A Crack in the Fortress


Archibald Hayes was a distinguished spy, assassin, and righter of all things wrong. 

He had a heart sufficiently hardened from years of exacting whatever was deemed necessary to put the events of the planet back into order, and he was proud of it; his heart was a fortress impenetrable to any sliver of light that might compromise him or his position as a distinguished spy, assassin, and righter of all things wrong. He didn’t hold the title lightly. 

Alapestro Island was Archibald’s five-hundred-sixty-fourth mission. The plan was particularly clear and precise: spend a few weeks integrating with the locals, glean every detail that he would need to make it look like an accident, plant the bombs when the appropriate time came, and evacuate immediately afterward. 

It may have seemed cruel, but it was a very simple decision to make. Alapestro Island was home to an enormous power plant that had been involuntarily generating dangerous chemicals at an exorbitant rate; consequently, the substances had been wafting into the air and seeping into the bodies of water around the island. The staff at the power plant had designated a vast amount of time and research to solve the problem, but to no avail. 

Archibald was simply here to make their lives easier. 

It didn’t take him long—thirty-nine hours to be exact—to discover that this mission would be an easy one. The locals accepted him immediately, awarding him their undying trust for the price of absolutely nothing. All he had to do was activate his trademark cunning charisma, and they all fell in love with him. But that really seemed to say more about them than him; they were definitely the type to be undyingly accepting of any traveler that happened upon their humble community. And that was their loss. 

By the end of his third week, Archibald was just as much a part of the town as Francesca Tulle, whose family had existed solely on Alapestro Island for four generations. And with his plan so effortlessly set into motion, he almost wished the locals would’ve given him a bit more of a challenge. 

The night before his planned departure—and the culmination of his scheme—he broke into the power plant, carefully secured the chemicals, and moved them to the loading docks outside where they would be retrieved by a crew from headquarters within hours. The chemicals would be properly disposed of, preventing them from filtering into the surrounding water during the explosion. 

Archibald spent the next few hours painstakingly setting up the scene for a tragically unfortunate, and certainly very accidental, annihilation of Alapestro Island.

A small explosion would go off in the uppermost lab of the power plant at exactly 7:00 a.m., triggering a series of consecutive explosions. The cell service would be peculiarly spotty, and the power in the building would be mysteriously out, making it difficult to contact the fire department until it was just a bit too late. Had contact been made, it wouldn’t matter much, because at 7:10 a.m., a similar phenomenon would begin occurring in the fire station. 

By 7:20 a.m., the lawn sprinklers of every home within a block of the fire station and power plant would go off, but rather than spraying water, they would be spraying gasoline. Over the next forty minutes, as the sprinklers throughout town continued to turn on and fuel the fire and the strategically placed bombs blew entire buildings off their foundation, the fires would engulf the whole of Alapestro Island’s civilization. By 8:00 a.m., the ruins of Alapestro Island would be a spot of lost memories in the island’s wilderness. 

Of course, by then, Archibald would already be well on his way back to headquarters. 


Gillian Flowers of Flowers’ Daffodils and Delights had never once failed to rise with the sun. And whenever she rose, was when she and her wife, Alma Flowers, opened their combination florist and bakery. 

The open floor plan populated by buckets upon buckets of multi-hued flowers carried a mingling scent of muffins and flora. The glass showcase housed an array of mouth-watering sweets, and the soft hum of the coffee machine provided a sort of background noise for the gentle chatter that filled the flowery bakery during the day. 

However, when Archibald strode through the doors at 6:37 a.m. on that glistening July morning, he was one of only a few early-bird customers. He marched right up to the counter, and with his characteristic beaming smile, proclaimed jovially, “I’ll take your best Tangering Poppyseed scone, Gilli!”

“Archie!” Gillian threw her arms out wide, flashing him a smile with one half of her mouth upturned a bit more than the other, and cocking a single eyebrow at him. “How are you today?”

