Encounter 11: The Flare
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It was 20:20 by the time I returned home. The spare house key was still placed in the back door, and the index cards containing Maxxie, Zoe, Shiaka, and Anita’s phone numbers resided in my pocket. I took a long hard sigh as I took off my boots and peacoat, relieved that everybody I cared about was okay. Well, excluding my mother, who I never had any worries about in the first place… even though I probably should have.

Once I situated myself, I pulled the index card out of my cold white pants, where it was slightly scrunched up and damp, but still completely legible. I made my way into the kitchen, pulled up a chair, sat next to the landline, and dialed Maxxie’s cell phone number. The predictable ring came through the telephone speakers slower than it ever had before, but I was eventually met with a low-quality rendition of one of the most familiar and comforting voices I knew.

“Hello, you reached the tragedy lever, population twelve,” Maxxie asked, sounding depressed, broken, defeated, and halfway in the grave.

It was depressing to hear Maxxie use such a tone when she spoke. The paragon of joy and optimism had fallen into the well of despair. But even in this distraught state, her voice still caused joy to swell within my being.

“M-Maxxie?” I began.

“…Who’s this?” Maxxie dryly asked, obviously not recognizing my new voice.

“I… I want you to listen to me, Maxxie, and I know this may sound weird, or even offensive—”

“Yeah, yeah, answer my question first, alright? Just give me your name, because I don’t recognize your voice.” Maxxie said with a hearty dose of bitterness.

“My name is… Jad Novus.” I responded.

What followed was the ten most silent seconds of my life.

“C’mon, don’t bullshit me,” Maxxie said, her voice quivering as she tried to remain composed.

“We met in second grade, in third grade we were separated but you kept causing trouble until the school put us in the same class. We crossdressed on our first day of middle school, wearing each other’s uniforms… which very well may have made a massive impression on Terra. You learned how to draw because you wanted to make your own KO Beast sequel. You started drawing naked women and exploring a world of drawn pornography at age 9 after Babs bought you a copy of Elfen Lied. A show that begins with a naked woman slaughtering dozens of people using her invisible arms. One time you took off my swim trunks while we were in your pool so you could lick my butthole. You then licked my butt in the pool, but all you tasted was the chlorine, which you then said tasted like butts.” I droned on, digging into my memory for information I could pull in order to help convince Maxxie I was myself as quickly as possible.

Maxxie then let out a little cough and began to hum a familiar tune. 

“Don’t say it’s a crush, but I think that I’m falling!” Maxxie said back to me in a sing-song voice.

“Oh, um— be gentle, this is my first time!” I stammered, trying to match the tempo Maxxie set, but still not very comfortable with my new voice.

“All day it’s just you, you, you until I’m balling!”

“‘Cos all my thoughts have no reason or rhyme!”

“‘Cos I’m like—”


“I break out in a sweat when it’s just—”

“You and me!”

“Was it weird when we met or was it-“


“No, it just can’t be true!”

“So tell me why I don’t know what to do! Ba-do-da-pa-do. Something makes my heartbeat run like crazy—”

Our impromptu singing session was then interrupted by an uproar from Maxxie on the other line, followed by the familiar sound of her phone hitting the floor. I relished in the sound of her expressing happiness and found myself joining her. I had passed her ‘trial,’ which in typical Maxie fashion was hopelessly obscure and needlessly random. Proving my identity by seeing if I remembered the words to the English fan-made rendition of the Nichijou opening, performed by Cristina Vee and Y. Chang. …Yeah, my friends and I are all pretty massive dorks.

“Holy flipping crab cakes on the moon! Oh, my goodliest most gracious glorious godly gifts of great… Garf! Jad, it’s you, isn’t it? It’s really fucking you!” Maxxie frantically shouted through her phone.

“Yes, Maxxie. It’s me, and I’m so glad, so incredibly happy to know that you’re okay. That you’re safe.” I said as I began to cry.

“I have a lot of questions,” Maxxie said as she sniffled.

