The water is always nice this time of year. Milo loves the way it feels just jumping in, running farther and farther from the shore until the ocean oor drops steep enough, he can dive in. The sh always dash away, and he races them home, sometimes riding on dolphin ns. Other times, those dolphins are a must when the sharks are in close range and can smell the scent of human blood invade through the surface. He has to outswim them if he wants to keep his life. But luckily today, the sharks aren’t out.

He usually tries to say hi to the neighborhood⎯the clown sh in the anemones and stingrays living on coral street who feed his algae from time to time. Today he has to be quick, it’s getting late, and Friend called, reminding him that dinner would be ready early today. He approaches the front door, quickly becoming aware of how overgrown the lawn is getting, I should hire some help for that soon. Walking in, Friend is nowhere in sight. Dinner isn’t ready yet, so to the bubble room he goes. He opens the door to nd Friend playing with the air tubes. “There you are,” Milo says, watching him bounce the bubbles on his head and knees. He is so good at that. “It’s about time you got here,” Friend says, throwing a bubble ball in Milo’s direction. Hitting Milo’s face, it pops dramatically, reminding him of some sort of mini bubble bomb. At the thought, Milo grabs one of the bubble guns they keep mounted on the shelves and sends bubble pellets in Friend’s direction. “Hey! Unfair advantage!” Friend yells attempting to dodge enemy re as he reaches for the other gun on the shelf. In a sudden rage of passion, a bubble war commences. From the left and right, both Milo and Friend attack each other, swarms of bubble bullets ying across the room. They giggle as bubbles burst and tickle the surface of their skin. Then Milo hears from the kitchen, above the sound of clinking silverware, “Milo!” But he ignores it, not yet ready to leave. “Milo! Come on, dinner’s ready.” The bubbles
were so fun, they drop their guns and hop inside big ones, oating to the ceiling until they pop and then slowly fall to the oor. It’s then that the door opens, and Friend disappears.

“Milo, come on I know you heard me. It’s time to get out. Dinner’s ready, don’t make me come back in here again.” Milo didn’t understand why his mom was rushing him, but he knows he has to get up this time; it can get pretty bad when she starts yelling. Until next bath, I guess.

Tonight is meatloaf with the sticky gravy his mom makes that Milo always asks not to have but she puts on his plate anyway. “Why do you always put gravy on my plate when I say I don’t want any?” Milo mumbles. “Because I made gravy, so you’re going to eat gravy. Okay?”, his mom says cheerily. But he was not satised with that answer.

“Hey Milo, come on, you have to eat. Remember our concert we’re playing later tonight? You need all the energy you can get for those killer solos.” Mia says winking at him. Milo nods, reassuring his sister of their deal. Mia always makes him feel better, and he loved playing music with her. Every night they play in front of the shbowl. Well… it used to be every night—before his dad left. His dad

was the one to teach Mia how to play guitar and Milo how to hit the drum on beat. The three of them would play their own take of some of his old favorites. He remembered his mom would watch from the crowd, cheering them on and they’d have a blast, sometimes for hours. But his dad hasn’t been around for a while, and Milo guesses his mom didn’t like rock much anymore. Now, it’s just him and Mia. And it was great for a while, but then even Mia started getting busier over the past few months. She often tells Milo that he is getting so good that soon he’ll be able to play by himself. That makes him feel pretty cool, but he is still afraid that one day she’ll stop playing too.

After eating the meatloaf as agreed, Milo gets ready to put his plate away when Mia gets a call. She picks up the phone to see who it is, and when a big smile appears on her face, he knows that means she’s about to talk to him. Mia tries to assure Milo that it will only take a second, and she sends him to set up and wait for her.

