A strange, almost murky wind slapped against the window, causing the glass to wobble even though it was tightly shut. George Chesterfield heard it whistling through a tiny crack and though it was loud, it seemed remote, as though it were merely an echo in his own mind. The sound resonated continuously, annoyingly, but it was her unusual silence causing this strange sensation, not the wind. Though he could only see the back of her head, he envisioned a smug gaze upon her face. Maybe she knew.
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George attempted to control his self-doubt by shifting his view, he glanced out the window. The endless highway was vast and full of many commuters, the sight did nothing to suspend his apprehensions. He sighed, shrugged his shoulders, and turned back to gaze at his sleeping baby brother. A quick look at him was all it took to reset and forget about the slow smoldering of his skin.
George's half-smile faded as all his energy refocused on Cyndi, his step-mother. He now peered at the back of her head with such intensity he thought perhaps he could will her to speak, though he was only met with her mocking silence. His hand came to his face in a swiping motion. As he always did, he began to press the palm of his hand painfully against his forehead then slowly pulled it down, ending the ritual by clenching his throat.
He was certain Cyndi would be yelling at him by now. He had done everything, without being conspicuous, to upset her. Ten minutes had already ticked by. He worried she knew, maybe his touching of the mini camera had been obvious. Maybe she had seen, and maybe she knew he was filming her.
No, no, he thought, she couldn't possibly know the camera was there, or could she?
His temperature elevated, making his brow damp. The thought of her knowing loomed and slowly began to suffocate him. His heart somehow synchronized with the ticking of the second-hand; three, four, five and still nothing. Cars thundered by as their car pushed northward and drew near their exit. He exhaled deeply, supposing it didn't matter, she would crack soon enough. Besides, he could always wear the hidden camera, remembering of course, next time, to attach it to something other than his skin.
He scratched his head and sank back into his seat, feeling heavy. He closed his weary Irish eyes. It was at this moment she snapped. George sneered like the Cheshire cat in Wonderland. Cyndi had finally fallen back into her predictable ways. He almost laughed, and though he didn't like what she said, he was finally set at ease. He would not have to go through this again. He knew, at least he hoped, by filming her behavior for his father he would once and for all be able to prove she was not someone his father should adore.
George lifted his shoulders and puffed out his chest pointing the camera to the back of her head, all the while thinking back to the many fights he had with his father as of late. His dad didn't believe it was true, not his sweet, pretty, long-haired, long-legged, and young Cyndi, no, no, no. Someone who looked like that could never be cruel. She loved the boys as if they were her own. Besides, his father had argued, no one could yell at a cute, innocent little baby.
"And," She said, stressing the "and" as a nerve in her forehead pulsated in a scary, yet comedic way. "It's your turn to take care of your little shit of a brother tonight."
Bingo, he thought as his grin widened. He couldn't have scripted her insults better. Now his dad would have to believe him, would have to get rid of the twenty-two-year old Succubus. George leaned forward being mindful to refrain from touching the camera. His breath shallow, his body unmoved; he wanted his father to hear everything. On and on she went, her voice as loud and as quick as the cars whizzing by.
Cyndi's yelling amplified to a near craze, out-of-control fever pitch. This wasn't usual, the yelling yes, the volume no. The number of veins protruding from her forehead increased as her skin turned from its normal pallor glow of soft white to that of a burning purplish red. George, out of nowhere and for no real reason, flinched. He shifted his gaze to the left and all attention he had given Cyndi was instantly taken away.
From the window he could see glints of sunlight reflecting off the remaining raindrops that had not been absorbed by the black asphalt. His eyes shifted even further to the left spotting a truck of unclear age and in a mediocre state. The truck recklessly barreled across the three lanes separating it from their car. A horn sounded. The diligent car behind them swerved, nearly losing control. All while Cyndi remained oblivious to the danger racing toward her. George was not so lucky. His fingers nervously threaded through his fiery hair as he blinked, seeing it before it even happened. The truck was going to hit them.
Time, being accurate and strange, stopped. Another horn sounded making a monstrously ominous noise. George's right arm flew up as though to protect his already protected brother. The truck cut in front of Cyndi's car. She reacted, but was not fast enough. The left rear bumper of the truck slightly clipped the front left of her car. The tap, which was hardly felt, was all it took to connect the wheels with the last of the remaining rainwater.
The car spun out of control doing a full three-sixty. George opened his mouth to scream, but couldn't. A gurgle vibrated throughout his dry throat. Acid, burning and churning in his stomach, ruptured and shot up stinging his esophagus and tongue. Not a single sound escaped, not even a soft murmur of fear. The car completed the full circle. Cyndi desperately pressed on the brakes; her hands tried to grip and control the steering wheel to no avail. Cars swerved left and right, all trying to divert danger and prevent crashing themselves.
Next, just as George brought his hand to grasp at his seatbelt, the car slid to the right where the edge of the road met the edge of a large retainer wall. The front of the car dipped, hit the edge, and then took flight. His mind went blank as the frontend of the vehicle soared forward, began to tilt down, and finally succumbed to the weight of the engine. The car flipped, abruptly stopping as the backend smashed into the ice-cold ground, which was forty-feet from the top of exit ramp 252.
The seatbelt slapped across George's torso and shoulder, taking away his breath and nearly crushing the camera. The gurgle finally escaped his lips as he attempted to recalibrate and regain his ability to inhale; and just like that, with a buzzing in his ears, and a snapping of something behind him, time resumed its normal course. A high-pitched noise penetrated his ears and shook his mind. He had to focus. George struck his own face. The sensation gave him the clarity to understand and grasp the high pitch was that of a crying baby, namely, his brother Harrison.
At first he remained in his dazed fog. It took all his mental power to comprehend that both he and his brother were safe, even though they dangled upside down.
"It’s okay buddy. It’s okay." George said as he briefly touched his brother's hand.
He had to move quickly. He placed one hand on the roof of the car while bracing his foot against the back of the front seat. He inhaled deeply, nodded to himself in a reassuring, not so confident manner, and used his other hand to press on the seatbelt release button. He should have thought it through better because just as his finger touched the tiny orange button, his head smashed into the roof.
He gasped then coughed, a raging pain ran up and down his spine. After rapidly reorienting his discombobulated mind, he kicked his feet over and sat up until he was at one with gravity. He somewhat pressed his hand against his head. Harrison's cries for help grew.
George gulped in more air and slide across the roof to position himself in front of his brother. Harrison didn't appear hurt; nonetheless George remained concerned because his brother was flush and wailed relentlessly. As his hand came up to release his brother from his prison, the 'what if's' surfaced, causing him to pause even before he moved. What if by removing the little fellow he hurt him? What if his back was broken, what if, what if? In a petrified state of desperation, he turned to the only adult in the car, Cyndi.
He painfully turned his head toward his step-mother, the cries from his brother steadily growing. George's throat was dry once more, the shooting pain in his back surged up and into his brain. The front seat was empty, the front windshield shattered. A look of utmost dismay befell him. He was alone with his brother and heaven only knew if Cyndi was dead or alive. He had to make the decision on his own.
"Just great." He said silently, while looking up to the sky hoping for some heavenly intervention. A side thought occurred to him, she must have flown out of the car. He felt his heart thump then flip-flop, he wanted to get rid of her, but not this way.
The ringing in his ears intensified from the strain of stress. His brother continued to wail, his face now a deep burgundy. George stopped delaying; his brother couldn't stay like that, regardless of the consequence he had to free him. He shifted and blocked out the vague sound of people from above shouting down direction and questions. He prepared himself for the worst while praying for the best.
"It’s okay, it’s okay Harry. I'll help you. It’s okay." George said to the poor, frightened child.
George placed one hand firmly on his brother's chest, not wanting his brother to fall as he had, and carefully pressed the red button. He held his chest while quickly, yet gingerly sliding off the shoulder restrains, finally pulling him free. He flipped Harrison over and hugged his brother close to him. The blood began to circulate, and soon enough his brother, grasping tightly to his chest, began to calm down.
"You okay buddy, you okay?" George said breathlessly, a tear glistening in his eye.
Harrison stopped crying, slightly smiled as only babies can, and gave George the confidence to move forward. He hugged Harrison even closer as he slid carefully through the shattered back window. He stepped out and clear of the debris then scanned the area. He needed to call for help; he needed to call his dad, needed to tell him about Cyndi, and needed to find out what happened to her.
"There's a baby down there." He heard a woman both shout and wildly scream as though it were her own child.
George fully grasped the danger he and his brother had escape while walking around in a tiny circle and surveying all the damage done to the crushed car. George didn't want to move around too much, but still he felt it his duty to find Cyndi, and so he began scanning the wreckage.
His eyes scanned the full length of the empty field. Cyndi was nowhere in sight. He felt his skin crawl as a few men decided to jump the ten-foot drop. They were coming and he was running out of time. He had to see for himself, he had to see the wicked witch crushed by Dorothy's house.
He kept searching. There were only so many places a body could go. He exhaled, placed his arm firmly against his brother's back, and then tilted his body down in order to search the car for the final time. His green eyes jutted open in disbelief. The seatbelt remained tightly fasted, completely unmoved. George felt paralyzed and exasperated, he was without any semblance of logical answers.
How could the seatbelt be as it was? He supposed it was only possible in two events. One was simple enough; Cyndi unbuckled, and then buckled the belt before being ejected from the car. Probable, but unlikely, leaving the impossible. He shook his head.
George would not go down that route, he refused to. He stood back up, breathed in. He wanted to keep searching, but the others had arrived. They were in a panic, they didn't care about the driver. They only cared about the baby, just as George had.
Steam billowed and swirled around the top of Meena Cloud’s dark blue coffee mug. She managed to pry her left eye open only to find Grumpy, with crossed arms and a scowl, glaring down her.
What a welcome sight, Meena sarcastically thought.
She shut her eyes, wanting nothing more than to pull the warm blankets over her head in an attempt to block out the sunlight penetrating through her blackout curtains. She wanted to remain in a slumbered state where she was happiest, but couldn’t. A prism of light washed over her face seeping through her translucent blankets, causing her to moan knowing going back to sleep would be impossible. Someone had slightly opened the curtains.
She knew who had done it and was thankful they had at least been kind enough to make coffee and place it close enough for her to smell it. Something about the distinct aroma of coffee beans always did the trick, it made waking up more bearable. She groaned in an over-dramatic and exaggerated fashion as she pushed off the blankets while sitting up and taking a quick glance outside. She shut her eyes and turned from the bright, burning light. In response to the pain she mumbled a few chastising words while also making more false promises. She was getting too old to stay up drinking all night, only to sleep the day away.
After kicking the blankets off her feet, she sat erect and placed her hands on her hips, leaned back, and cracked her vertebra. She felt terrible and vowed, yet again; this would be the last time she would allow herself to wake up feeling ill, her stomach simply could not take it anymore. No more drinking, starting today.
Yes we always say starting today don’t we, her mind taunted. She simply shrugged it off, moved to the edge of the bed, and stood up.
As she took her first step forward she grabbed her blue coffee mug and started her day. Meena, her feet bare, slid her overdue laundry out of her path and began to shuffle her feet down the cooler than usual hallway. She stopped only briefly as she hit the digital button on the thermostat. Though it was April, the cold air lingered. She shook off the thought and continued sipping on the warm liquid and made her way into the living room. A smile crept onto her face when she heard the familiar sounds of the television. She was always set at ease when they were around.
Meena cleared her throat, “Have you two been here long?”
“Grandpa yelled at Adri last night. Like really yelled, screamed really, like a mad woman. We came in around one this morning. You were already asleep. Hope you don’t mind, you left the back door unlocked again.” Sophia, her seventeen-year-old neighbor said as she stood up and walked into the kitchen to pour herself some more coffee. She followed it up by dumping half a cup of sugar into it. “You know you really shouldn’t do that, leave the door unlocked I mean. A killer could come in and well,” Her tongue slightly fumbled on the words, “well you know, kill you.”
“You know I leave it unlocked for you.” She said as scanned the room for Adrianna. “Where is your sister? Is she okay?”
“Where do you think?” Sophia rolled her eyes; Adrianna was always in the same place when she came over. Why Meena asked every time, eluded her.
“Computer room?” She asked with a grin.
“Yep,” Sophia said as she walked back into the kitchen and sat her coffee down. Her stomach grumbled and felt sour; she had drunk way too much caffeine this morning. “Adrianna is fine; she just gets so hurt by it, the yelling I mean. You know her and her crocodile tears. She just can’t take it when anyone raises their voice, let alone screams at her. You would think grandpa would have stopped it by now, but no.”
“Sorry to hear that, what about you? Did he upbraid you too?” Meena crossed the room, opened the curtain, did a quick scan next door to make sure everything was as it always had been, then refocused her energy on the teenager.
“If you mean yell at, then nope, not this time.” Sophia shrugged. Normally, her grandfather’s rage focused on her and everything she did wrong.
Meena nodded sagely, there really wasn’t much she could say or even do about their grandfather. She held Sophia’s gaze only for a moment before taking another sip of her coffee and turning around to step toward her office. She silently opened the white door and stood in the frame watching Adrianna Sauterne. Meena’s azure eyes sparkled as she watched the girl who intently plucked away at the computer, always in search of something to learn or something to do.
“How is my favorite eleven-year-old?” Meena asked as stepped into the office and ruffled the young girl’s messy hair.
“I’m the only eleven-year-old you know.” Adrianna said in her usual, logical way.
“Not true.” Meena said, though knew differently. If she wanted to be brutally honest with herself, she would admit they were practically the only two souls on earth she did know.
Adrianna turned around in the swivel chair to lock eyes with Meena. She cocked her head to the right in a quizzical and concerned manner. “When is the last time you left the house?”
“Now, now, you know that is a stinging subject with me. I thought I made you promise last week to not bring it up anymore.” Meena stood above Adrianna, wanting to tell her the truth, but always holding back.
“Yeah, when is the last time you left the house?” Sophia chimed in; she now held a glass of orange juice in her hand.
“I went to Maverick just yesterday.” Meena answered with all sincerity.
“No I mean like got out of the house, to visit someone. Do you even know someone?” Adrianna’s cobalt colored eyes appeared darker today almost haunted.
Meena felt her mind shiver, her soul quake. She slightly bit on her lower lip before answering. “Oh you girls and your worrying, it’s silly, I am the adult, I will be fine.” Meena said and then quickly deflected. “Are you doing all right Adrianna?”
“Yes, but gramps yelled at me for nothing.” Sadness glinted in her face as the corners of her lips turned downward.
“What happened?” Meena took a gulp of the coffee then coughed as she nearly choked on the heated liquid.
“He is a drunk dick. End of story.” Sophia answered for her. She plopped down to view what her younger sister was watching then turned back to question Meena. “How come you don’t become a mega bitch when you drink?”
“I am wallowing in self-pity, and I focus so hard on this self-pity that I don’t have any energy left to be a dick, otherwise I am sure I would be.” She too sat down and gazed upon the tiny screen.
“I would love to be you.” Sophia said as she took a piece of her coal colored hair and swirled it around and around as though she were daydreaming about her friends life. “But not as old as you, you are too old. I never want to be as old as you.”
“I’m not old.” Meena said in an offended tone. She turned to Adrianna, wanting some support. “Come on, do you think I am old?”
She nodded her head. “Twenty-five is way old, and you aren’t even married yet. Have you even been on a date? I only ask because I really haven’t seen you go on a date, or even leave the house for more than a year.”
“Well what do you know? You are only a kid. Besides twenty-five is only old in Utah; if I lived anywhere else I would be young; seriously young.” Meena said, her voice full of jest. She brushed her hand in the air, as though pushing away all thoughts and asked, “So what weird video are you watching on YouTube today?”
This made Adrianna perk up. She wanted to ask them about the video for more than an hour. The anticipation was starting to kill her, but she patiently waited for Meena to wake up first. “I follow this kid named George. Normally it is just stuff about the school, teachers, lunch, bullies; you know the typical boy trying to push awareness of the plight of teenagers.”
“Plight of teenagers?” Meena asked hardly able to contain her laughter at the very idea of teenagers being so plighted there was some grand underground movement building to liberate them.
“Yes, plight of teenagers. Like the fact of not-a-drop, you know a kid blows a .002 and they can get in real trouble in Utah. Seriously .002 can happen after you rinse your mouth out with mouthwash, but here in Utah if a kid blows that number they can get real time.”
“Okay Alex, get on with it,” Sophia mocked Adrianna, even though she too thought some of the laws in Utah were slated against teenagers. She particularly hated the curfew law and often said: What gives the state the right to parent children?
She brushed it off, for one could always find a way around such things.
“Anyway,” she continued, but not before she gave Sophia a dirty look, “He posted something strange. Scary really, really scary and boy the trolls are having a field day with it, but he does have a lot of views, so I guess that is a good thing, maybe his important videos will finally get the notice they deserve.” Adrianna paused then continued, “Most of them are saying that video is so fake and that he should be more original.” Adrianna shook her head. “But I know it is real.”
“What is it? Did he capture some space alien or is it a Squatch? That’s what they say right? A Squatch?” Sophia mocked again.
Meena silently snickered until Adrianna gave that all too familiar, really, look. Sophia pointed erroneously in the air, and just as Adrianna looked away she pressed enter.
“Hey,” Adrianna said but fell silent as they all watched the video George had made only a week ago.
The video played on the small laptop, causing Sophia and Meena to lean in with a morbid curiosity. Their faces remained close, as though it may give them better insight on what they were looking for or at. The camera focused solely on the back of a woman's head. The woman appeared to be talking, but they could only know this by the strange movement of her head and hands, both bobbled back and forth. The boy who had made the video had deleted the noise, which gave the small video a more surreal, almost eerie, malicious feeling.
They could make out some traffic, but mainly just the woman's head. It wasn't until a sign was spotted did it click; she was driving down I-15 heading toward their exit. This familiarity made watching the video more thrilling. After the car passed the nearing exit sign, the frames suddenly slowed down. Sophia smacked Meena on the shoulder and pointed to a truck that had just entered the vantage point of the camera. From this angle it was clear the truck was heading straight toward the filmmaker. Slowly, frame by frame, Meena, Sophia, and Adrianna watched the truck draw closer and closer to the car, already knowing the truck’s destiny. Clearly it would collide with the unsuspecting driver.
"Oh," Meena gasped.
She couldn't describe why she gasped. She knew it was coming, but still felt her body recoil when the car begin to spin. She felt her stomach sink a bit, watching a car wreck first thing in the morning didn’t sit well with her fragile mind.
"Wait. Wait for it. That's not it." Adrianna said in anticipation, she didn't want Meena to look away. She had to know what she thought. "Now watch closely. Keep your eye on the lady's head, it’s hard to do, but watch it carefully."
The car stopped spinning as it hit the edge of the off-ramp and launched into the air. The wind whistled in the background, though Meena knew it was a trick of her mind. There was no noise, just a car slowly climbing in the air then falling. When the car finally began its descent, they witnessed something they could not believe. Was it a trick? It must be a trick.
The woman driving the car simply disappeared. This could not be. The laws of physics didn’t simply seize to exist. Just as Meena went to press the pause button, the film paused itself, reversed, and replayed at an even slower pace. The filmmaker obviously knew the person watching would question what they saw. Again, the woman simply disappeared.
Meena leaned back, sighing deeply as her hand came to her forehead. She scratched it, then tapped her fingers, her mind confused. She didn't understand what it was she had just witnessed, surely it was fake.
"That's not real." Sophia concluded just as the video did. She turned, spun Adrianna around, looked her in the eye and said, "So fake. Seriously Adri? You are like a Wile E. Coyote, you're too clever to fall for this type of con. He is just trying to get a lot of hits on YouTube, really, you should know better than that."
"No it's real." Adrianna said in a hypnotic tone. Fear encased her eyes. Her mind had gone over it and over it again. The ramification concerning its validity confused her. Yet here it was, glaring evidence. The unknown woman vanished. She was gone, taken into a strange nothingness.
"It's not. Serious Adri, you need to get a life. Really? A lady simply disappearing? That is impossible. The simplest answer is the correct one, and that answer is called photo editing." Sophia flung her arms into the air to show her exasperation. How could Adrianna believe something not true? People simply don't just disappear cloths and all.
"I have a life." Adrianna folded her arms in defense as tears began to swell in her eyes. She really needed her sister on her side, if just this once.
"Now ladies, ladies," Meena lightly touched Adrianna's arm. The girl was so sensitive and she hated to see her cry. Adrianna's ability to feel so much both frightened her and made her heart ache. She wished she could feel like the child, maybe then she would find happiness. "Rewind it and let's watch again."
Adrianna hit the refresh button and they all watched it again, and then again; pausing it at the moment the woman disappeared, just before, and finally right after. They watched carefully, diligently, wanting to find to find a blip or at least a change in the back scenery. However, they could find no visible sign of tampering, and yet the idea was so absurd, it couldn't be true.
"See." Adrianna said with some sense of satisfaction. "No static. No delay. No change. They were in midair for freaks sake, the clouds match, the mountains match, even the bird in the sky matches. How could he do that? How?"
"So fake." Sophia said as she got up and laughed. "Didn't you see that eagle video, you know of the one where the eagle swoops down and picks up the baby only to drop it."
"Yeah," replied Adrianna in a temperamental way.
"Well that was fake and it looked pretty real to me." Sophia said.
"You're telling me that George not only wrecked one car, but another, just so he could pretend his step-mother disappeared? Because I looked it up, she really is missing you know." Adrianna half-whined, half-yelled.
"Maybe he killed her and needs an alibi." Sophia joked then ruffled her sister's hair in a deigning way. "It’s called editing Adri, editing."
"George is not like that. He wouldn't hurt anyone." Adrianna crossed her arms in a huff.
"You don't even know this George." Sophia said.
"But I do."
"What? What do you mean you know him? How old is he?" Sophia went from being a mean older sister to a concerned loving one within an instant. She knew all about the pedo's lurking and skulking on the internet preying on vulnerable, and overly trusting young kids. Kids like her overly naive, overly nice sister.
"Girls, girls, you know the rules." Meena said as she began rubbing her temples and wishing for more coffee.
"No fighting while you're in the house." They both said in unison like school children reciting the alphabet back for the twentieth time.
"Yes, no fighting." Meena rolled her eyes, stood up, and gently patted Adrianna on the shoulder in a reassuring manner and to help ease the blow of her not believing either. "I would like to think it is real Adrianna, but people don't disappear in thin air. Now don't get me wrong, I don't think this George fellow killed his mum or anything like that. I just think he is probably a bright kid like you, who cared deeply for this lady and he is just trying to rationalize why she left."
"Well, what about quantum leaping and quarks? They constantly disappear and reappear, at least I think they do." Adrianna was pleading with her big blue eyes. "I mean I don't know much about all that but I have watched documentaries on it, and it is possible you know."
"You seriously, seriously need to get a life, what's next Loch Ness...Aliens?" Sophia stood up, spun on her heel and walked out of the office and back into the living room.
"It's not a fake." She practically shouted after her sister, but it was too late, Sophia would have no more of it.
Meena smiled, "Well I suppose you should look into that quantum thing you are talking about, that would help set your sister straight."
"What about you? Do you really think it is fake? Because I know George, he was really scared. I think something really did happen to that lady."
Meena stammered and stumbled on her words. "I believe that you believe." She bit her lower lip then attempted a smile.
She hated letting the child down, and yet she had vowed never to lie to the girls, no matter what the cost. A price she paid heavily for last year when she let it slip Santa Clause was not real. Sophia didn't talk to her for more than a week because it was the one thing she had done right since her mom and dad died. Even though her grandfather was a drunk, Sophia, knowing how much Adrianna loved Christmas and believed in the big old man, had forced him to go shopping and to hide presents until Christmas morning. It was the only real magic Adrianna had left and Meena had taken it away from her, robbed her of some small miracle.
In this moment, as she stared down at Adrianna, she wondered if she was doing it again, robbing the young girl of something magical and more to life than this seemingly cruel world.
Adrianna wanted to say something, but it was no use. They weren't going to believe and so she simply shrugged her shoulders and looked at Meena as though she felt sorry for her. After a few silent moments Adrianna nodded her head and smiled back at Meena, letting her know, without words that it was okay for Meena to leave. Meena winked at her, gently rubbed the back of her shoulder, and walked away.
After she was gone, Adrianna shook her head, swiveled the chair back around and watched the video one last time, pausing it at the very moment the lady disappeared. She turned her head to the right, to make sure no one was watching her. Finally after a long delay and biting down on her thumb nail, she posted a brief comment: I believe you George.
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