Chapter 10:


Galaktika Gamble: Stolen Light

Despite each year getting a little more tough than the last, Neil and I somehow managed to find ways to deal with our problems fairly well for that time. However, for some reason we were never prepared for what would happen on Neil's 16th birthday. We knew my grandpa didn't like to be around Neil, but we never thought he would actually do anything about it. My father never liked being around Neil either, but he still stuck with us to the end, so we figured my grandpa would be the same. Neil's birthday started off as a usual day. We went to school, came home, and did our homework. The only difference was that Neil and I spent more time hanging out together than usual. We never really had big celebrations or birthday parties, but due to the death we often witnessed, we found birthdays to be a bit of a special occasion since we lived through another tough year.

Ivan: I know it's not much, but you seem to like reading so I got you a new book for your birthday.

I gave Neil the book. He looked at the cover for a moment before flipping through it and smiling.

Neil: You didn't have to, but I really appreciate it. Thank you. Do you know why I like reading?

Ivan: Is it because you can escape into other worlds for a while?

Neil: Yeah, that's one reason. There's another though.

Ivan: Why?

Neil: It's because I don't have to worry about a book doing anything that could seriously harm or kill me. Deadly situations aren't as likely if all I have is a book.

Ivan: Ohhh..I see. That makes sense.

It seemed a bit depressing to think about. I should have known Neil's interest in books would have to do with avoiding something dangerous. Ever since my father died, he was nervous about even plugging his phone charger in the wall thinking it might electrocute him. I completely understood that fear though, so I would often plug his phone into the charger for him. As I was thinking about Neil's fear of even technology becoming deadly, my grandpa walked in and brought me back from my thoughts.

Lev: May I speak with you both? I'll be waiting at the table.

Ivan: Uh...yeah?

I looked at Neil, wondering why my grandpa wouldn't want to talk where we stood. Usually, talks at the table meant it was something serious. I whispered nervously.

Ivan: Did we forget to do something important?

Neil: Nothing important comes to mind.

As I followed Neil to the table, I tried to think about every possible thing we might've done wrong in the past day or two. By the time we were taking a seat in front of my grandpa, it felt like my heart would beat out of my chest from the anxiety I felt. My grandpa looked at us before taking a deep breath.

Lev: Before I start, I want to let you know that this is nothing personal. You are both great kids. You haven't done anything illegal to my knowledge. You haven't purposefully tried to make anyone's life miserable. Most parents or guardians would love to have kids that behave as well as you do. However...I'm exhausted.

I looked at Neil again. I had a feeling this would be bad, but if this was going in the direction I thought it was, this could get ugly. Neil glanced at me for a moment before staring at his hands on the table.

Lev: I'm not young anymore. I don't have the energy to run around and worry about every near-death experience that could be around the corner. Today, Neil is finally 16. I considered looking into the possibility of him being emancipated from my care, as the legal age of emancipation in Arizona is 16.

Neil glared at my grandpa and opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off.

Lev: I cannot force emancipation on you Neil, but I recommend it. Either way, you will no longer be living in this home.

Neil stood from his seat and slammed the table with his hand.

Neil: What do you mean by that?! Where the fuck am I supposed to go?

Lev: I suggest finding a friend to live with. As long as you're still considered under my care, I can send you money.

Neil: You can't be fucking serious. A friend?! What friend? Ivan is my only friend!

Lev: Then stay at a cheap motel with the money I give you until you make a friend or get a job to care for yourself.

My grandpa grabbed an envelope out of his jacket pocket and slid it across the table towards Neil. Neil chuckled in disbelief and pushed it back.

Neil: I don't need your pity money. You want me gone? Fine. I'll go.

Neil stormed off to his room and slammed the door. I turned to my grandpa.

Ivan: Grandpa, please! You can't do this!

Lev: I'm only doing what's best for us, Ivan.

Ivan: It's his birthday! This is the worst time you could have done this. Emancipation? Really? How do you expect him to go to school AND keep a job when people drop dead like flies around him?! Please Grandpa, you have to reconsider-

Lev: My decision is final, Ivan. He is not staying here. I'm done.

Ivan: Jeez...there's no use in arguing with you. You never listen to me.

