rest in. Today was the first day. Of the school year, of the rest of my life. Of the school I helped found. I should be content, I should be in my bed, but instead I’m on a park bench. 
There’s a homeless man sleeping on the ground, and I’m pretty sure I know him. That’s not a sentence a fourteen year old would ever want to say. Me and the homeless? Psh! Me and the homeless? We get along great. I once smoked a homeless person’s cigarettes with him once, we blew the smoke into each other’s fraces. Good times, sucks he was shot dead in April of 2021. But I’m doing well. I’ve been working out more. 
I’ve always made a point to stay real fit, if my brain wasn’t sharp then at least my body would be. The funniest part is that these days, my body’s real sharp. I wave at the homeless person and he waves back and for a moment there’s a little bit of understanding. 
My bride to be, Mac Astley steps in from beneath a street lamp. He burps, and is a bit hunched over. I don’t know what happened to us, either of us. It feels like we’ve both grown too fast, and we both picked our poisons. Me, the cigarette and him the booze. I don’t see any of our friends doing this either, and it’s not like we talk about it during the day either. It was a secret held onto only the two of us. If anyone caught word of child stars Sebastian Merrick and Mac Astley wandering around town with the hillbillies and the hobos we’d be laughing stalks. So that’s why we don’t tell. 
Mac laughs before he speaks. When he’s sober it’s usually nothing more than a quick chuckle but now it’s a giggle, “Wouldn’t it be f$(#ing crazy if one of us died?”
I grabbed Mac by the shoulder, propping him upright, “Let’s not think about that. Besides, one of us did die.”
“Huh?”
“Chase.”
“F$*(!”
I twitched the memories out of my noggin, “Yeah. Him.”
“That sucked. What if it was Peyton?”
“You don’t talk to Peyton.”
“Yeah I do.”
“I’ve never seen you talk to Peyton.”
Mac pauses for a moment, a bit dumbfounded, his face going blank like one of those frogs, “Yeah, I- I do.”
“Alright.” 
I’m never going to tell Mac to stop because I know that’d be rich coming from Sebastian Merrick, but I really do wish he would. And I wish I would, too. I’d never drink though, it tastes real weird. Mac looks at me and for a moment his glazed over eyes turn affectionate, “What would you do if I died?”
“Let’s not talk about this, okay? We can talk about something else.”
Mac looked a bit hurt, “Okay,” he said, “Birds.”
“What?” I asked.
Mac pointed at a telephone wire, “Birds.”  
“Good job, that’s- that’s what they are. I like birds.”
“Me too.”
I got reminded of a book I read, The Phoenix. The part where this main kid with wings freed himself from his cage, and let loose the bird he took care of. Though the bird and the boy would abandon each other, they understood each other all the same. I didn’t want him to abandon me, I don’t know what I’d do. 
After a couple hours of silence only broken by bickering and birds, Mac seemed to sober up a bit.
“So,” I tried to start, “Let’s go through the day. First period.”
“I talked to Peyton.” Mac laughed. I laughed. The homeless guy laughed. (That’s not true, he wasn’t there.) “Really cool that Carter F$*($ing Foust is teaching here.”
“I know, right!? Guy’s a millionaire and teaching Middle School.”
“Keeping it real? He’s a really bad teacher.”
“Oh, I bet. Had him third period.” 
“Ah, yeah? Who’s in your first?”
“I got literacy with Mr. Sanchez.” 
“Cool, cool.”
“Yeah, the school’s crazy. A lot better structured than old Athens, a lot better teachers than Caesar.”
“Oh yeah, and that’s not even to say Foust is bad. Just bad for me.”
“Yeah.”
“Yeah.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“Cool.”
“Cool.”
Mac burped again, “I miss Ximena.”
“I miss her too.”
“No, no, you don’t get it. I miss her body.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“I want her.”
“Mac, I’m sorry but you’re gonna have to see each other over Christmas break or something. Communication with Caesar is a bit… f$*(ed up. We got Edward trying to fix it but-”
“I need to be there for her. She must be miserable.”
“I know, Mac! I know godd$()# it!”
Mac looked sad, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for yelling at you.”
“It’s alright.”
“I’m just stressed.”
“Me too.”
I don’t know why I got so mad at Mac when he brought up Ximena, I guess I didn’t expect it. Theselast three weeks they’d always bring me along and I’d always be the third wheel because to hell with getting back together with Charlie. And everytime I was with them there was just so much pain and I didn’t know how to not notice it, and I was just hoping that before High School it could be just us and everything would be perfect but it isn’t. 
Everything isn’t perfect and that’s what’s making me upset.
After a while, I tell Mac, “C’mon, let’s go feed the fish.” Mac nods and I can tell he’s smiling a little on the inside, smiling a smile he doesn’t notice I noticed. 
Mac always liked feeding the fish. When spring back rolled around, he got this fish named Tyson that died a week later but Mac liked feeding him alot. I’d always have to sprinkle some in the can, fish don’t seem to like me, but Mac keeps little pouches of the good stuff on him always, and sprinkles it on his finger for them to come flocking. 
What they don’t tell you about fish is that they fight. It’s really hard to notice because they don’t exactly have the most aggressive faces, and they don’t have many needs so they’re met pretty easily, but whenever they’re not met they’re willing to fight for it. And you can see it in their fins, and in the way their gills readjust. There’s a fight for Mac’s fingertip he doesn’t even notice. Or maybe he does notice but just doesn’t care, I sure know that I don’t. 
When Mac leaves for the night I feel a little bit worse, but at least I can sleep in the parking lot of Walgreens so I know it’s alright as long as I’m not dead by this coming morning. But I’m not sure I would mind all that much. 


