Outside the Box - Chapter 13

Outside the Box - Chapter 13

A Chapter by A.L.


My mother taught me at a very young age that I was only supposed to scream when I was in danger. It was pounded into my skull, and I never forgot. 

So when I hear the scream my body jolts awake and immediately spirals into panic mode. Adrenaline courses through my veins as I spring to my feet only to find… 

Aspen crying on the ground beside me, a big smile on her face. 

I don’t say anything, I just follow her gaze. And there, in the distance, are two figures approaching hand in hand. 

One is about two feet shorter than the other, and as they get closer I can begin to make out faces. Immediately, my knees buckle and tears fill my eyes just like what happened to Aspen. 

The smaller figure has a face I would recognize anywhere. The dark hair and bright blue eyes. The tiny fists and the chubby legs. 

I never thought I would see her again. 

As she gets closer, Juliette grows until she looks older than me - maybe Bridget’s age. I notice the figure beside her does the same, although he only ages a few years to be the same age as Juliette. And then I recognize the second figure too. Ezra

Juliette is almost hanging on Ezra, laughing as he plants a kiss on her forehead. I turn to look at Aspen and see how she is reacting to this, but Aspen isn’t on the ground anymore. 

She’s rushing towards Ezra, throwing out her arms like she wants a hug. 

And then it strikes me that none of this makes sense. Juliette is a toddler - she’s only four! It’s a trap! 

It’s too late by the time I try to warn Aspen. She’s already by Ezra, who has shrunk back to his current age. Aspen tries to wrap her arms around him, but Ezra is moving - becoming a dark cloud. Juliette does the same, and they form twin clouds of smokey wrath. 

Aspen takes a step back, her mouth open in surprise as a blast of darkness spirals towards her chest. 

I manage to shove her out of the way just in time, but the momentum sends us both tumbling to the floor. Aspen climbs back to her feet, trying to catch the cloud of smoke. Maybe she still sees Ezra. 

Oddly enough, Aspen looks like she’s saying something but no sound comes from her mouth. At first I think I might be going deaf, but I can hear the roaring of the wind in my ears. 

I spot tiny specks of white flying from Aspen’s mouth. Is it her life? Her soul? 

I don’t have time to find out. Instead, I sprint back to our supplies and grab as many weapons as I can . I fire the an electrical bullet thing at one of the clouds, but it passes through the mist. Aspen is floating off the ground now, her skin growing darker. 

I continue to shoot at the mist to no avail. The bullets fly through harmlessly and bounce off the wall. 

I change my tactic and charge straight at them. 

Instantly, the world goes dark and gets even colder. I reach my hands out to feel, but I feel nothing. My thoughts are draining away like water down a sink. 

I try to scream. To cry. To laugh - anything that means I’m alive. But I can’t feel, can’t see, can’t breathe. Wait, can’t breathe? 

I suck in a breath, and then another, before running as fast as I can. My sight returns and my head slams into a wall. But I can feel again! I rub my head, trying to make the stars disappear. 

Suddenly, a smokey hand reaches towards Aspen. It looks solid enough, and without thinking I run straight at it. 

I make contact with the hand just as I trip over Aspen - who is now lying on the ground convulsing. The hand continues to be solid as I pull it to the ground with me. The rest of the cloud reforms into … Gretchen? 

The smoke Gretchen hisses at me, her features identical with the exception of the gray, translucent tinge. 

Aspen coughs on the ground and the other cloud of mist begins to float towards her. 

I get to my feet right as Smoke Gretchen lunges at me, and I dive over Aspen. Smoke Gretchen plows into the other cloud of mist, which reforms as a purely dark figure. I can’t make out features, but Aspen’s eyes flutter open and she immediately recoils from the other creature. 

I decide that Aspen can fend for herself for a moment until I kill Smoke Gretchen. The new creatures seem solid enough so I leap back over a now stirring Aspen and grab the guns I dropped. Smoke Gretchen is suddenly on top of me, her feet on my neck, crushing my windpipe. 

