“Here we go again.”
Gabe looks around and has that feeling he knows this place all too well. That’s because he does know this place… better than anyone would ever hope to know a place.
To his right, there’s that ragged looking bush, begging for a sip of water. Directly in front of him, the smooth rock sloping down the side of the mountain with a peculiar orangey-brown stain right in the center of it. Like someone put a large cigarette out on top of it. Every other rock on this mountain he could draw from memory. Including the ones to his left, cracked and crumbling, completely unstable. They lay just next to his mother and father who were busy admiring a cardinal on a small shrub in the distance.
Gabe starts moving towards his parents to also get a better look. He knows he shouldn’t step on the rocks; he knows they won’t support him. But he has no control over this part. It just has to happen the way it has happened thousands and thousands of times.
Gabe steps on one of the rocks and it gives way. Immediately he goes down and the harsh slope of the mountain is unforgiving. Surprised screams emit from his parents as he tumbles down quickly, in a blur. Gabe bounces off the sharp rocks, tumbles towards a cliff and careens off the edge.
Cool air glides along his neck and arms and for a brief moment, he’s calm. He feels like he’s flying. Up until the moment Gabe smashes into the rocks below, his neck breaking his fall. The pain gets a little easier to deal with each time. It never doesn’t hurt, though. Gabe finds this part curious. Why should it still hurt every time?
This is the part he has the most time to reflect. And this part never goes any faster. Gabe has to experience this part completely every single time. While his parents clamor down the mountain, finding a safe path around the cliff, finding their way to him. He has to lay here, neck broken, body bruised and bloody, looking straight up at the sky. Of course, there’s only one cloud in the sky. At least if it were cloudy, he could spend his time admiring cloud shapes.
“A dog! A man on a bicycle! Is that one Brazil from an aerial view?”
But no, there’s always just the one cloud… and it looks like a cloud. What’s that one? Cumulous? Gabe keeps meaning to look that up and find out.
Gabe is strangely calm during this part. He is so very still… that part not being strange. He did just fall off a cliff. The sounds of little rocks getting kicked in a flurry sounds and Gabe knows his parents are nearby. Gabe moves his eyes as much as he can in order to see them approaching. They’re off in the distance, past the direction of his feet. He admires his cool hiking boots that his father had just bought for him. And his Pikachu socks that stick out from underneath. Best pair of socks anyone in his 5th grade class had ever seen.
Then, comes the same flurry of erratic questioning that Gabe cannot answer. The ‘Gabe, are you alright?!’ and the ‘Gabe, say something!’ and of course, ‘We’re going to get you help, honey!’
Where are we going to get help? We’re on the side of a mountain. We’re so high up that the clouds only look like clouds up here. His father says as much, they’re too far away to be able to get Gabe help in time. Both his father and mother inspect him and realize his neck is in bad shape.
Everyone soon realizes this portion of the mountain is strange. There, of course, was the cliff Gabe tumbled off. What he fell into was a little pocket on the mountain. The cliff above, to Gabe’s right, clearly used to connect towards the giant piece of mountain that was to his left. Large walls of mountain to either side of Gabe, straight up, a rectangular break in the mountain. No more than 12 feet wide. They were hidden in this little pocket on the mountain.
Gabe realizes he can flex his fingers a bit and does so. Most of what he is lying on is rocks, but there is a good deal of dirt. He flexes his fingers in the dirt and it is extremely moist. So much so, that as he squeezes the dirt, liquid drains from it. But it’s not mud. It’s the same sensation as squeezing a sponge straight from the water. This part always fascinates Gabe, like he is experiencing it for the first time again.
Then, the footsteps. The gasps from Gabe’s parents. And the slight shadow over Gabe as someone stops just before him. He can always make out a large nose, olive skin, and the thin hands of someone who’s malnourished.
The scraggly voice speaks to Gabe’s parents. It says it can help. Gabe’s mother pleads for help. Gabe’s father is confused as to how this person can help. The scraggly voice tells him he has no other choice.
“The boy’s neck is broken and he will not have time to make it to a hospital.” It says. “And you don’t even know if a hospital can help at this point. I, on the other hand, can help.”
Gabe’s parents are helpless. They eventually agree. That’s when the dirt gets even more moist. As this person pushes Gabe deep into the dirt. Liquid enveloping him. A pure violet colored plasma begins seeping over his eyes from all sides.
The last thing he remembers before the violet plasma seeps over everything he can see… is hearing the voice say to his parents, “I’ve seen you all in your home at the foot of this mountain. You have an abundance on your property. The boy needs it. Ideally twice a day. At the very least, once every other day. Otherwise, he will die.”
Gabe shoots up in his bed, panting, sweating, gripping his neck and searching for pain. Of course, there never is any pain at this point. Everything feels perfectly fine. He squints at the bright light from the sun peeking through the blinds that he didn’t perfectly adjust. He swings his arm over at the blinds and fixes the discrepancy so that the sunlight won’t be directly entering his eye sockets.
He lays there for a moment, gathering himself. Looking around his room. A relic of the past he refuses to change. Afraid that something is good luck and altering anything would diminish that luck. His Michael Jordan poster, next to his Penny Hardaway poster. The Pokémon calendar that is decades out of date, flipped to December and never removed from the wall. Those scuffed up mountain boots with the Pikachu socks still sticking out of them, laying on the floor next to his dresser.
Gabe takes a deep breath, assuming he’ll feel some sharp pain. Nothing. He feels fantastic. He looks at his cell phone. Several notifications from clients. A couple new jobs. Good. He’ll be busy today.
