When I finally returned home, my mental block unraveled enough to allow me to really think about what had just occurred.
I had never encountered something so quick, so fast-moving that I never even saw it. By the look of the skin that this thing left behind, it was a monstrosity in earthly terms, huge, ugly, slightly humanoid in appearance, although in that darkness it was impossible to tell all the detail.
I was almost certain that it was no mindless monster, because for one it seemed to be able to speak fluently in English, and even knew my name.
Scary. Apparently it had been doing this "observing" long before I even ended up in that subway. It was possible that it was also responsible for my loss of memory and the other odd circumstances as well.
No matter how intelligent it proved to be, I still had no idea what its intentions were, or where it came from. for all I knew it could have just wanted to terrify me as much as possible before devouring my insides like that rat.
But the more likely explanation was that this thing's agenda was much more complex than that of the hunger of a predatory creature. Or maybe this was a just a premonition.
A lot of things troubled and disgusted me, but these current circumstances really iced it.
The creature seemed to know how mentally fragile humans really are, but it also seemed to understand something else. Since it was obviously watching me from up on the rafters before I even knew what was going on, it could have been the one who put that backpack and its contents in my possession.
Perhaps it was giving me a choice. To submit to a gruesome death, and use the pen and paper to write a goodbye note to anyone that would ever find it, or to use the dagger that had been provided to fight back.
Perhaps I was just assigning imaginative motives to an inhuman thing that I knew nothing at all about. But no matter how much I brooded and speculated about it, there was no way yet to know for sure.
As I walked in the front door, the house was quiet. Dustin was gone. Maybe I could get some peace without him butting in as always.
Dustin is my older brother. Although he's seventeen, he acts like he's seven. He is constantly doing things to annoy, torment, and frustrate me beyond belief. He has a wide array of cruel of pranks and jokes that he pulls on me often, usually when I least expect, although I should suspect when it's about to happen, because I know him all too well.
He always does these things when mom and dad aren't around and takes extra care to cover his tracks so he doesn't get busted. He has proven me "wrong" so many times that mom and dad never believe me when I tell them he put live worms in my chicken sandwich at lunch, or brought a couple of his friends dressed in last year’s Halloween costumes to spook me at the darkest hours of the night.
I have enough to deal with already without Dustin always in my face.
Dustin thinks he is the hottest guy at school. He is on the football team, and acts so cool and mature, while at the same time doing everything possible to humiliate me.
My greatest triumph would be for something strange and utterly horrifying to happen to him, just once, and then I could make him suffer the ridicule and terror that I do. Of course, inner guidance, or that voice in the back of my head, is always saying that would just make me stoop to his level. It is probably right, but people like him can bring out the worst in anybody.
The calm quiet of the house offered the perfect place for me to think and calm down. Mom and dad were still at work, so for a couple of hours I had the time to do what I wanted without interruption.
As Sammy followed me straight into the kitchen, I dropped the book bag onto the dining room table.
The clock on the wall near the polished wood cabinets read 4:37 PM. I suddenly realized that it was a Saturday.
Mom and dad weren't supposed to be at work. Perhaps during my time lapse they had told me something I couldn't recall. They had gone somewhere but I resisted the curious urge to call their cell phones and find out.
As though he had just run a mile on a race track and was completely exhausted, Sammy was already asleep on the big flower patterned kitchen rug on which the dinner table and chairs sat.
He wasn't himself, not at all.
I remembered earlier when I had seen that odd gleam in his eyes. That gleam of intense and unmistakable fear. He had seen something. Perhaps the owner of the giant exoskeleton had tried to take a bite out of him.
Suddenly hungry, I strode across the hardwood floor, and over to the refrigerator. I pulled out a granny smith apple from the crisper.
From the sunny back porch windows near the dining room, no sunlight shone in. The sky had darkened with puffy gray clouds, all swelled with a heavy load of rainwater, and the wind whistled in the withering trees, blowing fallen leaves in cyclones through the backyard. The birds and squirrels had gone to bed to escape the chilly weather, and everything seemed to be caught in time, although the clock's quiet tick tick tick assured me that nothing had been frozen. I wondered why I was so concerned about time all of the sudden.
Sammy was dreaming, his back and front legs kicking as though he were running, and his muzzle and ears twitched with excitement. Occasionally he growled or groaned, his white-tipped tail furiously sweeping back and forth on the rug.
I bit into the apple, and continued to stare out the sun deck windows.
In our backyard, something moved in a shrub near mom's vegetable garden, which now held no vegetables. A small brown rabbit scurried from behind one of the shriveled bushes, its little nose twitching attentively. Then it sharply turned its head and looked left, its two ears flopped to one side and looked oddly like a wig. It then determined that no ravenous predators lurked in the yard, and began to nibble at what little nutrients the wilted garden provided.