But I have my mutations or whatever - even in the program - and I am stronger than the creature. Smoke Gretchen is thrown off me and into the wall. She hits hard and tumbles to the ground with a loud snarl. It gives me time to gather my thoughts and weapons. 

I pull a random gun out of the pile and point it at her. Smoke Gretchen doesn’t seem to care, she lunges again at my throat. I pull the trigger. 

Smoke Gretchen disappears in a cloud of dust. 

I turn to see if Aspen is doing okay. It’s a good thing I checked. 

The dark figure is on her, hands on her throat. I shoot it once and the creature squeals as it dies as well. 

Aspen’s eyes flutter as I get closer to her. “You saved me. That means we’re even.” She whispers with a smile and then a cough. 

“I think I’ve saved you multiple times now. But that’s just what friends do,” I respond as I scoop her up. Aspen is a lot heavier than I expected - and I nearly drop her. She laughs sleepily as I lie her down in her spot beside the fire. 

“We’re friends?” she asks, obviously delirious. 

“What else would you call us?” 

Aspen thinks for a second. “Allies in the face of danger.” 

Then she falls asleep right then and there. I roll my eyes as her breathing slows and I lean back against the wall. 

The maze will only get more dangerous from here. 

I can only hope it won’t be the end of us. 

Aspen wakes a few hours later and we move again. Our stuff is relatively easy to gather - especially with our food shortage. I’m thinking we have enough for two more days at the most if we eat sparingly. 

“So, what exactly happened?” Aspen asks as we walk. 

I shrug, not in the mood for talking. Aspen keeps talking when I don’t answer. “I remember Ezra and a girl walking down the corridor. I went to see Ezra and everything went dark and then when my vision came back I saw … someone. Who was that girl? Do you know her?” She looks up at me expectantly. 

“She was - is - my younger sister Juliette,” I explain, pulling Aspen out of the way as spikes shoot up from the ground, narrowly missing her. 

“She didn’t look younger than you,” Aspen comments, stepping around the spikes. 

“Last time I saw her she was four.” I push Aspen back as spikes come flying out of the walls too. “I saw Gretchen too.” 

“You saw Gretchen?” Aspen asks, surprised. 

I nod. “Juliette morphed into her, and then we fought. I had to kill her and the figure that was on you.” 

“Wait, so you couldn’t see who the figure was?” Aspen freezes, looking scared. 

I narrow my eyes. “No, I couldn’t. Who was it?”

“No one that matters,” Aspen sighs. “How could you have seen Gretchen? She’s dead.” 

“Not necessarily,” I comment. 

“Jake, she wasn’t with us when we woke up in the Box. Dr. Barron avoided our questions about her. They probably killed her for escaping the last time.” Aspen ducks as a board of spikes descends, scraping the top of my head. 

“We need to hope she’s still alive.” 

“Hope won’t bring her back to life if she’s dead,” Aspen sighs again as we climb out of the spiked trap, unharmed. “We need to move faster.” 

“You still haven’t told me who was fighting you,” I point out. 

Aspen turns and rolls her eyes at me - for the first time looking tired of me. “It’s none of your business, now is it?” Her voice is sharp, and I take a step back. Aspen seems to realize what she sounded like and sighs. “Sorry, it’s just hard for me. The figure was someone I recognized, someone you wouldn’t know.” 

“Okay?” I raise an eyebrow. Why can’t Aspen just tell me? If I wouldn’t know them why is it such a big deal? 

“I’m stressed,” Aspen says. And then she peels down the collar of her shirt so I can see her neck. 

Tiny, white marks like crescents are engraved in her skin. The area around them is pale too. I look up at Aspen. “How did you know they were there? We don’t have mirrors or anything.” 

“I felt them earlier,” Aspen explains, pull her collar back up and brushing her hair in front of her face. “Don’t freak out, please, unless you want me to always be worried about your spider bite. I think I’ll be fine, they just hurt when I’m feel negative emotions like…” 

“Regret,” I answer for her, and she looks up at me so her eyes meet mine before she nods. “My figure was Gretchen and I didn’t know why. I think I regret ever fighting her in the first place.”

