My Halloween Wish
by Gee Whillickers
“A place where there isn't any trouble. Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It's not a place you can get to by a boat or a train. It's far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain...” – The Wizard of Oz (1939 – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
“Marty, quit that!” my friend Chance said to me for the third time. Despite the repetition, and the growing exasperation in his voice, he was grinning when he said it, so I knew he wasn't really all that upset.
It was Halloween. We were trick-or-treating, and I was teasing Chance. He hated horror movies, hated being scared, and tolerated Halloween. Just. And only because of the candy. I was telling Chance, yet again, about the scary creatures masquerading as humans that lived at the house we were now approaching. “No, it's okay Chance. They're bound to not eat us. This time. They're still full from a few minutes ago. Remember those sixth graders that were in front of us a few minutes ago? You see 'em now? Me neither. But this was the last house I saw them walking towards.”
Chance rolled his eyes. “That's not even scary. That's just stupid.” He grinned at me again.
Of course that's why I did it. To see that grin. I was becoming aware just how much I liked that grin, and that was an awareness that I had recently begun to come to terms with: how much I liked the grin and more. We'd both been playing around the edges of that tentative awareness for the past few weeks.
I was in no hurry though. The anticipation was fun, and coaxing grins out of Chance was enough for the time being. Almost enough.
We arrived on the porch and rang the bell, yelling, “Trick or treat!”
The door opened and a woman looked us over. “Oh my! Vampires! I'd better give you something so you aren't hungry for blood!” She chuckled and dumped a few candies in our bags. “You two are a little old for this, aren't you?” She was smiling when she said it, but I could tell she was half serious.
Chance gave her his toothy smile, the one with the wide eyes and dimples that made him look ten or eleven years old, three years younger than reality. “No, Ma'am! Not yet! This is probably our last year for trick-or-treating, though.”
That was true. We'd had to beg and plead with our parents just to go this year, and I knew next year we'd be doing something else.
The woman just laughed again and closed the door.
I weighed my bag in my hand. “I'm almost ready to go home, Chance. I've got tons, and it's getting late. I promised Dad we'd be home by 8:30.”
“Okay. One more house and let's go back to your place.” His grin had a bit more sparkle in it when he said this. A look I was starting to recognize. With no school tomorrow, Chance had gained permission to sleep over at my place, a sleepover that I think we both suspected might involve just a wee bit more than sleep.
Just a bit. Like I said, no hurry. We knew each other too well for that. All of this was way too much fun to waste it or wreck it by going too fast and too far.
Like eating super sour candies. You could shove 'em in and chew 'em and gobble them down. But then your tongue was sore for days and your stomach hurt and you never wanted to see them again and you really regretted it. Or, you could nibble and slowly chew and savor them. Make 'em last. Much more enjoyable that way. And it saved your tongue.
That's one of the things I admired most about Chance, and one of the things I was working hard to learn from him. Patience. I had little, and I knew it. But I was learning, I think. Mostly.
We walked towards the next house. The lights were on, and I saw a figure looking out towards the sidewalk from behind the front window curtains.
For some reason, we stopped. Both of us. We looked at each other.
“Uh, maybe we should just skip his house,” Chance said. No grin this time.
“Yeah. The doc gives me the creeps. I dunno why.”
The doc was semi-famous. At least around these parts. Dr. Cornish had been on TV a few times and everything. I didn't know what he was a doctor of, but it wasn't medicine, that was for sure. He worked at some facility just outside town, along with a few other folks from around here.
Doctor of cold penetrating stares, maybe.
With one more look towards the house, we turned around and headed for home. I saw the figure move away from behind the curtains and sit down in his living room and pick up what appeared to be an overly large TV remote control.
“So you know they're real, right Chance?” I figured I'd try again while we walked the two blocks to my place.
“Vampires. And werewolves. They're real and out to get us all!”
He must have been still feeling the creepiness from the doc's house. I didn't get the benefit of his grin, just a half smile. “Yeah, you wish.”
“Sure! I wish they were real. The world would be a lot more interesting for us!”
I blinked. It must have been my imagination. I could've sworn something changed. I looked up, staring at the stars.
“Uh, Chance?” I stopped and started again. He scared too easy. I made my voice casual. “Uh, Chance? It's October 31st. About 8:00 PM. Isn't...” I thought hard, “...isn't the big dipper supposed to be there?”
Chance stopped. He looked up, then back at me. He just looked at me with that look that showed he was waiting for the punchline.
I looked up again. I thought hard. Real hard. Draco, Ursa Minor, Ursa Major, Hercules, Leo. Everything was right, but everything was just a bit wrong. I wanted to get home and open up Google Skymap. Figure this out.
Chance must have realized there was no punchline. I wasn't joking. “Marty?” He voice had a tiny hitch to it.
“No, look!” I pointed. “Everything's turned, like, shifted. Time and date. Don't you see?”
He looked up, back at me, back up, then back at me once again. “You're the guy with the telescope. You know this stuff, not me.”
“Never mind,” I finally said, feeling a bit foolish. I couldn't figure out how I could be so far off. “I'll figure it out later.” We started walking.
Chance stopped suddenly, grabbing my arm. “Uh, Marty?” No doubt about it. His voice was definitely scared now. I looked at him; he was looking up. Weird, he just said he didn't really know the constellations. I followed his gaze. And felt my blood run cold.
The moon. It was supposed to be a new moon. But it was full. It was twice as big as it was supposed to be.
And it was blood red.
Things happened very quickly after that, and I only put them together later. A figure was walking towards us. Walking very fast. I was admiring his costume. His eyes positively glowed red. His fangs looked huge and very, very real. He walked far faster than he should have been able to, and far more smoothly. Maybe wearing roller skates under that cloak?
He got close. I realized I recognized the face. Chance screamed. At the same time, a car squealed to a stop beside us. People were yelling. Mass confusion. Someone said to Chance, “Fuck, kid! Scream a bit louder, will ya? I think a few of the wolves ten miles away missed that one!” As he said this he picked up Chance bodily and tossed him like a sack of rice into the back of the car, then he got back behind the wheel. At the same time arms were grabbing me from behind. I felt my feet leave the ground and bumped my head, hard, on the door frame as I too was unceremoniously thrown into the back seat.
I smelled garlic. My head throbbed and I felt blood trickle down from above my left eyebrow. My arm hurt from where it hit the driveshaft bump when I landed on the floor of the backseat. Chance was still screaming, staring at the figure now mere feet from the car. I watched with horror through the still open door as the other guy, the one that threw me into the car, pulled a large crossbow from the holder on his back, aimed, and fired what seemed to be a large wooden arrow. It hit with a loud 'thunk!' and penetrated right into the chest of the dude on roller skates.
The guy's red eyes stopped glowing. He fell. Chance stopped screaming. The car squealed away, doors still open, immediately after crossbow guy jumped back into the passenger seat. The doors slammed shut from the forward momentum. I looked over at Chance, frozen in shock, after watching his brother die for the second time.
The car drove to my old elementary school. But it had changed. The entire school was surrounded by thick razor wire. Not only around the outside but right over the top as well, tied together with more razor wire and held up by strategically placed poles mounted on the roof of the school.
I shook my head. How did they do that so quickly? When?
As we got close the driver spoke into a radio or phone or something, and part of the wire rolled to the side. Our car didn't even slow and I glanced behind us.
A dozen pairs of yellow eyes were a hundred meters behind, and closing fast. The yellow eyes belonged to wolves. Gigantic wolves. Ugly wolves.
Very, very fast werewolves. And they seemed highly motivated and hungry.
The car passed through the wire fence. The gate began to close. The front-seat passenger, the one with the crossbow, leaned out his window and began firing backwards towards them. Only he wasn't using the crossbow. He was firing a pistol. When he changed clips I couldn't help noticing how shiny the bullets appeared. Bright silver.
A couple of other people from behind the fence were doing likewise. One of the wolves dropped with a yelp. The others appeared to take this as a cue, and turned around and loped away.
The guy driving swore steadily. “Fuck me I hate that shit. That was too fucking close! Rescues are one thing but fucking rescuing a couple of idiot kids who are out there for no good reason! Should've just let 'em get bit, that's what I think. Fucking morons!”
Chance was still frozen. Huddled in a ball on the floor of the backseat, eyes tightly closed; he wasn't moving. I looked over at the guy with the gun. He was staring back at me. With a shock, I realized he too was familiar. Despite looking ten years older, and with a giant gray beard, and what amounted to combat clothes instead of the usual suit, looking back at me was Mr. Wallace, my quiet and reserved English teacher.
“Mr. Wallace?!” I said. It came out in a burst. I wasn't even aware I said it until after.
He blinked. “Nobody's called me that for....” His face changed. His eyes widened. “Marty?! Martin Landry?”
I nodded dumbly.
“I thought you would've turned long ago, what with....well never mind. Where have you been?” He glanced over at Chance and his eyes widened again. “And Chance Anderson? How the hell did you guys stay alive out there for the last couple of years? And what's with the costumes, don't you think that's in really bad taste? Someone give you a dare or something? Why would you be stupid enough to take it?”
I didn't know how to answer that so I stayed quiet. I was completely, utterly overwhelmed. My mind was both going full speed and not moving. Like the broken clutch on my little remote controlled car. I was prepared, barely, to think this was a very elaborate Halloween prank. But somehow I knew it wasn't.
I had nothing. My mind, despite its racing, was not producing coherent thoughts. I had no questions, no responses. Nothing.
So I just stared at him.
We were hustled into an empty small classroom, given jeans and t-shirts to change into, microwaved dinners were placed on a couple of the desks, and then we were left alone and told we'd stay in the room until they were sure we wouldn't 'turn.' I'm pretty sure the door was locked from the outside, but I hadn't actually tried it yet.
Turn where, or why it mattered, didn't appear to be something they thought needed explanation.
The classroom was really something to see. While it still contained desks piled in a corner, a blackboard with a few grade five math questions in one corner and graffiti over the rest, as well as a teacher's desk piled high with dusty books and papers, it also held several fold-up cots and some hastily constructed shelves containing what seemed to be household items, toiletries and canned food. Someone had installed thick bars on the window.
Chance hadn't moved from where he had been physically, and rather rudely, dumped on one of the cots by the guy that had been driving the car earlier. He was still huddled in a tight ball, eyes closed.