SECOND SWING
By Sebastian Merrick

When I wake up, I’m still in the lot. No one really bothers to mug me because they figure there’s nothing to mug. I’m a few minutes later than usual, so I don’t get to do my morning workouts at Debbie Don’s. That, uh, that makes me really upset. Still, I show up. I need to get my f$()ing backpack. All of my things are in there. 
The way I’d describe the Athens-Carter Institute is like I’m on a lake. All my friends, all my family are there. Everyone I love is at this lake. And it’s frozen over. Some of us are throwing snowballs at each other, most people are sliding around, but as we hop and skip and jump there’s this subtle tension, this unspoken thought in all of our heads: What if it breaks? And to tell you that this is reflected in everyone, not just the students, but the teachers too. That’s an understatement, dear god.
The routine around here is simply, almost deceivingly so. You see, in the mornings we all hang out in the gym, we used to in the library but I don’t think we’re going too anymore because now the gym doubles as a basketball court and that’s really cool, I think. So we spend our mornings in the bleachers and Edward is showing this neat book he found, Forest Seeds and Royalty. It’s about this prince and a knight. Sounds really gay but then again, so is Edward. Edward let me borrow it and I told him thank you. We’ve also, just, started being f$*((ing loony. By this I mean we’re some of the most popular kids in school now (which is a nice change of pace, to be honest) and no one really judges what we do. For some of us it’s because they’re scared of kids like me and Edward, and maybe throw Peyton in there. But for others, I can tell that it’s respect. 
I should talk about everybody. 
There’s Edward, like I mentioned. He’s doing alot better now that Athens-Carter is up, like I mentioned before everyone is stressed but he’s real carefree. One of the only ones who seems to be willing to leave things up to fate, and I wish I had his confidence. I really, really did. 
And then there’s his boyfriend, August. I don’t talk to August much, but I wish he did. He seems really, really fun. He’s in my second period and I feel like I should talk to him then. 
There’s August’s sister, Peyton. Peyton’s a long time friend of mine and I still really like to hang out with her. I really care about her but I don’t know if I’ve ever told her that before. 
I never, ever thought I’d say this but Dennis Redwood is really, really cool. He’s become the big public speaker of the group, always the center of attention but he never loses his cool. I wish I could be like him, I wish I could keep my cool but I’m not too sure how. 
There’s Keana, Keana is really funny. Recently, she joined the Football team. Only girl on there. She’s the youngest of the group by a few months so we all tend to baby her. It doesn’t help that all of us have good relationships with our mentor figures, I have Lance, Edward has his Dad, August and Peyton have their Dad and Dennis doesn’t even have a puppet at all anymore, but Keana had a mentor. She almost had two. Lina Kemp and Kaitlyn Emily. 
Lina’s at Caesar, she stayed because her Mom is still close to her Grandma. And no one talks to Kaitlyn anymore. We did, and we tried to, but it all fell apart really fast so we stopped bothering with her as much. And of course, there’s Mac Astley. 
A lot of people respect Mac Astley with how well he advertised his Heroes of OrigOlympus program. That, and the fact that he’s just an easy to talk to guy. But I hate to admit this, and no one ever says this to his face because we all know he knows, some people just pity him. People figured out that the kid who got expelled from seven different schools probably has some ADHD (And Autism, apparently. He keeps me in the know with how all his therapy sessions go.) 
It’s real weird for us because most of us aren’t that used to this whole unconditional love thing. It’s… really off putting, to be honest. To have so many people coming at you at once and all that jazz. But I digress, it’s nice I guess. 
But anyways we go through our days, with such a big friend group it’s not easy to get lonely, but I still manage to in third period. Third period’s the slowest class of the day because I’m the only guy in the gang who took the coding class. Or, Peyton did too, but she’s in a different period so all we can really do is help each other with homework on call, At least, we would if we had homework. We’re supposed to get some projects but since it’s the second day we’re all still getting used to things.
What’s interesting, at least to me, is that there are Caesar students who transferred here. According to them, Caesar was a great school, it was a beautiful place. To me, when the OriGods were split up between Athens and The Carter Institute, Caesar thrived. Things were even stable once they formed their whole student-led OrigOlympus, but that didn’t last very long anyways. The moment Mac arrived and started messing with things, everything went to s$*(. I have a lot of respect for Mac Astley’s ability to ruin every single thing he touches. Every married thing he touches, too. 
I want to hurt people! I want to hurt people really, really badly! I’m so angry, just generally speaking, and without CHRONOS I have no outlet to release my anger! Die! Die! Die! Get cancer!
Third period also has all the nerdy kids. And not like, the cool nerdy kids, the fatherless ones with Twitter and Pinterest and have this weird fascination with me. I’m talking like, the overweight Pokemon fans who went onto the internet at too young an age and are probably named “Matt.” All this to say that I’m really happy when third period is over and I get to go to lunch. 
I like the lunches here, they’re not birds$)( awful like they were at Caesar which is overall a really big step-up. 
I talk to Peyton while I’m waiting in line, and I look at how quickly she got there compared to the others, and the classes I do have with her, to figure out she just got out of band. 
“Hey Peyton, how was band?”
“Hey Sebastian, what’s Among Us?”
“Um, I don’t- I don’t know.”
“I hate them so much, Sebastian.”
“F$*(.”
Peyton whispered under her breath, “Sus…” and I took that as a great way to end our interaction. Peyton grabs a salami sandwich and I get a hotdog. I went vegan for Charlie and when she left I was a meat machine. Hotdogs were what I missed the most. Something about animal hearts just hits different when you go a few months without them. 
We sit in the corner of the cafeteria, up front it’s Edward and August, they’re always getting yelled at for cuddling. They can’t keep their hands off of each other. The seat across from them, Peyton and Keana. They fight alot but they’re real close. Across from me and Mac, there’s Dennis. Dennis says he likes having the whole seat to himself but he always looks like he’s about to cry. And then there’s me and Mac. We’re a lot like Keana and Peyton, we argue alot but it’s not the mean kind of argument, we’re just different people who live the same life. Different, but same.
On the outskirts of our little section there’s just some real losers, kids Adam and Luke, f$()#ers like them, you dig? 
Yesterday, it was Keana that yelled at them. She went off, I mean, off on them because these guys used to be jerks to us before. I have a lot of respect for Keana but I don’t know if these guys did because she’s a chick. It’s Middle School, people don’t really take girls seriously. 
Adam and Luke have always been like this as far as I can tell, and believe me I got experience with them. When I was first at Debbie Don’s, about two years ago now, they had me in the cabin with them and as much as they’ll tell you we’re friends, I really really hate them. I really do. 
They’re back to bugging Keana, and I guess Keana and them have beef because they’re really getting to her. The group and I all decided… we’re gonna take care of Keana. She’s just a little guy. 
I get up, and I can see Mac trying to grab my leg to get me to sit down but I keep at it until I’m at Adam’s face, “Hey, Adam, buddy. F$(# off.” I put as much venom as I can into those words.
“I thought-” he frowns, “I thought we were friends.”
“WHY would I be friends with you? You are entitled, pretentious clowns. F$*( you and your boyfriend.”
“I’m not gay,” Luke adds.

“Die!” I command him, “You are nothing. You are pathetic. Rot in hell.”
Adam and Luke shut up after that, but Mac looked at me. A bit weird.
“Dude, you didn’t have to pop off like that.”
“They were messing with my friends.”
“Still, it’s-” He went quiet. He’s done this since the unveiling, it’s weird but understandable.

And then the group is silent for a while, and then a week passes and I don’t notice.