“That makes sense,” Aspen breathes. “My figure was a boy from the bunker a few years ago that ended up dying on one of Ezra and I’s patrol missions. I’ve always felt responsible!” 

“Great, now that we have that all sorted out can we keep going?” I ask, pointing at the corridor ahead of us. Aspen nods. “Good, because we need to get there soon or the entire city could collapse.” 

“True, true,” Aspen smiles as we climb a rickety bridge over a pool of bubbling, green liquid. I test each wooden plank before stepping completely, which is good when part of the bridge collapses. Aspen and I jump across and continue onwards. Hopefully, we’re still going the right way. 

There’s a pack of wolves ahead. Aspen and I manage to make it out alive - we both receive scratches, but the wounds are shallow. The wolves actually give us a bit of “meat”, although I look away when Aspen skins them. 

A few turns later we come across a tiny field of flowers. I incinerate them with the flames from the one gun, and we cover our faces with our shirts as the smoke drifts away. 

As we go even deeper the maze grows warmer and soon Aspen and I are forced to remove our heavier clothing. Soon, it becomes so unbearably hot that I feel like my face is going to melt off. My bag seems like it weighs a gazillion pounds and Aspen suggests we rest. 

Our water stores are getting even lower than the food - but in this heat we need water more than anything. Aspen’s hair is soaked with sweat and I feel stinky and disgusting. 

We’ve walked for days, for miles. And yet it seems like we’re no closer to finding the Sphere. There is no sun, no clouds, no sky. No way to tell time, no way to see how far we’ve travelled. I’m beginning to give up hope. 

The ground is a bit cooler than the air, and I press myself against it in a last hope to cool myself down. Aspen is playing with the guns, trying to make some sort of tech with it but failing miserably. Something clicks, there’s a spray of sparks, and Aspen curses loudly, slamming the gun on the ground. 

She gets up, trudges away, fists clenched. Then she bangs her head on the wall of the maze. “Stupid … useless… brain… think of … something… anything!” 

Then she goes back to her spot and resumes tinkering. 

I don’t comment, still lost in my own thoughts. It’s been quite eventful the past few days? Weeks? I don’t even know anymore. 

I was given a week to live. I jumped off a building and died - but then came back and found out everything I ever knew was a computer program. I found out I was a mutant and tried to help fight back against the Box - who I didn’t even really have a reason for hating. Then, I was kidnapped by them and forced into another program to fix a piece of tech broken by the same girl who is in this maze with me. Overall, it seems like I’ve had enough action for a life time, yet here I am. 

My parents, my siblings, and everyone I knew my entire life is in the failing program. 

Ezra and Miguel are being held captive by the Box. Gretchen is probably dead. The Hidden are in the bunker to the extent of my knowledge, maybe found or dead my now. 

The Clans are failing… 

Aspen throws one of the other guns, breaking me out of my thoughts. She glares at the ground, cursing so much it sounds like a song, until she sees me watching and falls silent. 

“This is all my fault!” she shouts at no one in particular. “If I hadn’t tried to break anyone out of the stupid city in the first place, none of this would’ve happened.” 

“I’m glad you sent me those messages,” I tell her truthfully. “I would’ve been killed if you hadn’t. And besides, now you have a chance you right your wrong and save the city. You can fix it! Besides, from what Dr. Barron said the Sphere was breaking anyways.” 

“That’s not what I’m worried about,” Aspen whispers. “What if all this time I’ve been on the wrong side. Now that I’m here, the Box doesn’t seem that bad. They’re just trying to survive, and aren’t we all in our own way?” 

I think for a moment. 

“The Box takes children from their families every year and brings them here to be trained or put inside the city. The Box has plenty of food and the Clans are starving and they do nothing to help. The Box is currently holding your brother hostage. They might have killed Miguel. And they pretty much sent us to our deaths. I don’t think they’re very good people,” I explain calmly. 

