The List

“Here.” The woman said sternly as she flicked a lengthy paper in front of my face. Hesitantly I grabbed it and began reading it aloud. “Arthur Clay, Angela Ericson, James Kelt, Corey Tomford, Casey Sans, Barbara Douglass, Will Nummer, Ashton Fletcher, Sebastian Pilla, Victoria Less, Zach Harrow – I don’t understand. What is this?”

The woman peered at me from behind her glasses. The look she gave me made me feel even more lost than I already felt. “It’s your list.” She said in a way that suggested I should know what that meant. But I didn’t.

Her focus went back to her computer screen until she noticed I hadn’t left her desk. “Do you need something?” she asked.

“Yeah . . . I don’t understand. This ‘list’, what is it? What’s it for?”

“That is a list of the names of people you need to contact and gather together.”

“At the same time? For what?”

“Yes. At the same time. You need to gather them and tell them that they’re the next league of spies.”

I silently choked. “Spies? Spies for what?”

She stared inquisitively at me for a few seconds before answering. She could tell how little I knew about this “job” I was assigned, not that that wasn’t obvious at this point, and I could tell I was getting on her nerves for asking so many questions. I probably was immediately on her nerves when I entered her office, actually.

“Well. Clearly you didn’t read your packet. These people have been selected to spy on the Against Nature Clique and to immediately give feedback here, at HQ, whatever they find.”

“Right. Okay. That makes sense.” I paused, “Um, how do I do that?”

The woman sighed, “That’s for you to figure out.”

I gave her a nod, hoping that it was enough to hide my uncertainty. I knew this job was going to be challenging as I filled out the forms for it, but I don’t think I quite expected this type of assignment. But, I’m working for the Modern Romantics now, and I need to step up my game.

The Modern Romantics is basically what their name says. They believe in staying connected with nature, much like the Romantic poets believed – which is where their roots are from, but with a modern twist. They follow the industrial ways of today by using phones, computers, cars, wifi, etc. – but they focus on making it eco-friendly. And are doing everything they can to keep it that way.

This is why the Against Nature Clique is a problem. The Against Nature Clique is, well, against nature. Not for it. Not putting in any effort to lessen the damages to it or to repair the already existent damages. So, The Modern Romantics obviously want to put a stop to the damages – both pre-existing and possible future kind. However, they need an inner ear. Er, eye . . . whatever. The Against Nature Clique has been silent for the past three months, causing the Modern Romantics to suspect they’re plotting something. But, they aren’t entirely sure what, so they’re not sure how to prepare for it.

This all leads down to me, Harper Galland. I signed up for this job, and the first one they decide to give me is a pretty big one. Seriously! This is my first assignment and they immediately put me almost directly up against their main enemy! Can you blame me for being dumbfounded when vaguely handed a list of 11 names?

The elevator dinged to let me know I had finally reached the first floor. Quickly I walked to my car, got in, and immediately let out the biggest exhale of my life.

For a few minutes I just sat there in the driver’s seat. Breathing. Thinking. Digging around in my mind for some sort of beginning to a plan that would boost myself into action.

I sat.

I thought.

Nothing came to mind.

So I grabbed a large coffee and headed home.

~~~~

“Bubba!” I called as I entered my small apartment. Bubba, my Italian Greyhound, ran to greet me. He excitedly skittered around my feet, clearly happy to see me home.

I giggled as I set my keys, purse, and half-empty coffee cup down on the kitchen table. Then I sat on the tile, allowing him to run all over me and shower me in small kisses.

“Okay, okay okay okay.” I began, trying to usher him into settling down a bit. “Bubba!” I exclaimed before changing my voice to a deeper more solemn tone. “I need to talk to you about something serious.” Suddenly Bubba sat right down on my lab and stared me in the eye, as if he could clearly understand what I just said and was totally ready to hear what I was about to tell him.

“Alright. Now that I have your attention,” I let my voice lighten a bit and began putting a little too much enthusiasm and emphasis into my tone. “y’know that job I recently applied for and got? Yeah, that one, the one with Modern Romantics. Well, they just gave me my first assignment. Which is super exciting! But, it’s not.” Bubba jerked his head. “I figured you would be surprised. They gave me the job of finding 11 different people and assigning them as spies. Spies! How in the world do I track these people down and give them this news without them being shocked out of their minds?!” Bubba lifted himself from my lap to run to his toy pile. “You’re right; relaxing play time might clear my mind and help me to figure out what to do.”

