It was a sensation of true sickness that I felt surging within me as I heard the witty banter of my friends fade softly out of my focus. Nothing was left...but the echoes of a dream. Caleb's demonic laughter. And the thick clouds of black smoke and flame...as he stared up at me with evil eyes.
"Donnie! Wake up!" Bax said, slapping me hard on the back. "You comin', or what? Tonight's a big night, don't you go getting loopy on us!" I got up to follow them out, but I was silently lost in a trance of my own making.
What if I did it? What if it was all my fault. I mean...Mr. Lipton has never been one of my favorite people. In face, he was pretty much dead at the bottom of the list. But I would never try to KILL him! My God...what has Caleb done??? Can he even DO something like that? He's...he's a DREAM! He's only in MY head, right? How did he get out? How is he finding his way into other people's thoughts?
We got into the car, and each of us seemed to be in our own little worlds that morning. Jeff was barely awake, his head slumped to the side, walking the tightrope thin line of consciousness as he tried to 'rest his eyes' during the short ride to school. Baxter was tapping his thumbs on the steering wheel to whatever popular overplayed song they had in rotation on his car radio. He was still talking about what he was gonna do to get ready for Cory's party tonight, and how awesome it was going to be to actually walk into that place with Jessie Turner on his arm. He might have been talking to al of us, but only Jeff was listening closely enough to give Bax the occasional acknowledgement that his conversation wasn't just dissipating into thin air. And even that was a half hearted grunt or two while he tried not to drool from being half asleep.
Aril, on the other hand, was still looking through her folders of photographs, mumbling softly to herself about which ones she should have chosen for her yearbook spread. "Ugh! THIS one! Why didn't I use this one. I totally could have taken out the one of the front lawn for this one. Stupid!" She whispered. She REALLY wanted this opportunity, and she was going to stress herself out each and every single day until she got it.
And me...? Well, all I could think about was the distinct smell of smoke...and the fact that Mr. Lipton had shown up in my dream just the other day. I saw him there...hovering above the ground. Asleep. Trapped. Almost as much as I was. Did Caleb go to visit him? Or....did he somehow bring him into the dream with us?
I kept thinking about what he said...
"He doesn't like you much, does he?"
I remember him saying...
"He's so mean to you. I hate it."
He couldn't have really BEEN there with us, right? I tried to think back further, and remember more of the hazy details. Hoping to find something that I could rack up to just being some kind of crazy coincidence, and nothing more. Just a subconscious trick, bought to living color by some kind of recurring nightmare that was going to somehow disappear all on its own...and be forgotten.
I asked Caleb what he was doing there. What he had planned to do. And he answered, "I dunno yet. I've had him in here a long time now." What does he mean...'had him in here for a long time now'? Think, Donnie! Think! How is he doing it? What am I missing?
The last words I remember were, "Don't worry, Donnie. I'm gonna take care of you." And at that moment, Bax pulled into the parking lot and turned off the engine. It was the only thing that brought all of our individual lives back together again in the same mixed up ball of high school mush. We all got out of the car, and made our way towards the school.
Instead of going my separate way today, however, I said goodbye to Bax and April, and gently took Jeff by the arm to follow him towards his next class. Hoping to get a few moments to talk to him. I know it might be in vain, and I'll understand if he thinks I'm nuts...but so far, he's the only one who will listen to me long enough to hear what I've got to say before he starts searching for a fucking net to throw over me.
Jeff looked at me weird for a second or two as I pushed him forward for a moment to get us around the corner. "Dude, what the hell...?" He asked, and I looked him directly in the eye...his dark circles almost getting as bad as mine. "What is it?"
"Jeff...what did you dream about last night?" I asked.
"Sighhh...dammit, Donnie...you PROMISED!"
"I know! I know I did, just...tell me what's been keeping you awake lately."
Jeff rolled his eyes. "What else? Homework. Video games. Movies with cute boys in them..."
"I'm SERIOUS, Jeff!"
"So am I. Look, I already told you once, we're not doing this anymore. If you think I'm gonna fasten the final latch on your strait jacket, Donnie, you're wrong." He started to walk off, but I grabbed him by the arm.
"You SAW him...didn't you?" I asked, feeling a tremble in my chest. Jeff's eyes stared back at me for a moment, and then he directed his gaze to the floor. "DIDN'T you? You saw him in your dreams..."
