Hiatus update

Hi everyone!

I just wanted to give an update on my story’s hiatus since I originally planned to resume the story in September.

Unfortunately, with my workload at my job continuing to get bigger and more pressing, I have very little free time at the moment and I’m feeling very burnt out, so I’m going to have to extend the hiatus through the end of this year.

Tentatively, I’ll plan to resume publishing chapters in January 2023. I know I don’t have many readers, but I hope those of you who have stuck around this long will continue to do so, and I look forward to bringing you more of the story next year!

Thank you for reading! 🙂

~2 Month Hiatus

Hi everyone!

I was hoping I wouldn’t have to do this, but I’ve realized my responsibilities at work are getting to be too much to handle, so I will be taking a hiatus from updating this story for about two months.

I apologize for doing this so abruptly, but unfortunately, I have to put my “day job” first (yay capitalism) and that means put this story on hold for the time being.

I’ll resume updating as soon as I have the time to do so, which I’m tentatively saying now will be around September.

Thank you so much for reading and I hope you all stick around for when the story comes back this fall (or spring depending on where you are in the world!) ❤

Anna

10.26

Previous

Lachlan

“It… won’t… budge…”

Sam strained as he pushed on the rock. Lachlan put a hand on his arm, signaling him to stop.

“That might be for the best. We’d prefer not to crush Jen if we can help it.”

Jen gave a faint whimper from beneath the rock.

“Hey, hey, don’t worry.” Lachlan turned his head downward to address her. “There won’t be any Jen-crushing taking place today if we can help it.”

“Not as comforting… as you think…” mumbled Jen.

“Well, excuse me for trying,” he said.

He was no good at comforting people in ordinary situations, let alone in a situation like this.

“If we’re not gonna push the rock, what are we gonna do?” said Sam.

“Well, she said herself that she wasn’t stuck. Maybe she can climb out the same way she climbed in.”

“How?” said Sam. “She can barely move.”

“With our help,” said Lachlan. “She can climb, and we can pull her out.”

He crouched down by the opening and extended his hands.

“Here. Grab my arms.”

Her arms inched toward his, and he clasped her forearms. Her hands closed weakly around his elbows and he pulled.

She wasn’t doing much to climb out on her own, so he had to lean back with all his body weight to pull her from beneath the rock. He felt Sam grasp him under his arms from behind and pull too.

They hit some gravitational turning point and fell backward all at once, the three of them collapsing into a heap on the ground. Jen’s spines snagged the front of Lachlan’s shirt, prickling his shoulder.

“Excuse me, watch the spines,” he said.

“Sorry…”

Jen didn’t seem capable of getting off of him on her own, so he grasped her shoulders, rolling her onto her side as gently as he could. She let out a feeble whimper, tucking her knees and head into her chest and rolling into a ball.

Lachlan looked down at his shoulder where the spines had pricked him. It didn’t hurt, but little beads of blood were soaking into his shirt. He rubbed at it, and found that the reason it didn’t hurt was because it was numb.

So Jen didn’t just have spines, but venomous ones?

He took a deep breath and tried to relax. He didn’t know what kind of weird alien venom was in his system now, but he’d always been taught that if he was bitten by a poisonous snake, staying calm would slow the venom’s spread. Jen wasn’t a snake, but the same principle probably still applied.

Though he wasn’t sure how he was supposed to keep calm in a place like this.

He remained where he was, which unfortunately meant he stayed awkwardly lying on his back on top of Sam.

“I don’t want to alarm anyone,” he said, “but I think Jen is venomous.”

Previous

10.25

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Jen

Jen could see Sam and Lachlan’s legs from where she was huddled.

“I don’t see her anywhere,” she heard Lachlan say.

“Me neither,” said Sam. “What should we do?”

“Probably, uh… we should try to find her. She can’t have gone far. She was just here.”

“Unless one of those things took her again.”

“If her flying around and knocking them out of the air a few minutes ago is anything to go by, I’d say she’s more than capable of avoiding that.”

“The abilities don’t work like that,” said Sam. “They’re not reliable. You can’t consciously turn them on. If it worked that way, don’t you think I would have used mine too?”

“Good point.” Lachlan shuffled his feet nervously. “I don’t like how much smaller and smaller our little group is becoming.”

“Me neither. The two of us have to stick together no matter what if we want to survive.”

“Really?” said Lachlan. “Stick together? I was going to suggest we split up, wander off, and succumb to the otherworldly woods, never to be seen again.”

“Do you have to be sarcastic about everything?”

“Yes.”