~~~~

“I’ve got it!” I yelled as I fell off the couch. It was 4 AM, I had fallen asleep after playing tug with Bubba and having a two hour thinking session about what to do.

I scrambled off the floor and into my room. I heard rustling coming from the living room, Bubba must have awoken at the sound of me running from one room to another. I returned to the living room and sat on the floor with him after retrieving my laptop.

“Okay, Bubba. I know I should have done this almost immediately, but I was tired and overwhelmed.” I explained as I looked up each of the names on the list on White Pages. After getting the information I needed – addresses, phone numbers – I opened a word doc and began writing.

Hello! You are receiving this email because you have been randomly selected for a chance to win a

My brain went silent. I looked at Bubba, “What do you think I should say they’ve won?” Bubba sighed and lay his head on his paws, his blinking becoming slower and slower as he drifted back to sleep.

“Come on, Bubbs! I need you here, man!” I watched him sleep for a minute before bringing my attention back to the letter I was composing.

brand new 90 inch flat screen TV! But, you only have one chance to win this TV that will make your friends speechless! So, take that chance! Come down to 476 78th street downtown at 3:45 pm to win!

See you there!

“Let’s hope most of them aren’t bright enough to see through a scam.” I mumbled as I sent the email before falling back to sleep on the couch.

~~~~~

I woke up to the bright sun shining through the living room window onto my face. The warmth felt nice, but the feeling of the sun shining on my eyes didn’t.

I moved my body out of the light but didn’t get up yet. I laid there for a while, listening to the silence of my apartment. Slowly I opened and rubbed my groggy eyes. I hadn’t moved much but could already tell the couch had done its work on screwing up my back. I sighed as I heaved myself up off the couch, my back cracking with every movement.

Slowly I hobbled to the kitchen, but stopped in my tracks after stepping on something wet. “Bubbaaa.” I whined. He shrunk into the corner of the couch in response.

“I thought we talked about this, man.” I said while tearing a few paper towels off the role.

After cleaning up his mess and spraying some sort of flowery fragrance over top I wandered back into the kitchen, more awake now, to reheated my half-cup of coffee and made some breakfast.

Quietly I recollected everything I did last night; all the progress I made on my assignment. I thought back about playing with Bubba, researching the list, writing the letter, setting up the –

The spatula I was using to flip an egg with suddenly toppled to the floor.

I gave them an address.

The address to the parking lot of my apartment building.

I’m leading them right to my house.

My eyes grew wide upon remembering this vital aspect of my oh-so-great plan. Quickly I searched my mind for the time I told them: 3:45. For the first time that morning I looked at the clock, it read 9:37.

I let out a sigh of relief. I had time. Time to think out what I was going to tell them, how I would explain to them what’s going on, and to prepare for their responses when they find out they actually weren’t specially chosen to win a new TV.

Suddenly I smelt something strange. I sniffed the air before looking at the stove and letting out a shriek – my egg was burning.

~~~~

It’s 3:30 in the afternoon. I’m sitting on the ground with my feet dangling off the small balcony that’s attached to the fire escape on the back of my apartment building. Quietly I wait, feeling the butterflies in my stomach go from light weight to what feels like back flipping bricks. I twiddle my thumbs in between tenaciously turning my phone on and off to check the time.  It feels like hours have passed, but it’s only been a minute.

I let out a deflated sigh, wishing I wasn’t as nervous as I was. Bubba happily greets me when I enter the kitchen to get a drink. I softly pat his head, wishing I was as relaxed as he was.

I grab a glass, fill it up with tap water, and almost choke on the sip I was taking when I look out of the window – a woman’s here.

She seems anxious as she opens the door of her car. She doesn’t get out though; just sit’s in it with the door open, observing the surroundings. She’s wearing a dull pink sweatshirt and looks to be in her early 30’s.

Then a guy rides in on a yellow bike. He looks a lot chiller than pink sweatshirt lady. He has wavy brown hair that’s a bit too long and is wearing a navy blue tank with black jeans. He smoothly hops off his bike and puts away some ear buds that I hadn’t noticed before.

I check the time again, 3:35. By the time I look up another person has walked into the back lot. His skin is darker than the other two who’ve come so far.

