As my brother’s features began to define themselves, I slowed to a rhythmic jog. He waved at me, and shielded his eyes from the sun.
“Hey, bud,” He said with a smile. His eyes, though, did not match his lips, and I felt my stomach lurch with unease.
Ivan was tall, slender, with long muscular legs and arms. When he wasn’t running his posture was usually that of a slinky cat, unhurried and lofty, yet now he was rigid, alert. I squinted into his face. It was pink and moist from the heat and his eyes didn’t rest.
“Hey.” I said, panting. He seemed to sense the question on my tongue. “Benny, Mom and Dad say they have something to tell us.” He shared with me a chagrined half-grimace, an engagement of brotherly companionship. My mouth, too, twisted.
“Where even are they?” I frowned. “Mr. Leward said no one was home.”
“Yeah. They and Marissa are over with some other people at the Cottage.” I tilted my head inquiringly, but Ivan only motioned me along. “Apparently,” he continued, “It’s… urgent.”
I massaged my forehead, and took a step forward.
We walked along the track together, speaking sparingly, as the dingy, tangled brush around us filtered into cement and cinderblock. In this part of town, nothing grew, save for patches of straggly weeds.
Dozens of buildings stood alone and abandoned all around us, stark white, dome-shaped and ominous. They held an aura of chilling mystery about them, for they had been there already when we arrived, and no one knew who had built them. They were certainly structurally unsound and there were rumors of phantoms. I’d never believed in ghosts, and yet -- staring up at the tallest one, its black windows like empty eye sockets – I almost could.
It was a spooky area, but Ivan and I walked by it every day on our way to school, and we weren't nearly so affected as we once were. Nonetheless, Ivan pulled me along.
Downtown, there were scattered businesses and paved roads. The Cottage was a sort of social spot, family-oriented, and was located in the heart of town. In better times, there had been food, beer, and music, but it had recently served as more of an unofficial meeting hall. As we approached, dread began to gnaw at my insides. Somehow I knew that our life was about to change permanently.