Every person outside of the students of Sweet Valley Middle School vanishes from Sweet Valley. They’re just gone. And now people are developing strange powers. Inevitably, with these fight-happy idiots, it’s going to be a bloodbath.
Category: Sweet Valley
Status: On Hiatus
Length: 20-30k words
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
Notes: I have a deep respect for Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate. Their stint as Sweet Valley writers is the best run of the series. And Gone left me traumatised. This work is not mocking them. It is mocking Sweet Valley. And really, who doesn’t want to see what happens when you remove all the adults?
I will not be using the plot from the book series, just the basic premise of town + dome + super powers + young people = bloodbath. This is for two reasons: 1) I never do that kind of crossover any more, I think it shows a lack of imagination; and 2) Raven hasn’t finished the books and would murder me if I gave him spoilers.
One minute, Mr. Nydick was rubbing Jessica’s shoulders, in a wholly inappropriate way, under the guise of demonstrating… something about the Civil War, the next he wasn’t.
“What just happened?” Elizabeth asked. “And how are we going to know what part massages played in the Civil War?”
“Who cares?” Jessica asked and bounced to the blackboard. “Let’s play hangman!”
“Jessica,” Elizabeth chided her sister. “You know you’re functionally illiterate.”
Jessica shrugged and started drawing rude pictures on the blackboard.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. It was just like Jessica to turn something serious into a game. Despite the fact they were identical—from their golden blonde hair, to the cute little dimples in their left cheeks when they smiled, and their eyes which were the exact shade of the Pacific Ocean—they had very different outlooks on life. Elizabeth was a spree killer, whereas Jessica was a serial killer.
Elizabeth was a prissy little know-it-all, with a well-hidden murderous streak a mile wide. Jessica was up-front in her destructive nature. She was a member of the Unicorns, an elite club for the prettiest and most popular girls in Sweet Valley Middle School.
Elizabeth claimed that the Unicorns’ snobbery bothered her, secretly she too reveled in being better than most—if not all—of her peers. The true difference between the twins was that everyone agreed with Elizabeth. But no matter what happened, the twins would always be the best of friends.
Around her, Elizabeth’s classmates took the opportunity to start chatting amongst themselves, apparently completely unfazed by the fact that Mr. Nydick had been there one minute and then popped out of existence the next.
The only student that hadn’t given themselves over to chatter was Amy Sutton, Elizabeth’s best friend next to her twin, who was looking her way hopefully. Elizabeth smiled reassuringly at her. At least Amy always followed her lead. “I think—” Elizabeth began, but started again with more volume when nobody responded to her first attempt. “I think we should go to Ms. Wyler’s classroom next door and see if—”
The door burst open and Janet Howell and Mary Wallace bounded in. “Ms. Wyler just vanished!” Mary said excitedly. Her eyes went straight to the teacher’s desk. “Your teacher vanished too?”
Through the open door, Elizabeth could hear the sounds from other classrooms—apparently all down the hall the teachers had either vanished, or were indulging a level of noise they never usually allowed.
Elizabeth opened her mouth to suggest that everyone without a teacher congregate in the lunchroom, but Janet Howell’s bossy tones cut across the general jabber in the room. “I think we should all go to the lunchroom and discuss what has happened.” She cast her queenly gaze around the room. “Even non-Unicorns are welcome.”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. Sometimes the Unicorns—especially their president, Janet—acted as if the Unicorns were the center of the universe. She stood up straight, and looked Janet in the eye. “I think we should establish whether this has happened throughout the whole school. It might just be our teachers that have vanished.”
Janet gave her a long appraising look, followed by a short nod. “Yes, that’s a good idea. Elizabeth, you organize that and I will prepare myself to organize the school in the lunchroom.”
Elizabeth bristled with annoyance. “And who put you in charge?”
“I am the president of the Unicorns.”
“So what?” Amy Sutton asked, getting to her feet so she could stand by Elizabeth. “We’re not Unicorns.”
“I’m also an eighth grader. Nobody will want to listen to a sixth grader.”
Jessica slid between the two of them, now apparently bored of her rude drawings on the blackboard. “Of course you’re right, Janet.” She turned back to her sister. “We’ll do as you say.”
Elizabeth sighed. She never really understood the appeal of the Unicorn club, as far as Elizabeth could see, all they did was wear purple and coo, “he’s soooo cute” at the mention of Johnny Buck, Kent Kellerman or Beau Dillon. However, her sister cared deeply about the group, and Janet’s approval meant a great deal to her. Elizabeth forced a serene smile across her face and nodded.
Janet swept out of the room, tailed by Mary, Jessica and Lila.
“Jessica…” Elizabeth called after her.
Jessica gave her a thousand-watt smile. “I’m going to help Janet prepare for addressing the school. It’s my Unicorn duty. And you know you’re so much better at organizing groups to check things. I’d only slow you down!” Then she turned on her heel and sped off after Janet.
Elizabeth shook her head. Typical Jessica. At least she still had Amy, who was loyal to a fault.
Once Janet left the room, everyone turned to Elizabeth, who was known throughout Sweet Valley as someone who kept a level head in a crisis. She quickly organized everyone into groups of three, and told them to set them off in different directions to check rooms to see whether all the other teachers had vanished, and if so, corral the students towards the lunchroom.
“What if there are teachers?” asked Lois Waller, a fat girl who had once been so excited that Elizabeth called her on the telephone that she vowed to go on a diet. Of course, she didn’t actually begin dieting, but Elizabeth felt a rush of warmth for the fat girl and her devotion.
“Then tell them that we’ve asked all the students who have lost their teachers to go to the lunchroom. Tell them that I’ll be in charge until they get there. That will make sure they don’t worry too much.” Elizabeth added a decisive nod to that statement. It felt like an assertive and reassuring thing to do.
Lois muttered something that sounded like, “Return of the clipboard,” to her friend Caroline Pearce, but Elizabeth was sure she must have misheard. Fat Lois and gossipy Caroline would never badmouth her, she was sure.
That was the only question, so Elizabeth dismissed everyone, and joined her own group, which comprised of Amy Sutton and Julie Porter. Amy was a tall thin girl with lank hair and a vacant expression. While her sister would never appreciate Amy’s qualities, Elizabeth knew that beneath the lank hair and awkward frame was a heart of pure dedication to Elizabeth that bordered on religious zeal. Julie, on the other hand, was a girl with no discernible qualities at all—Elizabeth thought maybe Julie played the flute (something musical, at least)—but it was always good to have more than one friend around.
They reached the first classroom on their route and found it to be in the same disorganization as they had been in before the eighth graders had burst in on them. Kimberley Haver, Tamara Chase and their friends had clustered their desks together and were chatting in a most relaxed way. Bruce Patman and Jerry McAllister were at the blackboard, drawing the same kinds of rude images that Jessica had been inspired to draw.
Elizabeth politely cleared her throat, and when nobody noticed, she used her voice. “Excuse me, everyone. It appears that several teachers have disappeared, so we have decided to congregate in the lunchroom to discuss the situation.”
Elizabeth sighed and moved closer to Kimberley and Tamara, who were seventh-grade Unicorns. “Janet Howell wants everyone in the lunchroom as soon as possible.” She glanced around the room. “Everyone,” she added pointedly.
At the mention of Janet’s name, the two Unicorns jumped to their feet and started ushering their classmates to the door. Elizabeth gave Amy and Julie a knowing smile, and they went on their way again.
“This is all very strange,” Amy said as they set off again. “What do you think has happened?”
Elizabeth frowned as she considered the strange situation for the first time. So far her mind had been occupied with problem solving the simple things: find out how many teachers were missing, report to remaining teacher.
Now they knew that at least three teachers had just vanished into thin air while teaching. It was very peculiar. She rubbed her forehead. “I don’t know what Christine Davenport would think of this,” she said with a wry smile. Christine Davenport was the plucky heroine of her favorite mystery books, written by the best author in the world—whom Elizabeth had met—Amanda Howard.
“I think it’s aliens,” Amy said. “I can’t think of any other way that a bunch of adults would just vanish mid-sentence.”
“Oh, Amy,” said Elizabeth fondly. “You’ve been reading a lot of science fiction recently, haven’t you?”
Amy nodded seriously. “The book I’m reading at the moment is about a spaceship that crash-landed in a town hundreds of years ago and it got buried deep in the earth. The townsfolk are drawn to it, so they dig it up, and they get really smart and they invent things and their teeth fall out.”
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows to show polite interest. “I don’t see how that explains three teachers vanishing.”
Amy shrugged. “Oh, it doesn’t. It’s just a wonderful book.”
“I’m sure the answer is far more mundane. Maybe it’s a prank they’re playing on us,” Elizabeth said.
“Or,” Julie said in an attempt to remind readers she existed, “maybe this is a test. Maybe this is something they’ve planned out to see how we react to stressful situations. At a certain time, they all pull their vanishing prank, and now we’re being monitored to see how we react.”
Elizabeth shook her head and smiled. Her friends really had some strange ideas.
Jessica glanced around the lunchroom which seemed filled to bursting point. There was a buzz of excited chatter in the air. This was far more exciting than the fire drills they had to practice. She was starting to feel as if the situation was something huge.
Initially she had assumed that Mr. Nydick had just wandered off mid-massage (her eyes had been closed at the time) but then Janet told them all that Ms. Wyler had vanished too, and then Kimberly and Tamara wandered in saying that the Hairnet (Ms. Arnette) had just disappeared before their very eyes, right in the middle of her sentence. Something very strange was going on.
It looked like everyone in the entire middle school was packed into the lunchroom—though there was no sign of her sister. If everyone was in the lunchroom, then it meant that there were no teachers in the entire school. If there were no teachers…
The potential scope of their freedom began to occur to her. “You guys!” she blurted as the first of many ideas hit her. “We could go home right now and watch Days of Turmoil and nobody would be able to stop us!”
“Kent Kellerman is soooo cute!” Kimberley replied.
But it was only the first step of her plan. Without any teachers, the school couldn’t stay open, and if school wasn’t open, they could have a party! “We should—” but the rest of her sentence (“have a party”) was cut off by Lila’s smooth tones.
“I think we should have a no-school party,” Lila said. “If we don’t have any teachers, I don’t see how we can be expected to go to school.”
Janet nodded approvingly at her cousin. “That is a wonderful idea.”
Jessica gritted her teeth. Now Lila would get all the credit for what should have been her idea.
Lila flashed Jessica a triumphant look and added, “We can have it at my house. We have so much space. Things are always so cramped when we have a party at Jessica’s house.”
Even though Lila was her best friend (aside from Elizabeth), she couldn’t help feeling riled by Lila’s snotty attitude at times.
Fine, if Lila was going to take credit for a party, then Jessica would get the credit for suggesting a theme. She opened her mouth to suggest something—she wasn’t sure what, but it would be awesome—when Janet stood up and climbed up on the table.
“Excuse me everyone!”
Jessica had to admit, Janet’s voice was commanding.
“It appears that we have no teachers in the school,” Janet announced, and this was met with immediate cheers and whoops.
Janet nodded humbly, as if somehow she was responsible for their unexpected freedom. “So I suggest—”
“It’s worse than you think!”
Everyone craned their necks to see the source of the new voice, and Jessica was far from surprised to see it was her twin.
Elizabeth rushed into the lunchroom, flanked by Amy and Julie, with tears in her eyes. “I’ve checked every single room in the school and there’s not a single adult.”
Again, this was met with delighted cheers—which Jessica was a part of.
“No! No, you don’t understand!” Elizabeth said. “Because Principal Clark wasn’t around, we went into his office.”
“Way to go, Elizabeth!” called Aaron Dallas, before sharing a high-five with Ken Matthews.
“Will you just listen to me!” she snapped. Jessica noticed that her sister’s face was very pink, and she was clearly upset about something. She felt the stirrings of alarm start to quash the excitement.
“What’s wrong, Lizzie?” Jessica asked.
“We used Principal Clark’s phone to call home. Nobody was there.” Elizabeth said.
“So what, doesn’t your mom work a few hours a week?” Sophia Rizzo asked.