Ignoring the microwaved meals, I watched Chance for a few minutes, talking softly to him and trying to encourage him to respond to me. He didn't. So I turned on the television in the corner of the room beside the teacher's desk and climbed in beside him, wrapping my arms around him gently. I waited for something to make sense, but so far absolutely nothing was.
On the television, a commercial for garlic-tipped, silver-edged razor wire (huh?) ended and the local evening news came on.
“Good evening,” the anchor said, “it's Friday, April the 13th.” Again, huh? “Tonight's tally for the Three Valley region is four confirmed dead, and five missing and presumed turned. One confirmed dead is a patrolman. Of the others, all were breaking curfew. We also have a report of two adolescents rescued and brought to holding.” The anchor looked up from his teleprompter directly into the camera and paused, “Stay Inside. Stay protected. Stay alive. It's the law.” The same words came up on the screen behind the anchor and from his intonation and the font used in the graphic it seemed to be more a slogan than a comment.
Chance's eyes were open now and I realized he too was paying at least a bit of attention to the news program. He put his right hand over my left one, still draped around his body, and held on tightly. He was trembling. Like me.
The anchor continued, “In our top story tonight, Three Valley police have successfully raided and terminated a gay club in the Inglewood industrial district one hour prior to sundown curfew.” The picture changed from the anchor to camera footage outside what appeared to be a food warehouse. The anchor continued to talk in the background. “In accordance with the National HIV/HMV Emergency Act, all pre-turned have been neutralized.”
The footage showed well-armored and well-armed police coordinating a violent entry into the warehouse. The camera followed at a distance then zoomed in and I tightened my grip around Chance in disbelief.
The police weren't handcuffing anyone or arresting people.
They were shooting them.
Spraying the entire inside of the building with weapons on full automatic. The camera shockingly showed the entire grisly scene. A man ran out screaming, blood flowing freely from an arm. Before he could get more than two meters from the doorway, three cops with machine guns fired on him and he was not recognizable as a person by the time the body fell to the ground. He was immediately sprayed with some kind of thick yellow foam that covered his entire body. The blood around him was also sprayed. Inside the building more bodies were screaming and falling and being covered with foam.
“Fortunately, no citizens or police were injured in the raid,” continued the anchor as I watched with horror as another body fell beside a large pallet inside the warehouse, one which now contained an assortment of bullet holes with what appeared to be the packaging of Hostess Twinkies behind the ventilated cardboard.
Mercifully, the footage ended and the screen was again showing the news desk. Once more, the anchor appeared to shift from news casting into propagandizing, “If you have any information about any of these pre-turned and presumed-infected beings or any of their associates, or if anybody you know is engaging in or showing signs of homosexual or other pre-turn behaviour, you are obligated under the mandatory reporting procedures of the NHHEA to contact authorities. Do not attempt neutralization yourself.”
Chance's eyes were closed tightly once again. His breathing was well into the dangerous hyper-ventilating stage. I only noticed because I wasn't breathing at all.
“In other news, scientists are reporting a breakthrough in understanding how cellulose, apotropaics, and silver affect the HMV-V and HMV-W variants respectively of the mutated HIV retrovirus. They believe this will lead to more effective weapons against the turned.”
Chance opened his eyes. He was looking into mine and I was looking into his. Our heads were inches apart.
Chance was smart. Smarter than I am. He could put things together as well as I could. Better.
But before either of us could say a word we heard a key in the lock and the door opened. The driver from the car that rescued us strode into the room and the most awful day of my life became suddenly much worse.
“What the fuck!!” the man yelled seeing us both huddled together in Chance's cot. He too had a crossbow slung on his back. Now it suddenly appeared in his hands. I didn't know much about crossbows, but I could tell this one was cocked and ready to fire. And it was aimed directly at my chest. Apparently silver bullets were a bit too expensive to waste on the likes of us.
“We rescued us a couple a fucking pre-turned!? I'm not waiting for no fuckin' cops...fags need to be neutralized fast. You probably already infested the whole place with HMV!” He sneered and I saw his forearm muscles begin to tense.
Mr. Wallace was in the doorway at the same moment, looking at us with eyes wide in disbelief. And what I'm sure was disappointment. “Hold it, Frank!” he said.
Fortunately, Frank held it. But I could tell it was a struggle for him.
“They're kids, Frank. Impulsive. Scared. Uncertain. It might just be fear from almost being killed or turned by a vamp, not perversion. You saw the vamp as well as I did. Didn't you notice something, the resemblance?” He was pointing at Chance. “Since they're kids, and obviously not turned, we need to wait. If they show signs of turning or infection,” Mr. Wallace was alternately looking at Chance and me with heavy meaning in his eyes, “or if there's any further sign of infection-risky behaviour, I'll shoot them myself.”
I got it. I sprang up and stood several meters away from Chance.
Frank lowered his crossbow. But by his expression I had no doubt he'd rather be killing us.
“Eat your fucking food,” Frank said as he turned to walk out.
I looked over at Mr. Wallace, but he just turned and left the room. I heard the door lock behind him.
I turned off the television. I couldn't deal with the confusion, and it was just showing a news story about a yearly air safety conference at the airport. Something about a near miss at the airport where a couple of student pilots were almost killed a few years ago on this day. It was another twenty minutes before either of us said a word. It was Chance who broke the silence. “Uh, Marty...?” his voice broke into a squeak and he stopped and started again, “Marty, I'm, like, freaked out here. What happened? What's going on?”
He only had to try twice to get his voice to work. It was three times for me. I finally swallowed and said, “I dunno. Wrong date, everything's weird. Werewolves. Vampires. It's all changed, but some things are the same. Even people. It's like we're in some kind of bizarre parallel univ....” I stopped, remembering two things at once. I don't know why, but the first thing was the memory of Dr. Cornish through the window of his house. The way he was looking, that expression he often had, and that weird oversized remote control. The second thing was the lecture he gave on the local TV station last year. Something about the ramifications of current research about quantum physics and stuff about a Cheshire Cat or something like that.
“I need a computer with internet,” I said to Chance. I was surprised with my now steady voice.
“You figured something out.” He wasn't asking a question. He was stating it like a fact.
“I don't know. Maybe.” I began pacing, brooding, thinking. I wanted a computer and I wanted it now! Dammit, this wasn't fair! I looked over at Chance. He was sitting on the cot doing that thing with his mouth and nose. The thing that tells me he's thinking. And being patient. Just watching him helped me calm down.
I wanted to sit beside him. I wanted to hug him. I wanted him to hug me. I wanted to feel him next to me. But we dared not. Not with the revelations of the past hour. In fact, neither of us came within ten feet of each other, though I somehow knew the same thing was on his mind as was on mine.
“Look,” he said, noticing my mood, “there's nothing we can do right now except wait. We seem to be safe enough. We have food, and water, and a place to pee.” He pointed at the camping potty in one corner of the room. “So, since we can't do what we want to be doing, then what can we do?”
He sounded like Mr. Wallace. Not the one here. The old one. The English teacher.
“Umm, 'When in panic or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout'?” I quoted. I tried a half-smile.
Somehow, beyond all reason, Chance was much calmer now. Calmer than I was. He actually smiled back at my joke. “Somehow I don't think that'll help much. We gotta decide stuff. Then do what we've decided as soon as we can.”
I just looked at him blankly. “Decide what?” I looked around the room and raised my arms beside me, palms up, and shrugged. “Not a lot of options here.”
“We won't be here forever I don't think. You heard what I heard. You're smarter than me. We need to figure out what to do when we get out of here. Not just let shit happen to us. To do that, we need information. And we need to figure out the people around us. Who can help and who might want to do the opposite and hurt...”
Despite being a bit mentally stuck on the 'you're smarter than me' misconception, I caught enough so that I started to get emotional again. I interrupted, with more hurt than heat in my voice. Answering the part about people wanting to hurt us, I said, “Sounds like there's more than a few here that might want that for the likes of us...ummm..” I stopped, blushing. Stuck. And embarrassed.
See, the thing is, despite our tentative, very tentative, explorations, and despite what we both knew was pretty direct flirting, we had never really talked about that. I wanted to. But it was really hard to bring that up for some reason. Way, way harder than talking about school or ideas for what to do on Saturday or pretty much anything else. I don't know why. It just was. I kept thinking I'd just wait for the right opportunity and we could discuss it like mature people. But, the right opportunity just never, ever seemed to arise.
I mean, I had pretty much settled myself with the idea that I was gay, and that it wasn't going to change. Sure I wrestled with it for a long time when I first started cluing in a couple of years ago. But that was before. However, I had never said it. Not once. Not even to Chance. And, despite the signs and hints, Chance had never said anything like that to me.
So, it didn't seem right to just say that. To assume it of him. Not then. Not yet.
But here it was. This huge issue. We had safely skirted around it and hinted at it before. Not here apparently. No way.
Seemed it was going to be awfully hard to avoid, fatally hard, so I braced myself and took a deep breath.
But, Chance beat me to it. It wasn't fair, even though I admired the hell out of him. He was way more patient than me. Way smarter, and obviously way more brave and decisive too. Dammit. How was I going to live up to him?
He looked up at me. Right in my eyes. And then he said, “You mean because we're gay.” Just like that. Matter of fact. Voice even, still looking right at me. Not even blushing. Much.
I didn't answer right away. I was too surprised he could say it like that. And too envious. But I waited too long. I quickly realized what was happening as a result. His face started to change, the blush became huge and he looked, well, like a kid looks when he's forced to answer a teacher's question out loud but he then realizes he maybe said something really stupid and wrong.
So I found some dregs of bravery and rescued him. “Yeah. Because we're gay.”
I watched his face. I don't know how he did it. He was petrified before. Catatonic. Now, here he was, almost serene. Serious. Thoughtful.
So, I asked him, “How can you be so calm? I don't get it. We almost died. Twice. We're apparently surrounded by monsters and by people who sound like they'd want us dead if they found out about us. You watched your brother get shot...”
He interrupted hotly. No serenity now. At all. “That wasn't my brother!”
“I don't care what he looked like! My brother died more than a year ago. I was holding his hand when it happened. In the hospital. That wasn't my brother!”
I didn't answer. I couldn't answer. I found my arm moving forward, my hand reaching for his. But then I realized what I was doing and stopped, staring at my traitorous hand.
He was looking at it too. His expression mirrored mine. “Marty, we have to figure this out. I don't think we can survive here. Not and stay sane, anyway.”
