For updates on these stories... Please join us at the Yahoo Group...for discussion of the story and to give some feedback about what you think about the story, as well as other stories by this author.
A week goes by and then two weeks. I start to feel like I'm losing it as strange things keep happening. This presence won't leave me alone and I don't know if I want it to. I can see the way that Saccharine looks at me. She just doesn't look at like she would anyone else. Now she studies me. She is trying to figure out what's wrong with me. She's trying to figure out if I've lost my mind.
I don't even notice Auster standing there. He looks nice today. He has his all American polo shirt on and a black peacoat. It's cold outside and he seems to notice because just as he gets my attention he is wrapping himself up with a wool scarf. He leans in close to me. I had forgotten where I was until I realize that I'm actually right outside of class after school.
"Yeah of course. Just walking home."
"The long way..."
I had no idea how I was getting home. A part of me didn't want to go home. I didn't need to see Saccharine's face look disappointed again. Auster shakes his head. His whole demeanor seems to be somewhat understanding.
We are silent for most of the walk. The day is kind of cold. I realize it's going to keep getting colder. Winter was coming and Auster seems to be tucked away in his jacket. He is freezing. The cold breezes don't bother me too much. It's as though they flow right past me always missing me.
I don't notice Auster's eyes on me until he brings it to my attention, "You look tired."
"Not much sleep."
"You been late to Philosophy class all week."
"I keep waking up and sitting in my bed, waiting for something to happen. Things have been weird."
I think Auster will dig deeper into what I meant by that. He doesn't though. At times I wonder if he fakes understanding the things that I say. Half of the things I say I don't understand them myself so I wonder why he would understand them.
"I understand what you mean. Weird things are happening," he states bluntly then turns to me, "People are disappearing in that class. You catch that. I investigated a little bit."
"What conclusion did you find?"
"None. People just changed their minds about it. But I never saw so many people drop such an easy class."
I shrug my shoulders. I could care less about the class honestly. Ms. W was a damn weirdo. That was enough to scare half of the group away. I looked down the street to see that there was someone else walking home. The person looked familiar.
"Isn't that the girl Patra from class?" he asks.
"Nah...wait is it?'
He's right. She seems to see us too. She spots us from across the street. I notice her face when she turns. She has such a haunting gaze. I hate it really.
"She's such a weirdo..." Auster mutters with every meaning of discomfort in his words, "She stares at me you know. She just stares. It's like she's waiting to say something but she doesn't. I feel like she knows something that she doesn't want to say. I see that face a lot. My dad is a cop. He knows so much about the city. He tries to hide things from us. He has that face on all the time."
We continue to walk. Auster talks to me. We joke around a lot. He had this thing that if I said something he found funny he would bump into me a little bit. It was so cute. He probably didn't notice it. I realize all the time how attractive Auster is but I don't think he looks at me that way. He probably can't tell that I'm gay. It isn't something that you could just tell off the bat with me. He just wants to be friends most likely. I realize everytime I catch his smile and my heart warms that I should just leave it alone. I didn't want to be the creeper gay guy that crushed on one of his friends only to find out that his friend was actually straight. I found myself slipping up often though. Sometimes my eyes looked at him too long.
Sometimes I flirted ever so slightly.
"Do you want to come up?"
We found my apartment building. It was getting a little late and I was kind of worried I was sounding a little gay by offering to get him upstairs.
Auster didn't seem to notice though. He was the type I'd probably have to throw darts at to get attention.
As we walk in I notice Igor. Igor is the security guy. Him and Ditch talk a lot so he thinks he's like a part of my family. He always ruffles my hair when I walk by. I don't mind though because when I was younger he always used to lie for me when I stayed out past my curfew. Of course now I didn't have a curfew and even if I did I really didn't hear too much about it later.
Igor ruffled my hair leaning over his desk as I walked by but this time he actually stopped me, "Hey bossman."
He called everyone bossman, even females.
"What's up Igor?"
"There's a letter here for you."
"Some man dressed all in black. He didn't want to leave his name."