“Alright, I’ll answer them. But first, Maxxie, I need to know where you are. I ran into Anita and she said that you left town.” 

“I’m in California, Jad. My parents wanted to get away from all of this, and they… they wanted to take everyone there. Babs, Zoe, Mrs. Xing, Shiaka, Haruki, her parents, and even your mom’s here. I just… I am so happy to hear that you’re… okay.”

I was silent as I heard the waterworks commence on Maxxie’s end, inspiring me to shed more than a few tears myself. 

“Okay, I think I’m good, just… you’re at your house, right?” Maxxie asked, her voice quivering as she spoke.

“Yes Maxxie, I’m home.”

“Great, great, so… Alright Jad, I’ll Skype you in fifteen minutes. I’ll get Zoe, Shiaka, and Terra. Our parents are out, along with Babs and Haruki, but we’ll all get together and, and… and you can let us know what happened and why you sound like that.”

“Sure thing Maxxie,” I said with a mixture of relief and worry. “But please, try to calm down a little. It’s not like you to worry so much.”

“Well, when you think your best friend not only died but died after killing a ton of people, you tend to be a little shaken up, J-Star,” Maxxie said with a little more of her Maxxie-esque moxie.

After we shared a little laugh, Maxxie and I ended the conversation for now. I then rushed upstairs, headed into my bedroom, turned on my computer, and was once again reminded of my extra 20 centimeters of height as I looked down at my monitor. I quickly nudged it up a little, adjusted my bungee chair to better fit my proportions, and finagled with my webcam so it could capture my new face.

With everything set, I opened Skype and began awaiting Maxxie’s call, giving myself a nice long look at my mug through a compressed video feed. I let out a long hard sigh as I saw the image, as everything was just so… ill-fitting. As much as I did not want to, I could tell that everything about my setup would need to change to accommodate an extra 25 centimeters of height…

As I felt myself nudging towards despair and sorrow once again, a notification popped up and, at 20:55, I began my video call from Maxxie. Once the video feed came in, I was met with a couch full of familiar faces. 

Maxxie was grinning from ear to ear, sitting in the center of the couch. Her lengthy hair the same mess it often was, somewhat obscuring her smiling, freckled face. Seeing her side by side with my own reflection like this made me realize just how similar we looked. Well, my skin tone was lighter than her dark brown Blasian skin, my facial features were sharper than her soft ones, and I was substantially taller than her. But I certainly saw some resemblance between the two of us. Potentially due to the cross-race effect or some such thing.

To Maxxie’s right was her sister, Terra. She’s an eleven-year-old trans-girl— or T-girl as Maxxie liked to put it, who was still a few weeks away from starting blockers. Regardless, she was already adopting a more feminine wardrobe, currently wearing a set of purple girl’s pajamas and styling her hair to make it look more feminine. Terra looked like a girl like this, albeit a slightly boyish one, but she was still working on sounding like one.

While Maxxie looked at the webcam with glee, Terra looked at it with confusion, as if she had trouble understanding why she was seeing the face of some strange woman in her friend’s bedroom.

Moving back to Maxxie’s left was Zoe Xing, who shot me a sour expression from about three thousand kilometers away. His gaze pierced through his slick rectangular glasses, and I could feel him judging me. Zoe was an intimidating-looking person in general. He had broad, sharp features, tall stature, a body with a lot of condensed muscle, and a very mature aura for a 17-year-old. Though, I was undoubtedly taller and stronger than my Chinese-Ukrainian friend at the moment, so I had no reason to be intimidated by him… at least that’s how he would view it.

On the other end of the coach was Shiaka Kurokawa, who was timidly placing her legs up to her chest. Her silky blonde hair was covering up some of her face, but I could clearly tell she was immensely saddened. She always was an easy to unsettle individual, and she certainly had plenty of good reasons to be upset. Thankfully, Shiaka pulled her legs down after looking at me for a few seconds and gave me a better look at her cute face.

“Hey guys, I’m glad that you’re all okay,” I said to all of them, my voice devoid of reassuring qualities.

“Yes, hello Jad.” Zoe cynically responded with a dose of sarcasm.

