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Casey Waldam

a new author

in YA science fiction

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Prepare to be transported to another dimension with Worldcatcher: A Young Adult Sci-Fi Romance - the perfect blend of heart-stopping action and heart-pounding romance that will keep you on the edge of your seat!

Meet Ben, an average teenager whose world is turned upside down when he wakes up in a Los Angeles hospital with amnesia. Soon, he discovers that he's anything but ordinary - he's in the middle of a perilous situation with shadowy figures on his trail and a girl with PSI superpowers seeking his help. With determination as his only weapon, Ben teams up with new allies and embarks on a mind-bending interdimensional quest to uncover the truth about his past and unravel a cosmic conspiracy that threatens the very fabric of reality.

Can Ben uncover the truth and save the world?

Follow his journey as he navigates a world of intrigue and danger, filled with unexpected twists and turns that will leave you breathless.

The 5th Wave meets Divergent in this action–packed

science–fiction thriller.

Chapter 1 

At sixteen, she was born again,
baptized with th
e fire pale as ice


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She focused her mind on the electronic lock and the small slot in its steel case. She noticed it in the morning when they took her for another MRI. They were always doing the scan after completing tests to see if the repeated experiments had caused any changes in the brain.

In the lab, she stole a needle used to inject the contrast agent. When nobody was looking, she took it from the table where it was discarded among plastic containers full of drugs. Her fingers trembling from pain, she hid it under the bandages they used to dress her burns from the electroshocks. She already had an idea, which then transformed into a plan. Now, lying in her cell, shrouded in darkness, she felt the rigid springs piercing through the flimsy mattress.

The seconds ticked away slowly as if time were an insect frozen in resin. Every second drew her closer to much-anticipated freedom. Her heart galloped in her chest as she repeated all phases of the plan in her head.

Today, she would get away from this hell. She had been stuck in it for so long, she was sure that it had been years since her arrival.

At first, there were more prisoners. She met men and women in the hallway. Led by the guards, they walked like in a nightmare, their eyes filled with resignation. But lately, those people had vanished, and she wasn’t sure if they had been taken somewhere or killed.

She shut her eyes, waiting for the right moment. There, she saw his face. She recalled how he put his arms around her and whispered that her eyes held a promise of happiness. Just thinking about it made her feel the vicious sting of sadness. Now her eyes promised nothing. They had the same emptiness as the eyes of the other cellmates she once met in the hallway.

In this place, a place as ruthless as death itself, they were trying to vanquish her soul, day after day. But she was tough. Too tough to be crushed that way. At sixteen, she was born again, baptized with the fire pale as ice. The fire that took everyone she ever loved.

Everything that came after that was just a fight.

Everything except him.

He showed up unexpectedly to save her from the burning remains of the dead world. Later, standing among the ashes, she peered into his soul. She knew that he came straight from hell, but she was also sure that he was never a part of it.

She opened her eyes. Darkness wrapped around her like a velvety chasm. She knew she must act now while a sliver of strength was still left in her sore body. She waited for the lights to go out in the hallway. Much earlier, she had discovered the guards finished their first round fifteen minutes before the lights went out and that the next round began an hour later. So when the weak glow trickling from the peephole disappeared, she knew this was the right moment.  

Then, she sat on the bed.

When her bare feet touched the floor, the springs groaned just a tiny bit. She pulled the needle from under the bandage, and wading through the darkness, she approached the door. Touching the smooth surface of the lock, she found a small crack and slid the needle inside using her fingertips.

Thanks to her psionic powers, she knew what to do. She moved the needle up, to the left, and up again. Finally, the electric latch squeaked, and the door opened. A blast of cool air rushed into the room.

She held her breath and glanced at the empty corridor.

Quietly, she went out into the aisle and raced toward the ward exit. Weak light from small overhead lamps illuminated her path. She was lucky they kept her in a cell on the upper level. Had she been held captive in an underground lab, in a room with huge, armored glass, she would never have the chance to escape. She dropped to the floor and crawled under the watchful eye of the corner-mounted camera. She ran a few more steps and reached the double doors. Shivers ran down her spine when they opened with a soft hiss of pneumatics.

She entered the other hallway and clung to the wall, listening for any guards whom the noise might lure. Covered by the darkness, the corridor’s right part led to a steel airlock and a spiral staircase plunging down to a subterranean lab.

She would never go that way.

She didn’t know what was at the end of the hall’s left part, but she had a feeling there might be an exit. So she went that way.

Suddenly, she sensed the guard coming from deep inside the facility. She was sure it had been less than an hour, so the man approaching could not be on a regular round. Had they discovered her escape somehow?

Maybe she missed something.

Did the doors have some extra security? Maybe she got within the range of a well-hidden camera. But if that were the case, the alarm would have gone off a long time ago, and instead of one man walking toward her, there would be a whole bunch of guards running.