Sam sighed. His feet shifted as he moved to lean against the rock Jen was curled up under.

“My ex-girlfriend is missing in an alien forest. Can you be serious for two seconds?”

“Yeah,” said Lachlan. “Yeah. Sorry.”

“Okay. The first step in the solution of a problem is to identify the problem,” said Sam. “That’s easy. Jen is missing and we don’t know where she is.”

“And step two is to conduct research,” said Lachlan. “Consider all the information about our predicament like we did before. Or in this case, Jen’s predicament.”

“Correct,” said Sam.

Ugh, what a couple of huge nerds. If another creature had taken her, she’d be long gone by the time they finished discussing the problem solving process.

“I’m right here,” she tried to say, but her voice was barely a whisper. She felt so weak.

When she’d reached the bottom of the tree, exhaustion had washed over her, the kind of exhaustion that made her feel like her body was melting into the ground. The dim forest had felt unbearably bright, and the dark hollow beneath the rock had called irresistibly to her until she’d crawled in and curled into a ball.

Her golden spines had curled with her, folding and retracting into her body so as not to cut her.

She had wanted to panic, but she’d been too tired. It was taking all her energy just to will her eyes to stay open.

She heard Lachlan speak again.

“In this case, though, we should try to come to a conclusion as quickly as possible. This could be a time-sensitive problem.”

“Agreed,” said Sam. “So we know Jen was at the bottom of the tree a few minutes ago.”

“Yeah, and we know those creatures are around somewhere. I don’t think they took her again. She would have screamed. There would have been more of a commotion.”

“You’re skipping to the third step, but yeah. Agreed.”

“What is the third step, by the w–no, sorry. There’s no time. Don’t answer that,” said Lachlan. “So either something else took her, or she wandered off on her own.”

“Both of those possibilities have their issues,” said Sam. “We didn’t hear a struggle, and she’d know better than to wander off. The third step is ideation, by the way.”

Who cared what the third step was? She was missing and they were treating it like some kind of dorky science experiment.

If she’d had the energy, she would have been really annoyed.

“I’m right… right here,” she said again.

They didn’t hear her.

She saw Lachlan’s legs move closer to her as he leaned beside Sam against the rock. He was standing right beside her, close enough to her hand that she might be able reach him.

Using all the energy she could muster, she shifted her hand, feeling as though she was dragging it through a thick syrup. It took almost a minute to move her hand the few inches to Lachlan’s leg. She brushed her fingers against his ankle, and he yelped.

Every instinct told her to retract her hand back into the safety of the hollow, but she left it extended.

“Ah! Fuckin’-! Fuck! What the fuck? Something fucking touched my–” he whipped his head down to see what had touched his ankle and broke off his string of panicked f-bombs. “Jen?”

He turned around, crouching down in front of the hollow opening under the rock.

“Jen… hey… are you, uh… alright?”

“No,” she mumbled. “Ob…obviously.”

Sam crouched down next to Lachlan, peering into the dark hollow.

“Jen? What are you doing in there?”

“Don’t… know…”

“Are you stuck? Lachlan, do you think if both of us tried, we could lift this rock?”

At the thought of the rock being lifted, she felt a pang of anxiety. She’d be out in the harsh light again, unprotected.

“No. No. Don’t… please. Not stuck.”

“How did you get in there?” said Sam.

“Crawled… in…”

“Something’s really wrong with her,” said Sam. “We have to get her out of there and find that responsible adult lady person.”

“Are you referring to Mrs. Sharma?”

“I’m not good with names, okay? But yeah, her.” Sam turned back to Jen. “Can you get out or do you need help?”

Jen didn’t know how to answer the question. She didn’t want to get out. The dark hollow was safe. She was protected.

But she had to think about this rationally. She couldn’t stay in the dark hollow forever. Sam was right. Something was very, very wrong.

“Help,” she said.

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10.24

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Sam

Sam jumped off a low branch and his feet finally hit solid ground.

Where were his powers of flight when he needed them?

Lachlan was close to the bottom, grasping a branch as he prepared to lower himself to the lowest branch.

While Sam was debating whether or not to offer his good hand and help Lachlan down, Lachlan reached the ground.

“Oh, thank fuck. Land, sweet land.”

“If it wasn’t unsanitary and probably covered in alien germs, I think I’d start kissing the ground right now,” said Sam.

Lachlan turned to the tree, flashing a gesture at it that looked like a ‘peace’ sign with his palm turned inward.

“Are you… doing a peace sign at the tree?”

“What? No. I’m giving it the forks.”

“You’re giving the tree… kitchen utensils?”

