“Get back here, twerp!”
Arys didn’t stop at the sound of the man’s screams coming from behind him. He wouldn’t ever stop again if he had any say in the matter. His Social Worker had failed him and placed him with a man that took great joy in beating the shit out of kids. Arys wasn’t the man’s first victim, nor would the ten-year-old be the last. He also wouldn’t be the first one to run away from the Stubbs’ residence, which was why the man was chasing the brown-haired boy down the alley behind their rundown house.
“I’ll kill you when I get my hands on you, Arys!” Harold shouted angrily, but Arys refused to give up running for his life. He knew Harold Stubbs was true to his word and would kill him if he ever got the chance to touch Arys again.
Arys’ heart was beating rapidly in his chest as he ran from the man that continued to gain ground on him. Arys knew he would be safe if he could just make it to the street.
‘That’s all I have to do is make it to the street,’ he told himself as he navigated the night-enshrouded alleyway. He could hear Harold getting closer behind him and it only made the boy want to run faster with no regards to his own safety. ‘I have to get away!’
Arys felt the ground shift slightly beneath his ankle as he stepped into one of the many potholes that lined the alley, causing him to stumble forward and nearly fall. He panicked as the sounds of Harold’s footsteps grew louder, and the boy began checking doors around him to see if he could hide in one of the sheds that lined the alley.
‘Please! Please,’ the boy begged silently until he felt one of the knobs turn in his hand. ‘Oh, thank, God!’
Arys was just pushing the door open when he felt the Monster’s hand grip his shoulder tightly.
“Time’s up, Arys,” the man said with a sneer as he turned the boy to face him. Then, Harold pinned the child against the door by his throat, making Arys gasp for air. “It’s a shame that you couldn’t stick around like a good kid and help me break in the new boy.”
Arys cried out as Harold slapped the boy harshly with his free hand.
“It would have taken the focus off of you if you would have helped me, Arys,” Harold continued before he slapped the boy again. “Pity. I really liked you, Arys. We were finally beginning to understand each other. Too bad it was all an act.”
Harold punched Arys hard in the stomach, making the boy double over as he gasped for air.
“I wish it would have worked out, Arys,” Harold said as he punched the boy again, knocking Arys into the door behind him. Harold grabbed the boy’s shirt and pulled him close as the man glared at the boy. “But I can’t let you return to the house. It would set a bad example for little Zachary Brody. He’s going to be fun to torture, Arys.” Harold suddenly smacked the boy angrily. “All you had to do was behave, Arys! I would have given you everything if you had helped me groom Zach. Shame that I’m going to have to break him in on my own, though.”
The man laughed darkly before he slapped Arys again, knocking the boy back into the door. The door rattled for a split second before it broke open behind Arys and he fell into the dark garage, seeing Harold’s hand reach out and barely miss the front of his shirt. The door slammed shut the moment Arys hit the ground and he swore that he saw a brief flash of white pushing Harold’s hand away, but the boy didn’t question it. Arys counted it as a small miracle and got to his feet as fast as his injuries would let him.
‘Go, Arys!’ He told himself anxiously as the boy felt around in the darkness for another door. He almost cried with relief the moment he found another doorknob. Arys pushed the door open and stumbled through it, running into someone on the other side almost immediately.
“Watch out, kid!” A deep voice said bitterly before Arys fell to his knees in the middle of a sunlit sidewalk.
‘This isn’t possible,’ the boy thought to himself as he squinted his eyes against the bright midday sunlight. ‘It was nighttime.’
The style of buildings looked familiar to the boy, and he couldn’t take his eyes off of the sharp edges and glass-paneled sides of the different skyscrapers surrounding him.
“Where am I?” He asked tearfully as he quickly moved back against one of the buildings and pulled his knees to his chest. “How did I even get here?”
The boy tried to remember where he had seen the buildings before, but nothing was coming back to him. Several of the people walking past looked down at the boy curiously, but none of them stopped to see if he needed help. Arys felt better being left alone, though. It meant that Children Services would be looking for him if anybody really took notice of him. The only thing that truly registered to the boy was the fact that Harold Stubbs was no longer chasing him.
‘I wonder if he’ll even file a Missing Person’s report,’ Arys contemplated before his thoughts shifted to Zachary and the future the nine-year-old had in store for him. ‘Please, don’t let Harold kill Zachary. That boy deserves so much better. He’s completely pure at heart.’
Arys wiped the tears that were forming from the corners of his eyes before a voice startled him.
“Are you alright, child?”
Arys glanced up and paled as a man with a green tint to his skin and pointy ears gazed down at him.
“What?” Arys stammered out.
“Do you need medical or police assistance?” The man asked in a neutral tone that threw the boy off. The man started to reach into one of his pockets, but Arys didn’t wait around to see what the man pulled out. He only knew that he needed to get away as quickly as possible.
Arys needed to survive, and he could only do that if he was alone.
‘I’ll never trust anybody else,’ the boy thought as he continued to run.
Arys didn’t stop running until he was certain that he was far enough away from the strange man to keep from being found. He leaned against the side of another skyscraper and caught his breath while he tried to figure out where he had seen people with pointy ears before.
‘None of this is making any kind of sense,’ he thought miserably as he let himself slump to the ground in exhaustion. His chest and stomach were hurting where Harold had punched him, but the boy was grateful to at least be alive. ‘Someone heard my cries for help, at least.’
The boy continued to sit there until his stomach growled before he decided it was time to find something to eat. He rose on shaky legs and managed to pull out his wad of cash and count it. Once he was certain he had enough, Arys went in search of a fast-food joint so he could grab a burger.
‘I’ll have to make sure that I make this money last a while,’ Arys told himself as he navigated his way through the busy city streets, trying to keep his head down so nobody would notice the bruise forming on his left cheek where the Monster had struck him. The boy risked a quick glance to see a small convenience store only a block away and decided he would be able to purchase more if he went there instead of a burger joint. ‘I’ll do what it takes to survive.’
Arys hovered outside of the store as he tried to get his anxiety under control with a deep breath before he slipped in through the front door. He browsed the different snacks before he settled on a bag of chips and a bottle of juice and took them to the cash register. The man behind the counter smiled at Arys, but the boy could see the strange expression of curiosity in his green eyes. Arys couldn’t stop his hand from trembling as he placed his items on the counter in front of the strangely familiar-looking man.
