The small town of Winston, Colorado, has a secret-one that hides in its children. Long ago, there were many children who suffered from the local "condition." There are fewer of them now, but Shelby is one of them. She was born with a ruby embedded in her skin. In the same year, two other kids in town, Gary and May, were born with emeralds. Now a teenager, Shelby nurses a crush on Gary, while he sticks close to the fragile May and tries to protect her from, among other things, Shelby's bullying. Despite their differences, however, their births connect them; when May goes missing, Gary needs Shelby's help. Together, Shelby and Gary learn the unspeakable truth about each other-and about the chasers. Death lurks around every turn; in order to survive, Shelby, Gary, and May must work together. It is now their responsibility to save an entire generation of people also born with their "condition" before a century-old grudge destroys them all.
Before I knew it, I was pounding the pavement at in the morning looking for an old phone booth on the other side of town. My temples throbbed with
adrenaline, and my eyes stung from sweat and the bright streetlights above.
This is totally crazy, I thought as the white houses flew by with every passing block. I didn’t even know why I was doing this. On one hand, I was racing against time to
find the last person I wanted to see. But on the other, I was doing this for the boy I loved.
“What the hell!” I wailed, unable to contain my confusion.
As I moved toward the East side, I passed through the main street where all the CLOSED signs hung inside the stores. A few lights were on in some of them, but the
sidewalks were mostly dark. After a few more blocks, the sights changed from glass windows to shabby houses. Some were overtaken by vines and weeds. Others were abandoned and in the early stages of toppling over completely. My lungs screamed for rest, but I told myself to hold out until I found what I was looking for.
Up ahead, I caught sight of a rusty kiosk on a shadowy corner. The obscure silhouette of boy in a simple patterned shirt and faded jeans was leaning against it with
his head in his hands, looking like he was on the verge of a meltdown.
“Gary!” I shouted. He spun around, his face camouflaged by the darkness.
“Hey!” he called back, and started running toward me. I felt the slightest twinge of delight watching his body looming closer and I feared that I couldn’t hide the love-
struck grin creeping into the corners of my lips. It was quickly erased when I saw the serious expression on his face.
“May’s not at home,” he gasped quickly in short uneven pants. “I went over to her house last night for dinner like I always do, but when I knocked on the door, her
grandma told me that she just ran off.”
At this point, I was so breathless that I couldn’t talk. I doubled over and clutched my knees so I wouldn’t fall. I’d never run this hard in my life.
The neighborhood was frighteningly quiet. I looked around at the strange houses; most were dilapidated or falling apart. The ones that seemed in good condition were slowly peeling away at the sides and the rooftops. The sidewalks were broken and uneven, with small piles of debris scattered all over. I had never passed through this part of town before except in my parents’ cars on the way to the mall, and even then I was still afraid.
“She said that the tremor spooked her, or something,” Gary went on. “I thought she might’ve run off on the main street, but by the time I got out there, all the places
were closed. She said something about having to run away because she was being chased or something. If she’s out there alone, she could get injured really easily, or start hyperventilating, or—”
“Whoa, slow down,” I interrupted, and stood up feeling wobbly. Not only was my enthusiasm diminished by his incessant banter about May, but now I knew that they’d been having dinner together every night. This is like a first date gone totally wrong.
“Let’s figure this out,” I said, “Where in Winston is there a lot of concrete?”
“Shelby, this is no time to brag about your family’s business,” Gary complained, wiping sweat off of his forehead.
“I mean it,” I insisted, and began pacing around thoughtfully. “Where in Winston is there a lot of, like, pavement?”
“I don’t know,” Gary whimpered and began to pace also, though less to think and more to settle his nerves. “Maybe Saint Elizabeth’s, or the mall, but they’re both
closed right now ...”
Suddenly, a vision of revolving drums and trucks flashed through my mind. “The old cement factory!” I declared, and turned to my nervous companion. He had such a look of disbelief that I felt like punching him.
“What?” he bellowed. “There’s nothing out there. Why would she go there?”
“Look, do you want my help or not?” I asked, and was met with a blank stare. “Then trust me.” I grabbed his arm and dragged him
onto the road.
- - - -
From a distance, the abandoned factory looked like the towering skeleton of a dead dinosaur. Its tall rusting ducts, once proud symbols of industry and trade in northern Winston, were now ghostly remnants of the past. Gary and I watched the warm inviting streetlights fade as we diverted off the pristine highway and dashed up to the building entrance.
“She’s in here,” I assured him, looking up at the rickety structure. “I can feel it.”
We pushed hastily through the heavy metal door, and were plunged into darkness. The only things visible were a few twinkling stars outside of some high glass
“Let’s split up,” Gary suggested. Before I could reject the idea, he had already moved away from me, feeling along the walls for balance and guidance. Sighing deeply, I
began my search in the opposite direction.
