Thanks for all the reviews everyone! Here is the next installment! YAY! I finally updated this fic! =^.^= Oh, by the way, the slight change in writing styles between Flashback and current-time is intentional.

Part IV

After walking what seemed like hours through room after room and hall after hall saying hello to all the nice people who stopped and gawked about how cute we were and then made weird comments once we left, Ash and I arrived at the door to Dad's bedroom.

" You go first." Ash challenged.

Ahah, I got it: the whole ladies-first deal. Or maybe he was too scared himself to try it first? I grabbed the knob and gave it a hearty spin.

Inside, the room was done all in a pale blue with traces of pink frill here and there. I found this to be odd. Boys didn't like pink, did they?

Ash cocked an eyebrow. " Our father is one strange dude."

I didn't argue.

We spilt apart to each explore different corners of the room. Ash started for the fancy bed. A shelf in the far right-hand corner caught my eye. It was a large display shelf with lots of pretty red, blue, and green gems rimming a gold trimming. Behind the glass were large toys and models of tanks, fighter jets, jeeps, and all that military stuff.

Wow. Dad must really like the army. All the models looked very real, only miniature and made of plastic rather than metal and alloys.

Nice, but I wasn't really much into that stuff myself so I lost interest quickly.

What else was there around here? Yeah, a voice in my head scolded, what else can you look at, finger, and possibly break? I ignored it. This was too much fun! Hehe, I was going to learn all of my dad's secrets!

My gaze shifted to a nearby nightstand where a solitary picture stood in an expensive gold frame. At least, I guessed it was expensive, as gold is not cheap. " Hey, what do we have here? " I lifted the photo and brought it to eye-level.

" You see something? " Ash mumbled; rifling through a drawer and leafing through papers.

" Yeah." I turned and held the picture up for him to see, taking the opportunity to read the inscription on the back. " Alfred and Alexia Ashford: 12 years."

" Well whaddya know," Ash mused, impressed, " Looks like Dad did have a twin sister after all. She doesn't look very happy there though."

" Hmm..." I flipped the frame back over to the photo side and studied it closely. " Wow, Dad sure looked different when he was younger."

Two kids, Alfred and Alexia, sat side by side against the backdrop of a red curtain. They looked very much alike. Both had straight blonde hair that was the exact same shade as mine, beautiful ice-blue eyes, and the same basic shape of face. The main distinguishing difference at first-sight was that Dad's hair was cut shorter and had one of those special hairlines that dipped into a 'v' at the forehead while Alexia did not.

Something familiar about that...

I took a second to glance at my reflection in the polished glass and noticed that I, too, possessed a 'v' hairline. So it was one of Dad's traits. I returned my attention to the picture.

Both twins were clothed in what looked to me like a thin gray jacket partially covering a white dress-shirt and with a fancy white collar sporting a red broach in the middle. Dad was wearing a gray belt and gray pants, and Alexia boasted a light green skirt in addition to the belt. Like school uniforms or something. Dad was looking at his sister, lips curved upward just so to form a slight grin, but Alexia's expression bothered me. A cold, ruthless frown. Like she was angry at the whole world. Her glare was aimed at my father, and I didn't like that one bit.

What was her problem? Too spoiled? Seemed likely, as I had long since learned in school that spoiled kids were often brats.

I felt eyes over my shoulder seconds before, " Whoa, she looks just like you Alexis! "

He was right. I did look a lot like our Aunt Alexia--so much, in fact, that it was creepy. She was older than me, of course, but the resemblance was remarkable.

" Yeah, I guess I do. Wow. So that's our Aunt Alexia." An idea flashed through my mind like white lightning: could this be the same Alexia from Mrs. Phelps's bedtime stories? I don't know what made me think that: the Alexia from the stories was my mother and they couldn't possibly be the same person. Not unless my aunt was my mother, which was just too weird to think about.

" I wonder what happened to her? " Ash asked. Good question.