“Yes, she does,” Elizabeth agreed. “So after I called home, I called my dad’s law firm. Then Amy called her home, then the TV station where her mom works, then her dad’s work, then Julie tried her family. We even called the high school. Then we just started calling random numbers on Principal Clark’s Rolodex…”
Elizabeth sent a tearful gaze around the room. “Nobody answered. We dialed everyone we could think of Sweet Valley, and nobody answered any of the calls. Nobody.”
Elizabeth was expecting a stunned silence to meet her words, but instead—as was becoming the norm—everyone turned to their friends and started chatting about the new development.
“Don’t you care? It’s not just the teachers, it’s all of the adults!” she implored them. “It’s our families!”
She saw that some people did look alarmed—Mandy Miller and Mary Robinson at the Unicorner, Sophia Rizzo and Sarah Thomas moved closer and linked hands—but for the most part, nobody seemed particularly bothered by this turn of events.
“Well,” Lila drawled. “If there are no parents, then let me be the first to invite you to a fabulous party at my house tonight.”
There was an excited murmur as people realized that without parents, they could have a party on a school night.
“And,” Lila added. “There will be no need for curfews. We can party way past nine p.m. without your parents around to break things up.”
Elizabeth doubted many people caught the “your” instead of “our” before parents, but Elizabeth prided herself on her attention to detail and her empathy towards other students who weren’t as overburdened with perfection as she. Lila lived in a gigantic mansion called Fowler Crest with her father and their housekeeper, Mrs. Pervis. Mr. Fowler spent a lot of time in Europe for his business, and Elizabeth doubted that the vanishing of parents would have much impact on Lila’s life at all.
She made a mental note to speak to Lila at the party and pat her shoulder patronizingly until Lila told her all about her sadness, and then Elizabeth could fix it.
Her eyes welled with tears again as she imagined her attractive split-level ranch house on Calico Drive devoid of her own family. No interior designing mother, who looked like an older sister, rather than the mother of the twins. No dad, talking casually over dinner about his work, as if attorney-client privilege didn’t apply. No Steven, their freshman brother, shoveling food into his mouth and occasionally talking about sports.
No wonder Lila was so mean all the time. Elizabeth was barely holding herself together just imagining her home without her family.
“We need to get home and check whether there are any adults there!” Elizabeth cried.
At this, most shrugged indifferently.
“And we’ll be home in time to watch Days of Turmoil!” Jessica cried.
At this, most girls immediately began gathering their bags and jackets.
Elizabeth jumped up on a table. “Listen to me!” she snapped. “This is what we are going to do: we are all going home, on the way, we are going to check houses and see if anyone is home. If you find anyone, tell them to make their way to town hall. We need to find an adult to take charge.”
“Do we though?” Amy asked. “You’re so good at being in charge, Elizabeth. Why don’t you be in charge… at least until we find an adult?”
Despite the dissention Elizabeth had felt when she had been speaking, many of her classmates were nodding in agreement. She smiled around the room beatifically.
“No! I’m in charge!” Janet Howell said. “I’m an eighth grader and president of the Unicorns. Elizabeth wants you to go and check houses—how boring—whereas the Unicorns are going to throw a fabulous party at Lila’s house. Who do you want in charge?”
To Elizabeth’s chagrin, Janet also received nods and smiles. Well, this had played out many times in Sweet Valley, a smart studious person went up against a popular Unicorn for the role of being in charge, and history proved time and time again that the Unicorns could only promise shallow social events. Elizabeth was not going to dignify the situation with an impassioned response.
She shrugged. “I am going home to check whether my family is there. Then I’m going to town hall. You are all welcome to do as you like.”
She accepted Amy’s hand to help her off the table, and then left the lunchroom with her head held high.
The Unicorns made their way to Lila’s house in a roundabout way, stopping to check their own houses. Jessica had considered going with Elizabeth, but Lila had given Jessica a supercilious look and said, “We can talk about my party on the walk home,” and Jessica had known that she couldn’t let her best friend take complete control of the party. Lila might be hosting, but it was Jessica’s idea.
“I think a party is a wonderful idea,” Janet said, with an approving smile in Lila’s direction. “I think this whole situation has reflected very well on the Unicorns. I’m taking charge and my team is organizing a party to keep everyone’s spirits up.”
Jessica felt somewhat slighted about being referred to as Janet’s “team”. She was a member of the Unicorns, but Janet had made it sound as if she was the president of a company, and the rest of the Unicorns were just her workers. Well, if that was the way things were, Jessica was getting a promotion! “I think we should wear high heels!” she suggested.
Before anyone could react, Ellen abruptly blurted, “There’s something wrong with the sky!”
This was the second time on the walk home that Ellen had said something stupid. The first was when she pointed out the amount of cars that were idling in the middle of the road, some nose-to-nose. As if they cared about cars. They weren’t boys, after all.
Janet frowned at Ellen. “What a silly thing to say.”
“No look!” Ellen pointed at the sky. “Do you see how the clouds are kind of… bending?”
Jessica looked up and she could see what Ellen meant. It was the same effect as if she was looking up a road on a very hot day. The air kind of shimmered. The clouds seemed to be slanted, as if she was gazing at them through a funhouse mirror.
Lila rolled her eyes and turned back to Janet. “And we should wear heels.”
“What a fantastic idea!” Janet gushed while Jessica seethed.
With every step, Elizabeth’s trepidation rose. The entire town was quiet. Occasionally they did hear the odd voice, but it only ever turned out to be their fellow classmates. There were no adults. There didn’t seem to be anyone in town who didn’t go to Sweet Valley Middle School.
As they crested a hill they saw that three cars had collided at an intersection. Without a word to Amy and Julie, Elizabeth started running towards the crash. She heard their footsteps quicken, and they moved in unison to the crash.
Elizabeth tried to remember what little first aid she knew—try not to move them if the injuries are bad, reassure them, keep them warm and calm—but as she arrived at the cars, she realized that there was no need. There was nobody in any of the cars. She saw a baby seat in the back of one of the cars, and was relieved to see that it was empty too.
“Now I really do think it’s aliens,” Amy said. “There’s no sign of injuries. You’d think there would be blood or something, but there’s nothing. It’s as if the aliens took them while they were driving and the cars kept going until they crashed.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “It can’t be aliens. It’s never been aliens. We’ve had ghosts and jewel thieves and movie stars, but never aliens in Sweet Valley.”
“Ghosts, jewel thieves or movie stars didn’t do this,” Julie said.
Elizabeth tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Still,” she said. “I wish we’d brought Maria Slater instead of you. She was part of my plucky girl detectives squad. And I’m still honestly not sure who you are beyond being the girl we have lunch with every day.”
Julie opened her mouth to respond, but Elizabeth waved her off. “We should move on. I think we should go to my house first.”
It wasn’t far to Calico Drive and Elizabeth rushed through the front door and into the attractive split-level house. There was no sign of her mother, father or brother anywhere. She went from room to room, hoping to see some sign of her family, but there was nothing out of the ordinary except a broken bottle in the middle of the kitchen. Elizabeth cleaned up the mess, careful to pick up the clear glass shards and wipe up the liquid, which smelled a lot like nail polish remover to Elizabeth. She wondered if it had anything to do with the disappearance of all the adults. She peered at the label, trying to read it despite the rips in the label. “Vo/ka,” she murmured. “Curious.”
Even though she knew it was futile, she went to the phone and started calling everyone in her mother’s phone book. She wasn’t sure who “A.A.” was, but since they were listed first, she started there. No answer. She wasn’t surprised but she was disappointed.
Things were starting to get scary now. She remembered the time she had been a model student. Her fellow classmates had made so many infractions to the rules that she barely had time to correct them all, and—despite the fizz of superiority each exchange gave her—she hadn’t liked being the responsible one. It had been exhausting. She had been delighted to be a kid again.
Without an adult, would Elizabeth have to take on the role of the only adult in Sweet Valley?
Jessica was getting irritated. It seemed abundantly clear to her that there were no adults in the town. In fact, there wasn’t anyone in the town. Belinda Layton had insisted that they go to her house next because her younger brother, Billy (who had been given her name at birth, and Belinda had been shamed into not making a fuss about it), would be home with her mom, and if Mrs. Layton had vanished, then Billy would be home alone.
Janet had grudgingly bumped the Layton home visit up above Ellen and Mary, but still insisted they go to her house first.
It had all been for nothing though. There was nobody home in any of their houses. No Howells, no Laytons, no brothers, big or small. Nobody.
And Jessica couldn’t understand why everyone was insisting that they check their own homes. It seemed very clear to her that the entire town had vanished. And since it had, then the party at Lila’s was going to be a rager.
“I think we should stop checking houses and go straight to Sweet Valley Mart to buy snacks for the party,” Jessica said.
For the first time all day, nobody spoke over her. Nobody interrupted. Then Janet gave her a full smile, and Jessica basked in the attention.
“I think that’s a very good idea, Jessica.”
Lila waved her away. “It’s a very middle-class idea,” Lila said grandly. “Mrs. Pervis can pick up anything we need.”
“Mrs. Pervis is a grownup.” Jessica couldn’t help the smug tone that crept into her voice—she sounded just like Elizabeth! “She won’t be there.”
Lila paled. “But what if we don’t have the food I like? Surely Mrs. Pervis wouldn’t leave me?”
“I guess you’ll have to cook your own dinner tonight, Lila.” Jessica couldn’t hide her smile.
Lila’s eyes widened. “But I don’t even know where the kitchen is!”
“So, Sweet Valley Mart then?” Jessica said.
That was more like it.
Elizabeth and her two friends were making their way to the town hall when Amy stopped suddenly and pointed at the sky.
“Do you see that?” Amy asked.
“See what?” Elizabeth and Julie replied in unison.
“The sky looks wrong. It’s kind of…” Amy tilted her head slightly. “Slanted?”
Elizabeth looked up and she could see what Amy was saying. “How odd.” Elizabeth squinted at the sight of it.
“It’s like the sky is…” Amy brought her hands up to face height and drew a half-circle in the air. “Like we’re looking at it through curved glass.” She shaded her eyes to get a better look. “I really do think it’s aliens. What if we’re under a dome? I read another amazing book about a whole town that got stuck under a dome, and everyone got really hungry, and some guy cooked meth—I don’t know what that is, but I think it’s some kind of s’more—and he accidentally blew up the town, but the smoke couldn’t get out, and everyone nearly died.”
“How is cooking meth anything to do with aliens?” Elizabeth asked in exasperation. “And I’ve told you, it’s not aliens.”
“Well, in this book, the dome had been made by aliens.” Amy looked around. “Think about it, Elizabeth. Ghosts and jewel thieves and movie stars couldn’t put a town under a dome.”
Elizabeth glared at her best friend. “It’s not aliens.”
Elizabeth Wakefield was starting to think that it might be aliens.
Their path towards town hall had veered slightly as they had become preoccupied with the curved look of the sky. It was hard to follow something that was largely transparent, but they found themselves heading towards Larson’s Lot, the home of the infamous Dead Man’s Cave, which nearly earned its name after Aaron Dallas, Ken Matthews and a bunch of others tried to bully a bully during a rainstorm.
There they found a curious sight. The fence that surrounded the lot had been neatly severed in half. The fence sagged apart at the bisection, showing fresh light wood underneath the layers of creosote. There didn’t seem to be any reason for the fence to have fallen apart—and if it had been natural erosion, the edges wouldn’t be so neatly hewn.
There was a faint shimmer in the air between the two halves, like very clear glass.
Amy moved forward and before Elizabeth could stop her, she reached out a hand to touch the shimmer. She immediately yelped and snatched her hand away, cradling it to her chest.
“Amy, are you ok?” Elizabeth asked.
Amy gave her a rueful nod. “Yes, I’m fine. It gave me a shock, but it doesn’t hurt too bad now.” Then she looked triumphant. “We are under a dome.”
“There’s a shiny patch in the air that gives you an electric shock,” Elizabeth agreed. “But it doesn’t mean there’s a dome.”
“Maybe not,” Amy said. “But I think we are.”
“Maybe we should follow the shimmer,” Julie said. “Maybe it’s less of a dome and more of a wall—there might be a gap or something?”
