Posted in Seven

Chapter 14

Two years ago a new family moved into my neighborhood. No moving truck or “Hi, we are new to the area. My name is blah, blah, blah.” One day I went to sleep and the next morning 22569 Warbler Street was occupied. After a couple of days I assessed that there was a married couple with a son who was about my age. They kept to themselves and other than the dad coming out to mow their lawn every couple of weeks and their ’98 black Suburban with tinted windows entering and exiting the garage, I never saw them.

Then one day I caught a glimpse of a fourth person in their car as they were leaving. The back left window was rolled down halfway and I saw a head full of golden brown hair. Definitely female. That’s all I could see that first time. As soon I saw her, the window rolled up, as if she knew I was watching. It became my mission to find out who this girl was and why I had never seen her before.

For the next two weeks I would be outside as soon as it was socially acceptable to be sitting on my lawn and staking out my neighbors. To not draw suspicion I told my parents that I wanted to keep myself busy. I would mow the lawn, fix my bike, or shoot hoops. I would always be on high alert, waiting for a sign of life from two doors down. Not much happened. The garage would open twice a day but I never saw the girl. When I heard a door opening I would turn around gradually to not bring attention to myself. But it was either the mom or the dad. By the end of that second week I was over it. At six o’clock I went in for dinner. As I opened the screen door to go in, I heard a scream and froze. I knew immediately that it was the girl. The second time I heard the scream it was muffled but still loud enough to be heard down the street. I let go of the door and took off towards the one story cookie cutter home that matched my own with the exception of the odd family. When I got to the edge of their well manicured lawn, the garage door opened and their car backed out like it was any other day. But this would be the one and only time that I saw her. In addition to the golden brown hair she was petite. Her chin grazed the bottom of the window. She had a spattering of freckles over porcelain skin with a perfect nose. When she turned to look at me I instantly felt fear. The girl’s eyes were the color of fresh grass. But I have never seen somebody so scared in her life. Her eyes were wide and her face was frozen, as if she was stuck in time. The moment appeared to be going in slow motion with the vehicle coasting down the driveway. I never looked away from the girl’s gaze. And then I blinked and the black tomb carrying the girl was gone down the street, never to be seen again. The empty garage stayed open, a reminder that it would not be filled again. I walked back home, feeling like I had lost something precious.

When I went to bed that night I could hear my parents talking through the walls, trying to keep their voices down and losing the battle.

Peter, keep your voice down! We don’t want Logan to hear us. Keeping our distance from this is the only way to protect him.”

Lydia, he is a teenager, not an idiot. He was standing right there when they took her. We need to at least give him a reasonable explanation if he asks.” My mom stopped and I could hear her sit down on the couch.

I know, you’re right. I just can’t keep thinking about what they are going to do to that poor girl. She can’t help the way she is.

Lydia! I feel just as bad as you do for the girl but we can’t do anything to help her now. We have to focus on the three of us and keep our mouths shut. I think the most logical thing is to tell Logan if he asks that the girl is trouble and it is in his best interests to forget about her.”

Peter, what do we do if it gets out that we know?”

We have to keep our heads down and go on. Logan is our priority.” After that my parents got up and left the room and I was even more confused than I was before.

I never asked them what happened. A week later I came home to an empty house. My mom and dad never returned from their jobs. Three weeks after that somebody told the cops that I was there alone and I was sent to a home for juveniles. I have now been living in a foster home for a year and a half because my parents are still missing. Before I was moved into my current home, I was stuck in a group home for misplaced kids. I tried to blend in and observe, trying not to draw attention to myself. I started to hear certain words over and over again in conversations: Visions, nightmares, the age 7, and testing.

Fear was a constant presence. There wasn’t a lot of socializing going on. The adults running the home tried to encourage us to talk to each other. They would hold “gatherings” (forced therapy sessions). The kids told the same stories over and over, refusing to give more than was necessary. After 30 minutes a day the designated lackey running the meeting would give up. After a week of these meetings I was already going out of my mind. That is until a girl sat down in the chair next to me. I may have only seen her eyes and hair for a brief time but I immediately knew it was her. My palms started to sweat and I tried to think of something to say. I decided to just turn. When I looked over and grinned, she just stared ahead. Her eyes were glazed over. I thought about touching her shoulder but thought better of it. I wasn’t going to disturb her but I wasn’t going to leave her side either.

As the 1800 seconds ticked by in that cold room with the glaring fluorescent lights, my female chair mate didn’t move. Erica, the girl overseeing the meeting, skipped over her when she was encouraging everybody to share. When the clock started to chime the end of the one o’clock hour, the other 12 teenagers shuffled out the door, eager for a break. I stayed in my blue plastic chair, rocking back and forth on the metal legs. Erica sat in the back of the room, waiting for us to clear out. After five minutes, I said screw it and touched the girl’s arm. She jumped and turned her head to the right. I whispered, “The session is over. Erica wants us to leave. Can you get up?” She nodded her head and allowed me to take her arm. I handled her like a newborn, guiding her towards the exit but trying to make it seem like she was in the lead. Once we were out of the room of not sharing I turned her to the left and hoped she would allow me to take her to a quiet room where we could talk. We walked down the hall without a word. Those around us parted for us to get through, staring as we walked by. I could hear whispers but ignored them. Nothing was more important than making sure this fragile girl didn’t disappear on me again.

At the end of the hall I stopped and took my hand off her toothpick arm. I opened the door to

the lounge area. It had several beat down couches and an ancient television with rabbit ears. There was a handful of people in there. I sat the girl down on the closest couch and tried one more time to look her in the eye. “Are you okay if I go get us something to drink?” She nodded. “Can you tell me what your name is?”