We eventually fell asleep, hours later. In separate cots, far away from each other. But, before we finally drifted off we were both staring at each other from across the room, desperate longing for human comfort in our eyes.
The next morning, we were awoken by the sound of a key in the lock. The door opened and Mr. Wallace and Frank walked in.
“Okay, boys,” said Mr. Wallace, “you're still human. You can go as soon as we draw a blood sample from both of you.”
I looked at them. “No guns? Crossbows?”
Mr. Wallace and Frank looked at each other, then back at us like we were drugged or handicapped or something. Frank glanced out the window, then back at us. “Sun's up,” said Frank, looking at us oddly.
Chance and I looked at each other. “So, uh,” I began, confused thoughts once again going through my head, “will our parents be here to pick us up, then?”
Mr. Wallace looked surprised. Then his expression turned to pity. “Exactly where have you guys been staying? Surely you know both your parents turned long ago. That whole neighbourhood was attacked and infected. One of the first. I would've thought you had been too, long ago. Either during the attack or because of...Come to think of it, why do you guys both still look like you're about thirteen?”
Chance and I looked at each other, then back at Mr. Wallace. Neither of us said a word.
“In any case, NHHEA constables will be interviewing you sometime after you're settled in the group home. Frank, would you mind calling them now, and getting them to send a car for these two? I'll draw the blood.”
Frank grunted and left the room. Mr. Wallace waited until he was well down the hallway before continuing. He looked at us earnestly while preparing the needles and gauze and stuff for blood samples. “Boys, I know I don't have to tell you this, but be careful what you tell them. It's a dangerous world for us. All of us.” He looked back and forth between us, then added, “And for God's sake, keep well apart from each other. They'll already be looking hard at you two.”
Somehow I knew he meant a bit more than he was saying, and I could tell from Chance's expression that he did, too.
The group home was pretty much what I had expected, aside from being surrounded by razor wire and thick bars on all the windows. Most of the houses nearby were the same.
A couple of kids from my school lived in a group home and sometimes talked about it. I gathered from their experiences that the one they were in now, well, up until we seemed to have moved universes, was the best they had ever been in. Brent especially told me horror stories about one of the older boys in his old group home. What he hinted at having to put up with still makes me shudder. But they both liked their current one. Well, maybe 'liked' is the wrong word. But they said the other kids were okay, and the staff were nice. Especially one of them named Brenda who actually seemed to want to listen. And the rules and chores were fair. They were even allowed cell phones.
The group home Chance and I were taken to seemed like the better kind. Of course, maybe that was partly because the other kids weren't from horrible backgrounds or abused and stuff. They were like us. Regular kids who had lost their parents to the infection. We didn't meet them right away though.
Chance and I were shown to a large bedroom with four single beds, one in each corner. There were large hockey bags half full of rumpled kid-sized clothing and other personal possessions near the other two beds. Chance and I were shown to the two empty beds, then the staff gave Chance and me a hockey bag each with some shirts, pants, underwear, socks, hoodies, and some soap, shampoo, and deodorant and a few other odds and ends stuffed inside. They also gave us a couple of stapled-together sheets of paper with a schedule and rules and stuff. The first thing I noticed was the huge, “Curfew Strictly Enforced!” on the bottom in bold print, and the slogan we'd seen on the news yesterday printed below that. Then some kind of official looking logo with the words, in tiny print, “Department of Infection Control, under the authority of NHHEA.” underneath that.
Then two other things on the sheet caught my eye. I looked at them twice.
One was the map of the group home. In a bold red font and surrounded by huge green highlighting was a room labeled, “Armory.” It had two entrances on opposite sides of the room. Smaller labels outlined locations for crossbows, bolts, garlic dip, rifles, pistols, and clips of silver bullets.
A bit later when wandering around the house I looked over the area. I had expected thick doors and heavy locks to the armory. But there were no doors at all to the room. Peeking my head inside showed everything wide open and available to anyone. Wow.
I figured out the garlic dip wasn't meant for potato chips.
Then there was the schedule. My eye was drawn to item five.
4:30 – 6:00 PM (1:00 – 4:30 weekends) – Firearm and crossbow training and safety procedures.
I was thinking, 'Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.'
After dumping our bags on the two empty beds, Brenda, one of the staff and apparently assigned to us for the day, told Chance and me we could wander around and get to know the layout. We were explicitly told to check out the armory and explicitly forbidden to stay out of one of the refrigerators. The other one was fine, though, and had fruit and veggies and juice for snacks and stuff.
That only took about ten minutes, so Chance and I wandered down to the staff room beside the front door after that to find Brenda.
The staff room was about what I expected. An office with a couple of desks, computers, phones, and paperwork scattered around. Kinda messy. And more weapons. A large rack beside the door with arms and ammunition. Not hidden or kept away from us kids or anything. There was a large notice beside the rack, “All staff MUST wear loaded weapons by one half hour before sundown. Optional for residents with class two certification. Mandatory for residents above class two.”
Yeah. Just a slightly different attitude towards weapons than I was used to.
Brenda must have noticed me looking at the firearms rack upon entering the staff room, and my expression. But I think she misinterpreted it. “Oh. It's okay, we're getting three new crossbows, two Tenpoints and a Barnett, and two new guns next week, another carbine and another .38 revolver. The Shriners are donating them to us. Same ammunition, so we won't have to change over.”
I just blinked stupidly at her.
“Umm, what do we do now?” asked Chance.
“Well,” replied Brenda, “it's Saturday. You two won't start school until Monday. No chores until after weaponry and supper, and you don't have homework yet. Everyone else has gone swimming, so I guess you can watch TV or play video games. Or practice your shooting in the range out back. Just make sure you use practice bullets. Watch the Armalite carbine, the safety kinda sticks. The practice bullets are on the shelf underneath the silver ones.”
Chance had his turn at blinking stupidly at Brenda.
“Is there a computer with internet I can use?” I asked.
“Oh, sure. In the TV room.” She looked over at us. “If I can trust you to stay off porn sites I'll leave the blocker turned off.”
We both blushed. “Umm, yeah. No problem.” I said. Inside though, I was excited, and not about the porn. Maybe finally some answers!
“Marty?” Chance asked twenty minutes later while I was voraciously reading Wikipedia pages. We were sitting in two cheap stackable chairs in front of the computer desk. We carefully made sure they, and we, were more than a meter apart from each other. “Why aren't we more depressed. Or sad, or freaked out? I mean, we just found out our families are dead.”
“'Cause they're not.” I answered firmly. “And we both know it.”
“You heard Mr. Wallace.”
I swiveled the screen towards Chance, “Look. Read this. Both of them.” I had two browser windows open, expanded so each took up half the screen. On one was the Wikipedia page for the HMV virus, which I had just learned stood for Human Mutated-Immunodeficiency Virus. Apparently one version was for werewolves and the other led to vampires. On the other was the Wikipedia page for theMany Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics.
He took a few minutes to read. I waited, squirming. Chance saw this, glanced over at me grinning, then started reading again. I tried to stop squirming and to wait patiently for him to finish.
He finally did and looked at me thoughtfully.
“They're still home, safe and sound. They haven't gone anywhere. We have,” I said.
To his credit, Chance didn't argue. He just raised his eyebrows and asked, “What makes you think that?”
“Remember what we learned? In Science? It's the best explanation that fits the known evidence and facts. Occam's Razor.”
“What evidence?” Chance was looking back and forth between the computer and me. “And I don't know anything about razors. I haven't started shaving yet.
“No. Razor like in rule or principle. A guy named Occam came up with the one I was referring to. I've been thinking about everything that happened since we got here, and what happened before. The doc. His weird remote. That physics research place near us where he works, and what he specializes in. Everything else, like the date...and the vampires and werewolves...” I hesitated a very long couple of seconds, then finished with, “what I said just before everything changed. It's the best explanation I can see.”
“What did you say?” asked Chance.
I hesitated again. I knew it was my fault and I was scared how he'd react when he realized it. I looked down at my lap. “I said I wished we were in a world with werewolves and vampires.”
He was silent. Absolutely silent. Since I was looking down at my lap I couldn't see his expression. Just as well, no doubt. I hated seeing Chance angry—it so very rarely happened.
Finally, as I knew he would, he spoke. The edge I knew would be in his voice was there. Anger. “Marty!”
I didn't answer. I felt my eyes beginning to water.
“Marty! Stop it!”
A tear broke loose and rolled down my left cheek. It was hot and smelled salty as it ran beside my nostril. “I'm sorry. It was stupid. I was just joking but...”
“I said STOP IT!”
I shuddered a little bit. I really hated Chance being angry. Especially with me.
“You're an idiot, Marty.”
I already knew that. I didn't know why he was telling me that now. Rubbing it in, maybe? Because I'd dragged him into this mess?
“Look at me, you doofus.”
Doofus? That didn't sound quite like violent anger. More like exasperation. I looked at him.
I already saw it in his face, but he said it anyway. “It's not your fault. And you already know that. Stop trying to convince yourself it is. That's dumb. It was an accident. Or maybe the doc's fault. Squash the self-pity, you're too smart for that. We gotta figure out what to do, remember? We gotta decide.”
I squashed it. It took me the better part of a minute. He sure liked that word. Decide. Finally, I said, “Thanks, Chance.”
He smiled at me and reached out with a hand. We both heard a noise from behind us.
Chance pulled his hand back so fast you'd think he touched a stove.
We both turned our heads. Brenda was standing in the TV room doorway, holding two glasses of orange juice. She was looking at us with the oddest expression.
She came into the room and handed us the glasses. “So, uh, you guys like science fiction?”
Maybe she didn't see Chance reach for me. But I couldn't help wondering how much she heard.
“Uh. Sure.” I managed. Then I hid my reaction by gulping down the glass of juice in one go.
Brenda opened her mouth to ask something else, and I knew it was going to be tough to answer, but we were rescued by the sound of the front door opening and a couple of seconds later several people entered the room.
First was a guy in his twenties. By the way he greeted Brenda I surmised he was another one of the staff. Following him were three boys. Their hair was wet and I could smell chlorine. Obviously just back from swimming.
They were looking Chance and me over as thoroughly as we were looking them over. One was about eleven or twelve years old, one seemed almost the same age as me and the third looked like he must have been around sixteen.
Brenda introduced everyone. “Guys, this is Marty and Chance. They got here this morning from holding. No rude questions about why they were in holding or breaking curfew, please. I'm sure they'll tell you in their own time, and yes I have no doubt they'll have legal penalties to deal with so don't bug them about it.”
