V: Logic & Reason
Miraculously, I’ve somehow managed to bring my game up from very little sleep to absolutely none, whatsoever. The weirdness with the magical disappearing goth kid was one thing (okay, the weirdness with the magical disappearing goth kid was a damned big thing), but right after that Ty had suddenly had his first night terror since we were kids.
I’ve heard stories about them from my aunt and uncle in the past, and I vaguely remember seeing it happen once or twice during sleepovers when we were small. This, however, had been my first time witnessing it happen while fully understanding what was going on. The state of my cousin last night had been so haunting that I didn’t sleep a wink.
Ty, normally unshakable, normally immovable, normally infuriating in his incessantly persistent insistence upon bringing levity wherever he goes, even to places where it doesn’t belong, was none of those things in that moment. In that moment, he was scarcely Ty at all. In my cousin’s place had been something different; a thing that I didn’t know. Where there was normally peace, panic had taken hold. Where there was normally calm, I could only see frenzy. He had been a whirlwind of futility. If it’s possible for a person to be trapped inside of his own body, then that’s what he was. And there was nothing that I could have done to help him escape. All I could do was watch as he screamed and railed against the terrors in his own head.
No, I didn’t sleep last night. Instead, after Ty had finally broken free of himself, I’d stayed up all night talking to him, managing to actually be nice, and reassuring him that everything was going to be okay after he’d finally snapped out of his manic state. The old saying goes though, that no good deed goes unpunished. If potentially becoming the first documented case of the living dead isn’t punishment enough, then I don’t know what is.
For the second day in a row, I sit in Mr. Tanner’s English class having roughly the same amount of energy as I do patience for the fact that, once again, I can feel Tasha Emerson’s eyes boring into the back of my skull. The two seem to be cancelling each other out, because I can’t bring myself to say anything to her about it. Instead, I just prop myself up on my elbows, and hope that the industrial strength coffee that Uncle Bobby had brewed for me and Ty this morning kicks in soon.
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.
“Mr. McArthur,” Mr. Tanner suddenly shouts, shaking me by the shoulder. I jump up in my seat and snap to attention.
“I’m awake,” I insist, as I try my hardest not to think about the drool I can feel running down the left side of my face.
“I can see that,” says the teacher. “It would have been nice if the same were true forty-five minutes ago.”
“What are you…?” before I’ve finished my sentence, Mr. Tanner makes a grand waving gesture toward the clock hanging from the wall of the classroom.
Startled, I quickly scan my surroundings. All of the other students have already left. I’ve slept through his entire class.
“Mr. Tanner, I’m so sorry,” I say, lamely. “It’s just…a lot happened last night. I know it’s not an excuse, but I just didn’t get any sleep.”
“Is everything all right?” he asks. He seems legitimately concerned. “This behavior isn’t like you.”
I look at him for a moment through hazy eyes, not sure how much I should tell him. I’ve worked very hard to cultivate a certain reputation, and “crazy,” isn’t a part of it. I decide to stick with what can be explained by science. Anything that I haven’t figured out how to rationalize isn’t worth going into yet.
“My cousin’s night terrors came back last night,” I tell him. “He hasn’t had one since we were kids.”
“Ah, the other McArthur,” he says with an eye roll so monumental that I can tell he’s clearly well-acquainted. He seems to catch himself though, and manages to abruptly end the gesture midway through. “I’d ask if I should expect this same behavior from him later today, but it would honestly be stranger if he didn’t sleep through my class.”
“That sounds about right,” I admit.
“Look,” Mr. Tanner says, “you’re a lot of things, James, but a bad student isn’t one of them. I’m going to give you a pass this time, because you clearly have some stuff going on at home.”
“Thank you,” I say. “I should really get to my next class. I’m already late.” I begin to pack up my things, but Mr. Tanner cuts me off.
“I don’t think so,” he says. “I’m sending you to the nurse’s office.”
“What? But I’m fine.” I declare, more show than substance on this one.
“You’re not ‘fine,’ Mr. McArthur,” Mr. Tanner answers calmly. “You need to get some rest. Needless to say, we can’t have you passing out in the middle of PE or chemistry. That probably wouldn’t end well.”
