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After getting ready for school, I braced myself for what I was going to find in the kitchen.
Mom and Dad were there, going through their typical morning routine.
The morning news was playing on the television, as was usual, but something seemed off about it. It wasn't the news itself, but the newsreader that caught my attention. He was talking in a bored, sing-song voice about one of the bloodiest days in modern history in the middle east. His attitude seemed totally inappropriate for the news he was reporting. Then, much to my surprise, he stopped and shook his head. Finally he said, "Blah, blah, blah... whatever. They should just hurry up and kill each other already. How about this for an idea? The last person standing wins! Go!"
I picked up some fruit from the bowl in the center of the table and left the kitchen. So far as I could tell, my parents hadn't been aware that I had ever been in the room.
* * * * *
Once again, I was walking to school way ahead of schedule.
As I rounded the corner, I remembered the incident from the day before and glanced over to find a sheet of plywood covering the broken plate glass window.
As I continued to walk, I noticed that at a house across the street, there was a car with four flat tires, all the windows broken out, and every painted surface on the car was scratched with deep gouges.
Now I'm certain of it. It's not me that has the problem. Something's wrong with the world.
* * * * *
A feeling of dread washed over me as I saw Todd waiting in the hallway, leaning back against his locker.
Mine was only a few down from his, so there was no avoiding him.
As it turned out, I didn't need to worry. I walked to my locker, switched out my books, and the one time when Todd looked in my general direction, he seemed to look right through me.
* * * * *
I took my seat in my homeroom class a little bit early. Mr. Albowitz was at his desk, reading something, and didn't seem to notice that I had entered. But, in all fairness, I would have expected the same non reaction from him last week, before any of this craziness had started.
Although I was tempted to pass the time in a daydream, I didn't want to take the chance of pulling Chris away from something important.
As I was sitting there, I heard an increasing number of voices approaching the room.
It seemed that Levi Gibson hadn't yet given in to the peer pressure to attend the party tonight. While the actual question to attend or not seemed to be a frivolous thing, the way they were hounding Levi made me feel bad for him.
When Todd entered the room, he joined in to the taunting and teasing as though he had been included since the beginning.
"I'm not going. That's final." I heard Levi say firmly.
That only stopped the barrage for a moment, but I had to admit that I felt a little admiration for Levi for taking a stand against his peers.
* * * * *
Not one person talked to me the entire day.
No teachers, none of my classmates, not even my parents.
I was sitting there, in my bedroom, trying to predict what might happen next if things continued as they were, when I felt myself being pulled into a daydream.
Since I wasn't really doing anything, I just relocated myself from the desk chair to the bed and let it take me.
* * * * *
"Good. It worked." Chris said with satisfaction.
"Did you just pull me in?" I asked to confirm.
"That's right. I took a chance that you'd be available. I hope I didn't interrupt anything important."
"No. Not at all."
"Listen. We're not the only ones who can do this. I've just been in contact with another daydreamer, his name is Adam Warfield."
"So, while you were daydreaming, he wandered into your dream?"
"Exactly. It was a lot like when we met at the school. It scared both of us half to death."
I smiled. For the first time all day, I felt good. Being in Chris's company helped to make everything else going on seem less important.
Chris's expression changed and he gravely said, "Doug, he's in trouble."
"It seems that his family forgot about him and went away for the weekend. And that would have been fine, except that it's Tuesday and they still aren't back. He's fourteen, alone and frightened. It's about a half hour drive to his apartment and I was wondering if you'd like to come along?"
"Yeah. I'd love to."
"I'll be there in about five minutes."
"I'll be ready."
* * * * *
As I walked downstairs, I found Mom and Dad in the living room, once again entranced in the mindless babble on the television.
For a moment I actually considered telling them where I was going, but thought better of it. If they were aware of my existence at all, they weren't the least bit interested.
As I was about to leave, I changed my mind and went to the kitchen to gather some fruit. If Adam had been on his own for the past four days, he might not have eaten much, if at all.
I noticed that the fruit supply was dwindling and didn't know if Mom would be restocking it.
Chris was pulling up in front of the house just as I was leaving.
"How are you doing?" He asked me as he pulled away from the curb.
"I don't know."
"I tried to talk to Livvy today. She keeps forgetting me."
"Mom and Dad, too."
"I don't know what to tell you."
"But for right now, I think we should focus on Adam. I'm really worried about him."
"Yeah." I confirmed, then quietly added, "I hope we can help him."
"Why don't you try to contact him while I'm driving? I told him about you, so it shouldn't freak him out too badly if you pull him into a daydream."
"Do you think I'll be able to do it without pulling you in, too?"
"You know what it felt like to be pulled in. You can feel it, calling to you, but you don't have to give in to it."
I nodded that I understood.
"But if it gets too bad, I'll just ask you to stop."
* * * * *
"Adam? Are you there?" I called into the hazy orange nothingness.
"Who are you?" A quiet voice called back to me from nowhere.
"My name is Doug. Chris said that he told you about me."
"I just heard gunshots." I heard Adam say as he started to resolve into being before me.
He looked younger than I would have expected. He was a skinny little black kid with wide, frightened eyes.
"We'll be there in just a few minutes. Chris is driving us there, right now."
"Why is this happening?" He asked me in a trembling voice.
"I don't know. None of this makes sense."
"Be careful, the people outside are really loud right now. It gets worse every night."
"We'll be as careful as we can, I promise." I told him, hoping that it was a promise that I could keep.