“Hello,” the man greeted Arys with a pleasant smile, but the boy could hear the strain in the man’s voice as he seemed to be holding something back. “Is this everything for you?”
“Umm, yeah,” Arys replied softly, trying to avert his gaze from the man that had clearly noticed the obvious bruise on the boy’s cheek. “This is everything.”
“It’ll be $3.95, son,” the man told Arys, never taking his curious gaze from the boy.
Arys nodded and started counting his change out and placing it on the counter in front of the man, not noticing the man’s expression suddenly change to complete suspicion.
“What’s this?” The man asked as he picked up one of the coins and read the date aloud. “2016? Is this some kind of prank, kid? I’d hate for you to get in trouble trying to pass these fake coins off somewhere else.”
“They’re not fake, though.” The boy said as he glanced up and noticed the man’s brows had furrowed together. “It’s not stolen, either. I saved it!”
“Listen, kid,” the man said with an exasperated sigh. “This isn’t legal tender here. I don’t know anywhere on Earth where they use archaic paper money and coins. Everything is done by card transactions, now. Besides,” the man looked at the coin in his hand again and stared in disbelief at the date. “Why does it say 2016?”
“That’s the year it was made-,” Arys was cut off by the man’s laugh of disbelief. The boy was almost in tears as the man questioned his money. “What? I didn’t do anything wrong!”
“Get out of here, kid!” The man laughed as he pocketed the coin and put his merchandise behind the counter. “Before I call Youth Services on you.”
“But,” the boy backed away from the counter with tears in his eyes. He knew those words. ‘Youth Services’. He also knew that if the police got involved, he would never see the light of day again. “It’s real-”
“Go on, kid,” the man said in a dismissive tone. “I don’t have time for games.”
The tears fell down Arys’ cheeks before he even had a chance to turn away and leave the store.
Arys walked back out into the sunlight, still confused as to how he could have been in the night covered alley one moment, only to be in the middle of a busy sidewalk in broad daylight the next. Then, the man at the store refused to take his money telling Arys that his money was fake.
‘What am I supposed to do?’ Arys asked as he turned into the end of an alley. The boy walked halfway down the alley before he slumped against one of the brick walls in defeat. His stomach growled again. ‘I know!’
He glanced around through his tear-streaked vision to see two dumpsters sitting nearby, and the boy considered going through them before he decided that he wasn’t hungry enough for dumpster diving, yet. Arys pulled his knees to his chest and buried his face in his arms as his emotions started to finally take their toll on the small child.
He had run for his life from a man that had turned his life into a living hell. A man that had told him that he was going to murder him. A man that had started to follow through on that promise. Arys had been saved somehow when the Monster had struck him hard enough to knock the boy through the door he had been leaning against. Then, Arys opened another door only to find himself somewhere else, entirely. Arys was terrified, hungry, and still in pain. All he could do was cry.
‘I’m all alone,’ the boy thought miserably as his body shook from his sobs. His stomach growled again, making the boy cry even harder as the seriousness of his situation began to sink in. Each sob made his stomach hurt even more until he was unable to stand the hunger pains any longer. The boy glanced towards the nearest dumpster with a frown. ‘Shit.’
He closed his eyes and used his hand to steady himself as he slowly climbed to his feet. Arys opened his eyes long enough to see a blur of white near the farthest dumpster, but when he looked again, there was nothing but shadows. More tears slid down his cheeks as he took that first fateful step towards the nearest dumpster. A strange sort of peace seemed to come over the boy’s mind as he took the next step, his legs quivering as he fought the urge to run from the dumpster. He felt the wind blow against the back of his neck, a strange voice seeming to whisper in the air around him. Arys froze as he saw another blur of white near the other dumpster and words of the voice became clear to him.
//Take heart. You are not alone. You will never be alone. We are here. Look. Look and see. Take, for it is yours to have. Trust. One will come, you know him not. Two shall speak, you understand them not. Third shall save at my command. My Hand shall guide thee to a Family sure. Be not afraid, only ye shall hear//
‘What was that?’ Arys asked as he stumbled forward slightly. He felt like someone was watching him as he placed his hand on the dumpster but felt relieved when he glanced around and didn’t see anybody there. The boy turned his gaze back to the dumpster. ‘Don’t lose your shit yet, Arys. It was your idea to run away!’
Arys took a deep breath to try and steady his nerves, but it was pointless. All he could do was shake. He didn’t want to become trash, but there was no other way for him to survive. Arys had to eat, and it had already been several days since his former foster-dad had given him any food. It was only the sound of his stomach growling that made him push himself to continue.
‘It’s the only way,’ he told himself.
Arys lifted the lid off the first dumpster slowly, not wanting to fully commit to the act he was about to commit. He was turning into exactly what Harold Stubbs had always told him he was.
“You’re nothing but trash!” The words seemed to scream through his mind with the full anger of the man behind them. “You will always be trash!”
Arys sniffled slightly as he peered inside to find it empty.
The boy was confused for a moment before he stepped back and let the lid fall shut with a loud clang that echoed throughout the alley. The noise made Arys jump, but his shoulders slumped in defeat as he turned his attention away from the dumpster. Arys was about to walk back out towards the street when he heard a rustling sound that made him turn around quickly.
“Hello?” Arys called out in a quivering voice. “Is- Is somebody there?”
Arys stepped forward hesitantly, ready to run in the opposite direction if he needed to. His attention was focused on the other dumpster, that’s where the sound had come from. That was also where he could have sworn that he saw someone, or something, moving earlier.
‘Don’t do this, you idiot,’ Arys told himself, but something urged him to continue pushing forward. Not even the knot in the pit of his stomach could bring the boy to stop. ‘Shit, shit, shit, shit.’
Arys was trembling by the time he reached the second dumpster, his hand touched the lid, and he took multiple deep breaths. He wanted to run away. He needed to run. His entire being was telling him to run before whatever had made the noise jumps out and attacks him. Arys lifted the lid with a grimace on his lips. The boy peeked over the rim but didn’t see anything inside of the dumpster.
‘Empty, too,’ he thought grimly as he started to turn away.