Elizabeth felt rather slighted that her subordinates were coming up with theories and suggestions that were better than her own—she had nothing at the moment. She was far better with ghosts or jewel thieves or movie stars, to be honest. It was part of why she was so adamant that it wasn’t aliens: she didn’t know anything about aliens.
“Yes, let’s follow it,” she said. She pulled out a notepad. “And we’ll make notes on any anomalies we find!”
There! She was leading again!
Jessica made a point not to be the one stuck pushing the shopping cart when they arrived at Sweet Valley Mart. It was far more fun to run down the aisles picking up delicious snacks than dully maneuvering the cart. It appeared that the rest of the Unicorns had exactly the same idea. There was a quick and nearly violent tussle that eventually left Ellen with the cart, while everyone else scattered down the aisles.
It was nice to be in a shop without other shoppers, without people staring at her expecting her to cause havoc (she had never lived down that whole egg thing that Rick Hunter caused). It was as if the store only existed to cater to the Unicorns. Which was, as far as Jessica was concerned, exactly as it should be.
She managed to tuck her arm through Janet’s and steer her down the chips and dips aisle. It was frustrating that Lila had stolen her party idea and even more infuriating that she had taken her heels idea, but if she could somehow wow Janet now, maybe she could claw it all back.
“I think the party should have a theme,” Jessica said. All parties should have a theme, really.
“What a good idea, Jessica,” Janet said. “What theme do you think?”
Jessica grabbed a few bags of Cheez Doodles to stall for time. “Well,” she said, glancing around for ideas, but it was hard to be inspired by rows of nothing but food. There wasn’t a single human being around. Wait. There were no adults. “Since all the adults are gone, we’re the adults now, aren’t we?”
“So I suggest that we dress in adult clothes—heels, the boys in suits, the girls in dresses. We’re the grownups now,” she finished with a brilliant smile.
“I think that’s an excellent theme,” Janet said approvingly. Then frowned. “But don’t say ‘grownup’, it’s very childish, and that reflects badly on the Unicorns.”
“Of course,” Jessica said. “But you like my theme?”
“I love it!” Janet said. She glanced around. “Get some onion dip! I love that stuff.”
Jessica wrinkled her nose. “But won’t that give us bad breath?”
Janet glared at her. “No. Any Unicorn worth their salt will be carrying breath mints.”
“Sorry, Janet,” Jessica muttered, glancing around to see if the aisle they were in carried breath mints. When she looked back, Janet was gone. Jessica stamped her foot in frustration. She had been doing so well, and now she had nearly ruined things.
She quickly loaded up on more chips, onion dip, and then perused the aisles until she found mints. To be on the safe side, she grabbed enough for every Unicorn to have a pack in their purse. After all, Lila would be paying, since she was pretty sure the Unicorn treasury had been wiped out when Janet had suggested they all buy matching purple leg warmers to wear with their Booster uniforms.
She got back to the cart and dumped her stash in there.
“Ooh, onion dip,” Ellen said. “I love that stuff!”
“You got onion dip?” Janet’s tone was icy cold, and her glare was even cooler.
Jessica faltered. “… yes? You said…”
“Jessica, use your brain! Onion breath? Do you want everyone to think the Unicorns are stinky? Think! Your actions reflect badly on the Unicorns!”
Jessica gaped at her in shock. “But you said…” she pointed helplessly down the aisle she’d just come from. “I have breath mints…”
“Breath mints?” Janet repeated.
Jessica had clearly crossed a line—a line she had been invited to cross only two seconds ago by a far more kind version of Janet—and she needed to scramble back over it. Maybe this was a test. Maybe Janet was looking for her successor next year when she went to Sweet Valley High. Maybe if Jessica did amazingly well here, she would be the president of the Unicorns. She could just imagine Lila’s face when Janet announced…
“Breath mints? I’ll have you know, Jessica,” Janet screeched, “that I take my oral hygiene very seriously!”
Jessica knew that. She’d had to dress as a giant tooth to prove it once. And she was not willing to do that again. She needed to pull things back. “I’m sorry, Janet. I’ll get rid of the dip. But at least we still have my theme—that’s going to be perfect, right?”
“You know, the one we just talked about in the chips aisle?” Jessica said, but it came out as a question rather than a statement.
Janet frowned. “But I haven’t been in the chips aisle. I’ve been stood here with Ellen the whole time.” Janet gave Ellen a winning smile. “She came up with a wonderful theme. She suggested ‘We’re the Adults Now’, isn’t it just terrific?”
Jessica didn’t have time to even growl in frustration, because suddenly there was a burst of heat that knocked the three of them off their feet.
Almost immediately, the fire alarm started blaring, and through her daze, Jessica heard her friends’ screams.
Elizabeth couldn’t believe her eyes.
They had followed the shimmery wall, occasionally forcing Julie (she was an extra after all) to touch it and check it still gave shocks, and they had ended up running parallel to the center of town, where several streets met in front of town hall, and there were several shops, including Sweet Valley Mart and Madame André’s dance studio.
Elizabeth decided that meeting back at town hall could wait, because what they had found was just amazing. The shimmering wall bisected Valley Road. On one half stood Elizabeth, Amy and a rather wobbly Julie.
On the other side stood everyone else. Everyone who should have been inside Sweet Valley. She saw lines of parents, older and younger siblings, teachers—even the people who didn’t even rate a mention in the books, like janitors and people of color (there was quite a lot of overlap in those two categories in Sweet Valley).
As the three sixth graders came into view, the adults surged forward in excitement.
Elizabeth spotted her mother slumped on the ground near the barrier—clearly she had collapsed due to being overcome with emotion. Elizabeth’s heart went out to her wonderful mother.
She couldn’t help but run forward calling, “Mom! I’m here! Mom!”
She heard Amy and Julie calling similar sentiments.
Then all three of them bounced off the barrier and let out howls of pain as even the brief contact with hit shocked them. Elizabeth felt the current fizz through her and fell to the ground shuddering. Her skin tingled and dark shapes bloomed in front of her eyes.
But after a moment, the pain receded. She took a couple of deep breaths and steadied herself. Then she got to her feet, careful to avoid the barrier. She offered her hand to Amy and helped her up.
Julie still twitched on the floor.
Elizabeth gazed at her. “Maybe we shouldn’t have made her be the only one to test the barrier over and over?”
Amy nodded. “At least it wasn’t Maria Slater. That would have had unfortunate implications.” She turned her attention to the barrier again. “Look, I guess my mom’s reporting on the situation.”
Elizabeth looked in the direction Amy was pointing and she could see Dyan Sutton with a microphone standing in front of a camera. “I can’t hear what she’s saying.”
“I can’t hear anything at all from their side,” Amy said. “You’d think it would be noisy—look at how many people are there.”
“Oh!” Elizabeth had been carrying her notepad and pen when she hit the barrier. She saw them on the ground and grabbed them. She flicked to a blank page and quickly scribbled a note and held it up.
Once again, the adults surged forward, then looked disappointed.
On reflection, “HI, MOM!” probably wasn’t the greatest opener. Especially because her mother was still slumped on the ground. She must be so heartbroken, Elizabeth thought.
She flipped to another page and wrote, “WHAT IS GOING ON?” and held it up again.
This prompted Dyan to move closer to the barrier and—Elizabeth assumed—give live updates regarding Elizabeth’s notes.
There was a ripple in the crowd and eventually a woman pushed to the front. It took her a moment to place her, but it suddenly clicked that it was Mrs. Pervis, Lila’s housekeeper. She had her own note, and held it up. It read very simply:
“WHERE IS LILA?”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. How on earth was that helpful? Still, it would probably be quicker to answer the question and ask her own. She quickly scribbled, “WITH MY SISTER. AT TOWN HALL.” Then she held up her “WHAT’S GOING ON?” sheet.
Mrs. Pervis scribbled on her sheet very quickly, and then held it up.
“BIG DOME. ALMOST EVERYONE STUCK OUTSIDE IT.”
That was worrying. And it was really beginning to sound like aliens. She’d never hear the end of it from Amy if that was the case.
She was considering what to write next when she heard shouts and screams from behind her.
Then Amy asked, “Do you smell smoke?”
Jessica wasn’t sure what happened. One minute yet another Unicorn had been taking credit for yet another one of her ideas, the next she was on the floor, ruining her new denim mini-skirt. A burst of heat flew above the three of them and hit the back wall of Sweet Valley Mart, where it burst into flames.
She lay on the cold tile for a few precious seconds, trying to figure out what happened, before her survival instinct kicked in, she rolled to her side and pushed herself up.
The sight of the back wall engulfed in flames gave her a moment’s pause. She saw Janet and Ellen both passed out on the floor beside her and made a very quick decision. She could only save one. And nobody would ever miss Ellen Riteman. She would bet everything she owned that not a single person would care if, for example, Ellen didn’t go to Sweet Valley High.
She moved over to Janet’s side and gently shook her. She tried to say Janet’s name, but a fit of coughing hit her. The store was filling with smoke and the heat was getting unbearable.
She shook Janet several times, but there was no response. Jessica looked up towards the door. It wasn’t far, and if Janet was unconscious, she probably wouldn’t be able to tell Jessica off for dragging her along the dirty floor.
She knew that she had to keep low to avoid the worst of the smoke, so Jessica took both of Janet’s hands and crouch-walked backwards towards the entrance, dragging Janet with her. Halfway down the aisle, she saw that Janet’s sneaker had fallen off and was halfway between the entrance and Ellen’s fallen body.
She considered going back for it, but—and this was something she would never admit out loud—Janet was heavier than she looked.
As she reached the doorway, she saw her sister and Amy standing there. She glanced around, and saw that a good amount of the middle school population had followed Elizabeth’s instructions to gather in front of town hall, though not a single one of them had gotten too close to the burning store.
“Is there anyone else in there?” Elizabeth asked.
“The Unicorns…” she said.
Elizabeth and Amy immediately moved towards the door.
On a further glance around, Jessica saw that actually they were already a safe distance away from the burning building. They must have seen the fireball and immediately fled out the exit. “Never mind, it’s just Ellen.” She paused and thought a moment. “But if you are going back in there, can you get Janet’s shoe?”
“Ellen?” Amy said in a quiet voice. Then she sprinted into the store at top speed.
Elizabeth took a step after her, but there was a crash from inside the store, and the flames burned higher.
“We need to do something!” Elizabeth cried passionately to the crowd.
The crowd collectively shrugged and stared at their shoes.
“I’ll call 911,” said Caroline Pearce.
“There’s no point,” said Elizabeth. “Everyone but us has gone!”
Caroline’s green eyes seemed to glitter intensely before she said to Lois, “Wow. She’s right. Everyone’s outside of the dome.”
“We need to do something!” Elizabeth said again. “We need buckets of water, maybe a hose…”
“What’s the point?” Jessica asked. “I know Sweet Valley Mart was the nearest store, but there are other places that sell chips and dips for the party.”
Elizabeth rounded on her furiously. “This isn’t about a party, this is about stopping the fire from spreading! Amy said that she read a book where a bunch of people were trapped in a dome and they nearly died in a meth fire! Do you want to die in a meth fire?”
Jessica was somewhat alarmed to see the intensity in her sister’s eyes, and glanced down at Janet again, ready to reassure her that she—Jessica, future Unicorn President—had saved her life, but Janet was not there.
“Amy’s going to die!” Elizabeth said with tears in her eyes. Though Jessica couldn’t help but notice that her sister wasn’t getting any closer to the door.
“It’ll probably burn itself out,” offered Jimmy Underwood, who was so small that most narratives completely forgot him.
“Elizabeth is right!” a voice said, and Todd Wilkins, Elizabeth’s sort-of boyfriend, stepped forward. “We need to put this fire out! We’re the adults now.”
Jessica glared at him. Everyone was just jumping on her theme, weren’t they?
“I’m not dying in a fire to save a store,” Lila said.
“Amy and Ellen are in there,” Elizabeth said.
“Well, the Boosters will miss them, but new blood could completely revitalize some of our cheers,” Lila replied with a philosophical shrug.
“We need to save them!” Elizabeth raged. She gestured at the blaze with both hands, and to everyone’s utter astonishment, two strong jets of water gushed from her palms.
Elizabeth looked startled for a moment, then proudly stepped into the store, directing the water towards the fire.