"Hurry." Adam whispered.
"I'm going to go back now, so that I can tell Chris to be careful. Don't worry, we'll be there in just a few minutes."
"Okay. Just be careful. It's bad out there." Adam said nervously, and I could almost feel the concern radiating off of him in waves.
* * * * *
As we pulled into the parking lot of the apartment complex, it was easy to see what Adam was frightened of. There was loud music playing and people milling around, in almost a festival atmosphere, except that it was darker.
"Remember that for whatever reason, people don't seem to notice us unless we force them to." Chris said seriously, but I could feel his nervousness as clearly as my own.
Chris was driving through the parking lot at about two miles per hour, amongst the partying people.
No one seemed to take notice of us, but they did seem to slowly drift out of our way, as we approached.
"It's the second one, on the bottom floor."\
I looked at it, then around at the other apartments.
From the outward appearance, it seemed to be a fairly nice place. The buildings and grounds looked to be well maintained. You wouldn't expect to find such a group of loud belligerent people in a place like this.
"Just stay here. I'll be back in a minute." Chris said as he shifted the car into 'park'.
"I'm going with you."
"It might be safer for you out here."
"And it might not. I'm going with you." There was no freakin way in hell that I was going to be left sitting in the parking lot with the party crazed lunatics.
Just as we were getting out of the car, some screaming sounded from nearby.
We turned as one to find that a group of about twelve people had gotten into a fight, all of them piling in, hitting anyone who was in their way.
No one seemed to be aware of us, so we carefully made our way to the closed door.
Chris gently knocked, then quietly said, "Adam, it's Chris and Doug. Are you alright?"
The door opened to reveal the younger boy, who looked too young to be a teenager, with tears running down his cheeks.
"Do you have everything you'll need?"
Adam picked up two backpacks, and I automatically reached out a hand and accepted one of them from him.
"Thanks." He whispered, and I could still see the fear in his eyes.
"Come on. We need to get out of here." Chris urged him, then we walked, close together, until we got to the car.
"Get in." Chris hissed nervously.
Although I had intended for Adam to get the 'seat of honor', riding beside Chris up front, he immediately jumped into the passenger side door.
In a spur of the moment decision, I got into the back seat on the other side as quickly as I could, so Chris could get us the hell out of there.
When I looked back, the pile of people fighting seemed to have grown to well over twenty people.
"We're going to be fine. We're going to be fine." Chris said slowly, as much to himself as to us as he backed the car out of the space.
"Are you alright?" I asked the terrified boy beside me.
Adam immediately hugged close to me and I could feel his body trembling.
Chris drove slowly, waiting for people to drift out of the way.
"We're almost out. Everything's fine." Chris said in an assuring voice.
I'm not sure if he were talking to us or not. Finally, I supposed that it didn't matter.
Suddenly, we heard the sound of gunshots right behind us.
I instinctively pulled Adam closer as I pulled us down to lay across the seats.
"Hang on!" Chris called out as he floored it.
Adam and I were holding tightly to each other as we listened to the engine racing.
We were bumped and jostled as Chris ran through an intersection a little bit faster than was probably intended.
"Are you guys alright?" Chris asked as he gradually allowed the car to slow.
"Is it safe?" I asked before I would even consider sitting up again.
"Yes. No one followed us. Everything's fine."
I released my hold on Adam and quietly asked, "Are you alright?"
"I think so."
"Don't worry, Adam. We won't let anything happen to you if we can help it." Chris said soothingly.
"What if you can't help it?"
"Then whatever it is will happen to all of us."
* * * * *
"Here we are." Chris announced as he pulled into a driveway.
"This is your house?" I asked in surprise. It was a lot bigger and nicer than I was expecting.
"Yes and no. My sister and I rent it." Chris said as he opened his car door.
"Do they even let black people into a neighborhood like this?" Adam asked cautiously.
"Don't worry about it, Adam. This is a nice neighborhood." Chris said warmly, then told us, "Come on in and take a look at the place."
I walked with Adam, probably as nervous as he was.
I don't think that it was that the house was so spectacular, I mean, it was nice. But the neighborhood looked so sculpted and picture perfect that it was kind of intimidating. I wasn't sure if I were dressed well enough to be there.
Once we were inside the house, all those feelings were forgotten. It was so warm and inviting, I couldn't help but feel welcomed.
"Livvy? We've got company!" Chris called out.
"Where can I put this?" Adam asked timidly, indicating the backpack he was still carrying.
"You'll be sleeping on the couch, so you can put your stuff somewhere over there." Chris said as he motioned toward the living room.
Before Adam could say anything in response, Chris called out, "Livvy! I'm home! Are you here?"
We were all silent for a few seconds, waiting for her to respond. Finally, Chris said, "She must have gone out."
I gave Chris a knowing look, which from his expression was unnecessary, he was already thinking the same thing.
"Do you have anything to eat?" Adam asked in a timid, trembling voice.
"Oh, man! I'm sorry. I didn't even think of that. Come with me into the kitchen. I just stocked up on edible food today, so there's plenty." Chris said quickly as he hurried into the next room.
As I walked with Adam toward the kitchen, I quietly said, "We've figured out that there's a lot of stuff we can't eat. We haven't figured out why, yet, but at least we were able to find some things we can eat before we starved to death."
"Everything my parents left in the house tasted like they'd covered it in bug spray or like it was spoiled." Adam said quietly.