Milo grabs the guitar from his dad’s side of his parents’ closet, and the drum from under his bed. Slowly, he takes everything to the shbowl, sets up and waits. Below the stage, Friend is on crowd control, as usual, monitoring the audience seats as they ll. The audience can get rowdy when he and Mia walk on stage, but Milo can always trust Friend to protect them. After setting up, Milo stands watching from backstage, afraid of any sh catching his gaze. The seats lled–a full house–and after a while, Friend makes his way eagerly to Milo. “Aren’t you going to start Milo? The fans are waiting!”. But Milo tells him that he won’t go out there without Mia. “Well, let me play then,” Friend oers, but Milo is skeptical. Don’t get him wrong, Friend is awesome at everything. He is the best at monster slaying, ninja ghting, and in any situation, a true master of disguise, so Milo knew he could be a good ll in. But this is his and Mia’s gig. “With or without Mia, you have to get out there!” Friend urgently beckons. Grabbing Milo’s drumsticks, Friend shoves them in his hands, pushing him on stage and undimming the lights. Milo stands on the stage alone, facing the crowd that is now roaring with cheer and praise. From his left Friend encourages him, “You can do it!” But Milo doesn’t feel like he can, and his doubts are beginning to get the best of him. Where is she?

The crowd eventually begins to wind down and stare confusedly at one another, wondering when the show will begin. Friend standing behind the stage, shakes his head, sorry for his friend, murmuring something not quite under his breath, “I knew she wouldn’t come.
Some sister she is.” Milo then begins to hear the faint sound of Mia’s voice. It is too far away to make out what she was saying but close enough that Milo can recognize that she is giggling. Milo catches the eyes of Friend when he realizes that she has forgotten about him.

The crowd must be catching on too, because in a moment their praise has turned into anger, and they start heaving insults in Milo’s direction. “We came for a show! What kind of musician are you!” As some rise out of their seats demanding entertainment, a small riot forms near the front of the stage. It seems almost at once that mini riots form throughout the audience as they begin taking their anger out of the venue, tearing apart, and launching everything in close range. Chairs, food, personal

items, and everything in between begins to be thrown in every which direction. Stretched thin, Friend tries his best to calm the crowd and protect Milo. Some nd a clear path to the stage, grab instruments, mics, and speakers to smash and destroy. Milo, now surrounded, doesn’t know what to do. He tries fending them o, but they begin threatening him. Realizing Milo’s vulnerability, Friend dashes for the stage, knocking people down as he goes. Its then that someone gets a hold of Milo’s drum set and begins throwing the pieces at him. Milo attempts to dodge the assault, but a drum makes hard contact with his head, sending drops of blood down his face. Eventually, Friend makes his way in front of Milo, tackling the threat to the ground. Standing up, he grabs Milo and they run o, swimming far from home, and back to the surface to Milo’s room.

When their feet nally touch the ground, they run for what seems like miles until they reach the forest and Friend stops, mesmerized by the tall trees and hanging vines. Milo keeps running. There are so many paths that in a moment he becomes lost. It’s quiet and he checks his backpack for his compass—broken. “Great.” What am I supposed to do now? Looking around, he tries to nd anything that could point him in some right direction. He soon becomes uneasy with his environment. The trees are monstrous and seem to only be getting bigger. The sound of murmuring beasts seems to magnify with every second that passes. He can suddenly sense, what feels like another presence, approaching close. He decides to cautiously keep on the direction he is walking for a while when he sees it⎯the being. Far o, he sees it, and it’s looking at him again. Just watching.