Hoo
By Kato Somrew

“What the f$(#,” Mac Asltey said, “Why is it only seventh graders?”
Bart Montez put his hand to his chest in mock surprise, “I’m hurt! Mac, you were my hero!”
“Yeah, shut up,” he then called Bart the b-slur. Bart and Mac looked at each other with a bit of mutual respect.
“Mac!” Tyler chided him, “Shut the f$(# up!”
Mac pouted.  
“Bruh moment.” Mac said. 
“I keep forgetting your fourteen.”
Mac intentionally squeaked his voice, “You’re not my Dad!” 
“I don’t wanna be! I wanna f%() your Mom!”
Mac pouted. 
The rest of us sat in silence. We had shown up to Tyler Willigen’s Heroes of OrigOlympus meeting, and he decided to bring them back. I guess most of the eighth graders assumed they were too cool for it because it was just us and Mac. There was Bart Montez, of course. Bart just follows me around all day, that’s pretty his whole deal it looks like. There’s also Kevin Kwan and this ginger kid. Ginger kid’s got grease all up in his hair, and he wears a trench coat. He gives major Flynn, if Flynn was homeless, that is. The kid’s quiet.
“I’m joking,” Tyler says.
“Die.” Mac says. 
“We’ll talk about this later.” Tyler says.
“I’mma disappear.”
“What?”
“I’m gone. Like a smoke cloud.”
“What?”
“Poof.”
Tyler shook his head, “Whatever, uh, let’s just call roll. Kato Somrew!”
I live on 1992 P. Mallion Avenue and my name is Kaitlyn Somrew. I am twelve years old. I believe in high beauty standards, and a high workout routine. There is an idea of a Kato Somrew. Some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me, not after he died, not after I realized it was better than feeling so much pain. There is only an entity. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel undying flesh gripping yours, and maybe you can sense that our lifestyles are almost comparable. I’m simply not there. 
“Bart Montez!”
Bart Montez is an idiot. He might not know it, but that’s only a testimony to his idiocracy. He’s never on anybody’s kickball team. F$()er crosses his I and dots his Ts. No wonder there’s no f$()#ing I in a team. 
“Kevin Kwan!”
He’s asian. 
“And, a, uh, newcomer, Hayden Macintosh.” 
Bart spits out his diet coke. 
“You!” Bart yells.
I shivered, “You, you, you’re- your last name!”
“Macintosh.” I repeated. 
Tyler sensed the tension in the room, “Mac?” He prompted, “What’s… goin on?”
Mac looked zoned out, maybe intentionally so. “Macintosh…” he repeated once more, “Like…”
“Flynn.” Hayden said, “He’s my brother.”
“Why’s he here, then? He could be feeding information to Flynn! Looking for our weaknesses.”
Sebastian continued staring off into space, “Dude… I like him.”
“He’s Flynn’s f#(@ing brother!”
“Language.” Tyler said. 
“Bruh, he’s chill.” Mac said. 
“But-”
“I’m team captain-”
“But-”
“Dude… who… cares?”
“Bart!” I yapped at him, “Back me up here!”
Bart still stared at Mac, awestruck, “Mr. Astley, can I-”
“Mr. Astley’s my D- No, that’s not true. Proceed.”
“Mr. Astley, are you sure this is what you want?”
“Yeah, like, like why not? Dude, he seems pretty chill. Hey, uh, Hayden! You plannin on, like, doin’ any evil s!)@?”
“Mac!” Tyler yelled, “What the hell!”
Hayden shifted in his seat, “No, uh, no, I don’t. I don’t plan on, uh, doing that, uh, stuff.”
“See? He’s chill.”
“Be like Mac.” Bart said.
“Yeah, be like…” Mac began, before trailing off once more.
“Bart.” Bart said.
“Yo, be like Bird here. I love him.” He blew kisses at Bart.


THE ETERNAL SUPERNOVA OF A CHECKERED MIND
By Sebastian Merrick

I’m at my house, it’s two in the morning. I’m trying to make eggs in the microwave. See, what I do is get one of those bowls, and I crack the egg over the bowl and let the egg out, as you do, and I put it in the microwave. It’s really crazy to me how they got that glass dish in there to spin because you would assume the spinner would be metal and that it would stick out a bit, due to the fact that the dish stands up maybe a tenth of an inch. Wouldn’t it catch fire? I have a D in science. The thing beeps, but I’m careful to press the off button so I don’t wake up any of my family. 
I grab the plate and S@!@ S”}!$ F#(@_(@(#@)($#) NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO NON NON NO NO NO OW OW OW OWWIE OUCHHH
It’s burnt :((
blu-ray noooooooo
That’s an Origami Yoda reference IN CASE YOU DIDN’T GET IT, DID YOU GET IT, GUYS?
I mix my egg into rice, and put it in a plastic bag with a spoon, and I root through my room for a jacket, it’s starting to get really chilly. It’s not one I packed when I went to Caesar, and it’s a little too small for me, but it’s really cozy and soft and I like the blood stains on it. 

I leave, and here I am again waiting to bump into Mac Astley. I know when he’s out and when he’s not. As I propped my feet up on the bench I got a little sidetracked, a little lost in thought. It’s crazy, I guess. My life. 
Like, I was born despite the use of three different forms of contraception. And I don’t know what’s worse, like, the fact that they tried so hard to avoid my, like, existence or the fact that they told me this or the fact that they still do that. 
I only got one birthday party, it was when I was eight. I don’t know what I did to deserve it, or who all was there. I just remembered the little pointed hat, I kept wanting to poke my friend’s dog in the eye with it. 
!!!!!!!
Dog eye hehe.
But my birthday is in June, so I’m a cancer. At least that’s what my parents tell me.

Mac grabs my shoulders, poking his head onto my shoulder, “What you doin’, baby girl?”
“IT’S A JOKE!” I yell, because it is. I have a perfectly good relationship with my parents. I mean the last conversation we had didn’t go over so well but that was a month ago. So. 
I look him up on down, “What’s on your mind? Baby…”
“Ximena.”
“F@)$ off, go to hell,” I did not say that. In that moment nothing felt more inticing than murder. 
“I’m- I’m gonna go,” Mac said, “To Caesar. In the morning. I’m putting together a team. I brought on Dennis and Edward. It’s a thirty minute drive if we steal a car, b-”
“Mac. What the f#(@. Just wait for Christmas break.”
“She needs me.”
“No, she doesn’t. Ximena has… Lina. And her brother and sister.”
“Listen, please, just, come. For me. You’re my best friend.”
“Then listen to me,” I deadpanned, “You ain’t gotta do all that. Besides, it’s dangerous. The world’s got a way of f#@$ing with us, you should know that.”
Part of me wanted to go with him, but part of me knew that I just couldn’t bear to see Ximena again. Not after all that’s happened between us. 
I sighed, “Good, good luck man. I hope everything turns out alright for you two.” And I had no idea why it felt so painful to say that. 
I looked Mac up and down and put my hands in my pockets, feeling something in the bottom. I gave it to him, and he looked at me with a mix of tiredness and pride. 
“You’re a strange one, aren’t you?”

The next morning I broke the news to the others, it was just me, August, Peyton, and Keana. August said he knew, Edward told him. Keana didn’t care too much one way or the other. Only Peyton really shared my concerns. I hung out at Peyton’s place after school.
Peyton lives in a pretty modest house. She’s not broke or anything but she doesn’t live as lavishly as most of the OrigOlympians’ kids did, that’s why she was always one of my favorites. We managed to get a hold of Dennis after a few calls, and Dennis seemed… a little shook up. There was a hotel in the background. 
“Hey, Den, what’s, uh, what’s up, man?” Peyton asked. 
“Uh… Jackson… we’re in Queens… No… The Car… Don’t call again.”
And then he hung up. 

People started flocking to the empty seats like birds to a crumb of food. Dweebs like Maya, Adam, Luke, and Serene would sit by us like they’re our friends or something and we’d have to tell them off. Eventually we had to readjust the seats so that it was just Peyton by Keana and me with August. Sitting with August has been fun, I guess. He’s a lot cooler when you get to know him. He’s started showing me his sketchbooks, and it’s mostly from stuff I don’t watch, but I love to see it. 
Sometimes it’s drawings of his Mom.
August is a really good friend because there’s really no expectations when you’re with him; he’s just chill with whatever. 