Gabe fills his purple mug up with coffee and watches the black liquid gold mix with a cloud of white. This was coffee number two. Coffee number one, his life force, brings him from the dead of sleep. Coffee number two allows his brain to click into motion and get started on his work.
One client needs an old story converted into more modern language for him to teach in class. This job pays well and is easy enough. Gabe finds it interesting. There’s a young boy and girl lost in the woods, there is an evil witch. Funny, the witch is always evil in these old stories. Having power doesn’t always mean you’re bad. Back in the day, people must have been so terrified of power and the unknown, especially when combined. But we evolve as people… or so that’s the hope.
One of Gabe’s regular clients needs more levels written for her mobile game. This was a fun job, he really got to stretch his creative muscles. He creates three levels and was about to move on to the fourth and final one when his phone buzzes. It’s a text from his brother, Tyler.
“Hey, I was able to take off from work a couple days early and got a good last-minute deal on a flight. Just landed right now. Any chance you can pick me up from the airport?”
Tyler was known to have terrible timing. Gabe wasn’t expecting him until Friday. Gabe had his whole schedule worked out so that Friday he would be able to go pick Tyler up at the airport. But today… today just won’t work. Gabe hesitates, ponders, then opens the text and types his response.
“You’ll have to take a cab or something. Right now is bad timing. But I’ll be at the house when you get here.”
Gabe sets the phone down and stares at his computer screen, reassessing how to go about the rest of his day. Knowing he now has to change his plans, move things around today, probably move some things to another day entirely. Oh, how he loathed changing his set plans. Gabe wasn’t always so rigid; he had some flexibility in life. But the older he got, the more set in his ways he became, his necessity to always stay at home, all flexibility left him in a hurry like he was stricken with Rigor mortis.
Gabe’s phone buzzes and he glances over.
“Of course you will be.”
Gabe stares straight ahead at the computer screen and lets the timeline of the day present itself in his brain. He rearranges all his plans, moves things around, and comes to a conclusion. He has to go outside now.
He walks out the back door and strolls across the backyard. The mountain looms over the house with threat and reminder in its rocks. Gabe tilts his head down as he always does, half in fear, half in respect. He follows the stones he and his parents set down decades ago through the yard and into the wooded area. He moves through the trees, feet crunching on dry leaves and twigs. He approaches the soft dirt patch by the tree with the ‘G’ carved on it.
Gabe looks around, as always. He sees no one, as always. That’s the beauty of living around here. No neighbors for a thousand feet in either direction… and a lot of trees to hide anyone’s peculiar habits.
Gabe finds the dip in the soft patch of dirt. He presses down on it with both hands and the Earth sinks and sinks. He makes a divot in the planet with his hands, five feet by five feet, and about two feet deep. It always makes him feel so powerful. He lays himself in the divot and the Earth sinks even more from his weight.
He flexes his fingers into the dirt and squeezes, feeling the moisture of it. The liquid trickles from the dirt and slowly through his fingertips. He relaxes as the violet plasma envelops him, cooling his entire body, but giving that warming feeling to his neck. A healing touch, like fingers of Mother Nature caressing and caring. He sinks more and more, out of sight, into the dirt, into the plasma, into his healing place.
Gabe turns the faucet off and steps out of the shower. He starts drying off and stops suddenly when he hears noises. They sound like they’re coming from in his place. He listens, the front door is being pushed open. It must be Tyler. Gabe hurriedly finishes drying off and wraps the towel around his waist. He picks up the pile of his clothes, covered in dirt and purple goo, and slowly drags the door open. He slinks out into the hallway and moves towards the hamper.
Tyler emerges from the living room into the hallway and sees Gabe. His eyes immediately gravitate towards the clothes under Gabe’s arm. Gabe quickly opens the hamper and shoves the clothes in.
“What was all tha—” Tyler is confused, eyes staying on the hamper.
“Gardening.” Gabe quickly answers. “You’re here early.”
“Changed airports too.” Tyler’s eyes are still fixated on the hamper. Gabe steps in front of the hamper and closer to Tyler.
“Hug?” Gabe opens his arms. “I’m only naked under this towel.”
“Go get dressed.” Tyler laughs and heads back into the living room. Gabe quickly dresses in his room. He peeks out into the living room and notices Tyler has headed out into the backyard. Gabe rushes back to the hamper and starts pulling out all of his clothes. A week’s worth of clothes covered in dirt and purple goo. He hurriedly shoves them all into the washing machine, fills it up with loads of detergent and fabric softener and cranks the dial up to Hot & Heavy.
Gabe makes his way back into the living room. Tyler is now in the kitchen at Gabe’s desk, the glass door leading to the backyard behind him. Tyler examines the power bill that’s on Gabe’s desk.
“Still using a ton of hot water, I see.” Tyler says plainly.
“I’m a two shower a day guy.” Gabe tries to lighten the awkward mood. The washing machine sounds from in the hallway. Tyler notices.
“And you still do your laundry regularly… almost too regularly.”
Gabe heads over to Tyler and gives him a big hug. He squeezes him hard, hoping his grip can do what word won’t.
“How’s LA?” Gabe asks.
“A hell of a lot warmer.” Tyler sets the power bill down and starts looking around their childhood home. “Hey so, my hotel room isn’t going to be ready for another couple days, so I figured I’d just stay here. But maybe I just cancel it altogether. Since we have more time, I was thinking maybe we could do a weekend trip somewhere.”
“You have more time.” Gabe corrects him and then nervously starts trying to come up with an excuse. “I uh… I got a lot of work, a lot of contracts. I couldn’t possibly leave for multiple days. Maybe one.”
