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Dare You!

Fallen Earth is growing more treacherous. After three long years in the post apocalypse, magic has gained traction, grown more powerful, and belief is now everything.


There has never been a worse time to play truth or dare.

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    Teagan didn’t understand why adults loved pictures. His friends told stories all the time, and they didn’t have pictures. Adults were strange that way. They were strange in a lot of ways.

    Parents acted like children couldn’t hear them, until they talked about something that they didn’t want them to hear and then they shooed everyone under elbow height away. Silly. Teagan heard them anyway, at night, when they thought nobody listened. Now that all the cars had stopped, he heard them all the way down the hall.

    He asked his dad once why mom cried so much at night, but his father didn’t like the question, so he didn’t ask it again. They didn’t say a word as they slipped a plate of runny eggs onto the table in front of him. Runny whites reminded him of boogers when his nose ran, but if he complained they would snap at him. He always felt it when they were angry. He slipped outside right after breakfast, happy to be away.

    “Let’s go!” said Patrik. “If we aren’t there when they leave, we will never find them and they’ll never invite us again.”

    He whined and strained out each word from the front steps where he waited for Teagan to come out.

    “Don’t be dumb,” said Teagan. “They play in the same place every time.”

Everyone knew the older boys played a block away from the dome. Kids played where adults wouldn’t go. Privacy insurance.

    Teagan’s parents talked about it at a dinner once when they thought he wasn’t paying attention. Birds knew to avoid it. Animals wouldn’t nest near it. He wasn’t sure what that meant. Dad said only fools would live in sight of it, and old Mrs. Jenkins complained the glow kept her awake at night. The adults all asked if anyone had pictures of it. They needed pictures to tell their story. Mom and Dad wouldn’t talk to him about the dome though.

Other kids talked about it. Why wouldn’t you talk about something that existed? He wondered if not talking about it somehow made it not real to the adults. If that was true, why did they want pictures?

    Children built kingdoms close to it for games of tag, ball, capture the flag, hide and seek. Much older boys didn’t join them. They went somewhere else when they had time, and rumors said they went there with girls. Teagan didn’t know any games the girls liked to play with the boys but he didn’t know many girls. Amie lived down the hall in the same apartment building, but she didn’t like to go outside. She always complained people thought too loudly, but that never made sense either.

    Patrik and Teagan walked fast, passing back and forth Patrik’s ball. Big and soft and red, its rough texture was easy to grab hold of. Rubbery to the touch, it bounced with a dull thud when it hit things, and perpetually leaked under pressure. In dodge ball, Teagan liked using it best because it hurt least.

    Three blocks up and one over, the older boys clustered on a set of stairs leading into their apartment building. One of them stopped laughing, and pointed at the two small friends as they approached. They quieted down by the time the two newcomers reached the crowd.

    “You two ready to play some ball today?” asked a dusty haired boy.

Teagan didn’t know his name, but eagerly nodded, and Patrik held up his ball as if its display would be evidence. Several of the other boys brought balls too.

    “Let’s go then,” the same boy said. “Tyler,” someone had called him.

    He hopped off the side of the stoop down to the sidewalk and marched off. The rest of the pack, a dozen in all, followed him like Peter Pan’s lost boys, telling jokes about their parents, having to do homework and how they skipped it when adults were too busy.

    “Why is it called homework if we all study at home?” Patrik asked. One of them bounced his ball off Patrik’s head in some kind of retribution. “Hey!”

    “Before the dome we used to go to a school, and did work there, then they sent us home with more.”

    They stopped where the normal grid of roads ended and a single street met two others at sharp angles. A small grassy patch, which Teagan could sprint across in a few seconds, sat where the three met and helped to give just enough area for a kickball diamond and outfield. A handful more boys were already waiting for Tyler’s band.

    Teagan looked over the nearest building to where the soft glowing white of the dome stood beyond the row. Maybe twice as tall as the houses from his short vantage, it remained mostly hidden. It loomed, and he stared at it for half a second too long.