I’ve really been just sleeping in Debbie Don’s a lot. Lance knows, but he doesn’t mind. I’ve been going to town on the punching bags. When I’m bored I’d go in a random room and look at all the pictures that line the walls. They’re all from 2018 or after, but there’s so much history in each and every one of them. I want my photo on a wall one day. When I finish up for the night, I go to The Qwikpick. I know Edward’s gone so it’s not as fun, but Edward left the rave lights on. Thank god they fired that awful nightwatch who learned the keyboard here. I stole all the s#)@, I needed, s#)$ like sleeping bags and cheetos. I knew Edward wouldn’t mind.
I make my way back to Debbie Don’s because it’s either that, home, or the Walgreens parking lot. My internal monologue is interrupted by some hisses and crying from across the street. The worst part is I recognize a couple of the hisses. 
“Jesus Christ, look at this kid,” it’s Sam, a former Titan who Flynn recruited onto CHRONOS without telling me. The Titans were a rival gang, they only showed up every now and then but they were a thorn in my side. 
“What the hell,” one of the kids is twirling a blade between his fingers, “This kid needs a haircut, maybe get all that grease out of his hair while we’re at it, eh?”
A couple laughs. And as they tilt their head backs I notice a few things. Sam’s got a necklace slung around his neck. One of the kids, who I guess would be a Hyperion, had some sunshine rings on. 
Rings that I recognize.
Something broke in me. 
To me, it wasn’t about saving some greasy ginger, it was revenge. I grabbed a kid by the shoulder, gripped it tightly and as he turned I socked him in the jaw, from there all hell broke loose. I would bite and I would thrash and I was pretty dang near losing. I snapped at the kid I saved. 
“YOU! WHAT THE F#(#! HELP ME!” 
He blinked, hesitatingly joining in, kicking one of the boys who was on top of me in the back. Another kid shoved him onto the ground, but I managed to make the two switch places, slamming him onto the ground and helping Mr. 12-year-old-with-sideburns up in the same fluid movement. 
I’m good at fighting, I feel like. 
I walked the kid home, “Hey, kid, you. What’s your name?”
He shivered, he needed a jacket, “Hayden.”
I smiled, only then realizing I had chipped a tooth, “Sebastian.” I said. 
“Like… Sebastian Merrick?”
I groaned, not this s#)@ again. 
“I’m- I’m Hayden Macintosh, oh my gosh, I don’t know if you remember me,” I didn’t, that whole period of time became a blur to me, “I helped fight CHRONOS and I was there with the whole balloon animal thing, that was so cool, you’re my-”
“Don’t say hero.”
“-Hero.”
I walked off, but he persisted. Something about him was familiar. 
“Sebastian! Sebastian! No, wait, can I- can I sit at your lunch table? With my-” 
But I was already gone, and my night had gotten a lot worse. I fell asleep at Debbie Don’s.


COURTYARD
By Sebastian Merrick
I wake up in my bed, falling over and into my crocs. Same old day, same old dull routine. I hate it, I really do. All this structure. I unlock Debbie Don’s, get things started while Lance and Amy are still asleep. It’s the least I can do, y’know, they’ve done so much for me while I’ve been struggling. I changed their coffee filters, sewed up some holes in the punching bags. You know. 
But when I’m there, I see a kid. The ginger from earlier, going to town on a punching bag. He’s angry, got this look of resentment in his eyes. 
I flip the light on, startling him, and he jumps up. His eyes ease when he sees that it’s me. 
“Uh… hi.” He says.
I nod, “What’s good, white boy?”
“I- I- I didn’t come to steal, I- I came to practice. I didn’t- I didn’t come to steal.”
“Relax, bro. I got gay friends.”
“That’s flattering but- but- I’m not- I’m not- I’m not, y’know. Gay.”
“I don’t believe that for a moment.” I continued staring at him as he stared at my shoes. I broke the silence, “Look, show me what you got,” I said, holding up the bag up. He gave me a punch with all his might, barely making the bag move at all. 
I sighed, “Try again. What you gotta do is get your entire body, all your energy, and put it in those two inches of your knuckles.”
He tried again, better this time. But still weak. We try a few more times, maybe an hour. Got to know him, his name’s Hayden. He’s a year younger than me, lives down Goode street which should’ve been a red flag but who cares? He’s quick, like I’ve always been, but he doesn’t have the strength. I guess neither did I, a few years ago. 
“Hey, man, dude, bro, can we- can we come back to this later?”
“Y- Y- Yes, sir!” I looked him up and down, he was pretty frail.
“Look, listen, til now if you’re gonna go out at night, just carry a knife. You can’t do that forever because if the cops catch you with a knife it’s game over, man. You hear me?”
He nodded. 
“Aight, good boy, I’mma head to class now, if you go to Athens-Carter I advise you to do the same. And while you’re walking, watch out for f$(#ers with knives. Vicious, I tell ya.”
“What time is it?”
“Eh, f$#), about a quarter past late, why?”
“S%().”
Hayden said s$(#, guys.”
Before I leave, a groggy Lance catches me by the door, “Who’s your friend?” He asks. 
“That, Mr. Alexander-”
“Call me Lance.”
“-is Hayden what’s his name. Live down Goode Street.” I fixed myself a cup of coffee, “Good kid.” I said. 
“You gonna train him?” Lance asked.
I laughed, hell, I cackled, “Dude. Good one.”
“I’m being serious. I overheard you two, it could work.”
“C’mon, hell no.”
Lance shrugged, “Might be good for the both of you. You’re gonna be a High Schooler in a few months.” He said. 
I nodded, “F$)@, I’m getting old.”
“Only a few more years until I can start paying you.” That got a laugh out of me, “You have any idea what you’re gonna do in High School? The future?”
“Eh, going to Wheeler. Claremont’s not for me.”
“Good choice, always hated the Claremont kids,” he said. 
“I kinda wanna have a High School sweetheart,” I said, “Y’know, something stable. Someone I could hopefully marry once I get out of this town.”
Lance chuckled, “You sound like me.”
“I wanna be like you.” I said. 
“Ah yeah, in debt, can’t afford a wedding, no one except my wife. Living the dream.”
“I mean, you’re happy, right?”
Lance thinks about it for a moment before laughing to himself, “Yeah- Yeah, I guess I am. I mean… I do what I love. I do what I love every day. I love working with kids, working with you.” His eyes lit up, “And I love Amy. I- I love her more than anything. And if I could put it into words, I-d-”
“Tell him? Tell him every single day until he believes it?”
He smiled, “You get it.”
“See, you- Lance, you- you give me hope. You have everything I ever wanted and that- that means it’s possible.”
Lance looked at me, “Seb, don’t- don’t ever lose what you have now. What’s painful right now will be maturity when you’re older, just trust me. And believe me, Sebastian. If you want me to teach you something, anything, it’s that you’re going to be okay. You’re going to grow up and be happy, because you have both: You deserve it, and you’re smart enough to achieve it.”

The rest of the day is normal. Cry in first period, smile in second period, cry in third, smile in fifth, and snarl in the office because you skipped fourth. Etcetera. There was one other highlight of the day, it was lunch. Kids got the message we weren’t playing around, and eventually we were able to get some empty seats. 
See, the gym is attached to the cafeteria. They’re separated by this big curtain, you see. And I caught this one kid sneaking in and- it’s Hayden. Why is it Hayden. 

Turns out, everyone in the group (Keana, Peyton, and August) knew each other. And hell, Keana and Hayden were dating. It was wild. And since he’s a seventh grader. He pretty much just snuck in to eat with us. Instantly, the kid had my respect. He had my wit, he had the passion. I really respected that, and I decided right then and there I wouldn’t let anybody hurt him. 
The whole group seemed so chill with him that I was surprised, but my surprise grew when it turned out- I met him. He helped me kill a balloon animal. Time really isn’t real, is it? Or memories?

When we go outside, the whole group’s hands are pretty much all over each other. Pretty much every last one of us has almost died alongside everybody else, so we’re close. And Hayden is sitting in the grass, holding onto Keana tightly, and he has a look on his face. And I can tell by that look, that he was just as broken as I was. And I can tell that he needed somebody. 

