After weighing the evidence, after considering the options, Scott had come to one conclusion: his sister was weird. Not weird in the sense that it could be explained by a medical condition, just…weird.
More than that, the whole thing was weird! He came home Saturday afternoon to find a stack of cardboard boxes at the bottom of the stairs and his parents clearing furniture out of his father's office. His mother promptly told him that they would now be taking care of a younger girl.
Scott twisted his head, examining the corners of the kitchen before moving aside the large potted plant his mother kept on the counter for fresh herbs. "What are you doing?" his mother asked.
"Looking for the hidden cameras." He turned to her. "This is a joke, right?"
"No, it's not," she said, rubbing her forehead, "Amelia's lost her entire family. Try and show some empathy."
"But I don't have any idea who she is."
"Right, you don't. We knew her parents a long time ago, but your father and her father had a bit of a falling out. We sent holiday greetings and stuff like that but haven't really talked since then." She shrugged, "We didn't even know they named us as caretakers."
Scott waited but his mother walked into the kitchen. "And…?"
He rolled his eyes. "You're just gonna let some kid you've never even seen live with us?"
"It's the right thing to do. And don't roll your eyes at me."
She pointed at the pile of cardboard boxes at the base of the stairs, "Now go help your father. I want everything to be ready when Amelia gets here."
He opened his mouth but shut it upon seeing the expression on his mother's face; narrowed eyes and pursed lips. He knew that look; she was only one more statement away from being angry. "Fine," he muttered, grabbing a cardboard box and stomping up the stairs.
He dropped the box into his father's office; what had once been his father's office. The black desk had been replaced with a bed, complete with a rainbow-striped bedspread. His father was kneeling in front of the dresser pressed against the far wall, taking stacks of folded clothes from a cardboard box and putting them in the drawers. "Those more clothes?" he asked.
The box felt light, so Scott balanced it on one raised knee while he pulled open the flap with his free hand. A stack of folded clothes of various colors rested inside. "Yeah."
His father gestured to the box. "What's it say on the side?"
Scott shifted the box around. 'Formal clothes' was crawled on the other side in black marker. His father gestured over his shoulder. "In the closet."
Scott dropped the box next to the lone door on the other wall. He peered inside; a metal bar had been driven into both walls near the top, half of which was already full of dresses and what he guessed were blouses. He glanced at the box and then back; no way there was enough room. He opened his mouth to say so but closed it again; what did he care?
"You gonna stand there all day?" his father asked, "There's plenty more down there."
Scott groaned and started for the door. "Hold it," his father said, "You'd better drop this attitude, got it? Amelia's been through a lot, more than someone her age should be. Imagine how'd you feel if you lost not only your parents but your brother too."
He smirked. "I don't have a brother."
"But she does...did." He sighed, "She's the only survivor from her family. You're going to make her welcome here, got it?"
What was the point in arguing? "Yes, sir," he grumbled.
His father nodded. "Good. Now get the other boxes. I'm sure Amelia will appreciate it."
Shadow of the Heavens
Amelia didn't look like she appreciated it when she walked into the room later that afternoon. Scott did not know how she looked...stone-faced, even unemotional, but not appreciative.
His mother twirled around the room like a ballet dancer. "Do you like it?"
Before Amelia could answer, his mother glided over and pulled open the closet door. "We've unpacked everything for you."
She skipped over and placed her hands on the girl's shoulders. "I know that you've been through a lot, and it's going to take time to adjust but…" She hugged her, "You're safe here and this is your home."
She gestured to the room. "Now, how do you like it?"
Amelia's eyes darted, studying every inch of the room, yet the rest of her face was still blank. It was like looking at a statue. "Thank you," she said, her voice flat.
Scott studied her...stared at her. She was shorter than he thought, and smaller, with a thin face. She had big eyes though, not out of place, just big, brown eyes.
"I thought you said she was twelve," he said to his mother after they left to give Amelia some time alone.
"She is," his mother answered, "She just hasn't hit her growth spurt yet."
"And what about her hair?"
His mother shrugged. "It's a...dark shade of brown."
