When Surya was seven, he learned about a lot of things. Like the name of planets in the Solar System, for example, or that a human’s eyes didn’t normally glow in the dark—that when people died, they would never come back.
Arga Hawkins died six months ago. People said he was a hero because he saved people from a burning building. But sometimes… sometimes Surya couldn’t help but feel a little bit bitter. After all, his dad left him alone, just like his mom left him all those years ago.
Surya didn’t even remember what his mom looked like. His dad told him that he had still been a baby when she left. All that was left of her was a strange pendant that looked like a small spear. They didn’t even have her photo. Because of this, sometimes Surya wondered if his parents got divorced when he was a baby. Couples broke up. It was normal.
Sometimes, though, Surya wondered if he was the reason they broke up.
Surya shivered slightly. The days were starting to get cold, he noticed. It was well into Fall and the sun was starting to dip into the horizon. He should be home soon.
“See you tomorrow, Dad”, Surya said as he stood.
As he trudged to the exit gate, his eyes caught a mysterious figure standing in front of his dad’s grave. Surya wondered briefly who they were—his dad’s friend, maybe?
After his dad died, Surya was put into the foster care of Jamie and Layla Brown, a couple who specializes in caring for kids with ‘special needs’. Apparently, Surya was labeled as a child with ‘special needs’. Maybe it was because he would always freak out at the smallest sign of fire. Or maybe it was because he was really physically weird. As if his double-jointedness wasn’t weird enough, his eyes would glow in the dark and his teeth would always grow back no matter how many times Johnny from his class punched them out.
“Surya, were you fighting again?” Layla asked as soon as Surya got into the house. Her hand was gentle as she tipped his chin up. “Let me see your teeth.”
Surya looked down at the dark specks of blood on his shirt and sighed dejectedly. “Johnny used the R-word”, he said and showed his missing incisor.
“Oh, well… If your tooth isn't growing back in a week, we’ll check up with the dentist, okay?” Layla tutted, even if both of them knew that it would regrow in several days. “Now, come along. Help me prepare dinner.”
Preparing for meals was always a messy affair at the Browns’ household. Between Surya’s pyrophobia and lactose intolerance, Mattie’s long list of allergies, Nina’s celiac, Layla’s need to eat halal food, and Jamie’s love to experiment with her cooking, it was a miracle that they could whip up something remotely edible every time.
Tonight’s dinner was Indian chicken curry rice. He had never eaten anything with so much spice before living with the Browns, but Surya found that he liked it. The smell was really good, and his mouth was practically watering as he helped carrying the pot to the table.
Nina approached Surya before they sat down and gave Surya’s hand two squeezes—that meant ‘good morning/afternoon/evening’. Surya returned it with a smile before heaping chicken curry onto her plate. She scrunched her face and began to pick the broccoli and peas out.
“Surya, did you get me something weird?” Mattie asked with a toothy smile.
“I found a rock that looks like a duck at the graveyard", Surya answered, pulling said rock out of his pocket and showing it to Mattie.
“It looks like a platypus!" Mattie squealed in delight as he accepted it.
Surya shrugged. “Platypuses and ducks look the same to me.”
“Platypuses are mammals, though”, Nina piped up and Mattie laughed as Surya’s face turned red.
“Alright, no fighting at the table”, Layla tutted. “Mattie, put the rock away and go wash your hands before eating. Surya, it’s getting colder soon. If you still wanna visit your dad’s grave, start wearing your jacket, okay?”
Surya nodded at her and began to eat, eager to stuff his mouth with delicious curry.
While they ate, Layla asked how Surya and Nina’s school was, since Mattie hadn't started school yet. Surya let Nina ramble excitedly about space while he listened with half an ear, but Layla always pulled him back into the conversation. Layla praised him for his diligence when Surya told her he already finished his homework for the week, and Surya couldn’t help the blush from spreading on his face.
Jamie came just as they were finished eating. Almost immediately, Nina latched herself to Jamie’s side and began hounding her questions about her work. Surya couldn’t help but listen to Jamie’s rambling raptly.
Surya was too embarrassed to admit, but he really liked Jamie. She worked as an astrophysicist at one of the UESA’s observatories and she knew more about the stars than his dad could tell him. There was also the fact that she rocked leather boots and fingerless gloves and painted her nails black. In short, she was really cool.
“Hey, lil’ man”, Jamie greeted Surya and ruffled his hair, before moving towards Mattie and Nina with fake menacing expression on her face. “Alright, who wants some tickles!”
Mattie and Nina shrieked, but both of them made no move to run away. Surya watched from a feet away as Jamie tickled Mattie and Nina until the two of them dissolved into shrieking laughter. It wasn’t until Layla came back after doing the dishes and ushered them all to shower before bed.
The next day, he saw the mysterious figure again at the graveyard. They were really tall, Surya noticed, probably taller than his dad. They wore some kind of dark cloak that shimmered weirdly and their hood was up; Surya couldn’t see their face from this distance.
Surya debated going to greet them, mostly because he really didn’t know them and they were dressed really weird. What if they were a creep? He had some basic self-defense technique that his dad taught him, but his dad also told him that the best defense was not to engage at all.
Eventually, his curiosity won out, and Surya approached the stranger. This close, he noticed that they were wearing a weird mask. Surya began to regret his decision but decided to push forward.
“Hello”, he greeted them. “Did you know my dad?”
The stranger turned their masked face to him, and Surya had a feeling that he was being scrutinized.
“Are you Surya Hawkins?” the stranger asked back. Their voice was weird, almost robotic.
Well, that wasn’t polite to answer a question with another question, but Surya nodded.
“I was told to get you and your father, but your father… he perished, didn’t he?” the stranger asked again.
Surya’s throat tightened up and his eyes prickled with tears, but he nodded again. “Uhh… who are…” he couldn’t finish his question.
“I am a friend of your mother”, the stranger answered anyway, and Surya felt his heart skip a beat. But the mysterious stranger wasn’t done talking. “She told me that Earth will no longer be safe and asked me to retrieve you both. Tell me, did the Vaidesse kill your father?”
“Uh, no. He died in a fire.” Surya’s head was spinning—he had so many questions. His mom was still alive? Where was she now? Why didn’t she go and get him and his dad herself? Who was this stranger? Instead, he asked, “What’s a Vaidesse?”
“A Vaidesse—” the stranger paused. “You don’t know what Vaidesse is? Your father didn’t tell you?”
Surya shook his head despite his confusion. His dad didn’t tell him a lot of things; his dad didn’t even tell him about his mom. He bit his lips, trying not to cry, but his tears seemed to fall off on its own.
The masked stranger crouched down and reached their arm towards him. That was when the warning siren in his mind went off.
“Leave me alone!” Surya screamed and slapped the hand away. He turned towards the gate and ran as fast as he could. It was easy to hide himself between people coming off work, thanks to his height. Still, just in case, he turned back to see if the weird stranger was chasing him; but then he ran into somebody.
Reeling, Surya stumbled back when strong hands caught him before he could fall. He wiped his eyes with his jacket sleeve to help him see better and saw Officer Lewis standing in front of him.
“Hey, you’re Arga’s kid—Surya, right?” Officer Lewis asked—he lived next door to Surya’s foster home and apparently also knew Surya’s dad too. Surya nodded. “What’s the matter? Why are you running off and crying?”
“There’s a creep on the graveyard”, Surya told him. “They’re tall and wearing mask and hood. I think you should check it out.”
“A masked, hooded creep, huh?” Officer Lewis looked alert immediately. “Alright, I’ll check it out. But you better run home now, before your moms get worried. It’s almost dark out.”
Surya nodded again and did as he was told.