Monday, 10AM. He left his parent's bedroom with a pack of smokes and a cheap lighter. In the living room, he grabbed his backpack. From there, he raided his dad's beer from the fridge, a bag of chips from the pantry, and leftover pizza he'd warmed up in the microwave. He checked the house one last time. His mother didn't forget to take his driver's license and keys with her to work today. On the caller ID, he saw the school was calling the house. He unplugged the phone and went out to his usual spot by the bridge. Where he would normally spend the day, there was a stranger sitting. A young man with white hair and grey eyes dressed in all white sat on the hill. The man was barefoot, but his feet looked clean. "Hey, pretty boy, that's my spot." He said to the young man. "Pretty? Well, thank you." The young man stood up. He dusted himself off and stepped aside. "You can have your spot back. I was only taking a second to rest." "I wasn't complimenting you. I meant..." "I know what you meant, but it still implies you think I'm attractive. Maybe you should think up better insults." The young man grinned. He raised an eyebrow at the stranger. "Are you hitting on me? I wouldn't recommend that." "I'm not, but I am curious. Why not?" The young man asked. "It's not a good idea to bother being around me." He sat down and opened his bag. He lit up a cigarette. "Oh, is that so? I think bad ideas can be fun sometimes." The stranger sat back down. "So, what are you doing here and not in school, Darren?" Darren looked over at the stranger. He pulled his bag close. "How do you know my name?" The stranger handed Darren his school ID. "This fell out of your bag a second ago." "Oh." Darren threw it in his bag. He thought he had left that in his wallet. "And who the hell are you?" "Darrin." "You're joking." "It's with an I." Darrin pulled a state ID out of his back pocket and handed it to Darren. Darren looked it over. "Huh. You're two years older than me. You just move here? That address isn't anywhere near here." "Something like that." "I guess you're out of school, huh?" Darren fell back against the grass on the hill. "No job?" "I have one. But I thought I'd come down and take a break. Most things can run by themselves without me." Darrin said. "Uh...won't someone notice you're gone?" "Haha, no one notices I'm there most of the time. It's fine." Darrin laughed. "I don't go into an office or anything like that. I can do all my work from anywhere." "Are you a programmer or something?" "Eh, yeah, basically." Darrin stretched. "Aren't you kind of young for that?" "Oh, I've been doing this longer than you think." Darrin said without explaining. "But going back to what I asked you before. Why aren't you at school?" "Didn't want to go." Darren said. He opened his backpack and pulled out the plastic bag of pizza slices and an ash tray. "Doesn't matter. They always let me catch up anyway. Less time there the better." "You just sit here all day?" "Sometimes. My parents grounded me last week. I'm not allowed to drive my car for the month. I missed the school bus this morning. School's over a forty minute walk from here. My dad sold my bike two months ago as a punishment. So, here I am. Nothing really worth walking to anyway." Darren said. He ate the pizza as he flipped through a history textbook. "All dressed up to go nowhere." Darrin teased him. "Dressed up?" Darren looked up from his book. "I always look like this." Darrin looked over Darren. His hair, hanging just above his shoulders, was a bold, bottle red. The eyebrows were covered with the same dye. He could tell the thick temp dye had forced wavy hair into straight strands. A red contact lens covered the left eye. A black leather eyepatch with a silver skull and crossbones covered the right eye. Black shirt, black pants, black shoes, all with red accents. Half chipped black nails kept short kept the dark theme. A chain hung from the loose black pants, holding the teenage boy's black leather wallet. Black fingerless gloves covered his hands. Between the long sleeves, the pants, and the gloves, Darren looked out of place in early September with a temperature of eighty degrees Fahrenheit that day. "Eyepatch and all?" Darren put his hand on the eyepatch. "I'm blind on this side." "Oh? Getting your license must've been quite the challenge then. Taking your car away seems especially cruel." Darrin said. "It wasn't that hard." Darren lied. "But they are being dicks. I didn't do anything wrong." "What happened?" "You ask a lot of questions for a guy who just met me." Darren finished off his pizza and picked up his cigarette. He pointed to his eyepatch again. "I kicked a guy's ass at school who threw an apple at me. On this side. It's always on the right." "Going for your literal blind spot. Pretty low." Darrin sat back up. "Then, it's even more cruel to take away your ability to leave here." "I got suspended for three days on top of that. Zero tolerance policy. Because in a fair and just world, both victim and perpetrator apparently deserve the same punishment." Darren closed his textbook. "Fairness. I don't know why I bother ever going back. I could quit and get a GED. And then I can go get a shit job somewhere and work until I die. What's the point of living?" "Who knows." Darrin said. A beeping sound went off. Darrin looked down at a digital watch Darren didn't remember seeing before. "Maybe there is no reason. But we're still here, aren't we? Funny, isn't it? I've got to get back to work. Nice talking to you, Darren. I'll see you around." Darrin waved and walked away. Darren waved back. When the white haired young man was gone, Darren mumbled to himself. "What a weird guy." He looked back at his textbook. Sighing, he opened it back up and got to work on the assignments he was missing. The day passed by quickly. Around the time the high school bus was coming by, he walked back home. His mom arrived an hour later. She called him down from his room, then slapped him across the face. "I got a call earlier. You skipped school again. Why?!" She yelled. Darren thought about slapping her back. He knew she'd call the police on him if he did. She'd done it before. "I missed the bus. That's all. I worked on my missing assignments. I'll go tomorrow." "You better. If you keep this up, we're sending you to one of those camps over the summer for bad children. When you turn eighteen, you better have somewhere to go. Our legal duties toward you end that morning." She said. Her eyes were full of hate. "Your father and I talked last night about your behavior. You can keep using the car until you turn eighteen. If you want us to transfer it into your name, you'll need to buy it from us. Five thousand dollars. Have that ready by then, or you'll need to find another car." "You already bought it. What are you gonna do with it if I don't want it?" Darren asked her. "Your father has a friend at work who's son