I sighed as I hid my face in my hands, trying to think of some way to make this situation better. After a moment of silent thinking, I announced my decision.

Ivan: I'm going with him.

Lev: What?!

I stood up from my seat and glared at my grandpa.

Ivan: I'm going with him! I am not going to stay here while my best friend just got kicked out! I'm not abandoning Neil! I'm not like you!

Lev: But Ivan-

Ivan: I don't care! If he's gone, I'm gone!

I quickly left the table and ran to my room to pack a few of my things in my backpack. While in the middle of packing, I grabbed my phone and texted Neil.

"Yᴏᴜ ʜᴀᴠᴇɴ'ᴛ ʟᴇғᴛ ʏᴇᴛ, ʀɪɢʜᴛ?

I'ᴍ ᴘᴀᴄᴋɪɴɢ ᴍʏ ʙᴀɢs ᴛᴏᴏ

I ʀᴇғᴜsᴇ ᴛᴏ ʟᴇᴛ ʏᴏᴜ ɢᴇᴛ ᴋɪᴄᴋᴇᴅ ᴏᴜᴛ ᴀʟᴏɴᴇ"

I set my phone down and continued to pack, stuffing my backpack full of clothes before attempting to fit my game console in as well. Looking around to see if there was anything else I wanted to take with me, I saw Sally's stuffed rabbit on the shelf and remembered the last time I saw her. As I grabbed the rabbit gently, I could hear her voice echoing through my mind.

"I want you to hold onto her for tonight! It's your reward for being rabbit king!"

"We'll rule our kingdom together, okay?"

I looked back at my backpack, realizing I wouldn't be able to fit the rabbit. I set the rabbit on my bed gently before unpacking my game console and replacing the empty space with the stuffed animal.

Ivan: I wonder what she would think if she had lived long enough to go through this with us. I'm sure she'd be pissed..

Neil: She'd probably force the old man to let us stay. She was always bossy and bold like that.

Surprised to hear Neil's voice, I turned to find him standing at my door with his bag slung over one shoulder and the book I gave him in his hand.

Ivan: How long have you been standing there?

Neil: Just a few seconds. I'll be outside.

I sighed with relief as Neil started to walk away. I'm not sure why it made me so embarrassed, but I didn't want him to see me choose a stuffed animal over my video games. I quickly zipped up my backpack and grabbed my phone before following Neil out the front door.

Lev: Ivan, you shouldn't leave with him! You can stay here!

Ivan: I guess that's too bad. Sorry, Grandpa.

Lev: You're going to freeze out there!

Ivan: You should have thought about that when you kicked Neil out. His well-being is just as important as mine.

Not wanting to have second thoughts, I broke into a sprint to gain some distance. To keep up, Neil did the same. After I was confident that my grandpa wouldn't be able to catch up by walking, we slowed down to a walk. Though my lungs felt like they were on fire from the cold air, something about that moment made me feel strong, like I had finally done something significant and right for Neil by going with him. As we continued to walk down the street, I gave my best effort to keep myself from looking back. After a moment of walking in silence, Neil kicked a rock on the sidewalk with frustration.

Neil: Why the hell did you come with me? You shouldn't have to deal with all this shit that happens to me.

Ivan: I already explained myself. I'm not abandoning you.

Neil shook his head in disbelief as he became quiet again. Looking down at my phone, I started to type a text.

Ivan: I can find us a place to stay temporarily. I'm almost certain John's mother would let us stay.

Neil: I'd rather not.

Ivan: We don't have a choice right now. We have to stay somewhere.


I looked down at my phone again and opened the message.

"Hᴏʟʏ sʜɪᴛ ᴅᴜᴅᴇ, ᴀʀᴇ ʏᴏᴜ ᴏᴋᴀʏ? 😱

Mʏ ᴍᴏᴍ sᴀɪᴅ ʏᴏᴜ ɢᴜʏs ᴄᴀɴ sᴛᴀʏ ғᴏʀ ᴀ ᴡᴇᴇᴋ ᴏʀ ᴛᴡᴏ ɪғ ʏᴏᴜ ᴡᴀɴᴛ

Wᴇ ᴡᴏɴ'ᴛ ʙᴇ ᴀʙʟᴇ ᴛᴏ ᴋᴇᴇᴘ ʏᴏᴜ ʜᴇʀᴇ ᴍᴜᴄʜ ʟᴏɴɢᴇʀ ᴛʜᴀɴ ᴛʜᴀᴛ ᴛʜᴏᴜɢʜ, sᴏʀʀʏ 😕"

I held my phone out to show Neil the text.

