Chapter 3

I grumbled the entire walk home. Stupid brothers, stupid crazy brothers, stupid old sneakers- I stopped to tie my shoelaces again. Not because they needed to be tied but because I needed a break. I had never known how far Zachreal wandered until tonight, I had assumed that he just wandered the little town, not that he'd walked two miles out of it. And how had he known about my dream? What had he meant about Mom and Dad? "Stupid brother," I muttered aloud. It felt better to say it aloud. Like I had gotten something off of my chest. Though I hadn't. Where did he go? Did he honestly think that I was doing anything other than trying to persuade him back home? Okay, so what? I guess I was a little curious about the allure of where he went to in such secrecy. And maybe I wanted a glimpse of his fear too. He was never afraid, never. Fear was below him. I looked at my watch, 2:36am, god what a night. Hadn't Zachreal ever heard of sleep?...no, probably not. Insomnia was probably one more illness that he could fall under. For the life of me I couldn't figure out if that made him weaker or everybody else just less worthier.

On my way home I walked passed a burnt out street light, it flickered back to life. I wondered why. Motion sensor. I concluded, shoving the idea out of my head before I had time to wonder at why a motion sensor would be connected to a street light in the first place. I didn't like to over think things like that. It would make me paranoid. When I reached the house I forgot about secrecy and went through the front door. That was alright, it was a quarter before three in the morning. Nothing would wake my parents up. But when I accidentally tipped over the coat rack I thought that somebody should have heard it. If they did they didn't come and see what it was. Maybe Zachreal had a point, maybe they really didn't want to know what we did when we snuck out an ungodly hours in the night...or morning. I crawled into bed and closed my eyes. Zachreal was right. I had only come back to more dreams.

The doorbell didn't wake me up until it had wrung for the third time. Then I gladly opened my eyes and, looking at my watch, saw that I had over slept. It was 11:30! "COMING!" I yelled, Mom and Dad obviously weren't home or they would have answered it themselves. I got up, still dressed in my clothes from the day before and raced to the door. But when I got there I saw that Zachreal had opened it. I pinched myself to make sure that this wasn't going to turn into another night mare. It hurt. Zachreal was standing in the doorway, someone was talking to him. I listened.

"So I was wondering if you and Warren wanted to come with, my treat-" It was Sophie or Sadie. I should have known.

"...and who are you?" Zachreal asked. I stared. He was doing good if he could act this normal for this long.

"Kim," She replied. Damn, and I could've sworn that it started with an 'S'.

"Well Kim," Said Zachreal, uh oh, his voice was getting scary, "What makes you think that I'd want to pick apples when I can get them from the store? What made you think that it would even be fun? Or is that how exciting your life will ever get-"

"Zachreal!" I interrupted, running to the door and shoving him out of the way, "Sorry about that," I told 'Kim', "He's not very good at socializing,"

"Socializing?" Zachreal snorted from behind me, "Is that what you think I was trying to do? Socialize with my inferiors? I think not brother! I think not!" I ignored him.

"Do you want to go apple picking with us? They're organic!" She said. She seemed a little less enthused about it now, though.

"Sure," I said, "Are you leaving right now?" She nodded. "Give me a minute," I said. Though I knew it was rude I didn't invite her in. I closed the door in her face and turned to Zachreal who was watching me through a reproachful glare.

"Do me a favor and don't answer that door ever again!" I snapped at him.

"You don't even like apples," He informed me, and then, much to my surprise he said "I think that I should come with."

I stared. What exactly did he mean by that? Did he actually want to come?

"You don't pick apples, Warren," Zachreal continued, "Why should I let you suffer alone?" I honestly thought that having him along might make me suffer more. Older siblings are always embarrassing, and that's when their normal. But I couldn't say no, this was the sort of thing that Mom and Dad would encourage. So I opened the door again, and told the patiently waiting 'Kim' that Zachreal wanted to come as well.

"Great!" She exclaimed happily when I told her, "Courtney and Phil are coming too,"

This was worse than the nightmares. What would they think? What would Zachreal do to them?

"I'll be civil to them brother," Zachreal told me, ruffling my hair as he headed out of the door, "Just for you,"

You better be, I thought grudgingly.

"I already told you that I would," He said. I stared. He handed me my jacket. "We'll have a full van now!" 'Kim' said as we walked towards her driveway, "My brothers driving and he's bringing his creepy girl friend," She snickered as if it was the most amusing thing that she could have thought up. I laughed politely, and, to my surprise, so did Zachreal. I stared at him for a moment. He gave me the half grin. What was he planning?

Meeting Kim's brother was awkward. He wasn't that weird. He even shook my hand, "Hey, I'm Steve," He said. His eyebrows were pierced, he was cool.

"I'm Warren," I said, "-this is my brother Zachreal," I hurried, hoping that Steve wouldn't try to shake his hand.

"Cool name," Was all he said. His 'creepy' girlfriend ignored me and introduced herself to Zachreal as Madeline. Zachreal was struggling to be nice, I could tell. It was the way he didn't meet anybodies eyes and didn't really listen. Courtney only stared accusingly at me, as if it were my fault that my brother was coming. As if I could have stopped him. Phil stood back from Zachreal, a plain and unhidden fear written across his face.

At the end of the day , I thought bitterly to myself, no one will be happy with me. We piled into the white van and I made Zachreal squeeze into the backseat with me and 'Kim'. He wasn't going to embarrass me, if I could help it. He was quiet during the ride and, besides the withering looks towards me, was pleasant....or at least not mean. Everybody in the back, except for Kim, said nothing.

"Uh, I've never been to the apple orchard before!" She told me, "Is it fun?" I shrugged. Courtney looked at Kim and said "If you like picking apples," Then her eyes darted nervously to Zachreal and she looked away again.

"Have you ever been there, Zachreal?" Kim asked my brother. I paled and looked at her. What was she doing? Wasn't it obvious that my brother could snap like a twig?

"Many times," Zachreal replied. I stared at him. What? Was he joking? He never went apple picking. Even I never went apple picking! And then I remembered that the dirt road we were driving down currently was the one I'd followed Zachreal down last night...or very early this morning. "The apples are organic," He continued, staring out of the window.

"Right on," Said Steve from the front, "I don't trust those chemical pesticides myself! They're bad for the environment and stuff,"

A smile briefly made its way across my brother's face, "It doesn't really matter now anyways," He said. You better not, I glared at Zachreal, hoping that the message came through in my eyes.

He ignored it, "This world is coming to it's end soon," He said, "Tell me Steve, would you like to be saved?"

I groaned and sank in my seat. Courtney and Philip, abandoning their fears, had both turned to stare at him. As had Steven's girlfriend, Madeline and so had Kim.

"Sorry, Zach- can I call you Zach- I'm not really into the whole Christian 'the worlds doomed' thing , so you're probably wasting your time trying to convert me,"

"Convert you?" Zachreal asked, "You're mistaken, I am not Christian, I'm asking you if you'd take the chance to be saved if the sun went out,"

"Zachreal!" I pulled on his sleeve sharply, his eyes had never left the window and his voice had been kept only just loud enough to hear it.

"These are your friends, aren't they?" Zachreal asked me, "If you want , they can come-"

"Here we are!" Steven said, "A wholesome day of Apple Picking at the Pick-n-apple get two kittens for free Apple Orchard!"

"KITTENS!" Kim squealed. I saw Steve roll his eyes in the reflection of the rearview mirror. The Apple Orchard went on for acres and acres. But it was gray out and there didn't appear to be too many people out and about. When every body had gotten out of the van and went off to get bags for the apples I told them that Zachreal and I would be only a minute.

"Come on," I growled at him, dragging him to the other end of the parking lot. He didn't object like he normally would have.

"We're going the wrong direction," He mused.

"I don't care," I said, I turned and looked at him angrily, "If you embarrass me in front of my friends again I'll....I'll-" It was hard to come up with something so I finished with "Well I'll do something, that's for sure! And it'll be something that you don't like! Ok?"

"I was trying to be kind, Warren," His smile had faded, "When the sun dissapears-"

"It won't dissapear!" I said, "Just shut up about the sun already! Its getting old! You said that you'd act normal, just for me, remember? It was, like, ten minutes ago!" Zachreal nodded.

I sighed, still frustrated.

"But if it were to die," Zachreal said, as we walked back to rejoin the group, "Would you want them save then?"

"Sure, what ever," I muttered moodily. Okay, so what had I expected? Zachreal doesn't ask theoretical questions, never! Its one of the many things that makes him unnaturally weird. So I don't know why I thought nothing more of it. Well, he had been acting strangely for his standards all day. When we rejoined the group everybody was standing around the 'bag building'.

"No ones here!" Steve said, "Not in this building and so far no where else either."

"I checked in back!" 'Kim' said, running to her brother. I sighed. The day was gray and the outing had come to an odd halt.

"Of course no ones here." Zachreal said, so that only I could hear, "Why would they stick around?" I shot a glare at him. The look said 'shut up'. Zachreal ruffled my hair.

"So," Madeline sighed, sitting on the browning grass and throwing her black hair over her face, "What do we do? Go home?"

Phil and Courtney didn't look at all disappointed with this option. But Zachreal seemed rather determined to be here. "Why leave? We can at least go get an apple, for all the trouble we went through to get one. Come, " He nodded to the orchard beyond the beat up buildings, "I know the perfect spot." He led the way, but I expected that. Zachreal liked being in the lead if there was anyone who would follow him. I didn't. But Steve and Madeline seemed to think that he had a good point.

"Uh...are you sure we can?" Kim asked. She was asking me and I resisted the urge to snap an angry response.

"We can," I said, "But we shouldn't,"

Courtney and Philip followed Zachreal, Steve and Madeline who had gone on ahead. They seemed to think that we were breaking some important rules or something.

'Kim' and I were less enthused, though for different reasons. I wanted to go back home and she just didn't want to do anything wrong. The apple orchard was still. It was a chilly day and it reminded me less of an orchard and more of a cemetery in the cheesy black and white horror movies.

"Here!" Madeline threw an apple Kim's way. I ducked, Kim caught it and gave me a funny look.

"Those things hurt," I told her...not that I knew, but it seemed to me that they would. She shrugged and bit into it.

"You know," She said, "You're brother doesn't seem that bad, to me."

"He doesn't?" She was full of crap, my brother was clearly fitting the insanity slot today.

"Nope," She said, "He's kind of cool,"

"He's an idiot," I muttered. I looked ahead and saw that Zachreal had disappeared into the trees that bordered the Apple Orchard from the corn field.

"Come!" He yelled, "We're going to the secret spot!"

"Oh god, kill me now," I groaned. 'Kim' gave me a look. "What?" I snapped.

"He's just trying to have fun," She said. Boy was she wrong. Zachreal didn't have 'fun', everything he did was dead serious, even if he himself suggested other wise. "Lets go," She said in an annoyingly perky voice, "I want to see it." I'll admit it, so did I. The ever infamous 'Secret spot' would now be revealed. As we ducked into the trees I heard Steve and Madeline speaking in awed whispers.

"That is so cool," I heard Courtney say. Phil, of course, said nothing. I didn't blame him. Here's a little explanation of Phil. Phil is the type of person who ends up being captain of the foot ball team. He's the talk of the school's girls and his house is filled with family photos and smiles. He prides himself in a good, normal life. He probably spends an hour in front of the mirror before school making sure that his eyes are still dazzlingly blue, his smile still straight and white, and his hair is still yellow and curly. Every body likes Philip. He's got a people problem which is that he can never seem to get a break from the many people who confide in him. What could he possibly have to hide? Zachreal knew, I was sure of that. And now that Philip had to stand with in ten feet of my brother his confidence seemed shattered.

"Whoa!" Kim said, when we pushed back the last of the branches between us and the rest of the group. The words were taken from my mouth. A cave built into the slope that went up to the corn field....I think it was a cave...it was something like that. But the rock that it was carved into had a purple sheen that looked like glass and the opening looked like a perfect circle that looked roughly three feet in diameter.

"This isn't natural," Said Madeline, taking thick rimmed glasses out of her jacket pocket, "Zachreal, have you gone in?"

"Of course I have," Zachreal said, sitting at the base of a tree, "Its my secret spot," He looked at me. I knew that my eyes should have been on the cave but I was staring at him. His gaunt face broke into a grin, "Are you afraid brother?" He asked me. I didn't answer. Afraid? Yeah, one could say that I was afraid. Or, more accurately, freaking terrified. What was that thing?

"I'm going in," Steve said, "This thing is awesome!" He dropped to his knees and crawled in.

He disappeared inside and everybody except for Zachreal leaned over to watch. It was too dark to see Steve.

"How is it in there?" Madeline asked. No reply, "Steve! What's it like?" She looked at my brother for an explanation.

"Zachreal!" I snapped, when he didn't answer her but merely scratched his head, "Why can't we hear Steve?"

"Maybe he's not answering," Zachreal replied, "Hey! One at a time please!" He snapped over my shoulder at Kim who had gotten to her knees as well to try to follow.

"Why?" She asked, "I want to know how far it goes,"

"There's a drop about twenty feet in," He said. This brought on a chorus of "STEVE"'s being shouted into the cave. I didn't join in, being a bit lost for words still. Zachreal was watching his watch. A few seconds later he nodded and said "Alright Kim, you may go in next," TO my surprise Kim didn't hesitate. She went in and disappeared into it's darkness as well. Madeline was lined up to go in next, and this time I watched my watch as well. Zachreal let her go in 43 seconds after Kim. Phil let Courtney go ahead of him, and I wondered why everybody was so eager to get into a creepy purple tunnel that had a drop twenty feet in. Further more I wondered why none of them were coming back out. At last it was only Zachreal and I left.

"Ready?" He asked me. I shook my head.

"No!" I said, "I'm going home,"

"But your friends are waiting," He said, his voice going for a persuasive edge.

"I don't care!" I said, "I don't like that....that thing! Besides, its dangerous!" I turned around and started walking, maybe I was being a coward but a coward was better than an idiot. I heard Zachreal following me so I began to run. Up and out of the trees and back into the orchard. It was still as gray and dead as ever. I ran passed the apple trees, nearly slipping on the damp grass and I only stopped to catch a few clouded breaths when I had reached the 'bag building'. I turned around. Zachreal was no where with in sight. He had probably gone back into that weird cave to join the others. I shuddered, it would be a cold walk home. I looked around the parking lot. Not a single other vehicle, besides Steve's, was parked there. No one else was here...yet I felt as if I was being watched. Again I looked around for Zachreal...he wasn't there. So I told myself to calm down and stop being paranoid....it worked for about five seconds. I had only taken four steps into the parking lot when I heard a hiss...It was by my ear... snapped my head around to find empty air...there were three more hisses though...so I swatted at my ear..a fly maybe...that was all. God I was jumpy. I had two miles to walk and so far I had only gotten a few steps in...and took one more and that's when it happened. The knocking echoed and surrounded the area. It sounded like a mix between drums and footsteps. The trees were perfectly still yet the noise seemed to be traveling through them. The sky darkened. I looked up, the clouds that had been a silver gray were now being shadowed by what looked like a black smoke covering the entire sky. it traveled quickly and descended onto the ground...towards me. Well, that's all it took really. I preferred the cave to the black mist any day. It had no smell but it felt as if my lungs were burning. I outran the black for the most part. At some point my back felt it and a stab of pain ripped through me, it only quickened my speed. It felt as if It took me forever to run through the orchard, worse yet I couldn't remember exactly where I was supposed to go to find my brother again. Thankfully he found me. Just as I was beginning to slow Zachreal darted from behind a tree and grabbed my arm. God he was fast, it was all I could to keep up with him once he started running. "WHATS GOING ON?!?" I managed to yell. He didn't answer. He just pointed to the border trees and we ran in. We didn't slow down to move branches out of our faces and when I saw the tunnel It felt as if I were drawn in. It was only when I'd slipped into the safety of the 'cave' that I realized Zachreal had not.

(A/N: REVIEW REVIEW REVIEW! FLAME! FLAME! FLAME! I don't really care. I just appreciate anything that can help me with this story. So, you're imput is GREATLY appreciated)