Following her psionic instinct, she pressed the door handle she just passed and quickly entered the small room. She turned on the light. There were bottles full of floor and glass cleaners piled up against a wall. Somewhere amongst them, she spotted light reflecting on small blade.

She ran her finger along the edge; it was sharp. She took the knife, turned off the lights, closed the door, and moved on. The emergency exit, an embodiment of freedom indicated by a badge with an arrow, was right in front of her. She stopped, though, knowing she wouldn’t have time to reach it. Her heart thundered in her chest, and the blood pumping through it hit her veins hard.

Holding her breath, she crouched down and looked around the corner. She heard the hiss of a pneumatic door. The space filled up with the sound of heavy footsteps.

Pure rage came upon her at the sound of it. The man coming down the hallway became a symbol of all the time she spent here, merging in one long string of torture marked by injections, the touch of cold metal, and electric shocks scorching her nerve endings.

She forced herself to remain calm and held the knife in her hand.

When the guard came around the corner, she hit him just above the shoe, slicing through his Achilles tendon. The man screamed and went down like a stone. She jumped on him, fisted his dark hair, and smashed his head on the floor several times, venting her accumulated fury.

She was panting heavily over his limp body, watching blood trickling from his bashed-in head. Then she grabbed the guard by the legs and dragged him around the corner.

She unhooked a set of keys from his belt and ran toward an emergency exit looming in the darkness. Her bare feet smacked quietly on the plastic flooring; she felt like Alice in Wonderland, falling down the rabbit hole.

When she got by the door, she felt an active alarm with her mind. She knew how to get rid of it. They didn’t know, but she could read their minds. The other night, in the brain of the commanding officer, she discovered a well-remembered row of numbers.

Today, she was about to discover if she had guessed correctly and the sequence was a code to deactivate the alarm.

She lifted the plastic hood of the control panel and entered the code. The red light went dark, replaced by the green one. Finally, after a few failed attempts, she found the right key. When she opened the door, the cold night air wrapped around her. 

It smelled like freedom. She was so happy, like she was home again. Some of her childhood memories resurfaced. The smooth touch of her mother’s hands and her father’s soothing voice soon disappeared, covered by the ashes of her dead world. She closed the door behind her. There was still hope. That hope was him, the last man close to her, living somewhere outside the facility. 

She snapped out of her memories and ran to him, hurting her feet on the stones.

When she noticed the metal fence that was the last barrier separating her from freedom, she smiled with relief.

In the darkness, flashlights flickered balefully behind her back. She sped up, but the lights did not give up. They were getting closer and closer, swirling in the blackness like a pack of rabid dogs.

The ground was rolling upward. She was just a few steps away from the fence. Clutching tufts of grass growing over the hill, she worked her way up as three guards jumped out from the bushes on her right side.

She hit the first one with the heel of her hand, almost shoving his nose into his brain. Blood shot out, and the man crumpled to the ground like a rag doll. The second guard grabbed her by the waist and threw her down. When she tried to smash his face, the third one bludgeoned her in the head with a nightstick.

Their faces, twisted with rage, swirled crazily, and her eyes flooded with hot liquid. Through the pain ringing in her skull, she realized it was blood. She felt another blow. It wasn’t accompanied by pain, only numbness and regret smothering all hope. 

She knew she wouldn’t make it after all. The guards dragged her back to the underground facility with metal walls. Inside, they threw her on the table. Its familiar cold drove her back to despair. Doctors dressed in white scrubs sewed up the bleeding wound on her forehead and gave her several injections. Then they plastered her head with sensors, tossed the bloodied gloves right into the bins in the corner, and left.

She looked at them through the armored glass of a gigantic window, wracked and disoriented by drugs. She saw her face in the glass; it looked like a dim shadow of the old days. Somewhere deep inside this shadow, she felt out his mind.

Her thought broke free from this metal hell and flew away through space.

Straight to him.

“Ben,” she whispered. “Help me.”


The annoying buzz woke him up. He opened his eyes, and only after a while did he realize where he was. Despite the shutters being closed, searing rays of sunshine forced their way into the room. He noticed specks shining in them like silvery dust, which shouldn’t be there after yesterday’s cleaning. The light glided over his book-cluttered desk and discarded jeans and penetrated his eyelids. Slowly, he sat up on the bed, dragged a hand over his face, and hit the alarm clock on the nightstand.  


“Shut up,” he mumbled.

The clock’s buzz died down, but his head was still throbbing. It started at the back of his skull and radiated through his temples, attacking them like a jackhammer. Then he remembered his dream.

A wide windowpane made of armored glass.  

An examination table and a cold flash of stainless steel.  

A girl, lying there.  

Her whisper: Ben, help me.  

Stupid hallucinations, he thought, shaking his head as if it could help him to remove the nightmares that haunted him for the last couple of weeks.  

Then he saw her green eyes.

They promised happiness.  

He was sure of that, but he didn’t remember why. His memory went back only two years to when he woke up at the hospital in downtown LA, stripped of his past.  

