Perhaps it was the dream I had before my world changed that started all this. I would like to believe that the dream that night was just another of those strange night terrors I would have now and then. But hindsight is unforgiving. It had been so vivid, but the person I was then couldn't see the meaning it held as the person I am now can. It was now, standing on this boat, seeing the one place I wanted to be drift away from my sight, that I admitted to myself that the visions of that night weren't mere coincidence.
In that dream I was walking home from school. In front of me was Andrew Darnell. That day I had watched him be bullied yet again, and like always I hadn't done anything. My friends wouldn't like it. They wouldn't help me if I was bullied in retaliation for standing up for him. He was a wrist-cutting emo, after all. Why should anyone stick their neck out for him?
He was walking down the street, hood up, eyes to the ground, taking a fast pace without running outright. I tried to follow, wanting to give him something; reassurance maybe. But I couldn't reach him. The faster I moved, the further he moved from me until he wasn't visible anymore.
I stopped in my tracks, and by doing so heard a crunching sound from under my foot. I looked to the ground to see white flowers scattered across the road. They were white dahlias; the flowers my mom always had growing around our house. A long shadow of a silhouette overcame the flowers. I looked up, expecting Andrew to be there, when instead I saw the very house of my childhood with white dahlias all around it.
I didn't question why I was suddenly in my nightgown when I ran into my home. It seemed so right then. My mother and father were inside, turning things off and clearing everything out for the night. My dad promised my mother he would fix the grill tomorrow and gave her a kiss. I trotted off with my mother into my bedroom for a story. Not much like a dream but more of a memory, until the lights went off.
Was this part of the dream or was it part of my memories? I lay in bed, trying to fall asleep, but the sound of a pounding heartbeat kept me awake. It was so loud in my ears I thought the sound should shake the house. With one last beat, the sound stopped immediately. I should have been relieved, but a moment after a crash rang from outside my room. I threw my legs out of bed when another sound, now the shattering of glass, followed. My feet treaded across white pedals as I rushed out of my room.
There was a large dog in the living room standing among the broken glass. It was like a fox, with a sandy golden coat, black fur on its back and tail, and bat-like ears. Its auburn eyes stared deeply into mine with intelligence but lacking something human. And below, in its muzzle, was a jackal headed jar that had been in the shattered case.
The white petals were stirred and danced wildly in the air from the speed with which the dog escaped from the house. I chased after him, only thinking about getting back the jar in his mouth that belonged to my parents. Things like running away or the dangerous things that crept in the night didn't cross my mind.
But I never reached the dog. Because that happened. Behind me came a roaring blast that made the night become day. I was thrown to the ground when a wave of scalding hot air hit me in the back. My body was sore and shocked with the only relief from the heat being the damp grass underneath me. The world was silent but for a soft bell that didn't stop it's tune. I pushed myself from the ground as though a puppeteer was directing my movements. I looked behind me and froze as my home and all the white dahlias burned in flames before me.
Chapter 1: Syrup Covered Hallucinations
There was no way for me to hide the evidence, I thought as I could feel my aunt watching me from behind. My pajamas were uncomfortably sticking to me as I had woken drenched in sweat. My eyes must have been red for them to feel so sore. I was almost glad my aunt was a klutz and had covered the kitchen in flour. I had an excuse to have my back to her so she couldn't see. Except, she wasn't really a klutz. She became this way when my aunt and uncle took me into their care. After her sister died. Maybe I made her spill the flour.
"I could still make pancakes…" my aunt murmured behind me.
"No!" I yelled but then caught myself and made an awkward smile. "No, just let me make them."
"Then I'll clean up the mess," she replied as she grabbed for the broom in my hands.
"There's glass," I protested.
"I'll be careful. Come on, go get pancake mix." She shooed me away and proceeded to smear the flour around the floor. I kept my mind on the task of pancakes.
I had been living with my Aunt Sophie and Uncle Dan for seven years now. I was thankful they took me in. I don't think they ever wanted to have children, yet they accepted me anyway. But it was stressful living here. As I've said, for some reason since I came here my aunt has developed a habit of dropping and breaking things, and trips over air at times. It's whittling away my uncle's patience. There's a tension between them that grows heavier by the day. And it all presses on me because I'm the cause of it.
