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Chapter 3

As soon as I walked into my room, I immediately got some chewing gum, then went to the stereo to load up one of the CDs that Mr. LePlant had given me.

Within a minute, the cacophony was assaulting my ears as I began to study.

The feeling was amazing.

It was like flying.

My mind felt released... unchained.

I glided through the chapter of algebra problems faster than I ever imagined possible.

Every single thing that I came to made perfect sense to me as I made quick notes on the index cards.

When I finally finished the chapter, I looked up from my book and was shocked to see that twenty-five minutes had passed.

I had lost all track of time and it felt like just a minute.

For a moment I considered moving on to the next chapter, but then remembered Chris's warning about trying to do too much.

I closed the algebra book and put it away, then took out my history book to do a quick review of the chapter.

Not only did I remember the text that I was scanning through, but the story of the American Revolution came alive as I was reading.

I began to visualize the story behind the text and felt an urge, a craving, to know more.

It took me a minute or two to understand what I was feeling, but once it was clear to me, I signed onto the Internet and started searching for more detailed stories.

The lack of fully detailed articles was frustrating and it was more than a little disturbing to me that most of the sites contained the exact same copied and pasted paragraphs summarizing such pivotal events in history.

My searches finally led me to a local library listing and I began going through the online catalog to find books that might satisfy my craving.

* * * * *

"Doug?" My mom asked from the doorway.

I just barely heard her through the music playing in my headphones.

"Yeah?" I asked as I shifted the headphones off my head.

"How are you feeling?"

"Fine." I said honestly, then considered just how I felt. "Actually, great."

"Good. I wanted to be sure that you weren't coming down with something after the way you were feeling at dinner."

"I think I'm okay." I said as I turned to devote my full attention to her.

Mom was standing in the doorway looking at me with concern.

"Is something wrong?"

"I don't know. I'm just worried about you."

I smiled at her as I said, "I think things are going to be a lot better now. All the stuff that Mr. LePlant told me about how to study is really working."

Mom looked at me dubiously, looking like she didn't trust what I was saying. She finally said, "I suppose it's worth a try."

"Here." I said as I handed my American History book to her.

She took the book and looked at me curiously.

"Chapter four. Ask me anything."

Mom looked at me with surprise and looked like she was about to refuse, but I guess either she was curious or maybe she wanted to give me the chance to prove myself. For whatever reason, she flipped through the pages, then asked me, "The British and Hessian's crossed the Hudson River in flatboats landing in a district called Tenafly, then onto New Bridge and then to Fort Lee capturing the fort. Who led the attack?"

"Lord Cornwallis." I said immediately, then added, "That was November 20th, 1776."

Mom blinked with surprise, then looked down at the book to confirm my answer.

"The stuff that Mr. LePlant was showing me really works. Just give it a few days and you'll see." I said hopefully.

"Okay Doug." Mom said as she handed the book back to me, then continued, "I guess I was just a little bit nervous about it since everything he was saying goes against what I was taught."

"Maybe this just means that I'm special."

Mom smiled at the statement, then moved to my side and leaned down to give me a quick hug.

"Yes you are."

I enjoyed the hug and was overwhelmed by the feeling of peace.

Everything in my life was coming together.

Everything was right.

* * * * *

Everything was wrong.

I looked around and even though it was the same street that I walked down every single day, it was totally wrong.

The hazy stinging orange sunlight was giving everything a menacing glow. The metallic twang in the air made it seem foreign and wrong, like it was trying to stain or taint me with it's stench.

"Doug?" a voice called from behind me, causing me to jump.

I turned and I was surprised to see Mr. LePlant standing in my driveway. Or, more accurately, Chris. In that time and place, he wasn't the counselor from school, he was a person who cared enough to try and help me.

"Hi Chris, isn't this weird?" I asked him as I looked around again.

"Are you doing this?" He asked me hesitantly.

"No. At least, I don't think I am." I told him, honestly, then added, "Since this just started today when I began daydreaming on purpose, it's possible that I could be doing it without knowing it."

"Did you see me earlier?"

"Yeah. At the school. I almost walked right into you, then I snapped out of it." I said as I noticed that there seemed to be a strange tinny quality to the sound of our voices.

"That's what I saw, too. Except, I suppose that it's possible that I'm dreaming all of this." The chuckle in his voice made me feel strangely assured.

"Me too, but it feels too real to be nothing but a daydream." I told him honestly.

"It does to me, too."

"Do you think we're supposed to be seeing something or doing something?" I asked him, feeling that something so strange really should have a purpose.

"No. At least, I don't feel drawn to any specific place."

"Can I touch you?" I asked him, then I realized just how creepy that sounded.

"How do you mean?"

"I mean, I want to know if you feel real to me or if you're as unreal and out of whack as this entire world seems."

Chris held out a hand toward me.

I carefully took his hand into mine and it felt 'real'. So far he was the only thing in this freaky dreamplace that didn't feel completely wrong to me.

"You're warm." Chris said to me with a grin.

"So are you." I said as I realize that, right there and then, I felt like everything would be okay.

"Are you at home in your room now?" Chris asked me, as he continued to hold my hand.

"Yeah. I just finished studying and I thought I'd take a daydream break before I decided what I wanted to do about my fun time. I don't know if the Star Wars thing is going to be as cool as I used to think it was."

"That's how it is sometimes. You might try a trip to a comic book store. I can usually get good ideas in there." Chris said, then gave my hand a slight squeeze of encouragement.

"Do you think maybe I could go with you sometime?"

"Do you think your parents won't let you go by yourself?"

I chuckled and told him honestly, "No. That's not it. I just think it'd be more fun with you."

Chris considered for a moment, then said, "It does sound like fun. Check with your parents and maybe we can do that after school tomorrow."

"Yeah. I'll do that."

* * * * *

I emerged from the daydream feeling strange. Not bad, really, just not quite right.

As I looked around my room, searching for something to dispel the strangeness of what I'd just endured, I spotted the Star Wars box.

