The next morning, I’m still reciting the mantra the countdown created in my mind. One week, five days, and a handful of hours remain, according to the timetable laid out in the note. I am still no closer to figuring out who left it for me or to what purpose.
Prepare yourself. Yeah, that’s super. I’ll just download the latest version of Time Traveler Safety Guides. Who in the hell am I going to find willing to be my Obi-Wan Kenobi for this scenario of impending doom? It’s not like there’s a directory I can go to.
The closest thing to it is a compiled list of people who have my condition in the database at the Center for Disease Control. Indeed, my condition is filed with the CDC, as if I have some plague. The list represents the collective of individuals who registered or have been recognized over the years. It’s not publicized though.
The countdown to my demise on the slip of paper stares up from my desk. Part of me is ready to throw it away, while another wants to analyze every curve to see if I recognize the penmanship—like I could tell one scribble from another.
My cell phone chirps from across the room, and the holographic projection of my mom’s picture is hovering above the glow of my screen. Mom phoning this early tells me I had better get over and take the call. She hasn’t heard from me for the past few days, being out of town on business, but I’m sure the DCD has notified her of my leap, since I am still considered a minor.
“Hey.” She sounds unhappy. “Anything you want to tell me?” Yup, definitely unhappy. There are a few key sentences a teenager of any caliber doesn’t want to hear from their parents, and this particular one sparks a DEFCON 4 alert to my senses. It incites panic about all the things I’ve done, as well as anything I ever considered doing. My mind is doing a quick recount of possible misdeeds from the last few months.
“Um… I don’t think it’ll be anything you won’t tell me about soon anyhow?” A snarky response is probably not in my favor, but I’m still flipping through mental records of possible sin or delinquency she may be directing me to admit.
“Carter James. You know what I’m talking about.”
First and middle name—it’s like a warning shot. Still, this is a psychological war of attrition. I’m certainly not going to admit anything she doesn’t hint to me first. My best bet is to remain idle, and let her feel the need to completely explain.
“I do?” I play stupid.
“You leaped, and I have to hear about it a day later from Dr. Phillips? I don’t care if I’m five time zones away. What was the last thing I told you?”
I feel relieved to not have a guessing game going on inside my brain box. Thinking back to her departure to Germany, it’s all slowly starting to take shape in my mind. Unfortunately, my mouth and brain are not relaying their findings correctly.
“Yeah, um, you said that I… should… probably…”
“I said if anything happens, to call me as soon as you can.” Mercifully, she ends my suffering by answering for me. “And I think you knew leaping to be included within the category of anything.”
I will later wonder if I should have said anything, but for the moment I remain vague. “Sorry, Mom. Between the leaping and the note, I have just been a little busy.”
“Note? What note?”
And thus, the flashing-red warning lights go off. “The one I left in the curio cabinet.” As ridiculous as it sounds, curio cabinet is a code word we use to let the other person know the topic should not be discussed over the phone.
The government continuously satisfies its curiosity with people like my mother and me. There have been enough “coincidences” where we’ve run into them after talking on the phone. In some cases, they even paid a visit to our home. So, we developed a system of writing out conversations on toilet paper whenever it was a topic they might want to stick their noses into. Hell, I don’t even know if we own a curio cabinet.
“Well, I should be home tonight, and we can go over things then. For now, get dressed and get to school. You have about fifteen minutes before you should leave, and I’m fairly certain you haven’t made it past the threshold of your bedroom yet.”
My mom always has a weird way of knowing what I’m not doing. It’s more eerie to me than my ability to jump through time. I am, in fact, still sitting in my bed for no particular reason. I’ve been up for the past hour staring off into nothing—I boost myself into thinking its meditation. “I’ll get there.”
“On time, Carter.”
“Yes, on time, Mother.”
“Okay, until tonight then,” says my mom.
“Until tonight. Safe flight, Mom.”
With that, she’s gone. Mom and I don’t favor saying goodbyes every time we end a conversation or leave on an errand. With us, me in particular, we could disappear at any given moment, and if it’s the one day we don’t say goodbye, it will haunt us both. So, once a year, we have a goodbye celebration. Basically, it’s like an anniversary, showing we’ve made it through another year. We usually go out for dinner, just the two of us, at our favorite restaurant, Windows. It’s this luxury place on the twentieth story of a building downtown that rotates while looking out over the city. It’s better than a birthday or Christmas, in my opinion. It’s a time we feel obligated to do nothing except recognize we are still together.
