Sara’s Lair

Apr 1, 2022 | Fiction

Sara stretched, arching backwards until she heard vertebrae pop, but careful not to tip her desk chair backwards far enough to fall on the stone floor. She stood, touched her toes and did several side-bends. She studied her laptop screen, contemplating her next move. She was no Chess Master, but playing Chess with her friend Andrej helped her to clear her mind and practice her strategic thinking. It relaxed her.

 

Sara paced the small room she jokingly called her “lair.” She had inherited the odd cave dwelling from her parents, Sonya and Jacob Heller, a couple of eccentric teachers who’d “gone off the grid” some twenty years ago. They had bought a small island – a tiny, unpopulated part of the Canaries and technically ruled by Spain – and built a home carved into the side of an extinct volcano. Secluded, secret, and cold, this is where Sonya and Jacob had raised and homeschooled Sara and her brothers. All power was provided by wind and solar arrays installed by Jacob. He taught Sara, Todd, and Josh basic concepts – physics, structural and electrical engineering, agriculture, and computer science. They bought a boat, having discovered that their shipbuilding skills were lacking and not wanting to draw unnecessary attention to their presence on the island by bringing in experts to teach them. That’s how they got supplies they couldn’t grow or build from the island’s native resources.

One of their textbooks was The Anarchist’s Cookbook, by William Powell. Sara never had any interest in explosives; she was a klutz, convinced she’d blow her own hands and face off. But other sections of the book intrigued her. Her mother, Sonya, had caught her trying to bake and powder banana peels in a lame attempt to slip her brother Todd a low-effort hallucinogen, revenge for his trying to convince her a moldy peanut would get her high and make her see God. It hadn’t. But for six weeks, Todd and Josh had tormented her by humming “Found a Peanut, Found a Peanut…” every time she walked into a room, which triggered a bout of dry heaves at the memory.

The boys, naturally, liked making things that go “boom!” and they helped their dad build several rooms onto their mountain cave dwelling. Sara thought, once, that her family must be the envy of bats everywhere. She called Josh “Batman.”

“You think I’m Robin?” asked Todd. He was older than Josh, and wanted to be Batman.

“No. I’m Robin,” said Sara. You’re–” Sara’s mouth twisted with the intensity of thought and impish amusement.

“Say ‘Alfred’ and you’re dead,” warned Todd.

“I was going to say The Joker,” said Sara, dodging a wrench lobbed by her big brother. Josh snickered. Todd, as The Joker. The kid had no sense of humor, which only made it twice as funny. And maybe twice as dangerous.

Josh and Todd had gone off-island to college, where they got caught trying to steal enriched uranium to build a small nuclear reactor in a storage closet. Josh had cut a deal with the government that sent Todd, Sonya, and Jacob to jail for a very long time. As it turned out, Sonya and Jacob had other intentions for that uranium, and had tried to use Josh’s science project as a cover. He had warned Sara just in time for her to move into their “safe house.” The safe house was not a secret – it was a decoy. It was the ordinary little ramshackle house near the windswept beach, far below the cliff house, that they’d designed and built to be raided, should that day come.

And right on cue, it came. Sara was tending her little garden of tomatoes and feeding her chickens, collecting eggs. She had even dressed the part, wearing a colorful skirt and matching kerchief, a loose peasant blouse, and hemp sandals. She feigned convincing ignorance. A small twitch at the corner of her mouth, as Agent Hawkins inspected her ankles and searched her eyes for “tells,” might have belied “innocence.”

Internet was provided by a satellite that Sara had quietly hacked into when she was seventeen. It could be turned on or cut with the flick of a switch, and Sara flicked that switch as soon as she received the message from Josh. Interpol could not believe a young woman had been living alone on the island all her life, but they had no evidence (and spotty phone connections, themselves) to prove otherwise and apparently, no stamina for mountain climbing and caving.

Ten years later, no one had noticed the satellite breach. Maybe they had noticed but hadn’t cared. That seemed unlikely, but Sara never assumed she was that good. Instead, she assumed that multiple government organizations knew and lay in wait for her to make a mistake, to break other rules, to be a thorn worth plucking from their side. Until then, she’d done nothing worse than stealing the neighbor’s Wi-Fi signal, albeit through a homemade satellite dish. She was Batman’s Robin, not the Evil Villain.

Sara earned a decent income designing Internet security curriculum to help teachers who barely knew a Trojan hijack from a Durex condom. The worst thing she’d done was write original essays for lazy-ass, cheating students, for money. She didn’t envy Batman, who languished on the mainland under the watchful eye of Spanish authorities, lest he have his own plans to follow in the family footsteps – but having cast herself in the role of Robin, she felt obligated to notify those several schools—anonymously, of course—that some of the work earning straight A’s might not be the students’ own. It would be easy enough to determine whether the writing was their own, using a short, in-class test. “Just have them write a story. Ten paragraphs is enough, I think. Run it through SLSoftware’s ‘Writing Sherlock’ program, and it will return a probability score telling you whether they wrote their own essay.”