Jeff mumbled, "It's all you talk about anymore, Donnie. On and on and on...it's no wonder my subconscious is flooded with images of him too. Just like yours is. Just like Baxter's...."
"Wait...are you saying that Baxter saw him too???" Again, Jeff avoided my eyes. "Jeff...I know this sounds crazy. I know you don't believe me right now, but I'm telling you...Caleb is getting closer and closer to me every night. It's like...he's gaining 'strength' or something. His reality is becoming mine. And my reality is becoming his. It's like...we're switching places or something. And I'M the one that's getting lost here." I told him, still holding him still. "You know...that thing with Mr. Lipton yesterday? That outburst in class?" I lowered my voice to a whisper. "I don't even...REMEMBER doing that. Like...at ALL!" Jeff wrinkled up his forehead in confusion. "I thought that maybe I had blacked out or something...but someone was in control of me the whole time that I was out of it. And I think...." I knew it was going to sound even more insane, but I whispered it anyway. "I think the Caleb might have...done something to Mr. Lipton because of me."
"Hahahaha!!! Omigod, Donnie..." Jeff lightly brushed my arm off of him and started walking to class again. "...Do you have any idea how ridiculous that sounds?"
"Jeff!!! I'm being SERIOUS here!!! I think Caleb has found a way to...'move' from one dream realm to the next. And he's getting better at it the closer he ties himself to this reality."
"So let me get this straight..." Jeff said with a smirk. "You think that you're mentally sending imaginary, sexy, blond teenage zombies after high school teachers you don't like, so they can murder them in their SLEEP? This is what you're telling me?" I didn't have an answer for him. "...And you find nothing at all 'crazy' about that? This is what you're telling me. On the day before Halloween, no less."
"Jeff, this isn't a joke..."
"Then why is it so funny?" He said. "Hehehe, dude, honestly...you need to write a book. People would gobble this shit up." He put an arm on my shoulder as I listened to him disregard everything I was telling him for the sake of 'reason'. "Look, the Lipton thing...it was a coincidence, Donnie. A CREEPY coincidence, yes...hehehe, 'I'm gonna make you BURN!' Oooooooh.......but a coincidence, nonetheless."
"I'm telling you...I saw it. I smelled the smoke. Caleb TOLD me that he didn't like Mr. Lipton being mean to me..."
"NOBODY liked Mr. Lipton being mean to you. Nobody liked Mr. Lipton, PERIOD!" He said. "He was probably one of the most hated school teachers in the history of the district, and with the harsh way he grades, he's fucking up grade point averages for half the students in this place. Some of them are already worried enough about college without him putting a dark spot on their record."
"So what are you saying?"
"I'm SAYING...the term is coming to an end, kids are stressed out, Mr. Lipton's an easy target, and it's Halloween! Anybody in this high school could have gone over and torched his place. Hell, I would have burned his fucking house down myself if the price of gasoline wasn't so damn high! He's lucky he made it this long." Jeff stopped walking, and saw a scared look on my face, as the isolation behind what was going on began to creep up over my shoulders. Separating me from everyone that could possibly help me. Everyone who had close enough ties to me to keep me from unraveling right in front of their very eyes. "Look....it's NOT that I don't believe that something serious is going on with you. But...I highly doubt that it's what you think it is. The way you're obsessing about this kid...you're gonna see his influence everywhere. Just...relax. Ok? Can you do that for me?" I sulked in silence for a moment, feeling a single tear drip from my eye. Jeff looked around for a second, and then with a heavy sigh, he said, "Alright, we'll...we'll go see Chucky after second period. And we'll tell him about...the new dream things. We'll even talk to him about Mr. Lipton. But it's ONLY to get it off your chest and hopefully move on from it, ok?"
"I wish...I could make you see what I see..." I whimpered softly.
"You're under a lot of pressure right now. Lipton's got you all backwards, this party tonight, talking to Austin...it's gotta be a lot of strain on the brain. Just...give me ONE normal day. Ok? We'll struggle through our school day, we get dressed up in pretty little costumes, have some fun at a big ol' popular party with a really hot blond boy...and tonight, when you go to sleep, it'll be all rainbows and butt sex. Alright?" I lowered my head a second, but he persisted. "OK???"
"YES! Yeah...fine." I surrendered.
"Good. Now walk me to my class, bitch. I'm gonna be late because of you." He smiled, and ruffled my hair a bit as we walked the rest of the way to his first period. It was a very small compromise, but at least he was listening more than the others word. Even April.
