Rae Mallory is a talented young dancer, her room cluttered with trophies. She never dreamed that could get her drafted.
Only dancers can stop the alien funnel clouds hitting Earth. Led by the inhumanly gorgeous Lieutenant V., the ‘two-step’ cadets are Earth’s dance-fighting heroes.
Thanks to her ex-soldier Pop, the army has always been Rae’s worst nightmare, even before violent monsters were involved. She’s desperate to escape the draft, but Lieutenant V. won’t let her get away so easily.
Here’s chapter one of my work-in-progress, ‘Cadet’! If you like it, check out the rest on Amazon’s WriteOn website.
When I was a kid, I wasn’t afraid of monsters, or the boogeyman, or even aliens, like now. It was Pop’s screaming—sudden, raw and terrified—that had me yanking the sheets up over my head at night. I learned right quick not to ask him about it in the morning.
Just then, I was more concerned about Ma’s worried hums, floating up the stairs and drowning out the newscaster. Dread stuck like dry crackers in my throat, and I couldn’t keep my hand from shaking while I ran a straightener through my blow-dried frizz. I could only guess what new disaster had taken over the media. Could be another group suicide. Or more riots and looting in India. But deep down I knew, though I didn’t want to admit it, that it was another attack.
I didn’t want to think about it. If there really had been another attack, that meant they were increasing, so once I was ready I tried to sneak past Ma to get outside, but the kitchen was right off the front door. All she had to do was glance up from the TV to see me.
“Rae, where are you going all dressed up with your hair done?”
“School,” I said and reached for the doorknob.
“Baby, it’s Saturday.”
I stopped, my hand in the air. The campus wasn’t open on Saturday anymore. Attendance had gotten so low it wasn’t cost effective.
“Come in here,” she said. I winced, but let my bag fall to the floor and shuffled into the kitchen. I knew what was coming.
She reached for me from her seat by the table and pulled me close, stroking my hair. “Another funnel cloud appeared last night, in China,” she said, her dark eyes full of worry.
I bit my lip so hard it hurt, first scared, then relieved, then guilty. China was all the way on the other side of the world. There still hadn’t been any attacks in the West…yet, but thousands of people must have died, and that was nothing to be happy about. I knew what I’d see on the TV screen: a purple funnel cloud, wide at the bottom and skinny at the top, hanging there swirling lazily. Around that, a big circle of nothing, just bare land where the cloud had sucked everything up. Outside of that, broken houses. Overturned cars. Debris.
But the worst were the monsters. The aerial views were too far to get a good look, but from what I saw they were tall, bone white and walked on two legs. They guarded the funnels, attacking anyone and anything that got too close, but that seemed to be their only goal. They never left the area around each cloud.
I reminded myself of that every night when I went to bed.
“You should give your daddy a call,” Ma said.
“Yeah,” I said. I should, but I wouldn’t. She told me to call him every time there was an attack, and yeah, I got why, but there was a reason they were divorced. He wasn’t a nice person at the best of times and when he drank, which was a lot these days, he got real mean. And I knew I should be a better, more understanding daughter. I knew all too well what set him off in the night. But he didn’t make it easy.
I took a deep breath, trying to push down the fear and get up the courage to look at the TV. I got a good whiff of Ma’s coffee instead, and I felt a bit better. The smell was so normal, so her. Apocalypse or not, Ma would be sitting in the kitchen every morning with her big white mug.
She turned back to the screen. “Lord help us. Even seeing it I still don’t believe it. What do they want?”
No one knew. We’d never been able to communicate with them, and the attacks seemed completely random, coming months apart.
I swallowed again and forced myself to look, but they weren’t showing the cloud. A white flag with three wavy red lines in the middle hung behind a podium. That flag was so familiar now. It was the symbol of the Nuncene.
Journalists waited for someone to arrive. It didn’t take long for her to drift onstage, and she set off a bunch of flashing and clicking from the cameras. My breath always caught a little at the sight of Nhet-Nhet and now was no different.
How could someone be that beautiful? She wasn’t human, but still. Nhet-Nhet was the unofficial Nuncene ambassador to Earth, and they chose the perfect person for the job. She was lovely and flowy and…light. Like, everything about her was airy and pale, like a snow queen. She was an alien too, but nothing like the creatures sending the clouds. The Nuncene were here to help us, at least that’s what they said.
Nhet-Nhet wore a long, ivory, military style coat, tall white boots, and she had those strange light eyebrows natural blonds have, but somehow on her they worked. She walked like at any second she would float off the ground. She probably could for all I knew.
She spoke, but not in English or any other language on God’s green Earth. She was being translated by voice-over, but I wished they would use subtitles because I liked her voice. You’d think she would sound like she looked: light and breathy, but her voice was deep, husky. The kind of voice that forced you to lean in closer. She wasn’t saying much that we didn’t already know, mostly that she hoped to see many dancers come out for the next recruitment session in Manhattan. If anyone could rally the troops it was Nhet-Nhet. She wouldn’t get me though.
“I mean it about your daddy,” Ma said. “You need to keep in touch, just in case…”
“In case what, Ma?” I snapped. “A funnel cloud sucks us up? Or in case I get drafted?”
She stiffened and turned away, and something about the way one black curl escaped her hair wrap and rested against the dark, flawless skin of her cheek made her look so vulnerable. I regretted yelling at her. None of this was her fault.
“Sorry,” I mumbled.
She sighed, but wouldn’t look at me. “Your father loves you, Rae. He just…” She shook her head. “Go on upstairs.”
