“Stop it! Stop it! I’m warning you!” I protested as I backed up, laughing.
Two blond five-year-old boys were chasing me with their plastic toy squirt guns. They were trying to hit each other but I supposed they found it more amusing to team up against the hired help.
Yes, it was Torture Tuesday. Babysitting for my mom’s friend’s twin sons Timmy and Tommy Matthews definitely qualified as torture. But I was a pure soul with a kind heart. A saint, a martyr, a model daughter—
“Hey Sarah,” a male voice called from next door, over the white picket fence that divided the yards. I jumped and looked over. Derek Richards, every teenaged girl’s dream guy, lived next door to the Matthews.
—who deserves every reward possible for her enormous sacrifices, I thought to myself as I started to smile back and wave casually at him. “—Ow!” I squeaked as the twins tackled me to the ground.
Timmy or Tommy, one of them, started squirting water at me as I fell to the ground, while the other one ran circles around us laughing, firing water into the air like a fountain. It rained down on us.
“Oh, cripes—,” I hissed under my breath, groaning before I was able to sit up. I shot Timmy—or Tommy—the squirting one, a warning look then lunged at him for the gun. I pinned him down and squirted water back at him. “Like that, huh?” I joked as I tickled his stomach and he squealed with laughter.
The kids could be such a pain but I loved them.
A deeper laugh made me turn around and stop. I flushed red. I almost forgot about Derek. I cleared my throat sheepishly and shot him a playful grin. “Sorry ’bout that,” I shrugged, trying to sound offhand.
The kid I knocked down jumped up then, grabbed his gun from me, and tore off after his brother.
I looked over. “Hey Timmy—Tommy!” I called carelessly. “Not too far, guys!” I shook my head to myself as I stood up, brushing off my jeans.
“Quite a handful?” Derek commented, walking up to the fence.
“Ohh yeah,” I said, raising my eyebrows then looked down at myself in distaste. Way to look good for a guy. My jeans had mud and grass stains, my shirt had splotches of water, and my hair was damp and probably frizzy too.
Derek must’ve noticed my dismayed reaction to the sight of myself and chuckled.
What was he laughing at? I looked up, furrowing my eyebrows, trying to think of a snappy retort but he just smiled at me, reached over to tuck a strand of hair behind my ear and said, “See you around, Sarah,” before he walked back to his door.
I bit back a wide smile, stunned, and didn’t move for a second. Then I saw Timmy or Tommy dash across a yard—Mrs. Andrews’ yard—the one with the prized petunias and blinked, snapping to.
“Timmy—Tommy—whichever!” I called generally and waved them back.
I could go home now. Hell, I could very well die now.
“And Pathetic Peters strikes again,” my friend Ena Johnson commented the following day as we walked to her house after hanging out at the dug-out like we did almost every afternoon on hot summer days. It was a big tradition for our summers to get down and dirty and we were part of the local baseball league with some of the other students from school.
I swung my bat around as we walked, but I didn’t think Ena was referring to my batting average with her comment.
“Why didn’t you ask him out? All the bases were open,” Ena asked.
I shot her a ridiculous look. “Look at me, Ena,” I told her, gesturing down at myself, muddy jeans and all. “This was me yesterday,” I said then added, “You know that line they use in the movies—that ‘you clean up real nice’ line?” I prompted her then laid it out flat, “Fact: I don’t.”
Ena rolled her eyes. “Hello? That’s the movies,” she pointed out. “Fiction? Pretend? This is the real world, Sarah. This isn’t any of your made up stories either.”
I rolled my eyes back at her. “Oh, don’t start,” I sighed. “You’re like Annette. You never get off my back. ‘When are you going to stop daydreaming and grow up?’ ‘All of Sarah’s friends are imaginary.’ ‘Why don’t you go outside and spend more time with the three-dimensional people instead of always burying your head in your little notebook?’ ” I mimicked my obnoxious older sister, making a face.
“Think of it as…motivational,” Ena phrased carefully, with a mischievous tone in her voice.
“Silent support would suffice, thanks,” I informed her.
Ena laughed. “How’s that all going anyway? I thought you’d given up on that hobby after your last writer’s block.”
“Nah,” I shrugged, dragging my feet as we passed rows of identical-looking houses in our quiet, little suburban neighborhood. “I’m just waiting to get inspired, researching some things…”
“Where? In those Japanese animated cartoons you’ve been watching lately?” Ena asked, in ridicule. “Aren’t they kind of immature and…sort of cheesy? I mean, my brother watches some of them – they’re pretty weird.”
I shrugged again. “At least it’s something. I mean, my life pales in comparison,” I said. “Nothing ever happens to me.”
“Again, may I say, those are cartoons, fiction, imaginary,” Ena ticked off her fingers meaningfully. “Besides,” she shot me a look as we got to her front porch, “if you had asked Derek out when you had the faintest shadow of a chance, maybe things would’ve started happening for you and you’d stop complaining.”
I paused at her house’s front walk and shrugged before I started to head for my house. “Blah blah blah…fear of striking out,” I said, butchering the old saying.
“Whatever you say, sport,” Ena waved me away. “See you tomorrow!”
I waved back and started to walk home.
Oh yes, the story of my life. Always a dull moment rather than never. It wasn’t like anything interesting ever happened in our little suburb in Chicago anyway. So, since discovering that writing was actually a very effective means of escape, every night, I exchanged the boring humdrum of everyday normal life for the always exciting, twisting and turning fiction of thrills and adventure, and I preferred it that way. Because over there, in the world I created, I could do anything. Be anyone.
Of course, Annette thought I took this ‘writing nonsense’ way too seriously. Then again, it wasn’t like Annette was an authority on anything. In any case, I didn’t see what could possibly be wrong with being obsessed about fictional worlds, worlds where anything was possible, worlds where the only limit was my imagination.
I paused in mid-stride as I thought I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I glanced over to the alley.
Trees swayed in the breeze. Leaves rustled on the street as the wind blew them around. Nobody else was outside. It must’ve been the heat. This year’s summer was a little hotter than usual and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky today.
I shrugged and started to walk again. I wiped the perspiration off my forehead with my sleeve. The sun beat down on the ground. I glanced up and shielded my eyes from the sun’s rays.
All of a sudden, the sun changed colors—from bright yellow to fiery red. I stopped and looked back down. There in front of me was a wide field of fire… ruins of some sort… crumbling structures and… what looked like… robots…??
The heat emanated from the ground. It was so hot. I swallowed and squinted. What in the—?
I heard a high-pitched cry and looked behind me. My eyes widened as a big, fiery bird flew right by me, its wings making swishing sounds. I tried to take a step back away from it when all of a sudden, the ground gave way beneath me and I started to fall…
I landed on the concrete sidewalk with a thump. “Ow,” I groaned, snapping back to reality. “Sonova—,” I rubbed my rear, frowning, as I pushed up to stand and looked up again. Down the road, a red sports car zoomed away, its tires screeching. Jerk must’ve knocked the wind right out of me, I guessed, shaking my head to clear it, before I continued walking home.
That was the first time I felt that weird, creepy feeling.