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Switching Paths Of Fate
I gripped the phone hard in my hand.
“Kim, you had better hurry up. I think Johan is gonna have a fit over here,” I mumbled. Johan was pacing back and forth; shooting me looks every five seconds. Everything was ready, except for the guest of honor—Kim.
“All right, all right. I’m on the highway now. I’ll be there in no more than ten.” Kim’s smooth voice came through the receiver.
“It’s her birthday for Christ’s sake!” Johan hissed. “And she’s late for her own party!”
I heard a few murmurs of agreement from the crowd huddled behind Johan. We were out on the back porch of my tiny house. It was too small, actually, and that’s why the party was in my backyard. In fact, I had been questioning why we were having the party at my place to begin with, but Johan’s house was too “breakable” for anyone to enter. Literally. His mom had so much antique junk it wasn’t even funny. And you weren’t allowed to touch anything or else you had to leave the house.
I figured it was ok that Kim was a little late. God, it was her birthday, and she was allowed to do whatever the heck she felt like. Johan was Kim’s boyfriend, though, and he got irritated when she was late. Now, that’s not to say she wasn’t late anyway.
I covered the phone with my hand.
“Look, she’s gonna be here soon. Just—” I broke off as I heard Kim curse rapidly on the other end.
“Kim, what’s wrong?” I asked.
“Jasey, this is bad. This is really bad.”
“What? What is going on?” I asked, a little more frantic.
“Please, Jasey. Help me.” Kim’s voice was shaking.
“Kim, I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s going on.”
“Jasey, it’s heading towards me. I can’t swerve. Oh, Jasey, please. Either way I can’t make it. Jasey, please help me.” Her soft pleading startled me.
“Ok, Kim, I’ll help you. Just tell me what’s going on.”
“The train, Jasey. It’s huge. And my car is stuck on the track. I was driving, and it got so dark. And my headlights went out, and now I’m on tracks. I can’t swerve. Please, Jasey.”
“Just calm down.” What was I saying? She already was calm. Creepily calm. “Can you get out of the car? Is it flat ground around you?”
“No. It’s a drop off. Jasey. I’m not going to make it.” Her words were still as calm as water.
“Don’t you dare say that!” I shouted. Now people started to stare at me. Johan looked at me sideways and mouthed, “what?” so I put a finger to my lips.
“Listen to me, Jasey. There’s no backing out of this for me. I can’t make it. Just please keep talking to me.” I heard a hint of panic.
“Ok,” I said. “Kim, we’re all at my house. Everyone. We had a surprise party planned. It’s really nice looking.”
Johan scowled at me and gave me a look. I returned the scowl.
“Send me a picture,” she said. So I snapped a picture with my phone and sent it to her. A few seconds later, her voice came through the phone again.
“It looks nice,” she said.
And then I heard it. A sharp whistle of a train broke the conversation.
“Jasey are you there? I’ve just texted the police. You can do that, did you know?”
“I’m here, Kim. Listen. You have to at least try to get out of the car.” My voice cracked and I could feel my heart beating faster and faster.
“Jasey, what is going on?” Johan looked worried.
“Jasey, I can’t. I can’t. My seatbelt is stuck!” Now she was crying.
“Jasey!” Johan said louder.
Kim’s sobs were coming harder now. “Is that Johan? Let me talk to him. Please, Jasey.”
I handed Johan the phone.
Johan went pale. He dropped the phone and scrambled to pick it up again.
“Kim, Kim. Listen to me. I love you Kim. Oh, Kimmy, I do. I really love you.” There was a pause as Kim talked on the other line. There were tears streaked down Johan’s face. “All right,” he said, handing the phone to me.
The train’s whistle blew again. Kim shrieked. It was closer.
“Kim, please pay attention. You are going to be ok. You will be just fine, all right?”
“Don’t stop talking to me, Jasey.”
“I won’t, I promise.”
I could hear a loud rumble through the phone. And another whistle sounded.
“Kim. Kim, you are such a great friend. Ok? You’re like a sister to me. Don’t worry about a thing.”
She was wailing. I heard a loud crash and a high-pitched scream. Fuzz through the phone. Then, very faintly, I heard Kim’s whisper, “Goodbye Jasey.”
I stood there petrified. I was standing stick straight, the phone still open in my hand. I wasn’t crying—I don’t know how I couldn’t have been at all. Everyone was staring at me. Johan walked over to me and shook me. I blinked and regained myself.
“Kim,” I said into the phone. “Kim! Answer me, Kim!”
Now the tears were coming.
“Kim, Kim! Please, Kim! Please answer me!” I fell to my knees, sobbing. “Kim.”
I heard faint whispers from behind me.
“Everybody leave. Party’s over,” Johan yelled at them. They all looked at each other and walked away, taking their gifts with them.
Johan then walked over to me and wrapped his arms around me.
“She’s gone, Johan. I heard the whole thing. It was as vivid as seeing it,” I wiped my eyes and sighed, burying my face in my hands.
“She’ll be in a better place, Jasey. Think of that as a positive.”
I pushed him away. “There are no positives, Johan!” I screamed. “Go! Just go!” I stood up and ran inside.
A couple minutes later, I heard his Saturn start. Then the shadows his headlights cast against the wall disappeared, and he was gone.
“Jasey, this is enough. You need to get out of bed right now.” Mom tugged on my legs and finally, I gave away and let myself fall with her. It was two weeks after Kim’s accident, and I was a wreck.
“We’re going to the park in twenty minutes,” she said. “Be ready.”
How could she not be sensitive to this situation? Well, here’s the answer: she never liked Kim from the start. That’s right. Everyone liked her, except for my parents. They thought she sucked up to people to get what she wanted. So in other words, they were saying she was too nice and got her way because of it.
Well, they were wrong. Kim was the kindest, sweetest, most unselfish person in the world. She got straight A’s, volunteered at soup kitchens, animal shelters, and various service places, and she tried to help and comfort everyone. She never thought about her own happiness. It was always others first for her. And for that, my parents resented her, and they resented the fact that we were best friends.
So I got dressed and left the house with my mom. We walked for a while, her leading, me trailing far behind. Every once in a while, she’d slow down to pace with me, but I’d speed up to get away. Finally, mom stopped me.
“I’m sick of this nonsense, Jasey. Get over it. Get over her! She was a lowlife. She didn’t deserve you as a friend anyway. None of this would have ever happened if you hadn’t been her friend in the first place!” she shouted.
I widened my eyes, and then narrowed them to slits. “You listen here,” I poked her chest, “Kim was the best person you’ve ever met, and you know it. She was nice to everyone, and especially me when I needed it. And you had better stop trash talking her right now, or so help me I’ll leave you and dad to shrivel up by yourselves forever, because I just don’t care anymore. The only reason you hate her is because she was perfectly kind and loved by everyone, and you and dad are too conceited and lousy that you’re jealous! If I had thought for one minute that Kim—”
I stopped short, as I saw a movement behind my mom. I let my jaw slack. “Did you see that?” What was I thinking? Of course she didn’t. It was behind her.
“What?” she looked around.
“Kim. She waved at me from that bush!” I ran over to it, but she was gone.
“Jasey. You need to go home and lie down.” Mom felt my forehead, as if she’d forgotten my whole conversation with her. In one ear, out the other, I guess.
It was a cold day, and I shivered at her touch. Then I saw it again. Kim. She was here. She smiled at me.
I ran after her, but she seemed to dart out of sight, too fast for my eyes.
“Jasey! What is wrong? Come on, you need to come home.” Mom took my hand and led me to the car. When we got home, I went outside and drank tea, gazing out at the trees behind my house. I could’ve sworn I saw Kim half a dozen times, but I never bothered going after her. What was the point anyway? She was too fast.
And over the next month, Kim appeared to me many, many times, but I didn’t dare tell my parents. Instead, I told Johan. By the end of the month, though, the rest of the kids at school refused to talk to me. Johan must have thought I was crazy and spread the word. I’d hate him forever. He passed me in the hall and waved, but I glowered at him. He realized I knew the truth, then, and glared at me, somewhat smirking.
“You let her die,” he whispered as he slipped by me. “So you need to be punished.”
I opened my mouth, but closed it and headed for the girls bathroom.
From where I was in the stall, I heard girls murmuring my name. I peeked through the crack in the door and saw them rolling their eyes.
“How could she have let her die like that? I know I wouldn’t have,” said a girl who looked like a Crayola marker set had exploded on her face: way too much makeup.
“Well, if you ask me, she’s insane. Did you hear those stories Johan was telling everyone? About how she keep seeing Kim rise from the grave in her dreams, and then she went to her gravestone, dug her up, and brought her home so that she wouldn’t miss her as much?” Said a petite redhead.
“Yeah,” said a gothic looking girl. “Word has it poor Kim’s still in her closet.”
“And,” said Crayola, “Johan said Jasey keeps seeing her and she thinks her spirit has come back because she dug her up.”
“But,” said Gotho, “she won’t put her back.”
“Because,” Cherry-top ended, “she’s afraid she’ll miss Kim too much.”
“Creepy,” Crayola shuddered.
“And totally gross,” Cherry-top wrinkled her nose.
“Yeah, but kinda an interesting story,” Gotho said, as they exited the bathroom.
I emerged from the stall and washed my hands. Rumors sucked. And the gullible people who believed them sucked even more.
Well, by the next week, the story of me had made the school newspaper, and the school psychologist requested to see me. See, Castle High’s counselor was a retired therapist. And he was a nutcase, as well.
“Hmm—I see you have been disturbed by a sudden death of a friend.” Dr. Nutter (or Dr. Nutcase, as I like to call him) pretended to look at his “files” of mine, but when he walked over to the window to see where a strange beeping noise came from, I glanced over at it and found that his “paperwork” was really the newspaper clipping he’d cut out.
“Look, I am upset about Kim’s accident. But honestly, I’m over it, and I’m totally fine now.”
“I see,” he said, writing notes. “And what makes you feel better? Any hobbies, habits, recent activities?”
Nutcase straightened a pencil on his desk.
“I like to read,” I said.
He scribbled something down. “Have you been out doing things by yourself lately? Perhaps, going to a coffee shop or visiting Kim’s gravesite?”
I slapped my hands down on his desk and leaned closer to him. “Listen here, buddy. I am not crazy, and I never was! Kim’s death had an affect on me just like any other person. I visited her grave once: the night of her funeral, and I put flowers on it. They’re probably still there! Purple roses! Go to her grave and dig it up for all I care. You’ll find that I never took her body. She’s not in my closet, she’s not in my room, and she’s not in my head! She’s underground where she was last seen, and if you need proof, so help me, I’ll give it to you!”
I leaned back, and Nutcase sat silent. Then he reached for his pen and began writing.
That was it.
“Give me that!” I took the notebook out of his hands and read the bullet points, “‘Insane with rage. In denial. In anguish over death. Overly dramatic. Shows signs of mental illness. Disturbed thoughts. Admits to taking body from grave—.’ What is this?” I screamed. I threw the notebook down and stomped out of Nutcase’s office. I’d had enough.
At home that afternoon, I was pleased to see that Dad was back from a weeklong business trip to Somalia. However, he seemed to look at me funny when I walked in the door.
“What?” I asked, but I already knew. He knew. Mom had told him. “Look, Dad. I’m perfectly fine. Kim’s death was an accident, and I’m not worried about it any more.”
He bit his lip. “How can I be so sure as to believe you?”
“Because, I’m your daughter, and I don’t lie to you! What’s gotten into you and mom lately?”
Mom appeared at the doorway, her face pale. “Fred, you need to see this.”
Dad glanced at me one more time and left the room. Only then did I realize that a police car was in the driveway. I sprinted to my room.
In front of me were three police officers; two men and a woman. The men were pulling something out of my closet, and the woman was talking to my parents. When I saw what the men were holding, I gasped. Everyone turned to look at me.
“Jasey, I presume?” said the woman. “I’m Officer Kendrick. We’d like to take you down to the station and ask you a few questions.”
As if things couldn’t get any worse, someone cleared their throat behind me. I turned and recognized Dr. Nutcase. I sighed.
