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Vanessa stared into the dark, overcast sky on Friday morning, thinking that even clouds traveled in groups of friends. It was her sixteenth birthday, but no one seemed to have remembered. She walked into the school courtyard before the first bell rang and sat down at an empty table, noticing an odd tingling sensation running down her fingertips. The voices of high schoolers surrounded her; they were a hurricane of friendship, and she was the lonesome eye. She buried her head in the pages of her novel, attempting to escape her desolation and revel in the adventures of her fictional friends.
“Hi there!” A fiercely soprano voice sounded, returning Vanessa to reality, “Vanessa, is it?” A tall, smiling girl with gleaming blonde hair approached Vanessa’s table with her hand extended, as if waiting for her to shake it.
Vanessa looked up from her book, puzzlement etched into her brow. It was highly unusual for another student to talk to her outside of class. “Uh… yeah, that’s right,” she replied, staring at the girl’s outstretched hand.
“I knew it!” said the girl, practically screaming, “That’s such a pretty name! I’m Jasper, by the way. It’s very nice to meet you.” Jasper reached for Vanessa’s hand and shook it, ignoring her bewildered expression. “Listen, the other girls and I are hanging out at Morris Park after school, and I was wondering if you wanted to come. We need at least six people so my mom ‘knows we’re safe!’” Jasper did a high-pitched impersonation of her mother with obnoxiously pronounced air quotes, catching Vanessa off guard; she couldn’t have imagined Jasper’s voice getting any higher. “So you’ll come?” Jasper finished.
Vanessa was so stunned by the sudden interaction that she couldn’t seem to formulate any actual words; she nodded her head instead.
“Okay, great! And do you think your parents would care if you slept over?”
“Uh,” Vanessa began. She could feel her pulse accelerate from a light jog to a violent sprint as her fingers tingled frantically. She thought about telling Jasper about her parents’ mysterious accident that had made her an orphan at the age of nine. She considered telling her that the only family she had left was Otis, a lousy older brother who went out partying so much that he didn’t even remember having a sister. She even thought about telling her that of course no one would care if she slept over because there wasn’t anyone left in this world who cared about her at all except for herself. But in the end, she didn’t tell Jasper any of this; instead, she just shook her head and said, “Nah, my parents are pretty chill.”
“Okay, great!” Jasper shrieked again. “Then we’ll see you at Morris Park at four!”
Vanessa couldn’t concentrate in her classes for the rest of the day. Her conversation with Jasper replayed in her head, consuming her thoughts for the remainder of the morning. At noon, her mind turned to what was in store for the rest of the day: a trip to the park and a sleepover. She had been to Morris Park countless times but only by herself; in fact, she had never before done anything with a group of friends, let alone sleepover, but for some reason, today was different.
After the final bell of the day dismissed Vanessa from class, she went out into the rain, looking around for Jasper and the other girls. With no success, she figured they were already headed for the park and set off to meet them. As she stepped to avoid a puddle, Vanessa noticed the tingling in her fingers once again. Vanessa rubbed her tingling hands on her pants anxiously; she had felt the strange tingling five times that day and was beginning to grow worried.
When Vanessa finally arrived at the Park, it was empty. She made her way to one of the sodden wood benches to read as she waited for Jasper and the other girls. To her right, she saw a folded piece of notebook paper, damp with rain water, with her name lettered in cursive on the front. Vanessa put her book down on the bench and reached for the note.
So, the girls and I talked. They told me that
you’re an orphan, so we decided that it
would be best if we didn’t hang out with
you. You see, our reputation is very
important to us, and being seen with
you would certainly damage it. I’d also
appreciate it if you didn’t talk to me in the
hallway or anything because people might
start to say things about me becoming friends
with an orphan or something, and you can
see why I wouldn’t want that.
Vanessa starred at the note for a few seconds after reading it, feeling more alone than she could remember. Was she set up? Had Jasper just decided to ruin her birthday for fun? She was furious with Jasper, but she was more angry with herself. Why had she let herself believe that anyone would ever want to be her friend? Why had she set herself up for despair? Why had she been so näive? Vanessa’s face flushed with anguish, her eyes welled with tears, and the tingling of her fingers crescendoed into clamorous vibrations. She buried her face in her trembling hands, crushing the note into a ball, but the note didn’t get the chance to reach ball form, because it vanished right before her swollen eyes.
Vanessa looked at the ground to see where the note had gone, but it was nowhere to be found. She reached for her book to stow it in her backpack, but as her fingers touched the cover, the book vanished as well. Frightened, Vanessa jumped to her feet, grabbed her backpack and started to run out of the seemingly bewitched park, but as her hand made contact with her backpack, it disappeared, just as the note and book had done.
This time, as she jumped with fright, her left foot sank deep into a muddy puddle. As she looked down at her foot in the puddle, Vanessa noticed something unusual. Her reflection seemed to pulsate at the same tempo as the throbbing of her fingers. Slowly, she bent down and, as if pulled by a mysterious force, reached her trembling fingers towards her reflection in the puddle. When Vanessa’s fingers touched the reflection, it disappeared, and so did she.
Vanessa found herself in a brightly lit room with no windows. Portraits of men and women in ripped and frayed clothing covered the walls. A large, wooden desk lay in front of her, and a tall, young man with a kind face stood on the other side. He looked a few a years older than Vanessa. Below him, on the surface of the desk, were a purple tissue box, the crumpled note from Jasper, and Vanessa’s backpack and book.
“Where am I?” Vanessa asked, looking up at the man.
“You're at headquarters,” he replied. “The Mutorior Underground: home to over two dozen mutoriors from across the nation. My name’s Nestor, and I’m the director of the whole operation,” he said proudly.
“Mu-mutorior?” Any ordinary kid would be terrified and upset if they were uprooted from their life like this, but Vanessa wasn’t an ordinary kid; she had been yearning for a new life, and she was absolutely thrilled. “What is that?” she asked.
Clearly delighted by her enthusiasm, Nestor continued, “A mutorior is a person who can alter superficial aspects of inanimate objects.” He touched the purple tissue box, and it suddenly turned bright green. He smiled at Vanessa, noticing her expression of awe.
“How did you do that?” Vanessa was bursting with excitement.
“Oh, that’s nothing,” said Nestor, “compared to what you are capable of.” He reached under his desk and pulled out a large, tattered binder tied up with string and brimming with official looking documents and photographs. He placed it on top of the desk and looked at Vanessa. “You’re an aborior,” he said.
“An aborior,” he continued. “You can transport objects long distances with the touch of a finger. That’s what you did with this note, book, and bag.”
“Why haven’t I ever done this before?” asked Vanessa.
“Well,” Nestor smiled, “the powers of an aborior are only revealed at the age of sixteen. Happy Birthday, by the way.”
“Thanks,” she replied, caught off guard. Vanessa had forgotten it was her birthday; it wasn’t that hard to forget when no one else ever remembered, but for some reason, Nestor seemed to know a lot about her. She looked down at her fingers and finally understood why they had been tingling all day. “How many other aboriors are there?” she asked.
Nestor’s smile faded. “You’re the only living one,” he said quietly.
“What do you mean living? What happened to the others?”
Nestor untied the binder and opened it to a photograph of smiling couple. “These are the last known aboriors,” he said, pointing to the couple. He paused for a moment, staring at the photo. “Those are my parents,” he said, looking away from the couple, “and they were killed seven years ago by the sorcerer, Malmun.” Nestor flipped the pages of the binder to a new photograph. This one showed a tall man in navy blue robes, holding a golden staff, and wearing a menacing grin. “Malmun was intimidated by my parents’ powers,” Nestor continued. “He aspired to be the most powerful sorcerer alive, and he saw my parents as a barrier to that ‘aspiration.’”
“I’m so sorry,” said Vanessa. But as she replayed the events of the last few minutes in her mind, her sympathy turned to consternation. “Uh, Nestor,” she began, “you said that I’m the only aborior you know of after your parents died, right?” Her palms began to sweat.
“That’s right,” he said.
“Does Malmun know about me?” Vanessa swallowed. “Is he going to try t— to kill me?”
Nestor gazed at her compassionately. “Malmun doesn’t know about you yet,” he said, “but you need to start training and developing your powers, so you’re prepared.”
Vanessa suddenly felt very overwhelmed. It had been an exhausting day, and as if reading her mind, Nestor tied up the binder and stowed it back under the desk. “But that can all wait until tomorrow,” he said. “After a day like today, you deserve some sleep.”
Vanessa spent the next few days training with Nestor and a group of other mutoriors. Today, she was practicing by transporting a set of mirrors around the room. They worked for hours, developing her powers and preparing for the day when Malmun would inevitably find her.
“Did you say Malmun killed your parents seven years ago?” asked Vanessa. She was told that her own parents had died seven years ago in an accident at work but was never given details; she didn’t even knew what they did for a living. Their lives had been a mystery to Vanessa, but if Nestor’s parents had died in the same year as her own, she thought that Nestor might have known something about their death. Or about their life.
“That’s right,” he said, “and before you continue, I know what you’re going to ask.” He gestured for Vanessa to sit down at a nearby chair. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you this earlier,” he said, pulling out a chair for himself. After a long pause, he continued. “Vanessa,” he said, “I knew your parents very well.”
Vanessa smiled, and her mind flooded with questions. “You did?” she asked, bursting with excitement. “What were they like? What did they do? Tell me everything!” she pleaded. Vanessa never had the opportunity to ask someone about her parents before; her stomach was doing cartwheels.
“Vanessa, listen,” Nestor said with earnest intensity. “Again, I know I should have told you this earlier, but I didn’t know how you’d take it.”
Vanessa didn’t know what he was talking about. Why was he acting so seriously? “It’s fine! Just tell me about them already!”
“Vanessa,” he said. “I knew your parents because they were my parents too. I’m your brother, Vanessa, and our parents were murdered by Malmun”
Vanessa was too stunned to speak. Why didn’t he tell her yesterday? Why had he waited until this moment to tell her that he was her brother—that her parents had been murdered?
“When you were born,” Nestor continued, “my par—our parents decided to bequeath to you the aborior powers, but when they knew Malmun was on our trail, they sent you away to live with Otis, the man you believe is your brother.”
“Why would they send me away?” Vanessa buried her face in her hands. “Why would they just let me go?”
Nestor rested his hand on his sister’s shoulder. “They were trying to protect you,” he said. “They knew that if Malmun found you, he would kill you too.”
Vanessa shoved his hand off her shoulder, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“If they didn’t hide you with Otis, you would be dead!”
Vanessa jumped out of her seat, ran to one of the mirrors in the training room, and stared at her reflection. After everything she had learned about herself—about her family, she was unrecognizable. Everything had changed. Nothing was the same. Slowly, Vanessa lifted her hand and reached it towards her unfamiliar reflection. As her finger made contact with the mirror, her reflection disappeared just as it had in the puddle the day before.
Vanessa found herself in a dimly lit, sordid restaurant. In the corner was a circular table with a newspaper unfolded and spread across the surface. Suddenly, the lights went out, and the sky outside turned dark. She felt a cool breeze on her back; the window behind her was left open. Vanessa turned around and stopped dead in her tracks. Terror washed over. Outside the window, a tall man in navy blue robes was holding a golden staff and grinning menacingly at Vanessa.
“Goodbye, Vanessa,” said the man. It was Malmun.
Just as he climbed through the window, Vanessa remembered her training. Quickly, she touched the table next to her, sending it soaring towards Malmun, knocking him to the ground. She ran out of the restaurant and right into a man on the sidewalk, almost knocking him over. It was Nestor.
“Come on, Vanessa,” he said. “Let’s make our parents proud.”