None of the boys believed me when I suggested Harmony Faye wasn’t normal.
She had appeared like magic, if magic had messy hair and colorful clothes and a bag full of art supplies. She was pretty, but then again, none of us had seen a girl in over a year. The plagues brought by the aliens had wiped out everyone we knew, except for us and then her. A group of boys trying to survive and a bossy girl who could paint, but who told the very best stories, so we kept her around.
We lived in what we called the Park, one of the last safe places left after the plagues. Before the plagues, our families used to visit the water park every summer, back when the place was full of life and color and water. Now it was empty and dry and overrun by weeds and silence, with the aliens waiting somewhere above us. The boys and I were adrenaline junkies of a sort, so we fashioned our own wheel-boards out of scraps and slid up and down the bone-dry water slides. Harmony would decorate our wheel-boards with her stash of paints and then turn around and yell at us for the dangerous activity. She made me miss my mom.
When we asked where she came from, she simply replied “Noah’s Ark.” Like most of the things she said, it made no sense to us. Nonsensical words. Marco said she had an “overactive imagination,” but I had an itching feeling that there was some sort of meaning behind her words. I didn’t understand it, but it was there.
The first thing I noticed was that she didn’t blink. At all. And then, while I was looking at her eyes, I noticed that they changed color sometimes, but only slightly. Blue-green would become deep emerald. Stuff like that. It was very odd, but not enough to mention. Maybe some people’s eyes do that kind of thing.
Then there was her nose. It seemed to be a different shape sometimes. A little longer than the day before, a bump that I didn’t quite remember. That’s when I decided to speak up.
“Has anyone else noticed Harmony’s nose?”
“Apollo,” said Eric, “If you’re crushing on her, that’s your own problem.”
“No,” I retorted, “That’s not what I meant. Her nose changes, and her eyes too. Something seems very… off about her.”
“Do girls normally do that?” asked Teddy. He was only five, so his memory of the world before was limited.
Andy laughed. “Nah, Ted, they don’t. And Harmony doesn’ either. Apollo might’ve gone an’ gotten the Bug.”
Andy was the only one who could laugh about something like the Bug. Everyone else in the room shuddered. It was the first plague from the aliens, causing almost everyone to become very sick, having horrible hallucinations until they died of fear. The later plagues took even more lives.
“Nobody here has the Bug,” announced Eric, who considered himself the leader of the Park boys. Then he started laughing. “Oh, I know, Apollo! Maybe she’s an alien in disguise!”
I frowned, knowing that wasn’t the case. “I never said I thought she was an alien.”
Andy laughed again, this time a little more teasingly. “Then why’d ya even bring it up?”
I didn’t know, but I couldn’t tell him that, so I grabbed my wheel-board and headed for the biggest slide. A tall yellow one that brushed against the clouds. The other boys joined me, and all the tension faded away. It was us against the universe, and bickering would only rip us apart. Harmony was nothing to worry about; she was out looking for food tonight, and tomorrow she’d come back with breakfast and more stories.
She really couldn’t be an alien. I had seen aliens, and she wasn’t one. They looked like monsters. They were monsters.
That night, I dreamed that the aliens hadn’t killed anyone, that the Plagues had been a hoax by the radio people. In my dream, the people returned and all our families came back to us and the aliens stopped all the problems with the world. Then they flew away in their magical spaceship to help other people on other planets.
But of course, I woke up, and everything still sucked. Especially now that Zach was gone; he was the one who brought us all together when our families died. He had been the only adult until he went out to find other survivors and never returned. We were all sure he was dead.
I heard people stirring. Harmony had returned.
When I walked into the kitchen, Harmony was sitting there with breakfast on the table, looking at her face in a small mirror. She always seemed to care a lot about her appearance.
I sat down and started eating. The food was delicious; I didn’t know how she found it. I knew there were still stores with well-preserved food, but Harmony would have had to travel pretty far to find one. I smiled at her gratefully.
She didn’t look any different from the day before. Just pretty, as always, and I was beginning to wonder if Eric was right. There was nothing wrong with Harmony Faye.
For a few weeks after that, life went on as normal. I didn’t notice Harmony’s face changing anymore except that she seemed sad, but we were all sad. Then one day she came back without food, and suggested we all leave the Park.
“No,” Eric had replied, not thinking he needed an explanation. Harmony, on the other hand, required one.
“I don’t understand. Why wouldn’t we? Eric, we need to go further to find food, and I need you all to help m—”
“Last I checked,” Eric began to shout, “YOU were not in charge here!”