Lachlan gave a comically exaggerated sigh and clicked his tongue.

“Typical Samurai. No. The forks. It’s an insulting gesture.” He made the gesture again. “It’s like… giving it the finger.”

“It still looks like a peace sign to me. Why not just flip it off the normal way?”

“Because I do what I want. Don’t question my choice of offensive hand gestures.”

Sam frowned up at the alien tree, then held up the backwards peace sign at it. He wasn’t comfortable sticking up his middle finger, but this unfamiliar gesture was easier. It just felt like doing a peace sign, but in an angry and contemptuous way. Like an anti-peace sign or something.

“Screw you, alien tree,” he said.

“Samurai, remind me to teach you actual swears some time.”

“I’m good.”

“Come on. How will you be able to visit me in Australia when this is all over if you don’t even know the word ‘fuck’? It’d be like not knowing the native language.”

“I know what the cuss words are, I just choose not to use them.”

For some reason, Lachlan started laughing at that.

“What’s so funny?”

“‘I know what the cuss words are, I just choose not to use them,'” Lachlan imitated.

“Shut up.”

“Sorry, that was just… unintentionally hilarious–” Lachlan trailed off into another burst of laughter.

“Shut the fuck up.”

Lachlan stopped laughing abruptly and looked up, meeting Sam’s eyes. Sam was suddenly more embarrassed than when Lachlan had been laughing at him.

“Was that…?”

This was one of the moments Sam would have squinted and looked away if he hadn’t gotten his strange abilities. He still kind of wanted to.

“Yes…”

Lachlan’s face broke into a grin.

“Samurai! I’m so proud I could kiss you!”

Whoa, what?

Okay, no powers of outward emotional control could have prepared him for that sentence.

“Um, I…” said Sam.

“Sorry, I mean, uh…” said Lachlan.

“Well, our feet our on the ground now,” said Sam.

Lachlan raised an eyebrow.

“So we are.”

“You said when our feet were on the ground, we could talk about my, um… confession.”

“I did say that,” said Lachlan. “I didn’t mean the exact moment we got onto the ground, but yeah. We can talk about it now.”

Sam’s heart thrummed in his chest in a way that had nothing to do with the dizzying height he’d just climbed down from.

Then he remembered something that jolted him out of his thoughts and feelings like a bucket of ice water waking him from a deep sleep.

“Jen’s gone,” he said. “Where’s Jen?”

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10.23

Previous | Next

Lachlan

Lachlan willed his hands to stop shaking as he grabbed another branch and prepared to lower himself onto another tree limb. His feet left the branch he was standing on, and he descended for one heart-lurching moment before he found his footing on the target branch.

“I hate this,” said Sam from below him. “I hate this. I hate this.”

Sam had been alternating between repeating the phrases “I hate this” and “don’t look down” like methodical chants since they’d started their descent about five minutes ago.

“You’re not the only one,” said Lachlan as he lowered himself onto another branch. “Oh God, oh fuck!”

“You can do it!” said Jen. “Just keep going and don’t look down!”

Lachlan glanced down before he could stop himself and his whole body seized up as he saw how tiny the foliage farther toward the ground looked. He could hardly see the ground from where he was, so it was hard to judge exactly high up they were. Not that he wanted to know.

“Ah! Oh God, oh fuck, okay!” He looked away from the distant ground, trying to focus on maintaining his balance. “As much as the encouragement is appreciated, every time either one of you says not to look down, I immediately look down and regret every choice in my life that led me to this moment.”

“It’s okay!” Jen hopped down from one branch to another. “See? Just keep moving and think positive!”

As annoying as Jen’s relentless positivity was becoming, she must have been doing something right because she was farther down the tree than him or Sam. They were still close to the top of the tree, while she was nearly halfway down.

“Right, because the very real possibility of falling to my untimely demise makes it so easy to stay positive.”

“I never said it was easy to stay positive, but it’ll help if you try!”

“Yeah, well, at the moment, I’m a bit preoccupied with trying not to slip and plummet to my death but I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”

“I’m pretty sure being sarcastic doesn’t help,” said Jen.

She took a graceful leap between two branches that made Lachlan’s stomach turn just from watching.

“I find it very helpful, thank you very much,” he said. “You have your methods, I have mine.”

“Doesn’t seem like your methods are working all that good,” she called up to him.

She was far enough down the tree she had to raise her voice a bit.

“All that well,” he corrected, calling back down to her.

“Whatever!” She jumped onto another branch. “Ignoring you now!”

