Emmanuel pulled Miranda close and hugged her. Her hyperventilating stopped. She hugged him back.
“You’re right. It’ll be okay. I got my best friend here with me. I’m not alone. Not alone…”
Emmanuel looked into her eyes and winked. “Heh heh,” he said, pointing to his flexed bicep.
“Yeah. We promised we’d take care of each other.” Miranda wiped her tears away. “OMG, I’m melting down over here. Ha ha! Sorry, Manny. Didn’t mean to freak out like that.”
“Eh,” Emmanuel said, waving her worries away.
“You’re right. I guess I shouldn’t apologize. I mean, this is all pretty freaky, right?”
“So. Siren. I guess we need to figure out what that’s about.”
Let’s talk to our neighbors. Someone has to know what’s happening, Emmanuel texted her.
“Really? You don’t want to turn on the news or check on our families?” Miranda asked.
“Hmm. My mom’s at work and my dad is stuck on overtime. And they always tell me to go to a neighbor’s house if I need help. Okay, it’s settled. Let’s go over to Miss Flora’s and see what’s up.”
“Yeah!” Emmanuel concurred.
They rushed out the door and went down the block to Miss Flora’s house. The siren continued its ear piercing wail. It was akin to an air raid siren and it was coming from the center of town. Everyone in the neighborhood was stuffing their cars in a panic, others driving like demons down the road.
Miranda and Emmanuel knocked and rang the doorbell to Miss Flora’s house until she answered. She was a nice older woman who lived with her only granddaughter, Jenny. Her eyes were wide and red from crying.
“Goodness me! Kids, what are you doing here?” she asked.
“Miss Flora, we need help. We don’t know what’s happening,” Miranda said. Emmanuel vigorously nodded.
“It’s a town wide evacuation. You need to leave!” Miss Flora said, grabbing some fine china and stuffing it in a suitcase.
“What are we evacuating from?” Miranda asked.
“Fires! Wild fires all over the valley! They’re spreading fast and coming this way,” Miss Flora said, grabbing her cat and stuffing it in a backpack.
“Oh my God,” Miranda said, covering her mouth.
“Flee, children. Flee!” Miss Flora cried.
“We can’t. Our parents aren’t home and we can’t drive,” Miranda said.
“I can’t help you, dearies. I need to gather my things and get… Jenny. Where’s my Jenny?”
“Jenny Flowers?” Miranda asked.
“My Jenny! She went to school! Oh no!” Miss Flora cried. A glowing orb began to float above her head.
“What is that?” Miranda asked.
“I need my Jenny. She’s all I have left. Jenny!” Miss Flora cried.
“Miss Flora, what is happening with your head right now?” Miranda asked.
“Miss Flora, please, tell us what’s going on.”
“She’s all I have left. Jenny!”
“Manny, what do we do?”
Emmanuel tapped Miss Flora’s shoulder. He grunted and nodded.
“You… you’ll find my Jenny?” Miss Flora asked.
“Mmm!” Emmanuel nodded again.
The glowing orb disappeared and Emmanuel shimmered.
<New Quest accepted>
“What’s this now?” Miranda asked.
“Oh thank you! Thank you, brave boy,” Miss Flora said, kissing Emmanuel’s hands.
“Uh. Yeah,” Emmanuel replied.
“What just happened?”
“Oh good, you accepted your first quest,” a ragged looking man carrying a bucket of chicken from the fridge said.
“Tunnel guy!” Miranda exclaimed.
“You really don’t remember my name? It’s been two days,” the man said.
“I don’t know, it’s been a weird week, okay?” Miranda replied.
“All right, I’ll give you twenty million dollars if you can tell me name. Right now,” the man said.
“Are you for real?”
“That’s the way this works, hun.”
Guess That Name!
= Fart Knuckle
^ Wallleeeeeeeee…. Wally
“Um. I don’t know. It was a W- name, right?”
“No guessing. Just answer. I mean, I guess that’s technically a guess if you don’t know, but you know what I mean. No fishing around for clues. Just answer the question.”
“Eh. Um. Hmm,” Emmanuel wracked his brain.
“I give up,” Miranda said.
“Sha,” Emmanuel said.
“Really? You aren’t even going to check your journal? It’s where everything you’ve done in your adventure so far is stored. Easy twenty million wasted.”
“I don’t have a journal like that,” Miranda protested.
“Really? You mean… Aw snap, I never gave you the journal, did I?”
“Yeah. This is all your fault!” Miranda said, pointing an accusing finger at him.
“I’m trying my best here. I wasn’t ready to be a Guide, okay? I just wanted to live my life and forget the last ten years ever happened, but I can’t. So now I’m stuck doing this job for you kids.”
“How is that our fault?” Miranda asked.
“It’s not! It’s nobody’s fault! But here I am anyway! It sucks!” the man cried. “I was free. Don’t you get it? I was free. I did my adventure already. My friends and I tried to save the world. Now it’s happening all over again and I have to be a Guide this time. To you. I didn’t want this anymore than you did but here we are. So quit complaining and just get on with it already. The sooner you do, the sooner I can be free again!”
“Whoa. That was a lot just now,” Miranda said.
“I… I know. I’m sorry. I just… I’m tired of all this.”
“You saved the world?”
“If you wanna call it that. But yeah I did. When I was about your age.”
“So this is really happening. And it’s happened before,” Miranda said, nervously playing with the strings on her pajamas.
“Yeah. Three times to be precise.”
“Wah?” Emmanuel shouted.
“I was with the third group of heroes. They were my friends. We…” he let the sentence hang, wearing a thousand yard stare.
After a moment or two, Miranda turned to Emmanuel.
“So, now we have to do a side-quest or something?”
Emmanuel looked at Miss Flora who was still crying.
“Um,” he said, motioning to her.
“She’s fine. She won’t move or do anything until you complete her quest,” said the man.
“Well, except say that, of course. Anyway, once you do that, then we can get on with this adventure and my life can go back to normal.”
“Okay. We have a plan. You ready to do this?” Miranda asked Emmanuel. Emmanuel nodded.
“It’s Wallace, by the way. My name is still Wallace.”
“Wait right here, Wallace. We’re going to find Jenny Flowers and then figure out how to beat this stupid game.”
“Yahoo!” Emmanuel shouted.
They left Miss Flora’s home and went down the street toward the bus stop.
“If the bus hasn’t picked her up, that’s where she’ll be,” Miranda figured.
A Public Announcement speaker blared a tinny message from a nearby utility pole.
“By order of Mayor Wilson, all residents are to evacuate immediately. Head out of town right now. Right now. Do it now. By order of Mayor Wilson. Evacuate. All residents immediately. Now. Mayor Wilson says so.”
“We need to hurry. I can already smell the smoke,” Miranda coughed.
The bus stop was empty save for a young red-headed girl. And about a dozen fire imps. So, not empty at all.
“Come and get it, freaks!” the girl said, waving her backpack to keep them at bay.
“Is that Jenny?” Miranda asked.
“Hmm,” Emmanuel shrugged.
<Jenny Flowers found>
<New Quest: Save Jenny Flowers>
“Uh, oh. Ha!” Emmanuel said, pointing at the floating words above his head.
“Oh. Okay. Let’s go help her,” Miranda said.
Two fire imps leapt at her, screeching.
“Hiya!” Jenny screamed. Her back pack flashed, transforming into a giant hammer. She disposed the imps with little effort.
“Whoa, what?” Miranda said.
“That’s it? You guys are so low level. Not even a challenge!” Jenny swung and destroyed five more imps with ease. The imps screeched and gathered together, forming a bigger, muscular imp.
“Groa groa!” the muscular fire imp said, flexing.
“Now we’re talking,” Jenny said with a grin.
“Jenny!” Miranda called out.
“We’re here to help.”
“Oh. Cool. The more the merrier,” Jenny said.
<Jenny joined the party>
“Okay, how do we get rid of this fire imp?” Miranda asked.
“Groa groa,” the muscular imp said, still flexing.
“Like this,” Jenny replied, leaping into the air and smashing the flexing imp’s skull.
The imp disintegrated into a puff of flame and smoke.
“Wow. You’re really strong,” Miranda said.
“I’m up to Level 5 already. Been grinding all day,” Jenny said, blowing a wisp of hair out of her face.
“Level 5? What level are we?” Miranda asked Emmanuel. Emmanuel shrugged.
“Hold on,” Jenny said, turning her hammer back into a backpack. “Scanning now,” she said.
<Jenny used Scan!>
“You guys are both Level 2.”
“Whoa. Do you know how to do that, Manny?”
“You think Dartanian knows?”
“Anyway, what are you guys doing here? Isn’t there an evacuation going on?” Jenny asked.
“There is! Your grandma is waiting for you,” Miranda said.
“Really? Why hasn’t she left already?” Jenny wondered.
“I don’t know. Maybe because she won’t leave without you?” Miranda offered.
“That sounds like her. Okay, then. Let’s go.”
The trio returned to Flora’s house.
“My Jenny!” Flora cried, running to hug her granddaughter.
“Hey, grammy,” Jenny said.
<Jenny left the party>
“Thank you so much. Take this for your efforts,” Flora said, handing Emmanuel a flower vase.
<Emmanuel got a flower vase!>
“Great. Now that that’s done, can we get out of here?” Miranda asked.
“I wish I could take you, but I don’t think there’s room in my car,” Flora said.
“What? But, how are we supposed to get out of town?” Miranda cried.
“Waa!” Emmanuel also cried.
“I’m sorry. I wish I could help you. Be safe out there, children,” Flora said, stuffing a couch into a duffel bag.
Flora and Jenny got their belongings in their car.
“Good luck, you guys!” Jenny said as they sped off.
“Huh. Well, now what do we do?” Miranda asked.
“Gah! That scared me,” Miranda said, clutching her chest.
“Geeyah?” Emmanuel asked.
“That’s just it. I don’t know what to do now. Unless…” Miranda pulled a survey page out of her pajama pocket. “The Helper’s Club.”
“This is what we’re supposed to do. We have to help people evacuate. How many are stuck like Miss Flora because of this weird videogame reality?”
“We can do this. We have to do this. Helper’s Club go!” Miranda cheered.
“For the love of Christ, kids, just get on with the adventure already!” Wallace moaned, finishing the last of his bucket of chicken.
“We will,” Miranda said, self-assured. “Just as soon as we…”
+ Make sure everyone on our block gets out safe!
^ Find the safest route out of town and direct people that way.
# Figure out where the fire’s spreading and warn as many people as we can.
* Make sure no one gets left behind.
(What should Miranda and Emmanuel do? Leave a comment and let us know.)