“I’m ready to answer any questions you have for me, officer,” he said.
The men holding the bag started walking out of the room. I looked down (with great hesitation) at the body in the clear, plastic bag. Kim. Her face was still mangled from the accident—her body a twisted mess, but it was her. I shuddered and looked up at Officer Kendrick.
“Officer, I didn’t—”
She cut me off, “We have no time now. All questions will be answered later, and you’ll get your turn to speak at the station. For now, anything you say can and will be held against you.”
“Let’s go, young lady. You’ve got a lot of explaining to do.”
And we were out the door in no less than five minutes.
“Officer, I didn’t take the body, I swear it! Kim was out of my mind until this whole rumor showed up!” I explained that night at the police station.
“How did the body get in your closet then?” The tall man interrogating me raised a suspicious eyebrow. He was middle-aged with a freckle at the corner of his mouth that looked like a sore. It was gross. When he looked at me, he had a sort of poison in his eye that scared me a little, but I didn’t show it.
“I—I don’t know! I never touched it! Quite frankly, the thing creeps me out!”
Officer Vace made a face.
“Yes,” I said. “When Kim died, I—I was upset. Very upset, actually. And I didn’t come out of bed for two weeks. But then my mom told me to get up and get at it. So I did, and after a little while, I was fine. The night that Kim died, she was talking to me on the phone. I coaxed her through the moment of terror. You know how she died. Well, Johan must have been angry with me that I couldn’t help. She had already contacted someone for help.” I paused. “And honestly, I was so flustered, I didn’t know what else to do. So Johan holds a grudge. And he started rumors.”
“I see.” Was it just me, or were his eyes softening up?
“And naturally, every gullible person in the school believed him. Of course, one of those gullible people was one of the columnists for the school paper. And once it was in the school paper, everyone believed him. So the school therapist, Dr. Nutca—err—Dr. Nutter over there had it in for me, for some reason.”
“Yes. Rumors can spread fairly quickly. I do understand.” Finally, he believed me!
“And now,” I sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. Somebody has to be framing me, or something like that, because I did not take the body. I’d never do anything like that. It’s gross and vile and it wouldn’t solve anything. Not only that, but I couldn’t do something like that to Kim.”
Vace nodded appreciatively and said, “I believe you, Jasey.”
I brightened up. “Really?”
“Yes. That Johan boy—he’s not that great of a kid, and you don’t seem like the person who would do anything that disturbing.”
The door behind me opened, and Officer Kendrick rushed in. She leaned towards me from behind the desk. “All right, how did you do it?”
“Preserve the body! It’s in perfect condition. I just looked at it in the cooling room. Even before the autopsy tomorrow, I can tell that it’s perfectly preserved!”
I blinked twice. Officer Vace turned to Kendrick. “The girl’s innocent until proven guilty, and I’d like to take a look at that body.”
The two left, and I was alone in the dark little room. But I wasn’t only physically alone. I knew, somewhere behind my consciousness, that I was emotionally and spiritually alone. No alibi, no friends. Nothing.
After they discovered the body wasn’t real (just an extremely realistically detailed and heavy dummy) two weeks later, the new hub was all about the detectives trying to find the person who stashed the body in my closet. And I was still seeing Kim everywhere I went.
“Honey, what is going on? You need to tell me.” Mom walked into my bedroom one week later without knocking and sat down on my bed. “You’ve been very—dazed lately.”
“I’m fine,” I lied.
“Oh, is it about Kim?”
I stared at her blankly. “You know what, yes. Yes, it’s about Kim. I can’t stop thinking about how short her life was. And—and it’s like I see her all the time. It’s like she hasn’t left.”
“You need to see someone about this, Jasey. I can’t take it any more. I just don’t know how to handle it.”
So mom walked out and left me alone. No alibi, no friends. Nothing.
The truck was there within fifteen minutes of the phone call. Two nights of fighting parents. Two days of nothing. I didn’t shower. I didn’t even bother to eat anything, because I knew what was happening. And no matter how much I protested and told them I’d just been dreaming about Kim, dad didn’t believe me. I actually think mom might have been against his decision. I don’t know, but that’s probably what the fighting at night was about.
When a man in white helped me into the truck, I stood there, dumbfounded.
“Daddy, why are you doing this to me.” My green eyes were wide, and my hair was tangled and unkempt.
“I’m doing it because I love you,” he responded. But behind those brown eyes of his, I only saw fear and hatred.
I looked over at mom. There were tears in her eyes, and she brushed a strand of brown hair out of her face.
“Mom,” I whispered.
She closed her eyes tight and looked away. This wasn’t happening. Not now.
“Please,” I pleaded to the man in the white uniform who was locking the bars in place. “You have to believe me.”
He lowered his head in shame. He knew. They all knew. But they weren’t allowed to believe me.
I heard an engine start.
“No,” I said. “No! I can’t go!” I was crying and yelling.
But the truck was pulling away, and I stood there in the back of that van, completely and utterly confused at what was happening.
Six months later, I was asleep in my cell when I heard footsteps. When I opened my eyes, a boy near my age with shaggy black hair and deep black eyes was standing over me. He had a pale, rugged face. As much as his arrival startled me, I didn’t scream. When you’ve been in a mental rehab center, you’re used to some pretty creepy and—interesting people. This boy was practically normal.
“Hello,” he said, smiling slightly.
“Hi,” I hesitated a bit, still looking up at him. Then I sat up. “Who are you?”
“I am the answer to all your questions.” Still smiling.
“That’s a tacky line,” I offered.
“Yeah, I know,” he admitted. “Anyway. I’m going to show you things you’ve never seen before.”
“Ok,” I said, thinking it was a new psychiatrist to see me. “What color is the ink this time?”
“Yeah, aren’t you going to show me cards or something? Ask me what I see?”
The boy paused. “I’m nineteen, you idiot!”
He was older than me? I was only seventeen, and he seemed younger than me. Of course, it was dark, and I couldn’t make out every detail.
“Hey, hey, hey! Don’t start yelling! I’ve been here six months, man. You think everything I see here is normal? You’d be surprised, buddy!”
“Ok, ok!” he laughed. “Just hush up, ok? I’m gonna get you out of here.”
“Uh, I don’t think that’s a very good—”
But the boy was grabbing my hand and rushing me through the open cell door.
I didn’t complain. In fact, I did what he told me to do in order to dodge security cameras and watchmen, and we were out in a flash. It didn’t really happen like it would in a movie, though. No special moves, no secret agents, no fast breathing and beating hearts. It was just two people walking out of a mental rehab building. Fun.
About a half an hour later, we were at a park.
“So what’s this all about?” I asked, once our rears were safely parked on a bench.
“Well, I’ve known about you for a while,” he started. “Ok, I lied. I found out about you the day you went on a walk with your mom and saw that girl—what’s her name, Kim?”
“Yeah. What’s this got to do with you breaking me out of rehab?” I asked, and then added, “Thanks, by the way.”
“Nah, no problem. It’s sort of an adventure for me. Anyway, it’s got to do with you, because I know why you’ve been seeing Kim. You’re not crazy, and she’s certainly not come back from the grave.”
“Then why has Kim been—err—appearing to me or whatever?”
“Well, call me crazy, but the reason you’re seeing Kim has to do with time and traveling the distance between it.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You’re crazy.”
“Says the girl who’s been locked away in a nuthouse.”
I glared at him, and he continued. “So I haven’t got the whole thing figured out yet, but I’m pretty sure that there are only a few of us—you know, time travelers. It’s like we see things that aren’t really there, but they are there, just in a different time frame.”
“I don’t quite get what you’re saying,” I furrowed my brow.
“Let me put it this way.” He scooted forward on the bench and turned toward me so he could see me more clearly. Then he used his hands to demonstrate. “Say this is your life. It begins here and where it ends, we have no idea. At some point along the way, you’re stuck with a huge decision. Well, let’s look at it logically. We’re always faced with big choices, but I think that when we’re created, there is a chosen point where you take a life-changing route. So, in what I’ve found already, it’s usually when you are involved in a death or horrible event, that you begin the process of a new route. Now, I know there are many different ways to go within just one path, but those don’t matter. The real issue is the fork in the road that begins the separation.”
“Like a tree with only two large branches,” I said.
“Exactly,” he smiled. “Now, because you have to roads and two fates, you choose one, and you start off on that road. So in my conclusion, when you see Kim, she’s what you’re seeing on the other path. And sometimes, you notice the other path. She’s blurry or somewhat faded, isn’t she? Yes! And that’s what I mean. If you’d chosen that other path, you’d be seeing Kim. And when you’re seeing Kim, a part of you is traveling back in time, and another part is just out of it and in that other path. So you need to figure out what decision changed your fate. It could’ve been the smallest thing.”
I considered this, but the boy broke through my thoughts.
“You know, I have to agree with a friend of mine. He said that most people are unaware of the things we see (in your case, your friend Kim), but there is that small handful of people who notice everything—who are affected.”
I was beginning to understand—sort of. “Well why us? I mean, why do I—out of every person out there—see Kim and stuff? Why is it that sometimes, when I go to sleep in my cell, I have dreams of memories such as partying with Kim on her birthday, or watching her kiss Johan after he gave her a necklace for her birthday, or stopping Kim from falling down her steps after she almost drank the whole bottle of wine from her parents’ wine cellar? It’s so vivid. And sometimes when I’m sitting in my cell reading, I’ll look up and see whole new sceneries—faded, but still very clear—such as the place where Kim was supposed to sing three days after her birthday, with her standing on stage. It’s comforting more than scary.”
“I still haven’t figured that out yet. My friend has come pretty close to an assumption, though. I can’t wait for you to meet him—and everyone else, for that matter.”
“Speaking of meeting people, what’s your name?” I asked.
“Oh, I can’t believe I forgot! I’m Fletcher Ruben.” Curious name. “But everyone calls me Fet or Fetch. It’s up to you, because I respond to both. And don’t bother telling me who you are, because I know already.”
“Fetch? You mean Fletch?” I asked.
“No, I mean Fetch. It’s a long story,” he scratched his head and stood up to stretch.
“I think I’ll stick with Fet,” I said, because frankly, Fetch reminded me of dogs, and I never really liked dogs.
“We should probably be going. Nobody will be missing you in the end, anyway, so it doesn’t matter how long we’re gone. But either way, it’s a two day walk from here.”
“That’s pretty long,” I said.
“Yeah, well it’s about three and a half days without taking the bus at all... And I would assume you don’t want to get caught, so we aren’t taking the bus.”
I agreed with him, which is the funny thing, because his straightforward and know-it-all attitude was beginning to tick me off.
He squinted at me. “You’re irritated that we can’t take the bus, aren’t you?”
I shook my head. “No, I’m irritated that I have to agree with you.”
“You don’t have to do anything,” he pointed out.
“I know,” I said.
We walked for hours on deserted roads and through parks and woodsy areas. Eventually, Fet pulled out two Slim Jims and we snacked on those and slept under a large oak tree in the woods somewhere. I was woken up several times by a few wild animals (please don’t make me even think about what they might have been), and then something crawled up my pants, so I sort of freaked. But I slept well other than that, and I had the pleasure of dreaming about Kim and I going to the mall to pick out Christmas presents. Considering it was early December, I took note that Kim must have persuaded me into shopping early this year, instead of our usual hectic Christmas Eve shopdown. It was a nice little picture, but it made me sad, knowing that it’d never happen.
When Fet woke me up the next morning, I whacked him—hard. The only time I had ever been woken up at the institute was when this guy had broken into my cell and threatened to kill me if I didn’t give him my pillow. I socked him, and wound up with a broken nose and a black eye. He was put under intensive mental care, so I’d won in my mind. Besides, Slasher had been breaking out and into cells since he’d gotten there five years before then. He was the usual.
“Christ, Jase! What’s wrong with you?” Fet rubbed his arm. I rolled over and squinted at him. He was much more attractive in daylight, and now that it was bright I could see that he was clearly a little older than me.