"I think that's just the way that regular food tastes to us. But don't worry about it. Once we got it figured out, Chris and I have been able to eat pretty well." I said happily.
"Have a seat at the table and I'll have dinner ready in just a minute." Chris said from the counter beside the refrigerator.
Adam didn't need any second bidding.
"You too, Doug. I'm making enough for three." Chris said with a grin at me.
"I probably won't eat much, but I'll have some. Thanks." I said as I took the seat next to Adam.
"There's going to be plenty, so be sure to eat your fill." Chris said as he moved to the sink to start washing vegetables.
"I thought I was going to starve." Adam shyly admitted to me.
"Yeah. I think Chris felt the same way. It was just lucky that my mom made some stuff that I could eat, so I could figure it out."
"What can we eat?"
"Most organic fruits and vegetables seem to be okay. As far as drinks, I've been able to choke down the tap water, but it doesn't taste right. But so far, I haven't really found anything that tastes better."
"For a while, I suspected that Doug's mom's coffee was what caused all of this." Chris chuckled from beside the sink.
"Coffee so bad that it changed the world, that's my mom!" I said with a laugh.
"Here you go, guys. Dig in." Chris said as he placed a large bowl of salad and three plates on the table.
I motioned for Adam to go ahead and serve himself, since he was in the most need.
Once he had filled his plate, Chris and I took more modest portions.
"This is fantastic! I've never tasted anything this good!" Adam said between hurried bites.
I smiled at Chris, remembering his reaction to the apple I'd given him.
Just then, a woman walked through the kitchen door. She had long blond hair and she was wearing some worn gray sweat pants and a t shirt that was a size or two too small. Oh yeah, and no bra... real obvious.
All three of us watched, frozen in place as she walked to the refrigerator, took out a bottle of wine, then poured herself a tall glass.
As she leaned down to put the wine bottle back on the bottom shelf, she let rip a fart that shocked all of us.
Let me step back for a moment. Disregarding all the weirdness of the past few days, and all of that, and just speaking strictly as a guy. That was impressive.
Anyway, after that, she picked up her wine glass and walked casually out of the room.
After a long silent moment, Chris quietly said, "That was my sister, Olivia."
Adam looked at Chris helplessly, obviously at a loss for words.
Before I could think better of it, I felt as though I should jump in and try to explain. "I don't know how much Chris has told you about what we've been able to figure out about what's going on, but the way it seems is that people who aren't like us, aren't daydreamers, are getting to where they can't see or hear us."
Adam looked at me uncertainly, then looked to Chris for a better explanation.
"From what you told me about your family, I don't think they meant to leave you at home alone. I think they honestly forgot that you ever existed."
Adam looked back to me and asked, "Is it the same for you?"
"Yes. At least, it's getting that way. But something else is going on, I just haven't figured out what."
"What have you noticed? Maybe we can help." Chris encouraged.
"It's nothing solid, just a bunch of little things. It's like that party at Adam's apartment. That's not normal. People don't usually act that way."
"It's not really that uncommon."
"No. It's not uncommon for people to have a party now and then, but the number of people, the kind of people, and how hard they're partying is what's different."
"I don't know. Maybe."
"They were like that last night, too. At the apartment. But I think tonight was a lot worse." Adam said quietly.
"Well, you don't have to worry about that now. This is a safe place." Chris said with a smile of encouragement.
"How about I show you where everything is, so you can get a shower if you want? While you're doing that, I can take Doug home." Chris asked as he carried what was left of the salad toward the refrigerator.
"Would it be okay if I went with you? I don't want to be here alone."
"You won't be alone. My sister..." Chris trailed off, then ammended, "...you can come with us."
* * * * *
The ride back to my house was mostly quiet.
None of us were in much of a mood to talk. I think we all just wanted to get some well earned and much needed rest.
As I got out of Chris's car, I made sure to tell both of them to call me if there was anything at all I could do to help.
Chris promised that he would and Adam gave me a timid nod, which I suppose was good enough.
When I went in to the house, everything was dark and quiet.
I peeked in the driveway to verify that the cars were there, so my parents hadn't gone out.
After making sure that everything was closed up and secure, I quietly made my way up to my room.
I thought back to the days when I was worried about studying for tests. Things were so simple back then. I knew, without a doubt, what was real. But now, it seemed that reality had taken a holiday. Nothing made sense. Welcome to the new normal.
* * * * *
I walked into the kitchen the next morning without any hope of things being different.
Mom and dad were there, both more or less paying attention to the television.
I went ahead and took a seat at the table, maybe out of some mild interest in the news. Or maybe out of some deep seated desire to be a part of the family. For whatever reason, I sat there and listened as the newsreader started talking about what they were calling the 'Darwinian Bill'. The long and short of it was that if the bill were signed into law, localities would have the freedom to choose whether or not they wanted their police and firefighters to respond to emergency calls if it was determined that the cost outweighed the benefit. Also, in the case of a catastrophic natural disaster, relief efforts would only be undertaken if the Federal Government determined that it was 'worth it'.
"It's about time someone in Washington showed that they've got some common sense." My mom said from the stove.
"It'll cut the dead weight. It sounds like someone's about to take this country in the right direction." My dad agreed.
I carefully gathered up my things and grabbed the last few pieces of fruit from the bowl on the table before I hurried out of there as fast as I could.
* * * * *
As soon as I rounded the corner, I remembered the trouble on the previous days.
The house with the plywood window and the one with the destroyed car were both still and silent.
