A girl wants to be an Academic because she was eaten by an egg.
An Egg ate an Academic
There were three hundred and thirty-seven days before eighteen-year-old Merinette Dace Nadean would take up the family business.
She wanted to change that because she had been eaten by an egg the last time she shouldered her responsibility. Yet, Merinette had little choice.
There were only three people in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, who were able to maintain the numerous surreal entities known as Fiction that were spread over the capital region’s three hundred square kilometres.
The first person was her half-aunt, Mandy Nadean.
Mandy was a young woman in her mid-twenties who currently held the position of the city’s Fiction Collector. It was a privileged role. Quite an easy one as well since, as far as Merinette was concerned, there were only two steps that Collectors, such as her, would enact to achieve their contracts. The first was to touch the surreal entity. The second was to get the pay cheque. Flash and finish. The title, then, was no different from a glorified maintenance worker. Anyone could have accomplished the same feat. A high school diploma was unnecessary because being born as a Collector was the only thing that mattered.
The Half-Aunt Sister
Her half-aunt disagreed.
It was not enough to be born as a Collector to take up the role. One also needed to be a member of the Nadean household. Besides, it was Merinette’s father, Gregory, who had preceded Mandy, and after he had moved to work on a small island called Waiheke, he had left his only daughter under the care of his sister. Before him, the position was under the guidance of one of his cousins. Over thirty members of the Nadean household had looked after the region long before Wellington was designated as the country’s capital.
Merinette taking over the position was an obvious choice. Her half-aunt was nearing the end of her three-year term and though she could reapply for a second term, fulfilling her arranged marriage to her betrothed, Timothy, was top of her list.
Leave the city under the care of her niece, Merinette thought as she slung her heavy backpack in preparation for a ten-minute journey from her apartment in Lambton Quay to the edge of the City-to-Sea Bridge. Her aunt was there. Mandy leant against the bridge’s wall that overlooked a star floating in the middle of the Whairepo Lagoon.
Her yellow blazer was slung around her shoulders. One collar of her white office shirt was left unfolded. The other had a pinkish stain on a corner. She is getting sloppy, Merinette thought. Mismatched socks and a tight black skirt, which looked like it had been wrenched from the laundry, was a far cry from the woman who spent an hour choosing outfits in front of a mirror. Mandy was not even aware when Merinette was a few stone throws away. She busied herself waving and greeting the man on her phone. Her long chestnut hair, which fell past her shoulders - was pushed behind her ear. Warm smiles complemented the freckles that glossed over her face.
The phone was close to falling off when Merinette dropped her schoolbag with a heavy thud.
Merinette wiped the cold sweat off her brows. She pushed strands of her neck-length blonde hair off her nose. “Auntie,” she said as the glow of her aunt’s yellow eyes met up with the green gloss of her own. “You left your journals.”
Mandy nodded. She tapped the phone. “Do you want to say, ‘morning’ to Timothy?” she said. Her voice was like honey over ice cream.
Merinette’s cheeks turned pink. She felt butterflies in her stomach when the face of her childhood friend met her gaze on a live call. She shifted her attention away. One foot twirled on the bridge’s brick floor. Too early, she thought as she stared down at her watch. It read seven. She was an hour and a half early for the first class of her last year at St. Mary’s College. “You left this on the counter. You don’t want marmite signing your collections,” she said as she pointed to two journals tucked under her arm.
“A memorable start of the year,” Mandy replied. A small smile peppered her face when she gazed at the time. She wished Timothy goodbye. A quick kiss on her phone before it blinked to black. “Thank you,” she added. “But you need not worry, Meri. I have it under control. If I realised it was missing, I’d be like, ‘woops, guess I’m going for a break – no, wait – fetch my journals.’ They are crucial to us as Collectors. How else are we going to store the Fiction after we capture them?”
“Didn’t seem that way when you steam rolled out of the apartment,” Merinette said as she looked up at her aunt.
