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Re: Jules, Connecticut: Parkview Apartments

on Thu Dec 20, 2018 2:58 pm
Tobi sits for a long time.


A long time with his hands pressing hard into his forehead, as if the pressure would be enough to force back the tightness behind his eyes and the stars that dot his vision. There’s little else to do in that space, little incentive to move. Bright strings float across his vision, but none of them the gold he wants to see. None of them lead to Noelle.

His breath stutters as his heart skips again. God, that was getting old. He’s so tired, he realizes. So tired, he thinks as his head sinks deeper into his hands both whole and broken. Light blooms across dark skin in a sudden burst as his eyes wince with sudden pain. It traces spiderwebs up the side of his face towards his eyes, down and across his torso, down his arms and legs. Bright white lines the edges of his torn skin; the red that bleeds from it and down his hand takes on a silvery luster, dripping pearls onto the carpet below. He’s tired and frustrated and at the absolute end of his rope, can feel the desperation tightening around his throat like a noose.

It’s too much, too much, he thinks. From the darkness beyond his closed eyes, something answers that plea. Fingers claw soft at the vice tightening around his skull and his heart stops for one long moment as two large hands pull themselves up from the world behind his eyes. They slam into the earth below with a titanic, thundering thump. The figure pulls its titanic bulk from the earth and void, its shadow blocking out some of the bright strings. One massive hand reaches towards him as bright eyes twin to his own stare back, the grey iris pale against bright, burning white instead of the dark of his own. The din of a thousand different voices fades until it becomes a near silent hum and he revels in it, breathes for what feels like the first time.


‘Then let me.’


The hand is beckoning, inviting, swirling with the patterns of the night sky. He knows that he could, he could reach out and together they would find Noelle and bring her back whole from god knows where she had gone. He wants to, lawd, he wants to; one hand reaches out and he can feel the edges of his thoughts blur, feel the beginning of the fall, the gut wrenching weightlessness that will soon follow.

He can barely feel the small cat climbing up his frame and the little vibrations as Glenn purrs into his neck. He doesn’t hear Jake beginning to wake, nor does he hear the boy’s quiet cursing. He can’t feel how his heart has completely stopped, how his breathing has slowed, how the dripping light from the broken skin of his knuckles has slowed to a molasses crawl without the steady thump behind his ribs.


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Jake's hand touches his.


He’s yanked from the dark figure’s grasp with a gut churning wrench. The distressed yell of the voice behind him is deafening, but Tobi can feel it fading like a noise fast in the distance. His heart starts again with a painful thud and the large man hacks out a choking breath, everything catching up too fast, too hard. Blood rushes his ears, feeling bleeds back into his fingers, and even his voice catches for just a moment. Very vaguely, he can feel the soft vibrations of something against his shoulder; his hand reaches up and he’s met with a soft headbutt from the little black cat. Rough fingers bury themselves in the soft fur there.

“Jake,” a hacking cough, “The hell y–“ He coughs again into his now stitched together hand, his voice blending English and the strange sounds. Jake’s words are fuzzy, like he’s hearing them from underwater, but they’re there if he listens hard enough.


The kid wants to try again.


Tobi looks Jake up and down. He had briefly seen the singed skin, but he had definitely smelled the scent of something human burning. The kid had knocked himself out with whatever he had tried last time, knocked himself out hard. The sizzling smell of flesh still lingered in the air, making Tobi’s nose wrinkle uncomfortably. He slumps deeper in the chair, still trying to catch his breath.

He wants to. Lawd, he wants to.

They had been so close the last time, the light would have led them straight to where Noelle would be and everything would have been okay. He would have held her in his arms, been able to tell her everything would be alright. They would figure it out and everything would be alright. All it would take would be another word from Jake or him falling further into the dark.

Jake who was laying on the couch and wincing every time he took a breath. Him, watched from his own mind by a new pair of eyes. It'd be stupid for either of them to do anything more the way they are now. But. He's worried about her, knows Jake is worried about her too.


Tobi sighs and sinks deeper into the armchair. Glenn moves to sit on his chest, still quietly purring. Newly healed fingers come up to tangle in the cat's fur again, running through the strands slowly.


He doesn’t know what to do.[/i]
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Re: Jules, Connecticut: Parkview Apartments

on Fri Dec 21, 2018 1:44 am
Despite the burning, searing pain in his side and the aching throbbing of his abdomen, Jake’s face lit up when he heard Tobi speak. He knew it was a combination of that strange, earthen language that Jake had heard from him more than his low, rumbling timbre. But it was still a relief to hear something, anything to show his consciousness.

The wet, hacking cough was less of a relief. Jake could feel his own head cold making his noggin feel like it was a bowling ball teetering on a toothpick. He was feeling rough, worn down. And, from the looks of Tobi’s coughs and gasping breaths, he wasn’t doing much better. They couldn’t continue forever like this, couldn’t keep pushing. Tobi looked like someone had plugged him into a high voltage outlet and left him, his nerves were almost painful to look at and Jake didn’t like the stillness in the moments before he was healed. And while Jake couldn’t be 100% sure about Tobi, but the pain would literally sear him like a salmon.