I opened it and I was soon lost in my memories of happier times and the joy I used to feel as I admired my collection.

However, by the time I reached the bottom of the box, I also reached the regrettable conclusion that even though going through the box had lifted my spirits somewhat, it had become clear to me that I was revisiting something that had already passed. That time of my life was over.

As I started repacking my childhood memories back into the box, I kept all the books out, just in case I might have the desire to read them again. But the mementos weren't the cherished prizes of my collection that they used to be. Now they were only reminders of a simpler, happier time in my life. So I chose a few things, more for decoration than anything, to place around my room.

* * * * *

After I had taken the box back to the garage, I found myself without anything to do. I had already done all the studying that I needed to do for the next day and there wasn't enough time to really start doing anything productive. Finally I decided that it might be the perfect time for a little, unscheduled daydream.

I went to my bed and made myself comfortable before slowly and deliberately falling into a half-conscious dream state.

* * * * *

I recognized the place immediately. The soft breeze, the dappled sunlight through the canopy of leaves and the water squishing up between my toes. The thick earthy scent invigorated me while, at the same time, the tranquility of my surroundings soothed me.

I took the few steps up the path to the clearing that I was so familiar with. Once again, I saw the bear cub, struggling with all it's might, trying desperately to reach the beehive. Where before, I had regretted not helping, this time I stepped out of my seclusion and walked to the tree. I was just tall enough to be able to reach the branch and pull it down slightly.

As my weight caused the branch to dip, the bear cub was finally able to grab the beehive in it's front paws and begin to crush it open.

An angry swarm of bees suddenly appeared as a vicious buzzing cloud. The bear cub took no notice, but I let loose of the branch and retreated to my place of safety and seclusion on the path, ready to run, should the bees decide to follow me.

But they didn't follow. The swarm of bees insistently fought against the cub, defending their home, but the cub seemed blissfully unaware. He kept the beehive firmly in his paws as he licked and suckled the honey that he was slowly crushing out.

I stood and watched the scene unfold and slightly smiled at the joy the cub was feeling, finally able to attain what he had been seeking for so long. Although I knew that I hadn't made any sound or movement to draw attention to myself, the cub suddenly turned its head and looked at me. For just a moment I was lost in those soft brown animal eyes, then the realization came over me.

I knew him!

* * * * *

My realization startled me into full wakefulness.

This daydream or vision or whatever it was, wasn't nearly as disturbing as the hazy orange dream with Chris, but it was still kinda weird and spooky.

Remembering what Chris had said earlier in the day, I got out a notebook and began to write down the details of my daydream before it all faded away. That's how it is, for me anyway, after a few minutes, all I can remember about the daydream is how it made me feel and maybe just a little bit of what it was about.

Somehow, writing down the details that I remembered seemed to cause me to remember even more, including points from other daydreams, that I'd already forgotten about.

Not that I had ever done it before, but if you would have asked me how much I could remember about a daydream, I probably would have said something like 'a sentence or two'. By the time I finished writing down everything I remembered about the little bear, I was over halfway through my third page.

* * * * *

Although it was early evening, I felt drained.

Some automatic pilot seemed to have kicked in to take me through my bedtime routine and I showered and got ready for bed.

Without any further thought about Chris, the little bear or the daydreams, I crawled into bed and fell asleep within minutes.

* * * * *

I woke feeling unusually good.

I had slept deeply and didn't recall having any dreams. I suppose that I do enough dreaming during the course of any given day that I don't really need to dream at night.

As with the night before, I went through my routine mindlessly, getting myself ready for school.

The first unpleasant thing in my otherwise good morning was when I walked into the kitchen and smelled whatever it was that my mom was making for breakfast. It smelled revolting.

I didn't run out of the kitchen, choking and gagging, but the smell was really offputting.

"Good morning, honey. Are you feeling better today?" My mom asked casually as she tended to whatever foul thing she was cooking in the skillet.

"I feel fine." I said honestly, wondering if she were going to make a big deal of it when I refused to eat whatever rancid horror she was cooking.

She didn't respond, and my attention was drawn to the news report on the small television, in the corner, between the stove and the sink.

"The syndrome known as CCD or Colony Collapse Disorder, seems to have escalated to a new level. It will take some time to confirm, but preliminary reports suggest that the species Apis mellifica, also known as the European Honey Bee may now be extinct." The news reader cheerfully announced.

My thoughts flashed back to my daydream and for a long, horrifying moment, I wondered if I had somehow been aware or even worse, had been the cause, of the extinction.

"How do you want your eggs?" Mom asked, breaking me out of my thoughts.

"I'm just going to have some fruit." I said as I grabbed an apple from the ever present bowl in the middle of the table.

She turned from the stove to look at me with concern as I was munching on the apple.

"I'm really feeling okay. I'm just not hungry for something heavy." I said as I thought to myself, 'or something smelly, greasy, and disgusting.'

"Be sure and let me know if you start feeling sick."

"I will. I promise." I said quickly, relieved that she wasn't going to make a bigger deal of it. Then a sudden thought caused me to add, "I'm going to take some fruit to school with me, in case I'm not hungry for what they're serving in the cafeteria."

"Fine. I was going to go to the market before work, anyway. I'll be sure to pick up some extra." She said as she returned her attention back to her noxious skillet.

I quickly dumped the bowl of fruit into my backpack as I said, "I'm going in early, so I can review again before my test today."

"I know you'll do fine." Mom said to the skillet. I'm about half sure that she was talking to me, and not the vile mess of animal flesh she was incinerating.

* * * * *

Had I bothered to look out the window at any point during the morning, I would have known that it was raining. But in Oregon, in the springtime, I suppose that's to be expected.

Although there were signs that it had rained heavily earlier, it was just a mist of rain as I left the house. An umbrella wouldn't have made much difference at this point, so I just pulled up the hood of my hoodie and didn't worry much about it.

