Chapter one – The dream
Don’t go any closer…
Micah… Open the gate…
No, go away! Don’t come any closer!
My head had hit the table next to my bedside. Hard. The pain made me wake up from the nightmare immediately, and I looked around in confusion.
Daylight was shining in through the window, together with the calming sound of birds whistling. That’s right… I was at home. At home in my bed. Slowly breathing in and out, I picked myself up from the floor. It was all right, I was fine, I was-
Totally going to be late for school.
‘Oh, fudge! Milow, why didn’t you wake me?!’
My furry companion was busy admiring the flowers next to his bed and ignored my accusations. This was the third time this week already. Tolson was going to get me in detention for sure- never mind that, my clothes! Where were my clothes?!
‘I am so going to scold you if I miss the bus, Milow!’
I ran out of my room, slamming the door open and almost tripping over the pink toy bunny on the floor. Milow sent me off with a guilty-sounding bark.
The stairs. Dad had told me countless times to be careful on the staircase, but desperate times asked for desperate measures. I stormed down, skipping at least three stair steps with every jump I made, and was downstairs in two seconds.
‘DAAAAAAAAD! WAKE UP! We totally overslept again!’
Seeing how both me and my father were heavy sleepers, I’d trained Milow to wake me up at sunrise since he was a little puppy. I would then wake dad, and we’d all make it to work and school in time. It was a good system, but flaws like this caused utter panic and chaos in the morning. I heard blankets being pushed back in the room left of me and dashed into the bathroom.
I think I broke my personal record of getting dressed that morning. By the time dad got out of his room and greeted me with a yawned ‘morning’, I was already fully dressed and ready.
‘Morning, Micah… you sure are energetic so early…’
‘It’s not early at all! Milow didn’t wake me up again!’
I bolted right past him, out of the hallway and outside. If I was fast… maybe I could still…!
‘We really need to get a decent alarm… hey, Micah! YOU NEED TO EAT BREAKFAST BEFORE YOU LEAVE!’
The bus pulled up just as I ran across our front lawn.
‘No, wait! Wait for me! I’M STILL ON TIME!’
Too late. It was gone.
There wasn’t a soul outside anymore by the time I finally arrived. I was out of breath and sweaty and tired, but ran up the stairs right away.
I could be sneaky. Tolson was known to always get a cup of coffee before the morning lessons started, and it wasn’t that late yet. Maybe I was lucky and he was still getting his coffee. Maybe he went to the toilet. Now if only there were no other teachers in the hallways…
As long as no one saw me…
Of course they’d already started. And Tolson was sitting at his table.
With his coffee.
And an absence list.
I prepared myself for the worst and slowly opened the door. Everyone was already seated, books on the table, bags put away. Except for me.
‘Why, miss Adams. Have you finally decided to grace us with your presence? Surely being tardy three times in a row cannot be a coincidence, can it?’
‘I’m really sorry, sir,’ I muttered. ‘I tried, honestly, but the bus drove away right in front of me so I had to walk all the way here and there was-‘
‘Enough,’ mister Tolson said coldly. ‘I do not care what kind of excuse you have. Three times tardy means detention, miss Adams. I will see you at my desk at the end of class. Understood?’
It was about as unfair as things could get. But I knew that by protesting I’d only make matters worse, so I kept my mouth shut and satisfied myself by sending him a cold glare when he turned his head to face the rest of the class.
‘Oh, look, Freckles is back.’
‘Where’d she get the shirt? At a flea market?’
‘I, like, totally saw her running after the bus. It was so pathetic.’
Giggles and whispers. I paid them no attention and walked towards my usual seat. Ethan was already there, waiting for me.
‘Missed the bus, eh? I thought it would be something like that,’ Ethan grinned. ‘This sure happens a lot lately. Trouble getting out of bed seems to run in the family with you guys.’
‘Oh, shut up,’ I whispered, seating myself next to him. ‘And lend me a pen. I forgot to take my bag with me when I ran after the bus.’
Ethan and I were best friends, really. Even though you wouldn’t say so at first glance. We’d been childhood buddies, and fate had put us together in the same class of high school.
It was on one of our walks that I met him – or more accurately, met his dog. It took over twenty minutes for Ethan to show up. Where Milow was always very obedient, Nina tended to run off on her own on some reckless adventure, leaving her master to search for hours.
As we went to the same park, we kept meeting and became friends quickly. Weeks, months and years passed and eventually, just like our dogs, we became inseparable.
‘So how’s the old man? Has he given you permission to go camping with me yet?’ Ethan smiled, talking softly so the teacher wouldn’t hear him.
‘Well, we talked about it yesterday, and he didn’t really approve. But he hasn’t said no yet, either.’
‘So it’s a “maybe”?’
‘Awesome!’ Ethan said happily. ‘I’m going to buy a sleeping bag right away. There’s this really creepy spot in the mountains where they say a person was killed in the past. We should totally camp out there!’
Right when I was about to answer, the cold voice of Tolson cut through the air.
‘Silence, mister Almond! Class has already begun ten minutes ago. Take out your books and open them at page one hundred and fifty two. First period will be individual reading. Talking is not allowed!’
Not much you could do when he was in a mood like that. The class silently took out their books and began to read. I stole a book from Ethan to not make Tolson even madder, and then time went by silently.
I tried to focus on the contents of the book, but my head just wouldn’t keep up. I was exhausted from running all this way, and still tired from the nightmare I had. Sleep always seemed to be a problem for me. I couldn’t remember a single night that went by without having some kind of weird dream.
I felt Loris looking at me. Quickly, I flipped a page and let my eyes slide over the words. It worked; he looked away again.
It seemed like an eternity until, finally, the chime rang.
‘Books away. We’ll review the contents of what you’ve all just read after P.E. . Class dismissed!’
‘Fínally!’ the boy behind me said, pushing their chairs backwards with a lot of noise. ‘That was so boring!’
‘Dude, let’s crash the cafeteria before the rest of them gets there. I want mac ‘n cheese for lunch.’
More chairs were scraped back and the classroom gradually became empty. Ethan got up from his chair as well.
‘Come on, Micah. I’m hungry.’
I nodded and attempted to leave, but before I was even fully standing, mister Tolson cut me off.
‘Micah Adams. Where do you think you’re going?’
‘Should I wait for you?’ Ethan asked hesitantly. I shook my head.
‘Just go on without me. I’ll catch up later,’ I mumbled.
‘…Sure. Good luck, Micah.’
I was going to need it.