Chapter One: Neither Here Nor There
When Penn Fortin jumped from the observation deck of the Willis Tower, the world broke. It broke for his mother and father, Annie and Paul, it broke for his aunts and uncles, it broke for his classmates, who wondered how he could have done it, and it broke for the cops, in over their heads, like always. Oh, and it broke for his brother, Sebastian. That would be me, by the way. I was only a year younger than him. Now, though, I don't know.
Why did reality break? Of all things that could have broken, why reality? How reality? Who, where, what reality?
What reality, exactly. Because there are just three things that I'm certain of these days, and they are the following: one, that the observation deck on the Willis Tower is a glass box, not a ledge, completely encased; two, nobody found the body; and three, everyone that was there that day, me, my thirty or so classmates, we never saw him land, yet there was a pool of blood right where he would have landed and been ground into a pulp by the pavement.
I'm sorry to my therapist, but you suck, Doctor Goldstien, he never fucking landed, I swear. You can ask all of my classmates, they never saw him land either, and, like I heard somewhere, once is an anomaly, twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern. And there's no such thing as coincidences, so, Doctor, tell me this, how is it possible that thirty people, more than that, really, in just the building alone, didn't see him land? It's not collective amnesia, I can tell you that much. He. Didn't. Fucking. Land. That's the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
I will admit that the Fortin family has had an odd relationship with the truth, to say the least, but that's neither here nor there right now. And no, Detective Foster, he may have been a little weird and a hell of a prick sometimes, but I didn't push him. What part of 'the deck is enclosed in a fucking little glass box' do you not understand?
Never mind, I don't need an answer, at least not to that question. The question I need an answer to, well, I haven't been able to get, and nor do I think that, at this rate, I'm ever going to be able to get an answer. I've been trying for the last two years. I was sixteen then, he would be nineteen now, and god damn, do I miss him.
I've tried to get over it, but you know how things are, your brother up and disappeared, and the students of Garlesville High don't treat freaks like me well. Must be a New York thing, a Garlesville thing, or maybe not, I don't know. What I do know is that it's nearly the end of the school day, the regular school day, that is. Most other kids get to go home after eleventh period bell, 3:19 PM on the dot, but no, I've got to stay after for therapy, and there's not going to be a late bus, which means that I'm going to be walking home. At least it isn't far to my house…. This little town of ours is right at the corner of Highways 10 and 29A, for those of you who don't know 'upstate' New York. We're in the Adirondack Park, but, like my brother, that's neither here nor there.
Anyways, time to see the therapist… I've told her that I don't need her help, that I'm just fine on my own, but will she listen to me, no, why would she? Just like the rest of them, she's passed me off as that crazy kid, and all I have to say to that is that my parents had me tested.
I've tried to get my life back to normal, but that's not going to happen, no… how can it? Everyone tells me that I'm going to be fine, and they won't listen when I tell them I'm not, so here I am, for the, let's see now, two hundred and sixteenth time, I think, but who's counting? Not me… Doctor, I don't need your help, I'm not dissociated or some screwed up thing like that, I'm still grounded, still Sebastian Fortin, through and through, still trying to figure out how my brother basically just jumped out of existence… it doesn't make sense, and oh, we'll help you figure this out, won't we, Sebastian?
No, Doctor, you won't, and that's the attitude I keep until I find myself with another prescription in hand from my therapist, walking the mile from school down Woodbury Street, right to the intersection of 10 and 29A at the center of town, and then the next quarter mile down 29A until we get to my house, and it's not going to be dark for a while, but I feel a chill setting in already. I hate it, just like most of the rest of my life… at least Mom's going to be home, Dad's working late tonight at the marina down on the lake. It may still be nippy this time of year (it's April, April 2027), but that doesn't mean that he's not going to be working today. Gotta come up with money somehow, considering that Mom hasn't really been able to do much since that day in 2025. I mean, I love her and all, but she needs to get out of the house more… she spends most of her time cooking and cleaning, but if I need therapy, even two years later, shouldn't she get some too? Speaking of cleaning, I'm pretty sure that's what she's been doing all day, I can smell the Odo-Ban and Lysol.
"Hi, Sebastian, nice to have you back home, how was therapy?" she asks me, her hair coming loose from the bun that she's tucked it into while she tries to both sweep the tile floor and stir a pot of something on the stove at the same time.
Being the good son that I am, I give her a peck on the cheek and take the broom from her to clean the floor, she's got enough on her plate already.
"I'm great, Mom, therapy, well, it was just wonderful," I say, hoping the eye roll I add'll make her laugh, and it does, good, that's good.
"I'm glad, Sebastian, I'm glad," she says, smiling sadly now and pulling a book out of her pocket and handing it to me. "I could never make sense of this, but I think you might be able to… you were always closer, so much closer to him than I was…. I've read this, I've tired myself out trying to make any sense of it, but… I can't. So much just… it doesn't seem like your brother at all… Let's eat, and then you can read that, alright?"
"Deal, Mom," I say, the itch to figure out what's inside tickling at me, burning, scratching, until I get the chance to dive up to my room (after everything from supper's cleaned up and put away, of course), and I crack open the book, and I cough, smelling the mold that's in the pages, and the first line catches my eye: "I'm going to find the right place for me, and that's not in this universe. Sebastian, if you're reading this, I'm probably "dead," and mom'll have been bawling her eyes out, I know I'm right. Come find me, I'm out there. There are a few rules you need to know, though:
Never go against your gut.
Everyone is potentially ready to turn on you,
Do NOT look back; you are never completely alone.
Go with the flow and try your darn hardest to blend in.
Stay within your cover, at all costs.
Lull them into a sense of complacency, then end them.
Do not harass the opposition, they'll kill you if you do.
Pick the time and place for action. Don't let them choose it for you.
Keep your options open, and have a damn escape plan.
They've served me well throughout the years. Love you, bro. Come find me, I'm waiting. Seriously, come find me, I'm sure I'll be bored."
Okay, wait, what the hell did I just read? He's alive? But he's in another universe? That just doesn't make any sense… but at least, maybe I have some answers now…
Sleep comes to take me, and it's the next morning before I realize, and something doesn't feel quite right.