But he had to try again. He had to. For Noelle. For Tobi.

Jake turned his focus back on Tobi’s eyes. Dark as coal with those spooky silver rings, he tilted his head. After a couple of pained, shallow breaths, he finally had the strength to use his voice again. He was careful to say his words very slowly, hoping it would help Tobi understand, while also pacing himself “I am going to go again. Okay? But we need a plan this time. A small one… Something…”

With great effort, he pulls himself to sit upright. His right arm is still gripping his side, and it takes him a half a minute to speak again, catching his breath. He can feel beads of sweat forming and falling on his forehead, either from the pain or the fever. It was anyone’s guess at this point. But he kept moving and, eventually, forces himself to a slouched but standing stance. Jake sniffles as he moves around the couch, slowly, and to the table that he had thrown his junk on. He grabs his keys, jingling them so that Tobi can see them “If we want this to work… We have to move fast. And together. And I can’t… I won’t be able to keep up with you.”

That was harder to say than he thought. His voice breaks at the end, which he plays off with a wince and gasp of breath. Truth was, Jake's voice broke with emotion and fear. He was face to face with the one thing he always tried to brush away; his own inadequacy. Jake refused to meet the other man’s eyes. He wanted to do whatever he could to help Noelle. But Tobi could move mountains. He could close his eyes and search the world in a blink and he couldn’t find her. He moved dirt and earth and grass and snow. And besides that, Jake had heard what Tobi could do without his powers; knock teeth out, run for miles, bench press more than anyone on campus. He could fix this. And if he couldn't fix it now, he could figure it out. The guy was a med student, dating one of the smartest people on campus. He had to have known things

All Jake could do was knock himself out. Say a stupid word and BAM! He was down for the count. As much as he liked to tote that he knew everything about his powers, every time that white-hot pain and sizzle of skin hits his senses, he’s back to middle school, wondering what the heck was happening to him. When the focus in his body aligned and he spoke that simple word, something he had learned in history class. Instinctively, his hand reached for that same symbol on his left bicep, a cross with a loop at the top. A symbol of life. The first one that branded him as a freak. And a useless one at that.

Jake looked at his backpack. He had filled it with food and water and a first aid kit and some emergency cash. All packed swiftly and with care, in hopes that as soon as he spoke those words, he and Tobi would go together to find Noelle. And help her, however, that would be. Instead, Jake took himself out of the equation and watched as the man that was on fire run like a hound on the trail. Leaving him behind to twitch and writhe.

It was stupid to think he would wait.

Stupid to think anyone would wait really.

But still, he couldn’t focus on that anymore. What he needed to do was be an equal partner in this. And to do that, he needed to stay upright for the next bit. He holds himself to the table, forcing himself to breathe slowly. Forcing himself to focus and gather whatever strength he had left. His jaw sets and his eyes screwed shut, concentrating on aligning the pain into something positive. Something constructive. He breathes in and out, in a single stream without pause. Finally, he meets Tobi’s gaze. “You need to take that whiteboard too. Okay?”

He didn’t wait for an answer, for Tobi to defy and tell Jake to sit his ass down, he grips the table harder and opens his mouth, letting the word pour. An ancient Nordic symbol that was found in some old book with one sentence “If this sign is carried, one will never lose one’s way in storms or bad weather, even when the way is not known.” He had to carry these two now, even if Tobi had to carry him.

VEGVISIR.”

Maybe it was the pain, maybe it was the intensity of which he had said the word. Maybe it was just pure gumption. But Jake did not fall. He faltered, he winced, he writhed, but he held himself up. It wasn’t easy: his face was bright red, veins poking out of his skin and tracing the patterns that dot his complection. His jaw is set and his arms are rigid, finger nails scraping on the wooden table. And of course, the scent of flesh flambe and the sound of a sickly sizzle filled the air. But Jake stayed standing.

That golden thread appears once again, even stronger than before. It circles itself around Jake for a moment before darting out the door. It stays strong and unfading, leading right out of town, westward. From the balcony, it can be seen against the thin layer of snow that covers the ground. It sparkles against the falling snow, shimmering and shining. It weaves between the sunken earth of the park, past the trees, and onto the road in a straight line.

Jake groans and turns his head back at Tobi, giving a pained smile. He feels the skin starting to pucker, sees the stars dancing in his vision. Feels the sweat pouring from each pore. But still, he smiles. He always smiles. And after a long, shaky breath full of tense pain, he offers a word in a broken voice that is barely hiding it’s agony.

“Ready?”
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Re: Jules, Connecticut: Parkview Apartments

on Thu Jan 03, 2019 12:02 pm
Tobi coughs into his hand, jostling the small cat on his shoulder with the sudden movements. It hurts, the wet, hacking coughs, but slowly they subside. Glenn settles fully on his shoulder and against his neck with the new stillness, his paws kneading softly against the junction between his neck and shoulder. The feeling is soft, but it’s there; the feeling is unfamiliar enough to remind him that yes, he had lost feeling in his… well. Everywhere. Everything hurts, he thinks as his head ducks low and eyes close to the room around him.

