With a cup of hot chocolate in my hand and the windows frosted with snow, I unceremoniously dumped my bag out onto the floor of my room. Out spilled a half-empty pack of Wrigley’s Doublemint, my Berkeley Student ID, some loose change, and the stone. It hit the floor with an echoey thunk and promptly rolled underneath my dresser. I cursed as I went to grab it, and cursed again when it nearly burned my hand. “This stupid stone is more trouble than it’s worth,” I groused, picking it up with my shirt and dropping it on the bed. I stared down at it, wondering what it could be. The green stood out nicely against the light blue of my comforter. It was very nicely shaped, almost a perfect oval, and very green. When I looked at it longer, I could see that it was flecked through with grey. It was quite beautiful, if I was to be honest, but what was it?
I grabbed my laptop from my desk and plopped onto the bed beside the rock. Large green rock that burns you found in forest was my first search, and that yielded virtually nothing. There were a few results about a game called Little Big Planet, and a few articles about forest fires, but nothing at all useful. About five pages in, there was a link to a questions website. Someone had posted a question saying:
Hello everyone. My name is Rob Banner and I have sort of a strange question. I live in an apartment in Manchester, near the University where I attend. Yesterday, I was about to walk to class when I opened my front door to see a weird green rock sitting on my front rug. I don’t have any neighbors, and all of my friends live about a mile away on campus.
Now, here’s the weird part. It’s a green rock spotted with yellow, really smooth, like marble or something. It’s not painted, it’s actually that color. And it’s hot. I mean, like it burned a hole through my front rug and when I picked it up, it seared my hand. I threw it away in a dumpster outside but the next day when I opened my door, it was there again. Has anyone else had this happen to them? Please help. -RB
Afterward, there was listed an email and phone number. There were about ten replies. Most of them said things like bro you have weird friends, but there was one that caught my eye. Hello, Rob! It read, cheerily. I had this happen to me as well, except I found mine in my suitcase after I travelled somewhere. Mind you, my bag had been above me in the carry-on compartment the entire time, and was still locked until I opened it. It left a scorch mark in my favorite shirt! Mine’s green too, except it’s got brown in it instead of yellow. You’re the first other person I’ve seen with this problem. Is it a problem? Anyway, call me if you want so we can figure out what these rocks are. What is it you Brits say as a goodbye? Cheerio! -From Madge Callaway.
The post and all its replies were from nearly two years before, but Rob’s phone number still stared at me from the screen. Answers. I picked up my phone and dialed, staring at the green rock on my bed. When I touched it, it had cooled sufficiently. “That’s right,” I muttered. “Don’t burn my blankets.”
I reached in my bag to grab my cell phone, in a Starry Night phone case. Dialing, there was the tinny double-ring of a British phone and for a moment I hoped I had not called in the middle of the night, until an automated voice said: “We’re sorry. The number you are trying to call does not exist. Please try again.”
Shocked, I glanced at the phone screen, double-checked the numbers. They were correct. Redialing, I was greeted with the same message. It’s not the wrong number, I wanted to scream, but didn’t. Quickly, I dialed the number that Madge had provided in his comment, and almost wanted to cry in relief when someone picked up. “Callaway household,” said a gruff man, sounding vaguely Jersey.
“Hello!” I said, too quickly, pondering what to say. “Can I speak to Madge, please? I’m one of his friends.”
There was a long pause, so long that I feared the man had hung up. “There’s no Madge here,” said the man, finally. “Just me and Carla. You must have the wrong number.”
“I was told this was Madge Callaway’s number,” I said, voice high.
“And I’m telling you that Madge Callaway doesn’t exist! He’s not here, at least. He’s in some other Callaway house. Have a nice day.” Before I could make a snappy retort, the phone line clicked dead, and I was left sitting on the bed. I did a google search for Rob Banner, and then Madge Callaway. It was all ancestry.com advertisements, nothing recent. What had happened to them?