“I thought that was the beauty of freelance work. Work from wherever.” Tyler studies Gabe’s awkward facial expressions as he searches for excuses.
“Can’t trust the WiFi just anywhere.” Gabe tries to say confidently. “Plus, this is my creative space. This is where I do my best work.”
“How would you know?” Tyler heads into the kitchen. “You never go anywhere else.”
Tyler opens the fridge and scans the shelves for something to eat. He picks up jars and containers like he still lives here and examines everything.
“Hey sorry.” Gabe looks down. “I wanted to come out for your birthday, and I thought I was going to be able to, just last-minute work…”
“Right, last-minute work came up.” Tyler shuts the refrigerator. “Same reason why you’ve never come to visit me. Same reason why you can never do anything. It’s fine. Hey, you got nothing in that fridge. Can we at least head down the street to Purple Cat for food or something?”
“Purple Cat I can definitely do.” Gabe forces a smile. It in turn causes Tyler to react with an authentic smile, thus adding authenticity to Gabe’s grin. There’s still love there, buried beneath years of awkwardness.
Gabe and Tyler sit at the dining room table and eat their meals, reminiscing over things from their childhood. Tyler laughs at all the stuff that still hangs on the walls. All the same knick-knacks that are still around. Gabe hasn’t changed a thing.
“So, the lawyer we’re seeing Monday is in Bethlehem…” Tyler says, chewing more food.
“Bethlehem?” Gabe says between the chewing of food. “Jesus. That’s far.”
“Jesus is right.” Tyler smirks. “Far is not. It’s a few towns over.”
“Several towns over.” Gabe corrects him once again.
“Anyway…” Tyler swallows his food first. “It’s Monday afternoon, so I was thinking Friday we could go up to the mountain and do some skiing. Rent a place up there instead and just come back Sunday night, maybe even Monday morning. We’d have time.”
“Uh, no, that’s not going to work. Maybe a day we could go somewhere, but probably not skiing.”
Tyler is about to take another bite of food and then stops himself.
“You have not been skiing since you were 10. What happened? What happened that day when you guys went hiking?”
“Nothing happened just…” Gabe is searching for the excuses surrounding the story he’s always told.
“No!” Tyler is upset. “Something happened and you guys just never told me. What is it? You were upset because I changed my mind that day? Because I decided to go skiing with my friends instead of you? Because you got stuck hiking with Mom and Dad instead of going skiing? I was 13, Gabe! Get over it. 13-year-olds ditch their 10-year-old brothers to be with their friends. It's not the ultimate sin!”
Gabe reflects for a moment how he was supposed to go skiing with Tyler that day. And that Tyler did cancel on him. But then he remembers how his parents told him he couldn’t dwell on that. And that he could never tell Tyler what happened, or it would devastate him.
“I was never a strong skier anyway…” Gabe tries to remember the excuses from the past.
“What 10-year-old is a strong skier?!” Tyler shouts. “You were 10! And you loved it! And you never skied again since then. And ever since that moment… you changed, man. You’ve been weird. You wouldn’t ever do anything. You’d never go anywhere. You haven’t come to visit me in LA, you didn’t visit me at college, you never even leave the state! For God’s sake, you won’t even leave Mom and Dad’s house! They’re dead and you still live in their house! What are you going to do when you have to leave the house?!”
The air feels heavy and Gabe’s cheeks flush with heat. He feels embarrassed by this life he is leading. From the outside it looks like he won’t change… like he won’t venture out into the unknown. But his secret that only his parents knew… it’s that he can’t. He can’t leave this house. And with his parents’ recent demise, he is left to carry this burdensome secret all alone.
“Saturday we can do a day trip somewhere, but we have to be back Saturday night.” Gabe gets up and brings his plate into the kitchen. He leaves it on the counter and heads outside to his garden. Tyler watches him in the yard through the glass windows and realizes he’s breathing heavy from his outburst.
Gabe aimlessly tends to the garden for no reason other than to be out of the house and not near Tyler. Tyler tries to read the expression on his face. It reads disappointment and shame very clearly… but there is something else on Gabe’s face. A pensiveness to his eyes. Something that suggests that there is more to his emotions than would be obvious to most. But Tyler’s known Gabe for Gabe’s entire life. He knows there is something more to all of this.
As the evening crawls on, Gabe realizes that Tyler is extremely tired and jet lagged. His yawns are increasing in frequency. But it will be better for Gabe the later Tyler stays up. Gabe is going to need to sneak off in the night… the longer he can push this to, the better. Who knows when he will next have a chance to sneak off into his spot in the woods?
Gabe won’t allow Tyler to say those words, “I think I’m going to turn in.” He keeps pulling out old photo albums of them when they were younger, old toys from their childhood, funny old outfits that they used to wear.
“You guys really kept everything.” Tyler reflects, staring at some old photos of him and Gabe on an apple farm. “Where was this one?”
“Umm…” Gabe takes a look at the photo. He’s nine, meaning Tyler is 12. He searches his mind. “Was that the trip in Vermont?”
“Oh yeah!” A moment of joy for Tyler, interrupted by the inevitable. “That was the last vacation we all took together, wasn’t it?”
Gabe sits quietly, hoping the notion will go away. It’s so difficult to answer these questions without telling Tyler the complete truth and without sounding like a total ass.
“Is it that you’re scared to travel?” Tyler has never once asked Gabe this. It’s usually, ‘Why don’t you like to travel?’ or some variation. But this was a different question. And in Gabe’s mind, maybe not a terrible excuse to take. He’s already painted as some germophobe who insists on multiple showers a day and runs the washing machine like he is a public laundromat. Why not also paint a few strokes of ‘Afraid to travel’ and ‘Afraid to leave the house?’
“Maybe.” Gabe replies quietly, never looking up. There is a compassionate silence from Tyler. He gently closes the photo album. Neither brother knows what to do with the moment.
“Well, I’m tired, man.” Tyler finally says. “I’m going to turn in.”
As Tyler gets himself ready to sleep in his childhood bedroom, Gabe inconspicuously checks the time. 11:34 P.M. He held Tyler off for quite a while. It will have to do.
Gabe waits for Tyler to go to sleep. He waits until he hears no more noises in Tyler’s room. Then, to be sure, he waits another 15 minutes. Tyler’s unmistakable snoring.
Gabe grabs an outfit and carries it with him. He sneaks out of his room and through the house. He makes his way to the back door, quietly opening it and stepping outside. He leaves the outfit next to the hose by the back of the house and then heads off into the woods. He follows the trail of stones as always, head bowed to the mountain as always. He uses the light on his phone, moving through the pitch-black woods. The hooting of an owl surprises him.
Gabe has come out here at night before, but he tries to avoid coming out so late. Even though he knows a secret of the Earth out here, he is still scared of the unknowns. He always worries what else can exist out here? He thought when he discovered a secret such as the one he holds, it would alleviate his fear. He knows more, shouldn’t he be less afraid? But all that secret did was open his mind up to realize the possibilities of other secrets of the world… they’re endless.
He eventually finds the tree with the ‘G.’ He goes about his normal routine, finding his usual patch of dirt. Of course, he and his parents had found a few other spots, most of the other spots were smaller and more difficult to get into. This one was the largest spot they had found and was easiest for Gabe to dip himself into.
And in he goes. Dirt, violet plasma, all of it washing over him like the tide of the ocean. Once enveloped fully, he enters that half-trance. He is aware what is happening, but he is also miles away in a dream state. The planet pulses as it breathes healing properties into him. He feels that pulsing pattern, like a heartbeat. It pushes more of the violet plasma towards him, into him. Warmth stretches along the areas of his neck where it should have been broken.
Then, the thing that doesn’t always happen. That feeling in his fingertips and his wrists. Almost like a little spark inside of him. Almost how Gabe would imagine it would feel if smoke were trapped inside of your hand. Not painful, not pleasant, just different. He feels this smoky feeling in all ten fingers and in both wrists. Smoke billows and sways inside of his hands.
The feeling vanishes and Gabe rises back to the top of the soil, feeling brand new. He looks up and can see the moon through the trees. It is a fantastic white color tonight. For a moment, it flashes purple. It turns back to white. This happens sometimes. Gabe pulls himself up and does a pointless brushing off of his clothes. Some dirt and purple goop comes free but his clothes are still completely covered.
Gabe makes his way back to the house, slowing down as he reaches the edge of the woods. He scans the house. There appears to be no movement inside. He approaches the house and turns the hose on. He strips down and washes his body as best as he can with the hose. The water is icy cold, and he is shivering. As if this wasn’t torture enough on a cold night, a stiff breeze whips by and attacks Gabe’s soaking wet skin. He winces and continues on, conjuring all of the power inside of him so that he can make it through this. He knows he can’t use the shower. It will wake Tyler, and even though Gabe showers so often, this will seem like too much and will raise many questions.
Gabe finally finishes hosing himself off. He turns the water off and grabs his clothes. He realizes he forgot to bring a towel out. A dirty doormat next to the back door appears to be his only option. He rubs the rough doormat on his skin, drying himself as best as he can. The coarse feeling of the doormat is sheer torture on his frigid and wet skin. Gabe longs for his bed and his extra blankets and quilts. He dries himself halfway and figures this is good enough.
Gabe throws his clothes on in a hurry, still wet himself, grabs his pile of dirty clothes and heads inside. He makes his way slowly into the hallway and approaches the hamper. As he does so, he realizes the toilet is running and hears the bathroom sink turn off. The door opens and there is Tyler. Tyler is bewildered to see Gabe, half-wet, shivering, holding a pile of filthy clothes. It’s dark enough in the hallway that the purple goop isn’t so obvious, but Gabe knows he needs to hide these clothes right away.
He opens the hamper in a hurry and shoves his clothes inside.
“What the hell were you doing?” Tyler asks through his half-awake state.
“Just uh, I just had to do something. Don’t worry about it.” Gabe can never think of good excuses on the spot. And in all honesty, some iteration of this one is one the best excuses he’s come up with in his years and he often falls to it.
“Yeah, ‘don’t worry about it.’” Tyler shakes his head. “Where are you always disappearing off to? I can’t believe you still do this. What do you do out there, Gabe?!”
“It’s late. Let’s get some sleep.” Gabe turns away and heads to his room, knowing the best way to get Tyler to stop talking is to just leave him.
Gabe sits at his computer with a coffee, getting some work done before Tyler gets up. He hears Tyler come out of his room and go immediately towards the hamper. He hears the hamper open up and then get shut with annoyance. The washing machine rumbles on, Gabe’s clothing getting a good hot rinse in there.
Tyler joins Gabe. He gets a coffee and sits with him, staying silent for his first few sips.
“What were you doing out there last night?” Tyler asks bluntly.
“Look, Tyler.” Gabe has thought this excuse over. “Sometimes people just need secrets. And if they don’t share them with you, it doesn’t mean anything negative. You just have to trust that some people in your life will have secrets… and they need to have those secrets for a reason.”
“You’ve been doing this weird stuff… disappearing into the woods… since you were a kid. Disappearing for a half an hour, an hour… I just don’t get it. Since you were 10, Gabe!” Tyler seems agitated.
“Well, then I’ve needed to have these secrets since I was 10.” Gabe finishes his coffee and gets up to get another.
The rest of the day, the two spent together. Getting groceries to have in the place since Gabe didn’t have much of anything. Tyler’s treat. He insists. They went around to old places they frequented as kids. Many trips down many memory lanes… even a few memory avenues and a memory highway.
Gabe and Tyler stop at a restaurant that has been around since before they were born. They have a pleasant and early dinner together, a few drinks each. They even see a few of their old friends and have some nice conversation.
They return home and relax, watch TV, don’t do much. Gabe gets a little more work done so he can feel caught up. Tyler continually tells him to stop working and to just relax. Easy for Tyler to say. He is getting paid for his time off. The less work Gabe does, the less money he makes.
Gabe keeps glancing at the back door, through the glass, towards the woods. He decides he can’t go out to his spot in the woods tonight. Not after last night. He will have to wait until tomorrow at some point. He’ll have to devise some plan.
The plan comes to Gabe the next morning without him even trying to concoct it. He wakes up, neck stiff and aching. A feeling of sickness coursing through his veins. He feels awful. He drags himself out of bed and realizes Tyler is already awake and drinking coffee. He’s showered and dressed. Gabe must have slept in a good deal. He can hardly manage to make his morning… perhaps afternoon… cup of coffee.
“You look horrible, dude.” Tyler is Blunt like John Krasinski’s wife.
Gabe takes a big sip of coffee. He sets his mug down on the table. He looks up, the bright light in the kitchen piercing his retinas. He immediately launches himself towards the back door, flings it open and vomits outside. Tyler watches in shock. Gabe closes the door, wipes his mouth and takes another sip of coffee. His stomach feels more settled, so he sits down.
“What the hell was that?!” Tyler watches Gabe in awe. Gabe sits still like nothing even happened.
“Must have been something I ate.” Gabe offers.
The rest of the day Gabe hardly moves. His body writhes in pain, his stomach somehow is simultaneously in knots and also doing backflips over itself. He imagines a breakdancing pretzel in there. Then, the thought of a pretzel makes him sick, and he rushes to the bathroom to vomit once again.
All Gabe can manage to eat is half a piece of toast. But he has several cups of coffee. He spends a lot of time watching TV, plastered to the couch. Dark circles under his eyes and pale, oily skin… he looks like a corpse. Tyler spends a lot of time on the phone speaking with a coworker about some deal that didn’t get done correctly. Gabe half-listens as Tyler paces through the house, chastising someone that is on the other side of the country. Tyler looks over at Gabe several times, examining his awful physical appearance. But he never says a word about it.
Eventually, Tyler says that he can’t sit around here anymore and that he needs to leave. As rude as it comes across, Gabe is so thankful. He was waiting for Tyler to get bored. Tyler says he will be going to the lake, maybe he will get some dinner over there too.
He leaves with Gabe’s car and Gabe is so relieved. Even if Tyler doesn’t get dinner, a trip to the lake and back is all the time Gabe needs to himself. He waits a few minutes to be sure Tyler is gone and then peels himself off the couch. He trudges out the back door and meanders his way along the path of stones. He finds the tree he carved his initial into, he finds his patch of soft dirt and rejoices inside.
He lays down in the dirt, barely able to squeeze because he is so weak. But the dirt is still forgiving, spongey, moist. The violet plasma seeps out of the dirt, floods over Gabe. Gabe closes his eyes and let’s his saving grace do its work.
Gabe marches across the backyard, rejuvenated. He approaches the house and goes through the plan in his head. He will strip down outside so that he won’t have to worry about dropping any dirt or goo on the floor, grab a bag to put his clothes into, toss them into the washing machine right away, and then go shower. He is just nearing the back door when the back door is flung open and there stands Tyler with a bag from the pharmacy.
“I decided you probably needed some medicine, and we could wait for the lake tomorrow.” Tyler lays out his plan while his eyes dart across all the dirt and purple goo on Gabe. “What the hell is all of this?”
Gabe looks down at himself, realizing the dirt will be difficult enough to explain away, but the mysterious purple goo will be harder. And his appearance, his skin is healthy, the dark circles under his eyes gone, everything about him looks perfectly healthy.
“I was painting.” Gabe says. “In the woods. Something I like to do… relaxes me.”
“Painting?” Tyler is beyond perplexed.
“Yep, lots of purples.”
“Dude, you look completely better. Like you were never sick.”
The wind swirls and delivers a chill to both of them. In response, Gabe motions to the door behind Tyler, suggesting he needs to get inside. Tyler steps aside and lets Gabe in. Gabe heads back to the shower.
“So, you don’t need medicine?” Tyler asks.
“No, I think I just needed to paint.” Gabe says with a smirk.
The rest of Friday evening, Gabe and Tyler plan a trip to the lake for Saturday. Gabe insists they come back early enough Saturday night. His plan is to head to his spot again Saturday night. After a day at the lake, Tyler should be exhausted and sound asleep. Gabe will take extra precautions to be quiet when he heads out that night.
Saturday, they leave later than they planned because Tyler is taking forever to get ready. And he calls a coworker of his again to talk at length about some work issues. Gabe is aggravated but takes the time to do some freelance work.
They eventually leave and head for the lake and it is a pleasant day. They rent a canoe and go out into the lake, exploring the small islands. It’s windy most of the day so it makes it difficult to paddle in the directions they want. This is good though, more wind means expending more energy, means Tyler will be extra tired by the time they return home. Gabe just needs to make sure he isn’t too tired.
They find some nice places to visit, fun little stores mainly for tourists. They have an enjoyable dinner. But then they run into some of Tyler’s old friends at dinner… and dinner turns into drinks… and more drinks. Gabe is quietly telling Tyler they need to head back, per their plan. Tyler keeps shrugging Gabe off.
Gabe knows there isn’t much he can say without the two breaking into an argument. And with so many people around, including Tyler’s friends, it’s an awkward situation. Gabe keeps trying to drop subtle hints but Tyler either isn’t picking up on them or he doesn’t care to acknowledge them.
They stay at this place until it closes, bid farewell to Tyler’s friends and then finally head back home.
“That was fun!” Tyler says cheerily on the drive back. Gabe checks the time.
“Yeah, we left a whole four hours later than we said we would.” Gabe mutters.
“What?” Tyler checks the time. “Just three and a half. Calm down. What do you even have to do that’s so important?”
“The point is, we had a plan, Tyler.” Gabe says, eyes never leaving the road. Wind whipping across the road, pushing their car ever so slightly. “And you didn’t stick to it.”
Sunday morning, Gabe awakens and is in horrible shape once again. His knees are weak, and he almost falls to the floor as he attempts to get up. He sits back down. His neck is on fire and his shoulders feel as if they’ve been ripped to shreds. As his feet graze the floor, he realizes he is not in his bed, he is on the couch.
“So, you really slept there all night?” Tyler says from the hallway. Gabe glances over and sees Tyler has just awoken. Gabe remembers vaguely, they were both so tired when they got home and sat down on the couch for a moment. And apparently, that turned into Gabe falling asleep on the couch. So, he never got to go out to his spot in the woods.
Gabe glances to the back door, out the window, and to the woods. He sees the mountain in the distance. He bows his head down. Tyler heads into the kitchen to get the coffee ready. Gabe uses all of his energy to scrape himself off the couch.
“Are you sick, again?” Tyler asks. Gabe does not respond.
Later in the day, Tyler says he is going to go to the Health Food store on the other side of town. He thinks Gabe needs healthier foods in his diet. This will give Gabe enough time to head to his spot, so long as Tyler doesn’t change his plan again. Gabe waits 20 minutes after Tyler leaves and texts him asking for Tyler to send him a picture of some of the soups they have at the store so he can choose one. Tyler texts back a picture to which Gabe blindly picks one. He just needed proof Tyler actually made it to the store. He immediately heads out into the woods to his spot. This one is going to need to last him all the way through tomorrow, likely.
The wind swirls heavy around Gabe as he strolls back towards his happy spot… his healing spot.
Tyler returns to find Gabe reading a book, looking well and chipper. He’s freshly showered. The washing machine is running in the background.
“And you’re fine again.” Tyler says unsurprised.
Gabe simply nods. He sets his book down and helps Tyler with the groceries he bought. They decide to make a healthy dinner for themselves. It’s a fun night in the kitchen, preparing food together. The wind swirls heavy outside, shaking the windows to the house. Bad weather to be outside in, but fun weather for a relaxing night in, watching scary movies. Tyler picks some monster movie neither of the two of them had ever heard of. While they watch it, the wind shakes the windows and the doors, like monsters trying to get in.
The next morning, Gabe and Tyler get ready, and the wind outside has not died down one bit. It continued through the night and in fact, it’s even stronger now. They bundle up for the cold and windy weather.
They drive into Bethlehem and the wind only continues on. Large branches are strewn across the roads, leaves swirl through the wind, making it look like a disaster zone outside. As Gabe gets to Bethlehem, Tyler starts checking his phone for the exact address to the lawyer’s office. Gabe slows down and hears an enormous cracking sound. A tree breaks 100 feet ahead of them and collapses on the side of the road. Parts of it jutting out into the main road. Luckily, the lawyer’s office is behind them, and they turn around.
They park in front of the office and Tyler points out the restaurant next to it. One of his friend’s uncles was a part owner of the restaurant and he’s heard great things. A perfect place for them to eat right after this meeting with the lawyer that should prove to be awkward.
“What do you mean he gets the house?!” Tyler screams across the table to the lawyer. The lawyer, Mr. Henderson, recoils slightly.
“It’s what they stipulated in the will.” Mr. Henderson goes over the lines he just read. “You each get your share of the money… and the house… that goes to Gabe.”
“Look, I…” Tyler is fuming. “Nothing against you, Gabe! I’m not mad at you! But… how could they do that?! Why wouldn’t it go to both of us?!”
“I don’t know what to say, Tyler.” Gabe truly doesn’t know what to say. He knows what he could say. He knows that he could say, he knew this was going to happen. He knew their parents would leave the house to Gabe because he needs to keep living there. He needs to stay near the mountain… stay near those pockets of the violet plasma. He couldn’t risk dual ownership of the house with Tyler who would likely want to sell the house. He couldn’t risk being too far from the house.
Tyler is breathing heavy again. His anger always works up his lungs.
“But I do live there.” Gabe adds… hoping it might make things better. After about two seconds of reflection, he realizes it has the opposite effect.
Dinner is truly awkward. The restaurant is expensive, and Tyler had already offered to pay before the meeting with the lawyer. Now, Gabe feels the offer could be retracted at any moment. Why wouldn’t it be? Tyler just found out that their parents left half of their money to him, the other half to Gabe, and then the entire house to Gabe. He doesn’t know the secret Gabe shared with his parents when they were alive. He just knows there is some secret. Something their parents never told him. Something Gabe never told him. He knew Gabe got more and more distant each year… even though the figurative distance was created by Tyler’s literal distance… but he never added those numbers up.