I walked faster to get past them. The calm quiet somehow made me more nervous than the screaming and the police.
* * * * *
As I was walking to my locker, it struck me how quiet the school seemed. Being as early as it was, I wouldn't expect it to be loud, but normally, you could hear evidence of other people in the building.
I didn't feel like going to the library or the study room. Somehow, I got the feeling that I wouldn't need to go in there if I wanted to spend some quiet time alone.
Mr. Albowitz's classroom was unlocked, but no one was in there. I went to my regular desk, but I didn't take out any study materials. Something about the ominous silence made me feel that the time for studying was over. I didn't have any real inkling of what was about to happen, but I felt certain that it wouldn't be another, run-of-the-mill day.
About ten minutes after my arrival, I saw Levi Gibson hesitantly enter the room.
I almost said something to him, but then realized that he probably couldn't hear me, anyway.
After about five minutes of sitting in near silence, Levi quietly asked, "What's happening?"
I couldn't tell if he were asking me, or if he thought he was speaking to himself. But, either way, I felt that I needed to answer him.
"The world is changing."
Levi turned and looked at me with surprise.
"How are you doing, Levi?"
"I'm pretty freaked out, to tell you the truth. What was your name again?"
"Doug. Doug Lawson."
"I don't know what happened. It's like everything's slipping away."
"Isn't there something we can do?" He asked desperately.
"The world is changing, and I think, so are we. But it appears that we're not changing the same way."
"But why is this happening?"
"I don't know."
"So you're like me now? Invisible?"
"We're invisible to them, but not to each other."
"I don't understand."
"Neither do I, at least, not all of it."
"But what's really going on?"
"Listen. I don't know what's been happening to you. All I know about what you've been going through is what I've seen in this class. But from the look of it, it's not exactly the same thing that's been happening to me."
"All my friends, the people I've known all my life, all of a sudden, they stopped seeing me. They don't remember who I am."
"That's happened to me, too. But it's been happening to me for a long time. Yesterday, I saw everyone trying to convince you to go to a party."
"Yeah. I kept telling them that I wouldn't, but I ended up going."
"Nothing. When I got there, nobody could see or hear me. It's like I didn't exist anymore."
"So it happened all of a sudden for you? For me, it happened a little at a time, for almost a week."
"Well, last week, I came down with some bug. Nothing tasted right, but besides that, I felt fine. Then, this week, everyone started being really pushy with me. Melanie Hart kept trying to corner me and make me..." He trailed off for a moment, then quietly continued, "...do stuff that I don't want to."
I felt my eyes go wide with surprise at that little revelation.
"She cornered me a couple times, and yesterday after lunch, I thought her and some of the others were going to... make me."
"But you went to her party anyway?"
"Yeah. But not for that. I'm not ready for that, you know?"
"Yeah, Levi. I know. I'm not either."
For the first time since we'd been talking, Levi smiled at me.
I couldn't help but smile in return.
We sat there, looking stupidly at each other for a moment before Levi continued his story, "Things have been so strange lately, I just wanted to go back to what I was used to."
"I don't think we can go back."
"After what I saw at the party, I don't think I want to."
A part of me wanted to know, in case it provided a valuable piece to the puzzle but another part of me was afraid of what might be revealed. Finally I worked up the courage to ask, "What did you see?"
"I saw my friends, the people I grew up with, being cruel to each other and taking delight in it. I saw people that I care about doing destructive things to themselves and each other. And the thing is, they thought it was all some kind of a game."
"I'm sorry, Levi. I'm new here, so I don't have the same attachment to them that you do. I've been seeing them working up to this point ever since I've been here."
After a moment to consider, Levi hesitantly said, "I suppose I just haven't wanted to see it."
The first bell ringing jolted us out of our quiet conversation.
We both looked around curiously.
On any other day, nearly half the class would already be in the classroom before the first bell.
I looked at Levi and he looked back at me. We were both obviously bothered by the development, but neither of us had anything to say.
* * * * *
Not a word was spoken as the second bell rang, and still, no one else had arrived, not even the teacher.
"Should we tell someone?" Levi finally asked.
"Who can we tell? If you walk into the office, Mrs. Hawk won't even know who you are, that is, if she notices that you're there at all."
"I guess you're right."
A moment later, the murmur of voices in the hallway heralded the arrival of most of our class group.
They were all carefree and laughing as they ambled in.
Levi and I shared a look of uncertainty. Neither of us knew what to expect next.
One of the voices caught my attention and I turned to see Todd as he was loudly trying to catch Melanie Hart's attention. It took a few minutes, but finally she glanced in his direction, giving a demure giggle.
The act was so obviously fake that it made me want to go over there and try to talk some sense into him. Not that it would do any good. He was seeing only what he wanted to see.
Feeling encouraged, Todd worked his way closer to Melanie, only to be put off by her. She was teasing him, and enjoying every minute of it.
"Sit down." Mr. Albowitz growled as he walked into the room and directly to his desk.
"What if I don't want to." Todd said defiantly, showing off for his would-be girlfriend.
"I don't need this." Mr. Albowitz huffed, then added, "I need more coffee."
"What are we supposed to do while you're gone?" Todd asked in a mocking voice.
"Go fuck yourselves, or each other. Like I give a shit." Mr. Albowitz said before leaving the room, coffee cup in hand.
Todd turned to Melanie and said, "You heard the teacher."
What followed was... a bit surprising, to say the least.