The rest of my day swirls by like a mix of Kool-Aid in water. I speed wash, grab a handful of breakfast bars and head to the depot station with rapid footsteps. I make the last car on the express, which gets me to school on time. The private school I attend, Pemberton Academy, has an assortment of classmates with my condition and a handful of other behavioral nuances. They aren’t bad or violent kids, but some have a hard time grasping the new scientific definition of reality.
Most of the “normal” kids that go to school with me have a family member who has vanished in front of them and hasn’t returned, or has returned but is unable to cope. As ludicrous as it sounds, putting them in school with kids that have my condition is a proven method of helping them adjust to society.
It’s hardest on the younger grade levels. My age group is pretty comfortable with how life is laid out for us. We stay because there’s no need to go anywhere else. I’ve heard that lots of graduates go on to work for the government. I hope the benefits are good, since I have no other idea of what I’ll do after school is over.
There is an even smaller group than the Leapers, in the world, and they are known by most as Eventuals. The government refers to them as Neurologically Impaired. Their researchers learned about Eventuals while trying to test and treat our kind. Most Eventuals show such a low-level ability that it’s difficult to spot, but about one out of fifty show small spikes of prominent telepathy or telekinesis. They can pick up on random thoughts or push chairs across the room. It’s nothing quite like what’s seen in the movies, but what is? I have personally never encountered an Eventual with any remotely interesting powers beyond what could be guessing.
The few Eventuals at my school don’t really socialize or make themselves known. Apparently, there is some kind of lab test that lands them in my lame school for mutants. Only, there’s no cool patriarch like Professor X leading us, or training facilities, or combat simulators like the X-Men had. Nope, just a bunch of teenagers more confused than normal about their bodies. There’s a rumor that something happens to a majority of students in the last semester of senior year, but I have yet to see any proof.
After school, I autopilot back to my house. My mom always reminds me to pick up my feet when I walk, and I notice my shuffling as I lazily round the corner, and the quiet of fall envelops me. Every now and again, there are brief moments of silence within a city. They’re not complete, but the majorly close sound of people talking to one another or traffic whizzing by fades, and the soft white noise of the inner city is all you can detect. If you pay attention, it’s quite terrifying—that break from normalcy.
I would have noticed earlier, but my mind is elsewhere. The soles of my shoes dragging on the pavement snap me out of my daze, and before I have the time to realize it has grown quiet. Dead quiet.
When I was younger, I played baseball. One day, a ball was coming directly toward me. As a good third baseman, I planted my stance, and with every fiber of my being, I prepared to stop the ball from getting by me. Before I could react, the ball hit a tuft of grass and propelled upward into my face. The world went quiet just before the collision. That same feeling is happening to me as I approach the walk leading up to my house.
The world goes quiet. I feel my consciousness rattle and vision blur slightly. By the time I blink the feeling away, I’m terrified to learn I somehow arrived indoors. Not inside my house, but into an unfamiliar room. The walls and ceiling are dark. No windows line the room, and the only light is coming from the floor, or maybe beneath it.
A part of me wants to scream, but I can’t imagine it will help. Plus, the darkness of the walls and ceiling looks like some kind of sound-absorbing material, and I’m not sure if there’s a door. I can’t see any sign of a doorframe, let alone a handle.
A compressed puff of air resounds at my left. Shortly thereafter, a panel pushes into the area and slides along the wall. A man enters, and by the look of him, he should be on a poster for some kind of resistance. All he’s missing is a beret, along with his pant legs needing to be tucked into those military-style boots.
My heart flutters to the beat of a snare drum on a battlefield. The spit within my mouth curdles up as I struggle to swallow. I breathe as normally as possible and try to not let the muscles in my face reveal how disoriented I am inside.
“Mr. Gabel. Sorry for the scare, I just wanted to get in touch with you before your mother returns this evening.”
Great, he knows my name, my mother’s schedule, and how to abduct me without a trace. This is one of those moments in the movie where the hero would say some quip to get under the villain’s skin, but I am not that confident or that stupid.
“So, what can I do for you?” Hell, might as well be civil while I can.
“My name is Raymond Lord. Most people have nicknamed me Lord Ray. You can just call me Ray. I insist.”
Now, I’m extra nervous. Within my circle of people, Lord Ray is a name we’ve all heard of before. He has been blamed for varying degrees of theft, murder, and disappearances while leaping. Granted, no one I know can prove anything, just general speculations attached to his name. One thing is certain: his name is constantly plastered around news hubs, at the train station, and any public site. He is wanted for questioning by the DCD. I didn’t even recognize him from the photos until he introduced himself.
“Carter,” I manage to utter without squeaking in fear. “I insist.”
“Great. Well, now that formalities are behind us, let’s get down to why you are here today, Carter.” His smile seems pleasant, but his eyes refuse to mirror that same recognizable emotion. Those eyes look like happiness has been absent from them for quite some time.
“Okay.” Yeah, real confident, dumbass. I’m giving myself a sarcastic thumbs-up, in my mind.
“I sent you those notes you’ve been finding after your leaps.”
Now I’m all sorts of confused. If my understanding were a puppy, it has broken off its leash, and my mind races to catch it. On top of that, I feel nauseated. “Why?”
“Well, I’m sure you’ve heard stories of my actions in one form or another. To sum those up, there’s 40 percent truth to most of them, like any story. I have refused to abide by the government’s need to ‘cure’ our kind.” Ugh, he uses air quotes. I subtract from his cool points.
That sick feeling is growing, but I soon realize it’s not that my lunch is trying to come up, but that my body is trying to go back. The normal tingle has intensified far beyond what I’m used to.
“Crap, I’m going to leap,” I warn. “I don’t know where I am, but you may need to take me somewhere close to home.” Clutching my stomach, as if that has any bearing on slowing it down, is all I can do. When I leap, there will be people surrounding my location within a couple of hours, and I won’t know how to answer any questions about why I ended up wherever Ray’s henchmen will have taken me.
For whatever reason, Ray isn’t too alarmed or accommodating. He’s just sitting there, staring at me as if I’m a kid throwing a fit in the grocery store.
“Carter, despite the preemptive, uncontrolled feeling you are experiencing, you will not be leaping, at least not from this room.”
“How?” It’s one word I hope translates into the pages of questions his statement just sparked.
“There are a lot of things out there you are going to learn about soon; the trick is being able to convince yourself.” He’s smiling, while I feel like a dropped soda bottle that is building up fizz. “You are going to learn how to control your leaps, first. Then you are going to learn the details of how to use your… condition. But you will have to decide if you want my help.”
The normal tingle I feel before jumping is building up some sort of pressure within me. I feel it resting behind my sinuses and within my chest. It’s like my entire body needs to sneeze but can’t. This room must stifle it somehow. It gets harder to maintain focus, visually. The buildup is putting enough stress on my body to exhaust me completely.
I think I’m on the floor. It’s much brighter now, closer to the lights, and someone is tickling my arm.
“Carter… Please, make your decision soon. That countdown is still going on for you. If you want my help, do this: Take out a coin and flick it into the air. Someone will be along shortly after and will help get you started.”
He’s saying something else, but I can’t hear him as my mind goes blank and the room gets brighter, much brighter. Then I realize I’m not in the room anymore. The brightness is daylight. I’m back in front of my place, poised on my steps, ready to walk in to my house.
Jesus, did I just hallucinate? I look down at my watch. I just got off the train fifteen minutes ago. As I shake my head, I wonder what in the hell just took place. The dampness under my arms and trailing down my back tells me the fear was real.
After shaking off the feeling, I treat the incident like a surreal encounter, like sharing the same dream with someone. It’s peculiar and unexplainable but is easily shrugged off.
While catching up on some reading in my room, I hear the garage door open outside and the familiar hum of my mom’s car traveling into the port. And, of course, as I turn to get off the bed to go downstairs, I spill the glass of soda I was keeping next to me all down the side of my red-hooded sweatshirt. At least I save it from soaking into my pillow, I guess.
I strip out of the wet, sticky shell and equally soaked T-shirt beneath. As I pull a semi-clean shirt off the top of a pile of clothes on the floor, something is off. For a second, I think I have soda still running down my arm. As it turns out, it’s much messier than that. The episode before getting home was most definitely real, and proof is written on my forearm in a familiar handwriting.
Don’t trust your mom. Remember the coin.
1 week: 5 days: 11 hours: 18 minutes
To be continued …