“Last I checked, neither were YOU!” Harmony retorted. “Stop being so stubborn! Food isn’t our only problem, this is the apocalypse! We need to help each other out, not hide in the Park until the aliens find and destroy us! And what if there’s more people, like us, still hiding? Do they deserve to die? And if we’re the last ones left, why would we stay? A moving target is much harder to exterminate, and we’re just sitting here.”
The silence that followed was painful.
Harmony nodded. “That’s what I thought. Speechless. You can either come with me or starve to death here. I know you, Eric, and I know you’re smarter than this.”
Eric stared at her. “Zach is dead. He’s dead because he left. Don’t try—you can’t tell me that—I’m not leaving!”
“Okay,” Harmony snapped, “You can stay here, but the others are coming with me. Right everyone?”
There was some awkward shuffling throughout the room. We didn’t want to admit that we agreed with her, because we were loyal to Eric. He was our friend, our leader, and he was here before Harmony… But Harmony was the one that wasn’t blubbering like a toddler.
Harmony sighed. “Well then, follow me if you want.”
She stood and walked defiantly through the door. Avoiding Eric’s gaze, we all got up and followed her. She was right. We didn’t really have a choice. A few of us promised to come back in the morning and tell him all about it. Most of us felt like we weren’t coming back, but we were willing to try. We had to do something, and it would begin with one day out, finding food and seeing how the rest of the world was doing. We couldn’t deny it; we’d all been wondering what it was like outside the Park. The curiosity was killing us.
We walked to the building where we stored all our supplies and gathered what we could fit into our bags. We were all ready to leave, but Harmony signaled for us to wait. A minute later, Eric burst through the door.
“Fine!” Eric cried, “Fine! I’m coming! Just don’t leave me here…”
And with that, we walked out of the Park. Harmony led us through the twisting slides until we reached the edge, and then we emerged into reality.
Of course, we’d seen the world outside since the plague hit, from the tops of the slides in the Park. Actually standing in it was different, almost surreal. The ground was overgrown with weeds and infested with small creatures. Abandoned crops with no one to tend them lined the road, and homes stood dark and tall in the distance. My ears were filled with the sound of labored breathing. After walking for several hours, we came upon a tall hill, probably formed by a plague-bomb dropped by the aliens. We took a break at the bottom and drank some of the water Harmony packed for us. Then we hiked and hiked and hiked until we were all exhausted.
At the top of the hill, we collapsed, the world spinning. Harmony, seemingly unaffected, waved her arms dramatically above us, signaling to someone down the hill. What is she doing? Did we find more people? How long have they been there? How did we not know they were there? I rolled over on the harsh rocks and stared into the bottom of the crater.
At the bottom of the crater was an enormous glowing city of alien technology, trapped under a shimmering, transparent dome. I looked up towards Harmony, confused and strangely dizzy.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered as everything went black.
I woke up in a cell made of glass, but when I kicked the wall, it didn’t give the least indication of breaking. I could see the other boys, each in their own cells, lining a hallway. I blinked several times to make the bad dream go away, but it didn’t. Then I saw the person sitting on a bench in the hallway in front of my cell. Harmony.
“Welcome to Noah’s Ark,” she said with a sad smile.
I stared at her in horror.
“You were working with them—you brought us here, y-you poisoned our water.” Slowly, I realized the true depth of her statement. “You… You’re one of them.”
Harmony reached up to her face and peeled off her eyelashes and eyebrows. She rubbed off her lipstick with the back of her hand, and her mouth disappeared into her face as she did so. She reached up to her face and plucked out each eye, holding them in the palm of her hand as if she didn’t just do something absolutely horrible. Then she smoothed the holes where her eyes had been up into her forehead, and crushed her nose down to her chin. Her face became completely and utterly blank. Alien.
“We weren’t always like this, you know.”
I didn’t have a clue how she said it. The sound was coming from nowhere.
“We used to look normal. Like you, almost, but with fewer eyes. But society… it destroyed us. Advertisers changed the ideal so often that science developed a way to keep up. They took our faces away to fit a fad. I don’t remember it, I wasn’t born yet, but they had the entire world wrapped around the idea that the face of a person was a choice, and that they should be able to change how they looked depending on how they felt. It turned us into monsters.”
“But you’re one of them. How can you call yourself a monster and be okay with it?”
She sighed. “I didn’t choose this! My mother chose for me, before I was even born! She thought it was beautiful, so she had them melt my face with a syringe in the womb. I… I hate it. I want to be unique. My own kind of pretty. Now I will never know what my face was supposed to look like. I suppose that’s the price of choice…”
I stared at her, not understanding. “If you don’t want to be like the others, why are you turning us in? Why are you acting like them?”