"It looked pretty black to me."
She stared him in the eyes. "It's a lovely shade of brown, got it?" She gestured to the stairs, "Now go and talk to her."
He froze. "About what?"
Rather than risk the wrath of a thousand days of no cell phone, he walked up the stairs, stomping on each step to make sure his mother knew what he thought of the situation.
Amelia was staring out the window in her room. He tapped softly on the door frame, hoping that she would not hear so he could tell his mother he tried.
Amelia twirled before his knuckle even brushed the frame. "Oh, hey," he said, "How are you, um, liking your new room?"
He groaned to himself; his mother had already asked that, twice. Still, he waited for an answer. Amelia only stared. "Um, uh…" His mind raced. "Do you have a nickname?"
She blinked. Still silent, but at least there was some reaction. "I mean. Isn't, uh, Amy short for Amelia."
She shook her head. "No! You can't call me that! Only my brother called me that!"
From zero to a hundred. What was she so pissed for? "All right, fine."
He stomped into his room and slammed the door. She had a brother? He shook his head; it was not any of his business.
Dinner that night was as awkward as he thought something could get. While his mother grilled Amelia over everything she could think of, his father was trying to force-feed her seconds and thirds. Scott just munched on his food and stared.
Her hair was black, not dark brown.
It was more than her appearance. She had only been there for a week before more of her strange behavior started coming out. He found her, more than once, in her room staring off into space. After being ordered by his mother to tell Amelia it was time for dinner, and also ordered to... "stop stamping his feet!", he knocked on her closed door. "Hey, it's, uh, time for dinner."
No response, which was nothing new. One normal thing about her was her appetite. She was almost a teenager, and one sure thing to get her out of her room was mealtime.
He knocked again. "Are you in there?"
Still nothing. He pushed open the door. "Hey, are you…?"
He froze. Amelia was sitting up in her bed with her bent legs lying open so the soles of her feet pressed up against each other. Her palms were upturned and resting on her knees. She stared at the ceiling from a slight angle with her eyes closed. "Hey!"
She still did not respond. He gave her a gentle push and she gasped, eyelids opening. "What?" she heaved, "What?"
"It's, uh, time for dinner."
She nodded. "Y-yes, thank you. I shall be right down."
He spent most of the afternoon trying to find whatever yoga pose she was doing. The closest he could find was the butterfly pose, but, just like everything else with her, it just wasn't right.
He found her talking with herself the next morning in the kitchen. Not just mumbling like his parents did, but having a full-on conversation with herself. "Yes, but…How? It's the only way to… I know they've been nice to me, but…"
His parents would have to believe him if he had proof. He fished his phone from his pocket, but it caught the edge of his belt, slipping out of his hands and clanging to the floor.
Amelia's voice dropped and Scott swore to himself. He stomped into the kitchen as he shoved his phone into his pocket. Amelia was at the table with a bowl of cereal. Her eyes followed him as he walked to the pantry. He had caught her again and she knew it. Good! Let her freak out. He was getting to the bottom of whatever she was up to.
He turned back around but she was gone. He found her in the living room, switching on the t.v. He leaned against the door frame; what kind of stuff did she watch? She was probably too old for stuff like Baloney the Dinosaur. He smirked; she was probably into magical girl anime or some live-action tween sitcom…
She flicked through the channels and stopped on a young man reading seated behind a desk. "Good morning Anne Falls. Here are today's headlines. Police responded to reports of fireworks being set off at the stadium last night."
...or the news. Of course, she would be watching the news. Why would she watch shows like a normal kid would?
The strangest thing came that night. Scott was scrolling through Twitter while he lay in bed, far past the time he should have been asleep. He heard Amelia's door open, followed by her footsteps passing by the bathroom and down the stairs.
He blinked; was she going for a midnight snack or something? He held his breath and strained his ears. He did not hear the refrigerator open, nor any of the cabinets. What he did hear open was the back door!
He jumped out of bed to look out his window. Amelia was in the driveway, staring at their shed. She turned her head a few times and then walked back into the house. He stood in place as he heard Amelia walk back up the stairs and into her room.