Everything hurts and nothing came of it. He can’t remember the last time he felt quite this useless. He was supposed to be the rock, supposed to be the mountain that people could lean against. He wasn’t supposed to be lost for something to do, some way of fixing what was wrong. Hell, he was wanting to become a EMS, someone who was calm under pressure and rational in high stress environments. And yet, his first instinct the moment Jake had said those words was to bolt out the door like fire was licking at his heels.


Not calm. Hardly rational.


A small noise escapes him, something soft, tired, and fleeting like a long peal of heavy rain. Eyes flutter closed past pitch dark eyes and once more, the strings dance against his vision. They open again, and there’s Jake, looking at him like he was death warmed over. Tobi can’t hear the shuddering breaths or the struggle it is to get words out, but he can see a shine of sweat on the man’s skin, can smell the crisp, putrid scent of something burnt hanging in the air, can see the ways Jake’s movements are stiff and halted. Jake’s mouth is moving slow, his words loud, loud enough that if Tobi concentrates hard enough, he can hear them through the heavy viscous wall blocking his hearing from the rest of the world.


“…again. Okay?...”


‘Wait,’ he thinks. The thought’s a little fuzzy, a little slow. Dark eyes track Jake’s struggling movements around the apartment, finally settling on the bright metal of the keys Jake’s dangling in front of him. Lights around the apartment reflect off of them, sending little spots of light off to dance on the wall and ceiling. Tobi stares for just moment before reaching up with one heavy, light scarred arm. Fingers just recently broken and healed wrap stiffly around the keys, the pointed edges of them digging just a touch too hard into Tobi’s calloused skin. He doesn’t notice.


“… keep up with …”

Jake’s voice breaks on the last word. Tobi can’t quite catch it.


He follows Jake’s eyes to a backpack on the floor and his hand to the whiteboard he had given him earlier. All of these things Jake had prepared, all of these things he had thought of. Jake had had a plan, and what had Tobi done? He’d ignored all of it. He’d been so wrapped up in his own head that he hadn’t seen what Jake had been trying to do and he had run out the door, leaving Jake behind to pass out on the floor in a mess of pain and searing flesh. His gaze tracks to Jake, now gripping a table with white knuckles, breathing hard and looking like he was trying to prepare himself for…

“Jake, wai-“ he manages before he sees Jake’s mouth open and the word supposedly pouring out. He watches with wide eyes as Jake stumbles, gasps, and scrapes his nails against the hard wood of the table, but the kid doesn’t fall. Tobi rises from the chair with a rush of vertigo, swaying on his feet but still standing. Dark eyes close to ward off the nausea. When he opens them again, that same gold thread is weaving its way around Jake and through the room. There’s a long movement where that same sort of instinct from before wraps around Tobi’s mind like a constricting vice. It pulls him out that door and after that string, down those same steps in the same panic and violent hope as before. His foot raises and his body tenses, ready to run.

But he doesn’t. His eyes turn towards Jake, looking at him with the most pained smile Tobi’s ever seen. The keys in his grip are cold as he turns them over in his hand with the same nervous energy he uses to pick at his fingernails.

‘Aw hell.’ He thinks. His nerves flare bright as he starts to move, their help pushing him forward and keeping him on his feet. He grabs the whiteboard and the backpack on the floor before stopping at Jake and looking the other man up and down. Jake’s not going to move. Well.

‘Sorry,” he mutters, the noise soft like the creaking of some ancient tree or the quiet movement of a small mass of earth. There’s a scraping creak, and Jake’s hands come away from the table with broken and chipped nails as Tobi pulls the boy from the waist. One more heft, and all six feet and some change of Jake are thrown over one of Tobi’s shoulders.  One hand comes up to rest on Jake’s back and steady the thin twig on a man, effectively trapping him there. With Jake settled, he bolts. Tobi tears through the room and out the open door, kicking the poor thing nearly off its hinges to open it no-handed. His feet pound down stairs before he gets to the soft white powder of the world below. His tracks from earlier are almost erased what with the snow falling in thick flakes. One quick glace towards the parking lot and he can see Jake’s van blanketed in the same stuff.


He doesn’t have time for this.


The brightness of the fractal patterns on his skin amplifies as the wind picks up around them. Twin eyes watch him from inside his own mind as the sudden gale force wind tears through the parking lot, cutting a wide path through the snow and wiping the van clean. Stillness hangs in the air for a soft minute, the only sound being Tobi’s feet hitting the pavement in a quick rhythm. The snow starts again just as he opens the passenger side door of Jake’s van and shoves the boy inside, settling him as best he can before snapping the seatbelt shut. Before he shuts the door, he tosses the whiteboard into the back where it lands on top of the mattress with a soft ‘fwump’.

