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The Difference in Escaping and Returning
The first Escape I made was around November 18th. The date I lost both my parents. My mother died when I was too young to remember her well but it hit Father pretty hard. It became a tradition for him to go out on that date and get drunk in an attempt to forget the pain I saw in his eyes every day. But the only other times he’d drink was when he was out with friends - which, granted, didn’t happen often as he became pretty solitary after my mother died. I remember how he would smile around her. I haven’t seen him smile like that since the accident, and I suppose I never will. After she died he seemed broken. Unfixable.
My uncle drove him to and fro so that no accidents happen but of course, the one time he wasn't available, something happened. When Father left he said he’d be fine, that it was only one night, but tell that to his dying body on the road.
The situation was traumatising and I just wanted to get away from the pitying words and the curious glances of other kids in the orphanage, who wouldn’t?
At the Home my days were spent sitting on the hard beds provided, staring at the wall, a dull, beige thing that swallowed all my attention. I ate very little my first few weeks… or months. I only left the room when necessary and even so, I kept to myself. The first time I Escaped, this ever so familiar numbness spread through me and I blocked out all else. Maybe it was the laser pointed concentration that caused my first projection.
If my memory serves true, it was raining out, the pitter patter of precipitation knocking on the window, like droplets of tears from the sky above. Most would think the change to be sudden, with a jolt, but it was more like I was drifting. A sense of disconnection, that’s what it felt like. That feeling grew until I realised I wasn’t sitting in the same place as before, and the bed did not sink under my weight. Everything just felt off, different, as if I was in the same place yet still somewhere else. At first, I put it off to the funk that’d crowded my head after father died, after all, what else could it be? What alerted me to the reality of the situation was the fact that there was another me sitting right by my side. Eyes closed, breathing even. I looked peaceful, even though I didn’t feel it. The confusion and grief toiled inside me, raging like a storm.
A quick rap on the door drew my attention away from the anomaly and the door was cracked open, the old hinges giving off a squeak not far from that of a mouse. A small thing of a boy entered, retrieving a notebook from his own bed. Alarm and panic filled my head, bringing chaos to my mind. I tried to stand, something that was quite sensational and babbled on about how I had no idea what happened, I was just sitting there and- Nothing. The slight boy didn’t respond or even look at me. He just took one glance at my sleeping form and left, closing the door behind him. It occurred to me that he couldn’t see me and that idea thrilled me to the core.
In my attempt to stand I realised that every movement was exceedingly extraordinary. It wasn’t standing so much as it was drifting. It was like I was just rising, I could hardly feel the bed beneath me. Something that’s solid isn’t really there and I could feel the cloth but it was as though every sensation was dulled. My floating form was able to push off from it, but that motion sent me drifting towards the ceiling, tendrils of what I believed to be gravity loosely clinging to me. It was a spontaneous feeling, a spark of light after the darkness that had fallen when Father died.
So here I am, three years from that occurrence and seventeen. I’m still at the Home, because after all, who wants to adopt a teenager who’s so close to adulthood? For most, a small child with wide eyes and an eager smile would be the ideal choice.
I just wish to get out of here. I’m tired of eating the same kind of dull food, the looks of pity from adults I receive each day, the poor attempts at normalcy. It’s wearing on me. It’s difficult to achieve anything close to that when everyone near your age goes by in a blur, arriving then leaving the same week. Most kids come and go, some family member or stranger whisking them away a few days or weeks after they arrive. The only people who’re still here from when I first arrived are a couple of boys whose names I don’t remember. I never got close to them- or anyone for that matter.