“Well, I’m just dandy, I believe. Can’t think of a good reason to be anything but that on this fine morning.”

“Why, that is precisely why I like you so much, Archie. That’ll be one dollar and forty-five cents. My best Tangerine Poppyseed scone coming right up.”

“You are a gem, Gilli,” Archibald assessed. “Do you think, perhaps, you could let me up on the roof for a short time? I need a moment to think, and you know the wonders your roof does for the mind.”

“Of course, but only for you, Archie.” She handed him the scone and the key for the door to the roof. 

Gillian and Alma adored high ceilings, so both the florist/bakery and their apartment above it featured high, vaulted ceilings. Consequently, their rooftop was one of the tallest on Alapestro Island. From there, Archibald could watch the action unfold. 

At 7:30 a.m., before the fires could reach the outskirts of the town where Flowers’ Daffodils and Delights rested, a helicopter from headquarters would pick him up, ensuring his safety. While he waited, Archibald perched cross-legged on the ledge of the roof, his briefcase that carried every single one of his sparse belongings carefully placed in his lap. 

At this angle, Archibald could see the general store, owned by Coulter Matlin. Coulter was currently flipping the faded sign from closed to open and pushing open the double glass doors to inhale the early morning air. He stretched his arms wide above his head and let loose a monumental yawn. Then he smiled at the surrounding shops lining the street and retreated back inside, content to whittle his day away selling candy, medicine, and shakes to the occupants of Alapestro Island. 

Coulter’s pragmatic, yet exceedingly compassionate, aura drew customers in. They weren’t there for the products he could offer them as much as the conversation he would share with them. Archibald felt Coulter was the only one in this town who he’d rightfully earned the trust of. He hadn’t so eagerly accepted Archibald is one of their own, rather taking the time to discover that he certainly could be. Nonetheless, Archibald had fooled him as well. 

After all, he was an assassin with an impenetrable heart of stone. 

Savanna Ashari was running down the street in front of Matlin’s General Necessities when Archibald spotted her. She was being tugged along by a spotted brown dog who belonged to her next-door neighbor, Juno Parius. Savanna had spent her entire summer completing odd jobs for the members of her community, all in an attempt to attend college that upcoming fall. 

Archibald had seen her supervising children in the park, mowing lawns, and filling in for absent employees at Alapestro Island’s various businesses. Her drive and ambition was tangible—her bold personality an inspiration. She couldn’t wait to pop the bubble of the island and explore the world around her through the medium of travel and education. It was too bad she wouldn’t make it past noon that day. 

But it was all a part of the job, Archibald reminded himself. Sometimes sacrifices had to be made for the greater good; Savanna’s education and future were one of those sacrifices. 

Archibald swiveled to take in a view of the most downtown sector of Alapestro Island. Terrence and Tally Wilborough, the town’s infamous twins, were lounging under a tree outside the post office. When they woke up, they had riveting plans to accept a secret shipment of illegal substances down at the loading docks. 

The rest of the day wouldn’t be so easily remembered. 

Their life force may not have seemed so valuable, but Archibald saw potential in them—potential to perhaps become like him someday. It was unfortunate that the shipment would never even be accepted, let alone those invaluable skills be put to any kind of use. 

Just two doors down from the post office, Hallie James was trotting down the front stoop of her apartment. She stopped at the sidewalk and spun around, thrusting her hands onto her hips and glaring profusely at the door. A moment later, it swung open, revealing her mother, Xiomara James, holding her youngest child, Ronan, on her hip. 

He watched her talk with Hallie, probably apologizing for the delay, before they scurried down the street to the grocers. Xiomara was a single mother, valiantly providing for Hallie and Ronan—her own savior when no one had appeared for her. She envisioned someday falling in love, perhaps getting a job, and without a doubt, watching her babies grow into beautiful, flourishing humans. Maybe she should have doubted. 