The sound of talking drew my attention and I noticed three girls on the other side of the street, walking toward the school. They seemed to be completely unaware of the misty rain and were totally enthralled in their giggly conversation.

Traffic was light on our residential street, but it wasn't the sound of an approaching car that drew my attention so much as it was the sound of the car accelerating.

I looked across the street in time to see the car go out of it's way, nearly to the curb, just so that it could hit the puddle in front of the storm drain and send a wall of water toward the three girls.

The car swerved back into it's proper lane and drove away as though it were an everyday occurrence. Shrieks of outrage and a string of rather impressive obscenities from the girls caused me to stop and stare for a moment.

In my experience, when such things sometimes happened, they were usually accidental or from a situation when the driver really had no other choice. I was shocked that someone would go out of their way to deliberately do such a horrible thing to another person.

Since I really didn't know the girls or the driver, I finally supposed that it must be something personal.

* * * * *

"You said you went to the counsellor's office. You nuts?" Todd asked as I approached my locker.

"Yeah. Completely." I responded as I nudged him so that I could open my locker door.

"Come on. Give. What's up?"

My limited experience with Todd had proven to me that anything I said to him would later be used against me, usually in the most public and humiliating way.

As I was putting my afternoon books into my locker, I said, "I was just having a problem concentrating in class. I've got to go study for that history test."

"We all have problems concentrating on that boring shit. What makes you so special?"

"I guess I'm just better at it." I said with a grin at him before hurrying away to the library.

* * * * *

Since I'd left so early for school (mostly to get away from the horrendous stench of breakfast), I had some spare time to review.

This early in the morning, I could easily have studied at a table in the library, but just to be on the safe side, I went through the stacks and back to the secluded study rooms where I could be alone.

As soon as I sat down, I wished that I had taken the time to think things through. I didn't have any chewing gum. I didn't have a portable CD player. I didn't have any of the distractions that Chris said that I would need to be able to study effectively.

Be that as it may, I still had to review for the test.

I took out my index cards and started skimming and scanning the chapter. Although it wasn't as good of an experience as I'd had with Chris the previous day, I still felt that I got something out of it.

By the time I was done with my review, I had just enough time to make it to my homeroom class.

* * * * *

An hour of finger painting would have been more productive than listening to Mr. Albowitz going on and on about nouns and verbs. I mean, we're high school freshmen. If someone in the class hasn't figured that stuff out by now, they probably need a tutor or something. But it seems like for the rest of the year all of us are going to be stuck, going at the pace of the slowest person in the class. Well, it could be worse. If I were the slowest person in the class, then I'd really feel bad.

Walking in to history class, I was feeling equal parts apprehension and excitement. I felt sure within myself that I was more prepared than I had ever been to take a test.

As usual, Todd and I were in the row against the right wall, sort of separated from the rest of the class. Everyone else was either gathered around Melanie Hart who was holding court over the girls, talking about God only knows what. And Levi Gibson had his own entourage gathered around him, no doubt regaling them about one or another of his sports triumphs.

When Mrs. Danner finally looked up from her desk, it was as though she hadn't noticed the cacophonous noise until just that moment.

"Clear your desks. Take one and pass it back." She said sternly as she walked from row to row, thrusting stacks of test papers at the first person in each.

I wasn't sure if the look of disgust she gave me when she handed me the papers was directed at me, or a glimpse of the contempt she felt for all of us.

Remembering what Chris had told me the day before, I cleared my mind, then started skimming and scanning the test as I answered the questions as quickly as I possibly could.

While I was doing that, I was completely unaware of what anyone else in the class was doing, so I didn't realize until later that I was the first one to finish. Without knowing that it was anything out of the ordinary, I carried my test up to Mrs. Danner's desk and placed it face down on the corner.

I returned to my seat and waited, mostly patiently, for her to do her grading. She usually took quite a while to grade tests, not that I ever really paid that much attention. But, looking back, I should have guessed that she would have mine graded quickly, since mine was first.

"Doug Lawson. Come up here."

She really bore no resemblance at all to Adolf Hitler, either in appearance or in her tone of voice, but something about her attitude made me automatically think of him.

I'm not the kind of person who likes to be singled out. And I certainly don't like to get up in front of the class. So I was understandably nervous as I walked to her desk.

"Explain this." She said as she slammed my test paper on her desk.

After looking at the paper and seeing no red marked corrections or any of her infamous soul-destroying comments, I asked her, "Explain what?"

"Day after day, you sit in my class with your head in the clouds, not listening to a single word that I say. Now you expect me to believe that all of a sudden, you know all the answers?"

"I studied the chapter last night."

"You cheated."

"Ask me anything about the chapter. Or give me the test again. I'll prove it to you."

After a moment to consider (probably trying to decide which would be more humiliating for me), she took out a fresh copy of the test paper and placed a pencil on top.

Although it might have been easy for me to freeze up under so much pressure, I guess Chris having me do the test as quickly as I could kinda worked in my favor.

Right there in front of her, hunched over the corner of her desk, I went through the test and answered every question in about three minutes. I suppose that I was able to shave off one or two minutes because I'd taken the test before... or maybe it was the pressure.

When I was finished, she took out her answer key and went over my answers, one by one.

Finally she looked at me and said, "I don't know how you did it, but I'll catch you at it. I promise you."

Well, as far as congratulations go, I can't say that it was the most inspiring speech that I had ever been given. But considering that I just passed my history test with a perfect score, I wasn't as bothered as I could have been.

I went back to my seat and waited for everyone else to finish their tests. Yeah, that's my reward for finishing early, I get to sit and wait in silence for the rest of the class.

Every now and then I'd glance over to see Mrs. Danner shooting me a venomous glare.

Have I mentioned how much I love my new school?

Sarcasm is not beneath my dignity.

* * * * *

As I walked into the administration office, Mrs. Hawk looked up at me and said, "Mr. LePlant said to go right in when you arrive."

