X: Night & Day
The second that I’d crawled all the way back in through my bedroom window last night, the weight of everything had collapsed on top of me all at once. Whatever veil of composure I’d been managing to wear for Tasha and the others gave way, revealing to me the bundle of nerves and anxiety that all this had actually turned me into. On the bright side, it had seemed as though Ty’s terrors had subsided for the night, and he was now sleeping peacefully.
Still, whatever peace he had found, I had lost. If I was a poetic person, I might have been inclined to believe that I had traded it away to him to tide him over until all this insanity has passed. I’m not a poetic person though; I’m a pragmatist. I knew better than that. I knew that the terrors would be back the next night—that they could be back in second. Needless to say, I went another night without sleep.
Instead, I’d mended and painted over the hole I’d made in the wall with supplies I’d brought up from the garage on my way in. Once that was done, I’d just laid awake in my bed, contemplating everything. My contemplations were different than they had ever been before. I’d still pondered the way that the world worked, but my ponderings were no longer about math, science, and history. Now, they were about life, death, and the thin line between the two.
It’s a strange feeling, discovering that everything you thought was true was only ever half of the story. It’s even stranger to discover that everything you thought was a lie is just the other half of the truth. Bump was still nowhere to be found after his disappearance, so I’d suffered my thoughts alone save for Ty’s snoring.
As I’d laid there, I’d blindly searched the surface of my bedside table. Once I’d found what I’d been looking for, I’d lifted it over my face to examine it. It was the small, featureless packing envelope which Uncle Bobby had handed me the night before. It was still heavy, but after everything I had been through that night it weighed much less. I’d sat up and turned it over in my hands, over and over again. Whatever was inside, it had belonged to my parents.
I’d wondered what had become of them when they’d died. I’d wondered whether their afterlives were good ones, or bad ones. Or maybe, they were stuck between. Maybe they were meant to become Friends, but the Boogeymen’s vendetta had trapped them in purgatory—waiting for this war to end so that they could find their peace or their penance. I’d resolved to ask somebody in the morning.
Last night though, it had just been me, and my thoughts, and that package. If there had ever been a moment when I’d desperately needed a piece of my parents, it was then and there. After weighing the envelope in my hands for what felt like forever in my mind, I’d finally worked up the nerve to open it up.
I’d carefully unfolded the flap. I realize that it was silly—after all, it was the thing inside which held value for me, and not the envelope itself. Still, that moment had felt sacred, and I’d treated it as such. After extracting the tiny wad of tissue paper from inside, I’d meticulously peeled away each individual fold, until there were no folds left to peel back. There, sitting in a tiny bed of paper, were two rings bound together by a delicate metal chain. They were thin golden bands, one significantly smaller than the other. These, I’d realized, were my parents’ wedding rings.
I’d rolled them over in my hands, fighting tooth-and-nail against the tears forming in the corners of my eyes. I’d already cried once that night, and that was enough. Unfortunately, there are some fights that you just can’t win, and that was one of them. With tears trailing down my cheeks, I’d carefully examined every surface of the two metal trinkets. They were smooth on the outside; cold to the touch. On the inside, though, their surfaces rose and fell at tiny intervals. They were inscribed.
Quickly, I’d taken out my phone, and used the backlight to illuminate the rings as best as I could without waking Ty. There, inside those tiny metal circles, were words from my parents—not just words, but promises that they had asked of each other. I’d leaned in close, and read the inscriptions with bated breath.
“Never stop dreaming,” my father had asked of my mother.
“Never lose your light,” she had asked of him in turn.
They were no longer there to keep those promises. I was, though, and I would.
As I make my way to the cafeteria, I fiddle with the two rings strung around my neck. Mr. Tanner hadn’t been in first period English that morning, and Tasha had been just as surprised by that as I was. I guess I’ll have to wait a while before I can ask him my question.
Bump, who had reappeared at my doorstep this morning with no explanation of where he’d gone off to the night before, has been trailing the two of us alongside Daff all day. I’m still getting used their lingering presence, and watching other people just step through them without even noticing is particularly unnerving for me.
“What’s with the rings?” Tasha asks me.
“They belonged to my parents.” I reply. She doesn’t push the subject any further than that.
We’re still getting used to this whole new dynamic of trying not to hate each other, so the conversations between us in the halls have been pretty brief today. The silence between us is typically filled by Bump and Daff making small talk, as though they’re not supernatural soldiers, fighting a war between ghosts. It’s crazy to think that conversations between the dead can be so mind-numbingly mundane. Then again, I guess the dead are just the living post-life.
When we make it to the cafeteria, Ty isn’t sitting at our usual table. This is weird, because he never sits anywhere else (he has this weird objection to me eating alone), and lunch is the one period that he’s never late for. I just let it go at first, but after fifteen minutes I decide that something is wrong.
We check the nurse’s office first, but they say that they haven’t seen him. He’s not in the principal’s office either. In a last-ditch effort, I check the library; it’s unlikely, but stranger things have happened this week. Still, no luck.
“This is bad,” Tasha says with a crease between her eyebrows, and a frown on her bright red lips.
“He’s probably just cutting class,” I shrug.
I instantly know that that’s not true. Ty isn’t the best student, but he mostly stays out of trouble. He knows he’d be grounded for a week otherwise, and he hates being grounded. He has three rules:
1.)Only poke a sleeping bear if you know how to make it laugh.
2.)If you’re going to piss somebody off, make damn sure that you’re faster than they are.
3.)If something is stupid enough to be fun, then be smart enough not to get caught.