As I poured batter into a saucepan and flipped pancakes, Aunt Sophia silently cleaned behind me. I didn't know my uncle was in here until I heard him exclaim, "Jesus Christ!" I turned around to see he had walked into the kitchen stepping on the pile of glass and flour. Sophia had made the pile at the kitchen's entrance.
"Oh my god, I'm so sorry!" she cried. My uncle stumbled out of the room and my aunt followed him out. Keep flipping pancakes, I told myself.
There was no evidence of there being glass on the floor when my aunt and uncle returned. I managed to have everything cleaned up and have a huge pile of pancakes on the table ready to eat. I was proud of myself. This wasn't a normal morning routine, because nothing after that nightmare could be normal. My aunt had the crazy idea of making something special for breakfast. In all honesty, it wasn't that bad of an idea, even though I ended up being the one doing everything.
"How's your foot?" I asked my uncle.
"I have a few scratches; nothing deep. It's a good thing I was wearing socks." Without further ado, he tore away at my offering of food. Why can't all people be as easily distracted by food as my uncle? It didn't keep my aunt from stealing glances at me. She looked flushed, probably embarrassed about maiming her husband's foot first thing in the morning. But she had those eyes of understanding that I hated to see. She knew, and all I could do was bare through it.
I had worked up an appetite this morning and was glad to eat something warm and comforting. I downed half a stack, and chugged some milk. I put the glass down ready to eat the rest of my food when I about dropped my fork. My plate was covered in white flower petals. Like my dream, except with more syrup. I squeezed my eyes closed for a second willing the vision away, my heart pounding deep in my chest. I opened my eyes. They were gone.
I should have still been hungry, but I wasn't. My heart wouldn't settle down. I felt like I couldn't settle down. I needed to leave the table, and I wasn't exactly sure why.
"You aren't going to finish?" My aunt asked as I left my spot at the table.
"No, I'm full. And I need to get in the shower." I quickly left the room and headed upstairs.
No amount of hot water could relax the tension. Perhaps I was finally losing it. I had gone past the limit of how many nightmares one person could stand. Now the nightmares were invading my reality making me see things. No, I didn't really believe I was hallucinating. It was probably the glossiness of the syrup that made me think for a second there were flower petals. It made sense, but my heart was still keeping me anxious.
I left the house in record time. I probably beat the all-time record of "student most anxious to get to school" too. I was so early I couldn't enter the building for another fifteen minutes. I went to the gazebo in front of the school like I always did.
There, some of the people in my group had already started to congregate, probably the bus riders. High schools are infamous for their cliques, and mine was no different. My group was the "others" meaning we didn't have anything we shared in common. There wasn't really a group any of us belonged to. We just somehow ended up making our own place. I hung out here, but I didn't feel close to many of them. I wasn't invited to get-togethers that often, and I usually found out about their drama after it was over. But they kept me company during the hours I was forced to spend in these walls. It was enough.
Today it wasn't just us. There was a stranger sitting at the twin trees that grew by the gazebo. I only noticed him because of how he dyed his hair. As interesting of a haircut he had, I assumed I had never seen him because I usually never came to school this early. But I did today, because I was feeling anxious. Which I still felt. Intensely. I couldn't sit down after I greeted my friends. I stood, arms crossed, fingers tapping, pretending I was very engaged in whatever story they were sharing. This was until the one person I felt was more than an acquaintance showed up.
"Oh my god! You look like you're jacked up on coffee!" Molly exclaimed at the sight of me.
"Nope. Syrup, and pancakes."
Before I could retort, Molly came directly where I sat and got on her knees. I guessed her game and didn't give her time to assume her begging position.
"You can look at my math homework, but I don't think I got them all right."
"That's fine! As long as it's done."
Molly scooted next to me as I rummaged through my bag. This wasn't a favor I would do for anyone but Molly. I personally know Molly is smart enough to do the homework, and it wasn't that she's too lazy to do it. She is a poster ADHD child, but her parents believe ADHD is a myth and never allowed her the medication to help with it. After several phone calls from her crying because she didn't know how to make herself focus, I started helping her out like this. Even now she was being distracted by the others jokes and probably forgotten momentarily she had an incomplete math assignment.