“Um, hello.” Terra squeaked, sounding like a boy imitating a girl.

“Okay, okay, guys, I get that you’re all not buying this, but I know this is Jad. C’mon, ask him anything, literally anything Jad would know.” Maxxie begged those around her.

“A-Alright, I’ll go first. Um, Jad, when did we first meet?” Shiaka asked me, looking directly at the webcam.

“Oh, right. I… it was the first day of our second semester in Freshman year. You were a January Girl, and it was your first day at Oransen High. Maxxie thought you looked adorable and lonely, so she brought you to our little corner in the lunchroom, which we stayed at for a week or two before we started eating lunch in room 1337. From there, we started opening up to each other, and after a month or so, we were hanging out on the weekends.” I recited to Shiaka.

My man! See, I told you this was Jad. But you, Zoe, you don’t seem convinced.” Maxxie said with a lot more oomph than she had when I talked to her twenty minutes ago.

“I’m sorry, but this person could easily find out something like that through any number of means. But if you insist, I will ask them a question. On my body, I have a birthmark, one made up of a cluster of smaller birthmarks. You have seen me naked if only due to the fact our gym lockers always were often next to one another. So, where is that birthmark?” Zoe inquired.

I raised an eyebrow before offering my answer. 

“Um, Zoe, whenever you change into your bathing suit or what have you, you wrap a towel around your waist. I have literally never seen your exposed butt or crotch, so you’re basically asking me if Schrodinger’s Cat is alive or dead. …Did you seriously just ask me a trick question while I’m trying to prove my identity?” I answered Zoe.

Zoe did not say whether I got his question right. Instead, he just looked annoyed by my answer, as if he actually wanted me to give the wrong answer.

“Bah, that cat’s dead. I’ve seen your butt, Zoe, and there wasn’t a single imperfection on there. Your hiney is beautiful!” Maxxie proudly stated to all of us.

“Putting that fact aside, your vernacular, speech patterns, and knowledge are all in line with what I would expect from Jad Novus. However, I know for a fact that he died on December 19th, and that you most certainly do not look anything like him, nor sound like him for that matter. So please, regale all of us with how your claim of ‘being Jad Novus’ is even possible.” Zoe requested, downright angry in his intonation.

It was then that I recited the majority of what happened over the past few days. Describing how I woke up naked in that dwelling, read the news on that laptop, wandered out to that highway rest stop, ran into Gregg, fled, caught a taxi, and found myself in Funke. How I met Juniper, went out on a date, took a plane ride home, and broke into my house using a secret key that was hidden in my backyard. In addition to how I ran around to all of their houses before finding Vivi’s home, where I encountered Gem and Anita.

However, I chose not to tell any of them about my immortality or my time with Peatrice. In this version of the story, I knew I had to go to Funke based on the plane ticket I found in Abigale’s purse. As for how I survived the night, I claimed to have found the taxi on the night of December 19th, instead of the morning of the 20th. Oh, and that frantic running, I did hours ago? I was vague about the timeline and simply claimed that my body was in amazing shape. Which was true.

It was discomforting for me to lie to the four of them, but I knew that immortality and brain-based artificial intelligence were pretty hard to swallow for anyone. What I was asking them to believe was already crazy, and while I wanted to believe that they would trust me no matter what, I did not want to take that risk. I could tell them the lie now and ask for forgiveness later. 

“—Then Jad called me, told me a bunch of personal stuff, and we sang the English Nichijou song. I cried puddles afterward.” Maxxie concluded my story.

“I, um, how is…” Terra began to say, disgruntled by her voice.

“I am sorry, but there is one crucial problem with your story,” Zoe interjected. “It revolves around complete and utter fantasy. The way I see it, either you are the most spectacular actor I have ever witnessed, you are one very specifically insane woman, or you are telling the truth. But in order for me to believe in the last option, an option I truly wish to believe, I need to know how you switched bodies with Abigale Quinlan.”

“I don’t know what I can tell you all. I just… I just woke up like this.” I said, simply to give an answer.

