CHAPTER 8: THE ANIMATOR
APRIL 4, 2028
Mrs. Sadira had brought her baby son to class today. Julie and many of her fellow girl classmates squealed to the sight of the chubby little guy in early walking stages.
“I couldn’t get him to daycare this morning,” Sadira discussed to her friend Kevin Wikiwi, the skinny Homptilian first grade science teacher.
“Do you take him to the one at Avis and Welsh?” Kevin asked, his hand leaning against the doorframe.
“Yes, that’s the one!” Sadira responded expectantly.
“The whole street’s closed down. On the news said it was another hovercraft crash. At least seven dead and 2 billion in property damage,” he responded.
“No way,” Sadira brought her hands to her mouth.
“Parliament and the President are looking to get stricter with the automobile industry. I can’t believe they would ever sanction hover systems in the first place, that shit’s dangerous!” Kevin then lowered his voice upon noticing some of the children looking at him.
“And go back to fossil fuels? Yuck! No thanks, I’m happy without my asthma!” Sadira shook her head in disapproval.
“I mean, I get they want a cleaner alternative, but couldn’t they come up with something more stable?” Kevin clarified.
“You have a point, they could have gone with solar,” Sadira gently caressed her compass-shaped Wefan pendant.
“See what I mean? Solar is cleaner, reliable and safer! Guess some fat investor’s hand played a hand at the last minute,” he shook his head in disappointment.
“You mean Algol Industries?” she suggested.
Suddenly, a baby’s cries were heard. Sadira tapped Kevin on the shoulder and went back inside the classroom, where she knelt beside her son, who sat on his baby chair over her chair. She took out of her purple purse a stuffed rag octopus with large beady eyes, cheeks and a round smile. The baby giggled and gladly snatched the toy from her.
“Sweet Goddess! He’s so cute!” fourth grader Blaer Sigor told her neighbor Hilda Castillo.
From their desks, both Homptilian girls waved at the olive skinned baby with black curls. The child maniacally shook the rag octopus on his hand and smiled back at them as if bragging about his tiny new baby teeth. The baby’s attention was drawn to the clay vase over his mother’s desk, which contained three opaque and wilted flowers. Beside it was a clear frame with a peculiar photograph.
The photograph was of a young couple with matching khaki tops embracing in front of a water fountain. The girl with rainbow streaks of hair was the younger Ninfa Uisneach Tariq al-Sadira, now known as Mrs. Sadira. The young man smiling with his arm around her shoulder had darker skin, shoulder-length midnight black hair and dark eyes.
After last month’s secret date mishap at the A.S.P.T. store, Skye had told Julie about Abdu Logos “Abdul” Ghatak, her teacher’s husband who was a soldier in the Gamut military, stationed overseas. Together the couple had two children, a daughter named Dahlia Ghatak and a baby son Abdul Jr.
Little Abdul looks just like his dad. Julie thought with a smile as she compared the looks of the baby to the man in the photograph.
“I wish I had a baby,” Yuki divulged to her friend, who now sat in the back of the classroom next to her.
“Aren’t you too young for that?” Julie gave her a suspicious glance.
“Eew, not like that! Just someone to look after,” Yuki stuck her tongue out and shook her head.
“Like a baby brother?” Julie quizzed.
“Yeah, I always wanted a baby brother!” Yuki responded with enthusiasm.
“Have you told your mom and dad?”
“I did but, um, they are not fond of the idea,” Yuki pushed her ice blue-rimmed glasses up her small freckled nose.
“They could try adoption,” Julie suggested. Yuki’s eyes widened and a smile formed across her face.
“I think that is a great idea,” Homme classmate Drake Lavender said.
He turned around from his chair in front of Yuki. At first glance, Julie shied away from making eye contact, but the more she tried the more she found herself drawn to Drake handsome features and chocolate skin. She pressed her hands over her cheeks, trying to distort her smile by making a fish face instead. Confused, Drake eyed Yuki, who shrugged at her friend’s actions.