will be turning sixteen in two years. He offered your father four thousand for it." Darren sighed. "And I have to pay a thousand more than him because why?" "You were going to get it for free. But you've squandered that. We paid three thousand. If he sells it, we make a thousand. You need to offer us more to pass over that." She dumped her purse on the sofa and walked to the kitchen. "If you're gonna make me buy it off you, can I have it back already then so I can get a job?" Darren said. "I only missed school today because I couldn't drive there." "You missed the bus. That's your own fault. Your punishment isn't over. You're not getting your car back until then." She said from the kitchen. He took his house key and opened the front door. His mother reappeared in the hallway. "Where are you going?" She asked. "Walking to the store. I need more paper for school." He said. "Don't stay out late. You will be at school tomorrow." She went back to the kitchen. "Your father's already in a bad mood. Don't make it worse." Darren knew what that meant. He planned on staying out for as long as he could get away with. Darren walked down to the bridge. He paused at the side and looked down at the water below. The lake hid what rested at the bottom of it. When he was young and the other kids used to play with him, he heard a lot of stories about the lake being haunted or hiding a monster. The stories went that every now and then the lake swallowed up people whole. Their bodies were never found no matter how long they searched. They simply vanished without a trace. Some said a Loch Ness Monster-like creature lived down below and claimed to have seen it, despite the lake being man-made. Some said it was the ghosts of the poor townspeople who were drowned to make the artificial lake fifty years ago, though when he looked into that no one actually died during the creation of the lake. Others said it was the devil. Many said the lake itself was alive and always hungry, needing to eat someone to sustain itself. When he was a kid, he avoided getting too close to the edge of the lake out of fear of it. He tossed a big rock into the water. When he was in middle school, he learned that most of the lake was between six and twenty feet deep. Only the middle of the lake was deeper than that. "Thinking about going for a swim?" A voice asked him from behind. Darren turned around. It was the white haired man from earlier who had the same name as him. As before, Darrin wasn't wearing any shoes. "You again." "I could say the same thing. Heading into town?" "Maybe." "Me too. I was headed to the grocery store. It's this way, right?" Darrin asked. Darren nodded. He noticed the young man had an umbrella in his hand. "Is it supposed to rain today?" Darrin opened the umbrella and rose it in the air. The rain started shortly after. "Yes." "Shit." Darren covered his head. The white haired man stepped closer to Darren to shield him with the umbrella. "We're going to the same place. Let's walk together." "Thanks." "We'll need to walk together on the way back too, but it won't be heavy rain. This drizzle is how it'll stay." Darrin said. "Do you work for the Weather Channel now too?" Darren jokingly said. "Haha, maybe I do." He laughed. "Maybe they work for me." Darren glanced down. He remembered his new neighbor wasn't wearing any shoes. "Uh, I don't think they'll let you buy anything without shoes on." "It'll be fine. Don't worry about it." "If you say so." Darren was starting to wonder if his new neighbor actually had a job at all, or if he spent his time in and out of mental hospitals. His thoughts on the stranger with the same name as him were derailed when he looked ahead. His father's car was coming down the road. Darren hoped he wouldn't notice him. The car slowed down as it approached them. His father rolled down the window. "What are you doing out here?" He asked Darren in anger. "I need to get some school stuff from the store. Mom knows I'm out." Darren said. His father looked over at the white haired young man. "And who's this with you?" Darrin smiled. "I just moved here. We were heading the same way anyway. Darren's showing me the way to the grocery store." "Uh huh." Darren's father narrowed his eyes at him. "You better be heading right back home, if you know what's good for you. Did your mom tell you about the car?" Darren sighed. "Yeah." Darren's father looked back at Darrin. "Where do you live exactly?" "I live on the same road as you." He answered, unbothered by the man's attitude. "How old are you?" Darren's father asked. "I'm eighteen." "Can we go now?" Darren got between them. His father started to roll up the window. "I'll see you at the house later." "Okay." Darren said. He watched the car drive off. He walked on with Darrin to the store. "Sorry about that. He's always like that." "You don't need to apologize. You didn't do anything wrong." Darrin said. He looked ahead. "He's going to hurt you when you get home." Darren pretended to be looking at a gas station they were walking past. "You can tell?" "His violent intentions are obvious." Darrin spun the umbrella around in his hand. "There's a bus stop about half an hour walk from here." "I can't run. If they catch me, the cops will drop me back off at their doorstep and he'll beat me half to death." Darren lowered his voice. "I already tried that last year. Besides, they've called the cops on me before when I've fought back. They used all my school fights to back up why they were justified. The cops believed them over me. The more I run, the more I fight, the closer he gets to killing me." "Can you last another two years?" Darrin asked. "Have you thought about trying to become emancipated?" "With my record, there's no way a court would allow it." Darren shook his head. "I have to make it two years, somehow. For something. I don't know what for. I remember when I used to go to church, the pastor always told me to be patient and that god was testing my spirit or something. I stopped going after my parents called the police on me the first time. Any god that wants to test people by hurting them is a sick fuck." "That is quite cruel. But I don't think you're being tested by god. I don't think anyone is tested by the universe's creator." "You believe in god?" "Believe? Hmm." Darrin stopped in front of the grocery store. "This is it, huh?" "Yeah." Darrin closed the umbrella and walked into the store with Darren. "What was I saying? Oh, right. Tests. I don't think you're being tested. You were all given free will. Your parents are using that free will to be awful people. And you are using your free will to weigh your options on how to react to that. There's no test. You're simply being wronged." "Free will, huh? Well, maybe that wasn't the greatest of ideas either if most people are assholes." Darren grabbed a basket. "Well, I suppose that's a matter of opinion." Darrin countered. "If you didn't