He was happy to ignore her back; the way she was hopping from branch to branch like the tree was a piece of playground equipment was making him nauseous. He turned to Sam.

“Are you okay?” he said. “You’re saying ‘I hate this’ a lot.”

“Well, I do hate this,” said Sam, “but I’m fine. Are you okay? You’re looking very… green.”

“Oh, me? I’m fine. Great. Peachy. Happy as Larry. Just swell. I love being a hundred meters off the ground on a slippery alien tree–” Lachlan’s foot slipped a bit, and he caught himself on the branch. “Ah! Oh, God! Fuck!”

“There’s no way we’re a hundred meters off the ground. It’s hard to judge, but at most, we’re probably more like thirty.”

“Not helping.”

“How is that not helping? Thirty meters is less than a hundred. That should be comforting.”

“Thirty meters is still a very fatal distance to fall.”

Sam was silent for a moment, not even mumbling that he hated this. Then he spoke again.

“Listen, about what I said earlier…”

“Sam,” said Lachlan. “I want to continue that conversation. I really do. And we will. But I’d prefer to have it with my feet on the ground.”

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10.22

Previous | Next

Naomi

The sound of screaming came from the direction Lachlan, Jen, and Sam had headed.

“God damn it,” said Mrs. Sharma.

She unsheathed her axes, heading in the direction of the screaming.

“I thought you said you weren’t going to help them,” said Angelina.

Mrs. Sharma shot an annoyed look over her shoulder before disappearing into the trees. Naomi, Chelsea, and Angelina jogged after her.

“What’s going on?” Naomi called ahead. “Are they okay?”

“I don’t know,” said Mrs. Sharma. “They’re not here anymore.”

Naomi’s chest tightened as she slowed her pace, coming to a stop behind Mrs. Sharma. Lachlan, Sam, and Jen weren’t behind the rock anymore.

“What do you mean they’re not here anymore?” said Angelina.

Mrs. Sharma gave her a very unimpressed look.

“I mean they were here, and now they’re not. That’s what ‘they’re not here anymore’ means.”

“Okay, well, where did they go?” said Angelina.

“How should I know?” said Mrs. Sharma.

“You shouldn’t.” Angelina pouted. “It was a rhetorical question.”

The tight feeling in Naomi’s chest grew as she stared at the empty spot where her friends had been standing just a few minutes ago. Well, technically only Lachlan was her friend. She barely knew Sam and Jen. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t terrified for them.

“Do you think something… something took them?” she said.

Mrs. Sharma held her axes at the ready, her whole body tense as she scanned their surroundings.

“Maybe. Or maybe they ran away from something. Either way, whatever danger they were screaming about could still be nearby. We should go back over to the snake guards. Whatever could have come after those three will be less likely to come after us if we’re next to a pair of large, intimidating creatures.”

So they were just going to stand there?

“So we’re not going to look for them?” said Naomi. “We can’t just do nothing! We have to help!”

Mrs. Sharma turned her unimpressed look on Naomi.

“I thought you were the only one here who actually used your brain, but I guess I was wrong. We’re not going to do nothing. We’ll try to find your friends once we can be reasonably sure the threat is over. But we won’t be any good to them dead.”

Naomi flinched under Mrs. Sharma’s gaze, but didn’t back down. Her friend and two other people were in immediate mortal danger, and that danger grew every second they were missing.

“No. I’m not just going to stand here and do nothing. Something just took my friend and two other people, and the longer we wait, the longer they could be hurt or… or…”

Her voice rose in panic as she spoke. Normally, that was something she’d be self-conscious about, but now she was too afraid to care.

“Quiet down!” said Mrs. Sharma. “Don’t yell. If you yell and act frightened, you could provoke an attack. Here’s what we need to do. Everyone move closer together. Stragglers are more likely to get picked off from the group.”

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10.21

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Sam

Sam had never been good at regulating his emotional expressions before. He’d never understood how people could start or stop crying on command, and people always seemed to know how he was feeling when he didn’t want them to.

Since he’d developed his new abilities, that had changed. He had full control of everything he did now in a way he hadn’t before. Without that newfound control, he would have broken down in tears the moment he’d woken from unconsciousness after he’d watched Lachlan die.

The image of something that had never technically happened in this timeline kept flashing through his mind. He could still hear the glass shattering, still see his friend lying limp on the shop floor. More than anything, he could still smell the blood, like wet copper filling the air and pooling in his nose.

He’d been holding in his tears for obvious reasons–no teenage boy in his right mind would willingly start sobbing in front of a bunch of other teenagers–but now he was the only one not crying. There was no reason to hold back anymore. He let his tears fall.

