Introduction to Alice in Evermoor
On a ravaged earth in the future, seventeen-year-old Alice lives in a dome that protects thousands in her community from the floods, tornados, ice storms and violence that exist outside it. Evermoor has public transportation, healthy food, communal crops, and technology available for all, but there is restlessness in this utopian world. Many of her peers feel trapped inside the dome and some, including her best friend, Laney, seem to be taking virtual reality to increasingly dangerous levels.
Alice’s family members were the gatekeepers before the dome gates permanently closed, and she knows things her peers don’t about the far world. Stress within her family and secrets about the dome cause Alice to also feel the pull to escape into this powerful new virtual reality called EVR. When two brothers and their grandmother from outside the dome help her father, she is brought into their very real, seemingly backwards and dangerous world, even as EVR threatens to overtake her.
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ALICE IN EVERMOOR
By Karen Huss
“In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.”
– Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Why would you want a river BROWN when it could so easily be blue? It’s so brown, I actually say to Laney, “That is water, right?”
“Of course it’s water,” she says. “What do you think it is, hot chocolate?”
“There’s the melted marshmallows,” says Jeremy, as he points to the white froth that swirls beside our houseboat.
I stifle an “Eew,” and shift my gaze to the sand beach off to our right, strewn with old stumps and splintered tree trunks. Not pretty.
“It’s supposed to be muddy,” says Laney, at the helm. She expertly steers around a floating log in the water. “That’s what’s so great. I’ve been studying the Mississippi as part of a new experimental virtual reality game, and this is like the real deal.”
“So?” I say. Even though I know better, the muddy, slow-moving water sets me on edge. It looks like something that could suck you in, and make you disappear, like nothing at all.
Laney ignores me, points to a low, sprawling, grey house that hugs the side of the hill on the far side of the river. “Look. See that house? That’s mine in the new game I was telling you about, and I wanted you to see it. It’s got the most amazing view of the river and the deck runs along the whole riverside part of the house. It’s so awesome. Mia and I have our breakfasts out there.”
“Mia?” asks Jeremy.
“Oh, never mind. It’s a long story.” She shakes her wavy blonde hair from her face. A curl catches in her mouth. Fingers ending in chipped, pale blue fingernails drag it out. The sun glows in her hair, making it look like a halo around her head as she grips the steering wheel with one hand. She’s so gorgeous it makes me a little bit sick. I glance over at Jeremy on the low, lounge chair next to mine. He gazes intently at her – like he’s completely forgotten she dumped him back in ninth grade for a senior with access to “mature” VR games.
I carefully adjust the band on my long, dark hair so that it holds my hair off my back while I slather coconut oil over my toasted arms, legs and stomach. I make sure that his eyes have shifted to me before I take a swig of iced tea, click my lounge chair all the way down and lie back.
A minute later Laney snaps a pic and shows it to me. The bright blue towel sets off my light brown skin and orange bikini. “Not horrible,” I say as Jeremy looks on too.
“Not horrible at all,” he agrees.
I smile, close my eyes and lie back again, remembering how Jeremy told me last week that I was a dark, tropical flower (corny, but nice), and that quite literally, Laney pales in comparison.
The hot sun feels like it’ll burn right through my eyelids, though the breeze off the water makes it bearable, delicious even.
I imagine I could do this for hours, maybe days, when Jeremy says, “Is this all there is?”
I groan, “C’mon, Jeremy. Just do nothing. It’s amazing.”
Laney says, “Why don’t you fish?”
Laney and Jeremy discuss the fish he might be able to catch, crappie, northern, walleye, bass, perch. Taps and clicks sound over their voices as they prepare the rod and reel, and the hull slaps on the water, as I drift in and out of sleep.
Sometime later a gull cries overhead. I snap awake, my skin no longer warm and toasty, but covered in goose bumps. I look up at the sky that now has become steely gray. We’ve apparently left the wide Lake Pepin and now have entered a narrower section of the Mississippi. Thick, wild plants and vines snake over the banks. The tops of the trees sway in a wind that suggests a coming storm.
Jeremy sits beside me, his eyes closed, his fishing rod still clutched in his hands and resting against the metal of the railing. I turn to Laney on the other side of me. She’s put a sheer, flowy white cover-up over her white bikini and still stands at the wheel almost completely still, except for the slight rock of the boat.