Should he tell his parents? They hadn't believed him so far.
He climbed into bed and stared at the ceiling until he fell asleep.
Weirder and weirder.
His mother woke him at the crack of dawn on Saturday. He wanted to complain but focused on her dark gray dress. Damn it! What family event did he have to go to?
"We're leaving," she said, "We'll be back later tonight."
She rubbed her eyes. "Since I'm guessing you forgot…"
He did not forget. More than likely, he just hadn't paid attention.
"...Your father and I are taking Amelia to court."
"Why? What did she do?"
"No," she sighed, rubbing her eyes, "We're finalizing the adoption today."
He winced. "Great. Can't wait." Well, what did he really expect? That they could just 'return' her?
His mother's face softened. "Why are you having so much trouble with Amelia?"
He bit his lip. "I'm not, I…"
"You haven't said two words to her since she got here. I want you two to get along."
He nodded. "What, um, what happened to her family?"
His mother stared at him. "I told you this already."
Had she? "I, um…"
She sighed. "Amelia and her family were coming home from a family vacation when they were in a car accident. Her parents and twin brother were killed. She has no other family." She paused and then said, "When we get back, it would be great if you could welcome Amelia as your new sister, okay?"
He spent the rest of the morning in his room, his mind a churning mess of thoughts. Maybe he was just finding problems with Amelia. Maybe she hadn't been doing anything weird last night other than stargazing or something. That could be something they had in common. Or maybe she had insomnia like him. He really didn't know anything about her.
He heard the front door open followed by his family's footsteps. Well, no time like the present to find out.
He nodded to himself as he walked downstairs. He breathed in as he walked into the living room, ready to do as his mother said and congratulate her on joining their family.
"What are you doing?"
Amelia was on the couch with his Nintendo Switch, and from the music and familiar beeps and boops, it was The Myth of Hilda. Cold needles ripped through his stomach. He yanked the device from Amelia's hand. The screen displayed the game's first stage, along with the character's level; one.
"You little brat!" he screamed.
Amelia skidded back on the couch. "W-what did I do?"
"You saved over my file! I'm back to square one! Who even said you could play this?"
"Scott!" his father barked, storming into the room, "You're sixteen!"
"And why aren't you backing up your file onto the memory card?"
"And I said she could play it," his mother said, "You need to be a big brother and share now."
He turned to Amelia, cowering on the couch. He breathed in, trying to will his anger to dissipate. "Fine. I'll just have to start all over again. And…and I can help you if you need it."
The girl nodded. "O-okay."
Scott handed the device to her and turned to his father. "And Dad, please don't talk like that when my friends are here?"
"What? I can't talk about video games?"
"It's cringey to have your parents be into the same things you are!"
Amelia held up the device to her face but her eyes kept glancing over the top to stare at him. So she could show at least one emotion, fear.
He made the mistake of telling his friend Michael about it in the school cafeteria the next day. "Got it," Michael said, "She's an alien."
Scott stared. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
Michael shrugged and shoveled mashed potatoes into his mouth. "Think about it! This kid who you've never heard of before just shows up at your house. Your mom claims to know her parents, even though she's never mentioned them before.
Scott waited for more, but Michael continued eating as if the answer was obvious. "So how does that make her an alien?"
"Your parents were government agents before they had you, right?"
"They were accountants at the IRS."
Michael waved him off. "I bet they met her alien parents during that time and have been keeping them under wraps here on Earth. They've been here since Roswell, blending into society!"
Scott rolled his eyes. "Is this the greys or the lizards?"
"Reptilians! They find a person who's high up in government or the media and they take their place so they can control us."
"So? Those reptilians shapeshifted into a scrawny twelve-year-old girl?" Before Michael could answer, Scott pointed at a brown, slop-filled bowl in the center of his tray. "Why don't you work on the conspiracy that the cafeteria chili is just made with meat that they can't legally let sit under the heat lamp anymore?"
Michael only rolled his eyes and mixed his potatoes with leftover gravy from his Salisbury steak.