She answered, “Lucy.”

Lucy, I am going to get some water and I will be right back.” Nod.

I took four long strides towards the water cooler and filled two cone shaped cups. I took my time walking back, trying to decide what to say. I didn’t want to scare this girl but I needed answers. And it didn’t help that I felt that my time and luck was running out. I found it odd that this girl appears out of nowhere, appears to be drugged, and yet nobody says or does anything when I take her out of the meeting. Either nobody cares or we were being watched. I went with the latter and decided to not let my guard down.

When I returned with our waters, Lucy has her head down and is mumbling. I put the water under her nose and she takes it. She takes a sip with her left hand and rests her elbow on her knee once done. I tried not to notice that her arm was shaking. When she started mumbling again I leaned forward, trying to decipher if she was making sense.

Your parents.” When I moved back, Lucy grabs my arm to stop. “I know what happened to your parents.”

Goosebumps popped up all over my arms. I wondered if I heard Lucy right. She doesn’t say anything for the past hour and all the sudden she is claiming she knows what happened to my mom and dad? It sounded too good to be true. Deciding I had nothing to lose, I murmured, “Go on.”

Lucy strung all her words together in 10 seconds.

Not here. The only reason they let me out of my room was because I haven’t said a word in two weeks. We will talk when we can.” Before I could respond, Lucy pushed herself off the couch. She threw the paper cone in the trash and left the room. I didn’t dare go after her, afraid that I would start yelling at her.” Logan stopped at that point, lifting his head up towards the sun. Ned could see that his cheeks were wet with tears and looked away. He sat patiently. When Logan began again, his tears were gone and his voice was strong and forceful. “I never saw her after that. I searched every square inch of that place but came up with nothing. After a few weeks I started to wonder if I had imagined her. Nobody spoke of her. But then I went back into the lounge area a month later and sat down on the couch we had shared. As soon as I relaxed into the couch, I felt something under the cushion. I stuck my hand between them and felt a round piece of metal. When I pulled it out it was a bracelet. It looked old. It was colorful with flowers that had been worn down over the years. The gold had also been tarnished. I started to shake when I recognized it as Lucy’s bracelet. I was validated. This place wasn’t making me go insane. Lucy was as real as the bracelet in my hand.”

Ned didn’t move. When Logan reached into his pocket and produced the bracelet, Ned knew there was no going back. This bracelet held significance, he knew it. And then it hit him like a mack truck. The bracelet was an exact replica of the bracelet he had seen Lotto wear the day he met her. Ned asked Logan, “Have you seen any other bracelets like this since then?”

Logan looked confused. “No, should I?”

Ned, not wanting to alarm him, replied, “Maybe. A friend of mine has one like this. It might mean nothing.”

Logan squinted at Ned, as if he didn’t believe him. “Whatever. All I know is that this is the only thing that connects me to Lucy and it has been a year and a half since I have seen her. I thought it was a lost cause until I heard you and your sister asking about your friend.” Logan started to look desperate. “Can you help me Ned? I need to find Lucy. I don’t know if she is alive, hurt, or just lost.” Ned wanted to help Logan, if only because he knew he could also help Lotto by doing so. This couldn’t just be a coincidence.

Ned treaded carefully. He began with, “Alright man, here is the deal. The girl we were asking about has the same bracelet as this one. Can you trust me with this bracelet for a few days?” When Logan hesitated, Ned decided to just push forward. “I need to look into this bracelet with my friend. I think it has the answers that we need.” Ned left it at that. He felt that this bracelet would lead Logan to Lucy and answers for Lotto. But he didn’t dare say that out loud. He didn’t want to give hope to this defeated boy. He appeared to be on the verge of madness and Ned didn’t want to be the one who pushed him off the cliff.

Logan dropped his head down and murmured, “Yes, take it.”

Posted in Seven

Back from the dead: Chapter 13

Tera doesn’t look back at her sister and walks straight towards her favorite vintage shop. If she had to be out in the disgusting town for the day to please her parents and make her sister look bad at the same time, so be it. She had enjoyed the week that Lotto was sick, glad her parents wouldn’t let her come out of her bedroom. Erin washed her hands and was very careful about what she touched those seven days, not daring to risk getting sick. At night she could hear her sister crying or talking to herself. Deep down she almost felt bad for Lotto. Whenever she started to feel that way she would quickly push the thought aside and remind herself that Lotto is only a burden on her mom and dad. That, and she’s annoying.

She stops in front of the window of the store, admiring the display. This week’s showcase of merchandise includes brightly colored necklaces, teardrop earrings, cocktail rings, and chunky bracelets. The vibrancy draws customers in, asking to be tried on. A rare smile crosses Tera’s face, wanting all of it.

But the pull of retail therapy is not strong today. Erin would rather be somewhere else, even though she shouldn’t be and knows she isn’t wanted. But that doesn’t matter. Tera turns her attention away from the candy colored jewels and begins the journey to Steve’s house.

Everything around Tera becomes a blur, her focus is so strong. She just wants to see what he is doing. She will keep out of sight, maybe hide in that one bush that gives her a perfect view of his door. She slows down as she crosses the street, only one block from his home. His neighborhood looks the same as hers, and their houses are a near model match. It’s only his dad and him, his mom passing away 16 years ago. They used to sit on his front lawn and talk about how they couldn’t wait to get out of here. Steve was hoping to get a basketball scholarship out of state. Even though he never said it, Tera knew he wanted her to come with him. She could tell by the way he looked at her and held her hand. Tera told Steve things she had never told anybody, not even Andi. He made her feel adored, and not just because of how she looked. They only dated for a month but Tera felt like she’d known him forever.

