Tuesday, May 7th 2002, a school day. Outside, the sky settled into a dark overcast and a steady wind. Despite the chance of rain, Idris left home without an umbrella. It didn't matter. He was used to being in water all the time. The high school wasn't far from home, so he walked. His parents left for work three hours ago. As usual, breakfast was left cold at the corner of the table along with his little brother's. His brother was left at home with a babysitter. She would show up in thirty minutes or so after Idris left. He gave his brother a talk about staying inside and being good for the babysitter before he left. Outside, the wind blew through him. He felt light in its grasp. The lightness reminded him that something was missing. He didn't bring anything with him when he left. Home was right behind him, but he didn't care. It didn't matter. He walked on down the road he always took. "Idris, are you going to school today?" A teenage girl, who was laying on a long, thick oak branch just above him, said. The girl was Sarah, his longtime friend and the only one he shared all his secrets with. Her appearance made her stand out more than him, with her white hair and deep blue eyes. When she wore white, people sometimes mistook her for a specter come to haunt them, for her skin was nearly as pale as her hair. The old oak suited her well. Lightning struck the trunk in winter and its limbs were now bare despite it being Spring. The tree had survived many strikes before, but this time, failed to survive. The two were a pair of ghosts in physical form reminding those who passed by of the inevitable. Death didn't frighten Idris anymore. He climbed up into the tree. "You wanted to go somewhere, didn't you?" "Only for a while. There's no point in me going to school anymore." Sarah plucked a long dead stem from the tree and let it slip from her fingers to the ground. "There's no point in me going either. Where did you want to go?" Idris watched the crows perched a few limbs above them. They spoke in a language he didn't understand, but he grasped the sentiment amongst the murder. A comfortable distance kept them apart and that distance was fading. Soon, they too would be no more than animals in the eyes of man. They belonged in the tree with the crows and the dead limbs. "Let's go to the field." Sarah jumped down from the tree branch. The bottom of her dress puffed up as she fell, reminding Idris of an umbrella. He followed down behind her. The crows watched on as they left, talking amongst themselves before they took the spots where Idris and Sarah once were. Idris caught up to Sarah and held her hand. They ran down the old dead end dirt road where only the local drunk and the recluse lived. The drunk sat out on his front porch with his bottle of rum and a bag of tobacco, rocking in his chair. He yelled something vulgar at them, but they ignored his ramblings. Between the recluse's house and the dilapidated frame of a house that burned in a fire a year ago, they met with the woods down an overgrown path. They found it a few months ago, not long after the old oak was struck, when Sarah and Idris started wandering the area. The long path led them out to an area spared from the recent local development, a wide field of long grass with a single lonely young oak at the center of it all. Idris didn't know who owned the land, but he never saw anyone out there. The only proof he had that anyone came through at all was the occasional beer can, bits of broken glass, and condom wrappers scattered by the trees where the woods met the field. Sarah skipped ahead of him and threw herself down into the grass. Idris laid down beside her and stared up at the dark clouds overhead. A strong breeze passed over the field. The grass and trees rustled a soft song. Most times, that song was accompanied by birds, but today it was frogs from the creek in the woods. When the sky was dark and covered and the air humid and full of calling, he felt safe. The rumbling clouds reminded him of a blanket. Today, it would rain. He was certain of it. Beside him, Sarah too was staring at the sky. She spoke in a soft voice. "Idris...will you hold me?" "Of course." Idris held her close. Her body was colder than his, but his wasn't as warm as most others either. To another, he thought, she must feel like death. "The wind feels nice today. It's so warm." Sarah kept her gaze off of his face. "It's going to rain soon." Idris said. He already knew what she was going to ask, and waited. Sarah rested her head against his chest. "Idris, I know last time we were here we did it, but could we do it again?" "If you want." He had no shame over exposing his body nor of seeing hers. They were used to having people poke and prod at them while they were undressed. At least when Sarah touched him it didn't hurt like that. He did his best to try and not hurt Sarah either, though early on she had to get used to it. He was terrified of hurting her then, but she only smiled at him and said it was nothing compared to the days they spent at the facility. They started sleeping together not long after Sarah got the announcement. He wasn't sure how he felt about her then, but he wanted to make her happy. Whatever she wanted to do, he would. Deep in the darkest part of his mind, he felt a twinge of envy. When it was his turn, there wouldn't be anyone on the outside to do the same for him. He didn't dislike it either. Physically, he enjoyed it. His heart wasn't in agreement with his body. A heavy weight pulled at him when he held her like that. Fear seeped into his mind. His thoughts were irrational, but it didn't stop him from feeling like any moment the girl in his arms would dissipate into dust and flow far away from him on the warm wind. Afterwards, they lay side by side in the field with their hands laced and their clothes haphazardly thrown back on. Sarah laughed. "You know they know we do this, right? My mother started yelling at me at the facility about it and Dr. Summerfield told her to be quiet. He said it was a good thing. If I get pregnant, that's another test subject they can use. She shut up real fast after that." "What will you do if you do get pregnant?" Idris asked. "I don't know. Hope the baby dies fast, I guess. They were already talking about how they'd cut it out of me and put it in a tank right away. I don't want them to have another person they can stab and cut open." Sarah touched her stomach. Her bare arms were decorated with deep scars, and Idris knew well there were matching patterns underneath where her hands rested. "They'll just find others." Idris lamented. There were others before them too. The line of people who didn't leave that place went back to the 50's, from what he