I don't think Todd ever got to even cop a feel with Melanie, but just about everyone else got in on the action at some point. Several people were making out, I saw a few slide into second base. At one point, two of the football players were getting so into it that I expected them to just whip it out right then and there.
When the bell rang, I turned toward the door and saw Mr. Albowitz standing there, sipping his coffee.
* * * * *
At some point during English class I had lost track of Levi, I mean, can you blame me? But as we walked into Social Studies class, he fell into line at my side, and took the seat along the wall, where Todd had been sitting before.
Second period seemed to start up right where first period left off, with everyone horney and frustrated. Somehow I got the sense that not much classwork was going to be accomplished today.
When the second bell rang, Ms. Burney looked up from her desk, as if only just noticing that anyone had come in.
"That'll be enough of that. Take your seats." Ms. Burney said sternly.
None of them gave any reaction to indicate that they'd heard her.
I braced myself for the coming confrontation as she walked around her desk and directly to the largest concentration of students.
Todd had been trying to gain Melanie's attention and was poised to move in for a kiss, oblivious to who was coming up behind him.
"Just what do you think you're doing?" Ms. Burney asked as she pulled Todd away.
Before he could answer, she continued, "You do it like this."
Todd's eyes went wide with shock as Ms. Burney began to kiss him deeply.
Sure, I've written off Todd as a lost cause. And he's been a pain in my ass every day that I've known him except for that one. Even so, I wouldn't wish something like this on my worst enemy.
I was just about ready to run to the office and force them to see me so I could get Todd some kind of help, when I saw Todd wrap his arms around Ms. Burney and deepen the kiss.
When I saw her hand work it's way into the front of Todd's pants, I realized that I had to get out of there. I mean, what I've already seen, cannot be unseen. There's no way I want to see more.
As I hurried toward the door, I noticed that Levi was doing the same.
* * * * *
"We can't just leave, can we?" Levi whispered as we walked down the hallway.
"We're practically invisible. No one remembers who we are or that we were ever here. I had no problem coming back here, as long as it was safe, but there's no real reason for us to endanger ourselves."
We continued walking down the hall in silence for a moment before Levi quietly said, "I guess that's right."
"Will you be able to get home alright?"
"I guess I could take a bus."
"You can come over to my place if you want to. It's my mom's day off, so she'll probably be home, but she won't even know that we're there."
"I'm not really sure..."
"Or we can go over to your place, or anywhere else you want."
Levi blinked in surprise, then said, "Your place will be fine. I guess the last few days has made me a little bit nervous. After having so many people trying to get me to do things that I don't want to, I feel like I need to be a little extra careful."
"Yeah. That makes sense to me. I don't think I'm pushy, so it shouldn't be a problem. But if I do anything that makes you feel like I'm pressuring you to do something, just let me know and I'll stop. How about that?"
"Thanks, Doug. That sounds great."
"Come on. Let's get out of here." I said with a smile as I pushed open the front door of the school.
* * * * *
Levi and I were both quiet as we walked.
Maybe it had something to do with the noise and chaos we were leaving behind, but I think it also had something to do with the stillness all around us.
There wasn't any traffic.
There weren't any other pedestrians.
I glanced at the sky, half expecting to see that it had turned orange.
It wasn't until we had reached my house that Levi finally said, "Something's wrong."
Talk about an understatement!
I turned and nodded my agreement to him, then took out my key and unlocked the front door.
* * * * *
I didn't really notice it when we walked up, but my mom's car was gone, so that meant that we had the house to ourselves.
"Are you hungry?" I asked as I led the way into the kitchen.
"Always." Levi said with a slight smile, then regretfully added, "But I haven't been able to eat much, lately. Everything tastes wrong."
"I know what you mean." I said as I noticed that the fruit bowl hadn't been restocked.
I went to the refrigerator and was happy to find that there was enough salad left to feed both of us.
"If you're like the rest of us, this will taste pretty good to you." I said as I put half the salad on each of our plates.
"Who are the rest of us?" Levi asked curiously as I set a plate in front of him.
"So far, I've only met two others. One was the temporary counselor at our school for a few days. His name is Chris. The other one is a kid named Adam from the other side of town."
Levi looked around, then cautiously asked, "You don't have any dressing for this?"
"Try it without, first. Then, if you still want some dressing, I'll get it for you." I said before taking another bite.
Levi's eyes went wide when the flavor registered.
"This is the first thing that's tasted right to me for about a week." Levi said quickly before taking another bite.
"This is so good." Levi said past a mouthful of salad.
Seeing his enjoyment made me enjoy my own salad that much more.
The sound of the back door opening caused us both to freeze in mid motion.
My mom walked in, carrying reusable cloth shopping bags, filled to capacity. She quickly placed them on the kitchen counter, then hurried out of the kitchen, toward the bathroom.
"That was my mom."
"She can't see us, can she?"
"No. Not if we sit here quietly. A few days ago, I could talk to her and she'd eventually realize I was here and remember who I was. But I kind of doubt that that will work now."
"I thought I was going crazy when my parents stopped noticing me."
"Yeah. I know that feeling. But we've pretty much decided that it's the rest of the world that's gone crazy." I said frankly, then watched as Mom raced back through the kitchen and outside.
"How are we going to be able to live like this?"
The question surprised me. So far, I'd been taking everything as it came. But Levi was right. The violence was escalating. The people we trust no longer remember that we exist. We've been making due so far, but the way things were shaping up, a bright and sunny future didn't seem to be in the cards for us.