Meanwhile, Sara’s Lair Software (known to the world as SLSoftware) sold the application for a pretty penny. She didn’t lose sleep over training her own algorithms using the unethical students’ own emails as they pleaded with her to swear confidentiality. Sara could honestly promise them that she would never tell anyone their secrets.

She didn’t miss The Joker, much; she missed her parents even less. But some days, Sara missed The Batman. Josh didn’t dare risk exposing her or their “lair.” For now, she would have to make do with “Andrej.” Sara returned to her laptop and typed:

“Check.”


Short story brought to you by Creative Copy Challenge # 655 | Writing Prompts – Creative Copy Challenge (wordpress.com) and the words: Curriculum, Help, Teach, Study, Write, Paragraph, Essay, Short, Story, and Test and Fiction Monday Ninety-first Edition ~ Reflections ~ Vinitha Dileep with the prompt: “Secret.” (There is also a lovely photo prompt on Vinitha’s blog. If I didn’t think “that’s no place to grow old,” it reminds me of my longing to live in an elegant cave dwelling, high above the sea. As my husband and I drove around the Canary Islands, last summer, I would point to the volcanic cliffs, saying, “There, that one – that’s got an incredible view. Let’s make our cave home there.” Well, we’d need an elevator or Amazon drone delivery of food, but that’s the only flaw in my plan.)

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle, illustrated by Jordan Vinyard; A Puppy, Not a Guppy, illustrated by Ryan Shaw; and the newest release: A New Leaf for Lyle, illustrated by Carrie Salazar. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young-at-heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.

12 Comments

  1. Mitchell Allen

    This is my kind of story. I would love to see a continuation. A lot is going on here, in this shot piece. I have questions!

    Cheers,

    Mitch
    Mitchell Allen recently posted…The CryptarchyMy Profile

    Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      Thank you, Mitchell! It was fun to write. I didn’t want it to grow too long, but I could definitely expand on it. I think I need a research trip to turn it into a novel…think I can deduct it?

      Reply
      • Mitchell Allen

        Well, sure! If the IRS rules against you, just build your lair out there. LOL

        Cheers,

        Mitch
        Mitchell Allen recently posted…The CryptarchyMy Profile

        Reply
        • Holly Jahangiri

          Hahahaha… good point, Mitchell! 😀

          Reply
  2. Sunita Saldhana

    I wait to read your stories. It’s always amazing to see what you come up with!

    Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      Thank you, Sunita! You’re so sweet – I love writing for you and Mitchell! (Honestly, even if it were Just the two of you egging me on to write the next one, I would!)

      Reply
  3. Mitch Mitchell

    Finally, a story I understand! I liked this one a lot, and I’m with Mitchell in thinking it could turn into an intriguing novel… as long as it’s not a love story! lol
    Mitch Mitchell recently posted…7 More Blogging Lessons From The PastMy Profile

    Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      Why “as long as it’s not a love story”? 🤣

      Reply
        • Holly Jahangiri

          I will probably never write in the Romance genre. Why? I like to skip to the “happily ever after.” That’s where I’m living. I’ll leave the dramatic pathos to other writers who are more interested and better suited to writing it. If I were to try, I might manage something like “True Lies.” 😉

          THAT SAID, I don’t enjoy many stories where there is no romantic relationship at all. I can write kisses. I can write sex. I just don’t want to DWELL there, on the page. How characters interact on a very human, personal level, though – romantic, adversarial, collaborative, SOMETHING – tells you about a character’s personality and emotions. I want my characters to be 3 dimensional. Real people have real relationships. Sometimes those relationships are too easy and comfortable to sustain a book – a book needs CONFLICT. It needs drama. So romance is probably a component (especially if I turn this into a longer work) but it’s not the CENTRAL thing.

          They say we ought to write the books we want to read. If I do that, it will probably be hard to pigeonhole the genre. I read too widely and I most enjoy books that cross genres without regard to where they’ll be shelved in the bookstore. Makes it hard to sell. Or maybe I’m looking at it all wrong – hit on enough genres and take over ALL THE SHELVES! LOL

          Reply
  4. Vinitha

    That was an intriguing story, Holly. You are quite the storyteller!
    Vinitha recently posted…Fiction Monday – 92My Profile

    Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      You are too kind, Vinitha!

      What did you do (or your ISP do) that got you on the bad side of my Bouncer? I keep telling him you’re nice, treat you right, let you in – and I keep having to fish you out of the virtual moat. I am so sorry for that (and for the fact that I wasn’t around to do it when you left your comments, and let you get so drenched). I’m glad you know me well enough to know that I value your comments and would NEVER have left you swimming with the crocodiles! NEVER!

      Reply

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