“Timothy had just finished a contract. Meant to be light work. Tap and go but he ended up working overnight. I think he deserves a treat after a long night in the countryside of Masterton. You could have greeted him,”
Merinette lifted her bag. “I need to go to –”
“School?” Mandy interrupted. “Now? Academics can wait. You shouldn’t be thinking about that when you are an hour early. Not now when we have a pleasant morning. How about a coffee? Cappuccino? Mochaccino? Or how about some chocolate-dipped strawberries as thanks?”
“It’s fine. I’ll pass. Thank you, Auntie, but I have a lot of stuff planned for the day.”
“On the first day? School will hardly last three hours. Is an introduction speech from the headmistress really that important?”
“It matters to me,” Merinette said.
Mandy covered her mouth. “To be a … what … a librarian?” she chuckled.
“Do we really have to talk about this again, Auntie?” Merinette clawed one of her backpack’s straps.
Mandy waved a finger. “A familial concern. You haven’t made any attempt to sharpen your talents since I moved in and succeeded your father. It was tolerable at first. You were always rubbing your face off in those books, but I think you should put more effort in harnessing.”
“I can handle the Fiction as much as anyone,” Merinette responded with a slight quiver in her voice. A simple goodbye was to end the dialogue. Five steps to the left and she would have been off on her way to school. “I have my own ways,” she added. “I know what happens if I don’t practice.”
Mandy made a chewing motion.
“I won’t get eaten again. I-I just need to find some way that’s all,” Merinette responded. “Focus on studying during the week and sort out the Fiction in the weekend.”
“So, Part-time? Being a Fiction Collector is a full-time vocation, Meri. Your own way won’t cut it. It won’t work. I am more than happy to train you alongside your friend but unless you give your studies some slack, your time as a Fiction Collector won’t last. We don’t want a smudge on our family’s reputation, and I do not want to hear that you ended up melting in a river.”
Merinette wanted to say, “I think there are other options than wasting time on running onwards to strange entities that appeared out of nowhere,” but she kept her gaze from her aunt and nodded. Across the lagoon, walking over a two-lane steel bridge were a group of three girls in black blazers and pleated skirts walking in the direction of St. Mary’s College. Had her aunt avoided being sloppy, she would have strolled passed her school library aisles for a quick read at this time.
Instead, she listened to her aunt say, “We have a few months to prepare but it should be fine. I am sure your plate is too full to hold on your own. Just look at you, Meri. All prim and ready for your last year of school. You look more eager to have your marriage be arranged than take my place.”
Merinette turned her head aside. “It’s too early,”
“Is it?” Mandy pushed herself off the bench, brushing her chestnut-coloured hair over her shoulders.
“I’m still in school.” Merinette raised her voice in response. Her gaze was locked towards the soft golden colour of her aunt’s eyes.
“Never too soon to start planning, but ….” she said with both hands raised. “… okay, okay … I’ll sit at your table. We’ll bury that topic for the moment. Mind you, I haven’t finished high school. A Collector’s life is far more intriguing. Your last year shouldn’t be that stressful.”
Cracks in Merinette’s voice re-emerged. “There are other ways I can help while in the background. Auntie, I … can I … it’s getting late. I need to go. I have to prepare outlines for the year.”
“Don’t forget about our get together after school. It’s going to be a big year and I want to discuss it over a plate of cupcakes,” Mandy said as she gestured towards the stairs that led down the bridge. “Your rival will be there.”
Merinette walked down. “Josefina is not my rival,” she said.
Mandy tapped on her niece’s shoulder. “We all need friendly jabs to get our lives moving. You need to follow her example. Being born as a Collector has its downsides but you don’t see it in Josefina’s eyes. We need you to get up and ready for the initiation, Meri. Experience is all that matters. No cheating. No shortcuts. I will sort out what to do with your goal but –”
“You don’t have to. I can … I can sort out my plan and be a Collector at the same time.”