Tera heard a screen door slam and jumps into the bush just in time to see Steve walk down his front steps. He had on an old t-shirt and basketball shorts with his practice shoes on. His hair was wet, like he just got out of the shower. Tera held her breath when she realized he was talking towards her. She stood still, hoping the leaves didn’t sway. Her ears started to ring, the panic setting in. So when he didn’t even look in her direction as he passed the bush in a hurry, she let out the breath she had been holding. With that, Steve stopped. He turned around, looking for the source of the sound. Tera closed her mouth and eyes, not wanting to see him when he realizes it is her. What she doesn’t see is him shake his head, telling himself he is hearing things. He is a couple of blocks away from Tera before she opens her eyes and resumes breathing.

Tera steps out of the bush once Steve is out of sight. Even though she was almost caught, it was worth it. He wasn’t close enough that she could smell him but she could imagine it just from the sight of his freshly showered self. She had to stop coming over to his house but she couldn’t help herself. He was the love of her life and she had to make him see her the same way. Maybe Andi could help. She walked past Steve’s house, hoping nosy neighbors didn’t recognize her. Andi’s house was a few blocks away. She didn’t bother calling, knowing her friend would most likely be studying in her room on this Sunday afternoon. Tera was Andi’s only friend so unless she was hanging out with Tera, she was at home.

Posted in Seven

Chapter 12

A week went by and Lotto’s dad stayed true to his word. She wasn’t let out of her room for any reason. Her meals and school work were brought to her by her parents. She never saw Tera but could imagine her standing outside the door with a self satisfied grin. Lotto went two days without eating before her dad threatened to feed her himself. She finally gave in but only took a few bites to satisfy him. She wouldn’t speak a word to her parents. She tried getting a message to Erin and Ned with the phone they gave her but she never heard back from them. The only thing she continued to do was her school work. Logic told her that doing her school work was to her benefit. If she could finish high school she could leave this family that obviously didn’t care about her.

On Sunday she decided to try something other than her hunger strike and not talking. When her mom came in with her breakfast of cereal and yogurt, she was relieved. She knew her mom would be more receptive to her idea than her dad. “Mom? Would it be possible for me to go out today? I have been doing my homework, I’m not sick anymore, and I think I have earned it. Don’t you think?”

Her mom looked Lotto in the eyes, trying to find a hidden agenda. “I don’t know Lotto. You gave us quite a scare. I think before we can consider anything, you need to apologize to your dad. You screaming at him last week wasn’t okay.”

Lotto hung her head, trying to convey the shame she didn’t feel. “Alright. Can you ask him to come in here?”

Her mom stuck her head out of Lotto’s room and yelled, “Scott, can you come here please?”

Five minutes later Lotto’s parents were sitting on her bed while Tera stood in the doorway. “Does she really need to be here?,” Lotto said, pointing at her sister.

Yes, she is fine,” Dad replied, “Go ahead.”

Swallowing her grumbling, Lotto said, “I’m sorry for the way I have been acting. I was really scared. I have never felt like that before and when you wouldn’t let me out of here, I got mad. It won’t happen again.”

Her mom spoke first. “Lotto, do you understand that we didn’t know what was going on?”

Lotto shook her head yes. “I’m sorry.”

Thank you for your apology Lotto. Was there anything else?”

Yes Dad. Would it be okay if I went out today? Like I told Mom, I have been doing all my school work and I’m not sick anymore. I need to get outside.”

Her dad thought it about for a couple of minutes and then cleared his throat, signaling he had come to a decision. “You can go out for a few hours but on one condition. Tera has to go with you.”

Lotto’s first instinct was to yell, “NO!” She caught herself in time and said, “Okay.” She didn’t dare look up at her sister, knowing she was going to have that special look that she reserved only for Lotto.

Tera, is that okay with you?”, her dad asked.

Tera put her hand on her hip and sweetly said, “Sure dad. Anything to help out you and mom. I’m sure you need a break from Lotto.”

Then it’s settled. You can leave when you are ready. I want you home before dinner time.”

Lotto’s family left her room so she could finish her meal and get ready. Lotto was done eating and ready in less than 30 minutes. She put her cellphone in her pants pocket, making sure it wasn’t noticeable. When she went to get Tera, she was still in her pajamas. “Tera! Please get dressed.” Lotto knew that asking her sister to do anything was pointless. She would be ready when she wanted to be ready.

By the time Tera was ready, an hour had past and Lotto wanted to throttle her. They said their goodbyes to their parents and walked outside. Lotto never thought she would miss the ever present smog but she took a deep breath, almost choking on it. But she didn’t care. She wasn’t surrounded by walls for the first time in nine days. After a few minutes of walking she noticed her sister wasn’t behind her. She turned around to find her sister standing on the corner of their street. Lotto jogged up to her and asked, “What’s the problem? I want to go to the movies.”

I’m not going with you. Mom and Dad don’t have to know we aren’t together. Meet me back here at 5 or I will tell them you took off and I spent the whole day looking for you.” Lotto wanted to dance. She had been trying to think of a getaway plan so she wouldn’t have to be with her sister and she had just been given it, free of charge.

Deal.”

Lotto didn’t waste a second after her sister walked away. She decided to skip the library and head straight to the movie since her sister had gotten ready so late. Once she was safely around the corner from her home she tried calling Erin. Nothing. Ned, same thing. She hung up and stared at the phone. Why weren’t they answering their phones?