have free will, you wouldn't be you right now either." "I guess." Darren shrugged. He put a lot into his appearance, but he wasn't sure how much he really cared about any of that. Though he denied it earlier, he knew he was putting on a show. He wanted people to notice him being loud, like a tiger in a cage. He wanted to seem like he had fangs. He wanted people to notice the bars. It didn't matter. The more noticeable he was, the less people cared about his well-being. He took some solace in their hatred in spite of that. At least he was noticed when he was loud. When he dressed plainly, he was only noticed every now and then to bully. Otherwise, he was invisible. If the world were just, he wouldn't need to wear a costume to be seen. No one would be attacking him. As he shopped in the store, his new neighbor kept getting him to answer questions he wouldn't normally. When he left the store and parted ways with Darrin halfway to his house, it sunk in how much the stranger had gotten him to say with little effort. Running home in the rain, he wondered about the stranger's intentions. No one noticed his bare feet but him. The stranger wasn't clear on what his job really was either. They were only two years apart in age. If the man graduated from high school, it would've only been at the end of spring that year. He couldn't possibly have a particularly skilled or well paying job at his age, he thought. Though their area was lower middle class, there was no doubt in his mind someone fresh out of high school couldn't afford to buy a house nearby and none of the houses in his neighborhood were rentals. 'Does he live with family?' Darren wondered. 'His address wasn't listed here. Is he homeless?' Darren felt calm while he was talking to the young man. Now, he felt unnerved. He didn't have time to linger on those unsettling feelings for long. When he walked through the door, his father had plans for him that evening. Darren's mother let it slip he missed school again. He didn't go to school the next day, this time with parent permission. As his father put it, if he wanted to skip school, he'd give him a good reason why he couldn't go. Darren called the school in the morning to inform them he was sick and ask what his assignments were for his classes. After a little phone tag, he was able to get the information for all but one of his classes. He asked the ladies in the office to pass along he had the flu. He was told to bring a doctor's note when he got back, or his absences would be unexcused. Darren knew his mother would forge a note to send with him when the bruises on his face weren't so bad looking anymore. Around 10AM, Darren went out to the hill by the bridge to work on his classwork. There wasn't much risk of anyone from school seeing him at this time. Sometimes, he wanted them to see him when he looked like this, to have someone acknowledge it. But he knew what would happen. They'd laugh. Darrin joined him on the hill around ten minutes later. "We meet again." Darren told himself to be more guarded around the stranger today. "Your job sure lets you not work a lot." Darrin sat down beside him. He had a laptop with him today. "I am working. I'm fixing something. There's no reason I need to be inside a house to do this." "Huh, you weren't lying." Darren glanced over the screen. He didn't understand what he was looking at, but it did look like Darrin was working. "What's that for?" "Weather monitoring." Darrin said. "Then you weren't joking yesterday either." "Well, I was a little. I don't work for the Weather Channel. But your local meteorologists do depend on information I'm getting to them." Darrin typed away. "Huh. Never thought about the technical side of that." Darren opened up his math book. He started working on the lesson for today. "Your dad did that, didn't he?" Darrin didn't look up from his computer screen. Darren turned his head away. "So what?" "Is that why you didn't go to school today?" Darrin asked. "You sure ask a lot of questions about someone you just met." Darren said. "I can't go back like this. The school will report it." "Couldn't you walk to school and let them report it anyway?" "If CPS investigates our house, the person who will suffer the most will be me, no matter what they do. If they take me from my parents, they'll send me to people just as bad or worse. If they don't take me, my dad might actually kill me that night." Darren took out his history textbook. "Who knows. My dad may be able to spin it that I attacked them and maybe they'll finally send me to juvie. Maybe when I turn eighteen, they'll move me over to the local prison." "What about a shelter?" "I already looked into that. Most shelters to protect people from abusive husbands and fathers only take in the wives and daughters. I'm male. I might be 'dangerous' to the women and girls, so I don't get shelter. The nearest homeless shelter around here only allows two weeks of temporary stay at the longest. That place is really dangerous too. I'd rather risk it under a bridge than go to that place." Darren sighed. He caught himself. He was revealing far too much about himself to that stranger. That needed to end immediately. "I don't want to talk about this anymore. Nothing's going to change my situation." "Nothing?" Darrin's hands moved quickly across his keyboard. "Hmm...There's a cashier position open at the grocery store. Perhaps you should use your free time today on that instead of your schoolwork? They'll let you make it up whenever, right?" Darren didn't like the idea, but he thought about the car. The car wasn't great, but it was his car, or at least, that's how he had thought of it before yesterday. He wanted to keep it. If he had a car, at the very least, he could drive away and sleep in it. They wanted five thousand dollars in two years. He could accomplish that, especially if he worked a lot of hours in the summer and on the weekends, or quit school altogether. The GED idea was looking like a better alternative than staying in school. If he worked full time and studied for the test, he was certain he could pass it. School work wasn't actually hard for him. It was the going to school part that was difficult. "You know, maybe I will." "Maybe there isn't nothing after all." Darrin smiled. "Do you mind if I walk with you? I wanted to get some snacks." "If you want." Darren packed up his bag and stood up. "Wait. I need a resume. I have to go back to the house. I know I have one. I had to write one up for school once. Where did I put it..." "Are you sure it's not in your bag?" Darrin suggested. "What? I did that assignment a while back. There's no way it'd be in there." "It's worth a look before heading back, don't you think?" Darren thought it over. He unzipped his bag. "Yeah, I guess." He opened his binder. In the front pocket, he saw his resume. "Well, there it is. No need to walk back." Darrin grinned. "Huh. I don't