    “You never seen the dome before?”

    “I’ve seen it plenty of times,” Teagan said, lying.

    A few weeks before he had seen it the first time when he had wandered further than he meant to. He cheated in tag, went out of bounds to sneak around, so maybe he had meant to, but he didn’t know it would bring him so close to the glow. He ran away from it then because of his parents’ warnings but without really understanding why they were so afraid.

    “Fuck with the new kids later, ok? Of course, he hasn’t been to the dome, he’s a pipsqueak,” Tyler said, the leader of this particular group. “I want to get a few games in before we have to go back, alright?”

They split off into teams.




    Teams bunched up behind their captains.

    “You, I guess,” a finger jutted at Patrik.

    “I’m taller than he is,” Teagan complained. Everyone ignored his indignation.

    Rounds of tag started. Freezers and un-freezers on each team were assigned with quick flicks of the wrist and pointing. Everyone seemed to understand who was who. They told Teagan and Patrik they were un-freezers. They could recue frozen team mates hit by the balls, but Teagan didn’t know who was on his team beside the boy in the red shoes and the one in the blue shirt. How was he supposed to memorize a dozen new people?

    He had to take one and half steps for each step of the largest boys. He’d just touch one person before he ran right back to touch another. Once, Teagan tagged the wrong person. Patrik made the same mistake twice and unfroze a member of the wrong team, incurring the wrath of the team captain.

    “These two are morons,” he complained to Tyler. “Let’s switch to something else.”

    “Fine. Kickball. Same teams?”

    “No way, you take him.”

    “No, same teams,” Tyler insisted.

    They agreed, by which it meant Tyler won any argument.

    Three innings passed without Teagan or Patrik kicking. The team captain put them far in the outfield when they switched sides and Teagan’s mind wandered as he stood, waiting. His gaze moved from the infield to the outfield. Buildings around them looked like sad faces. The entrances gaped open like mouths, with doors knocked to the ground like lolling tongues and with windows which stood open or broken, like staring eyes. Some looked like three-eyed monsters, windows in a row across the façade.

    Teagan made a face at the nearest building, opened his mouth wide, gnawed his jaw up and down like he imagined a monster would chew on something, and growled at the stonework. The ball bounced through his field of vision, big, round and red.

    “Get it!” someone yelled.

    He took off at a sprint, and his jaw snapped shut. It had already bounced past him as he started to move, and he heard the scuffle of feet over his shoulder as his team rearranged positions to catch the ball.

    Red rubber hit a stair and skittered off at a new angle, down the narrow slip of stone between the buildings. His parents threw their garbage in that matching slip back home, but this one was empty. The ball zigzagged between the two stone walls, bounced repeatedly off both, and steadily gained speed as it went down a gentle incline. Instead of catching it up, Teagan fell further behind as he ran, moving at a full sprint down an alley narrower than his dad’s shoulders.

    He fixed his eyes on the ball, and not until it bounced out of sight did the glow of the dome beyond the alley become the focus of his world. His shoes pinched his toes as he skid on the old asphalt, arresting his momentum, and he walked the last few feet. He glanced back but nobody followed him. Sounds of the other boys echoed down streets clearly annoyed at the game’s delay.

    Teagan stepped out from the alley onto the street, face to face with the dome.

    A film of light ran across the middle of the street like a gossamer curtain. Inside the dome, walking out of a shop across the street, a boy his age looked directly at Teagan, and the alley he just came out from. Held low in the boy’s hand, a small, black, thin piece of plastic glowed with blues, greens and reds in a collection of still images like a painting. Teagan didn’t know what it was, but several other people on the street had them too. A person in the car which was stopped in front of him stared at it intently, one hand gripping the wheel and another the glow pad.

