Chapter One

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In the mornings, the Mitchell household rumbles like an active volcano. I stay in my room until the last possible moment while my little brothers hare around the kitchen downstairs screaming that the floor is lava.

"Max! Mikey!" my mother shouts. "I swear to God. If you don't sit down and eat your breakfast—"

The rest of her molten words are lost beneath the eruption of my father's voice.

"Max and Mike Mitchell!" he booms. Small feet patter across the tile floor. There is a pause that drifts up the stairs like volcanic steam. "Guys, you can't touch the floor when it's lava. You're out of the game."

"But Dad—"

"—Those are the rules, Max. Eat your Wheaties."

It's impossible to concentrate on my game with Vesuvius going off downstairs. I jam a pair of noise-cancelling headphones over my ears and hunker down in my computer chair. I only have half an hour before I need to get to school, and I'm stuck on a node in Glitch.

"Decisions, decisions," I mutter as I stare at the screen.

Glitch is kind of a computer game. My Dad looked at it once and scoffed, "This is just a Choose Your Own Adventure book for Macs. There is nothing new under the sun." I guess he used to read these books in the eighties where, at the end of each chapter, you could choose what happens next. He doesn't understand that Glitch takes that concept and launches it into the stratosphere. You can hold a book in your hands; Glitch games—or stories—can be infinite. Every decision you make in the game creates new branches in the narrative. Stories bisect and divide and divide again until you're hopelessly snarled and the only way to move forward is to go backward. I know a guy who's been playing the same Glitch story for over a year. I know, because I created it.

In the world of online interactive fiction, I'm kind of a big deal.

By the time I've finished writing the node, published it to my story, then made it downstairs, it's half past eight, Dad's gone to work, and my mother is in the car tapping her nails on the wheel.

"Bea, honey, you wore that shirt yesterday," she says, poking her head out the window.

This is my favourite black, long-sleeved shirt. I wore holes in the wrist cuffs so I could poke my thumbs through. I pause on the front steps, lift my arm, and sniff.

"Oh, Bea." She shakes her head.

Her perfectly styled hair doesn't move an inch. Mom is a real estate agent. Image is everything. In the backseat, Max and Mikey, buckled up for the ride to daycare, laugh big belly laughs.

"Bea smells," screeches Max.

I roll my eyes and hoist my backpack tighter by its straps. "You know what, I'll walk."

Mom sighs as she puts the car into gear. "Suit yourself. You know, it wouldn't kill you to smile once in a while, Bea."

I frown after her as the car rolls away.

"This is just my face!" I holler at the back end of the SUV.

***

At school, I make it through most of my classes without occasioning notice. Except for English period.

"Beatrice Mitchell."

I look up from my notepaper which is covered in an elaborate sketch of a tree. Mr. Levesque is staring at me with a pinched look on his face.

"Well?" he prompts.

I look down at my desk and chew the inside of my cheek. He must have asked me a question. We've been studying Macbeth. I did the reading; all I do is read. But I can feel the whole class shifting in their seats to stare at me. The aura of expectation makes my cheeks grow hot, and I start to sweat. My throat clogs with unspoken words like a stopped-up drain.

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