As Mom walked in with more shopping bags, I quietly admitted, "I don't know, Levi."
* * * * *
When Levi saw the Thundercats posters in my room, they made him smile. It wasn't a smirk or a mocking shake of the head, but a real, honest to goodness, smile.
"If you want to stay here tonight, it wouldn't be any problem. I only have the one bed, but we have sleeping bags down in the garage."
Levi thought about it for a moment, then quietly said, "Yeah. Except, there are some things I'd like to get from my house. I have the feeling that I won't be going back there very much."
'...or ever again.' wasn't spoken, but it hung in the air as though it had been. I couldn't disagree. I had the very same feeling. Whatever was happening didn't show any sign of stopping. And as it progressed, leading anything like a normal life would become less and less possible.
"If you want, we can go get your stuff now. And, if you wouldn't mind helping me when we get back, we can get some of my stuff packed up, too."
"Where are we going?"
"I don't know. But I've got the same feeling that you do. If things continue as they are, we will be going somewhere."
"Why is this happening?"
"I have no idea." I said honestly, then started walking toward the door.
* * * * *
We had to walk a few blocks to get to the bus stop, then a few more after we got off. But getting to Levi's house didn't take all that long.
The house itself was big and very nice, but the yard was amazing. The landscaping was perfect and there were blooming flowers everywhere.
"This place is beautiful." I said as we slowly walked on perfectly placed stepping stones.
"Yeah. My dad pays lots of money to keep it that way."
"You have a gardner?"
"A landscaping company. They swing by a couple times a week and make sure everything's kept perfect." Levi said as he opened the front door.
The inside of Levi's house was just as immaculate as the outside. It looked like a showroom.
"Yeah. My dad pays lots of money to keep it that way." Levi said as he walked directly to the grand staircase.
"Yeah, and a maid service. Twice a week."
"What's wrong with that?"
"I've never lived like normal people do. I don't know how."
"Just because you have people take care of your lawn and clean your house doesn't mean that you don't live like everyone else."
"You don't understand. That's just the beginning of it. But it doesn't matter, now." Levi said as he opened the door to his bedroom.
The room looked like it came straight out of a magazine. There wasn't a single thing out of place.
Levi turned and looked at me with a serious expression as he said, "Listen, Doug. I do my best not to come across to people as a spoiled rich kid, but theres some stuff I really don't know."
I could see that it was really bothering him. And that bothered me.
I had spoken to Levi for the very first time today, but for whatever reason, his happiness and well being had become really important to me.
"I'll help you."
He looked at me uncertainly, like he wasn't sure that I understood what he was trying to say.
"I can see that it bothers you. So I won't tell anyone. If you don't understand something, just ask me and I'll explain it to you. And when we're around the others, if you slip up, I'll cover for you as much as I can. How's that?"
"Now, lets get your things and get out of here."
* * * * *
The ride back to my house was a little bit troublesome. Nothing bad happened. The bus was just crowded and stuffy. It's funny, being invisible doesn't change the public transportation experience one bit.
"That's my dad." I said to Levi as we carried his stuff through the living room.
He looked at my father, who was sitting, motionless, on the couch, staring at the television.
"Were you close?" Levi asked in a concerned whisper.
"Not most of the time. But we had one really good day last week. It's enough." I said, then continued on to my room.
* * * * *
"Thanks for doing all of this for me." Levi said quietly as he sat in my desk chair.
As I sat on the bed, I could feel the urge to daydream pulling at me.
"It's no problem, but there's something else I haven't told you, yet."
The immediate look of concern on his face made me regret that I had chosen to begin that way.
"When all of this started for me, it was because I was having trouble concentrating in class." I said as I watched carefully for his reaction.
"I remember you being sent to the office a few times."
"Yeah. Quite a few times." I confirmed, then continued, "The last time I was sent to the office, there was a different counselor and he was able to help me figure a few things out."
Levi nodded slowly.
"The reason I couldn't concentrate is because I'm a daydreamer."
"Everyone daydreams, don't they?"
"Not like me. I kind of take it to the next level."
"I don't understand."
"I know. And I'm not sure if I'll be able to explain it. But the main reason I'm talking to you about this right now is because I'm going to have to daydream for a few minutes. I don't want for you to worry about me or anything. It's just something that I do."
"So... what? Do I need to do something?"
"No. You can get on my computer and check your email or surf the Net for a little bit if you want to. I just didn't want for you to worry if I got quiet for five or ten minutes."
"Just call my name if you need for me to come back. I'll be able to hear you." I said as I rested back and prepared myself to relax.
"Yeah." He said, still looking concerned. But I could feel the daydream pulling at me again.
"Back in a few." I said, then drifted away.
* * * * *
As my eyes opened, I could hear Adam asking me, "Are you alright?"
It was funny, we were in a place that I didn't recognize. It was obviously the playground of a park, somewhere. But I knew that I'd never seen it before. If the daydreams were created from our conscious thoughts, then we must have been someplace that Adam was familiar with.
"Yes. I've just been running around, helping out a guy from my class at school. Is everything alright with you guys?"
"No. Chris tried to talk to his sister and it messed her up somehow. He's in with her now, trying to calm her down."
"Is there anything I can do to help?" I asked, but I couldn't imagine that there was much I could do.
"He told me to tell you that, whatever you do, don't try to get your parents to see you. It could really hurt them."