I get on the elevator. It was kind of strange. I look down at the letter. It was in an open envelope. There was nothing on it.
"What floor do you live on?" Auster asks.
I tell him but my mind is on the envelope. I open the letter to read the words that are on
How was I supposed to know then what I know now? These people would shape my life completely. I knew from the beginning that this wasn't a regular day. I knew from the beginning that something was off. Something had gone wrong in the universe and it was centered right here in this classroom.
On the letter were written the words `THEY RETURN INTO ETHER"
The scream comes from Auster. He is frantically hitting the DOOR OPEN button. I am not sure why he is smashing it like that but he is looking crazy. Of course the door doesn't open. It closes and we start to advance to my floor.
"What was that about?"
"I thought I saw someone..."
"Who?" I ask.
"Patra," Auster replied, "I swear I think she's following me around lately. I see her all the time at the weirdest places."
"You think Patra followed us to this apartment?" I ask laughing a little bit, "Oh my, you have a stalker!"
He bumps into me, "Shut up."
It's cute how he does it. He is actually even blushing a little bit. His cheeks turn red. He is even more attractive when his cheeks turn that color. Auster manages to seduce me without even meaning to.
We get to my apartment and immediately the only thing I can think about is liquor. I am way too uptight around Auster. I need a way to loosen up. He makes himself comfortable as I circle around the house hoping to find some sort of liquor. You'd think in a place so sucked out of happiness there would be liquor. Then I realized Ditch had his own little personal stash. I go his room. I know he's working late hours like he always does. He isn't home. Knowing my mother she is out grocery shopping around this time. She won't be home either.
I finally get the liquor bottle out. Just as I do I realize something else. It's a photo. It's a photo of when I was much younger. It was before the carnival. I look so different. There is no way I would put on a smile like that even as a toddler. There was no way...
I walk back into the room to see Auster. He is waiting for me in the kitchen. The kitchen is a modern kitchen. There is a fabulous limestone island in the middle of the kitchen. The lights dangle low and let out a serene shine.
"This place is beautiful. I'm kind of scared to touch anything."
"My mother is kind of a neat freak," I state, really trying not to let him know how extreme my mother could really be and scare him off.
"I got some wine."
"Oh...damn, I should have told you," he replied shaking his head, "I don't drink."
I put the glass bottle down and pour my own drink. We are both quiet. It's awkward because I kind of never met anyone that didn't drink. Luckily my phone rings to disrupt the awkwardness. To my demise it's actually my cousin.
I press ignore and put the phone down on the table. There was nothing Badger could do to mess up the moment. But as soon as I put it down, the phone rings again.
"Looks like you have a stalker too," Auster stated.
I put the phone on silent again.
"Why would anyone want to stalk me?"
He looks at me in a funny way, "I can think of a few reasons..."
I don't know how to respond to that and I let the comment kind of settle in. I am not sure what he means by it so I don't want to jump to a conclusion. It sounds like a compliment though, but he probably may have not meant it like that. I find myself jumbled around attractive boys.
I take a sip of the wine hoping it would give me a second to think of what to say.
"No really," I continue to play dumb finally, "I have nothing that anyone could find interesting."
"Are you kidding me?" Auster asks, "You're smart. You seem to not only look at things from one way but look at it from all ways. I never knew someone in my entire life that thinks as much as you do. Plus I mean you're attractive..."
I almost choke on my wine.
"I'm sure girls find you attractive that is," Auster continues, "You have that whole mystery thing going on. I bet people try to figure you out all the time. You're a puzzle though. I don't know what to expect from you."
I smile. I turn my back for a minute so he doesn't realize how my smile has expanded. The thing I like most about him is he seems to be telling me just how he feels. He isn't flirting. He isn't trying too hard to be my friend. He was just telling me how he felt about me and it was sincere.
"That mystery thing doesn't only work on people who are attracted to me. No one understands me. It sucks sometimes."
I think about the hospital. I think about how the doctor was assuming that I was being delusional.
"It's better than everyone assuming you are just one shade of blue," Auster states, "I'm the opposite of you. While everyone tries to figure me out, everyone assumes they have me figured out. I'm the average guy who will live the average boring life and do the average boring things."