Well, that was news to me, and from the look Chance and I shared, it was news to him, too.
Brenda continued, “Marty, Chance, this is Jon,” she indicated the adult, “and this is Trent, Corey, and Stewart.” Trent was the slightly younger kid, Corey the one about the same age as me and Chance, and the sixteen year old was Stewart. They nodded at me.
I almost made a big mistake. I started to move forward to shake hands, like my dad taught me to do, but just in time realized nobody had made a move to do this. I caught myself just in time, though I think the boy about our age, Corey, noticed me start to move. He was looking at me funny.
In fact, I just now realized how everyone was spaced out. Taking up the whole room. Like they were all very aware of how close they were to the people around them, and determined to show they had no interest in being any closer than that. It was creepy and weird and felt somehow even more isolating than it looked. Was everyone here that scared of being anywhere close to another person of the same sex? I noticed Brenda didn't seem to share the same personal space barriers—not quite. I wonder what it would have been like if another woman or girl had been in the room.
Obviously though, they were that scared. Despite what we had seen last night on the news, and despite what we had learned today, this was the most jarring realization about where things actually stood here. The spectre of a death sentence if accusations were made suddenly was very, very real.
Even though Chance and I were standing about a meter apart, it suddenly seemed much too close as I watched the newcomers' eyes play over us and between us.
“Welcome to Cedar Brook Group Home, guys.” said Jon. “Lunch in half an hour, then weapons for the afternoon. You guys can hang out and play video games or air hockey or whatever until lunch.” Brenda and Jon walked out of the room towards the kitchen. Stewart nodded at us and climbed the stairs towards the room with two beds in it we'd seen earlier. Apparently he was alone in there, as the one bed was obviously not currently being used.
“So why'd'ya break curfew?” asked Trent as soon as Stewart walked away.
“Trent!” laughed Corey, looking at him, obviously half amused and half shocked. Okay, ninety percent amused.
“What?” asked Trent, looking at Corey with the worst fake innocent look I've ever seen. “I just wanna know if they're stupid or not. Or maybe suicidal.”
Corey ignored him, “I heard the news on the radio, when we were driving to the pool, a couple kids our age were rescued after curfew last night. Jon knew more. He said something about one of the patrolmen thinking he recognized them and realizing they must be orphans. I was wondering if you'd end up here. I know we're the only group home with openings right now for our age.”
Trent interrupted, “So what happened? How'd'ya get rescued? Did ya see any wolves killed? Vamps? Where were you living before, if your families are gone?”
“In a car. And yes, and it's complicated.” I managed to get in before Trent could ask more questions.
“Yes to what?” asked Corey.
“We got rescued in a car. Just before a...uh...a vamp got us. He was maybe a couple of meters away before one of the guys shot him with a crossbow. Then on the way back wolves were chasing us and one of them got shot.”
“Holy shit!” said Corey.
“Awesome!” said Trent.
I glanced over at Chance, who was sitting down again in one of the chairs by the computer, his head in his hands.
“Aw, fuck. We're idiots.” said Corey. “See Trent, that's why Brenda said for us to shut up.” He turned to Chance. This time his voice was different, much quieter and more gentle. “Let me guess. You were close to home. So you knew the vamp before he turned, you recognized him. You were obviously close enough to see his face. That happens way too often. Sorry. That was awful of us.”
Chance looked up and tried his best at a smile to show he accepted the apology. I answered Corey's question, “Well, yeah. Kind of. Like I said, it's complicated.”
Trent looked at us funny, but held his tongue. I could tell with difficulty.
Corey made a visible effort to change the subject, and just said, “Let's play COD: Wolf Attack.” He turned on the TV and video game console and inserted a disk.
So we played. It was weird. Very weird. I'd never been in a group of guys my age like this and not seen some shoving, bumping, maybe a bit of wrestling. Lots of ribald talk. Not here though. Oh, sure, there was still joking and teasing. But absolutely nobody came near anyone else. Even when Corey got up and left the room to go to the bathroom. He made his way to the doorway by keeping a huge buffer between himself and everyone else. And I'm not sure he was even conscious he was doing it, it just seemed automatic. Also, there was absolutely no joking about gays, which was weird too for a group of boys around my age.
I should have been glad for the absence of that. But I wasn't. Because I knew what it meant.
I didn't know how they did it. I mean, sure, for older adults it was probably easy. They didn't need all that stuff like human contact and hugging and touching 'cause they were too old for all that. Okay, well maybe my parents did, but not really anyone else much that I could see. But for kids it was different. At least for me. I couldn't imagine not ever being able to wrestle with another boy sometimes, or never get a pat on a back or fist bump or high five. Never mind all the other stuff I'd been thinking about these days. The stuff that involved as few clothes in the way as possible.
I was going to go insane here. I just knew it.
I really wanted to go home.
After lunch that Jon grabbed a bunch of stuff from the armory and brought it out back. There was some kind of shooting range set up there in what used to be the back alley between the houses on the block the group home was on. I guessed the whole block practiced there. That's what it looked like.
Weaponry lessons were awful. I kind of knew they would be. I didn't have a clue about guns or crossbows or stuff. To be honest I was kind of scared of them and really didn't even want to touch them at first. Then I was completely freaked out by how heavy the guns were. Nothing at all like the fake ones some of my friends used to play with when we were all younger.
And there was the whole, “One wrong move and someone's hurt or dead,” stuff. So, yeah. Not fun.
Chance wasn't quite so bad, of course, with his dad teaching him to shoot rifles and stuff. Though he was just as bad with the crossbow and almost as bad as me with a pistol.
Anyway, we were all herded to the range, and Brenda turned to me and Chance and asked, “So, you guys are about Corey's age, so what are you? Class two on both?”
“Uh...” I said.
Chance just looked at Brenda.
“Well, come on. Tell me your certification. I don't want to embarrass you but I don't want to start off too basic or too advanced. This is too important to let your feelings get in the way. How much experience have you guys had?”
“Well, none.” I finally managed.
“Uh, I've shot rifles a bit.” said Chance.
Jon looked at us with disbelief. “What do you mean, 'none?'” This was addressed to me.
“I mean none. I've never shot a gun in my life. Or a crossbow. Ever. Never even touched one.”
Everyone, and I mean everyone, was staring at me. Well, everyone except Chance. He was just examining one of the rifles.
Brenda handled this better than Jon. Jon, I'm sure, thought I was lying. I could tell from his expression. He started to say, “Just where the hell have you guys been...”
Brenda though, she just smiled and loudly interrupted, with a meaningful look towards Jon, “Okay then. I think I have a manual somewhere around here for pre-basic. We had a couple of little kids here last year. We'll start from scratch.”
And so we did.
I was exhausted by 4:30, and frustrated. And embarrassed. Stewart and Corey weren't too bad at hiding their amazement at how pathetic we were, but Trent had a bit more difficulty. It didn't help that he was the best shot out of all of the kids, even better than Stew.
I thought we were done early when at 4:00 we were herded back inside. I was ready to go and lie down for a while. I was tired and sore. But nope, then we had more embarrassment. Disassembly, cleaning, proper storage.
I was never going to learn all this. I was also hoping I wouldn't have to, if Chance and I could figure out how the hell to get out of this nightmare world.
Chance and I shared the bedroom with Corey and Trent. We had the beds closer to the door, on the north side of the room. Corey and Trent had the two beds on the south side, with Corey over on the left as you came in the door, or I guess the east side. And Trent was on the west. The door was in the middle of the room on the north. The window was in the middle of the wall on the south, between Trent and Corey's beds.
I mention all this because bedtime, and a bit later, was another learning experience. After supper and chores there was some free time before we were sent up to our room for bed. I walked to my bed, opened my bag and pulled out some sweats and a t-shirt I found in there. I had no idea what to wear to bed, so I was going to go on the cautious side of things. I was just about to pull off my t-shirt to change when I realized that would have been a bit awkward. A lot awkward.
Everybody changed by themselves behind closed doors in the bathroom. One at a time. Everybody had their shower then came out with long sweatpants or pajamas and a t-shirt. Even though it was plenty warm enough for shorts or boxers and no t-shirt. Nobody even seemed willing to risk being seen without a shirt on. The paranoia about being accused of being gay was that deep.
I wondered how they'd handled it at the pool earlier? Probably changing cubicles for everyone I figured. And I bet they all swam in t-shirts and bathing suits that came down past the knees, and maybe they even wore underwear underneath them.
It took me a long while to fall asleep. Chance and I stared at each other from across the room for a long time before we drifted off. I know he wanted to talk, and so did I. But we couldn't. Not about how to get home, and not really about anything else either. Trent and Corey just closed their eyes and went right to sleep, so we couldn't really make any noise without feeling like we were being rude. And we weren't willing to risk going to another room to talk. Might have looked suspicious.
I woke up about an hour later. I wasn't sure why for a few seconds, but then realized what it was.
“You awake, Corey?” That was Trent, whispering very quietly.
There was no answer, so Trent tried again. This time slightly louder.
“Corey? You awake?”
Corey answered this time. A very quiet whisper. “Yeah.”
“Umm. Can I...I mean...I had a nightmare.” I didn't know him well, but I could tell he was lying. He was meaning something else.
Corey obviously knew what it was. “No, Trent. That's really stupid. We're not alone in here anymore, remember?”
I heard some noise from Chance's side of the room. Maybe he just turned over or something. Corey and Trent were quiet for a couple of minutes.
Then Trent whispered, “Corey? Please? I really need to. Like, really.”
“Corey?” Trent sounded like he was almost crying.
I heard some rustling from Corey's bed. I think maybe he was sitting up, looking over at me and Chance. “Okay. Just for a minute or two. But for God's sake be quiet!”
I opened my eyes a sliver. It was mostly dark, but I could make out Trent very slowly and very carefully climbing out of bed. He passed in front of the window, which added enough light that I could see him a bit better. He paused, looked over at Chance, studied his form for a second, then did the same to me. I didn't move. Didn't breathe.
Then Trent looked back at Corey. He smiled slightly. There was something else too in his expression. Fear, I think. And guilt. Then he pulled off his t-shirt, placed it quietly on the floor beside Corey's bed, and then his sweats and boxers followed.
He was naked. He was rigidly erect. Silhouetted by the blood-red giant moon shining in the window.
One more glance towards me and Chance and he climbed in Corey's bed. I saw them wrap their arms around each other tightly, and hug like they were desperate for the human contact.