While Elizabeth fought the fire, she counted the pros and cons of being able to create water from her hands. The pros were quite obvious: she could put out a fire; she would be a hit at a pool party; her power would probably put her in charge of everyone without question; and she wasn’t sure if aliens had a tendency to turn people into fire hydrants, so Amy was probably wrong with her theory.
The con was very simply that she was terrified. It was completely life-changing to go about your day as normal and find out that you could send jets of water at things from the palms of your hands.
Inside the store, she could see Amy dragging Ellen along the aisle. As the flames raged, Elizabeth did her best to push them back and keep them away from her friend… and by extension, Ellen too.
The water was a constant pressure on her wrists that wasn’t pleasant, but she did enjoy the rush of satisfaction it gave her to extinguish the fire. As she doused the flames, she allowed herself a modest daydream about how the news stories would run. “Magic Girl Saves Entire Town!” the headlines would proclaim. She would do interviews with Dyan Sutton, where she would be brave, but humble. She would say things like, “I only did what anyone else would do,” knowing that nobody else could do what she did. She would be given the key to the city. International news would pick up the story (because everyone loved America!). She imagined a montage of other countries watching her translated interview (some very chic French people eating baguettes and wearing berets; a red-haired family wearing kilts, drinking tea and eating crumpets, watching in Wales—or was it Ireland?—somewhere in England, anyway) and discussing how brave this young—but mature—American girl was.
Perhaps she would even get invited to the White House! She wasn’t sure who was president (she was vaguely aware that the President might be named Bush or Reagan) but it would be so exciting! She would shake his hand and the camera would flash, and it would be a treasured memory, and people would clap and cheer and—
She blinked. She could actually hear clapping and cheering.
She realized that in her daydream daze, she had utterly decimated the fire in record time, and now her fellow classmates were giving her a standing ovation. Before she stepped back outside, she made sure her smile was humble—thank goodness she had practiced looking humble while daydreaming.
She stepped outside and beamed at the cheering students. Amy rushed to her side, quickly followed by Ellen—so that hero-worship was starting again, was it?—and put an arm around her.
“That was amazing,” Amy said.
“Not as amazing as you saving me,” Ellen said immediately, staring at Amy with adoration in her eyes. She briefly glanced in Elizabeth’s direction before returning her gaze to Amy. “No offense, Elizabeth, but Amy ran into a burning building without being a human hose. And she hit a kidnapper with a chair leg for me.”
Alarmingly, Amy beamed at Ellen and said in a soft voice, “I thought you’d forgotten about that…”
Ellen’s sickening smile grew even more nauseating. “I would never forget that.”
With rising irritation, Elizabeth cleared her throat pointedly.
Amy blinked and looked away from Ellen. “Elizabeth, you’re a hero! You saved the day.” Amy turned to the crowd of assembled students. “Isn’t she amazing?”
The crowd responded with whoops and cheers.
“I think you should lead us through this crisis, Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth turned to the crowd—her subjects now!—and beamed.
Humbly, of course.
Jessica ignored the cheering for Elizabeth. That was probably the most normal thing that had happened all day. She saw Ellen give Amy one last adoring gave before she rejoined the Unicorns.
Jessica rolled her eyes at Ellen’s rekindled infatuation with the lank-haired tomboy, and then shook it off as she tried to ease closer to Janet.
She couldn’t wait to tell her that she had saved her life. She could well imagine the looks the other Unicorns would give her—half admiring, half envious. They would wish they had saved Janet, but they would know that they just didn’t have the grit that Jessica did.
She just needed an opening. She needed a natural way to drop into conversation that she had just saved the life of the president of the Unicorns.
“I’m so glad you’re ok, Janet,” Lila said.
That would do. “Me too,” Jessica added. “I hope your foot isn’t too cold—after you lost your shoe.”
“My foot?” Janet asked. “Why would you think I lost my shoe?”
That was even more perfect. “Well, I saw your shoe fall off when I was dragging you from the store—single-handedly—after you passed out. It was a case of rescuing you or your shoe…” Jessica tried to look humble here. “So obviously I saved you.”
Janet gave her an exasperated look. “What on earth are you talking about, Jessica? You didn’t drag me from the store, I walked out with Mary.”
“No!” It was one thing to be given confusing messages about stupid onion dip, but Jessica remembered dragging Janet out. She got all cruddy from the floor. “The fireball hit and you, Ellen and me all got knocked over and I dragged you to safety when you didn’t wake up, and while I was dragging you, your sneaker came off and it’s still in the store.” Jessica realized that she had used a very snippy tone with Janet, which would not go down well, and attempted to salvage the situation as best she could. “I could go back and get it for you?”
Janet pointed at her feet with both hands, and Jessica saw that Janet was still wearing both sneakers. “But I…” she trailed off, then glanced at Ellen. “Do you remember how it happened?”
Ellen nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, we were talking about onion dip, and it was just like Jessica said, the fireball hit, then Amy saved me.”
Janet shook her head. It seemed that confusion had overtaken her irritation, because her tone wasn’t quite as biting as before. “Jessica, I don’t know what happened to you, but Mary and I were getting grape soda when the fire started, so we dropped everything and ran out the exit. Maybe you hit your head or something? Maybe you saw Amy saving Ellen and got confused?”
Jessica felt a surge of rage. What on earth was going on? She knew she had saved Janet. Heck, she knew that Janet had told her to get onion dip before going back on her word. There was something seriously wrong with Janet today. She knew that the Unicorns weren’t exactly the most supportive group of friends, but actively and deliberately sabotaging someone wasn’t their everyday behavior.
If Jessica was honest, it was the kind of thing that she and Lila would indulge in quite regularly.
Ellen tugged at her arm. “I need to speak to you.”
Jessica shrugged her off in frustration, but Ellen tried again.
“Really, we need to talk.” Ellen pitched her voice low so the others wouldn’t hear.
“Ok,” Jessica said. It might be about her saving Janet. Maybe while she was walking back to the shopping cart, Janet had messed with Ellen’s head too. Not that Ellen would notice, but Jessica might be able to tease out some details Ellen was too dim to understand.
She and Ellen stepped a comfortable distance from the group and Jessica looked at Ellen expectantly.
Ellen toed the ground with her foot for a few moments, staring at the sidewalk with an intensity she usually saved for Amy. Eventually she looked up at Jessica and whispered. “I saw what you did.”
Jessica felt her temper rise again—and in all honesty, her temper had been bouncing from angry to destroy the world with little to no cooldown between mood swings—so it really wasn’t a long trip. “Then why on earth did you tell Janet all about Amy instead?”
Ellen looked confused. “Because I was protecting you, Jessica. We’re friends.”
“You were protecting me?” Jessica repeated. “From what? From Janet’s eternal gratitude that I saved her life? From my future as the next president of the Unicorns? Well, thanks, Ellen! Thanks a lot!”
Ellen looked shocked. “No, you didn’t save Janet’s life. You nearly killed her.”
Jessica’s jaw dropped. “What?”
Ellen leaned closer and dropped her voice to a whisper. “When she shouted at you about the onion dip you made a fireball from your hands.” She nodded her head in the direction of Elizabeth and Amy. “Like Elizabeth’s water jets. You made fire.”
Jessica jerked back. Surely she hadn’t. She would have remembered that. She didn’t remember anything except her frustration and then being knocked on her back by a fireball.
She glanced at her palms. She expected them to be the same ordinary hands she saw every day of her life. And they were. But there were was an ashy carbon smudge on each palm. She quickly stuck them behind her back. Had she made a fireball? It kind of stood to reason that she might have. If Elizabeth had a super power, then of course Jessica would, and hers would be far more impactful, because she was the dramatic twin.
But if people found out, they wouldn’t cheer for her like they did for Elizabeth. She was the one who caused the fire that Saint Elizabeth had heroically put out. And Jessica was having a bad enough day as it was.
There was only one way to deal with this.
She schooled her features into incredulous disdain. “Me? Ellen, what are you talking about? You were the one who created the fireball. I just didn’t say anything because I didn’t want you to get into trouble. I decided to save Janet first and come back for you. I figured since you made the fire, you were probably immune to it or something.”
Ellen gave her a puzzled look. “No… I… I would remember…”
“Would you?” Jessica did her best impression of Elizabeth, the kind that always forced everyone to open up about their problems. She reached out and tentatively patted Ellen on the shoulder. “I know you didn’t mean to hurt Janet, and it must have been a shock when it happened, but you can’t push your problems on to me, Ellen.” She kept her voice soft and her smile friendly. “I am your friend, and I will keep your secret, but you need to accept what you did, even if we never tell anyone.”
There was a long thoughtful pause as Ellen digested this. “It really was me?” she asked in a faint voice.
“I’m afraid so.”
Another pause, a few head-bobs, followed by a decisive nod. “Oh gosh, Jessica, I’m so sorry that I convinced myself you did it.”
Jessica’s smile widened. “Don’t worry about it. We can keep it between us.”
“Thank you, Jessica.” Ellen resumed her consideration of the sidewalk. “I feel… ashamed of myself.”
Well, that was helpful. If Ellen felt ashamed, then there was no chance of her blabbing to anyone. And if Jessica changed the subject, she might even forget about the whole situation. “Don’t feel too bad. We’ve still got the party to look forward to.”
Ellen nodded. “It’s a shame we didn’t get the snacks. Although I don’t know how we were going to pay. There wasn’t anyone there to take our money.” When she looked up at Jessica, she looked worried. “I don’t know how to pay for something if someone’s not there to take the money, do you?”
Jessica had a rather fabulous idea that would blow the party, the theme and stupid onion dip right out of the water!
She strode back over to the group of Unicorns and said in a clear voice that cut straight through the chatter, “Forget the party, I have a much better idea.” Raising her head and standing tall, she addressed the entire group of students. “The party at Lila’s is cancelled in favor of…”
Now she had everyone’s attention. She teased out the moment, enjoying their incredulous looks. Janet was beginning to look irritated again, and Jessica let the silence linger a second more before finishing. “Well, you guys can go to Lila’s if you want, but I’m going to the mall, where I’m going to get a new outfit for free, get delicious snacks, and then find the very best store to host the most amazing party in the history of Sweet Valley. And when the party is over, I will be hosting the biggest slumber party at Sweet Valley Beds!”
She took half a second to enjoy the dawning realization on everyone’s faces, then started walking away as if she knew everyone would follow her.
In no time at all, Janet had linked her arm through Jessica’s and she was surrounded by Unicorns.
“What a terrific idea, Jessica,” Janet said. “This kind of thing reflects very well on the Unicorns.”
Elizabeth was furious with her sister. She had just won the approval of her classmates and was ready to lead them safely through this crisis and Jessica had jumped in with her silly party idea before Elizabeth could even explain the seriousness of the situation.
“Wait!” she cried. “You don’t know what’s going on! Don’t you even care where your families are?”
A few people looked curious—she noticed Sophia Rizzo, Sarah Thomas, Mandy Miller and Mary Robinson move a little closer to her—but for the most part, people were talking amongst themselves about what they were going to get from the mall.
“We are under a gigantic transparent dome!” Elizabeth said triumphantly.
“That might have been put there by aliens,” Amy added. Then cowered slightly under Elizabeth’s glare.
“Everyone was thrown outside of it,” Elizabeth continued. “The adults are all outside of the dome on Valley Road. I think we need to speak to them. They have news vans there. This is a big deal! We need to get to the bottom of this.”
Jessica turned back to face her sister. “Ok, you do that. We’ll be at the mall partying.”
Elizabeth felt tears spring to her eyes again. “Why don’t you care, Jess? Don’t you miss our family? They’ve been torn away from us. Why aren’t you worried about the dome that’s covering the entire town? Is a party really more important?”
Jessica shrugged. “To answer your questions: I do care, but honestly, it’s barely lunchtime, I’m not missing mom and dad because I usually wouldn’t see them for another few hours. I’m actually looking forward to walking through the house after a shower and not feeling violated by Steven’s stares. And in all honesty, this whole dome situation will resolve itself in about nineteen more chapters.” She glanced at her nails for a second. “These things kind of take care of themselves, so why not party?”
