So behind on NaNoWriMo. Oh well. Here's Chapter 2.
My family’s house was set in a small suburb that looked like something off a postcard from the “nuclear family unit” era. During the summer, the white picket fences surrounded flourishing green lawns with perfectly trimmed hedges and an assortment of children playing in the sprinklers. As I parked my car, I glanced at the decorations slowly taking over the lawns as the holiday season approached. Though they had changed in the few years since I had lived in that house, the feeling was still the same. I pulled my coat tighter around me to keep out the cold breeze that swept across the neighborhood and danced with the fallen leaves. There was a sense of stagnant peace about the area, one that I didn’t think I would miss when I moved out. Yet, as I stepped onto the porch, nostalgia tugged at me.
I raised my hand to knock on the front door, but before my knuckled has reached the wooden surface, it srung open. My mother squeezed me tight enough that the words “Hi Mom” became a garbled mess as I choked. My mother was a small woman with mousy-brown hair and dark eyes. She had obviously changed out of her work clothes and stood there wearing an old vacation t-shirt and jeans. Despite the death of my father nearly a decade ago, she still wore her wedding ring. Marie stood behind her, her bright red hair styled in ridiculous pigtails. While nearly a decade younger than me, Marie was nearly my heighth with an athletic build and a childish, delicate face. Judging from the unifrorm she wore, I assumd she had just returned hom from track. When she wasn’t solving advanced formulas, Marie ran for the local track team. I glanced at the textbook in her hands and winced when I saw Linear Algebra. “Hey, bro, Mom is making lasagna. Again,” Marie rolled her eyes. When my mother finally released me, she scowled at Marie.
I thought you liked lasagna,” she said irritably.
“No, he likes lasagna,” Marie jerked a thumb at me. “I like hamburgers.” She shook her head so fast that her pigtails threatened to slap her in the face. “Honestly, Mom.” My mother merely rolled her eyes and muttered something about teenagers. Marie put down the book and turned to me with her arms open for a hug. “Don’t think show up here for one night lets you off the hook for failing to visit for a month,” she said as I hugged her. She prodded me in the side with her thumb. “Alright?”
“Fine, I’ll stop by more often,” I tugged on one of her pigtails before moving into the house. Marie stuck her tongue out at me and sprinted back to her room to change for dinner. I followed my mother into the kitchen. “How’s your job going, Mom?”I asked as I helped her set the table.
“Difficult as always. The workers are spooked by the whole Lotus fiasco,”she sighed. My grandfather has started a manufactuing company during the early years of the GDC, and had quickly gotten military approval. The company produced everything from airplane landing gear to machine-gun barrels, and when my father had inherited it, he had made it into one of the top-producing companies in the area. My mother became my father’s business partner, and had taken over his job as my father declined with illness. Despite being wealthy, my mother prefered a quiet life and had put most of her extra money into her children’s college funds. Still, as I looked around the kitchen at the state-of-the-art everything, she wasn’t completely selfless.
“None of the company plants are near the explosive zone, are they?”I asked.
“No, but if Lotus is back, there’s liable to be collateral damage,” she said as she took the lasagna out of the oven. “Speaking of jobs though, how did your interview go? I forgot to ask when you arrived.”
“I didn’t even have an interview,” I started before my mother crushed me in one of her hugs.
“Oh, my poor darling, they turned you away at the door,” she smoothed down my hair with one hand. “It must be ths ridiculous head of hair. You really do need a trim.”
“No, Mom, I got the job. The researcher they sent to interview me had read my thesis from last year and hired me on the spot,” I plucked my mother’s hand from my head. “I’ll be working in their research division creating bio-chemical agents for use against demons and demon-caused diseases.”A shadow crossed my mother’s face at the mention of disease. A demon-borne pathogen had killed my father; no one was certain how he’d obtained the disease, but it had been a painful death. “Don’t worry, Mom, they have us wear special gear to protect us from any diseases the demons may carry.” After Stacy had shown me the egg, she had taken me to another lab where we had to wear full gear and plug in to breathing tubes that hung from the ceiling. There, she had begun showing me the microscopic pathogens she had been working on prior to my arrival.
My mother seemed to brighten a little, but I could tell the job worried her. I was saved from the awkward silence by my sister walking into the room. “Did I hear you say something about demon snot?” she asked as she sat down at the table and put her shoeless feet on an empty chair. “You are so lame sometimes.” She dropped her textbook next to the empty plate and opened it to a random page. She yanked the hair ties from her pigtails, allowing her hair to flop into her face. Her hands disappeared into the pockets of her hooded sweater and pulled out an array of hair pins. As she pinned her hair away from her face, she glanced at my mother and me. “Mom, the oven is going off,” she said evenly. I blinked and looked at the oven clock. The digital timer showed only two seconds remaining. By the time my mother has swiveled to grab the oven mitts, the alarm was bleeting.
“Oh, did Mom tell you about our new neighbors? The family is some big-shot and his weird son,” Marie said as my mother started serving dinner.
“Marie, it’s rude to call people weird,” my mother chided. She shook the serving spoon in my sister’s direction. Marie simply stuck out her tongue and went back to staring at her text book.
“He’s around my age, and his hair is snow white, and he never leaves the house as far as I can tell,” Marie argued. She toyed with a lock of her hair. “But he did have an awesome stereo system.” I raised an eyebrow. “What? Music is very mathematically based.” She stabbed at the lasagna as soon as our mother placed it in front of her. Marie swore up and down she hated lasagna and spaghetti, but she tended to inhale it.
“How do you know his age if he never leaves the house?” I asked as I sat down at the table. I glanced at Marie’s plate of food and wasn’t surprised to see half of the lasagna was already gone.
“I recognized the homeschool teacher that visits the house,” Marie shrugged. “She’s one of the homeschool teachers for the middle school in town.” She took another stab at her lasagna. “I can’t remember her name, but I remember the ridiculous hair.” Her hands flew to her hair and she pulled on a strand of vibrant red. “She’s a bottle blonde with these tacky red streaks, and its teased like she just got struck by lightening.”I caught my mother’s amused expression. Marie’s hair wasn’t naturally fire engine red; she was a platinum blonde like our late father. To hear her complain about another woman’s hair was rather amusing considering how many complaints our mother had received when Marie had shot through high school.
“I think Marie has a crush on this white-haired kid,” I said casually. Marie’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. I could see the gears turning in her head and narrowly avoided the kick aimed at my shin. I heard my mother trying to hide the snort of laughter as a cough.
“Alright, you two, let’s eat and forget about the neighbors,” she piped up. “Why don’t you tell us about your new job?” Her eyes slid to me. “I’ll try not to be too motherly about it.”
“It’s been in the news a couple times with breakthroughs in demonic-cell research. I’m working in one of the lower labs with Stacy R., one of the head researchers in the bio-chemical department.”
“Stacy R? Does she not have a last name?” Marie asked. “Is she as boring as you are?”
“Cute,” I rolled my eyes. Marie crossed her eyes and stuck her tongue out at me before continuing to devour her food. “I don’t know her last name; she never uses it. I don’t know if it was simply because it’s Monday, but she was dressed rather sloppily. She’s brilliant when it comes to her research, though.” I wanted to tell them about Alice and about the research project Stacy had given me, but both were classified. “Right now, my only job is to help her to complete certain projects. After a few weeks, I might get projects to work on independantly.” I took a bite of lasagna.
“It sounds like a wonderful job, sweet heart,” my mother grinned as she stood to place her dish in the dishwasher. “Now, will you be staying for desert or do you need to get home?” She opened a box I’d overlooked and placed a delicious looking pie in the center of the table. “One slice each, and then you need to get started on homework.” The serving knife was wiggled in my sister’s direction.
“I’m in college, Mom. You need to stop lecturing me about homework,” Marie pouted.
“Genius or not, reading those textbooks is only half the equation. You still need to do the practice problems.” Marie frowned but glanced at the textbook next to her arm. It was an age old argument between the two. Marie felt that homework was boring and unnecessary, but she eventually fell to my mother’s harping. Unlike the lasanga, Marie ate the slice of pie slowly, as though savoring it. My mother and I knew better; she was avoiding homework. After she finished, she placed her dishes in the dishwasher and walked towards her room, textbook under her arm. “You know I worry,” my mother turned to me.
“If this is about the demon pathology courses, I’m not going to end up like Dad,” I assured her. “He was directly exposed to a demon seed pod and it ruined his immune system. Nothing like that is going to happen to me. Like I said, we wear protective suits. We even have air pumped in from the outside.”
“Can you stay and talk for a bit?” she asked as she started walking toward the living room. “It’s been a long time since you’ve been home. I feel like you keep growing up when I’m not looking.”