The bell rang signaling the students were allowed in the halls before class. I stood up and dangled my homework in front of Molly's nose. "You can give it back to me before class."
She took the paper while rolling her eyes. "Yeah, that won't be suspicious looking at all."
She had a point. I pulled out my notebook from my bag. I placed it beside her and started backing away with my hands up. "Oh no, I left without my notebook. I hope a good friend could return it for me."
"I'm gonna draw naked men on all your notes."
"Just leave my homework in the second divider when you're done." Chuckling to myself, I turned and left. That boy sitting at the trees was still there, but I didn't stick around to find out what his deal was. I had my own problems on my plate.
I still couldn't drive away the itchy anticipation that was crawling under my skin. I didn't go to the library like I had told Molly. Instead, I was speed walking through the halls, like I could burn the feeling away with some exercise. The warning bell rang, and I had to submit myself to sitting in a desk bored out of my mind.
I wasn't normally a foot tapper, so I couldn't blame the glares I got from my neighboring students for the constant tapping. But if it wasn't my feet, it was clicking my pen, and if it wasn't my pen it was grinding my teeth which made them ache. That was how I spent the first two hours of school. Third hour was better. Gym. I could run on the track and shock my PE teachers by being the only student not walking, but the feeling never went away.
After gym was when things got worse. After all the running, I was worn out and sweating. Not that my nerves were any better for it. I changed my clothes like I was in a race against myself. I was the first one waiting at the door to the hall. Exhausted, I leaned back against the wall and closed my eyes to block the world.
But I couldn't block the world. I could still see.
My eyes snapped open from surprise. Was it an after image? An extremely clear after image? As the sweat from my long run ran down my back my itchy nerves climbed up my spine. I breathed out a long sigh and closed my eyes again. My eyes were closed. I could feel the muscles of my eyelids squeezing together. So why could I still see?
My vision was perfect. I could turn my head and see the PE teacher's office and the ugly tile walls. The only thing that was missing was color. Everything was in black and white, like the world had turned into an old film. I didn't want to keep my eyes closed anymore. I was shaken. I held my arms around myself as I tried to keep my emotions under control.
I didn't know what was happening to me. I was tired of it. I wanted the nerves to go away. I wanted to be able to close my eyes and have my eyes be closed. In that health class they make you take in middle school, they said this was a time when my body would be changing. I don't think they were talking about this.
Students started to pile into the narrow hall, getting as close to the door as they could so they would get out first. I didn't want to be near people right now. I instinctually closed my eyes so I wouldn't have to look at them. Naturally (or unnaturally), that didn't work. I turned away from them from my own frustration. Then I saw something unusual.
A spot of green. The one bit of color in this black and white world seemed to be glowing from a poster hanging on the bulletin board. I snapped my eyes open, as though to get a better view, but the green color disappeared as soon as the world regained its color. I scooted over to the bulletin board as I made sure no one was looking. They were too absorbed in their own business to notice me.
I closed my eyes for a moment again and the green glow returned. I pulled down the poster thinking maybe it had something to do with that, but the glow didn't move. It was as though it was coming from behind the board, or maybe behind the wall.
"Ugh, I didn't know you were into Flightrisk? That band's so gay." It took me a moment to realize the loud prep talking was addressing me. I noticed the poster hanging on the billboard was an ad for their new album, probably put up there by someone from my circle of friends.
I gave her a sarcastic smirk and said, "What can I say? The lead guitarist is hot."
"Freak," she retorted and gave an over-dramatic eye roll. Original remarks weren't her strong suit it seemed. But hey, I did like their music. They only got a bad rap recently because the lead guitarist said some controversial stuff in an interview. I didn't think he was hot really. It was just my way of saying, "Fuck you, I listen to what I want," to the obnoxious prep.