Now, Tyler has found out his parents left a much larger percentage to Gabe… how could that not make Tyler feel less loved? How could he not take that personally?
The food is delicious. Will it be worth the amount Gabe is probably going to have to spend on it? His hard-earned freelance money? It will be one time he splurges. After this, back to the cheapest food he can find.
As they silently chew their food, the wind outside picks up even faster, heavier. It’s louder. The restaurant is sturdy but still shakes from the force. The winds are turning into a storm. No one had heard anything about this on the weather. But another cracking sound of a tree splitting and falling over outside confirms this.
Mild panic sets in with the rest of the patrons of the restaurant. Gabe and Tyler are the only two who don’t even bother to look out the windows and just continue eating their food.
The drive home is just about as silent and lacking of words as the dinner was. But it’s darker and windier. The violence Gabe felt pulsing under Tyler’s skin at dinner had subsided and was now replaced by the violence of the storm whipping all around them.
The car is getting thrown left and right. Gabe grips the steering wheel tighter, trying to hold the car steady. They veer around a turn when suddenly there is a roadblock and Gabe slams on the brakes. A police officer approaches their car. Gabe rolls the window down and the officer is screaming over the storm.
“Road’s down! You two will have to turn back home!” He screams.
“No, we don’t live here! We’re trying to leave town!” Gabe informs him.
“Not going to be able to do that tonight!” The officer yells. “This was the last road out of Bethlehem that you could’ve taken, and now this one is shut down too! You two are going to have to spend the night! There should’ve been a motel that you passed a mile or so back that way!”
And that’s exactly where Gabe and Tyler ended up. In the motel. Watching TV figuring out what is going on with the storm. Gabe waits impatiently for more information from the news. He winces from the growing pain in his neck.
“Roads in Bethlehem are shut down for the rest of the night and will take well into tomorrow to open back up. More likely they won’t be up and running until Wednesday or Thursday, though…”
Gabe immediately stands up. “Nope. Can’t do it. I got to go.”
He starts to grab his things. He leaves the car keys for Tyler.
“What?!” Tyler is bewildered. “It’s a storm! What’re you doing?”
“I’m walking home. You can drive the car back whenever the roads open up.”
“Gabe! You can’t walk back! What, is this about your work? Explain to your clients when you’re back home, I’m sure they’ll understand!”
“This isn’t about work, Tyler! It’s about life and death!”
With that, Gabe marches out of the motel room and starts jogging down the side of the road. Tyler rushes out after him. Tyler chases after Gabe who has taken up a brisk pace.
Gabe runs across the road and heads into the woods. He sees the mountain off in the distance just barely in the night sky. He continues jogging in that direction. Tyler continues to chase after him. He starts calling for Gabe, but Gabe won’t even look back.
Gabe is on a mission. Moving through the woods like some kind of expert hiker. Tyler struggles to keep up, continuing to call out for Gabe. Gabe moves past trees, swats away at branches hanging in his face, as the woods grow denser with trees.
Gabe continues like this for several minutes and then reaches a slight clearing in the woods. He stops and looks up, relocating the mountain to make sure he is still headed in the right direction. He is. As he is about to start again, Tyler catches up to him and grabs him by the shoulder.
“What the hell are you doing, man?” Tyler is somewhat out of breath.
“Just go back to the motel, Tyler. I need to head home. You can wait, though.”
“You can wait too.”
“No, I can’t, Tyler!” Gabe shoves him, anger pouring out of him. “You think you know what’s best and you don’t! I know what’s best! Trust me on this! I know what I need to do!”
Tyler shakes his head in confusion and anger. Just then, a rumbling sound shakes the ground. Something that sounds like rocks scraping against one another loudly. Gabe and Tyler spin around, confused. Behind them, they spot the source of the noise.
Two gigantic beings move towards them. One of them is six feet tall and looks like it weighs 300 pounds. The other is closer to eight feet, it has to be 500 pounds. As they move closer, the moonlight illuminates them. Their skin, if it is skin, is gray, and looks rock-like. They can see scrapes and specks like a rock would have, but they see pores like skin would have. Claws hang from thick, dexterous fingers on wide hands. The arms are long, no muscle definition but solid and sturdy. The chests and backs of these things look to have a shelled armor like a stegosaurus. Plates even stick out on the shoulders and on the tops of their heads. Red eyes glow in the night above upturned, snouts of noses and large fangs that won’t fit in gnarled mouths.
The larger being exhales gruffly and then sniffs the air erratically. Gabe and Tyler back up. The larger being lets out a couple short grunts. The smaller being does the same.
“What the hell are these things?!” Tyler keeps moving backwards. Gabe looks around them and spots a large rock on the ground, 10 feet behind them.
The beings move towards them a little faster. The larger one swipes it’s clawed hand swiftly at them but they both jump back, dodging it. They backpedal a little farther and Gabe squats quickly. He grabs the rock and heaves it at the larger being’s head. It bounces off the forehead of the being and it stumbles backwards, falling to the ground.
The smaller being sees this and roars mightily, shaking the trees. It moves towards them and swipes its clawed hand. Gabe and Tyler jump back and dodge this attack. They slip and fall. Gabe looks behind them. 20 feet behind them, there is a massive drop-off. A cliff of sorts. Jagged rocks down at the bottom… some 200 feet down.
Gabe and Tyler scramble to their feet and Gabe taps Tyler. “Follow my lead.”
The being stays fixated on them and Gabe starts circling his way around. The being keeps closing in and Gabe and Tyler keep moving backwards. But they drift to their right, making a circle slowly. The being swipes again and its claws tears through Tyler’s clothes and cut into his skin. He screams in pain and Gabe grabs him and pulls him back. The being continues to be fixated on them as they keep circling around.
Tyler looks behind them realizing the larger being is laying behind them and breathing.
“That thing is behind us. What are you doing?” Tyler clutches Gabe’s arm. Gabe continues pulling Tyler along in his half-circle motion. The smaller being is still in front of them, getting closer and closer to the cliff. Gabe moves a few more feet to his right, pulling Tyler along with him. The being keeps circling, instinctively thinking it is closing in on its prey. It is now positioned just several feet in front of the cliff.
Gabe and Tyler hear the larger being snort in confusion from behind them. It lets out a soft grunt. It appears to be coming to. Gabe turns and looks to Tyler.
“Tyler, there’s no time. So, don’t argue. We both know my life is a wreck… even if you don’t fully know why. But there is still so much that you can do with your life. We both know your life is worth saving.” Gabe holds both of Tyler’s arms.
“What are you saying?” Tyler’s eyes well up.
“I’m just saying… promise me you will run and not stop until you are safe.” Gabe pats Tyler’s shoulders with force, gives him one last look, and takes off towards the being at the edge of the cliff. Gabe sprints right at it, taking it off guard. The being lets out a gruff roar and Gabe leaps at it, tackling it to the ground. As he and this monster fall to the ground they bounce over the side of the cliff… and fall.
Gabe briefly hears Tyler’s voice echo in the air, but then he hears nothing but wind whipping all around him as he falls with this monster. He is somewhat calm as he falls, knowing he has experienced the pain of very near-death before once… and many times in his dreams. This will be worse, because this will be true death. But probably not much worse. Gabe is somewhat prepared for it. In a morbid way, he is curious how it will feel.
The crash into the Earth let’s out painful grunts from both him and the monster. The initial feeling is very similar to that day on the mountain. Extreme heat and impact all over, especially to his neck. Powerful stinging coursing through him. The burning heat lingers on his neck… and then strangely, it cools to a comfortable warming sensation.
This is better than the last time. Gabe thinks. Then, he thinks about how weird it is that he is still having thoughts at this point. Everything has become black around him. He must be dead. Why is he still thinking?
The blackness gets even darker… then it feels soft, inviting. The warmth is comforting, especially on his neck. Slowly, Gabe’s whole body feels rich with warmth. A soothing feeling like a massage washes over every muscle of his body. He gets the sensation he is suspended in air, his body recorrecting in some peculiar hold of gravity.
And then, the violet plasma, brighter than ever before, washes all over him. He breathes it in, it seeps into his nostrils, his mouth. It encases his eyes. Then, there is that spark in his fingers. There is that smoky feeling. Stronger than he has ever felt it before. Smoke billowing rapidly through his fingers, his hands, his wrists, his arms, all the way up to his chest. The smoke builds and builds inside his hands and arms until he is sure he will burst. But it all stops, pressed up against the inner walls of his skin. His skin is becoming more elastic, being pressed from the inside from this airy substance.
Gabe realizes he has now been positioned upright and he can see the light from the moon directly above him. He is floating, yet something solid is located at the bottom of his feet. There is strength in his knees. He feels the strength. He feels power within him he has never felt. He bends his knees, feeling a strong metallic coil within him. He jumps and launches himself up.
He breaks free from the dirt and soars into the air. He flies all the way up out of the cliff and lands just at the edge where he had fallen off. Power is surging through him.
He looks straight ahead and there is Tyler, 50 feet ahead, underneath several fallen trees. The larger being is on top of the trees, swinging at Tyler, terrorizing him. It can’t quite reach Tyler but keeps smashing the trees down with its gigantic foot. The trees are pressing into Tyler. The being keeps swinging at him, chipping away at bits of the trees. Wood is flying all around, branches soaring through the air.
“Hey!” Gabe screams out at the being. It immediately stops and looks up at Gabe. An almost-human look of confusion enters its red eyes. Tyler looks up and his eyes bulge out of his head at the sight of Gabe.
The monster inhales and then lets out an ear-piercing roar that rumbles the ground beneath them. Its fangs gleam under the moon. It steps off the trees that are on top of Tyler. It stomps towards Gabe.
Gabe has no idea what he is going to do. But he feels something deep down inside of him. He feels its power. He feels the smoke. He feels the spark. It is hot and crackling, just at the tips of his fingers. The massive being keeps stomping towards Gabe and closes in. Gabe summons all of his strength, cocks both of his arms back and then thrusts them both forward like he is delivering a solid push.
He commands the spark in his fingers with his mind to shoot out… and a fantastic purple airy, flame shoots from his fingers. Ten dancing streams of purple, tear through the air, actually shredding the air around it and burning it. The purple flames shoot right at the monster and hit it in the chest. The impact rockets the monster right off its feet and sends it soaring backwards, slamming into a giant tree.
The monster bounces off the tree, a sickening cracking sound coming from somewhere in its body. It falls to its side, purple smoke and embers coming off its chest as something slowly burns and eats away at its flesh. It lays completely still, dead. The purple embers slowly vanish. Everything is still.
Gabe rushes over to Tyler and grabs his hand. He pulls him free from under the trees and lifts him to his feet. Tyler is in complete awe of the moment. His lower jaw hangs. His lips quiver. Gabe too, is confused by the moment. At the very least, he has more answers than Tyler does. He looks Tyler square in the eyes.
“Clearly, we have some things we need to talk about.”
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