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A note from Ariana Vivoni

Attention, dear readers. This chapter, even more than the previous one, contains references to old movie classics! In addition, it mentions some existing places that are really interesting "supernatural" hotspots. Check them out if you are into those kinds of things. I have personally visited Rupite, the Dobarsco Church, and the Rock-hewn churches of Ivanovo (and have seen the murals mentioned).

The life of Tomislav Zvezdev was exceedingly boring. But what could one expect from a ten-year-old boy? School, homework, bullies during lunch-break who tripped him “as a joke”, constantly missing parents, … all in all, the usual stuff. His father was a war correspondent and was constantly running around the “hot zones”. Obviously, a shower of bullets and missiles was preferable to the family bliss. His mother too was constantly on conferences and archeological excavations and had made perfectly clear that some dead kings from a millennia ago are more interesting than a kid not even in his teens. Both parents, however, were on the same page concerning their son’s scholastic career. He had to receive “the best world-renowned education”.

That is why Tomislav enrolled at the International School in the capital. No one asked him whether he wants to be tormented all day long by attempting to communicate with his peers in a foreign language. Or whether he could cope with the nasty jokes of bullies from six continents, who immediately forgot all political or racial skirmishes in the name of the common cause – make the nerd’s life miserable. No matter how often Slavi tried to explain that he isn’t a bookworm and simply has a good memory, nothing helped. In the end, the boy received the revelation that they are simply using him as an outlet, and begrudgingly accepted his fate.

And then came Max.

Max Hale was the son of a new official at the US embassy. One glance was enough to see that the boy was typical yankee – rowdy, with broken jeans, a baseball cap low over his eyes, and the aura of an alpha-male that the Hollywood movies so perfectly described. Well, Slavi had watched enough movies to know better. That is why, when Max stood before his desk with arms crossed on his chest, the boy closed his eyes and said his final prayers.

“Wow! National Geographic?!” said the little yankee and jumped in the seed next to him. “Cool. Do you have the previous issue? My parents threw out mine when we were moving.”

Slavi opened his eyes, blinked confused, and gave a hesitant nod. That’s how an unbreakable friendship was born.

From that day on, no one tried to bother Slavi. He, however, had little time to enjoy his newfound peace, since it was short-lived. His boring life turned into an endless action. To be Max’s friend was in and of itself an adventure. He was always ready to jump into some mischief. To rub glass wool on the t-shirts of the meanest guys in school during PE-class? Of course. To paint himself with phosphorescent dye and appear as a howling ghost in the window of the hated Math-teacher, who had failed them on the last exam? Immediately. To run away from home with a backpack and a torch and go conquering the nearby mountain at one in the morning? Absolutely. And always, during all the crazy adventures and insane schemes, Slavi was there – to help, plan, and run from the crime scene neck to neck with his best friend. The consequences? He would think about them later.

Yes, there was something in Max that attracted people, and Slavi in particular, like a magnet. He was so popular that he could have a band of tens of loyal followers and make the school his own if he only wished for it. But Max didn’t want it. As he said one day to Slavi, the two of them were the undefeatable duo – Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid.

Still, the “children of the Devil”, as the geography teacher once called them in a fit of desperation, finally expanded the gang. And so, the last three members of the Fearsome Five joined in.

Hiro – the wunderkind of the school who had skipped two years. The kid lived in a world of comics, animation, and chips, which didn’t explain how he always remained scrawny like a stray cat.

Olga – the mysterious Siberian beauty. Blond, blue-eyed, and quiet if no one rubbed her the wrong way, but with an incredibly powerful right hook if push came to shove. She usually didn’t speak much about herself, and the only thing that Slavi knew about her family was that she had a lot of uncles. (Up to that point there was uncle Vasya, uncle Andrei, uncle Kosya. Uncle Misha, uncle Evgesha, and uncle Kolya.)

Samira – the rebel from the Orient. She just waited for her father’s limousine to disappear around the corner before taking off the hijab. As Slavi had noted, amongst her hobbies, besides reading historical novels, was also eating meatballs with fries that were most certainly not halal.

And so, after only one semester, the Fearsome Five became inseparable – in class, during the breaks, after school, during the weekends; if someone spotted one of them, the rest was close by. But the best time was during the vacations.

On Max’s suggestion the “Club for Anomalous, Cosmic, Transcendental and Unbelievable Studies”, or CACTUS for short, was founded. The members of CACTUS were mainly busy traversing the country left to right, and even diagonally, and “studying” unexplained phenomena. Or simply put, they started hunting aliens. Max found their target destinations. Slavi was responsible for the logistics and organization. Samira patted her dad’s pockets, who, much like Slavi’s parents, had nothing against his daughter going into the mountains with some friends (well, he was told “girlfriends” and the fact that three out of five were boys was tactfully omitted). Olga begged one of her many uncles to play the “chauffeur”, and Hiro was responsible for the rations (chips and coke in large quantities) and the “scientific equipment”.

It was a regular occurrence for some secluded mountain village to wake up one morning with the loud addition of five kids, ages ranging from nine to eleven, from which only one could speak the local language. In addition to that, they were accompanied by a tough-looking goon in an expensive tracksuit. The local grannies, however, usually warmed up to the group pretty soon. The children were polite, not much wilder than the grand-kids in the big city, and even helped out in the search of the occasional lost chicken.

Just like that, armed with cameras, telescopes, metal detectors, compasses, not to forget the latest brand walkie-talkies (a present from Hiro’s mum for his birthday), CACTUS braved the bushes and climbed the ridges. Most of the time they only scared some lizards or snakes. Yet, on rare occasions, they were lucky to find something – an arrow tip, an old coin with unreadable text, strange symmetrical cuts in the rocks. In these moments, they felt like something between Indiana Jones and Captain Picard. This was wicked!

One year they spent half of the summer digging near the Hole in Tsarichina. After that, they visited Rupite and tried to measure energy fields with a strange gadget that Hiro claimed to be the latest prototype of his grandfather’s company. Two weeks they compared the mural of the “Cosmic Jesus” from the Dobarsco church with the one at the Rock-hewn churches of Ivanovo. The young ufologists were now sure – the clues didn’t lie. These were signs of extraterrestrial visitors.

In the course of six years, the theories slowly gained shape – cosmic beacons, ley lines, Atlantis as an ancient space-port. Their knowledge also deepened, surpassing that of a simple hobby. Max and Olga, who had developed a passion for astrophysics, started to compare magnetic maps and to search for extraterrestrial communications with a small radio-telescope that Slavi built for them (he always wondered where they had found the parts). On her end, Samira jumped into the study of ancient texts and different archeological findings that proved, without any doubt, the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations. Hiro was busy with the very intriguing and highly illegal task to hack some research satellite and was constantly following the chatter in the international ufologists’ forums.

These peaceful days were about to end soon.

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A note from Ariana Vivoni

A little reference of how the "uncles" most likely look like.


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About the author

Ariana Vivoni

Bio: A biologist during the day, an enthusiastic writer at night.
Since English isn't my first language, all constructive criticism is appreciated, just be lenient with your remarks.

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