What does it want? Milo wonders. Whenever Milo comes to the forest, which is often, the being will somehow nd and follow him, sometimes smiling, yet never getting too close. “He thinks you’re scared of him,” and Milo jumps, swinging his machete, startled by Friend’s creeping up on him. Fortunately, Friend was no easy target. “Where did you come from!?,” Milo says trying to collect himself, “And I’m not scared, I just don’t know what to say to it.” The only time Milo and the being had anything close to a conversation was after his dad left, and he, his mom and Mia were sad. Mia told him that he could pray, telling the being to keep his dad safe. “You should ask about your dad,” Friend states boldly as if reading Milo’s mind. Still staring in the direction of the being, Milo asks, “Why would I do that?”. “Because he might know something.” Milo replies, “But I don’t think it talks much. And even if it did, it won’t even get close.” Milo’s preparing to turn around and keep walking when Friend reminds him of Christmas, “Remember what you asked for last year? You, Mia, and your mom got three whole hours on the phone after you asked to see him.” Milo remembered that. “Look, all we have to do is show it that we’re not afraid. If we keep getting closer, it’ll realize we want to talk to it.” Milo thinks for a bit before catching Friend’s gaze again. “Alright ne, we’ll get closer. But be careful! I don’t recognize this ora, and I have a strange sense that something else is out here.” Excitedly, Friend nods in agreement, and the two begin to inch closer and closer to the being, keeping their heads low. The being, still watching them, stays stagnant until Milo and Friend are about three yards away. Suddenly, it starts to move away in the opposite direction. Simultaneously, Milo and Friend rise and

follow after. The being moves fast, but they notice that it looks back regularly to see where they are. At one point, the lush gets overwhelming, and they lose sight of it. “I don’t see it anymore, do you?” Milo says. It then reappears in sight, and they stare questionably at each other. “I don’t think it’s running. I think it wants us to follow.” Eagerly wanting to know why, they continue after it when a spear ies across the horizon brushing against Milo’s hair. They immediately drop to the ground. “Where did that come from?!” Milo says, attempting to spot the shooter in the trees. More spears y in their general direction. Friend takes o the shield he’s wearing on his back, “I don’t know! But we’ve been made and we’re going to have to run faster. We can’t crouch anymore! Here, take my shield! I’ll use the machete and cut through the grass; you block!” Milo and Friend race through the forest with ying speed, keeping an eye on the being and dodging spears. “Whoever they are, they don’t want us to talk to it! We have to get closer!” Hearing them, one of the enemies re a spear from high above, it heads straight for Milo’s head. The being grabs it right before it pierces his chest and Milo stares, mesmerized by the weapon inches from his body. The being brushes aside some vines and leads them through a low, small opening in a tree. They climb through and immediately tumble down a hill on the other side. At the bottom, Milo and Friend stand up in battle position, awaiting any threat. It’s quiet again, and they realize the frenzy is over. Catching their breaths, they try to gure out what happened. “Those guys were trying to kill us! What was their problem?” Milo jolts. The being responds, “They didn’t want you getting close to me.” Milo and Friend jump, now fully aware of the being standing right before them. “You saved my life. Thank you.” Milo says. The being nods. “But why?” Friend interrupted. Milo stares at him almost oended. “Why don’t they want us to talk to you, that is?” he says raising his eyebrows at Milo. “Why’d they try and stop—sorry, kill us?” “Let’s just say they don’t like the type of help I give, and their pretty adamant on keeping people from coming to me. In fact, we need to move, we shouldn’t stay in one place too long.” “But Milo’s got a question,” Friend says, motioning in Milo’s direction. Milo looks around hesitantly, “Umm..I was just going to say—” a knock on the door stops Milo’s thoughts and he turns his head to nd out where it came from, “Did you hear that?”. Friend looks at him confused, until he catches a shadow of red in the tall grass. It pulls back its bow, and an arrow ies straight for Milo. Friend rushes towards him, yelling, “Move!” pushing him to the ground. Milo lands on his back, facing Friend whose abdomen is sliced through with the spear. Friend falls to the ground. “Nooo!!” Milo yells, and the door opens.

“Milo?” In the corner, crying, Milo hears a an almost strange voice call his name. But he won’t look up. “Milo, Buddy. What’s wrong?” Curled up, Milo answers, “Everyone left, no one’s here anymore.” There’s a pause before a hand rest on Milo’s head and slowly rues his hair. “I’m here buddy.” And nally recognizing the voice, Milo looks up and jumps into the arms of his dad, his tears drying on the green of his dad’s army jacket.