The same cannot be said for the others though, younger boys easily make friends finding some way to relate to one another. But I can sense that underneath the playful smiles and the games of tag on the lawn, everyone is waiting for the next person to leave, the next homeless, abandoned child to be carted here. But people smile to forget. I must be the only one here to embrace the fact that I won’t be taken in anywhere, I’ll simply get to old to remain at the home and then be kicked to the streets. I simply don’t feel the need to converse with people about the future? Besides, I spend most of my time outside the Home, so I know the bustling city well. It’s more of a home than the orphanage is. In fact, I go out every night and almost all day. It’s more of an addiction than anything, I’ve noticed that the more I do it the less I want to leave the state of my Escape. But I’m sure it’s fine, what’s the most harm it can do? And anyway, if something does happen, who would be there to care? Of course, the staff would mourn over the basket case orphan’s death for a couple of days but then they’d be swept up in the paperwork of other orphans, and I’d be forgotten.
“Mrs Hall?” I call into the office of the imposing woman, “I think I'm going to lay down, I don't feel well so I'm going to miss breakfast.” A dismissive wave of her bare and thin hand tells me that it’s alright, something I already know because informing her is merely a formality. I’m fairly sure at this point that they’ve put some kind of constant sickness down on my medical report since I’m always telling the staff here that I’m “not feeling well”. I feel fine in a sense, I hardly ever get sick. I could be described as ‘sticklike’ due to being underfed. I don’t mind since I know it’s true.
Up in my room, I lay down, facing away from the door. My eyes flutter closed and I’m gone. Without casting even a small glance back at my physical form, I cross out the small, open window, sinking slowly to the ground. The room I share with three other boys is on the second floor so I’ve quickly gotten used to the fall. Once on the ground, I start walking, letting my feet guide me. Hardly do I ever have a specific place in mind, it’s not as though there’s any place here that I hold close to my heart and even if I did, I wouldn’t bother with it. Sometimes memories override the mind, making it too painful to interact with the past.
This time, I end up at the old train crossing, an old place near the edge of the woods where nature invades broken industry. The sight never fails to haunt me, decrepit tracks fading off into the distance, dusky brown and pale green leaves tangling in the wooden slats and loosening screws. Trees line the area, each at least five feet away, although I can see a few daring saplings edging towards the tracks. It’s a desolate scene, the sun yet to rise. There are no shadows so everything is hazy. Twilight truly is a strange time where anything can happen. The city sleeps but is ever so slowly coming to life.
“Brother? Is that you?” A sleepy voice calls from the forest from which I came, making my breath hitch.
A swift spin around brings a small girl of only seven, possibly eight into view. Her long, deep brown hair is a mess, from her journey through the foliage, and wide green eyes stare in my direction. They’re unfocused as if seeing through me and I wonder if she can sense me there.
In the same tired voiced, laced with dreams, she calls again, but much softer. “Hello?” I could hear traces of fear and shakiness in her words. Something about her saddens me, making me I wonder where her brother is and what she’s doing out here in only a thin pair of pyjamas. Against my better judgement, I move closer to the little girl. Sinking to her level, I reach out a hand to hug her before pulling back. The action is out of instinct and I feel the strong urge to protect this small thing. To my utmost surprise, she reaches out and makes as if to grab my hand. Of course, her hand falls right through mine but she holds it in a fist as if she were holding mine. I can feel a warmth in my own translucent hand and she relaxes.
The little girl shuffles down onto the ground, sitting with her legs crossed and her small hand still curled around my own. “I had another nightmare…” She whispers, her words ghosts of what they had been. “It was about mum.” Her eyes, originally cast down to the ground where dry leaves fluttered in a light breeze, flick up to me.
A sad smile grows on my face. I speak softly, knowing she wouldn’t be able to hear me but wanting so badly to try. “They’re called nightmares for a reason… they’re not real.” I state simply.
Despite her not hearing me, she visibly calms, making me wonder. This little stranger is more attuned to me than anyone I’ve ever seen. She can tell I’m here as if she has a feel for it. Once again, the urge to protect her overwhelms me.
