Go read Box: Detach instead!
When my hard-ass sister said she'd stay up the entire bus trip to Chicago, I really thought that she'd be able to pull through the night.
In the end, I had to practically drag her and her luggage onto and off the bus, and it really did not help that the bus drop-off location wasn't exactly where I thought it would be.
The nearest bus station was a thirty minute walk away from Southeast Unity Church, and even after we reached that church, it would be another ten minutes before we could get to the motel I had set my eyes on.
If I was alone and free of all burdens, I could have easily ran there toting my luggage like a maniac. It wouldn't look pretty, and it would definitely attract passer-by attention, but it would bring me to the motel early so I could catch up on some much needed sleep.
My left arm trembled from holding up my mobile phone during the entire bus ride here, and it would be a great annoyance if it somehow managed to break from the overexertion.
Is that a thing?
I sighed. At least one of us was still awake.
Insomnia was a curse, but I suppose I had to thank it for making me adapt to this sudden midnight trip.
"Hey, I'm going to leave you here on the side of the road if you don't start pulling your own weight," I complained to Samantha, dozing off on the bench right after we got off the bus. It was still early, about six in the morning, so nobody was around yet to see my attempts at slapping my sister awake.
Would they call the police on me?
"Alright," she slurred, and with half-closed eyelids, stood up and dragged herself forward. She looked more like a zombie now than I ever did. "Let's go."
I exhaled out from my nose grouchily, but proceeded to lead the way through the decently managed dirt road with slacked telephone wires hanging above us. The intermittent grass patches beneath us annoyed me to no end, and it made me realize how beautiful our home of Oakwood really was, and that we were now in an unfamiliar environment without any real directions to follow.
Not literally, of course. I had already memorized the way to the Church, and from there we could find the motel easily enough.
What's Mom doing right now? Where is she?
We covered close to no ground after five minutes, and I craned my head back towards the bus station, tilting at the fact that I could still see the station from where we were dropped off.
Samantha didn't care a single bit. She nodded her tiresome away happily with footsteps at the pace of a eighty year-old war veteran, completely unaware of her surroundings as long as she could walk at her own pace.
I almost wanted to splash my bottle of water onto her, but decided not to since it didn't seem like it'd work anyways.
Maybe we should just grab a taxi from here.
I looked towards both side of the empty road, not a single car or person in sight. It really did seem like a ghost town, even though we were most definitely in suburban Chicago. I had made sure we got onto the correct bus, since Samantha had barely made it ten steps away from our front door before collapsing onto the floor like a sack of potatoes.
When my leg finally tripped on a pebble on the ground, which made me stumble forward uncontrollably, I accepted the fact that I wasn't in the best mental condition as well.
I'd stayed up the entire night. The one thing I thought we didn't need to account for was our physical and mental strength, since I wanted to get straight to investigating the moment I found Mom's letter in the living room.
Who would've guessed that it's fatigued that would finally bring us down?
I heard the running tires of a car from behind me, and turned around to wave at the black car going down the road, the golden headlights burning stars into my eyes. I didn't think I'd have to resort to hitchhiking - mainly because I had to ask someone for help - but here we were.
Thankfully, the driver rammed on the brakes and slowed to a halt right besides us, and the passenger windows slid down so the man could take a good look at us beneath his yellow-shaded glasses.
They looked a bit misplaced, but I couldn't pinpoint what it was that made it seem like that.
"Do the two of you kids need to go somewhere?" the middle-aged man said, and something about his accent jolted something in my mind, though I wasn't sure what exactly it was. He didn't sound like an American. Maybe he was also a tourist like us?
"Uh. Yes, we do, can you please give us a ride to Joey's Motel? It's close to the Southeast Unity Church, so if you don't mind-"
The car doors swung out to hit me in the stomach, which caused me to double over in pain.
"Ah, damnit. Sorry, kid. Get in the car, and I'll drive you there. It's on the way for me too." The man looked just a little bit sorry for opening the doors on me, so I bit down on my displeasure, thankful that we were at least getting into a car now.
Samantha leapt into the backseat with her luggage while I walked over to the trunk to place mines next to a wooden crate nailed shut with specks of golden dust scattered all over it.
I frowned at the strange object in the trunk, but slammed it close without much further thought and got into the passenger seat.
The car took off, and I leaned my head back against the headrest, getting myself into a more comfortable position.