“Sorry. And it’s Jasey. As in Jasey Rae.” I stood up, stretched, and yawned.
“I know, but Jase is shorter, so that’s my nickname for you.”
“Oh, you mean like Fet? Yeah, that’s a real classy nickname.”
“Hey, you don’t choose your—ok, yeah you do. Whatever,” he shook his head.
“So where exactly do we need to go?” I asked after we packed up and started walking through the woods. I could see a busy road on the other side of the trees.
Fet didn’t answer, but said, “How do you feel about hitchhiking?”
I looked at him like he was crazy. “Are you insane?”
“Yes, I am. And it’s not really hitchhiking when a guy you know is picking you up. From here, we’ll have two days to go.”
“Do I know this guy?” I asked.
“No, you probably don’t.”
“Well then, it’s hitchhiking to me, thank you very much.” I rolled my eyes and followed him. Three things were bugging me: Fet’s attitude, Fet’s idea to go hitchhiking, and my stupid uniform. Fet in general was annoying, so I could have probably dealt with that. But my uniform was this itchy grey thing that looked like a nurse’s outfit. It was thick and hot (I didn’t mind the hot part, because it was freezing outside), and it was about as attractive as a mutated buffalo—and that’s not pretty, my friend.
We sat on the side of the road, Fet reading a book, me holding a blanket over myself to hide my uniform. Twenty minutes passed before I got impatient.
“Are you sure we’re supposed to meet this guy here?” I interrogated.
“Yes,” Fet mumbled from behind his book. I looked at the spine. The Holy Bible. Fet was reading the Bible? The Bible? That didn’t seem like Fet at all. He was too—dorky and fake tough guy to be reading a Bible.
Then I heard a honk. I looked up, and a piece-of-crud pick up truck was on the side of the road. A guy my age (I was sure of it this time) with a handsome face waved us over. His face was sharp with features so distinct they were unbelievable. He also looked tall and thin, however, he did have some muscle on him. His hair was brown and hung low, almost in his grey eyes. When he smiled, he had dimples.
“Oh, that’s our ride,” Fet grabbed his backpack and slung it over his shoulder. “Let’s go.”
We glanced up and down the street and broke into a run for the truck. I climbed into the cramped back seat, and Fet hopped up into the passenger seat.
“Wassup Fetch?” asked the driver.
“Nothin’ much, Alco,” Fet grinned and flipped on the heat. Alco? That was an interesting name.
“So, you’re all set. Who’s your friend again?” Alco asked.
“Oh, right. I’m Jasey Rae Takins,” I said. “But Fet has decided to call me Jase.”
“Cool. I like that name. I’m Malcolm Grew. Everyone calls me Alco, though.” He grinned at me through the rear-view mirror. I mustered a small smile. What a combination: Fet and Alco. “How old are you? Fetch’s age?”
“Uh, no. I’m seventeen.”
“Me too,” he said. “I can’t believe you escaped that institute. It’s pretty scary. Well, all of them are, but who am I to judge.”
“It was easy,” Fet said breezily. “The guards were either on break or asleep, and the power was out, so the cameras were off. All I had to do was pick the locks, which was especially easy, because they didn’t even have forty-two’s.”
“Really?” Alco asked. “I’d think they’d have forty-five’s at the very least.”
“Nope,” Fet grinned. “Thirty-nine’s on the usual, Forty’s on the intensive units.”
“Sweet. What’d you use?”
“A nail file. Would you believe it? A nail file, and a piece of tape.”
Alco blew out his breath short. “Wow. Nice going, Fletcher. Never seen that lock picking technique before.”
Fet pulled out a cigarette and stuck it in his mouth, not bothering to light it. “Yeah, my moves are pretty sweet.” It took me a few minutes to realize he was chewing on a sugar cigarette just for show. It did look pretty real, though. He must not smoke, I thought.
“So the others are excited to see the newbie. Everyone’s dying to meet her,” Alco said to Fet, changing the subject.
“Well, I think her case is more serious than the others’,” Fet banged the air vents, attempting to make them shoot more hot air out.
I wrapped my arms around myself and shivered.
“Exactly,” Alco fiddled with the controls. “That’s why everyone’s so anxious... If you’re cold, you can grab something from the seat. I’m not sure what’s back there,” he said to me.
I found some oversized work gloves and a scarf. It would do for the time being. Other than that, I was kind of ticked considering two guys I barely knew were talking about me right in front of me.
“This car sucks!” Fet screamed, banging the air vents even more.
“Dude, chill. I borrowed this from Hena. She’s always got the worst cars, but she’ll kill me if I bring it back even more messed up.”
I looked at Fet. He shrugged. “Her real name is Chenoa. We’ve always got weird nicknames going. It’s our thing,” he explained. “For example, there’s Zing (real name Kenzington), and Eyla (real name Zeyla), and there’s also Az (actually Azlyn), and Zar (otherwise known as Zarley). Those are just the girls. There are only a few boys there. There’s me, Alco, Frederick (Reder for short), Dalton (prefers Alt), and Calvin.”
“What’s Calvin’s nickname?” I asked.
“We don’t know. He’s—normal,” Alco shrugged and switched lanes.
I couldn’t even begin to imagine what that madhouse must be like. Strange people with strange names, running around and toying with time: it wasn’t my type of place. Of course, I’d already been locked up, so I didn’t think it could’ve been any worse in the terms of insanity.
Well, I was on the verge of being frozen to my seat forever about a day and a half later, when Alco finally decided to stop at a McDonald’s. I was so grateful. Though I was sure nobody would recognize me out in the middle of nowhere, I still had to take extra precautions and change into a pair of Fet’s jeans, and one of Alco’s old sweatshirts that smelled like aftershave and pine needles. To say I liked the smell, nonetheless, is an understatement.
We walked into the fast food place mainly to pee and feel the heat. Fet ordered the food, while Alco and I picked a booth to sit at by the window.
“So. I guess you know why you’re coming with us, right,” he asked, leaning back.
“Yeah. It’s kind of weird—but then again, my life was a heck of a lot stranger at the MRC.” I poured a small pile of sugar onto the table and used my pinky to play around with it.