"Okay. I'll be careful. Would you please let Chris know that I've got one of my classmates over here at my house, so I might not answer if he calls to me."
"Is he like us?"
"He's invisible, like us. But as far as I know, he isn't a daydreamer."
"How does that work?"
"I don't know. But he needs our help."
"Don't worry, Doug. We'll help your friend."
"Thanks, Adam." I said in return, happy to know that Levi would be accepted.
"Yes. Thank you, Adam." Another voice said from behind me.
I turned to see Levi standing there, looking uncertain.
I stared for a minute in shock, then remembered my manners and quickly said, "Adam, I'd like for you to meet Levi. I guess I was wrong. He is one of us, after all."
"I never thought that there was anyone else like me. If my father ever found out, I know he'd pay someone lots of money to fix me and make me fit perfectly into his perfect home."
"It's fine, Levi. You're with other people who understand."
"Yeah. We're all in this together." Adam chimed in.
I smiled at him, silently thanking him for his encouragement.
"Chris says that we need to get out of here. Because of what happened to Livvy, he figures that any of us could hurt the people we care about if we stick around." Adam said seriously.
I looked at Levi, then turned back to Adam and quietly said, "We just got Levi's stuff from his house and we were about to start packing my stuff. We didn't know why, but we both got the feeling that it was about time for us to go."
"Go where?" Levi asked in confusion.
Suddenly, the dreamscape changed all around us. Instead of standing in a playground, we were all standing on the blacktop in the roadside park, looking at the white path going up and over the rise of a hill.
"Are you seeing this, too?" Levi asked me in a gasp.
"If you're seeing the white path, then yes." I said back to him frankly.
"What does it mean? I've been here a thousand times in my dreams." Levi said in wonder as he was looking around.
"We all have, Levi." I said as I moved close to give him a brief hug of reassurance.
"Is this where we're going?" Adam asked cautiously.
"Yes. At least, until we get a better idea." I said decisively.
"Okay. I'll tell Chris. I'll come back and let you know what he says." Adam said quickly, then faded from before us.
"Do you still want to help me pack?" I asked Levi at my side.
"Yeah. I don't think we've got a lot of time."
* * * * *
Levi and I came back to reality at the same time.
"Did that really just happen?" Levi asked in wonder.
"Yeah. I wasn't going to tell you about that, just yet. I didn't want you to think that I was crazy."
"You already said it, the rest of the world's gone crazy."
"Yeah. You wanna help me get my stuff? I really feel like we need to get moving." I said as I got up off the bed.
"Yeah. Just tell me what you want to take with you."
"I'm going to start getting some clothes. Would you mind taking down the Thundercats posters? There's a tube to put them in beside the desk." I asked as I reached under my bed for my suitcase.
"You're taking the Thundercats?"
"They make me happy. Is there anything wrong with that?" I asked as I moved across the room to my closet.
"No. In fact, they kinda make me happy, too." Levi said as he moved my desk chair to the wall, so he could reach the top of the posters to take them down.
* * * * *
"What's wrong?" Levi asked when he noticed that I'd stopped moving.
"Incoming daydream. It's probably Chris." I said as I sat on the edge of the bed and let the daydream pull me in.
"You've got to show me how to do that." I heard Levi say as I drifted away.
* * * * *
"Can you be ready to go in about five minutes? Chris asked me to let you know that we're on our way." Adam said quickly.
"We're just packing the last few things. We'll be ready when you get here. How's his sister?"
"We think she's going to be alright. But if she realizes that we're there again, it might be too much for her to handle. She really freaked out."
"Let me go so I can finish packing. We'll be ready when you get here."
* * * * *
"They're on their way." I said to Levi as soon as I snapped out of it.
"I don't know what else you want to take."
"Will you grab my shoes from beside the door. There's just one thing I need from downstairs, then I'll be ready to go." I said as I picked up my suitcase and my backpack.
Levi picked up his two suitcases and stopped by the door for my good tennis shoes, before hurrying out of the room.
When we got to the living room, my mom and dad were there, both with their entranced gazes fixed on the television.
"Just a second." I said, then pulled my small digital camera from my pocket.
"I never even thought of that." Levi said regretfully.
"What?" I asked as I snapped a picture of the large picture on the wall behind the sofa.
"Oh. I thought... you were going to take a picture of your parents." Levi stammered to explain.
It surprised me that I hadn't thought about doing that. So I quickly moved to the other side of the room and snapped a picture of them before putting the camera back into my pocket.
"Is that it?"
"Yeah. Let's go." I said as I went back to retrieve my suitcase and backpack.
* * * * *
We had been waiting for less than a minute when Chris's SUV raced up in front of my house.
"Let me pop the trunk." Chris said through the open window.
"Chris, this is Levi." I said as I carried my things over and deposited them in the cargo area of Chris's SUV.
"Nice to meet you, Levi. We'll talk on the road." Chris said before slamming the trunk and running back to the driver's side.
"What's the rush?" Levi asked curiously.
"I don't know. But I can feel it, too. We need to get moving." I said as I hurried to the passenger side and opened the sliding door.
Levi got in behind me.
* * * * *
"What's going on?" I asked Chris as he pulled away from the curb a little faster than I would have thought necessary.
"We've got to get out of Portland."
Chris seemed to think about it for a moment, then I felt us decelerating slightly.
I let out a sigh of relief, then asked, "How are you doing, Adam?"
"A lot better, now." Adam said with a grateful smile at me.
"Do we have a plan of some kind, or are we just driving?"