heard the adults say. "Eventually, but not like us. We're different, somehow. They still can't figure out why." Sarah slipped her hand into his. "Tonight, will you meet me out here? I want to see the lights again. They still don't know about that, right?" "I don't think so. They haven't said anything to me about it. I thought they'd figure it out by now, but I guess they're not watching us as much as I thought." In the distance, the rain poured down. Idris and Sarah both sat up. Sarah smiled and said, "Come on. Before the rain gets you!" They raced to the center of the field where the lonely tree stood. The rain chased them, only feet behind them before they met with shelter. The two of them climbed up into the tree and watched the rain for a while in silence. Sarah broke the quietness first. "I don't want to go back." "Do you want to run away?" Idris asked. "They'll just catch us. They'll probably kill us." Sarah leaned against a thick branch of the tree. "No, they won't do that yet. They still need us for now. They'll only kill us when they can't use us anymore." He wanted to be disturbed by his own words, but Idris accepted his fate long ago. He could never live like a normal person and he would never live a normal lifespan. That was how it was. "I don't want to be put back in that tank." Sarah curled her knees up against her body. Idris moved closer to her. He wanted to comfort her, but there was nothing he could say to ease the pain. "I know." "Two months left. July 7th, my last day to go out. That's when my freedom ends." Tears welled in Sarah's eyes. Idris saw her cry many times since the announcement. "Do you think I'll forget what rain feels like? What it looks like?" "No, it'll always be there inside you. They can't take that away from you." Idris put his arm around her. "Are you sure? They've been working on memory alteration in the other department. They could make me forget rain." Sarah stared fiercely out at the field. Tears fell from her face in rhythm with the rain. "I want to burn this landscape into my mind forever, exactly how it looks right now. This field, the clouds, the rain, the wind." "Let's hope it rains a lot in July, so you can see plenty of it before then." "That would be a nice birthday present from the sky." Sarah wiped away her tears. "I'm sorry. I won't get to spend your next birthday with you." "It's okay. It's only my birthday. Nothing important about turning seventeen." Idris waved it off. "I'm going to miss all your other birthdays too." Sarah's eyes started to water again. "Shh. Sarah, don't think about that. Besides, I don't think I'll have that many more either." "You don't know that. You're the perfect one. They'll probably keep you around forever." Sarah raised her voice. She put her hand over her mouth and cried. "I'm sorry...I didn't mean to say that. I don't want you stuck inside the tank either." "Don't worry over it. You know, while we're here, let's play a game." Idris tried to change the subject. "What kind of game?" Sarah asked. "A game of pretend. Tell me all the things you would do if you could stay out here forever. And then I'll tell you what I'd do. They can't stop us from pretending." Idris wiped her face off. "Alright...um...if I could stay out here, I'd want to watch every rain that came through and climb all the trees I could. And I'd never wear shoes again!" Sarah said in a silly voice. Idris could still hear her sadness underneath it, but she nearly masked it completely. Idris laughed. "I'd never go to school again." "Me either." "I'd wander everywhere. I'd see every mountain and field and watch the sky from every place." "That sounds wonderful. What do you think the stars look like at the ocean? One of my teachers said you can see more stars at the beach than around here. I bet it's beautiful." Sarah leaned against him. Idris felt his heart pounding. Though they had done many intimate things together, it was only when they were like this that he felt overwhelmed. Her hair brushing against his skin made his face burn. Idris wondered if the circumstances behind their recent intimacy had been under normal circumstances if it would draw more of a reaction out of him. When he did that with her, his thoughts were focused on the unseen countdown hanging over them. Right then, that was still in his mind, but more than that, he was in the present. In moments like this, he swore he could feel an impossible warmth from everything around him. When the rain stopped, the two of them climbed down from the tree and headed back to their homes. It was almost time for his parents to be home. The babysitter for his little brother left as soon as he returned. Idris fed his little brother a snack and played a game with him until their parents came home. His parents didn't ask him about his day. They waited for him to finish cooking them dinner and discussed their progress at work. "We've started making progress with a few of our samples. I can't wait until July. Then we can really get the project moving. We should have done this a long time ago." Idris's father said. "You know how the Winters are. They want the prestige of having their daughter be a primar subject but still get to play house with her. When it's Idris's turn, he'll be going straight to the tank. Isn't that right, son?" His mother turned to him. "Yes, Mother." Idris picked up his plate. "If it's alright, I'd like to go on to bed. I've finished my dinner." "Very well. But remember, you will have to wash the dishes in the morning if you do. Take Eric with you. He's finished eating too." His father reminded him. Idris was expected to do all of the household chores. He had no idea what his parents would do once he was in the tank. He wagered they might start making his little brother, Eric, do the work instead. Idris let the thought go and took his little brother back to their bedroom. Eric was already tired. He tucked Eric in and turned out the lights. Eric fell asleep quickly. When Eric was sound asleep, Idris opened up the window and left. He wandered down the same road as before. The clouds from earlier moved on long ago and the sky was filled with stars. Just above him, a thumbnail moon hung faintly amongst the vast darkness and little lights. Underneath the dead oak tree, a white piece of translucent cloth hung down like a Halloween decoration. Idris looked up to see Sarah in a white nightgown and wearing a slightly see-through white robe. Tonight, she really did look like a ghost. Momentarily, he was frightened by her presence. She sat amongst the murder, who were sound asleep. Sarah jumped down from the tree at Idris. Afraid she would hurt herself, he caught her. "What are you doing dressed like that?" Idris put her down. "What does it matter what I wear anymore? Besides, no one's out right now. No one will see me." Sarah turned around quickly and ran a few feet ahead of him. "Come on. Let's go. They'll catch us if we're gone too long." "Wait up!" Idris followed along behind her. They ran through the street. The old drunk was still out and yelled some choice words at them for disturbing him. Through the woods, they went, and out into the field. They didn't stop until they reached the lonely tree. Sarah sat down against the base of the tree while Idris stood a few feet before her. He closed his eyes and concentrated on his feelings. It was easy to bury them. That's how he kept the lights a secret from the people at the facility where his parents worked. Opening up was harder. He focused on his memory of earlier, when he and Sarah were in the tree watching the rain. All around him, the world lit up. Blue lights danced all around them as Idris's body glowed. Some in the shape of birds and butterflies, others as cats and coyotes. They floated in the air, moving in a strange flowing way. Sarah tried to touch them, but her hands went through their bodies. "They're so beautiful. What do you think they are?" Sarah watched a rabbit light hop by her. "I think they might be spirits." Idris saw flowers floating amongst the animals in a softer light. "You mean they're ghosts? What did they give you to be able to show ghosts?" Sarah went to stand by Idris. "It was from that day they gave us that treatment from solution 645. You started growing plants, and I could show the lights." Idris was grateful his ability was emotionally based. Whenever he was in the facility, he felt nothing. That prevented them from discovering what he could do. Sarah wasn't like that. Her emotions betrayed her that day when she accidentally grew a white chrysanthemum from the palm of her hand out of pure fear of what they had put inside her. That was the day all the color drained from her. Before then, she had warm, rosy skin and strawberry blonde hair. As only she displayed a change in front of them, Sarah became the focus of more research and spent more time in the tank. "Yes, but why? We were given the same thing. Why did something different happen to both of us? And how could they create something that would let you see ghosts?" Sarah asked. Idris wondered that himself many times. He had no answers for it. "I don't know, but I'm almost certain that's what they are. I tried it once around the prison that closed down way back. I saw so many men made of light." "Do you think I'll become one of these lights when I die?" Sarah watched the floating creatures sway along as a warm wind went through the field. "I think so." "Then I won't really disappear." Sarah held up her scar-filled hands and followed the lines along her palms. "But what if I don't? What if that's the end?" "I don't know how it works, but maybe you will become one of these lights. When you die, I'll come see you. If you become like them, I'll take you somewhere beautiful outside. Then you can touch the lights and always be near the stars and rain." Idris took hold of her hand. When their skin touched, her hand glowed a faint blue too. Bits of dust-like particles floated around the space where their hands were. "Do you think that's really possible? I'd like that, if you could do that. I don't want to be in that place forever. I'd rather disappear than that." Sarah took his other hand, it glowing the same as his upon contact. "I'll find you a nice place, I promise." Idris stared into her deep blue eyes. They were the only place on her that retained their original color. They matched perfectly with the lights around them. "But what about you? Who will lead you away?" Sarah leaned in closer to him. "I'll figure something out." "Idris, thank you. I know I've been asking you for a lot of things lately..." Sarah's voice trailed off. "Don't worry about it." Idris kissed her. For the first time, his desire to make her happy and the happiness he felt being in her presence were in equal shares within his heart. When Sarah pulled away, a blue hydrangea flower lay in her palm. Her dress, robe, and hair matched the petals in a light blue-violet. She pressed the flower against his heart. Idris pulled her close. Their bodies glowed brighter than all the lights of the field and sky in an impossible azure. He didn't want to let go. Sunday, July 7th 2002, Sarah's seventeenth birthday. Two months passed by in what felt like an instance for Idris. He woke up early and went with his parents to work. It didn't rain that day. Sarah was already undressed and in the tank when Idris arrived. Her family took her in early. They didn't look at her. Dr. Summerfield thanked them for their noble sacrifice and left shortly after. Idris didn't go into a tank that day. His parents and Sarah's parents placed him on one of the cold tables and cut him up instead. Today, they cut open his left arm and messed around inside of it for a while. He didn't need anesthesia anymore. This level of pain was now mild to him. They collected samples from inside him and injected something new into his body. When they were done with him, they stitched him back up and bandaged his arm. He watched them work on Sarah next. In the tank, they didn't need to do any touching with their hands. The machine did everything for them. They cut into Sarah's arms and did the same procedure on her. Since they did both arms, they took twice the samples. Her body was not stitched up. The tank was filled with a fluid than sped up healing and prevented bacteria from getting in. "When Idris is in there, we'll have even better results." His father said with a gleeful look. Sarah's mother input a code into the machine to start cutting open Sarah's thighs. "We may not need to go that far. Sarah's samples may give us everything we need." "Nonsense. We still have work to do after that." His father pushed her away from the computer. "Go file some paperwork, you second-rate hack. The two of you don't even deserve to be in this room." Sarah's parents did as they were told. After they left, his parents input another code into the machine. A strange device came down onto Sarah's head. When it clamped down, one of the monitors in the room turned on. He saw that landscape, the rainy day she didn't want to forget. At the top of the screen, he saw "REC" in big, bold red letters. So, he thought, they do have ways to delve into memories. Idris left on his own. He wandered around home, his mind taking him toward that oak tree. It was nowhere to be found. He saw a crew of men loading up into a truck and leaving. Idris stopped one of them. "Excuse me, but what happened to the tree that was here?" "We were ordered to cut it down. It was a dead tree. With the weather around here and the tree being so close to the street, it was a safety hazard. That guy who lives over there gave us a call yesterday about it." The man pointed to the house of the recluse. "I see." Idris kept walking down the road. At least, he thought to himself, Sarah didn't have to see it be cut down. Before he realized it, he was out in that field again. He stood beside the lonely tree. The bright sun burned his eyes. He wanted to disappear. "Hello, Idris." A voice said from the other side of the tree. Idris recognized it. He peered around the tree to check his suspicions. "Dr. Summerfield...what are you doing here?" "So, this is your little private getaway? It's a beautiful landscape. This must be the one from her memories." Dr. Summerfield lit up a cigarette. "She didn't want to forget it." Idris wanted to be angry at Dr. Summerfield, but he kept his emotions buried. From what he had discovered testing on his own, the lights only appeared at night. But he didn't want to take any chances. "I see. It has a certain feel about it, doesn't it? I've been looking for a place to move my family to eventually. Right here might be nice. I could have the house built right beside this lovely tree. My daughter Crystal wants a treehouse, but she's still too young to be playing in one." Dr. Summerfield breathed out a thick cloud of smoke. "Why are you here?" Idris asked. "I'm here to warn you. If you tamper with her tank or try to run away, your family will suffer for it. Don't be foolish." Dr. Summerfield took out an envelope from his pocket. He pulled out a stack of photos and sorted through them. From where Idris was standing, he couldn't see what the photos were of. He kept his distance from the man. "I wasn't going to do anything like that." "Good. Your parents haven't been getting the best marks on their evaluations. It would be wise for you to be on your absolute best behavior, for their sake, and your little brother's as well." Dr. Summerfield put away all of the photos save one. "I understand, sir." "That's a good boy." Dr. Summerfield put out the cigarette on the tree's trunk and tossed the bud into the long grass. "Yes, I think I'll have a house put here. If I have a son, he'd definitely want a treehouse." "I'll be leaving now." Idris said, his heart beating in his ears. "Just a moment. I wanted to give you a little gift." He handed Idris the photograph. Idris looked down at it. The picture was of the field on a stormy day. His hands shook as he held it. "That's the landscape she wanted to remember. I've converted that moment into a memento for you. Her memories of nature are quite beautiful and vivid. We're preserving them as video and audio as well, for the future. When we move people into more suitable environments with better controls, we'll be using those as supplements for their occasional need for the outside world. Yours will be used too, of course. So make plenty of beautiful memories for me, alright?" Dr. Summerfield lit up another cigarette as he walked away. Idris held the photo and ran far away from that place. Little by little, piece by piece, Sarah disappeared every time he saw her. With research on her daily, they could perform all kinds of new experiments on her. Sarah's parents looked on at her with eyes of indifference. Since the day she was put in the tank, they weren't the same. There was something fundamentally off about the way they spoke and moved about since that first morning. He wondered if something had been done to them to keep them in line. With memory alteration being worked on, perhaps, he wondered, they didn't know who she was at all. Research on his body was more sporadic. His parents left him alone more with his brother. Something strange happened to Eric. He couldn't remember Sarah anymore. Idris suspected his parents allowed the people at the lab to have him for a few hours to do something. The thought of Eric being in their hands for a moment made his skin crawl. He didn't know how they did it, but he knew it had to be them. In the fall, his brother was enrolled in pre-K. Idris took him to buy a little blue polo and khaki shorts and pants. He tried to be happy around Eric, but not happy enough that he might trigger the lights. He wasn't able to keep up his secret forever. Since Sarah was put in the tank round the clock, he started having nightmares. Everything he suppressed during the day came out in his dreams. When he woke from a nightmare, his body was still glowing from the surge of emotions. One night, he woke his brother with all of his tossing and turning. Confused and scared, Eric ran over to his brother's bed and shook his arm to wake him. "Idry, wake up! You're all blue! What's wrong?!" Eric cried. Idris took a while to calm himself, half dazed from his nightmare and from being suddenly woken. He pushed his emotions down enough to hide the blue light. He picked up Eric and sat him on the bed, then wiped off his tears. "Shh, it's okay now. I'm fine. You don't have to be scared. The lights don't hurt me. But let's keep this a secret, okay?" Idris patted him on the head. "A secret? Why?" "Mom and Dad don't know I can do that. It's my secret. I don't want them to know about it, but it's okay if you know. Do you want to see it again? I promise it's not scary." "Okay." Idris let a little of his fear seep to the forefront of his mind. His body glowed and blue particles flowed around the room. Eric's eyes widened. He reached out to touch the lights, but his hands went through. "You're a magician!" Eric proudly said. "That's right. That's why you have to keep this a secret. I don't want anyone to know yet." Idris was glad Eric was so young. An older sibling might be harder to convince to keep quiet. "I won't tell." "Good. How about another night we go out and I show you an even bigger light show? But Mom and Dad absolutely can't know." "They'll never know. I don't tell anything ever!" "Cross your heart?" "Cross my heart and hope to die." Eric made a cross-shaped motion with his hand over his chest. "Alright. Next Friday, I'll take you to a secret place and I'll show you all sorts of magic." With Eric calmed down, he put him back to bed and tried to sleep himself. All his thoughts were of Sarah. After he took Eric to pre-K, Idris wandered around the area. All of the places his feet used to lead him were too painful to visit. He chased the breeze and followed paper signs poorly taped to poles, anything he could to find somewhere new. On a stormy day, he found the old murder of crows who used to frequent the oak tree. He knew it was them. Idris spent enough time around them to recognize their voices, subtle physical differences, and treasure preferences to know it was them. His old friends had taken up residence in a pair of cypress trees. Between the two, he could make out the remnants of an old path. Without a second thought, he followed it deep into the woods. At the end of the path, he found a new field. There were no trees standing alone in the middle nor was the grass as high. Foot high dark blades danced in the wind alongside wildflowers and mist. He lay in the center of the field, staring up at the gray all around. He thought he might lose himself in the mist, and for that, he was happy. One of the crows flew over and perched on a loblolly pine. Behind the tree, far in the distance, Idris saw the outline of a mountain. He knew there was a another mountain nearby. The lab itself was on a mountain. He'd walked up and down it many times. This one, despite being so close, was an unfamiliar sight. The top of the mountain was hidden away as the rain rolled in. He had nowhere to hide, so he lay there in the rain and let the water wash everything away. This was the perfect place. Where he could take Eric and Sarah. He wanted to show them what the lights looked like in the valley of that mountain, in that field of wildflowers surrounded by various pines. The wildflower field, as expected, became a favorite place of Eric's. He took Eric out there whenever he could sneak out. That space had none of the trash around it like the field with the lonely tree. No one ever came to that place except them. It was their special place alone. Monday, July 7th 2003, Sarah's eighteenth birthday. A full year passed since she was put in the tank. There wasn't much left. Idris knew the day was coming. After his parents were done performing tests on him, he lingered in the room for a while in front of Sarah. She was hard to recognize from who she was the previous year. Most of her scars were gone now, much of her flesh used for various tests. Bones went next, and organs they could get away with taking without killing her. Her face and teeth were not spared. Before he left the room, he pressed his hand on the glass and whispered under his breath. "I'll take you away." When Idris left the room, he was cornered by Dr. Summerfield. The man stood in front of him, taking a puff of his cigarette. "Idris, there you are." "Dr. Summerfield, good evening." Idris took a deep breath. His heartbeat rang in his ears. "Idris, come with me. I'd like to talk to you for a while." Idris did as he was told. Dr. Summerfield led him into a small white room with no windows. Dr. Summerfield got straight to the point. "Sarah isn't a viable subject anymore. We're going to be shutting down her tank at the end of the week." He finished off his first cigarette and lit up a new one. "That's so sudden..." Idris buried his feelings as deeply as he could. He couldn't lock it all away. That realization terrified him and let even more break free. His hands shook. "Her condition has taken a turn for the worse after the last extraction. Seems her body can't handle anymore." Dr. Summerfield spoke in a relaxed tone. "You mean what's left." Idris let his anger get the best of him. "Snappy little boys get their little brothers snapped in half." Dr. Summerfield grabbed Idris's wrist and put the cigarette out on the back of Idris's hand. He didn't react to it. That level of pain was far too weak to hurt him, but the threat given to him terrified him plenty. Dr. Summerfield gave him a cold look. "It's going to be your turn next. Be a good boy and don't cause any trouble before then. You should convince your parents to behave too. They've been causing such a storm about you being put in there full time. I don't understand these parents. You were conceived solely for this purpose. They had no qualms about our work before." "It might be the sight of Sarah's body. We were always stitched back up after we were cut open before, and they didn't cut off such large parts before. Her condition may be disturbing them." Idris almost wanted to laugh that his parents were disturbed by him being in there. They had been waiting all this time for this so they could get the praise from everyone else at the facility for it. He presumed they were put off more by the disgust of the way the experiments were conducted than for his own well-being. "Weak willed scientists are hardly useful to me." "Dr. Summerfield, if I may, I have a suggestion. Sarah told me there was something being worked on to alter memories. Would it be possible to have my family's memories of me erased?" Idris asked. He didn't owe it to his parents to protect them, and he didn't particularly care at this point. But to protect Eric, he had to protect them as well. "Yes, for a while. We're not entirely sure how long the memory alteration lasts. It's varied by subject and device. The latest one we're testing on Sarah's parents. Are you suggesting we use your parents as potential subjects for that research?" Dr. Summerfield smirked. "I do have one other thing to add. Can you remove their memories of working here? They're clearly not fit for this line of work and if they continue, they will likely be eliminated. If their memories of this place are gone, they can go back outside and have normal lives. You could still monitor them as test subjects." "And if their memories return to normal?" "No one will believe anything they say at that point." Idris pleaded with Dr. Summerfield. "I'll be a good boy. Could I have this one request before I have to stay in there?" "Very well. I'll have it arranged and inform you on the details more later. You're free to do as you wish until the end of the week. Don't cause any trouble." "Yes, sir." Idris's entire body shook as he left the room. Seven days. In seven days, his freedom ended and Sarah's life was over. For five of those days, he went on in a daze. He took his brother to and from the elementary school's summer program, doing little else. On the sixth day, after he took his brother to school, he spent an hour crying. Aside from the day Sarah was put in the tank, he hadn't cried in years. He had no memories of ever crying before. In his mind, he was always forcing himself to endure the pain and keep everything bottled up inside. There wasn't enough time for all of it to come out. At the end of the day, Idris took Eric out to the wildflower field again. He sat Eric down in the field. He walled up his heart to keep himself from breaking down in front of his brother. "I'm going away soon." He barely managed to say those words. "Where ya going? Is it for school?" Eric asked. "No, it's for mom and dad's work. Don't worry about it. How was school today?" Idris tried to pretend everything was normal. He patted Eric on the head. Eric made a face. "I got in trouble again." "Again? That's the third time this week." "I didn't wear a blue shirt. I wore my khaki shorts, but I put a red shirt on after you dropped me off." "Why did you do that? You know that's against the rules." "In my dreams, we always come to school in red shirts. I wanted to see what would happen." Eric's explanation was exactly the sort Idris expected from a five year old. Idris laughed under his breath at the silliness of it. He wasn't much better himself. He only found this place by absurd logic. "Did you make any discoveries?" "Nah, they made me change and sit in time out." "Well, don't worry about it. Your next school won't have a uniform. I'm sure you'll love starting kindergarten there. You can wear whatever you want. The next place won't be far from another forest, south of here. There's a big nature trail near there. I'm sure you'll have lots of fun when you move there." His parents didn't know it yet, but they would be moving. He arranged with Dr. Summerfield for them to have new jobs in a nearby county and a home was already lined up for them. "When will you come back?" Idris looked away. He opened the bag he brought with him. "I'll...see you one day." "What's in your bag?" Eric peeked inside the bag. "It's a prototype for something mom and dad's bosses are planning later. Right now, they can only use it on a single person. The end goal is to use it on a massive scale." Idris took the machine out. It was the same machine he saw them put on Sarah when she was placed into the tank permanently. From what he saw and what Dr. Summerfield told him, he presumed it was being used for different purposes on her than everyone else. "Scale? Like in music class?" Eric titled his head. "No, scale also means size. On a massive scale means a big size." Idris held the device up in the air. "They're going to use it on everyone." "What for?" "So they forget." Idris left out the rest of the details. His brother was too young to understand what the people who worked at the facility were planning. "There's a problem with the bigger version. It wears off in a few years. They can't work out how to get around it. When it's like this, it seals the memories shut better." "Whatcha gonna do with that?" "Nothing yet. I have it programmed with a special story. See, memories are pretty flexible. You can rewrite them. I made a nice story, but it's a pretty minimalist one. The bare bones of it are there for this particular one. It doesn't matter. If it were for an adult, I'd put more into it, but this will do well enough." Idris put the machine away. "I don't get it." "I'll show you later, okay?" "Okay..." Eric latched on to his brother's arm. "You never said where you're goin'." "Away. I'm the best subject they have now. I'm immune to everything they inject me with. If they want a cure for either type of disease they're working on, they need me. It's not going so well though. They'll need to use my body around the clock now." Their parents never had a problem talking about the two diseases being developed in front of Eric. He left that information in. Eric didn't get what the diseases were for, of course. He wasn't going to explain to his brother that his parents' coworkers created two diseases to intentionally make people sick to manage the population and create panic, and his parents were working on a cure as a safety precaution for any potential accidents. Once they had a cure, they would bounce it back to the other team and they would create something that could overcome that cure, and so on. The last two cures were created from a mix of his and Sarah's blood. This set was particularly difficult to create a vaccine for. He hoped their research would stop there, but he knew better. "How come you could come out before?" Eric asked. "Because they used her more. I ran other tests for them too." That too, he decided to leave ambiguous. His brother didn't need to know what things they did to him. "Listen. Mom and Dad are in trouble. They didn't like the place they're going to keep me in. That's what Dr. Summerfield said anyway. It's pretty funny, since they never asked if I liked the other place, and they let them do all kinds of disgusting things before. Maybe Sarah's body scared them." "Why would they be scared? They're adults." "Have you ever seen a heart beating inside a person? When you peel away the skin and the muscles, it's tucked away behind ribs, between two lungs. Right around here." Idris pointed to a spot on Eric's chest. "I know that. Four chain bursts, right?" Eric said. "Chambers, though that's sort of right about how it works." Idris then pointed to Eric's left cheek. "And up here, if you peel everything away, you can see the teeth coming out of the skull. The nose, you can take that right off. You don't need it to live, like you don't need your arms or legs." "But how would you go walkin'?" The descriptions didn't scare Eric. He was too young to comprehend what his brother was really implying. "You don't need to walk to be alive. Just this part, the heart, needs to keep pumping. Your brain still has to send out signals too. And your lungs, well...I suppose you really only need one. You don't need all of the brain either. Parts can be damaged and you'll still be alive. Other things, you can manage without or you only need bits and pieces. Add in a few attachments to supplement, and you can still live." When it came down to it, there was little needed to be alive. Idris thought Sarah would die long before her body reached the state it was in now. How little of his own body would be left at the end, he couldn't guess. Likely just as little. His stomach turned at the thought. "Then what's left?" Eric asked in an innocent voice. "Not much. That's what she's like now. She won't be that way much longer." Idris had an idea. He still needed to fulfill his promise. He wouldn't be able to do that from the other side of the glass. "Did you want to meet her? I thought it might be nice if I brought her outside." "I thought Sarah couldn't come outside." "It won't matter now. I'm trading places with her." Idris got up and held his hand out to Eric. "Come on. Let's go to Mom and Dad's work. I've got a keycard to get in. He said I had until midnight to do whatever I wanted anyway." "Okay, but I'm getting kinda sleepy." Eric took his hand. "Just a little longer and I'll take you back home, okay?" "Okay." The walk to the facility was longer than he expected. Eric was too small to walk that long. About halfway, he picked Eric up and carried him on his back. Idris had never been to the facility at night. All the lights in the buildings were turned off. The only lights were in the parking lot and the full moon hanging overhead. He followed along the metal fences to find the entrance. Once inside, he wandered through the dark halls on memory alone. Before he went inside the room Sarah was in, he turned to Eric. "Don't come in here. It's a little scary if you're not used to it." "I'm a big boy!" Eric protested. "This place scares adults too. Stay right here. Big boys know how to follow orders." Idris said to discourage him. "Okay..." "I'll be right out." Idris opened the door. The light of the tank illuminated the room. He could see her heart beating slowly. Idris pressed his hand against the glass. While Idris was inside the room, Eric's curiosity got the better of him. He peeked around the corner to see where all the light was coming from. He couldn't completely see what was inside the tank. Idris's body was blocking most of his view. From what he could see, he knew something wasn't right. He could see hair and part of the outline of a face and part of a shoulder, but not where the arms should be coming out of the shoulders or any legs. His brothers words earlier came back to him. Eric couldn't move from that spot beside the door. "I'm sorry. You've been in there a long time. I'm going to let you out now." Idris whispered to her. "Will you come with me? I'll show you the way out of the building. There's a really pretty place out there. I know you'll like it." He leaned down and unplugged the tank. The room went completely dark. From memory, Idris found the glass again and pressed his hand to it. On the other side, a faint blue hand met with his. He dulled his emotions to hide it. "Follow me. I'll set you free." Idris walked out of the room and called Eric to him. Eric clutched his brother's hand tightly. Idris carried Eric back most of the way to the field after they left the building. When they returned, Idris sat Eric down in the field. The moon shone brightly on everything around them and the distant mountain's silhouette blocked out a portion of the stars. It was a perfect view for her to see. Idris faced his brother and asked, "You want to see it? The light show?" "Oh, please! Show me the lights!" Eric snapped out of his scared state and shouted. "Okay, one last time. You know I only let you see this. I can't ever let them see this. Then they'd know." "Know what?" Eric asked. That was a question Idris could never answer to anyone. Idris went to his bag and pulled out two syringes with needles. "Come here. Before I show you the lights, I want you to do something for me. If you can do this, I'll show you the biggest light show you've ever seen." "What do I gotta do?" "I need to give you two shots." "What? I don't want a shot!" Eric protested. "You're a big boy now, right? Big boys don't fuss and cry at the doctors. It's to protect you. You know I wouldn't do anything bad to you." Eric went quiet for a moment. "Okay..." "Good. Stay still. Don't move until I say you can." Idris prepped Eric's arm for the first shot and gave it to him. Eric flinched slightly when he stuck the needle in. He cleaned it up afterwards and put a band-aid on it. "That's a good boy. That's one done. I have to do one more. Stay still, alright?" "Alright." Idris repeated the process on the other arm. "There. All done. See, you really are a big boy now. You didn't cry at all." "What kinda medicine was that?" "Something to help you. There's no cure yet for the two diseases they're manufacturing, but this will at least slow down the process for you. If they do use them and come up with cures to counter, you'll have more time to get help. I don't know if it'll be any help if they create another more powerful strain though." Idris put the needles away. "They made this from hers and my blood, you know. Now, a part of me will always be with you." "Always?" "Always." Idris stood up and went to the center of the field. "Are you ready?" "Yeah!" He let it all go, all of the emotions he was keeping inside. He let them flow through him and be overcome by their intensity. The light glowed brighter than he was ever able to get them to glow before. Deer, dogs, birds--all floated around them. A few feet before him, another familiar figure waited motionless. In shades of blue and white, she stood in a long nightgown and a transparent robe. There was no pain in her face, no sadness. She only smiled at him. Idris motioned for his brother to come over. "Come here. I want you to meet Sarah." Sarah was never allowed in his house nor was he in hers. Despite having always been together, Idris never got to introduce her to his little brother before. Eric ran over to Sarah and tried to hold her hand. "I can't touch her like the others! I thought she was a person." "She's not like us anymore." Idris said. He turned to Sarah and smiled at her. "Do you like it out here, Sarah? The last time we both were outside, do you remember? It was in that other field." Sarah's mouth moved but no sound came from her. He understood what she said in spite of that. "I'm going to stay in there for a while now. They can't take anymore away. I won't give them my secrets either. Maybe then they won't use those horrible things and everyone will be safe." He held his hand out to hers. She raised hers to meet his. Though they could not physically touch, it was more than enough for him. "How come she's not making noise?" Eric tugged on his brother's shirt. "There's a wall between us. We can't hear each other." He answered. He looked back over at Sarah. "One day soon, I'm sure we'll be able to speak to each other again. Tonight, will you dance with me?" She nodded her head. They moved as if they were touching, making each motion carefully to keep up the illusion. They stayed like that for a while, the moon serving as their spotlight. When they finished dancing, Sarah went to hug him. Idris returned her affection, placing his hands just so that it appeared they were really touching. "Goodbye, Sarah." He said. She gazed into his eyes and mouthed a few words to him. A warm breeze rolled through and the lights disappeared on its current. Eric looked around the field. "Did she leave?" "No, I turned the lights off." "How do you do that? I wanna make the lights and then I can show you one day, when you come back." Eric's words both pierced and warmed Idris's heart. "I can't teach it to you. It's something they did to me as part of a test. Nothing happened in the lab. I kept my mind blank for them and tested my mind and body at home. They don't know I can do this. They wrote it off as yet another thing my body rejects." Idris had one more secret about his strange power. He planned on taking that secret with him to the grave. "Is that why it's our secret?" "Yep. But you won't have to worry about keeping it much longer. It's time to go home." "Okay." Idris picked up his little brother and carried the bag at his side. There was still one loose end left to tie up before he went inside the tank for good. Idris stopped just outside the boundaries of their front yard, in a little patch of woods. "We're almost home. I want you to do something for me. Close your eyes. Don't open them until I say so." He said to Eric. "Okay." Eric did as his brother asked. "You'll forget this place. I'm sorry." Idris took the machine out of his bag. A tear fell from him when he placed it on his brother's head. He turned it on and input the code as Dr. Summerfield showed him. Before taking it off, he stood behind Eric so Eric wouldn't see him. The machine was quickly put back inside the bag. Eric opened his eyes and stared around, confused why he was outside. The front door opened. Eric's mother stood in the doorway. She called out to him. "Eric, what were you doing out there?" "I don't know." Eric scratched his head. She noticed there was another person behind her son. "Who are you?" "I live down the street. I saw him wandering around and wanted to make sure he got home." Idris said. "Oh, thank you." She replied. "No problem. Good night." Idris waved goodbye and walked through the patch of woods. On the other side of the woods, a black car was waiting for him. He took a seat in the back and said nothing to the driver. He pulled out the photograph Dr. Summerfield gave him. With the last of his freedom, he burned the memory of that night into his mind. Monday, March 7th, 2016, a school night. Eric was spending the night at a friend's house and having a study session before bed. He was in his senior year of high school and all he had left were a handful of tests and finals before he could graduate. He was too distracted to study effectively. The warm air outside kept drawing him away from the work in front of him. Spring was coming early, he could feel it. He wanted to be outside, not cooped up a house staring at math equations for hours. "You always leave the window open." He commented to his friend, Alex. "Are you cold? I'll shut it." Alex got up before Eric could answer. "No, it's nice. It feels warm out there." Eric got up from the table and went over to the window. "Do you wanna go for a walk later?" "Yeah, I guess. Something bothering you? You always want to go on a walk when you want to talk about something." Alex took off his reading glasses and joined Eric by the window. "I don't know. Tonight feels...different than usual. Like something from a long time ago." Eric felt lost in the warmth of the wind and the darkness outside. There was only a sliver of the moon above, and most of the stars were obscured by light pollution and scattered clouds, but he felt a strange comfort in that night sky. The smell of the earth hung heavily in the air. Something flashed in his mind. A cozy field full of flowers lit up by a full moon, blue lights, and people dancing. Someone said something to him, but he couldn't remember the words. It was right there at the edge of his mind, just out of his reach. He tried focusing on it in hopes some of it may come back to him. Somewhere else, one of the people he saw called him little brother in a house he didn't know. A shiver went down his spine and his heart raced. "Hey Eric. Are you listening?" Alex asked in an annoyed tone. "Huh? Sorry, I zoned out for a sec." Eric blinked and the image was gone. "Jeez, again?" Alex shook his head. "I know, I know. Sorry. I just remembered something weird." Eric clutched his head. What he saw was already fading away from him. "Something weird?" "Yeah, a dream from when I was a little kid, I think. I had a brother. Something about a field of lights...?" There was more to those lights, he was sure, but he couldn't see it. The memory was too hazy. "Sounds like you were watching too much X-Files as a kid." "Probably." He laughed it off. "For a second though, it felt real. Like that really happened. That place looked familiar but I've never been there. Not that I remember much about pre-K and earlier, but I'm pretty sure I've never been there." "Where did you live before?" Alex gave Eric a bottle of water from the table. "Um...I think around Rome? It wasn't far from Rock Mountain...or was it?" He scratched his head. He was certain that information was right, but it seemed wrong at the same time. "You can't remember where you lived?" "I was five when we moved. I know the elementary school. It was...um...No, I know this. What was the name?" It wasn't there either. He couldn't recall the name of the school, his street address, or the name of the subdivision they lived in. It was all blank. "Think you've been studying too long. Let's call it a night." Alex patted him on the back. "Why don't we go ahead and go on that walk?" "Alright." Eric walked with Alex along the banks of the creek behind Alex's house. Alex used his phone as a flashlight. The shadows bouncing off the trees scratched away at what was buried deep in his mind, but not enough to free what was hidden. No matter how he tried, it wouldn't return. All he could manage was to keep ahold of that warm feeling that place brought back to him and a sense of safeness underneath the trees and night sky. He walked a little closer to Alex and said something strange to him. "Do you think you'll forget me in a year?" "What? Why would I forget you? Hello, we're moving in together when we start college, remember?" "I know. I don't know why I said that. Right now, it just feels like everything could disappear." Eric stopped. He stared down at the ground. Alex reached for Eric's hand but stopped a few inches short and quickly pulled his hand away. He put his hand on Eric's shoulder instead. "Are you alright? Is something going on? You've been staying at my house a lot lately." "I'm fine. I just feel really off right now. Ignore what I said." Eric wanted more comfort. He wanted physical contact, but it was too awkward a thing to ask for. He settled for another comfort. "I'm sorry. Can we go back? I know we didn't walk very far yet. I think I just need to go to sleep." "It's fine. It's already pretty late anyway. It's like eleven thirty." They turned around and headed back. "Sorry." Eric stared up at the almost invisible moon. Though the light was nearly gone, he could still see the dark side of it faintly. In time, the memory might return. He let the thought of lights and that place fall from his mind. Eric kept his focus instead on the young man beside him, the smell of the earth and trees around them, and the low humming of frogs in the distance. His fears were irrational, but he didn't care. He wanted to burn the memory of that moment into his mind forever.