All three of them glance at each other. They seem dubious, possibly wondering to themselves if they should have showed up at all. I figured this wouldn’t be a bad time to show myself, so I step back out onto the balcony.

Each of them jumped when they heard my screen door snap shut. “Hi.” I timidly say. Both of the boys greet me with a smile and a small wave, while the woman gazed at me from her car.

“Um, I’m happy you three could make it.” I say, suddenly unsure of how start a conversation. “There are eight more people who are supposed to come yet, so we’ll have to wait for a few minutes to see if they’ll show. After all, it isn’t quite 3:45 yet.”

“You’re the one with the TV?” asks the darker boy.

I manage to unconfidently stutter out a “yeah” as I realize I hadn’t thought about what to do when they question me about the TV.

Silence ensues. “Well . . . why don’t we introduce ourselves?” I suggest. “My name is Harper.”

There was a bit of uncomfortable silence before each of them answered with their own names, I don’t think anyone saw each other as trustworthy yet. The boy who rode in on the bike was James, pink coat lady identified herself as Angela, and the 3rd said he was Will.

I nodded with a smile. “It’s nice to meet you all.”

We waited until 4pm. No one else came. “Well,” I started with a deep inhale, “I guess you three are all who will be joining us today. I suppose we’ll get started.”

They all seemed content with this suggestion and steadily made their way toward me as I came down the fire escape to them.

“Won’t the competition be held indoors?” Angela asked.

“Oh, um . . .” I took a steady breath. “That’s a good point.” I agreed after deciding it would be better to tell them the news in a closed area rather than somewhere any lurking ear could hear. “I just, uh, wanted to get my daily stair climb in before dinner, hah.” I said, quickly making up an excuse. Will smiled in response, but Angela and James didn’t seem to be amused.

“Welcome to my apartment!” I greeted as I awkwardly held the door open for the three. “That’s my dog, Bubba.” I informed as Bubba hopped around their feet. They all happily greeted and pet him; it was the first time Angela seemed to let her guard down at least a little bit.

I lead them to my kitchen table and offered drinks after letting Bubba get his fix of attention. Will accepted orange juice, James Cola, and Angela water. I sat down at the head of the table with water in hand for myself, apprehensively taking a few sips from it.

I silently prepared myself before beginning to speak. “Well, first of all I would like to thank you all for being able to make it. Um,” my mind raced for the right set of words, “I guess I would like to say this, right off the bat, you three aren’t here to win a TV.”

Both James and Will choked on their drinks, although Angela kept her composure her eyes immediately grew wide.

I paused for a moment to let them digest this news before asking “Are you all familiar with the Modern Romantics?” All three nodded their heads. “Well, you’re here because of them. I work for them, and yesterday evening they gave me a list of 11 names. I sent out an email, the one about the TV, to all of them, however you three are the only ones who showed.”

“Why do they want us?” Will tensely asked.

“Do you all know of the Against Nature Clique?” No one responded, only stared blankly. “Alright, well, they’re a group that’s against nature – as their name states. They don’t care for it, they never think of it. They ruin it, destroy it.

“The Modern Romantics and the Against Nature Clique are enemies. However, the Against Nature Clique has gone silent for the past few months, causing the Modern Romantics to believe they’re scheming something, but the Modern Romantics don’t know what that could be. They need an inner ear – that’s where you three come in.”

The room was silent. None of the three knew what to say. “Obviously this can be a lot to take in. None of you are entitled to agree, but the Modern Romantics – and myself, too – want you to understand how important this is, and how much you would be helping if you do accept. You would be a part of saving our ecosystem – our earth.”

James spoke up. “I don’t understand why they requested us specifically.”

“Okay . . . well, do you spend a lot of time outdoors? Appreciating or being involved in nature?”

“I garden. Both flower and food.” Angela stated.

“I walk a lot. To my job, to my friends, to the grocery store – everywhere.” Said Will.

“I guess I spend a lot of time biking.” James answered.

“Ah, that’s why.” I explained.” The Modern Romantics like people who spend a lot of time outdoors or are animal lovers. That’s why they hired me – I care for animals. I used to work at a rescue center, I still volunteer when I can, and I took one of the animals into my home: Bubba.” As if it was right on queue Bubba strolled into the room, greeting everyone a second time.

“So, you’re asking us to be spies?” Will questioned.

“Basically, yes.” I responded. “Are you in?”

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