When we reached his class, I just had to ask him, "Jeff...can you do me a favor?"
".....What was the dream about?" I asked.
Jeff hesitated, but only for a moment. "It's NOTHING ok...he's just...'there'."
"What do you mean, 'there'?"
"I mean...no matter what...Caleb's just....'there'. Like he's watching me. Keeping an eye on me or something. He doesn't...speak, or move, or anything. But...for the last week and a half...he's been standing there in the background of every dream I have. It's kinda freaky, if you ask me."
"And...Bax? He sees him too?" Jeff didn't want to answer at first, but then he slowly nodded. "And April?"
"You know what? I really don't wanna talk about this right now, ok? You're creeping me out." He said. "And whatever you do...DON'T go mentioning any of this craziness to April! You hear me? She's stressed out enough with this yearbook thing. The university she wants to go to highly focuses on extra curricular activities. And, as we both know, she missed out on doing anything extra her freshman and sophomore year due to her little 'incident' with the razor blades, so she's counting on this to start building up some credit before its too late. Any more pressure on her pretty little head and she's liable to SNAP! So keep your trap shut. She'd kill me right now if she knew I was helping you do this."
"I won't say a word. Promise." I told him. "Thank you, Jeff. Thank you for being a friend." I hugged him tightly around the shoulders and he quickly pushed me off with a giggle.
"Ugh! GAY! Hehehe!" Then he gave me a wink and went into class. It's not a HUGE step forward, but at least it's a start.
My morning at school was a far cry from what it was yesterday. Where people once looked at me with smiles of appreciation and practically saluted me for sticking it to the establishment before...today those looks were different. Secretive. Accusing. Those salutes turned to obligatory nods. Those cheers were traded in for whispers. And suddenly I found myself the center of the high school gossip mill.
Did he do it? Did he make good on his threat to Mr. Lipton? Is he the one?
I felt every stare as it landed on me, both in class and in the halls. So difficult to ignore. At times...there were so many people staring at me in silence, I had to do a reality check to make sure that I wasn't dreaming again. What were they looking for? What guilt ridden signal did I have lying behind my eyes...ust waiting to be discovered by the student who was sharp enough to find it?
Every second ticked by at a snail's pace. With me sitting in my desk....wondering. Wondering if a police officer was going to suddenly show up at my classroom door and ask me to step outside. Whether or not Mr. Prince was going to put two and two together and haul me into his office for questioning. Wondering if...maybe Caleb was working his way back to possessing me again. If he'd be coming for me again as I sat there in silence. Honing his skills, finding out more secrets...and making this game his own.
All in all...let's just say that my morning was...'difficult'.
As paranoid as I felt, I half expected Jeff to cut out on me today. Either that or show up with the whole group, ready to take me down to the counselor by force if necessary. But no...as I walked out of my classroom, Jeff was leaning right there against the lockers, just as he promised. Good ol' true blue friend that he was. I should have known he wouldn't let me down...crazy or not.
"You came..." I smiled.
"Whatever." He rolled his eyes. "Come on...let's go get Chucky to straighten you out."
And off we went to go to the upstairs lab. With me looking around, trying hard to block out the sounds of other kids talking about me in low mumbles. I practically hid my face with both my hands as we moved through the halls...but deep down all I wanted was for Chucky to look through his expert little notes and give me some kind of 'official' reason for me to believe that I'm just making this all up in my head. Believe me....I'd give ANYTHING to be proven crazy at this point! Crazy is a lot more sane than what I'm dealing with now!
However, as we got to the second floor and into the appropriate hallway...we saw a rather MAJOR obstacle coming our way from the other end of the building. I had been studying his walking patterns for God knows how long...how could I not expect to see Austin right after second period???
"SHIT!!!" I said in a loud whisper, my eyes glued to his unforgiving beauty as he rounded the corner.
Jeff looked up, and he whispered back, "Jesus! That kid gets hotter with every BLINK!"
"Does he know???"
"Does he know what?"
"About...you know!!! About Mr. Lipton!" I screeched. "The big ruckus in his classroom...the fire...???"
"How am *I* supposed to know? As much as I would love to spend a day following him around...with my teeth lightly clinging to his earlobe...mmmm..." Jeff shook himself out of the fantasy, "...As much as I'd LIKE to be his shadow all day long, I don't know what he hears and doesn't hear! I don't have a clue!"