remember that being there...Did I put it in there last night?" Darren took the paper out and zipped back up his binder. "Well, let's go then." Darrin put his laptop away into a messenger bag. "Alright. I'm ready." The two of them walked together to the grocery store. Darren filled out a paper application for the job and handed the assistant manager his resume with the application. By the time he was done with that, Darrin had just checked out with his bag of snacks. They walked back together. At the lake, Darrin paused. "The lake's very pretty. Doesn't seem like many people go out there though." Darren stopped. He looked out at the water. "People say it's haunted. People claim they murdered a lot of people to make this lake and some of the other ones nearby, but that's not actually true. There's a lot of local legends about hauntings and monsters. I think it's because there's no beach. I heard they were proposing adding some artificial beaches to it in the next few years. Bet the 'hauntings' won't matter then." "Haunted? The lake does seem quite sad. There's a pain underneath the surface." Darrin put his hand to his ear. "When the wind blows over it, it sounds like the lake and wind are singing a mournful song together. Can you hear it?" "What are you talking about?" Darren raised an eyebrow. 'This guy's job may be real, but he's definitely not all there.' "Listen." Darrin said. Darren rolled his eyes. He listened to the wind. The sound that came from the lake was eerie. There was a sharp, stinging pain to it; not quite a scream, a cry, or a howl, but some indistinguishable sound that evoked a heavy, thick grime filling up his insides. He felt like he was suffocating listening to it. Darren blinked. It never sounded like that to him before. "I can see why people think it might be haunted. It sounds haunted." "Who haunts it?" Darren didn't understand what Darrin said at first. He was a little disoriented from the sound. "Ah...the ghosts? Well, this is how it happened with all the lakes they made around here. They were going to add all these lakes as part of some project decades ago. The story goes that they flooded the place before all the people got out, but I looked into that. It's not that fast. The water doesn't just rush in like that. Those projects took years to complete. That's more of an urban legend. I do know they moved only the part of the cemetery with marked graves. There's a slave burial site under the water that was left there with some old cars and houses in the middle where it's actually deep. The mid-section is about seventy feet down. It's only about seven feet right here." "Seven? Looks like it could be deeper than that." Darrin said. "It's an illusion. I looked up a map of the water depth. This area is really shallow compared to the middle of it. The water's so dark it makes it hard to tell how deep it is from above." Darren explained. "Dark? It doesn't look that dark to me." Darrin pointed down at the water below the bridge. "I can see the rocks at the bottom. They look farther away than seven feet, don't you think? Looks like it drops down quite a lot." "What? You can't see..." Darren glanced down. His eyes widened. He could see the bottom. The water was crystal clear. The water was never that clear at any point along the shore. He could see rocks along the bottom beneath them that was very obviously much farther than seven feet below the surface. Darren looked out toward the middle of the lake. The water was so clear in that moment he could see nearly everything across the lake. He didn't think it was possible for him to see so clearly what was there so far out like that. At the center, the water did become dark again, far below the surface. Only there in the middle could he not see the bottom, and where he could see looked far deeper than anything any map he looked at recorded. Nothing looked like what it should have below the surface. This didn't appear to be the same lake at all. He knew there should be the remnants of some houses here and there from when the water came in, and some hint of where the cemetery once was. The bottom parts of the lake he could see where both deep and empty. "The middle looks like it could swallow you whole." Darrin said. "Will it?" "What?" Darren turned back to the young man. His heart was pounding. He hadn't told Darrin of that story yet. "How did you...?" "Did I what?" Darrin titled his head. "Uh, nothing." Darren turned back to the lake. The water was as dark as always. "What the..." "Oh, seems it doesn't want us to look into it anymore. Haha. We should be getting on our way anyway." Darrin walked forward. He stopped again. "Oh, this little cross fell." Darren hurried over to Darrin, already knowing what he would be referring to. He snatched up the old, wooden cross and planted it back in the ground. "Some idiot must've hit it again." "Did you know the person?" Darren looked out to the lake. "My sister. They didn't find her body. The lake swallowed her up." "How long ago?" "Some years back. She was six. I was eleven then." Darren dusted off the cross. "We both went through the windshield. I lived. She went into the water." "A car accident?" "My dad is one of those dipshits who think seatbelts are pointless. He would make fun of us if we tried to put ours on in the car. We weren't wearing any. All three of us ended up outside the car. My dad got less injuries than me though. Some scrapes and a broken arm. I was in the hospital for three months." Darren ran his hand over the wooden boards. "He was drunk that night. Really drunk. We didn't hit another car. We hit the bridge itself. The car got swallowed up too. The last thing I remember before I passed out was watching it roll over and into the water and the light...this streetlight above us was so bright...It looked so red that night." "He did that and treats you like this. What a cruel man." Darrin sat down beside the cross. "That hospital stay was expensive. I had a lot of expensive treatments after I left the hospital too. I cost a lot of money. He should've gone to prison, but Mom argued for him to not be put in prison. We'd suffer more by losing his income, or something, and the loss of my sister was already a big enough punishment. They gave him a lengthy community service sentence and suspended his license for two years." Darren put his hand over the eyepatch. "The more I struggled with getting on with life, the angrier he got at me. He wanted to forget it and I wasn't acting how he wanted. And the more he hit me, the more I stopped doing what he wanted. And here I am now...Didn't get anything out of that rebellion except more bruises. Guess I'm as much of a dumbfuck as he is." "You're not." Darrin said. "Everyone else thinks I am." Darrin stood back up. "Truth isn't determined by popular opinion. Are they your only family?" Darren shook his head. "I have two uncles on my dad's side. My mom's an only child though. But we don't talk to my dad's brothers anymore." "Why?" "My dad doesn't like them. My uncle, Harry, and my dad have never gotten along. I've only seen their part of the family at funerals. I know they have a son named Brian, but I don't know much of anything about him. He's younger than me. We used to see Uncle George and Aunt Tabitha a lot on the holidays, but I'm not allowed to talk to them anymore." "Something happen?" Darrin asked. "Yeah. So, my cousin, their son, Ian, came out as gay. My dad got into a big fight with my uncle about what he 'needed' to do about that. Uncle George didn't think it was a big deal. My dad was telling him he needed to beat it out of him or send him to a camp. My parents are really big on 'camps' for 'reforming' children. They threaten to send me to a camp for 'children with behavioral problems' at least once a month every month." Darren stood back up. He had never actually been sent to one of those camps, as they were very expensive, but the threat of them was always there. The first time his father threatened him with that, he was twelve and they had just left the hospital after one of his surgeries. "Anyway, Dad said Ian wasn't allowed to enter the house until he 'straightened up' and Uncle George said he wouldn't go anywhere his son wasn't allowed. My dad then blocked their number. I've called them on the payphone before, but they changed numbers at some point and I don't know how to contact them anymore. I don't know their address." "Would you want to talk to them, if you could?" "I dunno. Maybe. They weren't that bad. Ian's about my age. He's two years older than me...so he should be eighteen right now. I haven't seen him in three years now. He might be a completely different person now. He might be a piece of shit." Darren sighed. "Everything else around me turns to shit. Why wouldn't he be included too?" "You don't know that. I think you should try to get in contact with him." "I can't." Darren started walking toward the house. "It doesn't matter. I doubt he'd want to see me how I am now." "You're probably right. I doubt he'd want to see his family all bruised up like this." Darrin said. Darren stopped. He didn't know what to say. It hit him again the stranger had somehow gotten him to spill his guts about things he usually never told anyone. His face lit up red. "Why do you keep trying to get in my business? I barely know you." "I can't help it. It's in my nature to be nosy." "You're weird." Darren said. "Perhaps." Darrin laughed. "I am pretty formless at times." "What the fuck does that mean?" Darren asked. Darrin laughed again and waved. "I've got to get back to work. You'll get the job at the grocery store. I know it." Without thinking, Darren waved back. He wasn't sure why he did. Darren looked back at the lake and the cross one more time. The lake was as dark as ever. He turned back. Darrin was already gone. He went on home to work on his schoolwork more. On the days Darren went to school, he never saw Darrin. A week after putting in the application, Darren got the cashier job. He worked three afternoons during the weekdays and eight hour shifts on the weekends. Because he got a job, his mom allowed him to have his car back early. Two weeks after he started working, he told his parents he planned on quitting school and getting a GED. His dad beat him that night. He skipped school the next two days and called out of work for both his weekend shifts. That idea, he decided, had to be abandoned. He saw Darrin on the two days he stayed home from school and the weekend at the usual spot by the bridge. On the Sunday they met up, Darrin asked him something. "Your dad...Can you tell when he might go after you?" "Yeah, he's usually already yelling at my mom the minute he comes in the door. Or on the phone when he calls to tell her he's on his way home." Darren said. "He drinks a lot on those nights. The more he drinks, the angrier he gets." "You have your keys back, don't you?" "For now." "Get in the car when he's like that. Drive away for the night, if you have to." Darrin said. Darren thought about it. He might get punished at some point. If he went to school and work those days, they probably wouldn't be as angry about it. Technically, he had money saved up that he could rent a night at a cheap motel every now and then if he wanted to. "Huh. Maybe I should...My window's on the first floor. I could probably sneak out if I was already in the house." "He might punish you when you got back, he might not. He definitely will if you're in the house." Darrin added. "You should be out of the house as much as possible. If you can handle it, pick up more shifts at work. You're safer where he isn't." "Yeah..." Darren looked down at the marks on his wrist from where his father dug his fingers into his skin. He pulled his sleeves down more. Thunder echoed around them. He looked up at the dark sky. "It's about to rain. I gotta go." Darrin opened up an umbrella. "Let me walk you back. It should start in a minute." He nodded. Darrin walked him back to his house. They parted ways. Darren saw his father's truck in the driveway. He could hear his parents yelling at each other from outside. Darren walked around to the backyard. He opened his window. He'd left it partly cracked open earlier when he was smoking in his room. Darren packed his backpack with a change of clothes and a blanket. He checked how much money was in his wallet. There wasn't much. He'd need to go to an ATM to get more cash. Quietly, Darren went back out the window and mostly closed it. As silently as he could, he got in his car. He took a deep breath. There would be no hiding the sound of the car's engine. He made sure to lock the doors first before he started the car. He drove to the gas station to use their ATM, then went to a fast food restaurant at the edge of the city. His parents never went out to this area. Darren ate in the car and worked on his schoolwork more for a bit, but he was cold from the rain soaking his clothes. He needed to change clothes. Darren didn't know where the motels in the area were. He realized he should've snatched the phone book on his way out. The parking lot was relatively secluded in some parts. Both the restaurant and the grocery store nearby were open twenty-four hours. He decided to take his chances and stay the night there. Darren went into the grocery store to change his clothes and bought a few more items: an umbrella, a pillow, toothpaste, a toothbrush, and snacks to eat through the night. Tomorrow, he needed to get to school on time. Darren set an alarm on his watch. He put the pillow in the back and made a makeshift bed out of the seats with that and his blanket. It was more comfortable than he expected it would be. Darren kept the radio on while he worked. Around ten, he shut it off and turned in. The streetlights and headlights kept his car from getting too dark. The