He struggled to get up and looked around the room. Despite yesterday’s cleaning, it was a mess. Crumpled trousers laid on the floor next to a sweatshirt and socks, and his desk, again buried under a ton of books, demanded attention.  

He picked up his jeans from the floor and searched the pockets. Finally, he found his smartphone and checked the messages.  

Additional training. 12:30. Remember? Santiago wrote. The captain of a basketball team and one of his best friends.  

His thumbs danced across the screen.  

No worries, I remember.  

He heard the clatter of plates taken out from the cupboard and the rattling of silverware thrown on the stone countertop. The sounds of everyday hustle and the smell of fresh coffee flowed up the stairs and attacked his senses through the half-open door.  

Those were the sounds of home.  

It was seven a.m. His parents were getting ready for work. He knew he had to get ready too. Otherwise, he’d never make it to class. Lately, he had a few big slip-ups. If he were late again, all hell would break loose.  

Smelling pancakes, he walked over to the closet and opened it. Shirts, blazers, and sweaters were piled on the shelves in one giant mess, magically keeping their balance. Each morning, when he opened the wardrobe’s door, he wondered how this was even possible but still hadn’t found an answer.  

He dressed and sat on the bed to put on yesterday’s socks and shoes. The face of a ten-year-old appeared in the doorway. She had shoulder-length blonde hair, and her eyes twinkled playfully. Her cheeks were dotted with light brown freckles, looking like specks of foam on a freshly brewed espresso surface. 

“Are you getting up? Maybe you need some help?” she asked, smiling innocently.  

“This time you won’t escape me, Ann,” he said and jumped off the bed, pretending to chase after her.  

The girl’s head vanished. “Come downstairs, Ben!” she yelled, laughing. “Mom is just finishing the pancakes.”  

Jesus, not pancakes, not again, he thought, clutching his still throbbing head. It’s the third time this week. Hopefully, he’d be able to find some chocolate sauce in the pantry. That way, he wouldn’t have to douse his pancakes in maple syrup, which he hated.  

In the bathroom, he washed away the rest of his nightmares with cold water. He noticed tiny droplets running down his face when he glanced in the mirror. Watching them, he felt like something was expanding in his head. Some unclear thoughts, like gray spots, slowly took shape and color. He wondered if there was something wrong with him.  

Or maybe with the world he lived in.  

He took his backpack and rushed downstairs. The beige carpet stifled his footsteps, but the stairs creaked slightly, and the one at the bottom squeaked a little louder, like a key on an out-of-tune piano.  

Next to the kitchen door, he found Chris, his foster father, standing in front of a mirror in the hallway. He was over six feet tall, dark-haired, and had a neatly trimmed beard. He grew it six months ago, claiming that it helped him gain clients’ confidence. He was busy tying his gray tie, which didn’t suit his shirt.  

“What’s up, Ben? Are you ready to stand your ground today?” Chris asked, looking sideways at him. 

Ben was sure this day would be like a day on a battlefield, especially during morning classes with Mrs. Hudson.  

“Yeah.” He couldn’t muster up too much enthusiasm. “Are there any painkillers left?”  

Concern flashed in Chris’s eyes.  

“Another rough night?” he asked. “Or was the party too hard?”  

Ben’s visit to Mike’s last night ran a little late, but not enough to cause another odd dream and a headache.  

“Rough night,” he replied, smiling sourly.  

Chris pulled the slimmer end of the tie through the knot. “You’ll find your medicine in the kitchen,” he said, finishing with his tie.  

The TV screen hanging over the countertop filled with the face of a Latina presenter. She was reporting on yesterday’s robbery in some city in Central Valley. Her dark eyes blazed as she described how some lunatic shot people dead in the local bank.  

Nothing special, to be honest. You could die at any moment. On the street, in the hospital bed, or like those poor bastards in a bank, of a madman’s bullet. But lately, this lunacy had escalated. It was almost as if everyone were getting crazier and crazier with the upcoming summer.  

The kitchen smelled like pancakes and freshly brewed coffee.  

Lindsay, Ben's foster mother, was bustling about at the buffet. He still remembered the warm look in her blue eyes when she welcomed him during their first meeting in the LA children’s home. 

She put the frying pan into the sink, dried her hand with a tea towel, folded it neatly, and put it on the countertop.  

“How are you, boy?” she asked with a low voice. “You have one of your headaches again?”  

“Mike and I have been playing The Last Defender for too long,” he lied to avoid another health-related lecture. He walked over to the medicine cabinet and found a pack of prescription painkillers.  

“Not now,” he heard Lindsay’s voice. She set up the dishes in the dining room next to the kitchen. “Take them after breakfast; otherwise, they’ll burn your stomach out of your belly.”  

“Sure,” he said, tossing the pill into his mouth.  

“Pass me the silverware and go look for the maple syrup,” she ordered.  