I had moved back behind Jeff, literally cowering behind him. "He's GOTTA know something! I mean, people are talking about it everywhere! He's gonna think I'm totally fucking NUTS! He's totally gonna know that I've got issues!"
"Well...wait, I mean...Austin is new, right? I mean...maybe he doesn't have that many friends yet where they would tell him something like that."
"You think so?" I asked nervously.
"Yeah. Sure. I mean...he might not even know who the hell Mr. Lipton even is. Why would he care." Jeff assured me with a shrug as I continued to peek helplessly over his shoulder.
"Right." I said softly. "Right.....new kid."
"New kid. Definitely." Jeff and I both stared on as Austin walked closer to us. God...he was soooo blissfully unaware of his affect on every living thing around him. It was like he had this full body halo of gold that surrounded every inch of him. A light so peaceful, so alluring, that you were almost brought to tears by the amount of suffering you had to go through not to reach out and touch it. Something about Austin was better than any dream my subconscious could ever provide. His soft, noodle like, curls looked as if they were hanging just a little bit lower than usual today, just tickling the ends of his long, almost feminine, eyelashes. And as he reached his locker, he put his pen sideways between his lush, rose colored, lips...in order to free up a hand to put in the combination to his locker. Thank God for a hundred other kids in that hallway, because hiding in paralyzing fear behind Jeff's small slender frame was my only salvation.
"Should I ask about the party?" I asked, terrified by the prospect of Austin turning his body just enough to see us.
"You should definitely ask about the party!"
"What if he doesn't wanna go anymore?"
"Why would he not wanna go anymore?"
"Maybe he doesn't wanna go with US anymore."
"Why don't you ask him?"
"What if he says no?"
"What if you don't ASK him, and we stand here like a couple of GEEKS while you whisper ridiculous questions over my shoulder???" Jeff said.
"I don't wanna say anything that sounds too...'abnormal', you know?"
"THIS coming from the guy who, just this morning, told me that the ghost of Goldilocks tried to put out a 'hit' on his English teacher!" Jeff pushed me out into the open, robbing me of my cover. "GO!"
"Dude...will you take a LOOK at this boy! You will be letting down every homosexual teenage boy on the PLANET if you don't at LEAST give this a shot!"
Just at that moment, I saw Austin's crystal blue eyes look over at us from his locker...their frightening aqua tinted gaze focusing on me until my insides began to melt. And then....he smiled. He smiled and gave us a small wave, closing his locker and starting to walk towards us.
"OMIGOD! Here he comes!" I whispered, trying hard not to duck behind Jeff again.
"Good! You've gotta talk to him!"
"I'm not gonna talk to him! YOU talk to him!"
"He's not MY boyfriend!"
"EEK!!! He's not MY boyfriend either!" I squeaked.
"He's more yours than mine!"
We continued to grumble, and whisper, and panic, and shove one another as the TRUE boy of my dreams got closer.
"DO IT!!!" Jeff demanded.
"You're gonna do it, or I'm gonna tell him straight out that you wanna fuck him!"
I gasped. "Jesus! Don't you dare!"
"Then talk to him!"
"Hey guys!" Austin said, as he finally got close enough for us to smell the sweetened fragrance of his morning shower bath gel, lingering on the smooth, moist surface of his angelic skin. "What's up?"
Jeff and I both straightened up, faking the best 'casual' smiles that we could. "Hiiiii, Austin...." We said in unison.
"What are you two doing?"
There was a moment of silence, just before Jeff elbowed me in the stomach. Pushing me to speak. "OH! Nothing...we're just...you know...chilling out. Right...right here by this wall." A nervous fidget vibration ran through me as I awkwardly tried to figure out what to do with my hands.
"Oh....ok." He answered, looking a bit confused. "So hey, I heard you flipped out yesterday on one of your teachers. Hehehe, what the heck was that about?"
DAMMIT!!! He KNOWS! People TALK too fucking much in this place! "Oh that..." I said, trying to laugh it off. "...That...that was just...you know, I was having a bad day..."
"I thought that was wicked cool, man. I heard that guy was a total jerk anyways." Austin said, and it was as if my whole WORLD brightened up instantly.
Jeff gave me another nudge. "He thinks it's 'wicked cool', Donnie." He sighed, and Austin gave him another sideways look with a grin.
"Anyway, I'm all set for tonight, just gotta go home and change into my costume after practice. You still got my number right?" Austin asked.
"Sometimes, Coach makes us run a few extra laps before we can leave. So if you call and I don't answer, be sure to leave a message, k? I'll probably just be in the shower."