She had distracted me from my problems, but the bell rang and I was herded forward with everyone else. My anxiousness came back. I started to feel claustrophobic within the sea of students moving to class. As soon as I came to an open space, I pulled away for a moment to get some fresh air. I bent over and rubbed my eyes with my fingers, only to have another rude shock. If I held my hands in front of my closed eyes, I could see them. But as soon as I touched my eyes I was able to see past my fingers as though they weren't there.
"What in the world… what is happening to me?" I whispered shakily.
I closed my eyes again. It was there again. That green glow. But it wasn't coming from behind a wall. I could see through the glass doors to the open area that housed our gazebo. It was in there, in the direction of the twin trees. I zigzagged through students to get to the door. As I laid my hand on the door, I stopped myself. I would get in trouble for being out there if I were caught. And even if I wasn't, there wouldn't be enough time to look around. I had math class to go to. I abandoned the door and entered the stream of students once more. I had lunch next hour. I would be back then.
There were very little students in the classroom when I arrived. I must have been walking fast. I rushed into the class already anticipating how agonizing sitting through another class was going to be. Halfway to my desk, I saw someone I didn't expect.
It was that boy I saw this morning sitting by the twin trees. The suspicious boy who showed up on the same day I started having strange things happening to me and was sitting where that bright glow was. In fact, even now he was sitting in Andrew Darnell's seat by the window looking down at that very spot. I was sure I had never seen him before. That was why his hair had struck me as peculiar. I had never seen someone with black hair on top with the bottom half bleached a golden blonde before. Though, seeing him a second time, I had the nagging feeling of déjà vu but brushed it off.
I sat at my seat and watched him. Part of me was hoping staring at him would catch his attention so I could ask him why he showed up to mess up my life. But he kept intently staring outside. His eyes looked dead. It gave me goose bumps to look at him too long.
But then the jocks of Algebra II came into the room billowing with laughter. They were a special kind of annoying. Just yesterday, as part of their usual routine, they ganged up on Andrew and continuously mocked him whenever the teacher wouldn't hear them. I wanted to curse them out in turn. But Molly had locked eyes with me and shook her head with frightened eyes. The number one rule; don't get involved or you'll be next.
And now they were heading to Andrew's seat that was currently being occupied by the boy that shouldn't be here. He must have terrible luck to have chosen the worst possible seat to sit in. Jacob was in the front of the group and wasn't someone who was difficult to spot. Just like dogs, they choose their pack leader by who was the biggest and most intimidating. Jacob stood directly beside Andrew's desk as his coons stood around him.
Thunk. Jacob kicked at the desk. The boy sitting there didn't even blink. Thunk! Jacob kicked again yet much harder. It scooted the desk a bit, yet did nothing to get the boy's attention.
"Hey, Emo," Jacob jested as he kicked the desk again. I thought it was strange that Jacob called him an emo like he did with Andrew. The boy wasn't even wearing black but a bright yellow t-shirt.
"I think he's checked out, you know?" One of the surrounding jocks said while circling his finger to say he was crazy.
Jacob knew no restraint. He raised his hand and slapped the boy in the head. It wasn't a terribly violent hit, but it still would have hurt. The boy still acted like he didn't notice them. Watching all this was unsettling. Jacob leaned on the desk and said, "Andy, you better look at me when I'm talking to you, ass wipe."
No, that boy wasn't Andrew. But even as I puzzled over Jacob's words, the boy finally took notice. He barely turned his head. He only turned enough so he could see him from the corner of his eye. His look was empty, like he didn't care about anything that was going on. I suppose Jacob saw that too because he hesitated before saying, "Look at you, trying to act like you're tough. Think you can grow a dick or something?"
The group chuckled, not registering their leader's moment of unease. One of their thugs closest came from the door and gestured to them. They all dissipated, taking cheap shots at the boy as they passed them. Just a few seconds later, Mr. Bagniefski came into the room none the wiser that there had been any bullying here a moment ago. I looked over at the boy who continued to stare out the window, only now his expression was no longer a dead look but had sadness in his eyes.
And then I was hit in the head with a notebook. Molly was standing over me holding to the notebook I "forgot". I took the notebook and said, "Thanks, so how was it?"
"You got two wrong," she replied a little smugly. She eyed the teacher but he was too distracted to notice our conversation.