"Right now, I just want to get us out of Portland. The further away we can get from any cities, the better." Chris said frankly.
"Yeah. That sounds good to me."
"After that, I guess we'll look at the road atlas and figure out where to go next."
"Do you have one? We can look while you're driving."
"Hold on. I think my navigator may be getting something."
It took me a moment to realize what he meant, but when I leaned forward, I could see that Adam was lost with a far away vacant look in his eyes.
I nodded and sat back to wait and see what he had come up with.
"What's wrong?" Levi asked me in a whisper.
"Adam's having a daydream. He may be getting a message from someone."
"I thought it was just the four of us."
"There's only four of us that we know of. There could be hundreds, thousands, even millions."
"We need to go east." Adam said suddenly.
"We are going east." Chris responded.
"Good. Her name's Emily. She's really scared. I told her we'd come and get her."
"Should we do that?" Levi asked cautiously.
"She's scared and alone, just like I was. She needs us." Adam said seriously.
After a long moment, Chris finally said, "You're my navigator. Plot me a course."
"Huh?" Adam asked in confusion.
"Look around up there and see if you can find a map or something. We'll figure out where your friend is and find out how to get us there." I explained with a smile.
"Thanks, Doug." Adam said in relief.
* * * * *
"Would one of you guys mind talking to Emily for a little bit? She's really scared and she's thinking that maybe I'm just a dream." Adam asked hopefully.
"Hang on. I'm still trying to find that state park where she is." I said as I searched through the seemingly endless pages of the atlas.
"I'll talk to her, if you'll help me. The only time I've ever done it before is today when I talked to you and Doug." Levi told Adam quietly.
"Yeah. I'm getting good at it. I'll show you. Just sit back and let yourself start to float and I'll pull you in." Adam said quickly, then sat back into his seat.
I watched as a calm, peaceful expression fell over Levi's face as he drifted away, then I remembered that I had a job to do.
* * * * *
"Do you have any directions for me?" Chris called to me from the front seat.
"Just stay on this road. I'll let you know if you need to turn."
"I don't know how long I'm going to be able to keep this up. I'm going to have to stop and sleep at some point."
"I know, but I think that if you can just stick with it for another few hours, that we'll be able to get to Emily and then we can stop."
"I know. There's no way I can stop before we reach her. But I'm really tired."
"While Levi and Adam are keeping Emily calmed down, I'll stay up and keep you company."
"Thanks, Doug. If the world were destined to go crazy, I'm glad that I've got good company like you guys to go through it with."
"I'm just scared about what's going to happen next."
"None of us knows. But whatever it is, we'll face it together."
"Why don't you try the radio again? Maybe you can find something besides radio preachers, this time."
"Or the top forty station." Chris added with a grin, knowing what my reaction would be.
"More like top fourteen. They keep playing the same songs over and over. I'd rather ride the rest of the way in silence."
"Let's see what stations are on before we decide that. Agreed?"
"Okay, but if it's too bad, Emily's just going to have to be on her own for a few minutes, because I'm going to need the guys to outvote your choice of radio stations."
"No need for that. If we can't agree, we'll just turn it off." Chris said with a grin, then reached over and turned the radio on and hit the button for it to scan.
When the first station tuned in, I'm not sure if it were the trumpets or the Spanish lyrics that did it, but Chris immediately hit the button to scan for the next station.
I laughed a little, then waited to see what would be next.
We encountered a radio preacher that seemed very certain that we should send him our money. Chris left it on that one for about a minute, I'm sure just to tease me, before I had to firmly tell him, "No."
On the next station that we came to, there were people talking. From the sound of them, they weren't news broadcasters. It was more likely that they were DJs, going off script to have some fun.
The guys were laughing and joking, but it didn't seem right. As we continued to listen, it became apparent that the things they were laughing about were the murder and brutality that seemed to be sweeping the nation.
A policeman in Minneapolis had gunned down an unarmed man at a bus stop and then said that he did it because he felt threatened. A teenage girl murdered her siblings and her parents, then took her parents' car and drove across town and killed her grandparents. As the DJs were laughing themselves silly and making crude jokes, I reached forward and put my hand on Chris's shoulder as I quietly asked, "Will you just turn it off?"
"Yeah." He said as he reached over and hit the button.
We rode in silence for a few minutes before I quietly asked, "It's everywhere, isn't it?"
"I think so."
I sat back in my chair as I felt my tears starting to fall.
"It's okay." Levi said softly, causing me to jump.
"Emily is feeling better, so I left Adam there to talk with her."
"I'm glad she's feeling better." I said as I tried to wipe the tears from my eyes.
"It's okay. Whatever it is, we'll face it together."
"Yeah. We just heard some stuff on the radio and it was kind of horrible."
"It'll be okay. You'll see." Levi assured me. And even though I knew that they were empty words of assurance, they somehow made me feel better.
Things seem to be in quite a downward spiral. The world is really getting freaky. Doug and his friends seem to be the only bright lights left. Of course, there may be others, but we haven't met them yet if there are.
It struck me pretty hard when I saw the bit about the policeman shooting the unarmed person because he felt threatened.
It kinda made me wonder how long it will be before our world gets as bad as it is in theirs.
All I have to do is think of Ferguson MO and New Jersey or wherever it was that they put that guy in a choke hold and let him tell them over and over that he couldn't breathe and he died.
I need to get to the next chapter quickly, so I can find out what's happening. see you there.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher