2,610 Years Later…
Just moments ago powerful mysterious creatures had trapped him in a distant desert facing certain doom. Now, struggling to catch his breath in deep gulps, he drank in the familiar surroundings of his room as he stilled his hammering heart. Sweat covered his body and soaked his sheets and pillow case. This was not the first time Mark experienced such a vivid dream and he was afraid that it was not the last time either.
Each dream occurred in different places and time periods with no apparent rhyme or reason, he thought as the cold water from the shower hit him in the face. Since he was never the subject of the dreams, he was stuck as an unwilling passenger inside the host body until the dream ends or until someone wakes him up. Would there ever come a day when he could not wake up? What would happen then?
As he got dressed for school and exited his room, he failed once again to see the shaded figure standing in the corner by the window. It was the piece of the puzzle he always missed. During each dream, the entity has been there watching and waiting… and this time it was laughing.
He made it through breakfast and goodbyes with minimal distractions as he gave all of his focus to the things he saw in the dream. As he walked towards his school bus stop, he sought for correlations between the dreams and could find none. Great. More confusion was not what he needed right now.
After all, his life was difficult enough. It was the second quarter of his eighth-grade year and it had not been as easy as expected. His math class grew tougher by introducing deeper algebraic principles and English 8 did not feature a grammar review to begin the year. His mastery of both subjects demonstrated a lack of proficiency. If one compared success in the eighth grade to a leisurely swim in a placid lake, then Mark Shelby was struggling to stay afloat and afraid of drowning.
Add to this the fact that his grandfather was now fighting for his life in a hospital downtown. After three years of remission, his cancer returned with a vengeance and was eating away at his body day after day. The images of his last visit with his GrandDad haunted him as he stepped off the bus and walked toward the school building.
Dad kept a nightly vigil by GrandDad’s bedside, but that was too much for Mark. That is why he avoided both men and Grace Memorial Hospital like a plague. Except for breakfast, Mark lived in a virtual one parent household. But who could blame him for feeling this way? It was his defense mechanism: cowardice under a thin veneer of teenage indifference.
What was the old saying? He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day. Mark never pretended to be a fighter. He was a chameleon. Blending into surroundings to avoid notice and, when necessary, running with wild abandon to avoid having to feel anything. He decided a long time ago it was safer that way. It’s always safe to live in denial, that is until reality hits you in the face like a bucket of cold water.
“Hi, Mark,” Megan said as he opened the door to the eighth-grade wing of Lincoln Middle School.
“Oh. Hi, Megan,” was all the conversation he could muster this cool November morning as he stopped and moved aside to allow her to enter first.
Megan Plaisance was one of Mark’s closest friends. He didn’t remember how they met. It must have been one day years ago on the playground in elementary school. Was it a conversation in a moment of intense boredom? Yep, it had to be boredom, he thought, or he would never have responded at all.
“How you doing?” she asked with her distinctive accent that was flavored by her birth into a south Louisiana family.
“I’ve been better,” Mark looked at the ground to discourage further comments.
“Wanna talk about it? I mean, not now… but sometime later today?”
“I’ll FaceTime you tonight,” Mark lied. He had no intention of discussing his life. If he did not like his life, why would anyone else be interested? Who would want to know the real Mark Shelby?
Megan was nice, but he was not ready to put out the welcome mat to his life, problems, and fears for anyone. He was not wired that way. Sorry, that’s just not how introverted gaming nerds roll.
She began walking to homeroom and looked over her shoulder, “That would be nice. I’ll look forward to it.”
As he turned to kick the wall, he wondered why he ever opened his mouth.
Because you’re always saying the wrong things, a voice in his head responded. He considered the idea as he walked up the eighth-grade hall. This was not a problem in most cases because all of Mark’s friends were online friends. “Faceless names” his Mom called them on multiple occasions.
Relationships online were so much easier to maintain. Write a few messages. Drop into voice chat whenever convenient. No schedule to keep and no expectations.
A FaceTime conversation did not fit that mold. It required face-to-face interaction in real-time. Though it was a virtual meeting, it had real-time implications. He would have to clean his room. What if Mom walked in on him? What if Megan asked embarrassing questions? No editing a real-time conversation. What if he embarrassed himself? This was moving out of the shallow end and into the deep.
He entered homeroom contemplating how much time he had left to back out of the situation, and rolled his plan over in his head as he sat waiting for the morning announcements.