Olivia yelped as she hit the cement, skinning her elbows and knees. She tumbled over herself two or three times before she was able to get back onto her feet and scurry behind the large tree in the front yard of the school. She sat there a while trying to catch her breath. It’s a good thing she was fast. Sophia and Isabella were after her again; some garbage about flirting with one of their boyfriends, or something. Who even had time for boys? And like she would ever be interested in a guy that was into those drama queens. Olivia hated drama, well, she loved drama, but only in the context of the drama club. She was quite good at acting and loved old classics, like Shakespeare, Euripides, and Arthur Miller. She had always wanted to do a gender swapped version of Death of a Salesman. But that was the last thing on her mind right now. She just wanted to get home without a broken nose, split lip, or black eye. She peered beyond the edge of the tree and saw the two girls standing and looking around in confusion. Olivia put her hand on her chest and took a deep breath to steady her nerves. She was tall for a thirteen-year old and had dark skin and curly long hair that flowed all the way down to the small of her back where she put a scrunchy right at the very end of it. It was a hairstyle she saw once in a Manga and liked it, so she adopted it for herself. She definitely had her own sense of style that showed even though she had to wear a school uniform. She wore glasses all the time but only needed them for reading and using the computer, she just liked the way they made her look. Olivia pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose with her middle finger as she looked down the street. She saw Mr. Walker’s pick up truck rolling up to a stop sign about 500 meters away. Mr. Walker lived next door to Olivia and was a carpenter or something using lots of wood. He had a workshop in the shed behind his house. This could be her chance. She decided to book it. She ran as fast as she could, jumping over a wiener dog on a leash and nearly knocking down the owner about halfway down the stretch. Over her shoulder she could hear Sophia and Isabella shouting as they caught a glimpse of her. She looked back and could see that they were in hot pursuit. She looked forward again and saw she was almost there, but Mr. Walker was starting to pull away. Olivia ran faster than she knew she could, and launched herself into the air as she put one hand on the tailgate of the truck. She flew over the tailgate and landed with a thud and a slide in the back of the truck amidst a load of lumber and some bags of dirt. Mr. Walker slammed on the brakes and looked behind him to see a frantic Olivia clutching her bloody elbow as two girls were running quickly towards the truck.
“Go! Go! Go!” Shouted Olivia. Mr. Walker threw the truck in gear and peeled out just as Sophia and Isabella got to the stop sign. They huffed and bent over with their hands on their knees, catching their breath as the truck sped away. Olivia smiled and took a deep sigh of relief as the wind flowed through her long brown hair.
You might think from that account that Olivia lived a very exciting life. Running from bullies, jumping into moving vehicles, bleeding everywhere, it’s all so deliciously dramatic; but like I said, Olivia hated drama that wasn’t confined to acting in the drama club. The truth is Olivia led a pretty boring life. She was a self-proclaimed book nerd, a huge Lord of the Rings fan, and she was really into Manga; something about having to read the book backwards always tickled her. She lived alone with her dad in a regular house on a regular street. Literally, the street’s name is “Regular Street.” She didn’t much like adventures, and apart from being one of the fastest kids in her class she wasn’t that into sports or activities. She wasn’t out of shape by any stretch of the imagination, like I said, she ran quite a lot. But that was mostly because she always overslept and had to run so that she wouldn’t be late for class. She was a dreamer and she loved to write, but it was always her imagination that would get her into trouble when her teachers would catch her daydreaming or doodling in the middle of class. Her teachers liked her well enough, but they wished she would devote less time to reading about hobbits and more time showing her work on her math assignments.
The truck pulled into the joint driveway between the two houses and Mr. Walker got out of the vehicle.
“What in God’s name was happening back there, Olive?” He asked taking off his cap and running his hand through his greasy, grey hair. He was an older man, but not an old man; just about 60 or so, not that Olivia could have guessed, she was always bad at telling how old adults looked. Everyone over 30 just looked old to her. He was tallish and always wore worn blue overalls and plaid shirts. His stubble was ever present on his face, and he was always eating sunflower seeds and spitting out their shells, which Olivia thought was gross but never felt the need to tell him.
“It’s Olivia, Mr. Walker. Or O, you can call me O. Most of my friends do,” she said. “I’m sorry about all the drama, and I got a smear of blood on one of your boards.”