My neck ached, and it wasn't just my neck. My entire body throbbed and pulsed with the occasional flash of pain, nothing too unusual, but it did annoy me that it chose this moment to start screwing with me. The feeling wasn't too bad, considering how it happens almost every day after the intense training sessions back in Oakwood. It should go away in a day or two.
"What are the two of you kids doing so early in the morning?" the man asked while we waited on a traffic light.
I looked over to him and studied him, and noted that his combed back black hair seemed to pale at the tips, revealing a little bit of yellow underneath. It was probably a hair dye of the sort. I couldn't see his eyes either underneath those shades, and gave up on trying to study his features after a while. I was way too tired for that.
"We're on a trip here."
"A trip so early? Are the two of you tourists? You don't sound American," he said, and I blinked slowly to revitalize myself.
Here was the ensuing hitchhiking conversation. I had to do this if I wanted to seem normal to this guy, and also to stop him from reporting us to the police.
The police wouldn't be able to do anything, considering we had all the necessary identification with us, but it would just be annoying having to deal with them.
"No, we're American, we're just here early so we can get an early start on our vacation," I lied.
"It's a Friday here, though. Don't you have school?"
"Eh... no. Where we're from, we have a few days off, so we're here in Chicago."
"In this really a part of Chicago, though? There's really nothing good here. Except for the hotdogs." He pointed back at a paper bag sitting beneath the backseat, and my eyes widened at Samantha openly sleeping horizontally on the seat, still clutching at the luggage unconsciously.
The man laughed at the sight through the rear-view mirror.
"Is she younger or older?"
"Older. By a month. It doesn't seem like it, does it?"
"Age can be deceiving. I work for a sixteen year-old kid, believe it or not. And the things he asks me to do sometimes..." He shook his head in dismay.
"Does that have anything to do with the half-dozen hotdogs back there?"
"Yes. He's already consumed four, and he immediately asked for more. What a guy," the man said, and our drive continued. "But he's a good leader despite his age. He just needs to get a hold on himself whenever something unplanned for does happen."
"Yeah, I can feel that."
What he said wasn't unrelatable.
This entire trip was honestly rather hastily scrapped together in the middle of the night, and it was made without any solid backing goals or real hints as to what we should be doing. Finding that cavern was an accident, and Mom leaving us so suddenly might have pushed me over the limits of rationality just a little bit.
And now that I was sitting in a stranger's car, driving towards a motel that might not even have room for us, I was beginning to wonder if this was the right choice at all.
It was impulsive. But it was too late to regret that now, so if we were being kidnapped, then so be it.
"So, why is it just the two of you? Where are your parents?"
"It's supposed to be a 'bonding' trip between the two of us, as you can see." I gestured to the quietly sleeping Samantha in the backseat. "It's going to be fantastic. How was your day?"
"I stayed up the entire night, and I am so tired. I'm getting too old to be dealing with this." The man sighed exasperatedly, and for some reason, I smiled at hearing his suffering. It must be because we experienced the same thing tonight.
"If you don't mind me asking, what's so troubling that you missed that red light just now?" I asked, and the man cursed, slapping the wheel at his own forgetfulness. "You must have a hard job here."
The man didn't hesitate at all telling me. "I work in a warehouse. Last night, some idiot broke in and stole one whole crate of our wares. My boss has been calling me and everyone else non-stop over the night for status updates." He nodded at his cell phone in the cup holder, and I noticed that the screen was lit, showing six missed calls from an unknown caller.
I winced at seeing that unholy number of missed calls, and turned back to face the sky gradually illuminating with red.
"Will you be in trouble for driving us there? Maybe we can just find another person to help us-"
"You can leave, but you're going to have to jump out of a moving car. I hear it hurts." The man cackled, and I snorted at the light-hearted joke. My eyes drifted from block to block as the buildings started to stack up together like domino pieces. We were getting close to the actual suburban area now, the houses reminding me of Oakwood. Everywhere seemed to look the same wherever I go. Maybe I just needed to have a trip outside of the Americas for once. That, or to actually leave my town once in a while.
"Your sixteen year-old boss shouldn't force you to do this." I smiled.
"No, it's all going to be fine. He always manages to accomplish what he sets out to accomplish. This theft is a good thing, in a way, to help him grow as a leader. I don't really need to do anything. Besides, if I were the leader, I'd have to sit in the office and be a lap dog for the higher ups. That's pretty boring. Don't ever get an office job."
"And so... you're buying hot dogs for him."
"Precisely. And it was also an order, so I technically have to do it."
"The classic," I mumbled as the car turned a corner, and I raised an eyebrow at the decently sized white building on the cornerstone.
This would be the church, I suppose, though my eyes barely grazed over it in an attempt to conserve my fleeting energy.
I made a mental note of our geographical location on my mental map, and figured that we would arrive at the motel in about a minute or so.
Asking for a ride was a really good choice back there, and perhaps the only good choice in the past day.
Choosing the answer 'C' for all of my physics multiple choice test a few days back was probably the worst.
"Did you guys catch the thief yet?" I asked mainly out of friendliness. I knew that if it wasn't for this kind-hearted stranger, I'd likely have to zip up my sister in a bag and carry her all the way to the motel, and that would have definitely got me arrested. "I hope he didn't steal anything important from your boss."
"It's nothing much, just a box of clothes. We'll find the idiot soon enough."
A neon sign with the words 'Joey's Motel' flickered on right as we arrived next to it, as if they had expected us to pull into the parking area at that moment.
The two story building fit the exact same image I had of it in my mind, and honestly, it didn't really look so bad for us to be spending the next few nights here.
Maybe we'd even like it here.
"This is your motel."
I shot an evil eye at my still sleeping sister, and was about to yell at her to wake up before the man did it for me. He pressed on the horn, and Samantha jolted up from her seat... and stepped onto the paper bag full of hotdogs as she did.
I made an eek sound and immediately turned towards the man in full-blown panic, who only gave me the face equivalent to the living embodiment of disappointment.
I almost wanted to cry for him right there and then.
It was unfair and unjust, and it would only be right if my sister died for her crimes.
I took out my wallet and scrambled to fish out a few dollar bills for the ruined hotdogs only to be stopped by the man again.
"This is fine, you don't have to pay for it. The hotdogs are still edible, and I'm sure he won't be so mad. Go on now, mister..." He clicked a button on the electronic panel of the car, and the door swung open to let in the breezy air of morning Chicago.
Should I tell him my name?
Oh, why not.
"I am Rivin, and thank you for giving us the ride. And sorry for the hotdogs. Also, why are you wearing two pairs of glasses at the same time?" I shook his hand, and he swiped off his shades, revealing yet another pair of shades underneath.
He grinned madly at me, then pushed me out of the passenger seat.
So I was right to think there was something fishy with his face.
"Eh, no harm in telling you anyways. I am Leki, and maybe I will see you and your sister around the neighbourhood these few days," he said. I dipped my head gratefully and pulled open the door to the backseat, which allowed Samantha to crawl to freedom, horribly fatigued and probably has her head in the stars after the drive. I know I would be if I was half as tired as she is.
I smiled and slammed the door shut while I gave him a grateful wave.
"Yeah. Thank you very much!"
I fumbled with the door key to our motel room, and pushed the door open and stepped aside to let Samantha stumble in first. Neither of us bothered with the lights, and since the curtains were drawn in closed, none of the morning light seeped into the room. A good thing, I suppose. Both of us desperately needed some sleep.
"Which bed?" I mumbled, but I, being the subservient little brother, had absolutely no intention of letting my sister choose first. When she seemed to sway over to the bed safely tucked away in the corner of the spacious motel room, I immediately kicked the door close behind me and leapt head-first onto her chosen bed, and switched into my baritone voice. "You fool. It was a ploy to destroy your hopes and dreams. Now suffer."
"Oi," she growled angrily, and I scooted further into the middle of the bed to stake my claim.
"No, you take the crappy one in the middle. Don't you like it when it's closer to the bathroom?"
"You know what, whatever," she slurred loudly as she collapsed sideways onto the soft white-cotton blankets of her bed. "Wake me up in, like, five hours."
I did not even bother replying in coherent sentences, and focused the entirety of my mind on one thing: Sleep.
Sleep never came at ease to me for reasons unknown, and the lack of sleep has been plaguing me for as long as I could really remember.
It wasn't that I didn't feel tiresome or fatigue like every biological being should. I could probably break every bone in my body and still not fall asleep unless I was put unconscious with external administrations. Thus, for my nightly antics wandering the house in search of entertainment after Wi-Fi hours, I had earned myself the nickname of 'Walking undead' from Samantha.
