The school suddenly seemed enormous, and quieter than Lucas ever imagined possible. The silence was loud and hurt his ears. Lucas swallowed hard against the lump in his throat. Part of him wanted to run up to his room and hide under the covers like a frightened child. From what? Nothing had suddenly become terrifying.
Another part wanted to run around the whole school in a panic, yelling for someone to come find him. But he knew it would be fruitless. There was nothing to do now but sit and wait until he went…where? Wherever everyone else went, I guess.
"No," Lucas said, his voice shattering the silence of the school. "I won't just give up." Hearing his voice aloud was somehow creepy and comforting at the same time. He knew that after too much time alone, human beings would go insane. Maybe talking to himself would keep him sane a little longer. If I'm not already crazy.
"No," Lucas said aloud, "no. I'm not crazy, or at least, I'm not going to admit it yet." Think, think. He and Marshall had searched the whole school and found nothing.
"No…not the whole school." They had not ventured into the basement that afternoon. Lucas jumped up, suddenly hopeful. "Maybe he's still here…" He rushed into the hall and to door that lead to the basement stairs.
Standing in the doorway, Lucas hesitated. The basement was creepy enough in the daytime. Now that it was night, and the whole school was deserted, the basement seemed downright sinister. Still, it was the only place left where he might find answers.
Please, please be here.
He crept cautiously down the stairs. The light steadily diminished as he went deeper. At the bottom, Lucas felt along the walls for a light switch. His foot bumped an empty metal bucket, and it clattered across the floor. Deeper and deeper he walked into the darkness, finding nothing along the walls.
Something soft and stringy brushed his face. Lucas gasped and jumped back, then felt silly as he realized it was a piece of string and not a cobweb. He pulled and a single bulb came to light, illuminating his surroundings.
The janitor stood directly in front of him. Lucas managed to stifle a surprised shriek.
"I knew it!" he gasped. "I knew you'd be here."
"Where else would I be?" the janitor asked in his usual monotone voice.
"Everyone disappeared," Lucas said. "Please tell me where they went."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes, you do!" Lucas insisted. "You always know. Please tell me where they went and how I can get them back."
"Your friends didn't disappear, Lucas. They're all right where they should be."
Lucas took a step back, confused. "I don't understand."
"You will. But when you do, you'll have to hurry. You won't have much time."
The janitor nodded to him and vanished into thin air.
Lucas reached forward and touched the area where the janitor had just been, but there was nothing there.
"That didn't help much!" he said disgustedly. "Hello!"
Defeated, Lucas made his way back to the bottom of the stairs. He sat down and placed his elbows on his knees and head in his hands.
Think. His brain had always been his strongest asset and his best weapon. It was all he had left now.
In scientific investigation, Professor Zachary had always challenged his students to look at problems from every angle. Maybe he was looking at this the wrong way. The janitor said his friends were right where they should be, that they didn't disappear. But that couldn't be right. They weren't here in the school with him. Or were they?
If they're in the right place…maybe I'M in the wrong place. Lucas's eyes grew wide as realization struck.
"Maybe…something is wrong…you know, with you, not us."
"My friends didn't disappear," Lucas said aloud. "I did."
Lucas swallowed hard and looked around the dark basement. He was not only alone, he was somehow in the wrong…place? dimension? Whatever this place was, there was no one to help him get out of it.
Stay focused. How did he get here? It had to be related to the experiment. It was the only non-routine event in the last few days, and everything strange had started happening right after it. The machine was supposed to open the vortex for them. It hadn't worked…had it?
Maybe it DID work, Lucas mused. Maybe I went through the vortex. Odd that he hadn't noticed it. But he was still in the school, and that was where the wormhole usually deposited its victims.
So how do I get back?
Lucas made his way back up the stairs. He walked down the deserted hallway to the front door of the school and looked out. He could see the glow of the city lights off in the distance.
This doesn't make sense. If there's no people, why are the lights still on? He stepped into the lounge and flipped on the radio. Pop music poured out. Who's playing the songs if there's no DJ?
Lucas turned off the radio and walked back to the front door. He looked out at the lights once again. As if in answer to his mental question, the lights from the town began to go out, row by row, as if a dark cloud was slowly passing over them.
Lucas squinted, pulled off his glasses, then put them back on again. The vision held. There was something dark and ominous steadily passing over the landscape. Heading right for the school.
As he watched, the dark shape grew closer and closer. It was hard to distinguish once it got past the lights of town and moved through the darkness of the surrounding land. Finally it reached the boarders of the school. The lights in the courtyard began going out, one by one.
Not just turning off. The dark mass was covering the lights and everything else it passed over. It was a solid wall, and Lucas could see nothing beyond it. He had the sudden feeling that, whatever that thing was, he didn't want it reaching him.
Lucas turned to run. At the far end of the hall, he could see the dark shape eating up the walls off the school. In fact, it was all around him, devouring everything. Whatever this place is, it's shrinking.