"Hey, Molly," I whispered to her. "Do you know who that kid is sitting by the window?"
She only glanced for a sheer second before saying unhappily, "Its Andrew."
I shook my head. "That can't be Andrew. He looks nothing like him."
She stole a moment to look over taking longer than a second this time. I hoped for a moment that she would see what I did and agree he wasn't Andrew. But she replied, "He looks the same as he did yesterday. Don't kid around." The bell rang. Her previous frustration melted off her in an instant and she quickly whispered, "Thanks a lot," before heading back to her seat.
I was in a stunned silence. The person behind me had to jab me with the pile of papers several times before I realized we were passing homework forward. The teacher silently took attendance and I wondered if he would mark Andrew absent, but he didn't seem bothered at all that the boy was here despite not being a part of our class. Nothing made sense at all, and I wondered if I would wake up soon or not.
I couldn't tell you what we did in class. The teacher could have ripped off his shirt and danced on the table and I wouldn't have noticed. I spent the class in my head running through the same circle of thoughts. The dream. The boy. Andrew Darnell. The green glow. The more the thoughts blended together, the more it made my head hurt.
He had sat through the class as disinterested with the teacher's lecture as I was. He stared out the window silently. It was twenty minutes in that he finally did something. Like a ghost, he left his seat and walked out the classroom. No one reacted. The teacher didn't stop talking. No one looked over at the sound of the door clicking shut.
I moved to follow him. I must have thought for a moment that I could do the same as him and leave as easily. I couldn't. Everyone looked to me and Mr. Bagniefski said while writing out an equation, "I'm not yet done with the lesson."
"Just going to sharpen my pencil," I said softly.
He looked up and pointed out, "That's a mechanical pencil."
Everyone snickered. I was at a loss, and felt like an utter idiot in front of everyone. I needed to leave, but all I could was sit back in my seat, shame written all over my face.
The teacher continued to go through a problem explaining each step of solving it while I tried to think of steps to solve my own problem. A solution came sliding across the floor and hitting me in the foot. I picked up the number 2 and looked to the other row. Molly made eye contact with for a second before looking down at her notes. I broke the tip of the pencil on the edge of the desk.
This time when the teacher saw me stand, I held up the pencil and said, "My other pencil is out of lead." Mr. Bagniefski continued the lesson trying to pull the students from being distracted by me. At first I thought this would be a good idea as I would be right next to the door. But I forgot how loud those old, metal pencil sharpeners are. Several people looked over at me, mostly looking irritated, at the sound. I prolonged it, pretending to inspect the tip of the pencil, but there was no way I could slip out without anyone noticing.
"Mr. Bagniefski," Molly called out with her hand raised.
"When are we ever going to use the quadratic formula in our lives?"
Some students laughed, and I stood poking at the tip of my pencil while watching the class from the corner of my eye.
"It's not something you would need, say, when writing your grocery list. But learning these things will have its uses in your future professions. Careers like programming use a lot of mathematical formulas to make those video games you kids love so much…"
"No one programs video games for graphing calculators," a student remarked. Now everyone was laughing and completely engaged in the discussion. No one saw me step out the door.
I went straight downstairs guessing where he would have gone. Sure enough, I reached the glass door to the gazebo and the boy was standing out there. He wasn't alone, though. A man that looked like he was in his mid-twenties was standing in front of the boy using his arm to lean against the tree. They were talking to each other but I couldn't hear what they were saying. I slowly cracked the glass door and their voices reached my ears.
"…chopped it down. But after the school was built, my trees grew again in less than a year. I bet those humans were completely alarmed. But they didn't try it again." The man was smirking as he told his story but the boy showed no interest at all. He just stood there, silent with a blank face, as the seconds grew more awkward. "Man, kid, learn how to take a little interest why don't you."
"You said you had a GVN here that would help me. Where is it, Bitou?" said the boy.
Bitou scoffed and replied, "You're too impatient. You came all this way and you can't even take a moment to listen to a good story." He then smirked and said, "Very well. I can't give it to you. But if you're wondering where it is, she's standing over there."
They both turned and looked straight at me; Bitou with a confident smile and the boy with a confused look on his face.