Ivan: See? We'll be fine for a week at least.

Neil frowned but kept quiet. I wondered why he seemed so disapproving of staying at John's house, but then I remembered the time in elementary school when John broke his arm.

Ivan: Do you think John hates you?

Neil: I don't know. Either way, he shouldn't be near me if he doesn't want it to happen again.

Ivan: Well...he doesn't hate you.

I started to walk ahead, leading the way to John's house. Though it took some time, we eventually reached our destination. Just as I was about to knock, the front door swung open and I was greeted by John.

John: I am so sorry this shit has been happening to you both! We made sure to make room for both of you to sleep. It's in the living room so it might be a little bit cramped, but we tried our best.

Ivan: Thanks John, I really appreciate it.

As I entered the house, I noticed Neil wasn't following me inside.

Ivan: Come on, Neil. It's cold outside, you can't stay out here forever.

Neil ignored me and walked to a tree in John's yard before sitting down. I sighed in frustration. Even if he was afraid of being around John, it was rude to just ignore everything he had done to help us out. I glanced at John and apologized.

Ivan: I'm sorry he's being like this, I'll try to talk some sense into him.

John: Want me to take your bag while you do that?

Ivan: Sure. Thank you.

I gave my backpack to John before going back outside to talk to Neil. As I approached the tree he sat under, I noticed he had started reading the book I gave him.

Ivan: Neil, let's go inside. My phone says it's 18° F right now and the temperature is only going to drop from there. You're going to freeze if you stay out here.

Neil: Then let me freeze.

Ivan: Neil, we both know I'm not going to let that happen.

Neil: What do we gain from it?

Ivan: What?

Neil: What do we gain from keeping me alive? As long as I live, more people will die.

Ivan: People die every day, whether they are around you or not. It's a part of life. Your death won't change that.

Neil: You know what I mean. Yeah, everyone dies at some point, but people die too soon around me. There's no gain in keeping me here.

Ivan: But there's still loss. Whether you believe your mother is alive or not, you'll never have your own personal peace or closure if you let yourself die off. Your mother didn't seem to have many friends and you and Sally were her only far as I know, you and I are the only people left alive that really remember who she was. Even if people are dead, they still live on partially in our minds. We remember them, and they stay here with us through remembering. Once we die though...where do those memories go? No one has them anymore and it's almost as if they never existed. That's when your mother and Sally will truly be gone forever. I plan to live as long as I can to keep a piece of everyone alive for as long as possible...and it's your choice to make if you decide you want to do the same or not.

Neil refused to look at me, but I could tell he was thinking about what I said. Knowing he would make up his mind eventually, I made my way back to the house.

John: It didn't work?

Ivan: Give him a moment. He listens, he's just more likely to do things if you let him choose when he does it. Pressuring him constantly usually makes him fight it instead.

John: So I should leave the door unlocked?

Ivan: For now.

John shut the door but left it unlocked before turning to look at me.

John: Do you know what Neil's favorite food is? My mom said we could have whatever he wants for dinner since it's his birthday.

Ivan: I'm pretty sure it's pizza.

John: Alright, I'll let her know.

As John left the room to talk to his mother about ordering a pizza, I heard the single bell tone of my phone, indicating that I received a new text message. I checked it thinking it would be Neil, but instead it was Ela.

"Hᴇʏʏʏ 😄 Hᴏᴡ ᴀʀᴇ ʏᴏᴜ?

I ʀᴇᴍᴇᴍʙᴇʀ ʏᴏᴜ sᴀʏɪɴɢ ᴀᴡʜɪʟᴇ ʙᴀᴄᴋ ᴛʜᴀᴛ ᴛᴏᴅᴀʏ ɪs Nᴇɪʟ's ʙɪʀᴛʜᴅᴀʏ! 🎈

Cᴀɴ ʏᴏᴜ ᴡɪsʜ ʜɪᴍ ᴀ ʜᴀᴘᴘʏ ʙɪʀᴛʜᴅᴀʏ ғᴏʀ ᴍᴇ?