Aspen thinks for a moment too. “I suppose you’re right,” she sighs. “But I don’t feel like I’ve been a very good person either.” 

“None of us do,” I say quietly. 

Aspen smiles at me, and then tosses me a weapon. “Let’s keep going. The faster we go, the sooner we get out and the sooner we can get back to food and water.” 

I get to my feet, gathering my stuff. “Maybe we’ll find some along the way.” 

“Don’t get my hopes up,” she says as she heaves a bag over her shoulder. “Lead the way, my guardian boy.” 

Aspen doesn’t seem to realize the danger we’re in. She skips merrily along, nearly impaling herself on a tree stump. I drag her away, following the lyrics to the song. We stop and eat a bit of our food, but my stomach still growls as we continue on. 

The maze temperature is evening out again - almost normal temperature like it was back in the city. Not too hot, not too cold. I think the fluctuation in climate was meant to eliminate more of the people who tried to break in. Aspen and I have survived for this long, but I’m not sure how much longer we’ll last. 

Aspen spots a creature with snake for hair before we turn around a corner and I quickly shoot the creature. We pass without looking at it. 

A few turns later, twin figures that look like pale humans race towards us with knives - but no hair or eyes or facial features. I shoot one and Aspen shoots the other. Some challenge this is supposed to be. 

We’re walking around what seems like the millionth bend when suddenly Aspen shoots out away from me. 

“Aspen!” I cry, chasing after her but stopping myself as I see the ground below me is littered with strings of lasers. If I touch one I’ll end up with Aspen - wherever she is. I can still hear her calling. 

I spot her a few feet in front of me, pinned to the wall by an invisible force. 

But not only that, she’s also beginning to mold into the wall. It’s weird to look at, like the silvery substance has become liquid. It pours down her arms and legs, coating her before it solidifies. Aspen is screaming now, louder than before. 

I make my way through the lasers carefully, although I nearly touch a few. Aspen grows quiet as I grow closer but I don’t have time to look and see if she’s okay.

Once I pass through the little group of lasers I realize I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do. I have to stop the wall from eating Aspen somehow

Acting on impulse, I shoot the wall beside her but it does nothing. The bullets bounce off harmlessly, buzzing with the static of electricity. Aspen’s limbs are nearly buried now, the liquid is beginning to coat her chest and forehead. 

I pause for a moment. If the wall is liquid, that means it must be hot - or at least warm enough for it to melt. So if I shoot it with an elemental weapon, it could in theory change the substance. Making it colder will make it solid and making it warmer will make it gas. If I make the wall hotter there’s a chance I could kill Aspen. 

I search through our weapons until I find a teal one. Pressing the trigger, a blast of ice flies from the end of the weapon straight towards the wall. 

At first I think it didn’t work, as the liquid keeps moving. But soon it slows to a stop and suddenly retreats into the rest of the wall like an injured animal. Aspen falls to the ground, seemingly unharmed - physically at least. Mentally for either of us is anyone’s guess.

Aspen crawls to her feet, I can tell she’s shaken. 

As she stands her eyes widen and she points to something behind me. 

I feel a shiver go down my spine and my stomach sinks. 

Something slams into me, and I fall to the ground, hard. “Jake, watch out!” Aspen screams as something collides with her. 

And as I roll over to see my attacker my mind blanks and I immediately stop fighting. The figure has just enough features visible for me to see and recognize. 

My mother. My real mother

“Mom?” I ask, trying to pull her off. 

The woman simply smiles, revealing rows of wickedly sharp teeth before she dissolves before my eyes and the smoke of her form wraps around me like a cloak. 

The world becomes dark for a second. 

And then I’m falling.

© 2020 A.L.

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Added on May 24, 2020
Last Updated on May 24, 2020
Tags: short stories, teen, young adult, dystopian, future, sci-fi, science fiction, death, adventure



I'm a teen, I'm just looking for advice on how to improve my stories. Any advice is appreciated. I hope to publish one of my stories for real in the near future. more..