I leaned against a tree planted in a dirt patch in the sidewalk, attempting to catch my breath. I never had been very good at running long distances. I looked around to figure out where I was. Cars rushed under a sign that said “Welcome to Lalmipaa.” I had just run into the outskirts of the neighboring city from the middle of Iocterrs. No wonder I was so tired! I sat down next to the tree. Now where was I supposed to go? My stomach growled and I reached into my backpack to fish out a snack. I remembered packing extra apples. But, instead of touching the smooth surface of an apple, I felt…nothing. Crud! I had forgotten my backpack at school!
I took deep breaths. Maybe I had some money in my pockets. I always forgot about the money I put in them. I stuck my hand in my right pocket and found the ten sythers. That was almost double the amount of money I’d had in my backpack. I could take a bus, now that I had more than enough money to do so.
“I bet I can run faster than you with my new shoes!” I turned to see a boy with obviously new shoes bragging to another boy. “How would your new shoes make you faster? I’ll still be able to run faster than you!” said the other boy.
“My shoes have dragons on them, and dragons are super fast!” retorted the boy with the new shoes.
“I don’t think that makes a difference,” said the other boy. “I bet I’ll make it to the next crosswalk before you do!”
“I bet you can’t!” And the two raced. Seeing the dragon on the boy’s shoes reminded me of another dragon I had met…last week. It seemed like so long ago. Her name was Science Nerdess, and I’d helped her and her friends Feathers the phoenix, Amarantha the unicorn, Zella the witch, Ellie the powerful ghost, her daughter Hannah, the elf children Priya and Maddie, and Ellie’s husband Scott free the goddess Scadoosh and imprison Ellie’s idiot daughter Emily for killing Ellie and then making sure the blame was placed on Scott. While Scott wasn’t exactly the most moral of people, he could never murder his own wife. And Emily’s jealousy towards her about-to-be-born sister and her anger towards her father was amplified by some of Jenisifydincneiwa’s zombies from her zombie army. At the time, Jenifydincneiwa and Anilokalmosia had been working together, so Annie had granted the ability of emotion-manipulation to the zombies. Emily managed to not only kill her mother, but also get her father blamed for it; there was no way she could have killed her mother, since she was “sick” and later killed by her father because she had killed her mother. Because Scadoosh had not really done anything about Scott, Emily turned to Anilokalmosia, and she ended up being her slave. She imprisoned Scadoosh, and I helped Science Nerdess and her friends go to Annie’s lair to get the keys to Scadoosh’s prison.
They had offered to let me stay in their cave, where Science Nerdess, Feathers, Amarantha, Zella, Ellie, Hannah, and Scott lived, but I had refused, insisting that, now that I was not evil anymore, I might be accepted by my parents. How stupid I was. But now, I could return to the cave, and maybe I could remain there in peace.
I ambled over to the nearest bus stop, which was just past the next intersection. A bus came after about five minutes, and I, along with three other people, climbed aboard. “Excuse me,” I asked the bus driver, as I paid my fare. “When does this bus stop at Eiatras?”
“The last couple of stops are in Eiatras, miss, ‘cuz it’s at the edge of the county,” said the bus driver.
Eiatras was a very backwards sort of city that belonged in the neighboring backwards county, Sarteea County. The city just happened to fall under the jurisdiction of Rirsocet County. It’s rumored that the people in Sarteea County and the city of Eiatras are trapped in time, which would seem to true because the city and county are very medieval. There are still knights there, and manors and lords and kings. The hygiene of the people is pretty terrible, which is why Scott, a coffin maker, had such a lucrative business for a time when he was alive until Science Nerdess and Feathers started their cave clinic. The people in the city and county, though, are aware of what the year is. The people all reject modern conveniences, though, since they think all our machines are “of the Evil Gods.”
The bus’s engine started up, and I was soon on my way. This county bus had only a few people, so it was quiet. I wonder why few people ride the county bus. The seats are nice and the bus is spacious. But I don’t mind the lack of people; in fact, I like it. That way, I could be almost alone, with just me and my thoughts.
I looked out the window and saw the houses and walls rush by. I hoped the EIS wouldn’t find me here. How could it find out so soon? There wasn’t a way Mr. Esakon could have contacted it, was there? But what if he did? What if some EIS members were on their way—?
Now I was just being paranoid. To calm myself down, I focused on the other passengers. On the left side of the bus, an elderly man read a newspaper, while, a few seats behind him, a woman was sitting with her handbag in her lap. A brown-haired woman right behind her looked at me suspiciously, and I froze. Was she from the EIS? But then I realized that she was probably suspicious because she thought I was skipping school—after all, what else would a fifteen-year-old be doing on the bus at 9:45 AM (according to the clock on the bus) without any noticeable guardians? She stared at me as if I was some sort of juvenile delinquent, which I found rather weird because I thought that skipping school doesn’t warrant that kind of look. No one was jailed for skipping school in Rirsocet County or, really, in all of Naiambwao District. I was used to that look, though, so it didn’t bother me. The mentality of most people is that if you have a name like mine, you would be a criminal if you weren’t one yet. As long as that woman wasn’t going to do anything to me because of her suspicions, I couldn’t care less about what she thought. I turned my head to look ahead of me. I noticed that the black-haired man in the seat in front of me was chattering on his cell phone.
My eyelids began to droop. I typically try to avoid sleep when I’m not at home if I can because losing consciousness makes me feel vulnerable. I’ve had enough happenings happen to me while I was unconscious, typically childish pranks, to make me worry about what could happen if I fell asleep, and my precarious situation didn’t mitigate my fears. But I was so tired…
The bus stopped to pick up more passengers. About four people climbed aboard. Among them was a bespectacled black-haired boy of medium height with tan skin. He stopped by the seat next to mine and asked, “Mind if I sit here?”
“I don’t have any authority to deny you permission, so, sure, I guess.” Why was he asking me, anyway?
“Okay, then,” he said as he sat down. “Where are you headed?”
“That’s none of your business,” I said.
“Geez, I’m just trying to make some conversation! It’s boring on this bus.”
“Well, forgive me if I don’t trust a person I hardly know…you know how we’re not supposed to talk to strangers and all…”
“If you don’t talk to strangers, how are you ever going to meet people? Everyone you know was a stranger once. Heck, even your own mother was a stranger once!” And some people, no matter how long you knew them, stayed strangers…even my mother. “You’ve got a point,” I said, “but I’m not inclined to talk to people who I don’t know the name of. I’m not one of those people who can just talk to anybody.”
“I see. You’re one of those uber-cautious people, who probably are scared that even a dog might kidnap you if it’s a ‘stranger,’” he teased. “So, let’s not be strangers. The name’s Adhit, but you can call me Adi.” He was a Cursed One! Adhit was a derivative of Adrian, which was the CMN of Adraiminabo. For one Cursed with the CMN of the god of gluttony and laziness, he was pretty skinny. Adhit looked disappointed. “Oh, so you’re not going to talk to me now that you know I’m a Cursed One? Aw, come on, I’m not that bad! I’m not evil…not anymore anyway—”
“No, not at all. I was just thinking about…stuff,” I said. “I’m Anita.”
“Nice name.” Was he being sarcastic? “Do you have any nicknames? Like Annie, Neetu, Anu, Nita, anything?”
“No. No nicknames. And especially not ‘Nita’ or ‘Annie.’” “Nita” reminded me too much of Jasmine, and “Annie” reminded me of the goddess who convinced my parents to do the act of misdeed that led to my being cursed in the first place.
“Um, okay. So, why are you ditching school?”
“Oh, I’m, um, uh…not ready for a math test, so I, uh, wanted to ditch…”
Adhit laughed. “You suck at lying, you know that? Tell me the real reason.” When I wouldn’t respond, he said, “Fine, I’ll tell you my reason. You don’t have to tell me yours if you really don’t want to.” He lowered his voice. “Some EIS member found my house and tried to kidnap me. Of course, my parents wanted to get rid of me, anyway, so they didn’t care. So I escaped that EIS member and ran away, and now I’m on this bus and am going to the bus’s last stop.” Why would he tell me all this? He didn’t know that I wasn’t some other EIS member masquerading as a Cursed One. Of course, it was entirely possible that he was the masquerading EIS member, which made me regret telling him my name.
Or I could be just being paranoid again. “That really stinks. You’re going to have to be away from everyone you know and you’ll have to be among strangers,” I said.
“That’s fine with me,” said Adhit. “I never had any friends back in Henaima, and I’m okay with meeting people who can’t make any assumptions about me because of something that an ex-friend said. I know that Charles couldn’t hang out with me because his mother said so, but that doesn’t mean that he can make up all kinds of stuff about me.”
“Oh, wow. That’s gotta suck. My ex-friend only bullies me into going into the dark side again, and she only does that because she is under the Influence of the goddess of illness, and she’s got her CMN. She doesn’t make crap up about me, even though she is under the Influence. Charles is really mean. I’m sorry you lost him as a friend.”
“Well, ‘as we grow up we don’t lose friends. We just learn who our real ones are.’ I like that quote. It’s very true. Charles was never my real friend in the first place. Now, as for you…”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. We just met! At most, we’re just really good acquaintances. We’re not even close to being friends!”
“I wasn’t saying that. I was going to say that I think you might end up being a really good friend if we got to know each other better. Yeesh, don’t jump to conclusions!”
“Oh. Sorry about that.”
“What’s the last stop for this bus?”
“Somewhere in Eiatras.”
“Aw, crud, that backwards city? There’s no way I’m staying there! I couldn’t live without my computer.” I wasn’t even allowed to use the computer at home, so I couldn’t relate. “I’m sure you could. You technically only need oxygen, food, water, and shelter to live.”
Adhit looked at me, irritated. “You know what I mean.”
“Just saying.” Suddenly the bus screeched to a halt. Some normal-looking people rushed aboard the bus. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that they had guns.
Everyone in the bus was thrown into a panic. “DON’T HURT ME OR MY CHILDREN!” someone screamed. Other people tried to look for a way out. “Relax, if you are Regulars. We will not hurt you,” stated one of the intruders. “We are just looking for some Cursed Ones among you.” Adhit and I exchanged looks. The EIS had found us! Or, they could have been referring to other Cursed Ones on the bus…
The group searched every seat, referring to a device that looked like a phone. When they came to our row, one of them declared, “There they are! Well, some of them, anyway.” So they were referring to us after all. I gulped. Some of the EIS dragged us out of our seats roughly. Some other members grabbed a couple of other passengers. “I knew they were trouble,” said the woman who had looked at me suspiciously. “They’re abominations, that’s what they are.”And we abominations were dragged into the trunk of a white van. What were they going to do to us?