With the message, she attached a sparkly gif of a birthday cake. I typed my reply and proofread it a few times before I sent it, wondering if it seemed rude.

"Tᴏᴅᴀʏ ʜᴀsɴ'ᴛ ʙᴇᴇɴ ᴀ ᴠᴇʀʏ ɢᴏᴏᴅ ᴅᴀʏ. I'ʟʟ ᴛᴇʟʟ ʏᴏᴜ ᴍᴏʀᴇ ᴡʜᴇɴ ᴡᴇ sᴇᴇ ᴇᴀᴄʜ ᴏᴛʜᴇʀ ᴀᴛ sᴄʜᴏᴏʟ ᴛᴏᴍᴏʀʀᴏᴡ."

As John returned to the living room, he told me that they had called and ordered a pizza. While we waited, he started showing me funny internet videos to try and distract me from all the stress the day had brought on. After a while, the doorbell rang. John hopped up to get it, while counting the money his mother gave him to make sure it was the right amount.

Pizza Guy: Excuse me, but do you know there's a person sitting out here in your yard?

John: Yeah, we know. He's with us, he just wanted to sit outside for a while.

The guy seemed hesitant to believe John, but traded him the pizza for the money and left. After a moment, John went outside to talk to Neil and try to get him to come in the house and eat some pizza. I couldn't hear everything they said, but it seemed John was having a difficult time. Just as I was about to check and see if he needed help, my phone went off again.


It was another message from Ela.

"Tᴏᴍᴏʀʀᴏᴡ ɪs Fʀɪᴅᴀʏ....ᴡᴀɴᴛ ᴛᴏ ʜᴀɴɢ ᴏᴜᴛ ᴀғᴛᴇʀ sᴄʜᴏᴏʟ? 😄"

After reading the message, I put the phone in my pocket, telling myself I would reply to it later. As I was walking towards them, Neil finally stood up and followed John and I to the house to eat some Pizza. Though he seemed hesitant, he appeared to be less tense about it. Just as we entered the house, John's little sister ran into the room.

Nascha: Pizza! I want pizza!! Pizza! Pizza!

Neil became tense again as he noticed the child bouncing around with excitement. He looked at me and whispered.

Neil: You never told me John had a little sister. I need to get out of here, it isn't safe for her if I am-

Hearing what Neil was saying to me, John stepped next to Neil and pat him on the shoulder.

John: Nascha, you see this guy right here?

The little girl turned around and looked at Neil curiously before nodding.

Nascha: Yes! He has long hair!

John: He's very dangerous. Don't get too close to him. You have to keep your distance from this guy while he is here.

Nascha: He doesn't look dangerous!

John: But he is! You see, this guy is cursed by a very bad spirit. The spirit follows him anywhere, and any girl that gets too close to him....their skin will slowly turn green until eventually, they turn into seaweed!

Nascha looked at Neil with fear and took a few steps away from him.

John: As long as you're in a different room than him most of the time while he's here, you'll be safe from his curse.

Nascha: Promise?

John kneeled down and gave his sister a comforting hug.

John: Yes. I promise. Go play and I'll bring you some pizza in a minute.

Nascha: Okay!

The girl glanced at Neil.

Nascha: I hope you're able to fix your curse soon, Mr. Seaweed Guy!

She ran back to her bedroom and shut the door. Neil looked at John with a mix of confusion and amazement in his expression. For the first time in a very long time, he had a genuine laugh.

Neil: What the fuck just happened? Hahaha! Seaweed?

John: I figured if you were concerned about her safety, you should be fine staying here if she's not near you. She'll be safe.

Neil: Why not tell her the truth about me?

John: She's still very young. She hasn't experienced loss or death of anyone she knows yet. If I tell her she could die around you, she won't fully understand just how serious it is, because she doesn't understand the concept of death yet. Children are quick to believe in fairytales though, so I just came up with something on the spot haha. Nascha really hates seaweed, so she won't be risking coming close to you anytime soon.