"That's not true, I didn't think that..."
I did though. I was warming him up but I knew I thought that. Auster just wasn't the most exciting guy. He was handsome but he didn't have much of an edge. He was a safe bet. He was the guy you crushed on in high school. He was the sweet guy. Or so he seemed...
"No one is really interested in the good guy. Good guys always finish last."
I had to chance it...
"I'm interested in you."
At first he didn't seem to hear me but I knew the very moment that he did because his eyes lifted across the table and they looked at mine. He didn't smile or anything. He was trying to make sense of what I meant by it. I can tell because he was searching my eyes for meaning. He probably wanted me to say something else but I wasn't going to make it that easy for him. I wanted it to be open to his own interpretation. I wanted him to give me the go-ahead to continue.
"What do you mean?" he asks, his eyes still probing mine.
Was that it?
I had to beat around the bush a little. It was getting too deep. I had to lighten it up a little, "I mean there is a reason that people stalk you right. Patra waiting in the bushes and stuff. There must be...something...about you. I don't see people stalking me to my house right?"
All of a sudden the doorbell alarms. Then comes the knocks.
It was a hard knock. It was rushed.
"Spoke too soon?"
It was my cousin. I knew his voice almost immediately.
I sigh a little bit. I'm already feeling this alcohol and the conversation with Auster is just really getting somewhere. He had the worst timing in the world. I seriously wanted to grab him and string his neck.
I open the door and start to talk before he even does, "Ditch isn't home yet, neither is his handpuppet. You should know that cousin..."
Something is wrong though. My cousin isn't his smug self. He rushes inside of the house. He isn't alone though. He actually has Nicholas Podarge with him. Nicholas rushes into the kitchen and almost collapses from fatigue. There is a burnt smell all over them. It smells like a fire.
My cousin closes the door behind him and shuts it. He actually locks it. He has this look in his eye. It is this horrified look in his eye.
"Are you guys ok?"Auster asks.
They both seem a little surprised to see Auster there but that doesn't seem like their main concern at all. The two boys look like they must have been running. They haven't caught their breath yet to even talk. They were still just breathing heavily. They are panting. I go to the kitchen and get water for both of them. My cousin manages to crawl over to the kitchen to get the water. It seems like that was all he wanted.
"I don't know what happened...I didn't mean to...I didn't mean to..."
"He did it!" Badger is pointing his finger at his friend as though letting him take the blame for some horrible crime, "It was all him!"
They were panicking! I'd never seen my cousin like this. Auster was as confused as I was. They weren't making any sense. It was a couple minutes before anything at all started to make sense.
"Oh god, he's burnt," I notice.
I get some ice out of the freeze and look at Nick. He is actually burnt.
"We were just going to spy on his girlfriend. There's an old abandoned house that a lot of people go out to have sex. Nick said he expected his girlfriend was cheating on him. He was right. We were just going to look and all of a sudden he sets a fire. It was just supposed to scare them."
"Oh my god..." Auster states.
"No...no...no one died. At least we don't think so. Nick's girlfriend and the guy she was cheating with got away. The fire it just kept growing though. The woods were behind it. Now basically there is a wildfire. We had to get the hell out of there. This was the only place I knew to lay low for little bit. We had to dodge some fire trucks before they thought were some damn arsonists. The fire is out of control."
They were all looking at me as I asked the question. I was contemplating the story and it just wasn't clicking. Here was I was treating to Nick's wounds. He was stunned in shock at the events. I knew I wasn't going to get anything out of him.
"How does one set up a fire that grows that big in a heat of passion and you don't have the common sense to stop him. How does one set up a fire that big so quickly?"
Badger looked confused by the question.
"I don't know how he did it, but he did it. The flames just started coming out of no where. He did it goddam it! If I go to jail for this!"
"Relax, no one is going to jail," I state, "No one's going to tell. Right Auster?"
Auster nods. I can tell he is uncomfortable with this though. Hell I am too. Truth was there was no hard done. Some wood creatures probably lost their habitat but I wasn't Smokey the bear. As long as no humans lost their lives I was cool with it.