It was still early in the afternoon, and so I closed my laptop and went downstairs to make another cup of hot chocolate. There was one more banana, and I grabbed it and ate it at the kitchen table, examining the faded and stripy tablecloth. I flipped on some weird sci-fi show on TV, didn’t really watch it. My mind was all sorts of other places, my hot and sticky California apartment, the adorable light-haired boy who worked in the campus coffee shop, photography, the green stone upstairs, burning a slow and steady hole through my bedsheets, the two people on the website, vanished.
My father wasn’t one for cookbooks, so I looked up a lasagna recipe online. Sam, after his shitty two-wheel drive clunked home from school, helped with homemade garlic bread. When I say helped, I really mean that he ate half of it while sitting on the counter and giving me sarcastic side-eye. When I mentioned to him the green rock I found in the forest, he stopped chewing for a few moments to listen.
“It’s not natural!” I told him, after mentioning Madge and Rob. “I called them and googled them and stuff, it’s like they don’t exist!”
“And stuff,” teased my brother. “Stop using all those big words. You’re sounding too intelligent.” I grinned, punching him lightly in the arm.
“Either help me or stop sitting on my counter,” I pushed a stray strand of hair out of my eyes.
“I am helping!” he groused. “I’m taste testing!” I whacked him in the arm, lightly, and he made a high pitched noise before sliding off the counter. He grabbed another piece of garlic bread before retreating from the room. I heard his footsteps go up, up, up the stairs and turn down the hall to where his and my parents’ bedrooms lay.
When my mother stomped the snow off of her boots, the sky had grown dark and I was tossing salad. “Your dad’s right behind me, he texted me…” she began, before her voice sounded very surprised. “You made dinner? It smells delicious! I thought you didn’t like cooking!”
“Maybe I’ve had a cooking epiphany in the months I’ve been off, traveling the world.”
My mother laughed. “You talk to me on the phone almost every night and I saw you three weeks ago.”
I had to admit, with a smile, that she was right.
That night, I dreamed again.
It came as black, first, muffled voices speaking from somewhere I couldn’t hear. When I opened my eyes, it was clear I was dreaming. I was lying in a bed with white sheets. Above me was a pristine ceiling of exposed wooden beams. When I tried to sit up, my head began to throb, and so I decided against it. Suddenly, I heard a very surprised: “Oh!” before a young man with the whitest hair I’d ever seen appeared in my field of vision. He was very pale, with a fine-boned and elegant face. Cunning blue eyes burned and sparked, and combined with a cocky smile, he looked like danger. His hair must have been bleached- it was even lighter than platinum, and was sticking up from his forehead in a way that reminded me disconcertingly of the blonde one from One Direction. He didn’t look nice, though, it was as if Peter Pan had decided to go modern but hadn’t lost the mischievous air he was so famed for.
“You’re awake!” he said.
“I’m dreaming,” I replied. “So I’m not really awake, but if that’s what you want to call it.”
“You’re so young…” he mused, icy eyes narrowing in concentration as he took me in. “I’ve never seen you this young. When we meet, you’re already so far away from where you are now.”
“Don’t tell me you’re like that weird girl I dreamed about last night,” I muttered. “She prattled on about future meetings too.”
He laughed, once, a great thing, like a “HA!”, face twisting in mirth that made my stomach do a flip-flop. “She’s interesting,” he said, finally. “She’s lovely.”
“She’s batshit if she thinks we’ve already met,” I said.
He laughed again. “You have, though. And we’re meeting now, though I’m not going to remember later.”
“What are you going on about?” I asked. “Are all my dream characters mentally deranged?”
Peter Pan put a gentle hand to my cheek, smoothing some of my hair back and giving me a wicked grin. “Darling,” he said. “You’re not dreaming.”
I awoke with a start and the strange memory of a hand in my hair. When I checked the clock, it was only two-thirty. Moonlight streamed through my window. I rolled over, pulled the blanket higher before dropping back into sleep. A single thought rushed through my mind, a young voice not my own: Ivy. I will see you soon.
Christmas approached with a BANG of colored lights and the smell of burning pastries. One night, our entire family drove to the edge of the town forest and tramped in to cut down a Christmas tree. It was a time-honored tradition in the Whitehall household, one that I usually enjoyed, but that night all I could think of was the man in red. When my brother got off of school, we took a few days together to marathon Netflix and eat shitty food. I baked cookies with my father and decorated with my mother until our entire house was coated in red and green and I was practically bleeding Christmas energy.
The green rock sat on my windowsill.
After the first day, it had ceased to become so hot and instead just was warm, like a little heating brick. My cats loved it, I would always find one of them twined around it, purring. I still wasn’t sure what it was. More searching online came up with nothing, and when I snooped around looking for more evidence of Rob and Madge, I was just as unsuccessful.
The fact that I couldn’t find even a single Google result on the stupid rock irked me to no end. After Google, I tried Amazon and Ebay, looking to see if it really was a heating rock or something of that nature. Of course, nothing popped up. Whatever it was, I was glad that I had taken it out of the forest, because it certainly wasn’t natural. I dreamed every night. The blond haired Peter Pan was a recurring character, as was the dream-me I’d met on the first night. They dressed in weird fairy-tale clothing, carried bows and swords. No names were given, no matter how I asked. As soon as I began to dream, I would open my eyes, unfocused, into the same white room. Eventually, I would see the two of them sitting by the bed I was in, or standing, or pacing. I could only ever see a small square in front of me, only them. When I turned my head, everything was blurry. They asked me questions, seemingly endless and random questions. If I would refuse to answer, I’d have a precious few seconds to stare stubbornly down at the white sheets before I would wake up, but as soon as I fell back asleep, there they were again, ready to begin the process anew. A typical dream of mine would go like this:
Fall asleep. Open my eyes. White room. Stupid, stupid dream people. Questions: What do you think about dragons? How old are you? How long have you lived in Vermont? Do you know anyone named Robert? What’s your passion in life? Do you know what a Fateturner is? They were an endless torture of my nights. How screwed up was my brain that it not only had to create a recurring dream, but one that seemed just real enough to make me angry and irritable in the morning. I became more tired each day just to stay awake another hour, maybe, at night. It didn’t work for long. Usually, at around midnight, I would fall asleep. In my chair, sitting on my bed, on my floor. One record night, I stayed up until three-thirty, but I could usually never manage later than one. It was like my brain was forcing me to sleep. One good thing did come of this, though: if my family noticed that I was drinking about three cups of coffee more just so I could avoid sleep, they didn’t comment on it.
On December 23rd, as soon as I opened my eyes in the light colored room, blinked and took in Dream-Me, pacing, and blonde Peter Pan, sitting, he took both of my hands in his and asked, voice heavy: Have you seen an old man in red? His eyes are black as coal. This simple phrase took me by surprise, and I pulled my hands from his grip, scooting back. Dream-me stared me down with the disconcerting eyes we shared, before turning away to continue wearing a hole in the floor with her feet. “It didn’t happen like that,” she muttered, turning to the blond. “This is all too soon.”
The blond one just raised an eyebrow. “It’s your life, Ives. I don’t know how it happens.”
“That’s my nickname, you can’t have it,” I said, feeling sullen. I was tired of dreaming, I was tired of seeing the same two faces over and over.
Dream-Me glared me down angrily. “Are you not taking anything we’re trying to do seriously? We’re trying to prepare you for an eventuality, for a future you don’t give a shit about, so why don’t you listen for once and stop complaining!”
The outburst all seemed so very real, so very human, that it gave me pause, for just a moment, before I remembered that I too, could complain. “You’re dreams,” I said, finally. “You don’t mean anything. My future is my own.”
Dream Ivy looked morose. “Have fun dying,” she said, and then I woke up.
That night, I didn’t dream. As soon as my head hit the pillow, I was asleep, but blissfully so, in a field of black void of anything.
At exactly 2:37 A:M, as I lay, breathing even, tangled in sheets, the green stone grew warmer. It began to move, slowly, wobbling closer and closer until it tumbled off the windowsill onto the wooden floor. A spiderweb of cracks appeared.