A moment later the door on the other side of the car opens and Tobi slides into the driver’s side of the car. ‘Jake’s too fuckin’ tall,’ he thinks with a grimace as he adjusts the seat below him with a heavy clack. ‘This van’s too fuckin’ old,’ he thinks again with the noise. His eyes flick briefly to the boy beside him; his head is lolling against the seat, eyes just starting to flutter closed.


Can’t have that.


His arms comes out to smack against Jake’s chest hard enough to hopefully knock him back awake. He doesn’t want to break anything, but Jake needs to stay awake. Told him to keep him awake and by god, Tobi’s gonna make it happen. Deaf to Jake’s wheezing, he shoves the key into the ignition and twists, feeling more than hearing the moment it catches and the van lurches awake. One heavy foot hits the gas, and the van peels forward to follow that gold string with the same fierce intensity as the man behind the wheel.
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Re: Jules, Connecticut: Parkview Apartments

on Sat Jan 05, 2019 11:39 pm
If you were to ask Jake what had happened between the time he said that stupid Norse word and when Tobi hit him (for the first time) in the van, he had no way to tell the truth. He honestly could not remember anything, the searing pain washing away all memory. Sometimes, when asked, he would give a little smile and say that he trudged down the stairs, his arm around Tobi. Sporting a soft, brave smile.

The reality was much louder.

He watched as Tobi made his way over, but it didn’t click until it was too late. The sturdy man lifted Jake up, jostling the sensitive skin on his stomach on his shoulder. And Jake wished that he was silent or gave out a manly grunt. That he could handle. But instead, Jake let a sound escape his lips that was between a hound dog how and a high pitched whimper. His eyes screwed shut, his face bright red, the symbols on his face nearly popping off with the constriction. There is a sickening sizzle of breath and skin as Tobi adjusts his arm. He thrashed at the contact- one who was so found of hugs and pats on the back, giving and receiving physical contact, felt white hot pain starting from his navel, expanding outward to his ribs, his chest, his thighs, his sides.

He was on fire.

And the scent of burning flesh did not help his thoughts center.

And as Tobi ran down the stairs, each jostle, each step gave way to a new starburst of stimulation, causing him to twitch and flail ever so slightly. His heart was pounding in his ears, his hands clutching and grasping at his carrier’s skin, clothes, hair, whatever he could. And he would feel bad later when Tobi reminded him about this embarrassing moment of weakness, but he couldn’t help himself. It was all instinctive reflex of overshooting his powers and then using them in quick succession He had no clue agony like this existed, that pain could be this branding. He felt it into his very essence.

He didn’t notice the sudden pick up in wind, the flurry of snow that brushes off his fan, the rough shove into the passenger seat, the sliding of his seat belt. All he felt was the flames licking his body from the inside out, burning him, almost purifying him. Baptism by fire, his fevered thoughts reminded him. If he got through this, he would be invincible. So invincible, so fucking strong, so…

Something.

His head felt fuzzy, his eyelids heavy. He couldn’t connect with everything that was going on. Tobi was next to him, yes, but why were they in the van? It was starting to blur together, the cold, the texts, the glowing nerves illuminating the night. And the pain was so far away, just a slight buzz, the smallest of bee stings. And if he just let go, maybe he would just drift away. Into nothingness. Into a void. Jake felt his eyelids begin to close, his head hanging loosely on off the car seat. Just a couple minutes, a couple seconds. God, just a moment to relax. And then he could focus.

THWAP

Jake jerks awake, a thick, scarred hand smacking him in the chest. It makes a hollow, tinny sound that reverberates through the van. With a shuddering breath, he focuses on sitting up, thoughts swirling in his head.

Noelle. Gone. Tobi. Find.

“Jesus!” Jake coughs, the pain coming back into his stomach, intense but much more isolated. It pulsated in his stomach, matching his quickened pulse. Sweat beads his brow, but his eyes are wide. He’s awake. And he’s going to stay awake. He adjusts himself, slowly, painstakingly, so that he sat up straight. His breath became deeper, longer, as he focused on the road, on the scenery around them.

They passed the down sign: Welcome to Jules, Conneticut! A little slice of heaven… Yeah right. The sign was wooden, pale, with little vines and petunia’s etched around the faded blue letters. Jake was familiar with this sign- he passed it with each road trip, each homecoming, each time he felt restless and like he needed to get out. The streetlight behind the sign was yellowed, casting a warm glow that should have been comforting, but it cast spooky shadows. And the light wasn’t brilliant like the one on the road.

The point of the golden thread of light had disappeared, only leaving a thin beam of a luminous glow. It was ethereal, casting fuzzy shadows on the black asphalt. Small dots edge the light, warm like fireflies on a summer night, the light hitting the accumulating snow on the road ahead gently. There weren’t many cars out, due to the snow. It was falling down now in fluffy, downy patches, littering the road and ground. Jake was sweating and had half a mind to roll down his window and stick his head out. The sheen of sweat on his face might turn into an ice facial, but at least it would cool him down.

He had to get his mind off of the pain, he had to do something. Carefully, slowly, he leaned forward and began to fiddle with the ancient radio and CD player. The car was pretty clean- it was Jake’s living space that hadn’t been used since his impromptu trip to Maryland a couple weeks ago. There was a fast food bag on the passenger side that was stuffed with wrappers of various snacks and junk food, as well as CD cases strewn all over the floor and console. The back was still set the way it was on his trip with Tobi and Noelle; the small mattress, three coolers (Empty), a portable DVD player, various blankets and pillows, and tote bags filled with non-perishable snacks. With the contents of his backpack combined with his van supplies, he and Tobi could probably keep this up for a week without worrying about food, shelter, water, everything.

Jake’s eyes flick to Tobi’s burnt nerves, his hand that had been bleeding only minutes before with that white-knuckled grip on the wheel.

That was something Jake was worried about.

He shook his head, turning on the radio, hoping that some tunes would let him focus on something. He looked at Tobi for a moment, about to ask what he wanted to listen to. Then he remembered how Tobi’s hearing probably wasn’t great at the moment and probably had other things to worry about than whatever music was playing. Jake gave a wet, hacking cough, groaning as his stomach constricted with them. He turned up the volume, hoping something would distract him. Quick guitar strums, a steady bass guitar? Ugh, Billy Joel. Just what he needed. Jake forced himself to listen to the lyrics:

Aw, but they never told you the price that you pay
For things that you might have done
Only the good die young


Jake’s eyes widen and he quickly hits the NEXT TRACK button, the pad off his thumb jamming into it as quickly and as roughly he could muster. Billy Joel had led him astray, maybe the next song would be-

Ahhhhh look at all the lonely-

Skip. Jake jams his finger on the button again, groaning as the harmonies of the lads of Liverpool turned into something much more 80s. A severe drum beat hits as a synthesizer plays the same bunch of notes again and again. Springsteen's voice started yell/singing in its raspy tone, and Jake settled back, closing his eyes, nodding his head to the beat. His fingers twitch with the synthesizer. The CD was something he mixed for himself a while ago- random road trip rock to keep him company with the empty road. If he was remembering correctly, there were forty more minutes on this disc of things that weren’t about death, being lost, and being alone.

And it was in this moment when Jake realized that he had no idea what was going on. He knew Noelle was gone, but what did that mean. Was she taken? Did she run away? And what did Tobi see? And how was he going to ask the guy about this? Jake was partial to impromptu and random adventures, but something about this felt harried. Usual he was in control of his directionless journey. And he needed to know what was going on.

Too bad there was no way for him to know until they stopped and Tobi used that whiteboard. Jake almost kicked himself for not listening to Noelle when she was teaching him sign.

Noelle.

The name hit him again. He had no idea what had happened or where she went, and while she hadn’t been gone long, panic gripped his heart. She was so integral to all their lives, she was the one thing that really connected them together. And, like Trevor before her, she was gone. And who knows for how long. He was already starting to miss the way her face got all scrunched up when she was trying to proof his papers, the way she swatted at him when he made a stupid comment about their professors. And he sat there, remembering all those little things about Noelle that he didn’t notice at the time. And while it made his heart sink into his stomach, it took the edge off the burning mess of his abdomen. So he sat, opening his eyes to follow the road, listening to song after song. When the CD runs it’s course, he pops it out and puts in another one.

And he is like this for a while, watching the string wind from backroad to highway seamlessly. He knew this route- it was westward, the direction one he was familiar with. He took it when he was heading home, heading west, heading out of state. Wherever Noelle was going, it wasn’t an unfamiliar road to him. Hell, the three of them went this way when they packed up and ran away from their troubles after the dining hall got fucked.

Speaking of which.

Without Tobi pacing or moving, Jake finally really looked at the black streaks in his hair. He remembered watching her sink into that black gunk, in that doomed cafeteria. How everything she touched was quickly consumed as well, how they talked about it for at least an hour on the top this very van. The stains. Did Tobi know? He had to now, but did he know the origin? It had been over an hour of silence between them. They had to talk about it eventually. And Jake just had to know. So, very slowly, very carefully, he pulled on Tobi’s shirt sleeve, getting his attention. And then, with shaky fingers, Jake finger spelled three letters.

I N K

He thinks for a moment, adjusting, for his hand to be more visible. Even with his cautious movements, a small whine escapes his mouth. His middle was still sensitive, and the seat belt hit right at the center of the symbol, the pang reaches the symbols tips. In a fit of annoyance, Jake flips the seatbelt behind his back, then turns back to Tobi. He pinches his index, middle finger, and thumb together, then signs the letter L. Noelle’s sign name. Then he repeats the pattern from before.

No-L. I N K.

The signage is so slow, so hesitant, but the message comes across. Or so he hopes. Was it Noelle’s ink?
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Re: Jules, Connecticut: Parkview Apartments

on Sat Jan 12, 2019 1:04 am
Tobi drives.


Hands folded white knuckle tight around the wheel, he drives. Foot planted heavy on the gas, he drives. Eyes piercing through the hazy falling veil of white powdery ice, he drives on and on, mile after mile down not yet paved road. Snow is falling in heavy flakes onto the windshield and around the car. The pattern looks a lot like an effect in one of those space movies that he had watched with Agnes once, late at night around Thanksgiving some years before. There’s the same dark sky, the same tunnel effect as he pushes the old van down an empty road. That same feeling of nothing surrounding them.

With his nerves this blistered, he can’t hear the radio and it’s classic but ominous tunes, but he can see the neon green lettering of the radio screen in the corner of his vision, the same sort that Agnes’s truck’s got. Been a while since he’s driven anything, but he can guess that whatever’s Jake’s got playing is one of his CDs. He almost wishes it were Agnes’s truck, the two of them driving somewhere like they used to. She’d pop in the one CD she’d stolen from some library, something stupid and loud that she still kept in her truck to this day, and Tobi would lean out his side of the window with the sun and breeze in his face. They’d drive away for a little while, her taking him far from his problems or her troubles, but never far enough to really cut any ties. They’d always come back. They had to come back.


She’d always come back, he thinks, though his thoughts shift from his sister. She’ll come back.


She left so much behind, it’s not like she wouldn’t want to come back for all that. Her cat, for one. They’d left the little black cat in the apartment, safe and warm. Glenn was her therapy cat, the little fuzzball in charge of keeping her happy and healthy. He knew how much she loved that cat, she wouldn’t just leave him behind. There were her classes, her assignments; she worked so hard on those. Always such a perfectionist, worrying about the details and nailing every sentence, every period and bit of punctuation. Hours were spent on papers, more as she poured over her own written word. She wouldn’t just leave that behind. Obligations, schoolwork, friends, family.


Him.


She wouldn’t just leave them all behind, it wasn’t like her. He didn’t want to assume, but he always thought he was important to her.


Fuzzy static fills his ears in a strange sort of auditory echo to the falling snow around them.

.
.
.


He drives.


An hour, two hours? Maybe more, he’s not sure of a whole lot right now. Time’s been all bungled since Jake’s apartment and maybe a little before. He just knows that it’s dark, that it’s been dark for a while now. Sun set when he wasn’t looking or maybe it’s just been cloudy, but either way, the sun’s gone. Could just be his eyes too? The world’s a strange sort of black and white, the same sort that bothers his vision from time to time and he can’t really be bothered to tell the difference.


The eyes though. That feels like it should bother him.


Little twin pools of white, they stick out from the strings. More and more they accumulate the farther he drives, the closer he comes to any sort of forest and tend to stick around the thick trunks of trees. Sometimes he can’t differentiate them from the snow, but then they blink, and he nods his head.

‘Yes,’ he thinks absently, as if he knew all along. ‘Of course.’

Gold paints a smooth path to follow, though. Easy enough to find, easy enough to follow past trees and eyes and emerald green road signs that light up the closer his headlights get to them. Strings a lazy golden pattern dusting across the dark road below them, works its way over the horizon and further to who knows where. Snow is dusting across his vision, strings itch and tug at him, and he can feel those strange little phantom eyes watching him from just beyond the shoulder of the road.

It’s a strange feeling that fills him then, something sweet like hope with the bitter finish of his special brand of cynical dread. He wants to find her at the end of this golden road whole and safe, sitting somewhere lovely, maybe staring up at the stars they loved. She’d be in a clearing, better to watch the stars in. Blanket in her hands; no, covering her lap. Her hands full with a mug of something warm.


Tea. Coffee. Hot apple cider. Hot chocolate.


She’d hear him coming, see him by the glow of his nerves, and she would smile just for him. Pat the spot next to her, hold up her blanket for him to settle underneath and there he would settle; sore, broken, hurting, but so, so relieved. He’d set her mug down, wrap her in his arms, and let his heart settle as they looked up at the stars together, those bright white dots set against an ink dark sky.

Course, in this fantasy, the grass was dry, the sky was warm, and the trees had all their leaves. Details. He preferred it over the other option though, the one that stole his breath from his chest as it clawed its way through flesh and bone to prod tortuously at the space inside. The one that wrapped tight hands around his throat and tightened its grip just enough to be uncomfortable. Worst case scenarios always had a way of pulling the air from him.


Dead, it reminded him in not quite words. She could be dead. You don’t know.


White knuckles creak against the steering wheel as he grips it tighter. I don’t know, he thinks, and his stomach drops.

In the rearview mirror, a massive dark figure rises in the distance. Their body is a barely-there silhouette against the dark sky, eyes luminous twins to Tobi’s own. There it stands even as the car pulls away, and there it’s eventually lost to the fading light and fuzzy curtain of snow.

.
.
.

He drives.


It’s been longer now, he’s not sure. But Jake’s switched out the cd a couple of times now, so maybe a few hours, he’s not sure how long that kid makes his CDs. Hours of songs like the ones from their trip to the park, hours of the kid singing along. It was almost enough to make him thankful he had burned through his hearing.

Speaking of the kid though…

There’s a tugging on his arm. Dark eyes glance over to see Jake sitting there and looking as uncomfortable as ever. Powers seemed to really take it right out the kid, but this seems like it’s on a whole new level. A very slight sheen of sweat is covering the kid’s brow, little drops occasionally breaking free to trace light trails down the curve of his forehead, cheek, jaw, and chin. He’s shaking just slightly; Tobi wonders if he knows he’s doing it. And if he concentrates hard enough, Tobi can still smell the slight acrid odor of burning flesh. His brow furrows; he’d been so caught up in his own thoughts and finding Noelle, he’d kind of forgotten about the man in the seat next to him.

Makes him feel a little bad. Just another unpleasant feeling to add to the pile. Maybe he should pull over, see if Jake’s okay. He’s just about to suggest it when Jake’s hands shakily raise and start to attempt the most rudimentary sign.

His foot leans a little off the gas as he glances over, wanting to catch what he’s trying to say. There’s an ‘I’, alright. ‘N’ comes next, and it’s a statement to how fuzzy his thoughts are right now that he doesn’t immediately guess ‘K’ as the last letter.


‘Ink’


Well, yes that’s what got them into this mess, he thinks before it really catches up to him. Jake signs again in his peripheral but he doesn’t pay that much attention because he never told Jake. All he had said was that she was gone, nothing more. Jake hadn’t seen her leave, hadn’t seen the mess that she was before she left, hadn’t seen her fucking evaporate into the ground so how did he know.


Did Jake know?


Did Jake know beforehand that this could happen and not tell him?

.
.
.


Tobi stops driving.


His foot slams on the breaks, jerking the van to a stop in the middle of the snow and dark before turning on Jake with dark eyes lit for the first time by something other than either pain, grief, or worry this night.


Anger.


‘You knew.’ He growls in that strange language. Words of rising winds and the low, far away rumble of thunder; not yet a storm, but soon to be. ‘You knew and you didn’t tell me. I had no idea it could get this bad and you did.’

Eyes narrow dangerously as lips curl in a snarl, the dim light of the parked car throwing his face into soft contrast. Outside, the flashing hazards lend their sporadic light to the world around them every second or two. Tobi’s nerves flash hazardously as the earth lends a slight rumble underneath the van to underscore his words.


‘You knew’ Tobi rumbles. ‘And now she’s gone.’
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Re: Jules, Connecticut: Parkview Apartments

on Sat Jan 12, 2019 2:39 am
Jake’s focus came back real quick once the car started to shake.

The sounds coming out of Tobi’s mouth were unnatural, aggressive, and extremely terrifying. The low grumble that rattled inside the car, to the shaking of the interior of the van with the sound, to the physical rumble of the asphalt beneath them. And Jake had no clue what or why or HOW he had upset the man. He signed three letters and a shorthand name. He was trying to figure out what happened, trying to get a clue on how he could help in his own way.

Instead, he had been yelled at.

He couldn’t help it. He flinched and curled up ever so slightly as those unknowable words hit him as if he were physically punched in the gut. Tobi was damn scary. Angry. And it was pointed at him. And the thought of that was terrifying, enough to make Jake faint all on its own. It reminded him of his siblings fighting, of his father coming in and breaking it all up. Final. Decisive. Absolute. Absolutely dead serious.

Jake didn’t meet the man’s eyes, trying to gather from the sounds what hew as saying, his pulse becoming even more rapid. He held his breath, searching, scanning for something, ANYTHING to let him know why Tobi was suddenly pointed at him. Had the golden thread stopped working? Had it disappeared? One glance outside denied that thought.The ribbon of pure light still laid outstretch in front of them, waiting to be followed to who knows where.

Sweat dripped down his face, which was contorted in deep distress. He felt sick. Like his head was going to explode any minute, that his guts would spill from his lips in an act of upset defiance to this man that he had dropped everything to help. Something small in the back of his head went through the list of assistance that Jake had provided; an answer to the door, a use of a word that had rendered him unconscious, another word that had healed his busted-ass knuckles, yet another that had rendered him so weak that he could barely do anything but sit where he was, his car, his food, his blankets, his home. Ugly feelings swirled in his chest, making Jake doubt everything that he had done. He wanted to help, he wanted to be there. But everything he did? It wasn’t good enough.

It was never good enough.

It never was.

It never would be.

.

Stop.

Jake peeked out from his closed eyes, seeing Tobi as if it were for the first time. While he still had no idea what the man had said, what the man had sworn, he did know what caused it. And he saw confusion, hurt, betrayal in those eyes. How the bright white patterns had somehow, in the time between Tobi’s arrival, etched themselves from his neck to his cheeks, neck, jaw, forehead. Under his hair. How it cast a ghostly white light to the rest of the van, casting dark and deep shadows. In different circumstances, Jake would have laughed. Made a joke about how he could relate. How new symbols seem to pop up every day. How they seemed to correspond with stress and how he was scared to see himself in twenty years when his entire face would be covered. But instead…

When Jake was a young kid, his mother would be home every day after school. And many days, Jake would come home with the story of some bully that would push him to the ground. Or yell at him. Or call him names. And, one day, how Jake felt so mad. He wanted to hurt this other kid, smack some sense in him. Young Jake was so mad that tears would swim in his eyes, that his clenched fists would tremble with pent up aggression. And yet, every day his mother would make some sort of snack and sit with him, listen to his frustrations, listen to his fury. And, somehow, the load of anger would burn off. And even when this bully picked on him more, he found himself getting less vengeful. And he marched home to his mother, sitting her down and demanded in that way young children do: “Why don’t I feel like I did?”

And his mother, with her kind eyes and a soft, shy smile would hum softly and wrap him into a hug. Her long, wispy hair would sway, warm afternoon sunshine bouncing off her locks, casting a comfortable glow. And, her voice drifted to his ear with her sweet and comforting voice. “Whenever anyone is angry, Jacob, it is because of pain. Pain incites us to lash out, like a cat backed into a corner. We panic, we evolve. That feeling twists into something to deal with it. And sometimes, what we must do is listen to that pain. Try to understand. To help those in pain. Even if it’s hard. Even if It seems impossible. Otherwise, they fall into despair.”


Tobi was hurting.

Hurting something real bad.

That much was clear.

And just like that, Jake was working on instinct, his hands and body moving before he could think. It was too damn dark, so he reached up and popped the passenger seat light on, illuminating the sickly yellow tint to his skin, the glassy-quality of his eyes. Iilluminatedintated the stack of CDs at Jake’s feet. At least a half dozen that they had gone through since they started, all covered in blocky manuscript that read fun titles like SUMMER JAMS or WINNIE’S WHIMSY or SONGS THAT’LL MAKE YOUR DAD LIKE YOU. Four and a half hours of content that had been used to distract from the aching pain, from the fear and anxiety that gripped his neck so tightly. It illuminated the dashboard, covered in dust, the only spots cleared were where Jake absently drummed his fingers. It illuminated the spot on the window where Jake had rested his head, trying to cool himself from the fire that threatened to burn him inside and out. But he ignored all that, choosing to instead reach for the white board in the back, gasping as his torso twisted to accommodate his new positioning.

Tobi couldn’t understand him. Couldn’t hear.

And Tobi wasn’t going to stop until he understood.

Jake uncapped the marker with shakey hands, the cap nearly escaping his fingers a total of three times before it rests on the back of the marker. In that blocky scrawl, he writes a message. Quick, concise, his focus on the whiteboard. Later, he would point out to anyone who listened to this story that the whiteboard was for Tobi to write to him. But God had a funny way of sticking it to Jake. “Oh? You wanted your half-assed plan to work? Sorry dude. You know how this works.” Still, he wrote quick and without flourish. His face was screwed in concentration. In truth, this moment only lasted a couple seconds. But snow accumulated on the windshield, wind shook the car. Jake shuddered a couple times, the fever from his illness meeting the heat of literal burned flesh. But he kept writing until he was done. And when he was done, he thrusted the whiteboard to Tobi, tapping the marker to the words before placing it in the cup holder.

“READ” Jake’s eyes spoke as he unbuckled his seatbelt once and for all, combing through his hair once as nervous energy overtook his body. It was almost as if he were in a position of preparing for an incoming tornado, or trying to stop himself from vomiting. The message was simple. Jake didn’t have the time or patience to explain everything. There would be time for that later. Right now, he had to fix a misunderstanding. Instead, it read:

I don’t know what happened.
I saw ink in hair.
Dining Hall, Noelle sunk in ink. It got sucked back into her.
She talked to me about it. Promised me not to tell.
Said she would talk to you about it.


And. Most importantly.

I thought you knew.

While Tobi read, Jake pulled out his phone. His fingers took over, deciding that he didn’t have time for this. Tobi didn’t have time for this either. So Jake scrolled through his past text messages. A few unread, but he scrolled past the promises of video games and cartoons with an old buddy. Scrolled past his unanswered texts to Noelle. Finally, he landed on a number that he only texted once, to thank and offer promises of pie, soup, and bread. With a grimace, he pressed the little phone icon to call, raising the phone to his ears.

There was a ring, then a repeat, sounding further away. An out of state call. He waits as the phone rings a couple more times before there is an answer. And when he speaks, his voice was rough, pained, and distant. Fading in and out, like his focus and adrenaline. The tall man leans foreward, his head pretty much between his knees and his unencumbered hand wiping slimy sweat off his brow. Before the recipient of the call could say anything, Jake lets out a pained breath.

“Hey. Agnes? You told me to call if there was trouble? Well… I think you know the rest."
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Re: Jules, Connecticut: Parkview Apartments

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