rain had gotten heavier since he left. It drowned out most of the traffic noise around him. He wondered what his parents were thinking right now. His father was certainly angry. But he would go to work in the morning like usual, as would his mother. If he went to school, there would be no phone call to his mom. He had work tonight too. He wouldn't have to see them until ten tomorrow. They'd probably be getting ready for bed around then. Darren could make up an excuse for why he was out before then. The rain on his roof sounded so much more pleasant than the words his father would be yelling at him right now. He shouldn't have to do this. This wasn't fair. His mind wouldn't let him stay calm. The safety of his car slowly crept away from him with each new thought. They could take the car away from him at any time. They may change the price. They may sell it anyway. He couldn't run from his dad every day. They could make sure he got fired somehow. He may end up in juvie anyway because of his classmates and teachers. He couldn't run too far, he couldn't run for too long. The bars of his cage were closing in. He wondered if he should let the invisible metal suffocate him. With those thoughts, Darren drifted off to sleep. In his dreams, he was at the bridge. He was standing on top of the railing, looking down at the clear lake. The center of the lake looked even clearer than that one day, but the absolute center was still too dark to see into under the surface. The lake appeared to have deepened once again. As he looked into it, the lake itself moved beneath him, the center darkness steadily heading towards the bridge. Soon, it was directly under his feet. From the middle of the darkness, pieces of white floated up. He recognized what they were when they reached the surface. Bones. The center filled with them, all floating up. In the middle of them all, he saw a skeleton in a dress he couldn't forget. The wind rushed over the lake and sung a more gruesome melody than the one he heard when he was awake. It rattled every part of him, as if something inside was snapping him to pieces like a tree splitting open in a tornado. The darkness shifted to a deep blue, swirling the bones around. The little skeleton in the dress stayed in the middle, turning in circles like the hands of a clock. Metal rose up from beneath the tiny skeleton. A rusted car frame, crumpled and glassless, turned in circles beneath the skeleton counterclockwise. The water rose with each rotation of the two until it was below the top of the railing. If he reached down, he might be able to grab the skeleton out of the water. If he reached down, he might fall in the deepest blue darkness. He knew if he reached down, he would go under. It didn't matter. He leaned down to grab at the edge of the dress. A hand reached out to his and stopped him. 'What are you doing? You'll be swallowed up.' 'I'll be swallowed up no matter what. I'm not going to make it to eighteen. I'm not. Let me go now.' Darren already knew who had stopped him, but he couldn't see the rest of the person's body. 'There's nothing you can do?' 'Every time I try, it doesn't matter. It never matters. It's never mattered.' Darren cried out, his voice harmonizing with the wailing of the wind and the lake. 'If you're here, why won't you save me?!' Darren was pulled off the railing. He fell gently onto the bridge, which was no longer submerged under water despite everything else being. A young man in white with white hair and grey eyes looked down at him. 'I've been telling you to run. You're running out of time.' 'Run? If you know, you fix this! Why do I have to suffer?!' His voice became stranger the more he talked. He understood his own words, but they didn't sound like human speech. 'You have free will. You can escape, if you choose the right road.' The water that was on the road beyond the bridge vanished, a wall of water on both sides unable to fall into it. 'Will you run?' 'I can't.' Darren got on his knees and grabbed at the bottom of the young man's shirt. He begged. 'Please, save me. Please.' Behind him, the water started to overflow back into the bridge and the road. The young man looked down at him with pity, but said nothing. The water rushed in and submerged them both. Breathing heavily, Darren woke up in a cold sweat five minutes before his alarm went off. He caught his breath. "What the hell was that? Why am I dreaming about him?" Darren tried to forget the dream. He went into the store to brush his teeth before heading to school. He didn't see his parents until late that night. When his mother asked him where he was the previous night, he said he went to see a movie at the mall, but the only showing left was late at night. He told her he was tired and drove to a motel nearby. Darren didn't know if there were any motels near the mall, but he doubted she knew either. She believed him, but still yelled at him anyway. His father was already asleep. On his off days, he stayed at motels and sometimes hotels. It ate into his car saving budget, but he picked up extra shifts to compensate. Staying at hotels was a nice break from his ordinary life. After two months of this, his father confronted him one night when he came home. He was in one of his moods again, but he and Darren's mother had already stopped arguing with each other when Darren got home. His father demanded to know where he was "really" going on all those nights. He told them where he went, but his father didn't believe him. From then on, he was barred from his car again. The grocery store was in walking distance, his father told him, so he didn't "need" his car. The car was a luxury. His parents demanded he only work on the weekend too, to concentrate more on school. His workweek was shortened to Friday afternoon, Saturday, and Sunday. The beatings started up again after that. Staying home from school and calling out of work picked up too. He was fired from his job for frequent absences. Darren sat by the bridge the morning he was fired, a bag of ice on his black eye. Darren couldn't keep it on for long. He couldn't see while he held it there. He put the ice bag down. Darren's bangs stuck to his wet face. His hair dye was mostly faded right now. Darren didn't shower the previous night, and didn't buy any new dye recently. Once he washed again, he'd be back to his natural color. He could see the black coming through the red, twisting against the rigidness the dye often left it in. He took his eyepatch off and opened his right eye. He couldn't see out of it, but the sensation was different from having the patch on it. He could feel more of the wind hitting him. Darren looked down at the metal skull on his eyepatch. He stood up and threw the eyepatch into the lake as hard as he could. "Come eat me." He waited for something to happen, but nothing did. For once, Darren went home early in the day instead of staying at the bridge. He started working on his assignments, but he wasn't sure why. The room felt hazy. His mind kept thinking about the lake, about going back to the lake that night, and hoping it was as deep and vast as it was in that dream he had once. A tap on the window. Darren looked over. It was Darrin. He was surprised, and a little freaked out. Darren didn't want to let that show. He opened the window. "Haha, what, are you stalking me? How'd you find my house?" "I walked you home before, remember?" Darrin laughed. "Thought I'd see if you were busy." "Not really. I'm supposed to be catching up on schoolwork I missed. My teachers keep telling me they're giving me another 'second chance' to catch up." Darren laughed. "This is my hundredth second chance this year. It's school policy that we can't 'fail'. If I wait another month, they'll still let me turn in this bullshit work anyway. The fuck does anything matter if there's no consequences?" "That's a pretty lax standard. Are you gonna finish your work?" Darrin asked. "Dunno. Maybe. Are you coming in?" Darren asked. "Through the window?" "You're the one that went to the window. You could've come to the door." Darren offered his hand. Darrin took it and climbed through the window. "Your room's pretty nice." "Nice? It's practically a closet." Darren returned to his bed and looked over a worksheet. "Or a coffin." "Could be." Darrin leaned against the wall. "I don't like big, empty spaces myself. I like small spaces like this. They're easier to fill up. It takes so long to fill up big spaces, and until you do, it's just you and the emptiness." Darren looked up at the white haired young man. "Not much for minimalism, huh?" "Not at all." Darrin put his hands behind his back. "What about you?" "Hmmm? I dunno. Never really thought about it. Suppose I wouldn't want a place too empty, but this is too full...or too small. I think it's too small." Darren sat down on his bed. "It does seem a bit small for you." Darrin commented. "There's not much room for more than a few people to come in." "Well, that doesn't matter. I never have anyone in here." "No one?" "Nah, everyone thinks I'm a fucking weirdo. No one wants to hang out with me. They say stuff like I'm gonna kill them all one day. Some bullshit. I've kicked a few asses, but damn, I don't give a fuck about any of them. I fought cause they threw punches first. But I don't fall in line like they do in their group think. Apparently, that means I'm evil and secretly plotting something. If I died tomorrow, they'd probably crack jokes about it, but hey, I'm psycho cause I'm missing an eye and I got my clothes from a different store in the same damn mall. Whatever." Darren opened a pack of cigarettes he stole from his mother. He lit up one. "That bad, huh? I guess you're probably single too." Darrin leaned against a wall. That comment struck a nerve. Darren flinched. He rolled his eyes and crossed his arms. "I don't bother anymore. It'd always come out anyone I went out with were going out with me as a joke. They were messing with me. And everyone knew but me. People would do that to me all the time, pretend to want to be my friend or boyfriend then laugh at me that I 'believed' they'd actually want to hang around me. Fuck 'em. I don't need anybody." "Your eye, do they really focus that much on it?" Darrin asked. "You don't seem ashamed. That's a pretty fancy eyepatch you usually wear." "I'm not ashamed." "What about your scars? I've never seen you wear short sleeves." Darren's heart sped up. "How did you know I have scars?" "How could you not from an accident like that?" Darrin answered. "I had enough of them pointing them out. And getting asked what happened. Who did this? Over and over. No one really cared what happened. They just wanted to know, or laugh about it." "You'd think the eyepatch with the scars would already suggest some kind of accident." Darrin said. "That's another thing. Start of every school year, some teacher demands I prove I have something wrong with my eye. Last year, after I showed a teacher that my right eye was fake, he wanted me to prove it. Like, what do you want me to rip my eye out in class? I got sent to the principal's office for lying and insubordination. My mom had to come up and tell them, again, I'm not faking being blind on one side." Darren put his hand over his right eye. "Quite incompetent. To a degree that seems intentional." Darrin said. Darren laughed. "Incompetence at a public school is always intentional." "If the eyepatch causes so many problems, how come you don't ditch that? You don't wear it at home, clearly." Darrin motioned to Darren's face. Darren did usually wear it at home, but he didn't want to talk about what he did earlier. "When I got this eye, the other kids noticed right away it was slightly off looking. Then they spent their time coming up with creative nicknames for me. I get less comments about the eyepatch. The harassment mostly comes from the teachers at the start of the year instead of daily like it was when I didn't wear it." "Could pick something less flashy though. You're pretty flashy looking. That's some pretty bold red." Darrin pointed to Darren's hair. "Red's my favorite color." Darren blushed slightly. "There's no point in not being flashy. They're gonna be dicks to me anyway. I might as well do whatever I want. There's no reward if I make myself 'boring' to them." "That is true. Red does suit you, but it's not like black hair would look bad either." "How did you know my hair was naturally black?" Darren asked. "I can see some of your roots." Darrin pointed out. "The dye you put on your eyebrows has already come out." "Shit. Is it that noticeable already?" Darren touched the ends of his bangs. "I forgot to buy more dye at the store." "You should wait till tomorrow to do that." Darrin said. "Why?" "People are going to be driving reckless today." "How do you know that?" Darren asked. Darrin looked out through the window. "People on this planet are usually more reckless the day of the full moon. Oh, how the tides move you when the water hasn't even touched your feet." "Right..." Darren rolled his eyes. 