I shrugged. " I don't know." I traced a finger over the image of Alexia. " Why's she so angry? "

Ash shook his head, clearly just as confused as I was. " Probably had a bad day or something. Everyone gets grumpy sometimes." His face shifted into a look of disgust. " I don't see why Dad liked her so much. All the stories I hear it was like he was her buttmonkey or something. What did she ever do for him? Hmphf, I don't think sisters are the most perfect of perfect angels in the entire universe. I say ship 'em all to Bermuda! "

I snorted. " Why thank you! Maybe I think all brothers should be locked away in a cage and fed their own underwear! "

" At least we're not twins. That would be awful."

I carefully replaced the picture back on the stand. There. Now Dad would never notice. " Why do you say that? "

Ash stared at me like I'd just asked which direction was up, " Because--then we'd have to share everything. I can't even handle sharing my pencils at school! It's like, gees, can't those ninnies get their own? My god, a pencil doesn't cost that much."

I found myself staring at Alexia again. Something in my blood was screaming at me, but I didn't know what. I felt...weird. Like I was somehow connected to Alexia more than her just being my Dad's twin sister.

Not the best of feelings considering my general bad impression of her. It wasn't a really bad feeling, but a feeling that maybe there was more to her than met the eye.

" You know," I mused, thinking aloud, " They say Alexia was a whiz kid, a child genius. Graduated college and everything at just ten years old." I looked up, meeting his gaze. " Just a year older than you, Ash."

Ash narrowed his eyes jealously at the picture. " Lucky her. When I enter the fourth grade in five or six weeks and I'm in a class doing math problems or zoning out at the blackboard wishing myself anywhere but there, I can just cheer myself up by remembering that she was already finished with school at my age. Whiz kids are so lucky. I wish I was a genius. But noooo, that's too much to ask. I get mostly B's. How about you? "

I nodded automatically. " Yeah. Same here." I fibbed. Actually, I got mostly A's, but only because I had to work really hard for them, had to earn them. Of course I couldn't share that with Ash. He'd only get jealous, and my brother is not a fun person to be around when he's jealous. He can get downright mean.

" Hey! Cool, an ant farm! " A gleam of excitement in his eye, Ash shot over to the bedside where a small ant farm was stationed on a nightstand.

Yech. Ants. I'd never really liked them.

Once when I was four years old I had decided to sneak up past my bedtime to see a scary movie the adults were watching in the front room. This had turned out to be a very bad, bad idea. In it this guy had gotten covered in fire ants and eaten alive in horrifyingly vivid detail. The moment I saw that I screamed bloody murder and Mrs. Phelps had leapt off the couch and caught me before I could get back to bed. She tried to comfort me, to assure me that it was alright, that ants did not really attack people like that. Still, I'd had to sleep in bed with her that night, what with suddenly seeing legions of vicious, bloodthirsty, people-eating ants coming at me from every corner of the room and all. That kind of imagery has a way of gripping the mind.

It was weeks before I could walk outside and not run away in fear every time I saw so much as a single harmless ant.

While that movie sure hadn't helped matters, I had never been an ant lover from the start. They crawl inside dead animals, which is gross.

When it comes to insects, butterflies and dragonflies are my favorites hands down.

Ash grinned like an idiot. " Hey Sis, check this out."

" Um...no thanks." I replied.

He flashed me a taunting smirk. " What, you're not afraid are you? "

" No."

" Then what's the problem? "

" Ants are just gross." And they were, too. Even though they may not be able to kill me, a big black one I had found in the crack of a sidewalk once had bitten me pretty hard. Why take chances?

Ash laughed harshly. " You've obviously never taken a handful of them outside on a sunny day and played 'Firestrike' with a magnifying glass, have you? "

I shook my head quickly. " No! That's..."

" Or poured gasoline on an anthill and tossed a lit match at it." Ash went on, as if I had not said anything, " Ants are fun for tons reasons. You don't know what you're missing! And, hey, they're great for adventures on the high seas! What you do is you find a small twig or leaf and chuck it into the nearest toilet. Then you scrape some ants onto it and let your imagination run wild. Heheh, last time I played a gigantic whirlpool just happened to stir out of a clear ocean." A mischievous grin appeared on his face, " One simple flush and it was bye-bye little anties. Down the swirling vortex of doom! Muwhahaha! " He rubbed his hands together in wicked glee. " Come on Sis! Let's do it! We could have two 'ships' this time and..."

" Yuck! Sorry brother dear, but I am not going to lean my face over some crusty old toilet bowl with you and watch ants drown! " What was wrong with him?

Ash turned back to the ant farm. " Aw, common, they can swim for a little while. So it's not like they have an easy death or anything. And in case you haven't noticed the toilets around here are not crusty. I saw one down in the west wing that was solid gold! "

" A solid gold toilet?! Why would anyone want to waste all that gold that on a john?! "

" Beats me," Ash replied, " but it was very pretty." He popped the lid off the ant farm. Probably not a good idea. Our father wasn't going to like this. I felt queasy...we shouldn't be here.

" What are you doing? " I hissed, " If someone catches us we're going to be in mega-sized trouble! " I didn't want to be the one to ruin the party, but I also didn't want to be grounded.

Ash shot me a disdainful look before returning his attention to the freshly opened ant farm. " Gees-Louise Alexis, are you always such a sweet little angel? Where's you're sense of adventure? So we might get caught. We might get grounded. Big deal. Not like Dad's going to kill us or anything. Rules were made to be broken. Besides, Dad never said we couldn't mess with his ants. You're not going to chicken out on me now are you? Because we're partners in crime! "

" Well...okay. Just don't do anything really bad." He had a point. I couldn't deny that part of me had always wanted to be rebellious and break the rules. Have some fun. Live for the moment. However, my common sense had always held me back. An annoying habit I have of thinking about my actions having consequences.

Dad never did say we couldn't touch his stuff. He didn't say we could, either, but as long as we were careful and put everything back I was sure he probably wouldn't mind. Probably wouldn't even notice. And if I did get in trouble at least Ash would be there too.

As I watched, Ash dipped a hand into the ants. Stupid. If he were to be bitten it would serve him right. Oblivious to the dangers, he retracted his hand and faced me, displaying a string of small black ants crawling the length of his pointer finger.

Amazingly, they weren't biting.

Ash was right--I'd been getting all hyped up over nothing. These ants weren't the big biting ants.

" Hmmm..." Ash looked thoughtful. Then he did something I never thought he'd do...he licked the ants off his finger! Gross!

I flinched uncomfortably. " That's disgusting! You eat ants? "

Ash swallowed. That easily. As if he were eating nothing more than a bite of chocolate bar. " Hey, it worked for Mowgli. But they don't really have a taste." He wiggled his hand back and forth in the so-so gesture. " Blah. They do tickle on the way down though. You wanna try? "

I stepped back, shaking my head in firm refusal. " No. I'll pass, thank you very much." There was now way I was going to stick some yucky old ants in my mouth.

" Ah, come on. I dare you! " He reached for the ant farm. Knocked it over on Dad's bed. Hundreds of ants poured out and ran all over; darting under the covers, inside the pillow slips...everywhere!

It was an ant free-for-all!

" Ash." I groaned. Dad was not going to be happy about this. We weren't even supposed to be here!

Ash awarded me a sheepish grin. " Heheh...oops. " He quickly set the ant farm upright and snapped the lid back into place, setting it back on the stand. Nice, but it didn't change the fact that there were still oh, say, a gazillion ants having a field day on our father's bed. Plus the sawdust. Can't have a party without confetti, right?

" Quick! Help me get this in the wastebasket! " Ash began scooping litter and ants alike into his cupped palms.

I didn't really want to help him. It was his mess and he should be the one to clean it up. But Dad was going to be very angry with both of us if we didn't fix it right away. So I pitched in, gathering handfuls of ants and litter granules and throwing them into the wastebasket in the opposite corner. However, there was still a problem.

" The ants are going to crawl out of the garbage you know." I said coolly.

Ash laughed nervously. " Um...maybe he wont notice."

I rolled my eyes. " Right. Dad walks in and there are armies of ants crawling in his bedding, swarming out of the wastebasket, and he's going to be all 'Ho-hum, nothing wrong with this picture. Yep. Everything's peachy here.' Get real. Plus you messed his ant farm up. He's going to notice. And who do you think he'll blame? We're the only kids for miles around! "

" But it was an accident! "

" It was no accident we were in this room! " I shot back.

Ash sighed, defeated. It was finally starting to sink in that we were not in a very good situation.

" Well, what else can we do? " He threw his arms up, almost yelling at me like it was all my fault, " We can't catch every one of those ants and put them back where they came from! Maybe they'll just crawl away and get lost in the house. They're so tiny you wouldn't even know they were there unless you...well, knew they were there. "

He had a point. I still wasn't comfortable with it, but, like Ash had pointed out, what could we do?

It didn't take very long--maybe two or three minutes--before we had the bedspread back to normal again and ant-free. Mostly. It was just too hard to catch every single one. There were probably dozens still lurking just beneath the covers.

" Well, now we can get back with our exploring. Might as well until we hear someone coming." Ash said, not really leaving much room open for argument.

I didn't have a better idea. " Okay, what are we looking for? "

Ash shrugged. " I don't know, something cool." He kneeled down on all fours and peered under the bed. " Nope. Nothing breathtaking down here."

My eyes flitted to a small cabinet near the dresser. There was a good chance there might be something halfway cool in there. I passed a creepy-looking music box with a weird blue ant decorating the lid on the way over to it.

What was the deal with the ants around here?

The first cabinet drawer slid open easily, revealing a small red diary laying temptingly atop a messy mound of notebooks and papers. The cover was leather and well-worn; it no doubt contained a lot of entries.

" Dad's diary! I found Dad's diary! " I snatched that sucker up and flipped open to the inner-cover. Sure enough, the words Alfred Ashford were written there in fine gold lettering along with the years 1982-1984. Wow. Eight, nine, and ten years ago. It went without saying that the diary was very thick.

" What's it say? " Ash snickered, " Read aloud. Story time! "

I grinned like a kid who just received word that the school bully was moving out of town and never coming back. Naughty! I was going to be downright naughty! Diaries were a person's personal possession and contained some of their deepest thoughts; the secrets they would share with no one. And now I was going to read Dad's. Being bad never felt so good. This was going to be fun!

I turned to the first entry. The writing was all in black ink in a delicate cursive. I began to read, careful to keep my voice low enough so that only Ash would hear and no one else: " September 25, 1982. Great news! Alexia got back from Harvard today! After a whole dreadful week of being apart we are at last reunited. Words cannot express my joy at seeing her back and well. Sadly, it would seem she wasn't quite as happy to see me as I was her. From the moment she set foot through the door all she could do was grump and complain about my lack of self-discipline and control. I must have apologized a thousand times over for my ineptness, but clearly her troubles go deeper than what I can see on the surface as she was in a particularly foul mood. Must've had a bad time at the university. I thought I'd cheer her up by bringing her a bowl of her favorite ice cream--vanilla--into her room while she sat at her desk reading a volume on bio....bio..." I stumbled on the word. It was a very big one I'd never seen before, and I had no clue how to pronounce it.

Ash lifted an eyebrow. " Bio-what? "

I shrugged helplessly. " I don't know. We'll just say bio-something and leave it at that. Probably not important anyway."

Ash sprung onto the bed and stretched out, placing both hands behind his head and lightly closing his eyes; clearly enjoying himself. " Go on."

I felt like a teacher reading a story to the class. " Ok. Where was I...oh yeah, bio-something." I cleared my throat and continued, " However, this proved to be a mistake as, with a murderous flare in her eye, she snatched the bowl right out of my hands and creamed the contents into my face, saying "How many times must I warn you not to disturb me while I am reading? You're lucky I don't take that spoon and ram it down your gullet you thoughtless worm!" making it all too clear that I was not to repeat this action again without prior permission. I left the room stifling back tears and feeling worthless. How could I have been so careless? September 26, 1982. Today kicked major..." I paused, noting a bad word.

Adults said it was bad-mannered to swear. So why did they do it all the time?

" ...butt." I substituted before carrying on, " I woke up miserable at first, thinking my dear sister would still be angry with me. Quite the contrary. I was in for a pleasant surprise when I opened the door to her room to apologize for my ill manners last night. Instead of scowling at me, she pounced upon me like a friendly lioness! Even gave me a kiss on the cheek! "

" Euw," Ash interrupted, " Brother-Kisser! "

I read on, ignoring him even though I shared the same opinion, " Overjoyed, I returned the kiss and asked what it was that had caused the sudden change of heart. Giggling, she replied that her studies had gone quite well after I left last night and that she now required a test-subject. But first, she stated, she had the reply to a question I had asked a while back. Could it be? Was she really thinking about what I had asked? My heart must've been pounding a million miles a minute as I waited for her to say more. When she did, it was all good news and exactly what I wanted to hear. "The answer is yes." She told me in a seductive purr, "Right after you help me out with the experiment." There was no containing my grin. "So you're going to..." "Hush" She had put a finger to my lip, and I felt as though I were gazing into the glacier eyes of a wicked angel cast from Heaven, "Not another word of this until later tonight, when everyone is sound asleep. Right now I require your assistance with the new solution I have created...." The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. We scouted out various eligible candidates for the experiment, and not with much luck. Alexia is dead-set on the subject being a child for some reason that is beyond my full comprehension. Only problem with that is: there are no children around these parts other than her and myself. Needless to say, once again my twin amazed me by overcoming all odds and finding a loophole. Using her charm and expertise, she was able to convince our father to invite cousin Diana over for a visit this weekend. Cousin Di is only eight years old and should work perfectly. We figure, she's an orphan anyway--daughter of our late Aunt Sarah--and she won't be missed. She should feel privileged she gets to take part in our research. But that is for a later night. Right now, I must see what my twin wishes to discuss. September 27, 1982. I can't believe it! We did it! We actually did it! Late last night I rendezvoused with my sister in her room. She seemed cheery, and in high spirits. When I inquired as to the cause of such joy ( though I suspect I already knew ) she narrowed her eyes and gave me a mischievous, almost evil smirk like I had seen her use many a time in the past on our victims. She sat on the side of her bed and motioned for me to sit next to her, to which I gladly complied. I will always remember that wild spark in her eyes when she said in a soft, velvety voice, " The cosmic influences of the seminal fluid in the great beyond of the ad infinitum are coming together in the heated vortex within." "

I stopped, confused in every sense of the word. What was that supposed to mean? I was sure at least some of the words were English, yet I didn't understand the sentence. Our Aunt Alexia talked very strange. I didn't understand a word of it.

Apparently, neither did Ash. Bolting upright on the bed, and with a puzzled expression, he asked, " Huh? "

" That's what it says! " I pointed to the words in the diary, holding it out for him to see even though I knew he was too far away to actually read.

Ash shook his head, irritated. " Yes, I know, but what does it mean? "

I put a hand to my forehead in frustration. " I don't know. You're the nine year old, you tell me."

Ash wrinkled his nose at me the way he would a plateful of cooked beets. " Beats the heck out of me. I've never even heard of those words before. Maybe it's another language? Or a secret code? Read on, let's see what Dad thinks about it."

I swallowed and cleared my throat, mouth a little dry from all that talking. " This confused me, so I kindly asked her to repeat using simpler terms."

" Understandable." Ash cut in, " What's next? "

" Leaning close, she whispered, "Duh, I want to commit incest with you, Brother"."

I stopped again. Looked to Ash. " Ash, what is incest? "

" It's a little perfumed stick you light and you burn it in rooms to make them smell better. I have a whole bunch of sticks of cherry incest at home. Maggie lights them too when she's cleaning house." His face took on a more bitter appearance, " She really bugs me sometimes. Keeps wanting me to call her 'Mom' like I used to when I thought she was my mom. But she isn't my mother, so why should I call her that? "

I shook my head, ignoring Ash's statement about Maggie. " That doesn't sound right. Incest sounds like it should be a do-ing word, you know, like run, cough, or skate? Something like that. The diary says commit incest, like commit a crime. So a scented stick wouldn't make sense. It would be like committing desk. How do you commit desk? "

" Well how do you commit run or cough? " Ash spat, " Trust me, I know what incest is. Like I said, it's a scented stick you light to make a room smell better. As sure as two plus two equals four."

