The camping trip passed by faster than I’d expected. I spent my days talking to Benjamin and Red, and although I still wasn’t sure if I was crazy or not, I felt strangely content as I spoke to them. It was as if they knew as much about me as I did, and it felt nice to not have to explain myself as often as I was used to. When I’d begun to explain why I hated Aver so much, they stopped me and said exactly what I was thinking. I’d begun to wonder if they could read my mind as well as hear me speak, but when I’d asked them if they could, they said no.
I spent my nights writing in my diary, and often hearing Benjamin and Red in my dreams. What they said would confuse me at times. They’d mention passages in a book, but never fully explain what the book was. When Benjamin said “Aver” while reading the book, I almost woke up. Could it have been a passage from my diary? It didn’t sound like me at all.
I waited in the morning for Benjamin and Red to greet me. I even whispered their names as I hiked through the forest with my mom and dad to get to our car, but I’d gotten no answer. I wondered where they were. Normally they would be around by now. I finally shrugged it off and settled in for the long car ride back to Aver.
We arrived home and I saw that we had about five messages just from Alina, all of them were recorded this morning and afternoon. I smiled to myself and pressed the play message button from earliest to most recent.
"Ruby!" she said in a sing-song voice. "So, you're getting home today, right? You said you were...so why aren't you answering your phone? Whenever you do get home, we should go see a movie or something! Okay, well just call me when you get this! Love you, girl!"
I clicked the button and listened to her next message.
"Hey Ruby! Uhm...it's me again! So...you need to call me when you get home! We haven't talked in days!"
"Oh Ruby! Call me! I've been waiting!" she'd sung into the phone.
I giggled and pressed the button.
"Okay...I don't even know why I'm leaving a message. Oh, wait! Yes I do! Call me when you get home!"
Her last message was short, and to the point.
"Ruby! Call me now! That is an order, young lady!"
I laughed and picked up the phone, I was about to dial Alina’s number when the phone rang. I sighed when I read the caller ID. “Hey Alina,” I said when I answered.
“Ruby, you’re back!” she squealed excitedly.
“Ha ha,” I laughed. “Yeah, I am! Just got your messages…all five of them.”
“Well I had to get hold of you somehow!” she giggled. “So, hey, did you want to hang out?”
“Sure! What do you wanna do?”
“I don’t know. Uhm, can I come over?”
“Hold on and let me ask.” I told her, then I turned my head away from the phone. “Mom! Dad!” I shouted.
“What is it, Rubes?” my dad yelled.
“Can Alina come over for a little while?”
“Yeah, sure, that’s fine!”
I put the phone to my ear again. “Yeah, you can come over!”
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll be there in ten minutes. See you then!” she said and hurriedly hung up the phone before I could get another word in.
I brought my bags upstairs and threw the dirty, muddy clothes into the hamper and, after a moment of looking at the overflowing clothes, brought the hamper into the laundry room to be washed.
I reached into the cabinet to get the laundry soap, but stopped when I couldn't find it. Something else touched my hand. I stood on my tip toes to see what it was and screamed when I saw a spider the size of my palm run to the back of the cabinet. But, something that annoyed me for absolutely no good reason, there was no laundry soap. I glared at the spider as if I held it personally responsible for the absence of the soap.
My dad rushed into the room. "What is it, Ruby?" he asked, breathless.
"There's a spider," I said, my voice hinted toward annoyance instead of the fear I'd originally felt.
He chuckled and looked inside the cabinet. As he was looking, he pulled the detergent out of the cabinet. I stared at it, wide eyed, as my dad said "There's no spider in here. Are you sure you saw it?"
"Uhm," I said, suddenly unsure. "Maybe it was a trick of the eyes or something. Thanks anyway, dad."
He was laughing silently as he left the room.
After I put the clothes in the wash, I headed back upstairs to unpack the rest of my belongings.
I smiled as I set my diary under my pillow. Then, I went to put the clothes I hadn't used into my closet. When I turned around, Alina was standing right behind me.
"Surprise!" she yelled and laughed loudly at my shocked expression.
"You know, your family should really lock the doors. Otherwise, creepers might get in," she laughed as she plopped down on my bed.
"Oh yeah," I agreed. "Because, you know, Aver is such a dangerous place."
"Well, you never know," she said and she winked at me.
"Hmm," I pretended to process that for a moment. "I guess you could be counted as a creeper, Alina. After all, who else just appears right behind someone? It's kinda weird." I grinned at her.
"Well, I never said I wasn't weird," she said, giggling.
"What do you want to do?" I asked, eyeing my pillow, only vaguely aware of Alina staring at it too.
She looked back at me. "What are you staring it, Ruby?"
"Huh? Oh, nothing. It's nothing." I said, trying to sound indifferent.
Alina wasn't fooled. She picked up my pillow and saw the diary. "You have a diary? I thought you said you weren't into this stuff," she said. She didn't sound hurt. She sounded annoyed.
"I wasn't. But I needed something to do while I was gone, and so I thought I'd try it out."
"Huh," was all she said. Then, she reached to pick it up.
"Alina!" I yelled as I tried to snatch the diary away from her. It wasn't that I had anything to hide, but it was that I didn't know what I'd written.
She kept the book just out of my reach. "Aww. C'mon, Ruby! Just let me read one teensy weensy little entry?"
"No, seriously Alina. Give it back."
"Hmm. I don't think I will," she said. She slowly began to open it, a teasing grin on her face. She raised one eyebrow, as if challenging me to object. When I didn't, she opened it to the third or fourth page and stared at it. Her expression grew confused. "You didn't write in it?"
"What?" I took the book from her and stared at the page. I saw the paragraphs I has written. I scanned over one and my mouth popped open in shock.
I hope "I'm-Too-Good-To-Talk-To-You" Tony would go die. Maybe if I'm lucky, he'll get hit by a bus.
I gulped as I stared at it. I'd never said anything like that about Tony. Sure, he was a snob, but he was a person. I stared at the writing, trying to deny that it was my own.
I slowly started to shake my head as the tears sprung up and dropped on the page.
"Ruby?" Alina asked. I jumped at the sound of her voice. I'd all but forgotten that she was here. "Are you okay? Why are you crying?"
"I..." I didn't know where to start. How would I explain to her what the rest of the paragraph said? She'd think I was crazy. She couldn't see what I'd written, but I could.
Then, at probably the worst time they could have picked, Benjamin and Red said "Hello Ruby."
I wanted to answer them badly, but Alina was here.
"Ruby?" Benjamin asked. "Are you there?"
"Is she awake, Benjamin?" asked Red.
"Yes, couldn't you hear her before? I can sense her right now...but why isn't she speaking?"
"Ruby? Ruby James, can you hear me?" Red's voice echoed in my head. I began to feel dizzy.
"Ruby! Breathe!" Alina's voice was sharp as she spoke to me.
I exhaled, obeying, and bit my lip.
Who was I going to answer? Benjamin and Red or Alina? If I answered Benjamin and Red, Alina would think I was crazy for talking to myself. If I answered Alina and let her know what this was all about, she's think I was crazy for seeing words that aren't there! Or for wishing that upon Tony. I was tied.
"Ruby," Benjamin said. "Why aren't you answering us?"
"Ruby? What's wrong?" Alina said, shaking me.
I breathed in, prepared to answer both of them.
"Listen, Alina..." I hesitated, taking another deep breath, trying to calm myself. What would she think? Would she judge me? Would she think I was crazy? Certainly she wasn't much of a friend if she did. I began to feel an uncomfortable feeling in my throat...what was it? I couldn't tell; my mind was bouncing around everywhere. Alina, my best friend, leaving me? What would I do? There had to be some justice in this strange life of mine. After all, it wasn't my fault the diary I picked had some strange glitch...or perhaps "glitch" was the wrong word. It was doing exactly as was intended. If Alina left me, would Benjamin and Red be enough for me? No, they weren't my friends exactly...not yet.
"What is it, Ruby?" she asked. Then she reminded me, "breathe!"
I listened to her again and let out the breath I'd been holding to suck in a new one. My lungs and throat felt better at once, and I realized that it was the lack of oxygen that was creating the incredibly uncomfortable feeling. I looked down at my feet, staring at them. Where to begin?
"Ruby?" Red asked again, confused and a little worried. "Are you there? Benjamin, you don't think..."
"No, she's there, Red. Patience."
I knew then, as I listened to Red's worried tone and Benjamin's confident voice, that I simply had to answer Alina. The diary - along with Benjamin and Red - were now a part of my life and I couldn't keep this from Alina.
"Listen Alina," I repeated, "have you ever had something...strange..." I picked my words carefully, "happen to you? Something that could define you as...insane?" I didn't look up from my feet as I said this.
She didn't answer so I looked up at her cautiously. I could easily see from her expression that she wasn't judging me, but she was confused and concerned. I could also see that she had never experienced something anywhere near what I was. Nothing different from the same boring routine we always followed in Aver. She was clueless.
I tried to explain. Honesty was the best policy, after all. "Have you ever had something...impossible...happen to you? Something that separated you from the rest of the world?"
"I'm...not following you, Ruby," Alina said. The confusion and concern were evident in her voice as well.
"I don't believe this!" I heard Benjamin gasp. "She's going to tell her!"
"What?!" Red whispered. She sounded like she was choking.
"Ruby, don't tell her!" Benjamin ordered me. "She musn't know of us."
I gritted my teeth, immediately angry at them. Who were they to make me keep this from Alina? We told each other everything, and I wasn't planning on changing that now. How could they think I would? "Stay out of this, Benjamin," I snapped unthinkingly. "This is none of your business!"
"None of our business?!" cried Red. "This is about us! About my diary! How could you be so completely... idiotic ...to think that this wasn't any of our business?"
I glared into space, gritting my teeth. "I'm telling her." I told them, my tone final. Then, as Alina came back into my mind, my eyes widened in horror. She'd heard all of that. She was going to think I was crazy...before I had any chance to explain. I shifted my horrified stare to her and saw that her face was just as horrified. I imagined that if I were looking in a mirror, the image I would see wouldn't be very different from Alina's face.
"Ruby..." she said, her voice shaking. "I...I...don't know--"
"Listen! Please, Alina!" I said, cutting her off and she nodded. I breathed in, grateful for her open mind, and attempted to explain what she had just heard. I held up my finger, trying to decide what to say, as she shifted her weight uncomfortably, seeming to want to run away. I bit my lip, thinking. I decided I was just going to tell her the whole story. "Okay...when my parents and I stopped at a store on our way to the camp site, I got that diary from an antique store that was next to it. Just for something to do. It looked cool, and I thought it would be something to keep my interest. Maybe to show you what I did during the trip. Well...I...started hearing these voices. At first it was just while I was sleeping...and then I couldn't find my parents.
"I got worried and started searching for them...and then I heard the voices again. And, well, I thought of the possibility that I was crazy. But, they helped me find my parents. Somehow, they knew that they'd never left the campsite, even though I was totally convinced they were gone. Completely sure they weren't anywhere around the tent. But, I went back..following the direction of the wind. They'd told me to follow it. And, after walking that way, I found my mom..." I trailed off in awe of Benjamin and Red. I would be forever grateful for them.
Alina seemed to believe me, or at least she seemed to really want to. "So...the voices...were you talking to them? Just now...when you were mad...Benjamin...and...?"
I smiled at her, grateful again for her open minded spirit that had been there since I first met her. "Red. Benjamin and Red."
"Okay..." she said, seeming to have something very particular she wanted to ask me, but I could tell she wasn't going to.
"What is it?" I asked.
She smiled at me and then sighed. "You've always known me more than anyone else..." she giggled a little and then sighed again. "Well, I was just wondering...how much do you know about them? Like...what's their stories?"
My eyes widened. I was surprised that I hadn't tried to find out more about them in the three days I'd been speaking with them. "Oh...er..." I tried to think of something I knew about them. Throughout our whole conversation, I could hear Benjamin and Red whispering to eachother.
"Perhaps she could help up as well? The other one? What was her name?" asked Red.
"Alina, " I told her before Benjamin could.
"Oh, thank you Ruby," said Red.
"Huh, Ruby?" Alina asked
"Oh, sorry...Red asked what your name was," I explained.
"Perhaps she could!" Benjamin said excitedly, completely ignoring me. Was he still annoyed with the fact that I'd told Alina? Red didn't seem upset with me any longer.
I realized Alina was still waiting for an answer to her question, and I tried to tune out the conversation going on inside my head. "Well, they're from a place called Hallow. I can only hear them while they're in the room that they're in right now, and vice versa. They seem to be in command by a group called the Elders. Myriam...I heard her before, but I never spoke to her."
"The Elders?" Alina asked, seeming dazed. Then she laughed. "Sounds...creepy."
I laughed with her. I hadn't noticed before, but I agreed with her. "A little," I agreed. "But...now you know what I know."
"I'm...glad you told me, Ruby. Really, I am. I'm glad you can still trust me."
"And I'm glad you don't think I'm crazy."
"Oh, I've always known you are crazy Ruby," she laughed.
"Thanks again, really. It would have been hard to keep anything from you."
She grinned. "I know exactly how you feel.... So, I'm curious."
"I'm not surprised. About what?"
"What are they saying now?"
I laughed and then listened in on their conversation.
"Shh!" I heard Benjamin say. "Ruby, don't speak a word!"
"Why?" I whispered.
"Shh!" he cautioned again. "Myriam is coming!"
"Ruby?" Alina asked. "What is it?"
"And tell Alina to be quiet," Red added. "We can hear her too!"
"Got it," I whispered and then I held a finger to my lips to show Alina not to speak.
I picked up and pen and a piece of paper so I could give her a play-by-play of what they were saying.
I can't talk, and neither can you. Myriam is coming into the room. I can hear her footsteps right now. But I'll write out everything they say. I handed the paper to Alina and she read it, then nodded and handed me the paper.
"Good day, Myriam," Benjamin and Red sad simultaneously.
I began to write as Alina read.