Skipping class is a great way to break rule number three.
“You willing to bet his life on that theory?” Tasha demands. There’s a frantic edge backing up her usual methodic hostility. This is the first time I’ve seen her look truly nervous.
“He should be safe, shouldn’t he?” I ask. “Boogeymen only come out at night, don’t they?”
“What the hell gave you a stupid idea like that?” Tasha asks me. She has an eyebrow raised at me, with her arms folded as though she’s never heard a dumber question in her entire life.
“Well, how am I supposed to know?” I protest. “That’s what all the stories say, isn’t it? That Boogeymen hide in your closets and under your beds, and come out to get you at night?”
“James,” Tasha sighs as she rubs the bridge of her nose between her thumb and her forefinger, “look behind us.”
As I catch sight of Bump and Daff, I’m instantly reminded that Boogeymen are just Friends with a chip on their shoulders. I’m not used to being this uninformed. The sleepless nights are clearly starting to take a toll on me. I don’t have nearly enough energy to act indignant though, so I just let it roll off my back.
“Okay,” I say, “well what do you propose that we do, then? He’s obviously not at school, anymore.”
“We find him,” Tasha growls. “Is at least that much not blindingly clear to you?”
“Tasha,” Daff interjects, placing a hand on her partner’s shoulder.
Tasha looks back at her friend, and inhales deeply. “I’m sorry,” she says to me. “Old habits. Look, if he’s not at the school, we’re going to have to search elsewhere, and we’re going to have to do it now. We don’t have any time to waste.”
“What about class?” I ask dumbly.
“What about your cousin?” she shoots back at me.
“Point taken,” I concede.
The idea of skipping class feels foreign to me. I’ve always been a model student, and to go against that at this stage just doesn’t seem natural. I console myself with the notion that I’ve done well enough that missing half of one day won’t make much of a difference. I’m annoyed with myself for needing to be consoled at all. This is my cousin’s life that we’re talking about. This it Ty.
“We’ll split into teams,” Tasha says. “You check your house, and I’ll try to figure out where Mr. Tanner is. Got it?”
“Yeah,” I say, “I’ve got it.”
Then, wasting no time, Tasha marches away with a dire resolve in her step. I wish that I could muster that type of energy, right now. Bump, seeming to sense this, speaks up.
“You’re exhausted,” he says. “Let me take the wheel for a while so you can rest.”
“What, and walk around town wearing a suit of armor in broad daylight?” I laugh, and it comes out sounding more bitter than I had intended. Bump doesn’t seem to take offense to it.
“No armor,” Bump replies. “I promise. It will just be like you’re on autopilot for a while, taking a nap inside your own body.”
“Does that actually work?” I ask incredulously. It seems to defy everything I know about science, and I’m still not completely used to things doing that.
“Well, I’ve clearly never tried it before, but Daff and Tasha swear by it,” he replies.
“What about the eyes?”
“Only other people like us can see them,” he assures me.
I roll the idea over in my head for a few seconds before deciding that I’m wasting too much time on this decision. It feels odd to put my faith in Bump again after all this time, but he’s right. I’m absolutely wiped, and right now Ty needs somebody with enough energy to protect him if push comes to shove. Bump is clearly better suited to that task than I am, at the moment.
I nod my head in affirmation to him, turning my parents’ rings over in my hand one more time as I do so. There’s a blinding, subdued flash of green. My body begins to move of its own accord, and after a few moments I drift off inside my own head. I’m asleep, and dreaming for the first time I can remember since I was a child.
White and red. Everything is white and red, dancing past me in a blur of vertical stripes. Faces pass by indistinctly, blurs rather than flesh and bone. If I know who anybody in this sea of humanity is, it’s impossible to recognize them. The world is made of whirlwinds and vertigo, dulling my senses, dulling my thoughts. All sound reaches me as though from above a body of water that I’m somehow walking underneath.
Then, a snap; everything is dark. A flash; a spotlight shining over a red-and-white striped tent. There are letters above the entrance, written out in manically flashing light bulbs. They read, “Welcome, one and all, to Mr. G’s Terrific Circus of Terror.
A figure begins to emerge from beyond the flap of the tent. He’s shrouded in silhouettes save for two brilliantly glowing white eyes, and a sinister smile which is almost even whiter.
All the lights shatter, and now there are white eyes everywhere. In their glow, I’m able to make out an ocean of intricately marked faces. I’m surrounded by a sea of Boogeymen. Then, they all blink in unison. When the ocean of eyes snaps open once more, I’m surrounded by a sea of monsters.
I spiral into a panic. There’s no way out of here. I’m trapped. I need help! I need—
I snap back into reality. God, I didn’t miss nightmares. I feel like I should be breathing heavily, drenched in a cold sweat. Then, I remember that Bump has control of my body right now, and wonder whether that somehow disconnects my mind from my physiological responses. That’s a question for another time, though. As the world spins back into focus, I notice that he’s staring down at something.
It appears to be a journal, filled with Ty’s distinctly messy scrawl. It’s odd; I’ve shared a room with him all these years, and I can’t ever remember seeing him writing in one. He must have had it for a long time though, because the paged are worn with age, folded and withered in places. It’s a moment before I realize exactly what’s written on each and every page, and it’s terrifyingly familiar.
It’s just the same four words scribbled on every line, from front to back, and even in the margins. The pen strokes grow increasingly shaky and frantic as Bump progresses through the pages, and each iteration is even more menacing than the last. They’re the very last words that I want to see, but once more they’re proving to be utterly inescapable.
“Mr. G is coming.”