Once in the theater, Lotto felt her mood changing and let herself relax. She would enjoy the newest old movie that George was screening and then figure out what to do. She had freedom until five o’clock and she was going to take advantage of that. Ninety minutes later with her teenage romantic comedy void filled, Lotto waved good bye to George. Without looking back she exited under the green flashing light, passing all the empty seats. It felt good to forget her troubles for a bit and she felt refreshed.

Lotto decided to give Cream a chance and headed in that direction. She was only about one block past the box office when she caught a shadow to her left. The sound of quickening foot steps followed the shadow. But before she could walk faster a hand grabbed her and yanked her into the alley. She tries to pull away and falls in the process, scraping her hands. She smells a distinct odor, like the inside of a room that hasn’t been aired out for years, and cigarettes. The shadow hasn’t let go and is trying to pull her down the alley. Lotto is panicked but manages to twist her hands out of its (he?she?) grip. Lotto is then able to get a good look at this person who is determined to harm her. She is startled to see that it is the older man from the theater who tried to approach her before. He tries to say something when he sees the look of recognition on Lotto’s face. All he gets out is, “Lotto….” before she finds the strength to kick him in the knee and run out of the alley, not stopping until she gets to the soda shop.

Lotto is red faced and still trying to catch her breath when she reaches her destination. The first two people she sees are Ned and Erin, sitting on her bench. They are turning their heads from left to right, as if watching a tennis match. They both land their gaze on Lotto at the same time. They wildly gesture at her to come over. Lotto forgives their lack of response from her phone calls and walks towards them. When Lotto is a few feet from the bench holding her companions, she stops. She doesn’t say anything.

Erin spoke first. “We’re sorry we didn’t call you back Lotto. We got nervous when you didn’t show up at Cream last week.” Ned starts talking, not giving Lotto a chance to respond.

We have been talking about you at school to see if there was anybody else in the same situation. Nobody knew what we were talking about. But on Thursday when I was in biology somebody handed me a note. It instructed me to go to the boys bathroom that nobody uses at the far end of the quad after school. I thought it was weird and didn’t want to go. When I told Erin she said she would follow me and be within shouting distance.” At this point Ned and Erin just looked at each other. Neither one of them seemed to want to offer up anything else. Lotto couldn’t take it.

So?! What happened?!”

Erin asked, “Are you sure you want to hear this?”

Lotto, not caring who heard her screamed,“I don’t care! For 10 years I have been locked in my house as an invalid. I just want to know what’s going on!” Lotto falls onto the bench, forcing Ned and Erin to move. She is shaking all over, feeling like she is going to throw up again.

Erin nudges Ned and he picks up where he left off. “So Thursday after school I walk over to the boys’ bathroom and sit across from the entrance. 15 minutes goes by and nobody has arrived. I pull out my notebook and start my homework. 15 minutes after that I hear somebody coming. I throw my notebook and book in my bag, zip it up, and get to my feet. I look to make sure Erin is in place and can see her pant leg from behind the building. Finally a kid I don’t recognize appears from around the corner. He stops when he sees me. I wave my hand. The boy swears under his breath and comes closer. When he gets close enough, he sticks his hand out to shake mine in greeting.

My name is Logan Beerman.” He’s really jumpy, like maybe he is scared that he is being followed. He doesn’t stand still, shuffles his feet, and keeps touching his hair. We sit down on the ground so nobody can see us. Before Logan sits down he sweeps the dirt off the designated spot he has chosen for himself with his right hand and sits down cross legged, very proper like. I do the same, hoping that will make him comfortable. A few minutes pass once we sit down. I look around, trying not to stare at him and risk him running off. When Logan clears his throat to signal he is ready to begin, I give him my full attention.

Posted in Seven

Chapter 11

Lotto’s ears are ringing. She can hear the sink running in the kitchen. Dishes are being put in the dishwasher. Annoyed with all the loud sounds and ready to let somebody know, Lotto opens her eyes and instantly regrets it. She turns her head to the right and feels like she is on a tilt-a-whirl. “What is going on?” Lotto feels sick to her stomach. When she feels the bile rise to the top, she has no choice but to stumble to the bathroom and vomit. Lotto feels her head. She is sweaty. Fear grips her. She can not be sick.

When Lotto was a baby, a virus broke out. The virus started out like the common cold, with symptoms such as a sore throat and a stuffy nose. Two days in and its victim would be feverish, throwing up, and having seizures. On the fifth day they would go into a coma, never to regain consciousness. Hospitals and doctors couldn’t keep up with the symptoms at the pace that they occurred. If you were lucky enough to get to a doctor and get medication, it could easily be cured. That was not the case for the majority of the infected. It was declared an epidemic after one month and pandemonium ensued. A lot of people died as a result. It was eventually contained but the impact was severe. This caused such devastation that the public started pointing fingers at insurance companies, doctors, and the government. They wanted to know why they weren’t able to help in time? Why wasn’t there enough medication to go around when it was needed? Instead of getting answers, insurance companies increased their premiums. Generic drugs were pulled off the market. Doctors started refusing more insurance policies than accepting them. If you wanted to stay healthy, you would have to pay. Cash could get you a fast checkup and prescriptions. Some expressed their outrage. These people banded together, passing around petitions and picketing. When that didn’t work, they turned to violence and looting. Protestors, in time, disappeared. And without the luxury of doctors and medicine, few left their house other than for necessities. The risk was too high. Rubber gloves and face masks at places of business became the norm. You either wore them or you weren’t allowed entry.