"I swear if I go to jail!"
At this point Badger was reaching out and actually trying to grab Nick. Auster and I stop him and he doesn't put up too much of a fight. It is clear that he is still kind of tired from running all the way over here.
"Badger stop! Go take a shower. You smell like ash."
I manage to get him away luckily. I think he is more tired than anything but I can tell he is clearly mad at Nick. Nick wasn't the silent type. That wasn't really his thing. The fact that he was silent now seemed to come from another place. I wondered what. We all sat there silently as I dressed Nick's wounds. I put butter and then ice on all of his burn wounds. They were nothing serious but there were several small minor ones all over his upper torso. He even took his shirt off for me to give me better access to them. Auster turned on the television in the kitchen. He leaned close to it but from where Nick and I were sitting we could hear. Sure enough a small wildfire had burnt up a good part of the woods. Investigators were trying to figure the source out but there were no leads.
"You don't have to do this..." Nick says, "We aren't friends."
I wonder why he says that. He doesn't pull away or anything but he says it anyway. I wonder if he feels embarrassed that he was never really that nice to me in the first place. Then again I wasn't all that nice to him either. He was right. We weren't friends. Now that he was speaking though the last thing on my mind was our friendship.
"How did you do that Nick?" I ask him.
I realize Auster is paying attention. He may not be close to us but I can see his head is tilted slightly towards us. He doesn't want Nick to know he's paying attention but he is. I don't mind that he is though. I trust Auster. I feel like he won't run and tell anyone about this.
"I don't know how it happened," he states shaking his head, "That bitch. That damn bitch.I just knew I had to make her feel hurt. I didn't mean to do it though."
"Did you strike a match?"
"No...no...nothing like that."
"Was it an electrical fire? Did you mess with some connections."
"There was no electricity in the house. It was abandoned," he stated shaking his head further, "Listen. I don't expect you to believe me. It just happened."
"I didn't say that I didn't believe you...wait...wait...what's that?"
I was looking right underneath his ribcage. I lifted up his arm.
"This isn't some funny business?"
I could almost roll my eyes. It was hard for Auster to think you were acting gay but Nick immediately thought I was being gay off the bat from lifting up his arm when he had his shirt off. It was kind of amusing really.
"No I'm not interested," I state and lift his arm, "Are those words?"
At this point Auster forgets his discretion and walks over to me. I am busy looking though. It seems there are small words etched into him. They are small though. They are really small actually. They seemed to be burned.
"Let me look at it," Auster states, "Hm...they could be words. Yeah, I think they are. E...T...H..."
"Ether," I state.
"Yeah. That is the word on here. How'd you know?"
"That letter I got downstairs said they return to the Ether."
Nick looks confused, "Who would send something so stupid?"
I shrug. I don't know. It didn't make sense. It wasn't a complete thought. Nick had just got burnt with a word that had appeared in a strange letter from an unknown man.
Auster plays with his chin "A better question would be how is it possible that words can originate on someone's skin from a burn."
I immediately turn to the others, "What's ether?"
There is no answer. It is completely silent. None of us had heard it before. After a few seconds of thinking about it we seem to forget about it and chop it up as one big coincidence. It has to be. Things like this are too weird to comprehend. It's even clearer that we aren't comfortable together. We are all here acting like we are but we aren't. Auster is back watching the news and I am back to bandaging Nick. His eyes are watching mine the entire time he does it. It is almost like he wants to say something but he just doesn't. It's so weird and childish.
"I didn't know you two hung out...like outside of school," Nick states.
"Why would you? We aren't friends remember."
on. Stop being a dick," he states as though I had insulted him or something, "I
didn't mean it like that. I was just
asking anyway. So when did you two
become so close?"
"Who says we are?" I ask.
"And even if we were, why the hell is it any of your business?" Auster replies.
"You want to see yourself out of our conversation?" Nick retorts.