“That’s okay.” He smiled. “You go inside and get yourself patched up. And have your father make a call about those girls who were after you.”
“I will,” she said, and walked inside. The house smelled like, well, it’s kind of hard to explain. Her dad was cooking pancakes for dinner again which meant they were out of groceries. He always threw together a batch of pancakes with what little ingredients they had left when they were out of groceries and so the house kind of smelled like burning pancake batter, but also like paint thinner. Olivia’s dad was a painter and always painted these elaborate fantasy style paintings that he would sometimes sell at auction, or, if they were lucky, to a game company like Wizards of the Coast for one of their cards or box art. She looked into the studio and saw a half finished painting of a red seven-headed dragon who appeared to be facing off with some kind of knight holding a long broadsword to his side. She always wondered where her dad got his inspiration to paint these things, but their house was never devoid of something fantastical that could inspire him. From Tolkein to Lewis to George R. R. Martin, fantasy literature was a staple in their house. And, while Olivia loved reading all these stories, she never wished she was in them, like most kids do. Her imagination was enough to transport her there and bring her back in time for dinner.
“Dad, I’m home!” She shouted into the bustling but empty looking house. She heard a clatter from the kitchen and then a head in a chef’s hat peered out into the hallway.
“Hey, O! I made pancakes!” He said excitedly.
“Dear Lord, Dad, where did you get that hat?” she groaned.
“You don’t like it? It makes me feel more… official,” he explained. She walked past him in a sort of nonchalant way, hoping to get to the bathroom at the other end of the kitchen before her dad noticed how banged up she was. It didn’t work.
“Olivia, what happened to you?” He demanded, dropping his spatula onto the counter.
“It’s not a big deal…” she said, trying to move past it. “I just fell.”
“You are a lot of things, O, but clumsy isn’t one of them,” he said. “Were those girls chasing you again? Should I call your principal?”
“That’ll only make it worse,” she said. “Can we drop it?” Her dad looked torn between wanting to defend his little girl and wanting to respect her decision as a mature young woman.
“Okay,” he said. “We can drop it.” Her dad was a kind man. He was tall and slender, like her, with dark skin and curly brown hair that came down just around his ears. His hands were covered in paint from his recent session. Even though he washed them before cooking, there were always still some blues, yellows, and reds lodged in the ridges around his cuticles. He dropped a huge stack of pancakes on the table in front of her and said, “Eat up.” Olivia drowned the stack in maple syrup as her dad walked towards the bathroom and grabbed some antiseptic and band aids. He returned from the bathroom, pulled out a chair and sat on it backwards (he thought this made him a “cool dad”), doused a cotton swab in antiseptic and gently started wiping the blood away from her scraped elbows and knees and began to put the band aids over top. He was a gentle man.
“You gotta be more careful, O.” He said. “I don’t want anything to happen to you. You’re all I’ve got, you know?”
“I know.” she said. He kissed her on the forehead and went back to the stove. Olivia worked at eating her stack of pancakes while mulling over the day’s events in her head. She sometimes wished that she had the ability to disappear. Wouldn’t that be great? Anytime the girls at school wanted to chase her, or she got embarrassed, or even just to sneak around without getting busted. Being invisible would be so great! She was deep in thought about it when her dad said,
“Wow, kiddo, you burned through those pancakes fast! Why don’t you clean up and go work on your homework.”
“Okay,” she said. She grabbed her backpack and headed upstairs. Her room was her sanctuary. Her dad had generously given her the master bedroom when she was a little girl to hold all her toys, doll houses, and stuffies, but she had long since outgrown those (well, except for Mr. Bear. He’d be around forever). Now her room was covered in things like Lego death stars, replica blades from fantasy movies, and posters of classic bands like Nirvana and RadioHead juxtaposed by posters of Run DMC and John Coltrane (all musical groups that her dad taught her to like.) She flicked on the lights, which also powered a small train mounted on a track along the top half of her room, just above the doorway. She threw her bag in the corner and collapsed on the bed. Olivia grabbed a worn copy of The Two Towers off of her nightstand and started reading. It wasn’t homework, but it wasn’t not homework. She knew eventually that she’d have to write an essay on a book of her choice and this book was her choice. She got to the part where Frodo and Sam are captured by Faromir when she started to doze off. Olivia had this recurring dream where the ground beneath her feet starts to blow away in the wind and reveals a fantastical mirror world that she falls into. It’s a beautiful world full of her favorite things: dwarves, giants, centaurs, monsters, and heroes. She would always watch with wonder as the world unfolded before her. The sky was always a brilliant blue as the sun set and cast pink and purple shadows onto the clouds. There were tall mountains and large valleys and castles dotted the horizon in all directions. It was a magical place to be. Olivia was never the hero of the dream, though, she was always just an observer. It always started fun until she met the shadow man. The shadow man is a dark looming figure that haunts the dream and creeps out from the cracks in the world. Whenever she sees him she is paralyzed with fear and falls to the ground. She wants to run or scream, but she can’t. The shadow man gets close to her and extends his hand, his fiery eyes burning right into her soul, and just as he’s about to touch her, she wakes up.
