Chapter 12: The Real Arvid Bergfalk

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I stared in disbelief at the bizarre landscape. This can’t be real, I told myself. I must be dreaming. Or hallucinating.

“I’m sorry,” said Aksel from behind me. “I was just as shocked when I first woke up here.”

I whirled around. “Where is here?” My voice came out shrill. “Where on earth are we?”

Aksel shook his head. “That’s the thing. We’re not on earth anymore. They brought us here, to the planet Bixsi. Thousands of light years away from earth.”

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“Who are they?” I grabbed his hand. “Who brought us here?”

Aksel pressed his lips together in a grim line. “A family you know all too well. The Bergfalks.”

The blood drained from my face. The Bergfalks? My host family, who had been so kind and perfect? I didn’t want to believe it. Aksel spoke in a rush, explaining what he knew about the planet, Bixsi, and what he had learned about the Bergfalk family.

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“They’re fakes, Phoenix. You have to believe me.”

I shook my head vigorously. “No! You’re lying.” Arvid Bergfalk was not a fake. He loved me. He wanted to marry me. He’d said so.

“I’m not lying. Listen to me – they’re dangerous. They’re not what you think.”

“Shut up!”

“Yes, Aksel,” said a voice. “Shut up and stop boring the poor girl.”

I spun around. Then I screamed.

“Really?” said Arvid. “That’s how you greet the love of your life?” He rolled his eyes, which were no longer his eyes, but round and bulbous. Alien eyes. His skin was a sickly shade of lizard green, and his thorny ears pointed toward the purple sky.

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“You’re not…you’re not…” My words came out in gasps. “Arvid, what happened to you?”

Arvid’s eyes widened in surprise. “Nothing happened. This is the real me. Ta-da!” He grinned, then leaned forward, lips puckered.

I step back. “Don’t touch me! You’re a…a monster!”

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There was a silence. Then Arvid’s alien face twisted into an ugly sneer. “Oh, so that’s how it’s going to be?” He clicked his tongue. “Very foolish girl. Well, until you’re ready to be my girlfriend again, I’ll just have to treat you like my other slave.” He nodded toward Aksel, who stared quietly at the ground.

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Twenty minutes later, I was wearing the most humiliating outfit I’d ever been forced to wear. It was uglier than my school uniform in China. “I’ll never be your girlfriend again!” I yelled at Arvid. “And I’m not your slave, either.”

Arvid’s voice was quiet, dangerous. “Oh yes you will. You will spend every moment of every day caring for my earth garden. Or you won’t eat.” He looked toward Aksel again. “And neither will he.” Bitxi (11) Bitxi (12)

My legs trembled. He would starve us both? What else would this new Arvid do? I swallowed down the sobs that rose in my throat. “Okay,” I said in a whisper. “Okay, I’ll do it.”

Arvid smirked as I stooped over the nearest plant and began to yank weeds from the ground. “Good girl,” he said.

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Chapter 11: I Don’t Think We’re in Stjernelys Anymore

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It’s mind-boggling how quickly your life can change. One minute, you’re crazy in love with the man of your dreams, talking about your future together. The next minute, you’re staring into the tractor beam of an alien spaceship.

Right? I mean, if it hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t have believed me, either. But guess what – aliens are real. And they are not nice and sweet like E.T. or cute and furry like Gizmo. (Wait…was Gizmo even an alien?).

I was just starting to get ready for bed when I heard the shrill, high-pitched sound. I came running outside, thinking that it was the burglar alarm on my motorcycle. Then I saw it – a bizarre-looking vehicle hovering just above my house. A flying car? Some top-secret Scandinavian military plane? I stared in awe at the aircraft, wondering if I should snap a photo of it for my Instagram.

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Then, ZAP! A huge beam of light burst from the bottom of the aircraft, dazzling my eyes. I couldn’t see. The air around me crackled with energy. Too late, I tried to run away, but a strong force yanked me back. There was a strong tugging sensation, like ropes pulling me upward. Then I began to rise into the air.

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I screamed. I flailed my arms. But I could not break free of the powerful forces. It – whatever it was – pulled me into the depths of the ship. Then there was nothing but darkness.

This was not my bed. That was my first thought as I woke. My bleary eyes took in my surroundings like I was still caught in a dream. Rich furnishings. Expensive décor. And I was wearing a soft linen shift.

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Quickly, I sat up, my senses on alert. Whose bed was I in? Who had changed my clothes? I blinked, forcing my brain to remember.

Oh god…the aircraft. I jumped to my feet, panicked. I had to get out of here, wherever this was.

“Phoenix?” someone said.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. There stood Aksel Arild. “Stay away from me!” I shrieked, looking around for something to throw.