I can tell Auster is on edge. Nick is on edge too. We are all uncomfortable. No one knows why really. There is a silence that follows. Nick is still here. There's no reason for him to still be around. Theres nothing really keeping him there. Still he sticks around. Why is it so awkward with the two of them in the same room with me? It's like there is nothing for us to talk about without tension. Where was the light conversation? We were young men. Things shouldn't feel so serious. It is serious though. It is so serious that my skin seems to crawl with anticipation of something or of nothing at all.
It's actually Auster who makes the first move to leave surprisingly. Nick and I watch him as he sighs and looks at the door. That had to the international sign that he was ready to go.
"Auster goodnight," I say.
He surprisingly reaches over and hugs me. It's a strange move and one I don't expect. He whispers a goodnight to me in a low tone. He doesn't give one to Nick. He doesn't even look back at Nick before he walks out of the door closing it behind him.
Nick is in the kitchen. As I come back he stares at me.
I shake my head, "You are welcome to stay as long as you want. I'm going to bed. Once you leave just let my cousin know..."
"I didn't mean to hurt anyone today. I don't know how it started."
I realize he isn't really trying to explain this to me. He is just using my presence as an excuse to try to convince himself that he didn't mean to hurt anyone. He feels guilty. It is obvious and he is probably looking for some comfort. He wants me to say that everything is going to be alright. I don't know that though and I'm not going to lie to him. I nod and walk into my room, closing the door behind me.
The next day I am late to class. I'm not sure why. Saccharine doesn't wake me up like she usually does. She left a note say that she had to run some errands for her husband. I rip up the note more angry than ever. I run to class. I find myself running even faster when I get down to the basement.
Today is different.
There is a sad feeling that's filled the Philosophy classroom. I wonder why this room has become so sad. I look over around the room trying to see if everyone else is sad. Then I realize that there is hardly anyone there. Auster is there. Nick is there. The quiet girl, Patra, who sits in the front and doesn't say a word, is still sitting there, but everyone else is gone. Everyone else has completely disappeared. I look at Auster's expression and notice that he is just as confused as I am. There are no answers in his eyes.
Then I notice the water. At first I think it's just a spill but I know that it's not.
"How long have you guys been here?" I ask.
"And you just sat here? Where is the teacher?"
"She's not here. I think she may have gone to complain about the flood. There's water everywhere. A pipe must have broken somewhere."
A pipe. Nick is in his phone. He isn't even paying attention to anything. I don't even think he noticed when I walked into the room. Patra is the one that moves first after I go stand by the window. At first I don't pay her any attention but I notice something strange about how she walks in the water. She kind of skids in it. It was a strange movement. Usually people were afraid to get wet. She didn't pull up her jeans. She seemed so comfortable with it.
"She's not coming," Patra stated.
I had just noticed she closed the door. She actually locked it the door at that moment. Nick now had his head up as well. He was just as interested as the rest of us.
"What's going on here?" Nick asked.
I didn't have time to hear her explanation, "Don't lock me in. I'm getting out of here. If there's no teacher then there is no reason to stay here."
As I walked though I realized the water underneath me was getting thicker. It had risen a few inches actually. The splashes were actually getting higher. It was such a strange thing to happen. I looked down at the water and stopped moving.
I could see my reflection in it...except I looked...different...
"You were always so contemplative," she stated, "You never were the easy going one."
"What?" I stated, "You don't know me."
Her face was looking at me with and her eyes did seem so familiar. I had seen them in the classroom over and over but something was different. It was as though I knew her face very well.
"You trying to mess with me? You know my cousin? Did he put you up to this?"
"Oh please, that is not your cousin..."
Patra got silent. She has a look on her face that says she is burdened. There is something on her mind and I can sense it all over her. Auster is concerned. He actually gets up off his seat and walks over to me. Nick doesn't move but his head has turned completely to us.
Patra is just sitting there.
Patra shakes her head she looks so sad. There is such a epic sadness in her. It's no wonder she doesn't speak. It is kind of depressing when she does.
"In this world...we aren't meant to be alone. The three of you aren't who you think you are. It's time you guys learn the truth behind what's going on...
It was the first time I heard her talk.