Am I Really Gone?

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High schoolers Jack and Nicole are still processing the fact that their best friend, Leo, has died in a fire accident at school. But when they receive a note from Leo, they start to believe that he might be alive. If he is, where is he and why won't he reveal himself? If he isn't, is someone impersonating him?

Drama / Mystery
Age Rating:

Jack: He's Dead

“Just try to remember something!” Nicole Kalingi shouted. She stood up from Jack Flores’s bed and faced him.

He cowered in fear next to her, crouching.

Nicole grabbed a paper airplane he had made out of a test and whisked it at him. It didn’t even skim his short, raven-black hair before crashing into the wall and bending its tip.

Jack looked at it sadly. He had spent months folding and perfecting it. Anyone else could’ve flown it to hit him squarely forehead. Or chest. Or wherever they were going for. Nicole had unusually bad aim.

Jack tried to remember what had happened the moment he saw the building blow up.

“Well…the flames started out of nowhere. Ka-boom! Just like that,” he said. “But that’s really all.”

Nicole sighed. Jack knew that it was his best friend’s dream to find a dinosaur fossil and solve the mystery of, say, what an apellagosaurus looked like. But right now, Nicole was stuck with a different mystery. She, Jack and the allegedly-late Leonard Hamans (Jack’s other best friend), attended Pinelight High when it wasn’t summer vacation like it was just then.

A few days earlier, Leo and Jack had been playing head-to-head basketball on the last day of school. Leo shot the ball. It missed the hoop, bounced off the backboard, and rolled behind building D. Leo went around the corner to retrieve it.

The next thing Jack knew, pieces of wall, desk, and textbook were scattered about as a flower of fire blossomed in building D. The other buildings exploded too.

Jack ran. He ran as fast as his legs would take him, as if he was a gazelle five inches away from a lion. He reached the student parking lot. How lucky I was to make it out of there alive, he thought.

And then he thought about Leo. In his mind, Jack saw a gruesome image of his friend’s body in blown up bits of bloody flesh, completely, utterly still. A chunk of floor wood that thousands of students had set foot on was lodged in his arm.

And I didn’t even try to help save him.

Jack passed out.

As Nicole continued to interrogate him, Jack gazed at the clock, willing the seconds to move faster. Nicole had taekwondo practice in two hours. She would need to leave and get prepared soon.

“Did you actually see Leo die?” Nicole asked. “Did you physically observe him with your own eyes?”

“Well, no, but--”

“Did anyone actually find his body?”

“No.” Jack sighed. “But we’ve been through this conversation before.” Countless times.

Leo hadn’t returned from the accident. There was no way he was still alive. The most likely reason why no one could find his body was probably because he had turned to charred ash.

But Nicole...Nicole was so persistent, insistent that Leo still walked the earth and that his location was a puzzle to be solved.

“Well, it proved my point before, and it proves my point now,” said Nicole. “Zac is still out there somewhere. And I’m gonna find him.”

The walls of Jack’s bedroom were covered in paintings. Jack had encompassed his clock in a bright yellow circle, with beams sticking out. It mimicked a high afternoon sun.

Below it was a grassy meadow filled with dancing flowers. The wind blew ripples in a lapis lazuli lake shining with reflections of the clock-sun’s rays.

Evergreen trees surrounded the meadow on all sides. A faint falcon flew over the sprawling green hills in the distance, forever bound to one beautiful soaring position.

Jack considered pouring his red paint into his orange paint can and splashing the mixture on his walls. Instead, he said in the voice of a mouse, “Maybe you could leave, Nicole?”

She gave Jack a classic-Nicole stare--a look that instilled fear and intimidation into the target, especially when the target was Jack. He tried to look away, but as her vibrant silver eyes put their spell on his hazel ones, he couldn’t resist.

“N-never m-mind,” he stuttered. “Just f-f-forget th-that I s-said anyth-thing.”