Mom had always refused to bring me to a doctor for a check-up despite my more bothersome than deadly problem. She had always claimed that providing our biological information to humans wouldn't be the brightest of ideas, and I could see her point.
And now that I thought about it, she probably should have allowed me to go, or at least go with me to ensure I don't let anything slip out.
Why was she so adamant about me not going, when she allowed Samantha to go?
Though, if the curse of unsleep-ness continued, I'd have no choice but to seek medical help on my own. This couldn't feasibly go on forever, and I could not wait for the day I could be rid of this curse.
Today was no exception. This room was the perfect lair for one such as I to fall into deep slumber, and from the obvious snores coming from my right, Samantha has already dropped dead on her own bed.
I didn't really get it.
She didn't even do that much during the bus ride here. How is she this tired?
It was almost comical to see someone so headstrong act like this. A hilarious thought popped into mind within that instant, and I picked myself off my bed to pull out my cell phone and scrolled through the pages in search of the camera app. I snapped a picture of Samantha sprawled over her bed, both legs dangling free from the sides, and sent it to every last one of my friends for them to laugh at.
She would destroy me once she figure it out, but with a little bit of misdirection, I could probably convince her that it was on Edward's demands. In that case, she wouldn't complain about me taking a quick and inappropriate snap.
She's head over heels for him, anyways.
And as if god noticed my evil deeds, I sneezed and lost my balance. I fell back onto the bed with a heavy oomph. Somewhere along the line, my head slammed into the cotton pillow, and I sank further and further into the softness.
I closed my eyes graciously to welcome the probably-fleeting sense of sleep, and did everything in my power to shut off all my thoughts to pass the time quickly.
For ten seconds, I was in a loop. That sensation when you know you are going to fall asleep, your mind spiralling downwards to darkness without you noticing. Then, just at the edge of touching that darkness, you become aware that you are falling, and frantically jerk yourself back up unconsciously to wake up in short breath. I was a frequent visitor of that realm.
So, my head lurched backwards into the 'fall', and I sat up with my eyes open to grin tiredly at no one in particular.
I wasn't all that surprised to see that I was in my own room back in Oakwood.
I haven't had many of those in a while now, and it's likely that I'd forget all about it once I wake up. More surprising was how quickly I actually fell asleep.
Maybe I was getting better at sleeping.
Looking down at body, I realized that I even underwent a complete change in my wardrobe. Gone was the white and black striped t-shirt that I stuck to like hot glue, and in its place was a silver coloured shirt with patches of chainmail over my joints.
I threw off my blanket and jumped to my feet, and noted that I wore practically the same kind of apparel over my entire body as well. It weighed next to nothing, though I wasn't surprised. It was a dream, after all.
I didn't pay much mind to it. The mind can imagine something vividly strange when it wants to. I likely picked it up in a TV show or something of the sort back at home.
"Astoundingly aware. You will surely be an interesting candidate."
Hearing the voice was like having a sudden realization in a dream where one would wake up with renewed inspiration or knowledge, except in my case, a pang of pain tightened on my forehead, which caused me to wince and touch it tentatively.
While I did so, I journeyed out from my bedroom and went downstairs. There was not much else for me to do on the second floor in the first place.
This pain was nothing all too special. It was just a dream.
With that in mind, I clattered down the stairs and into the living room, where blinding white light slipped in through the window frames on the left.
Everything was exactly how I remembered it. The OLED television screen hung off the wooden puzzle-piece wall that I always found stylish, the bright green couch that can fit up to eight people at once, and the many picture frames nailed to the way one after another depicting photos of mom and Samantha.
There were pictures of them standing before the Grand Canyon, of them posing atop a snowy mountain, and of them celebrating their birthdays together.
I wasn't in most of them, but that didn't matter to me. I couldn't remember why I wasn't in the pictures myself anyways. Maybe I used to be picture shy.
I smiled at the sight of them, and felt right at home even in my own dream. My feet made no sound as I paced around the living room, eyes completely drawn to the homeliness of the place.
Although, there was this thought in the back of my mind that seemed to flutter about. A desire to look out the window. It died down not a moment later after I passed by the thought, and I continued to delve deeper into our spacious home.
I followed the hallway and glanced through into the kitchen to check on the details, then I knocked twice on the hidden wall disguised as a dead end to open the door. This was how we hid the underground training room from any visitors, and my god does it work.
I didn't remember ever questioning mom how it was possible that she had the secret door installed. Nor how she even created that vast training room with all the advanced tech and obstacles. I
It was something that I hopefully will remember asking about once I wake up. The stairwell leading downstairs was unnaturally smooth as well. It must have taken a lot of work to get this area so beautifully constructed, and even more work to maintain and polish everything.
I don't remember myself doing that as well.
The white lights were already on when I stepped into the training room, and for a second, the patches of chainmail weighed down on my body, which forced me to heft myself up. To my left, the cavern that we uncovered just yesterday was opened up, though the edges of the crude hole had been carved out classily.
I blinked once, wondering why the cavern containing the computer had been removed from my dream, leaving only the tunnel stretching out into infinite darkness.
Perhaps it was out of curiosity, but I stayed and stood there like an idiot, staring into the tunnel aimlessly.
It was enthralling to see something like that in my own house, and I'd been living here the entirety of my fifteen year-old life.
When was it built?
Removing the rock and dirt like that would make considerable noise, and I certainly couldn't remember any construction going on underneath our house. It had to be before Samantha and I were born, when dad was still alive.
"There is an awful lot of 'not remembering' here. Did you notice that?"
I clamped my ears shut, having not expected a voice to thunder in my eardrums so suddenly. I took a few steps back and hunched down as my eyes contorted on their own to relieve the pain of hearing that voice.
Then, acting as if on cue, the metal floor which made up the training room peeled away from gravity, and I gritted my teeth as the throb in my forehead quickened. I didn't have enough hands to cover my ears and to press on my head, and I became a jumbled mess of flesh trying to soothe myself while I was plunged into a world of floating metal and rotation.
It was something out of a high-budgeted movie. If it weren't for the dizziness that accompanied the extraordinary sight, I might have marvelled at the chaotic beauty of this dream.
"Find your solace in blindness. Close your eyes," the voice said again, and this time, I gasped and fell over from the sheer pressure I felt whenever I registered its words.
My hands shook as they desperately tried to block off all sound, but it was no use. Like a rubber ball, the words echoed and bounced back and forth inside my ears, and they haunted me to no end.
I listened, and squeezed my eyes shut as water dripped out from under my eyelids.
This is, by far, the worst dream I'd ever had.
"A dream," the voice said. "Is this what it seems like to you? A dream?"
"Yeah, no shit," I said back through trembling lips. "Although, I should be waking up any time now. You know how you always wake up at the instant you experience excruciating pain? This is it."
"Hm. Still extraordinarily aware of yourself. But, Rivin, I need you to focus right now. This is not a normal dream by any means."
I froze, and so did the world around me even though my eyes were closed. Only the pain in my head continued.
"You need to realize this right now. If you cannot, then this will be the most terrifying of nightmares for you."
"Your teeth is shattering. Your hair is burning up. Your joints are twisting themselves into oblivion, and you do not realize it. Say it."
"Say what?" I said when I finally felt it. Heat emanated from all around me, even from underneath the metal floor I seemed to be lying on.
I tried to move, but couldn't.
It was like something was forced into me, though I could not even begin to guess what it was. My mind frayed at every end, and the pain only intensified. My carefully controlled breathing became chokes, and soon became gasps for the fleeting air in my own dream.
"This is not a normal dream. Say it!" The voiced urged me once again, and I made the mistake of almost opening my eyes. A ray of light sealed it shut, and I writhed on the floor, my sense completely out of control. "You need to say it!"
"Say it, 'n find your solace!"
This was it. The end of the dream. I sensed it creeping closer to me, and it caressed my face as I struggled to get the words out. What was I supposed to say?
"This isn't normal," I muttered, and the voice egged me on.
"What is not normal?"
"This. What's this... pain here?"
"That is because something is not normal."
"This dream. It isn't normal."
And then, the voice rejoiced. The end of the dream sucked back into the abyss from where it came from. My hair ceased to singe from the flames, my eardrums stopped ringing. Slowly but surely, my sense of touch returned to me.
The floor beneath me was no longer cold nor metal.
A heavenly choir filled my mind, but it went away just as quickly as I had noticed it.
Am I still in my own house? Am I still alive?
As the voice spoke, I continued to keep my eyes closed, terrified of what I may see if I dared to peek again.