Neil nodded in understanding. John grabbed a paper plate and grabbed some pizza before taking it to his sister. While Neil was getting his own slice, I remembered Ela's text message and gave a short reply before getting some pizza for myself. When John returned, I decided to ask him something that had been on my mind for a while.

Ivan: Hey John? Why do you dislike Ela?

John glanced at me nervously.

John: I don't dislike her. Why bring that up?

Ivan: I'm just curious. I hang out with her a lot in astronomy club and everyone outside of the club seems to treat her negatively. You avoid Ela and Kyle says pretty bad things about her. Why?

John: Well...I don't hate Ela. It's actually the opposite. We've been friends since we were toddlers.

His reply was surprising, but it didn't make any sense to me.

Ivan: Then why do you act that way around her?

John: Because I'm afraid of her. A few years back I made a promise, and because of the conditions of that promise, I can't be around her at school. If I break that promise she'll be pissed.

Neil: Oh, kinda like how I tell Ivan not to be around me at school?

John: Kind of like that, yes.

Ivan: Huh...maybe I'll ask her about it.

John: Please don't! I told her I would never tell anyone about the promise, so please don't ask her about it.

Something about the promise seemed strange to me. I wanted to know more about it, but seeing John's reaction, I knew it was probably best not to ask about it.

Ivan: Okay. I won't ask her about it.

John: Thank you! I'd have even more reason to be afraid of her if you did hahaha. She would be so mad at me..

Ivan: I had no idea you were friends with her, but I'm relieved that you don't hate her.

John: She's pretty scary when she wants to be though haha. She doesn't care who it is, if they do something wrong, she'll fight them. She packs a pretty good punch too! I know from experience haha.

Ivan: Really? I've never seen her get violent though..

John: Yeah, she doesn't like to be violent, but she will if she feels she has to. Kyle told me that last year, a senior tried to bully one of the freshmen and she snuck up behind him and slammed his face into a locker before shoving him in there and locking it haha.

Neil: That sounds pretty bold. Did she get in trouble?

John: Yeah, she got suspended from school for a week haha.

Ivan: Is Kyle really trustworthy for rumors though?

John: Oh trust me, I texted Ela asking about it later and she confirmed it haha.

Ivan: Really?

John: Yeah, one sec.

John started sifting through the messages on his phone. Once he found the message he was looking for, he turned the phone around to let me look at it. Up at the top was her name with her number in a smaller font under it. Noticing the scroll bar's location on the messages, I realized John and Ela actually talked quite a bit through text messaging. I looked at the message confirming the rumor and laughed as John pulled the phone away.

Ivan: Wow..I guess it's good she stood up for someone! That's pretty brave I think haha.

John: Don't let her know I showed you that message. Okay?

Ivan: Okay. I have one more question, if you don't mind me asking.

John: What's up?

Ivan: Is there a reason Ela always acts so nice to me? She mentioned something about me being the richest kid in school when she met me and it made me cautious. She's really nice but sometimes I remember it and it makes me suspicious all over again. I keep shrugging off the feeling when I get it, but it seems to return every once in a while.

John: If you feel that way, you should probably talk with her about it yourself. Knowing how nervous you get though, I doubt you I'll tell you something I know about Ela. She gets really nervous when she meets new people, and usually tends to cling to whatever she's heard about them to try and wiggle her way into being their friend, since she has no idea what kind of conversation to start to make friends. This has backfired on her a lot though, since it comes off as creepy. Sometimes it comes off as plain rude as well, since in some cases, the rumors she's heard are completely false. That's part of why a few people view her so negatively.

Ivan: I I don't have to worry about her wanting money then? My grandpa is rich, but he's never given me much of an allowance at all and we just got kicked out, so really I'm poor and homeless right now hahaha.

John: Ela's never really been interested in money. She's more interested in what life has to offer, not what money can buy.

Ivan: That's a relief..she asked me to hang out with her after school tomorrow and I was a little worried.

John gave me a nervous look. Instead of speaking though, he quietly stuffed his face with pizza, making him unable to talk. I wondered why he still seemed to be nervous about me hanging out with Ela, but I figured it was just due to his own experiences. After we finished our pizza, we played video games for a while before laying down to go to sleep.