At the subterranean restaurant The Hungry Mole, Cedric and Skye sat together enjoying foot-long sandwiches. Skye set down his tofurkey sandwich and slurped with a straw the ice tea from his glass.
“And the pirate says, argh, it’s driving me nuts!” Cedric closed one eye to make his pirate voice more authentic.
From his seat, Skye suddenly coughed up and sprayed the contents of his mouth at Cedric. He laughed with gusto while Cedric sat still, one eye closed, and dripping tea from his chin.
“Sorry, big man!” Skye relished the moment more when he saw Cedric chuckled as well.
“Remind me to bring my parasol next time.”
He then reached for the napkin holder, only for his massive hand to knock it over.
“Fuck, these becoming a running gag or what?” Cedric rubbed his hand over his face with annoyance.
“Here let me get that,” Skye picked up the holder and passed his friend a handful of napkins.
He then chomped down the last of his tofurkey sandwich in silence. He would regularly eye his friend and then his asklepian-infused tea. Today, Cedric was in his construction worker uniform. On the side of his chest was a name tag that caught his attention: RYAN C.
“Your name is Ryan?” Skye inquired in surprise.
“That my last name,” Cedric responded chewing on a mouthful.
“Ah, so your full name is Cedric Ryan?”
To this Cedric nodded. Suddenly, a voice caught the attention of both men.
“Turn it up, kid!” growled between his teeth an elderly Theo from his wheelchair.
The man coughed into his sleeve. He appeared to be 100 years old or so others thought, but Skye knew best this crusty skeleton with skin, an ugly mug, eye patch, sunken features and uneven locks of white hair was at least 60 years old.
Skye gulped and looked back at his beloved friend; that would be Cedric in 30 years. For human Theos usually after turning 40 their cells begin to deteriorate at twice the rate of Hommes. By age 50 their testosterone levels are halved, causing them to gradually lose their distinctive muscular build and super strength. On average a healthy Theo could live to be 75, but few made it past age 66.
Oh my Gods… As he became teary-eyed, Skye covered his face with both hands and sighed. Of the many things he hated about being an empath, this haunted him most. He sensed how lonely and miserable the old man’s life had been. All the abuse he experienced at the hands of his own relatives and those KKK ghosts with pointy hats who had tried to lynch him in his youth.
“You okay, dude?” Cedric saw how upset his friend had become.
“That old man over there, he’s so lonely and sad,” Skye cleared his throat. Cedric looked over his shoulder at the mean-looking Theo in the wheelchair.
“I said, turn it up!” the old man shouted at the waitress working that morning shift.
“With that attitude, it ain’t no surprise,” Cedric remarked.
Skye then looked up at his friend, revealing his gray irises. The thought of Cedric ending like the old man in the wheelchair was unbearable.
Meanwhile, the mousy waitress seemed nervous. She had tried reaching the television to turn up the volume but her short stature made it an impossible feat. Tippy toeing had been useless. She looked around desperately for a stool or anything she could climb on. The old man repeatedly made the same loud demand.
“Turn up the volume!”
Fed up with it, Cedric slammed his hands over the table, startling Skye. The giant then rose from his chair and walked over to the TV. The waitress froze at the sight of his imposing frame coming closer. He looked down at her. ELLEN, her name tag read. She reminded Cedric of Julie except older, with hazel eyes and spiky orange hair with purple streaks. Ellen was mesmerized by Cedric’s vibrant blue eyes. The giant smiled at her and he could see her eyes reading the name tag on his jumpsuit. He winked at her and then reached for the volume button with his large index finger, turning it up to 36.
“That better, old man?” Cedric glared at the Theo in the wheelchair, who nodded bitterly.
On TV the anchor woman presented footage from what at first sight looked like a disaster zone following the path of a tornado:
“—a shocking scene out of a horror film, this morning a hover van carrying three passengers collided in the air with at least two other vehicles and crashed on this quiet Denver neighborhood…”
Cedric returned to his seat, giving Skye a gentle pat on the back. The little man looked up, now much calmer. Both turned to look at the news report, Skye in particular saw something oddly familiar.
“Another accident… seems our friends, the Men in Black, have been busy,” he told Cedric, who crossed his arms over his chest.
“You think it was them again?” Cedric asked.
He then caught a glimpse of Ellen. She stood under the television, looking up with morbid curiosity and clutching in both hands part of her apron.
“It must be. Who else is sabotaging hover vehicles?” Skye responded in a low voice.
“Why are they doing that?” Cedric noticed Ellen was looking at him. They locked eyes.
“Somebody is paying them. I can’t do anything until I have evidence and figure out who they work for,” Skye turned from Cedric to Ellen and then grinned.
“Hold on, but aren’t these people kidnapping girls too?” Cedric redirected his attention to Skye, his face full of concern.
“Been wondering about that as well. Hover cars and young girls. No connection between the two, so it must be the work of two different parties,” Skye furrowed his eyebrows intrigued.
On the TV screen the report took an unsettling twist as subtitles appeared at the bottom of the screen.
“(Closed captioning brought to you by Groovy Patty… I’m moving it!)
REPORTER: —in strong opposition of hovercraft systems, Senator Devon Savage had to comment…
DEVON: When my father began his company, he had one thing in mind: for this great nation under Gods, indivisible, to prosper. Those were the days we pumped oil into our vehicles.
‘If we continue to listen to these liberal hips—I mean, environmentalists, where will our great nation under Gods be tomorrow? (Coughs)
‘Yes, we have dreamed of flying cars before but look at the cost we are paying. All the lives lost.
‘Supporting our oil refineries is not just an obligation; it is our duty to this republic. (Clapping and booing) To defend the Anthosian dream and the patriotic values of our founding fathers…’”
Suddenly, Cedric heard rattling. He noticed the napkin holder and packets of seasonings on their table were casting shadows over the table as they were lifted an inch over the surface. He gulped.
“What a load of bull!” Skye exclaimed, his irises tinted in crimson.
“That’s the way to go!” the old man in the wheelchair spat, “Global warming? What a stupid myth!”
“That’s it, I take back all the sympathy I had for that one-eyed rodent,” Skye mumbled, turning around to face Cedric. The giant tried holding down the levitating cups and napkins with his massive arms.
“Um, dude,” Cedric called out to his friend and then noticed his eyes were turning gold. At last, the floating objects descended.
“Can you believe that Senator, that stupid bitch?
“I mean those values are a farce! That so-called Anthosian dream she spoke of did nothing but destroy us. Of course, she had to be the daughter of the freaking CEO of Zephyr Oil Company!” Skye tightened his fists.
“I bet she’s filthy rich too,” Cedric responded. He had no idea what else to say on the matter because he had never bothered with politics.
“Yes, even if Zephyr Oil went bankrupt years ago that Savage lady still remained in the game. I smell dirty sponsorship money. Now she wants her family business to bloom, so she turns to politics. Greedy people like her sicken me, Cedric, they do.
“The reason the old government collapsed was because they allowed selfish people like her take charge. They did nothing in the interest of the people and we were supposed to be a Democracy! And let’s not forget the refuted scientific evidence of the damage fossil fuels had on the environment…
“Now we have places without ozone layer; Inferno’s Pass and Frost Meadows happened because of their stubbornness… and in the end we had 2024,” Skye chocked at the last part. Cedric let out a loud sigh.
“Hey, bro, you know I grew up in the rural part of Fort Collins? My father was a field worker and everyday worked from sunrise to sunset for almost nothing. To make ends meet, we all had to do our part. Mother sold pies and most home appliances, brother fixed the neighbor’s cars, and I was forced to leave school and spent many summers picking fields till my hands bleed.
“Then one day the sky grew cloudy and dark, scariest shit I ever saw. With it came a snowstorm, in the middle of June. The worst they had in over 70 years. That season the frost killed the crops. Many of us lost our jobs and to make ends meet my brother and I… we did some questionable things,” Cedric paused and then grimaced.
“Where’s your brother now?” Skye felt his eye twitch.
Cedric did not respond, instead he saw their eyes were now matching blue and lowered his head. It was then, looking at his friend’s hands that for the first time Skye saw the scars. On his knuckles and around his palms were dozens of uneven lines spreading like cobwebs over his flesh. They were the markings of a slave.
“You’ve changed, big guy and anything you did is all in the past now,” Skye reassured him.
Cedric saw Ellen coming to their table, rubbing her hands on her red apron. She smiled at him and collected their empty cups. Skye nodded at her in approval as she left to the next table.
“What a nice girl,” Skye stated.
“You know her?” Cedric grew curious.
“Nope but I’m sure she would like to meet you, my friend,” Skye smirked and raised his eyebrows at him.
“Oh no, dude, I’m no good for her,” Cedric gave another quick glance at Ellen.
“Your soul says otherwise and the soul never lies,” Skye eyed Ellen going into the kitchen and made a head gesture to Cedric.
“Don’t know, what if she finds me too ugly or scary?” Cedric rubbed the back of his neck.
“Listen, you’re big, cuddly and cute! That beats like every freaking pillow and plush bear in the world! Chicks love that!” Skye was quick to add.
“I’m cuddly and cute?” Cedric wondered and Skye nodded.
“She wants you to ask her out! Trust me!” Skye then waved for Ellen to come closer.
At 12:30, the students of classroom 4E vacated the main building. Most went to the cafeteria, some would hang out at the greenhouse, others swarmed the playground, few went to the library to play games on the computers and read. Julie and Yuki were the last ones to remain in Mrs. Sadira’s class. Their teacher had taken Abdul Jr. across the hall for a diaper change, while the two girls sat giggling at their copy of Teen Bliss! Magazine that Yuki had kept in her backpack.
“Whoa! Is that a—?” Julie exclaimed and her eyes widened.
“Yeah, eh, the older girls read this stuff,” Yuki kept looking up at the door in case their teacher returned.
“How did you get this?” Julie asked.
“A cousin of mine lend it to me… eh, she is a senior in high school,” Yuki whistled.
“I like this one… he’s so cute!” Julie tapped at one of the interior pages.
“Nah, I like him!” Yuki reached across the page.
“What are horoscopes?” Julie looked at Yuki upon turning the page.
“Uh… I’m not sure… I think my cousin said they foretold your future,” Yuki nibbled on her nail.
“How do you read this?” Julie inquired as they both looked at the page.
The horoscopes were laid out in a wheel. It had twelve sections, each corresponding the twelve months of the year. Underneath the months of December, January and February was a snowflake; March through May had a flower, June through August had a sun, and September through November had a leaf.
“It’s the four seasons!” Julie exclaimed, pointing at the symbols.
“Uh… there’s one for every three months?” Yuki turned her head.
“Yep, that’s roughly how long each season is… now it makes sense!” Julie then noticed below each seasonal were one of another four symbols.
The months of December, April and August had the symbol of a circle with wings and an upside down triangular crown. February, June and October had a symbol resembling a three-legged animal with a tail and a triangular head also facing down so the two ends at the top corresponded to ears and the bottom one a snout. March, July and November had a symbol that resembled most a stick person with a circular head. Lastly, the months of January, May and September had a symbol of a circle with two waves under it.
“I have seen this one!” Julie pointed at the symbol for January, May and September.
“Eh, you have?” Yuki asked, trying to figure out what the others meant.
“This is the symbol of Ocumare the Eye of the Sea!” Julie responded proudly.
“How did you know that?”
“My had showed it to me. He has a picture in his lair—I mean, office, of an ancient sword he liked. He said Ocumare was his star sign,” Julie placed her finger over the month of January.
“Ah… I know how to read it!” Yuki stated. Julie came closer.
“So, um, we find your birth month… your dad’s is January… his season is winter… he’s Ocumare,” Yuki pointed at the description on the page.
WINTER OCUMARE - JANUARY: Life-changing revelations are in store for you.
Julie frowned at this, “So this tells the future?”
“Yeah… I think so,” Yuki looked for her horoscope.
“I guess mine would be Spring Archspire,” Julie found her description.
SPRING ARCHSPIRE – APRIL: A big event will define and take you on a great journey.
Horoscopes are creepy. Julie thought. The Archspire, or Chief Breath was her sign. On closer look, the symbol reminded her of an angel, which are believed to be the guardian spirits of deceased loved ones. What if Mom is my guardian angel and she is watching me? My sign also looks like a Seraph… like Vesta from Lunar Snail… and the Red Seraph.
There were four star signs in total. The remaining three were the animal one she saw earlier called Boranima (North Spirit), the stick person was Sophaster (Wise Star), and lastly her father’s star sign Ocumare which reminded her of the sun Lucifer rising over the sea.
“Miss Travell, Miss Akiyama? It is time for lunch, come outside,” their teacher said. She stood by the door carrying her baby in arms.
“Aw, do we have to?” Julie moaned.
“Yes, you do. Now out!” Sadira said firmly.
Yuki rolled up her magazine and put it back inside her bag. The two girls quietly made their way outside.
“I, um, will be at the cafeteria. Want to sit with me?” Yuki asked.
“Later, I wanted to visit my tree first,” Julie responded.
Outside, Julie walked towards the elder black walnut. The fallen catkins had formed a soft rug at the base of the tree. Suddenly, the shadows of nearby trees quivered and a gust of wind blew past her.
“God?” Julie looked around.
She felt someone standing behind her and turned around to see Erebus there.
“Hiya, what’s up?” she greeted the entity.
Erebus was quiet, his body looked worse than ever with missing chunks of flesh revealing his skeleton underneath. He was decaying. He held in his hand something dry and opaque, a plant.
“For ya,” Erebus handed the girl the withered plant. She was hesitant to grab it.
“Go on, take it,” Erebus reassured her.
She gulped. Why would God give me something so ugly? She brought her hands close, cupped together. Erebus opened his six-fingered hand and let the deceased specimen fall on her palms. How weird… God has six fingers?
The girl furrowed her brows, trying to figure out what to do with this gift. At least if it were a pretty flower… And with this her hands suddenly gave off a faint gray aura. She gasped, seeing the stem and dark petals swelling and regaining color. The aura of her hands fully covered the plant.
“Well done,” Erebus said.
Before her eyes, Julie saw the flower in her hands had returned to life, its stem vibrant green and its petals white with pink spots and yellow drops.
“It’s so beautiful!” Julie smiled.
“And ya did that. One of many great thing ya can do,” Erebus placed his hand over the girl’s shoulder.
Julie eyed Erebus, her face filled with surprise. She could feel his hand on her this time. There was no doubt now, Erebus was real.
“Give that to yer teacher… she sad and lonely,” Erebus explained.
“Why is Mrs. Sadira sad?” Julie asked feeling with her hand Erebus’ arm. It felt wrinkled and dry like autumn leaves. She shivered.
“’Cause her husband is away and missing out on his family. Give her that flower, will cheer her up,” Erebus then turned around and walked away.
“God? Where are you going?” Julie reached out but the entity was already gone.
“Who was that guy?” A voice asked.
Julie turned around. Anita was standing before her with hands to her hips.
“None of your business… hold on!” Julie was puzzled.
“It is my business. That was no teacher so unless it was your dad I have to report this,” Anita said.
“Wait a minute! You saw him?” Julie inquired.
“Yeah, duh!” Anita rolled her eyes.
“You lying bitch! Last month you were all like you didn’t see him!” Julie exclaimed clenching her fists.
“That’s so you, Nutty J!” Anita laughed.
“Don’t you dare call me that, bitch!” Julie roared.
Suddenly, from the underground the grass began to move. Anita looked at her feet and squealed. Julie glared at her classmate, who froze in fear as several large worms crawled out of the mud around her feet.
Anita shook her feet and let out a blood curling scream as she ran away. Julie grinned with malevolence, her violet eyes glowing.
“Who’s the nutty one now?” Julie asked mockingly.
She saw the glistening earthworms squirmed with life for a few seconds before they stopped moving. She walked towards them, they became dry and wrinkled. I just gave them life! Why are they dead again?
I hope Cedric has fun with Ellen tonight. Skye thought, then gasping upon realizing he had fallen asleep. His eyes snapped open.
“Wake up, human! Up!” Gurru flew over from atop the cash register and pecked Skye in the cheek.
“Ow, stop! I’m awake!” Skye flung his arm around, but Gurru ducked and stood out of harm’s way on top of the man’s chest.
Skye reclined against the couch inside the A.S.P.T. store, where he had dozed off.
“What is the matter with you? There is going to come the day we get no clients and it will be your fault!” the angry bird puffed up.
“What are you… talking about?” Skye rubbed his nose bridge and yawned.
“Are you serious? Let me see, you went to lunch at noon with your boyfriend…” Gurru began.
“He’s not my boyfriend!” Skye exclaimed.
“Oh, hush, the bird is talking! So after your hour break you come in and sit on the couch. You say you are taking a nap until the next customer arrives. Instead you get up minutes later and you walk out!” Gurru flapped his wings alarmed.
“I did what?” Skye’s mouth dropped.
“You abandon me! I have to use my awesome ventriloquism to pretend to be you in the bathroom! We had four people come in and I had to send them away! Four!” Gurru lowered his tuft of plumage and sighed.
“You’re wrong, after I came back from lunch with Cedric, I didn’t leave this spot!” Skye reaffirmed.
“Liar!” Gurru flew off him as he stood up.
“I was here the whole time, Gurru!”
“You left me here all alone! For two hours!”
“Two hours? It’s 13:20!” He ran to the counter to look at the clock.
Gurru flew to his shoulder and said,
“Yep, two hours.”
“Oh snap!” Skye exclaimed. The time was now 15:35.
Two hours? Where did I go during that time? He pondered alarmed.
Meanwhile, in the dark void of the mindscape, Erebus sat in his usual spot. He glanced at his arm, most of his flesh was gone. He looked up at Skye and chuckled.
At Searise Elementary, the class 4E students were having gym class with their burly Theo coach, a hairy giant whose appearance was truly evocative of a black bear, hence his nickname The Bear.
“Move, ladies! Quit picking your nose, Ronald! It ain’t time to dig for gold!” Coach Bear barked.
Yuki jogged around the basketball in her shorts and gray t-shirt. She looked around, Julie was nowhere to be found.
“She would never ditch class… where is she?” Yuki asked.
Meanwhile, Julie stood in front of the eagle statue at the front entrance. She glanced at the raptor’s menacing eyes.
“Quit it! Whoever you are, stop!” she shouted at the statue. The eagle remained still.
“I can make you talk, so don’t push me!” she threatened with her hand.
The eagle’s inanimate eyes continued to glare at her. Julie sighed, she turned around and gave one last glance at the statue. School would be over in 10 minutes, for the rest of the hour she sat in the bench outside, holding her book bag close.
“Stop looking at me! You are creepy!” she demanded through the window of the door at the eagle statue inside. At that moment the bell rang and hundreds of children swarmed the halls.
“Much better,” she sighed in relief.
In the mindscape, Erebus looked up again. He could hear howling sounds echoing around him. Then there was the sound of wings flapping.
“Ah, fuck! It’s begun… The Sentry’s here!” he said bitterly.