Ben walked over to the pantry and opened the door. He plucked the bottle of maple syrup from among the meticulously stacked boxes of cereal and tins of sweetcorn. Thankfully, he found the leftovers of the chocolate sauce next to it.  

On the dining table, like a formation of brave soldiers, coffee cups, glasses, and plates glittered in the sunshine. 

“Ann, Chris, where are you?!” Lindsay called out, looking with satisfaction at her work.

The sound of a car passing by came through the half-opened window. The shaky voice on the news reporting yesterday’s robbery had been replaced by the calm baritone of a weather presenter. Ben heard someone dashing down the stairs. One step creaked slightly louder, and Ann stormed into the kitchen, breathless.

“Let’s eat. The clock’s ticking,” Chris said, showing up in the kitchen and patting Ann’s head tenderly.  

After breakfast, Ann went back upstairs to pack up for school. Ben wanted to stay for a while to help Lindsay carry the plates to the sink.  

“You better get going, or you’ll be late again. You’re still on the hook at school,” she said, giving Ben a worried look.  

“We saved some money, you know. It should be enough for college with the loan,” Chris interjected. “It’s your big chance, so try not to spoil it with your antics.”  

Avoiding his gaze, Ben nodded.  

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” he said, feeling around under the table where he left his backpack before breakfast. The last few months of his life had not been a success story. At school, he was constantly having trouble, coming in late, arguing with his teammates, ending in reprimands from teachers and calls home.  

Principal Hamersfield told Lindsay that Ben was already close to the point of no return and crossing it would end in a suspension. Being suspended in his senior year, right before prom, sounded terrible.  

“You have practice today?” Chris called from the hallway.  


“Yea, half past twelve,” Ben said. “I’ll be back later. We’ll go to Albert’s.”  

He threw the backpack over his shoulder and went out into the hallway. Chris was standing next to a small table, rifling through the contents of his new leather briefcase. 

“Okay, fine,” he said. “You know, I’m still worried about your migraines. You seem to get them more and more often.”  

"No, I’m not,” disagreed Ben a little too vigorously. “It’s just the stress at school.”  

Chris sighed, put some papers into the briefcase, and locked it. “True. You’ve had a lot on your plate lately. Basketball practice, exams, prom...” he admitted. “But if this continues, we’ll consult a specialist.”  

Lindsay must have heard their conversation because she was suddenly in the doorway.

“Those might be the side effects of the accident,” she said, wiping a coffee mug with a tea towel.  

“Why make a big deal out of it?” asked Ben. “Let’s wait. Everything might go back to normal.”  

Two years ago, right after the accident in LA, he’d started consulting specialists. He remembered every hospital room, the never-ending tests, and therapy sessions—all for nothing. The doctors only confirmed amnesia caused by a head injury.  

He had no intention of letting that nightmare happen again. So he was grateful when Ann came running down the stairs, saving him from the painful conversation.  

“I missed the bus,” she panted, leaping off the last three steps. “Can you drop me off at school?” She looked pleadingly up at him.  

Ben took her by the hand and pulled her toward the front door.  “Don’t worry, you little devil,” he assured her. “We’ll get there in time.” 

“Take care of yourselves!” Lindsay called out. “And your headaches Ben, we’ll get back to that later.”


When they were outside, the April sun forced them to squint. Their parents’ Chrysler was parked next to a yew tree on the concrete driveway. Ben’s old Dodge stood right behind it.


“You’ll be late for school because of me,” Ann said.  

“Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.” He was trying hard to make his voice sound careless. “I’ve got Government in the morning. It’s so dull that some folks pick their noses and roll boogers.”  

Ann’s mouth twisted with disgust.  

“Now, I won’t be able to eat my lunch,” she complained.  

Ben gave her a wink. “You’ll give it to one of your many admirers.”  Ann blushed so fiercely that her freckles almost disappeared. Ben laughed and opened the Dodge’s door.

“Hop in,” he said.  

He started the car and headed toward Clifford Lane. For now, the road was empty, but he knew they’d face the first traffic jam around the corner. So he took a shortcut through Ocean Drive. A silver Ford Taurus appeared in the rearview mirror when he stopped before the junction. Three guys with clean-cut hair were inside the vehicle.  

After dropping Ann off at school, Ben drove on to Central Pacific High School. He was already ten minutes late.  

Another incident this week.  

Mrs. Hudson would not let him get away with it. 

He cruised around the school parking lot, searching for a space. He finally found an empty spot, parked, and raced across the neatly trimmed lawn. Suddenly he had an odd sensation of being watched and stopped just before the main entrance. He glanced over his shoulder and saw a car driving off. The driver punched it, and the vehicle turned around the corner of Scholar Drive.  

It was a silver Ford Taurus.  

Something about that Ford bothered him.  

He entered the hallway through the tall, glazed doors. Paul was sitting at the security station. The beefy Black man was the school’s security guard. He glanced at Ben, looking both amused and displeased.  