    His parents said cars moved people from place to place, but these cars sat still just like the rest of them. Just like the people. These cars gleamed like polished metal and people inside sat perfectly still. Teagan took several more steps toward the dome. A dog slept on the sidewalk outside of another store, chained to the handle, but it didn’t breathe. A bird had swooped down on some small target along the sidewalk, but it paused, suspended in the air, looking completely fake like Lizzy’s class project. Everything in the dome had frozen behind the faint blue-white blur of the dome’s surface.

    The ball caught his eye where it had bounced away from the alley and had come to rest against the dome. He took several more steps. He could reach out to touch it if he wanted. His gaze went back and forth across the length of the street. His ball touched the dome, but nothing else did. A thin line of glass bottles, bits of plastic and cigarette butts new and old, waited inches away from the glowing line. Red plastic cups, with edges missing and cracks up their lengths, lay on the street nearby, but nothing touched it, not even autumn leaves.

    “Go ahead, get your ball,” Tyler said.

    Teagan turned. Tyler and the other boys packed around the alleyway, Tyler with his arms crossed over his chest. They all wore unexpected grins, despite the fact that he hadn’t returned with the ball. Patrik stood near the back of the pack, but he wasn’t looking at his friend. He stared at the dome as Teagan had done. Teagan was sure Patrik had never seen it this close, and he was a whole year older.

    “Ok,” Teagan said.

    He reached down, grasped the ball with both hands and tugged. The rubber stretched but the edge of the ball which touched the dome didn’t move. He pulled harder, unable to get a solid grip on the rubber, slipped backward and fell on his backside. Several of the boys laughed.

    “Come on,” one said. “That’s my ball, Tyler.”

    “Shut up,” Tyler said.

    Teagan stood up, brushed himself off and then went to reach his hand around the back of the ball to pull it free, but he stopped. He couldn’t quite decide why, but he grabbed the ball again in the same way and tugged harder. This time he squeezed his arms together to keep his grip but he couldn’t make it move.

    “You lost his ball,” said Tyler. “You know what that means?”

    “I have to give him mine?” asked Teagan.

    “Truth or dare,” one kid said.

    “Truth or dare,” Tyler agreed.

    “What’s that?”

    “You have to pick. You tell us a truth, no matter what. If you lie, we all get to punch you once.” There was a smile in Tyler’s eyes. “Or you have to do one dare and if you fail, we all get to punch you once.”

    If he took truth, they could say he lied no matter what and hit him. At least if he did the dare, he could just do it, and they couldn’t say he didn’t. Maybe if he did it well enough, he and Patrik would be invited back to play even after the others they replaced weren’t sick anymore. How did a shock make people sick? Where did they find electricity? Everyone knew the outlets in the walls were dead. 

    “What’s it gonna be, runt?”


    Tyler smiled wide, the other boys all laughed harder and then got very quiet. Tyler walked ahead of the group and leaned over to put his arm around Teagan’s shoulder and whispered to him like a trusted older brother. He turned him around, applying gentle pressure on Teagan’s smaller frame, to face the giant dome and the frozen people on the other side.

    “The others have never been brave enough to do this. So, I am going to ask you. I asked Matt over there once, and he just chickened out. His arm was bruised for a month. He could barely lift his spoon to eat.” Tyler drew in a hissing breath to emphasize how awful it was. “In fact, nobody has ever been brave enough to do it except me, and that’s why I lead the group.”

    “Do what?”

    Teagan’s eyes met the eyes of the kid across the street again, though the boy was no longer looking right at him. He still looked directly at the place he had looked before, at the alleyway where Teagan had burst forth in pursuit of his ball.

    “Lick it,” said Tyler.

    “Lick what?”

    Teagan looked at the ball near his toes with the foot prints and scuff marks and hoped it wasn’t that.

    “Lick the dome.” Tyler waved a hand forward toward the wall of firmly glowing light and the host of unmoving people on the other side of it. He took a half step away from Teagan and then he added quietly. “I dare you.”

Teagan looked left, and looked right and looked ahead. The people on the other side of the dome didn’t make sense. They did not look up at each other or anything around them. Half of them looked down at the glowing boxes in their hands. He wondered what they were all thinking.