Elizabeth stared at her sister in open-mouthed fury. She cast about for something to say in response to Jessica ridiculous assertions and landed on, “You don’t even know what violated means!”
“Sure I do, it’s that shameful tickle I get when Steven’s close.” Jessica glanced around. “So, if you guys want to follow Elizabeth and do the boring research stuff about why there’s a dome, then go ahead. The cool kids will be at the mall, hosting the biggest and best party you’ve ever seen.”
And with that, Jessica walked away.
And everyone but Amy followed her.
“Don’t tell me,” Elizabeth said with irritation. “You’ve read a book where aliens did exactly this, and everyone abandoned their leader but it was a terrific book.”
Amy shrugged. “Well, that’s kind of how these things go.”
Jessica was beginning to appreciate what life as Lila Fowler would be like. She could have anything in any store she wanted, and there was nobody home to give her a hard time about it. On reflection, she had no idea why Lila could be so prickly. She lived a charmed life.
All around her in Kendalls, she could hear her friends having a field day picking out outfit after outfit, without any thought of budget or choosing just one thing like they usually had to.
Jessica was trying on an outfit she had been eyeing but knew that she would never afford, even if all one hundred and thirty-seven of her yearly birthdays fell in the same week and every relative was extremely generous. (It went without saying that she’d help herself to Elizabeth’s share too.)
It was the most beautiful dress she had ever seen, in deep purple satin, with ruched sleeves that looked like rosebuds, a tight ruffled bodice that gathered in at the waist in a large bow and puffed out in the most adorable ra-ra skirt she’d ever seen.
It was without question the prettiest dress she had ever worn.
And she was letting herself down by pairing it with sneakers. They weren’t even hers, they were Elizabeth’s. She kicked them off and decided to hunt down a nice pair of heels. Wouldn’t everyone be jealous when they saw her outfit? Even more so if she could find purple heels.
She rounded a corner and found Janet trying on another purple dress in front of three mirrors, angled so they reflected each other and gave the best view. Hers was more simple than Jessica’s but striking nonetheless. It was a simple dress with a rounded neck, short sleeves and a short skirt, but it was covered in purple sequins. Jessica idly considered how she would look in it, but she realized her ra-ra skirt would look much better swirling out as she twirled on the dancefloor.
“You look—” The compliment died on Jessica’s lips as she glanced at Janet’s reflection. The Janet in the mirror was wearing a completely different outfit. Every Janet in the mirror was wearing a completely different outfit.
Janet turned to her in panic, surprised by her voice. She did her best to leap in front of the mirror and obscure the different Janets reflected.
“There are so many of you…” Jessica whispered. Then she began to think about it. “Is that why you don’t remember talking to me?”
Janet stared at her, a flush rising in her cheeks.
“And you don’t remember talking to Ellen either,” she added, as an afterthought. She looked at the many Janets in the mirror. “One of you told me to buy onion dip, and then I saved your life.”
“Actually,” said a Janet in jeans in a shiny top. “I wanted the onion dip—so did everyone else, I was just the only one willing to go for it. But you didn’t save me. You saved her.” She pointed at a Janet in a very simple floor-length lilac gown that Jessica had very nearly tried on before she’d found her current dress.
The Janet in lilac gave her a thumbs up and a big smile.
Jessica noticed that the reflections of Janet were a lot nicer but significantly less cool than the real Janet.
“Please don’t tell anyone about this,” hissed the real Janet. “I don’t know what people would think. I don’t know what I think. I don’t think there should be more than one of me. It could reflect very badly on the Unicorns. I don’t even know what the other mes have done. I only just found out about them when I looked in the mirror. Then I remembered that you said you’d saved me, and one of me only had one shoe…” Janet tailed off looking aggrieved. “Please don’t tell anyone.”
Jessica smiled in amusement. It felt good to have Janet under her thumb. She didn’t even have to say anything, and Janet was squirming.
“For heaven’s sake, Jessica. Think of the Unicorns! I’m the president! There can’t be more than one of me. It’s not like I’m something lame like a twin or whatever.”
Jessica glared. “Being a twin is lame?” She did a quick count of the reflections. “There are at least…” Seeing all the Janets started to give her a headache, and math really wasn’t Jessica’s thing. She wasn’t Lloyd Benson, for goodness sake. “There’s a lot more than two of you!”
“Jessica, please keep your voice down,” Janet urged.
Jessica shrugged. “Ok, I will. I’ll even go to the end of the aisle and make sure nobody else sees you like this.”
A look of comprehension bloomed across Janet’s face. “And what do you want in return?”
“For you to agree with me on every suggestion I make,” Jessica said. Then a truly amazing thought struck her. “And for me to be the president of the Unicorns during this whole dome thing that Elizabeth was jabbering about.”
Janet’s jaw dropped. “That’s not fair! You can’t force me to agree to that! What is everyone going to think if I announce that you’re in charge?”
“What is everyone going to think when they realize there are dozens of you?” Jessica countered. “They’re going to think that you’re…” Jessica didn’t actually get what was so bad about there being multiple Janets (other than the obvious bossiness), but Janet was clearly worried about something. In this case, it would be better to imply she knew. “Well, you know what they’ll think…” Jessica let her voice tail off ominously, just like Connie Boyer when she was manipulating her friends.
Janet groaned. “Oh goodness, they’ll think I’m to blame for this whole situation.”
Really? That was her fear? Jessica hadn’t even considered that her fire powers might be linked to the dome, and if they were then it certainly wasn’t her fault. She was not going to take the blame for something she couldn’t control. Heck, she rarely took responsibility for all the things she did put in motion. But if it got Jessica what she wanted…
Gritting her teeth, Janet stuck out her hand and shook Jessica’s.
Lila was already sick of An Ode to Amy Sutton by Ellen. Ever since the fire, Ellen had been burbling on with barely a pause for breath. Lila wasn’t even listening at this point. There was only so much hero-worship a person could take, and she’d already reached her limit several months ago when Amy had again saved Ellen from a kidnapper.
“Do you think we should join Elizabeth and try to find a way to get back to our parents?” Ellen asked.
“A way back?” Lila scoffed. “Don’t be silly.” Lila had no intention of helping Elizabeth end the current situation. For one thing, she was having a perfectly lovely time not being touched inappropriately by Mr. Nydick while allegedly learning about the Civil War; for another, her father was in Europe at the moment, and would not be back for a few days. If Elizabeth got her way and managed to bring down the barrier, then everyone would have a tearful reunion with their parents and Lila would… what? Hug Mrs. Pervis? Were you even allowed to hug the help?
It was rather nice having everyone in the same boat as her when it came to parents. Though she wasn’t too keen on the feeling that everyone could have anything they wanted from the mall. Lila preferred that to be an exclusive luxury to the rich, not the default for every Lois Waller and Jessica Wakefield in Sweet Valley.
Though nobody was going to look as fabulous as Lila. She had found a wonderful dress in a shiny purple material. The dress was strapless and tight to her hips, then puffed out in ruched layers. It was so eye-catching.
“But maybe we should try to find out why all the adults vanished.” Ellen sat down sulkily on a stool provided for trying shoes on. She was wearing a terrible abomination of a dress. A boring halter dress with a flared skirt, black with purple dots, with a silk ribbon as a belt. It looked like something from the fifties. Why was Ellen always so behind?
Still, if Ellen looked terrible, it would only emphasize how fabulous Lila looked in her shiny dress!
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Lila said. “These things do tend to resolve themselves. Besides, Elizabeth said that the news was reporting on it, so surely someone else can figure it out.”
“But we haven’t even been to the barrier,” Ellen said. “Maybe we should go and take a look.”
“And what exactly will you do when you get there? Wave at your parents and brother? Then what?” Lila kept her face indifferent, but at least Ellen would have someone to wave at. “What exactly is Elizabeth going to do? I know she knows everything and is the most wonderful human being that ever existed, but what is her skillset that will get us out of a… what did she call it? A dome?”
“She doesn’t know everything!” Ellen replied fiercely. “It was Amy that said it was aliens!”
“Well then, you have your answer.” Lila checked reflection from another angle and nodded approvingly. “Even Elizabeth can’t defeat aliens.”
Elizabeth held up her “What is going on?” sign again to the adults gathered on Valley Road.
Mrs. Pervis was the only one with paper and pens, so she was having to report the goings on outside the dome. It was slow going.
Amy was content to sit down behind her and wave to her mother. Julie was still on the ground where they had left her about an hour ago after too many bumps into the barrier.
Elizabeth tried to withhold a sigh of impatience as Mrs. Pervis scribbled a response.
“News says big dome. Circling town. No way in or out. Scientists coming to investigate.”
That was interesting. This really was a big deal.
“See, Elizabeth, they’ve got scientists on it. Everything will be fine,” Amy said.
Elizabeth bit her lip. Amy clearly wanted to go to the mall with everyone else, but Elizabeth was their leader. She had to do the right thing. She wrote, “What can I do to help?” and held it up.
Mrs. Pervis was much quicker in responding this time. “Make sure Lila safe.”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. If anyone was adept at being without parents, it was Lila. But she politely nodded and wrote, “What else?”
It wasn’t long before Mrs. Pervis held up another note. “What can you do? You’re twelve.”
Clearly Mrs. Pervis didn’t know who she was dealing with.
Notes: Sorry for the costume porn. Describing hideous 80s clothing is part of the reason I do NaNo. Jessica’s outfits are a fucking delight to write.
I have attached pictures of their foul dresses (though I made Jessica’s worse by making the skirt ra-ra, to be fair). I would give credit, but they are from Pinterest, and anyone who’s ever done an image search will know what a nightmare it is trying to follow a link from an image search via bloody Pinterest.
All things considered, Jessica thought, perhaps putting on heels before the most epic shopping spree of all time was a bad idea.
She was laden down with cassette tapes by all the hottest singers: Johnny Buck, Melody Power, Coco and Darcy Campman to name but a few.
And, of course, she had Janet trailing after her (wincing every time she passed a window or shiny surface), agreeing with every suggestion she made.
During their dress-buying spree, everyone had arrived and were in the stores helping themselves to whatever they wanted. She was completely unsurprised to see fat Lois Waller heading out of Some Crumb bakery, pushing a cart carrying the store’s entire stock. She saw Bruce Patman and his friends laden down with video games. As she watched, Aaron Dallas looked up and waved at her.
Jessica smiled and waved back. Aaron was her sort-of boyfriend. That meant that she had no obligation to only date him exclusively, but she mostly expected him to make an effort to remain her sort-of boyfriend. They had stopped dating a few times, because every so often Aaron would stop making an effort.
He walked over to her. “Hey, Jess, you look terrific.”
Her smile widened. It was so nice when he did make an effort. “I got it for the party. You’re coming right?”
“Yes, and I hope you’ll save me a dance.” He gave her a bashful look, and then scuffed his sneaker against the tiled floor. It made a squeak that Jessica was less than wild about, but it was cute when Aaron seemed shy. “Actually, I was thinking about your party…”
“Have you found a location yet?”
Actually, she hadn’t. She’d been too busy picking up everything she wanted so she would look amazing at the party to think about something as boring as the party’s location. “I’m considering my options.”
“We were thinking about the roller rink,” put in Janet. She seemed particularly fond of this suggestion, and clearly wasn’t enjoying the fact that she couldn’t simply announce the location and move on.
“I have a suggestion. Why don’t you have a party all over the mall?”
Jessica frowned. “Like, go store to store?” That sounded stupid.
“No, I mean get into the control panel and put music on the PA, set the lights, and let anyone party wherever they like—in or outside of stores.”
Jessica blinked. That actually sounded fun. She looked around and imagined herself dancing on the walkways. Half the mall was under a glass ceiling with a latticework of support beams. She thought it would probably be wonderful to dance under a moonlit sky to the hottest Johnny Buck song.
Aaron followed her gaze. “You came here at Christmas, right? Remember the glass ceiling being lit up in different colors? I’m sure if we can just find the control panel, we could set up the lights to be amazing. It would be better than any dance the school held.”
“But the roller rink already has the lights set up like that. They run a roller disco ever month,” Janet said.
“Exactly,” Jessica said. “It’s been done a hundred times. This is meant to be the best party ever.” She paused and gave Janet a pointed look. “The best party ever will reflect well on the Unicorns.”