“May?” echoed Gary’s voice sweetly. There were rustling noises as I heard him stepping over some paper bags. “May, where’dja go?”
“Ouch,” I exclaimed, bending over and hugging my shins. Something clattered loudly onto the floor, and I realized that I had just walked into a row of steel pipes. I was
getting seriously annoyed at the situation.
“May!” I screamed bossily, rubbing the spot where I knocked into the pipes. “We know you’re in here, so just come out already!” Rising back up to my feet, I uttered
under my breath, This is so stupid.
We continued tripping and stumbling through the random contents of the building, bumping into sandbags, equipment, and furniture, until a tiny cry rang out.
“She’s over here,” Gary called, and I inched cautiously toward the sound of his voice. There was a low click and a single light bulb came on at the far end of the room.
Beneath it lay a fragile little girl crumpled up against the wall. She was breathing heavily, her face paler than usual and covered in sweat. Her thin body barely filled the petite-sized sweater and jeans she was wearing.
“You should know better than to run off like that,” Gary scolded softly. I felt a pang of jealousy as I watched him lift her up and cradle her in his arms, like a romantic
scene in a fairy tale when the prince rescues his princess.
I placed my hands on my hips and snapped, “Okay, so she’s alive. Let’s go already.” I spun around and started heading back where we came. I felt both used and
relieved at the same time. Why did I ever expect an intimate moment with Gary tonight? All he wanted was for me to find the very person I
hated, and to bring her back to him. Well, I sure wasn’t going to stick around and embarrass myself again.
I showed him how to get here, and he can sure as hell get himself and his girlfriend back on his own, I thought.
“But I had to run away,” May squeaked weakly behind me. “If I didn’t, the chaser would’ve gotten me. It knows about my ‘condition’ and it’s not gonna stop until
it gets me! It’s coming after all of us!”
Hearing that last sentence, I swung around and threw my palms up in the air.
“What the hell are you talking about, May?” I shrieked, my words echoing sharply throughout the factory. Both she and Gary looked at me, stunned. I marched
furiously back toward them and glared at the little twit lying comfortably in Gary’s arms. “Don’t you dare drag me into your mess since I just wasted a whole night running around the entire town looking for you when I should’ve been at home resting for my chemistry test, which I have first thing in the morning! The least you can do right now is make some damn sense!” Although May was already terrified, I stamped my feet and thrashed my fists because words could no longer express how frustrated I was feeling.
“That’s enough, Shelby,” Gary interjected, setting his girlfriend down on her feet and leaning her gently against him. “You can’t blame her for being the way she is—”
“And you,” I said furiously, jabbing a finger at his chest. “Why are you always taking her side?”
“Well, maybe if you’d stop bullying her, I could leave her alone for once,” Gary countered, and slapped my hand away. I shrieked again and glared daggers at him. My
cheeks were flushed with pent-up tension, and at this point, I was either going to hit him or kiss him.
“Will you two stop fighting?” May pleaded helplessly, clinging onto Gary’s shirt for dear life. “We have to go right now ...”
“Whoever made you responsible for her problems?” I bellowed hysterically at Gary over May’s words.
“That’s none of your business; now get out of our way,” he demanded and tried to walk around me.
“Our way?” I mused, blocking him at every turn with my arms. “If it weren’t for me, she probably wouldn’t be alive right now!”
“You’ve done your part, okay? Now just let it go.”
“My part? Who the hell do you think you are, using me like that?”
“Why are you always such a bitch?”
“Oh yeah? So now we’re back to hating each other?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Well, damn you, Gary!”
“Damn you, too!”
BANG came a force from beneath, and all three of us were knocked off our feet. The building shook mercilessly, and our only light source swung wildly in all directions.
The windows shattered and rained down on us in a thousand shiny shards. There was a brief pause in which I screamed, “What’s going on?” then a loud crackle like thunder split the air. The ground trembled and, right in the middle of the room, half shrouded in darkness, the concrete floor began to crack and roar.
I was paralyzed. I couldn’t move, watching the tiny fracture elongate and turn into a long jagged crevasse snaking its way sinisterly across the floor right in my direction. I was hypnotized by its speed and persistence, and the possibility that whatever lay underneath it had come to kill me.
Is this it? I thought, Is this how I’m going to die?
But before I could find out the answers, I was jerked onto my feet and dragged out of the door into the open air.
Outside, Gary, May, and I collapsed onto the concrete driveway and gazed feebly at the building folding into itself, its towering ducts toppling slowly onto the metal roof, causing it to crumble under the weight. The surrounding pipes exploded from all the swift pressure, bursting in all directions like mini supernovas. The whole structure came down in one giant heap of dust, and settled just as quickly as it was destroyed.
“That,” May whispered, “is the chaser,” ... and she fainted.
