Eponine’s diary, 5/17/2147

Boney’s been missing for twenty-four hours now, and it’s all my fault. Mom keeps telling me that I did nothing wrong, that he shouldn’t have been outside in such cruddy weather, but- but-

Worrying isn’t going to help, I keep telling myself. But Boney- and the girl-

Mr. Greenland dropped by our house. Asked if maybe Boney left his pendant at our house so they’d know for sure that he was stuck outside the borders without it. I scoured the kitchen and living room high and low while Mom looked in the front yard and a little ways up the road, but there was no pendant, just rocks and dirt and gravel beneath her feet and carpet and kitchen tile below mine.

Mr. Greenland had such a haggard look on his face. He already looked eccentric with his long jacket and the dark circles under his eyes and insistence on staying single for the rest of his life- his wife died at Miralay while they were trying to escape. I eavesdropped on him and Mom talking when I was eleven. He said she sacrificed herself to gunfire when the guards were chasing him as he boarded the ship of a friend with his children.

I wonder where the children went. Sometimes Miralayans find wealthy families who’d love to have an “exotic” child, and sometimes the parents leave their children with rural farming families who’d appreciate the extra helping hands. Not every Miralayan knows about Heavestone.

That’s probably for the best.

I looked out of my window half an hour after Mr. Greenland left. He’d gathered up a sizable group of Heavestone adults with their pendants to go look for Boney. They’ll probably find him. He couldn’t have gone far-

But then again, four hundred million kilometers is a long ways away, and the Land of Shadows can be a scary place.

Maybe that guy in the trench coat from two days ago took Boney. Dragged him off to a secret laboratory to experiment on him. Miralayans are valuable to human traffickers. Our hearts are smaller but more efficient, so we have two- one for backup. Our bone structure is lighter due to the slightly-reduced gravity we live in… just the right physiology for whacked-up bird people making.

Go fly back to the red planet!

And, like birds, our bones tend to snap more easily.

Or I’ll bake you into a nice Miralayan pie!

And, with strong enough emotions, you’ll catch our skin just faintly glowing. It tends to make us not very good hide-and-seek players.

Boney…

Boney…

When I was a child, I wished that I was an angel, that someone would experiment on me and give me the power of flight. I prayed to whatever gods were out there to give me wings so I’d never have to worry about anyone from Mordern catching me. Just fly away, little kid.

Until someone brings a gun and shoots you in the wing. Then it’s game over. Then I went through an identity crisis and stopped praying altogether. Where was I going to fly to, anyways? There was nowhere in Heavestone I couldn’t already get to and nowhere in the Land of Shadows I could fly that wouldn’t get me in immediate trouble with the locals.

Although sometimes I miss the innocent passion of those days.

***

I know that I shouldn’t have risked wandering outside Heavestone while still recovering from my sudden illness, but I had to check for sure that Boney was gone- I couldn’t find him, even as I spent two hours wandering up and down the streets. I’ve got nothing to show for it other than a scuffed-up knee and a dictate from my mother not to leave the house until Boney’s been found.

That might be a damn long time. Weeks? Months?

Years?

I shouldn’t be so pessimistic. Maybe Boney’s just playing a prank on all of us. A terribly unfunny prank.

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Eponine’s diary, 5/16/2147

I feel like absolute trash today. My stomach is just as bad of a storm as it is outside- outside the borders, I mean. Heavestone’s weather is on a seemingly endless loop of the same springtime day. It’s nice if I want to stay inside of town, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve passed through wearing my warm weather clothes just to be met with negative forty-below degrees in the depths of winter.

That feels like cryonics, to be honest.

Boney went to visit the Miralayan girl again, which is how I know about the weather, because he showed up at my house during lunchtime with his hair sopping wet. I was sipping away at a cup of watery hot chocolate- Mom never got the hang of making anything in a mix- and watched him kick off his shoes at the front door.

“Why didn’t you answer my phone?” he asked, pulling up a chair. Not at all like Boney- usually he just barges in and immediately stuffs his face in the pantry.

Ah, friends.

“I’m sick, you dunderhead,” I explained. “I mean, you always make me want to throw up, but even more today.”

He waited for me to set the cup down before slugging me in the shoulder, knocking me against my chair. I winced.

“Crap. Sorry, Pony.” He got up and opened the fridge, retrieving a jug of orange juice and coming back to his seat a few seconds later with a towering glass.

“Why were you romping around-”

Boney cut me off, glancing around to make sure that no adults were in the room. He bent forward, close to my ear, and whispered, “I went to visit the girl again. I opened the pod. Got to touch her, even. She’s the real honest-to-god Miralayan Providence.”

You look confused, diary. What’s wrong? You don’t know what a Miralayan is? Or the Providence?

It’s okay. I wouldn’t expect you to. I’ll do my best to explain without taking too long.

An absurdly long time ago, when the political system of the world was coming apart at the seams and any former government agencies that might have had a semblance of a chance at escaping to the stars failed, one of the leading technology companies at the time- Mordern- decided that they were going to start a colony on Mars for no better reason than that they simply wanted to. There was the original public excuse that they wanted to secure a future for the human race, but seeing as that carried an off-putting resemblance to the manifestos of many a white supremacist, they forwent the guise of altruism and did it for the hell of it.

It went alright for a while, I guess. There was the original problem of getting the brave souls who signed up for the original trip up there in the first place, which was solved with the advent of the sleeping pod, which Mordern had invented in the later months of 2009. By the time 2012 rolled around, Miralay Colony had dug itself out of the red dirt and sprung up as the only dot of life on an otherwise barren planet.

A living wasteland, if you will.

Mordern turned their backs on Earth, choosing solely to focus on their new society four hundred million kilometers away. They placed two twenty-year-old leaders with iron fists to govern the burgeoning colony and make sure that they didn’t decide to take advantage of the slowness of communications in those days to revolt while Mordern couldn’t do anything for lack of knowledge. Not that a revolution would have had anywhere to spread- there was no privacy in Miralay. Everything was public knowledge.

That’s why my parents left. That’s what they told me, anyways. There was a practice they called mind shedding, where a forty-year-old and a seventeen-year-old would step into a machine and have a multitude of tubes hooked up to both of their heads and the young person would be the only one to leave alive, albeit extremely woozy to the point where they’d have to take a few days off of work to get used to their new identity.

I’ll let you connect the dots.

It was mandatory, and it was complete. Miralayans were empty vessels until that magical birthday where they donned the mind of someone who had been passed down over and over for a hundred years. Then another magical birthday rolled around and their life was snuffed out like a cheap birthday candle. People got to live longer on Earth, someone always complained, and they were always met with the argument that they didn’t have to worry about developing dementia or any of the cancers that old people were afflicted with. Their lives would be filled with purpose, unmarred by senility.

My parents survived, though. Their minds, I mean. They still retained a rebellious streak after they received their memories. They left everything behind to pay a cargo ship pilot headed for Earth to smuggle themselves and infant me into a trio of unused sleeping pods. Then there was a crash, and then we ended up here.

Heavestone is for other Miralayans like us, everyone smuggled or otherwise illegally entering this planet. Mordern can’t find “stolen property” if it never exists.

“Swear you haven’t told anyone yet-”

“Why, so you can get all the glory for yourself?” Boney crossed his arms. “I can’t imagine the Providence is something the adults would shrug off.”

“No, idiot. I- hey, why are you so close if you know I’m sick?” Boney backed up a bit as I continued. “You closed the pod before you left, right?”

Boney’s eyebrows wrinkled as he thought. “Maybe?”

I sighed. From my knowledge of sleeping pods, a person wouldn’t immediately awake upon their pod’s opening- but left, say, overnight, and surely some safety function would set in and the pod would fail to provide stasis any longer.

I’d been in a sleeping pod twice in my whole childhood. Onceon my trip to Earth when I was too young to remember, and once after the accident that I don’t remember after the surgery that I’m told saved my life. Neither of them had been very pleasant.

How long had the girl been sleeping?

And where would she wander to if she had woken up?

“Boney,” I whispered, “if you can, go check on that girl again. Make sure the pod is closed until we can have someone else deal with her-”

“I don’t want to wait. If she woke up, I’m bringing her back.” Boney stood up and downed the glass of juice in two gulps. He wiped a smudge of juice off the X-shaped scar on his cheek and tossed the plastic cup into the sink. “So I guess you better pray that I remembered to close the lid.”

And then he left.

…You know, diary, it’s been three hours, and I don’t think he’s come back yet. I would investigate, but… I’m so sleepy…

Eponine’s diary, 5/15/2147, second page

Alright, diary. I’m back from dinner; it was quesadillas made with our family’s broken quesadilla maker machine. The plastic latch broke quite a long time ago, so now everyone has to hold down the lid while it’s cooking until the green light goes off.

It’s an inconvenience, sure, but I’ve gone through worse in my life.

So Boney and I were staring down at a tunnel in the corner of an abandoned dollar store a few streets away from the power lines that denote the passageway into Heavestone. Boney had one hand over his mouth, trying to filter out the awful smells coming from the building around him. But the air wafting up at us out of the tunnel-

It smelled fresh.

Clean.

And not at all like a badly written horror story.

“Do you wanna go in first, or should I?” Boney whispered.

“I guess I will,” I volunteered, swinging down into the tunnel. The handholds were surprisingly dry- I don’t know what I was expecting. Radioactive green goo? Poop from cave bats? Some acidic substance meant to dissolve me into a pile of bones?

I reached the bottom, not daring to turn around until Boney was down there with me. “Come on down!”

“Is it safe?” he yelled back.

I turned around. It was too dim for me to see anything past a few feet, but something blue faintly glowed in the distance.

“Probably not,” I whispered.

“Cool. I’m in.” Boney dropped down on top of me, catching my shoulder and crumpling both of us to the floor. He brushed himself off as he slid off my body and stood up. “Sorry.”

I got up on my shaky knees and rubbed my eyes. The glow had become stronger. “So?”

“So what?”

“Come on. Let’s go. Unless you’re too chicken?”

Boney took my hand and raced forward. I suppose that was our first mistake. A wave crashed over us- a wave of nonsense in our brains, white noise smothering us like a disciplining hand come to smack us into submission. And smack it did; I felt myself crumple to the floor, brain clattering in my head as the right side of my jaw screamed. My limbs went limp, all tingling like I’d been sitting on them for far too long. The ground rumbled beneath me.

And the scream- oh, god, the scream. Like someone had recorded a cheap Halloween soundtrack and coded it into eight bits. My ears shuddered; my mouth went limp; red streaks began to go across my vision…

What I wouldn’t pay to never have to hear that scream ever again.

And then it was all over.

What- what was that, diary? I don’t have epilepsy. Maybe-

No, I’ll tell you about that later.

Trembling, Boney and I picked ourselves off the ground and faced what had appeared in front of us. A pill-shaped pod, about large enough to contain a human body. The top was clear, although it had fogged up considerably.

“Who do you suppose is inside?” Boney whispered, touching a hand to the pod- and immediately withdrawing it, the fog having come off on his hand. A hand-shaped part of the glass had cleared, betraying a glimpse into the inside. Boney didn’t dare look in yet, although he knocked lightly on the glass. “Maybe they’re dead?”

I shook my head. “Nah. No point in using… whatever this is to store a dead body.” The pendant underneath my shirt grew cold as I wiped off the top of the pod and peered inside.

There was a girl about my age, serene and sleeping. Unkempt red hair, pallid skin, dark circles underneath her eyes. But her fingernails looked recently trimmed, and she was wearing clothes her size.

Somebody had to have been looking after this girl.

But how long had she been there?

And then I noticed something-

“A Miralayan, from the looks of it,” Boney whispered, leaning in closer to the glass separating us from her. “Hey!” He tapped the glass. “The Providence dot. What’s the female Providence doing here?”

My stomach lurched at the mention of the Providence. “I don’t think we should be here.”

“Why not?”

“This could all be a trap- Mordern could be looking for us, Boney! Us, and everybody else in Heavestone…”

“But the Providence, Pony!” Boney paused, tearing himself away from the pod, thinking. “You know, maybe you’re right. But get plenty of pictures of this place just in case we decide to tell anyone in Heavestone.” He shivered. “The Providence…”

“Yeah, I get it.” I whipped out my phone and prepared the camera, which liked to go blurry at inopportune times. “Or maybe it’s just a drawn-on dot and a damn good makeup job and she’s an Earthen druggie trying to earn herself a one-way ticket to Mars.”

I snapped fifteen photos, some of them of the surroundings, some of them of the girl inside the sleeping pod. One of them was Boney sneezing.

Boney retrieved a water bottle from the backpack and took a long swig, handing the rest to me to finish off. He shoved the empty bottle in his backpack and whispered, “Come on, let’s go.”

And I stashed my phone in my pocket and climbed up the ladder with him.

It was raining by the time we got out of the dollar store. Boney deployed his umbrella, and we strolled back to the power lines, the wasteland beyond transforming into the borders of Heavestone right before our eyes. Boney escorted me home. Mom was still cooking when I stumbled inside, shivering.

“Eponine! You’re back!” She grinned, her face glowing with a soft love. “Have any wild parties?”

I shook my head. I wasn’t ready to tell Mom about the girl yet. She’d probably stir up a furor and rally half of the neighborhood to go find the girl- and even though the police can probably overlook two boys exploring an abandoned building, fifty people trying to all fit in probably wouldn’t go over so easily.

Although we’d need to tell someone eventually, because if that girl really was Miralayan, she belonged in Heavestone with the rest of us hiding from Mordern.

I… I’m not feeling well. I’ll see you tomorrow, diary.

Eponine’s diary, 5/15/2147

I haven’t opened my bedroom window in six months. Not because it had been stuck or anything- six months ago, I was mucking around with a science project and accidentally set it on fire, so I had to brave the torrent of bugs and an exasperated mother in order to clear out all the smoke.

Of course, I took the opportunity to tell my friends that my mixtape had done it, but being that I don’t actually have a mixtape, they saw right through me.

I went outside Heavestone today. To whoever might find this diary (which I just got today), I know that taking a step outside of your city might not be such a big deal- but it is to me. You see, Heavestone is different than most other cities.

It doesn’t actually exist.

Mom explained it to me when I was little like this- like Heavestone was a snow globe, self-contained with nothing going in or out. Obviously, that was a lie, because if that were true, then how did I get here? How did Old Man Jenkins or my friend Boney or Mr. Greenland get here?

Mr. Greenland showed up one day about six or seven years ago, and that was long after Mom told me about the snow globe. So obviously that theory was out.

Heavestone, from my tests, seems to be stuck in a loop of time. I can go in and out as I please as long as I have the pendant my mother gave me. It’s a weird technicality I don’t really understand. And there’s a neighborhood right outside where I usually pass through the border- I call it the “Land of Shadows”. Not to be edgy or anything, but because the first time I ever went through with my mother, all it did was rain and be dreary. And the name stuck.

Today, I passed through with Boney, my friend. My only friend, to be exact. I’m not the most sociable of creatures. There were a few kids milling about outside on the basketball court, which is almost always the first thing I see after I pass through. The streets were empty, and we walked for a few minutes before being accosted by this man in a trench coat. It played out almost like in a bad gangster movie- the two suburban kids being asked where they were from, what they were up to. One of them being intimidated, the other urging the frozen kid to flee, and flee we did, out to the lake a short distance from there.

The man didn’t follow.

To be honest, I got this diary as a relaxant. I don’t have to worry about being such a dweeb in real life if I can simply write myself as the hero of every situation.

But, to be honest again, I was the kid who got intimidated. Please, if you’re reading this, don’t tell Mom.

We stopped at the lake to rest. It was more of a pond, really, a man-made hole about the size of three houses squished up against each other. The only life I’ve ever seen in it are ducks flitting there in the warmer months and kids braving the easily cracked ice in the colder months.

The Land of Shadows doesn’t have winter, I’ve noticed.

“Hey, Eponine,” I remember Boney saying. “You got any more of that music library transferred over? My internet’s been crapping out recently. I’m getting kind of scared.”

“Not everything,” I replied, tossing a rock into the water as we sat a few feet from the murky shores. “A few discographies. My main concern is running out of disk space.”

“Not everything has to have a redundant copy, you know.”

“But still…”

Boney tends to use me as his personal pirate. But that’s a story for later.

We got up and moving as soon as the tornado siren started blaring. It always does that on Saturdays in the afternoon, I’ve noticed. I would have thought that maybe once a month would be fine enough for the people living in the Land of Shadows, but maybe they just like to live in fear of tornadoes coming.

I’ve never seen an actual tornado with my own eyes.

A short distance from the lake was an abandoned dollar store sandwiched in between a daycare and a dentist’s office I’ve never seen anybody go in. I slipped the key to the front door out from under the mat, grimacing as I wiped the grime and dirt off my fingers, and unlocked the door. No alarms sounded; we’d already disabled all of them a long time ago.

Sometimes I wonder why nobody ever bothered to buy this property after the dollar store went under.

The shelves were long since emptied, just wire racks standing in solitude, ghosts of former days, bolted down to the ground to keep them from having another try at life somewhere else. Rack purgatory, I imagined, if purgatory were a rancid-smelling building with no lighting and probably some sort of childish monster lurking in the bathrooms.

“Hey, over here,” Boney whispered, his fingernails scraping against one of the floor tiles. “I need some help over here.”

I went over and helped him peel off the aging tile, flinging it aside, and- you know, diary, maybe I’ve been casted into a B-rated horror film. I’m about 99% sure that dollar stores don’t have secret tunnels leading into an unknown basement.

Uh oh- I’ve got to go- it’s dinner time now-

summer vacation, day 1

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It is now the first day of summer vacation, and yet I still feel like there is a weight on my shoulders- like it hasn’t yet sunk in that there isn’t a pop quiz in AP Lit ready to spring at me and ruin my grades further or that a few certain people at school no longer have the opportunity to startle and aggravate me for their own entertainment or that I won’t have to wake up in self-hating despair at six in the morning anymore.

Prairie Flower is in a week. That’s also when the seniors have their graduation ceremony, and also when I was supposed to perform with the rest of the band- but my band teacher said not to worry about making it up if I couldn’t go. That makes two pieces of music I guess I’ll have to remember to return on the first day of school.

If I survive that long. Which I probably will, but you never know. Maybe I’ll decide to go into journalism, get a job at a repair shop as a stepping stone into sysadmin-hood, and be coerced by a nihilist rogue into running away to a commune. And then I’ll have to explain to fully-grown adults that violence only antagonizes people, which will result in someone actively planning my assassination and my brother intervening to bring me and the ethereal man-child who followed me out of the commune to safety.

And then I’ll hide for a while before being killed anyway, which will almost trigger a war.

Sometimes I feel bad for Vey and the rewrite I’m forcing her to go through. And sometimes I reconsider my life decisions.