The first scream went up a mile across town, and Archibald dutifully checked his watch. They were right on schedule. 

As the shouts and screams evolved into a devastating cacophony, he watched the doors along this street open wide. He watched occupants poke their heads out to see what was wrong. 

A sharp pain fluttered in his ribcage as he watched the panic and confusion bloom on each of their faces. It was a sensation he didn’t recognize—one that rippled throughout him until it settled like roiling waves in the pit of his stomach. 

The gasoline was beginning to douse itself across the lawns, increasing the panic and tension. He watched a little girl, perched on the outside sill of her window, survey the sea of flame below. Her expression, as far away as it was, spoke terror, and that was all. 

The knife twisted itself into his ribcage again, sending echoing ripples through him. 

Archibald cursed himself. He was an emotionless assassin with a heart made of stone. He was infamously adept. This was his five-hundred-sixty-fourth mission, and he wasn’t about to succumb to whatever phantom was coursing through him. 

Through the hazy smoke, he spotted a shape coming towards him. The plane from headquarters! He breathed a sigh of relief. There was his refuge. Once he got on the plane, he could wipe Alapestro Island from his memory, like he had every other mission before. He could move on and go back to being Archibald Hayes: distinguished spy, assassin, and righter of all things wrong.

The chopping of helicopter blades overcame his senses, and he pushed himself up, clutching tightly to his briefcase. The force of the smokey wind that whipped around him was nothing compared to the wave of unfamiliar grief that kept him in a stranglehold. 

The helicopter hovered above, unfurling its rope ladder until it hit the rooftop. Archibald stumbled over to it, reaching out towards it, desperately waiting to cling onto it like a lifeline. 

He made the mistake of turning around. 

Gillian and Alma were standing in the street outside their shop. They hadn’t seen him yet; their attention was held fast to their home, going up in flames around them. From the slight side angle, he could see their grief-stricken faces. 

He choked. What had this town done to him? He had a heart of stone! Nothing mattered to him because if it did, his mission would be compromised—he would be compromised. His whole body screamed at him to get away from the death and destruction engulfing the town below, but he was frozen in place. 

“Archibald! This is your last call!” The voice broke through the shock, and he whipped around, his eyes connecting with the helicopter. The pilot was leaning out the window, urgency scrawled across his features. “Come on! Just climb a couple of rungs up the ladder, and we can pull you the rest of the way. We gotta get out of here!”

But Archibald had been doomed from the beginning, and now he saw it. It had only been three weeks, but it had been enough to tear down the fortress around his heart. 

Alapestro Island was his five-hundred-sixty-fourth mission. And it would be his last. 


From the seat in the cockpit next to the pilot, Cassandra McPherson, assassin-in-training, watched Alapestro Island go up in flames. Finally, she turned toward the pilot, slow and considering. 

“Why didn’t we wait for him?” she asked. 

The pilot, an older man by the name of Leonard Hummel, shrugged effortlessly and uttered the undeniable truth. “We weren’t about to risk our lives just because his conscience got the best of him.”

“But he’s Archibald Hayes!” Cassandra exclaimed, certainly not in a display of emotion, rather in a loud expression of fact. “His conscience has been hardened over the course of five-hundred and sixty-three missions!”

“Five-hundred and sixty-four now. And that’s the number that will go in the history books. It might not be ideal Miss McPherson, but it eventually happens to everyone. Mass murder isn’t easy on the conscience.”

“No, I guess it isn’t,” Cassandra murmured.

“But he lasted longer than most. He surely won’t be forgotten anytime soon. And neither will Alapestro Island, not if that’s the mission that brought him down.”

“Well, I’ll be honored to say I had any involvement in it,” Cassandra admitted. And as the helicopter soared over the ruins back to headquarters, she vowed she’d make it longer than five-hundred-sixty-four missions before her conscience caved in. 

She wouldn’t pass up a chance to claim that she had surpassed the record set by Archibald Hayes.