It was funny, even though I had all that time to sit and think while I was waiting for the test to be finished, I didn't even consider what I'd tell Chris about my achievement. I guess I was just too freaked out about being accused of cheating to really be thinking about much of anything else.

When I stepped into Chris's office, any thoughts about my history test flew immediately out of my mind. He looked like hell.

"Are you alright?" I asked by way of greeting.

"I've got a little headache. I'll be fine."

"Come on, you've got to get out of here. If I had to sit in here all day with that smell and that strobing fluorescent light, I'd have a headache, too."

"Yeah. Okay."

"Didn't you sleep well last night?" I asked as I led the way out of his office.

"I slept fine, but I couldn't eat dinner last night, and when I woke up this morning, my sister had made breakfast for us..."

"Yeah. Same here. I'm not sure what my mom was cooking but the stink of it made me leave the house almost half an hour early." I said as I held the administration office door open, so we could walk into the main hallway.

"So you're not feeling well either?"

"Actually, I'm feeling fine. I guess maybe my mom's using some different spice or new kind of meat that smells chemically and rotten to me." I said as we walked toward the door leading outside.

"I suppose that's possible. Whatever it is, Livvy's using it, too." Chris said as he opened the door and held it for me.

"Livvy? Is that your sister?"

"Yes. That's short for Olivia. She's a year older than I am. We live together and share expenses." Chris said as he walked down the steps.

"So you haven't eaten anything since last night?"

"Not since lunch, yesterday." Chris said tiredly, then asked, "Do you think it might be your mother's coffee?"

Since both of us were effected the same way and both of us drank her coffee, it seemed like a reasonable question.

I opened my backpack and found an apple.

"Here. I was able to eat salad last night and some fruit this morning." I said as I handed it to him.

Chris took the apple from my hand and bit into it like a starving man, which, I suppose, he actually was.

"Oh, that's good!"

"Yeah. I brought extra in case I wouldn't be able to eat lunch in the cafeteria today."

When Chris had finished his next bite, he said, "Thank you for this, Doug. I didn't know how much longer I was going to be able to go on, without food."

"If you need more, I've got oranges and bananas in here, too. I brought plenty." I said, happy to know that I was able to do something to help him.

"Can you spare an orange?"

I was about to answer when a group of people approached from the street. I gestured for Chris to walk with me, so we weren't standing directly in front of the front door of the school.

As I handed him an orange, he asked me, "So how did you do on the test today?"

"I aced it. But the teacher thought I was cheating and made me take the test again in front of her, right on the corner of her desk."

"But you were able to do it, weren't you?"

"Yeah. But it was kind of embarrassing, standing in front of the whole class."

"Once you've aced a few more tests, no one will think twice about it. They'll just think you're some big nerdy brain." Chris said with a smile.

It made me feel good to see that Chris was feeling better. Him taking pleasure in my accomplishment was just icing on the cake.

"I had a question about daydreaming." I said abruptly. I don't know where that came from, but I suppose that the question had been boiling within me and just decided that it was time to come out.

"I'll answer it if I can."

"When I was daydreaming yesterday, I thought I saw you."

"Yes. Twice, actually. One time was here at the school, and the other was in front of your house."

"Then you saw it, too?"

"Yes. You wanted to touch me to verify that I was real."

"I guess the thing about seeing your dreams is one thing, but to really be able to talk to you in my daydreams is something else. What's going on?"

"I don't know, Doug. I've encountered a few other daydreamers over the years, and two other times, I've experienced what happened yesterday, when we shared our pasts. But I've never been able to talk to anyone in my daydreams before. I've never even heard of it being done."

"I think I remember you saying that sometimes the daydreams mean something in the real world. Could that be something like this?"

"Maybe. Maybe not. We're in uncharted territory."

"I also had a regular daydream last night, like the ones I've always had. Except, this time, I didn't just watch it. I did something."

"Tell me about it."

"There was this little bear, trying to get a beehive. I've seen him before. But this time I helped him so he finally got the beehive. And then he looked at me and I knew who he was."

"So, if I'm getting what you're saying, the bear represents a person that you know and the beehive represents something that he's been desiring. In your daydream, you helped him get what he's been seeking."

"Like what?" I asked in confusion. It was like I could almost understand what he was saying, but just not quite.

"It's hard to say. Probably something like trust, respect, affection... maybe even love."

I thought about the little bear, and the relief that had shown in his eyes... Todd's eyes.

"I'll have to think on that for a while. I don't know him too well, so I don't know what he's been looking for."

"Sometimes it takes a while to figure it out. And, honestly, sometimes you never really know what a daydream represents."

I nodded that I had heard, then quietly asked, "What about the orange sky?"

"I don't know, Doug. But even now, in the waking world, I can still feel it, stinging my skin."

"Me, too."

* * * * *

After our talk, I had one more class to endure before it was time for lunch.

Before I could even reach the cafeteria, I already knew that I wouldn't be eating any of their food. The stench was phenomenal.

I thought about going back outside and enjoying the cool breeze from the morning's rain, but then decided that I'd rather catch up with Todd and see if I could put any more pieces together about my daydream.

He was easy enough to find, eating by himself, away from the 'popular' kids.

Although I suppose that I could have joined him for lunch at any time, I didn't ever really want to. The guy was pretty much a jerk, even on his best day.

"Okay if I sit here?" I asked him as I approached.

He was startled by the question, but in all fairness, I would have been, too, if anyone had ever bothered to ask to sit with me.

"Go ahead."

I took the seat opposite him and was at a loss for what to say.

"You put on a good show in history class. I thought Danner was gonna have a stroke there, for a minute." Todd said with a grin.

"I don't know what else I could have done. I studied and passed the test. What more does she want?"

"Your head on a pike, if that look she was giving you meant anything."

"Yeah. I guess she already had me labeled in the 'losers' category and it made her whole little filing system crumble when I did something outside her expectations of me."

"So, you studied, huh? I may have to try that someday."

I gave him a dubious look as my reply.

He broke into a smile and said, "Nah!"