I did, guilt and frustration bouncing in my throat as I thumped up each step. She wouldn’t know. Pop didn’t really get going until she wasn’t around, otherwise they got into huge, screaming fights.
This was exactly why I’d wanted to hit up the studio and lose myself in dance for a few hours, which was ironic. I used dance to escape, but it was also the cause of my biggest problem.
The army needed dancers. Only dancers, with the help of the Nuncene, could destroy the clouds and stop them from spewing toxins into the atmosphere, but I didn’t know the specifics. I didn’t want to know the specifics. If this truly was the end of days, I wanted to spend them with Ma and my friends, not playing superhero. The army was right above Siberia on the list of places I ever wanted or expected to end up. It was a waking nightmare that dance, which I loved more than almost anything, made me the perfect candidate for the draft. And if I got drafted, I’d end up just like Pop.
My heartbeat sped up and my head hurt. I needed a distraction. I sunk into my desk chair and booted up my laptop, then brought up my document with all my theories and leads. If I couldn’t dance, I’d work on finding Phil.
He’d been missing for over a year. At times it seemed like I was the only one who cared. The police were no help—said he’d probably just run away, since some of his clothes were missing. And Phil’s Ma could barely tear herself away from the crack pipe long enough to notice he was gone.
But me and Phil were tight, like white on rice. He wouldn’t just leave without saying anything. No, he was out there, and he needed me. Just one more reason I couldn’t go to war.
I promised myself I would never, ever date a guy like Pop, and Phil was the opposite. He was a hip-hop dancer, and though he didn’t go to a “bougie” dance school like me, he taught me everything I knew about how to pop, lock and animate. He used to put up videos on-line, and I wanted to examine his last one…again.
However, checking the site brought me face to face with what I was trying to avoid. The main page showed a list of videos titled, “Pick me, Lieutenant V.!”, with preview stills of people smiling desperately into the camera. Idiots. Lieutenant V. ran the ‘two-step cadets’, as the media called them. He chose then trained dancers from Earth to fight the funnel clouds. Like Nhet-Nhet, he was Nuncene, and like Nhet-Nhet, he was stunning.
Seriously stunning. The latest recruitment session had taken place last week at my school, Branson. I tried to avoid going when I knew they were scouting, but the sessions were increasing, and I missed the memo. That day, as I arrived Lieutenant V. came out of the main doors to Adams School of Dance, the center of a storm of photographers and groupies shouting his name. We even made eye contact, and that’s what got me. His eyes were pale green and flashed like gemstones, the color overlapping the whites just a bit too much to look normal. I froze, both horrified and fascinated. I know what people mean now when they say time stopped. For the longest half-second of my life I stood there, open and helpless.
Once I got control of my brain I ran, hiding in the student center until I thought it was safe to enter Adams.
Yeah, he was gorgeous. That was probably why thousands were uploading videos like they were auditioning for reality TV. Whatever, the more people throwing themselves at Lieutenant V., the less chance he’d want me.
I sighed and glanced around my room at all my dance plaques and trophies. Honestly, I was more than a little worried. Maybe I should just quit school and lay low…
Oh, who was I kidding. There was no ‘laying low’. The U.S. government had info on anyone who attended or had ever attended a performing arts school. If they wanted you they drafted you, period. If you tried to run, rumor was Lieutenant V. would personally hunt you down, using whatever alien technology they used to destroy the clouds, and when he found you, he’d be pissed.
Goosebumps prickled all over my arms and I shivered. Enough about stupid Lieutenant V. I clicked over to Phil’s video, jabbing the mouse a bit harder than I needed to. My head resting in my palm, I tried to concentrate on the background in Phil’s video, looking for anything suspicious, but I kept focusing on how his ears stuck out a bit too much, but he was cute anyway. Or how I used to like playing with his hair—a bunch of soft curls he always wore pulled back. His laughing brown eyes. That wide smile when the crowd went crazy. Like me, he fed off their energy. A live group made it feel like the air was buzzing, and together Phil and I knew how to hype up a crowd.
Soon, I was sniffling. This was just as bad as worrying about the war. I shut my laptop. Drummed my fingers on my desk. I needed to get rid of my nervous energy. Maybe a run around the block would do it.
When I got downstairs Ma was on the phone. “I’m going for a run,” I called as I quick-walked past the kitchen, still ashamed of my outburst.
“You got your cell?” She called back.
“Yeah.” I patted the pocket in my hoodie, feeling the square bulk of my smart phone. I slipped on my favorite black high tops and headed outside. It was a bright summer day, the air humid. My suburb looked the same as always, rows of pastel houses along faded asphalt. Birds still tweeted as if this wasn’t Armageddon, but my cute neighbors with the pigtails didn’t play jump rope and hopscotch in the street anymore.
Standing on the concrete of my front porch, I did some toe touches, and as I stretched I saw something out of the corner of my eye. A bunch of colorful flyers hung out of our overstuffed mailbox. Junk mail was just a fact of life I guess, right to the bitter end. My heart rate was up, and I knew it wasn’t just from stretching. My palms always got a little clammy just looking at the mailbox. I was starting to hate it.
Every day I told myself I had to check the mail, but neither of us had collected it in close to two weeks. It was time to stop letting this little metal box terrorize me. I yanked the lid up, making it squeak on its hinges, and grabbed handfuls of paper, ignoring the memory of Lieutenant V.’s green eyes. There were still bills to pay, whether we had the money or not.
There was so much mail it slipped out of my hands, scattering on the gray concrete. I bent to pick it all up, trying to keep my fingers from shaking, and noticed a plain brown envelope.
Of course, it was stamped U.S. Army postal services.