Aksel’s eyes widened. “Phoenix, calm down.”

I shook my head. “You – you kidnapped me! You monster!”

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“Will you just listen for a moment?” His voice grew urgent. “I did not kidnap you! Okay? They brought me here, too. They brought us both here.”

I stared at him, just noticing his disheveled appearance and ill-fitting, ripped clothes. He looked like he had been living in a dungeon. “Who brought us here?” I asked, my voice trembling.

Aksel swallowed. “Extra terrestrial beings.”

Was he crazy? I decided not to stick around and find out. I was getting out of here. I turned and fled the bedroom, searching for an exit.

“Phoenix, wait! You need to know—”

I didn’t stop to listen. I slid open the first door I saw and stepped outside.

I froze.

“I tried to warn you,” Aksel said behind me. We were standing in a vegetable garden, surrounded by unearthly glowing plants an d trees with leaves the color of mold. This was not Stjernelys. As far as I could tell, we were not anywhere on earth.

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Chapter 10: The Phoenix on Top of the World

I, Phoenix Jin, am on top of the world. Okay yeah, I am also literally on top of the world, being in Scandinavia and all. But I mean it in the figurative sense, too.

Not only because I doing well at my awesome new job, studying new technologies that would someday enhance space travel. And not only because my bestie, Katje Bergfalk, had just gotten married to Halle Grön in a dreamy winter wonderland wedding.

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My happiness was overflowing, because my greatest dream had at last come true. Arvid Bergfalk, rock star of Stjernelys, guy of my fantasies, said that he loved me. (No seriously, I am not even making this up).

Rock Star Arvid

We reconnected at Katje’s wedding. One moment, we were chatting and laughing over thick slices of lemon-blueberry-white chocolate wedding cake. Next thing I knew, we were in his bed, sharing a night of wild, passionate sex.

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And it didn’t stop there. We became inseparable. Each day, he filled my phone with romantic texts. Your laughter is my favorite song. Can’t wait to hear it again. He lavished me with expensive gifts, which I tried to refuse, but he wouldn’t hear of it. “If I could, I would give you the world,” he said.

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Sometimes, we visited his family, and it was like old times, sitting around and catching up over good food or a board game. Other times, it was just the two of us. We went out to music concerts, movies, and sporting events. On our first anniversary, Arvid gave me the biggest surprise of all: a hot air balloon ride over Stjernelys. We sipped champagne and snuggled together while looking out at the breathtaking landscape below us.

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That’s when he said it.

“I love you, Phoenix.” His intense eyes burned into mine like blue ice. “I can’t wait until the day when you will be mine forever.” My heart raced. He wanted me to be his forever! It wasn’t a marriage proposal, exactly, but at least he was thinking about it. Imagine – me, the bride of Arvid Bergfalk. I was overjoyed, jubilant, enraptured. I went home that night with my head full of happily-ever-after dreams.

I never could have predicted what happened next.

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Chapter 9: Romance and Restlessness

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I was restless. It took me ages to pinpoint just the right word for how I was feeling. But once the word sank in, in buzzed around me like mosquitos, biting into my skin, crawling down my spine. Restless.  

Maybe it was that everything seemed to come too easily. If I wanted a boyfriend, I could snap my fingers, and a man would appear, like a helpless worm wriggling to the damp surface. They were all alike, men like these. Predictable machines, operating under the same mindless program. Still, I played my role. I kissed when it was my turn to kiss, threw my head back with throaty laughter, a demoness-angel from an exotic land. A new toy.

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It all ended the same, too. His eyes would open, or I would grow bored and ride off into the arctic sunrise. It was silly. All pointless games that only served as entertainment between shifts at the sushi restaurant.

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“You just haven’t met the right man,” said Katje, who recently had met the right man and was in a frenzy planning their wedding. “When you meet the right man, it will be like magic. A fairytale come true.” She said this with such a glazed expression in her eyes that made me wonder if she knew what she was in for.

Anyway, I was starting to see that there was no Mr. Right. At least not in Stjernelys. Or maybe he was there, but I was not his Ms. Right. I’m not really sure how that all works.

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I began to pour my restless, pent-up energy into making my life better. After all, I had ambitions to be an astronaut, and here I was, grilling teriyaki chicken and rolling sushi rice for minimum wage. What a joke. I enrolled myself in an online master’s degree program and began to spend my spare moments studying and researching.

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I used the money I’d saved from working at the restaurant and rented an adorable little house near the science lab.And within the year, I found a new direction to channel my restlessness – my first desk job, in a small but powerful science think tank.

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This Phoenix was beginning to spread her wings.