“I know you’re not my brother.” Her statement startles me out of my fondness, “He always makes me feel like mum’s still here, she’s just being troublesome like she used to. You make me feel like it’s all going to be fine and she’s not really there.” Her voice is so matter of fact and I can’t help but suppress a laugh at her tone. But the fact that I’m not her brother doesn’t seem to upset her if anything, she seems more cheerful.
“He really should stop hovering all the time! Grammie gets scared when we talk, and she always asks who I’m talking to!” My blood runs cold when she talks about her grandmother not being able to see her brother. “He tells me that he and Grammie just don’t get along so I try to stay out of it. I don’t get him in trouble for sneaking out because he helps me keep the monsters away.” I can see how her eyes shine when she talks about her brother but all I can feel now is a sinking feeling in my chest.
I’d seen something like this before in a little boy who would have one-sided conversations and be afraid of things the rest of us couldn’t see. He also laughed at the rest of us for not being able to see certain things that he found oh so silly. The nurse said that it was a medical condition called schizophrenia and that it meant the boy saw things that weren’t there. I remember because she sat us all down, except for the boy, and told us how to act around him. The whole situation was a mixture of confusion and hesitance and I believe everyone was thankful when the boy left.
I don’t have the heart to tell this little girl that she was hallucinating. I’ve no idea what happened to her brother, or if he ever truly existed but she was so hopeful. So I give her a forced smile despite knowing she can’t see. I have a feeling she’ll sense it somehow. My heart reaches out to her and I wonder at what point she’ll be checked into a hospital for coping mechanisms. Imagining the moment doesn’t make it any better, being told so gently that half of what she sees isn't really there.
I’m jerked out of my thoughts when the child speaks again, “I think I should go, Grammie will worry if I’m gone too long! Goodbye!” With that last cheerful message, she’s gone, racing into the woods leaving behind only a whisper of her previous presence. My shoulders slouch dismally and I remain at the tracks, gazing longing down the path and wishing I could follow them to whatever new places they lead to.
Three weeks have passed since I first encountered the hallucinating girl and every day after I’ve met with her by the tracks. It’s become like a ritual and every time I Escape I’m guided by some invisible force back to the tracks, where the little girl waits. Each and every time she knows I’m not her brother but there have been times when she’ll tell me he’s there with us, perched in a tree, sitting by her side, balancing on the tracks. And each time my heart is pained to know that he’s not really there. But sometimes I like to imagine that I can feel someone else with us, another being with friendly intentions.
Never have the girl and I been able to have a conversation, but I’ll talk and she’ll spin wonderous stories and that’s enough. Slowly I feel myself wanting to stay with her, to comfort her when she’s been confronted by a monster, to laugh with her when she tells a silly story about the kids at school. Her happiness and purity are infectious and I spend more time with her than I do at the Home. Of course, my body remains there, sleeping on that hard bed, and I always feel the light tug of my physical form. It’s easy to ignore though, and that’s what I do. Sometimes I’ll even go a day and night without returning, worrying the nurse. I’ve overheard conversations between her and Mrs Hall talking about how my sleep is too deep, how I’m practically unresponsive.
And then it happens one day. I’ve been with the girl for half a year now and I go days without returning to the Home. The adults worry but I can’t bring myself to care, so when I’m sitting with my newfound friend as she counts the stars, my mind doesn’t travel to the weakening string that connects the mind to the body, it travels to faraway galaxies where stars die spontaneously and new heavenly bodies are born, like jewels in an ocean of night. Then when I feel that string snap and the staff discover my lifeless body, crying out for help, I don’t have any response but to smile, a soft and melancholy smile that speaks of freedom.
I don’t bother to go to whatever small funeral they hold for me and I certainly don’t bother to see the cheap, nameless grave set out for an orphan. It’s funny, I was meant to turn eighteen the day I died. The irony of it amuses me. I doubt the little girl knows since she never met me outside of my Escape. But I don’t like to think of it as Escape anymore. Whenever I think of meeting my friend, I think of Returning.