Lucas frantically looked around for an escape, but there was none. All of the outside exits had already been devoured. The wormhole! If that was the way he had gotten in here, it must be the way out.
Heart pounding, Lucas ran down the hall to Professor Zachary's office. He burst through the doorway and looked down at the floor. No…
There was nothing but black and white floor tiles.
As he stared despondently, the tiles began to warp and change. They formed a round swirl in the middle of the floor. The familiar and welcome sound of rushing wind filled the room.
Lucas glanced behind him. The dark wall was almost to the office door. He turned and dove headfirst into the vortex.
"Aaaaaahhhh"-BAM! In his haste, Lucas had forgotten that feet-first into the vortex works best. He turned a somersault and crashed backside-first into the front of Professor Zachary's desk.
"Lucas!" someone gasped.
"Owww," he moaned. He looked up and saw five blurry shapes gathered over him.
"Lucas, are you OK?" It sounded like Josie but he couldn't see for sure; everything looked blurred. I must've hit my head really hard.
"Guys, back up and give him some space," Professor Z commanded. "Here, Lucas." Lucas felt his glasses slide onto his face, and his vision cleared. Professor Zachary was kneeling over him, looking concerned. The other Science Club members were still gathered around anxiously.
"You're all here," he mumbled, still dazed.
"YOU'RE here," Marshall replied. "Where did you go?"
"I'm…I'm not sure," Lucas replied. "How long was I gone?"
"Almost 9 hours," Corinne explained. "It's after midnight now."
"We didn't know what to do," Josie said anxiously. "When you didn't come back we were going to go in after you, but we couldn't get the vortex to open. None of us knew how to work your machine."
"The machine…it did work?"
"All too well," Professor Zachary replied. He helped Lucas stand up. "Can you tell us what happened?"
Quietly, Lucas explained the school, the disappearances, and the dark shape. "It was wiping out everything. The whole school was disappearing. The only way out was back through the vortex."
"Weird," Vaughn commented. "Even for this school."
Josie looked worried. "I don't understand why the place was destroyed. Does this mean there's a giant…blob that's going around wiping out other dimensions?"
"Not necessarily," Professor Zachary said. "Lucas, what were you thinking about at the time you went through the vortex?"
"Well, I was thinking about Open Sesame…I was nervous, and then disappointed because I thought it didn't work." Lucas looked guiltily at his friends. "I was mad because I thought everyone was laughing at me."
The others looked guilty as well. "We were kind of impatient," Corinne admitted. "I guess we just didn't think your invention was really going to work."
"You proved us wrong, though," Vaughn said hopefully.
Lucas nodded and smiled half-heartedly. "I kind of wished…" he paused and looked around incredulously as realization struck. "I wished everyone would just disappear!"
"And they did," Professor Z finished. "I think somehow, the thoughts you were thinking and emotions you were feeling just before and during your experiment shaped the reality you were transported to. When you realized what had happened, the illusion in your mind was shattered, so the reality you were in began to collapse."
Lucas looked down. "I'm not sure I totally understand."
Professor Z grinned. "I'm not sure I do, either. But it's pretty late to try to figure it out now. I suggest we all get to bed before Durst catches you all up this late."
Although he was relieved to be back, being trapped in his own mind had left Lucas feeling unsettled, to say the least. Over the next few nights his sleep was plagued by dreams of being alone, dark shapes devouring everything, and the wormhole whisking his friends away without warning. He was relieved each time morning finally came and the shadows in his room melted away.
"You look awful," Josie commented several days later as Lucas finally joined his friends for breakfast.
"I haven't slept very well," Lucas admitted, taking a bite of cereal.
"Still thinking about your experiment?" Josie asked. Lucas simply nodded, not looking up.
"We were really worried when you didn't come back," Corinne said sympathetically.
"Have you decided what to do with Open Sesame?" Marshall asked.
Lucas nodded thoughtfully. "I think so. Meet me in the courtyard this afternoon and I'll show you."
"Are you sure you want to do this, Lucas?" Professor Zachary asked. He and the Science Club were gathered at the far end of the courtyard, away from the eyes of the other students. "It's a brilliant invention, although it does need further testing."
Lucas looked down at Open Sesame and paused. It had taken him months to build and calibrate. And it had worked. Part of him felt tremendous pride in his invention.
But another part of him had replayed the events of his trip through the vortex over and over before finally coming to a disturbing conclusion.
"Some things are better left alone," Lucas explained to his friends. "I'm not sure the wormhole is something that can be controlled." He didn't voice his true feeling, the one that kept him awake at night. The feeling that the wormhole didn't want to be controlled.
He turned to Vaughn. "May I?" Vaughn handed him a metal baseball bat. Lucas raised it high, then brought it down as hard as he could several times. Open Sesame shattered into pieces.
He turned to his friends and smiled, suddenly feeling much lighter. "Anybody else want to take a shot?"