I have no doubt they probably were.
There was some rustling, mostly from Corey, then they began quietly humping into each other. Gently, carefully. The hug never stopped. In fact it increased. They desperately tried to get every square millimeter of skin they each had to come in contact with the other.
Corey opened his eyes and looked over Trent's shoulder at me. Then his eyes opened wide. Shockingly wide. “Oh, fuck!”
He shoved Trent backwards hard. Trent fell on the floor, still naked, still hard. He looked back at Corey, “What did you do...” He followed Corey's gaze. Right at me.
He immediately began crying. Sobbing desperately. Pathetically. He tried to curl up in a fetal position and put on his clothes at the same time. Corey was trying to quieten him.
“Sshhhh! You'll wake the staff!” he said to Trent. But he was looking at me. Tears were on his face. He was shaking. Trembling badly. More than Chance was when he saw his vampire-brother.
Still on the floor, Trent quieted down, but he too was shaking badly. Then he peed. Right on the floor. In fear.
I finally realized my eyes were wide open, and had been for the last few minutes. Corey had seen me watching them. When Corey shoved Trent away I felt embarrassed for watching their private moment for a half second, but realized awfully quickly they weren't angry at me for watching, or embarrassed, or anything like that.
They were both petrified. Like people in front of a firing squad. Just like that. Exactly like that. Completely, and totally petrified.
“Can you at least let us try and run? I mean, we'll probably get bit before we get two blocks anyway. Just a two minute head start? I promise we won't take weapons.” Corey said. His voice sounded like a three-year-old's does when trying to talk his way out of a punishment. Only more pathetic.
I didn't answer. I was searching for what to say.
Corey was still trembling. But somehow he managed to pull his covers back and stand up. He too was naked. Under different circumstances I would have been admiring him. He was gorgeous.
But these weren't those circumstances. He pulled his sweats and shirt from under his covers, put them on after several attempts because he was shaking so badly, then tried to pull Trent to his feet while standing as far away from him as possible. “Come on, Trent. Let's go.” His voice was dejected. Completely defeated. He kept looking back at me, and my hands, as if he expected me to have a gun and already be shooting him.
I still was having trouble figuring out what to do, or to say. Trent managed to get to his feet, fell down to a knee again after slipping in his puddle of pee, then got up and managed to get dressed. His sweats were soaked in pee from the floor in the process. They were standing well apart from each other, like it mattered now, though I could tell they wanted to be doing the opposite.
They began walking to the door of the room.
“No. Stop,” whispered Chance.
I didn't even realize he was awake. I was glad he was. I was still trying to figure out the next move.
“You don't have to go,” said Chance, still whispering.
If anything, Corey's shoulders slumped more. “Okay. We'll wait here.” He sat down on his bed. His voice sounded like he realized he was already dead.
“No,” Chance continued, his voice just slightly louder though still whispering. “It's fine. You don't have to go and we're not going to hurt you. Or tell. Me and Marty. We're gay too. And boyfriends.”
We were?!? Really?!
Okay, I know. Not exactly the time for that reaction, but holy shit! Really? Despite everything, I couldn't help but feel a bit giddy and excited at that pronouncement.
“Hey! We're not...” Corey started to say, a bit of heat in his voice even though he was still whispering. But he looked over at Trent, still standing in his puddle of pee and looking at the floor, and he just stopped. Just stopped, and looked down at his feet. His shoulders slumped even further somehow.
“Come on, Marty. Let's help them get cleaned up.” Chance got out of bed with a purpose and began heading to the bathroom, where he wet a washcloth and towel with warm water and headed decisively back towards the room. He handed the washcloth to Trent, along with a pair of clean boxers and sweats from his bag, and gently steered him towards the bathroom. Then he got down on his hands and knees and began cleaning up Trent's puddle of pee.
I'm pretty sure I fell truly in love with him at that moment.
He did like to decide. And act.
I couldn't get out of bed to help him fast enough.
We didn't get back to sleep for another two hours, and then it was only after Corey and Trent heard our story. I'm not sure they believed us. I'm not sure I believed us. But, now they knew.
It started when Corey was looking at me and Chance down on our hands and knees cleaning up pee. He just shook his head, “How can you guys be so, like, calm and collected. I mean, Chance, you just out and said you guys are gay. And boyfriends. Like it almost doesn't matter.”
Chance looked up at him, “'Cause it doesn't. Not really. Or, at least, less and less, where we're from.”
“Umm, you're from here. You grew up here. In Three Valley. I know, I heard Brenda and Jon talk about your parents and stuff.” said Corey.
“Nope.” I said. “Believe me, this is nothing at all like where we're from. I mean, yeah we're from Three Valley. But not this Three Valley. Vampires? Werewolves? Those are just stories to scare kids. Why do you think I never touched a gun before today?”
By then Trent was back in the room. So, Chance and I told them our story. We told them about our lives, our world, what it was like for gays there, how boys wrestled and bumped and shoved and jostled and touched and sometimes jerked off together even if they weren't gay, just for fun, and how HIV never mutated into HMV and could be controlled with medication and how there was promising research on vaccines. On how the HIV and gay connection in the culture of the land was still there, but less and less, and that gay marriage was even legal.
They found that last bit of information hardest to believe. Even harder than the whole switching-universe thing.
Finally, after all that, we climbed back into our beds and fell asleep around 2:00 AM. The last thing I remembered, just before I drifted off, was thinking I heard a bedroom door softly close down the hallway.
Sunday morning Chance and I managed a brief conversation before going down for breakfast, and I knew I had some work to do. After breakfast cleanup and Sunday chores was free time until lunch and weaponry, so I called dibs on the computer and started my research.
It didn't take nearly as long as I thought it would. There was a great webpage by a Dr. Pollack that explained almost everything I needed to know. The page even had a picture of his family. His son was kind of cute.
During lunch I volunteered me and Chance to do lunch clean-up, and the first part of my plan began to come together. As I expected, Chance and I were left alone in the kitchen so we had some time to talk.
“I was right.” I said to Chance almost immediately while carrying plates and cups and placing them in the dishwasher. “That facility near here has been working on multi-world quantum theory for years. Trying to make a real indeterminacy field. Two main guys. Doc Cornish of course, and another guy named Dr. Pollack who seems a lot more sane from his website. Anyway, the facility is under fairly tight security. Though the one here has another whole section for HMV research. I don't think anything like that exists at home.
“But at night, the security is just one guy. A patrolman. 'Cause of the curfew, and the vampires and wolves, nobody would dare be out there at night, so they figure that's all they need.”
Chance was quiet for a minute while he wiped the counter tops with a soapy rag. Then he looked at me, “You want to go there at night. Sneak out of here without anyone knowing. Somehow try and stay alive and not get eaten or turned by vampires and werewolves, figure out how to get from here to a place ten kilometers away, figure out how to get past whatever electronic surveillance they have, how to get by a patrolman, and still not get eaten. Then get through what I'm sure must be a bunch of locked doors, figure out where the equipment—which, by the way, might not even exist—is kept. Then figure out how it works, how to turn it on, how to operate it without killing ourselves, and then go home.”
“Yup. Pretty much.” I closed the dishwasher with a flourish. I heard Brenda answer the phone back in the office in the front of the house and we lowered our voices a bit. “We've been close to that place before. Right at the end of summer. Well, summer in our world. Remember when we went camping at the park near the lake that one time? Just you and me? Remember how we woke up that night wondering what the noise was from that place? The weird glow in the air? I'll bet something was going on already back then. Maybe we were caught in it, maybe that's why we're here and others aren't. Anyway, that's the plan so far.”
“That's completely stupid.” Chance hung up the dishrag on the faucet and then looked out the kitchen window into the backyard. Stewart, Corey, and Trent were out there, playing football. Some bizarre version of football where the players didn't dare come within ten feet of each other. He watched them for a minute, then he looked back at me. “When?”
“Well, obviously we need more time to figure this all out. There must be a map of that place somewhere. We need to figure out transportation. I guess it wouldn't hurt if we got a bit better at those weapons first and we gotta figure out the security and locks and stuff...”
I was interrupted by Brenda walking into the room, a funny look on her face. “You two won't be going to school in the morning. An NHHEA constable is going to be here just after sunrise, and you guys are going with him and back to holding for a few days. Maybe a few weeks. Not the old elementary school temp holding. Somewhere else more secure. Something about some weird results from your blood tests. Not HMV. Something else. Antibodies you shouldn't have that show you've been exposed to something that's completely impossible. I don't know more than that, and I'm probably saying all that wrong. I'm no doctor or biologist. He wouldn't say any more. I probably wasn't supposed to tell you guys that, but I wasn't told not to, and I'm no NHHEA shill.” The tone of her voice told me exactly what she seemed to think of some of their policies.
Chance and I looked at each other.
I was thinking, 'I guess it's going to be tonight.'
It's amazing how things work. One thing affects another then that affects something else. Chance and I were the most dedicated, focused students imaginable in weaponry that afternoon. I could tell Corey and Trent noticed. Even Stewart was giving us odd looks. Then, when I used every scrap of time I could for the rest of the day to get back on the computer to try to figure out anything that might help, I got even more weird looks. I was surprised Brenda gave me so much time on the computer.
By bedtime I was starting to get a touch nervous.
Okay, I'm lying.
By bedtime I was a complete wreck. Chance could barely walk and talk.
I knew we'd be lucky to get five blocks.
The plan, such as it was, was put together in snatches of conversation between Chance and me at opportune moments. It was to wake up and sneak out at about 4:00 AM. We hoped the slight beginning of light in the eastern April sky would slow down the wolves and vampires. Wikipedia suggested as much. We'd take the group home van parked outside. The keys were hanging beside the gun rack in the office. I knew how to get to the facility now, thanks to Google Maps and Streetview. We were going to go slowly with the lights turned off and hope we didn't attract attention from patrols. Or vampires. Or werewolves. My driving experience was limited squarely to a dozen times at the kart track. And a few times when Dad let me steer sitting in his lap. Chance was about the same. I guessed I'd just have to be careful.
Once we got there, if we got there, we figured we'd just shoot through all the locked doors. I'd learned from a Youtube video of a tour of the facility that Dr. Pollack had conducted last year that the place we were looking for was almost certainly the room with the weird equipment on the lower level at the end of the long hallway.
I hoped there was just a big 'On/Off' button for all that stuff. I knew it couldn't be that simple, though.