Jen noticed his tears, and he saw her body move toward him a fraction, her shoulders drawing slightly inward as though she wanted to embrace him, but she pulled herself back.

He reached for her hand with his good hand, and she took it, squeezing it. She offered her other hand to Lachlan who hesitated, then took it. Sam completed the triangle, offering his right hand to Lachlan.

They sat like that for at least five minutes, holding hands and crying too hard to speak. A few times, it seemed like someone was going to stop crying, but then someone else would release a new bout of tears and all three of them would burst into renewed sobs.

When everyone’s tears finally subsided, it was Lachlan who broke the silence.

“So,” he said, his voice still raspy, “this has been fun.”

Sam sniffled. “Fun’s not exactly how I would put it.”

“Come on,” said Jen. “Don’t you feel better now, though?”

She was right. While crying in the treetops hadn’t been fun, it had been cleansing in a way. He hadn’t realized how much he’d been holding back, and he felt a strange relief now that he’d let himself open up.

He nodded, releasing her and Lachlan’s hands. They followed his lead, letting go of each others’ hands.

“We should probably figure out how to get down from here,” said Sam.

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10.20

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Jen

Jen shot up into the air after the creature holding onto Lachlan. She had to save him. She couldn’t let that thing carry him away, especially not after she’d treated him and Sam so badly.

She flew upward as quickly as she could, thrusting her arms straight above her head like a cartoon superhero hoping it would make her more aerodynamic. Something caught on her shoulders scratched against her cheeks, and she fought the urge to brush it off.

She caught up to the creature and instinct took over as she rammed her shoulder into it from behind. With a shriek, it released Lachlan, sending him plummeting back down toward the forest hundreds of feet below. A moment later, the creature fell down after him.

Jen let herself drop down toward Lachlan, trying her best not to think about how nauseatingly, terrifyingly high up she was. She caught him telekinetically about 50 feet above the canopy and slowed their descent, drifting downward to where Sam sat on a tree branch staring up at them with wide eyes.

She set Lachlan on a tree limb, then sat down beside him. She could see him trembling, his knuckles white as he clutched the branch.

“Are you okay?” she said.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I’m just peachy. There’s nothing I love more than being whisked into the sky by… by flying nightmare monsters…”

His voice cracked as he trailed off, turning his face away from her and Sam.

“Lachlan, are you okay?” she asked again.

When he turned to face her again, his face was red and streaked with tears.

“Yeah. Yeah, I… must’ve gotten something in my eyes when I was up there.”

“Do you want a hug?”

“Oh, yes, a hug from the recent ex girlfriend of the guy who just confessed his feelings for me. That sounds like just what the doctor ordered right now.”

Okay,” she said.

She guessed she deserved that sarcasm.

He wiped his eyes and shook his head as though he was trying to shake away the crying spell.

“I’m alright, really.” He sniffled. “I just… might have developed a lifelong case of intense acrophobia in the past few minutes. Your concern is… noted and appreciated, though.”

She nodded. She wasn’t sure how to respond.

“If it makes you feel any better,” said Sam, “I changed after I developed my abilities. I have more control now. I’m better able to regulate emotional expressions. I guess what I’m saying is if it weren’t for that, I’d be crying now too. I don’t know if that makes things better or worse.”

“Better,” said Lachlan. “Thanks.”

“Anytime,” said Sam.

The two boys’ eyes met, sharing a long look. Jen averted her eyes, feeling her own tears starting to well up.

“Jen,” said Sam.

Jen looked up. Lachlan and Sam were both staring at her.

“What?” she said. “What’s wrong?”

“You’ve got something…. growing out of you,” said Sam.

A jolt of horror surged through her as she threw a frantic glance down at her body, thrashing around to examine her arms and legs and nearly falling from the branch.

She had what? What could be growing out of her? An alien parasite?

“What?!” she shrieked. “What’s growing out of me? Get it off!”

She felt Lachlan’s arms steady her from behind, preventing her from falling.

“Wow, Samurai, couldn’t you have said that in a more alarming way? I don’t think you terrified her nearly enough,” he said.

She was almost–almost–relieved when she saw what Sam was referring to, if only because it wasn’t an alien parasite. Prickly, golden spines erupted from her skin, starting at her shoulders and running down the front of her torso in two lines, ending at her hips. They were about three inches long, in fractal-like clusters that reminded her of pine needles, tearing and snagging at the fabric of her shirt.

After everything she’d had to deal with, she had freaking spines now.

The tears that had been threatening to fall a few seconds ago finally came.

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