Chapter 9:


Galaktika Gamble: Stolen Light

Though my freshman year of high school started what would become the best few years of my life, that doesn't mean that the bad situations stopped. People still died around Neil. In fact, the number of people that died around him actually started to increase through high school. As for the reason why, we had no idea. However, during our high school years I had a lot more support from my friends, and due to their distance from Neil, my risk of losing them was small. It was a relief. I had hopes that maybe for once, my life could be normal.

Sadly for Neil, this made him even more closed off. He didn't talk to me as much, even at home. He kept to himself and tried to avoid my grandpa and I. It was strange, because I wanted to do my best to be there for him, yet at the same time I felt safer knowing he was around me less. Though he distanced himself more, my grandpa didn't feel the same relief that I felt. Anytime another person died around Neil, he would make the biggest deal about it and often blamed Neil directly to his face. Neil seemed to get used to it, because anytime my grandpa would start blaming him, he would speak up and tell him that he already blamed himself too, so he didn't need anyone else to remind him that it was his fault. I would beg my grandpa to stop blaming Neil like that, but he never listened to me. He was driven by fear, and nothing would overpower it. Anytime someone died around Neil, my grandpa would spend the next week obsessing over it.

Lev: He is not safe, Ivan!

Ivan: Grandpa, he's already doing his best to keep his distance from us. Can't you just try to be more accepting of him? He's doing his best.

Lev: His best doesn't matter if people still die.

Ivan: That's not true!

Lev: If a dog has rabies, it will pass rabies.

Ivan: What does that even have to do with it?

Lev: When a dog has rabies, they put the dog down. The dog is not safe, and they put it down to keep other dogs from catching it and dying. They put it down out of respect so the dog can stop suffering too. It is best for everyone.

Ivan: What the fuck?! Are you suggesting that Neil needs to be treated like a dog with rabies?

My grandpa shrugged and half-nodded at my question without giving a verbal reply.

Ivan: You act like Neil's such a big problem...but you're worse than he is.

Lev: All I am saying is that it might be better for everyone and himself if he chose to turn himself in and request a place away from everyone.

Ivan: My mom didn't work hard and die just for him to get quarantined.

Lev: And what about your father?

Ivan: He never cared about Neil to begin with...or any of us really. Maybe he had what was coming to him.

My grandpa pushed me against the wall and yelled in my face. For an older man, the strength behind his push surprised me.

Lev: You have no idea the hell he went through trying to care for you and that thing!

I rolled my eyes and let out a chuckle of disbelief.

Ivan: "Thing"? Really? You're going to dehumanize him now?

Lev: That thing is not a human. This kind of stuff doesn't happen to a human.

I started to laugh as he let go of my shoulders.

Ivan: Are you hearing yourself, Grandpa?

Lev: I am serious, Ivan! It's not funny! Your father had very serious talks with me-

Ivan: And my father was always drunk! You sound delusional!

I straightened the wrinkles out of my shirt and shook my head before grabbing my jacket and backpack.

Ivan: I have to go to school now. Enjoy your fairytale land of delusions, Grandpa.

I walked around him and down the hall to Neil's bedroom. I knocked on the door before speaking.

Ivan: Hey, it's time for school. You awake yet or are you sleeping in again?

After a moment of silence, I reached for the handle and noticed it was locked.

Ivan: Neil, if you heard what Grandpa said don't let it get to you, he's just not understanding.

After another moment of silence, I walked to my grandpa's room and grabbed one of the plastic cards out of his wallet. I slipped the card between the small crack of the door and swiped it down quickly while turning the doorknob and pushing the door with my shoulder. After a couple of tries, the door finally opened.

Ivan: Come on, Neil. It's time for-

The room was empty and the window was open. I looked around the room and noticed all of his stuff was in its usual place. His backpack was still on the floor against the wall. I walked to the window and noticed some small drops of fresh blood. Trying to stay calm, I returned the plastic card to my grandpa's wallet and walked to the front door.

Lev: Was he not there?

I tried to reply calmly and lied.

Ivan: Yeah, he already left for school when we were distracted with arguing. Have a good day, Grandpa.