Although I expected the response, I laughed, nonetheless.

"Do you hate it here as much as I do?"

I didn't even have to think about my answer. "Yes."

"It's not fair that we have to go through all this shit just so our dads can be a few miles closer to their work."

I couldn't help but nod my agreement to his accurate assessment. When my dad got his promotion, we moved from the other side of town so he could be closer to the district office. I got uprooted from the neighborhood that I had grown up in and the class group that I'd been with since kindergarten just so he could shave fifteen minutes off his commute.

"And there's nothing to do here. I mean, nothing fun."

"I guess not. But I haven't really tried to find anything, either. If you're not doing anything tomorrow, maybe we could see if we can find someplace to hang out." I suggested carefully. I mean, this could really go one of two ways. Todd could accept the invitation and implied offer of friendship or he could mock and ridicule me like a big jerk. And given his history, that wouldn't be entirely out of character for him.

"My dad's got this big 'family' thing at his company tomorrow that we all have to go to. It's going to be boring as hell. But I can't get out of it."

As it turns out, there was a third option, 'prior commitment'.

"Then what about Sunday? We could hang out and maybe do some stuff."

"Yeah. Sounds good." Todd said with what seemed to be mild interest.

"Where do you live?"

Todd took out his spiral bound notebook and wrote down his address.

When I accepted the slip of paper from him, I was surprised to find that he only lived two blocks from me.

"Around noon okay?" I asked as I slipped the paper into my pocket.

"Yeah. Dad should have some pants on by then. But it might be best to brace yourself, just in case he doesn't." Todd said almost apologetically.

"How bad?"

"Tighty whities."

"Better than bare assed."

"I guess. Just remember, you've been warned."

Before I could say more, our attention was drawn by a loud argument at the next table.

Although I couldn't make out exactly what they were fighting over, it seemed that Levi Gibson had made some decision that was contrary to the wishes of his loyal subjects.

The disruption increased as the taunts and jeers became louder, drawing more people in.

Finally, Levi gathered his things and stormed out of the cafeteria, with most of his classmates laughing and cheering in his wake.

As I turned my attention back to Todd, he said, "Yeah. It must be tough being the center of the universe."

I smiled at the comment. I could definitely appreciate dry sarcasm.

* * * * *

The rest of the day passed without much notice. I suppose the fact that it was Friday cast its air of anticipation on all of us, teachers and students alike. All of us just wanted it to be over with so we could get on with more enjoyable, more important or at least less boring things.

When I got home I wasn't surprised to find that both Mom and Dad were at work. Mom worked late hours on weekends. But Dad would be home soon, and would be off work until Monday.

Although I was disappointed to see that the fruit bowl was empty when I walked past the kitchen table, I was happy to see several reusable cloth shopping bags, lined up on the kitchen counter, filled with the organic produce that my mom always bought. I quickly helped myself to a red pear and a banana. They were delicious and helped raise me out of the weary little funk that I'd gotten into during my last few boring hours of school.

After my little snack, I went up to my room to offload my backpack and found that Mom had gotten me nearly everything that Chris had mentioned the night before.

I thought about having a little daydreaming time, but then remembered that Chris and I had planned to go to the comic books store after school. I quickly changed clothes and made sure that my room was presentable, in case Chris might stop in for some reason, then I heard the front door open.

I hurried downstairs in time to see Dad drop heavily onto the couch.

"Bad day?" I guessed as I walked in.

"Miserable." Dad confirmed as he turned on the TV with the remote.

"I'm going to the comic book store for a while, is that okay?" I asked hesitantly. I really couldn't think of any reason that he'd refuse, but you never know.

"Stay out of trouble." He said absently as he surfed through the channels.

I don't know why that struck me wrong. But it did. I guess that maybe all that father/son bonding that we went through yesterday was just another daydream.


Actually, it wasn't.

Chris says that the daydreams mean something.

* * * * *

I had only been waiting for two or three minutes before Chris pulled up in front of the house.

I think he could tell that something was bothering me, but maybe he could also tell that it wasn't something that I wanted to talk about.

It turned out that the visit to the comic book store was just what I needed. Within a few minutes of us arriving, all my worries about school and home were forgotten. Hanging out and spending time with Chris was fun in itself. But that along with the comic book store made everything incredible.

I don't know how long we were in there, but before we were even halfway through the store, both Chris and I decided that we were hungry and needed to take a meal break.

There was a restaurant not far from the comic book store. I'd never been there before, but that wasn't unusual. I'd only lived in this part of town for a little over a month. I hadn't been much of anywhere. Be that as it may, it was kind of a mom and pop joint. The smell of the cooking food made both of us cringe at first, but we went in and ordered a dinner salad each, with no dressing.

The food was satisfying and the conversation was pleasant.

I got the feeling that we were both needing something to distract us from our daily lives. I don't know how long we sat there, chatting about everything and nothing. When we were finally finished, we mutually decided that we should continue the comic store exploration on the following day. There was just too much to see and it was too much fun to be rushed.

When I arrived home, Dad was sitting on the couch, still watching television.

I waited for a moment to see if he were going to ask about how I was, or what I'd been doing, or if I'd eaten, but he said nothing. He certainly didn't look happy, but neither did he look like he was particularly upset about anything. He was just staring vacantly, wearing no expression at all. Since I didn't sense any sort of anger toward me, I went on up to my room to get cleaned up before bed.

* * * * *

When I woke up the next morning, Mom and Dad appeared not to be up yet. It wasn't especially early, but I supposed that after mom's late shift, she probably needed to sleep in a little.

It was almost an hour before Chris was supposed to pick me up, so I went back to my room and settled in for a little daydream. Strangely, the only thing I saw in my daydream was the black asphalt parking lot and the white stone path. There was no action of any kind, just that one vivid image, like it was caught in my mind's eye.

When I came back from my daydream I still had plenty of time before Chris was supposed to arrive, so I unloaded my school things from my backpack and loaded it with some fruit. I didn't know that I'd need it, but it was best to be prepared.