“No arguments. Nurse’s office.” His voice is so level as he says this that I don’t even know how to argue with him; or maybe I just don’t have the energy. He writes me a note, hands it over, and I begrudgingly accept it.
As I leave the room, I’m momentarily stunned by how deadly silent it is out in the halls. This is the first time I’ve ever walked the halls of Hemmingway High between classes. Since I’m typically a model student, this is the first time that I’ve ever had cause to. I start walking before I’m really sure where I’m going. I’ve never been to the nurse’s office before, so this is going to take some figuring out.
The way that my footsteps slap against the linoleum floors and echo through the cavernous pathways of the school is strangely off-putting. I’m used to this place being a circus of perpetual motion. My footsteps being the only sound to fill them is unheard of. Only, my footsteps aren’t the only sound. As I listen to them, since there’s nothing else for me to listen to, I hear something else; I hear voices.
It’s probably nothing. Kids skip class all the time. Still, I find myself unusually drawn to them. As I get closer, I find that one of them is irritatingly familiar.
“I don’t know what else you want me to say to you, Daff,” Tasha Emerson says with a level of exasperation that tells me that whatever she’s talking about, she’s already been talking about it longer than she wanted to. Of course, since it’s her, I’d be surprised if that threshold surpasses thirty seconds.
I press up against the wall and listen. Maybe if I eavesdrop here, I’ll find some clue as to what her deal is.
“Based on what you told me, Bee made contact with the target last night, and the target was unresponsive. I told you guys that this was a waste of all our time, but nobody wanted to listen to me,” she continues.
“The target wasn’t unresponsive,” says the voice of a girl who I don’t know; Daff, apparently. “He was just resistant. Circumstances are different with him than they were with the others.”
“We all went through stuff thirteen years ago,” Tasha says gruffly. “He isn’t special.”
“He went through more,” Daff says.
She sounds guilty in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody sound before. It’s like I’m feeling it with my own heart. Only, we don’t feel emotions with our heart. We feel them with our heads. I know this. What I don’t know is why my chest still feels so heavy, despite that knowledge.
“And he is special; to Bee, he is. You know that.” Daff goes on.
Tasha lets loose a heavy exhale. “I know that he is, okay? The kid’s just a lost cause, is all. I could be spending my time doing something more important than playing student at some stupid high school. There are others out there who need our help, not just him. Besides, once they figure out that he’s not a threat, they’ll just leave him alone.”
“Not this time,” Daff says. “There’s never been a Friend this close to Mr. G before. He’s in danger. Somebody needs to keep an eye on him.”
“He’s no Friend,” Tasha retorts, “especially not mine. I’d be amazed if he even knows what the word means.”
“You know,” Daff says, more gently than before, “you were resistant too, remember?”
“Yeah,” Tasha growls, “I remember.”
“I know that you do,” says Daff. “You just need to be reminded sometimes. Look, Jimmy will come around. We just need to give Bump the benefit of the doubt for a little while longer, okay?”
Just like that, this absurd conversation that I’m listening in on becomes far too real, far too fast. There are only two people left in the world who still call me Jimmy, and there’s every possibility that I may have completely hallucinated one of them. More importantly, though—much more importantly—is the other name that they shouldn’t know; the name that nobody should know. Yet, there it is, springing up in the very last place I wanted to hear it—directed toward the girl who’s been antagonizing me for the past day-and-a-half.
I whip around the corner, prepared to confront these two girls, and find out what the hell is going on. Instead, I’m stopped dead. There aren’t two girls at all. There is only Tasha, standing there alone, looking as though she’s just been having a lively debate with the locker in front of her. We both look at each other, wide-eyed for an uncomfortably long moment before she speaks.
“How much did you hear?” she demands. Her voice catches for a split second. She’s more nervous than she is angry. I’m just confused.
“What are you talking about?” I bluff. “I didn’t hear anything. Why? Were you talking to yourself out here?”
She doesn’t answer. We both remain silent, staring each other down like outlaws at high noon, waiting to see who shoots first.
“No,” she finally says. “I was just going to the bathroom.”
And with that, she walks away without so much as another word, or even looking back at me. I linger there for a moment longer, mentally trapped in the impossibility of the last few days.
I know that there had been two girls just now, only there hadn’t been. Even if there had been, nothing that they were talking about had made any sense. Who the hell is Mr. G? If anything that I just heard is to be believed, then apparently, I know him. I don’t know him, tough. I’ve never heard of him in my life. All of this is already too much to process without having to sort between how much is real, and how much is make believe.
One thing is for certain. Not only had Tasha Emerson known my name without having ever heard it spoken aloud, but she also knows about Bump. That shouldn’t be possible, but lately, it seems like all logic wants to do is defy itself.
Maybe Mr. Tanner is right. Maybe I just need some sleep.
It had taken me awhile, but eventually, I’d managed to find the nurse’s office. Once I was there, I’d handed in my note to the perennially skeptical-looking woman who worked there, and holed myself up atop one of the cots. Despite all of the chaos running roughshod in my mind, I’d managed to fall asleep almost instantly, and sleep through the entire school day. Luckily, I’m already about a month ahead on most of my homework, so I probably didn’t miss much.
Once I’m home, I go straight to my room, and don’t even go down for dinner. My aunt and uncle come up to see if I’m okay, but I don’t have a clue what to tell them. It’s not as though anything that’s been happening makes any sort of sense. Instead, I tell a white lie and say that I’m just tired, even though I’ve already slept for about seven hours today.
Ty can’t even be bothered to notice. He’s not his usual self. He actually is tired, so he goes to sleep right after dinner, without even making the effort to pretend that he’s doing his homework, the way that he usually does. There are no jokes, there’s no prodding. He’s a shell of himself. I’ve never seen anything hit him this hard before. He doesn’t say a word as he rolls beneath his covers. He hardly acknowledges me at all.
Conversely, I just lay awake in my bed for hours, trying desperately to find at least two pieces in all of this that belong to even remotely the same puzzle, but despite my best efforts nothing makes sense. Just as I’m about to give up and try to go to sleep, it happens again.
Ty begins thrashing about inconsolably beneath his covers. He’s muttering something, but it’s too incomprehensible for me to make any sense of; just like everything else this week. There’s nothing I can do to help, so I just sit there on my bed, lamenting my own uselessness.
For so long, I’ve thought of myself as an intellectual, as a problem solver. I’ve clung to the idea that with the right information, you can fix anything. I know all about night terrors, though. A long time ago, I’d gone out of my way to research them out of curiosity. I know every in, every out, every damned miniscule detail, all the way down to the last letter. Every detail that I know tells me that all I can do is sit there. So, I sit there.
Then, I do something completely uncharacteristic.
Doing my best to stifle a guttural roar of frustration, I swing around and punch a hole in my wall, hitting a stud. Pain blooms from my knuckles, all the way up my forearm, spreading like fire. My hand is dripping blood, and I’m going to have to fix the wall tomorrow morning before anybody sees what I’ve done. I don’t care though. It’s all too much for me to take.
I collapse helplessly into my own palms. My shoulders are shaking, and my breath is coming to me in ragged spurts, but I am not crying. I haven’t cried since my parents’ funeral, and I am not about to start again now, no matter how crazy the world has decided to go.
Just then, I hear a sound coming from my window. To my strange relief, this time it isn’t the increasingly familiar, “bump, bump, bump,” that has taunted me over the past two nights. This time, it’s different.
Tap, tap, tap.
I take a moment to compose myself before going to see what the sound is. When I look out the window, there’s nobody there. I hate it that this is starting to become normal. Then, I hear it again, despite there being nobody there.
Tap, tap, tap.
I open my window up, and scan outside. Something, no, someone is trying to get my attention. I can’t let all of this rob me of my common sense. There, I find a folded note, pinned to my window frame. It’s no stranger than anything else that’s been going on, so I open it up and read it. Its message is simple, but effective.
“We know what’s happening to him. Meet us in the gym.”