"Butt ass naked." Jeff whispered.
"Ahem...I said...glad you can make it."
"Yeah, me too." Austin giggled. "I'm anxious to see your wolfman costume, dude. Werewolves rule."
I got lost in his beauty for a moment, watching his soft lips form each and every sensual word in slow motion as he spoke. His voice was soooo cute. His mannerism were gentle and sexy. I could stare at him all day. But it was then, with the slightest of 'pulls' on my concentration...I began to hear a sound in the distance. Faint...but clear. It was the quiet popping and crackling of a turntable needle...scratching its way across the grooves of old vinyl. Repeating over and over, as though the record had come to an end, and the needle was left to drift towards the center. Forgotten.
Then, as I looked over Austin's shoulder towards the other end of the hall...walking against the flow of the other high school students, marching back and forth blindly like a parade of army ants...I saw another boy among them. My eyes widened slightly, as Caleb appeared and walked angrily across the hall. I only caught a glimpse of him, but he was staring directly at me. His eyes...cold...dead...staring directly AT me. With blood dripping from both of his wrists, dark black circles under both eyes, and skin, pale as white chalk. He did *NOT* like what he saw.
"....So I hope it's not too much of a bother, picking me up." Austin continued, as I tried to think of what I might have missed. "I really do appreciate the ride though. I'll totally pay you back when I can afford to get a car of my own."
I half expected Jeff to say something 'dreamy' and weird...but when I looked over at him....his expression was...different. He stood silent for a moment, and then I saw him rub his eyes as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing. Did he...just see what I saw?
"Sooo...?" We had both forgotten that Austin was talking to us at that moment, and jumped back into reality.
"Omigod, Austin, I'm sorry!" I said. "Yes, we'll call you! About seven o'clock?"
"Ok, cool. I'll try to be ready by then." He flashed those pearly white teeth at me, and I felt my face get heated as I blushed right in front of him. He giggled a bit, and then backed away a few steps before turning to walk away. The juicy sway of his tight track star runner's butt hypnotizing me with the way it moved with his every step. God...you just wanted to take a BITE out of that thing.
But then...I don't know, something just came to mind, and it was gonna bug me the rest of the day if I didn't ask. Jeff was smiling again, proud of me for keeping my cool and sticking to the plan. But...ugh! "Hey, Austin?" I called out, and he turned around. "Um...listen...you don't think it's like...weird, do you? The whole...Mr. Lipton thing?" Jeff looked at me in disbelief, and he slapped his palm against his forehead in disgust.
"No. Not at all." Austin replied. "I wish I had the balls to do it myself." He then turned around and kept going. It's ok. He...he thinks I'm ok.
I suddenly felt a harsh PINCH on the side of my arm! "OWWWW!!!"
Jeff gritted his teeth! "What the fuck are you DOING? Are you TRYING to ruin this date???"
"I had to ask! I mean, everybody IN this place is looking at me like I'm some kinda hostile arsonist or something. I just wanted to make sure."
"I swear, Donnie....you must spend time at 'basket case boot camp' whenever I'm not looking." Jeff gave me a grin as I rubbed my arm. "Oh, stop it. I could have done a lot worse. You DESERVED a punch in the nuts! Hehehe! C'mon, Chucky's waiting."
"Wait, wait...hold on..." I said. "Let me ask you something, k?" Jeff stopped and waited for me. "Did you...see something a minute or two ago? At the end of the hall?"
After many childhood years worth of genuine smiles, I can tell when Jeff is giving me a fake one. "See something like what?"
"You KNOW what I'm talking about....don't you?" I stared him right in the eye, and he turned away from me.
"Nothing but you trying hard not to make a FOOL out of yourself. That's all. Hehehe! Now, come on! Passing period is gonna be over soon." He seemed to be rushing to get to the chem lab, trying hard not to talk about it. But I know what I saw. And I know he saw it too.
Me being obsessed, fatigued, maybe even a little bit crazy...that's ONE thing. But if Jeff is being affected by this too...and maybe even Baxter on some level...then I'm not as mentally fucked up as they might want me to believe.
Tonight, when I go to sleep...I'm NOT going to let Caleb take control. It's about time we settled this...and I push that creepy son of a bitch right back to his proper place in the back of my subconscious where he belongs. And I'll have to work FAST.
Because if he has access to my friends the way he had with Mr. Lipton...there's no telling who he's going to come for next.