I was still skeptical. That didn't sound right, but Ash knew more about these things than I did. Perhaps Dad worded it wrong? Oh well. It probably wasn't important anyway. I tried to flip to the next page, but the pages were stuck together. Probably wouldn't be a good idea to open them in case Dad found out. Hmmm...a later entry, perhaps?

" The pages are stuck together, so I'm skipping to a later date." I announced, flipping to a random page way back near the end of the diary.

The entry was labeled August 13, 1984. I began to read. " I can't take it. I can't deal with it. Only six weeks since my dear twin went into hibernation, and already I am suffering from the loneliness of being without her touch. Each day at dawn and just before nightfall I visit her in her blissful slumber. Her fair skin so delicate and smooth, her flowing golden hair so radiant and full of life. Lips that mock the ruby red rose. So close, yet so far away. It is like a dagger through my heart; to have her so near, yet not be able to interact, to allow her the warmth of my touch, to communicate. To let her know I am living true to my word. If only she could see me now. See how much I miss her. If there is a Hell, than surely I must be in it. Living like this from day to day is nothing short of torture, a torture from which there is no escape. No one to console me. I cannot trust anyone. It is beyond their comprehension. Many would be aghast to know the true extent of my relationship with my sister, to learn of the sins of which we have committed. It means nothing to me. Alexia and I share a bond that transcends mere siblinghood; our souls are fused together in the glorious path of destiny. And that makes it just. She is cut, I bleed. You cannot do onto one of us without also afflicting the other. A concept which I don't expect the short-sighted worker ants to understand. They exist for only one purpose, and that is to serve. Alexia and I are better than that. We always will be. Through these tough times, I must stand strong. I must bear the torch alone and defend her with my life, as I swore on the Ashford blood I would. But without her guidance I feel myself slipping, teetering on the edge of the cliff of insanity. I wish at least that I might have little Alexis to console me, the fruit of the love between Alexia and I. She possesses some of her mother's spark, some of Alexia's greatness. Perhaps I should make arrangements, have her brought here to help me cope...no! Mustn't allow myself to think that way. Alexis is with another family now, and that is the way Alexia wants it. Both her and Ash are to remain with their faux families until their mother, my dear beloved sister Alexia, awakens...." I stopped right their, my whole world rocked.

My parents were brother and sister? Then it was true, in all those stories....it was Alexia, my mother, not some other person. My aunt and mom....they were one and the same!

Shocking, yet...somehow deep down it was like I had always secretly known.

" Whoa! Time out, time out! " Ash tapped one hand into the outstretched palm of his other in the universal signal, " Aunt Alexia is really our mother?! "

I nodded, a sick feeling knotting up in the pit of my stomach. " Yes. That's what it says."

Ash shook his head, a look of wonder on his face. " Wow! And just when you think you have it all figured out. Our parents are also our aunt and uncle. Cool! Four relatives in two! Though it's also kinda weird..."

" It is." I agreed. Briefly, my eyes flitted back to the photo. Took that scene in once again. I didn't like it. It was neat that my mother was a genius and all, and I really couldn't care less about her and Dad being twin brother and sister.

What bothered me was the coldness, the lack of emotion. I felt weird inside. A feeling I can't really describe. Like I didn't really know if I was proud to be related or not. How could I know when both her and my father talked using big words? I admit; I didn't understand over half of what Dad was saying in his journal. Even less of what Mom was saying.

The problem with being eight years old. If I were older then maybe it would make more sense. However...Mrs. Phelps had never had anything bad to say about my mother. All those heroic stories came back in a blur. Those I did understand.

Perhaps I was just getting a glimpse of what Mom was like on bad days?

If so, then it really wouldn't be fair to judge her. After all, I wouldn't want a person to judge me so quickly based on one or two bad days. I would give her the benefit of the doubt, as my caretakers had so often said about people.

When I next looked to Ash his titanic grin could rival a crocodile's. " Hey! Both of our parents are very pretty. And Mother Alexia is going to come back some day and take us back when she does! Isn't that awesome! "

I frowned. No, it wasn't. Well, at least I didn't think so right now. " Actually, I like living with Mr. Rosken and Mrs. Phelps. They both are really super nice to me, and I think they would be sad if..."

Ash waved a hand, cutting me off. " Ah, phooey! Wake-up call dear sister! They don't care about you. All they care about is the money Father gives them to look after us."

" That's not true! " I hissed. How could he even think that way? I'd met Maggie a few times and she had a big heart. One of the nicest people I'd ever met. She would probably let Ash get away with murder. How could he talk so badly behind her back?

Ash furrowed his eyebrows. " Oh really? It's never even crossed your mind that Dad is super-rich and our 'families' would both be dirt poor if it weren't for his monthly checks? Come on, do either of your 'caretakers' even have jobs? You know, other than looking out for you? "

" Mr. Rosken works as a welder down at Grant's Machinery." I declared proudly, rushing to my foster-dad's defense.

Ash cracked up like I'd just told a joke. " Welder! That's where the big bucks are I'll bet! That's below even peanuts compared to what our real dad makes. Has this ever occurred to you? By taking you into their family they are able to live more...leisurely. They are doing it for themselves, not you. You should hate them for it."

" I don't! " I snapped, blood boiling, " But I'm beginning to hate you! I don't care what you say, you're wrong. They do care about me. And I would feel the same for them even if we were living in a cardboard box out on a street corner begging for scraps of food from passing people! "

Ash's eyes flashed with anger, his cheeks just starting to flush. " Oh yeah? I'll bet I'll find all the proof I need right her, right in Dad's diary! " He ripped the diary from my hand before I had time to protest. In the process, he lost my page and the journal was now at a slightly later entry.

Ash began to read. In his rush he started in the middle of a sentence. "...complaints of the monster down in the basement of the Antarctic base. His inhuman roars have been startling my workers and subtracting from their abilities to perform their daily duties. I told them that it was all just a myth, but for some reason that does little to comfort them. Shall have to quiet the monster down..."

" Ash! Little Alexia! " A female voice from down the hall called, interrupting, " Is that you? "

Some people around here had this annoying habit of calling me 'Little Alexia.' Probably because I happen to resemble her. Maybe a little bit because of my middle name, too.

Ash dropped the diary back into the cabinet drawer and slammed it shut at light speed. " Quick! We can't let her find us! "

" But where are we going to hide? " I scanned the room frantically. Unless you were a mouse, there weren't a lot of places to hide. We were slightly too big to fit under the bed. Too wide to fit behind the dresser. We needed to think of something quick!

Footsteps pounded the hall. Closer...closer!

My heart thudded in my chest. Trapped! We were going to be in big trouble!

Then I saw it--a small grill near the head of the bed. Probably an air vent. It was by no means large, but it would be just big enough for a couple of kids to crawl through.

" Look, a vent! " I ran over to the grill and pulled it off. Was shoved rudely aside by Ash.

" I'm first, I'm always first! " He crouched down and began crawling in.

" Kids? Is that you? " Uh-oh! She was right outside the door now!

I helped push Ash in and scrambled to make it in myself.

" Are you in there? "

No! I answered silently. The doorknob started to spin. I pushed all the harder. Ash, the big slow-poke was going to get us caught!

Finally all the way in! There was no time to replace the screen, just MOVE!

The door creaked open.

Ash and I picked up the pace.

" Ash? Alexis? " A confused voice. Then, " Oh ..." She said a word I will not repeat, " Alfred's going to have my head for this! "

We kept on. The shaft was dark and the view wasn't the best in the world, being I was behind Ash and all and he took up most of the tunnel.

" We made it." He sounded relieved.

" Yeah. Where are we going now? "

Ash cackled insanely. " To go find this monster, of course. Dad says it lived in the basement of the Antarctic base, and this is the Antarctic base. Maybe it's still there."

" Are you crazy! What if it eats us alive! " I really, really did not want to be hunting monsters down. Monsters were called monsters for a reason, and most of the ones I'd heard about ate little kids for supper.

