I somehow found my way out of the school building, even though I wasn't even paying attention. I was sort of dazed. Anyone would be that way if suddenly no one remembered who they were.
Once I was outside, the sunlight's glare delivered a metaphorical slap that snapped me back to awareness. I glanced around. The building was exactly as I remembered it. I remembered entering it hundreds, thousands of times before. But no one else seemed to remember. Not even Tim did. And he was my best friend…
I took a deep breath and began to walk absently. Get control of yourself, Drew. This was all probably a dream. A very detailed dream. Maybe if I waited long enough it would all go away.
Then I reached the bike rack, where my bike was locked up. I looked at it, and came to a decision. I knew what I had to do.
I unlocked it and got onto it, turning it around. Then I took off, away from the school. It wasn't as if anyone would notice that I was gone.
I began to retrace the path I had taken to get here. It looked the same as always, the streets filled with people milling about. This didn't feel like a dream; I could smell the smoke and grime of the city and hear the babble of the people, the sounds of traffic…
Soon I came to the spot where I had crashed into a pole after nearly missing that girl from before. I stopped my bike and got off to examine it, though I kept my backpack on my back. It had a faint scratch mark near its base, which might have been left over from my earlier collision. Or it might have already been there. I made myself believe it was the former, just to convince myself that I still existed.
A voice spoke to me then, and I jumped. "Strange, isn't it?"
I stood and spun around, seeing a man in a blue business suit standing there, watching me. On his suit was a small symbol resembling a white eye. He smiled. "Are you Drew Mackenzi?"
My heart skipped a beat. Then I nodded, gulped, and answered, "Yes."
"I've been looking for you. It's not every day that one gets to meet such an important person."
"Who are you?" I asked quietly. "What do you mean, 'important'?"
The man gestured to himself. "My name is Mr. Dekel. And as for your importance, you'll see what I mean." He motioned for me to follow. "Come, we have some business to talk about." With that he started toward a nearby building. I glanced at the sign above it. Some Chinese place. I hesitated, then followed him inside.
"How do you know who I am?" I asked as he sat down at a table. He motioned for me to sit in a chair opposite him. I did so.
He then looked at me intently, and answered. Sort of. "I know a lot of people. I don't like to give away my sources. They usually prefer to stay… anonymous. All you need to know about me is that I'm a wandering salesman; I sell things to people. Things that they need." He leaned forward. "Drew, you're going to see some very strange and disturbing things in the happenings to come. Just a word of warning so you aren't caught by surprise."
I paused to process that. "…Do you know what's happened to me? Why doesn't anyone remember me?"
He shrugged. "Why should there be anything to remember?" Then he laughed, a strange high-pitched laugh. "Drew, here's another warning I'll give you, free of charge: Don't trust anyone. Or anything. In the business you'll be working in, anything you hear or even see is more than likely to be a lie."
That made me hesitate. The feeling of uneasiness in my stomach was growing even stronger now, if that were possible. "What do you mean? What business?"
He held up a hand as if to stop me. "No more questions now. I already gave you two freebies. The fact of the matter is that I don't have the answers to all of your questions, and if I did, they wouldn't be cheap." He gave a crooked grin. "You'll answer them by yourself, eventually. Pretty soon now, you'll understand what I mean."
"What is this, Star Wars?" I said weakly.
"No, but pretty close. You'll see what I mean." Mr. Dekel reached down and produced a brown suitcase from somewhere, which he put on the table. I frowned. Had he been carrying it before? I didn't remember it. After a moment's thought I dismissed it as myself having been distracted.
He flipped a clasp on the suitcase. "Like I said, I'm a salesman. That means I sell things to people. Often it's information, but I can see that you're looking particularly lost, so I'll give you something a little more material." Opening it, he reached inside. "What I'm about to give you, if you do buy it, will be absolutely essential to your venture later on. Even though it might not seem like it at first. Just so you know what's at stake here."
With that, he withdrew a pocket watch.
It was one of those old-fashioned kinds, the kinds you see in Victorian-age movies. It had no flip lid, though, so its face was exposed. Its frame was golden, or at least gold-colored, but other than that it looked pretty ordinary. It had no elaborate designs, and its hands were just slightly curved arrows. A golden chain was attached to it, which rattled as it moved. I stared at it as he placed it on the table.
"Like I said, you'll have to buy it. I have to make a living somehow," Mr. Dekel said apologetically.
I reached out for the watch and picked it up, turning it over and examining it. Its metallic surface was cool and flawlessly smooth. "Is it gold?"
He laughed. "Does it matter if it is? The value of something is in its usefulness, I always say, not in what it's made of. And I think you'll find it very useful."
I gulped. "How much does it cost?" I asked, afraid of the answer.
"Fifty dollars," he answered.
Okay, so it wasn't quite as much as I thought it would be; I had been fearing it would be somewhere in the range of a hundred dollars. But then, I guess I didn't really know how much pocket watches were supposed to cost, golden or otherwise.
"I don't have fifty dollars," I told him.
He grinned. "Are you sure? Maybe you just don't remember how much you have. Check your pocket just in case."
I paused confusedly, sure I didn't have any more than twenty dollars on me at the time. But I put my hand in my pocket anyway and rummaged around. Within a moment I had located a wad of bills, which seemed oddly heavier than I remembered, and pulled it out. Putting it on the table, I counted out exactly fifty dollars.
"See, I told you." The man glanced between my confused face and the money. "Memory can be deceiving, too."
I blinked. "Alright, so somehow I have exactly fifty dollars."
"Would you like to buy the watch?"
Something seemed incredibly odd about the entire business, what with his price happening to be the exact amount of money I had with me. But I figured it was coincidence, since fifty is a pretty common number anyway. I let that one pass and instead contemplated the watch. "Uh… What would I use it for?"
"Telling time, what else?" Mr. Dekel gave his laugh again.
"I have clocks at home, though. And my watch is there, too."
He looked straight at me, one eyebrow quirked. "Are you sure?"
I hesitated. That uneasy feeling I mentioned before? It was now a full-blown nausea. "Of course I am. I mean, I was there this morning… And I saw them… And…" I faltered.
"Just like how all of your classmates and teachers knew you yesterday?"
My eyes widened. "Home…!" In a flash I jumped up, not even caring that I knocked my chair over, and, tightening my backpack's straps to secure it, rushed past Mr. Dekel and out of the restaurant.
I sprinted all the way home. The pocket watch, Mr. Dekel, even my bike were all forgotten in my rush to get home to confirm my fears. I knew what I would find, but I desperately wanted to be wrong.
When I arrived, I found my apartment building, looking just the same as it always did. I thought of my mother, a sweet and caring woman, and my father, stern but a strong supporter of mine when I was having trouble. I raced into the building and up the stairs, praying that my suspicions were wrong.
When I finally reached the floor of my apartment, I located my door and pulled my keys out of my pocket with a shaky hand. Fumbling with the door to try to open it, I found to my dismay that none of the keys worked. I refused to accept that, and rang the doorbell. I held my breath as I waited for someone to answer.
Finally, someone did answer. The door opened, and for a fleeting moment I was confident that it was one or both of my parents, either of which I would have been immensely glad to see. But it was neither of them. Instead a completely unfamiliar man opened the door.
He looked at me. "Yes? Are you one of those boy scouts that keep coming around?"
I shook my head in despair and turned away. "N-no. Sorry." Tears started to blur my vision.
He blinked in bewilderment and then closed his door.
A familiar voice came from the stairs to my left. It was Mr. Dekel's. "Well, then, what's it going to be?"
I turned to see him, through my tears, standing on the stairs, holding the suitcase in one hand and the golden pocket watch in the other. He was smiling, but in a sad sort of way. "What happened?" I whispered.
He approached me slowly. "This is what happens to all great heroes, isn't it? The loving parents are the first to go, so that the hero can save the world without having to report back to them at eleven o'clock?"
I immediately became angry. "What are you talking about?! Where are they?!"
He shook his head. "Don't cry over spilled milk, they say. Don't cry over what can't be helped. But don't worry, soon enough you'll find out what happened to them. All of the answers are waiting for you, Drew. And now, those answers are all you have."
I calmed down, with an effort. "Okay, Mr. Dekel. What do you want me to do?"
He held out the pocket watch. "Accept this watch. Time is an interesting thing, you see… It's circular, like this watch, and by traveling toward the future, you'll soon find the past, because they're both one and the same. This," he said, indicating the watch with a smile, "will help you to keep track of it. Those who travel the seas are likely to get lost without a map, and those who travel in time… are likely to get lost without a watch."
I rolled my eyes. "You make a watch sound all cosmic." It was mostly an act I was putting on, though; inside, I was still rocking from my parents' disappearance. But this Mr. Dekel seemed to provide a way to help that…
He nodded. "I do, don't I? But it is. This is no ordinary watch, you know. In fact, it's just like every other watch you've ever seen. It's a timekeeper, a device for measuring the heartbeat of the cosmos. It's a very useful thing."
I sighed. "Okay, fine, I'll buy it from you. That was fifty dollars, right?" I reached into my pocket to retrieve my money, only to find it all gone, and I realized that I had forgotten it at that restaurant in my hurry to get home.
Mr. Dekel spoke, tapping his suitcase. "You left your money, so I brought it in here. If you want I can just give you the watch and keep the money." He smiled slightly, almost mischievously. "Believe me, you won't be needing your money any time soon."
I hesitated for a moment, then nodded. "Fine." He wordlessly handed the pocket watch to me, and I wordlessly accepted it and put it in my pocket.
"Now," Mr. Dekel went on, "I'll tell you when to use it. Soon you'll be put in a somewhat unfortunate situation—"
"You mean this isn't already unfortunate?" I interrupted.
"—And you will hear the name of a bird. Birds are special creatures; they fly freely and see where most can't. When you hear this word, twist the knob once. Not before. Do you understand?"
I paused. "…Er, I guess, but…"
"Good." He turned away. "Good luck, Drew Mackenzi. You'll definitely need it."
With that, he walked down the stairs. I silently watched him go.