Anne Vickery - no, Seraph - got two presents for her thirteenth birthday: a medal and a single chocolate cupcake.
The medal almost made her cry. The cupcake did.
She stood there, in the middle of a downward-sloping street, as her idea of San Francisco sank into the sea. People watched in wonder as her shoulders shook, but they couldn't feel the earthquakes or the crashing lash of fallen cables. Whips of arcing electric steel snapped blocks into edible slices. Birds that were not birds circled like carrion. Most of them had seven wings.
Her hair shrouded her face on the sides, a long veil cut carefully with a pocketknife every Thursday. That's how she kept track, how she kept herself real. They couldn't see her face except from straight on. Strangers only saw the glowing lines feathering her broken glasses.
Just another kid, lost in augmented space. People sidestepped her like a stone splits a stream.
None of them could see her tears. None of them could see her world end. Her personal armageddon.
Etched across the medal were names: Roland. Emi. Kaos. Delano. Mikael. Traverse. Victor (her thumb lingered over Victor, it had been so very long since she'd seen his lopsided smile).
Killrzed. She still missed Killrzed. He was a fucking idiot and she missed him like air.
His birthday had been last week. Delano's was in two months. Oh, god... Delano...
She wanted to clutch the medal tight, but her fingers would have swept right through it. All she really had was a cardboard cut-out, which would crumble with the strain against her palms. She squeezed little pop-bottle creases into the edges and tried to imagine what came next.
There were no electric tigers at her side. She had no gun. Those yawning maelstroms didn't really rise up from the San Francisco Bay. It wasn't real. The glass sky had never even shattered.
She'd just burned her cheek on a stove.
She'd just bruised her back tripping down old stairs.
She'd broken her arm in seven places, then her parents stopped believing in each other.
The little girl of 15 who walked by was older. Wiser. Had seen more of reality.
Anne Vickery was just a little girl.
She stood by her mailbox, stroking her Vizha and Kazha, staring down at the frothing but not-at-all frothing water. To her, there was a bio-luminescent city, beautiful and full of ugly mysteries. Killrzed was even down there somewhere. When the day came, he didn't stop riding his stupid dragon. He rode until he sunk through. Killrzed, much like Icarus, had never learned to swim.
The cupcake in her mailbox was real. It made her want to run in after Killrzed. To die stupid.
The icing was so black and bitter that it looked like sin itself. There was a single, ridiculous rainbow candle and a thirteen drawn in orange icing. It had smiley faces. Their idea of a joke.
She even almost laughed, but the sound choked in her throat. Letters slashed across her sight.
CONGRATULATIONS! YOU HAVE SURVIVED THE INVISIBLE WORLD! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ANNIE...
Her tigers disintegrated and her knees struck the sidewalk. In the game, they'd always screamed.
Deletion is silent.
The medal collapsed, inch by inch, until only Victor's name was left. She squeezed, trying to crumple the paper around that name, to save it, but it was too late. She saw that name disappear in sparks and that was it. That did it. That was the point that snapped her from despair to panic.
When the grown-ups in nice suits and even nicer Italian leather shoes drug Anne Vickery - once Seraph, now defenseless - into the trunk of a black Sedan, she was still screaming her name.
Her old name. She was Anne Vickery now, but Anne Vickery still had potential.
Writing prompt of the hour: medal
Congratulations, Annie. You've survived. Now it's on to the accelerated class...
(c) 2013 Lawerence Hawkins