Chapter 1

The Stifling Heat of Winter

He didn't know anymore.

There was a time in his world when the fish and the birds would speak together as humble friends, sharing stories of old and legends of new—tittering endlessly and chattering eternally. It didn't matter what they talked about—they would just talk. It would go on and on, and no one even paid it much mind because it had gone on for as long as any of them could remember.

Of course, things like that weren't meant to last. Eventually the birds grew tired of the fish and their somber attitudes, while the fish grew weary of the incessant jabbering, on and on, tweeting up a storm. They grew tired of each other, and they stopped talking. Their friendship became the sort of thing that no one still ever talked about, because it was so strange to begin with that they didn't much miss it.

So he didn't know. He would just sit way back in the corner of the room and look like he didn't care. He cared all right, but he wasn't going to let anyone know it. No, that wouldn't have been contrary, and it was rather popular to be contrary, which he supposed wasn't contrary at all. But, you see, the thing was that the "real" contrary was to be loud like the birds. He wasn't going to have any of that; he sat in the back and kept his mouth shut like a fish. He was the "true" contrary.

Not that he knew what that meant. Nobody really did. That was what was so great about it.

They called him Ze. There was no real reason for it—no meaning other than the fact that it was random. The story went that he used to make that noise a lot, the sound of his worn out old shoes on the dirt ground of the Yard—"ze-ze-ze-ze." He didn't believe it, but he didn't question it either. It didn't make sense; he was just Ze. No worries. That was what was so great about it.

Of course, not everyone called him Ze. There were the unfortunate few who just knew him by his real name—Octavian Greyhen. Some people called him Oct, some just Oc, and others would stick to Greyhen or just Gray. No one had ever really called him by his full, real name. It was strange, but it wasn't like he missed it. Octavian wasn't a good name anyway.

His parents were freakish like that, to give him such an odd name, but he didn't much care. Most everyone called him Ze anyway.

That's not the point, though. See, the story begins one day when Ze pissed everyone he knew (and even a few people he didn't know) off. He wasn't quite sure how it happened, really. He was just sitting around, being his usual, contrary self, when he had a sudden idea. He thought of something that would be so clever—just too witty, really—and he really couldn't keep it to himself. He didn't know what to do with it other than to let it free, let it fly about the room and be contrary. So, while everyone was fast in their studies, he just let it go, loudly and boldly.

Naturally, no one liked it. So, when school was out, and no adults were around to be rational on the part of them, they took up Ze and tossed him right into the lake. Just like that. No question, no struggle. They grabbed him up, for he was rather light, and carried him straight out to Saint Are Lake and tossed him right in.

He fell in with a splash, an overwhelmingly strong splash. The water rushed in all around him and yanked him down, deep down, until his feet were touching the slimy lake grass at the bottom. He figured it felt very much like a witch's mane. He kicked and thrashed about as wildly as he could, but he really never was much of a swimmer.

Eventually, however, after the passing of what must have been an hour, he popped up to the surface. He gasped several times, taking in as much air as he possibly could, and then he bobbed back down into the frigid water. Even in its shallowest areas, it really was a cold lake—not anywhere near the right temperature for swimming, which was why he had never truly learned.

He wondered if anyone would help him. In the few moments when he was able to kick up to the surface and catch his breath, he could see that everyone had left, laughing because they had probably drowned old Ze. It wasn't like he was the most popular of fellows.

It left him with a rotten sort of feeling, and he would have been downright depressed had it not been for the fact that he was in the midst of dying.

Ze clawed at the water like it would do him much good, but it didn't. One cannot claw at a liquid; even he knew that. He knew he was fading fast too, and eventually he would be swallowing water instead of air. There wasn't much fight left in him.

What was it for?

He laughed, which was pretty hard to do in the water. He took in a mouthful, but what was one when there were many more to come? He laughed because it was so silly. He had ruined everything, doubtful though there was much to ruin, just because he said the wrong thing. But those words just kept on spilling out of his mouth until he couldn't stop it anymore, and so there he was, grabbing at things that couldn't do him much good. There was a pier not too far off, but he had thrashed so much that he couldn't reach it anymore. It was hopeless. He was dying in shallow water.

He didn't know anymore.

Then, from nowhere really, came a hand that might as well have been from God. It reached out and grabbed him, pulled him in despite how he struggled. "Aw, Jeez! Don't need to claw me like that; I'm trying to help you, I am!" God told him, which was strange. Ze didn't think that God would refer to his own son that way.

But, as stated earlier, he really didn't know.

He stopped struggling as much as he had been and let himself be pulled up by someone who was obviously stronger than him. What else could one expect from God?

"There we go."

God pulled him up and threw him onto the pier, which was still dirty from the horde of angry teenagers that had trampled upon it only a few moments before. Ze flopped around on the deck like a fish, flinging this way and that wildly because he still felt like he was drowning. That went on until he realized that he was being watched. Then he just lay there, flat as could be, and waited for God to pass his judgment.

"You know, you asked for that," said God.

Ze couldn't really reply. He was still coughing up water.

"I told you not to try to swim when it's so cold, but you just jumped right on in, didn't you?"
"Jumped right on in?" That much Ze could manage. "I'm rather sure that there was no jumping involved." For God, he was rather unobservant. Ze rolled over and looked up at Him, but he saw He wasn't very Godlike at all. He was short and small, much like Ze, but He appeared to be no older than eleven. He looked rather cross, perhaps because His left arm was wet up to His elbow, and He wore thick glasses that sat crookedly on His nose.

"I told you not to," said the very small God. "Shows how often you listen to me. I hope you weren't trying to impress Anna that way. You know how she hates when you do silly things."

Ze didn't do many silly things, and he was rather sure he had never tried to impress an Anna. An Anne, yes, but only once, and she wasn't the type to worry, at least not about someone like him. He stood up awkwardly, mostly because the sudden gravity was cumbersome, and looked around. It sure looked like the area nearby his school. It sure looked like Saint Are Lake.

But when he looked down in the swirling water, he noticed something rather bizarre. It didn't have the dark blueness of depth to it—like it was a rather shallow lake. And when he felt around with his damp body, he noticed that it was very cold. There he was in summer clothes, soaked through and through, and it felt like the start of winter.

"You're acting very strange, William," said God. He leaned in slightly, squinting because His glasses didn't seem to do the job properly. "You look different too."

"I'm wet," Ze pointed out, but then he shrugged. "Of course, I guess I would be strange, considering my name isn't William."

He wasn't exactly the William type. Williams were supposed to be strong and sturdy, perhaps too tall for their age and always strong enough to play some sort of contact sport. Williams were supposed to be the chivalrous type, prone to opening doors for women and sacrificing their coats to mud puddles. No, see, Ze was more of a Jonathan than anything, more likely to be small and scrawny, perhaps even lanky. He was more likely to catch a cold than he was to catch a ball, and he wasn't anywhere near brave. He was a Cyril or a Jim, a Nate or a Gary. He just wasn't even close to a William.

"Did you decide to change it again?"

"Change what?" He had been so distracted by his thought of not being a William that the question didn't register.

"Did you decide to change your name again, then?" God looked like he was used to this "William" being slow, which made Ze uneasy. He didn't want to be mistaken for a stupid kid.

"No, I did not decide to change it." He whisked some water off his face and then shook it out of his hair. It would probably dry all strange and messy, which he supposed was very contrary but still quite annoying. He always tried to keep his hair straight. "Who's this William fellow? I think he might still be in the water." He pointed down to it.

"Why would he be? Why would you be?" God shook His head. "You're confusing me. Stop being so odd."

"Well, you pulled me out of the water, but you said that this William guy jumped in. So he's probably still in the water." For God, he was rather simple. Obviously, if two went in and one came out, someone was still in the water.

"There's no one else in there." He walked over to the edge of the pier and looked down. The water was clear enough so that they could both see straight through to the bottom. There wasn't even any lake grass to cling at feet.

"…Well…" Ze looked around. Things were shaping up to be rather strange. He figured that he really must have drowned in the lake. A sad thing to admit, but he wasn't about to fool himself. "Are you really God then?"

God looked up at him like He was seeing someone that was absolutely out of his mind. "The cold is getting to you. That's what it is," He said. He started to head back to land, off toward where the forest began.

Ze just stood there and looked at the forest. See, there had always been a forest there, since that's how the entire region was, but there had been a larger path there. Most of the trees around the lake had been cleared, since there was a small village there. It was where he had lived his entire life. It wasn't the sort of thing he would forget.

"Say, what's your name?" he asked as he followed after God. He knew he couldn't very well continue referring to Him that way. There was no way that He actually was God.

"It's Patrick of course."

"Patrick, huh?" He couldn't remember anyone named Patrick, though he didn't associate with the lower classmen too often. They had all heard how contrary Ze was, so they tended to avoid him. "How old are you, Patrick?"

Patrick, no longer God, glanced over his shoulder. "You're asking too many questions you know the answer to already."

"Just humor me, then."

"I'm thirteen, all right?" His face was flushed. He was either ashamed of his age or the fact that he looked two years younger than he actually was. Poor kid. Ze knew what it was like to be small. Sure, he was bigger than he used to be, but he still was mistaken for someone around Patrick's age.

"Oh. Yeah, I guess that makes sense. But, hey, who is this William kid?"

"You're this William kid."

"Am not."

"Whatever. Anna's going to be mad when she finds out you got so cold in the water that you lost your marbles," said Patrick, scolding Ze as if he were his mother. "And you're going to regret jumping in that lake when you have a cold tomorrow."

"Hey, look—I already told you that I didn't jump into the lake. A whole crowd of kids threw me in," he explained impatiently. He didn't want to have to repeat what happened to him, but he was doing it anyway. He was sure that his face was completely red, since it was burning up, but he went on anyway. He used his arms to express how large the crowed was. "I can't believe you didn't see them."

"Out of your mind."

"I'm not out of my mind. You're the one that missed a giant crowd of teenagers." He began to rub his arms, since he was mightily cold, and then he sighed. "Of course, if we're in heaven or something I guess you wouldn't see them. Hey," he grabbed the boy's arm, "we aren't in heaven, are we?"

Patrick looked like he might laugh, despite the fact that he appeared to be quite grim and rather lacking in humor, but then he just shrugged Ze off. "If this is heaven, then heaven is pretty boring. Come on, Anna's going to have to make sure you didn't hit your head or something down there. In fact…" He stopped walking, reached up and pulled Ze's head down so that he could look it over. He jerked his head around as he looked for any sort of lump, but he couldn't find any sign of injury.

Ze pulled him away. "Warn me when you grab me like that, Jeez." He started ahead to see what this version of his village was like. Through the trees he could see what appeared to be a small cottage. No smoke was rising from the chimney, which sort of disappointed him because he thought all cottages 

were supposed to look that way, but he could hear the steady and hypnotic sound of classical music from a distant record player.

"Where is this?" he asked.

"It's home, you dummy."

"Home?" Ze laughed. His home didn't look anything like that. His home was small, too small, with plain, plastered walls and a boring, flat roof. No music ever came from it either, and there were always children running around screaming about things. He came from a small home with a large family, which was why it was so easy to be contrary. No, there was no way it could be his home.

"You really must have done something in that water," was all Patrick said. He walked past the very confused Ze, who was supposed to be William, and went up to the cottage. He didn't knock on the door or anything. He just opened it up and walked right in. The sound of music got even louder. "Are you coming?" Patrick asked with his hand hanging on the handle of the door.

Ze followed, but only because he didn't know what was going on. It was better than to watch than to ask questions, anyway, he figured, since most contrary people didn't like to ask questions unless the answers were obvious.

"Anna!" Patrick called out into the house. He had a bored sort of voice, Ze noticed, which would have been quite contrary, though he was rather sure that Patrick didn't know what contrary was. Of course, he could have been so contrary that Ze just didn't notice. That was just how amazing contrary was. "You better come quick. Something's wrong with William."

"Again?" a girl with a rather bubbly voice asked from another room. She must have been in the kitchen, because there was a sudden clatter of pots and pans being knocked about. It wasn't very contrary to be clumsy, so Ze wasn't much impressed.

The room, however, was rather interesting. It was decorated in a peculiar sort of way. The wallpaper, which was a simple floral design, was wilting and worn. Smoke from a pipe, or several pipes considering the damage, had stained the paper to a worrisome yellow. A single light sat in the middle of the room, right in the way of whoever wanted to get around it, and its light was dull and hard to even notice. However, light from all of the windows spilled in easily and compensated. There were portraits of various people on the walls, each painted with a varying degree of talent, and a calendar from three years ago.

The furniture had the sort of look, however, that Ze could relate to. Everything was torn up and old, and the cushions sagged unattractively from years of being sat in incorrectly. That was how everything looked up at his house. At least that part wasn't different.

Anna came into the room as she wiped her hands on the sides of her apron, which was the kind that you weren't actually supposed to wear in the kitchen—it was made of the stiff material and with the large pockets of a waitress's apron. So, Ze supposed, at least that bit of her was contrary—so long as she had intended it. Anyway, she was an interesting looking girl. Her hair was really short. It was bobbed to around the length of her ears, which hadn't been fashionable for at least twenty years. Most of her features were dark, including her skin, which was something like brown sugar. There was no way that she was related to the pale and pasty Patrick. She was pretty too, which he thought was strange. He always figured that Annas were pretty plain looking.

"William?" In the dim light she could easily recognize that he looked a little different than their William. After all, Ze was far too small and scrawny to be a William. This Anna could recognize that. "What happened to you? You're sopping wet."

"He jumped into the lake—just like that. Walked out onto the pier and jumped in. I told him not to." Patrick sounded like he was akin to such explanations. He had probably tattled on William a hundred times, if not more. That made Ze want to dislike him, but he was so confused by what was happening as a whole that he decided disliking someone wasn't the best thing to do. "He's been acting strange ever since. Can you imagine that he nearly drown in there? Honestly, I think he's sick or something."
"Sick?" Anna looked even more alarmed. She reached out and pulled Ze in her direction. "Come on, we'll strip you down and throw you in a hot bath."

"A what?" Ze hated baths. Showers were fine, but baths were absolutely the most uncomfortable thing ever. It was like swimming without the freedom to move. He pulled away, like a small child, and said, "Just give me a towel or something. I'll dry off."

"Nonsense," she argued. She was considerable strong for a girl. "Do you want to catch your death? Pat, go grab Pop. We'll probably have to give him some sort of medicine, knowing our luck. Come, now, William, don't fight like that." She didn't even wait for Patrick to scurry off. "POP!" she bellowed, her bubbly voice suddenly becoming rather loud and piercing in the nearby ear of Ze.

"Honestly!" He tried to wrestle his arm away, and that time he succeeded. "I'm fine, I don't need a bath, and my name isn't William! I don't even know who you people are!"

Patrick looked to Anna. "He's been like that since I pulled him out of the water. I think he hit his head and got amnesia."

"Amnesia!" Anna looked horror stricken. She turned to Ze, who she was rather sure was this William guy, and frowned. "Do you have amnesia?"

"No, I do not have amnesia!" he exclaimed in exasperation. "It's not that I don't remember anything—I'm just not this William guy. My name is Ze—Octavian Greyhen! I live at 382 Port Street in a small brown house with three sisters and four brothers. My parent's names are Marylyn and Anthony, and I'm fifteen years old. I'm no William, but I once had a dog named Billy! There! Are you satisfied! I'm not William!" he screamed all in one breath. He couldn't believe what was going on. It was completely not contrary, and it was getting so bad that he didn't know what to do anymore. He was getting frantic and panicked, and he was afraid that something was going to happen to him—something bad and potentially dangerous.

Anna glanced to Patrick uneasily. "How long was he in the water?"

"No more than a minute, but you know it's below freezing in that darn lake. He's frozen through and through. I—I'm going to go get Pop." He scurried out of the room, rather frightened himself. He was absolutely sure that William had lost his mind.

Ze gave Anna a look that let her know he wasn't going to be pushed around.

"What did you say your name was again?" He could tell she was just humoring him. It didn't mean much, though. He used to be a liar as a kid, so he was pretty used to being humored. Even so, he couldn't help but fear they thought he was out of his mind.

"It's Ze."

"What kind of name is 'Ze'?"

"The name of a crazy person." He folded his arms, partly because it was viciously cold and also because he wanted to look like he was stalwart and strong in the situation. There would be no toppling him. No way; no how.

"Crazy, right." She reached out. "Well, Ze, even if you're being honest here, even if you aren't William gone mad, how about we get you into a bath anyway, hm? You're obviously cold, and being wet and cold around here usually leads to pneumonia. Does that sound all right to you?"

He rolled his eyes. "Come on, I'm not deranged or delirious. I'm cold, yeah, but it's not that bad."

Pops, who turned out to be a man about twice the size that was considered normal, entered the room quietly with the significantly dwarfed Patrick at his side. While Anna continued to argue with Ze, who she adamantly believed was William, he got closer and closer, ever so silent.

"I don't care if you think you're not William, Zeyou're getting in that damn bath. You're going to get sick, and then you're going to have two bad things going for you," she said, trying her best to keep him from turning around.

"I'm not William."

"All right. Ze. Get in the bath."

"No." He was being perfectly contrary, and he wished that someone from school could have been there to see. Sure, they were the very reason why he was stuck in the whole mess, and why he just might get pneumonia, but he still wanted to impress them. "You're going to have to fight me into it."

"I really don't want to have to do that, Ze."

He hated how she kept on emphasizing his name. It made him feel like he really was out of his mind.

"Well, you're going to have to do that, Anna."

"Try not to hurt him too much, Pop," she said. It took Ze a second to realize that it hadn't been directed toward him. He turned around just in time to see the horribly large man—who was about five times larger when he was that close that quickly—grab him up in his huge, huge arms. He lifted Ze up off the ground and began to carry him through the kitchen and then to the bathroom.

Ze kicked and clawed the best he could, but, as stated earlier, he really wasn't a strong kid. He did nothing more than aggravate the large man, who kept on saying in his gruff voice, "What'd ya say was wrong with him again, Patrick?"

"He's lost his mind, obviously," the boy said with wide eyes, which were made to look even wider because of his thick glasses. "Just knock him out. He's just going to hurt himself anyway."

Pop went to do it, but then Anna stopped him. "Oh, no you don't. You'll hurt him. Look this way, William."

Ze, of course, was completely oblivious to what was actually being said. He continued to kick and scream wildly. All the while, the classical music blasted on, perhaps seeming louder than it actually was because Ze felt like he really was losing his mind. It boomed and bit at the air while he bit at Pop.

She grabbed his head, careful not to be bitten, and held it steady. Suddenly her eyes flashed a strange, bluish color…

…And then everything just went dark…

He really didn't know anymore.