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Chapter 3: The Invasion

“Gah!” The giant alien stood, shaking in total fear. The only thing that stood between him and the invaders was an empty merry-go-round.

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Frankie, Elvis and Dionne stood on the playground, all with dumbfounded looks on their faces.

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The alien had to be at least seven feet tall. His eyes were larger than the three of them combined. And yet, he stood there, trembling.

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“Please don’t hurt me!” The alien stumbled backwards, tripping over his large feet. He fell onto the gravel surface and continued to crawl, backwards.

“Oh for the love of fairies.” Frankie rolled her eyes. “Relax, mister….mister….Eh. What’s your name?”

“M-M-Marshall. M-M-My name is Marshall.”

“Relax, Marshall. Nobody is going to hurt you. We just need to borrow your book for a few hours and then we’ll be on our way.”

Marshall shook is head in disbelief. “No. You’re one of them. You’re here to…to….erase me.” Large tears dropped from his eyes.

“Erase you?” Elvis took an elf-step forward, “What do you mean erase you?”

“Aliens. They come into books at night and make all of the characters disappear.”

“Let me get this straight.” Elvis hiked up his pants and took another step forward. “Aliens are invading books about other aliens?”

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 “Not just alien books. All books. These things are going after whatever book is on the shelf.”

“Is that what happened here?” Dionne asked.

“No.” Marshall shook his head. “Everyone here left. I was on my way out too until I realized I forgot my backup inhaler.”

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“People are leaving their books?” Frankie looked around the playground, wondering if this was connected to her current predicament “Where are they going?”

“Wherever they think they’ll be safe.” Marshall pulled himself off the ground, brushing the dirt off his legs. His tall figure cast a shadow over the invaders. “I’m going to stay with my Uncle Mike. He’s an MMA fighter.

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“No one would ever challenge him.” 

To be continued

Chapter 2: Martians on the Playground

Frankie, Elvis, and Dionne moved from book to book trying to lift the covers. None of the fairy books opened. None of the elf books opened either. And to Dionne’s dismay, non of the dragon books opened. They sat on the top shelf as Tucker’s room began to lighten with the coming dawn.

“What are we supposed to do now?” Dionne pouted. “I’m tired and want to go to sleep. Why won’t any of my books open?”

“None of our books open,” Elvis yawned. “Why can’t we just sleep up here?”

“Don’t be stupid. You know why. We have to get into our books and we have to do it soon. The sun is almost up and if we are caught in this world when it rises, we’ll lose our magic.”

“What’s that smell?” Dionne asked burping our a small flame. “I’m so hungry.”

Elvis lifted his nose and twitched his nostrils. “Bacon. I’m sure of it. In my story, Journey to the Ancient Woods,” we had to camp out a lot and we ate bacon. A lot of bacon. It’s good.”

“What was that story about?” Dionne asked.

“Gah! Stop talking about food and plot lines!” Frankie chided. “Do you understand the seriousness of our situation?”

“So, what do suggest? If we’re stuck here we might as well retell stories and exchange recipes.” Elvis said.

Frankie stood and moved along the shelf pulling at various covers. Finally, one opened.”

“Hey! You guys! This one opened! Come on, we have to get in!”

“Frankie, that’s not one of our stories. What is it?”

“I doesn’t matter. We just get into the story, hang out for the day, and climb out tonight. Come on! Hurry, the sun is almost up.”

“How do we know we’ll keep our magic in that book? What if we go into that story, lose our magic, and then can’t get out?” Dionne asked.

“Aarrrgh! Guys! Does it matter? At least if we lose our magic in a story, we’re in a story,” Frankie argued.

“What does that matter? If we lose our magic out here then we can listen to Mom’s stories at bedtime and eat bacon,” Elvis said. “But, just out of curiosity, what is the story?”

Frankie stuck the arm of a stuffed bear under the cover to keep it propped open. Craning her neck around she read the title. “Martians on the Playground. Let’s go.”

Elvis shrugged, “Sure, why not. Martians aren’t too different different from Elves. I’m game. Come one Dionne.” Elvis stood and joined Frankie near the book.

“But what if they want to perform experiments on us?” Dionne said. She hugged her tail.

“Please, Dionne, we are out of time. They won’t try to dissect us. If they do, just burp on them,” Frankie pleaded.

“Okay, I guess.” Dionne joined the others and the three of them opened the cover. They placed their right leg under the cover and disappeared into the book.

To be continued…..

Chapter 1: Frankie, Elvis, & Dionne

Submissions for the January issue are now closed and with that closing, we’ve also ended our round robin story: Let’s Get Physical. Have no fear! If you’ve missed any of the chapters and would like to get caught up, just go here.

Last week, we opened submissions for our February/March issue: Fairies, Elves, and Dragons. Today, I’m kicking off a new story based on this issue’s theme.

Chapter 1: Frankie, Elvis & Dionne

Tucker waited for his mother to come and read him a bedtime story. The lamp on his bed side table was small and barely lit his room, inviting shadows to grow in the dark corners.  He stared at the closet, trying to figure out if he actually heard a sound from inside or if his mind was playing tricks on him again. Every night for the last two months, Tucker swore he heard tiny voices coming from inside of his closet. They always appeared right around story time. He told his parents about the voices and they always checked but never found anything – except for a stash of junk food he hid. That didn’t go over well with his mother.

The door to his bedroom creaked as his mother opened it and stepped in.

“Are you read for your story?” She asked.

Tucker nodded, relieved he was no longer alone.

She bent over by the bookshelf, selected a book and showed it to him. “How about this one?”

Tucker nodded again, making room in his bed for his mother to sit.

***

(Frankie)

Frankie peered through the slats of the little boy’s closet door, trying to listen as his mother read to him. “Shush!” She said to her companions – Elvis and Dionne. “She’s about to begin the story.”

“How’s she starting it tonight?” Elvis asked as he pulled a hat off his head, revealing his pointed ears. “I hope it’s not once upon a time.”

“What’s wrong with that?” Dionne asked, wrapping her scaly tail around her body.

“It’s over done,” Elvis whined. “Every freaking story begins with once upon a time. Once upon a time there was a cat who wore a ridiculous hat. Once upon a time there was a princess who broke a nail while she waited for her prince to rescue her. Once upon a time there were three fat bears who ate a little girl for breakfast.”

“Enough, Elvis.” Frankie scolded. “We get it. You hate how fairy tales open. Find something new to complain about.”

“Oh,” Elvis began, sliding down a tall shoe. “Excuse me. I’m sorry I’m boring you.” He looked Frankie up and down. “By the way, what the hell are you wearing?”

“What do you mean?” Frankie looked down at her tank top, yoga pants and white sneakers.

“I thought you were a fairy. Where’s your skanky leotard and racy tights? Where are your wings?”

“I only wear those when I’m working,” Frankie said. “Today’s my day off.”

A  fireball shot across the walk-in-closet, striking the wall next to the door. The flames left a small scorch mark on the wall.

“Watch out!” Frankie and Elvis said.

“Sorry,” Dionne said, belching. “It’s my acid reflux. I can’t control it.”

“Try!” Frankie ordered.

“It’s not so easy,” Dionne said. “Last week I was flying over a mountain range and had to stop because I was getting air sick. The nausea triggered my acid reflux and I vomited fireballs all over the top of the mountain.

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“The poor humans living in the town below ran for the lives because they thought the mountain was an erupting volcano.”

“That was you?” Elvis asked. “I heard about that on the news.”

“Enough, both of you!” Frankie yelled, exasperated by her companions.

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“Dionne.” She sighed. “Do your very best to not set anything in here on fire. And you,” Frankie turned toward Elvis. “Since you’re such an expert on how stories should start, how would you do it?”

“I’ll tell you how I’d do it,” Elvis said, prancing up to Frankie. “I start it with a rap.” Elvis cleared his throat, puffing out his chest. “Yo! Yo! Yo! Listen up, people! Cuz this is how the story goes. An Elf. A Fairy. And a Dragon —”

“STOP!” Frankie ordered. 

“What?” Elvis asked. “I barely started.”

“That was the worst rap I’ve ever heard. Do NOT quit your day job doing…whatever it is elves do.”

Oh come on!” Elvis said. “It wasn’t that bad. Dionne, tell Frankie it wasn’t that bad.”

