"The sun just flickered," Zachreal told me. We were sitting in the small square sandbox in our sun burnt back lawn when my brother said this. I ignored it at first. He was prone to saying odd things, just get my attention and it was usually so that he could ask me for something. I just continued to shovel sand into the small plastic dump truck. He knew that I was trying very hard not to hear him so he bent over so that he was close to my ear and hissed "Are you afraid?"
"Shut up," I muttered, pushing him away. He was a whole two years older than I was. A head taller than me and he didn't like to be shoved around. So he pushed me back.
"I said that the sun has gone out!" He yelled.
"And I said shut up!" I replied, equally loud. We had the classic stare off which he won only because he threw sand in my face. I'm sure that I was red with rage. But he kept his color; he never let his anger show. He was strange and detached from himself. This was why, at the age of seventeen, he was playing in a sandbox instead of hanging out with other kids his age. He was 'different' as the small town gabbers would say, thinking that using the word 'different' was being more sensitive then the words 'disturbed' or 'crazy'. He had no friends other than me and no interest in them either. He was, in his words, 'better than them'. Right now I didn't agree.
"This is stupid," I said, standing up and getting out of the sandbox. He watched me with only polite interest. "The sun hasn't gone out its right there! In the sky!" I pointed to the west where the sun was leaning and turning the clouds a fiery orange.
"It only went out briefly," Zachreal said in a soft voice, "It happened so fast that you didn't see it...but it will go out for good. Very soon." I folded my arms. I had meant to go inside but his words held me there. Planted to the dead grass. He smiled slowly at me.
"Everybody on earth will die," He said, his eyes swimming with mirth, "Except for you and I, because I know where to go, and what to do."
Of course, I thought bitterly, The secret spot. Zachreal disappeared sometimes. It was usually at night when he thought that nobody would notice. He was mostly right. Mom didn't notice and Dad didn't notice. But I did. I noticed every time, ever since the first time when he was ten and had climbed silently from his bedroom window at two in the morning. He hadn't made a sound but I had woken up. When I asked about where he went, which I did often, he gave the same answer. "It's a very special Place; it's a very secret spot." And that was always followed by a sly smile.
"What about Mom and Dad?" I asked. It was no good to argue with him once he'd gotten into it so I played along, "Will we take them too? Where will we go? Will we all fit?"
"Oh, we won't be taking them," Zachreal mused, resting his chin on his hands, "They wouldn't understand it anyways. No, it will just be you Warren. I will save you."
I didn't have an immediate answer to this. I knew the Zachreal had a dislike for most people but was he honestly telling me that he wouldn't save Mom and Dad if given the chance? I sighed, my face was still the color of a tomato. "The sun won't go out," I assured him.
"Be afraid, Warren," Zachreal said, standing up and brushing off his torn jeans, "I'll be brave for the both of us." With that said he walked passed me and to the house, ruffling my hair as he did so.
I have tried to follow Zachreal to his 'secret spot' more than once. I would walk a good distance behind him, though he never looked behind, and it would always lead me to a long meandering journey through the small town, behind it's restaurants and passed its churches and across it's roads and bridges. All the while he would keep his eyes on the road ahead. But he must've known that I followed because he would always manage to lose me. I had followed him three times and every time he had taken a different maze through town. Every time had been a different direction. So I had no idea as to where he went and, after a while, I convinced myself that I didn't care.
One day I was standing in the shade of a group of kids my age in the park, zoning out of the conversation unnoticed when my brother's name was brought up. I had snapped to and realized that 'the new kid' was being drilled about the do's and don'ts of this town.
'The new kid' was a girl that lived three houses down from me. Her name was Sadie or Sophie or something like that and she was the city type. I could see it in her face. The small town scared her. "Don't even try to talk to Zachreal," Warned Courtney, "Don't even look at him when you pass his house. Not even if he's staring at you."
"Yeah," Phil agreed, "Once, when I was-like-seven I accidentally threw a ball into his back yard. Me and my cousin were playing with it- it had been a present. So we went over to get it and he tried to kill us- had a stick that he went at us with-" I didn't correct Phil. I didn't tell him that he could have knocked on our door that day and asked me to get it. I didn't add that he had been warned about my brother's violence and I definitely didn't say that there was never a ball. People didn't want to hear that. They didn't want to hear me defending him and I didn't particularly want to.
"He's really creepy," Courtney shuddered, "Warren says that he collects knives," I was startled. Had I said that? I couldn't remember now. The shame the crept through me was terrible. Zachreal honestly believed that I was a better person than these rumor spreading youths. But it was what kept me with in their circle.
"Yeah," I replied when they all looked at me to confirm it, "He orders them off of e-bay because he doesn't like going out in public. He's memorized my mom and dad's credit card numbers to do it...."
Sadie or Sophie, eager to get in on the conversation while she could said "He's like my brother then! Yeah, my brother Steve is a real pain. He's got a stash in his bedroom and he spends all of his time on his computer instant messaging his creepy girl friend-"
"Well sure," Courtney interrupted, "That's creepy too, but there's a bunch of kids like that in town....Zachreal tried to kill Warren once, didn't he Warren?" Again everybody was looking at me. A ravenous silence gathered them while they waited. I scratched the back of my head. No, no he hadn't. It was another lie that got me the sort of attention I wanted. "Yes," I said quietly. Mistaking my tone for fear instead of unforgiving guilt Courtney took my hand and said "You're so brave," I didn't argue it. What did Zachreal care if I bent the truth a little? Its not like anybody spoke to him anyways, and it was his own fault. Sadie or Sophie's eyes wandered up the hill from the park, where my house's roof could still be seen. She looked fearful and intrigued all at the same time. No doubt I would find her trying to talk to my brother at some point during the next week. An event that she would later regret. Zachreal didn't usually speak to other people, but when he did what came out of his mouth was for them and only them. They never repeated it, no matter how much others urged. Maybe they were afraid that it was true, but what ever it was wasn't pleasant. I knew that for sure. As the group of children dispersed for the evening, from under the town's largest oak, Sadie or Sophie caught up with me. "I only live three houses down from you," She pointed out, "So I thought that we could walk together," I shrugged, a non-commital answer at best. We walked in silence half way up the hill until I realized that it wasn't silence at all. Sadie or Sophie was chatting on and on about the city life and it had turned into an indistinguishable hum. She turned to me and asked a question, I hadn't caught it but I nodded hoping that it was the sort of answer she was looking for.
"I've seen him already," She said, waking me up. Him could only mean one person, "Your brother...sneaking around at night...I saw him when I was walking to the convenience store the other night....he was running,"
"Running?" I asked, raising an eyebrow, now that really didn't sound like my brother at all.
"Yeah," She said, wrinkling her freckled nose in thought, "Like he was being chased...only he was all alone. Nothing followed him...he just kept running. He's a really bad runner. He kept on tripping but he looked scared..."
"Yeah well," I muttered, trying to make it sound normal for him, even if it wasn't, "He isn't well," I nearly sighed in relief as we came up on my house, the conversation was over and now I could go consider the events that Sophie or Sadie had recounted. "Well, see you," I waved as I walked towards the little white house. She didn't wave, she simply nodded and stood there, in the road. Staring. I opened the door that dad had painted red the summer before and found Zachreal waiting. His narrow face looked down at me as he frowned. "Why do you waste your time with them?" He asked me. As he always did when ever I returned from visiting my friends, "Its bad enough that you have to go to school with them,"
"They're really nice," I said, shoving the image of my friend's whispering about him out of my mind, "-and I like school." Another lie, though not quite as bad.
"What ever," He sighed, and left to go to his room. I looked around, where were my parents? They were usually lecturing me about being out after dark by this time. I walked into the kitchen and read the note on the refrigerator, Gone for Good. Love Mom and Dad. That was very odd, what on earth did that mean? It was in Mom's handwriting, so I was concerned. "ZACHREAL!" I yelled, I prided myself in being the only one who could get away with this when it came to my brother.
"WHAT?!?" He yelled back from his room. I sighed, he sounded so normal sometimes.
"WHERES MOM AND DAD?!?" I asked. I heard the door to his room click open. I met him in the hallway with the note in hand, "Who wrote this?" I asked him.
"It looks like she did," He replied, looking critically at it. He rested his head on the wall while he did so and said "Maybe its a joke," I narrowed my eyes at him. He was acting far too normal over this.
"Zachreal, you were here the entire time, where are they?" My voice was demanding. He smiled his half smile at me and said
"I just got back, how should I know?"
I searched the house, the bathroom, the bedrooms, the basement. Hell, I even searched the cramped Attic and the yard. They weren't there. Returning to the house I picked up the phone to call the police...and then I realized how ridiculous I was being. They had probably gone to see some friends, or to the grocery store. A vague note like that had to be a joke. I was angry at them for it but I wasn't going to waste time being concerned. I fell onto the couch and turned on the TV, I fell asleep before I even saw what was on.