7

Eli stopped just before the first block ended, Macy in his wake. Her accusation still rattled his bones. Jesus? He didn't know exactly why he'd heard the voice, but it definitely wasn't Jesus. Never had he believed in such a lie as there being a benign force in a placed called Heaven but also on the earth. Even if He did, how could He let all this happen? There was no reason for Eli to be where he was now. It could have easily been prevented by some push by Providence. And the thought that Jesus existed, let alone talked to him, was absurd. How could she have even come to that conclusion? They had argued over the topic for ten minutes before Macy backed down, saying that she wouldn't push him to believe.

Obviously, she was a Christian. Born-and-raised in a God-loving home filled with crosses and verses of Scripture. She went to church every Sunday, read her Bible every night, and witnessed to her coworkers on a daily basis. All in all, the basic religious zealot and basket case. Yet, she didn't say it as if she were bragging. She spoke about it like she speaking fondly of a family member or boyfriend. Like someone else moved her to do the things she did every day.

"Burger King is the next block over." Macy said, knocking Eli out of his thoughts. She stepped up beside him and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder, noticing Eli's anxious face.

Apprehension glued Eli to the pavement. He felt his fingers seize up and being to tremble, for this next step would be horrible. He hadn't even crossed the line and already he was having issues. It suddenly didn't seem too bright of an idea to try going across. He'd tried before, and the pain would forever be etched in his brain. Maybe he shouldn't even try.

No. He should and he would.

Fear the driving force that moved him and sent his heart rate haywire, Eli lifted his foot and quickly stamped it onto the concrete one step ahead of him.

Nothing but a faint tingle ran up his leg.

Eli stood as still as a statue, a sentinel of the ground before it. Macy stepped back, watching in puzzlement and anxiously rubbing her hands together. Her worried spirit fell over him and caused his body to shake. It reached inside his very being, pulled out his heart, and squeezed it like a stress relief toy. Eli prepared for a panic attack. None came.

"What's wrong?" Macy whispered, sending more anxious feelings washing over him.

"N-nothing. I feel fine." Eli answered, bring his other foot onto the pavement with a heavy thump. "I'm OK."

"Maybe it's-"

A sudden shot of unending pain flew through Eli's body. His legs gave out from under him and his shock-filled upper body fell with it onto the pavement with a dull thunk. Macy was immediately at his side, pulling him back into his safe zone. Eli, groaning, got up as pain slowly left his soul.

The heat of hurt was replaced by freezing cold and Eli felt wet and scared. Sweat doused his body and he knew he must look like he'd just exited a shower with all his clothes on to the pedestrians that passed by him, giving him looks of contempt and disgust. He had never felt so humiliated in his life. He wanted to quit and crawl into a hole for a few days.

An image of him stepping out of the Lilac, fresh and with a new life ahead of him, flashed through his mind faster than the cars speeding past him. It filled him with a spark of hope and determination. He had to cure his agoraphobia. To quit now would mean giving up on any hope of normality. Any hope of sanity. He would forever regret throwing in the towel now. If he did, he would never again summon up the courage to try breaking through his comfort zone. No, he wouldn't quit. He would beat this, or die trying.

A shiver ran through Eli. Bad choice of words.

With Macy's help, Eli got to his feet and regained his balance. He knew that he need to try again, before the blackouts began. His whole body still trembled in pure panic as he hobbled like a paralytic suddenly able to walk, heading for his agoraphobic border. Anxiety pumped through his veins, giving him life and killing him at the same time, and he swallowed what felt like a rock down his throat. As he began lifting his face to look forward, he brought his foot over the border once again.

Funny how this all started with a e-mail. He had given up how he'd lived the past ten years because of an innocent invitation to a party. His let his emotions control him and his insanity roam free because he was given courage by something virtual yet terrifying. Hardly the reaction most people would have.

Eli's sneaker slapped the pavement and he screamed as pain shot up his leg. Horrifyingly real fire burned up the blood in his veins and cooked through the rest of his insides. The public strolling by him stared, but they didn't seem to think about stopping and asking him if he was OK. What a rotten world this had turned into.

Bringing his other foot over, Eli stood stock-still and gritted his teeth with such force he felt they would be powder in a matter of seconds. His stomach coiled and uncoiled like a snake, flipped and flipped again like a giddy Russell Terrier, sending familiar and hated waves of nausea through him. Bile slipped up his throat, threatening to make him gag and vomit. His felt as though some mischievous being, invisible to human eyes, was repeatedly taking a sledgehammer to the top of his head.

Thoughts flew his across his mind's eye like birds in twilight, dark and ominous. He sorted through them, searching like a madman for one that was might have a bit of light in it, or at least one that could lessen the intense pain a fraction. Anne stuck out in almost of all of them, but, strangely, did nothing to help. Not a single other thought even brought a tingle to his brain. Eli, in a frantic panic, began to grasp at straws, even pondering if he should step back.

Suddenly, something inside Eli snapped. This time it wasn't accompanied by a feeling of invincibility, though he was now begging for it. Instead, it was simply darkness, pure and unending. Not the skin-tight casket from his earlier hallucination, but a liquid sea of black. Eli quickly held his breath when he realized it was actual water, kicking upwards while hoping he reached the surface soon. He hadn't held much breath in, and it was quickly shifting to carbon dioxide.

A slow minute went by and Eli's lungs settled into a low burn. He kicked his legs madly, knowing that either he was in the wrong direction or there was no surface. He did know two useless yet intriguing things, however: this burning in his lungs was beginning to worsen and it was too real to be a hallucination.

Suddenly, the surface hit his face. He broke it and with a desperate gasp of air he floundered about like a fish out of water. The liquid filled his mouth as he fell under. He coughed, spit, and got a long taste of it. He realized that this wasn't seawater. The water tasted clean and fresh.

Eli's eyes adjusted to the dark horizon around him, brightened slightly but an unknown force. The clouds, few but distinct, were slate grey and looked ready to burst with rain. He twisted around, gasping at the sight before him.

There, looking like a floating metal prison, was Ferry 106, the Lilac.

Not a single soul milled about its haunted interior as he could see through the windows. It was as desolate as-wait. Eli, squinting, barely saw the faint glow of a dying flashlight, a deep orange hue against the pitch-black windows. A shadow behind the flashlight slowly walked up to a window and lifted it so the shadow's face was illuminated. Eli looked on in astonishment at…himself. His own face stared out the window, smiling in corrupt glee. Slowly the Eli behind the window brought one finger up to his lips, and the Eli

wading in the water saw the other Eli's mouth push forward a little in the sh sign. Then he stepped back into the waiting arms of silence.

Eli woke with a jump. His mind swirled as he tried to process his surroundings, and nausea flowed through his being. Light scratched behind his eyes when he opened them and slammed around his skull like a beast trying to escape its prison. The concrete below him warmed his skin, and by the slight burning sensation it gave, it had been burning at the sidewalk for at least a half an hour without being stopped by the rebellious clouds. Those Seattle clouds always were punks. Now, it seemed, they were being beaten into submission by the great flashlight of the heavens.

An army of shoes surrounded Eli. Rolling over, he stared up at the owners of the shoes. Macy wasn't among the scared and confused countenances. She wasn't even behind the strangers burning holes in his forehead. Maybe she'd left him. It sounded plausible, and he didn't blame her for doing so. Many others had done the same thing, although they hadn't even learned about his hallucinations when they had fled. But, it still wasn't a surprise.

"OK. Thank you." Macy's voice slipped over the hushed and worried whispers of the crowd watching the great theater production that was Eli. They parted faster than the Red Sea and Macy walked toward Eli like Moses without the rest of Israel, albeit a better-looking version of him. Eli spotted her slip her badge back into her front pocket and she knelt beside him, the sun glowing off her skin like an angel, a guardian angel in his case. She was smiling, her beautiful pearly teeth glimmering. Her hair shimmered like glittery stalks of wheat, and when the wind blew it across her face, she looked like nothing less than perfection.

No, no. None of those thoughts. Anne should be in my mind right now, not Macy. I need to be thinking of Anne!

But no thoughts of Anne drew across his mind. As Macy helped him up with her soft but strong hands, his mind was filled with her. Desperate cries of how beautiful and kind she was. It made him guilty, like he was cheating on Anne by even thinking about the cop he'd come to befriend.

"Is this going to be a regular occurrence?" Macy joked, not sounding annoyed, but relieved that he was alright. It seemed she was already used to his constant blackouts.

"Yeah, today hasn't exactly gone as planned." Eli replied, voice hoarse. Though he didn't remember doing so, he must have been screaming and straining his larynx for a few minutes.

"I got the police to rethink taking you to the loony bin, but I don't know exactly how to deal with your newfound popularity…"

By now the crowd had mostly dispersed toward their mindless daily tasks, but several curious citizens were listening in while trying - and failing - at to appearing intent on something else.

"Well, at least I'm popular. Come on, let's keep going."

"Wait! You're not in pain! How's that possible?"

Eli stopped and looked down at his feet. Not a single shard of pain run up it. In fact, his legs felt slightly numb. The only uncomfortable feeling inhabiting his body was anxiety over his strange vision. Or fever-dream. Or whatever it was.

What had happened? Why was he suddenly alright? He was certainly past his boundary, there was no doubt about that. Did it have something to do with his dream/insanity? He definitely couldn't rule it out as impossible. After all that had happened to him, it seemed nothing was impossible. The subconscious sure was a strange thing. But, whether it was because of his scrambled brain or not, he'd either conquered this block or he's cured his agoraphobia. God, he hoped it was his agoraphobia.

"Would you look at that." Eli said, shaking his foot and then stamping it on the concrete. He knew he should be jumping up and down, screaming like a teenaged girl, but emotion refused to come. He was suddenly a block of ice, cold and lifeless. It unnerved him to his frozen bones and sent shivers down his spine, the most human reaction he'd felt so far.

"Could it have been because of your blackout? But you've had them before, right?" Macy pondered, mirroring Eli's thoughts.

"I've never blacked out while outside my boundaries." he replied calmly.

Macy didn't reply. After a few seconds of silent wondering, she gave a resounding shrug and started a journey toward Burger King. Her face was slightly worried and she was tugging at the hem of her skirt again, which annoyed Eli. Something was wrong, and her mind was focused on it.

"What's the matter?" Eli felt as though his icy emotions were suddenly being thawed; he could feel his humanity returning. He was no longer a robot. He was Eli.

"Nothing." Macy said in an unsure voice. She was lying through her teeth, but he wasn't about to call her out on it.

Burger King suddenly loomed to their right, its bright colors a stark contrast to the gloomy grey buildings on either side of it. Looking like it was getting a lot of business, people milled about inside the establishment and it look like every table was taken. And, as they stepped inside, loud voices of different tones and pitches echoed off the tiled walls. The smell of grease, cheeseburgers, and french-fries assaulted Eli's nose all at once. Surprisingly, music filled with angst and rage blasted from speakers in the ceiling, but they might just have been targeting a younger audience. It obviously wasn't working, seeing as how the restaurant consisted of mainly families and the elderly, all plugging up their ears to the noise. The generations had slowly shifted from peace and love to war and hate.

Macy scanned the building for an open… well, an open anything. It was so crowded that they would be extremely lucky to sit by themselves.

"Listen," Macy began, "find a place to sit while I get our food. This may have to be a to-go meal."

Eli briskly told her he wanted a simple cheeseburger, fries, and soda before scrounging around for a table that gave at least a little privacy. There. A two person table sat lonely and destitute in a corner of the restaurant. It was so secluded that only the screaming flowing through the speakers could be heard.

Still, Eli wanted to find something else. A two person table just added to the whole "this is a date" atmosphere. He wanted a booth, where they could sit their respective distances from each other and eliminate the awkwardness of it all.

Come on, you wish this was a date, his mind argued.

Eli pushed the thoughts away and took a seat at the table. A small grin played slowly across his face at thought of him wanting to date Macy. He'd deliberately told her he was in a relationship with Anne. Besides, she could be gone at any moment. She could have slipped out now, leaving him to his madness.

In the middle of a loud, screaming guitar solo, the song skipped and burbled before shutting down completely.

Ah, so Burger King was having a bit of trouble with their sound system. Eli could hear the collective sighs of relief emanating from the patrons of the restaurant. He managed a laugh and looked around as children's laughter begin to sift through the silence.

Five minutes of mostly quiet contemplation passed before two blue plastic trays slid onto his table and the blonde cop he'd come to know so well seated herself. Eli immediately sat up, realizing he'd been slouching. He grabbed his soda and tasted it, wondering what she'd gotten him.

Mountain Dew. A gutsy choice.

"Aw, you couldn't have sprung for a beer?" he teased, smiling sarcastically.

"You'd think they'd have some. This place isn't exactly 'family friendly'." Macy commented, frowning slightly.

"You want family friendly? I'm pretty sure there's a Hooters near here."

Macy chuckled and took of the coffee she'd bought. Judging from the expression on her face, it wasn't exactly Starbucks standard.

As Eli unwrapped and bit into his cheeseburger, a loud call of thunder sounded, followed by the first steady taps of rain hitting the glass windows around the establishment. The weather took such sharp turns in Seattle.

Macy chewed slowly on the salad she'd purchased. Ever the health-crazed. Eli wished he could read her mind, to see what she thought of him. Why she was still here. She was the closest thing he had to a new friend he'd had in ten years, and the last thing he wanted was to lose her by being more of a freak than he was.

"I really hate this city. The weather is so unpredictable. At least the crime keeps me busy." she suddenly commented between bites.

Eli swallowed another bite of his burger and took a french-fry before answering. "Well, it has its perks."

She snorted. "Like you would know."

A searing blow that made Eli flinch outwardly. A spark of anger went through him, but he squelched it. There was no reason to get defensive when, in reality, she was right. He didn't know what was out there. It had been ten years since he'd seen the whole of Seattle. He always kept his blinds down, day or night. He knew that if he opened them he would just sit, stare, and dream about wandering those streets until he either starved to death or killed himself.

It seemed his whole life revolved around insanity.