CHASE KEMP
By Bart Montez

I pointed at the wound, spewing and gushing with blood, seeping in through the bandage, awestruck. “Ohmygosh! Wassthat?”
Hayden looked me dead in the eye: “Blood.” He said. 
Kato looked up from her meal, apathetic, “How’d you get cut?”
“Sebastian Merrick dug his nails into my calves.”
I spit out my chocolate milk, my jaw dropping, “THAT’S SO COOL!”
Kato rolled her eyes, “That sucks.”
I pointed at him, “He fought Sebastian Merrick!”
Kato grimaced, “Cool…”
Hayden looked a little frustrated, “Am I- Did I- Did I do something to you, Kato Somrew? Did I do something to grind your gears, I’m really- I’m really curious.”
“It’s your brother.”
“I’m not my brother.”
“Does Sebastian know that?”
“He doesn’t need to.”
“Believe me, he does. He’d throw you away quicker than anybody else.” She laughed. 
“No, he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t do that to me.”
She shook her head, “Just you wait, boy…”
I did what I could to defuse the situation, they’d been at it like this for a couple weeks now, and I wasn’t about to ditch one friend for another. 

One of these days, Hayden came around and asked me, “Why’s Kato so hung about Chase? Were they close or something?”
Oh, all I could do was laugh at the kid, “Yeah, you could say that. Kato was in love with that rascal, but it… it never really worked out. They stayed friends, like they had been pretty much their whole life, them and Flynn. When Flynn got Chase killed…”
“He didn’t.” Hayden said. 
“What?” I asked. 
“He didn’t kill Chase. I know he didn’t kill Chase, okay? He didn’t want that.”
I shrugged, “Well, obviously, Kaitlyn didn’t. She beat herself up over it. Something, something, it had to have been planned. Orchestrated. And that’s what your brother does, he plans things. He’s a schemer.”
He looked at me: “You don’t know my brother. He’s not a schemer. He’s alot of things, but he’s too stupid to plan ahead. Trust me.”
I shrugged, “Okay. I- I trust you, Hayden. Just please, just… go easy on Kato. She’s had things really difficult lately, okay?”
He nodded, though he had that naive look that told me maybe he didn’t quite get it, “Okay.”


HOURGLASS
By Sebastian Merrick 

When Lance Alexander gets mad, he speaks in the tone of a true New Yorker. And I love him dearly for that, I do, but it can make riding in the car with him difficult. He’s screaming and cussing. Have you ever heard someone from the McQuarrie Files curse? It’s terrifying, it’s repulsive, it’s so uncomfortable because you stop, and you think, and you wonder what’s wrong, and you stop and it hits you that those words should never have left their mouth. 
“AND- AND- AND THE WHOLE F$))#IN TIME,” he screams, “I’M YELLIN AT THE #)$%#$ I THINK HE’S GONNA GET HIMSELF F$_@#IN KILLED, GODD#)@!”
“Oh god, bro! It’s wack. It’s wack.”
“THAT’S WHY I NEVER GO TO CHIPOTLE!” 
“F$(#, MAN, WHAT TIME I WAS THERE ON A FIELD TRIP, I ORDERED A F#$(IN S#) INSIDE THE BURRITO, RIGHT?”
“IT COME SPILLING OUT?”
“RIGHT OUT! THE F$)#IN CHEESE, RICE, ONIONS, BEEF, CREAM CHEESE! Does Chipotle serve cream cheese?”
“Uh, nah, nah, not this one, that’s the one’s Mac’s parents run.”
“S$)@, Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
“BUT ANOTHER THING, I WAS AT THE MALL, RIGHT, LEAVING THE CHIPOTLE!”
“Thought you was at a field trip?”
“Oh, this was a separate instance.”
“Okay. Proceed.”
“And what I wanted to do was get some new shoes, there were NO, I’m talking NO, uggs in my size.”
“NOT THE UGGS! WHAT THE F#)#!”
“I HATE SOCIETY!”
Lance stops the car, “Anyways, we’re at the school, now. Have a great day, kiddo.”
I smiled, “You too, Mr. Alexander!”
And that was that.
As I made my way to the gym to catch my friends, I felt a firm clasp on my shoulder, “Mr. Merrick!” A jolly voice cheered, “Can we talk?”

“You’re failing all of your classes,” Mr. Emily said. He turned the screen to face me, “You have an F in Math, a C in your literacy studies, a D in science, and a C in history. Electives aren’t much either, in art studies you have a D and in P.E. you… haven’t done…” His eyebrows furrowed, “No, no, this can’t be. Says here you didn’t do… anything. Like, you have no points.”
I smiled, “Oh, Mr. Emily, that’s not an issue at all, see it’s not your fault, it’s actually just because I haven’t been doing anything in that class.” 
He looked me up and down, “Sebastian. Sebastian Merrick.”
I blinked, “Yessir?”
“You are one of the smartest students in your grade. You nearly toppled a thirty year old club… at the age of twelve.”
I chuckled, “Ha. Haven’t we all?”
“You were twelve, Sebastian.”
“So that I was. And when I was thirteen, a kid died, my girlfriend dumped me, and everyone started hating me.”
“Sebastian, you’re one of the most well liked students here at Athens-Carter.”
“Wh- What?” 
He blinked, “All of your peers, all of your teachers say you’re a lovely young man. Smart, funny, they say you should try out for Football in High School.”
I groaned, “I’m not gonna- No. I- Mr. Emily, with all due respect, I don’t think-”
“I don’t think you’re trying, Seb. I understand you’ve been going through a rough time but it’s been half a year since…” his voice trailed off. “Listen, the point is, you have a support group. You have people who care about you.” He pointed at his screen, “Is this really what you want for your end of semester report card?” I looked at the screen again. 
“I’ll get it up,” I promised, “That’s not going on my report card.”
“Sebastian, we’re mailing them tomorrow.”
I chuckled, “Wh- What? But like, report cards don’t get sent out until December first.”
Charles looked a bit uncomfortable, “Sebastian… it’s November.”
I was expecting someone to jump out from behind a plant, someone in cool shades to jump out and scream, “NOT! YOU ACTUALLY HAVE ALL As!”
But no one came out. 
“Uh, Mr. Emily, I need to go.” I coughed. 
“Sebastian, wait-”
“I need to go.”
I walked through the labyrinth, almost like a drone, and out into the world. It was snowing. Little kids had their tongues out. 
No, no, no, this- this couldn’t be? Had I really just… fell through time? It was August. It was August 23rd, I reassured myself. I stood outside the school for hours, eventually, sitting down in the snow. I laid back. 
It was August, I told myself as the snow fell upon my face, It was August because I said so. 


I’M SORRY AND WHY
By Sebastian Merrick

“Watch out for bugs and s$(@, they’re nasty little f#)@ers this time of year,” I said. 
Mac laughed, “Seb, where are we goin?”
“Into the woods.” I said.
“I- I see that, but why?”
“Capture the flag.” I said. 
“You can’t be serious.” I said. 
“I am! We’re gonna see, we’re gonna see who’s the winner.”
Mac rolled his eyes, “Fiiiiiine.” He did that little air out of nose thing. 
I tossed him his flag, “Go ahead, hide this. I already hid mine.” 
“Cheating.”
“I’ll give you a head start.”
Mac smiled, “Not like I’ll need it.”
This was one of the only memories I had of the end of last year. In fact, it was the last day, just before we started packing. Around everyone else I felt so strange, so I shut down. But with Mac I was… remarkably at ease. The only reason why I didn’t invite him to work on Athens-Carter was because, well, I didn’t want to ruin everything again. Not with him. 

I held guard at my flag. I knew Mac well, he’d spend a while looking for a good spot to find his flag. Then he’d get bored and come looking for me. That’s what makes two person Capture the Flag so fun, all you’re doing is waiting for the enemy to get bored. Mac’s sprinting, and the best way to describe a sprinting Mac Astley would be akin to that of a penguin waddling at full speed. Nimble, yes, but he doesn’t get very far at all. 
“HA!” Mac cheers, “I caught you!”
“You didn’t capture the flag.”
“S#)$, right, I-I-I-I-I forgot about that part.”
He reached for my flag and I grabbed his wrists, “You’re gonna have to try harder than that.”
To distract me, Mac tried to sweep at my leg. I knew all of his moves, I knew his body pretty much inside out. I grabbed his legs, spinning him around and holding it up like we were dancers. 
I then kneed him in the balls, before breaking free. 
Mac winced in the moment, but a smirk flashed across his face as he tried again. This time, I tripped him. As he fell, he reached for my flag. For a second, time slowed down, and we both reached for it in what felt like slow motion. Without anything else to do, I slid beneath Mac Astley, and held onto the flag. As you’d imagine, this did nothing. 
Now, Mac Astley was on top of me. 

Much like an Eminem song, I snapped back to reality. 
I was beating Hayden Macintosh to death with my bare hands in the middle of Debbie Don’s Dance Dojo. He was weak, and if he was weak, he’d get hurt. This world doesn’t accept weakness. 
I crushed his f#(%ing bones. It was pathetic. 
Hayden sniffled, cleaning his bloody nose from the bench. He looked at me as if expecting an apology. 
“Hayden, Hayden,” I sat down beside him, “Why, uh, do you- do you need tea?”
“Wh-”
“Relax, can I- can I ask you a question?”
He nodded.
“GROWING UP, WHAT WAS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE CONFIDES OF CONSCIOUS EXISTENCE?”
He blinked, “What?”
I offered him help up, before kicking him in the face, “Did you have f$()#in xenon orchid sinews spilling down the godd#)$n outer center of your Escher Mandelbrot head!?”

“What the hell are y-”
“NO NO NO NO NO, YOU DON’T TALK HERE. NOW TELL ME ABOUT yOUR NERVE TO STEAL NERVES OF STEEL FROM UNDER BACCHUS’ BLOODY NOSE! DID NAMBIAN HIMBAS TIE-DYE YOU!?”
I helped him up again, before slamming him back into the ground, “WHAT ABOUT YOUR EARS? PIERCED BY A PHINEAS GAGE FLAGPOLE, DID YOU DIE BEFORE YOUR DAY?”
Slammed him into the ground again. “Did you die before your day? Oo! Oo! Let me guess, “Thursday traction, Tuesday titration. It’s- it’s my hope to assess through my objective report of your subjective conjecture whether this proprietary blend of expertise and seasoning works as well as this transorbital ice pit.”
“Holistic ballistics, much? HUH? YOU GOT A BETTER IDEA? THAt’S ABOUT THE BEST THAT WE CAN COME UP WITH, WHY, DO YOU THINK IDEAS SPREAD BECAUSE THEY’RE GOOD? THEY SPREAD BECAUSE PEOPLE LIKE THEM! SO HERE WE ARE, ONCE AGAIN, YEAH, YEAH, YEAH, HOLDING A MIRROR AS IF IT WERE A MIRROR UP TO YOUR MIRROR!”

He ran away. I guess it’s just something people do. 
Wait, no, maybe I did something wrong. I ask Lance. 
Turns out, yeah, I did something wrong. 
And then it kind of hits me: Maybe I am not in the best head space. 
I coughed, and I hacked, and I fell over in my coffin.

As soon as I came to school, I came rushing to her. She was the only familiar face I could find. And since she was with August, he comforted me too. It was a quiet moment, in the labyrinth, which had become our unofficial cool-down place. Some of us would go swimming in the murky water, but we found a dry spot. 
And I’m just crying. I’m crying so hard that tears aren’t even coming out anymore. I feel such a supernova of emotion, such a resounding pain. A sinking feeling in my heart. The world is dull and gray. 
Mac Astley, Ximena Strohm, Charlie Leavings, Lina Kemp, Hayden Macintosh, Kato Somrew, Lina Kemp, Xander Strohm, the names grow longer and longer in my mind until I’m not sure if they’re really there or not. 
I can very vaguely hear Peyton and August calling my name as I wander through the halls, and I can see shapes fading in and out of my view. 
Chase Kemp stands above me, “All I wanna do is be like you.” 
And Kato laughs, “Not your fault you’re idolizing… him.”
Flynn cackles, “Yeah, his directions are as nonsensical as leaving paint out to dry in a spring shower in-”
“Why are you talking like that?” I hissed, “WHAT THE F#($ DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?”
“He’s just speaking English!” Xander chirped, Maybe you should crack open a dictionary sometime, maybe then you’d understand half of the frivolous things we go on and on about like-”
My ears started ringing, I fell into my coffin and back out, only to see Charlie.
She’s beautiful, she’s… she’s so beautiful, and her black dress sparkles, reflecting off of my mirrors I never noticed were there. Or maybe they’re not. 
“Admit it, cheater, you don’t know what you’re doing half the time-”
“-And you depend on someone,” Georgia now, “To fill that void in your heart. And you depend on me and your hits and misses to manage your f#(#ing foolish flights of fancy.”
“I DON’T NEED YOU!” I yelled, “I COULD BURN ORIGOLYMPUS TO THE GROUND IF I WANTED TO, SO EASILY!”
Jackson kicked me to the ground, “But you don’t wanna be alone, punk.” 
“YOU TRIED TO GET AWAY FROM US,” Flynn taunted, “DIDN’T WORK OUT SO WELL, DID IT SEBBY?”
I back away, on my hands and feet, in fear, but soon there’s a spider, creeping and crawling towards me, and as I’m backed into something- No, the cart. The tunnel of love, I see the spider shift and morph into the glasses and freckles of Ximena Strohm. 
And from the tunnel, the nails of Charlie, and Georgia and all the other hearts I’ve broken tear into my flesh, and I can feel the pain so vividly I’m sure, then, that it’s not a dream. 
Ximena hisses, her hair snakes, inches away from mine, “And yet you still shove away anybody who gets too close, ain’t that right? Til’ they resent you for being a selfish, abrasive, whiney little a$(hole…”
A staircase emerges from the heavens and I climb up it, looking for something, any form of escape from all of this.  But at the top, all I see is Mac, lounging upon an ivory throne, Dennis and Edward fanning him with the wings of eagles. 
“Are you afraid to love people, Sebastian?” His voice is both hurt but also… taunting. Hauntingly taunting. 
Edward’s behind me now, “I believe that your self consciousness is trying to tell you that you simply cannot fathom a real relationship, but… crave one, all the same, it’s rather sad.”
And Mac looked up at me, and pulled me by a chain at the throat to him, and what he said was a mystery to me. 
But it snapped me back into reality, myself passed out, now in the lobby of Athens-Carter. Peyton and August standing above me. 
August looks timid, and really concerned. “Hey, you okay?”
Groggily, I shook my head. No, evidently I wasn’t. And only heaven knows why. 
I was reminded of my dorm at Caesar. After Chase died, I couldn’t help but feel the empty bed beside me. One night I heard a mouse squeaking from it. I named it Josie. And each day I’d come by and take care of the mouse, and be his friend. I’d feed him provolone. Until I learned that type spreads disease, and from there I had to poison him. He lost his friend.
Peyton held onto me as I continued to sob, and she reassured me. “It’s going to be okay,” she promised. That’s all she did, just promise me that things will be okay. And I didn’t believe her, not yet, but a small part of me was ready to. I hugged her. 
I really, really, needed a hug. 

From then, I started hanging out alot more with Peyton and August. They were both just… so, so, cool. And they were nice to me, too. I always thought that Mac was the only person who understood me, who didn’t judge me for being the f$($ing weird that I am. But Peyton and August understood. 
Peyton told me about when their Mom died. Their Dad went into this deep depression, almost like I had. But what happened was, that’s how Peyton discovered Reddit. That unmonitored internet access, at such a young and vulnerable age. The constant stream of information and media… it broke her worse than anything else had. 
And August felt like he wasn’t only losing his Mom, but his sister too. He was so isolated, so alone. That’s why he found himself falling for Edward, Edward gave him so much love. So much attention. 
And I sat, and I was… comforted. It brought me comfort to hear their stories, to know I wasn’t alone in all of this, to know that people knew what it was like to lose. 
It felt so good to be heard, but to me it felt even better to listen. 


THE LOST HEROES
By Kato Somrew

Thanksgiving in New York is so strange. Of course, I got used to it. I spent my whole life here. But one year I went to my Nana’s house for Thanksgiving and everything was so different. Normal, for you guys, I guess.
For starters, not much family comes over. You might have a beefy grandma or a boney aunt drop in, maybe some annoying cousins if you’re lucky, but it’s not even enough to fully warrant any invitations or RSVPs. Most people just drop in unannounced. After dinner, someone dropped in on me unannounced, which was new. His name was Hayden Macintosh. 
Hayden handed me a can of beets, which I appreciated despite not liking beets, “Hey, Kato. Happy thanksgiving,” his voice cracked at the word “giving.”
“Hey, man, what’s, uh, what’s up?”
“To be honest, I just thought it’d be cool if we talked. I know when we first met it didn’t go over too well but you… you seem chill.” He peeked his head over my shoulder, “Is that turkey?”
He looked hungry, a little wistful. I looked him up and down, at the grime between his nails and his long red hair, and for a moment I wondered when the last time he had a good Thanksgiving dinner was. 
“Yeah,” I said, “It is. Wanna come inside?”

“Chase was his best friend.” He said. I looked him up and down, he looked scared. A bit dazed and confused, and definitely, definitely, hungry. Though he refused to touch the plate of food I offered him. “He- I don’t think- I don’t think he wanted Chase dead.”
“Then who did? I- I know Kaitlyn didn’t. I know Kaitlyn didn’t, but who- there had to be someone who wanted him dead.”
He shook his head, “I don’t- I don’t know. But I know it wasn’t him, Flynn, he- he’s a lot of things. But if you knew just all he had been through, you would be a little more forgiving.”
“I- I think I know.”
Hayden’s eyes turned hopeful, “You- You do?” 
“Yeah, his- your,” I corrected, “Parents. What were they like?”
“They were kind, they were- they were perfect. I loved them. Until, well,” he paused for what felt like an eternity, he looked like he was about to cry, “Before we lost them, before we got,” he paused again, choking on his words, “Sent away.”
“To where?” I prompted. No answer.
Hayden’s eyes looked like they were thinking a million thoughts at once, “H-Hayden, to where?”
“It’s okay, it’s okay, I- Wherever you went, what did they do to Flynn?”
“It wasn’t just him, it was- it was to me, too. And him. There were- there were so many. So many of them became… as f#(@ed up as I am.”
I gritted my teeth, “Hayden, you’re not f#@(ed up. Flynn is.”
“If I’m not then he’s not either!” Hayden snapped through a cracking voice, “Flynn, he- he took care of me, man. When we ran off, he told me that we’re gonna come back better than ever. He told me we’re never gonna be weak again. He told me we’re never gonna be weak again.”
I thought about the Flynn that I met, I knew his parents died but everything told me that he just. Got over it. Everything told me he was fine until in the span of a year, he brought us… here. 
Athens has been falling apart ever since the fight. Less funding has been brought to the schools, OrigOlympus has been sending money out to gangs. Everything in the town is falling apart and it’s because… of Flynn. And Chase. The catalyst of everything. 
I wanted to save Chase. It wasn’t that I was in love with him, or anything that anyone else tells you. I just didn’t want to lose a friend. And I didn’t want to see so many people get hurt. 
“Hayden,” I promised, “By the end of this year, we’re going to save your brother.”


LIKE AN ANGEL OF FORIGENESS

By Sebastian Merrick

I am feeling alot better. Maybe it’s Peyton and August, or maybe it’s the fact that Christmas Break is about to start. Either way, I am doing really well. Since this morning I woke up at home, I took the bus to school. I didn’t think much on the bus ride, which was pleasant. If anything, I just stared at the trees as they passed by. I really like trees. 
Since the rules are a bit looser on the days before break, we invite the seventh graders to sit with us in the morning in the gym. So, it’s me, Keana, Hayden, Bart, and Kato. (August and Peyton didn’t come today, but that’s alright.)  We’re all happy, a bit yuppy. Did I use that word right? Yuppy? I hope I did. When the bell rings, I don’t want to go, but I do, and that’s what I feel like making the last days before break so… interesting. Seeing your friends, knowing you won’t see them for a while but knowing they’ll be back. 
It’s no goodbyes, and all “See ya later, alligator!”s. If you catch my drift. What’s more surreal is that all the halls are empty, and all the posters are taken down, leaving the wall a creamy, surreal white. 
I stop by Mr. Emily’s office between classes. He’s gained a bit of weight, so his Christmas sweater is tight around him. He’s sipping hot cocoa, feet propped up on his desk. I knocked, “Hey, Uh, Mr. Emily!”
“Sebastian, my boy!” He clapped his hands, happy to see me, “Just the kid I was looking for! Come in, come in, have a seat.” He was… cheerful. And really, really, welcoming. I took a seat. 
“Sebastian, I gotta admit, I knew you’d pull through,” he turned his screen around to show me, “I was just looking at your grades. All As. Okay, you have two Bs. And a C. But hey, everything’s above average.” He shrugged. “You been studying?”
“No.”
He blinked, “Oh, oh, I- I see.”
“Hey, I was actually, uh, wondering… do you know if… you could send my report card to a different address?”
He chuckled, “Why? You moving?” Then he noticed my expression. 
“Oh… Oh, I see. Who did you have in mind, Mr. Merrick?”
“Uh, Lance- Lance Alexander. From Debbie Don’s.”
“Ah, Lance-y. He’s a good man, good neighbor. Debbie Don’s brought the Qwikpick a lot of visitors, which I appreciate. Look, kid, normally, such a thing would be outside of my control but,” he winked, “I’ll talk to my new secretary, Ms. Youmans. See what she can do.” 
I smiled, “Thank you, Mr. Emily. Thank you for understanding.” 
He looked at me, for a moment, with pride. I wasn’t anything special, I was a thin kid with a bad temper and depression. But his rough, bearded face softened so much that I guess the old man knew a thing or two about being the outcast. 

