"Happy 17th Birthday!" the elegant font read, scribbled in neon green ink. "You've won a free luxury trip to an exotic island!"
Was this some sort of sick joke?
“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“She’s so young to be without parents.”
“Her poor aunt must be going through so much.”
Nyla woke up, the sensation of falling instantly snapping her into consciousness. To her utmost surprise, she wasn’t at her parents’ funeral anymore. Truth be told, she never even remembered falling asleep at the gloomy gathering- yet here she was, feeling quite well rested and full of healthy energy.
In a cave.
Nyla’s dark eyes peered around the stone dwelling, wondering how on Earth she’d woken up in there of all places. Small bits of dirt clumped under her long fingernails as she pushed herself up into a sitting position. The cave was large and quite hollow, with hardly any light coming from the entrance. Nyla gazed into the opening, and found it mostly blocked by thick bushes and lush, leafy trees. Nyla couldn’t see what was in the farther back end of the cave, but didn’t quite care to.
Standing up, Nyla found the only good source of light- a lamp that sat on a sturdy stone ledge on the cave’s right wall. The glow emanating from it was warm and soothing, and illuminated a radius of at least twenty feet around the girl.
Nyla walked over to pick up the lamp, but didn’t take more than a few steps before tripping on something she had assumed was a rock, and fell to the dusty floor. She quickly sat up again, and found that her foot had hooked onto the long strap of a black, leather knapsack. Rushing to pick it up, she grabbed it and unzipped it, hoping to find food or water. If someone had left her in a hidden cave- for who knows what reason- perhaps they might have left some supplies as well.
At least, she hoped.
The teen peered into the knapsack and found a note, among tubes of some cream. Medicine? Poison? She’d have to hold them into the light to see. There were also transparent plastic packets of some dark liquid, but Nyla couldn’t tell what they were either. Stuffed next to the packets and tubes of cream were other wads of thick, rolled up paper. Utterly confused at the mysterious contents, she decided to read the note first. She unfolded it and held it into the light, noting its very circular, cursive handwriting.
“Happy 17th Birthday!” the elegant font read, scribbled in neon green ink. “You’ve won a free luxury trip to an exotic island!”
Was this some sort of sick joke?
Nyla just realized that it was quite possible that it was her birthday. She remembered helping the funeral workers preparing for her parents’ arrangements while grumbling about how people would completely ignore her sweet seventeenth. To anyone else, she’d probably seem like an extremely selfish person for ignoring her parents’ funeral, but it’s not as if they were really dead. It was just some stunt they pulled every century or so.
Nyla flipped the paper to see if anything was written in the back, and her blood instantly ran cold at what she found.
“You’ll never leave.”
Nyla shook her head and stuffed the note into a side pocket on the knapsack. It wasn’t the time to be intimidated by some prankster. She then reached for the rolled up papers and gently pulled them out, hoping they’d give her more information. Glancing at the composition of the writing, the girl realized they were newspapers. She laid them across the ground, brushed her black hair out of her eyes, and began to skim over the headlines.
The articles were chillingly close to home- in fact, they were from her very hometown, as well as nearby places. Some of them were, at least. Others were written in different languages that Nyla could tell were Japanese, Arabic, Russian, Mandarin, Spanish, and even Swahili. She decided to go over those later.
Nyla read the various English news headlines, and noticed a common theme. They were all about vampire attacks. Specifically, one of the deadliest vampires recorded in human history- not that recorded history went that far in the large scale of things. The titles referred to him as “#1 Spook” and “Scourge of the Earth”. Amusingly, some had even called him the unprecedented fifth horseman of the apocalypse. His real name, of course, was Kalo, but newspapers love the flashier aliases.
As Nyla read on, she saw that the headlines reported various attacks in different cities around the world, and that a strange phenomenon seemed to follow- the registered and imprisoned vampires in those cities seemed to vanish when Kalo did. Some articles proposed that Kalo killed them for more power; others suggested that Kalo was turning them into humans so he could be the only supernaturally powerful creature on earth.
Nyla scoffed, and stuffed the newspapers back in the knapsack. They had nothing whatsoever to do with her situation, as there were no vampires around, and were most likely just a scare tactic to spook someone in a dark cave. Most vampires on the planet had been registered and given routine injections to keep their superhuman status at bay. True, terrifying vampires were pretty rare. One might say they were even an extremely endangered species, but no one really cared for them to thrive.
She threw the bag’s strap over her shoulder and stood up again, wondering what exactly she’d done to warrant such an interesting surprise. She took a few steps and didn’t feel dizziness or a headache, so she believed she couldn’t have been drugged. Whatever put her to sleep must have been relatively harmless.
She reached into the knapsack again, now curious as to what filled the soft plastic tubes. She held them up to the lamplight, and was shocked to find that they all held sunscreen- and at a rather high protection : SPF 100. Seven tubes of them?
It’s almost as if they knew Nyla was a vampire herself.
But even if they did, Nyla pondered while walking toward’s the cave’s opening, why her? She was extremely young for one of the undead- they definitely knew that, since the birthday note was accurate. Her hometown gave vaccinations so vampires wouldn’t hurt anyone and could happily live a normal life that they so desperately craved. No one wanted to be an outcast. And with all the drugs pumped into her over the years, she was practically human at this point.
As the teen nearer the cave’s entrance, she wondered if she was by the small forest near her house, refusing to believe in the bizarre prospect of actually being on an island. She lived in a landlocked state, as far as the ocean as anyone could be. Perhaps it really was her hometown woods- she had never explored it thoroughly, and for all she knew, it could even have more caves.
Nyla reached the thick bushes and pried the foliage apart with her hands, letting the sunlight hit her tan face and arms. To her dismay, her surroundings were no place she recognized. Her heart sank, fearful of the thought of actually being in a foreign land. She didn’t think it was an island, as that was still too much of a strange option, but perhaps she wasn’t in her hometown anymore. The thought of being kidnapped sent her mind reeling. Did her parents owe someone money? Was she in danger? Was it still just a bunch of kids playing a prank? Nyla couldn’t tell.
Her heart rate now increased, she decided to venture out into the forest. It wasn’t the creepy, dingy kind; rather, they seemed to be the kind that nature-themed wallpapers portrayed. Each plant held such a lovely green hue that one would think a worldwide champion gardener- if there was such a thing- had tended to them. There weren’t any flowers, and Nyla guessed that they must not be in their blooming season yet. Bugs flitted around- mostly mosquitos- and as Nyla began to speed up her pace, she lost count of how many times she had clapped them away. A few fuzzy squirrels watched from the trees, intrigued by the new girl entering their habitat, and Nyla merely glared at them back.
Not seeing a point to keeping the pace she was at, Nyla began to run. It wasn’t so much out of panic, but out of desperation to see any sign of human life. Blades of grass became a blur under her hasty feet, and the trees became the same. Even the bugs surrounding her quickly flew to the side, not wanting to be met with a full force of anxious teenage girl. Where was anyone? How far was she from civilization? Who kidnapped her? Was she even near her hometown at all?
“Whoa, miss!” a woman’s voice called out in a distinct Irish accent. “Did you see a rabid skunk?”
Nyla turned towards the direction of the voice so quickly she almost gave herself whiplash. Sitting on a bench in a clearing about thirty feet to her left was a smiling young redhead. Her clothes were bright shades of yellow that contrasted with her dark brown skin, and her piercing grey eyes held a glimmer of amusement. The woman’s soft red smile stretched across her face as she watched Nyla turn around in shock, making the girl feel safe, and yet, uneasy at the same time.
“My name’s Jada, seeing as how you’re not asking.”
Pomegranates and Texts
Nyla stared at the woman on the bench. "Where are we?"
Jada's smile wavered slightly. "We're at Lipress Park."
Nyla frowned. She had never heard of such a park in her hometown, nor even in nearby ones. She wasn't a park fanatic by any chance, but it still should have run some sort of bell. This was very off-putting.
"Uh, in what city?" Nyla asked. Seeing Jada raise a brow made her consider adding details to the question to avoid seeming crazy. "I mean, I'm new here, and I forgot the name of this place. I'm here on uh..."
Nyla remembered what the note in her knapsack said.
"...vacation. I'm on a trip and I get lost sometimes and forget where I'm going. I'm really new to this traveling thing."
"So you are," Jada mumbled under her breath. Then, she raised her voice again. "Well, that's not a problem. Why don't you come sit here with me and relax for a bit? I'll even give you a snack if you want; I've got plenty.
Nyla forced a weak smile and walked towards the woman. The teen dusted her dirty hands on the back of her black jacket so as not to appear too filthy, and gratefully sat down next to Jada. It would be nice to not be alone and clueless anymore.
Now she was just clueless- unless Jada had some answers.
"So how do you like the island so far?" Jada asked, fishing out a small plastic container of pomegranate seeds. Each red, juicy niblet shined in the sun like an individual gem, making Nyla's mouth water- until she processed Jada's words.
"I-Island?" Nyla sputtered, forgetting all about the snack, though it was placed gently into her lap. "I'm on an island? Actually on an island? For real?"
Jada frowned, though it was hardly noticeable. "Of course you are. Doesn't your map show that? Why so surprised?"
"I don't have a map," Nyla admitted. Jada stared at her with a look of concern, her bright smile long having vanished. "I've just got sunscreen and...stuff with me, but I don't really know where I'm going."
"Or how I got here," the teen anxiously thought to herself.
Jada's grey eyes began to expose the beginnings of an internal storm. Whether from fear or anger, Nyla couldn't tell.
"Have you tried checking your phone?" The redhead asked. "You have one with you, don't you?"
Nyla shook her head. "I don't have one with me."
This time, instead of accepting the fact like she did with the map, Jada's attitude switched to stubborn disbelief. "Check again. I'm sure you brought your phone with you."
When Nyla tried to deny having a phone the third time, Jada snatched the knapsack and brought it closer to her. The strap tugged on the girl's neck, making her yelp as Jada dug her fingers deep inside the satchel. When she didn't find what she was looking for, the redhead resorted to switching to the side pockets, ramming her hand into each one.
Nyla could only watch in shock; she'd never met a stranger who'd invade her private space so quickly.
"Found it!" Jada exclaimed triumphantly, holding up a green smartphone she'd found in the third side pocket. The color seemed eerily similar to the ink the note Nyla had found earlier had been written in. "See? All it takes is a good bit of lookin' around."
Nyla stared, dumbfounded, as the phone was thrust in her hands. She internally berated herself for not checking all of the pockets for supplies, and turned the phone on. There was no password required, which felt even more suspicious to her, as safe and secure phones usually weren't open to everyone's eyes. The wallpaper was quite odd; it featured silver kittens that galloped across her screen in an endless loop.
Wondering if anyone could message her, she clicked on an app showing all of the contacts- her contacts now, she presumed. There were only two- her name, as phones usually displayed their owners' numbers, and one titled X41.
Who was X41?
"You haven't touched your seeds," Jada spoke, interrupting Nyla's exploration. Nyla gave her a confused look. What was she going on about?
Jada pointed to the pomegranate seeds. "Aren't you hungry?"
Nyla glanced at the fruit in her lap. "Oh. Yeah, I guess I am."
As Nyla pried the kid off the container with one hand, Jada stood up and began to walk away. Nyla remained completely oblivious as she stared at the mysterious contact on her phone. Did X41 stand for anything? Was it a man or a woman? Was it a group of people? Could it even be a programmed robot?
"First things first," Nyla whispered to herself. "Where am I really?
The teen switched back to the home screen and saw not one search engine app, as she was used to on her own phone, but two. The first's logo was a red diamond with white spots bordering it, and the second's was the exact same thing, but with blue and grey color scheme. Only the first search engine logo was what Nyla was used to to, but in the grand scheme of her current situation, that was quite insignificant.
Nyla clicked on the more familiar logo and began to type "Lipress Park". To her surprise, no results showed up. The web search only yielded new spelling suggestions, but none of them were correct. She lifted a few pomegranate seeds from the plastic container in her lap and munched on them before trying again, this time by adding additional words such as "Island", "Vacation", and "Forest".
Nothing came up.
Nyla deleted the tab, switched back to the home screen, and selected the second search engine. The difference was striking- whereas the other search engine was filled with normal black text against a white background, this one was filled with bright green text against a black background. Nyla's scrunched her brows at the strange finding, but before she could use the app, a message popped up.
"Welcome to Bevix Island's own search engine! Enjoy your stay!"
The message disappeared after about half a minute, leaving Nyla with answers, but new questions as well. She was glad to find out the name of the island she now occupied- at least, she assumed it was-but what kind of an island had its own exclusive network? Quickly, Nyla began to type "Lipress Park" and clicked "Go," hoping to find results this time.
A page instantly opened up, describing the attractions, history, and ratings of the park. Nyla let out a breath she didn't realize she was holding, and sighed with content. At least she now knew where she was, even if how she got there was still a mystery. She decided to continue her online exploration, and searched for a map of Bevix Island. A digital map popped up, showing Nyla what she never even began imagine.
Bevix Island, from what she found tell, held a massive, high tech city. There were buildings even taller than the ones she already knew of, and the sight of the various pictures below took away her breath. The gardens, rows of shops, and office buildings indicated that she wasn't on some rural island, but on a very modern one. Nyla wasn't much of a city girl, but it's not as if she had a choice at that moment. She needed to figure out why she was here.
Just as she was about to begin scrutinizing the map for directions, the phone buzzed. A notification popped up- a message from X41. Nyla's eyes widened as she pressed it, and it directed her to a private chat in the message app.
"Not lost anymore, are you?"
The girl read the text, fascinated, and yet put off by how creepy it sounded. Her fingers moved slowly as she began texting back.
"No," Nyla replied. "Who is this?"
"Can you guess?"
Nyla stared at the words, completely confused. How was she supposed to know? She only met one person on the island! Unless the person was someone back home...
"Are you on the island?"
Nyla cringed as soon as she sent the text. She had responded too fast, and might have unknowingly revealed information about her location, or indicated something else incriminating. She held her breath, and waited for a reply.
"I might be. Why don't you go explore it?"
Nyla turned the phone off, stuffed it into her satchel, stood up, and began to walk through the park. Whether someone told her to or not, she would definitely be "touring" the island.
She doubted just how safe her birthday present really was.
To put it bluntly, Nyla was exhausted.
After walking through the park for so long- alone, as Jada was nowhere to be found- she began to detest the scenery. It wasn’t that her legs were fatigued; she was more of a lazy indoor person back at home, but not to the point of extreme unhealthiness. Rather, it was her mind that wore her out. Every few minutes or so, her brain would come up with bizarre questions about the island, and a few minutes later, would form equally bizarre answers. The cycle repeated over and over again, making the teen wish her loopy thoughts had an off-switch- only the loopy ones, that is. It was quite draining.
By now, she had long entered an area of the park where many people surrounded her, enjoying their day. A few stared at her; some kids even had the audacity to giggle at her messy hair and clothes. She knew she looked like a hobo, but who could blame her? She’d been sleeping in a cave, after all.
Glancing at the families, Nyla couldn’t help but wonder if they had come to the island the same way she had. Did they come on a cruise ships, or had they arrived by plane? Perhaps some were even born and lived here all their lives. It was a strange concept, as Nyla had never even heard of the island of Bevix.
There was something else that bothered her as well. Whenever she was in the pcompany of enough people, there seemed to be a strange, sweet smell coming off of them. It was sweet, yes, but it had a hint of bitterness to it too, and that was the unusual part. It didn’t stink, exactly, but since when did everyone smell the same? Nyla even began to wonder if she smelled the same and just didn’t realize it.
He phone buzzed in her pocket. The teen girl fished it out, and read the message- no doubt from X41. She had yet to make any more contacts.
“You have a lot more acne from the last time I saw you,” a taunting message read.
Nyla froze. Was whoever was texting her...watching her?
“Where are you?!” she texted frantically, hardly able to see the phone screen due to the glare from the sun. “Get away from me!”
Nyla received a quick text back.
“Oh relax,” X41 replied. “I’m nowhere near you at the moment. Since you seem so frazzled, why don’t we start with introductions?”
Nyla raised a brow. She might be getting some answers after all.
“Names?” the girl suggested.
“Of course,” the texter replied. “I am X41.”
Nyla groaned. Whoever was on the other end clearly had a cheeky sense of humor. She didn’t know why she bothered. She sighed and shut her phone off before placing it back into her pocket- where she could feel any future notifications quite easily- and continued walking on.
After few minutes of trudging through the semi- tall grasses, the teen began to reach a network of streets. Her face lit up as she realized she was getting closer to the city itself, as she had found less nature and more, paved roads and concrete. She ran around like a decapitated chicken as she surveyed the streets, wondering if there was a taxi anywhere.
After multiple failed attempts, and falling over in her haste one or two times, Nyla finally found one. She ran up to the familiar-looking bright yellow car, and knocked on the driver’s seat window. The man inside quickly rolled up the glass barrier, his eyes widened in surprise.
Nyla couldn’t tell why he looked so shocked. Perhaps this wasn’t the type of car she was looking for?
“Excuse me,” she began, feigning a friendly smile. “Are you a taxi?”
The driver still looked surprised, but nonetheless answered her question. “Yes.”
“Could you take me to the city?”
The driver slowly nodded, then unlocked the car doors with an audial click. Nyla sat inside, relieved that she wouldn’t be surrounded by so much greenery anymore. She was never much into nature, anyway.
“Where do you want to go?” the taxi driver asked slowly, which Nyla interpreted as a request for a specific address.
“Anywhere in the city is fine,” Nyla said quickly. “Drop me off smack in the middle for all I care.”
The driver blinked at her as if she’d rambled on about nonsense, but then spoke again. “Ok, the city. Do you have money?”
The question hit Nyla like a speeding truck, and a deafening silence overtook the cab. The driver simple watched her, saying absolutely nothing, not knowing how intimidating his stare was to the girl. His light brown eyes gave her the shivers.
Snapping out of her trance, Nyla began to wade her fingers through her satchel on a whim. She hadn’t seen the phone before, so perhaps she had money that had escaped her attention as well. After a minute of searching, she became frustrated, and dumped the contents of the satchel onto the car seats. The sunscreen bottles, magazines, packets of dark red liquid, and the haunting note fell out quickly, making a mess. Luckily, they could easily be simply shoved back into her purse.
The driver grew annoyed with the girl trashing his vehicle, and pointed at the packets of liquid. “I can take if you have no money.”
Nyla glanced at the packets, then at him. “Why? Uh, I mean, you can take them, I guess. How many do you want?”
It’s not as if she needed them anyway.
“Two,” the driver answered after a few slow seconds. Nyla gave him his desired quantity, and put everything else back into her satchel, stuffing them in messily. She had only two packets left, but she didn’t mind.
“Ok, let us go,” the driver mumbled to himself as he revved the engine and began exiting the park.
During the drive, Nyla felt proud of herself for getting this far. Heaven forbid she travel on foot. It was also a sense of accomplishment because she’d never been on her own alone before so far away from home. True, she had no idea how far away the island was from the States, but it felt nice to know that she was at least somewhat independent. She internally thanked all the survival shows she’d watched at home, when her aunt was still around to sit with and root for the winners alongside her.
Poor Aunt Sai.
Nyla wondered how her guardian was doing without her. No doubt, the police would have been called and would be swarming all over the neighborhood. Aunt Sai was a strong woman, but even she would fall into the stormy currents of grief if Nyla wasn’t back home soon. She valued the girl so much, even if her parents didn’t.
Reaching for her phone from her jeans’ front pocket, Nyla decided to try calling her aunt. She mentally smacked herself for not thinking of it earlier. She turned it on, dialed her aunt’s cell phone number, and waited. Almost instantly, she heard a loud, jarring beep that terminated the attempt. Nyla quickly pulled the phone away from her ear, clearly startled, and stared at the screen.
“We are sorry to inform you that no technological form of communication will reach any mainland. This also applies to texts, emails, social media posts, etcetera. Enjoy your stay!”
The white text aggravated Nyla, and she huffed and turned the phone right off. She’d find out exactly what was going on when she’d reach the city; perhaps she’d walk right up to a cell phone service company and demand to know why they were so exclusive.
But at least she knew one thing, though.
X41 was definitely on the island.
Suddenly, her phone buzzed, as if it refused to simply be shoved away back into her pocket. Nyla read the new message on the screen, her irritation replaced with familiar, stomach-sinking feeling of paranoia.
Static crackled across her screen, and a few seconds later, it went black.
“We are almost there,” the taxi driver announced.
Nyla was glad that she was closer to finding out about Bevix Island, but her phone still worried her. For the past ten minutes, it remained completely shut off, no matter how many times she tried to turn it on. She even kept her finger on the “On” button for at least half a minute at a time, but the screen remained pitch black. At one point, she had even resorted to shaking it wildly.
The teen wondered if the mainland call had broken the phone somehow. Or perhaps, someone had hacked it- but who? Was X41 interfering? Or was it someone else? Would it ever turn on again?
Nyla hated to admit it, but she felt lost without the cocky messages from X41.
“We are here,” the driver announced, his soft brown hair flipping to the side as he made a sharp turn into a parking lot. Nyla pushed open the door and jumped out the car when she had the chance, fueled by excitement and slight anxiety. As soon as she shut it, the driver nodded to her and began to back out of the parking lot, leaving the girl all alone and anxious-
In a cozy, quaint community of shops.
Nyla at first was confused about her surroundings- she expected the shiny, grandiose buildings she’d seen earlier on the map. Here, however, they were nowhere to be found; instead, small personalized shops and businesses lined the streets, each one seeming to fulfill a single service, or sell a certain good. The buildings were rather closely knit, too, and the lamps and decorations around on the sidewalks seemed antique, and oddly elegant. Small, golden lights hung from rooftops, and slowly turned on, as it was evening soon.
Nyla walked across the neatly paved sidewalks alongside the other pedestrians, and felt herself becoming a bit calmer, thanks to the soothing feel of the area, and due to the fact that she was closer to the big city. It wasn’t that bad- in fact, the area she now explored made her feel as if she’d gone back in time. Everyone was close together, as well as the shops, and people seemed generally happy. The teen trailed her eyes against the shop names, and felt that they gave such a nice, personal feel.
“Corazón’s Cafe,” read one. “Sayeko’s Swoon-Worthy Sweets,” boasted another.
Nyla peeked into her purse, wondering how many of the red liquid packets she had left. If the driver accepted them as a form of currency- albeit a strange one- then maybe anyone who sold food would too. She wasn’t exactly hungry before, but after strolling and smelling the various, mouthwatering scents coming from the small restaurants and bakeries, the feeling seemed to pounce on her like a rabid kangaroo. The girl’s stomach growled, and she realized the last time she’d eaten was at the funeral- she’d been sneaking bits of lunch out of impatience.
Now even hungrier than before, thanks to her meandering thoughts, Nyla jogged up to a particularly near bakery’s window, and salivated at the sights of the cake and cookies on display. The chocolate looked so smooth, and the cakes themselves seemed so perfectly soft and fluffy. The cookies were massive; some even large enough to fill an entire dinner plate. Oh, what she wouldn’t do for just one-
Out of the blue, her phone buzzed in her pocket, nearly making her scream out loud. Thankful she didn’t- she would most certainly hate the attention- Nyla picked up the phone and turned it on.
“Hello again, Nyla.”
Nyla wasn’t sure if she should have been more concerned or excited about X41’s comeback.
“I’m sure you know by now you can’t call anyone off the island,” another message read. “Also, I took the time to...adjust your phone to suit your needs.”
Nyla raised a brow at the bright green letters.
“To suit your needs,” she typed back, letting them know she refused to remain in the dark about everything. “It blacked out. You reprogrammed it or something.”
“Or something,” X41 replied mockingly. “Why don’t you find out?”
Nyla switched back to home screen, not sure what she expected. The answer became apparent too quickly for her to spend any time wondering about it anyway- the familiar, search engine from the States was gone.
She was now completely digitally trapped on the island.
Nyla’s heart began to race, and she felt herself begin to sweat- even in the mildly chilly weather. She didn’t know the people around her; neither their culture, main language, or even the history of the island. She’d never even heard of the island before.
And what was worse was that X41 was her only connection to her life before today, and that she relied on the cruel texter’s messages for a strange sort of comfort for that very reason- and quite possibly, they might very well know it.
What a cruel predicament.
Then, another message popped up.
“That app was a bug, just so you know,” it read. “It was a mistake never meant to be there, so I wouldn’t waste time mourning over it.”
The teen’s anger flared, though it was still kept weak by her anxiety. Her stomach knotted at the thought of cut off contact from the very beginning.
“So you’re just going to leAVE ME TO DIE HERE???” she texted back, exposing her true feelings, but hoping they sounded intimidating. “I have no money for food WHATSOEVER!!”
“You’re not going to die, neurotic child.”
Nyla waited for another text explaining how she wasn’t, in fact, doomed. None came, and she began to feel a gnawing sensation in her stomach- part distress, and part hunger. She’d missed her home terribly, and if it wasn’t for the fact that she was raised to never cry, she would have burst into tears by that point.
“I haven’t done that in years, you know.”
Nyla turned towards the voice- quite the masculine one, it seemed- and found a group of men and women standing next to each other and watching her. It wasn’t a large group at all, but it was enough to make her uncomfortable. She was a people person when she wanted to be, but this certainly wasn’t the time.
“I wish I could,” a woman from the group chimed in. “But I’m not built for it.”
“Do...what?” Nyla asked.
The crowd laughed.
“Where are you from?” a second man asked, his blue eyes hinting fascination. “Does it run in your gene pool?”
“Yeah,” the same woman from before chimed in. “Or are you the black sheep?”
Nyla sighed, just wishing they’d go away so she could find out how to obtain money- perhaps she could work in a shop?
“Yeah, I’m a black sheep or whatever,” she muttered.
“That’s rad.” The blue eyed man commented.
“Since I haven’t seen one of you in, like, forever, and we’re going to get some drinks, wanna come with us?” a blonde woman piped up.
Nyla’s eyes shot open wide. “Can we get food too?”
“Yeah, they sell great sandwiches at the cafe.”
Nyla’s mouth formed a smile that stretched from ear to ear. She had no idea what she had said that provided her such a generous offer, but she wasn’t about to let it go anytime soon. She followed them like an excited little puppy as they walked towards a cafe a few streets away, and if she were literally the animal, she would have certainly been wagging her tail.
Her phone buzzed again. She switched it on but continued walking, refusing to lose her tickets to dinner.
“I see someone made new friends,” X41’s message read. “But you had no idea what they were talking about, did you?”
Nyla frowned, but recalled the earlier text claiming they wouldn’t die.
“I don’t care, I’m just hungry,” she texted back. “And they’re not my friends. And it’s not like you’re helping with anything.”
“So you think.”
Nyla nearly bumped into several people on the way while trying to read the text over and over again. What did X41 even mean by that? Perhaps he was lurking in the shadows- after all, he seemed to be in tune with Nyla’s conversations, even the ones she barely participated in.
Was there a bug planted on her?
“Heya, Luciana,” the blonde woman greeted one of the staff at the cafe as they group walked in- followed by a very confused but grateful teen. “Guess who we found. You’ll never ever guess, babe.”
Luciana, sitting behind the counter and adjusting the stray locks on her pixie cut, giggled. “What?”
The adults moved aside to expose Nyla. The teen shyly stared at the floor, glancing at the cafe worker for only a few seconds at a time. Luciana’s eyes widened as their gaze fell upon the girl, and she gave the blonde woman a cocky grin. “Big deal, Joanne. My cousin’s one of those.”
At this point, Nyla didn’t even bother trying to understand. It was worth the free food, though.
“Whatever,” Joanne replied lightheartedly. “We’re here to pick up some sandwiches, by the way. Seven.”
“You do this when you know I’m the only one here working,” Luciana pretended to whine. She then yawned, and began gathering ingredients onto the counter. “I’m about to close anyway, so you guys are lucky.”
They sat at the tall seats at the edge of the counter as Luciana prepared their meals, and Nyla watched quietly as the other six discussed random things she wasn’t involved in. She then smiled, and decided to contact X41 on a sudden whim that came to her while she watched Luciana cut up tomatoes. How bad could it be?
“Hey, X41,” Nyla texted. “Are you there?”
Nyla waited for a response, but no message arrived. She decided whoever they were weren’t using their phone at the moment. She placed her phone down, and waited for her sandwich. The smell of sizzling roast beef permeated throughout the cafe, and it made her all the more glad that she pretended to know what the group next to her was talking about.
Her phone buzzed. Nyla slid it off the counter, picked it up, and read the new message on her screen.
“Is there something you want to discuss? Another complaint, maybe?”
Nyla rolled her eyes at the passive aggressiveness, but texted back anyways.
“I got food,” she typed. “A roast beef sandwich.”
“It’s gonna taste great.”
“It’s even got tomatoes.”
“Even got bread on the sides. Crazy, huh?”
“Don’t spam me, child. If this is some petty act to get revenge on me, it’s not going to work. I have plenty of patience to deal with people like you.”
Nyla paused. Then, her quick fingers forced out yet another text.
“Serious now. Where am I gonna sleep? I’m super tired.”
Nyla wasn’t, in fact, quite that tired, but she knew the excitement of her day would wear off sooner or later, leaving nothing but fatigue. When she was actually tired, she tended to sleep like a rock.
“I’ve arranged that for you,” X41 explained. “When everyone else leaves the cafe, you go too, but stay right next to the entrance. A grey cap will be waiting for you.”
“Why is some hat going to be there for me?”
The answer made her burst out laughing.
It was quite a chilly night.
Nyla had been standing outside the cafe door for what seemed like forever- though it was half an hour at most- and shivered away the energy she’d obtained from her dinner. She was all alone; normally she welcomed the solitude, but on an island of mystery, she preferred at least some company. Hardly anyone seemed to walk the streets this late, except for a few that probably held night shift jobs. Even X41’s texts had abandoned her for the time being, and she was forced to wait outside for the grey car destined to cross her path- or at least the cafe driveway.
“I should have stayed inside and waited,” she mumbled to no one on particular, though knowing full well that the door had long been locked. “It was warmer.”
The harsh, completely unwelcome sound of a steering wheel horn filled the air, assaulting Nyla’s ears. She covered them with her cold fingers to muffle the audial intrusion, and watched as a blue car came into view- almost greenish under the golden lights above. A man rolled down the window, waving at her. He had a stern look on his face and tension apparent in his manners, but what drew the teen’s attention the most was the spiked collar around his neck.
Was that some sort of island tradition?
“Get in,” the man ordered her, unlocking the doors. Nyla slipped inside in the back, and shut the door behind her. It was pitch black, and she could only see the outside surroundings due to the hanging lights above. She could also make out the silhouette of someone else in the shotgun seat- a woman, perhaps, judging by what appeared to be long, skinny braids.
“Give me the bag,” the lady demanded. Nyla raised a brow- X41 sure sent some bossy people. She removed the strap from her shoulder and handed the satchel up front. The lady snatched it up quickly, and began rummaging through it.
“Nicolás, ella tiene sangre, periódicos, y protector solar,” the woman informed the driver. She continued searching some more- for what, Nyla didn’t know.
Nicolás hummed in acknowledgement. “¿Y un móvil o un arma?”
The lady shook her head, but didn’t stop looking. Nyla decided that if she didn’t understand what they were saying, she’d at least insert some English into the conversation.
“Why did X41 send you?” she asked the couple, hoping they were at least bilingual.
Nicolàs simply stared at the road. “¿Quien es X41?”
“Honey, we don’t know what that is,” the lady informed Nyla in a softer voice than before, in nearly perfect English. “We’re here to take you to our home.” Then, turning back to the man, she muttered, “Espero que ella no esté loca.”
Then, the woman threw the satchel out the window.
Nyla watched in shock as the couple in front of her laughed. Her last currency packets were in there! Nyla was about to yell out indignantly, but her phone interrupted that course of action by buzzing in her pocket- quite intensely, in fact. She discreetly fished it out of her pocket and read the new messages.
“NYLA ANSWER ME”
“DID THE CAR CRASH”
“NYLA ANSWER ME RIGHT NOW”
The teen scanned the messages twice over, wondering what urgent event prompted such panicked texts. They could have been out of anger for all she knew, but she pushed that thought back to her mind.
“Yes?” Nyla texted back, folding her knees up to chest, and sticking her phone between them. Nyla didn’t want to risk the woman up front throwing her phone out the window too.
“WHERE ARE YOU?” X41 replied.
“I’m in the car you sent.”
“...What was that loud noise then? It sounded like crashing!”
The teen smirked at the new text. It seemed whoever was on the other end had calmed down enough to switch to lowercase letters.
“I didn’t hear any crashing,” she explained.
“It was merely a few seconds ago. How could you not have heard that?”
“Was it really that loud?”
“Nothing happened, my bag was just thrown out the window.”
Nyla received only silence from the other end, making her realize something glaringly obvious. She pinched herself in annoyance, irately wondering why she hadn’t thought of it before.
“You planted a bug on the satchel, didn’t you,” her nimble fingers typed. “The crash you heard was the bag hitting the pavement.”
No messages came through. Nyla sighed and placed the phone back into her pocket, but felt it buzz as soon as she completed the action. She turned it on, and smiled.
“You should have figured that out long ago, anyway,” the condescending text read. “And you’re going to be punished for not following directions and taking the wrong car.”
“What color is the car that you’re currently hijacking, child?”
Nyla paused to think, only to realize she couldn’t remember at all. She glanced at the drivers fearfully, then turned back to the phone.
“It’s not like you’re trustworthy or anything,” Nyla responded, feeling that she had won in some way, even if fear slowly began to crawl up her spine.
“You have no idea who you’re with, do you? But no worries; I’ll track you down.”
“How so? The cam bug’s gone.”
“You have tracking chips implanted on you.”
Nyla gasped aloud, letting her phone drop to the floor of the car. Fortunately, it happened to quickly to be seen by her drivers- or captors, she began to think with slowly increasing paranoia. Why had she just walked into a car with strangers? Just because X41 said so?
It was time to be a lot more untrusting.
“¿Que paso?” Nicolás asked, making a turn. Nyla was grateful she knew at least that much Spanish- and maybe a little more too, if she focused enough.
“My leg hurt,” the teen explained, realizing she needed to become better at fibbing. “I pulled a muscle.”
The couple said nothing, and Nyla reached down, pretending to stretch and soothe the fake cramp. Her fingers fumbled in the dark, searching for the familiar, flat, solid screen, but landed on something quite different instead. It was metal as well, but tube-like on one end. She tried sticking her finger in the tube, pretending there was no possibility of a spider crawling out of it at all, and felt around. It was hollow. Nyla proceeded to find her phone and shine its flashlight on it, illuminating the object.
There, nearly completely hidden underneath the car seat in front of her, was a gun.
Nyla had never heard so much Spanish in all her life.
The massive livingroom alone held at least twenty people, and her ears seemed to pick up every sound they made. Furthermore, cacophony wasn’t isolated at all, but spread throughout the house. The guests- at least, Nyla assumed they were- chattered about things Nyla couldn’t begin to understand with her basic comprehension of their language. She sat alone on a chair while taking in the whole scene, wistfully wishing she was back home.
There was something else about the gathering that was unsettling as well- there were no children to be seen.
True, Nyla was glad that the couple that had taken her from the cafe didn’t transport her to some creepy warehouse, but she still felt alone. There were plenty of adults at the party- adults of all shapes, colors, and sizes, but only adults. Crying infants, pesky toddlers, cringe-worthy preteens, and even angsty teenagers themselves were nowhere to be found. In fact, Nyla hadn’t seen a single non-adult on the entire island from the very beginning.
“Maybe they’re in school or something”, she thought while helping herself to yet another serving of tortilla chips and guacamole dip.
“You look bored,” a voice pointed out from beside her. Nyla turned her head to find a very familiar person- though far beyond her age group- with a casual smile on her face. Her grey eyes twinkled under the chandelier lights, filled with as much festivity as the rest of the party.
“Thank God you speak English,” the teen gushed, recalling their brief conversation at the park. “I don’t speak much Spanish. Why are you here?”
Jada chuckled. “Its a house party with free food for anyone who’s in high support for the island’s current political atmosphere. And actually, a lot of us speak English here. Spanish is just the connector language.”
“Oh. For the whole island?”
The guest shook her head, letting the plastic bag make noises with every crinkle it made. “No, it depends on where you go. For example, in the far northeast of the island, the connector language is Taiwanese. In the southwestern- at least I think it’s the southwestern- it’s Punjabi, I believe.”
“People here are from all over the world. They gotta have their niche.”
“Oh. Do you have any idea why they let me here? I don’t really know this place or the people.”
Jada shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe you look like someone else they invited.”
Nyla bit into another handful of chips chewed, and swallowed, processing the information.
Nyla then smiled back at the redhead. It was nice to meet someone that wasn’t extremely strange, or said things to her that she didn’t understand. Then, recalling the way Jada had been grabby and demanding at the park, she frowned. Perhaps her real personality would come up later, and she was just pretending to be nice because they were in public.
Though of course, the woman didn’t actually do any harm. If anything, she helped find the phone- though Nyla began to wonder if that was a positive or not. After eating a few more chips, the teen decided that it was somewhat of a positive; X41 was a clue to why she was on the island in the first place. Still, it never hurt to be a little suspicious of new people.
Luckily, the gun was snuggled deep in her new satchel- one that had sparkly sequins sewn in floral patterns, and had been given to her while they insulted her old one, calling it a “dirty pile of leather”. At any rate, it was something to hide her newfound weapon in, and it even held a new tube of sunscreen. These people really cared about skin care apparently. Perhaps the island was on the equator.
As the two sat next to each other, they watched an elegant young blonde bust through the front door with a basketful of newspapers. The people in the room paused mid-conversation to acknowledge her, then grabbed their companions’ hands and rushed to grab one. They became excited while discussing the news headlines, and Nyla lifted a brow at the sudden burst of energy.
“Why are they so hyped about newspapers?” she asked the soon-to-be redhead, staring at the guests who seemed deeply engrossed in whatever the fine print conveyed. “Is this house hosting a political party or something?”
“Yes, obviously.” Her companion reached down to take a chip from the bowl on Nyla’s lap. “But that’s not the reason. They’re just feeling connected to their homes. The newspapers aren’t from here; they’re from the mainlands.”
Nyla immediately jumped up, accidentally letting the chips scatter across the floor. The thought of her finally having some connection to the mainland sped up the blood in her veins, and ran over to grab a newspaper from the new blonde guest. For so long, it had felt like her previously life had vanished from existence, and she couldn’t wait to get her hands on a new headline.
Her couch companion merely sighed and bent down to pick up the chips from the carpet, wishing Nyla would be more careful. Luckily, there weren’t that many left, and the area soon became clean one again. He set the bowl on the table, and watched as Nyla pushed her way through the crowd.
After much wiggling and casually judging other guests, the teen finally stood in front of the newspaper handler. Nyla put on a fake smile, trying to look like a normal guest who was just as excited as the rest were.
“Any one is fine,” the girl informed her. “As long as it’s in English.
The newspaper handler gave her an unusually long look- probably because she wasn’t speaking Spanish, the teen guessed- then pulled out a newspaper directly from the inside of her grey jacket. The woman then left, moving onto the other eager guests.
Nyla walked back to the couch to sit down and read the newspaper; she loved reading while eating- though that contributed to the extra chub on her. Jada scooted over, letting the girl sit on the edge of the couch. She had already finished the chips while Nyla was gone, but offered to get some more.
“I...well, I’m not sure I’m in the mood for chips anymore,” Nyla admitted. “Is there anything else? Something more savory.”
“No, they’re not letting anyone touch the main foods until dinner is officially served.”
Jada glanced at the hallway leading to the kitchen, then turned back to Nyla. “I could get you a glass of lemonade if you want.”
“That’s cool too.”
As Jada left to go get a drink, Nyla spread the newspaper out on the table, moving aside any stray crumbs away from the sides. The big, black print of the headline jumped out at her, capturing her equally dark eyes.
“First Pallington Murder in Twenty Years,” it read.
Nyla’s eyes nearly popped out in shock- that was her hometown! Someone had been killed in her very hometown! She scanned the article, trying to find out who had died. Though her eyes perused the article for details, deep down, she wasn’t actually disturbed- murders happened all the time, didn’t they? Instead, she felt entertained, yet jolted at the same time, as if she’d been hit square in the face with an ice cold water balloon. Finally, a dose of reality from somewhere off the island.
“Nyla Akister found brutally murdered in her own room...”
The teen’s eyes froze on those words, not daring to move until she comprehended what she had just read. She thought it was a trick of some sort, or perhaps a completely different Nyla who just happened to share her last name, and continued scanning for details that supported- or negated that sentence. Unfortunately, the details added up to support the striking new information .
Nyla flipped the pages, hoping to find pictures. Her heartbeat became louder in her ears as she found images of her very room; there was no mistaking the location now. The familiar mess of clothes on the floor, the purple computer on her desk...and the corpse on the floor.
The girl stared at the corpse, drawing the page closer to her eyes for a better look. It resembled her perfectly in every way, except for the fact that the limbs had nearly been severed off, the stomach exposed with a giant bloody gash, and some of her fingers bend in the completely wrong direction. It looked like she was killed unmercifully, but there she was, perfectly fine in the living room, and at a party, no less.
“Here you go. Extra cold!”
Nyla glanced up from the paper to find Jada walking towards her, holding a glass of bright yellow lemonade. She accepted the drink, though feeling a bit numb on the inside. Jada sat next to her, and noticed the strange look on the teen’s face.
“You wanted that, right?” Jada asked, wondering if she had misheard the preferred drink. Nyla shook her head, then glanced back at the paper, sipping a little of the lemonade at a time. She paused, wiped some of it from around her lips, and placed it on the table. Then, she pointed to the image of the corpse.
“See that right there? I think I died,” the teen said softly, still unable to comprehend it. “I don’t remember it, but that’s me right there in my room. Killed.”
Jada leaned over to find the image, then raised a brow. “So you did.”
Nyla was stunned by how casually her words were accepted from her acquaintance, but decided to press on. “Am I in heaven?”
Jada’s face, once sweet and peaceful- jovial, even, twisted into a dark sneer in front of Nyla’s eyes. Her grey eyes seemed to darken, and a toothy grin replaced the innocent smile before it.
“What makes you think you ever deserved to go to heaven?” The redhead asked, resting her chin on her palm. “That’s a bit delusional, don’t you think?”
Nyla stared at the woman, fully convinced Jada was the devil, or at least a cohort of the devil. “I wasn’t a bad kid!”
“Are you sure? Think about what you’ve done in your life. You’ll find a lot of it is nowhere near good behavior.”
“But if I’m not in heaven...”
Nyla whipped her head around the room, staring at the other guests. Had they died been and sent to Hell too? Were they all criminals? No wonder she hadn’t seen any kids around; kids were to innocent to go to Hell. But why her? Sure, she wasn’t the best person overall, and she’d repeatedly been involved in select illegal activities when she was alive, but plenty of others did the same! Unless they were here with her too?
Nyla thought back to her awakening in the cave, and how she felt refreshed but never remembered falling asleep. Was that what death felt like? Just a simple slip and poof- perfectly fine? Why did Hell have parks? Why had it been renamed “Bevix”- unless that was the original name? How-
A man in the center of the room bellowed the word loud enough for everyone to hear, and the guests began to noisily make their way towards the dining room. Nyla remained seated on the couch, while Jada joined the others- but not before turning to the frightened teen with one last message before she left the living room.
“You might as well get used to us,” the redhead said with a wink. “This is what you deserved.”
Nyla sat dumbfounded, and redirected her attention towards the newspaper. Then, she rolled it up, stuffed it into her satchel, and pulled out her phone. The metallic green cover glitter under the lights as she held it in her sweaty palms, taunting her with its vast hidden knowledge, and yet, lack of it. She turned it on, opened to her chat settings, and stared at the contact.
Was X41 Satan himself?
All of a sudden, Nyla began to hear thuds from behind the wall. She jumped up and rushed to see what had happened in the dining room, goosebumps forming up and down her arms. As she stepped in the room, she found the cause of the noise to be the guests’ heads dropping onto the table as they lost consciousness. The ones who were still conscious groaned and lost their balance, clearly dizzy beyond their control. The consciousness didn’t even last long for them at all.
Jada sat at the middle of one of the table, next to a drooling brunette and a passed out bald man. Her twisted smile from earlier had morphed back into an innocent one, but it was clear that her intentions were far from it.
“What did you do?!” Nyla shrieked, taking a step back. “Did you kill every single one of them?”
Nyla was sure this was the worst party she’d ever attended. Then again, if she hadn’t made it to heaven, it was expected.
“They’re not dead,” Jada denied. “They’re just asleep for the moment.” She held out a small cube of cheese on a toothpick. “Want some?”
“No, I don’t want some!” the teen yelled. “I’m getting out!”
Before she could turn around, Jada got out of her chair and ran up to her at a nearly inhuman speed, grabbing her shoulder.
“How far do you think you’ll get with my special little drug in you?”
Nyla struggled to get out of her grip while simultaneously thinking about the events of the party. She hadn’t eaten anything but the chips, and she’d gotten those herself! What-
Nyla turned back to Jada, her one sided fight significantly reduced, but with a look of utter hatred. “That’s a really low blow.”
“Believe it or not, I’m actually a very nice person,” Jada said as the teen sunk to the floor in dizziness. “But, money is money.”
“Who the hell’s paying you?” Nyla asked as her vision began to darken.
Unfortunately, she never heard the answer.