Chapter 1:

Bridge

Evil Days Redeemed


The summer day that haunts his dreams is stained with the color yellow. The color of sunlight piercing through the forest canopy, the color of dancing bumblebees, the color of flowering dandelions.Bookmark here

The color of danger.Bookmark here

He and she walked wordlessly for so long, until at last they were almost home. Ahead was a bridge, and beyond that a fork in the trail. For all of their childhood he took the left path while she took the right. Today would be no different, but today would be the parting he remembers most clearly.Bookmark here

The conclusion of their last meeting approached. As calmly and wistfully as ever, she appreciated the familiar sights of this trail. Though in just a few moments he would experience his first of many final parting, only many years later would he understand the feeling of bidding one's hometown farewell. Yet, all he could think about was his own bitterness and anger.Bookmark here

"Hey." Somehow, her voice was as gentle as it was turbulent. Unable to meet her indomitable gaze, he looked forward again, at the bridge just one step ahead. Crossing over the river and into the realm of infinite tomorrows, he would finally grow up — grow apart from her.Bookmark here

In childish defiance, he said nothing in reply. A choir of cicadas accompanied by the flowing water of the stream marked midday, and midday was the end at last.Bookmark here

"Let's play a game."Bookmark here

"A game?" He answered before he could stop himself. He bit his lip, frustrated at his lack of composure.Bookmark here

"A final challenge. A chance for you to finally beat me."Bookmark here

"Who said anything about wanting to beat you?"Bookmark here

Yet his heart pounded in anticipation. The embarrassment of having his feigned apathy exposed clashed violently with the excitement of having one more chance to prove himself.Bookmark here

"Let's add some stakes." She skipped ahead to the other side of the bridge. He took a step forward, ready to give chase and reach out his hand, but she stopped and fished something out of her pocket. A quarter.Bookmark here

"Heads and I'll be your friend forever."Bookmark here

Before he could even reply, she flipped the coin into a high arc. It caught a glint of light as it flew toward him in a high arc.Bookmark here

"Catch!"Bookmark here

He reached out his hand as everything around him faded to nothingness.Bookmark here

In that nothingness, his body was still. He could not move, and yet it did not distress him. The persistent sound in the distance was of no concern to him. All he wanted to do was stay there in that nothingness.Bookmark here

The sound persisted further, and he persevered in his sloth. Until, at last, he stirred and opened my eyes just a sliver.Bookmark here

Ago

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He lay in my bed while struggling to cross the blurry no man's land between dreams and reality, blankly staring at the ceiling until all his senses kicked in — especially his sense of sound.Bookmark here

Some energetic pop hit drummed away at his skull in place of his usual alarm. The old digital clock, which his grandfather had found at a garage sale ten or so years ago, had two options for waking its owner up: playing the radio, or playing loud beeps. Apparently, he had accidentally picked the more annoying of the two options.Bookmark here

Perfectly in sync with the beat, the ceiling light in the bedroom flashed in regular intervals, punctuated by incessant knocking. A monotone speaking voice joined the shrill singing to round off the morning cacophony:Bookmark here

"Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up."Bookmark here

"Just five more minutes..." He rolled over and tried, futilely, to cover his head with a pillow. Only some noise and light stood between him and some extra snooze.Bookmark here

"Unfortunately, you already got seven of those."Bookmark here

"Oh, come on, no need to be so stingy..." He peered up to check the time: 7:55am. Bookmark here

"Wait, what?" He jolted up and grabbed the clock from the wobbly nightstand, holding the black cube in disbelief. Holding his finger over the "Wake" button, he confirmed the configured wake-up time: 7:20am, around which his entire schedule for that morning was planned. And yet, releasing the toggle, he saw clearly on the screen 7:55am — now 7:56am.Bookmark here

So, rather than oversleeping by seven minutes, he overslept by seven sets of five minutes. Oops. But that would mean—Bookmark here

"My alarm clock rang for over thirty minutes? I slept through that?"Bookmark here

"Just so you know, I've been standing here for over ten minutes now."Bookmark here

"Oh, God."Bookmark here

A stream of natural light filled the room. Vesper's familiar form, still holding onto the curtains she parted, was illumined by morning's soft radiance. His attention was drawn not to her scornful face, but instead her attire. Catching him look her up and down, she rolled her eyes.Bookmark here

"Morning, Morn."Bookmark here

"Evening, Eve."Bookmark here

Vesper huffed and tapped her foot impatiently as he, Aurora, appraised this new look of hers.Bookmark here

"When did you pick up your St. Maddie's uniform? It looks great on you."Bookmark here

"What are you, a creepy uncle? Just get out of bed already. And do something about this racket."Bookmark here

"Are you sure you don't want to keep listening?"Bookmark here

"Very sure." Vesper reached down and yanked a black cord out of the wall socket. The blaring radio music stopped abruptly; Aurora looked down at the clock in his hands with horror. The empty face of the digital display stared back at him lifelessly.Bookmark here

"My baby! You killed my baby!" He placed his fallen companion back on the nightstand and clapped his hands together in prayer, mourning this grave loss. Vesper clicked her tongue.Bookmark here

"Don't you say a word. Imagine having to hear that garbage blasting for over half an hour first thing in the morning." She bent down and replaced the plug. The display of the alarm clock lit back up, flashing its red digits:Bookmark here

0:00am. 0:00am. 0:00am.Bookmark here

Aurora sighed deeply and dreaded having to reconfigure everything. Wasting time to set the time — there has to be a word for this. Irony? Absurdity?Bookmark here

"Great first day of sophomore year, huh."Bookmark here

"And whose fault is that? I'm heading out first if you're going to take this long." Vesper turned on a dime and tried to stride elegantly out the door, but was slowed by the mess on my floor. She ended up having to step around piles of dirty laundry, stumble over some math textbooks, and slip around on loose-leaf sheets of lined paper. Bemused, Aurora watched her while considering the importance that day held for her.Bookmark here

"I have a feeling I know why you're so snarky first thing in the morning."Bookmark here

Vesper flashed him an annoyed expression, but it quickly softened into an apologetic grimace. She fiddled with her long, dark hair while forcing out a timid answer.Bookmark here

"Yeah. Kinda worried. I wasn't even this nervous last year."Bookmark here

Aurora smiled at his adorable sister, who looked away and stared at her feet. Bookmark here

"You'll be fine, you know? Just be yourself and you'll make friends in no time. Worst case, you've got me and the Birdbrains if the private school kids aren't your style."Bookmark here

Vesper gave a snort in response. "Thanks for the offer, my dear Big Brother Aurora, but no thanks. I'm never stooping that low."Bookmark here

With that parting shot, she slammed the door shut. Aurora listened to her steps race down the stairs and out the front entrance, then laughed and spoke aloud to the empty room.Bookmark here

"Damned ingrate."Bookmark here

Morning with the Meyers

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Aurora stayed sitting on his bed. Did most siblings go through times like these? Once inseparable, he and Vesper now barely talk and end all conversations on a bad note. To think that the Meyers twins would drift this far apart over one summer break. Tragic.Bookmark here

His room was still in the same chaotic state he left it in yesterday. After writing bad poetry late into the night — it was part of his extra homework for Olea, who insisted he learn poetic meter — he could not be bothered to clean up before diving straight under the covers. HIs computer screen still displayed neatly formatted lines of stilted verse, and a pizza box still rested atop a stack of piano books he and Olea had brought up to his room to study. He groaned upon remembering that he forgot to finish his analysis of that Beethoven sonata, and made a mental note to avoid her until tomorrow. An easy enough task, given there would be no regular class on the first day.Bookmark here

He looked at the flashing numbers on his alarm clock: 0:03am. 0:03am. 0:03am. Three minutes had passed since 7:56am. So, it was 7:59am. Class started at 8:30am, the bus ride took fifteen minutes, the walk to the stop took five minutes, and he had counted on catching the 8:00am bus. He was officially running late. He clamored out of bed and frantically sniffed through his unsorted laundry for something clean to wear. After a few trials, he settled on a black undershirt that still smelled like detergent, his best black dress shirt, and a pair of slightly faded black jeans. That would have to do for the day.Bookmark here

As for breakfast... he grabbed the last slice of pizza in the box on his desk and munched away while simultaneously changing into his outfit. He soon got his pants on, and threw on the undershirt while chewing on the cold and dry leftovers. Tucking the undershirt into his jeans, he slipped into the dress shirt then rolled up the sleeves and undid all the buttons, determined to pull off a new look for the new school year. He gloated over his ingenuity. New year, new fashion choices.Bookmark here

He went to the washroom and brushed his teeth for less than ten seconds before splashing cold water on his face. While drying off, he examined his familiar reflection. The wet strands of hair falling across his forehead paired with his bloodshot eyes created a look straight out of a horror film. Even though his skin had darkened from a summer spent wandering outside without sunscreen, he still managed to look a little pale and sickly. He chuckled ruefully at his somewhat androgynous facial features. He was more pretty than handsome, which did not help him in the least in subverting the femininity of his first name. Aurora — a nice name for a Disney princess, or a long lost love. Not for a teenage boy at a Canadian high school. Bookmark here

"So much for not becoming a joke side character." He turned off the tap and hurried back into his room. He threw a few sheets of paper and an empty binder into his backpack while digging through the mess for his pencil case. It was nowhere to be found; he had left it in the piano room, a fact that dawned upon him after a protracted search. Checking under his bed, he pocketed a smartphone without bothering to check it. Then, he slung his open backpack over one shoulder while checking the time: 0:16am. 0:16am. 0:16am.Bookmark here

It was 8:11am. There was another bus leaving from a stop close to his usual one, but the trip to the school would take twenty minutes on that route. It was due to leave at 8:15am, compared to his usual bus which would only come by again at 8:30am. Accepting that he had to make do with being five minutes late and out of breath on the very first day of sophomore year, he ran downstairs.Bookmark here

But in the doorway of the front entrance, right next to the piano room, he came face to face with a woman with almost the same figure and face of Vesper, though with severe eyes matching his own. She pierced right through him with her cold eyes and familiar smirk.Bookmark here

"Why hello, Aurora. Leave it up to you to sleep through such a racket."Bookmark here

Hurdle

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"Mother."Bookmark here

"I take it Vesper already left for school?"Bookmark here

Eroica Vici. Aurora's female biological parent. The one he called Mother.Bookmark here

"Yep. Eve left after waking me up."Bookmark here

"You're running late even after a personal wake-up call? What's wrong with you? Serves you right for ordering crappy food in the dead of night."Bookmark here

I'm really not in the mood for your shit right now, he said in his head. "I guess you're right."Bookmark here

"So, what now? You're just going to arrive late on the first day?"Bookmark here

He shuffled around Eroica into the piano room and plucked an open pencil case off the music stand, then forced a straight face and focused his efforts on speaking with a disaffected tone.Bookmark here

"I can get there just after the starting bell. Everyone's finding their homeroom anyway. I'll just say that I was helping some freshmen find their classrooms or something."Bookmark here

"I trust that I raised you well enough for you to know the price of developing bad habits."Bookmark here

Knock it off, bitch. "Yes, Mother." Bookmark here

He almost forgot to zip up his pencil case before throwing it into his backpack. He snuck past the woman glaring at him and tried to get his shoes on to rush out before the conversation dragged out any longer. He knew better than to trust himself with bearing Eroica's badgering for too long; he did not want this to be one of those special days where he blew his top.Bookmark here

"You're going to school on an empty stomach?"Bookmark here

None of your business. "I had some of the leftover pizza from last night."Bookmark here

"Cold pizza isn't going to get you through your first day of Grade 10."Bookmark here

"I mean, we're not actually doing anything. And in the first place, I ate only six hours ago." Bookmark here

"You and Olea should know better than to eat greasy foods at that hour. No wonder you had trouble getting up." 
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"Oh, really? I pinned that one on the lack of sleep." I anxiously glanced over Eroica's shoulder at the living room clock: 8:14am. Missing the bus was all but certain now.Bookmark here

"I'll give you a ride. Eat breakfast in the car."Bookmark here

"Huh?" He did not quite understand. "I thought you were sick of driving me and Eve."Bookmark here

She shrugged. "I'll take you to school on the condition that you eat a proper breakfast."Bookmark here

Relief washed over as he realized Eroica saved his entire morning. Instinctively, he bowed his head slightly, shamelessly accepting her offer. "Thank you."Bookmark here

Encounter

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"Answer this, Aurora: Why would I, with my own busy schedule, give you my own lunch to eat for breakfast and go out of my way to drive you to school?"Bookmark here

There had to be a catch. He tried to drown out Eroica's classic in-car verbal barrages with loud munching, but the few seconds of deadly silence after her answer hinted to him that she was waiting for an answer. He had to come up with something, fast. Unlike the year before, Vesper was not there to pull her weight in these wonderful car chats.Bookmark here

"You didn't have to give me a ride if you were in a rush."Bookmark here

"Nonsense. You should already know that my primary career is being a parent."Bookmark here

How's your dream job going? "Yes, Mother."Bookmark here

"Every parent wants to help their children succeed and become respectable people. Raising offspring is life's greatest duty."Bookmark here

"How noble."Bookmark here

"Even if you caught the bus, you were going to be late by five whole minutes. I mean, think about it: you beat Vesper out of the womb by five measly minutes, and now you're the firstborn. In many cultures, that's a lifechanging distinction."Bookmark here

"Beat" Vesper? And she wondered why Vesper was so wary of her. He held his tongue, lest the malice in his retort set Eroica off. Instead, he ate the rest of her lunch, put the container on the backseat, and clutched his backpack anticipating the end of this car ride. He nervously chewed on his nails. How could a six-minute car ride be so mentally taxing?Bookmark here

"You should respond when spoken to. Especially when it's your own mother." Bookmark here

Uh oh. He had to respond as neutrally as possible. And without energizing this conversation.Bookmark here

"Can I please get some peace and quiet? I need to wake up a bit before opening assembly."Bookmark here

He felt a slight but sudden jerk as the car slowed down at a red light. Eroica stared at the road ahead with a chilling glare. Her jaw tightened as she muttered barely audible yet venomous words under her breath,Bookmark here

"You and Vesper can resent me all you want. The past won't change, and neither will I."Bookmark here

Ah, maybe he was being too obvious. "I wasn't even talking about that. In any case, leave Eve out of this."Bookmark here

The silence he had hoped for was so precariously tense that he feared Eroica would start yelling any second. But an outburst never came. Instead, her anger channeled right into her driving, which became even jerkier than usual. Aurora clung to the grab handle for dear life as they swerved into a side street leading to my high school. When he righted himself and looked out the windshield of the speeding vehicle, the sight of a girl crossing the street made his heart leap out of his chest.Bookmark here

"Watch out!"Bookmark here

A Turn of FateBookmark here

N. D. Skordilis
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Evil Days Redeemed

Evil Days Redeemed


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