“You’re late again,” he stated. “You’re going to get it eventually.”  

“This is the last time.” Ben smiled. “Scout’s honor.”  

“You’ve never been a scout.”  

“Come on, you know I don’t remember,” he said, jumping three steps at a time.


Outside, the silver Taurus returned to the school and parked near a house surrounded by a tall brick fence. 


The Observation Center had three main zones. The wall of the first one was occupied by over thirty yards of a widescreen. Next to it was a control panel consisting of a dozen sections. Technicians, all ten, were sitting at it, hunched over the controls as they worked the night shift. The second zone was filled with analysts’ desks, empty at this moment, and housed the command center. The third zone consisted of a small gallery lined with a metal railing, where members of the Central's command gathered to observe essential missions.  

Today at the OC, besides the night-shift staff, there were also Ronejson and Brand. Sitting at the command center, towering over the rest of the positions, they talked, glancing at the screens occasionally. Only the soft shimmer of the skirting lights and colorful announcements displayed on the consoles of the technical posts dispelled the surrounding darkness.

Ronejson, commanding the Central, was taller and slimmer than Brand. He was also older. The skin of his clean-shaven head glistened in the glow of the big screen hanging before them.  

When he had received an urgent message from Ebba an hour ago, he took a break from reading the routine reports and met with Brand in the OC.  

“As I told you, Ebba has picked up massive Acheron activity around this boy from Riverside.” Ronejson pointed at one of the screens with a video running.  

They saw a teenager stepping out of the two-story house on the Riverside outskirts. He looked about eighteen, six feet tall, with brown hair, blue jeans, and a white T-shirt. A small girl in a yellow dress walked beside him. Hand in hand, they went over to the navy-blue Dodge. They spoke briefly and drove off.  

Brand folded his hands over his chest and leaned over one of the screens of the command deck. The sleeves of his uniform stretched tight over his massive arms. He pointed at the silver Ford Taurus on the screen, following the Dodge east.

“It’s them?” he asked, squinting his blue eyes. The scar on his forehead, a reminder of a struggle for life he once won, narrowed into a thin line.  

“Yes,” Ronejson said. “Yesterday, the Sentients detected Acheron agents near the house. We just had no idea who their target was.”

“You sure they want the kid? Maybe they’re after the girl.”  

“Look, they followed him after he dropped her off at school. So it’s him,” Ronejson confirmed.  

The screen displayed a busy street. Riverside aerial view said the description in the top right corner. Both cars were slowly trudging through the morning traffic, looking like colorful squares on the gray concrete strip. The Dodge drove first in the middle lane, the silver Ford three cars behind it.

“Do we know anything about him?” Brand asked.

Ronejson wiped the beads of sweat from his forehead and opened a file on the computer. The screen displayed the photograph of the boy and some basic data about him.

“We’ve dug this out stat from the Census Bureau,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s not much.”

Name: Ben Kensi  
Age: 18  
No criminal record. In foster care for two years.  
Attends Central Pacific High School.  
Foster parents: Lindsay and Chris.  
Foster sister: Ann.  
Biological parents: unknown.

Previous residence: St. Albert’s Children’s Home, Los Angeles, California.  

“They’re following some regular boy from the suburbs,” Brand commented. “Maybe we’ll put him under surveillance and see what comes out.”  

“We’re short on people,” Ronejson muttered.  

He was looking at the screen, thinking about how little time he had to stop the apocalypse. His brow was covered with sweat again, partly from the heat, partly from the stress. He still couldn’t decide whether to keep his staff from their more important tasks and let them supervise some insignificant teenager.  

The Dodge entered the parking lot. The Ford tailing it stopped across from the school.

“Okay, let’s try,” he said at last. 


Ben stopped for a moment in front of classroom 23 to catch his breath. He was late. He thought of Mrs. Hudson but didn’t care about the consequences of her anger.

For the past few days, he’d felt dazed.

School, tests results, his friends—all these things determining his fate didn’t matter to him anymore. He felt like a tourist passing through a city he had never seen before. Like someone who lost himself in a crowd of strangers. The place held his interest, but it was foreign. He would soon be gone, leaving this world and these people behind. Memories would fade away and disappear. It was just a quick stop on a long way.

To where?

He had no idea.

He turned the doorknob and stepped inside. All the students raised their heads as if on cue. He could see the school football team training on the field through the big picture windows. The teacher’s desk to the right of the door was stacked with evenly arranged papers and books.

Mrs. Hudson stood next to her desk. Shining in the morning sun, her black hair cascaded down her broad shoulders. She turned back from the flip board, where she was writing down the main features of the American electoral system. Ben glanced at the scribblings covering the white surface. Government, he thought. A class for people who think they can rule the world.

“Mr. Kensi, come on in,” Mrs. Hudson said in a high-pitched voice. “How nice of you to finally grace us with your presence.”

