The world was not kind.
Pain, anger, sadness…the world was never kind. For some, there was no reason at all for this unkindness, except merely being who they were. Some accept this, and others break. Some choose to run away, to imaginary worlds far from the world that pains them. Others choose to face it head on, becoming the very thing that pained them.
Haley chose to run. She wasn’t allowed to run out of the house, but that didn’t mean that she couldn’t break out and gain her freedom in other ways. She chose to act out, to ‘borrow without asking’.
Schools didn’t notice. Adults didn’t care. Haley was on her own, and she knew this. She didn’t care. All she wanted was another world, someplace to be herself. And as she signed on to her parents account with NuVO’s headset, her only wish was to be free.
She scrolled down the list of downloaded games, and mentally compared it to those games that they ‘allowed’ her to play. The one or two old children’s games that had come with the set years and years ago. She was older now…but no one seemed to care.
She had checked before she had taken the headset. Her dad was still at work, where he’d be until seven…then at the bar until midnight. Her mom was passed out on the floor. She’d have several hours, if not the entire day. She’d make use of every bit of it she could.
She highlighted a few of the more ‘mature’ games she found on there, but none of the were really all that interesting to her. She didn’t particularly care about sexuality, or killing everything in her way. She wanted another world. If they had to be one and the same, so be it.
Then she found it; a small little ‘New’ tag on it. She blinked at it, wondering what in the world ‘Alenkas’ was. It was rated way above her limit…but she didn’t care. The summary caught her attention, ‘A brand new world, full of second chances’. Well. That took care of that.
She logged in easily, but stared at the warning to sit down. Confused as to why the game was telling her to do so, she did anyways, only for her to black out.
She came to in a blue endless hallway, with ornate mirrors on each side. “Neat. Avatar creation,” she said to herself. She looked at one, wondering what on earth she was seeing. It was mostly black, and it had a type of weasel-esque head. Maybe a kind of ferret? The back was pure white though. Whatever this was, she didn’t think she wanted any bit of it.
She walked to the next one. Oh, she knew this one, a meerkat! She looked over it for a bit, feeling the change happen this time. It felt a lot like water washing over her, but the last one had been interrupted, so she had only started feeling it before she left.
She tilted her head back and forth, watching the meerkat in the mirror do the same, before she shook her head. Nah, she could do better. She walked to the next one, and the next one, before finding one that finally fit the person she wanted to be. One that no one sane would ever mess with, yet still cute enough that she could identify with it, and become that person.
She chose a cat. A black cat, with orange eyes -she didn’t think she’d ever seen that combination in real life, didn’t most black cats have green or yellow eyes?- looked back at her. She grinned. Yeah…she’d be a cat.
Her decision finalized, her vision whited out, before being greeted with the vision of Alenkas. A tall clock tower to the north, surrounded by red mountains. Colors of every variety popped out at her, and she felt her tail wag around with no problem.
Then she saw the hundreds of people in the area, and noticed that most of them were just as nude as she was. She blushed heavily, before running off to the side. She hadn’t planned for that to happen! She thought that was just for character creation, not for the actual game!
Oh god she really wanted to get those visions out of her mind’s eye. In two seconds she had seen far more of guys and girl’s junks than she ever wanted to see. She took off to the side alleys, hoping that no one would be around, and that maybe she could find some clothes!
She surprised herself by how easy it was for her to hide. The air was warm, so even though she was naked -something that she was still uneasy thinking about- she wasn’t uncomfortable. Most of the people were at the beginning, so by leaving to the side rather than straight allowed her to miss most of them.
On her side of the city it didn’t seem like there were that many people around, and the ones that did didn’t look at her like she didn’t belong. She had made her avatar taller than she actually was; maybe that would help convince people that she belonged and she wouldn’t get reported?
She got lost, she wasn’t afraid to admit. There weren’t any maps as far as she knew, and her only landmark was the tall clock tower to the north. And even then she only knew where she was in relation to it, not that it really helped her much.
She wasn’t scared though. She had played games before, using her parents account -they still hadn’t figured out who had managed to beat one of their scariest games- and she knew all the tips and tricks. Although here…was different. Something about Alenkas seemed a bit more open, a bit nicer than her world.
How long was she actually allowed to stay? She wished there was some easy way to tell time asides from the clock tower -although analog wasn’t exactly difficult for her, it was just more annoying due to the way that the hands didn’t always line up- so she’d be able to tell how much time she had left.
She was smart, regardless of what her grades said. It wasn’t as if those actually mattered, anyways.
As time went on, Haley began to feel more and more comfortable in the new and strange world. She still hid from every passerby, worried that they could somehow see the child behind the avatar, and the one time she had found a clothes shop it turned out that it required money that she didn’t have and didn’t know how to get.
She wasn’t ready to go home though. But as the temperature started dropping, and her body started shivering unconsciously, she felt that maybe it was time. Or…could she just sleep here? It wasn’t like anyone would care back home for several more hours, she could sneak a nap in.
The sun had started to set, and although she was amazed by the variety of colors -it looked like someone had set off a color bomb with every color of red imaginable!- she knew that she should at least try to find a safe place that wasn’t in a street. She ended up choosing a small alleyway, with a few trash cans that she could use to hide behind.
There was a wooden crate there too, for some odd reason. She used it to jump into her hidey hole, wondering if that would keep out the cold. She could just log out…but honestly, she preferred alone in here than not alone out there.
She curled up into a tiny ball, and was about ready to fall asleep, her eyelids starting to close, before she heard the footsteps. Soft, much like her own, and barely able to be heard. “Last known position was here…” she heard the male voice say.
Immediately her mind snapped to attention, and she stilled herself. She curled up tighter though, hoping against hope she’d turn invisible. “Come on out, I know you’re here,” she heard the voice call out again.
“Cal? You think you found them?” she heard a nicer, female voice ask. The male, Cal?, didn’t say anything but must have made some kind of gesture. Haley hoped he shook his head. “How do you know they’re still logged in?” the female voice asked.
“I just have that feeling, Sam. Come on, you check towards the Tree on Red street. I’ll check Green,” Cal said. Sam…that must’ve been the girl’s name. Tree? Was that some kind of code for something? Red street, Green? Street names? She hadn’t seen any street names when she was wondering around.
“Alright. Yell if you need help.”
“As if I’d need help.”
“I know what you sound like with cold water.”
“I know what YOU sound like with cold water.”
The two bantered a bit, and it took every ounce of self-control Haley had to not quietly laugh. They sounded friendly, but Haley knew better than most than just sounding friendly did not necessarily mean they actually were. She stayed silent as Sam obviously walked away.
Cal seemed to wait around for a few minutes, as if waiting to make sure Sam was actually away. “Thank you, thank you very much,” Cal said a moment later to an invisible audience, bowing while making his voice deep in a strange Elvis-impression. Haley stilled and shut herself up.
“Oh come on, that was a nice laugh. You should let it out more often,” Cal continued. He took a few steps around, searching but yet not at the same time. Haley kept quiet. “Stranger danger, right? You’re staying quiet because you don’t know me? I don’t blame you kid, the world’s not nice. I’m Calvin. May I ask for your name?” he said to the empty air.
How did he know she was there? She was staying still, her hands over her mouth so he couldn’t be hearing her breath, and she knew she wasn’t making much, or any sound.
“It’s going to be getting cold tonight, kiddo. If anything, you should at least get inside, or stay near a fire,” Cal continued, seemingly unperturbed by her continued silence. He waited a few moments, as if waiting for a response that wouldn’t come. “Alright, have it your way then. I’ll be here while you make up your decision. I don’t mind talking to myself.”
He made a shuffling sound, and Haley could feel the wooden crate that she had used as her left wall get pushed towards her as Calvin leaned up on it. “Now, where was I? Oh right, ‘the princess was in the tower, guarded by the evil dragon,'” he said, reading aloud from…something. A book, maybe? Haley didn’t know any book that had that kind of text in it.
Haley listened as he continued to read aloud. His voice carried far, and she found herself entranced more in the story than in who was telling it. She kept herself shielded though, and kept silent, but wanted him to continue. For a good fifteen, maybe thirty or so minutes, he read.
“And then the knight gave the dragon his missing treasure. The dragon, pleased by the knight upholding his end, upheld his own end of the deal. He released the princess, exactly as he said he would, and watched as the knight escorted her back to the kingdom of her heritage,” Cal finished.
“I thought there’d be a fight,” Haley said before she could stop herself. She immediately put her hands back over her mouth to keep herself silent.
Cal seemed to be fine with it though. “I thought about it. But then I thought about it; dragons in most mythologies were seen as either evil creatures or things to be worshipped. Why not both? So I made this one evil, yet decent. Not every dispute needs to be fought.”
He waited several minutes. “Staying silent again? No worries. Come on, you want a jacket?” he said. Haley’s body made the choice for her as she shivered into the night. It was fairly cold now, starting to seep in to her bones. He must’ve heard her shiver, or felt it, somehow, as an orange tabby cat appeared in her vision on the crate.
He held a jacket out, and merely dropped it near Haley. The black cat was surprised that he was wearing clothes, as most, if not all others she had seen weren’t wearing anything. “Where’d you get…” she couldn’t stop herself.
Cal blinked at her. “The clothes? Oh, I’m one of the testers. Let’s get you warmed up,” he said, taking off his shirt and tossing it to her. “Put that on, it should still be warm.” Haley stared at him for a moment, before slowly reaching for the shirt and jacket. They were very warm, and immediately she tossed them on.
Her body started to relax as the warmth flooded into her body. “That’s much better, isn’t it? Mind if I come down?” he asked. Haley stared at him, before slowly nodding. Cal smiled at her, a nice small smile. “Kind of cramped in here, isn’t it? I know a place you can warm up, if you want. I don’t think Simon’s quite got fire working yet, something about too many variables, but I know he’s working on it.”
“You’re not going to…” Haley asked softly. She didn’t finish her question, because she didn’t know what her question was. There were too many possible answers to that, and too many of them weren’t good ones.
“I swear, I’m not going to hurt you. I swear on my immortal soul. I can’t swear on my body or heart, otherwise I would,” Cal answered with a small smirk, as if laughing internally at a joke he just made.
Haley looked up, and for the first time, saw that maybe…maybe not everyone was horrible. “Ok,” she said, daring to trust once more.
Cal grinned at her, before turning around and kneeling down. “Ever had a piggy back ride? Come on, I’ll take you there,” he said. Haley nodded slowly, wrapping her arms around his neck. He lifted her up carefully, making sure not to shock her with too much at once.
She was silent most of the way back to the Tree, Cal noticed. Whether she was checking things out, or rifling through his pockets -he wouldn’t doubt that one, he recognized the type instantly- he didn’t know, but she was definitely silent. He tried to make do with light banter, small conversations…anything that would get her to open up to him.
The Tree was silent as he got there, exactly as he knew it’d be. The warm air felt amazing to his bare fur, and he was glad even more that Alenkas had put in some kind of heat for the buildings. Whether that was the physics engine or something else doing it, he didn’t know, but damned was he glad for it.
He felt the girl snuggle closer into his back. Maybe she was asleep? Wouldn’t she have logged out by then, though? According to Simon, that’s what happened. He brought her upstairs, lifting up the steel bars so they didn’t make a sound. He went by Simon and Sam’s room -it was his too, but right now he’d use the guest room. He had a feeling that they had been…copulating…earlier- into the smaller guest room. A single bed.
He pulled back the covers gently, and placed the girl down as softly as he could. He was right; she had been asleep. Shouldn’t she have logged out, then? He’d have to ask Simon in the morning, but he went back and gave a quick single two knock pattern onto their door, a signal for ‘all is well’. Whether it was acknowledged or not, he’d find out in the morning.
Instead he’d do the creepy thing and watch the girl sleep, and be there for her when she awoke. She’d have to borrow some of Sam’s things, as he doubt much of what he had would fit on the girl. “I don’t know who you are…but I think you stirred up a lot of trouble…” Cal said quietly.
Two things about this episode. 1) It makes me uncomfortable, having a minor (in age) character in a series like this one. 2) This episode is literally the reason I created this series, to show that even in the darkest of times, no matter what we look like, we still share our collective humanity. Alright, soapbox over. Haley’s one of those ‘abandoned geniuses’ as a kid that everyone overlooks, so she’s used to acting a bit more mature than many others but she is still twelve. Hope I showed that, at least.