H. W. Vivian (1988-Present) was born Vivian Hwang in Flushing, New York, to a Taiwanese immigrant family, and grew up in her hometown. At a young age, she showed great interest toward the arts, studying piano, violin, and percussions, while drawing and painting on her own time. Her parents’ divorce when she was eight years old took a big toll on her personal life, but she reacted by burying herself in her artistic endeavors. At fourteen, she joined the Bayside High School music program. Afterward, she enrolled in the Art Institute of New York City’s culinary arts and restaurant management program. After graduation, she returned to traditional college, enrolling in Baruch College-CUNY’s Bachelor of Business Administration, majoring in Finance and Investments, and minoring in Theater. During this time, H. W. Vivian conceived the idea for her first novel, Chasers, but wouldn’t publish it until many years afterward, in March 2014. Her second novel, Days of Amber, published under her second pseudonym, Alex Chu, is currently on sale in print and as an ebook. Her third novel, War of Rain, will be released in 2015.
Alex Chu is a pseudonym for H. W. Vivian
Adult Humor/Satire novel
Amber & Associates is the most successful software company in the industry’s history, which is surprising since all of its employees are aloof, lazy, and downright dysfunctional. When they’re not obsessing over their next smoothie fix, or walking around the office half-naked, they’re doing everything in their power to avoid working. As they approach their long-awaited IPO date, hackers start breaching the company’s system, and messing around with Amber’s clients. Still, nobody seems to care. It’s not until the senior risk analyst leaves the company on a drunken tirade when everyone realizes the consequences of their idleness. Now, Amber’s team of frivolous and inexperienced executives is left with the greatest challenge of their careers: actually getting work done in order to save the company.
This was the day - the annual executive meeting of Amber & Associates. A scrawny Gordon O’Connor, the senior risk analyst of the company, sped down its bright white marble hallway toward the cream-colored circular conference room with his black tie fluttering wildly over one shoulder and a handful of documents flapping madly in front of his dark rectangular glasses. His short, jet-black hair was a mess from sleepless nights in his office, and stuck out in all directions. There was urgent news that couldn’t wait.
When Gordon reached the conference room’s wood-paneled door, he slapped the metal handle down and swung it open, shouting, “Someone’s been stealing our data!” at seven suited executives, six men and one woman, who were all seated around a white circular table. The executives stared at Gordon in silence, their brows raised in stunned disbelief, thus making the senior risk analyst feel like an idiot.
“Ah, Gordon,” welcomed one of the men cheerfully in his booming voice. It was Aaron Amber, founder and CEO of the company. Aaron looked in his mid-fifties; had the broad build of a pro-wrestler, with white bristly hair atop a shiny, peach-colored oval scalp, and bright eyes that were as blue as the ocean he enjoyed sailing upon. “So nice of you to join us. We couldn’t possibly go public without you scrutinizing, well... something.”
A burst of laughter erupted. Gordon ignored it and busily shuffled to the far side of the table, his beady black eyes wide with panic. He then methodically rounded his way back while slamming a thin, stapled report in front of each executive, declaring, “Here!” first to the young pasty-faced Korean chief operating officer, Jonah Song; then, “Here!” at the thirty-three year old dirty-blonde Romanian chief risk officer, Isaac Chy (pronounced “chai,” like the tea); then, “Here!” at Isaac’s short and chubby Japanese sidekick, Takata, giving him a suspicious glare before moving on; and shouting, “Here!” to the stout and balding chief technology officer, Armin
Nichkov. Finally, Gordon delivered a slightly gentler “Here” to the sweet, thirty-nine year old Caucasian chief financial officer, Elizabeth Brennan, who had strawberry blonde hair and bright gray eyes that lit up like Christmas lights whenever she smiled.
After depositing his last packet in front of the CEO himself, Gordon scanned around at everyone as they studied the contents of his report and mumbled to each other. He then wondered aloud, “Where’s Kevin? Is he here?”
“No,” Armin answered bluntly, as he always did, in his thick Russian accent. He rested his little round head lazily in one hand and hid his face behind Gordon’s packet with the other. Kevin Baser, Gordon thought furiously about the director of sales and account management. He never shows up to these important meetings. What’s his excuse this time? Another pitch to some ‘prospective’ client? Bullshit!
“Fine, I guess I’ll just have to start without him,” Gordon huffed. He then moved around the table while delivering his speech, eyeing each individual flipping through his report, “For the last two weeks or so, my team and I have spotted some suspicious activities from some unrecognized IP addresses. It was the same pattern every day: light activity during the middle of the morning, increasing around into the early afternoon, then a petering out toward evening that would pick up again before and into the next morning.” He fell silent as he returned to the CEO’s side, satisfied of Aaron’s concerned expression toward the page he was reading.
Gordon then folded his hands authoritatively behind his back, puffed out his chest, and announced, “As you can see from my report, none of those addresses belong to any of our technicians, or our clients. Therefore it is appropriate to assume that someone, or some group of people, has been hacking into our system and stealing our data.”
A chorus of, “Oh c’mon!” and “Not this again!” filled the air at yet another one of Gordon’s so-called ‘warnings,’ which prompted Aaron to hold up one large hand and tap his other on the table, like a judge declaring order in his courtroom.
“Alright everyone, simmer down, simmer down,” Aaron said, and the executives quieted like schoolchildren starting class. The CEO turned to his left and candidly addressed his COO, saying, “Jonah, did you know anything about this?”
Jonah stood in a fluster, his tall and lanky gait wavering slightly from nervousness. He cleared his throat hastily and answered, “Yes sir, Gordon and I have been communicating extensively on this issue, and security has been impenetrable so far, sir.”
“So far,” Gordon muttered as Jonah sat back down clumsily.
The CEO then turned his gaze to Isaac, who shot out of his seat immediately, his dirty-blonde bowl cut puffing up like a cloud. He answered enthusiastically, “I have been personally monitoring our connections, sir, and have not found anything to worry about.”
Takata then also shot out of his seat, his short black hair as messy as Gordon’s, and proceeded to deliver a nasal version of the chief risk officer’s debriefing, saying, “Considering that I am the primary administrator of our security measures, and keeping in mind my meticulous and diligent nature, it is in my professional opinion that-”
“Your opinion’s as good as a rock at the bottom of the ocean!” Gordon snapped, startling the Japanese sidekick to the point of trembling.
“Now, now, Gordon, there’s no need for resentment here,” Aaron said, holding up his large hand again to calm his overreacting friend. Takata and Isaac both sat back down, straightening themselves and adjusting their matching red-striped ties in unison. The CEO then directed his attention at Armin, and asked, “How ‘bout you, Armin? Notice anything suspicious lately?”
“No,” the chief technologist answered bluntly. His head remained hidden behind his packet. Everyone leaned in and waited for him to elaborate, but Armin said nothing more.
“Well, just to fill you all in on my part,” Elizabeth said sweetly, “our finances are in check, and we’re as profitable as ever. There’s absolutely nothing to worry about, money-wise.” For good measure, she swiveled her chair left and right to make sure that her colleagues were relieved at the positive news.
“Y’see that, Gordon?” Aaron said brightly and smiled up at the suddenly enraged analyst, who balled his fists at his sides. “We’re profitable and safe. You can stop worrying now and-”
“I don’t believe this!” Gordon exclaimed. He swooped around the table to Takata’s side, making the sidekick gasp and jump, anticipating another personal insult. The senior risk analyst then snatched the Japanese man’s packet and waved it in the air dramatically, saying, “The evidence is right here! Someone’s been stealing our data for the past two weeks, and all of you are ignoring the signs. There are gonna be dire consequences if we don’t stop these people from continuously penetrating our network!”
“Gordon, hey,” Jonah said. The COO stood slowly, fluttering his arms out to the hysterical senior risk analyst as if trying to calm a temperamental child. The rest of the room stood slowly also, sensing another one of Gordon’s tantrums coming on, and hoped that Jonah could relieve his stress. Again.
“You’re a good analyst, y’know?” The COO assured with an earnest expression. “A really good one. But we can’t sound the alarm every time we see something funny pop up on the screen. In fact, why don’t we talk about your raise over smoothies? They’re having a discount this week over at Kat’s.”
You can’t tempt me with money forever, Jonah!” Gordon shot back and gave the packet of papers another violent wave in the COO’s direction. The senior risk analyst inched away, refusing to succumb to more of Jonah’s desperate promises. “I’ve built my whole career on this company, and I’m not gonna let it fall because of your ignorance and unwillingness to-”
“Wait, Kat’s is having a discount this week?” Elizabeth interrupted, her eyes lighting up.
“Yeah, buy one, get the second free!” Jonah answered excitedly, his eyes equally bright.
“Well, what’re we waiting for, guys?” Aaron joined in, chuckling. “Meeting adjourned!” And with a last powerful rap on the conference table, Aaron Amber led his team of executives out of the room toward an afternoon of refreshing fruity delights. As each person filed out of the door, Gordon sputtered after them about his continuing data-theft concerns.
“W-wait, we still have to talk about blocking these IPs!” He waved the packet noisily to get his colleagues’ attention, but it was clear that discounted smoothies were the only things on their minds now. When the last executive left the room, gently clicking the door shut behind him, Gordon remained, forgotten and forlorn. He heaved an aggravated sigh and tossed the packet on the table, crying, “Why doesn’t anyone work in this fucking company?!”
Alex Chu is a pseudonym for H. W. Vivian, author of the young adult novel, Chasers.