“Well, you’re gonna get used to it quickly. We’re mainly trying to stick together, so that we have more than one mind working on it at once,” he sighed and closed his eyes.
“Working on what at once?” I asked.
He opened his eyes and sat up to look at me. “A resolution,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out a way to go back in time to the point where we made that route-changing decision, so that we can make the right decision. Then, when we do so, we will go down the right path.”
“How do we know that this isn’t the right path?” I asked.
“Oh, it obviously is the right path. See, we’re coming down here,” he poured more sugar onto the table and drew lines in it, “and we branch off to here. Then, we decide we want to turn around. So we find a way to do that. Then we gain knowledge and go on the path we wish to go on. So ultimately, this path leads to that path, and we were meant to do this. It’s a complicated way of saying, ‘If we do figure out how to control time travel, then it was our fate to do so. Because we wouldn’t have figured it out if the good Lord didn’t want us to.’ My granddad said that. He’s long gone by now, but he was one of us.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Don’t be. He’s the one who founded all this secret stuff and passed it on to me. Now that he’s gone, I’m fully in charge. And I couldn’t be more grateful.” He smiled sadly and wiped the sugar off the table. Before I could reply, Fet set down two trays of food. One had three burgers and fries on it, while the other was holding three sodas, ketchup, and some napkins.
“Thanks, Fet,” I said, reaching for a burger.
“Ditto, man,” Alco took a bite out of his burger and sighed with happiness. When you’d been living on beef jerky and Slim Jims for about two and a half days, you took what you got and loved it.
I gulped down my Coke in about three seconds and got up to get a refill. “Anyone want more?” I asked.
Alco stood up and joined me, and we went to the soda machine.
“I’m sure you’ll love the house, though. It’s—”
“That’s one of my counselors.” I swore. “We need to get out of here.”
He looked over and repeated my swear. “Let’s go. Here,” he handed me his hat and I put it on and pulled it low over my eyes.
I rushed back to the table, careful not to be seen, and started gathering up the food.
“Hey, what’re you doing?” Fet asked. “I was eating that!”
“No time now, let’s go.”
We scampered out to the car, practically stumbling over each other. I threw the food in the back seat and jumped in.
“Drive!” I yelled to Alco.
He pulled out quickly and we were gone in a matter of seconds.
“That was close,” he breathed. Fet nodded in agreement.
I removed his hat, handed it back to him, and ruffled my hair. I had gotten it shaved off at the institute, and it was now down to my ears, and it stuck out in all directions all the time. It had grown back in a choppy, funky, layered fashion, and it was dark blond with caramel highlights in it from doing hard labor in the sun all day every day. I thought it looked pretty cool, though.
“So how come we didn’t take driving shifts?” I asked casually.
“Well, Alco is better at driving for long periods of time, frankly,” Fet said.
“And Fet got in a bad accident a while ago that’s left him terrified to drive. He can barely stand sitting in a car,” Alco said.
“Really?” I asked.
Fet sighed. “Yeah, really. That night, I had debated about whether I should have a drink at a party or not—I really don’t like alcohol to begin with—but my girlfriend was doing it, so I did. That was the choice that set off my time psych. So we were both drunk, I was driving, and we got into the accident. Laurie died, and I survived without a scratch. But her death was my punishment. So I always see her. It’s a constant reminder. I’ll never drink again in my life, and I’m not going to be driving for a while. It took me two years to finally get back into a car at all, let alone sit in the front. I’m ok about the accident now. I just don’t like cars. And I still kinda miss Laurie. She was the love of my life.”
“Yeah, want to know what his job was before the accident?” Alco snickered.
“What?” I asked.
Fet rolled his eyes. “I worked at the local police station as a volunteer. Well, my job was to dress up in an inmate uniform and wear one of those balls connected to the chain around my ankle. I had to hold up signs that said, ‘You gotta be 21,’ and I had to sing a jingle about underage drinking and drinking before driving. I had a good voice, though, because I was in a band, so I wasn’t embarrassed about that. I didn’t hate the job that much, because I was really into the movement against that stuff, but I quit after the accident. I was too ashamed to do that job anymore.”
“Ooh, tell her how the jingle went,” Alco laughed again.
Fet let out another heavy sigh and began, “You gotta be at least 21. You don’t want your crime free life to be done. And if you’re over that good old age, don’t drive after drinking cause you’ll start a rampage.”
“Wha—” I started to say.
“It’s not over, darling,” Alco turned around to look at me for a second, then went back to driving.
“Ooooohhhhhhh.... You shouldn’t drink before driving, cause you’re gonna stop thriving. And while under the influence, you’re sure to be out of it. That’s why we don’t drink and drive!”
“Ooooohhhhhhh... I said that’s why we don’t drink and drive! If you wanna be hauled off to prison. Or be scarred for life cause you hurt ‘em! Stay sober if you’re under 21, and also while driving when that age is past and done. Well that’s what happens when you’re doing a criiiiiiiime! And that’s why we don’t drink and driiiiiiiveeeeee!”
Alco was cracking up.
“Yeah, and I’m singing that with shamefulness.” Fet crossed his arms, but I could see a small grin spread across his face when I said, “You sound more drunk than sober when you sing that song, if you ask me.”
Alco was still loosing it over there in the diver’s seat, and Fet was shaking his head. Eventually, he just slapped Alco across the arm.
“I hate you sometimes, you know that?” he rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, I know. But that song really never gets old.” He wiped his eyes and continued laughing.
“See, if I sang it to you every single day, over and over for about four hours until my shift is done, you’d probably kill me.”
“Probably,” Alco agreed, “But I’d still have the pleasure of making fun of you.”
“Hey, I’m older than you. You shouldn’t be making fun of me, Junior.”
“I’m a year or two younger, you moron. There’s no difference.”
“Yes there is,” Fet said matter-of-factly.
“Ok, there is, but when you’re nineteen and I’m seventeen, I’m not gonna bow down to you. You’re not an elder, for crying out loud!” Alco sped up to pass a tractor-trailer. “Besides, when you sound like a wailing cockroach—”
“Oh,” I said. “There’s a band from North Carolina called the Wailing Cockroaches. It’s pretty sweet. And the vocals are great. So when you say he sounds like one, I have to tell you, it’s a compliment.” Fet grinned. “And I think Fet’s voice could be good if he didn’t sing the jingle. Maybe a Nirvana song or something—I don’t know.”
“I did Bob Marley at a local coffee shop once. Does that count?” he asked.
“No, because I didn’t hear it.” I adjusted the scarf around my neck.
Alco yawned and glanced at the clock. “It’s almost three-thirty. We’re not going to get there until at least five o’clock tomorrow morning if we stop. What do you say we stop at a hotel?”
“I don’t know. If we keep going, we should get there by, like, eight tonight. Just keep going.” Fet rubbed his eyes.
“Whatever you say, beholder of all knowledge.” Alco rolled his eyes.
Alco drove for another three hours, then stopped for gas.
“You want me to drive?” I asked.
“Come on, you need a break.”
“Well,” he sighed, “I guess you could drive. I’ll set up the GPS.”
I hopped out of the car and walked around to the driver’s door. Fet was half asleep in the passenger’s seat. Alco punched his shoulder. “Why don’t you go in the back seat so you can snore alone, and I can give the girl directions.”
Fet squinted at him and looked around, eyes half open. He yawned and stumbled out of the car. “Sure,” he mumbled, barely audible.
"I'm not being much of a gentleman, am I?" Alco asked as he slid into the driver's seat.
"Does it even matter?" I switched gears, hit the gas, and pulled away from the Gas & Go we'd stopped at.
In a matter of milliseconds, Fet was asleep, and Alco was finished setting up the GPS.
"You're gonna want to take this exit off to Bridge Rd." Alco pointed. I switched on the turn signal.
"Take exit thirty two on right to Bridge Road," the GPS chimed in.
We traveled a little further before Alco said, "Make a left up at the light."
The GPS spoke up again, "Turn left on Malcolm Boulevard."
"Now take a sharp right."
I started to turn.
"Recalculating," the GPS said.
"Keep going straight until you get to that stop sign," Alco leaned on his door.
"Recalculating," GPS blurted again. I sighed.
"Now," Alco started.
"Dude, if you're gonna be the GPS for me, just turn the thing off. I can't stand to hear it say 'recalculating' another time."
He hit the off button. "Sorry ma'am."
I smiled. "Thanks." When I pulled up to the stop sign, Alco paused.
"Just cut through this meadow until you reach that house back there."
I looked at him. "Are you serious?"
He gave me a look. "Yes, I'm serious. Would you rather take another half hour trying to get around the meadow? Didn't think so."
So I went through the meadow. A minute later the car crashed into something and then kept going.
"What?" Alco asked.
"I think I just ran over a scarecrow." I glanced in the rear view mirror and then continued.
"You can park in the smaller driveway."
"Ok." I parked the car, and Alco let out a heavy sigh.
"Look, I think you're gonna like the place, but I have to warn you that these folks are pretty different. Sometimes they're crazy, other times they're overly logical. The fact of the matter is that we're all in this together. We all want a cure. What each of us sees haunts us. It scares the heck out of me to tell you the truth. All we want to do is figure out why this phenomenon happens. What triggers it and why? We've got a pretty good idea, so with that we're trying to fix it. I'm not sure about you, because you haven't figured out what caused your time glitch yet, but I'd love to be able to go back and fix whatever mistake I made."
He paused for a minute. Then he got out of the car.
"Fet, get outta the car." Alco opened Fet's door, and he fell out onto the gravel.
"What's wrong with you?" Fet rubbed his head and moaned. "I need some ice." He then got up and stumbled into the house.
Speaking of the house, it was a decent size and it was stone. The stones were grey and very large, and the house reminded me of a mini castle. The roof was pointy and was sectioned off into three sections. There appeared to be two floors, but I imagined there would be a basement, and maybe even an attic.
I had been thinking about what Alco had been talking to me about earlier, and suddenly a theory dawned on me.
"Alco?" I stopped him as we stepped onto the front porch.
"Yeah?" He turned around.
"If this sounds possible in any way, what if we aren't just catching glimpses of that other path? What if we're switching back and forth quickly between the two? Maybe all we need to do is find a way to stay on one path without switching."
Alco stared at me. Then he smiled widely. He kissed me then. It was kind of funny. His lopsided grin coming down onto my mouth in a moment of utter joy. It happened so fast. As he came towards me, I didn't have time to process what he was doing. It was a nice kiss, though. Fast, but enjoyable.
"Genius," he said, pulling back. He was still grinning stupidly, but it was a handsome grin. "I knew I liked you. We have to discuss this at the meeting." Then he hopped up the steps and into the house.
I stood there dumbstruck. I could feel myself smiling behind all the shock. I guess my feet moved my body into the house without my knowing, because the next thing I knew I was inside the mini castle, and eight pairs of eyes were staring at me. Fet walked up to me and waved an arm in my direction.
“This is Jase Takins, everyone,” he said sleepily.
“Hi.” I muttered. Everyone continued to stare, as if I were an alien or some person who had figured out the cure for cancer or created world peace. It was awkward and strange.
This group of people was full of interesting characters. Hena Mockingbird, I found out, was a twenty-seven-year-old who had very tan skin and a purple Afro (No lie! It was pretty sweet, actually). She had tattoos all over her arms, and she was extremely nice. Her appearance was very misleading. When I first saw her, I thought, Hippie, but after getting to know her, I found out that she was far from mellow.
Eyla Raff was a very quiet girl (age 14) with long black hair and glasses. She was pretty and graceful, but she hardly talked much. She mainly just sat in a corner and read a book or attempted to make sense of this whole thing. She was quite logical and when she did talk, she was kind of annoying with a know-it-all attitude. Zing Kelly was the exact opposite of Eyla. She had blonde hair spiked out in all directions, and the tips were black. Earrings punctured her nose, lip, and all the way up her ears, and she wore belly shirts and leather pants. She was always up at night playing her guitar. Her real age still remains unknown. She claimed to be twenty-one at the time, but I highly doubted it. She just said that so she could drink.
Az Jones and Zar Marvin were cousins. They stayed together 24/7 and looked almost identical. The only real difference between the brown haired, blue eyed girls was that Zar was thirty-four, and Az was nineteen. Az and Fet were sort-of-kind-of dating, as Zar told me. Word on the street was that their relationship was nearing engagement soon, but they wouldn’t dare tell anyone that.
The rest of the people I met that day were boys. Reder Brook was an eighteen-year-old rugby player who had gotten his left ear amputated because his brother had fallen on him and the teeth went straight through his ear. His brother had played rugby with him and had been paralyzed and thrown into the hospital. Reder said that he’d go in and out of long comas. It scared his parents to no end.
Alt Shof was a very clean person. He shaved and showered all the time, and when he wasn’t doing that, he was drawing or sketching. He was an artist, to say the least. His paintings were eccentric and completely out there, but his appearance didn’t reflect them at all. He acted like a businessman. He was almost like a twenty-three-year-old congressman or something. But his personality was rich. He did stand up comedy. He could be a Vegas headliner if he really put the effort into getting there, but as Alco said, he had to stay in the dark.
The last person I got to meet was Calvin Poppy. He was the most normal person you could ever meet. His hair was always flat, his complexion was perfect, he wore jeans and a white tee shirt every day, and he didn’t do anything special. Like Eyla, he didn’t talk much, but when he did talk, he wasn’t annoying like her. According to Reder, Calvin was too upset over the shock of his time warp, that he went into a sort of period of depression.
Then there were Peanut Butter and Jelly. Peanut Butter (or PB) was a golden retriever who was five years old, and he was very friendly. Jelly (or J) was a red-brown dog that looked like a retriever, but I have no idea what kind of dog she was. Both jumped on me when Fet let them out of the basement.
“Whoa!” I yelped and fell to the floor. “Who are these guys, and why are they attacking me?”
Calvin whistled sharply, and both dogs got off of me. I was shocked by the loud sound that came out of Calvin’s mouth, but I shook that from my head and struggled to get up.
“That’s PB and J. They’re just being friendly. They like to make new friends,” Alco said to me.
“Well, they’ve sure got an interesting way of making friends. Do they do this to everyone who comes here?” I brushed some dog hair off my jeans.
“Nope,” Hena said, brushing a loose curl back into her ‘fro.
Eyla turned her nose up and spoke softly. “Of course not. We’re in hiding. Nobody comes here. Duh.”
Reder glared at her and said, “Yeah. We don’t get mail or anything. Not on any lists. No phone calls or credit cards. This house is all paid off, thanks to Alco’s granddad.”
Alt added, “Az and Zar usually go out for groceries, though. We just use cash. And sometimes Calvin will go to a bookstore or something and pick out movies, music, or books for us.”
Zing made a doubtful face at Alt and whispered to me, “They’re usually not very interesting. He gets documentaries to watch, Mozart to listen to, and either some weird biography or Shakespeare to read. Maybe you can be the new entertainment finder.”
Alco overheard and shook his head. “No. Jase is gonna be at the meetings. She’s got some pretty good theories.”
My mind went back to the kiss. I suddenly felt woozy. “Do you guys have something to drink?” I asked.
“Oh,” Zar motioned for me to follow her. “Waddya want? We got Coke, Sprite, lemonade, OJ, iced tea, water, or prune juice.”
I made a face.
“Yeah, I know,” she said, rolling her eyes as she opened the fridge. “Calvin drinks it. He’s weird, isn’t he?”
I didn’t respond. I just said, “I’ll just have water, please,” and leaned against the far wall in the kitchen.
“How long are you planning on staying?” she asked.
I sighed. “I just want everything to go back to normal,” I said.
“Honey, it ain’t gonna be normal for a while. Fet? He’s a lunatic. Just cause his girlfriend died and all... but you know, I think he’s getting better. It’s Alco I’m worried ‘bout. He’s so lonely, and nobody is good enough for him.”
I shrugged. Alco walked in and smiled at me. Zar looked back and forth between us and smiled, leaving the room. I blushed.
“Hey,” I rubbed my arm nervously.
“You,” he came closer, “Are a genius.”
I blushed harder.
“Would you mind being a test subject tonight?” he asked me.
“A... test subject? What?”
“Well, I mean, we want to test this theory of yours. The next time you see your friend, I want you to start talking to her. I want you to interact. Maybe you’ll stay on that path.”
“Jase, you gotta go back. We all do.”
Alco drove me to my old home that night. We stopped in the park area and just walked around. Everyone else had come and they followed behind, scattered out a bit. Alco stopped me.
“You might end up helping us all,” he smiled.
“Will I see you again?” I asked.
He frowned. “I don’t know. Chances are we’ll meet and not know who we’re talking to.”
I frowned now, too.
“Hey,” he tilted my chin up. “Don’t be upset. We’ve only known each other a few days. It won’t hurt either of us.”
I shook my head. “Yes it will.”
He bent down and kissed me. “I’ll miss you,” he sighed, and kissed me again. I looked over his shoulder.
“I see her,” I whispered.
I ran to her. “Kim!” I yelled, and reached out to hug her. I felt dizzy, and the world spun. Alco was out of sight.
I fell into her arms, and she made an “oomph!” sound.
“Whoa!” Kim laughed. “What was that for?”
I felt tears come to my eyes, as I laughed and hugged her.
“Are you ok?”
“No, no—I—I mean yes! Yes, I’m wonderful!” I turned around. “Alco! Alco! It worked!” But I spun to face an empty park. No. He was gone.
“Um, Jasey? Who’s Alco? Is that even a name? Are you alright?”
I sighed and wiped my tears. “I’m fine. I just... oh, Kim, I’m just so glad to see you.”
“Uh, ok. Well, you were gonna meet me and Johan at the coffee shop. Johan’s headed there now. Why are you so early?”
“I was just almost mugged,” I lied quickly, “while I was walking over here.”
“Oh, are you ok?”
“You could’ve been killed!” she said in a panicked voice. “I don’t know what I’d do if you died,” she said.
I shook my head and smiled. Ah, irony.