The lid was about shut when Arys heard something sound like it had fallen over inside of the metal bin. Arys’ head snapped back to the opening and he held the lid back as he peeked inside to see what caused the sound. Inside he saw a ratty-looking backpack lying on its side. Arys glanced around before he grabbed the pack. It was heavier than it looked, and the narrow-framed boy struggled to get the bag over the edge of the dumpster. The moment the bag broke free from the edge of the dumpster, Arys fell backwards onto his bottom and the bag landed on top of the boy’s chest making him gasp out in pain. Arys pushed the bag from his body and rolled to his side with his arms across his chest as he struggled to catch his breath. The bag was much heavier than it appeared to be. The brown-haired boy sat up slowly, his green eyes staring at the tan backpack in disbelief.
‘Did I really get that weak?’ The boy asked himself as he continued to stare at the bag. His thoughts shifted to an entirely different matter at that moment. ‘This belongs to somebody. It has to.’
He immediately looked around the alley to find it empty before he returned his gaze to the backpack. Arys reached out hesitantly and pulled the heavy pack closer to him. He pulled the zipper open slowly, almost as if some outside force was pushing him to look inside the satchel. A wave of cinnamon and chocolate smells filled Arys’ senses the moment that he pulled the bag completely open and peered inside.
“No frigging way,” Arys muttered as he reached into the backpack and pulled out two giant bags of cookies. One of the bags was filled with chocolate chip cookies, and the other was filled with brown sugar and cinnamon cookies. The boy’s mouth instantly began to water as he felt the warmth of the cookies through the Ziplock bags, noting that they had not been in the dumpster for very long. Beneath the cookies, Arys found two bottles of juice, a bottle of water, and three sandwiches that looked like they were piled with ham and Swiss cheese. Arys cringed slightly, slowly realizing that someone must have led him to this location. Tears fell down his cheeks as he quickly stuffed the food back into the pack and zipped it shut. He muttered to himself the entire time frustration. “Of course, it’s a fucking trap. The Monster is probably standing around the corner, just waiting to grab me the moment I’m distracted by my favorite food. Either that, or I’m dreaming. I’m probably lying in the fucking hospital right now because of Harold.”
Arys dragged the pack back to the side of the dumpster, leaving it propped outside since he knew there was no way for him to push it back inside the metal bin. The boy wiped his tears away with the back of his sleeve as he took one last glance at the ratty bag. The words seemed to echo in his mind, again.
//Take, for it is yours to have//
‘If it’s still there when I come back,’ the boy said as his stomach started to growl again. ‘Then, I’ll take a sandwich, and maybe a cookie. Whoever it is, he doesn’t need that many cookies.’ Arys sighed regretfully. ‘They were fresh, too.’
Arys stepped out onto the sidewalk, refusing to look back towards the bag no matter how much it seemed like it was calling to him. His body was starting to hurt all over as he struggled to keep from doubling over in pain, occasionally bracing his hand against the side of a building if one of the waves of pain proved to be too much for his small frame to handle. Arys’ face was throbbing where Harold had struck him multiple times, and the boy’s throat was beginning to feel tight where the Monster had held him against the door, trying to crush the boy’s windpipe as he beat Arys. He had no idea how much distance he had covered since he left the alley, but Arys didn’t even really care. Now that the adrenaline was beginning to wear off, Arys was feeling every spot that the Monster had hit him.
A tear fell from the boy’s green eyes, and his shoulders trembled as he struggled against a fresh wave of pain. He stumbled and fell to his knees, skinning the palm of his hands on the sun-warmed concrete. Arys barely had the strength to pull himself to his feet and decided that he had explored enough for one day. The boy screamed the moment he turned around and the image of a man wearing a gray uniform appeared in the shop window next to him.
“Join Starfleet and see the galaxy!” A loud voice boomed from a speaker beneath the translucent image flickering in the window. “The Federation awaits!”
The boy stared in disbelief as the image of a spaceship appeared on the screen. A ship that he knew all too well. Then, the ship vanished and a triangular-shaped badge with a partial circle around it appeared on the screen.
“Starfleet Recruitment offices are now available in Springfield, Ohio.” The announcer’s voice continued, oblivious to the ten-year-old boy that was staring at the sign, in disbelief. “Offices are located on the corner of Main and Fountain and are open daily from eight to five! Start your adventure today!”
‘This isn’t possible,’ the boy murmured. ‘This isn’t real. It can’t be. It’s got to be a movie promo or something like that.’
Arys backed away from the display, refusing to look away until a loud roar made him look up in time to see a gray shuttle launching towards the skies above. Arys felt another wave of adrenaline begin to run through his veins as his heart started hammering in his chest uncontrollably just before the boy turned and ran.
The shadows were beginning to grow longer down Main Street as Arys navigated his way back to the alley that he had found the backpack in.
‘If it’s still there, I’m going to take it,’ the boy told himself.
He thought about how good the cookies had smelled, and it was all the boy could do to keep from breaking out into another run, this time to get to the mysterious bag of food that his gut told him would still be waiting for him. The bag of food that he had barely been able to refuse only an hour or two earlier. His stomach twisted into another knot, forcing Arys to stop dead in his tracks as the pain rippled through his abdomen like he was being punched by the Monster.
‘I can’t handle this,’ Arys thought sadly once he was able to keep pushing forward again. ‘I’m so hungry.’
Each step became more of a struggle than the last as Arys pushed himself closer to the alley, praying silently that the bag would still be where he left it so he could eat at least one of the sandwiches.
‘I’ll take a cookie, too,’ he thought as he continued to keep his head down and take slow steps. ‘They won’t notice one cookie missing.’
Arys sighed with relief when he turned into the darkening alleyway and slowly made his way towards the dumpster. His heart lifted slightly when he saw the canvas rucksack still leaning against the dumpster where he had left it. The ten-year-old took a quick glance around himself to make sure he was alone before he finally went for the bag.
‘It’s even heavier,’ Arys thought in disbelief as he struggled with the pack, trying to pull it back towards the shadows.
He took a quick glance inside the zipper and saw the two bags of cookies right at the top, the smell made Arys’ stomach cramp as he craved one of the treats. The boy grunted as he continued to drag the sack behind him until he reached the wall opposite the second dumpster. Arys slumped against the wall and let himself slide down until he was sitting on the ground. He took a moment to catch his breath as he stared in disbelief at the heavy bag. Then, Arys reached out slowly with hunger-fatigued muscles and pulled the zipper open, only hesitating briefly before he pulled out one of the bags of cookies and stared at it in awe. Arys took another glance around to make sure he was still alone before he pulled out one of the cinnamon cookies and promptly devoured it. The boy had eaten nearly half the bag of cookies before he remembered that someone would be coming back for the bag. Arys eyed the ham sandwiches before he guiltily reached in to take one for himself. He also grabbed one of the bottles of water and one of the juices before he decided that he had already taken enough of somebody else’s supplies.