“Is it really that important that we know how this happened to Jad? Does he really need to prove it?” Shiaka mused in the background, her voice barely registered by the microphone.

“It… What are you getting at, Shiaka?” Zoe questioned.

“None of us thought that it could have been Jad on the nineteenth, right? Even though we saw him lock us into room 1337.” Shiaka said, starting a story in the middle instead of the beginning.

“Hey now, let’s not confuse and befuddle our good friend here,” Maxxie said to Shiaka, reaching over Terra to pat Shiaka on the head.

“You see, Jad,” Maxxie began, “from our perspective, you woke up on the nineteenth and fled out of your house with your uniform on and everything at 6:00. We were all really worried when your mother told us this, but she said she’d take care of everything, and that we should get our butts over to Oransen High. So we did, and we went through our first period. Then, during the 5 minute break between classes, there was an explosion… a couple of them.”

“Bombs were placed along the exits to the school, killing several students,” Zoe continued. “There were also dead security guards scattered through the halls. Panic spread, and despite announcements requesting that students place themselves in classrooms, staying away from windows, the halls were engulfed in chaos. Maxxie, Shiaka, and I all made our way to room 1337. For it seemed like a safe place to reconvene with each other. Shortly after we all gathered there, we heard a loud metallic clunk come from the door, and we found ourselves locked inside, with something preventing the door handle from moving. From out the door’s window, we saw… the person we ‘believed’ to be Jad Novus. The person everyone ‘believed’ to be Jad Novus.”

“We now know it was really just Abigale Quinlan,” Shiaka said. “she was armed with a shotgun, and a backpack filled with… I don’t even want to know what. She grinned at us before leaving to go and… We tried to open the door, but it wasn’t going to budge. So Zoe grabbed a chair and started swinging at the windows of the classroom since they can’t be opened. After a window was broken, we ran out into the snow, leaving the school grounds before running into the police that gathered outside of school.”

“From there, it was… real shitty,” Maxxie interjected. “The school was basically destroyed. A lot of bombs, along with gas bombs, went off in that building, and over a hundred people died. Most people were injured in some way, but we made it out okay at the very least.” 

Our collected enthusiasm and drive to continue this conversation took a nosedive after that, and we all realized we should try to say our goodbyes for the time being. Maxxie said that she’d convince her family to be back home in time for Christmas, and the rest said they would try to explain my situation to the adults, who were busy enjoying dinner at the time. I was a little disheartened by how I didn’t get to see my mother, but at least I knew she was okay, along with everyone else I really cared about. Once we were done, it was already 22:30, and I was more than ready to try to get some sleep.

I changed into a simple pink shirt and a pair of navy pajama pants before curling up in my bed so I could fit on the mattress. Despite having my day end on a relatively high note, I was still disturbed and discomforted with… all of this. The way the hair smoothly covered my head. The color of my skin. The features and appearance of my face. The strength going through my limbs. The length of my fingers. The size of my hands. The way I naturally ended up sitting. I tried to ignore these things for days at this point, focused on getting home. But now I was finally home, my friends were okay, and they were excited to see me after all of this. With that goal achieved, next came… everything else.

What was I expecting out of this? What was my best-case scenario after reuniting with my friends? I hadn’t planned this out. This whole thing was driven by desperation and fear, and now that I was here, free from my immediate worries and faced with the grander more pressing concerns, I was at an impasse. I had gotten what I wanted, but the thought about whether I was too rash, too reckless, too foolhardy and too stupid in my decision making, it kept me up that night. 

Maybe Peatrice was right. Maybe I really was on a path of destruction. Maybe this will all end disastrously for myself, I will become no better than the person who ended my life. 

It was then that a little Maxxie-esque voice popped inside of my head, telling me just how stupid it was to worry about that sort of thing. Peatrice only really wanted to fuck with me. He was not insightful or wise, he was just a stupid jerk! His words meant nothing, I would be able to live whatever life I wanted. 

Deep down, I believed that to be the truth… but that didn’t make the worries go away.