As soon as I stepped out the front door of the house, the memory of the orange sky immediately returned to me. It was just like Chris had said, even here in the waking world, I could almost feel it on my skin.

When Chris pulled up in front of my house I was relieved. I don't have any real reason to be anxious, but some strange things seem to be going on all around me and I just can't quite make sense of it.

"Ready for a day of comic book shopping?" Chris asked with a tranquil smile.

"Yeah. Really ready." I said as I got into his big silver SUV.

"Did your parents give you too much grief about going out last night?"

"No. They didn't even mention it."

"You know, the strangest thing happened to me this morning. As I was about to leave, I went into the living room to ask Livvy something, and for just a moment, it was like she didn't recognize me."

"Did you scare her?"

"No. It wasn't like that. Like I said, it was only for a moment, but for that instant, she didn't seem to be able to place who I was and why I was there."

"My mom was still at work when I got in, but the weird thing is that my dad didn't speak a single word to me. I walked in and he was sitting on the couch. I think I said, 'I'm home', or something like that, and he didn't answer. He didn't ask me about where I went, who I was with, if I was feeling alright, or even if I'd eaten anything."

"I don't know what to tell you. I suppose all that we can do is just keep an eye on things and compare notes until we can figure out what's going on."

"Yeah. But the thing I don't get is about the food. Does it mean there's something wrong with us, or something wrong with them?"

"I really don't know." Chris said as he pulled his SUV into the comic book store parking lot.

It seemed as if we should be doing something or talking to someone to try and sort all of this out. But what would we tell them? My parents don't care if I'm out late and his sister had a brain fart?

Once I resigned myself to the fact that there really wasn't anything more that we could do, I set all my worries aside for a few hours and enjoyed looking through an amazing supply of comic books.

At some point, we discussed our plans for the next day. I told him about my plan to visit Todd. And he told me about him and his sister going to visit their parents. Neither of us seemed overly excited about the coming day. But we were resigned to fulfill our obligations.

* * * * *

Once again, when I got home there was no interrogation or even a question about where I'd been or what I'd been doing. My parents seemed to be annoyed about something, but whatever it was, they didn't seem to feel like sharing. Mom was rushing around, getting ready for work and my dad was on the couch, doing his best to reach a vegetative state.

I didn't really give it too much thought. I was kind of excited to get up to my room and hang up the two new posters that I'd bought.

I don't know what possessed me to do it, but for some reason the one thing at the comic book store that caught my attention above all else was Thundercats. After hanging the posters, I stood back to take a look and they made me smile.

* * * * *

Considering Mom's work schedule, it isn't surprising that Sunday morning isn't typically a big deal at our house. Everyone kind of wakes up and does their own thing, trying to keep as quiet as possible until the last person wakes up. So it wasn't any surprise when I, once again, found myself alone in the kitchen, gathering some fruit for breakfast. The first indication that anyone else was even alive in the house came when I heard the television start playing in the living room.

I peeked my head through the doorway long enough to confirm that my dad had installed himself into his dent in the couch cushion. Our interactions the previous day (or lack thereof) made it a little bit easier to accept that he didn't want to know where I was going, what I'd be doing or who I was going to be with. I simply shouldered my backpack and walked past him to the front door.

I was more than a little bit ahead of schedule. Even though I'd taken the time to tidy my room, briefly study some of my schoolwork and even had one little uneventful daydream, I was still almost an hour early.

I took my time walking to Todd's house, appreciating the quiet chill of the morning. I still had the sensation of the orange sunlight tingling on my skin, but I suppose it was beginning to register as something that was, if not 'normal', then at least 'expected'.

When I got to Todd's house, I quietly knocked on the door. I didn't want to knock too loudly and disrupt the entire household.

I shouldn't have worried, they had a dog who went into conniptions when I knocked.

"Shut up, Buster! Go lay down on your bed!" I heard Todd snarl.

A moment later, the door opened to reveal Todd, looking half awake and only wearing some very old, very worn out, sweat pants.

"You're early." Todd grunted, then stood aside to allow me entry.

"A little."

That was the extent of the conversation for the first few minutes. Todd led me through the living room, where his father was in much the same state as my own. Thankfully, despite Todd's warning, he was wearing something more than 'tighty whities'.

We passed a few closed bedroom doors and ended up in Todd's room, which looked like a combination between a storage locker and a laundry hamper. Don't get me wrong, it was a nice big room; bigger than mine. But it seemed that since moving in, Todd had only unpacked what was absolutely essential and left everything else in boxes. His clothes seemed to be strewn everywhere, some folded, some wadded, some draped, in no discernible pattern.

"Figure out what you want to do today?" Todd asked, then pulled down his sweat pants, exposing himself completely.

"What are you doing?" I gasped.

"Getting dressed." He answered simply as he rummaged through one of the piles of clothes and came up with a pair of underwear.

Just for the record, I never, ever, in a million years, would even consider getting naked in front of someone I barely know without a very good reason. But Todd seemed to have no problem at all with it. He didn't even seem to notice me gawking at him as he continued dressing.

"So, did you think of anything?" Todd asked curiously as he pulled on his socks.

Although I was a little bit rattled by the floor show, I was somehow able to say, "Not really. Anything really interesting is too far away to walk to, and I hate trying to ride the bus on Sunday, you have to wait forever."

"Yeah. On the other side of town, it seemed like there was always something to do."

I looked around his room at the stacks of boxes for a moment, then absently said, "I could help you unpack."

Todd seemed surprised by my suggestion, then said, "You've got a really messed up idea of what's fun."

I laughed at the comment, then said, "Yeah. I guess I do. But it looks like you've been putting it off for a while. Maybe it'll be more fun if someone's helping you."

"It beats doing nothing, I guess."

I looked around again, then quietly asked, "Where do we start?"

"I guess we'll have to go through the clothes before we can do anything with the boxes."

"I don't know how you can tell what's clean and what's dirty."

