Sunlight poured in through the window onto the blue comforter stretched over the four corners of the mattress. The room was mostly empty; a dresser sat perpendicular to the bed, and several baseball memorabilia encompassed the space, including a grey desktop. On the wall was a large Godzilla poster; aside from this, there was nothing but negative space.
Laying at the foot of the bed, his feet sinking into the teal pillow at the head, Ray fumbled with the bed railing, staring off into space.
“Okay,” a familiar, feminine voice broke the silence as the bedroom door opened, allowing the scent of cinnamon rolls from beyond the hall and into the kitchen to seep inside. “Summer’s almost over. I’m not letting you mope around like this all day. You didn’t even leave your room the last three days,” his little sister scolded him from within the doorframe.
“Tree, please, leave me alone,” Ray stared face down into the mattress.
“Seriously… What happened to you?” Ray’s body began to tingle as he heard in her voice a genuine concern. “You were always sorta’ distant, but, never actually depressed.”
“Just kidding!” Ray leaped to his feet, smiling broadly. “What do you want to do today, my lovely sis?”
Tree glared at him, amazed.
“Okay, you don’t have to pretend to be happy,” a confused, half-smile wrapped her complexion.
“Aww, okay,” he sat back down on the bed forlornly.
“You weirdo,” she wrinkled her nose at him, and the two chuckled. “Hey, Mom made cinnamon rolls.”
“I know. I have a nose.”
“Well, then what are you waiting for? Let’s go!”
Tree disappeared into the hallway, and Ray got to his feet, following after her. When they arrived in the kitchen, their mother grinned at them.
“Trina, Ray, I know you two washed up before coming in here to eat, right?”
Trina scowled playfully, lowering the cinnamon roll back onto the plate. Jogging into the bathroom, she began washing her hands, and again, Ray followed zombie-like.
“Surprise!” Tree cheered, splashing her wet hands at Ray as he entered the bathroom. He laughed, pushed her away, and began washing his own hands.
He sighed, watching the mirror fog up, distorting the reflection of his short, black hair. He was short for a male his age, 16, and he was skinny. He considered himself to be very plain looking, although his mother argued otherwise. His nose was sharp, his jawline relaxed, and his eyes were a soft brown.
Walking back into the kitchen, still in his pajamas although it was noon, he ate a cinnamon roll, getting the mess all over his face. He grinned at his sister, and she chuckled.
“Moron,” she shook her head.
“It’s your last week of summer!” their mother exclaimed. “What are my two children going to do with their final days?”
“Thanks for reminding me, Mom,” Tree mumbled, and she cocked her head sideways over her shoulder to face her, her shoulder-length, dirty-blonde hair swaying about with the motion. “Ray and I are going to the arcade!”
“Yep. So clean up, ugly,” she tossed him a rag.
“Haha,” he wiped himself clean, and soon, the two were walking up the street toward the arcade.
“Well, summer coming to an end kinda’ s***s, but at least it’s getting cooler.”
Ray waited for a response, but none came. He faced his sister, her blue eyes scrutinizing the rectangular bulge in his pocket.
“Why do you carry that around everywhere? What even is that?”
“I don’t know,” he replied, sick of the same question. “It’s just special to me.”
“And why’s there blood on it?”
“I said I don’t know.”
“Lemme’ see it again,” she poked at his pockets until he reluctantly withdrew it.
“Here. I’d say don’t break it but I don’t even think you could.”
It was a cold, metallic rectangular object. It seemed to have no means of opening, and it had no discernable b*****s or switches to activate some sort of function. The only thing that stood out was what looked like a bloody fingerprint stamped onto it, the blood now a dried brown. It was a smaller fingerprint, and, like always, Tree pressed her index into it, observing the size comparison.
“Did you kill somebody?”
“Is this thing made of metal?”
“I don’t know. Feels like it.”
“Where did you find it?”
“I keep telling you, it was just sitting next to me.”
“I wish you would tell me what really happened.”
“I wish I could. But I don’t remember.”
“Give it back,” Ray extended his hand, and she frowned, placing it into his palm.
“So, are you ready for high school?” Ray inquired, slipping the object back into his pocket, eager to change the subject.
“Well, with the way you always complain about it, not really.”
“Hey, don’t let my experiences influence yours. You already made a lot more out of middle school than I did.”
“Why don’t you talk to people?”
“I don’t know,” Ray stared at the cracks in the sidewalk. “People are… boring.”
“I think you’re afraid.”
Ray began ruffling Tree’s hair, and she slapped at his hand, screaming, “Stop, you’re ruining my hair!”
Ray laughed proudly, and she just shook her head, although his complete unwillingness to talk about it worried her. After a fifteen minute walk, the two now covered in sweat, they reached downtown.
“Let’s get a lemonade first!” Tree cheered, and Ray chuckled lackadaisically, following her to the tea shop.
The two ordered drinks, and it didn’t take them long to go through them, as there was a no-drink policy in the arcade. After groaning of brain freezes and a short panic attack from Ray thinking he left his wallet in the tea shop, they reached their destination, and upon entering, the nostalgic smell met his nostrils.
Years and years had elapsed, and the arcade was always a special place to Ray, as his father had always taken him here when he was younger, determined to show his son what his own youth was like.
“What do you wanna’ do first?” Tree met Ray’s eyes. “Dad always takes you here. I don’t even know where to look.”
“Dad and I usually just play Galaga,” he grinned.
“I bet I can beat your score.”
“Yeah… probably. I’m not very good at it.”
She rose an eyebrow at him.
“That was supposed to be a challenge. Like, one that involved you challenging me back.”
“Sorry to disappoint you,” he shrugged. “You’ve always been better than me at video games. Must’ve gotten it from Dad.”
“Just show me where the game is, Mr. Miserable,” she tugged him, and he led her to the machine.
After exchanging a crisp dollar bill for four quarters, the two were now ready to play.
“You’re up, big bro,” Tree winked, and Ray shook his head.
Putting fifty cents into the machine, he hit the “start” button.
Ray prepared to go to war with the digital spaceships, but with no warning, a very bizarre feeling seized him.
Slipping into the black, 8-bit void of the arcade machine as unknown nostalgia danced just beyond his brain, Ray loosened his grip on the joystick, mystified.
“Hey, snap out of it!” Tree snapped her fingers. “You’re right, you do s**k at this game,” she regarded as his ship exploded into a burst of pixels.
“Whoa,” Ray stepped back. “What was that…”
“What was… what?” Tree stared at him, and her expression of shock and concern shook Ray back into reality.