With a sad sigh, Arys returned the cookies to the rucksack and was about to close the canvas bag when he noticed something beneath the food. Arys reached inside and felt something soft beneath his fingertips. For a moment, Arys didn’t know if he should pull out whatever it was in the bag, but his curiosity won out and Arys quickly set to work emptying the contents of the bag onto the ground in front of him. The boy marveled as he pulled out two gray fleece blankets and a thick hoodie that Arys stared at in disbelief.
‘Who put these here?’ He asked as he looked at the blankets.
Arys sat back against the wall and peered back into the bag where he noticed several shiny objects lying near the bottom. Arys pulled out two flashlights and small portable radio that had a pack of batteries taped to the side of it.
‘This guy must have been ready for anything,’ Arys thought in amazement. The boy shivered as he slowly started to put everything back into the backpack. He kept one blanket out for himself to use and the bag of chocolate chip cookies, hoping that whoever had left the bag there in the dumpster was willing to share. ‘I just hope it’s not somebody like the Monster.’
The thought sent a chill down the boy’s spine, and he froze as a fresh wave of fear washed over him with one of the cookies brushing against his lips. He could feel someone watching him, but every time that he looked around Arys found himself to be alone in the steadily darkening alley.
“You’ve already made sure he got the bag, Davie,” the voice was faint and Arys couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. He glanced up to see that there were no windows between the two buildings, and he couldn’t see the tops of the buildings so he knew he wouldn’t be able to hear anybody’s conversations. “Don’t you have other responsibilities?”
“I was told to watch him until I was told to do otherwise,” a light voice replied that seemed to have a ringing sound behind it. “So, that’s what I’m going to do.”
The slightly deeper voice laughed for a moment.
“I’m scared for him,” the softer voice said in a gentle tone. “I don’t think he should be left alone.”
Arys decided to ignore the strange voices, not being able to figure out why they sounded like they were coming from directly in front of him; and pulled the bag back so he could use it as a pillow before he pulled the blanket over his body. He vaguely heard the voices continue to speak as he drifted off to sleep.
“Nice touch with making the bag fall over, by the way.”
“Thanks,” the light voice replied. “I didn’t think he was going to take it.”
“Did you have any trouble finding the right moment?”
“Does it matter?” Davie asked.
“It may, Davie,” the deeper voice replied. “You never know what could happen next. Are you sure you saved the right one?”
“Yes,” Davie replied.
“How do you know?”
“I was there, Mike,” the softer voice replied fiercely. “I- I barely made it in time. They call him Monster for a good reason.”
“Could you save anybody else?”
“I was told not to,” Davie replied sadly.
“Really?” Mike asked in disbelief.
“There’s a reason,” Davie said in the same sad tone. “I can’t tell anybody, though.”
“Okay,” Mike said after several moments of contemplative silence. “I’ll check on you in a few days. I’m also supposed to tell you not to overdo it; some things need to happen naturally or else everything will be ruined.”
“What’s that even mean?”
“I don’t know,” the deeper voice said with a bell-like laugh. “Let me know when you figure it all out.”
The voices faded away, leaving Arys alone in the alley as his dreams finally took over filling Arys’ mind with images of a show he used to watch whenever the Monster was not around. A show that his first foster-parents showed him when he was growing up.
Charles Conner turned the coin over in his hand, studying the silver object meticulously.
“2016,” he said with a grunt.
“What’s wrong, love?” Charles’ wife asked as she entered their living room with two cups of coffee. Melissa handed one of the cups to her husband before she sat down in the other recliner with a pleasant sigh and sipped her drink. “Did you have a difficult day at the store?”
“Not really,” the man hesitated before he decided to just shrug the entire matter off. “It’s nothing important.”
“In fourteen-years of being married,” Melissa said pointedly. “You’ve never let anything bother you unless you considered it to be important, Charlie.”
“You know me too well, Melissa,” Charles said with a slight grin directed at his wife. He then thought about the boy that had tried to use the coin to pay for the bag of chips. “There is something.”
“What is it?”
“There was a boy that came into the store today, Melissa,” the man said before he handed his wife the coin. “He tried to pay with this.”
“A coin?” Melissa asked in disbelief. “Quarter dollar?”
“You know, twenty-five cents.”
“Oh,” Melissa said as she looked at the tiny object in her fingertips. “How did he have something that’s only used in the most remote places within the states?”
“I have no idea, Melissa,” Charles replied. “He swore it was real money, though.”
Melissa laughed lightly and tried to hand the coin back to her husband.
“I’m sure it was just another runaway trying to pull the wool over your eyes, again.” Melissa teased her husband. “It wouldn’t be the first time. You’re such a softie.”
“This time was different, Melissa,” Charles corrected his wife. “Look at the other side of the coin. The side without Washington’s head on it.”
Melissa took in the serious expression on her husband’s face and did what he said.
“What am I-,” she started before her eyes went wide in disbelief. “2016? This has to be a prank, Charles.”
“That’s what I thought, too, Melissa.” Charles fell silent for a moment as he remembered the haunted look in the boy’s green eyes. “You didn’t see him, though. He was limping and kept clutching his stomach. The bruise on his cheek looked like it was going to be a real shiner-.”
“What?” Melissa asked, suddenly angry. “Tell me that you at least tried to help the unfortunate thing.”
“He ran before I could, Melissa,” Charles explained. “I did call Vanek to tell him about the boy. Funny thing, though.”
“The moment I described the boy, Vanek seemed to know exactly who I was talking about,” Charles told his wife. “He simply told me that he would keep an eye out for the boy.”
“Did you tell him about the coin?” Melissa asked as though she thought it was important.
“I will tomorrow, love,” Charles said. “I promise.”
“You better, Charles,” the brown-eyed woman warned her husband with a glare. “A child’s life could be on the line.”
“I’ll go take care of it, now,” Charles said as he stood from his recliner. “Vanek would find this interesting, at least.”
“He’ll probably tell Harold about it.”