Scott motioned to the fizzy drink in his cup. "Or that the ginger-ale is just watered-down Sprite."
Michael sighed. "All right, all right, I don't really think she's a Reptilian, but you've got to admit that weird things are going on, right here in the city."
Michael stared. "You haven't heard about the stadium?"
A voice interrupted him before he could answer. "Why are you surprised? The news is a little too intelligent for him."
"I do so watch the news!" he protested as Gabby sat down next to him, "Well, read it online."
Gabby glanced at Michael. "But that stadium thing was a big deal. The police were there and everything."
"Your Dad told you?" Michael asked. Gaby's father was an officer in the local police. "What did he say?"
She shrugged. "Nothing really "
"What are you talking about?" Scott demanded.
"People reported seeing weird lights at the college stadium. They were described as bright red, like someone setting off fireworks."
"Then shouldn't they just be fireworks?"
Gabby shook her head, dark brown hair whipping in front of her face, "Papa told me they couldn't find any evidence of that...really any evidence of anything."
Michael nodded, nearly bouncing his glasses off his nose," And people reported the wind picking up like it was being sucked towards the stadium. People also felt lightheaded and a few of them had to go to the hospital."
"So what was it?" Scott asked, "A UFO?"
"Probably not," Michael replied, "No one has any idea, of course, but AFUN is investigating."
If anyone could give an unbiased explanation it would be the local paranormal group. "Wait," he mumbled, " Amelia had been watching that news report."
Michael's eyes lit up. "Really? I wonder if she watches any of the ghost hunter shows."
"Your sister?" Gabby asked Scott, "You've got to invite me over soon. I can't wait to meet her."
He snorted. "Trust me, you don't."
"Be nice," she said with a wave of her hand, "She's been through a lot and has to adjust, right?"
"She's been adjusting for weeks now." He shook his head, "Hasn't helped. But, come on, I don't want to talk about her all day."
Michael smirked, "Or aliens, either. I was gonna ask if you got up to the last level on Myth of Hilda yet."
"I did," he spat, "Until she saved over my file."
Gabby blinked. "You should have copied it onto the SD card."
"Yeah, I'm aware of that," he snapped, "Because of the little brat, I have to start over."
"Come on," she said, "You're lucky. I'd love to have a little sister or brother."
"You can have her."
She narrowed her eyes and opened her mouth, but Scott cut her off. "No, she's just...weird. She doesn't talk like any normal person, she stares off into space all the time and she talks to herself. She's just weird."
"There got to be something the two of you can bond over," Michael suggested, "She must play video games, right? And if she's playing Myth of Hilda, it's games that you like."
He shook his head. "She sucks at it. Know what games she does play? Cutesy little girl games. See, that's the other thing about her, the only normal thing about her; she's a total girly girl. The entire upstairs smells like unicorn farts when she gets out of the shower. Plus, Mom took her shopping the other day and she actually decorated her room. It looks like a rainbow on drugs, with all these stuffed animals on the...shelves…"
Gabby's eyes were as red as a stove burner on high; he imagined steam gushing out of her ears. He cleared his throat. "I mean, um…"
She punched him in the shoulder. He bit his lip and held his breath. He was not going to give her the satisfaction of wincing. "Didn't hurt," he muttered.
"Why don't you stop whining and think about someone else?" she asked.
"How about your sister? She lost her entire family, right? And if that's not enough, how about your parents?"
He opened his mouth but closed it again. He remembered when his mother and Amelia came back from shopping. Amelia was as stone-faced as always but he could not remember the last time he saw his mother smile like that. "She's still a little brat."
Gabby snickered. "Are you jealous?"
He blinked. "What? No, I mean…" He shook his head, "Amelia's weird, okay? Not just weird, I mean really weird. Something's going on with her."
"I think you're jealous," Gabby continued, "Teenagers usually don't have the sibling jealousy thing, right? That's just for little kids."
"I am not jealous!"
Despite that declaration, he lay in bed that night and stared up at the ceiling. If he was so certain he was not jealous, why did that thought keep playing over and over in his mind? Michael was crazy; Scott didn't believe Amelia was some kind of alien...not yet, at least. That left Gabby's theory, but he wasn't jealous, right?