Janet nodded quickly. “Of course you’re right, Jessica. Where is the control panel?”
Aaron glanced around the mall and shrugged. “I don’t know. We should round up all the SOAR kids and then we could start investigating all the doors we’re not allowed to go through. Once we find the right one, they could help me set up the lights and PA system.”
Jessica saw Janet’s eyes flash at the mention of SOAR (Science Offers Awesome Rewards), a special two week module for the promising science geeks of the future, which Jessica had somehow managed to be included in. Janet had felt threatened because her sort-of boyfriend, Denny Jacobson, had also been involved. Thankfully, by the end of the module, things had calmed down. Even so, it was better not to mention it in front of Janet.
“I think I saw Winston with Grace over at Lisettes,” Jessica said. “Randy Mason and Cammi Adams are back in Valley Records,” she indicated over her shoulder at the store they’d just come out of. “But I haven’t seen Lloyd Benson all day.”
“I could go and look for Denny Jacobson,” Janet offered.
Jessica considered it for a moment. It might put Janet in a good mood. But on the other hand, she didn’t need Janet in a good mood. She had Janet over a barrel. “No, if we see him, we’ll ask him, but I’m sure that Winston, Randy and Cammi would be a good start.” She paused. “Won’t the security doors be locked? And whoever had the keys is now outside the dome.”
Aaron gave another bashful smile. “I don’t think that’s a problem.”
Elizabeth glared at her supposed best friend. “Say that again.”
Amy kicked the ground and stared at her hands. “I just think we should go to the mall.”
“But we need to be here to figure out how to get out!” Elizabeth cried. Why was nobody taking her seriously? Why didn’t anyone care? If there was anyone she could count on not to be shallow, it was Amy, so why was Amy so keen to go to the mall. Weren’t they better than that? Didn’t they spend hours smugly talking about how all the Unicorns did was gossip and party?
“Figure what out?” Amy burst out. “What are you going to figure out? There’s a big dome over town. There are scientists—actual qualified adults—coming from all around the country to get to the bottom of it. You are a twelve year old with an oversized sense of self!”
Elizabeth took a step back, shaking with shock. “I can’t believe you just said that.”
Amy looked ashamed. “I’m sorry, Elizabeth. I didn’t mean to be hurtful, but sometimes you do have to let other people be in charge. Not everything needs you to fix it.”
Elizabeth bit her lip and willed the tears forming behind her eyes not to fall. Amy didn’t know what she was saying. Of course she had to fix everything. Sweet Valley was one big Liz-Fix project. There were poor people, the homeless, broken families, people with disabilities… the list went on and on. It’s what she did. “I can help!” she snapped. “Look at all the things I’ve done: I’ve reunited the Henkels, I brought down a crime ring, I helped Mary find her mother, I helped Melissa find her dad—I fix things! And what do you do? Nothing!”
Amy toed the ground. “You also wouldn’t hear a word of truth when Jessica was being unfairly ignored by Madame André, you bullied Brooke Dennis with that Jennifer thing, you dropped all your friends when Lila got a horse and when you thought you were going to be a Model Student, we both assumed your Great Aunt Helen was in witness protection… sometimes we get it wrong, Elizabeth. Sometimes you do. You could just step back.”
“I don’t get it wrong!” Elizabeth snapped. “I made all of those things right in the end. You’re just jealous because everyone knows I’m right. When people look back on this dome crisis, everyone will say ‘Elizabeth Wakefield saved us’. I’ve already saved you in that fire today!”
Amy nodded. “That’s my point, Elizabeth. Maybe we can’t fix the dome, we should leave that to the adults. But maybe we do need someone who can save us from fires. And if everyone’s gone to the mall, I think we should go there. If there’s trouble, it’ll be where everyone is. And if we need supplies, we’ll find it at the mall. What’s the alternative? Sitting on the sidewalk next to the comatose body of Julie, writing signs back and forth with the outside world?”
Elizabeth blinked away tears and held her head high but said nothing. She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do, but she always worked on the logic that if the Unicorns did something, it was the wrong play, so she should do the opposite.
After a few moments, Amy turned and started walking slowly away.
It was fine, she would stop. Amy would never leave her. They were best friends, and that meant that Amy would do whatever Elizabeth wanted.
Amy paused and glanced back at Elizabeth. Elizabeth felt a rush of smug triumph.
“I’ll be at the mall,” Amy said. “I’m going to Valley Books to see if there’s anything that might explain what’s going on. If you want to join me, I’d be happy to have you there.”
Lois Waller and Caroline Pearce were doing a roaring trade in Valley Burgers. They had quickly understood that the idiots they went to school with would love the concept of not paying for anything, but be completely flummoxed that they couldn’t get food at the mall.
They had also very quickly realized that their idea would spawn a bunch of imitators, and most of their classmates couldn’t be trusted with fire. This was just asking for problems—problems that would be solved by Saint Elizabeth Wakefield, and they both tried to avoid that where they could.
They had done a walk around of the food court (turning off lights, ovens, drink makers and otherwise fire hazard they encountered), and settled on Valley Burgers. It had the largest interior seating, and a good amount of chairs and tables in the food court.
Lois suggested that they raid all the other eateries for their stock, and the two of them had quickly set about storing the food in the back rooms, fridges and freezers of Valley Burgers (Lois had noticed Jessica’s superior and fat-shaming gaze as she cleared out Some Crumb Bakery, but had ignored it. Jessica would come crawling to her as soon as she realized she was hungry). Once everything was emptied, they locked the doors using chains and padlocks from Valley DIY.
“I was thinking,” Caroline said as she set down a meal on a tray with ruthless efficiency. “Maybe we should grab some overnight supplies? One of us could get some sleeping bags and toiletries, and we could sleep in the break room upstairs?”
Lois rolled her eyes and gave her friend a smile. Of course Caroline was asking her to go.
“Well, yes,” Caroline said. “But you can’t deny that I’m far more useful here, interacting with people.” She slid the tray in front of her to Nora Mercandy and accepted a hefty set of batteries in payment. “Have a Valley Burgers day!”
“‘Have a Valley Burgers day’?” Lois replied doubtfully.
Caroline shrugged. “Just trying something new.”
It’s goofy, Lois thought hard.
“Yes, but it put a smile on your face.”
Caroline had discovered that she could read thoughts around the time that Mr. Nydick vanished and quickly whispered to Lois. Since then, Lois had been sending random thoughts to her friend to test her. Lois wished that she could read minds. It would be a lot of fun to have perfectly silent conversations with Caroline.
They quite often exchanged silent looks whenever a Wakefield was being particularly obnoxious, and while those looks conveyed a lot, the additional commentary would be amazing.
The plan to run Valley Burgers was a plan that held many bonuses: they would be kept occupied until whatever they were going through was eventually resolved (probably by a Wakefield); their decision to run a fast food joint had actively prevented other idiots from burning the mall to the ground; they were charging items for food and were starting to stockpile useful things, such as toilet roll and batteries; and, finally, Caroline’s constant interaction with people would allow her to read minds and keep ahead of trouble. Neither of them had any intention of losing their life to prove to a Wakefield that this situation was serious business.
Lois did wonder what on earth was going on, but she was pretty sure it wouldn’t last more than a few days. Nothing ever did in Sweet Valley. It seemed a very strange situation. They were without adults, there was a glass dome around the town—Caroline had tried to explain what Elizabeth had seen, “Imagine we’re in a snow globe that gives you electric shocks if you touch it.”—and people were developing strange powers.
This was not the usual Sweet Valley event. Drama in Sweet Valley was much more in line with soap operas, although some soap operas did like to have a big unexpected (some might even argue unlikely) event to devastate the nation. Perhaps this would be theirs.
Lois did wish that she’d developed a super power though. She was glad Caroline had something so useful and that she was using it to keep them both safe—and amused by what was going on—but Lois wished she had something.
“It’s ok, you don’t need anything to make you special, you’re—OUCH!” Caroline leapt backwards from the hot drink maker, cradling her hand.
Lois stopped what she was doing at the grill and strode over to her friend. “What happened?”
“Sorry, I was listening to you think, and I wasn’t paying attention. I burned myself on the nozzle thingie,” Caroline replied.
Lois gently took Caroline by the wrist and peered at the burned hand. There was a nasty blister already puffing up on the web between Caroline’s thumb and first finger, and the skin was red and angry.
“Looks like I’m going to be manning the machinery until that heals,” Lois said.
“I don’t know, it’s starting to feel better already,” Caroline replied.
And as they watched, the blister got smaller, and the skin started to return to the usual color.
Caroline tilted her head and looked at Lois. “Well, I guess you do have a special power now.” She flipped her red hair over her shoulder with a perfectly healed hand. “But you’re still going to fetch our overnight supplies. My power is much better right here.”
Lois gave her a smirk. “Fine. And if you injure yourself, I’ll be back soon to save you!”
“Elizabeth Wakefield has nothing on you!”
Elizabeth couldn’t wait for Mrs. Pervis to return. She was engaged in a frantic back-and-forth with Mr. Nydick, who had taken over when a pop-up coffee stall had appeared, and the adults of Sweet Valley had surged towards the source of caffeine.
Mr. Nydick seemed very concerned that they were all wearing appropriate clothing for the weather, and seemed very keen to check that nobody was doing anything as foolish as wearing lingerie and/or indulging in pillow fights.
That was all very well, and she appreciated his respect for health and safety, but it wasn’t doing anything to advance the plot.
Mrs. Pervis returned carrying a cardboard to-go cup and snatched the pad and pen from Mr. Nydick.
“D. SUTTON SAYS THEY ARE WORKING ON EPICENTER OF DOME.”
Elizabeth nodded. That would be a very good place to start. Though, she couldn’t help but feel that the epicenter would be over her house. It was, she thought self-deprecatingly, just how things were in Sweet Valley. She and her sister didn’t mean to be involved in everything, but they were.
But why would there be a dome centered over their house. While they were obviously special, what had provoked it? Was it really like Amy said? Could it be aliens? Maybe it was put in place by aliens and they were simply fascinated by identical twins—especially twins as cute and precocious as the Wakefields.
Julie Porter twitched and groaned from her place on the ground.
Elizabeth wondered if maybe she shouldn’t have forced her to test the barrier so often. Now she was without Amy, she really did need her backup friend.
Mrs. Pervis suddenly rushed closer to the barrier, and Elizabeth braced herself for the news that the dome was centered right over Calico Drive.
“EPICENTER: SOMEWHERE ON VALLEY HEIGHTS ROW.”
Elizabeth frowned. How could that be true? Valley Heights wasn’t anywhere near her house. She didn’t even know who lived there.
She reached down and grabbed Julie by the shoulder. “Get up. We’re going to the library. We need to find out who lives in Valley Heights.”
Julie groaned in response.
Jessica had lost Janet somewhere along the line. She and Aaron had excitedly told their plan to anyone (cool) they bumped into, and the group of people tagging along had grown far beyond the SOAR members they needed to work the lights and PA system.
There was an odd bubble of excitement—and a strange mix of people too. Jessica supposed it was the combination of the general oddness of the day, the pending party and the thrill of being somewhere they weren’t supposed to.
They reached a door between two stores, painted white with a metal keypad beside it. The door was marked with an exclamation point and underneath it said, “PRIVATE—NO ACCESS”.
“How are we going to get in?” Jessica asked.
Aaron stepped forward and gave it an experimental push.
That was his plan? To push it a bit? She thought he’d had a better plan than that. Maybe something cool like in spy movies, like using a credit card to break in, or maybe short-circuiting the keypad with water. She frowned. It didn’t look likely that the keypad was high-tech like in movies. It was just a series of metal buttons that would push tumblers into position on the right combination of numbers, no electricity involved.
Aaron gave the door another push, this time much harder, and the door flew off its hinges and fell sideways.
Jessica felt her heart skip a beat. Her sort-of boyfriend seemed to have super strength. It was very attractive.
Amy walked around the mall at a bit of a loss. She wasn’t sure what to do next. She had told Elizabeth that she was going to the book store to do research, but in all honesty, she didn’t see the point. If the scientists were working on it, what could she do? Hadn’t she said exactly that to Elizabeth?