“I wouldn’t go that far, Melissa,” Charles said with a chuckle before he left the room to call his future brother-in-law.
Arys blinked his eyes open slowly, seeing sunlight shining on the dirty ground nearby. The boy yawned and stretched before he sat up slowly and looked around. It took several minutes for the boy to completely wake up. The first thing he noticed was that he was sitting on something that was sort of soft. Arys glanced down to see that he had been sleeping on the other blanket.
“What?” He asked nobody in a confused tone. ‘I thought I put it back away.’
Arys stood and as he did, the blanket that he had been sitting on was wrapped around his shoe and pulled away with the boy. Arys paled when he saw the piece of cardboard beneath the other blanket.
“Somebody moved me in my sleep,” he said in muted horror.
He stepped backwards slowly and saw the backpack was still next to the dumpster. Sticking out of the zipper of the backpack was a rolled-up newspaper that definitely had not been there before. The boy’s heart started beating rapidly in his chest as he took in the scene. Someone had clearly been near the boy in his sleep, and they had even moved him to put the cardboard and blanket beneath his sleeping form.
‘What the hell is going on?’
Arys continued to stare at the newspaper before his curiosity got the better of him, and he finally sat back down on the blankets and pulled the newspaper out of the bag. The boy unrolled the newspaper and absently grabbed a cookie from the backpack as he started to read the paper.
The boy looked at the paper for a moment, studying the title as he tried to figure out where the newspaper had come from. Arys frowned thoughtfully before he grabbed another cookie and kept reading the mysterious newspaper.
|“I’Cheya’s New Groove!”
|“I’Cheya is at it again, folks! This Sehlat has been turning up the temperatures with his new dance move called ‘The Wild Sehlat’. When this reporter asked I’Cheya for a demonstration he said ‘Hufff, Hufff. Huff huffff ff.’ I have no idea what that means, but I’m still waiting for that demonstration!”
‘Sehlats only exist in ‘Star Trek’, though.’ The boy told himself thoughtfully. The next article title caught Arys’ attention as he continued to scan the strange newspaper.
|“Backpacks for the Needy!”
|“Kyle Richardson is at it again as he leads his happy band of followers, also known as the Mikyvis, to assist him in helping those less fortunate. Kylebear has been working diligently to issue as many supply-filled backpacks as he can to anyone who needs them. Kyle asked me to let the receivers of these packs know that there will always be a place waiting for them with Clan Short, and that the backpacks are theirs to keep.”
Arys glanced over at the backpack and absently grabbed another cookie. ‘How did they even know I needed the help?’ Arys froze as he remembered the man that had threatened to call ‘Youth Services’ on him the day before. The boy frowned as a tear slid down his cheek. ‘They’re going to send me back to the Monster.’
|“Joel’s Never-Ending Bag of Cookies!”
|“The adorable cookie loving boy that we all know as Joel Short has finally come up with a solution to the nasty problem of children running out of cookies! The imp has invented the Never-Ending Bag of Cookies and has already started working with Kylebear on getting the magical bags of snacks added to Kyle’s bags of supplies that he has been giving out. The first two bags were given out only yesterday, and already Joel and Kyle are saying that the cookies are a smashing success! ‘The bags worked perfectly,’ Joel and Kyle told this reporter in a special interview. ‘I’ve only ever witnessed I’Cheya devour cookies that fast before! We all breathed a sigh of relief when the cookies started reappearing!’ This reporter definitely cannot wait until he gets a chance to try out one of these new Never-Ending Bag of Cookies!”
|“Federation Youth Services Outshines CPS”
|“Ever since Teri Short has taken the position as Director of Federation Youth Services in late August, the organization has already saved thousands of more lives than Children Protection Services has helped in nearly five years. With the addition of Starfleet’s newest office in Springfield, Ohio; FYS along with Director Teri Short have designated Springfield as being one of the newest safe havens available for endangered and needy children. ‘I will not let the children of this world be forgotten and cast aside as so many other worlds have done. I will not let another child go hungry! I will not let another child sleep on the streets just because the adults that were supposed to be protecting them wouldn’t do their job! We are working with Children Protection Services to locate as many of these children in the Ohio Valley that we can find, and I swear on my reputation that they will never be forgotten again!’ Director Short said in a phone interview from an undisclosed location. ‘The children are our future, and without them we will never survive as a race!’ Director Short has already begun scouting Springfield for sites to build a new youth center like the others that have been popping up across the country. If you wish to contribute to Federation Youth Services, feel free to get ahold of Director Teri Short by contacting any Federation Youth Service office!”
Arys dropped the newspaper onto the ground and looked at the cookie he now held in his hand. Nothing he had been through in the previous twenty-four hours was making any kind of sense to the boy. He jumped when he heard the loud roar of another shuttle as it flew overhead.
Once Arys had recovered from his slight scare, he quickly began to shove the blankets back into the bag, noticing that his bag of chocolate chip cookies was once again full.
‘That’s not possible,’ he said as he backed away from the backpack and blankets. ‘This can’t be real. None of this is real. Somebody has to be messing with me, or I’m fucking dead!’
Arys began to tremble before his fear got the better of him and he bolted, never realizing that he was wearing the hoodie that had been at the bottom of the bag.
Arys ran until a cramp formed in his side and the boy was forced to sit on the concrete steps of a Catholic Church until he could catch his breath. The boy still felt like he was being watched but all he could do was sit there and study his surroundings while he waited.
‘Nothing is the same,’ he thought miserably. His green eyes were forced to the sky as another shuttle flew over. ‘Absolutely, nothing!’
For a brief moment, Arys even slightly wished that he was back being beaten by the Monster.
‘At least that was normal,’ he told himself sadly.
The boy could have sworn that he heard a gasp, but when turned around there was nobody behind him, only the open doors of the church. Arys had never been inside of a church in his entire life, and he wasn’t certain that he wanted to go into one alone, either. He had heard all of the stories about what priests had done to children throughout the years, and he didn’t want to take the chance of becoming somebody else’s victim. Part of his being yearned to go inside the church, though. It was as if the church itself was calling Arys to come closer to find the answers he needed.