“You don’t understand what it’s like, being an outcast, it’s horrible. I don’t want to feel like I don’t belong… anywhere. I want to have a community, a family. But I’m alone. They hate me because I don’t think like them, and I just don’t want to be hated anymore!”
“Why is it bad to be an outcast in a world of freaks?”
There were tears on her face. They seemed to just be trickling from her pores, without any eyes to come from. She stood up and walked down the hallway. Word of Harmony’s betrayal echoed between the cells. Hours seemed to pass, each of the boys in the cells struck silent by the pain of regret. Eventually, whispers escaped their mouths, wondering what the aliens would do to them, but I stayed silent, thinking. I didn’t know how, but we needed to escape. I was examining the cell to try and find a way out when a loud click reached my ears from several cells down, as well as a few cries of surprise. The cells were emptying. The aliens had come for us.
Then I saw that it was Harmony opening each cell, whispering for everyone to be quiet. Helping us escape. She got to my cell and gave me a small nod. I stared at her suspiciously for a moment.
“You’re right, Apollo. I want to help. I don’t want to be human if that’s the way they’re going to be.”
I cocked my head at the foreign word. “Human?”
“Yeah. That’s what our species is called.”
“Oh,” I said softly, not knowing what else to say.
She led us all down the hall to a closet full of uniforms, and directed us to find one in our size.
“How does that help? We still have the wrong faces,” Eric remarked.
Harmony shrugged and dropped the bag she was carrying off her shoulder, opening it. “Not for long,” she said, pulling out strange equipment and placing it on a chair.
She spent hours reconstructing our faces with a moldable substance she called “Play-Doh.” She blended it into our skin and twisted it into weird shapes. She squished out holes for our eyes and mouths, but made them small enough to be unable to see from the outside. As she sculpted us into humans, she calmly told each of us what the plan was.
“We need to get to the labs; they’ve got an invisibility shield that we can set around the Park, so they can’t find us. We can grab food too, and also seeds to grow vegetables in the Park. That way we don’t have to leave to find food, and there will be less risk. That’ll be in the kitchens and the greenhouses. We’re all going to need to split up; it’ll be faster and easier to sneak out. Apollo, I want you, Eric and Teddy to come with me. We’ll get the invisibility shield. I’m giving Andy the list of seed packets we’re going to need, and tools for planting them from the warehouses.”
“You’d trust Andy to do something important?” I asked.
Harmony laughed. “He’s smarter than you might think, Apollo. Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
“Don’t judge a… what?”
She sighed. “It’s a human saying, I’ll explain later. We need to hurry.”
We all crept out and split through the human city in the directions that Harmony relayed to us. The labs were beside the prison, and the food was on the other side of the dome. We crawled along the walls of the prison behind large bins and giant pumps that filled the air with whatever was making the sky blue. When we found the back door, Harmony flashed a small flat square at a metal plate on the wall, and the door opened.
“You’re allowed back here?” Eric asked
“Yeah, I work here. I’m a research assistant, I was supposed to do research on you to find out how to live on this planet.”
“I thought you were an artist,” Teddy said softly.
Harmony’s face did something weird that might be interpreted as a smile. “I am. That’s what got me the job. I can make my face look like yours. But I don’t want to be a spy, I want to be… different.”
“Maybe when this is all over, things will change,” I said softly. She nodded and whipped the door open.
There were a few humans sitting around, and Harmony pushed us into a closet.
“Okay, guys,” she whispered, “I’m going to distract them, and you three need to grab the shield from under my desk. It’s the one by the window.”
We nodded. She walked out and started talking loudly to the humans, about her “research on the natives in the cells.” We crept out in different directions, silent. The seconds seemed to crawl by until we had the strange contraption in our hands, and a tall human with their face twisted into a cone-like shape almost stepped on Teddy, making him squeak. Luckily, nobody noticed, and we quickly scuttled back outside. Harmony politely excused herself and joined us.
With that, we ran through the streets until we found the other boys, their arms full of food and supplies. Harmony led us to the door out of the place, and just as we opened the door, the alarm went off.
They knew we had escaped.
Harmony stole some sort of vehicle before any of the humans could react, and we all piled in. Then we sped away over the hills and weeds until we burst into the Park, everything moving so fast it felt like a blur.
Harmony helped us set up the invisibility shield and exhaled. We all breathed for the first time in what felt like forever.
Safe. For now. Harmony reached up with a finger and drew a smile on her face.