“I’m sorry. It’s all because of the horrible traffic jam,” Ben said, feeling he was digging himself deeper.

“These excuses are not helping you, young man.” Mrs. Hudson shook her head. “As far as I remember, the morning rush hour also got in your way a week ago. So now sit down and don’t disturb your classmates anymore.”

Seeing how easily he got away with it, Ben was relieved. The mood in the classroom eased, and everyone looked back to the flip board. He walked past a few empty desks and sat next to Mike, his good friend. Laura Jackson, the most popular girl in the school, was sitting in front. Mike always chose the desk right behind her. He considered her his girlfriend, but Ben wasn’t sure if Laura shared his opinion.

The back seats were occupied by the basketball Big Three: Santiago, Shon, and James. Santiago pointed at his watch. Ben nodded, assuring him that he remembered about evening practice.

The nightmares were messing with his head. They made him forget about going shopping and picking Ann up from school. A few days ago, he even forgot about training.

Except for the guys from the team, the rest of the class were an ordinary bunch of students whose dream was to study law or political science.  

Mike was the son of the owner of a major chain of Mexican restaurants. They’d been friends ever since Ben got to this school. Even though Mike came from a wealthy family, he never looked down his nose at anyone. When Ben sat down on the firm plywood chair, Mike looked at him, clearly amazed.

“What the hell are you doing?” Surprise mixed with concern in his brown eyes. “You’re late again. You can’t just take them dives at the end of high school.”

Ben shrugged. “So what? It’s not a big deal. I don’t know why this old bat has got it out for me,” he whispered. “Besides, I don’t care. I had to drop Ann off at school and didn’t get much sleep.”

“You had that nightmare again? Listen, man, this isn’t normal.”

Once, Ben told Mike about the nightmares haunting him. At first, he was only wandering what looked like an abandoned hospital. Later, the visions grew longer and more precise. Finally, the night before, he saw the girl lying behind a huge window for the first time.

“You’re right,” he agreed, touching his temples.

Despite the aspirin, his head still hurt. When he closed his eyelids, he recalled that girl’s eyes. They were haunting him, not giving him a breather from the one question filling his mind.

Who is she?

“If I were you, I would get myself checked out,” said Mike.  

“I’m not crazy, man. You sound just like my parents.”

Raising his voice was a mistake. Mrs. Hudson must have heard the last sentence because she paused and looked at him.

“That’s enough, Ben!” she said. “You’ve been late repeatedly, and now you talk during my class. You’re weeks away from graduation, and that’s the most important time in every young person’s life. You should focus on your future, not waste your final weeks on nonsense.”

Everybody froze.

“At noon, you will report to Principal Hamersfield,” Hudson continued.

“But we have practice…” Ben began.

“Too bad. You’ll have to be late. But I’m sure you’ll be able to explain that to the coach. You’ve had plenty of practice.”



After the morning classes, Ben did his time outside the principal’s office. He was miffed and wanted to go out onto the court with his team. While he waited for the meeting with the all-mighty Mr. Hamersfield, the guys were probably getting warmed up. The clock hanging on the wall kept ticking. Time passed, but the brown office door remained closed.

Fifteen minutes later, he finally had the honor of receiving a private audience. Mr. Hamersfield sat behind a massive wooden desk. He was a lanky Black man, and his dark brown skin contrasted with his gray hair. Behind his glasses, his eyes had a look of helplessness.  

“According to Coach McFarley, you’re the star of our basketball team,” he said. “Congratulations. Mrs. Hudson told me you’ve been attending extracurricular classes, like Government.”  

Ben nodded. He knew those words were only a prelude to an upcoming strike.  

“Are you taking these lessons because you want to be a lawyer?” the principal asked.

“I keep asking myself that question all the time.”  

Hamersfield was playing with the file folder lying on his desk. He probably took it from the gray cabinets standing behind him. They towered over the room, stretching from the floor to the ceiling. Ben’s surname began with K, so the folder had to be in one of the bottom drawers; to get it out, Hamersfield didn’t have to use the metal stepladder standing in the corner.  

The principal opened the binder.  

“What do your foster parents say?” he asked. 

“Chris insists that I become a lawyer, and Lindsay supports his opinion.”  

“You should be thanking them. Do you realize how much they helped you?”  

“Oh, I am grateful to them,” Ben said.

“Then why are you sabotaging all their efforts? You’re constantly late, and you have low grades. You’ve just turned eighteen. You should consider your future role in society.”

Ben didn’t answer. Suddenly, he thought the file cabinets looked like sinister creatures, almost as if they were hiding an awful past that shouldn’t be exposed.

Hamersfield briefly examined the papers from Ben’s file, report cards, and teachers’ opinions. Next to them were accounts, which Ben recognized as his medical records from LA.