His enchantress gave him a bittersweet smile. She closed her eyes, seemingly in deep concentration. Jack didn’t want to interrupt her, for she might’ve become furious if he did. And that was a side of Nicole that he wanted to avoid if possible.

After a few minutes, she stood up to bid him goodbye. “I’m gonna head to taekwondo now.”

He watched her through the window as she walked across the street to the Victorian-style house opposite his. Then, he walked to the kitchen, where Sheryl Flores was making enough pasta for three whole bowls.

“Mother,” said Jack, “um...”

A few moments passed. Jack could audibly hear the evening crickets outside.

“Oh, come, come! Spit it out!”

“MayIusethephone?” Jack spoke rapidly to get it all out.

Sheryl covered her face in her hands and groaned. She was a friendly middle-aged woman. She wore a green shawl and baggy pants. She prided herself on a natural look, with no makeup. “Jack, you’re in high school now. You don’t need my permission to use your phone. Now take this plate and scoop out some of your pasta. Here’s some pesto to go with it.”

Jack did as he was told and sat down in his regular place at the dining table, chewing the pasta while listening to his mother.

“Charles is sure coming late, if at all. Must be because of that scoundrel Hamish Hamans forcing him to work from dawn to dusk. That man neglected his family and doesn’t care a bit about his son’s death!” she vented.

When he was done with his pasta, Jack quietly excused himself from the table and prepared himself for bed. He took his smartphone out of his pocket.

Downstairs, a door opened. His mother greeted his father with a few happy words and a kiss, only to scold Charles for “letting that horrid Hamish take over your life!”

Jack slid down against the wall and leaned on the lake. He turned on his phone and scrolled through the hundreds of photos and videos taken on it. He tapped on a video taken on July 4th last year.

A bright, natural light came from the cloudless midday sky. Towards the bottom of the screen were grains of sand, a blue ocean, and people. Lots of people. Most of them were lathered in sunscreen and wore sunhats and sunglasses.

But the main focus of the shot were three particular persons--a boy with black hair and a suit that covered him from head to toe with goggles covering his eyes; a silver-eyed, blonde-haired girl with a one-piece bathing suit on; and a redhead with swim trunks and freckles all over his pale skin.

The girl and the lattermost ran, giggles galore, to the edge of the ocean and chased after a retreating wave. "Come on, Jack!" the girl shouted toward the shore, beckoning.

Just then, her playmate in the ocean began to splash her. "Aah!" she shrieked. "Oh, so that's how you wanna play it, Leo? Well, prepare to meet your downfall!" They splashed each other continuously, so hard that they looked like fireworks made out of water.

Waterworks, thought Jack as he watched the video. That's what they should do today.

"You shou--reall-joi--us!" said Nicole when Leo wasn't showering her.

The Jack in the video started to walk to the ocean and was about to dip his foot into it when it flowed up. He jogged backwards and looked nervously at it. "I can't!" he cried. "I just can't." He fell to the sandy ground and covered his face with his palms.

Meanwhile, Nicole and Leo had stopped spraying each other. They trudged out of the water and sat next to him.

"Ya serious, bro? Stop bein' such a fraidy cat and just go. I dunno why ya wanted to wear that--that--that thing if yer not gonna swim. We already put on loads o' sunscreen," said Leo, gesturing to the other boy's suit.

"Mosquitos!" Jack squeaked.

"Does it matter? Leo, Jack has the liberty to wear what he wants. Jack, ignore the nuisance. That's what I do," said Nicole.

"Hey! If anythin', don't pay attention to Her Royal Pain-ness," Leo retorted.

The boys snickered, but Nicole gave them her famous glare. They immediately stopped. Jack said, "I'm gonna turn it off. It's running out of battery." He turned to the camera of the phone, reached his finger out, and the video ended.

The Jack who watched the video laid the phone down. He felt that same emptiness inside him again. Memories were not enough of Leo; Jack needed the real one, no matter how much mischief he caused. If only Jack knew that Leo would've been gone....he surely would've played in the water.

But life didn't give a "heads up!" warning. Things just happened without notice.

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