I shut the door behind me. Instead of walking to school, I walked around the outside of the house and looked at Neil's open bedroom window. Looking at the ground, I tried to see if I could find any more blood, but nothing stood out. My heart raced as I remembered what Langston had told me about Sally's murderer coming through her bedroom window. I wondered if I should call Langston for help, but at the same time, I was hesitant because I was tired of him needing my help so often and didn't want to give him an excuse to talk to me again. After a moment of thought, I decided I would have to find Neil by myself.

I ran into the forest behind the house and started to call Neil's name once I felt I was far away from the house enough for my grandpa to not hear me. I looked in the trees above me as well, just in case he had climbed one to hide somewhere. I couldn't find him though. As I searched for Neil, I did everything I could to try and tell myself that it wasn't a repeat of what happened with Sally. I couldn't keep myself from panicking about it though. What if Sally's murderer had come back for Neil? I tried to calm down and remind myself that Langston found Sally's window melted while Neil's seemed untouched, but I couldn't control my panicked breathing.

Ivan: Neil!

I started calling his name again, hoping he would hear and pop out of the trees laughing like it was some form of cruel prank instead of reality. Like I expected though, I was met with silence. I started to tear up as I thought about every bad possibility.

Ivan: Come on Neil, this isn't funny! Where are you?!

I wiped my tears with my sleeve and continued deeper into the forest. Just when I started to rethink whether I should turn around and call Langston, I saw Neil's red jacket next to a tree in the distance. I broke into a sprint and started calling out his name again as I got closer. Neil turned his head and looked behind the tree, looking at me in surprise.

Neil: What the hell are you doing here?

I sighed with relief and continued to run toward him, this time with a lot less anxiety.

Ivan: I could be asking the same thing, we are supposed to be in school by now!

As I got closer to Neil, I was able to see him more clearly. I froze when I noticed his arms were dripping with blood. I was about to ask what happened, but I pieced the puzzle together when I noticed the pocket knife in his hand. Once he noticed I was staring at his arms he looked away. I had so many things I wanted to say, but I was unable to speak. I looked away and sat next to him quietly for a moment. After a few minutes of silence, I tried to force something out.

Ivan: It's should probably put your jacket on.

Neil didn't reply. I stood up and grabbed his jacket, placing it gently over his shoulders.

Ivan: I'm glad I found you, I was really worried. I saw the blood on your window sill and immediately started assuming the worst.

Neil continued to sit in silence. I wondered if I should shut up or continue talking, but I decided to try to get him to speak one more time.

Ivan: Don't listen to Grandpa...he's full of shit.

He looked at me and sighed.

Neil: I think he has a point. If all these people are dying because of me...then I should be out of the picture. Without me, there's no more deadly situations. If I died-

Ivan: It would kill me.

Neil: But it would keep so many others alive.

Ivan: I refuse to believe that's the answer.

Neil: Then what is?

Ivan: I don't know. But I don't think that is the answer.

I looked up at the sky as a few snowflakes started to fall. I looked over at Neil, only half covered by his jacket.

Ivan: Let's go home. It's cold and we need to clean your arms.

I stood up and held a hand out to help Neil up. He didn't reply, but he grabbed my hand to let me help him stand up, and then followed me as I started to walk back home. During the walk home, I thought about my mom, wondering if I was handling the situation as good as she would have. I turned to check on Neil and noticed he was crying. Noticing I was looking at him, he wiped his tears with the palm of his hand quickly and looked at the ground, trying to avoid eye contact.

Ivan: Are you okay?

Neil continued to stare at the ground in silence.

Ivan: We'll be home soon. If Grandpa says anything don't listen to him, okay?

Neil continued to stay silent as he followed me the rest of the way home. My grandpa turned to look at me when I opened the door.

Lev: What are you doing home? Did you skip school?

Ivan: Neil's not feeling well so I brought him home. Is there a problem with that?

Lev: Usually the school calls..

Ivan: They didn't call because Neil didn't make it to school. Either way, he's not feeling well, so now we are home.

Lev: So you did skip?

Ivan: Yeah, I guess we did.

Neil: Isn't it better I'm not at school anyway? I'll be around less people.

Lev: You still need an education.

Neil: An education for what? What do you seriously think I'll get done in my life? You said it yourself, it's best I'm away from everyone. Or do I need to say it in a way you'd say it? "A dog with rabies would never bring any benefit into a pack".

My grandpa glared at him but kept his mouth shut.