    Beyond the dome, small drifts of garbage lifted up and paused in midflight wherever the wind had been carrying it. Wind blew in the wrong direction on the other side of the wall.

    He looked again at the bird frozen in flight on the inside of the dome and thought of the small glass globes his mother collected. She had arranged a dozen in the front room, each one containing snow scenes or tiny trees with falling autumn leaves. Every time she shook one, the contents moved, but eventually settled back to the bottom. He imagined the dome as a globe like his mother’s collection. It just needed a giant to shake it.

    He moved a half step closer and he looked down at the ball by his feet, big, soft, and red. Then he looked at the dome, and placed his hands behind his back to act as a counter weight as he leaned forward. The closer he got to the dome, the less obvious it became that it existed. The gentle glow seemed to be an effect that needed the big picture to be seen. When his face hovered barely an inch from the edge of it, he swore it wasn’t there. People’s expressions cleared beyond the light. Fine lines and wrinkles on their faces as they laughed and spoke came into sharp relief.

    He pushed his tongue out, and expected the dome to be like glass when he made contact. He tried to lean further forward but the idea kept slipping out of his mind, so he just stared ahead blankly his mouth drying out as he stood there. He thought of the two dozen boys punching him in the shoulder once each while someone else held him steady so he couldn’t move, run or deflect the blow and he pushed his mouth further forward. He ordered his neck to crane outward and for each creeping inch of progress his hips thrust backward for no gain. He wanted to do it, but something convinced him not to.

    “I dare you,” Tyler said again from behind him in a sing song voice.

    “Dare you, dare you,” several other kids echoed the song in a chorus.

    Teagan closed his eyes and leaned forward with all his might. He pictured himself playing ball with them again the next day. He would be picked first. They wouldn’t care when the other boys came back. He would be the next Tyler, and when Tyler went off to join the really older kids, Teagan would pick the games. All he had to do was stick out his tongue.

    It felt the way the world smelled after a thunderstorm. It tingled up his mouth, and then the tip of his nose, and then it raised hairs on his eyebrows as he leaned harder. He met no barrier and felt himself start to sink into the soft white glowing wall, like bits of cookies into warm marshmallow fluff.

He heard both sides of the wall. Horns blared at him, and people talked over the sounds of a city that brimmed with life. A dog barked and someone yelled at it. An ambient pall of noise hit him, overlaid on the sound of kids behind him screaming. He didn’t understand what they said but he felt a tingling sensation on his hands. Reaching up to prevent his fall, he had leaned too far forward, and touched the wall.

    Jolts of electricity ran up his arms, and through his elbows, swollen tight against the skin. Both hands sunk in for just an instant, like when he jumped into his mattress at night, then he couldn’t feel them at all like when he sat on his foot too long. Panic dominated and he pushed harder, but nothing tactile responded to push against. The hair on his head began to stand on end, like he had shuffled his feet a thousand times across a wool carpet.

    Behind he heard his mother and father. They yelled his name, but he couldn’t move his mouth to answer them. Other adult voices echoed from other directions. A force around his waist threatened to pull him in half, taught like a rope around a dog’s neck tugging him away from the noise of the street. Wind forced from his lungs blew into the dome and he watched as the eyes of the boy across the street turn, just slightly, and meet his.

    Teagan landed with a painful crack on the pavement, surrounded by clear noises of adults screaming. His mother cried. His father screamed. Why were they there? When had they arrived? Teagan opened his eyes to find Tyler and prove his bravery. He couldn’t blink though, and he couldn’t feel his eyelids open or close. The static was still running up his face, and he tried to scratch the itch of his nose with his hands, but he couldn’t feel those either. He felt his mother holding his arms down by his elbows as he tried to move.

    He thought he smiled at her but his mother just cried harder. When he could feel again, they would know he was brave. He would be the one to say it to someone else who wasn’t as brave as he was.

    “I dare you.”

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