" Come on now, you're not going to go all sissy on me now are you, sissy? " Ash teased, " Cause one way or another I'm going, and if you don't follow you could miss seeing something really cool. Besides, it's been a long time, monster might not even be there anymore."

" What if it is? "

" If it is, then we'll just stay hidden. You know, not let it see us. This is going to be so awesome! I've never seen a real life monster before."

" I was always hoping I never would."

" Aw, quit being such a wuss. This is your chance to prove you're brave! Go with me, and I'll never call you a sissy ever again. And, I'll wait for you on Sonic and Tails. For real, this time. I swear."

I thought about this. He could be lying but I didn't want him to think I was scared, even though I really kinda was. Besides, he would be right there with me. And if we ran into anything, we didn't have to let it see us.

" Alright." I agreed, " Let's find this monster."

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The bell rang, signifying the end of lunch and the end of my misery.

And I swear, Madam Hag looked disappointed to have to let us go free. " Alright everyone, back to class now. And this time, try not to make jerks of yourselves."

I headed out the door, biting back a sarcastic remark that begged to express itself. Fine. Let the old witch rot in her lair. I had other things to be doing and it wouldn't break my heart if I never saw her again.

The cute Latino boy sided up with me in the hall. " Don't take it personally, she's always crabby. Nobody really likes her."

I snorted. " I can see why."

We pushed past throngs of kids fumbling with their lockers. Is it just me, or are those things harder than necessary to get open? Sometimes I had to beat mine into submission before it'd finally surrender with a sad creak.

" Oh, by the way, my name's Miguel." He stopped and extended his hand, a friendly smile warming his features. " A pleasure to meet you, Alexis."

I smiled and shook his hand. " A pleasure meeting you, too. It's good to know that not all shreds of decency and kindness have left this school."

We both had a chuckle at that. " Yeah. A lot of the people around here can't accept anyone different than them. So you have two basic social groups here: the 'cool' people and that 'not cool' people. It's not right, but you can't do anything about it 'cept just play it cool and try not to tick anyone really popular off, because then you'll have them and all their best buds doing their part to make your life as miserable as possible."

" Sounds like you've had experience." I said, then wished I'd kept my mouth shut. Why did I say that? That was kinda mean.

Miguel sighed, his glossy black hair reflecting traces of the fluorescent lights overhead. He looked upset.

" Sorry, Miguel I..." He didn't let me finish.

" No, you're right." We came to a stop in front of a bank of lockers. He began spinning a combination on one, eyes focused on his work and not on me, " When I first came to this school last year a lot of the kids...even some of the teachers, picked on me. I used to make up any story I could think of to try and stay home, just so I could avoid going. Then my dad brought me to a counselor and she helped me realize that you can't run away from your problems. You just have to adapt and change. So I generally try not to draw attention to myself. Keep a low profile, not do anything that would put me on people's radar. So far this has been working pretty well for me. The jocks leave me alone at least. Well, most of the time."

The locker came open. He reached inside and grabbed an Algebra book. " I'm kinda a loner, you could say."

" You warmed up okay to me." I offered, " And there's nothing wrong with being different."

Miguel grabbed his binder and slammed his locker before turning to flash me a grin. " See, that's what I like about you: you're really sweet. That's a rare trait in this school."

I returned his smile. Really, he was a nice kid. " The feeling is entirely mutual, my friend."

He nodded, like I'd said just the right thing. " Well, the bell will ring in a minute and I don't want to make you late to class. See you around."

" See you around, Miguel. Goodbye! " I turned and headed of for my locker. Checked the clock.

Good Lord! 12:23 already....I only had two minutes! Naturally, I still had to go upstairs to get to my locker, then scuttle back down for English. And since I couldn't run like the Flash...no question about it, I was going to be late.

My English teacher was not going to like that.

This school really needed to give a person more time to get to classes.

I hurried up the stairs as fast as I could, nearly tripping on the steps along the way. However, the thought of being late to a class didn't bother me as much as it used to. Sure, the teachers tended to be rather ill-tempered when that happened. And sure, they didn't know how to cut a person slack. This really wasn't the best of schools.

But at least I was not in it alone.

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Stay tuned for Part V! =^.^=