There was a soft giggle from Mandy. “There would be no family encore if you ended up devoured. Please don’t run off this course. Our family has looked after the city for over a century. I know it’s tough, but your family is here. I’m here. Aren’t you excited? We will raise our hands in applause once you walk out on the stage with a curtsy,” she said.
Merinette stayed silent. She bit her lower lip when she was pulled next to her aunt’s side.
“Let’s try not to rot your future with whatever you’re planning,” Mandy said as she walked alongside her niece down the stairs. “Your first day, Merinette. Dining with your fellow Collectors is a priority before you bury yourself in whatever book that other dream forced in your hands.”
The Fiction Collector
Merinette Dace Nadean should have been happy.
After all, not many of her schoolmates had their lives sorted after graduation. Sure, a good portion of the senior year had career paths and relationships they wished to pursue, but it wasn’t the same as her family’s life plan.
She was the second person who was able to manipulate the numerous surreal entities – known as Fiction – that called the city home. Merinette was also convinced that there were more people like her amongst the capital’s population of four-hundred thousand. Three was barely a drip and Merinette would open her arms if she stumbled on someone with similar talents as her.
But any other Collector within the region would have either been married into the Nadean household, joined a competitor, stayed reclusive, or been cleansed. Merinette’s family had a tight leash on the position ever since they arrived in the region from Australia. Her own reluctance was hardly a ripple.
There was tradition to live up to. Merinette had already felt its effects when she walked up a hill that led to St. Mary’s College. She had five minutes before class started. So much for cruising around the library, she thought as she lumbered one heavy step towards the school’s glass entrance.
The walk with her aunt was longer than she’d expected.
Usually, it would have been a simple hello-morning-goodbye format. A brief chat was intermitted in between. That was true then. Now, it was better for Merinette to get used to seeing a school dean – a stout round lady – guarding the school’s entrance with a stern expression on her face. Hearing her aunt rattle on about what the next few months had in store had slowed her steps long enough that she was officially ten minutes late. Merinette lowered her head. Her apology for her tardiness was going to be one out of many.
Was graduation too much to ask? Was striving to earn an Excellence Mark in the final report too problematic? Merinette had no plan to sabotage her family. All she sought was to plan how many essays there were and how long it would take for her to finish. Not that any of her immediate family cared because by the time most of her schoolmates would have landed their first jobs, Merinette would be on her way to succeeding her half-aunt. An arranged marriage would follow shortly after.
That was how things were in the Nadean household.
It was easy money as far as they were concerned. Besides, it was not as if the family envisioned Merinette around a kitchen table for the next thirty years. There was always going to be Fiction. There were always going to be some trouble; maintenance that needed her attention, papers that needed filing and journals that needed to be bought. Essays and academics were well and good, but they didn’t produce results as much as going outside and doing the work.
Merinette reasoned that not all Collectors wanted to be Collectors.
Even her aunt, if given the chance, preferred being a fashion designer rather than camping out at a random bush to capture a surreal entity. If she could persuade her aunt; if she found a better way to aid the family without her academics being compromised; then, that would be dandy, wouldn’t it? Merinette didn’t want to work in a field where the chances of being devoured was high. She had been eaten before when she stumbled upon an egg while fishing for fires in the middle of the night. There was a flash. She had found herself waist-deep in a golden river afterwards and her calls for help were drowned out by the low toned-down tune of four descending musical notes. No. Not again. The following five years were not enough to rid herself of the nightmares of drowning in a river of gold. Neither today, tomorrow nor in the following decades was she going to go through the experience for a second time.
A career such as a researcher was safe. It should be. That was what she wanted to do, right? It was comforting. Merinette told herself that she wasn’t going to abandon her family, but, rather, would find a way to assist them from the background. If only other members of her family shared the same mindset.
Good luck though. Merinette needed it because as much as she strived for an excellent grade, she knew that her family’s main concern was Fiction, loyalty, and staying on top. Even her so-called quote-and-unquote rival had adapted to her family’s perspective because that bitch of a rival had the bloody nerve to skip the first day of school entirely.