“I agree that you’ve been through a lot during the past years,” Hamersfield admitted. “But I also believe that you must consider your life seriously. I think it’s best if the four of us meet: me, you, and your foster parents. It would be a perfect opportunity to discuss your recent behavior and its long-term consequences.”


He looked through his leather-bound calendar. “I’ll see you next Monday.” He pointed at Ben. “In my school, nobody gets special treatment. Remember that. If you don’t change your behavior, do not expect to attend the school prom. And if you continue to skip classes, I’ll be forced to suspend you.”

After the conversation with the principal, Ben was surprised by how insignificant his threats sounded. He couldn’t care less about them. They were like blanks, powerless. Yet, he kept thinking about his last dream. He couldn’t understand why, but he had a strange feeling that he knew the girl with the light hair.

He blended in with the crowd of students. Kids from junior year mixed with the seniors. Fear faced routine; curiosity met boredom. He noticed a group of seniors, among whom were Alan and Jason from his history class. Alan waved at him with a long, bony hand.

“Hey!” he yelled. “I heard the old man called you into his office again.”  

Bad news travels fast, Ben thought.

“I had a little run-in with Hudson,” he admitted. “She set Hamersfield against me.”  

“It’s like the third time this semester.” There was a hint of genuine worry in Jason’s voice. Ben noticed his fingernails were chewed down to the nub.


“She must be sick of you.”

“It takes guts to pull off something like that right before graduation,” Alan said.  

“What did that old goat threaten you with this time?” asked Jason.  

“Suspension,” said Ben.  

“You messed up big time, man.” Jason chuckled nervously and nibbled at his thumb. “Did he call in your parents?”  

“Yeah, next Monday.” This whole conversation irritated Ben. “I’ve gotta go,” he said, seeing how the crowd of students began to disappear behind the classroom doors. “Otherwise, the coach will kill me.”  

He waved them goodbye and went toward the gym. In the locker room filled with benches and a smell of sweat, he changed into red trunks, a T-shirt, and high-top basketball shoes. He put on a tracksuit on top of that and ran out to the gym.

The guys had been training, and Coach McFarley was standing on the sideline, supervising them.

“Sorry for being late, Coach, but I was called to Principal Hamersfield!” Ben shouted, trying to be heard over the crash of bouncing balls.

McFarley frowned and glanced at his watch. Then, he looked at Mike and Santiago, who were practicing passing.

“Get to work!” he screamed. “You better improve your accuracy, or you’ll say goodbye to your dreams of the finals!”

He looked over at Ben like he had seen him for the first time. “What are you waiting for? Get your ass to the court!” he yelled.

Ben took off his tracksuit, flung it on a bench, and ran into the group without a word. He took off with the ball and dribbled, cut to the basket, and finished with a two-point throw.

He was too short for a center or a guard position, so he played as a point guard. Others were trying to think ahead, plan, or predict what Ben just knew. He didn’t think if the offense would play on the right or left or maybe down the middle. He didn’t understand how, but he just knew where his opponent would be. After last year’s finals, even McFarley, who was not a very forthcoming man, said they would have never secured first place in the division without him.

After a few more minutes of warm-up, the coach whistled twice. 

“Get to the sidelines, all of you!” he roared over the noise from the floor.

When everyone had taken their seats, he started to explain tactics. He’d drawn out each play and assigned tasks. They were preparing for this year’s county finals, which would begin in weeks.

Ben thought this would be the last game of his high school career. It was surprising how little regret he felt after realizing this. Instead, he had a recurring feeling he should be doing something more important in an entirely different place. He already had had these thoughts, but this time, they hit him twice as hard.

A firm nudge from Mike snapped him out of his daydream. Mike shoved Ben in the ribs with his elbow and nodded at McFarley. The coach had just finished explaining the tactics and was glaring at him expectantly.

“Kensi!” he yelled. “I see your talk with Mr. Hamersfield had no bearing on you. Would you like to repeat the experience?”

“No, Coach,” Ben replied.

“Then I need you to focus! You will lead the green team. Mike will be the captain of the blue. First, we’ll practice zone defense. Then, we’ll move on to man-to-man, according to the layout I just drew. Questions?”

“No, Coach!” they called out in unison.

“Let’s go.” McFarley clapped his hands.

Mike ran up to Ben and gave him a high-five.

“After the game, we’re going to Albert’s. You wanna come?” he asked.  


“Okay, but the loser pays.”

“Then you better have money, smart ass,” Ben said and ran out onto the floor. 



Chapter 2   


They took everything from me,

and I’ll become a beast if that’s what it takes


Even though it had happened long ago, she still remembered everything as clearly as it was yesterday.  


The thunderous crash of water.


The salty smell of the air and dark clouds moving across the faraway horizon.


She called back, the trail piercing through a dense forest she had to trudge with Ben toward the ocean hidden behind the trees. Birds were singing in the swaying treetops, flowers were blooming, and the air smelled so sweet that each breath made her dizzy.


“It's so beautiful in here. I wish I could stay here forever,” she told Ben when they reached the cliff.