She shot up in bed in a cold sweat, the train zooming past her head with a “Choo! Choo!” She hated sleeping with the lights on. She got up to grab her back pack to do some actual homework when she heard her dad’s phone ring. The phone was upstairs but her dad was still downstairs cleaning up, so she ran to the other room to pick it up for him in case it was important. She got there just in time as the phone was on its last “doodle-do-do, doodle-do-do, doodle-do-do-dooo”. She picked it up.
“Hello? Allan’s phone, this is Olivia, can I help you?” She said with a helpful sing-song tone.
“Olivia?” said the voice. “It’s been a while, child.”
“I’m sorry who is this?” She asked.
“My name is Uncle Jethro.” He said, “And the last time I saw you, you were a baby…”
“O...kay…” she said. “Did you want to talk to my dad?”
“Yes,” he said. She ran the phone down the stairs to her dad.
“Dad, someone named, ‘Uncle Jethro,’ is on the phone?” She said. Olivia assumed he was some great-uncle she never met, because that’s how families work a lot of the time. You have relatives you didn’t even know were relatives. When she said the words “Uncle Jethro” her father’s face went pale. He picked up the phone. Olivia could only hear one side of the conversation.
“He.. Hello?” He stammered. “Jethro, what are you… oh… You’re in town? You’re coming over? I don’t think that’s… I see… okay… we’ll see you soon, I guess. Bye.” He hung up.
“Who is ‘Uncle Jethro?’” She asked.
“He’s um… my brother,” he said, plainly.
“Your brother!? You have a brother? How come I’ve never met him? Or even heard of him?” She asked.
“Sort of. Half brother. We, uh… don’t talk much.”
“Clearly!” She said, “What’s he like?”
“He’s a tad… eccentric.”
“So, you treat him like the black sheep of the family?” she asked, indignantly.
“Trust me, O, I’m the black sheep of the family,” he stated.
“Wait a second, ‘family?’” She asked “Is there more family I haven’t met yet? Are my grandparents alive? Is my mother alive?”
“Sort of. It’s really complicated.”
“What do you mean, ‘sort of?’ What aren’t you telling me?” She asked, angrily. Her dad sighed.
“Uncle Jethro, our family, they’re dangerous. I took you away from them for a reason,” he said, “to keep you safe.”
“What do you mean, ‘dangerous?’” She asked softly.
“It doesn’t matter right now,” he replied. “Your Uncle is on his way. Help me clean up the house.” They worked in silence, picking up old magazines on coffee tables and putting them away. Re-fluffing couch cushions and straightening drapes. It’s not that the house was messy, it was more of a ritual for them to straighten everything out. After several minutes, Olivia spoke.
“If he’s dangerous why are you letting him come over?” She asked, frustrated.
“He’s not going to hurt you,” he said. “He has dangerous ideas I didn’t want you growing up around. But you are an intelligent young woman and I trust you to use your critical thinking skills to see through his wild stories and crazy ideas.”
“What do you mean he has dangerous ideas?” She asked.
“He just wanted me to be something else,” he explained, “something I’m not. And he wanted you to be the same, but I didn’t want that for me and I certainly don’t want it for you.”
“Why are you being so cryptic?” She shouted louder than she intended to.
“I’m not being cryptic, I just don’t want to talk about Uncle Jethro and our crazy extended family,” he replied, “Is that so wrong?”
“Yes, because I deserve to know where I came from and who my family are!”