Neither of us even mentioned anything about how to deal with the patrolman.
Chance and I got through our bedtime routines without a word to anyone. Corey and Trent kept giving us odd looks. I was sure they knew something was up with the two of us. It was obvious. I just hoped they didn't know what it was. We climbed into bed and I lay there for hours, staring at the ceiling, wondering if we'd be taking this risk if we were a few years older and supposedly more mature.
I must have drifted off eventually. There were cheap clock radios on the nightstand beside each of the beds, and I had set mine and shoved it under my pillow after lights out. I didn't want the noise waking anyone else up. As a result, I almost didn't hear it. I remember being pulled out of my dream of being chased and devoured by a werewolf by the steady, 'beep, beep.' In my dream, it was a heart monitor at the hospital after I'd been half eaten. Eventually it pulled me to groggy consciousness, and then, remembering, to instant adrenaline-fueled wakefulness.
I carefully slid out of bed and woke up Chance with a hand on his shoulder. He awoke instantly. Wide eyes stared into mine. We quietly got dressed and crept carefully downstairs to the armory. I was going to be driving, so I took a pistol, I forget what it was called but it used a clip with a bunch of bullets in it. I remembered to put a clip with the silver bullets in it instead of the cheaper regular bullets we'd used for practice. I also pocketed another three clips. Chance took one of the short rifles, I think Jon called it a carbine, as well as a pistol and ammunition for both. We each took the crossbow we'd been practicing with earlier today and wooden bolts, pre-dipped in garlic, for both. As many as we could reasonably carry.
I was just pocketing the last clip when a voice from behind me made me turn around, startled.
“You should take a second gun holstered on your chest. I'll take the automatic.”
I stared at Stewart, fully dressed and gearing himself up like that scene out of the first Matrix movie. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“Hopefully keeping you two idiots alive. You don't know shit about this world. Obviously. And you can't shoot worth crap. At least Chance can hit a target with the rifle occasionally.”
“Uh, how do you...?” asked Chance.
Stewart interrupted by clicking home a clip on a pistol which he then holstered on his leg. He said, “I heard you guys talking last night.”
“Why would you want to help?” I started to ask, but was again interrupted.
“I'm older than Corey and Trent. I remember the world before the infection spread, when I was little. You guys describing everything about your world just reminded me of what it was like. If I had a chance to go back to a place like that, to get out of here, I'd take it in a second.”
Yet again, I didn't get to finish my sentence. “Are you...?”
“Gay? No. But, like I said, I remember. And I'm not an idiot...” He paused a long while, then added, “A guy I went to school with, only two years older than me, he was killed in that raid Friday afternoon.” He looked at me. “He wasn't a horrible person. Or some kind of pervert or infested with some disease. He was a nice guy. Kind. And helpful. Now, I'm supposed to pretend he was never even a human being.”
“Look. Just shut up and don't argue.” He looked back and forth between us. “I've got my learner's license but I think I'd do more good shooting than driving. You guys can't hit anything you aim at. Can one of you drive?”
I just nodded, though by my expression and his reaction he knew I was lying.
“Oh, great.” he said.
“It's okay, I'll drive,” said Brenda, standing just outside the armory doorway. She too looked like something out of a summer action movie and the van keys dangled from one hand.
Chance and I just stared at her.
“Yeah, I figured it out too. I've got inside information from someone that was working at holding Friday night. And I heard you guys at the computer. And all that stuff about antibodies from the NHHEA. I'm not stupid. I didn't believe it at first, of course. But, after watching you two since you got here, the way you interact with people, your personal space, the way you both kept stopping yourself from getting close, like it was completely bizarre that you'd have to do that. Well, it just fits.” She smiled. “And I cheated. After you guys went to bed I spent an hour at the computer, looking over those web pages you've been looking at. Aren't all teenage boys supposed to know about erasing their history before they close down a computer?”
Her grin told me what she was referring to, and I blushed.
“Why don't you look scared?” asked Chance.
Stewart looked only slightly less scared than we did. I looked at Brenda, wondering about her answer.
“I am.” she said. But then she added, “Look. Of course I'm scared. But you just get better at dealing with that kind of thing with experience. And, I've been out there at night. A year and a half on patrol and there's not much I haven't seen.” She shuddered. “Why do you think I work here now? I had enough of that. Anyway, let's go. We need to get this all sorted before sunrise and the end of curfew.” She walked to the front door and opened it.
“Just a second, we need to get geared up.” This from Trent, as he and Corey came in the other door into the armory and began doing what everyone else had done. Loading up with more weapons than the last Van Damme movie.
Chance and I just stared. So much for our little expedition. So much for controlling what was going on. So much for deciding.
I guess we weren't the only ones who thought they'd decide stuff.
Brenda said, “Trent, Corey, back to bed. Now.”
Corey ignored her and seemed to slam home a clip in the rifle he was holding with a bit more flourish than necessary. He was staring at her defiantly. With the look only a really stubborn, rebellious, and overly cocky fourteen-year-old can muster up. Yeah, that one. The one that instantly makes parents the world over vent steam out of their ears.
Trent didn't even look at her. He just kept filling his pockets and belt pouches with ammo and, in his usual voice, said, “No, we'll go with you. I'm a better shot than any of you. Even you, Brenda.” They then both walked to the front door and out. Trent got in the backseat of the van in the driveway, He opened the window and placed the bipod of one of his rifles on the sill, then looked back at the rest of us. Corey stood beside the makeshift gate in the razor wire, ready to pull it open, and gave us all an expectant look.
“Yeah, but that's just practice shots in the range...” Brenda was trying to say before she seemed to realize it was pointless. Her shoulders slumped, then squared up again. “Fuck it. Let's go.” She climbed into the driver's seat and buckled up. It was the first time I heard anything remotely close to a swear word from her mouth.
Brenda started the van, we climbed in and buckled up, weapons at the ready. Corey opened the gate, the van slipped through, he closed the gate, jumped in the passenger seat of the van, and buckled up.
And the strangest field trip I've ever been on began. I hoped everyone had remembered their permission slips.
“Uh, Brenda, the headlights?” I said a half minute later.
“Yup. Already on bright. High-beams.”
I started to respond then figured it out, remembering what I'd read. Lights. They'd slow any vamps or wolves down that were in front of us. I'd been planning to try this with no lights on at all.
Chance and I wouldn't have made it five blocks without help.
I say that because it was exactly five blocks later when the headlights caught the first werewolf in front of us. It was beside a parked car. Snacking on a poor golden retriever with the dirty remains of a red nylon collar around his neck. Poor thing. I felt a stab of sympathy for about a millisecond. Then the wolf was looking through the windshield at us.
I hadn't known werewolves could grin.
It loped towards us. Lightning quick. I couldn't help wondering how much quicker it would have been without the headlights shining on it.
Stewart stood up through the now-open sunroof. Brenda stopped so he could aim easier and to slow the approach rate. Stewart aimed and fired.
Thunk. A crossbow bolt went through the wolf and out the other side.
The wolf kept coming!
I felt my fingernails sink deep in the fabric of the seat. Way too scared to even think about raising a weapon.
“Stew! Why'd you use a crossbow. That's a wolf!” said Chance.
“Yeah. I know. Gun would've brought five more. Their ears, remember? It's okay, the bolt was silvered.” Brenda nodded to him to show he'd made the right decision.
To prove his point, the wolf with the gaping hole through his chest kept coming, and then fell dead less than a meter from the front of the van and began smoking in the light from the high-beams. Brenda waited until Stew was back inside, then pressed the button to close the sunroof. She hit the gas and drove over the dead werewolf with a bump and turned right at the corner. Flashing her lights the entire way.
Like I said, we wouldn't have made it five blocks.
Two blocks later Trent squeezed his crossbow trigger and we watched a vampire hiding in a shadow behind a parked car fall over and his red eyes fade into nothingness.
Trent looked down at his crossbow, then he slumped back in his seat. A strange look on his face. His eyes unfocused.
“First kill is like that.” Brenda told him softly, looking in the mirror as she drove. “Every time. Can't be helped.” She waited a couple of beats, then, “Sorry Trent, but you came along. You wanted to help. And you have. I hate to do this, I really do, but...” Her voice got suddenly firm. Direct, loud and ugly, “Load that fucking crossbow and pay attention! This isn't over and there are no passengers.” Her eyes looked hard at me, then at Chance for a half second before she looked back at Trent. Message received and understood. I swallowed hard and raised my crossbow to the window. “We still need you!” finished Brenda.
Despite a tear rolling down his cheek, and a vacant look on his face, Trent reloaded and somehow managed to set himself up at the window once again.
I felt horrible for him. I didn't know why Brenda was being so mean.
Until three seconds later when Trent got his second kill. Another vampire that had snuck up beside his window, seeming to keep up to our speed with just a casual stroll. If Trent hadn't reloaded, I have no doubt it would've been inside a second or two later.
Instead, it fell with a soft thud. Trent's mouth set itself in a firm, savage look no kid his age should ever have, and he reloaded once again.
Stewart brought down another wolf with a silvered crossbow bolt just before we crossed the bridge. Corey shot at and missed another, but it seemed to think a scared looking pedestrian breaking curfew a block away was an easier target, and the giant creature was on the poor guy like a shot. The poor man didn't even get his pistol aimed the right direction before teeth were in his throat. I turned away and barely managed to keep myself from throwing up. We bumped over the expansion joint onto the bridge across the river.
And that's when our happy and carefree group home field trip got a wee bit interesting.
It all started when the van reached the halfway point of the bridge. It hindsight it should have been obvious. A perfect choke point. Nowhere to go.
The yellow eyes in the headlights as we came over the top of the bridge were the first thing we noticed. Dozens of them. Brenda slowed the van, then stopped. She had no choice. There was nothing else she could do.
Behind the yellow eyes were glowing red ones. At least four vampires, who had apparently somehow herded the wolves in front of them onto the bridge. They were just standing there serenely. Probably waiting for their opportunity.
Brenda swore and put the van into reverse. She swung her head around and looked back the way we came. I saw her expression, so did everyone else, and we all looked backwards.
Another row of werewolves was blocking the road the way we had come. And behind them, six more vampires.
We were trapped.
Bizarrely, I found myself wondering how they were all going to call dibs on our blood. There were way more of them than there were of us. Rock, paper, scissors maybe?
The vision of a few werewolves and vampires in my mind, with hands and paws up, calling, “One, two, three...” and throwing out one of the familiar signs is what brought me out of my frozen state. I shook my head and brought my rifle up and aimed. No point in being quiet now.
Gunfire erupted from every corner of the van. Taking care of the closer werewolves was the first order of business. The vampires could wait for a moment. My first two shots were pathetic. The first wildly high, the second bit into the concrete bridge decking well in front of the closest wolf.
They were fast. Especially the ones not directly in line of our headlights. The bright LED lights fastened to our weapons and shining forwards helped, but not nearly as much as I would have liked. The wolves moved laterally, back and forth, avoiding our shots. Two in front of the van fell, one hit by Brenda and the other from Stewart, standing half out of the sunroof once again. A third fell and I heard Chance's expression of satisfaction, then, like Trent a few moments ago, a sound closer to a distraught moan as he bore the emotional brunt of what he had just done.
Less than five seconds later I had a personal and up-front taste of that feeling. A wolf had snuck close, diagonally from the left rear of the van, between the area Trent was covering and Chance's shots out of the rear window. He reared up on his hind legs, mouth open in a snarl, teeth bared, and thrust his head right through the partially open glass window, smashing the glass like it wasn't even there, Good thing I was already aiming that direction. I couldn't have missed if I tried. I didn't even fire intentionally. I just tensed up in panic at the sudden sight and the overwhelming rotten meat smell of the creature's breath and the gun fired.
The wolf fell back outside the van, and the stink of rotten meat lessened, drowned out by the smell of gunpowder, metal, and the ever-present stink of garlic from the ready crossbow bolts.
Sweat dripped down into my eyes, the salt making me blink furiously. My heart was pounding hard enough to make my chest throb visibly. I had a funny taste in my mouth, more than the echo of the smells of the battle around me. I blinked again, staring down at my hands, at the rifle. It was the first time in my life I had killed anything other than an insect.
I had seen Trent's reaction, and heard Brenda's comments. I knew from the first day of firearm training about this. Then I saw Chance's own reaction just a few seconds ago.
None of that prepared me for this. How could it?
I knew it wasn't really quite alive. I had read the articles. HMV killed the host quickly, then the mutated virus took over the cell's functions, replacing the DNA with a new one, transforming the host into either a wolf or a vampire. It then entered the next stage of the virus' life cycle: feeding on blood or meat to keep the host cells functioning enough to continue to move, and biting but not killing further victims in order to spread and reproduce.
There was ongoing controversy, even back home in my world, about whether or not viruses were really alive in the true definition of the word. They kind of were and kind of weren't. In this case, the virus was just using the machinery of the former host's body to get around, to do what it did. So, even if it was alive, killing the wolf was like killing an infection with antibiotics.
Knowing all that just didn't help one iota. Not one bit. Knowing, and feeling, I was reminded once again, are often very, very different things in life.
The only thing that kept me going was the three million liters of adrenaline pumping through my body and the shocking noises around me. I raised my weapon once again. I knew I'd be paying a huge emotional toll later. If I was lucky enough that there was a later. But I really didn't have a lot of time to contemplate much of that right at that moment.
I noticed movement from behind the werewolves, and I realized what was happening. Everyone was distracted by the wolves, while the vampires moved in the shadows. Then, when we weren't looking, they began following the shadows, getting ever closer.
Two were almost next to us, one right underneath Trent's window and the other closer to the rear of the van. I yelled, “Trent!! Crossbow! Vamp at six O'Clock! Right below you!” then traded my rifle in for my own crossbow.
I wildly fired towards the vampire behind the van. The bolt went through the vamp's hand and the impassive, pale face looked at me. It once again began moving.
Maybe I slowed it down just enough because of the garlic on the bolt, or maybe Stewart was just that good. He fired two shots from his rifle right into the vamp's head. The vampire stopped for two seconds, long enough for Stewart to lift, aim, then fire his own crossbow. Thunk! A garlic-tipped wooden stake right through the vampire's chest. It fell, the glowing red eyes dimming, then extinguishing.
Trent of course didn't miss his target. His shot was immediate and accurate, almost straight down below his window. Another vampire fell and Trent nodded his thanks towards me as he reloaded.
I glanced at Stewart, thanking him with my eyes, and reloaded my own weapon.
Less than two minutes later, Brenda's crossbow bolt felled the last vampire. Silence, except for the wild breathing from everyone in the van. All the wolves were either dead or had fled.
Brenda put the van back into gear.
But before we could move even an inch, wave two arrived.
What happened then was my fault.
I know it was.
I noticed the yellow and red eyes off on the distant shores, both sides of the bridge, while we were still fighting. All the noise and smells of the battle must have brought them. But I didn't say anything. And out of all the bullets I shot, out of all the crossbow bolts I fired, I don't remember how many of each, I had exactly two hits, and one was really a miss. So many misses, so much wasted ammunition.
If I hadn't missed so much, maybe we could have just done it again. Sat tight and kept shooting. But, we couldn't.
Brenda was yelling, “Hold on! We need to make a run. Another fight like the last one and we won't have enough ammo left for the rest of the way.” She hit the gas and the van began moving. Stewart and Corey were clearing the way ahead as best they could, firing steadily, but mostly missing the creatures thanks to their speed and the now moving van.
We were less than fifteen meters from the end of the bridge when at least a dozen more werewolves were in front of us, blocking the way.
I knew Brenda couldn't just drive through them. They were too big. Too heavy. Even if we didn't stop, we'd be slowed down enough that some would be on us.
Behind us, several pairs of yellow and red eyes were headed our direction from the other side of the bridge.
Brenda stopped again. She had no choice.
Trent, Chance, and I changed our direction of fire. The one's behind were coming fast, but we had at least fifteen or twenty seconds before they'd be close. The one's in front were the obvious problem.
We kept firing, but we all knew it at pretty much the same time when we saw more yellow eyes in the distance loping towards the bridge.
We weren't going to make it.
There was a second's silence where we all paused firing, seeming to realize that fact at the same moment.
Then Stewart looked at us. At me and Chance. Then he looked up at the huge red moon, then down at the floor, then back at me and Chance. He turned to Brenda, “As soon as you can, hit it. You'll know when.”
And then the stupid idiot climbed out of the sunroof, jumped off the van and over the concrete median separating the roadway from the sidewalk. And he began running.
I still don't know why he did it. I barely knew him. He barely knew us. It didn't make sense! Even with what he told us about his friend at school, it didn't make sense. All I knew is that there was far more to Stewart than my first impression of a quiet sixteen year old orphan kid.
Now I'll never get to find out what that was.
Stewart was only a few meters down the roadway before more than half of the werewolves in front of us, mostly the ones on the right, closer the sidewalk, chased after him.
Brenda floored it.
“Stop!” I yelled, though I knew it was stupid and pointless. And would be suicide for all of us. Fortunately, Brenda knew better. Her face was a tight mask. Her lips drawn tight in an ugly grimace. She steered the van, engine racing madly, through the gap created by the wolves now already on Stewart, tearing him into bloody pieces.
He never made a sound.
Trent vomited. Then he made a horrible sound and threw up again. Somehow Corey kept shooting, though how he could see through those constant tears I have no idea. The pitiful wailing noise he was making maybe helped. It couldn't have done anything except scare the wolves and vampires away.
Chance was frozen solid, like me. Somehow though, he managed to overcome this and, his face a frozen mask scary in its impassivity, he just aimed, fired, and reloaded. Aimed, fired, and reloaded. Over and over. The van kept rolling. Nobody said a word. If it weren't for Brenda driving with one hand, shooting her pistol with the other out the window, and for Chance and Corey helping clear the way, it would have been over.
I was useless.
Stewart was dead. Everyone else, except maybe Brenda, was ruined. Shattered. And it was all my fault, me and my stupid fucking plan to selfishly want to go home.
Now I was just sitting here uselessly. A frozen, pathetic, blob, while everyone else did all the work.
Maybe that's what did it. I don't know. Maybe it was that or maybe it was something else. All I know is that I found myself, right then, reloading my weapons, taking careful aim, and firing.
My next three shots hit. Two wolves with the rifle, silver bullets right into the centre of mass, and a vampire with the crossbow, a garlicked wooden stake right through the heart. Down and dead.
Trent, ignoring his vomit covered shirt and chin, was now doing much the same. Very strangely, I found myself feeling a whole lot better about his freely flowing tears than the ugly look he had tried on earlier.
I don't know why.
Brenda rocketed through the parking lot a few minutes later and parked the van less than two meters from the front door of the facility. I reloaded, determined to at least do my part, and readied myself to shoot through the glass front door of the building.
But, the door opened, and a shocked looking patrolman walked out, his weapons at the ready.
Drawing the short straw for tonight's assignment to guard the research facility was, apparently, Mr. Wallace.
I lowered my weapon. I couldn't help it. I didn't know what to do. I just knew there was nothing, nothing at all, that I could do against him. Any version of him. He had always been my very favorite teacher. I saw Chance having exactly the same reaction beside me. All we'd been through, and it was all going to end here.
Brenda didn't seem to share the same feelings. She turned off the van, and with an unreadable expression on her face opened her door, got out, and ran right towards him.
And right into a giant hug. “Oh, Dad!” is all she said as I watched Mr. Wallace hug her back and stare at the smashed and bloody van, at Corey and Trent now standing on either side of it, weapons ready and eyes searching for nearby vamps and wolves, and, finally, with shocked recognition, at me and Chance.
It seemed whatever version of Mr. Wallace this was, he was much the same. He immediately got us inside to safety, took care of making sure we were not hurt, gave us all water to drink, and didn't ask any questions until all of that was done.
I decided to not give him the chance to ask us what the hell we were doing here. I'd fucked this up enough, it was time to set things straight. Even though it was a bit late for that.
Especially for Stewart.
“I know you're wondering why we're here, Mr. Wallace,” I said, “but it doesn't matter. We'll just wait here for curfew to end, and the sun to rise, then the constables from the NHHEA can deal with us. Everyone else can go home. I'll tell them it was my fault.”
“No, actually.” said Mr. Wallace.
“No, what?” I asked.
“To all of it. No, I'm not wondering why you're here. No, we won't be waiting for curfew to end. Or sunrise. And no, the NHHEA won't be absconding with you two. No, everyone else won't be going home quite yet, and finally, no, it's not you're fault. Besides, you're not done.”