Neil: It doesn't matter anymore. I'm dropping out.

Lev: What?! You can't do that!

Neil: And why not? Because I'll be around you instead? You act like you care about the people dying around me, yet you want to keep pushing me into the public anyway. You don't care about them, you just want to save your own ass.

My grandpa looked absolutely livid. If looks could kill, Neil would've been dead immediately after accusing my grandpa that way.

Lev: You are going to school tomorrow. No questions asked.

Neil sighed in frustration and walked to his room, locking himself inside again. I silently glanced at my grandpa one more time before leaving the living room and knocking on Neil's door. Neil opened the door and let me in before locking it again.

Ivan: We should clean your arms..

Neil: I'm not going out there again, I'd rather avoid any more fights for now.

Ivan: Okay..I'll be right back then.

I left the room and returned with a bowl full of water, soap, a washcloth, and the first aid kit we kept under the bathroom sink. Neil sat on the floor as I washed the dried blood off his arms with the washcloth. The more blood I washed off, the more I noticed this was not the first time he had done something like this. He had scars in various stages of healing amongst the fresh cuts.

Ivan: I had no idea you were doing this...

Neil: I didn't want you to know.

Ivan: Why? We've been through pretty much everything together..

Neil: That's exactly why. You're already dragged into my bullshit more than you should be.

I kept quiet for a moment, thinking about what I should say as I put some antibiotic ointment on his cuts. Once I collected my thoughts again, I gave my reply.

Ivan: I want you to know that I care and I don't like seeing you like this. I understand if you don't want to talk with me about everything and I understand if you're hesitant to involve me in more, but you don't have to go through it alone. After my dad died I told you I wouldn't allow myself to die and I meant it. I refuse to leave you behind, no matter how I may be feeling. I won't expect the same promise from you..but I would hope that you wouldn't leave me behind either.

I continued bandaging his arms in silence. Once I was done, I looked at Neil and noticed he was crying again.

Ivan: I won't tell you what to do either..but I think you should try to make it through school if you can. We are young. I don't believe it will take our entire lives to figure out why this happens around you and stop it. Once we figure out what's causing this mess, you'll be free to do whatever you like.

Neil: You can tell me that, but I can't believe it. I don't see that ever happening.

I sighed, unsure how to help him. I wanted to make him feel better, yet it seemed like I was just making him more upset. I thought about my mother again, wishing that she could somehow guide me into saying the right things.

Ivan: What future do you see for yourself then?

Neil: More death. Ruining lives and families. Losing everything I have. Losing everyone important to me. Watching you die at some point and hating myself for it. Then...I'll probably die of some accident eventually if I don't die by my own hand instead.

I set the first aid kit to the side and held out my hand.

Ivan: Is it okay if I see your pocket knife?

Neil looked at me with confusion for a moment before hesitantly reaching in his pocket and handing me his knife. I was a bit anxious about how he may react, so I decided to speak first while holding the knife in my hand.

Ivan: In the future I see for you, we are able to figure out everything. We find out who killed Sally, we figure out where your mother is, and you are able to avoid witnessing any more death. You make a lot of friends, and we do all the things we missed out on. We'll get to celebrate holidays with our friends and maybe even your mom, and someday you might fall in love with someone and have a kid or two. Remember how our moms always told us they were friends before we were born and wanted us to grow up being friends too? Wouldn't it be funny if we grew up and had kids of our own that would be friends as well? That's the kind of future I see. I see a happy one.

I stood up and walked closer to the window, continuing to speak as I looked at Neil's pocket knife.

Ivan: In a future like that, you'll have no use for something like this.

I threw the knife as hard as I could out of the window before quickly shutting and locking it. Neil stood up and darted towards me.

Neil: Hey-

I turned to look at him and finished speaking.

Ivan: I believe that future will come someday and when it does, I'm going to look at you and say "I told you so" with a big smile on my face.

Neil shook his head and chuckled in disbelief.

Neil: You're crazy to think something like that with how our lives have been..

Ivan: If that makes me crazy then I'll gladly be crazy. Even if the future I see never least I tried. I would rather try my best and end up with a bad future than give up when the possibility of it getting better someday might be out there. But I believe it will get better someday, and I will be here every minute to go through this hell with you until it does get better.

Neil sat down on his bed, looking as if he were deep in thought. I grabbed the bowl of soapy red water and the first aid kit off the floor and walked to the door.

Ivan: If you need anything let me know. We are in this together so we should support each other when we can.

I left the room and placed the first aid kit back under the bathroom sink before pouring the contents in the bowl down the drain. I looked at myself in the mirror for a moment, wondering if my appearance had changed much since the last time my mom saw me before she died.

Ivan: Wish she could tell me if I handled that okay. I wonder if I went too far by throwing the knife out there like that..

When I took the bowl to the kitchen, I realized my grandpa had left the house. I shrugged it off and knocked on Neil's door again.

Ivan: Hey, Grandpa's not home right now. Want to come out here and watch some TV?

Neil opened the door. He didn't say much for a reply, but he nodded and sat on the couch. I sat on the other end of the couch and flipped through the channels, hoping to find something interesting.

Neil: Thank you for wrapping up my arms.

Ivan: No problem.

We weren't able to find anything too interesting on TV, so I decided to leave it on a channel showing reruns of some funny home videos in hopes it would make Neil laugh a bit. There were a few times I saw him crack a smile, but he seemed to try his best to keep himself from laughing. After a few hours, my grandpa came home making Neil visibly tense again.

Lev: I got you some gifts, but you can only have them if you follow my rules.

Ivan: Gifts?

He opened the bag in his hand, reaching in and placing two cell phones on the table in front of the couch.

Lev: Every morning I want you to text me a picture of the school when you get there. I also want a picture at lunch break and when school gets out too. That way I know you are not skipping.

Neil: How do you expect me to charge it? After what happened to last time I plugged something in an outlet, I refuse to plug anything in again.

Lev: It is not that bad, you can plug it in.

Neil: I refuse.

Trying to avoid another fight, I spoke up.

Ivan: I can plug it in for you! You can just give me your phone when you want to charge it and I'll put it on the charger for you..

Neil looked at me and sighed before shrugging and nodding.

Neil: I guess that would work then.

Lev: Good. I have one more rule.

Ivan: Okay?

Lev: If Neil runs off again, he is to pick up the phone when we call. If he doesn't pick up I will call Langston. No exceptions.

Neil rolled his eyes but kept quiet.

Lev: Understood?

Neil: Okay.

Lev: Good.

My grandpa went to his room, leaving Neil and I to look at our new phones.

Ivan: Well...I guess one cool thing about it is that we can play all those apps that everyone talks about at school. Right?

Neil: I guess.

I spent the rest of the day messing around with my phone, trying to figure out how it worked. When I looked in the contacts, I noticed my grandpa's and Neil's numbers were already there. Looking at Neil sitting on the couch with no interest in his phone, I decided to send him a text message.


Neil glanced at his phone in confusion before opening the message. He then cracked a smile and texted me back.


I looked at my phone and laughed at the message.

"Oғ ᴀʟʟ ᴛʜᴇ ᴛʜɪɴɢs ʏᴏᴜ ᴄᴏᴜʟᴅ ᴛᴇxᴛ ᴍᴇ, ʏᴏᴜʀ ғɪʀsᴛ ᴍᴇssᴀɢᴇ ʜᴀᴅ ᴛᴏ ʙᴇ ᴀ ᴘᴏᴏᴘ ᴇᴍᴏᴊɪ? Rᴇᴀʟ ᴍᴀᴛᴜʀᴇ, Iᴠᴀɴ."

Neil picked up his phone and left the living room, going back to his bedroom. Though I was worried about whether he was doing better compared to earlier that day, I decided to give him his space and not bother him for the rest of the night.

The next morning started off pretty normal. We woke up and got ready for school as usual, the only difference was that this time my grandpa made sure to check if we had our phones with us when we left the house. As we walked to school, I took a few pictures of the area to make sure the camera worked.

Ivan: I actually really like having a phone! There's so many things you can do with it!

Neil: What if it explodes?

Ivan: Are you afraid of that?

Neil: Yeah. I wouldn't be surprised if it happened eventually, since everything weird seems to happen around me.

Ivan: I think it'll be fine! Here, let's take a selfie!

Neil: Ehh...I'd rather not.

I held out my phone as I took a picture, trying to get Neil in the pic as well. I laughed when I noticed he had flipped off the camera.

Ivan: I'm keeping this forever hahaha!

Neil: Whatever.

As we got closer to the school, Neil started to walk further away from me like he usually did when we were on campus. He stopped for a moment to take a picture of the school to send to my grandpa then continued on his way. Taking note to do the same, I held my phone up and took a picture of the school. As I was texting it to my grandpa, John grabbed me in a playful chokehold.

John: Hey man, what's up? Where were you yesterday? We all thought you die- WOAH. WAIT. You got a phone?!

Ivan: Yeah!

John: Dude, let me see it!

I gave my phone to him. He looked at it for a moment before putting his number in my contacts.

John: Make sure you text me later and let me know it's you!

Ivan: Yeah, of course!

As we walked into the school, I noticed everyone in the Astronomy Club hanging out by the water fountain.

John: Hey, if you get Zack's number can you ask if it's okay for you to pass it to me?

Ivan: Why not just ask him yourself?

John: I can't find the right opportunity to talk with him without it being awkward.

John laughed nervously.

Ivan: You could just join the Astronomy Club, then you'd have a lot of time to get to know him better.

John: But you see, I can't.

Ivan: Why?

He glanced at Ela before looking at me and shaking his head.

John: Just can't man haha.

Ela's eyes lit up when she noticed me. When John noticed she was looking our way, he pat my back and spoke quickly.

John: Anyway, I'm gonna go find Kyle. See you later!

John walked away quickly before Ela could make it over to me. The rest of the Astronomy club members followed behind her.

Ela: Ivan! You're here today!

Brian: Were you sick yesterday? We were worried maybe something really bad happened to know, since you're around Neil all the time.

Ivan: I'm fine, just some stuff happened yesterday.

Zack: Stuff?

Ivan: Yeah..I won't go into details but there was just a little bit of drama. I think we got it figured out though.

Ela looked at me with concern. Trying to keep the conversation light, I decided to show them my phone.

Ivan: I got this though!

Zack: It's about time! With how much money your family has, I'm honestly surprised you didn't have a phone when you were like 10 years old.

Ivan: My family has money but they didn't want to spoil me rotten haha.

Brian: If you give me your number I can text you when our meetings are during the weekends if you want. It will be easier to remember.

Ivan: That sounds good to me!

I let Brian put his number in my phone. When he was done, everyone in the club started to pass it around, putting their numbers in my phone as well. Ela put her number in my phone last and gave it back to me.

Ela: This will help us all stay in touch outside of school!

Suddenly the first bell rang. As Zack and I walked to our first class, I looked at my contacts and noticed Ela had put a heart emoji next to her name. I blushed as I wondered if it had any special meaning.

Ivan: Hey, Zack?

Zack: Hm?

Ivan: Is it normal for girls to add heart emojis to their name in their contacts?

Zack: I'm not sure, but if you're talking about Ela, she adds hearts to everything. You should see her social media pages, they are full of them.

Ivan: Oh..I see.

Though I felt a weird sense of disappointment from his answer, I shrugged it off and continued to class as usual. Just as I was turning my phone on silent, I got a message from Ela.

"Yᴏᴜ sᴇᴇᴍᴇᴅ ᴜᴘsᴇᴛ ᴇᴀʀʟɪᴇʀ 🙁 ᴅɪᴅ sᴏᴍᴇᴛʜɪɴɢ ʙᴀᴅ ʜᴀᴘᴘᴇɴ ʏᴇsᴛᴇʀᴅᴀʏ?

I'ʟʟ ʟɪsᴛᴇɴ ɪғ ʏᴏᴜ ғᴇᴇʟ ʟɪᴋᴇ ᴛᴀʟᴋɪɴɢ ᴀʙᴏᴜᴛ ɪᴛ

Hᴇʀᴇ's ᴀ ᴄᴜᴛᴇ ᴋɪᴛᴛᴇɴ ᴛᴏ ᴍᴀᴋᴇ ʏᴏᴜ ғᴇᴇʟ ʙᴇᴛᴛᴇʀ 🐱

Sᴇᴇ ʏᴏᴜ ᴀᴛ ʟᴜɴᴄʜ 💓"

Attached to the message was a picture of a cat sitting in a basket with flowers. Though I didn't realize it at the time, this would be the start of what I thought would be my future.