“Mother,” I sighed, but followed her into the living room. “Is this why you sent Marie up to her room?”
“Yes. She can be very,” she paused and I saw the thoughts racing across her pinched eyebrows. “Disruptive when she wants to be. And you know she’s just like me, a worrywort.”
“She called me this morning about the Lotus incident. I assume you’ve heard about it by now?”
“It was all anyone could talk about at work. Everyone is so afraid that the Lotus is back. The demon attacks were so violent four years ago; no one wants a repeat of that,” she sighed and sank into one of the reclining chairs. “And those poor men of the Demon Assault Team, they were just doing their jobs.”
“I know,” I leaned against the doorframe. “Everyone is terrified that the Lotus has returned or that someone knew enough to become a copy-cat. I’m going to talk with Jack; you know he works for the air force base, right?”
“You’re college friend? Do you think he’ll know anything?”
“Knowing Jack, he’s asked everyone from the grunts to top-brass about the incident. If he knows anything, I’ll relay the message. In the meantime, don’t get too down, ok? I know since the tragedy of Dad’s death, you’ve taken these demon incidents rather badly,” I tilted my head toward the stairs. “And Marie, I know you’re listening.”
“How do you do that?” Marie’s voice drifted from the upper floor.
“Older brother instincts. If you want to say goodbye to me, get your butt down here,” I called up to her. There was a loud thump, then the rush of feet down the staircase. I was almost bowled over by the force of Marie’s hug. “Don’t give Mom too hard a time, ok? And keep being the brilliant little brat you are.”
“You’ll visit again soon, right?” Marie asked. I didn’t need to meet my mother’s eyes to know that she was asking the same thing.
“I’ll try.” I ruffled Marie’s hair and turned to my mother. “And try to keep her in line, will you? She’s turning into a miniature me.” My mother laughed and kissed me on the cheek. As I grabbed my coat, Marie handed me a small package. “What’s this?”
“One of the teacher’s recognized my last name and put two and two together. It’s a crystalized demon insect. Apparently, you were fascinated by it when you took the class.” I opened the small box to see the brightly colored insect forever trapped in a crystal.
“Tell Mr. Arisawa thank you for me, will you?” Marie nodded. “Alright. I’ll try and visit soon. And as soon as I hear from Jack, I’ll let you know.”
“Of course,” my mother smiled. “Goodbye, dear.”
The sun had already set during dinner, and with the darkness, the cold had started to set in. The drive back to my apartment was plagued with thoughts about the demon egg, Alice. According to Stacy, seven eggs had been hatched since LACE Co’s creation. She had been vague about what happened to the creatures hatched from the egg; she had actually changed the subject rather abruptly. Still, the egg floated there in my mind’s eye, menacing despite its harmless shape.
As I pulled into the parking lot of the apartment, I saw a moving van parked near my usual spot. I didn’t even know there was a vacant apartment on my block. I glanced at the van as I walked to my apartment, and stopped as something caught my eye. New tenants came all the time, but none of them had bubblegum pink moving boxes. The parking lot lights caught the boxes, and even the yellowish light did nothing to hide the bright pink. I shook my head and continued on to my apartment. As I turned the corner, I noticed the light in my livingroom was on already. “Hi, Jack,” I said as I entered the room. Jack looked up from his laptop and I saw the box of pizza beside him.
“Hey,” he muttered. “You’re late.”
“Marie wanted me to come over for dinner. You remember my sister, right?”
“The pipsqueak genius, right? Who could forget that hair?” Jack smirked. I rolled my eyes and went to put my coat away. “I found something you might want to take a look at. You know the Lotus incident this morning? The guys at the base told me this isn’t the first incident since the shoot-out four years ago.”
“Then why ar we just hearing about it?”
“Because all of the other incidents were local assault teams arriving only to find an empty nest and the Lotus symbol. Not wanting to alarm the public, they simply kept it quiet. Then, the warehouse exploded. They’ll start coming forward soon enough.” Jack picked up a slice of pizza and glanced over at me. “It’s a copycat, though. They compared this morning’s symbol to the ones used four years ago. They’re both burned into the earth, but this new one has a different shape to the lotus in the center. Here, take a look.” He swiveled the laptop so I could see. It was like looking at one of those “find the differences” puzzles. They weren’t noticeable at first, but the differences became obvious after a minute or two. “And there’s something else. “But here’s the weird part,” Jack said as he ate. “Both symbols have residual demon traces. Lotus might be in league with the demons.”