“Sorry,” he smiled, though she did not return it. “Hey, I’m just going easy on you. If I used all three of my ships you wouldn’t stand a chance,” he smirked, and she tried to laugh, but he saw the fear behind her eyes, which upset him.
After several games of Galaga, Tree scoring higher in two out of three, they decided to walk around downtown, no direction in particular. They walked around for hours, stopping into a restaurant for dinner, talking about school and the summer, and just enjoying one another’s company. Scanning the shop windows, Tree noticed something that caught her eye, and she raced into a vintage comic shop, Ray following. As she enthusiastically galivanted through the aisles, Ray froze when something caught his eye.
One comic bore a particularly frightening cover, in which a colossal, hideous alien overlord roared with fury, its eyes red with hate as a fireball erupted from behind it. Large mechanized warriors stood valiantly before it, appearing to retaliate against it with their clenched fists and brandished blasters.
Not knowing why, Ray’s whole body prickled, and his eyes fixated onto the image. The greatest sense of dread and depression washed over him, and he exhaled slowly, unblinking.
“Ray!” a comic book came swiftly down onto his skull, snapping Ray free, and he faced Trina, feeling a tear in his eye as he began to blink rapidly.
She was terrified.
“Take me home,” she demanded, walking out of the comic store without waiting up for him, and Ray awkwardly followed her, noticing that he had created somewhat of a scene.
The sun now began to set, and the weather had cooled down as they journeyed back to their abode.
“What happened to you, Ray? You’re so weird now. Ever since July,” her voice rang with a certain desperation that made his heart sink.
Ray was quiet.
“It’s that stupid box, isn’t it? Ever since you started carrying that thing around you started acting differently. Like, you’re not even my brother anymore.”
“I keep telling you, Tree, that I don’t know what it is. Or what happened to me. It was July 10th. And I went on a hike out by myself down Piney Green Road and over Mullinax Creek. And somewhere out in the woods I fell asleep or something. It was like twelve-thirty one minute and the next it was almost seven o’clock at night. I was leaning up against an oak tree, and that metal thing was just sitting beside me.”
“That’s so stupid.”
“Why won’t you just tell me what really happened?!” she spat. “I don’t care! Did somebody… abuse you or something? I won’t tell anyone, promise. Not even Mom and Dad. I just want to help you…”
“Dammit, sis,” Ray clenched his fists. “Why would I lie to you?” he stared at her. “I. Don’t. Know. I’m not sure where this stupid box came from, and I don’t know why I feel so… Everything just feels different. All the time. I feel like there’s somewhere more important I need to be. Like there’s a bigger picture I’m not seeing. And I keep waking up with-” he stopped himself.
“Nothing. Please, can we drop this? I hate talking about it. I hate thinking about it.”
“Where did you go?”
“When you just started staring off like that? Where were you?”
“I said stop talking about it!” Ray stormed down the road, and Tree trailed behind, the two saying nothing more for the duration of the walk.
Ray opened his eyes as the alarm went off. Swatting it, he sat up.
“Tuesday… I have work today,” he sulked, extending his feet over the bed and onto the cold wooden floor below. He stopped a moment, bathed in some foreign atmosphere that he couldn’t describe, and he felt shame as he rubbed over his wet eyes.
Walking toward the dresser, still half asleep, something ate at his brain.
“Where have you gone… My old friend?”
Ray stared in the mirror. His eyes were red. He shook his head.
Getting dressed and skimping out the door, he made sure to thump Tree’s door as he passed down the hall as well as his parents’.
“Good luck at work, son!” his father called from inside the bedroom.
“Thanks, Dad!” he called back, bolting into the car.
Slamming the keys into the ignition, he sped backward out of the driveway, then raced through the suburbs toward downtown, determined to reach Mazzi’s Pizza with the six minutes he allotted himself after getting dressed.
Parking in the back of the store beside the dumpster, he raced up the ramp and into the back of the kitchen. Several co-workers greeted him as he passed, and within seconds of clocking in, right at eleven, he was at work, gathering food for the deliveries beginning to pile up despite having opened the store only thirty minutes ago.
Hours went by of mundane pizza delivery, and Ray’s heart spiked as he thought of playing it. Slowly drawing his MP3 at a red light, Ray plugged it into the AUX, then typed in the song.
The 90’s Grunge song began to groan throughout the car, and Ray drifted away, still able to drive, but almost completely under a spell. Sighing dreamily, he let the bizarre and unknown atmosphere devour him.
“I’m so happy, ‘cuz today I found my friends, they’re in my head…”
Memories danced just beyond his consciousness.
The teeming of brain cells itching to connect raced throughout his sweaty vessel as he battled to understand the feelings that coursed throughout him.
His heart began to race.
Despair and angst enveloped him, but something about it was so drawing.
In the absence of life, there was such a sense of living, and the daunting contradiction that played throughout him was like a drug.
“I miss you, I’m not gonna’ crack… I love you, I’m not gonna’ crack… I killed you, I’m not gonna’ crack…”
Ray suddenly slammed on the brakes as he neared the bumper of a Volkswagen, inches from colliding into it. Breathing in and exhaling deeply, he caught himself, squeezing the steering wheel until his hands turned white.
“This isn’t right,” he couldn’t escape how petrified he felt. “Something’s wrong with me. Something happened to me.”
Getting a sudden phone call, Ray read over the name: Josh, his cousin.
“Hey, man, I’m at work. What’s up?”
“Hey, dude,” Josh’s cool voice brought calmness to Ray. “Just wanted to check in on you. Tree’s kinda’ concerned about you, man. Says you’ve been acting pretty weird lately.”
Josh was close in age to Ray, only a year older, and the two got along well when they got to see each other, although Josh lived multiple hours away in a neighboring city, and the drive between the two was often chaotic and stressful. This didn’t stop them from calling once in a while and keeping caught up on social media, however.
“Hey, Josh, you ever heard ‘Lithium’ by Nirvana?”
“Uh, yeah,” Josh was surprised by the random question. “What about it?”
“How does it make you feel?”
“I don’t know. I’ve only heard it a few times. It’s kinda’ sad, I guess.”
“Are there ever songs you listen to that just make you feel terrible? Like, almost in a way you can’t describe? Or maybe a scent that catches your nose, and it brings you back to a place that’s just beyond the boundaries of your memory? Or have you ever woken up from a dream and you can’t remember it, but it’s just such a powerful sensation?”
“I don’t know,” Josh was caught off guard. “The scent thing, maybe.”
“There are a few songs that when I play them, I don’t know why, but I just feel so empty. But that’s what makes them so alluring. It’s such a bad feeling, but such a powerful one. It’s like I listened to them in a past life, or like, I used to listen to them when I was alive, and now I’m dead. Sometimes when I wake up I feel like this is the dream. And I’m sleeping, just letting my life go by. Do you ever feel like you’re missing out on something really important, but you just can’t remember what it is? It’s something like existential dread, or nothingness, but… If it were nothingness it wouldn’t be an emotion. But it is! It’s like every emotion all at once.”
Josh was silent over the line for a moment, and Ray frowned.
“Sorry, man. I don’t want to scare you.”
“No, Ray. It’s fine. You can tell me anything. Is that how you feel?”
“Not always. Just sometimes. When I listen to Lithium I feel that way. There are a few other songs too. For some reason, ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ even does it sometimes,” Ray explained, feeling insane and scared of himself. “Sometimes things just make me stop in my tracks and I go into a trance. It’s so weird.”
“What? I’ve never noticed that. How long have you been doing that?”
“Ever since July 10th. So almost two months. Look, please, just don’t act like I’m crazy if I tell you what happened.”
“I promise, I won’t.”
“I went out on a hike, and at some point during it, I think I took a nap under a tree or something. Although I don’t ever recall sitting down or resting. I don’t know. Last I remember, it was noon, and after what felt like seconds passing, the sun was setting, and it was six-thirty at night. I was just sitting against a tree. Everything was the same. I wasn’t injured, and my clothes were fine. I had my phone and MP3 with me, and my wallet and headphones. The only thing different I noticed was this weird metal thing sitting next to me. I don’t know what it is. Imagine a pencil thin, metallic rectangle. What’s weird is that there seems to be something like a bloody fingerprint on it. It’s definitely not mine. The print is too small. I don’t have any idea what it is, Josh, or where it came from. Or what it does.”
“That is very strange.”
“So, you think I’m crazy, too.”
“No. I don’t. Ray, have you ever went to anybody about this? Like a counselor?”
“Not really. I don’t even know what I would say. They would send me to a psych ward.”
“Not necessarily. Ever since this has happened, have you had any issue with short-term memory loss?”
“No. Why do you ask?”
“Well, sometimes when people undergo a very traumatic experience, their brain completely cancels it out and makes them forget it ever happened. But often afterward, as a result, the victim develops short term memory loss.”
“You think I was traumatized?”
“I don’t know. But if what you say is true, something pretty bad must’ve happened over the span of those six hours that your brain completely forced you to forget.”
The idea of it sent horrid chills down Ray’s spine.
“I hope I’m not scaring you. It’s all conjecture.”
“No. That’s just a wild thing to consider.”
“However, you say there was absolutely no damage done to you. Nothing was taken. Even your clothes were untouched. So then what could it have been?”
“Maybe I saw something?”
“Something so horrible, you went into some state of shock…”
“Josh, I’m kinda’ delivering pizzas right now,” Ray interrupted as his stomach began to churn.
“Oh, okay, sorry. Well, we should discuss this further sometime, if you’re ever up to it.”
“I’m just looking out for you, cousin.”
“I know. Thanks.”
Ray hung up.
“I want to tell you the weirdest part,” Ray sighed. “But I just can’t. It’s too weird. Too embarrassing,” Ray’s face flushed, and some unknown sting embraced him. “That I keep feeling like… There’s somebody I know. An old friend. Who’s gone now. But you would think I was completely insane.”
Ray pulled into the driveway to what seemed to be a frat party. He could smell the alcohol from the road, and he chuckled, as it was barely past three. Nearing the mess of a yard with three large pies in hand, he knocked on the door loudly, wondering if anyone would be sober enough to answer.
After about ten seconds, the door opened, and a drunken male, mid-twenties, popped his weary head into the doorframe. He was tall and muscular, and he bore a dark, neat goatee.
“Sup, dude,” he dug his hands into his wallet.
“Some celebrating going on?” Ray questioned, a small smile on his face.
“Yep,” he smirked, intoxicated. “The aftermath of one, anyway. Can’t remember a damn thing,” he grinned, “and that’s just the way I like it!”
The words surprised Ray as he considered them.
He exchanged the pizza with currency and realized he had not been tipped, which bothered him slightly.
Still, he couldn’t stop thinking about what he had been told.
“Maybe I should stop thinking about it so much,” Ray meandered down a long, dirt road in the countryside leading to his final address. The sun had nearly set. “Maybe my brain did choose to forget whatever happened, and that’s the way it should be. Remembering might be even worse than the pain of not knowing. Perhaps, facing it would… Make things much worse.”
Ray pulled over.
He couldn’t resist the temptation.
Drawing his cellphone, he opened YouTube, and began playing “Baby, it’s Cold Outside.”
“No, this isn’t the right one,” he browsed through many different versions of the song, covered by many artists over the span of Christmases that had elapsed since its birth in 1944. “I wish I could find the right one,” he stared at his phone, puzzled. “The nostalgic one. Oh, crap!” he caught the time in the corner of his screen.
Flooring it down the winding dirt road, he reached what seemed to be a mansion out in the country, and a large, white gate separated him from the driveway. He pulled up to it and pressed the “talk” button on the metal box extending from a post bordering the road.
“Uh, pizza guy,” he awkwardly announced over the line.
“Hold on a sec!” a giddy voice came over the line, and shortly after, the gate opened.
As he pulled into the giant yard, he noticed at least ten cars, all of which looked to be more expensive than his house.
“Damn, where am I?”
He had never delivered this far out into the country before, and he wondered how many other nice houses and mansions were tucked neatly away just beyond the town in a layer of calm woods, escaping the loud bustle of the city.
He couldn’t help but salivate at the thought of the tip that may be present.
It amazed him that they had only ordered one pizza- or that they had ordered pizza at all for that matter- and when he rang the doorbell, he grew nervous.
“How do you even talk to rich people?” he wondered aloud.
He heard someone calling from within to someone else to get the door, and when it opened, his stomach jolted with butterflies. A girl opened the door in pristine apparel, and he was taken aback by her beauty. Her hair was bright red, her eyes blue, and her face was flawless, given the care only a rich household could afford.
“What’s up,” she asked, and he was surprised by how casual she seemed.
“What a set-up,” he laughed, and he hoped he hadn’t somehow offended her.
“I hope you don’t mind my asking,” he handed her the small clipboard containing the receipt, “but what’s a place like this doing ordering Mazzi’s Pizza?”
“It’s my birthday,” she smiled. “I’m a seventeen-year-old girl. Sometimes I just want pizza.”
“Wow. Fair enough,” he agreed, and when she handed him the receipt back, his eyes widened to see she had tipped him forty dollars.
“Forty dollars?!” he exclaimed within his brain.
Now he grew very uncomfortable, already uneasy by how pretty he found her and the fact that he was standing in a yard well above his paygrade, and any small mistake could very well result in Mazzi’s being shut down, but now, she had been so generous, and he didn’t know how to react to it.
He almost handed her the pizza, but to his surprise, she grabbed his shoulder and turned him toward the driveway.
“Have you ever seen the stars out here?” she inquired kindly, pointing up at the summer sky. “We’re far enough from the city that you can actually get a decent view.”
“Damn,” he was amazed. “No kidding.”
Ray wasn’t sure why, but when he looked at the girl, he felt something very strange. Like he knew her. But he was sure they had never spoken before. She was definitely attractive, but he felt something different. As if he were speaking to a long lost friend of his. It brought him a very bittersweet sensation, and he started to feel a lump in his throat, which astonished him.
“How old are you turning?” he felt obligated to make some sort of conversation with her after the substantial tip, the pizza box warming his hands.
“I already said, dummy, seventeen,” she crossed her arms playfully, leaning against the finely-crafted door.
“Oh, that’s right,” he laughed awkwardly. “You said that already. Sorry.”
“Aww, were you distracted by something?” she giggled, and her perfume caught his nostrils.
A gigantic blush spread over his face.
“No! What do you mean? Distracted by what?”
“Nothing,” she chortled, and he wasn’t sure if she thought he was cute or was simply amused by a lowly pizza guy fawning over an evidently superiorly-classed girl. “So, do you have anything left for me?”
She rose an eyebrow lightheartedly, staring at the pizza box.
“Oh, sorry!” he flustered, about to hand her the box when she stopped him.
“Just a sec,” she took the receipt back from him along with the pen, and for a short moment he wondered if she intended on crossing out the tip as she placed it on the pizza box and began scribbling something.
“Here,” she gave it back to him, and his jaw dropped as he noticed the number inscribed onto it. “You’re silly.”
“Would your parents even let you talk to me?!” he blurted.
“I can do whatever I want,” she winked. “I’m Sadie, by the way! Nice to meet you,” she smiled effervescently, and anxious sweat dripped down his forehead, stinging his eyes. “Come on, it’s my birthday! I already have pizza. Getting a cute boy’s number would be the cherry on top.”
Ray halted, mesmerized, his gaze now peering through her. Precipitously, the box slipped from his hands, falling to the floor. Amazingly, it landed on its bottom side, and the pizza remained safely inside.
“Uh, sorry!” he stepped back, and he shuddered as he felt sudden tears running down his face.
“Did I say something wrong?” she asked concernedly.
“No, it’s fine! Have a good night!” he shuffled away, and he felt her confused glare all the way to the car.
When he reached his Sedan, he leaned his head against the leather seat, his body trembling.
“What the f**k is wrong with me?” he mused, terrified as more tears presented themselves. Wiping them away, a great urge to cry came over him, but he resisted. “I need to get to the bottom of this. Something’s so wrong.”
Ray sat in his bedroom, wrapping himself under the blanket in a fetal position, just staring at the wall. It was Friday night.
“I guess I could maybe have taken you out tonight,” he thought of Sadie. “But instead I’m staring at the wall in my room.” Still, despite his loneliness, the thought of Sadie did nothing to quell his angst and emptiness. “I can’t explain it but I feel like I’m not ready to love again. But that makes no sense.” He sunk further into his arms. “My old friend. I miss you,” he sighed, and what seemed to be pain from another lifetime atrophied his will to move.
Drifting into sleep, he let go.
Ray came to, meeting the panicked, blue eyes of his sister, just beyond the bed.
“Look at you! Why are you crying?” her voice shook, and she just scrutinized him. “Do you know what you were saying?”
“No,” Ray whispered, and slowly the indescribable emotions that hovered over him vanished into the void of his subconscious.
“Come on. Let’s go to the car.”
“We’re going to see a hypnotist.”
“Josh looked him up. He’s really good. He’s just outside of town and he specializes in helping people relive traumatic experiences so that they can overcome them. We’re leaving right now.”
“Tree. Even if I do go, I don’t want you coming.” She fell into his gaze. “Who knows what I might relive. I’d rather tell you about it in my own way. When I’m ready to. Okay?”
“Fine. But promise me you’ll go see him? Tonight?”
Ray didn’t want to. He liked the idea of ignorant bliss, letting whatever his brain had hidden away from him stay that way.
But it was evident that his ignorance was not blissful.
Whatever had been buried beneath ate away at him, and it was digging itself up.
“Fine. I promise.”
“Okay. Thank you,” she hugged him, pressing her face into his chest, and he winced when he felt the wetness of her tears on his shirt.
“I swear, I won’t scare you anymore, okay? I’m going to see him right now. Just text me his address and I’ll be on my way.”
And so she did.
It was about a twenty minute drive, and Ray pulled into the tiny parking lot beside the quaint yellow structure. Only a small, non-lit sign stood outside beside the road, claiming, “Dr. Hall, specializing in hypnotherapy” and his hours.
Walking up the small wooden steps, he entered the place of business, and a small bell rang upon his entrance.
In his pocket was the peculiar metal object.
“Hello,” an older man approached the counter, and his demeanor was calming. “What can I do for you?”
“Uh… I’ve been having really weird dreams that I can’t remember. And some other stuff. I was just hoping that maybe we could have a session?”
“Sure. Would you like to schedule one?”
“Would it be possible to do one now?”
“I don’t see why not. I’m not busy. It’s not often people spend their Friday night at the hypnotherapy office,” he jested, and Ray tried to smile back.
After sitting him down in a comfortable chair in a back room and offering him a glass of water, he sat across from him on a neat sofa.
After explaining to Dr. Hall the gist of the situation, about his dreams, his random trances, and the mysterious object, Dr. Hall began the session.
“So, how this works is I’m going to put you into a state of hypnosis. Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing sinister about hypnosis. I can’t make you do anything against your will. I can’t even make you say anything you would avoid saying in your regular conscious state. It’s just a hyper-focused state in which you are capable of resurfacing things that your brain has otherwise blocked away. You may not be willing to go right into your traumatic experience, so I’m going to work you down into it, very slowly and at your pace. What I’m also going to do is write down everything you tell me, so that when you wake up, I can help you consciously remember it. Any questions?”
“How long does it take?”
He just smiled.
“It varies. Don’t worry about that. You’re not paying me by the hour. I’m just here to help.”
Ray wondered if he could trust the apparent selflessness the man displayed, but didn’t care. He just wanted to know the truth.
“Okay. Sounds good.”
“Are you ready?”
“Wonderful. I want you to lie back against your chair, and take a very deep breath.”
Ray followed the man’s instructions, and soon, he began to feel as if he were falling asleep. Before he knew it, he was under, and Dr. Hall began questioning him.
“First, I would like you to tell me more about these dreams you’ve been having. You say you wake up, often with tears in your eyes?”
“Yes. It’s the only place I get to see my old friend.”
“Your old friend? Would you like to tell me a little bit more about your friend?”
“I can’t remember.”
“You said certain things make you feel strange. And they put you into some sort of trance. What are some of these things?”
“There was a comic in the store that did. And in the arcade, the Galaga game. Sometimes the stars make me do that too. There are scents that come by now and then, and they do it. Also, there are some songs that make me feel very strange as well.”
“May we listen to one of them?”
And so they did, and right as the song began, Ray began sweating.
“What are you feeling right now?”
“We listened to it together.”
“Who? You and your old friend?”
“Yes. She wanted to know what music was like where I was from.”
Dr. Hall rose an eyebrow.
“Where was she from?”
“I can’t say it.”
“Because I don’t know how to make those sounds with my throat.”
The answer disconcerted the doctor, but he pressed on.
“What was your friend’s name, Ray?”
“I couldn’t say that either, so she told me to call her whatever I wanted.”
“What did you call her?”
“I don’t remember,” Ray tensed up. “I can’t believe I don’t remember.”
“Relax. Take a few deep breaths for me, okay? Let’s leave this alone for now. Tell me: do you know why those things- the comic book, and Galaga, and the stars- do you know why they make you feel differently?”
“Because they all make me think of space. That’s where I met my friend.”
“You met your friend in space?”
“Yes. That’s where we went. I was gone for a long time.”
“Where did you go?”
“I just called it ‘Wonderland’. Because, I couldn’t say that either.”
“Where is Wonderland?”
“It’s a lot farther away than Earth. In another galaxy.”
“It’s off in space? Many lightyears away?”
“Yes. They showed me something like a map of the universe, and our galaxy was very far away.”
“Yes. It was a whole world, just like Earth. Bigger than Earth, even.”
“And these people abducted you?”
“Mm-hmm. They needed me for a special mission.” Ray abruptly stopped talking. Tears rushed into his eyes. “It was supposed to be me,” he choked, and his breathing fastened. “I knew that! I was okay with it! I don’t know why I went through with it!”
“Went through with what? The mission?”
“Yes, and no. She did the mission differently than we were supposed to,” he whimpered. “I wasn’t supposed to be in the control room.”
“Let’s go back a little,” Dr. Hall stopped him, and he eagerly scribbled down every word. “So, you had been going on a hike through the forest down Piney Green Road, and you passed Mullinax Creek. This was a little after noon. Sometime in between noon and one PM, you were abducted and taken to another planet. They took you because they needed you to fulfill some sort of mission.”
“How did they abduct you, Ray?”
“It was just a big, swirling light. It looked like a vortex. And I walked into it. It drew me in.”
“What happened when you passed through the vortex?”
“I met my friend.”
Dr. Hall stared at the floor, lost in thought.
“Describe your friend to me, Ray. Was your friend the one who made you do the mission differently?”
“So your friend is a girl. You referred to her as ‘she’ earlier. What does she look like?”
“She was my age. Or, at least, she chose to be. She was a lot older. She always wore this metallic red bodysuit. It covered everything up to her neck. It was really sinister looking to me at first. It kept her alive though. It was like, armor.”
“She was a warrior?”
“Yes. That’s why they needed me. To help stop the war.”
“Was she your height?”
“A little bit shorter.”
“What color was her skin?”
“Your friend is an alien, but she seems to look just like you or me.”
“They all did. They were like us, just different.”
“A sister species. Mostly the same. But they absorbed energy unlike we do.”
“I want to know more about that. But first, keep telling me about your friend. What color were her eyes?”
“They were bright blue. They really stood out to me, because I find girls with blue eyes very pretty.”
“So do I,” Dr. Hall smiled compassionately. “And what color was her hair?”
“It was red. Not orange. It was actually red. A bright, scarlet shade. And it made me think of cherries,” he described, and then, his eyes widened, and he seemed to shake. “And so… I called her Cherry,” tears spilled from his brown irises down his face and onto the surface of the chair.
“Cherry. Lovely name.”
“I couldn’t say her real name. The way they talk is impossible for me. But she loved it.” Ray paused. “I finally remember you,” he whispered.
“Cherry was… for lack of a better word, an alien?”
“Yes. Cherry was… something called…” and to the doctor’s horror, Ray created a noise with his mouth that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up straight. It sounded very far from human, and Dr. Hall knew of no possible way he could have made the sound up, or even produce it to begin with.
“That noise; it defines what they were? The sister species you told me about? That’s what they called themselves?”
“Yes. I finally learned how to say it after a while. I was gone for eleven months.”
“Eleven months?” Dr. Hall couldn’t deny the fear that engulfed him, but he was determined to learn more. “But you were only missing for six hours.”
“Time moved differently there. Cherry told me that every hour on Earth was something like 56 days in Wonderland.”
“How did Cherry speak to you? You couldn’t understand her language, I’m sure.”
“Because her species could absorb information and experiences from other lifeforms. And she just learned English by looking into my eyes.”
“Remarkable,” Dr. Hall answered, wondering if he were simply talking to a madman or the genuine pioneer of an alien incursion. “Were these beings hostile?”
“No, not really. But they tried to trick me.”
The words left a bizarre and grim atmosphere in the air.
“Trick you? How so?”
“They wouldn’t tell me why they needed me. But I figured it out.”
“Why did they need you, Ray?”
“I don’t… know if I want to tell you.”
“Please, don’t. Only if you feel comfortable.”
“Cherry really cared about me, even if they didn’t at first. Genuinely. I had been counting the days there, and I deduced that had I been on Earth all along, it would’ve been Christmas time. She didn’t know what that was, but I let her look into my memory to see. She wanted to spend Christmas with me. It didn’t really get cold there like it does on Earth. But we hung up decorations, and we made a Christmas tree out of some species of tree on her planet. I told her about Christmas songs. She just started singing. ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’. I guess she had found it in my memories. And we sang together. It really felt like it was Christmas time.”
“Just from peeking into your memories, she was capable of learning an entire song in a foreign tongue?”
“Yes. She could learn a lot in just a matter of seconds. The entire English language for that matter.”
“I wasn’t a prisoner. I was allowed to move freely. They just kept track of me. Because they really needed me.”
“Ray… May I at least ask the nature of their purpose with you? You don’t have to tell me exactly why. Just a little about it. You could help them stop the war somehow? Did they want you to fight for them?”
“They were special. They could- and did- absorb everything around them. Which is why they needed a pure atmosphere. They had found some sort of planet that could sustain them. And not only that. But it kept them alive. Forever. They didn’t age, or bleed, or even get sick.”
“Okay. So why did Cherry need armor?”
“Because it only worked inside the planet’s atmosphere. When they left, they became just like human beings. And they had to leave. To fight.”
“To fight what?”
“What kind of monsters?”
Another awful gurgle came from Ray, and what scared Dr. Hall most was the way Ray’s eyes moved as he made the noise, almost seeming to roll back into his head as he did so.
“That’s what they were called, in Cherry’s language. They were really big. And they had fleshy, pointed tentacles. They slithered. But they could also stand and walk. They had something like beaks over their mouths and multiple tongues. And they only had one big, round eyeball that stuck out from some sort of slimy appendage over their heads. It could look around three-hundred-sixty degrees, like a periscope. They could breathe in really poisonous environments. And they loved conquest. They wanted to take Cherry’s planet. They were trying to devise a way to destroy the source from inside the planet that gave off the lifeforce Cherry and her kind absorbed. Then they could kill them. But there was a way to destroy them, too.”
“And what was that?”
“They were cold-blooded. Their bodies required incredibly hot temperatures to survive. They had created this gigantic engine-like thing in the core of their planet. It heated the entire surface, all the way up into the highest levels of the atmosphere, keeping them alive. But they had melted their prior planet, and however many more they had overtaken in the past. And so they needed a new one. Their planet was melting away again, and this time, they were determined to take Cherry’s. We had to destroy the engine.”
“And they needed your help to do this?”
“Yes. They needed a human being. I remember realizing that the only thing I had that they didn’t… was my mortality.”
Dr. Hall studied him nervously.
“What do you mean?”
“They were flawless. I wasn’t anywhere close as strong or smart as they were. I failed to rival them in every way. But they couldn’t die. At least, not on their world. And they needed me to power up the weapon.”
“How were you to do that? To power up the weapon?”
“They lied to me,” Ray cut his eyes. “But Cherry told me the truth. Or, admitted to it, anyway. When I confronted her.”
“You confronted her? On what?”
“It’s okay… You can tell me. Really; I don’t mind. I wondered for a long time why you might possibly have brought me here. When you think about it, there’s only one thing I have that you don’t: I can die. And for some reason, you need me to die.”
“It’s fine. Really. I lived such a pointless existence on Earth. Desperate times call for desperate measures, right? I’m fine with this. I promise.”
“Yeah… She let me know the truth. That the weapon needed a sacrifice to work.”
“What do you mean?”
“They had initially built it with the idea of using lifeforce as a power source. But it failed. They had put one of their own in the Heart, and tried to fire it up. It tried to absorb him but it couldn’t because his energy was infinite. So it just kept pulling away at him until they turned it off. His skin was gone. But he was still alive. Somehow it was so devastating to his body that despite their regenerative properties he never healed. But it still failed to kill him. And that’s when they realized that the weapon’s power source was not derived from life, but from death. They had used a weapon like it once before, a long time ago, before they achieved immortality. Some sort of energy expels when we pass away. An energy strong enough that- if harnessed properly- can destroy anything in its path for the duration of its configuration.”
“They wanted you to die for them? In their machine?”
“Yes. They had tested it with other humans before, and although it fired every time, it always failed to hit where they intended, or the beam just scattered everywhere. It was too erratic. They had to perfect it. And at last, they did. I don’t know who he was that they used before me. But with his death, they had targeted a star in another region of the galaxy and hit it with flawless precision. At last, their weapon was ready. Then they took me, determined to finish the war once and for all.”
“Why did they keep you so long? Eleven months?”
“They had to wait for the planet to revolve into the right position. Even with the unstoppable force of the beam, it would not last long enough to reach the engine before it expired. They were going to fire it only a few hours after I had been abducted, but something went wrong and they had to fix the weapon. Then they had to wait for the perfect position again, which took close to a year.”
“Hmm… So, they were going to murder you.”
“Yes. But I understood. They used their own people first. They needed someone mortal. They were desperate to end the war. When I told them I knew, they gave me the chance to leave, but I agreed to stay.”
“Because I wanted my life to finally mean something.”
Dr. Hall frowned.
“Cherry never wanted to deceive me. She was going to tell me all along. They didn’t want her to be around me but she didn’t care.”
“Because she was absorbing my energy. And becoming like me.”
“Yes. I remember once we were taking a walk together and she tripped and skidded her knee. And it bled.”
“So despite the fact she was losing her immortality, she stuck with you?”
“Yes. I don’t know why I was somehow stronger than the force of the planet. Why she would become mortal just by being around me when the entire planet gave off life. She said it had something to do with our souls.”
“Were you in love with Cherry?”
“I don’t know what love feels like, really. But I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Ever. I was okay with dying if it meant Cherry would get to be alive. And although everyone else kept their distance, she was really my friend. She wanted to know about me. And spend time with me. The mission aside.”
“I have to ask… If you fulfilled your mission, how are you still alive? Or, did you abandon it?”
Ray stared at the floor, dismay creeping over his face.
“We were alone. With the weapon. It was like a rocket blasting off. No one could be near it when it fired. It was big. They said it took close to eighty years to build it. It looked like a gate, with a budding spear tip coming out of the center. It was white and golden. We would only be in the right position to fire for a little while. No time for goodbyes.”
“This is it! We’re finally ready to do this!”
Ray raced behind Cherry who grabbed his wrist, pulling him along the metallic catwalk toward the control room.
“I can’t believe we’re here, after all this time,” Ray thought to himself in a daze as he ran, studying the girl before him, the light of the bluish star that was their sun glimmering along her red jumpsuit. Her red hair dangled wildly behind her as her strong legs pushed forward rapidly.
