Ari stared at the watch on his arm that didn’t exist.
Footsteps echoed in the hall to the right.
“Oh good, Festo.” he said to his friend. “Ready to put the… sample into Frederick’s office?” The sample was a bit of dung that they had gathered from outside in the 30 minutes of sunlight that they were allowed to get every day. The thirty minutes… inside the barbed wire… with nothing around but grass.
Expecting to hear his friends’ familiar chuckle that sounded like a strangled pig, Ari was surprised when nobody responded. The footsteps got louder and louder. Ari hid behind a door. In the Pain is Perfection Orphanage, you could trust no one but your truest friends. The Guardians that worked here were mean and tried to make life as unpleasant as possible for the orphans who called the horrid place their home. Frederick was one of those guardians. One of the most annoying ones too. That was why they were putting dog poop onto his desk.
It was for a good cause.
It was like that “steal from the rich, give to the poor” thing with a small twist.
“Put dog dung on the rich’s desk, entertain the poor”, more like.
A dominating face loomed in from the open doorway. It was Frederick, all right, with his thick furry eyebrows and his wild swath of hair that looked like it was alive.
“Ari, I know you’re here somewhere,” he said teasingly. “And I know you were planning to put something in my office with Pesto, your little friend here.”
He gave a sharp tug on the long hair Ari definitely recognized but had not previously seen. Festo stumbled in.
“It’s Festo, not Pesto,” he said.
“You better reveal yourself, little kid,” Frederick said, tugging Festo’s hair a little more. “Or I’m going to rip this hair off his head and fling him through the wall.”
Ari winced a little, then reluctantly, head hanging, stepped out.
“There you are!” Frederick said, smirking. He lifted Festo up from the ground by his hair. Festo screamed. Frederick swung him around and around and around by his hair and then threw him. Ari screamed.
But this scream wasn’t like any other scream. He felt like he was channeling all his anger into something…
All of the sudden, a thunderstorm began, relentlessly crashing in the black sky above, making the darkness a sort of canvas for it’s beautiful and powerful movements as the lightning raged down from the sky above. The world felt like it was tilting.
One was getting closer… and closer.
The orphanage erupted in flames. A relentless vortex of fire raged all around them, like terrible tornados trying to kill everyone.
Voices with no bodies casted their creepy words over and over again as artificial sprinklers rained down above. They were stating the obvious:
“Fire, Fire, Fire, Fire…” they said.
He saw glimpses of shadows, shadows that looked like people, the things that lurked in the darkness, and then he sank down just like Pesto had.
He was so very tired...
The shadows tried to pull him down, into that gaping realm of darkness, through the canyons in the ground that kept splitting, like an earthquake but much more extreme.
He felt so dizzy. Their hands… if you could call them that… felt real… even though he knew this was just a dream. The smooth coldness of them and the shadows’ faceless heads made them terrifying. A thunderstorm raged above him, raining blood, pounding against his ears.
Down there, in the crevices, he could see nothing but darkness, nothing but the pure nothingness of the empty place. The place where the shadows were trying to grab him. They kept coming out of the ground, surprising him… terrifying him. They surrounded him and all you could see for miles and miles were the cloaked figures, sluggishly making their way forward through the dreary night.
If only he could just wake up!
Thunder boomed and lightning illuminated the entire sky, glowing and striking down but doing nothing to stop the shadows. They were coming even closer now. Their hands, reaching for him…
Nobody was helping him… nobody could help him.
He was in a dream, but it felt too real, in a swath of blackness as the red rained down all around him and the white streaked down from the sky and the dark blue of the night sky and the glittering brightness of the stars and the vivid colors all mixed together and formed a huge one…
A huge shadow.
He felt an unnatural feeling of all at the thing. It was giant, and it felt so powerful that he knew it was ancient. It had been there before the universe, seen the rise and fall of many multiverses, seen everything. It was there before everything. He felt the urge to bow to it, to tell it how it impressed him, to become a shadow himself.
But he didn’t want to be one of those… things, he told himself.
He didn’t want to be one of the ones with the cold clammy hands and the faceless heads.
And then he wondered if all the shadows used to be kids like him, until they saw this being and became shadows themselves.
“Ari,” it said in a low rumbling voice that sounded like thunder. “Don’t you want power? This is what you were meant for. Your Grandma would be so, so proud of you!”
He caught a glimpse of an old woman putting stuffed peppers into the oven.
Was that his grandma?
Was she still alive?
Could she adopt him?
Ari shook his head. He had endured fantasies like this one before. Nobody ever came to adopt him, nobody ever cared. He would be so, so sure that this time, yes this time it was going to happen. His long missing mom and dad or maybe even his grandparents or brother and sister… if there were any of them left… would come rescue him and get him out of the horrible Pain is Perfection Orphanage and he would finally have a family that cared for him, that would tuck him into bed everything and feed him something other then the gray slop that he was so used to in the Pain is Perfection Orphanage.
His stomach rumbled.
Not now, he thought; I am in the presence of a being that existed before anything else, a being that can turn kids into reckless monsters… and I’m hungry? An image of the stuffed peppers floated before his eyes…
“Yes,” said the ancient voice that rumbled like the thunder itself. “Yes, your grandmother. A brave woman she is. Zephyr Bird. The great eco-friendly engineer.”
Somehow, hearing that name made him feel the power again, the power in his soul, and the lightning crackled, bursts of electricity going through the air faster than anything else that he had ever seen. Heading for the shadow. It faded away, but not before saying:
“Sooner or later you will realize that this is the only way for you to survive.
And then the dream dissolved.
Ari felt a sudden relief.
It was a dream, after all.
Ari woke up in his bed, damp from the previous day's encounter with the sprinklers.
At least he wasn’t dead.
Festo laid in the cot next to his. His face was bloody and his long hair was ripped off in some places. He was wet too.
He groggily stood up.
His dream… his grandmother… Zephyr Bird.
The huge shadow had told him about her.
He decided to do an internet search. He made his way over to the very old computer. He walked through corridor A, corridor R, and then corridor L to get to the place where the computer was.
As a girl with gray hair that he didn’t recognize was researching science, he had to wait for his turn.
“Sorry,” she said.
“It’s okay,” he said, even though he was trying so hard to wait patiently.
Finally the girl finished.
He looked up the name “Zephyr Bird”.
He clicked on the first result that came up, dubbed:
Eco Engineer makes history
The article read,
Scientist Zephyr Bird, the award winning author of the book, “The people behind the Big Bang Theory,” just launched a new program for aspiring kid scientists. This program teaches the fundamental skills of science to kids. It also is a non profit organization that is a major supporter of charities that donate basic science materials, such as chemistry sets and science prints to kids. She says she is “willing to improvise to help kids pursue their talents,” and that kids need to be “taken seriously. I will research their goal further with them in one to one science lessons.” Check out the program at zephyrscience.com/KidsScience.
Faster than fast, Ari clicked on the link.
Ari saw stuff about the program, but he wasn’t looking. Ari saw a place that said “contact”.
It led me to a chat like screen where he could talk with Zephyr herself.
He was so excited!
“Have you heard of the name Ari Bird?”
Pain is Perfection Orphanage, 7:32 AM
“Wait, is that you, grandson?”
Zephyr Bird, 7:32 AM
He couldn’t wait any longer. It was his grandmother, so he typed back, his fingers moving so fast that he could barely see anything but tan colored blurs.
“I’m at the Pain is Perfection Orphanage. I’ve lived here
My entire life so far. If you’re my grandmother, can you
Pain is Perfection Orphanage, 7:32 AM
He rushed into it ruthlessly.
“As soon as I can. What location?
You have no clue how much this
means to me.”
Zephyr Bird, 7:32 AM
Could she really adopt him? Was this actually possible? If so, this was going to be the most amazing thing that had ever happened to him in his entire life! He typed back his reply quickly.
“I think I do. The Arandak location.”
Pain is Perfection Orphanage, 7:33 AM
It was so agonizing, waiting for his grandmother’s reply. He was so excited. Maybe this was going to work out after all. Maybe this wasn’t another of his childish fantasies. Maybe it was real this time.
“I’ll be able to pick you up tomorrow.
But there is one thing you must know,
you aren’t safe. The shadows will pursue
you until they are able to get you.
there is only one thing that will keep
Zephyr Bird, 7:33 AM
Just then, the computer glitched, and Ari couldn’t see the rest. But he was so happy! His grandmother was going to pick him up as soon as she could!
In the car, riding to his new home, he felt so happy and full. He had just had stuffed peppers. They rode in awkward silence for a little bit, but then Ari burst into tears.
“Thank you!” he cried.
“I know, I know.” his grandma said, tears in her eyes as well.
Ari relished seeing her. It was the best thing that had ever happened to him. I was so, so happy.
“What did you say about the one thing I needed to do to succeed?”
Ari was curious.
“Oh, did I say something about that? Silly me, I don’t know what I was talking about. I’m so happy that you’re here.”
He was too. He was too.
He took another bite of the stuffed pepper and chewed it. The glorious rice, beans and pepper blended together made me so happy. There was nothing else to describe it. In this raw moment, Ari was looking forward to my future.
His future with a home. And real food.
And his grandma.
A few days later, Ari got a letter.
He was surprised to find out that that letter was from Frederick. Tearing the letter open, he started to read.
Dear Mr. Bird
We are pleased to inform you that the Pain is Perfection orphanage has now changed its policies.
We will no longer treat our orphans badly; instead, we will treat them quite nicely. I am sorry for all the hard times you have gone through, especially because I was a part of that. I’m speaking for everyone else here when I say that your friends are in good hands. Festo will be taken care of, and, my friend, even though he succeeded in eventually handing off the manure to my desk, I am no longer angry with him. You have our full apologies.
Now, I must leave you to your grandma. She will take good care of you. The thunderstorm that struck seemed to have changed my mind somehow. I’m telling you this, and nobody else, because I have a peculiar feeling that you were… involved. It was like it spoke to me peacefully; told me that what I was doing was wrong, telling me that I should be… nicer. That is why I convinced the board to, as I have previously stated, change our policies. That is why you woke up in MY bed in the new INFIRMARY known as MY room. I hope you are grateful for all the dear sacrifices I have made. I take great pains in telling you that I am sorry, for even though I have changed, I am still who I was, and this is annoying me, this stating of all my faults.
Pain is Perfection Orphanage
Well, I thought, as I put that letter on my new bedside table.
We have all changed, and most have for the better.