Today the rich consume 95% of the drugs that are on the market. They live in gated communities, limiting their contact with those below their income status. The rest live in model homes that were built before the division of the sick and the healthy. They look fine from the outside but indoors reflect wear and tear. Worn down carpet, peeling paint, and yellowed tiles. Nobody can afford to do the upkeep.

Lotto has never known a world where she wasn’t fearful of getting sick. Her mom nagged her and her sister when she was younger to never forget to wash her hands, take her vitamins, and to stuff the whole family full of fruits and vegetables. Lotto hated it but she was glad that she had never gotten sick. Until now.

Lotto didn’t know how long she was laying on the bathroom floor when she heard a knock on her door. Her mom called out, “Lotto?”. When Lotto didn’t respond, she heard her mom open the door. After a minute she pushed the bathroom door open and peered around it. When she saw Lotto on the floor, she said, “Oh honey.” Lotto’s mom helped her up, splashed some water on her face, and walked her to her bed.

When she pulled the comforter up to her neck, Lotto asked, “What’s wrong with me Mom?”

As she gazed over Lotto’s head, she replied, “I don’t know honey.” She kissed her on the forehead and said, “Get some rest.” Just as Lotto closed her eyes, she heard the click of the door lock.

When Lotto woke up mid afternoon, there was a bowl of soup, some saltine crackers, and a glass of apple juice on her desk. She tried to sit up and was successful. Nausea still lingered but after a few minutes it subsided. Lotto stuck her finger in her soup and feeling the coldness, decided to eat the crackers. She was still hungry after she finished the crackers and got up to get something else to eat out of the kitchen. But when she turned the door knob, it didn’t move. She tried one more time. Nothing. “What the hell?!”, Lotto wondered out loud. “Mom! Dad! Can somebody please open the door? I’m hungry!” Lotto stood and banged on the door until she heard footsteps coming down the hall. She moved away from the door as the knob twisted down. Her dad closed the door behind him and sat down on the bed.

What’s going on Dad? Why is my bedroom door locked?” Her dad pinched his nose and scratched his head. His reaction made Lotto nervous. Was she sicker than she thought? Was she ever going to be let out of her room again?

Lotto, I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well. The reason you are not leaving your bedroom is because we can’t risk you getting the rest of us sick.” Lotto didn’t know if it was the dip in his voice when he talked or that he wouldn’t look at her, just like her mom. Or maybe because he was sitting on her bed, soaking up all the germs that he didn’t want to get. It didn’t matter. Lotto wasn’t buying it.

Come on dad. What’s really going on?”

Lotto, you are sick. And we don’t know how sick. So for a few days you will need to stay in your room. We will bring you your meals and your schoolwork when it arrives. Hopefully you will get well sooner rather than later.”

Lotto gave in to the hysteria that had been at the brink. She cried out, “You can’t do this to me! I can’t stay cooped up in my room. I promise to be good. I will wear rubber gloves and a mask if you want me to, just please don’t make me stay in here!” He didn’t say a word, got up, hugged Lotto, and walked towards the door. When Lotto tried to grab his arm, he removed it with care and locked the door as he closed it behind him. Lotto crumbled onto the floor and gave into the tears. What was she going to do?

Posted in Seven

Chapter 10

Lotto looks out the passenger window as the car moves at a respectable speed. She doesn’t know what to say to these two strangers even though she agreed to get into a car with them. Her hands are steady and are sitting in her lap in an unconscious prayer position. She relaxes when they pass the movie theater, and then the library. A few minutes later and they are out of town and the abandoned roads and plains spread out before them like peanut butter on toast.  Erin speeds up and rocks and dirt kick up behind the car, making a cloud that follows them on their journey. Darkness looms before them, with the car’s headlights the only bright spot for miles. The openness comforts Lotto. After what seems like an eternity, Erin pulls into an abandoned parking lot with a rectangular building at the center. When Lotto sees the six white 50+ feet screens placed in a circle around the structure, she can’t believe her own eyes. She reverts her attention back to the building and sees a small light on top with the words Snack Bar exhibited. Before she can ask, Erin announces, “This used to be a drive in about 25 years ago. People would come here in their cars and watch movies on the screens. We come here every once in a while just to hang out.”

Ned says from the back, “Its nice, right Lotto?”

Let’s stop talking about it and show Lotto around,” Erin says over her shoulder as she exits the vehicle, closing the door with force.

Lotto feels like she is flying as she opens her door. She had read about these drive ins while researching at the library but she had no idea that they still existed. Not that you could say this drive in was existing. Like every other landmark Lotto had grown up with, it had seen better days. Four of the six screens were see through they were so worn. The lines in the ground that were once reserved for cars were all gone. The poles with attached radios still stood but tilted at an angle, too tired to stand up straight. Lotto felt sadness as she touched the poles, wishing she had been around when these drive ins were filled with eager moviegoers, munching on nachos, throwing popcorn, and sitting in their cars with the windows rolled down. “Everything okay, Lotto?”, Ned asked.

Lotto smiles without thinking and says, “Thank you for bringing me here.”

Erin shouts from the other side of the building, “YOU’RE WELCOME!” Lotto and Ned both laugh and walk over to Erin. She is propping a worn looking ladder up against the rectangular building.

Who wants to go first?”, Erin asks. “Lotto can go first and then you Erin”, Ned suggests. Lotto puts her hand on the ladder and steps onto the first rung. She looks up, steadying herself. When she sees Ned’s hand on the ladder to keep it still, her heart jumps out of her chest and flings itself at him and this act of chivalry. She floats up the ladder, confident now that she won’t fall. When she gets to the top she walks to the middle of the roof and sits down cross legged. She looks up at the sky and is astonished. The sky is filled with stars. It is the most beautiful thing she has ever seen. “It’s like another world, huh Lotto?”, Ned asks as he takes a seat next to her. “The cleaner the air, the more stars you can see.”

Well, DUH Ned. Lotto probably knows that,” Erin states with a smirk.

Whatever Erin.” Lotto ignores the bickering siblings, reminded of Tera the Awful. She lays back and just stares at the sky.

After five minutes of peaceful silence, Lotto decides to ask the question that she has been wondering ever since she met Ned and Erin on Sunday. “Why did you guys come up to me at the soda shop last Sunday?” Lotto isn’t surprised when Erin answers first.

Because you looked like a wounded rabbit that needed to be rescued before you became road kill.”

Nice Erin,” Ned says as he sits up and slugs his sister in the arm. He looks at Lotto and says, “What my punk sister is trying to say is that you looked like you needed a friend.” “And,” he throws her a wicked grin, “we pick up strays.” Erin laughs out loud at this. Lotto doesn’t want to be the recipient of anybody’s pity but even she can recognize an offer of friendship. She starts to laugh with Erin, which turns into a fit of giggles when Ned begins laughing. His laugh is more of a seal bark with a snort thrown in every now and then. Lotto is delirious with delight now, liking this boy in front of her even more. His perfection made him unattainable but this circus animal laugh made her want to give him a hug. Lotto felt the pressure that has been attached to her shoulders diminish and a weightlessness come over her.

Once they laughed till their sides hurt, Erin walks over to the edge, sits back down and lets her legs dangle. She pats the spot next to her, signaling for Lotto to come sit next to her. “Are you ready for part two of the Spanish Inquisition Lotto?” Knowing this was coming, Lotto joins Erin and waits for the first question. “Why don’t you go to school with the rest of us schlubs? You think you are special or something?” Lotto tries to make it quick and to the point.

When I was seven I kept passing out at school. It happened enough times that I became scared. I told my teacher and she called my parents. A week later I was at home with my schoolwork and instructions to go online to watch videos of teachers going over the work. It’s been that way ever since.”

Ned’s voice carried from their original spot and asked, “Are you still passing out and seeing things?”

Yeah, about once a week. But I say I’m not seeing things anymore. When I told them I was, my parents took me to the doctor where I was put through tests. I was stuck with needles, cords attached to me, and there were a few overnight stays. I wised up and kept my mouth shut.”

Ned, having made his way over to the girls, puts his hand over Lotto’s and quietly said, “I’m sorry Lotto. That sucks.”

Pressing on, but covering Lotto’s other hand with her own, Erin asked, “What do you see?”

I am in somebody’s house and the person that lives there is sick. They need my help but I can’t get to them. I also have a vision where I am in an abandoned warehouse. The doors are locked and it feels like the walls are closing in.” Lotto stops at that, not wanting to talk anymore. Doubt starts to fill her up and she wonders why Erin wants to know so much. She pulls her hand away from Erin and simply says, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore, if that’s okay.”

At the same time Ned and Erin both answer, “I don’t blame you.”

Lotto stood up and asked, “Can we go home now? I am afraid that my parents will notice that I am gone.” Ned frowns but doesn’t say anything.

Erin replies, “No worries. We have to get home anyways.” The three of them climb back down and take their time walking to the car. Lotto didn’t want the night to end but her brain was on overload. She couldn’t decide if Ned liked her or if he was just genuinely nice. She liked Erin but didn’t trust her. And, most of all, she was afraid she had said too much.

When they got to the Honda, Lotto tried to get in the back seat again but Ned wouldn’t let her. She grumbles under her breath, hoping Erin won’t ask anymore questions. Erin starts the car without a word and presses down on the accelerator. They all lurch forward. Erin says, “Sorry,” and they keep moving.

Nobody says a word during the too short trip back to Cream. Erin stops in front of the soda shop and leaves the car running. “Do you have a cellphone that we can reach you at?”

Lotto drops her head, shaking it no. “My parents don’t think I need one.” Ned reaches under the front seat, straightens up, and hands a cellphone over Lotto’s shoulder.

The number is 230-998-6309. Hang onto it. Our number is already saved in there.”

Lotto tries to hand the phone back. “I can’t take that. Those are expensive.”

Erin glances up from picking at her zebra striped nail polish and tells her, “Take it. We always have an extra. Our parents give them to us when they upgrade.” She smiles at Lotto, showing her sincerity.

Ned pulls out his phone while Erin takes hers out of her weathered hobo purse. “See?”

With that, Lotto takes the phone and tucks it into the pocket of her jeans. “Thank you.”

Will you be coming here on Sunday Lotto?”, Ned asks. “We’re usually here at 1.” Lotto wants to say yes but is afraid to appear too eager.

I don’t know. I go to a couple of other places on Sundays. I’ll try to come.”

Erin looks like she wants to ask something but just states, “See you around then. Don’t lose the phone.” Lotto takes that as a goodbye and gets out of the car. When she turns around to wave, Ned is looking at her as they speed away while Erin gives her a thumbs up in the side mirror.

Lotto didn’t know what to make of the night’s events. Her insecurities were threatening to take over. She couldn’t understand why Ned and Erin had taken such an interest in her. They seemed easy, outgoing, and not lacking in the confidence department. So why her? Lotto’s natural instinct was to let these feelings linger but instead she decided to feel the warmth of her hand where Ned had shown tenderness. An unnatural emotion bubbled to the surface that she didn’t recognize. She knew she wanted to see Ned again. But now did she dare hope that he wanted to see her also?

When she saw her bedroom window in the distance, she went stiff. Did she leave her light on? And window open? She dropped like she was ready to give twenty. There wasn’t any movement in the room, if her eyes weren’t deceiving her. Lotto didn’t know what to do. She crab walked to the lawn in front of the house and then sank her whole body into the grass. She dragged her body through the moisture, trying not to think about the bugs who call where her jeans are home. She stops half way and listens. She can hear the wind giving its nightly greeting to the tree to her right. The crickets were chattering, signaling the warmer months were on their way. But no voices. And nothing coming from her room. She pops her head up and down like a bobble head, trying to catch a glimpse. Still nobody. She sits under the window sill for five minutes, even though it feeels like an eternity. She rips off the band aid and stands up. And even though she has checked numerous times in the past ten minutes, Lotto can’t believe her room is empty. Nothing has been touched. Lotto’s shoulders drop in relief. She crawls through the window, closes it without a sound, and turns off the light. After changing out of her clothes and into her pajamas, she jumps into bed with glee. She had gotten away with it. Lotto falls asleep with a devious grin on her face.

Posted in Seven

Chapter 9

Lotto walks hunched over for two blocks, watching for shadows. She puts her arms around her torso to keep warm, cursing herself for not bringing her pullover just because it didn’t go with the outfit. After turning the corner she straightens up. The street lights are dimly lit to conserve energy so Lotto keeps jumping at shadows, the nonexistent boogeymen out to get her. A rustle of the wind makes her heart stop like a defibrillator. She looks over her shoulder every few minutes to make sure she isn’t being followed. The letters Cream at the top of the soda shop make the street lights look like they are turned up full blast, with only the r and the m at a whisper. The remaining C, e, and a are content to just make the buzzing sound that is supposed to accompany the appearance of light. Lotto stares at the sign for a few minutes, wondering if she will be the only witness when they all decide to shut down; not unlike the movie theater projectors.

When she is tapped on the shoulder by Ned, she jumps back and knocks them both to the ground. “Smooooooth,” Lotto thinks. She doesn’t dare stare at Ned, terrified of his reaction. When she hears him laughing, she relaxes but still doesn’t want to meet his gaze.

Are you okay?,” Ned asks. Lotto nods and forces herself to get up off the ground. When he sees her face, Ned gasps. “You’re not okay! Your face is all red. Are you scratched?”

Dumb ass, she’s blushing,” Erin points out as she walks up with three 32 ounce Styrofoam cups with red and white striped straws sticking out the top. She drinks out of one of the three and stops when she is right next to Lotto. She offers Lotto one of the remaining two cups. Lotto gratefully accepts the cup and takes a sip, not bothering to ask what is in it. She sucks down the vanilla milkshake until she realizes freezing her brain cells when she needs them the most is not her grandest of ideas. She stops and says, (turning to the right) “Thank you Erin” and (turning to the left) “I’m sorry Ned.” When he doesn’t respond, Lotto sneaks a glance at him. He is glaring at his sister.

Erin innocently says, “What? She was. I didn’t say it was because of you.”

Ned drops his head and tells Erin, “Just shut up.” He grabs the untouched milkshake out of her left hand and takes a few steps towards Lotto. He asks again, “Are you okay?”

Lotto whispers, “Yes,” and finishes off her milkshake, brain freeze be damned.

Erin throws her cup into a trash can and claps her hands to get their attention. “Are we ready? Good.” Without waiting for Ned and Lotto to follow, Erin walks away from Cream towards a parked four door midnight blue Honda Civic. The car blends in with the night, all four windows rolled up, making it near impossible to peer inside. Erin puts in a key to the lock on the driver’s side and turns her wrist to the left. Lotto wonders if this is because the vehicle doesn’t have an alarm or because Erin is trying to be discreet. Lotto can’t look far enough into her future to see having a car at her disposal. The car isn’t fancy but it might as well have been Jake Ryan’s red Porsche for all Lotto cared, she wasn’t getting either anytime soon. The car makes a slight sputter before coming to full throttle. Erin looks at her brother and new friend and asks, “Are you getting in or are you going to choke on my dust?” Lotto goes to open the backseat door but Ned beats her to it.

Ladies up front.” Lotto walks around to the front passenger door. She barely has time to close the door and buckle her seat belt before Erin screeches away from the curb.

Where are we going?” Lotto asks, afraid to hear the answer.

Erin doesn’t look at Lotto as she says, “It’s a surprise. Now sit back and relax a little. I promise it won’t hurt.” Lotto slumps into her seat, afraid of what she has gotten herself into.

Posted in Seven

Chapter 8

Lotto tries to keep a sense of normalcy from Monday morning until Friday, if only for appearances sake. She saves her energy for when she has to interact with her parents, and continues the routine of ignoring her sister. She doesn’t think her Mom and Dad notice anything unusual. Lotto lets a smile slip here and there but she always keeps her head down so it is like she is enjoying her own personal joke.

When she does get to her bedroom with the door safely closed, Lotto lets loose. She squeals into her pillow, dances around her bedroom, and smiles flow freely. She lays on her bed, looks up at the ceiling and plays over and over the events from Sunday. Ned walking out of Cream, his saggy pants and vintage sneakers, and the way he smelled. Lotto takes a lot of deep breaths, trying to remember his aroma. He smelled the way Lotto imagined the love interest of the heroine in all the classic movies she loved would. He didn’t need cologne. Just ocean saltiness, sweat, and a hint of soap that only came from the bar kind. She could picture Ned’s friendly eyes looking down at her and shivers ran up and down her spine. She fantasized about what would happen on Friday night. What do kids her age do at night? And more importantly, how was she going to get out of the house without getting caught?

Friday morning Lotto got up as usual, relieved that she had it made through the week without any nightmares. She starts her math work and tries to focus on the pre calculus equations in front of her. After about an hour of staring at the numbers, she put the worksheets away and reviews her science notes. She knows she has an exam the following week according to her calendar so she wants to refresh her memory. But after 15 minutes she knows she is as ready as she is going to be. She picks up the only thing she knew would help her pass the time, the book she is currently reading. She takes The Handmaid’s Tale over to her bed and makes herself comfortable in her sea of pillows. She lays back and opens the book.

Lotto opens her eyes. But instead of seeing the light in her bedroom, she is faced with darkness. Lotto’s heart starts to go into overdrive. She couldn’t possibly be back in the same spot. She closes her eyes, not wanting to face this reality. The wind of breath entering and exiting. The grittiness of the dirt covering every inch of her skin. Pushing down a gag reflex, she reaches down to pull up whatever will get her through this one. She thinks of Ned and the possibilities that lie before her tonight. She isn’t going to let a nightmare keep her from that. She does what she always does: she climbs with all her might. She focuses and ignores her screaming muscles, refusing to stop. When she sees the eventual light she moves a little bit faster. It gets brighter and brighter, urging Lotto not to stop. And then she sees the foot. But instead of a boot, it is a suede navy blue Van with white trim. When it comes down towards her, Lotto quickly ducks.

Back down on earth, Lotto sits up in her bed. Frustration fills her and she can feel her temperature rise. She starts to cry, her tears a town under attack and the need to flee to safety. A size 10 blue Van haunts her. Lotto looks over at the clock. It is five, early evening. She must have fallen asleep after lunch. She get ups from the bed and steps on her book. She picks it up, puts the bookmark on the last read page, and sets it on her desk. It was time to splash some water on her face and have dinner. Analysis of this latest nightmare would have to be saved for another time. She needs all the energy she can muster if she is going to make it out tonight.

Lotto’s Mom and Dad are setting the table and placing food on the teal, antique, and scalloped chipped dishes that were a hand me down from her grandparents. Lotto goes to the drawer to get silverware. Once the plates and cups are filled Tera walks in and sits down. Lotto scowls but keeps her opinion to herself. She sits down and starts to pick apart her food, realizing she doesn’t have an appetite. When she looks up both parents are looking at her with suspicion. Before they can say anything, Lotto takes a big bite of her baked chicken and mashed potatoes. Mom and Dad go back to their dinner.

15 minutes later, Lotto asks to be excused. Her Dad nods. She scrubs her dishes and places them in the dishwasher. She can’t resist looking at her sister and saying, “See Tera, this is called a DISHWASHER. It CLEANS dishes. But you have to put them in first.”

Tera narrows her eyes at Lotto and replies, “Shut up Lotto. I didn’t ask.”

Dad swallows his last bit of food and looks at them both. “That’s enough. Tera, make sure you don’t leave your dishes in the sink. Lotto, I do believe you were excused.”

Okay Dad. I am going to read in my room tonight.”

Lotto’s Mom shakes her head and tells Lotto, “You know tonight is family game night. We are all going to participate. You can read afterwards.”

Not wanting to make a big deal out of it, Lotto sighs and answers, “Okay Mom. But can we make it quick? I need to finish this book so I can write my report next week.”

We will be done when we are done. Maybe that nap you took this afternoon could have been better spent reading.” Lotto doesn’t answer and goes back to her room until she is called for the game.

Two hours and three board games later, Lotto is finally allowed to go back to her room. She pops up from the couch, spins around with excitement, and manages to run right into the wall separating the kitchen and the family room. When she gathers herself and turns around, her family is staring at her. “Everything okay Lotto?” her mom asked.

I’m fine Mom, just tired.” Lotto tries not to acknowledge the blush stretching across her cheeks while Tera shakes with laughter out of the corner of her eye. Lotto doesn’t wait for more questions and shuffles down the hall of shame back to her room. She closes the door and sinks onto her bed. The clock ticks with exhilaration, the time being 7:30. She has just enough time to clean up and pick out something to wear.

At 8:30 Lotto’s Mom knocks on her door and says good night. “Good night Mom.”

Sweet dreams sweetheart. See you in the morning.” Lotto looks at her only window, adjacent to her desk. She knew that is the easiest escape route but its age worries her. To give it a test run she walks over and pulls it up an inch. Nothing, not even the tiniest of screeches. Relief pours through Lotto. She smooths down the wrinkles that aren’t on her aged jeans. Her outfit probably won’t measure up to whatever Erin is wearing but Lotto feels confident enough. She is comfortable in her favorite pants and nautical navy blue and white striped boat neck top. Her “I don’t care but look good” appearance. Her Grandma’s bracelet is secure on her right wrist. She pushes the window a little bit more. Still quiet. When she tries to push it up more than a bit, the window squeaks. Lotto yanks her hands back and jumps under her bed covers. After 10 minutes of waiting for her Mom and Dad to burst into the room and tie her to the bed for the rest of her life, Lotto decides it’s now or never. She pushes her pillows under the threadbare comforter, knowing full well that they are a poor substitute for her body. She assesses the space between the window and the sill, determining that she only has to push it up one more time and that should be enough room to squeeze through. One last shove, a calculated slide through the space, and Lotto is free.