Though the house was dark and everything went quiet, I found it hard to sleep. With the house so quiet, my ears started to pick up on the sound of the living room clock on the wall, ticking. For some reason, hearing that sound gave me anxiety. It reminded me that time never stops, and eventually, time would run out. Thinking about it made me worry about when my time might run out. Trying to focus on something else to get the anxious thoughts out of my head, I sat up and glanced around the room, looking at various knick-knacks on the shelves. I glanced over at Neil for a moment, realizing that he was still awake as well. Sensing I was looking at him, he glanced at me. For a moment, I noticed something odd about him. His yellow eyes appeared to almost glow for a split second in the dark room. My anxiety started to increase again as I remembered my grandpa accusing Neil of not being human. I wondered if I should have listened when he tried to explain. I chuckled at myself as I realized how stupid my thoughts were. Neil had to be a human. It wouldn't make sense if he wasn't. His eyes were probably just reflecting some light off of something. As I glanced around the dark room again looking for a light source, I shook my head and hid under my blanket. My eyes were just playing tricks on me.

The next day, Neil and I walked to school with John. As we approached the school building, Neil separated from us. That's when I saw Ela standing outside by the entrance. As we walked towards her, she gave John an irritated glance before smiling and waving at me. John laughed nervously and pat my back before quickly walking away. I thought about the promise again, wondering why it would make him that nervous.

Ela: I was hoping you'd get here soon! You look really sleepy. Are you okay?

Ivan: Yeah, yesterday was just a rough day.

Ela: What happened? Everything seemed fine yesterday at school. Did something happen at home?

Ivan: Not right now. We'll talk about it later, okay? We should get to class.

I didn't feel like having to explain everything in the few minutes available before class. I was exhausted and the day had barely started.

Ela: Meet me at the tree by the gym after school then?

Ivan: Yes, I will.

Though she looked worried, she smiled and nodded before walking away to go to her class. I walked to my locker and put my bag away before grabbing my textbook and heading to class as well. The rest of the school day went by as usual, with exception of lunch break. Instead of hanging out with the astronomy club, I went to my next class early and took a short nap at my desk. At the end of the school day, I grabbed my backpack out of my locker and walked to the tree by the gym. As I expected, Ela was waiting for me.

Ela: Hey! Where were you at lunch? Everyone was worried!

Ivan: I took a nap haha..sorry.

Ela: It's okay.

Ela shivered and grabbed her bag, which she had placed on the ground while waiting for me.

Ela: It's cold. Want to go with me to the library? It's not that far of a walk from here.

Ivan: Sure, that sounds good to me.

Ela: Afterwards I'll repay you with dinner!

Ivan: Dinner? But-

Ela: Don't worry, I'll pay for it and you don't have to pay me back for it.

Ela winked at me as she started to walk. As I followed her, she spoke up.

Ela: So what happened yesterday? I've been worried.

Ivan: Yesterday was Neil's birthday, but my grandpa decided to not be so nice about it. Instead of wishing him a happy birthday, he kicked Neil out of the house and I decided to go with him.

Ela stopped walking and turned to me with concern.

Ela: He kicked you out of the house?

Ivan: Yeah, he said he's too old to deal with the stress of living with Neil and since Neil is now 16, he suggested emancipation.

Ela: That's awful! Should I go talk with him?

Ivan: No, his mind isn't easily changed. Even if it were, living with my grandpa had its own set of stressful situations.

Ela: Do you have a place to stay?

Ivan: Yeah, we are staying with John for a week or two until we figure things out. We'll be fine.

Ela: If anything else happens or you need somewhere to go, both of you are welcome at my place.

Ivan: Thank you.

We continued to talk about the situation in more detail until we made it to the library. Once we got there, she seemed to know exactly where she was going.

Ivan: Do you come here often?

Ela placed a finger over her mouth before whispering.

Ela: Yeah. I'm just going to pick up a few books before we get dinner. I promise we won't be long!

Keeping the quiet rule in mind, I whispered back.

Ivan: Neil likes to read too. What books do you like?

Ela: I'll show you!

After giving her a moment to pick out her books, she walked over to me with a few. She was grinning ear to ear with excitement.