“Laney,” I say.
She doesn’t answer. I’d think she was asleep, except her eyes are open.
She doesn’t even turn her head.
The boat startles a great blue heron that takes off from near the bank. Its bizarrely huge wings beat the air like wide doors swinging open and shut. Jeremy wakes then, jumps a little. “What was that?”
“A heron.” I can’t even marvel at it. “Something’s weird with Laney.”
He stands up, looks up at the sky, stretches, still clutching this rod and reel in his left hand, but then reaches over and taps Laney’s shoulder with his right. “Hello! Earth to Laney. We’re going to get wet here.” The sky grows darker as he speaks. A couple fat raindrops plop on my bare belly. I stand up and wrap my towel around myself.
Laney continues to stare blankly ahead, though somehow she’s steering. I see her delicate fingers shift on the brass wheel as the boat corrects just a hair to the left.
“Laney!” Jeremy shakes her shoulder, but as he does something hits his line. The fishing line screams out. Jeremy grabs the rod with both hands before it is ripped away, then turns to the water, reeling hard. His rod bends in a giant U, the end pointing into the dark water. “Man, this is something big.”
“Forget that. Something’s weird with her.”
“Snap her out of it.”
“I would if I could!”
“Where’s a knife? I’ll cut the line.”
“I don’t know!”
We both freeze for an instant as the sky grows darker still, like a shadow passing over us that has decided to stay. Then the low rumble of thunder startles me, and I go to Laney, leaving Jeremy to figure it out himself. Lures rake the bottom of the tackle box as he searches for the knife, and his reel screeches in his hand. I take Laney by the shoulders and look directly into her eyes. For a second I see a flicker of recognition, then she looks back over the water.
“Laney! Wake up!” Again the flicker of recognition.
Then in a split second, a splash, a thud and a scream behind me. I whirl to see something shiny, black and enormous with Jeremy’s arm in its tentacle-lined mouth. “Get it off me! Get it off me!” he’s screaming. Then there’s red too, staining the cuff of his rolled sleeve above the monstrous black fish.
I’m screaming too.
It isn’t until Jeremy screams, “Turn it off!” that I remember I can.
The last thing I see is Laney’s face as she swings towards Jeremy in surprise, then she is the one who finally reaches to her inside wrist and taps the lighted pink center of her shaded purple rose tattoo.
The simulation snaps off with a jolt. Jeremy sits on the floor of the green deck, leaning against the railing, his right arm, perfectly whole and blood-free, clutched in his left. A rod lies beside him, the line still taut, but attached onto the floor just beyond the deck. Jeremey says to Laney, “I knew you were up to something when you put that band on my arm before we started!” He pulls off the band and drops it on the deck with distaste. A slow smile grows on Laney’s face as she wobbles unsteadily, then reaches out to grab the steering wheel.
I don’t know whether to be furious or afraid.
We’re outside the Water Adventures virtual reality room, when I finally say, “What happened in there?”
Laney pulls a gauzy tunic over her body suit, then steps into shoes she’s pulled out from a cubby. “Oh, I was just messing with you guys. I knew Jeremy would be bored so I added in a simulation at the end from a friend of mine. He’s into horror and mutant creatures and all that. I knew Jeremy would love it.”
Jeremy says, “Yeah. It was a bit much, and you being catatonic didn’t help.”
“It’d give it away if you could see my expression! If I was out of it I thought it might throw you off, and you’d get into the spirit of it more – and it sure worked! Wow. Your expressions were priceless!”
Jeremy and I catch each other’s gaze. My doubt is reflected in his eyes. “You were faking?” I ask.
“Absolutely. You couldn’t tell?”
Now, I’m starting to feel angry. “We were worried, Laney. That wasn’t funny. I thought something was really wrong with you.”
“Oh, come on. Nothing can go seriously wrong in a simulation. It’s a game. And it’s not like I’m going to have a stroke at seventeen. You should’ve known I was fine.”
I step into my shoes, grab my bag, “I’ve gotta take out my lenses.”
Laney yells after me, “When are you going to get implants! Nobody does VR with lenses anymore.”