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Elvis turned toward the dragon. “What are you doing?”

Dionne had her cell phone out. “I’m texting my therapist. I think I’m going to need extra sessions this month.”

“You two are a tough crowd,” Elvis said.

Frankie peered through the closet door. “Shoot.”

“What?” Elvis asked.

“Story time is over,” Frankie said. “We missed the whole thing.” She shrugged her shoulders. “All right, guys. We’d better hop back into our books before anyone notices we’re missing.”

Frankie climbed the wall, leaving a trail of fairy dust on the paint. She pulled herself onto the shelf and walked over to the book. She bent down, and grabbed the edge of her book. She pulled on the cover, but couldn’t get it to open. “Crap. Hey, guys! I can’t get my book to open.”

“Me neither,” Dionne said from down below.

“Who the heck is this freak on the cover of my book?” Elvis asked, alarmed. “I don’t remember him being in this story.”

Frankie peered over the edge of the shelf. “That’s not your book, moron! That’s a package of cookies.” She rolled her eyes. “Your book is over there!” She pointed in the direction of his book.

“I knew that,” Elvis said. “I was just testing you to see if you were paying attention.”

“Uh huh.” Frankie replied.

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Elvis grunted and groaned as he fought with the cover of his book. “What the heck is going on?” He asked. “I can’t get my book to open either.”

“Frankie,” Dionne began, “what are we going to do if we can’t get back into our stories?”

To Be Continued….

Chapter 14: Good Night Right Byte

“I’m not sure what our next steps should be,” Lucille conferred with Lori. “I think we should get some guidance from corporate before moving on our own.”

“You know what they are going to say,” Lori said picking at a cuticle. “We can’t have any loose ends, loose cannons, wild cards, or dissatisfied clients. She needs to be terminated from the program.”

Lucille approached me with an insincere smile and tried a soothing tone. “Lizzie, dear. We’ve been through a lot together these past few weeks. We’re friends. You can tell me where Casey is. You can tell me anything and everything. We don’t want you to get hurt, just tell the truth. If you do, I’ll get you ice cream.”

“I’ve told you all I know. And now I’d like a hot fudge sundae.”

“That’s it! I’m done!” Lori charged over and snatched Lucille’s phone from her hand. “If you won’t do it, I will. Why did you turn you’re phone off? You didn’t let your battery run down, did you? Gah! Fine, I’ll call corporate and have them do it. Why we we’re limited to controlling just our buddy I don’t know. We need back up.”

I watched Lori look at her phone and it mustn’t have been working either. She flew into a rage smashing her cell phone and Lucille’s. She grabbed my wrist and poked at my Right Byte and nothing happened.

“Something’s wrong. The phones, the Right Byte, all down. Something’s happened.” Lori rummaged through my kitchen drawers and found a knife. She turned toward me. “Lucille, gag your buddy. We don’t want the neighbors to hear her scream when we remove the Right Byte.”

I was terrified! Lucille shoved a dish towel into my mouth while Lori tried to get into a good position to cut off my hand. I wriggled and kicked and bucked my head. I landed a good head-butt into Lucille’s nose which caused her to fall into Lori. The two of them crashed to the floor. When they untangled themselves, Lucille’s nose was broken and bleeding. The knife was protruding from Lori’s thigh.

There was a terrible crashing sound from the living room and much to my relief, I heard Casey’s voice. “Lizzie! Lizzie, where are you?”

Casey ran into my kitchen followed by two police officers. They took control of a bleeding, crying Lucille and a bleeding, maniacal Lori while Casey ungagged and untied me.

“Thank God you’re okay!” we shouted in unison. “I told you it was a cult,” Lori said with a smile, helping me to my feet.

“Yeah, I guess it was. I was thinking about signing up for a yoga class…”

Chapter 13: Infected

(Betty Lou)

The rules were simple: Don’t use company cell phones or computers to check personal email accounts or social media sites. And within those rules it was assumed employees of The Clinic also knew not to open any attachments using the above-mentioned devices either. Still, those rules didn’t inspire obedience from people like Betty Lou – a bored secretary who – when she wasn’t answering mundane phone calls – dreamed of opening her own restaurant.

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  A restaurant that would sell meals appropriate for The Clinic and its members.

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When her supervisor wasn’t around, Betty Lou spent her downtime researching recipes for  light lasagnas, low- calorie pastries, and other delicate delights. Getting caught downloading recipes never worried her. There were too many employees to monitor.  Today was just like any other day – except for one thing. Her cousin, Mae, sent her an email for a new recipe to try. Betty Lou hadn’t heard from Mae in four years. Betty Lou’s ambitions weren’t a secret. She posted recipes to her Facebook and Instagram accounts on a frequent basis. While she was surprised by her cousin’s email with an attachment for a spinach crust recipe, it wasn’t entirely out-of-the-ordinary. Betty Lou clicked the link and downloaded the file to her work computer.

***

(Lizzie)

“Ouch!” Tears and beads of sweat trickled down my face. The pain was almost unbearable. One minute I was trying to convince them that I had no knowledge of Casey’s whereabouts and the next minute, everything went black. I woke up tied to one of my kitchen chairs. That’s when the interrogation began. And, for every answer they didn’t like, I received an electrical shock courtesy of my Right Byte.

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Lucille and Lori stood across from me, snickering.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Lucille said, sneering. “If you’d just cooperate we could move on with our scheduled day.”

“I already told you,” I said, out of breath. “Casey was killed. In a car bomb.”

“But that doesn’t explain how you know Robert or why you’re receiving text messages from him.”

“He’s my vet.”

Lucille tapped something on her tablet, sending a jolt straight into my arm.

I cried out, biting down on my bleeding lip.

Lori walked over to me and bent down. “Robert isn’t a vet. He works for Cyber Tech. We know she went there for help and we also know she hasn’t left. Cooperate, Lizzie. Or the next volt Lucille sends will be fatal.”

***

(Casey)

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The computer monitor cast a blue glow on Robert’s face. “And…it’s done!” He sighed, leaning back in his chair. 

“Then what?” I spent the last few minutes pacing the room. Something was wrong. Lizzie didn’t respond to Robert’s last text message. She always responded. Something was wrong. 

“First the virus will copy files off the network and feed them back to this computer,” Robert said. “Once that’s done, it will disable the entire network. When that happens, nothing will work. Their computers, cell phones, tablets, Right Byte bands – all of it will be disabled. And then, we’ll call in the cavalry.

 

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 To be continued

Chapter 12: Dangerous Liasons

Lucille, her beehive, and her smirk showed up at my door earlier than expected. She wasn’t alone.

“Good morning, buddy! How was your run this morning? Let’s weigh in.”

After the morning’s humiliation where I get weighed and measured in more ways than one, Lucille microwaved my “breakfast.”

“I just don’t understand it,” she said. “You’re exercising, your eating the prescribed meals, you’ve stopped trying to thwart our program, but you’ve started putting on weight.”

I looked up from the gray tofu and toast. “Well, I’ve been exercising. Muscle weighs more than fat.” God I hope they buy that. I watched the mysterious second party as she paced around my apartment. She wasn’t even trying to hide the fact she was looking for something. “Who are you and what are you looking for?”

“This is Lori,” Lucille said. The other one stared at me with blank eyes. “She was Casey’s buddy.”

I felt like I was in trouble and not for sneaking potato chips. “I don’t want her here. I don’t want any reminders of Casey right now.” I tried to feign grief. “Go away.”

“Well, she feels badly too. We thought that perhaps the two of you could grieve together.” Lucille’s smile was forced.

Finally, the second buddy spoke. “Where is Casey?”

“What? She’s dead! Haven’t you seen the news reports? How dare you come into my house and be so heartless about my best friend’s murder!” I was pissed. Anger is one of the stages of grief, isn’t it?

Lori looked at me with indifference. “The thing is, the Right Byte is still reading a heart beat from her. We can’t locate her whereabouts, but the biometrics work fine. She’s still alive. We just want to know where. And we think you know where that might be.”

I opened my mouth to protest but right on cue my cell phone dinged and incoming text message. Lori grabbed it and read it. “Someone named Robert says we have worms. What does that mean?”

“Robert is my veterinarian. He’s telling me my cat has worms,” I lied. And right on cue Fluffy saunters into the room. She squints at Lucille, turns to Lori, flicks an ear and hisses.

If I interpreted Robert’s message correctly, the worm was in place and just needed to be opened. I just hoped it wouldn’t happen with these two hanging out in my apartment. I don’t think they’d leave me here alone unsupervised and I didn’t want to find out what they’d do to me if they found out it was sabotage.

“Lori, while we’re here, let me email you that recipe I found the other night for roasted cole slaw.”

To be continued…

Chapter 11: White Hats and Worms

(Lizzie)

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“We just learned the name of the victim from the car explosion three nights ago, outside of Cyber Tech. The victim has been identified as 35-year-old Casey Moore – a part-time college student attending Tri-C Community College. Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the explosion……”

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Feigning tears is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But I couldn’t risk Lucille finding out that Casey was actually still alive.

“You poor, poor thing,” Lucille said, rubbing my shoulders. “This must be so hard for you. I know you two were close and I can’t even imagine your pain. But always remember, I’m here for you and I won’t leave your side while you’re grieving.”

“That’s….that’s so great…of you,” I said, sniffing.

“That’s what buddies are for.” She stood up and started walking toward the kitchen. “You just stay where you are. I’ll get some yummy chicken broth for you. And after you finish that, you can have a small square of 100% dark chocolate for dessert.”

“You’re too kind, Lucille.” If I have to eat any more of this crap I’m going to be sick, I thought.

I checked my cell phone, looking for another message from Robert. Our escape plan was in the works. Robert had friends he knew – people who weren’t entirely legit – working on this around the clock. 

In the mean time, Casey – who was actually alive and well – took up residence at Cyber Tech. Everyone felt it was for the best that she stay there. Removing her from the facility would be way too risky. They couldn’t chance someone from The Clinic would see her.

***

(Casey)

Robert looked exhausted. He’d been on the phone, nonstop, with friends – the White Hatters – a group of people who contracted themselves out to test computer networks and make sure they’re secure. I’d been watching him work for three days straight on this plan, trying to help me and Lizzie. All the while he and his team worked, I felt helpless. This was way out of my area of expertise.

“Great! Thanks, man,” Robert said. “I owe you.” Robert hung up the phone and swung around in his chair.

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“We found an entry point,” Robert said. “The Clinic has fallen a tad behind times with their network security.”

“Well, yeah,” I began, “They’ve been a little busy with killing people.”

Robert chuckled. “A few of their employees enjoy checking their personal email while at work and The Clinic’s operating system hasn’t been updated in months.”

“Sorry?” I gave up pretending I understood anything he was saying hours ago.

“It means we can install a virus into their Intranet and take their whole network down.”

“A computer virus? How will you install it?” I asked. My head felt like it was spinning. I was barely a cell phone person. This whole computer thing was way over my head. “Are you going to use one of those jump drive thingies?”

“Wow.” Robert shook his head. “You are behind the times.” He took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. “My friends have been profiling some of the emails that a few of The Clinic’s employees have received.”

“Really? How?”

“Don’t ask,” Robert said. “A few of the employees often download attachments to their work computers. Nothing serious. Usually just photos of their kids and pets. We found those same employees social media accounts and copied some of their images off of it. The next step is to clone a few email accounts from people they receive emails from on a regular basis and send those photos as attachments. The worm will be embedded within the attachment.”

“The worm?” We went from computer viruses to slimy bugs. How did that happen?

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“Worm is the type of virus we’re going to install. Once installed, it replicates very quickly. This worm will be encoded to disable The Clinic’s entire network and everything connected to the network – such as that tracker you’re wearing on your wrist. We’ll be able to disable it and take it off.”

“Awesome! How soon?”

To be continued

Chapter 10: Weight Loss = 150 + 125

I could not believe what Casey texted. What did she mean she wasn’t dead? What car bomb? Who the hell is Robert? I must have had a rise in my blood pressure or a screwy look on my face because my buddy noticed.

“What’s the matter, Lizzie. You seem tense,” smiled Lucy and her beehive hairdo.

“I’m hungry.” I wasn’t lying. The two tiny box meals were unsatisfactory and I felt weak and slightly disoriented. “Why can’t I have coffee?”

“You can. You just have to drink it black.” Lucy turned to answer the buzz of her phone. I was torn. I really like my coffee light and sweet so the idea of black coffee was not appetizing. However, I needed a boost.

“Good news!” she said. Her eyes were bright and beaming. “I just received the numbers for our Weight Loss group. We are down a total of 285 pounds! Isn’t that great?”

“How did the group lose that much in just two weeks? I’ve only lost 4 ounces.”

“Yes, well, every ounce helps. What’s important is that we stick with the program.”

Lucy microwaved my “dinner” and watched me eat it. Then she did a sweep of my apartment looking for any contraband food and when she was satisfied that I was alone with just my thoughts, she left. I waited the usual 15 minutes for her to do her final check on my vitals for the night. I had learned that no matter what I did after 9:00 PM I didn’t receive shocks. As long as I stayed in my apartment anyway. I was curfewed from 9:00 PM to 5:30 AM. And at 5:30 I leave my apartment then and “jog” to the 24-hour grocery where I buy snacks. I hide them in the access panel for the plumbing in the back of my closet.  Any pleasure reading from my Right Byte I tell Lucy is from a work-out high. She believes me as long as I’m complacent while she’s here.

My phone interrupted my potato chip binge. The caller ID said nothing – not even unknown caller. “Helwo?” I said with a mouth full of chips.

“Lizzie?” an unfamiliar man’s voice answered. “This is Robert. I’m calling on a secure line but we only have a few minutes. Casey is fine. She is staying in my cubicle so her tracking device can’t be detected. My friends in the NSA  planted a fake news article about Casey’s death. We are working to get the Right Byte off her. I’ll call again when we know more.”

I stared at my phone with crumbs falling out of the corners of my mouth. That all made my need for chips seem so small. How is the NSA involved with all this? Casey is living in a cubicle? Who is Robert? I started pacing so my Right Byte would register exercise and because I needed to pace to burn off nervous energy and to think. Lucy got a call right after Casey’s car blew up. Weight loss. Casey weighed 125 pounds. I flipped through the texts Casey sent yesterday. Janice Wiloughby, the poor dead woman, weighed 150 pounds. We weren’t losing weight; they were killing us off!

I had to get this Right Byte of me. I needed a plan.

To be continued…

Chapter 9: Casey’s story (continued)

It turned out that my friend, Robert, worked for a company called Cyber Tech. After hearing a brief synopsis of everything Lizzie and I had been through in the last couple of weeks, he agreed to meet with me at his company.

And here I sat with Robert holding my wrist underneath a high-powered magnifying glass. He spent the last hour having me turn my wrist this way and that, examining as much of it as he could. 

“See that?” He asked, pointing to something on the Right Byte wrist band with a tiny screw driver.”

“No,” I said.

Robert tried to turn my wrist under the light so I could see, but it was useless. I had no idea what he was point at.

“That,” he said, “is a tracking device.”

“A tracking device?” I asked. “As in they’re tracking me?”

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“Yup,” Robert said. “But that’s not all they’re doing.”

“Enlighten me?” 

“This watch is fully loaded. Not only is there a GPS system, but there are also monitors tracking your blood pressure and heart rate. And, there’s also a listening device.”

“A listening device? So, can they hear us?” This cult morphed from creepy to cyber creepy.

Robert released my wrist. “Not in here,” he said, turning toward his computer. “Because of the sensitive nature of my work, I’ve taken precautions to make sure any listening devices are obstructed by using high frequency electromagnetic transmitters.”

“I have no idea what you just said,” I replied, smiling. 

“It means,” Robert continued, “no one can hear what we’re talking about.”

I rubbed my wrist, anxious to get this thing removed. “So can you take it off?” I was ready to be free of this stupid watch and couldn’t wait to tell Lizzy the good news.

“Well.” Robert sighed, scratching his head. “That’s the bad news. There’s a trip wire built within the watch. It has to be deactivated with a specific key before the watch can be removed. If I try to bypass it, the watch could deliver a dangerous dose of electricity to your hand and arm.”

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“So what do I do?” The thought of being stuck with this torture device made me feel nauseated.

“Don’t lose hope. I know some guys at the NSA who might be able to help. I guarantee you there’s a patent with specs on this device somewhere. When we have that information, we can make our own key and get you and your friend out of this mess.”

Robert put his arm around me and walked me out of his office. A cool breeze greeted us as we stepped outside. The air carried the scent of barbecue cooking off in the distance, causing my stomach to rumble.

I turned to Robert and held his hand. “Thank you. It’s been great seeing you again.”

“Don’t be a stranger,” Robert said, smiling. “Anytime you need help with Calculus, give me a call.”

I chuckled. Calculus was the code word Robert and I came up with so that my buddy wouldn’t know what we were actually talking about. The beautiful part about this code word was that I was actually taking a Calculus class.

“Where did you park?” Robert asked.

I turned to the row of cars in front of us. In the evening light, they all looked the same. “I can’t remember,” I mumbled, pulling out my key fob. “Here. Let’s see which car’s lights flash when I unlock it.” I pressed the unlock button on the fob.

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Three rows over, a car blew up, knocking Robert and I to the ground. A second explosion sent debris flying. Robert threw his arm over my head, trying to protect me. Some of the debris came close but fortunately, none of it hit us. After the flying parts settled down, Robert and I stood up and stared at the remaining fire.

“Holy crap!” I said. “That did not just happen.”

To be continued

Chapter 8 – Casey’s Story

There are very few people I actually like. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy going out with some people and having a good time, but in the long run there are only a handful of people I actually let into my sphere of privacy. Lizzy is one of those people. I think of her like a sister and so I let her come over to my house whether or not the bathroom is clean. I don’t judge her, and she doesn’t judge me.

This whole Weight Clinic thing isn’t for me; it’s for her. She feels like she needs to control the food aspect of her life and I’m there to support her. Personally, I think she gives food waaaayyy too much credit but then my mom’s idea of a home cooked meal was a vending machine sandwich we ate at home. Nevertheless, I signed up to help her with her impulse control. This “buddy” thing is just not for me.

My “buddy,” Lori, was being detained by my office security and my HR department. She lacked the proper and necessary credentials to enter the building. When she claimed to be my “buddy” I was honest and told them I didn’t know her well enough to vouch for her or to authorize a Visitor’s Pass and she’d have to go through the appropriate channels in order to shadow me. These channels were a thorough background check, her employer interview, and a completed “Request for Access” form – which had to be verified and approved. A simple text to my friend Claudia in HR and I’m assured that these channels will take several business days, possibly stretching into weeks for finalization. Claudia also assured me that security would not permit this “buddy” to be loitering at any of the exits waiting for me to leave. So, while I was at work, I was in the clear. My “buddy” did manage to squeeze in a shock every now and then as a reminder that she was still in touch with me. Bitch.

Lizzy texted me the news article on the woman found dead with her left hand cut off at the wrist. We believed her demise and the Weight Clinic were intertwined. I read the article and the updates on the online newspaper. Janice Willoughby, 35, was found in the alley between 3rd and 4th Avenues on Wednesday night. It was confirmed that her left hand had been amputated at the wrist. She lived alone in an apartment on 8th Avenue. She was a professional blogger. The comments were most interesting. There were over 250 in total. Some ranting about the safety of single women at night. Others raving about the body snatchers and that’s why her hand was missing. One woman, screen name Chunky, insisted that the victim’s friend was involved. One man, screen name Marvin the Martian, claimed to have dated the victim and he was sad.

I had briefly dated a guy whose name I forget. I forgot it when we were dating too which is why he broke up with me. I would have been upset but he failed to imprint on me sooo… So, of course I thought I should call him. And after asking the person in the opposite cubicle from mine what his name was, I looked him up in my phone. His name was Robert and he was into computers and hacking and he worked for some cyber security company. Which is why I always thought of robots around him. Robert the Robot.

“Hi Robert! This is Casey. Long time! How have you been? Oh yeah? Married? Really? A boy and a girl? Wow. Two. Well, I didn’t think it had been that long. That’s great! Me? Well, same ol’ same ol’. No, not married, no kids. Yeah, well, I’ll get to my point. I need a favor….” I explained to Robot that I needed the real names and contact information of Chunky and Marvin the Martian.

Right on cue, I received a shock. Bitch.

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