She didn’t want to get herself a party dress, and she was too irritated to sit down with a good book. She didn’t really know what she wanted. Maybe she just wanted to sit down with someone and have a nice conversation.
“Hi, Amy,” said a cheerful voice.
She looked up from her mopey consideration of the floor and saw Ellen in front of her. Ellen was wearing a very pretty dress. She kind of looked like one of the girls in that musical that the Unicorns loved so much, the one set in the 50s with the girls and boys wearing matching jackets.
“You look nice,” Amy said without thinking.
Ellen preened at the compliment. “Thank you. It’s my party dress. I’m so glad you like it. Have you found a party dress yet?”
Amy shook her head. “I’m not in the mood. I just had a fight with Elizabeth.”
Even though Ellen was feeling very grateful that Amy saved her life, Amy wasn’t sure she could entirely trust her. They had been through this before after Amy saved her from a kidnapper. Ellen had been devoted to her for a week or so and then, apparently embarrassed by her feelings, she had gone back to being spiteful. Still, it would be good to talk. “I just think Elizabeth would do more good here, you know, just in case there are more fires, or we need someone organized to take charge, but she would rather sit at the barrier trading notes with the adults outside.”
Ellen nodded thoughtfully. “That makes sense. I mean, what can she do from there?” After a pause, she added, “Though she’s not the only one who can organize us. Janet Howell is very boss—organized. And there’s you! Haven’t you helped Elizabeth through everything she’s done?”
Amy flushed. She hadn’t ditched Elizabeth to take her place. She had just wanted Elizabeth to consider where the best place for her was. And she really shouldn’t talk to Ellen about the situation. If it got back to Elizabeth worded badly—and of course it would because Unicorns—then it would hurt her. She needed to change the subject. “So what is everyone doing at the mall, besides shopping for dresses?”
“Well, I’m going to Sweet Valley House and Home to get some super purple bedding, then I’m going to claim my bed at Sweet Valley Beds. And I think someone is running Valley Burgers, so maybe I’ll get something to eat after. Would you like to come with me?”
Amy thought about it for a moment. “Ok. Maybe we can even get me a party dress.”
Jessica’s feet were sore. After a lot of wrong turns down the corridors that ran through the innards of the mall—one wrong turn netted Jessica the most adorable purple clutch purse from Lisette’s store room—they eventually found themselves in the control room of the mall.
There was a large control desk covered in interesting buttons that Jessica itched to push, with screens inset that the far edge of it. Randy Mason immediately settled himself on the chair, and started pushing buttons on the control panel in an experimental but decisive way.
Grace Oliver found a map on the back of the door to the office they were in and let out a laugh. “We did a big circle!” she said. “If we’d have gone left instead of right at the first turning, we’d have come straight here.”
That didn’t surprise Jessica in the slightest. It was that kind of day. She eased her feet out of the ambitious heels she had chosen and sighed with relief at the cool tile under her feet.
“Look at this,” Randy said, pointing at the screens. “We can see what everyone is doing.”
Jessica peered at the grainy footage, bored. She didn’t break in here to watch people, she was here to get Johnny Buck blasting through every speaker. “Come on, Randy. We need music.” She dumped down all the cassettes from her Valley Records bag on the desk.
The weight of the cassettes pushed a random assortment of buttons. This resulted in lights flashing throughout the mall, and a high-pitched whine that made them all clap their hands over their ears. On the screens, their classmates did the same.
Randy pushed the tapes off the console in irritation. “For heaven’s sake! They probably heard that all the way in Big Mesa, never mind the dome we’re in!”
Jessica wanted to tell Randy not to speak to her like that, but she also wanted her party to be great, so she pasted a smile on her face and spoke in honeyed tones. “I’m so sorry, Randy. Can you fix it?”
“There’s nothing to fix, I’ve moved the tapes. If you give me twenty minutes, I can set it up so it plays the songs you want. There’s a double tape deck there, so that when one tape runs out, it will play the next.”
That was, admittedly, very cool. Jessica wished she had such a high-tech setup at home. Then she realized she could. She could have anything she wanted. “How do I get a double tape deck for myself?” she asked.
“I’ll help you find a good stereo, Jessica,” Randy offered. “But really, the person to speak to is Lloyd, he’s a genius when it comes to technology.”
Janet would probably say it reflected badly on the Unicorns to have a fleet of nerds doing her bidding. Janet would also probably be green with envy once she saw how cool Jessica’s stereo would be.
“This doesn’t reflect well on the Unicorns,” said Janet Howell.
“No,” Janet agreed.
Janet nodded vigorously. “You can’t have a sixth grader stealing your presidency!”
“Or do you mean precedence?” Janet asked.
Janet shook her head. “I’m fairly sure I mean presidency.”
“Shut up!” yelled the real Janet Howell, the one standing outside of the mirror.
The other Janets quelled and looked at her. Janet had snuck back to Kendalls to talk to her other selves not long after Aaron had broken the door with his super strength. She made sure she found the best setup of mirrors so that all the Janets could be seen.
She had wanted to speak to them because after she saw Aaron use his super power to break a door, it occurred to her that having her own power probably wasn’t shameful. Jessica had just let her think it was.
Janet spent a lot of time quashing parts of herself to convey the best Janet she could possibly be, the best president of the Unicorns, the best eighth grader. She denied herself onion dip because it gave her bad breath, she tried to hide her head brace so that nobody would see her looking terrible, she wore the best clothes, even when they were uncomfortable. She even tried to get the rest of the Unicorns to follow her stellar example. She quizzed them on their sort-of boyfriends, she allowed or denied trends, she banned homework from the Unicorner—she never stopped being the ideal Janet.
And apparently, all the parts of Janet she had denied, were still better Unicorns than Jessica—who had now taken up with a bunch of geeks and stolen her Unicorn Club!
When Ms. Wyler first disappeared, Janet had been frightened. She had done her best to keep it hidden, put on a brave face and address the school like the leader she was, but the fear had been there. She thought some of the other Janets had gotten free then. She had put all her effort into quelling the fear (there was a Janet, far in the back, hiding behind another more assertive Janet), and some of them had slipped free. And that was where the trouble started. One Janet had talked to Jessica, another to Ellen, another to Lila, while she, the real Janet, had been with Mary.
“I think,” said the Janet in a stunning floor-length lilac dress the main Janet had discarded because it simply didn’t stand out enough against the very striking dresses the rest of the Unicorns had chosen. “I think that maybe we are the best parts of the Unicorn Club. And we should take it back.”
A Janet in jeans and a purple tank top stepped forward. This was the Janet that most scared her. This was the Janet that didn’t care what the rest of them thought. This was the Janet who had been the most stifled in the past thirteen years.
“I know we’re right,” she said. “We know we’re right. We’re taking back our club—all of us. We’re going to help you.”
Janet couldn’t help but smile at her most assertive self. She was right. She was terrific. All parts of her. She was the best Unicorn. All of her. And she was taking back her club from that jumped up little sixth grader. Jessica may be a Wakefield Twin, but Janet was Legion. Janet was many.
And she was done repressing herself.
Janet reached a hand out to her other selves. “Let’s take back our club!”
Note: I have been referring to Janet as a seventh grader, but actually she’s an eighth. I’ll go back and correct everything, but if you’ve noticed an error as reading, this is the moment I caught it and fixed it.
Also, I think “Valley Heights” is a daft name for a road, but if you read The Sweet Life, there is an area called that.
Elizabeth had propped Julie up in a chair at a research table in front of a window in the empty library. Occasionally Julie twitched and groaned, and Elizabeth made a mental note to look up the effect of multiple shocks on a prepubescent girl. It appeared that Julie was not dealing well with touching the barrier so often.
There was a sudden shriek of electronic feedback and Elizabeth instinctively turned in that direction. Through the window she could see the mall lit up by flashing white lights for a few seconds. Then the noise stopped and the lights went back to normal.
After a second or two, there was a second noise, a kind of howl, following the same notes as the first shriek. Elizabeth felt a shudder go down her spine then shook it off. Of course a bunch of kids were having problems working the PA system of the mall. They weren’t mature like her.
Elizabeth shook her head. “I guess Jessica is starting her silly party,” she commented to Julie’s twitching body. “What good will that do?”
She turned her attention back to the books in front of her. The second floor of the library inexplicably held city records, and Elizabeth had gathered up all the files relating to Valley Heights. She wasn’t exactly sure what she was looking for, but she knew she would know it when she saw it.
But until she did, her plan was just to read each name and make notes of anything interesting she found about them. So far all she had discovered was that Jay Anson of 112 Valley Heights Row was descended from one of the founding families of Sweet Valley and Marge Thompson of 1428 had won prizes for her pure breed Chihuahuas. Everything else had been boringly ordinary.
Elizabeth glanced out of the window again. It was staring to get dark, and now the glass roof of the mall was lit up in cycling color patterns. For a very brief moment, she wished she was there, dancing and talking to friends, but she forced herself to focus.
She was doing important work.
Jessica was having a terrific time. The baseline of Johnny Buck’s latest song (“For Buck’s Sake”) was thrumming and Jessica knew she looked amazing in her gorgeous dress and a new pair of (lower and more comfortable) heels. She was dancing on a second floor walkway with Aaron, but she could see that Bruce Patman, Rick Hunter and a bunch of other seventh and eighth grade boys were eyeing her approvingly.
The mall was lit up beautifully once she had conveyed her vision to Randy. The colored lights cycled in time to the beat (well, mostly), and the main lights had been turned down to give a party atmosphere.
On the ground floor below her, a lot of people were congregated around Valley Burgers, where Lois and Caroline were providing food. Since it was such a nice warm evening, they had opened the exterior glass doors at the edge of the food court.
Around her, the Unicorns seemed to be having a good time, except for Janet, who was copiously absent. She assumed she was sulking somewhere, upset that yet again Jessica had upstaged her.
Lila was dancing with Jake, Mary and Mandy were with the Peters—Jessica still couldn’t remember which was which, there were far too many Peters at Sweet Valley Middle School—and, irritatingly, Amy and Ellen were sat on a bench sharing a milkshake from Valley Burgers. Ellen seemed to have had some kind of effect on Amy, as she was wearing a dress. Unfortunately, Ellen was probably the least stylish Unicorn, and Amy had wound up wearing a similar 50s style dress to Ellen’s own. They both looked stupid.
Still, if that friendship started up again, it would at least mean that Amy wouldn’t be at Jessica’s own house, making cow eyes of adoration at her sister. That relationship had always bothered her. It was nearly as creepy as Steven’s obsession with her.
“This sure is an amazing party, Jessica,” Aaron said.
“On what planet?”
Jessica stopped dancing and turned to find the source of the new voice. It was Charlie Cashman and his friend, Jerry McAllister. They had spoken loud enough to get the attention of the boys that Jessica had been eyeing over Aaron’s shoulder.
“On any planet!” Jessica snapped. “We’re in a mall unsupervised, and we can have anything we want. People will be talking about this party for centuries. Decades even!”
“This…” Charlie gestured around him. “Is lame. We don’t have any adults around and this is what you come up with?”
On the one hand, Jessica didn’t feel she had to defend herself to the likes of Charlie and Jerry, who had never once been cooingly discussed at a Unicorn meeting; on the other, she didn’t want anyone to say a bad word about her party. She cast about for something to say. What did boys like? “We’ve also got video games!” she said in a rush. “I bet Randy and Lloyd could rig it so we don’t need quarters to use the arcade.”
“Um, Randy’s running the music, and nobody’s seen Lloyd all day,” Aaron put in quietly.
Jessica ignored him. “So there’s plenty of fun things to do. It’s not my fault you’re so pathetic you don’t know how to have fun!”
“I know how to have fun,” Jerry said. He glanced around, making sure he had the attention of Bruce Patman. “Believe me, I know how to have fun.”
“And how would you make this more fun?” Jessica asked.
“Easily. There’s a Porsche showroom across the road. And we’re all in the market for a new car,” Charlie said. “Anyone who’s man enough to join us and do something a bit more grownup than dancing to Johnny Buck is welcome to join us.”