'He's saying weird nonsense again.' "You may not believe in me, but you should stay home today." Darrin said. "Uh huh." Darren got an ash tray out to put his cigarette down in. "What did you come by here for anyway?" Darrin walked back over to the window. "That was it." "You came all this way over to tell me to stay home today? Why?" Darren looked at the young man strangely. "I already answered why." Darrin hopped through the window. "I'll see you later regardless." "What?" Darren got up from the bed and went to the window to ask Darrin something. "Hey, what are you..." No one was there. "Darrin?" He called out. No one answered him. Darren sat back down on the bed. "Whatever." He didn't believe Darrin that anything would happen, but he decided to stay indoors anyway. He didn't really need to go anywhere. Darrin finished up his missing assignments. The room felt unusually quiet. He wished Darrin had stayed a little longer. He thought about going to visit him, but he realized in all the time he'd been talking to the young man, he never actually saw which house it was that Darrin went to. The phone book in his room was a year old. Darrin's number wouldn't be listed unless he was staying with someone else. Now that he thought about it, he couldn't remember what Darrin's last name was either. He thought about going down to the bridge to see if he was there, but given what he said earlier, Darrin wouldn't be there. Thinking about the phone book, Darren got up and looked through it anyway. Not for the young man's phone number, but for another. He looked for his cousin Ian's name. Darren knew it wouldn't be there either. The last time he talked to Ian, he heard they were moving out of state somewhere, but hadn't decided on Florida or Alabama. Ian would be eighteen now, but that made guessing where he was even more difficult. He may still be living with his parents wherever they moved to, or he may be in a completely different state than them at college. Darren sighed. He fell back on the bed and turned on the TV. Later, around six, when his father got home, the man was in one of his angry moods again. He started yelling at Darren's mother the minute he walked in the door. Something in Darren's mind kept running on repeat. 'Lock the door.' He got up to do it. Halfway to the door, he could already hear his father's footsteps coming toward his room. He froze. If he didn't make it in time, he'd be face to face with his father instead of away from him. He looked over at the window. He could run off somewhere. His mind repeated the same thought. 'Lock the door.' Darren hesitated, then, hearing his father's voice, he ran for the window and jumped out. He didn't know where he was going. He just ran. His mind kept telling him, 'Go back. Go back home.' It didn't make any sense to him. Home was dangerous. Home was hell. There was no reason to go home. He kept running down the street, his feet taking him toward the bridge, the lake, and the cross. He heard someone speeding closer, but he couldn't tell what direction they were coming from. He didn't care. He kept running. The car's speed didn't slow as it turned the corner. When Darren heard the screech of the tires, it was too late for him to move out of the way. His brain couldn't fathom the force he was hit with. He didn't feel any pain. He felt nothing at all. Darren did hear the snapping down his body. As foreign as the sky below him and the road crushing him above, the sounds did not connect as belonging to him any more than the hum of the engine or the screaming coming from inside the car. It all happened so quickly, in such a brief handful of seconds, he had no time to think on what was happening before his mind showed him darkness and then nothing. The driver stopped shortly after and got out of the car. He stared down at the dead body, then looked around to see if anyone saw what happened. The street he saw was clear of people. The man rambled to himself under his breath before rushing back to the car and speeding away. The white haired young man watched as the driver left. Without blinking, he gazed on intently as the driver's reckless fleeing caused him to flip his car off the edge of the cliff when he attempted to turn on to the bridge. The man's screams were muffled by the glass and metal cage that became his coffin. Hungry beneath the bridge, the lake swallowed him whole. After the man in the car vanished beneath the water, the young man walked over to Darren. The boy's body was badly mangled. His watch rested beside his body in pieces, snapped off from his twisted wrist. The young man held Darren in his arms and put his hand to Darren's forehead. The body began to heal itself, returning to its previous shape. The artificial eye fell out of his right socket and a completely new eye formed in its place. This eye was green, mismatched to his brown left eye. Then, he snapped his fingers. The young man put his hand over Darren's heart. Darren blinked, letting out a deep breath. "I told you not to go outside today." The young man said. "Why didn't you lock the door?" "What?" Darrin looked down at his body. His vision was different. Darren closed his left eye. He could see out of the right one. "Did you...who are you?" "Who knows." The young man said. "You can leave now." "What do you mean?" Darren asked. The white haired man handed Darren a backpack. "You'll need this, of course. Your keys are in the front pocket." Darren stared down at the bag, which looked more worn out than he remembered it being. "I don't understand." "Today's date. What is it? Why don't you check your watch?" The white haired man suggested to him. "My watch doesn't have that feature." "Why don't you look anyway?" The stranger smiled. Darren looked at his watch. The one on his wrist was a much more expensive one. The date read 06-06-00. "But how...that can't be...that would make me..." "Eighteen, and a high school graduate. Your diploma is in the folder with the rest of your important documents." The stranger tapped the top of the bag. Darren zipped open the bag and saw a big envelope inside with clothes and other things of his. He looked up at the stranger again. "Your name isn't really Darrin, is it?" The stranger stared at him with blank eyes full of stars. His smile was nearly gone. "No." "Who are you really? What's your name?" "Meh. It doesn't matter." The stranger answered. "You should go. The car is yours now. The title is with the rest of the papers. This time, you should run." "Why did you...?" Darren tried to ask a question, but the words caught in his throat. "Why me?" "Who knows." The stranger shrugged and laughed. "Go. Run." Darren put the backpack on and ran toward the house. He looked back, but no one was there. He got the keys out of the front pocket of the backpack and started the car. Darren opened his wallet. His driver's license had a different photo on it than before. His hair was black. Darren looked into the rearview mirror at himself. His hair was black and wavy. He noticed the mismatched eyes. Then, he looked over the rest of his body. He was wearing a plain t-shirt and shorts. The scars were still visible, but more faded than before. As he looked down at them, he didn't really mind them at all. Darren looked to see what else was in his wallet. He found a thousand in cash and a folded note. On the inside of the note, it said "Ian White" with a phone number and an address in Orlando, Florida listed below the name. "Orlando, huh? How the hell do I get there?" Darren opened his glove compartment on a hunch. A map fell out onto the passenger seat with a path drawn out for him. He laughed. "Guess I better find a pay phone and tell him I'm coming."