"I wouldn’t mind that,” he said, so quietly that she could barely hear him over the roar of waves.


Below, water splashed over the rocks and burst skyward in a spray of white droplets.


“Every time we come here, I get the feeling that we’re like those waves.” She pointed at the rough water. “We rush toward an invincible force that will turn us to pieces like those drops.”


“Faith plays with us like a mad god.” Ben gazed at her with the sore look she knew so well from the mirror every morning. “Yet, there’s no price I wouldn’t pay for your world to exist again.”


She looked at the green wall of trees and high mountains hovering above them.


“That world is the thing of the past,” she said, feeling the pain, cold as the ice wind chilling to the bone. “My brother died in there, and I couldn’t even bury his body. Sometimes, at night, when I can’t sleep, I feel like I’ll meet him in the kitchen, where Mom will make breakfast, and then we'll go to school. But I know they're all dead, and I’m left with nothing but hate.”

She couldn't tear her eyes from the mountaintops, keeping her apart from the place she used to call home. Shadow and dust, that’s all that was left of her previous life. Later, while stepping through the ruins, she couldn’t accept that all it took was just a few seconds for everything she ever loved to turn into a valley of ashes.

“Don't say that,” Ben said. “It’s what they want, to take us down and turn us into beasts just like them.”


“They took everything from me, and I’ll become a beast if that’s what it takes.”


“But I’m still with you.” Ben put his arm around her. “Do you love me?”


“I do.”

Lightning was flashing among the distant raven-dark clouds. A sudden gust of wind brought the smell of an incoming storm. 

“When I think of what has happened to us, I get the feeling that love no longer counts,” she confessed. “That the only thing that matters is the power to set pain, and the rest is just an illusion we believe in to stop ourselves from going mad.” 

The boy went silent, watching the waves.


“I still believe in love,” he said after a while. “And I am sure that in the end, love is what will save us all.”

She rested her head on his shoulder. ”You think we still have a chance?” Salty droplets lashed at their faces with another wind blow. 

“Yes. But we must fight hard for all the people we’ve lost and those we’ll yet lose.”

His words comforted her but also made her think about her mother, and she felt the touch of grief. The ocean roared woefully, like a dying animal. She looked at the darkness, massing where the water met the sky. Maybe her mother is waiting there with all the others, who were taken by the dark.

“We’ll fight for each other,” she said, touching Ben’s cheek as if she was trying to shield him from the storm. “The dead don’t need us anymore.”


The boy kissed the inside of her hand.

“You know, sometimes I wonder what will happen when they track us down. And what I see fills me with fear.”

“I swear to you, we’re not get caught,” Ben assured her. “Just say you trust me.”

“You think you’re unbreakable, but you’re the same as we all. Easy to hurt.”

“Say it!”


“I trust you,” she whispered at last.


Listening to the ocean, they hugged each other until the sun went down and the storm finally arrived.  

She snapped out of the memories and came back to reality.


She was in the underground lab, strapped to a metal table beyond a panoramic window. The steel cold pierced through the paper-thin shirt they dressed her in last night. Her head and chest were wrapped in sensors. Their wires curled all around like a swirl of snakes. 

She spent the whole day here. Her only companions were monitors and the guard, who came down every hour to see if she was still alive.

The air reeked of ozone. The machines buzzed monotonously, and their screens cast grotesque, colorful shadows. Her bashed-in head hurt like hell. The dressing they put on was now soaked with blood slowly dripping down her cheek.

Lately, she kept thinking back to the time she spent with Ben. His absence became an unbearable void making her feel dead inside. She was searching for his mind countless times but to no avail. 

A few days ago, something changed.


It was like a flash.


Suddenly, she uncovered him in Riverside. Her happiness was as great as the despair at thinking she had lost him forever.

She regained her hope and tried to escape from the facility yesterday. The failure made her sure she won’t get out of there without his help. That’s why after she woke up, she sought to reach him again. But the answer never came back, and one question nagged her.  



Was he too far away to be summoned? Or maybe there was another reason?

Once again, she tried to free her hands from the restraints. This only resulted in the screeching of the leather straps, mixing with the buzz of the diagnostic devices. She raised her head and glanced at her hands. She noticed a dark print on the white sleeve of her gown.




A prison number she knew all too well.  

“934, cooperate or die!” She remembered Gorendrin’s odious screams. “No one will ever know where we’ve buried your body!”

The flashback roused her anger, which then grew into a rage. I’m not a number. My name is Chloe, she thought, recalling the joy when her Mom used to say it.

She thought of death that had chased her like a shadow. First, it took away all those she loved, and now it was hiding around the corner, waiting for the right moment to take her.

She felt the cruel sense of lack of hope deep in her soul.


“I won’t give up!” she growled. “I’ll survive!”


She cleared her mind, squeezed her eyes shut, and sent her thoughts again to Ben.



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