He heard the door to Amelia's room open and the stairs creaked. He waited and, sure enough, the back door creaked open again. He jumped from the bed and looked out his window. She was pulling her bike from the shed.
What the hell was she doing? Was she running away to join the circus or something?
The reality of that statement brought a cold chill up his spine. Was she really running away? Why else would she have left in the middle of the night?
He raced down the stairs, yanking on a pair of sweatpants and sneakers. Why would she run away? She had a place to live, she had plenty of food, she had his video games. She had everything she needed.
He jumped out the door and could just make out her silhouette riding her bike down the sidewalk, too far to call out to her. He jumped onto his bike and took after her.
He imagined her shivering in some alley somewhere or lying at the bottom of some ditch or tied up in the back of some pervert's van. He peddled harder but she had too far of a lead on him. He was barely keeping sight of her in the distance. She was a freaking toothpick, how was she riding harder than him?
He would ask when they were back home. He could make a joke of it, something they could laugh about when they were older with kids of their own. This could even be a warning he would tell his children about getting along, that he was such an ass that their aunt almost ran away. Please, please, let it be almost!
She rode to the college, specifically, the stadium in the back. She parked her bike near the entrance and ran inside. Scott gasped and squeezed the handlebars even tighter. This had to be a bad dream. She snuck out in the middle of the night, scared him half to death, to check out some damn UFO sighting?
What was she going to be like at his age?
He was tempted to just let her ride back alone but that pervert with the van flashed through his mind again. He marched through the entrance, had the doors been unlocked, or did she pick them? He shivered at that thought and continued onto the field. Amelia was standing in the middle of the grass, staring up at the sky.
"Amelia!" he shouted.
She twirled around. "What are you doing here?"
He blinked. "What am I doing here? What the hell are you doing here?"
He reached for her wrist but a low growl made him jump back. There was an animal right beside her, almost invisible in the night. He grabbed her hand and yanked her behind him. "Watch out!"
The animal rose from its haunches and he could see in the moonlight it was a wolf. "Just step back slowly," he said to Amelia, keeping his eyes on the animal, "If it lunges for me, just run. Don't worry about me, just go."
His heart was racing, his palms were sweaty despite the chill up his spine. He was sure he was crazy, what the hell was a wolf doing in the middle of the stadium?
"You can see him?" Amelia gasped.
"Of course I can see him!"
"You're one of them…" she mumbled, "Is that why Dad...It makes so much sense now."
The wolf growled again and Amelia shook her head. "No! Don't!"
Like the animal was going to listen to orders!
"This is Scott!" she said.
And now she was introducing him!
To his shock, the wolf sat back on his haunches. He blinked. "What the hell is going on here?"
Amelia swallowed. "Um, well…"
The wolf growled again and twisted its head to the other side of the field. Amelia hissed. "Something's coming!"
Scott's mouth dropped as what he could only describe as a devil walked out of the shadows and into the starlight. It was red, with scaly skin, bat wings, and tail. "Run!" he screamed.
He made it to the exit before he realized Amelia was not behind him. He twisted around in time to see the wolf leap at the demon, its teeth and claws ready. The devil caught the wolf's throat in its hand and pinned the animal to the ground.
"No!" Amelia cried.
The devil shrieked, no, more than that. Some kind of energy or force or something hit Amelia and threw her backward. She tumbled along the ground before skidding to a stop.
Scott clenched his fists. He whipped his head from side to side and spotted a metal rod or pole lying against what he guessed was the groundskeeper's supply shed. He snatched it and charged back across the field. He ran up behind the devil as it kept its gaze on Amelia and brought the pipe across the back of its head.
The pipe shook in his hands; it was like hitting a brick wall.! The devil turned to him and shrieked again. The same blast of force hit him, throwing him back and he came to a stop when his head hit the ground.
His feeble attacked caused enough of a distraction for the wolf to free itself. The animal launched at the devil, tearing at the front of its neck with its jaw. Scott's eyelids closed and he fell into darkness.