I opened the door to my house to hear my father yelling at John. I only caught the words quit, football and acting. I walked away from the conversation, having no desire to tell them about my experience with some mystery girl who said something bad was going to happen to the United States… or did she mean just New York?
I couldn’t get her out of my mind though. She was so strange, usually someone like that I tried to stray away from to avoid confusion in my already annoying life. I walked into my room and sat down on my bed thinking over the things she’d told me. I tossed on my side.
She was probably just lying. She has to be lying. I’m sure she’s lying. Yeah, she’s lying. I mean how could someone physically hurt America? We were virtually indestructible. I scoffed at her idea and rolled over on my side, homework and photography forgotten.
That night, dinner was awkward. Dad was in an exceedingly bad mood, John was livid at dad, mom was quiet with the quandary, and I was deciding on whether or not I should see that girl. I barely touched my food while my dad and John had a race to the finish. My mind was too preoccupied with Amaranth.
“Hey,” John hit my arm once the TV was off, “wake up. Time to go to bed.” What an oxymoronic statement… I thought. We walked to our room, each of us distressed by something.
Once we were in our room John seethed about how unfair dad was being. Apparently, he didn’t want John to let go of that beautiful reputation and scholarship so he was forbidden from other after school academics. Dad’s big goal in life was to get John to be a sports star, so having John take this sudden turn must’ve been pretty harsh. I took it rough and I’m the person who’d probably take it in least consideration.
I didn’t tell John about Amaranth. She was different from the usual over imaginative girls at my school, the ones who sat in the back of band class strumming their guitar and writing about how they’ll never get a hold of my attention; the ones who sent little notes to me in biology and history admitting their never ending love for me; the ones who just don’t know how to give up when I’ve said no. Amaranth was one of those over imaginative girls who would whisper soothing words to you in the dark when you felt your life crumbling underneath you and you hadn’t the courage too see for yourself.
She was like the protagonist.
“But whatever right?” John was still talking, “I should just go on with this right?” I sighed and turned over to face him.
“John,” I began. He looked over at me, giving his full attention, “The decision you make is your own. Dad isn’t living your life, you are. His opinion has been voiced, documented and dually noted, that doesn’t mean you have to change yourself for his benefits.” I shrugged. John made his I’m Tearing Up face and gave me a bear hug. He squealed about how grown up I was becoming and kissed my forehead.
I shoved him off and wiped my forehead. Sometimes he could be so embarrassing. John rested back in his bed with a smile, I was happy about that. When I made someone smile it made me feel like I did well. My thoughts wandered back to Amaranth. I really did want to make her happy, even if it meant following her in trivial pursuits that would be meaningless in the end. I smiled at myself and made my final decision.
I’ll humor her and let her tell me about this tragedy taking place tomorrow.
I woke up startled to hear John fighting with dad once more. Their yells were giving me a headache. I rested my legs over my bed and grabbed my black Billabong shirt with white paint splatters around it. I grabbed some black cargo pants and a white neck tie. Sometimes I got bored of the usual goth. I looked in the mirror and flipped my hair so my bangs fell over my left eye.
I grabbed my backpack, realizing quickly I had done none of my homework. I groaned and left for school. I saw John and dad yelling at each other with fiery eyes. Mom was looking tense, as if she were about to pounce them and tell them to stop fighting. That was our cheerleader.
I opened the door and walked down to school. I was early so when I got there I’d probably clear up my homework crisis. Once I did that I could listen to more meaningless conversations given to me by the football players about why John was becoming an actor instead of leading the team to the championships.
I looked to my side without really thinking and saw two men in a dark alley way. Each of them was tall and dark skinned. One of them wore jeans and a denim jacket while the other wore itchy tan pants with a weird tan jacket that matched. The man that wasn’t closest to the wall was receiving an envelope from the other man. My interest was sparked, but I knew better than to get into something like that. The two men’s eyes quickly averted to me. Their deep brown eyes pierced me, telling me that this was something I wasn’t supposed to be a part of. I agreed and walked faster.
It wasn’t like me to wonder about that kind of action, God knows what it might’ve been. It could’ve been two nice men each giving each other some letter that said Congratulations! You’ve been promoted to ---! On the other hand it could’ve been money for some huge and illegal plan that the police would track down soon enough. Either way, it was nothing for me to get worked up about. I shook my head and kept my steady pace to school.
“Finished,” I whispered to myself while I looked over my short essay on desert and ocean biomes. Before I could do much else I was accompanied by Rose and Justin. Justin looked over my shoulder and hit my back jokingly. I looked back at him with a raised eyebrow.
“Didn’t finish your first night of homework, squirt?” Justin asked. I sighed and threw it in my backpack.
“Preoccupied with other things,” I stated quietly with a hint of a hiss. Rose giggled. She really peeved me. Her giggle was so bothersome. I stood up from the table I was sitting at and saw the football teem gang up on me. “I have no patience for your petty questions and interrogations. I have better things to do,” I held up my camera.
I was actually truly afraid. Having so many big rough-housing guys surround me was extremely intimidating. Justin laughed again and hit the camera from my hand. I didn’t show any emotion towards him, but I was shocked. No one had ever stuck up to me like that. I knew that if I’d go down to pick the camera up I’d lose my reputation.
“That was mean Justin,” Rose spoke in her cat voice. Justin looked at me with a smirk. I knew I was glaring. I didn’t know what else I could do at that point. I knew this year was going to be different. I knew that I wasn’t going to have the luxury of being in a social clique.
“What are you going to do, Taylor?” Justin asked, referring to me by my last name. I wanted to run away and yell like a child, that’s what I wanted to do. The only problem was I’d lose my reputation for sure then. I glared and stepped closer to him. I knew I was pushing it; I was surprised I wasn’t shivering. I knew my voice was going to waver if I spoke though.
Justin made a laugh, but I knew this laugh. This wasn’t a Justin laugh, this was a “I thought he was going to crack there!” laugh. He was shaken. I was lucky I knew what made Justin lose his cool. I was just that too. I was just lucky. Justin turned his back on me and walked away as if nothing had happened.
We’re not going through that again, I decided for myself in my head. I had no social clique now. The jocks turned their backs on me. I knew that John’s fatal turn was going to affect me, no matter how much I didn’t want to admit it. I was technically on the loner side of the school now. I was a true loner.
I picked up my camera. Everything in my world had disappeared within the course of a few minutes. I cursed under my breath. I never wanted any discomfort to come to my brother, but why did he have to quit the team at the beginning of high school?
Once the bell rang I walked out of the cafeteria. I was ahead of everyone, leading them through the halls with my brooding head. Nothing was right anymore. I couldn’t hide the truth. I wasn’t anyone anymore. The thought made me mad. Vexed. Betrayed. I knew they weren’t really my friends, but I still felt perfidy once they’d turned their backs on me.
Suddenly, my world had become a glass ball. Fragile. Cold. Empty. And above all… quiet.
I waited outside in the sunset. I wore a black jacket with a black beanie hat. I stood under the street lamp where the bike racks cast a shadow. I was tired. I’d had a rough day at school, and I’d recently seen another match up. The two men had been talking in hushed tones near the school parking lot. Once I’d walked by, their eyes pinned me like daggers. I had no desire to go back there again.
I looked at my wrist watch. The numbers and arms glowed to show me that the time was 9:50. I didn’t know why I showed up early. I really wasn’t in a mood to accommodate this peppy, happy, go-lucky girl who always seemed to have a smile on her face. The weird thing was her happiness didn’t bother me the least.
Maybe that was why I was here. Her attitude was catchy, almost contagious. I stepped to my side and sat on the bench. I took a deep sigh and closed my eyes. She’d better come… I threatened in my head.
“Hello,” a voice whispered warmly into my ear. I didn’t move, even when she wrapped her arms around my throat as if to strangle me. She rested her chin on my shoulder, my face crumpled. I hated that truly annoying cat voice. “Why are you out here all alone?”
“Get off Rose,” I ordered. She purred in my ear. I wanted to throw up.
“Why? I’m perfectly comfortable.” There was a quick slap, but I hadn’t moved an inch. My eyes trailed behind me to see a darker figure behind Rose. The bangs of this person hung in front of their eyes, casting a dark essence from them. They wore a brown plaid jacket with a white shirt and a matching brown plaid skirt. They wore white socks to their knees and ended with brown sneakers.
“He said ‘Get off’. So, I’d suggest you get off,” Amaranth’s voice was smooth and threatening. Her blue eyes almost glowed through her bangs, piercing an icy glare into her victim. Rose let her arms fall to her side, not taking her eyes off of Amaranth. She was frightened. I was glad.
“Bye, Sean,” Rose said without casting me a sideways glance. The two girls had a stare-to-the-death showdown until neither of their eyes were noticeable anymore. Amaranth finally turned her body to face me, her smile placed contentedly on her face, with her blonde hair running down the sides of her shoulders.
“She was annoying,” she said in her weird voice that was the cross between hiding paranoia and complete joy. I nodded, signaling that she wasn’t the one that had to deal with the brat every day at school.
“So, what’s up?” I asked coolly. She jumped the side of the bench, kicking her legs up over the side and landing flat on her feet in a crouching position on the bench. She gave me a smile then held a card between her fingers. It was small, about the size of her palm. It was a black envelope with red cursive manuscript.
“This should help explain some of it,” she started. I reached for it, but she pulled her arm back behind her. I glared. “You’re so cute; you think I’m just going to give this to you. No, no. You see, this is one of the greatest, and by greatest I mean biggest, events in history! I can’t just give this to you without you proving your loyalty to me.” She made it sound like a game of Kings and Queens played amongst the children at the playground.
“I don’t need to waste my time,” I stated standing up with my hands in my pocket. I was intrigued though.
“Ok,” she replied simply and sweetly. I stopped in mid-tracks. Was she purposely toying with my mind? Was she purposely trying to figure out what makes me tick? If so, then why did I like the thought? Why did I want her to know about me? Stupid teenage hormones.
“Alright, what do you want?” I asked turning back around. She giggled and pulled me down the road with my wrist gripped tightly in her hand. I made a distressed noise that wasn’t hidden behind my guise. What if someone caught me running through New York with a girl pulling me everywhere?
“You know that game of trust where you catch someone as they fall?” she asked as we turned a corner.
“Yeah,” I said breathlessly from running a grapevine to keep up with her and not fall.
“Well, let’s try!” Amaranth stopped on a bridge. I gave her a quizzical look as she began climbing the side of the bridge. Underneath was a body of water. I couldn’t recognize anything because of how fast my mind had worked altogether. She was leaning back, falling. I thought she was going to recognize it, but she didn’t seem to. Was her mind working as slow as mine? I finally ran forward, calling her name in obvious worry.
Her eyes fluttered closed and a smile flitted across her face. I didn’t understand her at all. If she had a death wish why did she want me to be there to see it? Overall, why in the world was I so protective? Why did I feel that if I let her fall into the water and die that it’d all be my fault? It might partially be because it would be my fault. There was this strong emotion hanging above my head though, hanging around my neck like a noose. If Amaranth fell back then she’d pull the noose up, killing me as well as herself.
I grabbed her wrist. It was warm. I felt the warm blood pulse through her veins. I pulled back her arm until it was at my waist. I’d jumped up onto the ledge along with her at that point. My body was definitely moving faster than my mind. I could only remember standing there watching her fall by the time she was standing upright once again. I let go of her wrist, trailing my fingers across the back of her palm. It got colder. My fingers grazed hers and I felt a shock jolt through me. Her fingers were freezing.
Amaranth smiled at me, cocking her head to the side. In the sleeve of her jacket she showed the corner of the small black envelope. I froze. My memory was still fixed on saving her, even though the noose had released its menacing grip on me. My eyes trailed along her hands and to her wrist. What was it about her that seemed too fragile to be human? There was this glass-like essence that flowed off of her. She was like one of those candle jars, those flimsy pieces of glass holding a bright and comforting flame in the middle. The flame, even though very comforting and peaceful to be around and look at, was still able to hurt and destroy. The flame was still able to create chaos and destruction. Such a small flame could burn down a house; swallow a forest; burn a human to a crisp until they were charcoal black.
I took the black package from her. Would reading this information… technically bind me into a covenant with her? Would this mean that after reading this… there was no going back? Was I in too deep? Was this small and minuscule envelope enough to damage and ruin my life? Would it burn me and eternally bind me into depression and have me beg that I would’ve never met her? I stared at it.
There was a scarlet thread that held the flap of the package down. I stared at it. Was I truly ready to gamble my life away for this girl? I was scared. I couldn’t admit it, but I was afraid of what I was doing. I was afraid I might be taking things too quickly. I was almost sure that once I opened this envelope everything would become complicated and I wasn’t to tell anyone. I’d be left with the burden to bear… for all of eternity.
“Amaranth,” I began shakily, “how big is this again?” I looked up at her. Her blue eyes had iced over. I almost saw the frosty mist fall down her face like dry tears. The sunset had almost been completely devoured. There was just a hint of dark purple and orange ember left to illuminate the sky.
“The future of mankind depends on it… everything that happens, happens for a reason,” she sighed and looked back up at me. Her eyes had melted as soon as they were at the same level as mine. They looked like large, blossoming pools once again. How she did that was amazing and beyond my knowledge, “I only have chance and trial. If this works, it works. If not…” she looked up into the sunset, “then it doesn’t.”
I hated how even in riddle form, she answered all my questions. This was big. This was gargantuan. This was all up to me and her. I looked down and began untwisting the thread. It had become much more difficult than it seemed. Simply twist the thread around the two hooks that bound it together. For some reason, though, it seemed as if the threads had frozen together and needed force to open. It was probably God’s way of telling Amaranth that I was trying to open it, that I was trying to be a part of whatever she had endangered herself in.
The threads had ceased and the flap left the surface of the envelope. I stared at it. Was I ready? I kept asking so many questions that all had one common answer. No. I had nothing to do but trust Amaranth, if indeed I couldn’t trust myself anymore. I lifted the flap and saw a paperclip stick out with a piece of paper and a picture. I gulped loud enough to be audible for Amaranth. I took the paper out and scanned it carefully.
There was a picture of a man. He had tan skin with a black, wiry beard and mustache. On his head he wore a white turban. His eyes were a deep brown that almost hid his pupils. To me, he looked like a man. He looked like just a regular man. He looked like a man that seemed powerful, no real source of determination or anything that hinted along those lines. I slipped that picture back in and took out the text. The text in itself was terrifying. It was only five words, five insignificant words that would seem like a joke to anyone. This, though, this was real. This was no joke. This was a real problem.
Osama bin Laden. Suicidal bomber.
I looked up at Amaranth, her face was dead serious. There was a bit of fear that hid behind her eyes. Her face had tried to bring about a peaceful essence but I knew that behind her façade she was afraid. This didn’t seem real. She didn’t seem real. Nothing could happen to the United States and I knew that. Even so… why did I do what I did next?
“Idiot!” I cursed, throwing the package at her. “What is this? Are you trying to freak me out? If so, you’ve succeeded. I’m out of here!” I turned around, only to be stopped by a tall fellow. He was about a foot taller than me. He had the same tan skin as the man in the picture and the same engulfing brown eyes. He wore a simple white t-shirt, black jacket and jeans with sneakers. His eyes bore down into me.
We were all still standing on the ledge still. We were like a show. We seemed like a couple of teenagers trying to gain attention. The last thing I wanted was to attract attention. I was guessing they were thinking the same thing. I supposed getting into a fight with this guy wouldn’t help the situation any more.
“And you are…?” I asked cockily, even though it wasn’t time to be cocky.
“Jared,” he answered in a deep, bellowing voice. I turned half my body back towards Amaranth.
“You know now,” Amaranth stated sincerely. “Reading that… practically bound you into a covenant with us. Whether you like it,” she stepped on my heel and smiled beside my face, “or not.” Her voice was so alluring. I really loathed her right about now. At this precise moment in time, I had already begun to regret pulling that thread.
I sat in bed that night, brooding over what Jared and Amaranth had filled me in on, which was limited. They said that if they told me everything it may altar the events in time. I still didn’t know how either of them knew it was going to happen. They refused to tell me how they collected their knowledge.
What was basically going on, though, was that there were men, following a man named Osama bin Laden, who were going to attack New York by airplane. I had asked what planes they were. Small jets. Large cruise planes. They didn’t answer. What were they going to attack? They still didn’t answer me. What were their reasons to drive them to attack? They only said, what do you think? In other words, no answer.
The plan was simpler. In six days Jared was leaving to a place they didn’t tell me about. There he would try and halt the planes from taking off by spreading fake rumors, getting in trouble with security, and if as a last result, hot-wire the planes. I asked where he’d acquired these skills. Neither of them still answered me.
How did I fit into this? If Jared happened to be unsuccessful, I had to run through the streets yelling any lie to get everyone out of New York, and Amaranth would be somewhere else shouting the same thing.
“Hey, Sean,” John shook me awake. “Sean, come on, you’re going to be late for school.” I woke up with a sudden jolt.
“I forgot to do my homework!” I cursed out loud. John raised an eyebrow. My face fled to the palms of my hands. John was my brother… but he was also the person I went to when I had a burden weighing on my shoulders. I told him everything. Keeping such a big secret from him ate me inside. Amaranth and Jared told me not to tell anyone though. I didn’t want to let Amaranth down and Jared intimidated me to a point where telling anyone could get me killed.
“There’s always study hall,” John sang walking out of the room. I grimaced at him.
“Whatever,” I replied coolly, getting up and grabbing a black polo shirt. John poked his head out of the bathroom with a tooth brush dangling from his mouth.
“Whash gotch you sho upshet?” he asked with a barely understandable tone.
“Sorry,” I said grabbing my backpack, “I don’t speak toothbrush.” I didn’t hear John’s reply as I walked out of the house.
My mind was only focused on the upcoming event that was so important. I still couldn’t believe it all that much. It was very difficult to think that something like that would be able to happen here. I’ve heard about things like that that have happened, but it just didn’t really seem possible.
It felt as though if any threats had even been remotely detected that someone else would be taking care of it, which I bet, people were doing right now. No one could get away with what Amaranth and Jared had proposed. I growled and stopped in the middle of the sidewalk.
It was only my second day of school. I’d only just started being a mature high school student when this monstrous burden had been dumped upon me. I guess I never really cared much for the situation as much as the person who seemed to be pulling the strings behind this show; the girl that seemed able to step in front of the sun and not get burned; the girl that could walk through the dark and not stumble once; the girl that could stand tall with her eyes never looking one bit ashamed even if she were poor broke on the street.
I smiled to myself, still paused in the middle of the sidewalk. People gave me confused and annoyed glances. There was something different today though. The usual scene of people who were in a rush and seemed pulled together and tied tightly in those suffocating suits had somehow leaked their inner selves through their façades today. I saw one person walk looking at me annoyed, but I could see a depression behind them. I knew that people were being eaten away from pressure and tight schedules. They weren’t counting the Fridays with friends anymore, now they were counting the days to paycheck and trying to figure out how much they could spend now and later.
Life had simply become the mere seconds of counting down until the day of death. It seemed as if the world had suddenly darkened and shut people off from each other. I didn’t understand it too much. I didn’t know why people shut other people out. I didn’t know anyone that did it. My thoughts gradually meandered to my own behavior. I was one of those people.
Bump! I fell to the ground in a cluttered mess. My papers fell out of my bag as did the papers from a man’s briefcase. I looked up to apologize, but stopped after seeing who the man was. It was the same person who’d I’d seen time and time again lately.
It was the man with an itchy tan jacket and a stern look on his face. He wasn’t hiding anything in his pocket anymore, but he was definitely hiding something. He looked deathly. His eyes pierced mine for a split second and then returned to finding his papers. I looked to my side and picked up my essay for history class and gave the man his documents. He stood up, his eyes still sending me a negative vibe. His eyes had captured me so deeply that I hadn’t noticed the smile that bubbled to his face and gruff thank you. A smile on his face didn’t seem like it belonged.
He fled back into the streaming crowd and was lost. I didn’t understand why I was staring back at him. I didn’t understand why this situation had captivated me so dearly, but it did. I finally shook my head and shoved the papers into my bag and glanced at my watch. My eyes widened and my legs forced themselves into a full fledged sprint as I had realized I was late for class.