[CHAPTER 1] — WHEN THEY CAME FOR ME
One moment, I was looking up at the stars on the porch. The phone beside me buzzed, and I opened a message from my boyfriend. “I miss you love.” I started to type back when I felt dizzy, and a pounding headache brought me to my knees. It felt as though gravity was pulling me down. It was suffocating my entire being. “Help” was all I could manage to send back to him, my last words.
A flash of light lit up in the darkness, and everything around me went silent. I looked up at the blinding light. I was screaming, but no sound came. An unknown force swept up my body. Suddenly, cold darkness came over me. I could hear whispering in the distance. I was numb, couldn’t speak; I couldn’t tell if I was standing, sitting, or floating. There was whispering as I drifted away.
It’s been four years since then. Life on this planet was beautiful despite the abduction and their experiments. None were painful, but they changed me…into something else. The abducted humans were treated as superiors. Those who completed their transition would then have a choice between going home or staying here to learn more about the universe or expanding their peaceful life here with the others. All had chosen to remain; except me.
I stared into my reflection. I was not the same person I was; I longed to go home. My appearance may have changed, but I was still me. Where my dark brown eyes once were, now a brighter maroon brown with flecks of pink stood. My hair used to be brown, almost black, and now it can have any chosen colors, glow or shine, a perk I gained in my transition. My skin was now flawless, almost translucent with pink undertones, and it would shimmer in bright lighting.
In the beginning, angry and afraid when I woke up after the transition was complete, I once unleashed my full power. My eyes had changed to a piercing silver blue, and my hair grew past the length of my body into an opal color with shimmers all over; it pulsed with every surge of power that came through me. The room fell silent…no one was able to move. An enchanted song from my vocal cords paralyzed them. A sound that can only be described as celestial. The experience was described as wonderous, and all those who could hear me would fix their gaze on me…waiting for their deaths. I remember only my screams and asking to go home. But overwhelmed with exhaustion. I fainted.
I didn’t feel I belonged on this planet, but did I belong on Earth? These people had chosen me due to a fate they couldn’t explain. They could sense the “special” humans. Everyone was kind, and things were peaceful here compared to my life on Earth. The view in this room was my favorite; I could sit here for hours and think about my future, past, and present. I missed my old life. I gazed into the pink skies where clouds would swirl, and when the stars came through, I rose with a deep exhale. My door slid open, and my guardian, Zuke, was waiting for me. He politely bowed while saying, “Ma’am, it’s time.” I nodded. “Thank you, Zuke.” He bowed down again and escorted me to the lab.
Before reaching the lab, I felt a presence nearing. I smirked. “I know you’re there.” Out from the corner emerged Fexor, Delmar, and Andrina. They were orphans, raised by a lovely older couple who had more kids than I had seen in a lifetime, but these three were older now, barely reaching adulthood, but were geniuses in the making. My orders to the society were to change their futures, educate them, financially support their studies, hire them for work, and protect their family. They were only 12 when we met. I was 20 and homesick. I would sing them to sleep. I learned about the nightmares they used to have. Their desires, loneliness, and despair rolled on me as I melted them away. I took away their pain and sorrows. And taught them to be resilient. There came a moment when they had all decided to call me Big Sis. I disappeared for a few days after. The couple explained to them that I couldn’t be their sister forever. Eventually, upon my return, I explained that I wouldn’t be around forever. My stay was temporary. The legacy I would build here would be theirs. They knew this day would come. Yet here we were, four years later.
I opened my arms; they hesitated. I saw their eyes pooling with tears. Andrina came over first. Her gentle sobs came through my chest. I held her close with one arm. Fexor came next, sniffling as he took solace in my other arm. Delmar stood over us, and I could see his tears falling silently as he leaned his forehead into my hair. His shoulders sank, defeated. I sang for them, perhaps for the last time. We pulled away. Andrina croaked, “We’ll miss you….” I nodded. “I’ll always miss you all. Thank you for everything. You’ll have an amazing life here. Good luck” With one last look at them, I walked away, a faint whisper, “Good luck, Big Sis.”
I was the first changed human that had chosen to go back to Earth. I longed to see my parents and boyfriend; maybe this would feel like a dream one day. They explained that my appearance wouldn’t change. Great, now my family would ask questions while barely recognizing me. A scientist smiled as they placed a device on my head that would keep my brain from talking about this planet or anything that happened here. I would keep my memories and knowledge of being here, but I couldn’t talk about it to anyone.
“We all wish you would stay and learn more with us. You make a difference here.” The scientist said. He had experienced my power and the work I had accomplished over the years.
I shrugged. “I’m sorry…maybe if life on Earth doesn’t work out….”
“We will come back for you if there’s any danger, ma’am. Or if you request it. You’ll always have the choice to return—even years from now. The council will send for you if you request it.”
The machine finished, and I could feel the mental lock in place. I couldn’t talk in detail about the past four years. Fear was building up and knotting in my chest as they continued the preparations. Zuke approached me; he looked sullen as he held a blindfold. I smiled as he spoke, “It’s been a pleasure, ma’am. I’ll watch over the others. Your orders.” Always so proper. “They’re your family too, Zuke. Stay with them. Protect and love them as such.” He was an orphan too. He never received love until we met the older couple and their kids. Zuke was enamored; the couple said he reminded them of a son they lost years ago, and now Zuke was their son whether he liked it or not. He would take the room I left behind. “I will, ma’am. Thank you.” He blindfolded me and led me away. I felt the air shift. Go silent. That numb feeling and a lack of all senses came over me—the same as all those years ago. So I focused on what home would be like and slowly drifted further away.
I gasped and sat up. The sea breeze hit me, and I inhaled it. My eyes adjusted in the dark as I watched the waves lap the shore. I rose to brush the sand off my jeans and hoodie. A pink backpack with personal items and some cash was all I had on me. I couldn’t stop thinking about what to expect. My family? Boyfriend? My twin brother Kieran? What will they say? This would be difficult, and cops would be called.
I gazed at the beach a bit longer. I pulled out a mirror and changed my hair to a soft rosy color. I didn’t want to be completely recognizable. I’ll change my voice if needed. I began to walk away from the beach and found my way into the woods. I followed with the moon still overhead. I could hear movements. People inside their homes from a distance. Closer and closer, I finally reached the city area. I was back in New York City—home on earth.
I didn’t rush as the sun rose, painting the sky with its orange and blue hues. I managed to reach the train station. The noises were overwhelming; with my heightened senses, it would take time to get used to. I breathed and tried to block everything out. I caught up to a train heading downtown. I could see the time; my boyfriend would take the train soon if he still worked the same job. I stood as I watched through the windows as the train stopped at each station. I was getting closer to the stop. Three stops…two stops… one stop…
I released a shaky breath. Panic was setting in. Maybe he moved? Stopped working? So much can happen in four years.
Ding. Doors closing.
“Excuse me…” My breath hitched at the familiar deep voice.
He sat across from me. I clenched the backpack against me, my hood up to conceal myself further. I peeked at him, he was in a dark hoodie with his leather jacket over it, and headphones were on. He had dark circles under his eyes and this far-off look. He almost looked broken…no hint of a smile, only emptiness. Even still, he was handsome, even with the severe look on his face; I could feel his sadness and loneliness. We rode for thirty minutes together. He got up, his stop approaching. Should I follow? I had no plan. I exited the train with him.
He followed his route to work with me on his heels. As he entered his job, I made my way to the library with a café; my heart was beating quickly as I sat down with my usual order, a java chip frappe. It hurt to see him so sad and alone. What if he had a life and the sadness was something else? Another girl in his life? Could I accept that…?
It felt weird being back here again. The library had changed a bit, and the drink tasted similar but better—memories creeping back to me of Conrad and I wandering in the manga and fiction section. I would find a book to get lost in as he sat next to me with his manga. Sometimes I would catch his gaze on me through the top part of his book. His cheek was resting against his hand, his smile subtle. “I know you’re looking at me, Conrad.” He’d avert his gaze and chuckle, taking my hand and interlocking our fingers. “I can’t just look at you, love?”
“Not without a kiss, you can’t” He leaned in for a kiss on my forehead, then my lips. “Want the usual, and we share?” I nodded. I watched as he walked away. Gosh, he was perfect and so sweet. He looked back and smiled softly. I made a face at him, and it got a smirk out of him—that memory felt like forever ago.
It was almost time for him to get out. So, I quickly sipped up my drink and dropped it into the bin with a loud thud.
I waited for him to get off the bus and make his way down the train station and into a cart. I rushed in, and we stood at opposite ends of the cart. As the cart emptied, I sat down, and so did he. Eventually, the cart was empty. I gripped my backpack and willed myself not to walk over to him. I’ll make sure he goes home and worry about the rest later.
A man got into the cart; I could smell he was drunk. He sat across from me, and when I looked up at him, I could see his smile spreading across his face. “You’re pretty….” My stomach churned, and I could feel power pulsing with every heartbeat. Why now…
He started to stumble towards me when someone blocked my view. “Back off…” I was suddenly staring at Conrad’s back. I felt my throat dry as the drunk guy spoke, “I…I’m saying hi to the girl, man.” Conrad stood there firm, “Go screw off somewhere else.” The drunk guy pushed Dean back and went off to the side. Conrad barely flinched. The guy went into his coat jacket and pulled out a knife. He launched himself at Conrad, and I could smell blood. Conrad managed to get the knife away and snapped the guy’s wrist. He went down on his knees with his hand pressed to his side. Power surged through me, and I threw my hand out.
The man was knocked backward and slid across the cart. The lights flickered in the train cart, and I went to Conrad. He was still kneeling and covering his side. I scrambled my vocal cords to hide my authentic voice and gently said, “I think you need to see a doctor… come, I’ll take you.” He shook his head. “I have a raging headache, and I feel dizzy. I need to go home and rest.”. I didn’t notice my hood slipped off; our eyes met. His face was confused as he held his shocked gaze on me. For a moment, I could feel warmth, hope, and confusion all at once. It came like waves. Then despair ravaged him as he slowly said, “Sorry, you almost looked like someone I used to know….”
When his stop came, he gathered his things and walked off the train cart. The drunk guy was knocked out sleeping. He will likely wake up and harass someone else or have a hangover; quite frankly, he’s lucky only to have his wrist broken. So I followed Conrad off the train.
“Hey, let me ensure you get home safe if you pass out or need medical help; I will be there and want to ensure you’re all right.” He sucked his teeth. “I don’t need your help…I live nearby.” His voice was always husky and deep, even sultry when he spoke affectionately to me, but now it had a rasp that I didn’t recognize, an edge of sadness and rage. We walked in silence as we approached the house. He never moved away and still rented in the house we lived in. I walked with him to the door. He searched for his keys and started opening the door, then stopped. “You can come in. Seeing as though you have nothing better to do than walk a stranger to the door.” I smirked. “Don’t worry. I can protect myself”.
Everything was bare for the most part. He had upgraded some tech here and there. The tv, probably a new console, and he bought a pc, finally. He closed the door behind me. I heard a meow, and our cat, Bruce, came out from the depths of who knows where. I felt my heart swell. The little black kitten was gone; now, here was a handsome black cat with piercing yellow eyes.
Bruce stopped and gazed at me. His body was tense, and his fur was lifting away from his body as Conrad walked past him. Bruce cautiously smelled me, his coat relaxed, and he instantly started rubbing against me. His meows echoed throughout the place. I missed him so much. I crouched down to pet him, and he headbutted my face as I lifted him into my arms, giggling. I could feel eyes on me. I looked at Conrad, who was staring at us intensely. “Is he hungry?” I asked. Conrad snapped out of it. “Yeah, let me just…” He took a couple of steps before his voice trailed off, and he wobbled. He was panting and grimacing, “Hey…come sit down. I’ll feed him. You need rest.” I took his hand, and he flinched. I sat him on the couch. I quickly found everything for Bruce and fed him. I walked over to Conrad, whose eyes were closed. “Let me check your wound; keep your eyes closed, okay?” He nodded. I softly touched his forehead and sent him to sleep for a bit. I lifted his blood-soaked shirt. The wound was still leaking blood. I grazed my hand over his injury; it was more profound than he would let on, but no vitals were hit. I hummed, and warmth poured into my hand. Slowly the wound closed, and the bleeding subsided.
I rose to my feet and walked around the place. Had he hidden our photos? Did he ever move on? There wasn’t a sight of anyone else living here besides him and Bruce. I felt both relieved and anguished for him. If he never moved on, it meant he suffered this whole time and my family…mom, dad, and twin brother Kieran. This was going to be insufferable. I felt Bruce climb up my back to my shoulders. He was nuzzling my cheek. “Hello there. Did you keep him company this whole time? I knew you’d be amazing.” He meowed happily as I continued my rounds in the place.
He gasped and suddenly sat up and gripped the couch. His eyes looked down to where his wound used to be, and confusion set in. “What?” I could sense his anxiety building. “It doesn’t hurt. Where did it go?” He looked up at me and stared. He had been working out, from what I could tell. His muscles flexed with every movement. His dark hair was longer now. We didn’t say anything for a while, then I asked, “Coffee?” and I was off to prepare him coffee. I pretended to look for the items, although I knew exactly where everything was. I felt his presence as I saw him leaning against the kitchen entryway. For a moment, he only followed my movements. Then he slowly said, “You know…it’s funny. You seem familiar. Maybe I’m starting to see things. The only girl I ever trusted was Kailani, yet I let you in here. I don’t even know your name. She might haunt me for it.”
I broke into laughter. I could tell he couldn’t decide whether to chuckle at his joke or if I had lost my mind. “So, this whole time…you never let a girl in, all these years cause your alleged dead girlfriend might haunt you?” He shrugged. “You didn’t know her. There was something magical about her. Her intuition was deadly accurate, and she could read people like no other. Call it witchy instinct, but she had a beautiful soul.” I gazed at him; his face had this melancholy look. “And not alleged…She’s dead…it’s been four years. There’s no other reason…why she wouldn’t come back. Someone took her from me, her family, her life….” His voice wavered. “I’m crazy telling you this. I think you should go now…thanks for everything.” He was walking away, and his back turned, heading towards the door. I couldn’t let this keep going. He had suffered enough. Life wouldn’t be the same. But if there was anyone who could handle this eventually, it was him. So, I unmasked my voice and reverted to my default appearance.
His body froze at the sound of my voice. I could hear his heart beating. His breath quickened as he squeezed his hand around the doorknob; I could see his knuckles whitening, and he slowly turned around. His eyes widened. His breathing became shallower; blood drained from his face. He was hyperventilating. His raspy voice barely choked out painfully, “Kai… Lani?”
CHAPTER 2 — LOSING HER (CONRAD)
Working nights are quiet. There is nothing else to do besides ensuring the building is clean, trash is taken out, and sometimes people come in and out. I pick up my phone and open Lani’s chat. I text her, “I miss you love,” and send it off. Only the universe knows how much I miss that woman on these nights. I would get there in the morning and walk into the room. There she would be with the stupid kitten, Bruce. Okay, okay. Not stupid. The little guy is cute. Black with yellow piercing eyes. He was still a kitten; that age is always ridiculous, annoying, and cute. They’d be cuddled together with Bruce on her head, lost somewhere in her length of dark hair. All you’d see are yellow eyes staring at you in the darkness. Lani’s slow breathing could be heard, surely asleep. But…the moment I set foot in through our bedroom door, her eyes would flutter open. It was always eerie how she knew.
I opened her message. Panic set in, and I rose off my stool. “Help”? I called her. Voicemail. I kept calling. Dang it, Lani. It kept ringing. I called Kieran, who answered oddly quickly, “Hey man…do you know what time it is? Are you okay?”
“Kieran, I can’t reach your sister. She sent a text saying to help. I’m at work. Can you go, please? You’re closer; I’ll be there soon” I could hear Kieran rustling and the door slamming shut, “Yeah, I gotcha. I’m leaving now.”
Police lights? I pulled up and got out of the car. The worst thoughts were coming to me. Kieran was standing outside. “What happened?!” He shook his head. “I don’t know, man. She’s not here. Her phone’s outside, but she isn’t home. Cops think maybe she left and disappeared on her own. Asking me questions about her. My sister isn’t on drugs or a flight risk like no man. They don’t believe me.” I could hardly hide my anger as I approached two cops in their car. “Hey, I’m the boyfriend. My girlfriend texted me to help.” The cop nonchalantly replied, “Well, there’s no sign of forced entry, and it hasn’t been more than a few hours. I don’t think that qualifies as anything worrisome yet.” I clenched my jaw. “My girlfriend doesn’t just disappear on her own. She sits on the porch to work or study. She never goes anywhere without her phone. Hell, she won’t even leave our damn kitten alone. I even called her brother to come to check in because we both know she is NOT like this, and her phone was on the floor. If she’s been kidnapped…” They seemed to look at me and finally said, “Okay, sir, let me get detectives. We apologize for the delay.”
The night was a blur of questions; all we were told to do was wait. Wait as I felt my soul fall apart.
One Week Later
Missing, she was missing. This place, our place, feels so dark without her. Bruce lays on her side all the time. Do cats miss their people? This pain in my chest. My heart and soul were breaking apart. A part of me has been ripped away, and it’s raw—the constant what-ifs whirlwind through my mind. My stomach churned with hunger. But I was too numb to eat anything. I couldn’t enjoy a meal knowing she was out there. Alive…scared…or worse. Please, I want her back…
One Month Later
My phone rings, and I still flinch. Usually, it’s her brother wanting to talk or game. I feel myself slipping away further and further. I don’t feel her anymore. I feel dead. As time passed, reality set in. I might not see Lani alive ever again…
Bruce has gotten bigger. I feed him, work, let videos play in the background, and sip on my coffee…even when it burns, at least I feel something. But sometimes, I feel so overwhelmed with grief that I never wish to get out of bed on my days off. But Bruce comes to let me know he is hungry. At least someone is hungry…when was the last time I ate anything good?
I sighed in the shower and leaned into the hot water. Letting it soothe my sore muscles. But it couldn’t help the pain within. A random memory of her peeking into the shower curtain, asking to come in. Before I could agree, she’d pull the curtain open and step in. My eyes would drift all over her as I took her in. The sleepy eyes, long dark hair, the thickness of her thighs leading into curvy hips, and the sweet sound of giggling as she went around me to get under the shower. The smell of her soap as she slathered it on herself. I wanted to surround myself with that smell forever. So, I wrapped my arms around her to help her lather up. I knew all her ticklish spots, her favorite places to be touched, and where to massage to relax her. I’d bite her ear as she melted in my arms. She’d finish showering, and she would encaptivate me. “Okay, done!” A peck on the lips, and she was rushing out. “Don’t you dare. Come here”. I’d pull her back in for a deeper kiss. Stepping out of the shower myself, one hand still entangled in her wet hair. Her warm body pressed against me, and I couldn’t resist. I wanted to get lost inside her and forget everything to make her mine.
The memory stung, and the heaviness in my chest made me weak with despair. My breathing quickened, and I felt dizzy. My heart was beating out of my chest as the sobs came in waves. I was nauseated by the haunting thoughts of anyone darkening that smile, laying their hands on her, and the fear she must be feeling…or felt. I was hyperventilating. I sat in the tub with my hands on my head. I took deep breaths. These panic attacks often came now, sometimes a few times a day. Memories are triggered at every turn.
A mew snapped me back into reality. Bruce was sitting by the shower. His meow was soft, and his face seemed puzzled. I was losing myself in the memories again. “Thanks, buddy…” He began to purr and walked away. I yelled out, “I see how it is. Leave a man when he’s down.” That damn cat…
Three Months Later
I don’t know what’s worse anymore. These waves of grief never settle. Her parents when I go see them. The sadness in their eyes and when her mom breaks down. Her brother walks away every time. Her dad rubs her mom’s back. I sit there…the food growing cold and untouched. I’ve lost weight and muscle. Her dad says, “You’ll always be like a son to us…But please keep going. For her. Talk to Kieran…” Her brother had started to close himself off too. Has it been three months? It felt like a lifetime had passed, and nothing was the same. No one was the same; our lives felt uprooted while we still held in place for her.