Young Adult Fiction

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We Contain Multitudes

Dear Little JO,*

I guess when you read this letter you’ll be sitting right here looking at what I’m looking at. The front of Ms. Khang’s English classroom with the old-?fashioned blackboard and the posters offamous book covers and the Thought of the Day and this new thing, this big wooden box painted in bright colors. I mean you don’t know me because I just drew your name randomly. And if you’re in grade ten this will be your first course with Ms. Khang, which means you don’t know her as a teacher yet either. Pretty weird getting a letter from a total stranger I bet. Or how about getting a letter period, in this day and age.
Khang stands up there taking as much time as possible telling us what this box is for. She’s turning it around and around to show off her paint job, tilting it forward to show the two slots in the top, pointing out the separate combination lock for each lid. All that buildup. After a while we’re all expecting doves to fly out of it or something. And then poor Khang looks all disappointed when we’re disappointed that it turns out to be only a mailbox. Which is the whole problem with buildup. Well you’ll see it foryourself pretty soon I guess.
On the board it says Introduce Yourself. So my name is Adam Kurlansky and this is Grade Twelve Applied English. One of the courses I flunked last year, which now I’m regretting because this assignment is not something I’m all that interested in. A letter every week for the entire semester. *JO stands for Jerkoff in case you were wondering. I’m sticking it here in the middle of the letter instead of at the top because Khang wants us to hold up the paper to show her before we put it in the envelope. To prove we actually filled the minimum one page, since she’s not actually planning on reading our letters herself. If she asks me I guess I’ll just say JO is short for your name, Jonathan.
Don’t take it the wrong way. I figure it’s fair game to call you a little jerkoff even though I don’t know you personally because I was one too, as a sophomore. Only most likely not as little. I was already pretty close to my full height by then: six foot three.
I mean I see you all in the halls with your faces turning red whenever I catch you staring at me. You’re like these arcade gophers popping in and out of holes. People know who I am because of being a bunch of credits behind and not graduating and having to come crawling back for the so-called victory lap. Or not because of that. More likely because of football I guess. Because they decided to let me keep playing football.

Adam Kurlansky

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Darkness Rising

Darkness Rising

Daughters of Light
also available: eBook
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“If they catch you, the mayor will execute you, you know,” the oversized woman says.
My heart is in my throat. The counter-terrorism squad is at the other end of the subway train, their semi-automatics ready, and they’re moving fast. Everyone is being asked for identification, and no one is taking a second longer than necessary to show their credentials.
“Official government ID only!” one of the officers barks at an elderly man holding a cloth shopping bag filled to the limit in one arm and a tiny dog in the other. “Take off your mask. Now!”
The woman leans in closer to me and Amara. The stench of onions and sweet flowers emanating from her nearly overpowers me.
“Smith’s gonna put you on the list to hang just like she’s done with your friend Eva and that supposed subway bomber, Moore,” she says, keeping her voice low. Before I have a chance to reply, there’s a crash and a high-pitched yelp as the elderly man’s bag falls to the floor of the train, his tiny dog following closely behind. The officer grabs the man by the arm, wrenches him to his feet, and pulls off his anti-pollution mask.
“No ID? You’re under arrest!” he barks into the man’s pale face. The older man is trembling like a spider in a snowstorm — that’s clear to me even from this far away. His tiny Chihuahua, having regained its composure after being dropped, begins snapping at the officer’s pant leg in an effort to defend its owner.
“Please … please,” the older man sputters, putting his free hand up in front of his face. His accent is thick.
“He’s an illegal!” a woman sitting across from us shouts. Spittle flies from her lips. “Get ’im out of here!” she says, pumping her fist into the air. I can read her mind. Her thoughts are strong with emotion. She’s excited by the drama unfolding and disgusted by the fact that the elderly man is an illegal — at least, that’s what she’s concluded, even though there’s no proof of the man’s status. She seems convinced he’s a climate change refugee who’s sneaked into the city and is possibly a terrorist as well.
With the fluidity of a panther, the officer brings his booted foot down onto the diminutive dog’s midsection. A single canine screech cuts through the subway car. We both look over. The dog twitches briefly before becoming absolutely motionless.
“Oh, my god,” Amara whispers. She crams the palm of her left hand against her lips as tears stream down her cheeks, then begins to hum. Not any song or melody, just a low, steady hum. I know she’s fragile, maybe even close to snapping after losing her twin, Vivienne, earlier today. Seeing this little dog killed in such a violent manner isn’t helping her state of mind, that’s for sure.
“I’m Mary, by the way,” the woman sitting beside me says. She raises an eyebrow at Amara, who doesn’t seem to notice. “Listen, youse need to get outta here before they recognize you.” Her voice is raspy; it’s the voice of a lifelong smoker. “In two, you’ll know what to do. It’ll be your only chance to escape.” She smiles at me, revealing two very chipped front teeth, but her eyes are serious. “Good luck. It’s easy to tell that something’s not right with the leaders of our governments — for those of us that ain’t brainwashed by ’em.” She nods her head toward the woman sitting across from us.
The officer that killed the dog punches the button beside a set of subway doors. As the doors slide open, he roughly pushes the old man, who is now openly sobbing, out onto the platform.
“I can’t breathe!” Mary cries out. She clutches at her large bosom, hoists herself up, and starts stumbling toward the officers still on the train, one arm stretched out toward them. “My heart! Oh, god! The pain!”
Her thoughts come to me. They need to run. This is worth it. I’ve lived a long life.
The officers point their guns at her. “Stay back!” one of them warns. “Don’t take a step closer.”
“Help me!” Mary cries again. “I can’t breathe!”
I grab Amara’s hand and yank her up off her seat. She stops humming.
“What the …” She glares at me as though I’ve just shaken her from a deep sleep.
“We need to get out of here. Now,” I say, keeping my voice low.
We slide out the subway doors just before they close. Though he’s in the process of cuffing the elderly man’s hands, the officer on the platform turns to look at us.
“Freeze!” he yells. “Don’t move!” He looks back at the elderly prisoner sitting on the bench in front of him and then at us, clearly unsure which situation to focus on.
The sudden sound of gunfire from inside the train takes his attention off all of us for a moment. Without even looking, I know it’s Mary because I can’t read her thoughts any longer. There’s only dead air when I try. She’s dead.
“I’ve got a bomb,” the elderly man interjects. His voice is calm and the word bomb is spoken so softly, it’s barely audible.
The officer snaps his head back toward the man, who is now slowly rising from the bench.
“What the hell did you just —”
Suddenly, with all the force he’s able to muster, the elderly man drives the top of his head into one of the only unprotected areas on the officer: his crotch. The officer doubles over in pain and shock.
Without a word, Amara and I begin to sprint toward the stairs at the far end of the station, knowing perfectly well that our exit might be blocked if an alert has been issued. If not, we’ve got a small window of time. Our speed is our advantage. We bound up the stairs and leap over the turnstiles just as two TTC workers, accompanied by a drone, emerge from the ticket booths and lunge at us.
“Stop right there!” yells the younger one, a wiry but muscular woman with a shock of spiky blue-and-black hair. She catches Amara by the wrist. “Sound the alarm!” she shouts at the other worker.
Amara glances at me, her eyes wild. The woman is strong. I know what Amara’s thinking. We’re supposed to be uber careful using force on anyone but the demons. But she doesn’t have much of a choice but to be aggressive with this woman if we’re going to get out of here.
The drone swoops in front of Amara, moving dangerously close to her face. It zooms back and forth like a mosquito on cocaine, trying to distract her. A highpitched beeping fills the air. We don’t have much time at all. There are likely extra patrols of counter-terrorism squads on every street corner right now.
“Get off me!” Amara shouts, swinging her arm forward and taking the stunned TTC worker with her. Making the most of the woman’s shock, Amara donkeykicks her in the stomach and then takes a swing at the drone. The TTC worker crumples to the floor, but Amara’s not as successful with the drone. It swoops down and out of her range again, only to be back buzzing inches from her eyes within seconds.
Amara bats at it, but it’s too quick. I glance toward the entrance of the subway station. There are sirens approaching, but I can’t be sure if they are for us or another situation. Sirens are often the musical backdrop for large, urban centres like Toronto. Especially these days.
“I can’t move forward,” Amara says, frustration etching her voice. “It won’t let me.”
I glance at the TTC worker. She’s lying completely motionless on the tiled floor. Her skin has become ghostly pale. There’s no time to check, but I get the sinking feeling she’s badly injured … at best.
With a swift, high side kick, my shoe collides with the belly of the drone, sending it spinning off course. It rights itself and swoops back, toward me this time. I’m its new target. The lens at the front of the tiny aircraft swivels, directing itself at my face. My image is being recorded. More ammunition for Smith and everyone else who believes we’re terrorists.
Amara suddenly grasps both sides of the drone. Its buzzing intensifies into a high-pitched squeal. With one swift motion, she tosses it to the ground where it crashes on the tiles.

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