Ivan: Find something good?

Ela: Yes! I've been trying to find this book for a while. I asked them to get it haha.

After checking the books out and leaving the library, she spoke at her usual volume again and handed me the books.

Ela: I like to read stuff like this!

Looking at the books, I noticed all of them were books on mythology and folklore of various cultures.

Ela: When I was little, my family used to tell me old Apache legends that their parents and grandparents used to tell them. It really interested me and I got into reading about all of the stories like these across the world. It's fun to read them and see which tales have similarities and differences, along with trying to figure out what morals they teach. Though they are legends and myths, I like to connect them to see if maybe there's something we are missing now days. Somehow, many of these beliefs seemed very real to the people that believed them at that time...and I want to figure out why. Surely there must be some reason why some cultures have beliefs, ideas, or even mythological creatures so similar to each other, yet they had no way of contact at that time due to lack of technology or efficient long-distance travel.

I smiled as I listened to her talk enthusiastically about her interest. It was true, Ela definitely talked a lot. However, hearing her get so excited about it and seeing her eyes light up as she rambled about her ideas was kinda cute. I looked at the books and noticed one that stood out to me.

Ivan: Is that why you're into astronomy too?

I held up the book, titled "Mayan Star Gods: Astronomy in Folklore". Ela blushed and giggled nervously before grabbing the books out of my hands.

Ela:'re correct. It's so interesting! So many civilizations believed in astrological deities in some way! It makes me wonder what they saw in those fiery orbs in the sky haha.

Ivan: Do you believe in them?

Ela: Well, I don't really know. I believe in spirits and stuff, but I don't really follow a religion or anything. For all I know, maybe all mythological creatures and deities are just different spirits native to different locations. In the same view though, maybe all mythological creatures and gods are just as their titles imply...mythology. I guess we'll never know the truth, but it never hurts to try and dig it up if some sort of truth is hidden in ancient text or something hahaha. What about you? Do you have any spiritual beliefs?

I thought about it for a moment. Thinking about my mom, I wondered if she had any beliefs herself.

Ivan: I don't think so. I can't say I've ever believed in a god or in spirits. However, my mother always acted as if she knew something important about Neil's family. She also seemed to be able to just...tell things as if she were psychic. She often talked about "sensing" things. I always trusted her, so I guess the only thing I've really believed in was whatever my mother told me haha.

Ela stayed quiet, looking at me with concern. After a moment, she grabbed the sleeve of my jacket gently.

Ela: It must be hard to lose so many people important to you...

Ivan: Yeah. It is.

I kept my reply short. There's really nothing more I could've said at that moment. It's a topic I really didn't feel was necessary to bring up. I grew up with enough reminders thanks to Langston constantly bringing up old trauma over the years. I didn't want the reminders to seep into my social life as well and become a common topic of conversation. Trying to change the topic, I smiled and playfully tapped her shoulder.

Ivan: So, where are we going to eat?

Ela: Wherever you want! Lead the way!

Ivan: Oh..okay haha.

I started to lead the way and Ela followed cheerfully. She unzipped her bag to put her books away, but they didn't fit.

Ela: Hey, do you think I can put these books in your backpack? I'll take them out when we are done eating, I just don't want to accidentally get food on them.

Ivan: Sure, go ahead.

Ela unzipped my backpack but seemed to stand there for a moment. Wondering what was taking her so long, I realized I forgot to take Sally's stuffed rabbit out of my bag. Trying to hide my embarrassment, I bit my lip and took a deep breath. I hoped Ela wouldn't make fun of me for having a stuffed animal in my bag. She placed her books in my bag and zipped it back up. As she walked next to me again, instead of making fun of me as I expected, she looked at me curiously without saying a word.

The rest of that day seemed to go well. We enjoyed talking more about her folklore interest while eating our food. It was nice to be able to enjoy some time with her, but I couldn't help but think about where I would be in a week. Would we figure out where to go, or would we have to stay at Ela's house once our time at John's ran out? Would we be tossed around from house to house until we could get a job and provide for ourselves, or would we run out of options and eventually live on the street? These questions seemed to linger in the back of my mind, and the longer I thought about them, the more the reality of the situation started to sink in.