High above, live oaks stirred, their long branches blowing back and forth in the wind like hands waving for attention.
Suddenly, the grazing rabbit looked upward, its nose pointed towards the cloudy sky. Then it bolted for the backyard fence, squeezed back into another shrub and vanished out of sight.
Maybe it had seen a bird of prey...or something else that flies like a bird.
For the rest of the day, the sun remained hidden behind its cloak of clouds, only it wasn't gloomy. The fall weather was perfect to go outside. It was cold, but not to the point that makes you shiver uncontrollably and yearn to dump boiling hot coffee on your hands just to feel them again.
I walked over to the wall hook near the stairs and grabbed my jacket.
Sammy heard the screen door slide as I opened it up to reach the sun deck and the door that led to the backyard. I could hear his paws thumping from behind me and then felt him bump into the back of my leg.
"Watch where you're going, grace." I told him sarcastically.
He still had that empty, sad look in his eyes, and also something else. I know Border Collies are smart and full of expression, but Sammy seemed to exceed the limits of dog awareness. His expression bothered me so badly that I had to look away.
He followed me out into the yard and towards the back.
Our neighborhood partially connects to the wilderness and woods on the outskirts of town. Since Oakville is still a small city, many homes in the new subdivisions are like this. Wildlife conservation laws don't allow us to cut down too many trees, because then children and pets would be on the menu of coyotes, which had been traveling and branching out in areas far beyond their original territories.
Bears also roamed this region, but they and many other creatures were kept out of our property line by a tall fence.
There were still plenty of woodland areas for Sammy and I to explore.
As we headed out towards the woods, the air was unnaturally still. The wind seemed to have breathed its last breath, and the air particles seemed to be frozen in place. This was odd only in the paranoid sectors of my imagination, which at times conjured up far more problems and strangeness than necessary.
The dead leaves crunching beneath our feet, the thin, spindly, gnarled Oak branches reaching out and groping at us like fingers, we made our way deeper into the woods, looking for a secluded but secure place to find solitude.
Or perhaps we weren't merely looking to be alone. Sammy was not only more than happy to be by my side to protect me always, but he seemed to enjoy the beauty and quiet of the forest, and perhaps it made him feel safe to be here.
There was an easy path to our often visited destination in this forest, a path full of large boulders that seem to mark the way to the end of the Earth, as if long ago assumptions were true and the Earth is really flat. There is something to these rocks that strikes me as magical. I have suspected, or imagined, that they belonged to the Indians who once roamed this place. Perhaps they buried their dead here, but that didn't bother me. If there were ghosts here, the aura they put off was entirely peaceful.
Once I counted these rocks, and their numbers reached more than forty. They marked the path to our sacred zone as efficiently as special candles mark the way to a worshiper's shrine.
At the end of our path we spotted a cave. A familiar cave. A sanctuary for the weary, the weary that is us.
This is where I always went to get away from Dustin, from my peers who torment me because of the truth that I tell, from the strangeness of my life, even from the Boogeyman.
Here nothing is strange. This small cave at the end of the forest is in a perfect place, and it slopes upward on a hill, protecting it from the floods of excessive rain. No one but Lola and I know about this escape, and it is a place that I value because of its serenity and privacy.
A suburban neighborhood is not a likely place to find something like this, nor is a small town the place to find such supernatural mayhem. But as we all know, life is full of surprises, little or colossal.
The cave is always dry and cold, but I don't mind the cold. Neither does Sammy. His breed originates from a place that is often very cold.
As we entered, I was filled with giddiness. This was not merely a cave, but maybe a portal leading to another more preferable realm than earth. This is just a metaphor. As surreal as Oakville can be, other dimensions are not easy to come by as you might think, and they are not likely to open up to such fragile creatures as human beings.
As we went further into the cave, I could see a familiar light at the end. This concerned me, since I had not remembered leaving it on.
The only sounds were the footsteps of my tennis shoes, and Sammy's claws ticking on the Limestone.
When we reached the end of the cave, it looked like what it was supposed to be: a secret room.
On one end was a large wooden desk, which seemed to be very old, and I guessed it was an antique, and on the other were two small armchairs with rose-patterned upholstery, which Lola and I had brought down when I first told her about the cave. Near them stood a large round metal table, which we had also brought down. Also on the walls, we had hung pictures to test how homey we could make this place. If you didn't know better, this little room at the end of the cave could have been the charming but humble abode of a fairytale bear.
On the desk a few steps away, a lamp burned with the aid of a battery-powered light that I had not remembered turning on.
On the table, lay a picture of me and Lola, wearing party hats and smiling. This picture had been taken on her birthday, the first year that I had been in Oakville.
This picture had been missing since last summer. At first I had thought that Dustin had stolen it, but I searched his room, and he seemed sincere about not doing it.
And yet there it was, lying in this cave no one knew about, right in the open as if someone had purposely placed it there.
The orderly and the abnormal were two runaway trains on the same track of my awestruck mind, both heading straight toward each other. Soon they would collide, leaving no trace of what made sense and what didn't.
It was as if someone, perhaps someone who knew far too much about my life already, was interested in my friendship with Lola, and was interested in me. But finding this picture would be impossible, considering we didn't know who took it. I could not, no matter what perspective I looked into, see the motive for stealing a picture, keeping it for months on end, and then spying on someone just to put it back in the one place they were sure to look.
It just didn't make any sense at all, but of course, what did, anymore?
Sammy seemed to enjoy going with me to this quiet escape, and for once a familiar doggie grin spread across his face as he found a toy lying near the cave wall. A small squeaky rubber mouse. Sammy went over and picked it up. He shook it vigorously in his mouth, making loud squeaks that sounded eerily like screaming.
Seeing this brought an unwanted mental image into my mind. The dying rat in the subway, unmistakably drained of all of its blood and organs while it was still alive. Twitching, writhing on the ground and covered in slime.
I felt nauseous. I had touched some of that stuff on Sammy. What if I caught some sort of disease from it? What if coming in contact with that liquid would be the equivalent of a werewolf bite, and I was about to transform into a hideous creature?
That seemed unlikely. I wasn't becoming anything, that is, except a panicky, paranoid chicken.
Sammy, still holding his toy, trotted over to one of the armchairs and hopped up on it, that wide grin on his face, conceivably attentive to the fact that I was worried. Maybe trying to improve his own mood to help mine.
I strode over to the armchair beside him, simultaneously reaching into the pocket of my jeans and pulling out my cell phone.
When I opened it up and dialed the number, Sammy leaned close to me, the mouse still wedged tightly in his jaws, and he nudged me with his muzzle, indicating that I should throw it for him.
Relieved that he had finally gotten over the terror in the subway that had been plaguing him all day, I took it from him and tossed it across the cave. It landed with a loud squeal on the cave floor, bounced a few times, and then fell silent.
Sammy propelled off the chair like a rocket and pounced on the toy, grabbing it between his teeth again and pretending to kill it with all his might. The loud "squeeeee" of the mouse should have bothered me after what happened, but now it was just plain amusing. I laughed as he batted it back and forth, trying to cheer me up while having fun in the process.
As I hit "send" on the keypad of my phone, it rang twice before Lola picked up.
"What?" she asked, obviously preoccupied by something.
"Can I talk to you? I pressed.
"Out of my mind. Back in five minutes." she said jokingly.
"I found something in the cave."
She was silent.
"That picture of you and me on your birthday."
"What?" her voice rang with evident surprise.
"Yeah, it was lying right there on the table, as if someone put it there for me to see."
"So someone knows."
"I don't know."
"Probably?" she inquired doubtfully. She was well informed on my brother's cruel tricks and jokes.
"No, this isn't something he would do. He doesn't know about this place." I explained.
"Then who else does?"
"Someone. But I don't know who."
"How could someone know?" Lola wondered.
"By watching me."
"What that thing said to you." she reminded me. "It said it was 'observing.' "
"I'm scared." I admitted.
"If anything happens, call me. I'll help you, Wendy. That's what friends are for."
After a silence, she said, "You know, I think we need to go back to that subway."
"I need to see what you saw."
"No you don't."
"Nothing is going to happen to us. We'll bring the knife."
"Commando Lola to the rescue." I joked without humor, realizing how dangerous and stupid her proposal would be if we heeded it.
"We don't need to go back down there." I insisted. "Do you really want to end up like that rat?"
"If it's smart enough to talk, then it has enough sense not to kill us on sight. Maybe it's curious about us."
"Right." I muttered with a hint of sarcasm.
"We could call the FBI for real. Get them to check it out."
"Nobody trusts teenagers like us." I noted. "We're always up to no good." I laughed dryly.
"If they see a picture of it they might. It could be some new kind of genetic mutant.
"And we all know what mutants eat.
"We could really find something amazing here, Wendy." Lola urged.
"Or something horrible. I warned.
"It can't be all bad."
"It can't be all good."
"If you stick with these negative philosophies, you won't accomplish anything."
"They aren't negative. It's just being smart."
"Let's just do it. It might not even be down there anymore."
"And if it is?"
"Then we run." she explained matter-of-factly.
"Listen, Lola. I almost didn't get out of there."
"But you did. It could have gotten you easily. It let you go."
Those words struck a chord in my reasoning. I could feel the creature so close, and yet I still was able to get away.
"But..." I wondered. "Why would it let me get away?"
"Like I said before," she said optimistically. "Maybe it is just misunderstood."
"But we don't know for sure."
"Does anybody, ever know for sure?" Lola pointed out.
"I guess not."
"So will you go?"
After another long silence I said, "If we get eaten, I'm going to be pissed."