Arys stood and stared at the open doors for a moment until he realized that a boy with strawberry-blonde hair and green eyes was staring back at him from just inside the doors. Arys started for a moment, but he didn’t feel threatened by the boy that appeared to be only slightly older than himself. The boy inside the church smiled warmly at Arys, inviting the younger boy to come and seek shelter within the walls of the building, but Arys’ suspicions were beginning to be too much, and he couldn’t force himself to take that first fateful step towards the church. The boy inside frowned for a moment before he stepped out into the morning sun and approached Arys slowly.
Arys was frozen in his place as the boy walked towards him, unable to move as his mind screamed at him to run for his life. Arys wanted to run, but the boy’s pleasant smile disarmed him, making him frown as he started to feel like he was being tricked again.
“That’s a cool hoodie,” the blonde-haired boy said with his easy smile still spread across his lips.
“Hoodie?” Arys said in confusion as he glanced down to see that he was wearing the gray hoodie that had been at the bottom of the backpack. His mouth fell open and Arys began to mumble incoherently as he struggled to keep from freaking out in front of the stranger. Not only had someone moved him, but they had also put clothes on his body all while he had been asleep.
“Are you okay?” The blonde boy asked in concern as Arys had started to tremble in fear. “You’re shaking.”
“It’s not my hoodie,” Arys said softly. “I wasn’t even wearing it. It was in my bag-”
“Hey,” The boy reached out and quickly grabbed Arys’ hands and held them in his own. “Relax, okay? Maybe, you just got cold in your sleep and pulled it on? I know I’ve done some pretty weird stuff in my sleep.”
The boy giggled, and Arys would swear the boy’s laugh sounded like a tiny bell was ringing with it.
“I wasn’t though-” Arys started but the boy cut him off.
“Does it matter if you’re warm?”
“It could,” Arys mumbled as he took a quick glance to make sure the Monster wasn’t nearby.
“Do you want to talk about it?” The boy motioned towards the church but Arys quickly shook his head to dispel the notion that he wanted to go inside. Instead, Arys simply returned to his seat on the steps, and the boy sat next to him with a sigh.
“I can’t go in there,” Arys mumbled. “Please, don’t make me.”
“I won’t,” the boy reassured Arys gently. “I promise. I would never make you do anything that you didn’t want to do.”
Arys nodded silently as a tear slid down his cheek.
“There’s no reason to cry,” the boy said.
“I have every reason to cry,” Arys retorted. When the boy remained silent, Arys continued in a softer tone. “None of this is real. I fell out of a door and wound up here-” Arys motioned around him. “Where nothing is the same as it was.”
“What do you mean?”
“I used to watch this show called Star Trek when I was growing up,” the brown-haired boy explained with a sniffle. “It was about a ship called the Enterprise and her crew. They were exploring the galaxy and every week they would run into some kind of drama, but they always made it out in the end. Then, yesterday when I was walking around, an ad appeared in a store window about Starfleet, a shop owner told me that my money was fake, I saw an alien with pointy ears, and there are shuttles flying everywhere! I found a backpack in a dumpster that had blankets and stuff in it,” Arys suddenly pulled on the front of the hoodie. “This was in the bottom of the bag that I found! There were also two blankets and a couple bags of cookies. I used one of the blankets to sleep with last night, and when I woke up this morning somebody had moved me in my sleep!”
“How could someone move you without waking you up?” The boy asked Arys curiously. “You must be a really deep sleeper!”
“I’m not, though,” Arys protested. “Ever since the Monster-”
Arys suddenly fell silent when he realized that he was beginning to tell this stranger too much about himself. This didn’t put the older boy off, though. Instead, he simply switched subjects as though he didn’t hear the boy trail off.
“I’m confused,” the boy said.
“Me, too,” Arys stated dejectedly. “Nothing makes sense.” Arys pulled his handful of change out of his pocket and handed it over to the blonde-haired boy. “Does this look fake to you?”
The boy studied the coins with a look of disbelief on his face.
“These are weird,” he said after several minutes. “I’ve never seen coins like this before.”
“You haven’t?” Arys asked as his voice began to tremble. “But-.”
“Why does the year say ‘2015’ on this one and ‘2017’ on this one?” The older boy asked curiously. “It’s only ‘2004’. Where did you find these?”
“Yeah,” the boy said as he continued to study the coins, not noticing the look of dread that had filled Arys’ expression. “Has been all year.”
Arys felt a knot form in the pit of his stomach, and he slowly rose to his feet.
‘2004?’ The thought hung in his mind for a moment as he stared off into the distance. Another shuttle roared towards the atmosphere, the sound of its engines steadily growing quieter as it got further away. His green eyes settled on a nearby building that had a digital sign out front. ‘2004?’
Arys couldn’t wrap his mind around the boy’s declaration of the date until the advertisement on the sign disappeared and the time and date appeared on the display.
Arys felt a tear slide down his cheek as he slowly rose to his feet.
“No, no, no, no,” the boy repeated over and over as he glanced up the street and saw another digital sign with the same time and date on it.
“Are you okay?” The blonde-haired boy asked as he moved to stand next to Arys and touched the boy’s arm. “Relax, dude. You look like you’re about ready to lose your mind. I’m sure there’s a reason you think you’re in the wrong time-.”
“It’s because I am in the wrong fucking time!” Arys suddenly snapped before he stormed away, leaving the other boy staring after him in disbelief. “Everything is wrong!”
Charles Conner twisted his key in the front latch of the store, unlocking the door so he could start making money with his small shop. He considered the location of his store, only a block away from the local Starfleet Headquarters building, to be one of the best locations in Springfield, and Charles was able to drum up enough business that he didn’t ever need to worry about his bills being paid. He paid his employees a decent wage which kept them happy and devoted to him as their employer.
They were all a family.
The man remembered the early days when he had just opened the store and his wife Melissa was just starting her career with Federation Youth Services. The couple would go a day or two living off the food in the store whenever bills got to be too much, but they survived. It was only a year after Charles had opened the store that Starfleet started remodeling the old newspaper building into their first Springfield location, and the small store’s sales shot through the roof within the first week of the construction beginning. Charles was even on the verge of asking his wife to quit her job to help him in the store, but the man had decided to not even ask his wife, knowing how much she loved working with children.
The man thought about the young boy he had met the previous day and began to wonder what-ever happened to the child. Vanek had been adamant that Charles needed to keep the boy safe if he found him again, and then Charles was to immediately call Vanek. The Vulcan had been furious with his future brother-in-law for turning the child away like he had, specifically focusing his insults on Charles’ mental abilities, or lack-there-of. The man had spent the better part of an hour apologizing to Vanek even though he wasn’t completely sure why he was doing it.