“Are you sure… are you sure this is allowed?” Hayden asks. I’m leading Hayden down a hallway, casually opening up an exit to the school. I’d done this many times before, actually. 
“Yeah, kid.” 
I lead him through the weeds and the forests, and into the old abandoned Debbie Don’s. He looked at the place and took in a breath of awe, letting out a cough of dust and mites. “Holy s$)@. Is this where you hide the bodies?” 
I laughed, before elbowing him in the arm. “Not so much,” I said, “This… is where I like to hang out. Where I keep all my gizmos and gadgets. Where I go to catch my breath when times are tough. This is home.” I said. 
Hayden smiled, before pointing at something, “What’s in here?” He asked, pointing at a suitcase. I took a breath, trying to figure out what to do, but nonetheless, I opened it. Took the blanket off. Showed him what it was. 
A plaque. 
It read: The room of Charles “Chase” Kemp; brother, son, hero of Caesar and Athens.
“Yup,” I grunted, “Tried to put this on my dorm wall, felt like… felt like I needed something for myself. Felt entitled to it.”
Hayden laughed, “That’s f$(#ed. You stole a headstone, man.”
“It’s not a headstone. They made my door a memorial. I lived there, man.”
“Still f$)@ed.”
“He would’ve wanted it.” 
Hayden laughed. This was the first time I felt… so comfortable. So comfortable talking about death. 
I looked at Hayden, “Tell ya what. Let’s spar, c’mon. Me and you.”
“Right here?” Hayden asked. 
“Yeah, duh, think we’d fight in school?”
Hayden laughed, “You’re on,” I grabbed a foam sword and tossed it to him, “Dude,” he asked, “What the f$)#?”
“You never know when you’re going to need to pick up swordfighting. Ask David Dolore.”
“Who’s that?” He asked.
I laughed again, before tossing him his foam. We went at it, we blocked and we striked, and Hayden put up a pretty good fight. A few times the only move I could make was to kick the sword out of his hands, but even then he would pick it up just as quickly. Eventually… The kid won. Like, my sword was across the room. I looked at him, impressed.
“Hayde… What the hell? I’ve been practicing this s$#) for three years at this point.”
Hayden blushed, “…Sorry.”
“Sorry? SORRY? BY GOD, HAYDEN, IF YOU COULD DO THAT AGAIN, FLYNN AND THE TRIUMVIRATE ARE NEVER GONNA MESS WITH US AGAIN!”
“He’s my brother.” Hayden blurted. It came out of nowhere, hitting me like a truck. I couldn’t believe it, but then… I did. I saw the hurt look in Hayden’s eyes, all the struggles with attachments, all of it. All the pain that he hid, and I looked at him, and I understood. 
I feigned confidence, “Ha! Dude, I know,” And I said it with such confidence it might’ve even been true.

As we approach the last hours of the day, I sit in my social studies class, watching the movie the teacher is playing up on the screen. I hear the screech of a chair moving across the tile floor before she shows up in my view, but there she is, hoodie girl. Though when she parted her frizzy afro, and I got a better look at her face, I expected myself to jolt up. I expected myself to grab a knife, something, anything, but I didn’t.
I’d never been up close with Kaitlyn Emily before. I’d seen everyone else in that weird family, Mac, Chase, Lina, Edward, but never- but never heard. And she was beautiful. I think all women are beautiful, of course, and I wasn’t attracted to Kaitlyn (come to think of it, I haven’t really been attracted to any women lately) but she was objectively gorgeous. Her dark skin was perfect, her eyes were this beautiful hazel color. She seemed so easy to talk to that I almost forgot all of the pain she caused. 
“Ah, Sebastian Merrick,” she said, calmly, an Origami Hades sticking out from her pocket, “Had a feeling I’d meet you, eventually.” She smiled a very kind smile. 
“Haha. Yeah.” I said. 
We both stared at the screen for a while, before she spoke: “I don’t think anybody wanted him to die. I didn’t want him too. Flynn didn’t want him too. Maybe Angela did but… a part of me is hesitant. I wanted to kick him- it was years of conflict. Generations of suffering, and I let it out on him.”
I nodded, “I understand. Anger, that is. To have it bottle up in you for so long that whenever it comes out, it just- it just won’t stop.”
“You become an outcast.” She said, I nodded. 
“You hate the world.”
“You hate the people you hurt the same way you hate the people who hurt you.” She smiled, “When I was expelled, I thought for so long what I’d do the next time I got my hands on Sam or Peyton. Mac did the same for you, when you’re alone you have time to be bitter.” She gestured at the nothings around her, “Believe me, I speak from experience. That’s why I chose Hades, I suppose. Part of me wanted to control death- another part of me was too afraid to live my life.
I thought about my puppet, Reyna. Reyna was everything that I wasn’t. She was strong , yeah. And a fighter, I guess. But she was calm and collected in a way that I wasn’t. In a way that I’ll never be. 
And it hit me then that, hey, I was Hades once too. Both Kaitlyn and I- we were kings of the undead. She smiled again, and I blinked.
“What?” I asked.
“Lost in thought?” She asked. 
I nodded, “I don’t know what to do. As far as the eye can see… Everything’s better. We left Caesar behind, and it doesn’t look like the two schools are at war or anything. And yet there’s still just…”
“So much pain?” She asked. 
“Yeah. And without some big villain to fight, you don’t know how to notice it.”
This time it was her that nodded. 
“Hey Kaitlyn,” I said, “A couple of us were looking to hang out next class period. When the bell’s supposed to ring. “You in?” I asked. 
She nodded, “I think I’d like that. I think I would like that very much.”

And so when the bell rang, I brought Kaitlyn down to Mr. Willigens’ room. Kato, Kevin, Hayden, Bart, and Keana were already there, so naturally, everyone was staring. I looked at Kato, dead in the eye, and grimaced. 
“If you say a f$(#ing word-”
Kato saw the anger in my eyes and backed off, before she could even say a word though Tyler cut her off, “LANGUAGE!” Tyler yelled, “WHAT THE HELL!? JUST WATCH F$)#ING RUDOLPH, B$)#@D@)##!”
And for once, we listened to Tyler about something. And we watched Rudolph. And I sat in the back of the room, watching Kaitlyn and Keana reunite like old friends, and Kato, Bart, and Hayden laughing up. And I hid my phone under the desk to text Peyton and August, the two of them responding almost instantaneously. And when the final moments approached, we stared at the clock and counted down. 
“Ten. Nine. Eight.” 
“Seven.Six. Five.”
“Four. Three. Two.”
“One.” 
And then I forgave myself. 

It’s been a few days since, and I’ve been reflecting. Staring at walls, crying, that sort of thing. But when I look at myself in the mirror at Debbie Don’s, I see a different person. I dropped the pounds I gained, but it’s not only that. There’s something special, different about how I feel. With each day of freedom, I feel less and less burdened and more and more relieved. Each day brings me a new realization. Yeah, maybe I- maybe I’m in love with Mac Astley. And maybe that’s okay.
And maybe Kaitlyn Emily didn’t kill Chase. Maybe it wasn’t Flynn, or Angela, or even me, or himself. Maybe some things are out of control, destined to happen in a way that we can’t predict. 
And maybe that’s okay too. 

Join the conversation by leaving a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: