| Mace walked into Our Daily Bread Café and Bakery and joined the back of the line. He was lost in his own thoughts of Joven, how she looked riding a horse. How her long brown hair ruffled in the breeze when she was intensely looking at the world through her camera lens. Devlin walked through his mind too. His bestfriend since second grade. They had done everything together, learn to ride horses, drive, double dated on their first date with the Jacobson twins, and tasted their first beer together. Feeling the betrayal of even thinking of his bestfriend’s girl, he tried to force her out of his mind.
Focusing his attention on the menu board above the register he considered his order. Light conversation about the plans of the day filtered through to him and he glanced around to see who he might know. Recognizing a few people he thought of starting a pointless conversation to take his mind off the one thing that followed him regardless of the guilt that rode in on its heels. Bells rang off to his right and he turned to watch Derek Mallon walk in, followed by Nick Padmore. “I know you saw what I saw, there wasn’t a mark on him, man.”
Nick nodded, “Not on the front of him, but maybe on his back?’
“Come on,” Derek whispered. “He was laid out like someone placed him there. I’m telling you, that was no accident. Edoha isn’t saying a thing either. I saw him in the parking lot of Ingles last night and ask him about it. Flat out told me not to worry about it. Since when do they hide how a man dies in the woods?”
“Maybe he is respecting the families wishes or something? This guy isn’t from here who knows what they asked. One dead hiker isn’t strange, it happens, I don’t think there is any big conspiracy going on.”
Mace started to turn and join in the conversation but was interrupted by the woman at the counter. ‘What can I get you?”
“White chocolate mocha and two glazed donuts, please.”
“Five fifty two, be just a minute.”
Mace nodded and turned back to the conversation behind him wondering what he had missed. “Hey guys, you talking about the Rick guy?”
Nick smiled, “Yeah, Derek here seems to think someone got him. We were on the team that found him.”
Derek made a face, “yeah, think I’m full of it, that’s fine. But I’m telling you that something isn’t right. People don’t fall off a cliff and lay down straight as an arrow to die without a mark.”
“Are you kidding me? Maybe he didn’t fall? I heard they were able to walk in to get the body. Maybe he walked in too and had a heart attack or something?” Mace asked.
“Without leaving footprints, the recovery team left footprints, so how you explain that one away?” Derek was looking from one to the other.
“Here’s your order.”
Mace turned to pay for his coffee and bag of donuts. “I don’t know man, but I’m sure there is a good reason. There’s always an answer we just don’t know it yet.” Nodding a goodbye at the two men he moved past the counter and out the door to his truck. Joven was out of his mind for the first time in two days as he considered the conversation. Devlin stayed in his thoughts and he turned his truck onto the street. Taking a small sip of the steaming paper cup he watched the familiar scenery sway in the front windshield. Evergreens lined most of the streets in town, hiding rows of homes from view, locked away with their secrets they suppressed behind closed doors. The light breeze threatened to reveal confidential locations the tall trees screened from prying eyes.
On auto pilot the truck pulled into Devlin’s driveway and Mace stepped from the vehicle. Grabbing his bagged breakfast he strolled to the front door of a one story house and let himself in. “Hey Dev, you here man?”
“yeah, I'm back here in the bedroom." Devlin's voice sang out.
" you won't believe what I just heard. I ran into Derek and Nick while I was getting breakfast, and they said they were on the search team that discovered Rick. Derek said that there wasn’t a mark on the body. That it look like the guy just laid down and died right where he was, and there were no footprints leading to him."
Devon was walking down the hall and met Mace in the small turn around corner connecting the hall to the living room. "The guy got there somehow, he didn't just fall from the sky. I'm sure he fell off the cliff just like Edoha said he did. Freak accidents happen maybe he actually landed flat on his back where they found him."
"I guess anything is possible and we don't really know how far out he landed. But according to the guys it was really strange. Derek seems to think that there's some big conspiracy going on. That someone actually placed him out there."
Devon shook his head, "why would someone do that? If that were the case then it would be because they were trying to hide the body. Do you really think this guy was murdered?"
"Derek seems to think so. And you have to admit that they normally release information like this by this time. There really hasn't been a lot on the news about it. Except to say the lost hiker was found deceased. What is the last time we haven't gotten any information when it comes to a lost hiker?"
"It has been awhile I will admit. But that doesn't make it a big conspiracy. There could be any number of reasons why the information hasn't been released, and I would say it mostly has to do with the family. You have to remember that these people are from out of state."
Mace turned and walked into the living room. " I understand that, which doesn't rule out someone doing that to him. Your right, we don't know this guy, and he could have all kinds of enemies."
"So what do you wanna do? Go check out the place he was found? What are we now junior detectives?"
"You never know what you’ll come across. Though I'm sure that the police have taken away anything good. It's just that this whole search felt all wrong from the start. You and I have been on several of the searches and regardless of the outcome there are always answers."
The two boys walked into the living-room and Devlin made his way to the over stuffed brown recliner. Sitting down and propping up his feet, " okay, I agree with you there. But I still don't know what you expect us to do about it?"
Mace took a seat on the green couch and studied the sullied white carpet. " I guess nothing. It's just been sitting wrong with me and I wish they would go ahead and release information. Be honest, is it just me or to the woods have a different feel to them right now?"
" I guess I haven't noticed, I've been so caught up with Joven. This has been really hard for her bringing up past memories of her father. And I think she feels a bit responsible since we didn't find him the first day out. I know for a fact she feels responsible for her father."
"Why do you say that?"
Devlin went on to explain the situation behind Frank's murder. He also told Mace about the reaction the she had to the news that Rick had been located dead. Once again, this brought Joven into Mace's mind and he felt even more guilt with Devlin sitting in front of him. The boys parted company shortly after that.
Joven was exhausted from the night before, she had barely slept thinking about what had happened to Rick and fearing that she would walk in her dreams. It was shortly after 1:00 PM and she felt as if she could no longer hold her eyelids open. Making her way to her bedroom, she slipped back into her nightshirt and lay down praying she would have calm dreams that led her nowhere. Even as she closed her eyes she knew this would not be the case.
With eyes closed she stepped into a black void. It was as if her mind were searching for something, the connection that was brought with sleep. Since it was in the light of the afternoon and not in the darkness of night she had no one to connect to, and her mind sat in some in-between place. Sighing deeply Joven began to build an image of Devlin in her minds eye. She was finding him easier and easier to imagine. Slowly the blackness swirled into gray all around her.
Devlin was completely formed in her mind and other objects came into view. She could see him standing at a kitchen sink to the left of him was a drain board holding dripping dishes. In his hand he held a red wash rag and was wiping down a plate. As she studied him the rest of the room came into sight. It was a small space, with walls painted sunshine yellow and a back door at the end of the counter that contained the sink. A petite window glanced into the back yard from above the dirty dishes. Window blinds were completely open allowing for maximum light to enter the room. The floor had a white tile with designs cut in the shape of flowers outlined in yellow. A dull gray refrigerator stood to the right of the sink, lined with cabinets on either side. To the left of the kitchen sink set a little gray stove with two burners. Another miniature counter top the size of one cabinet stood beside the stove supporting a tiny microwave. Directly behind him a card table, its vinyl cover torn randomly was guarded with two chairs.
Standing in the doorway between the living room and the kitchen she took all of this in, in just a few seconds. She watched him go through the mechanics of washing a dish, dipping it into the rinse water, and setting it on the drain board to dry. Letting out a small sigh, Joven was happy to see she was in a normal dream.
Devlin heard the sound behind him and spun around in surprise. A glass went tumbling towards the floor and shattered with a quiet sound of tiny chimes. "What the hell? Joven what are you doing here?"
"You can see me? Are you a sleep right now?"
Devlin shook his head slowly, unsure of how he could see the couch through her. "What is going on? Your transparent, you're not actually here are you?"
" I'm asleep in my own bed and this is just a dream. This is just a dream, right?"
“Maybe for you, but for me I’m wide awake in my own house doing some chores before I go to work.”
Joven stood completely still for a moment taking in the simple sentence and what it meant to her. For a instant the room wavered and the colors began to run into each other as she lost control of the vision. Closing her eyes with a deep sigh she refocused her mind and slowly opened her eyes again. Devlin still stood across the kitchen in blue jeans, a red pull over shirt and boots. “This is freaking me out! I don’t understand what is wrong with me?”
“Freaking you out… What are you, a secret member of the X-Men?” He sighed and leaned back on the kitchen sink. “Sorry, that was rude. I can imagine it is freaking you out because it is freaking me out and you’re the one going through it. I guess that proves what I knew, you’re a special person.”
Joven tried to step forward into the kitchen but was forced back by waves of pressure showing themselves like heat coming off the pavement. She could feel a rustling around her thighs and realized it was her favorite nightshirt. Glancing down she stared at her feet as the slid in and out of the tile floor up to her ankles and then reappeared. Solid matter gave way to her presence knowing it was unnatural for her to be in the unyielding dimension. Holding her arms stretched out in front of her body she studied the pattern on the tile through her limbs. “I don’t feel special, I feel like a freak of nature.” Her eyes were pleading with his, “why is this happening?”
He pushed himself off of the counter and took a step. The force of two different air waves slammed into each other forcing both of them to move back. Reality and dream stood one within the other, unable to touch, as if mixing them would bring the downfall of both of them. “This gets more interesting all the time. I wish I could answer your questions Joven, I really do. The only thing I can think of is when you hit your head… like some people will say they turned psychic after an accident. Maybe a doctor can help?”
Her arms were still stretched out in front of her body and she brandished them back and forth to hold off his suggestion. “And tell him what? Hi I hit my head and now I drag people into my dreams and wonder around their houses when I sleep. I’ll get locked up for sure!”
Devlin started to walk towards her and remembered the feel of the two worlds colliding. “No, tell him you hit your head and now your having headaches. I know it is a lie, but at least they can run some test. See if something has changed in your head, maybe even fix it.”
Joven started to answer him but his cell phone chimed in his pocket. The loss of concentration was enough to impose reality over her and she set-up with a start in her own bed. Sweat drenched her body and covers leaving her chilled and her insides quivering. The truth of her reality was she could never sleep, not when her dreamland became actuality.
Pressure waves slowly settled around Joven relaxing the heaviness on her body. Taking deep breaths her room materialized around her the different colors flowing into objects chasing the gray hue from her view. She felt drained, her arms laid straight at her side and she tried to lift them. Burning muscles sent electrical shocks up her limbs, across her chest, down her torso, running down her legs leaving her toes tingling. Her eyes blurred, cleared, and started to blur again. Off in the distance she could her Devlin’s ring tone off to her right singing Air Supply’s “Sweet Dream’s” and she wished for sleep.
Eye lids fought to close and Joven resisted the urge by wiggling her fingers. Gradually the burning subsided and she was able to drag her body into a sitting position. Her cell phone had stopped ringing and returned to its sleep. She felt like a penguin with flappers instead of hands when she reached for it. After three tries her fingers obeyed, lifting the tiny box from its slumber and pushed the voice mail noticed.
“Joven, it’s me. Mace just called and said there is another hiker missing. We’re going on the search. We need to talk, call me when you wake-up.”
She let the phone drop onto the comforter and yawned. The burning in her upper body had receded leaving the heat to flow and ebb in her legs. Forcing her feet out from under the covers the cool floor sent more prickles up her legs releasing them from the warmth. She stood sluggishly feeling normalcy creep back into her body. Her feet dragged the rest of her form to the bathroom and she started a hot bath.