“I figured out most of it that first night while listening to the surveillance tape. Don't worry, I 'accidentally' erased it. And Frank didn't hear it, thank God. He's a cretin, shouldn't be on the patrol.
“Then, Brenda filled me in yesterday evening on the phone. After the NHHEA folks called about you two. I'm not a bit surprised you're here.” He smiled, “You were never exactly a patient boy, Martin Landry. At least my world's version of you.”
I didn't smile back. I looked over at Chance to make sure, and saw his support in his eyes. “Fine. But that was before. Now everything's gone to hell and Stewart was killed. And we still don't even know if we can get home.”
“So you're going to insult Stewart like that?” asked Mr. Wallace.
I began to protest, then hesitated. Mr. Wallace, my Mr. Wallace, did that all the time. Asked questions that had more than one answer. Usually the first impulsive one was the wrong one. Then the real reason he was asking, to make me think about why he was asking that question, led to a different answer.
So I thought. And I looked over at Chance. We gazed at each other for what felt like two full minutes, then he nodded. We got it.
I looked back at Mr. Wallace. “No, we're not going to insult Stewart like that. Let's get to work.”
To his credit, he didn't rub it in, or gloat, or look smug. Nothing like that. He just nodded and away we went. We went into an elevator which I felt go down a few floors after Mr. Wallace touched a card key to the pad. I looked at him with a question in my eyes.
He answered, “Most security at night now, for pretty much everywhere that's government or publicly funded, is done by NHHEA patrols. We rotate so we don't become complacent. This key card opens every door in the place. In case we have to deal with vamps or wolves that somehow breached security. The National HIV/HMV Emergency Act was written hurriedly, in broad strokes. NHHEA powers are often problematic, but sometimes they have their perks.”
The elevator stopped then the door opened and I saw the hallway I recognized from the Youtube video.
At the end of that hallway we entered a large room full of equipment. Metal desks with computers on them on one side of the room, odd looking equipment on the other side. The room was cold and sterile. Dead as the vampires and werewolves walking around outside.
We all looked around at the equipment.
“Uh, now what?” asked Chance.
Mr. Wallace and Brenda were busy looking at each computer in turn, one after the other. Mr Wallace said, “I believe a systematic approach makes the most sense. I'm trying to find a computer that's still logged in. So far, these ones are all logged out and locked.
I figured it out. Corey, Trent, Chance, and I started looking at the others, one by one.
“Mr. Wallace, over here.” said Chance. We all went over to the computer he was standing behind.
“No, it's locked too.” said Brenda.
“I know, but look.” Chance was pointing at the yellow sticky note with a combination of random numbers and letters on it on the frame of the monitor. Then he pointed at the business card taped to the desk.
“How does that help?” I asked. But Mr. Wallace was smiling.
“Security the world over is about the same, isn't it? Only as good as the
weakest link, and usually broken because of someone's laziness.”
“I don't get it.” said Corey.
“I'd say there's a fairly good chance this user's login name is that.” Mr. Wallace pointed to the first portion of the email address printed on the business card. The part before the '@' symbol. “And, if we're really lucky, they've all just changed their passwords due to a security audit, and since Mr., uh.” he looked back at the business card, “Lambert couldn't remember it right away, perhaps he temporarily stuck it to the frame of his monitor. Just for a day or two. Give it a try, Chance.”
He did. It didn't work.
“Just a second, maybe I mis-typed it.” Chance tried a second time.
A standard desktop appeared.
“Awesome!” said Trent.
“Yeah, but now what? No doubt getting all this,” I waved at the equipment, “working is complicated. Then I looked closer at the icons on the computer's desktop.
Apparently the user had a sense of humor.
One icon was labeled underneath with 'Indeterminacy Field Startup Script.' And the icon was a cartoonish old-fashioned On/Off switch.
I looked at Chance and he looked at me.
Chance moved the mouse so the pointer hovered over the icon. He hesitated.
“Just a second, Chance.” I said. I looked at everyone. Then I became tongue-tied. “I, uh, it's just...uh, I mean...” I took another breath, ignoring Trent's small smile. “Look, I just want to say thanks. I don't know if this is going to work. Probably not. But it doesn't matter. You guys, what you did...I still don't get it...”
“Marty, come here.” said Corey. He walked over to the other side of the room.
I just looked at him.
“Come here.” he said again, more emphatically. This time waving me over as well.
I went, stopping the now almost automatic three meters away from him.
For the first time since I've been here, someone from this world came closer than ten feet from me. I mean, not counting the blood draw and sitting in the van where we had no choice. For the first time, someone dared to break the taboo. Corey walked up to me, only a foot away, and placed both his hands on my shoulders.
“Marty, we were just paying you back.”
I just looked at him, then said, “That doesn't make sense.”
“Me and Trent. You probably saved our lives you know. In fact, I know you did.”
“What are you talking about? I could have got you killed! First you and Trent...well...you know what I mean, then tonight...”
“No. If you hadn't caught me and Trent, the way you did, someone else would have. I know it. I know it for sure. It was stupid and reckless and we took a chance we shouldn't have. And we would've been dead as a result. Now we know better. We'll be careful. And maybe because of that we'll be safe.”
I couldn't decide whether to say 'you're welcome,' or to tell him he was an idiot, or to thank him again. So I just looked at him.
Then, for the second time someone came closer than ten feet from me. Trent walked up and hugged me, then did the same to Chance.
It was a very brief hug. He blushed like crazy afterwards, then immediately moved three meters away from everyone.
But, it still counted.
I walked back over to where Chance sat at the computer and nodded at him. He double clicked the icon.
A loud electronic hum began, increasing both in pitch and volume. Various clicks and other noises came from the equipment on the other side of the room. Indicator lights lit and gauges moved.
Then the noise evened out into a steady hum.
“Now what?” asked Chance.
I looked at everyone, then back at Chance.
“Well, I think we have to be a bit careful here. I figure it only affects us. Probably we were caught in the effect last summer at the lake, so we're tuned to it somehow. But, from what I read, we really have to be careful. Or we'll end up somewhere else. God only knows where. Even worse than...” I stopped embarrassed one more time. To their credit, everyone else pretended not to hear that.
“So what do we do?” asked Chance.
“Well, like I said. We need to be careful. We need to think of home. Just home. Nothing else. Home. And, I think, well, I think we need to make a wish.”
“Yeah. Just like that. One to go home.”
Chance just nodded at me. We both looked back at the group of people who rescued us. The group of people who put out their lives for us. The group of people who were, beyond any doubt, our good friends. “Let's do it.” I said, as we shared one more significant look between us.
And I closed my eyes and made a mighty wish.
Cool October air washed over my sweaty forehead. Instead of metallic smells there were outdoor smells. Falling leaves and pine and grass and other things. I opened my eyes.
I was standing beside Chance two blocks away from home. My Halloween bag of candy was at my feet where I had set it down before the world changed. Chance's was likewise on the ground beside him. Only we were wearing the group home jeans and t-shirts with the 'Cedar Brook Group Home' logo on them instead of our Halloween costumes. I wondered how we were going to explain that.
I looked up. The stars were where they were supposed to be. I looked back at Chance. He looked at me.
And for the first time since he had announced the fact, I fell into a hug with my boyfriend.
“Oh God, Marty! Oh God, oh God, oh God.”
“Yeah. What you said.” My voice was scratchy.
And then another first. A real first for me. My first kiss.
I heard a noise from behind me. Chance and I sprang apart in horror.
But the costumed couple walking by were just smiling in amusement at us. The guy winked and the girl said, “Don't stop on our account, guys.”
Yeah, it was good to be home.
Then I did a double take. I thought I recognized that girl behind her Halloween costume. I started to call out Brenda's name. Then realized that would be stupid. She wasn't our Brenda.
Chance and I hugged again, then picked up our bags of Halloween candy—well, you didn't think we'd leave them behind did you? A kid does have his priorities—and we began walking home.
It was so good to be back in our own world. Everything that happened, all those horrible events, almost seemed like an old memory, or something I saw on TV or something. I felt wonderful. So, I thought I'd tease Chance a bit.
“So, now that we're boyfriends, let me tell you about my list of boyfriend expectations.”
I was rewarded with the grin I was seeking, and then he answered. “Expectations? Now this should be interesting.”
“Sure. You know, doing my homework, cleaning my room, that kind of thing.”
“Oh, you think so, do you?”
“Well, yeah. The way I figure it is, if you don't like it, there's all those other universes out there. I can just go and get a second Chance.”
He jumped on me and knocked me over onto a lawn, and tickled my ribs.
“Oh yeah? Well, you know, I too have a nice long Landry list of Martys I could choose from. You'd better watch your step, mister.”
I groaned at his pun. We got up and hand in hand this time resumed walking.
We turned the corner on my block and passed the small cemetery on the grounds of the Anglican Church there. My eye was drawn to two much newer looking gravestones I hadn't paid attention to before, right near the sidewalk. I found myself walking over to them.
Silently, still holding hands, side by side, Chance and I read the inscriptions.
One read Corey Gatlund. The other Trent Wotherspoon. The date of death was identical. Friday, April the 13th of this year.
I hadn't known Trent and Corey's last names, but somehow I just knew who was buried there.
The inscription on both was identical:
Taken too soon
They will now fly forever
Below that, on each, was a carved silhouette of two boys, one slightly taller than the other, flying through clouds and holding hands.
I looked over at Chance. “Some kind of accident, maybe?”
We silently stood and looked at the graves. Each thinking hard thoughts.
I looked up at Chance and waited for him to meet my eyes.
His eyes did. They looked as serious as I knew mine must have been.
“You know, they won't survive there. They'll make a mistake. It's only a matter of time,” I said.
I nodded after a minute, then gripped his hand tighter. My stomach in tight knots. “We have to get them out of there.....Chance...we have to go back.”
My boyfriend just looked steadily back at me and repeated, “I know.”
I leaned in for another kiss. Just then a voice from behind us said, “It's okay. You'll have help.”
I want to sincerely thank my hard working editors for their help in crafting this story. They made it immeasurably better. I scatter thoughts on a page. They turn it into prose. The mistakes that remain are solely my responsibility, and the story would have considerably more if it weren't for their help.
I would also like to thank The Dude at Awesomedude.com for hosting this story, and of course for hosting all of the other wonderful stories by so many talented authors.
Finally, of course, I would like to thank my readers. Without readers, there would be no writers.
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Like most authors, I like, crave, and demand feedback. Tell me what you think by emailing me email@example.com