There was something about the boy that seemed familiar to Charles, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it, and his thoughts were quickly distracted as ‘Conner’s Shop’ began to get busy for the day. Charles took turns running the register with his first shift help so he could keep an eye out for the green-eyed boy if he came back. He had promised Vanek that he would do everything within his power to help the Vulcan find the odd-behaving child. The man stayed until it was nearly closing time before he finally decided to call it a day and went home, leaving his second shift employee to finish everything up for the night.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Tom,” Charles said as he walked out the door. The man had just climbed into his car when his cell phone began to chime. Charles sighed in defeat when he noticed the call was coming from Vanek. “Greetings, Vanek.”
“Greetings, Charles,” Vanek replied in his dry tone. “Melissa said that you were not home yet when I called your house.”
“I’m not, Vanek,” Charles told the Vulcan. “I’m just now leaving the store. I stayed late to keep an eye out for our little friend in case he tried coming to the store later. I’m going to walk around downtown tomorrow to see if I can find any trace of him.”
“That is what Harold suggested, as well.”
“You told my brother about my ineptitude, Vanek?” Charles asked with a chuckle.
“Harold said that he already knew about your short-comings,” Vanek responded. “He was disappointed in your initial response to the situation, though.”
“So am I, Vanek,” Charles replied truthfully. “I’ve been beating myself up about it all day.”
“That is illogical, Charles,” Vanek told the man. “There is more benefit from just finding the boy.”
“Want to tell me why you think he has a coin from 2016, Vanek?”
“It only seems logical that the boy is from the future, Charles.”
“Bull shit!” Charles blurted out before he quickly apologized. “Sorry, Vanek. I didn’t mean to shout like that, but what you’re saying is impossible! Time Travel? Really?”
“The only way to truly know is to question the boy,” Vanek stated. “If we do not turn up anything tomorrow during our searches, we will have Melissa get ahold of Teri Short.”
“The Director of Federation Youth Services?” Charles asked in confusion. “Why would she help us? Doesn’t she have her hands full with Clan Short?”
“She is known to make time for a child in need,” Vanek explained. “Plus, her resources are nearly unlimited. Mrs. Short would be able to find out anything she wanted to about this mystery boy.”
“Like when he came from?”
Vanek didn’t respond right away to Charles’ attempt at a joke.
“Maybe, I should get ahold of Director Short, sooner,” Vanek said. “I do not think you will be up for the task of saving this boy if you cannot even come up with a joke good enough to make a child laugh, Charles.”
“Wait,” Charles said with a smile. “Was that your attempt at a joke, Vanek?” The man couldn’t help but laugh as the Vulcan remained silent. “I’m telling Harold that he needs to get your sense of humor checked!”
“I will speak to you tomorrow, Charles,” Vanek said in a slightly amused tone. Charles could almost picture the Vulcan’s right eyebrow arching upwards as he suppressed his laugh. “Let me know if anything changes with our friend.”
“Live long and prosper, Vanek.”
“Live long and prosper,” the Vulcan responded before the line went dead.
Charles thought about the green-eyed boy for a moment and was about to go home for the night, when he noticed a small figure walking up the sidewalk. He was wearing a gray hoodie with the hood covering his head and the boy was acting peculiarly. Charles watched as the boy walked up to one of the nearby storefronts and began running his finger over the sign. The boy would stop when he reached what he was looking for and a frown would form on his tiny face. The man nearly gasped when the boy pushed his hood back to scratch his head. It was the same boy as from the day before.
The boy turned and moved to the next store and repeated his actions, before moving onto the next. Then, when the brown-haired youth reached ‘Conner’s Shop’, he actually went inside. Charles couldn’t believe his luck and quickly pulled out his cell phone. He was about to dial Vanek’s number when the door to the store opened again and the boy walked back out while wiping his eyes. The boy was gone before Charles had managed to get his sturdier frame free from his small sedan.
“Fuck,” Charles growled quietly in case the boy was still nearby before he decided to just ask his employee what the boy was searching for.
Charles entered the store and the man named Tom with brown eyes and gray hair looked at him in surprise.
“Hey, Charles,” Tom greeted him with a smile. “What are you doing back?”
“I missed you and decided that I just couldn’t live another minute without professing my love for you, Tom!” Charles toyed with the slightly older man.
“I knew this day would come eventually,” Tom replied with a heavy sigh. “Poor Melissa is going to be devastated.”
“Nah,” Charles said with a shrug. “She’d be happy for a break.”
Both men laughed until Charles turned to his real reason for returning to work.
“So,” Charles said nervously. “I hate to be nosey, but the boy that was just in here, what did he want?”
“Oh, man, boss,” Tom said as he shook his head sadly. “That poor kid was terrified. First, he handed me an old dollar bill and asked me if it was real or not, Charles. I have no idea how he could have gotten something like that from around here, but he definitely had it.”
“What did you tell him?”
“I told him that it was real money, but it just wasn’t used around here anymore,” Tom continued almost in a sad tone. “That poor kid started crying, so I asked him if he wanted a cookie; I would have paid for it, Charles.”
“No,” Charles said. “It’s completely okay. If you see him in here again, give him whatever he needs without question. I’ll make sure that Trisha knows, too.”
“Anyways,” Tom continued. “I offered him a cookie and he turned it down, Charles. I’ve never had a kid turn down a free cookie before. Usually, they try to scam one or two more from you before you have to chase ’em away.”
“Did he say anything else?” Charles asked as he pushed for more details from the man that had worked for him since the very beginning. “Did he act strangely?”
Tom frowned for a moment.
“He asked me what the date was before he just turned and almost ran out of here,” Tom said in disbelief. “He left so quickly that he didn’t even take his dollar bill with him, Charles.”
“Can I see it?”
“Yeah, I’ve got it right here,” the clerk replied as he lifted his keyboard and pulled the green-shaded paper out of its hiding place.
Charles thanked the man as he took the paper currency from him and glanced it over until he found the date to the bottom right of Washington’s portrait.
“2015,” he mumbled aloud.
“What?” Tom asked. “What about 2015?”
“That’s the date on this bill, Tom,” Charles explained as he handed the bill back to the man. “Put this in the center drawer of my desk. I’m going to try and find this kid, see if I can get him some help.”
Tom glanced at the bill and squinted as he read the date.
“That’s not possible,” Tom said in disbelief.
“That doesn’t matter, Tom,” Charles said with a shrug. “The boy is clearly in trouble, and that’s all that matters.”
“You sound more and more like Melissa every day, Charles,” Tom said with a light chuckle. “I think she’s finally beginning to change your frame of mind.”
“Between her and Vanek, I don’t stand a chance.”
“Would you have it any other way?”
“Absolutely, not,” Charles replied with a grin. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Tom. Let me know if the boy comes back or not.”
“Will do, boss man,” Tom stated with a deep chuckle.
Charles laughed again before he finally returned to his car. He immediately dialed Vanek to tell the Vulcan what had happened.
“Charles?” Vanek seemed slightly concerned as he answered the call. “Is something wrong?”
“No, Vanek!” Charles said trying to contain his excitement. “I saw the boy, again.”
Charles quickly relayed the series of events to the Vulcan before he told him about the dollar bill.
“I do not think we should wait to get in touch with Director Short, Charles,” Vanek said when Charles had finally finished with his story. “The boy could be putting himself in danger by constantly asking people what the date is. It will draw unwanted attention, and I am afraid that he will disappear.”
“What do you mean, Vanek?” Charles asked, stunned. “Is Starfleet going to harm this boy?”
“Absolutely, not, Charles,” Vanek replied. “There are other organizations out there that would harm this boy, though.”
“I won’t let it happen, Vanek!” Charles declared fiercely. The man didn’t know why he felt attached to the wandering child, but he knew that he would do anything to protect the strange child.
“Neither will I, Charles,” Vanek responded in kind. “If he is from the future, it would make sense as to why he panicked when he saw me, yesterday.”
“Why?” Charles asked. “I’m certain that the Vulcan race is going to still be around in 2017.”
“True,” Vanek responded thoughtfully. “There is something very wrong here, Charles. I will contact Director Short myself and advise her of the situation.”
“Okay, Vanek,” the man replied. “Call me tomorrow when you have more information. I will keep an eye out for the boy until then.”
‘I can’t keep going on like this,’ Arys ducked into the alley, hoping that the man in the car wasn’t going to follow him. His breathing was shallow as he struggled to get his body to listen to him for a change. He was about to go back to where he had left the backpack when another idea occurred to the child. ‘I just have to find where I came out at. Maybe, I can go home.’
The idea that there would be a portal of some kind waiting for him intrigued the boy, but in the back of his head, a tiny little voice was telling him to stop being foolish and to get some rest. Arys had been walking around the small city all day after his brief run-in with the boy from the church, trying to find anything that would make this world seem less real than it was. He checked dates on every sign he passed until his mind was at the breaking point.
When Arys was finally able to steady his breathing, he shoved his hands into the pockets of the hoodie and went to find the backpack. He didn’t trust whoever had put the backpack in the dumpster. He felt like they were watching him, testing him to see how he reacted to different situations.
“That’s it!” Arys said almost proudly. “I’m in a simulation! None of this is real!”
Satisfied with the idea his life wasn’t currently his own, Arys turned into the alley and froze slightly when he saw that all of the belongings had been packed away into the rucksack. His lip trembled slightly, but the boy took a deep breath and grabbed the rucksack before leaving the alley behind. He had no idea where he was going to go, but the boy knew he needed to get out of the alley. So, Arys took a deep breath as he tried to calm his nerves before he set out in search of a different spot to sleep. He was tired of being messed with and there was nobody here that he could trust.
Not that he would ever trust another living being again besides his foster brother.
‘Stay strong, Zachary!’ Arys thought grimly. ‘I’ll save you as soon as I can!’
Arys wandered into an empty park when it was nearly midnight. He had just about given up finding a spot to sleep when he noticed the shape of a jungle-gym in the darkness. The boy’s heart lifted slightly when he saw that the top of the playground equipment had a tarp on it, and it was back in the corner enough that nobody would find him until late. Arys smiled as he climbed the steps and set the backpack down on the wooden floor of the castle-like equipment. Arys sat next to his bag and began going through the contents like he had the night before. The first thing the boy took out was the blanket that he used to cover himself completely before he pulled out the flashlight and flipped it on. It took Arys several minutes to get the spots out of his eyes from the sudden bright light before he was able to continue inventorying his equipment.
Arys unfolded one of the fleece blankets onto the floor of the jungle-gym and started pulling out everything else that was in the pack. He folded the other blanket and wrapped it around his slim shoulders to ward off the chill of the nighttime air brought on by fall. Arys pulled out a small battery-powered radio that he placed on the corner of the blanket and turned it on, keeping the volume low so nobody passing near the park would happen to hear it. He turned the knob through a song by Hoobastank and past another station that was playing Usher. The boy listened to “Yeah” for a little bit, remembering the song from his own time.
‘Before I was born, at least,’ Arys thought with a giggle.
Then, Arys pulled out the sandwiches and the bags of cookies before his hand froze. He turned back and recounted the sandwiches before he counted them again.
‘I could have sworn I ate two of these last night,’ Arys thought as he struggled to remember just what had gone on the night before. ‘There’s three sandwiches, again.’
The boy frowned but decided to just worry about it when he actually had time to process everything without having to worry about the Monster coming to destroy him.
‘None of this makes sense, anyways.’
Arys unwrapped one of the sandwiches and ate it quickly before he reached into the bag to pull out a variety of chips and six bottles of water. He kept one bottle out before he put the rest back away. Arys did the same with the chips, and happily snacked on them as he ate his sandwich and sipped his water. The boy was exhausted, but he was hopeful that he would wake up and be back in his own reality again.
‘The Monster probably knocked me out when he slammed me into that garage door,’ he thought grimly. ‘That makes more sense than being in a simulation. Why would you even think that, Arys?’
The boy giggled as he pulled out a few cookies and put the rest of the bag back into the backpack. He made sure that everything else he didn’t need was put away before he turned off the radio and tucked it into the pack, as well. Arys made himself a bed out of one of the blankets before he pulled the other over his body and turned off his flashlight.
‘Goodnight, Zachary,’ Arys tried to push the thought out with all of his might, hoping that his words would be heard. ‘I miss you.’