Drifter, Abandoned

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Within a dark, dreary school lives a lonely young boy. At best, he is a social outcast, one who can't take his eyes off that girl who he sees on the swings every night. Finally, he decides to pursue the mysterious figure. From her, he will discover a truth he never would've thought possible. But what he discovers will leave him abandoned and alone, running for his very life.

Submitted: August 21, 2010

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Submitted: August 21, 2010



His name was Brendan Taylor. He was a young kid, of age 12, and he went to an isolated boarding school out in the middle of nowhere. He had little knowledge of social behaviors, and he had no friends. He was but an outcast who knew nothing but that girl he always saw swinging on the swing sets every night. Sometimes, from his window, he would just watch her swing—back and forth, back and forth—all night until sleep overtook him. Though he could see little of her physical beauty from afar, he’d always imagined her as a beautiful girl, perhaps the girl of his dreams.
 He often got curious of where she had come from, what she looked like, and why she would always swing on those same sets every night. He often longed to talk to her, but no one was allowed outside the dorms after dark.
 But one night, he decided he had to find a way to talk to her.
 Quietly, he snuck out of his dorm and made his way into the dark hallway. As he tiptoed along, he heard a number of mysterious tapping noises. Figuring it was nothing but the wind pushing the trees against the windows, he kept along.
 The further he got along, the darker it seemed to get. He thought of looking for a light switch, but he knew that light could draw attention to him. He could only imagine the sorts of trouble he could get into if they were to find out that he had tried to escape.
 Finally, he found a door. After slowly opening it, he felt a strong wind attack him by surprise. Good, he thought. This must be the way out.
 After quietly shutting the door, he slowly made his way outside.
 It was quite a chilly night. The wind seemed to almost rip the trees from the ground, and the large quantities of raindrops rapidly fell from the dark night sky. It was quite an odd feeling to walk out during the dark night, especially since he hadn’t done so for such a long time.
 He shivered. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been walking, but the cold was starting to get to him. He wished he’d remembered to bring a coat, but that need had already been overlooked.
 Finally, the swing sets came into view. Was she doing the same thing tonight? Yes. He saw her. He almost felt as though he should call to her, as though she were an old friend of his. In many ways, she was his oldest friend, the only friend he’d ever had. No, he never actually talked to her, but often he imagined what it would be like when he finally got to. Sometimes, in his mind, he would even make up stories about adventures they would have. Often she would be in some kind of peril, and he—just like a knight in shining armor—would come right to her rescue. But, of course, such things only happened to him in his imagination. Still, his curiosity often overtook him, sometimes keeping him awake all night. What happens when a boy meets a pretty girl? he would wonder. What does it feel like to have a friend?
 He soon would find his answer.
 He was now right at the swing set, perhaps only a few spans away from her. Still, she continued to swing, back and forth, her beautiful black hair swaying ever so lightly in the now quieter wind. A rush of nervousness fell over him as she stopped swinging and looked him right in the eyes. It was the strangest feeling he’d ever had, looking right in the eyes of a beautiful girl. On the few occasions where he would try to talk to girls in classes, they would most often just stare at him in disgust, and turn away from him like he was some kind of repulsive beast.
 There was a long moment of silence as they looked each other in the eye. He had no idea what he should say, if he should say anything at all. But it was the strangest moment he’d ever experienced. The moment soon broke when she said his name, “Brendan.”
 How does she know my name? he thought. It’s impossible! But soon, a name popped into his mind. Annie. Her name was Annie. No, that was impossible. How could he know what her name was? He’d never even met her before!
 Giving into curiosity, he said her name, almost like a question. “Annie…Annie?”
 She nodded. How did he know her name?
 Before he could figure anything out, she walked up to him and hugged him tightly. It was an awkward hug, for it caught him off guard. And then, ever so softly, she kissed him on the cheek. He was at first in a state of awe. But then, he tried to pull her closer. She pulled back.
 “Brendan,” she said, “you’ve got to get out of here. Now.”
 “I can’t,” he said. “I won’t.” Gently, he tried to pull her closer, and she seemed to force herself to resist.
“But Brendan, you must.”
 “Never,” he said. “I won’t leave without you.”
 “You don’t understand, Annie. You’re the only one who knows me. You’re the only one who cares about me. I can sense it. You’ve known me all these years, yet we’ve never even met. Annie, I don’t want to leave you.”
 “But you must, Brendan,” she said. “And quickly! Before they find you!”
 “What are you talking about, Annie? Who are they?” Annie didn’t answer. “Look, Annie, I’m not going to leave you. I can’t.” Sighing, she gave in. He pulled her close, and they held on to each other tightly. It was another awkward hug. But eventually, they made their way to the swing set, where she fell asleep in his arms: something he never could’ve dreamed of doing.
 Night by night, he did the same thing. He got to know her very well, and would often ask her a lot of questions about herself, even though he often would get the strangest feeling that he always knew the answer to any question he would ask her. But that didn’t stop him from finding comfort in her as a friend—or perhaps she was becoming something more.
 But every night he met with her, he felt like he was being watched. It was a most unsettling, unshakable feeling. And sometimes, when he looked into the distance somewhat afar, he was sure he could see a man. But every time he would look again, the man was gone. Sometimes, he started to wonder if he was hallucinating.
 As time went by, he started to ignore the possibility that he was being watched. I suppose it could be said that he never suspected much more would become of it all. Perhaps he would get to know Annie more intimately, and perhaps over time they would discover they had love for each other. He often thought that perhaps they would one day be married and move into the beautiful countryside where they would live a perfect life together.
 So of course he wasn’t expecting what was to happen on that quiet Monday night.
 It was a fairly regular night. Everyone was sound asleep in their dorms across the hall. Even the nighttime seemed to be taking a rest, for there was not even a hint of wind or rain.
 Brendan snuck out of the school in the usual way. He had come to discover that it wasn’t a hard thing to do, for the school never kept a good eye out at night.
 Brendan walked along, enjoying the cool nighttime air, as he always did. To Brendan, everything seemed to be going as it always did. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. That is, until he got to the swing sets.
 At first, as he came within several spans of view, he did notice something unusual, but he couldn’t quite make out what it was. But as he further approached the swing sets, he realized that Annie appeared to be crying. Surprised, he ran up to the swing sets at once.
 “Annie,” he called from a distance. Then, making his way to the swing sets, he called, “Annie, what’s wrong?”
 At first, she said nothing. Her face was down in her hands, and her hair appeared to be tangled and messy. It was quite unlike any condition he had ever seen her in before.
 “Annie, talk to me. What’s the problem?”
 She looked up at him with her red, tear-welled eyes. It appeared that she was trying to talk, but he wasn’t able to understand what she was saying.
 “Annie, I—” But before he could finish, she finally seemed to be able to bring words out of her mouth. “Brendan,” she said slowly, tears practically flooding out of her eyes, “Brendan, you must stop seeing me.”
 Oh no, thought Brendan, recalling what she had said the first day he finally met her. “Annie, what are you talking about? Is there something wrong with me?”
 “No—no!” said Annie. “No. That’s not it at all. You don’t seem to understand. You have to leave me, Brendan. You must. For your own good.”
 “For my own good? What the—what are you talking about, Annie? I’m better off with you, not without you!”
 “No, Brendan! You must stop seeing me. Don’t you understand? I’m not real.” This statement greatly surprised Brendan. She isn’t real? he thought. What is she talking about?
 “Yes, you’re real, Annie. You are. You’re more real than anything I know.”
 “No, I’m not, Brendan, and that’s why you must stop seeing me. You’re only hurting yourself. You’ll only keep getting worse and worse.”
 What? What is she talking about? Brendan kept thinking.
 “Brendan,” she said, “you must—” All of the sudden, Brendan felt dizzy. He felt like his brain was spinning as fast as the Earth. Faster. And then faster. He realized that everything Annie had said was being repeated in his brain.
 “Brendan, you must stop seeing me.” First, Annie appeared to be talking in slow motion. But then, she started talking faster, and faster. The speed of her voice appeared to keep increasing. And then, almost suddenly, she began disappearing.
 What is going on? thought Brendan. What in the world is going on?
 And then, while still in his dizzy spell, Brendan noticed that some man was running towards him. He didn’t know who it was, and he didn’t care. He was so dizzy—so tired. As if by some uncontrollable urge, he blacked out.
“Where am I?” were the first words that came out of Brendan’s mouth as he started to come to. He realized that he was lying down on some sort of seat, but his vision was still blurred.
 “You’re in a car,” someone said. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to hurt you.”
 “Wh-who are you?” asked Brendan. The man didn’t answer.
 Brendan started to sit up. “What is going on?”
 “Look, I can’t answer your questions right now,” said the man. “You’re going to have to wait until we get to the hotel.”
 “Hotel?” asked Brendan. “How long have we been driving?”
 At first, the man didn’t answer. “The hotel is quite a distance away. I recommend you get a little more sleep.”
 Brendan never thought he’d be able to get back to sleep. But in the end, sleep won the battle, and he slept soundly the rest of the way there.
Brendan woke up in a hotel room. He was lying on some sort of bed. Slowly, he pulled himself up. But as he tried to walk around, his vision still felt impaired, and his energy seemed little. Unable to carry himself for long, he fell face flat on the floor.
 A man came running into the room, picked him up, and laid him back on the bed. “Look, kid, I wouldn’t get up if I were you. You’re still a bit woozy.”
 Brendan sat up. “Who are you?” he asked.
 The man sighed. “Must you ask questions right now?” But then, answering his own question, he looked at his watch. “Well, I suppose I don’t have much time.” He pulled a chair up beside the bed. “Kid, do you know what just happened to you?” Brendan shook his head. “Brendan—yes, I do know your name by the way—you just experienced a phenomenal event. Few people have ever experienced it, yet you have been experiencing it all your life.”
 “What are you talking about?” asked Brendan.
 Instead of directly answering the question, the man asked, “Have you had headaches like that often?”
 Brendan pondered the question. It did seem like that had happened before. But he couldn’t quite remember. “I don’t know, maybe,” he said.
 “Brendan, you’ve undoubtedly had that happen to you many times before, but you just never thought about it before.” Brendan had the strangest, most confused look in his eyes. “Let me explain. You see, Brendan, you are a very rare human.”
 Brendan was surprised. What could possibly make Brendan a rare human? He had never considered himself to be special by any means. “What are you talking about?” asked Brendan. “Do I have some sort of rare condition or something?”
 The man seemed to consider that thought. “Well, you could call it that, I suppose, but it is much, much more than just a type of condition. You see, Brendan, you are what’s called a drifter.”
 “Huh?” asked Brendan. “What do you mean, a “drifter”? You mean I’m always on the move or something like that?”
 “In a manner of speaking,” the man said. “You see, historically, there have only been ten people like you ever to live on Earth, and you are the last remaining one. Do you understand what I’m saying, Brendan? You are the very last drifter to ever live on Earth.”
 “Okay, but what is a drifter?”
 “A drifter is somebody who is constantly creating new worlds. And I’m not talking about using your imagination. Quite often, without you knowing it, your mind produces the energy to create new worlds. Every time you create a new world, you unwittingly end up in the world you have created, but you never realize it. There are a number of reasons for this, but it is often because the worlds you create are similar to past worlds you’ve created, but minor changes have occurred.”
 If Brendan had ever been skeptical at any point in his lifetime, it was now. This guy was talking crazy. “What are you talking about? How can I create new worlds? How does this work?”
 “No one really knows,” the man admitted, “but the general consensus is that it has to do with how much you’ve isolated yourself from the rest of the world. But ultimately, no one really understands it.”
 “Wait a minute; you say this is the general consensus? Among who?”
 “The shifters.”
 Brendan looked confused. “And who are the shifters?”
 “That brings up the next subject. Brendan, shifters are people who are out to kill you, and I mean only you.”
 Brendan felt a sudden internal tension erupt. “They want to kill me? But why?”
 The man sighed. “Brendan, the universe was only made to sustain one planet Earth, one world with life on it, but every time you create a new world, you are forcing the universe to sustain what it cannot. Basically, you are messing with Mother Nature. At some point, because of the worlds you have created, the universe will become so overwhelmed that it will destroy itself.
 “That is where the shifters come in. You see, the shifters are the only people who can travel between the worlds. Nobody knows why they can, but it is a power that nobody takes for granted. Virtually every shifter has one goal: to kill all the drifters so that their worlds will be erased and so the universe won’t destroy itself. So far, they have been successful. You are the only drifter left—the last person on their ‘hit list’.
 “I, myself, am a shifter, but I am one of the few that don’t have any intention of killing you. As a matter of fact, I have been watching you very closely for a long time, making sure that the other shifters weren’t catching up with you. Every time you created a new world, I followed. You have been very hard to keep up with, and the fact that I’ve been doing so for twelve years doesn’t make things easier. But, so far you have been pretty safe, and it didn’t appear that any shifters would be able to find you for a long time; after all, you did outlive all the other drifters. But, lately I’ve had the feeling that something is about to happen. I don’t know what it is, but I know that it is something bad. That is why I’ve taken you here. There is a possibility that Brock—the leader of the shifters—is about to catch up with you.”
 Brendan still seemed full of a million questions, but one especially stuck out. “But if you’re a shifter, how do I know that you won’t try to kill me as well? How do I know that you aren’t trying to take me to the rest of them?”
 “I suppose you don’t really know. But I give you my word; I am not going to kill you. I am one of the few shifters that disagree with the decisions of the others. I believe you were put here for a reason, but what that reason is I cannot imagine.”
 Brendan tried to consider whether or not he believed the man. He wasn’t sure that he believed any of this. It had all come to him so fast. He hadn’t been ready for any of it. It was as though one day he thought he was much like other kids—even if less social—and the next day he discovered that he wasn’t like any kid—or human being, for that matter—at all. But, when he put the pieces together, he had to admit that something strange was going on.
 Finally, Brendan gave in. “Okay, I believe you, but I still have one more question.”
 “And what is that?”
 “Who is Annie? You know, the girl I saw every night at the swing sets.”
 “You created her,” the man replied. “You see, sometimes along with new worlds, you also create new objects, and sometimes new people. A lot of times, you will even recreate familiar people, hence the familiar kids you see at your school. The only explanation I have as to why you created Annie is that you were lonely. You wanted a friend, someone you could confide in. So you created one. But you must stop thinking about the past, Brendan. You must understand what needs to be done now.”
 Brendan sighed. “What must I do?”
 “You must keep yourself safe. Sooner or later, the shifters are going to find you, and they are going to kill you. You must stop them at all costs.”
 “But what good does that do?” asked Brendan. “Are you honestly suggesting that I greedily stop myself from dying, even though I will eventually die with everyone else as the universe explodes? I don’t want to die, but there must be something else I can do!”
 The man looked tense. He seemed to be thinking every little detail through, as though he had almost no other alternative. But, he finally responded, “Brendan, I can guarantee you that someone is going to have to die. There is no other way out of this. But I do have an idea. You see, there is a certain rumor among the shifters that the worlds form together to make a sphere, and at the center of the worlds there is a palm-sized ball of energy that, when grasped, would destroy the created worlds altogether. Theoretically, everything in the worlds that came from Earth would be blown back to Earth, but the person holding the energy ball would be destroyed. That is my only alternative for you, but I guarantee you that traveling to the center of the worlds would not only be dangerous, but would also be quite difficult.”
 “Is there anyone who can help me?”
 “Remember when I told you that shifters are the only people who can travel between worlds?  Well, that’s sort of a lie. You see, supposedly there is a boy, about your age, who also has the power to travel between worlds, and it is said that he might be able to withstand even the energy from the core of the worlds. He is neither a shifter nor a drifter. No one really knows what he is. There is the possibility that he could help you get to the core of the worlds. But it’s up to you to find him.
 “But for now, Brendan, you must rest and I must leave immediately. I have been constantly running away from the shifters, for if they find me, they would torture me until I were to tell them where you are hiding, and I fear that greed for my life would ultimately overcome my conviction that you deserve one yourself. Get to sleep tonight, Brendan, and decide for yourself what to do in the morning.”
 Then, the man transformed into some form of energy, which kept getting smaller and smaller, until it was completely gone, and the man had made his way into another world.
 Full of stress, Brendan didn’t think that he’d be able to sleep. But, the instant his head hit the pillow he was already drifting off into other worlds.
Brendan woke up to a loud banging sound. Startled, he nearly jumped out of bed. He ran to the door, opened it slightly, and checked to see what was going on.
 At first, he could see nothing down the long, seemingly endless hall. But as he squinted, he noticed something—a man running rapidly, getting closer and closer to his room. Carelessly, Brendan left the door ajar, running to find somewhere to hide—anywhere. Should he hide under the bed? No, he knew that wouldn’t work, but it was the only place he could think of.
 Giving in, Brendan dove under the bed—and just in time, too. The next thing he knew, someone threw open the door and searched recklessly around his hotel room.
 “Brendan Taylor, where are you?” yelled the man. The man kept searching. “Kid, I know you’re in here, so why don’t you make this easier on the both of us and just come out right now?”
 Brendan stayed put. A million thoughts came into his mind, each one of them trying to solve one problem: how was he going to escape? His hiding place was no harder to find than a key under a doormat, so surely he would have no chance in staying safe for long. He had to find a way out.
 At first, his mind went blank. The most logical thing he could think to do was to run out the door, but he knew that wouldn’t work. The guy would catch him instantly. There had to be another way...
 …The window! Of course! When Brendan had woken up in this hotel room, he had noticed that outside his window was a stairway, to be used for a fire escape. Quickly but quietly, Brendan crawled out from under the bed, looked to make sure that the man wasn’t watching, and silently flipped open the window and slipped out. As he walked down the steps, he looked into the window, making sure the man didn’t see him. At first, the man was too preoccupied to see him, but then he turned around and caught notice of Brendan through the window. At first, he almost looked shocked, but quickly ran after Brendan.
 Brendan found himself dashing down the stairs at an almost unbelievable speed. Constantly looking behind himself, Brendan realized that he was outracing the man by quite a bit. Brendan figured that it was unlikely the man would be able to catch up to him very quickly.
 As he made his way off of the stairs, Brendan was finally able to run much faster than he had been before. And he could see that the man was still far behind him, although he, too, seemed to be gaining slight distance.
 “Kid!” he yelled, “Slow down. Otherwise I’m going to have to hurt you.”
 “Yeah right!” Brendan yelled.
 “I’m not kidding, kid. Slow down, or I’m going to have to make you.”
 Brendan, not taking account of the threat, continued running.
 “Okay kid, you asked for it.” The man pulled out some sort of gun and shot out a beam. Brendan fell to the ground in pain as he was hit by the speedy laser beam.
 “Ouch!” yelped Brendan. “That stings.”
 “As it’s going to for hours to come,” said the man, heartlessly. “But I told you to stop running. And now, kid, you’re coming with me.” Helplessly, Brendan allowed the man to pick him up and carry him to his car. When Brendan was set in the man’s car, he felt a great pain in his back. Actually, his whole body was aching, but it seemed to hurt more when he sat down.
 It seemed like hours they were driving, even though it probably wasn’t that long at all. As Brendan heard the man stop the car and take the keys out of ignition, he knew something was going to happen. They had parked right next to some sort of large, oddly shaped building. Brendan couldn’t imagine what was going to happen to him. He didn’t want to know.
 “Get out,” the man barked, just after opening Brendan’s door. After getting out, Brendan felt another brutally stinging pain in his back, but it sure beat the pain he’d felt while sitting down in the car. Brendan followed the man into the building. As they walked through a long, unbelievably large hallway, Brendan knew he’d never be able to find his way out. The hallway was nothing but a jumble of unrealistically endless twists and turns.
 Finally, they made their way to a jail cell. Or perhaps it should be called a cage, for it barely had enough room for a bed, and so it goes without saying that Brendan sobbed at the very sight of it.
 The man opened the door. “Get in, kid,” he ordered. Brendan hesitated. “Do you want me to get rough again, kid?” Finally obeying orders—but certainly not without moping—Brendan entered the cage.
 After slamming and locking the door, the man gave Brendan an evil smile. “You’re a very hard kid to catch, Brendan. Years and years, we shifters have been killing off your kind. It has given me a good deal of stress, but that won’t matter now.”
 “Who are you?” screamed Brendan.
 “I am Brock, the leader of the shifters,” the man said, apparently trying to sound humble.
 “What do you plan to do with me? You can’t keep me here forever. After all, I can just create another world and go there to escape.”
 Brock laughed mockingly. “Perhaps you will create other worlds, but you sure won’t get out of there any time soon. See, that jail cell is protected by a certain force that will stop you from escaping into other worlds. So while you will create other worlds, it will be of no benefit to you. And, as for what will happen to you, it is up to the council of shifters. If it were up to me, I’d kill you right now. But, I suppose I’ll just have to wait until the others approve. But don’t worry, Brendan. You’ll be killed in due time.”
 Brendan flashed Brock the meanest, ugliest look he could bear. “You rotten pig!”
 Brock only flashed Brendan another evil smile, walking away from the cage and leaving Brendan to himself.
 How long am I going to have to stay here? thought Brendan. I don’t know how much longer I can bear it. Helpless, Brendan flopped onto his bed. He tried to get to sleep, but even in all his tiredness, it took him quite a while before he could get to sleep.
 A few hours later, Brendan woke up to a tapping sound. What was it? He looked down the curved hall and saw somebody coming. Was it Brock, bringing him some scraps of food for breakfast? Brendan was so hungry, he would gladly accept just about anything.
 When the figure made his way to Brendan’s cage, Brendan was surprised to see that it wasn’t Brock, nor was it any adult at all. It was a kid about his age.
 The kid reached through the jail cell. “Come on, Brendan,” he said. Unsure of what to do, Brendan grabbed the kid’s hand, and the kid pulled him through the jail bars. It was an unusual experience, and for a split-second it made Brendan feel like a ghost.
 “Who are you? And how did you do that?” asked Brendan.
 “My name is Josh,” the kid said quietly, “but I don’t have time to explain anything else to you. You must follow me.” At first, Brendan hesitated. He wanted to know who this kid was before he followed him, but for some reason, he got the feeling that this kid could be trusted. So, he decided to follow the kid.
 They ran through the progression of twists and turns, and to Brendan’s surprise, they were out of the building quite quickly. He then realized that Josh was running towards the woods. At the speed they were running, Brendan normally would have been out of breath fairly quickly. But, as he ran with Josh, he seemed to have an endless supply of energy. It was unfathomable.
 “Why are we going to the woods?” asked Brendan. At first, Josh didn’t answer. It was odd how he seemed so trustworthy, yet for some reason he didn’t seem to talk much. But finally, he responded, “We must get to the portal.”
 “The portal? What are you talking about? Just who are you?”
 Josh didn’t answer.
 At that moment, Brendan recalled his conversation with the shifter who had brought him to the hotel. “Hey, wait a minute, someone told me of a kid my age who might be able to get to the core of the worlds. Is that you?”
 “Yes,” said Josh. “But Brendan, there is no time for such questions. We must find the portal, for soon Brock will catch up with us.” Brendan obeyed, even though he was still unsure of just what the portal was.
 Running through the woods brought about a whole series of uncomfortable obstacles. Several times, Brendan ran into trees, tripped over limbs, or got chased by various kinds of bugs. But oddly enough, Josh never seemed to have any of this happen to him the whole time. It was as though he knew his way perfectly. This was almost inconceivable to Brendan, who saw these woods as nothing but a random assortment of things to make his life at the moment more difficult.
 As Brendan looked behind him, he realized that—far, far behind them, Brock was running after them. “Josh,” said Brendan, “Brock is behind us. What are we going to do?”
 In a surprisingly calm voice, Josh replied, “We’re almost to the portal. We’ll be fine.”
 Brendan couldn’t understand how Josh appeared fearless. But he continued to follow him anyway.
 As they came to a stop, Brendan knew right away what Josh had meant by ‘portal’. In the air, Brendan saw what appeared to be a suspension of time and space. It was some sort of immense circle that was glowing green, and appeared to be picturesquely superior to everything around it.
 “We must jump in now, Brendan,” said Josh. “But when we get in, you’re going to have to find me.”
 What is he talking about? wondered Brendan. But instead of contemplating it, he jumped in.
 For a minute, time almost seemed to stand still. Brendan was trapped in some sort of darkness, but yet he was moving, almost floating. Random assortments of colors and shapes flew by him. The longer he floated, the dizzier he felt. But then, in an instant, he found himself lying on the ground. Struggling to come back to reality, he brought himself to slowly stand up. He nearly fainted in shock as he saw what was around him: nothing but sand—hills and hills of sand. He was in some sort of desert. What did this mean? Had this all been a hallucination? No, that was impossible. He felt as real then as he did now. But something had to be going on.
 Then he remembered what Josh had said. “When we get in, you’re going to have to find me.” Great, thought Brendan. How am I supposed to find Josh in this desert?
 Only to add to the seriousness of the situation, Brendan was shocked when he looked back and discovered that Brock wasn’t too great a distance behind. How did he do that? thought Brendan. But, knowing he didn’t have enough time to think about it, Brendan started running.
 Running faster and faster, Brendan found that trying to get somewhere in the sand was a nearly impossible task. What had started as running up and down the sand hills soon became a matter of Brendan climbing up the hills. He feared that Brock was getting ever closer, but he didn’t know what to do.
 Finally, he noticed Josh was on the next hill. Looking behind him, he noticed that Brock was only a hill behind. Brendan knew he’d have to try at full capacity to get to where Josh was.
 In a burst of strength, Brendan found himself running up the hill like it was a simple road. In what seemed like a split second, he made it over to Josh. Josh, running fast now, led him to another portal. This time, the portal led them to a swampy area.
 Most of the way through, this area appeared much easier to run through than the other ones, certainly much easier than the desert. Even more encouraging was the fact that, as they were running, Brock got stuck in a swamp. Brendan thought for sure that they’d be able to get away safely. But then, probably as a final act of violence, Brock once again shot Brendan with the laser beam. Brendan’s body ached worse than ever before as he fell to the ground, groaning in a pain even worse than the last time.
 “Josh,” he moaned, “I can’t keep running.”
 “But you must,” said Josh. “We must keep going. The universe doesn’t have much longer.”
 Brendan slowly struggled to get up, but he couldn’t do it. “Josh, I can’t.”
 “Brendan, get up,” said Josh. And then, miraculously, Brendan was able to get up. “What in the world?” asked Brendan. But Josh didn’t respond. He just motioned to Brendan to keep on running with him.
 The rest of the way went pretty well. Brock was stuck in the swamp the whole time, so Brendan, though limping a bit, was able to keep up with Josh pretty well. Eventually, they made their way to another portal.
 “The last portal,” said Josh. As they entered it, Brendan felt a force unlike any he’d felt before. It was a very resistant force, like two negative magnets trying to connect. The things that took place as he went through the portal were short, but they were quite strange and caused him a good deal of dizziness.
 But finally, they got to the place that the portal was leading them too. As they walked along, Brendan couldn’t help but ask, “Josh, where are we?” But Josh never answered. He just kept on going.
 It was a very odd place. Brendan felt much like he was walking through some sort of cave, except that it was very colorful. It was undoubtedly the oddest place Brendan had ever seen.
 Finally, they came to a stop. It was now that Josh spoke. “It is time for me to do what needs to be done.”
 Brendan was confused. “What do you mean, Josh?”
 “Brendan, we are at the center of the worlds. The shifter who protected you told you about this place—yes, I do know about that. There is an energy ball only a few spans away from us. When I grip it, everyone who is real will be blown back to Earth. That is, everyone but I.”
 Brendan gulped. “You mean—”
 “Yes Brendan. I will be departing.”
 “No Josh. I can’t let you do that. You have nothing to do with this. I’m the one who created the worlds. I deserve to die.”
 “You did not purposefully create the worlds, Brendan. You must understand that.”
 “But Josh, you never did anything wrong. You don’t deserve to die.”
 “What I am about to tell you, you won’t understand, Brendan, but I am doing what I must. I will die physically, but my spirit is going somewhere else. Believe me when I tell you, Brendan, that I am going to a place that you can’t go to right now. You don’t understand what I mean, but someday you will.”
 Knowing that he couldn’t argue with Josh, Brendan said nothing as Josh walked up to the energy ball and gripped it.
 Once again, as had happened in the portals, time appeared to stand still for an instant. But the rest that followed was much different than what happened in the portals. Brendan didn’t find himself in any sort of dark chasm. Instead, he found himself quickly flying backwards. And he was accelerating faster and faster. He witnessed a wide variety of worlds as he flew by, but he barely got the chance to gaze upon them before another world would fly by.
 This went on for several more minutes. Once it stopped, Brendan found himself in the strangest of places: on the swing set, right next to his boarding school. And sitting right next to him was Annie.
 “What is going on?” said Brendan out loud.
 “I don’t have much time to explain,” said Annie, “for soon you will find yourself back on Earth.”
 Brendan sat there, confused. “I’m not on Earth yet?”
 “No, you’re somewhere in between the unreal worlds and the real Earth.
 “But I don’t understand. Who was Josh?”
 “You don’t know?” asked Annie. Brendan shook his head. “Well, someday you’ll understand.”
 “Is he real?” asked Brendan.
 “More real than you can imagine,” said Annie, “But you must know something, Brendan: when you get back to Earth, you will quickly start to forget everything that has happened to you here. Don’t fight it. That is how it must be. But you will never forget Josh’s sacrifice for you.” Brendan was having a hard time understanding any of this. After all, Annie was fake, right? How could she know all this? “One more thing, Brendan: you must no longer isolate yourself from everyone else. Even though you will no longer be a drifter once you get back to Earth—for your powers will be destroyed—you must not risk going through this again. You must stop isolating yourself from everybody.” After that, Brendan felt himself being pulled back quite a bit more, and for some reason he fell asleep.
When Brendan woke up, noticed two things. First of all, he was in a bed, and second of all, the room he was in looked vaguely familiar.
 Someone knocked on his door. A woman in her late thirties walked into his room. “Brendan, sweetie, time to get up. You don’t want to be late for school.”
 Brendan was confused. “M-mom?” he asked, unsure of whether his mind was playing tricks on him.
 “Well don’t sound so surprised,” she said, giving him a funny look. “Come on, you better get up and have some breakfast.”
 From then on, Brendan’s life was a fairly normal life. Although he never became popular at school, he made a nice amount of friends, and that was certainly something he needed. His school life was pretty normal, and he even found that he was interested in mathematics.
 But Annie had been right: he forgot almost instantly about his adventures as a drifter, even though he sometimes felt as though he was forgetting about something big that took place in his life at one time. But he never did forget that a kid named Josh had once sacrificed himself to save Brendan. Such an interesting person, Josh was. He had had no reason to sacrifice himself for Brendan, yet he did anyway. It was as though his whole meaning for existing was to save Brendan, even though Brendan knew that he by no means had deserved it. And why did Brendan get the nagging feeling that this whole incident of Josh sacrificing himself was so similar to something he’d heard before?
 Perhaps Brendan would have to figure that one out some other time.
 Just as that was quite a mystery, so was what happened to Brendan in his junior year of high school.
 On his first day in math class, he found himself sitting by the most beautiful girl. She was medium height with long, thick black hair. She looked so familiar. But that was impossible, because she was a new girl.
 “Hey,” Brendan greeted her as he sat down in his desk, “I’m Brendan. What’s your name.”
 “I’m Annie,” she said. As she turned to face him, he could’ve sworn that he noticed a familiarity in her face. But he couldn’t have seen her before, could he have?
 “You’re new here, aren’t you?” he asked.
 “Yeah,” she said.
 Even though Brendan couldn’t shake off that weird feeling, he decided he’d be better off just letting it go. “Welcome to this school,” he said.
 Annie, he thought. What a nice name. And wow, is she good-looking! I sure hope I can get to know you well, Annie. And perhaps he would…
 …Perhaps he would.

Whether a story can mean more than is caught at first understanding—perhaps even more than the author himself comprehends—is undebatable.

© Copyright 2019 Justin Walters. All rights reserved.

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