"By the smell."

I flashed him a wide eyed look of surprise.

He chuckled, then said, "If it's on the floor, it's dirty. If it's on a box, it's clean."

"Oh. Okay, that's easy enough." I said, relieved that I wouldn't have to be sniffing Todd's funky clothes to determine their ripeness.

"There are hangers in the closet and you can stuff the rest in the dresser... it's over there somewhere." Todd pointed across the room.

As I started going through the clothes on top of the boxes, he added, "I'll go get a clothes basket."

I nodded that I had heard, then went to work.

* * * * *


Not by any definition of the word that I'm familiar with. But it was something to do to pass the time on an otherwise boring Sunday.

We dug through a phenomenal amount of crap and found places for everything. I guess I don't really have room to talk. I have different crap but it's the same general concept.

Todd got a little bit embarrassed when I opened a box and found some old 'action figures'. I dismissed it as no big deal and moved on to the next box.

He invited me to stay for dinner, but I was wiped out by the time we were finished, and besides, I didn't want to field a bunch of questions about why I only ate fruit and salads.

On top of that, at some point during the day, his dog, Buster, seemed to have taken a romantic interest in my right leg. Todd thought it was hilarious, but I really didn't feel like hanging around there so Buster would have a chance to consummate the relationship.

* * * * *

Back at home, it was more of the same. Mom was already gone, working the last of her three late shifts, and Dad was still in front of the television. I thought about trying to talk to him about whatever was going on with him, but in the end I decided to leave it be.

When I rummaged around the refrigerator, I found the fixings for salad and threw one together. Actually, it wasn't much more than a bowl of lettuce, but it seemed to be just what I needed.

After that, I went up to my room and did another quick study session with the freaky German music and television playing while I zipped through the chapters that I knew I'd be needing in the coming week.

I took a little time to daydream, but even my daydream seemed to realize that it was a boring Sunday and nothing really happened. I didn't see Todd or Chris or anything really interesting, just the parking lot and the path.

When bedtime finally came, I was ready for it. It's strange how such a boring day could make me so tired.

* * * * *

Back to school.

I can't say that I was really excited to go, but with the way things had been at the house the past few days, it didn't seem quite as miserable as usual.

After getting myself up and ready, I walked into the kitchen to find pretty much what I'd find any other morning.

Dad was dressed for work, sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for Mom to place breakfast in front of him.

The little television was in the corner between the stove and the sink, chattering away with annoying cheer. I guess Dad wanted to see what was going on with the weather and the traffic, or maybe Mom wanted something making noise so she wouldn't have to participate in conversation with us.

Whatever works.

The next news story to come on caught my interest. The newsreader made some lame joke about global warming, then started showing a video of a full on blizzard on the east coast. According to the report, the springtime blizzard conditions were unlike anything recorded in the history books.

"How many sausages do you want?" Mom asked me from the stove.

My stomach flipped as much from the thought as the smell.

"I'm just going to have an apple or something." I said hesitantly, bracing myself for a fight. But, to my surprise, she seemed to accept the answer without any problem.

I glanced over to my dad to see his reaction and found him absorbed in the news broadcast.

Rather than worry about it, I quickly ate an apple, then put a few pieces of fruit into my backpack for lunch.

"Have a good day." I said as I got up to leave.

Neither of my parents responded. In fact, they acted like they didn't hear me.

As far as screwed up, dysfunctional families go, I suppose mine isn't that bad. But I'm sensing some real room for improvement.

* * * * *

Once again, I was walking to school a lot earlier than I needed to. It was becoming a habit. As habits go, it probably isn't one of the worst, but I can't say that I'm particularly happy about it.

As I rounded the corner, I froze in my tracks at the sound of a man screaming, "I told you to keep your goddamned dog quiet! I told you!"

When I looked toward the source of the voice, I saw a man throwing something toward the front window of a house. I only saw it for an instant, but the sight was so shocking and vivid that I don't think I'll ever be able to forget it.

What the man had thrown looked to be a piece of plywood, and there was a small dog nailed to it.

I just stood there in shock, not moving, not thinking about moving, as my mind tried to process what I'd just seen.

I don't know if I stood there for ten seconds or five minutes. But what snapped me out of it was the sound of police sirens. Some part of my brain kicked on at that and I realized that I might be in for some new problems. What if the cops thought I did it? What if they thought I knew something about it?

Even though my thoughts were racing, for some reason my legs weren't. I just stood there like a big goon as half the police force of Portland pulled onto the street.

But as the police swarmed the neighborhood, I noticed that none of them seemed to notice that I was there.

It took every bit of courage that I had to do it, but I finally convinced myself to take the first step. Nothing happened. None of the police noticed me. No one told me to stop. So I took another.

Shaking like a leaf, I did my best to appear normal as I walked past the crime scene and continued on to the next block.

The further I got away, the more relaxed I felt.

I never thought the day would come when I'd say something like this, but I actually felt relieved when I saw the school come into view.

* * * * *

"Hey Todd! How are you doing today? You're never going to believe what happened to me this morning." I said quickly as I saw him approaching.

He gave me a brief, curious look, then continued on to his locker and gathered his books.


"What? Oh, Doug."

If Chris hadn't told me about what had happened with his sister, I probably wouldn't have thought twice about Todd's reaction. But now I had seen for myself what Chris had been talking about. I could see it in Todd's eyes. For that brief instant, he had no idea who I was.

"I saw the weirdest thing on the way to school this morning. Some crazy guy nailed a dog to a board and threw it through these people's window." I said quickly.

"So that's what all the noise was about. That's really messed up. Anyone tried something like that with Buster, they'd get torn to shreds."

"I don't know. Buster's a little gruff at first, but once you get to know him, he's just a big old lovable dog."

"If he can't fuck it or eat it, he'll kill it. You just happened not to have ended up on his kill list. You're on his other list."

Fortunately, right then, we reached the classroom. I definitely didn't want to delve deeper into that subject.