This got everyone’s attention. Every boy in earshot immediately felt the sharp shock as their masculinity was impugned. Every boy that had been happily dancing or talking with a girl stopped what they were doing immediately. There was a lot of chest puffing and loud voices in response.
“You can’t drive!” Jessica said in exasperation. “You’ll get in a wreck.” The minute the words were across her lips, she knew she’d said the wrong thing. Chests puffed even bigger, nipples touched ceilings, and voices got even louder as the boys listed their very manly attributes.
“That’s what you think,” Charlie said.
“Because you’re a girl,” Jim Sturbridge added. “Boys—men—are naturally better at mechanical things, and we’ll all be naturals at driving. Don’t judge us by your low stupid standards.”
Jessica wondered if now was a time to do what the magazines said and pretend to be impressed by how manly and clever the boys were. It felt like one of those moments, but dangit, they were ruining her party. Even Aaron had moved closer to Jerry and was loudly talking about his latest basketball win.
She tugged at Aaron’s sleeve. “Why don’t you guys wait until tomorrow morning. I’ll bet even the best drivers find it easier to learn when it’s light out.”
Aaron looked as if he was considering her suggestion, but then Jerry opened his mouth again. “Yes, Aaron. Maybe you’d better wait until daylight so you’re not frightened by the scary monsters in the dark.”
Aaron’s eyes darkened in anger and she shook off Jessica’s hand. “Come on! Let’s go buy a car!”
And with that, Jessica watched in despair as most of the boys in Sweet Valley Middle School headed down the escalators and out of the doors.
“Nicely handled,” a voice commented and an arm draped over her shoulder.
She turned to see Janet, who had apparently changed out of her gorgeous sequined dress into jeans and a tank top.
Jessica shook her arm off irritably.
“That did not reflect well on the Unicorns,” Janet said, though this time the voice came from the left. Jessica glanced to her right and saw Janet was still standing close to her. She glanced to the left to see who had spoken, and saw another Janet. She blinked. Even though she knew that there was more than one Janet, seeing them in the mirror and seeing them in real life was very different.
Then she noticed a whole fleet of Janets was crossing the walkway to her side. Some were watching the boys leave, some were glaring at her, some were just talking amongst themselves.
Jessica realized that if Janet had come to peaceful terms with her many selves, then Jessica was in big trouble for trying to take control of the Unicorns.
“By the way,” Janet in a tank top threw her arm over Jessica’s shoulder once more. “We’re taking back the Unicorns.”
Before Jessica could formulate an answer, there was a gigantic thud from above that rocked the entire building. Everyone staggered. Jessica and the two Janets beside her fell to their knees, while others sagged against the railings of the walkway.
Jessica heard screams and shouts. She saw several people falling down the stairs and escalators. The impact had shaken free the glass elevator that linked the three floors of the mall—thankfully nobody was in it, but it had toppled free of its runners, and was hanging by a single metal cable.
Beneath the elevator, there were kids covered in shattered glass, screaming and crying. Some of the decorative planters had shaken free and fallen below. From the shattered shards of glass and plant pot and spots of blood, not to mention the screaming, Jessica could only assume some people had not been lucky.
There was another, slightly smaller, thud from above, and Jessica—against her better judgment—looked up. She saw an enormous dark shape move across the glass roof, while the support beams groaned under the weight of the… monster?
The beast let out a terrifying howl, and everyone clapped their hands to their ears—it sounded just like the feedback howl Jessica had accidentally created earlier when she had dropped the tapes on the control panel.
She saw a giant… paw? Something with large leathery pads interspersed with matted fur on the glass panel above her. Something large and sharp—a claw—tapped the glass, and Jessica watched in horror as a spiderweb of cracks ran through the panel.
There was a cracking noise from above, and Jessica felt a powerful jolt of fear run through her and flood her with adrenaline. She didn’t need to see any more. It was time to move.
She scrambled to her feet and started running for the nearest store, pausing only to call over her shoulder to the many Janets, “No problem, I’m happy to let you lead!”
Elizabeth was startled by a sudden noise, and bolted upright in her chair. Even Julie looked towards the window.
Elizabeth was horrified to see a gigantic dark shape on top of the mall. “Do you see that?” she whispered to Julie.
Julie groaned in response.
The shape seemed animalistic, four legs, either a curved spine or hunkered down, with a long swishing tail. Even though she couldn’t see clearly, it looked as if it was looking through the glass roof of the mall—and regarding what it saw with predatory interest.
“The dome is making monsters,” Elizabeth said. “I have to do something!”
She thought for a moment. She heard Amy asking what could she do when there were scientists trying to figure it out. She saw Mrs. Pervis’ note reminding her that she was just a twelve year old.
A steely resolve descended.
Elizabeth found a large sheet of paper and a marker and wrote carefully and clearly:
“MONSTER ON MALL ROOF. SEND HELP.”
That was nice and clear. She got up and ran to the check-out desk, and rummaged around on the desk area for several seconds before she found what she was looking for: a stapler and some paper clips.
She returned to Julie, and set about pinning the note to Julie’s t-shirt. She used several staples—from Julie’s moan, it was entirely possible she pierced flesh. Well, that was fine, it would mean the note was more secure. She just hoped that Julie wouldn’t do something stupid like bleed on her note.
Once she was satisfied the note was secured, she grasped Julie by the shoulders and made sure that Julie was making eye-contact with her and not the wall behind her.
“Julie, I need you to listen to me carefully, can you do that?”
Julie drooled a little.
There was an ear-splitting howl from outside, and both Julie and Elizabeth flinched.
“Julie, I want you to go to the barrier and let one of the adults read this note.” Elizabeth poked the note. When Julie gazed at her vacantly, Elizabeth took one of Julie’s hands, and worked Julie’s fingers until she could point at the note. “This note. Do you understand?”
“Note…” Julie responded.
“Yes! Note! Good girl!” This was excellent. She was fairly certain that Julie was still functional—not too bright, but at least as bright as Ellen Riteman, and even Ellen could walk down the street and wave at people. “You need to go to the barrier. Do you know what I mean when I say barrier?”
Julie moved her free hand and jabbed her first finger in the air. “Bzzz!” she said, then snatched her hand back as if shocked.
“Yes! Bzzz! Go to the barrier—the bzzz!—and show the note to people, ok?”
There was another howl from outside—whatever was making that noise must be huge.
“No…” Julie said, with another flinch.
“Yes, that’s right. Note. Bzz. Go on now!” Elizabeth said.
When Julie didn’t move, Elizabeth had to get behind her and start shoving her towards the door. Julie’s body was rigid. Elizabeth could only imagine that all the shocks had taken their toll on her muscles. “Now, just run down to the barrier and—”
“No…” Julie moaned.
“Yes, with the note, and you’ll save us all.” Elizabeth thrust her friend out of the door and quickly slammed it. No need in making it any harder for Julie to leave with an emotional goodbye, especially when Elizabeth was so busy.
Julie pounded on the door and Elizabeth regarded her through the reinforced glass. “Take the note to the barrier.” She made sure that she annunciated clearly. “No. Bzzz! No. Bzzz!”
In the distance, she heard the monster howl again. Julie looked in that direction in horror then turned back to Elizabeth.
“Hurry, Julie,” Elizabeth said, smiling encouragingly. “This is a very important job I’ve given you.”
Julie gave her one last emotion-laden look—Elizabeth supposed it was hard to walk away from Elizabeth Wakefield, the one person whose presence guaranteed safety—before taking off for the barrier.
Elizabeth was proud of her brave friend. She turned back to the papers spread out over the library table. Now, she had to get back to saving the world.
Amy had a tight hold on Ellen’s hand and nothing force on earth would make her let go before she got the two of them to safety. She was glad that not only had Ellen failed to talk her into wearing heels, but that she had actually talked Ellen out of them. Their sneakers squeaked against the marble-effect tiled floor as they hurried to the nearest store for safety.
She wasn’t exactly sure what they were running from, but if all of her instincts told her to run, and she wasn’t going to ignore them to get a good look at the thing her instincts already knew was terrifying.
Amy looked at the selection of stores available and made a judgment call—Lisettes was closer, but it had gigantic plate glass windows to show off the clothes. It was worth going the extra distance to Valley Books next door, which had smaller latticed bay windows showing off their wares. She was pretty sure that the monster could destroy either window, she would just rather that when it did, it would have more trouble getting through the smaller hole of Valley Books.
She shoved Ellen through the door and felt Ellen slow down, but Amy wasn’t going to stop until she found a safe place for them to watch everything unfold from. Amy slammed the door behind them, and kept pushing until she and Ellen had moved behind the counter.
While Amy checked the counter (without much hope) for something they could use as weapons, Ellen dashed to the back wall—Amy opened her mouth to object, but then she saw that Ellen was heading toward the light switches, and shut her mouth once more. There wasn’t much of use behind the counter, unless the beast’s weakness was a price sticker gun, and Amy rather thought it wasn’t.
She picked it up anyway. Maybe it would work as a projectile.
The door opened again, and through it flew Leslie Forsythe, Randy Mason and Kerry Glenn. They did what Amy hadn’t bothered to do—they barricaded the door, using the reading chairs scattered around the store.
Amy couldn’t help but be curious about what was going on outside. She moved closer to the window and pulled down a few of the later Amanda Howards from the biggest display so that she could peep through. Ellen moved into the space beside her and she felt Ellen’s hand reach for hers.
Above there was the shriek of rending metal beams accompanied by the sound of shattering glass, and this time many, many more screams.
There was a rush of displaced air and a vast black shape plummeted to the ground floor, raining down glass shards, displacing planters, and knocking over kids as it fell.
There was a colossal boom as it hit the ground and everyone staggered. Ellen yelped and squeezed Amy’s hand.
Without thinking, the two leaned closer to the window to see what on earth was hunting them. It was hard to see exactly what it was from their position. One giant muscled leg covered in black fur took up their whole view.
Further along the wall, Leslie and Randy peered through the glass door, their fearful and curious expressions mirroring Amy’s own.
“What is it?” Amy murmured.
The beast let out a hissing noise and seemed to tense its leg muscles. Through the window, Amy watched in horror as Betsy Gordon and Dana Larson found themselves right in the beast’s path. They both bolted for the door to Valley DIY but the beast took a giant leap—it seemed almost playful to Amy’s eyes—and then batted them with one hefty paw.
Both girls flew across the mall floor. Dana slid along the floor, coming to rest up against the door for Valley Burgers looking dazed. Betsy wasn’t so lucky as she took the brunt of the hit, she briefly left the ground and smacked head-first into a decorative half wall the discretely hid the entrance to the toilets. Her head snapped back, killing her instantly. Her body fell lifelessly to the ground.
The beast—they still couldn’t see what it was, beyond vast and covered in black fur—whirled around and Amy felt like cheering when it stood on some broken glass. The beast leapt backwards and bumped into the dangling glass elevator. It howled again and started swatting at anyone in its path.
Dylan McKay, who was lying concussed on the ground beside the elevator, was flattened by the beast’s gigantic paw. Amy noticed that the front paws were white, which contrasted starkly with the blood from the cuts on its pads.
They still couldn’t see the head, it was too tall. From the screams above, she wondered if the beast was eating people on the levels above.
A mere second after her mind formed that question, a spatter of blood and the sound of chomping came from above.
“Is it eating people?” Ellen moaned in disbelief.
A single leg fell past the window. It was not attached to a person.
Amy quickly put a hand over Ellen’s mouth, fearing the Unicorn would scream. Ellen did not though, she just sagged against Amy, breathing hard.
At the sound of a scraping noise, Amy noticed that Leslie, Randy and Kerry were reinforcing the barricade at the door. So far the beast hadn’t turned its attention to the people in the shops, preferring the easier prey of kids not lucky enough to get to safety. Still, she and Ellen quickly moved over to them to help.
Amy started stacking chairs with the others, but Ellen did not. She stood close to the door with her head slightly tilted to the side and a frown on her face. “Do you hear that?”
Notes: I swear I do intend to finish this. I ended up getting ill during NaNo, and I’d pushed myself to get the month clear – I’d done all my recaps in advance, and then written like a fiend. And then I keeled over with a cold, an eye infection and a migraine. I really did love writing this, so I will come back to it.