Ray glanced to his left at the gargantuan machine. It terrified him that he was going to be absorbed by it.
But when he turned his eyes back to her, it felt okay.
“This is the door to the control room,” she stopped at last, and the two caught their breath. “I’m going to be piloting the weapon from here. That elevator down there,” she pointed a little further down the catwalk, the two already over one-hundred stories in the air, “will take you up to the Heart.”
His eyes scanned up the thin, needle like tip that extended another fifty stories into the sky, teeming with some sort of unknown energy, and protruding just outside the mangled metal point of the structure was what seemed to be a chamber, which he presumed to be the Heart.
“Okay. I’m ready.”
“Ray… I’m sorry everyone led you on. Everybody’s just so tired of this war.”
“Don’t apologize,” Ray smiled, a tear forming in his eye as he met Cherry’s blue spheres one final time, breathing in her intoxicating scent. “I finally got to live for something. Something actually meaningful.”
She shook her head.
“Here,” she dug her hand into a pocket of the cardinal-red jumpsuit, handing him a rectangular metal box. She typed in what seemed to be a code, although there were no visible b*****s, and to his surprise, it slid open. Hugging something against her breasts, she placed a thin sheet into the box. Then she slid it closed.
“You can’t see the numbers, but they’re arranged just like a human dial-pad! I made it just for you, so nobody can ever get into it without your permission. The code is 071018.”
Then, to his surprise, she lashed her finger across a sharp piece of metal sticking out from the apparatus they stood upon, drawing a fresh red glob of blood. She pressed her fingertip into the box.
“What? Why did you cut yourself?”
“Because this is my life that I’m giving you,” a tear formed in her eyes. “No more time,” she shoved him forward. “Go, Ray! I’ll talk to you over coms when you get to the Heart. Don’t look back. Promise?”
“I promise,” he declared, though his entire body felt like gelatin.
She disappeared behind a metal door that he assumed brought her into the control room, and he moved as fast as he possibly could to the elevator. Stepping inside, he pressed the only button available labeled in a tongue he didn’t understand, and winced as it rocketed upward.
Watching the world around him as he ascended skyward, his body expelled emotions he had never known.
“This is goodbye,” he thought of his parents, of Trina, of his close cousin Josh. “I never got to see any of you again.”
But it felt worth it.
They would understand, if only they could ascertain the circumstances.
“They might not be humans. But they’re a species a lot like us. And even if they wanted to deceive me, they’re people. We would do the same,” he tried to imagine Earth in a similar position. “I’m ending a war. I’m destroying monsters,” he recalled the gruesome videos he had been shown of them, and the destruction they carried out. “My death will mean something. More than my life ever did,” lonely images raced through his mind of school, work, existence. “And, you get to live,” he felt his heart accelerate at the thought of her.
Then, at last, the elevator stopped, jarring him from his trance.
He walked along the nauseatingly high platform to the Heart, mere railing standing in between him and a several-hundred-story drop.
But there was no reason to be afraid.
He was going to die anyway.
Entering the cold metal doors of the Heart, he witnessed a seat in the center of the room, with two metal sleeves that he assumed he placed his arms through. At the end of the chair were two control pads, one on the right, the other on the left, and on the right was what seemed to be a trigger.
He weakly stepped toward the chair.
He sat within it, sticking his arms into the sleeves and gripping the control pads at the end.
He felt it difficult to breathe as he stared outside the gigantic window the chair faced, studying the inexplicably beautiful sky that bore planets and stars much different than Earth.
“Cherry, I’m ready. Fire up the Heart.”
“That’s your job, babe.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I love that word. Babe. I like how you humans pair the feeling one has toward an infant to the way one feels toward a lover. It’s like, you’re calling them innocent or something.”
“Cherry… We’re running out of time!”
“I know. You’re silly, Ray. You thought I’d let you go through with this.”
“Once we started to spend a lot of time together, I realized I had a chance to save you. Everybody! I tripped that day and skidded my knee. Remember the blood? I had never seen my blood before. Isn’t that crazy?” she giggled with an emotion so warm that Ray could only define it as life itself.
“What are you saying?”
“I think it’s so cute you named me after a fruit, because my hair is red,” she chortled again, and Ray leaned back into his seat, his face blushing. “I love how humans think. Promise me that you’ll always stay yourself, Ray.”
“You’re in the Heart,” he choked, “aren’t you? And I’m in the control room.”
“I’ve already disengaged all the safeties. I locked it onto target and ran all the pre-fire built-in tests this morning. It’s all ready to go. It’s just waiting on your command to fire.”
“But,” tears splashed down onto the pristine chair and the control pads, “when I pull this trigger, you’ll…”
“Die. It’s beautiful. You don’t really understand, Ray. When you’re a child, you never want to sleep. Because you just want to be awake, alive, experiencing things. You’re so curious. The world is new. But then, when you start to get older, you really learn to appreciate sleep, because you become more aware of how hard it is to be conscious. You start to feel real pain, real emotions. And what was once an encumbrance is now a gift. It’s the same way with life. Once it becomes infinite, you start to realize what a blessing death would be. It’s just like staying awake without the promise of sleep. Eventually, you need rest. I know you can’t really understand, because you’re mortal. But death is just another experience. A natural one. I’ve been alive for so long, Ray. And I’m ready to go. I’ve been ready for so long. Because eventually you realize that there’s nothing left to see, and you’re tired.”
“Cherry,” Ray’s tone was shrill.
“The irony is that- now that I can finally die- I met the only thing that I would ever want to stay alive for. That’s you, Ray. I don’t know how life always balances out like that. Now that I finally have a reason to live forever, it’s the very thing that strips me of my immortality. Isn’t that something? But don’t look at it that way. You’ve answered two prayers of mine. You’ve given me something to live for, and you’ve given me a reason to die.”
“I can’t do it,” he shivered, his hands clammy as his index finger hovered over the fire trigger.
“You can, babe,” she laughed again, and it sounded inhuman, angelic. “I believe in you.”
“But… If you die, then… What’s the point?”
“You have the whole world ahead of you. Take it from somebody that squeezed the very essence out of life: there’s tons more to do. Don’t let some girl- just one experience- ruin your whole life.”
“Some girl,” he gagged. “Talking about it like this is some casual break-up.”
“You’re so sweet, Ray. You were going to die for us, even after we deceived you and took you away from your home.”
“This is my home! You… You’re my home…”
“Then you should know that I’ll always be with you. I know that’s platitudinous. But it’s real. Our souls became one. That’s what sealed the deal. I was able to experience something with you that my kind hasn’t encountered in centuries. Millenia, even. I knew my relationship with you would cost my immortality. But it was worth it. Not only because I got to enjoy that with you, but because it gave me the opportunity to take your place.”
“You can’t leave me here. Please.”
“Time’s up,” her tone was content, resolute. “It’s go-time, Ray. Pull the trigger.”
“Cherry… Dammit,” he winced.
Sweat poured down his forehead and his stomach ached.
He squinted his eyes shut, unable to process the mix of both intense thrill to discover how much he had meant to her, but only in the wake of her demise, by his own hands.
He pressed his head back into the chair, grinding his teeth with fury.
His whole body felt limp for a moment, debating if the deed were even possible.
And then his anxious finger acquiesced, tensing over the trigger.
There was a click.
“I can feel it..! It’s starting..! I’m dying..!”
“No… I finally had a reason to live,” Ray peered through tears, watching as some sort of light began to gather atop the pinnacle of the weapon.
“I hope you know, Ray, that despite my entire life, I never knew anything like the way just hanging out with you felt,” she declared, and he could hear the tears in her voice. “Promise me you won’t stop living! Live past this, Ray! That’s my gift to you! Life!”
Before Ray could respond, the sound of the weapon firing up grew to a nearly ear-bursting volume, and moments later, a gigantic wave of energy too bright to look at bolted through space.
Ray slammed his eyes shut, releasing a terrified cry as the sleeves locked his arms in place for a moment, his finger still crushing the trigger.
It lasted but a second.
Then, the light, and the noise, and Cherry were all gone.
Ray slowly blinked, and the sleeves released their tension on his arms, freeing him from their grasp.
Ray tried to stand from the chair, but his nauseated legs did not support him.
“I see. Then, you fired the weapon, destroying the engine and all the inhabitants that relied upon its warmth. And Cherry with it.”
“Yes,” Ray’s tone was distant.
“Did you go into shock afterward?”
“No. That’s not why I didn’t remember. They wanted me to forget. They said it could be dangerous both for myself and for them if a human being knew about them. They didn’t force me, but they pleaded for me to let them take my memories away of it all. I didn’t want to. I wanted to remember Cherry. I wanted to carry on her legacy and live the way she wanted me to. To accept her gift. But I decided that remembering her might be more painful than forgetting. So I agreed. They drained my brain of all of it. Everything I had done and felt and seen there. They also gave me something that reduced my aging by a year, so it seemed as if I had never left. I don’t think they knew about the box though.”
“Ray. Would you open that box for me?”
“No. I’m sorry. I want to be alone when I open it. I don’t know what she left for me. I want to see it myself first.”
“I’m going to wake you up from your trance. I’ve written down everything you told me. You can do with it as you please. Then, you can be on your way.”
Soon, Ray was sitting up in his seat, and he felt very strange, as if the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders.
“Did it work?”
“I don’t know. I think so. Here is everything you told me,” Dr. Hall handed him the thick stack of messy notes, compiled together in a small composition book. “I apologize for the handwriting.”
“No, don’t, I can read it,” he glanced at the top few words. “How much do I owe you?”
“Don’t worry about it. Really. I think you’ve paid me with something a lot more valuable than money.”
Ray rose an eyebrow.
“Anyway, have a good night, Ray. I’ve gotta’ get home to my wife.”
“Oh, yeah, okay. Good night, Doctor.”
Ray sat out in the countryside, laying down on a blanket, staring up at the glimmering stars. He had never known how much more visible they truly were beyond the city limits, and captivated by them, he stared at the small notebook.
“Time to know the truth,” his breathing increased.
And he brought the notes to his eyes, reading them, aided by starlight.
Ray was stunned.
“That’s ridiculous!” he hurled the notebook. “That can’t be! That’s seriously what I said?! Is this some sort of a joke?”
In complete disbelief, Ray lay back, staring up at the sky.
“That’s not possible. I must’ve been drugged or something that day in the woods. And maybe… touched or something. I don’t know. But that’s absurd.”
And then it occurred to him.
Feeling butterflies in his stomach, Ray found it from inside his jean pockets.
“You’re the only chance I have left of finding the truth,” he examined the object. “Please. Don’t fail me.”
Feeling like an idiot, Ray typed in the code, imagining in his brain where the numbers would be if it were a cellphone. 071018, the code Dr. Hall had written down for him, the date that he had been abducted, the date that he had met Cherry.
He waited a moment in embarrassed disbelief.
And then his pulse spiked, his heart skipping a beat, as it seemed to emit a soft glow, and the top half slid back, opening.
A scent so familiar to him reached his nose.
And all the memories surged back.
Now they weren’t just insane words scribbled onto a notebook that painted a bizarre, implausible image in his mind, but distinct and descriptive memories from having lived the events themselves for close to a year.
Ray removed the small sheet from the box.
It was a picture.
A thin, small picture, that she had printed for him.
It was the two of them in her room.
She wore her bodysuit, tightly outlining all the features of her slim and lithe body, and she leaned into his shoulder, making a perky grin. He just smiled calmly, and in his brown eyes was a peace he hadn’t known in what felt like centuries. Her long, red hair cloaked his back and even covered some portion of the bed they sat atop, and he could smell its distinct fragrance just by looking at it.
“It’s all true,” his words defied his brain as they passed through his ears. “This is what I wake up from. My old friend. Cherry,” his body teemed with warmth as he spoke her name out loud again for the first time, truly aware of its meaning and their time together. “It all adds up now,” the thought of the alien in the comic store came back to him, and he noted its eerie resemblance to the monsters he had battled for eleven months. “That girl I delivered pizza to,” she came back to him. “The cherry on top,” he recalled her words, and how they had nearly brought him to his knees.
A gigantic smile spread across his face.
“I’m in love!” he cheered into the cosmos. “Hahaha!” he chortled, the fervent embrace of Cherry’s soul one with his. “And you want me to keep living! That’s why you took my place!” he gazed at Cherry’s fingerprint on the box. Her blood. The final mark of her tangible existence. Then he turned his head into the dark summer sky, directly where the planet he had been living on for the near past year was, off in the galaxies beyond. And in some way it made him feel even closer to her, because it was the very same summer sky- a brilliant painting of the infinite cosmos that spanned between their two worlds- the two had spent many nights gazing at together. It was just a different part of it.
And within his heart he wondered if wherever it was she found herself now, she were watching it too.