* * * * *

We walked into the classroom to find most of the class engaged in a rather heated discussion that seemed to be centered around Levi Gibson.

I couldn't help but overhear what they were saying. Apparently, everyone in the group was excited about the prospect of going to a party at Melanie Hart's house Tuesday night, since her parents weren't going to be home. Although it seems that they were anticipating a 'massive orgy' I doubted that it would end up being much more than a few of the more courageous ones making out while everyone else looked on enviously.

But, for some reason, the entire group seemed to be fixated on the fact that Levi Gibson had refused to attend. They were coaxing and taunting him, trying to get him to agree.

Much to my surprise, Todd left his backpack at his desk and crossed the room to join in on the taunting. I suppose, given his obnoxious nature, that it was right up his alley. But he was an outsider, like I was and it seemed unlikely that they would include him.

As with so many other things recently, I was totally wrong.

Todd jumped right in there and was ridiculing Levi with the best of them. Within just a few minutes, it seemed as though he was part of the 'in crowd'.

Fortunately, before it could go too much further, Mr. Albowitz called the class to order and everyone took their seats. Even though Todd once again took his place in the 'outcast' row with me, he might just as well have been sitting across the room with 'them'. He was one of them now.

* * * * *

The only thing on my mind after that was the need to talk to Chris and see if he could help me sort things out. But since I didn't have a study hall scheduled on Monday, there wasn't a chance for me to get away until lunchtime.

When I walked into the office, Mrs. Hawk looked at me vacantly for a moment, then asked, "May I help you?"

She had that same expression of nonrecognition that I had seen in Todd's eyes earlier. I didn't feel like going to the trouble of trying to remind her who I was, so I simply asked, "May I speak to Mr. LePlant?"

"Who?" She asked curiously.

"The counselor." I said slowly.

She thought for a moment, then suddenly said, "Oh, him. Mr. Higgens is back, so he wasn't needed anymore."

"Oh." I said quietly.

"Would you like to speak to Mr. Higgens?" She asked pleasantly.

"No. Thank you." I said before leaving the office.

* * * * *

As I walked down the hall, toward the cafeteria, I felt particularly uneasy. Chris had been such an incredible source of support when things weren't making sense to me. Now, with him gone, I didn't know how I was going to be able to handle it.

The stench coming from the cafeteria made me stop.

There wasn't any reason for me to go in there and put myself through that. Also, Todd would probably be in there, and after witnessing his cruel taunting, directed at Levi Gibson, I really didn't have any desire to talk with him.

So, instead, I doubled back and went out the back door, so I could eat my lunch on the back steps.

* * * * *

My feelings of concern for Chris, disappointment in Todd and the general bleakness of my life consumed my thoughts for the remainder of the day.

Being Monday, I didn't expect anyone to be at home when I arrived. Not that I would have expected an enthusiastic greeting if both my parents were home.

I ate some fruit, went up to my room, and immediately settled in for a daydream.

* * * * *

Instead of the parking lot, this time, I was back in the empty city with the orange haze.

There wasn't much that I could do but wander the quiet streets, looking for signs of life.

Suddenly, much to my relief, I saw Chris approaching.

"How are you doing? I was worried when you weren't at school." I asked as I walked up to him.

"I'm fine... Did you just pull me in to your daydream?" Chris asked me cautiously.

"I was worried about you, so I tried daydreaming as soon as I got home from school."

"I was sitting at the kitchen table, trying to figure out what I'm going to do about work, when all of a sudden, I was here with you."

"Oh, that's weird. I didn't know you could do that."

"I don't know that 'I' can do that."

"Sorry. I was just worried."

Chris then smiled at me, and said, "It's okay, Doug. It's just a little disconcerting to know that you can pull me out of the waking world into your daydream, whenever you want."

"I'll be careful not to do it too much."

"How are you doing?"

"I don't know. Things are getting really weird for me. It seems that more and more people are forgetting who I am."

"The same thing's happening to me. Mrs. Hawk didn't remember me when I arrived at the school for work this morning. And since Mr. Higgens was back, the principal decided that I wasn't needed there anymore. When I went to the district office to get reassigned, they didn't know who I was and didn't reassign me. I don't know if I've been fired, but I haven't been rescheduled to work."

"Why's everything going so wrong?"

"I don't know, Doug. None of this makes any sense to me."

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

"I'm going to need a little time to sort through my finances and decide what I'm going to do next. I suppose it's possible that I might be scheduled to go back to work as soon as tomorrow, but I need to know where I stand if that isn't the case."

"You have my phone number, call me if you need anything."

"That goes both ways, call me... or dream to me, if you need anything at all."

I nodded, then consciously pulled myself out of the daydream.

* * * * *

The rest of the night I pretty much stayed to myself, not that I had any real choice in that.

My parents never checked to see if I were there, if I had eaten or anything else. Given the happenings of the past few days, it was very likely that they had forgotten that I'd ever existed at all.

I wished more than anything that I could go and visit with Chris, not just for an end to the loneliness, but because I really enjoyed his company. But Chris had his own set of worries that he needed to deal with. He didn't need me distracting him.

It's funny, less than a week ago everything was so simple. I was just some goof-up kid who couldn't keep his head out of the clouds. Everything was simple and easily explainable and made sense. Now, I don't know what's going on.

Am I going crazy?

That's a distinct possibility, but from my point of view, it seems like it's the rest of the world that's got the problem.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

Wow! I am so glad to see this story continue. I loved it right from the beginning, and this is such a nice surprise to see more of it.

This is written in a very interesting way, being told in first person, the way it is. I really like the way the Daydream sequences are differentiated from the "normal" part.

I really don't like the orange place very much, but then again, I would have to guess I'm not supposed to like it.

It's interesting how Doug can draw Chris into his daydreams. and things are really starting to get weirder and weirder.

You have to wonder if he and Chris are beginning to fade out of the 'real' world, and the people who know them are going to completely forget they were ever there.

Talk about a cliffhanger!

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher