Five: The Stranger

I've "known" Travis since I was twelve, when he first moved here, and there are quotes around the word known because I didn't have an actual conversation with the guy until eight months ago.

To explain how this conversation took place, and the context around it, I'd have to explain how I died for the first time.

There was an old quarry by Philadelphia called Devil's Pool. By the name alone, people knew it was bad news. It was even illegal to swim there it was so dangerous. Policemen sometimes hung around there, willing to give warnings or even arrest kids that tried to enter.

Still, it was a super popular place for teenagers. Everyone went. I went.

It was March, in the middle of a school day, when me and a couple of friends decided to go. It was Ryan, his friend Nate, my friend Sandy, and me. Ryan and I had broken up in February, around the time I broke my arm, but we were still friends. There weren't any hard feelings; he knew I was going through something, and respected it.

Anyway, so we skipped school in March because we knew no one else would be there; the water was too cold, and everyone was in class. Devil's Pool was more of a summer spot.

It was a really dumb thing to do; we all knew it, just didn't care.

Nate drove us. He was a year older and had the best car. I didn't really like him because he was always trying to act super cool; he smoked, did drugs and stuff, always had a girlfriend. Ryan was only friends with him because they'd known each other since they were kids, and he had this dumb instinct that Nate was going to "change" someday. I didn't buy it.

Sandy had a crush on Nate and ignored me for the drive out and for most of our time at Devil's Pool. I wasn't really mad at her for that, but it was weird because, with Nate and Sandy talking to each other, it left Ryan and me together. We were fine, nothing hostile, but things were still odd. We didn't really know how to act around each other.

When we got there, we all walked up together and set up our towels and started some music. Sandy was flirting really hard with Nate, which he responded to enthusiastically. Ryan and I weren't happy about that because Nate had a girlfriend, Chloe. And I didn't like Chloe the Popular Girl, but she didn't deserve to get cheated on.

Eventually I got really tired of hearing Sandy and Nate's back and forth, so I shed my shirt and pants and prepared to go into the pool. This got Sandy's attention, and she said I was crazy, that the water was too cold. I asked her why we came, if not to get in—besides, it was warm enough for the ice on top of the water to have melted—and she didn't reply.

I jumped in, three pairs of eyes watching my every move. When I resurfaced, I was freezing, but I refused to admit it and swam under once again. I liked it underwater; everything was very quiet. I wished it could be like that all the time.

The water was clearer than the ocean, yet still a little murky. I was able to see minnows and algae and some plants growing on the sides of the rocks. I couldn't see the bottom; it was too deep.

Ryan joined me for a little, but in intervals. He'd come in for five minutes, then lounge for thirty, then come in for ten, then get out for an hour. Nate came in the water once, for a pretty long time, around an hour, but he didn't come in again. Sandy didn't go in the water at all.

At one point Ryan announced that he wanted to get his food from Nate's car, because apparently he'd left it, and Nate handed him his keys. It was around this time that I got bored of just swimming and decided that I wanted to dive; it seemed deep enough.

There was a bridge at Devil's Pool that a lot of kids jumped from, and I decided to try it out. Nate and Sandy were making out by that point, so they didn't even notice what I was doing. Not that I blame them for what happened; I should've known better. I guess all of this really is my fault.

But I wasn't thinking of the consequences at the time, I was just bored of swimming and didn't want to have to watch Nate and Sandy, so I decided to jump.

When I got to the top of the bridge, I hesitated because it was a bigger distance than I thought it'd be from the top to the water. But, well, I'd climbed all the way up here, and if I broke an arm, it'd just heal, so what the Hell, right?

So I jumped with a pencil dive. I landed cleanly, I think, and went all the way down to the bottom.

Unfortunately, I'd had just a little too much momentum, and I didn't have enough reaction time, and the water wasn't clear enough, so when I reached the bottom of rocks, I didn't land neatly.

You see, some quarries have bottoms where there are no cracks or crevices, and some quarries have bottoms with many cracks and many crevices. Devil's Pool has a bottom with cracks.

My right ankle actually nudged its way into one of those cracks. It got pretty deep, bones in my foot breaking so I could slide in. My other ankle must have broken from the fall, too, but I didn't even notice it from the pain I felt in my right.

For a moment, I forgot that I was underwater, and I just screamed. God, it hurt so much, it hurt my foot just to remember how it felt. My face was twisting, wanting to cry so badly from the agony, but… then another agony arose.

I quickly recalled that I was, in fact, underwater. And that I could not breathe.

My initial reaction was to push off of the ground to swim up, but, when I tried that, it just reminded me of the pain in my foot, and I started to scream again.

I was torn. Both hurt equally until I tried to push the other. I couldn't choose what to do, my body couldn't pick what it wanted.

So I stayed there. Floated.

Ryan came down at some point. Maybe after thirty seconds… a minute? I just know it was around the point where I was honestly surprised that I was still alive; I wasn't good at holding my breath. Never had been.

When Ryan arrived on the scene, he was gesturing emphatically. I couldn't understand him, I was getting really tired. I pointed to my foot, and he nodded and grabbed my torso to pull me out of the crack, but once he started to, it just hurt so much that I shoved him off of me.

At this point he was confused by what I wanted, and I had no way to tell him, so we just stared at each other. Ryan soon went up for air, and when he came back down, my chest was really, really hurting. I was trying hard not to breathe, because I knew that I would die, and I didn't think that I could heal from that, and I didn't want to die, but it was so hard not to breathe…

Ryan came close to me, really close, and went to press his mouth to mine. I hardly thought that this was the time to be making out, but I quickly realized that he was giving me air.

It wasn't enough.

He gave me only a little, and then took too long coming back down when he had a fresh batch. I knew what he was trying to do. I appreciated it. But it wasn't working, and I could see that it was really tiring him out.

After the fifth breath, I stopped him, shook my head. Ryan didn't seem to understand. That made me sad, and I was surprised to feel sad for someone else when I was feeling so much pain myself, but I felt sad anyway.

I reached my arms out, lightly wrapping them around him, gave him a hug. I couldn't hold it back anymore; it hurt too much. I breathed. My vision went dark, and I died (I found this out later).

When I woke up, I was in a morgue. There was a mortician there, and I swear to God I gave the guy a heart attack. He didn't tell me what was going on, or where I was, just called a lot of people in. Doctors. They asked me a lot of questions I didn't know the answer to.

My dad came in at some point and hugged me so hard I thought I was going to die from lack of oxygen, yet again. He kept asking if I was okay, what had happened, and, what were you thinking, Mary? He asked these questions so quickly and so repetitively that I didn't have time to answer one before another was being fired.

Ryan and Sandy entered a bit after my dad, and things were starting to get crowded then because the doctors still hadn't left. Everyone kept asking me all of these questions.

This one doctor asked me if I'd heard of the Lazarus Syndrome, and I said no. He said it was when people came back to life after a bit of time, post-mortem. He said I had been dead for the longest in recorded time—it'd taken them thirty minutes to get me out of the quarry, ten to drive to the hospital, and I had been in the morgue for three hours—and that no one had come back with liquid in their lungs before. He asked how there wasn't liquid in my lungs now, and how my feet weren't broken when they had been trapped in rocks.

I was getting overwhelmed. Nervous. I started crying I was so scared.

Dad got mad at them and took me home, and I was out for the rest of the week.

Our local paper did a story on me, calling me the "miracle girl." I wasn't really stoked about it since Nate was the one the paper had interviewed about the incident; the rest of us declined to comment. I also was not happy because it put a lot of attention to me. Kids started coming up to me in the halls, saying they were happy I was alive. I didn't know what to say to that. Thank you? It was weird. Some kids asked if I was religious, or if I was Jesus reincarnated. Some crazy stuff. I had no idea what to even say.

Travis was one of those kids that came up to me, but he didn't say that he was happy I was alive. I mean, he probably was, but he didn't say it. He said to me, "So, Mary, tell me how your body got rid of the water in your lungs and how it healed your feet." He asked like he knew the answer. I didn't like that.

I told him that I didn't know. He left.

Normally I walked home from school, but since I drowned, Dad had gotten a little hover-y and insisted on driving me, even though it screwed up his work schedule.

That day, as I was walking to where Dad parked, which was a street down from the school, Travis confronted me. There were kids around us, but they paid us no mind.

Travis pulled me to the side, and, before I knew what he was doing, took out his pocket knife and slashed my arm. I let out a squeal and tried to jerk away, but he held me in place. Moments later, the cut was gone before both of our eyes.

I didn't know what to do, so I just stared at him.

Travis calmly put his knife away and apologized for the radical action. "I just wanted to know," he said.

"Are you going to tell anyone?" I asked him.

He said no. He then told me that he was like me.

"You can… heal?" I asked.

"No, but I can do things that others can't." Travis paused and then said he would tell me about it, if I wanted.

"Yes," I said instantly, "but my dad is waiting for me. I'll tell him I'm walking with you."

Travis nodded, putting away his knife as the two of us walked to my dad's car. He was sitting inside and jumped unexpectedly at my tap on the window.

"Dad," I said, opening the door when it unlocked. "I'm going to walk today."

My dad glanced at the boy beside me. "Mary…" he warned.

I promptly reminded him of the fact that I was seventeen (since March 5th, last week).

"Still a child," he said, not unkindly, just worried.

"I'll be fine," I assured him. "Okay?"

He frowned. "Okay…"

"Thanks, Dad! I'll see you at home." Then, I shut the door and trudged off with Travis.

I felt bad for shrugging off my dad, but I really was curious about Travis—and nervous about what he would do with this information about me. I couldn't help but be scared.

As we walked, Travis soothed my fears by opening up about himself. He told me about what he could do. He explained how it worked, and I didn't really understand, but I pretended to. By the time we had gotten to my house, he had finished his tale, but now he wanted to know more about me.

We sat outside of my house as I explained. And… I was scared at first, but I felt a weight lift off of my shoulders the more I spoke. I think I'd wanted to tell someone, to have someone on my side. With me. Like me. It was a relief.

Travis and I were friends after that.

I didn't know why, but I'd been thinking a lot about him since I became a new person. I didn't like like him or anything, but I missed having someone to really talk to.

I thought about Travis mainly at work. The computerized cash register made me think of him (That would make him laugh). It made Maureen—sorry, ma'am—think I was absentminded, and it frustrated her, but she was really short staffed, so I was secure in my position.

I wished that I could tell Travis about Maureen, about everything.

But not just him. I wished that I could talk to Dad or Ryan, or even Mom or her new husband, John. I missed them a lot. And I was really lonely here. I think part of the reason I wanted to work at Peeper John's was for socialization, but I wasn't getting enough.

Ding.

"Get out of your head! We have a customer, you know!" Maureen snapped at me.

My head jerked to the door to see a man, maybe in his early-twenties or very late teens, standing with his hands in the pockets of his trenchcoat. He looked so much like a detective in a drama movie that I had to hold back a laugh.

The man seated himself in a secluded booth, and I approached him immediately with a menu. "Can I get you anything to drink?" I asked.

He glanced at me, accepting the menu with long fingers. "A water," he said. I noted that there were deep bags under his eyes. I wondered if he had been sleeping all right.

"Okay," I said and turned to fetch his drink. It took maybe a second to make, and I was back; the place was deserted—usually was, after noon and I wondered a lot why Maureen didn't just make it a breakfast diner—except for Mr. Private I.

"Thanks," he said, when I placed it on his table.

I gave him a thumbs up and then clicked my pen. "Do you know what you want?"

"Well… I actually was wondering some things."

I thought he had a question about the menu. "What's up?"

His eyes studied me. They were a very deep brown. "How long have you been working here?"

"A week," I said. I paused. "Does it seem like I'm new?"

"No," he glanced to his drink, "I was only wondering."

"All right, well, do you know what you want to order on—?"

"I was also wondering what your real name was," he said.

I froze, but my mind raced. Was he CIA? How much did he know? How had he found out? What did I do? Oh, God…

"My… real name?" I managed weakly.

"You don't look like an Amy," he said with a wan smile. He said it innocently enough, but something unsettled me.

"Well, it is!" For a second, I sounded like Maureen and I would've felt bad if I wasn't so angry. "Now what is your order?"

The guy must've known he struck a nerve because he didn't bring up how I switched subjects. He ordered a reuben with extra thousand island. As soon as my pen finished writing the D on island, I was out of there. I brought the order to the kitchen and then hid behind Maureen, avoiding the guy's gaze as our chef made the sandwich.

I delivered the order when it was done and refilled his glass of water and then didn't talk to the guy again until he was ready for his cheque. His bill was ten dollars, but he gave me a hundred and told me that the difference was my tip. He said I had good service, and I was pretty sure that he was messing with me because I'd been avoiding the guy for an hour.

It felt dirty to accept money from him, so I tried to tell him that it was too much, but he insisted. And, well, I guess money was money.

The weirdest part of this encounter was right before he left, when he handed me a business card with just a phone number on it.

"What is this for?" I asked, forgetting all of my manners. He was just so bizarre.

"You'll need it later," he told me.

"For… what?"

"You'll know when you need it."

I stared back down at the card, dubious. "When will that be?"

"When you don't know who to trust."

"What?" I said. At that point I was starting to wonder if he was just crazy.

He just gave me another smile. "Have a good day."