Pre-chapter of “The Lost Mind” | March 2017
Tech woke up to the soft taps of the rain.
It took him a lot of effort to open his right eye. The sudden contact of the 6 AM morning sunlight had quickly gripped it back shut. He buried his left eye further down the pillow in hopes to bury the other along. The curtains weren’t even open, how was the incomplete sunlight ever so blinding?
He tried opening them again. Pushing himself and sitting up gave its motivation not to fall back to sleep. The blurring colors of unrecognizable objects slowly made themselves noticeable. The originally white walls appeared to him as gray. He blinked. Blinked again. And again. The blur cleared a bit. Only a bit. It had never been clearer than that.
He turned back to the curtain at his right, and he winced regretfully. His hands slowly reached up to rub a portion of his head. The seemingly blinding dim light and the blur had been a good recipe for an early morning headache. Rubbing circles would sometimes take a few seconds, sometimes more than a minute, until the pain faded. Tech reached out to the bedside table for the glasses, absentmindedly knocking off a book he was reading the night before. The blur disappeared. The headache slowly faded.
Curtains aside, a scenery of wet streets and grasses and the cloudless white of the sky greeted him. No. More like the white clouds were covering the whole sky like it was the sky itself. The moderate rain wasn’t showing any signs of stopping. Neighboring houses were visually busy, nonetheless. Mrs. Brogan on the neighboring house was already out unlocking her unpleasing red-colored car outside of her garage. Tech suddenly felt a tinge of adrenaline. He couldn’t make it out quite right—he should also be doing something. What day was it?
Hard rapid knocks emitted from outside his door.
“I’m up,” he answered groggily. Almost automatically. That seemed to answer his question—it’s school day. Thursday, if he recalled correctly. And he couldn’t find any reason to wake up earlier before his sister did. He was reading a book until midnight. And it was raining early in the morning.
Tech ruffled his dark messy bed hair. How did I wake up so early?
He glanced up the sky. There was nothing more annoying than going to school with the rain making him feel so drained.
Tech finished getting a hot shower and dressing up in less than thirty minutes. He exited his room to see his sister already on duty in front of a computer, fumbling to get the latch of his watch in place while looking at his sister’s attire. She was well dressed for an appointment on her upper body with her dark hair tied in a neat bun. On the lower part were pajamas and a pair of slippers.
“Nice attire,” he commented, his tone couldn’t hold back the tease. His sister only responded with her lip curling up, continuing to type away and carrying on to her work. The repeated teasing got Tech acquainted with her usual response—the webcam wouldn’t be able to see it.
He proceeded to the kitchen. It was neat. The dining table in the middle was still swept clean from last night. Cooking pans and ladles were still hanging on their places. The drain was dry from leaving the faucet closed overnight. Tech’s hand found itself on one of his hips, sighing in exasperation. She didn’t eat. Again.
“Helen,” he called out warningly. “I swear, if I find this table empty again I’ll—”
An unfamiliar, authoritarian voice echoed from the speakers of the computer, and Tech immediately closed his mouth. A meeting had started, shutting him up. He shot her a face, actually considering to disturb her for not eating first before she started working. He needed to buy an alarm clock. He needed to wake up before her or she’ll die of hunger.
An omelet was enough for his breakfast, cooking for more than himself in case his sister remembered that she hasn’t eaten yet. He prepared a plate and milk for her to make sure she wouldn’t refuse. With a strap of his bag around one shoulder, he checked to see if he could say at least a goodbye. The meeting was probably almost over, one of her co-workers on the other side of the screen had already put away his laser. In a short closing remarks, he ended the meeting.
Tech approached and kissed her in the temple. “See you later.”
She turned to him, her work almost immediately forgotten as she moved her hands from the keyboard to hold one of his, a bit too tightly. Her eyes looked up at him with plea and disappointment, considering her words for a moment before giving a hesitant nod. Her smile didn’t even last a second. “Take care.”
Tech smiled, hiding behind how sorry he was and hoping it would reassure her instead. He suppressed sigh and said, “I’ll call you later, okay?”
She nodded, her smile still looked so hesitant. She let go of his hand, nonetheless. “Oh. Our food is running out.”
“I’ll get it.”
“Stay safe, John.”
Tech kissed her again in the forehead. “I’ll be back before dark.”
Tech drove down the road with his dark blue car, the view of the suburbs were shrinking behind him as the city up ahead still wasn’t appearing. There was quite a distance to get there, the road up ahead disappearing into nothingness, making it look more endless with the lack of manmade structures around. Trickles of droplets stained the window of the driver’s seat, blurring the vast space of green meadows on both sides of the road. The fifteen-minute drive sometimes felt like thirty minutes. Sometimes Tech thought he was going to be late.
A color of dirty gray slowly emerged in a distance, standing out in the vast space of the greenery. Only the top of it was visible, with the rest of it covered by tall shrubs that snaked around all sides of its enclosing fences. The car closed in, and the front view of the structure was still barely visible. A three-storey building with twelve rooms wide stood dead and stranded for two years. A former mental hospital, left and abandoned for good. The idea of isolating people with unstable states of mind had left it a horrific view.
Tech pushed his glasses up and stepped on the gas. Thinking about it had always brought shivers down his spine.
The car drifted through the small parking lot of the school and parked beside an unfamiliar black motorcycle. The rain was already reducing into trickles of droplets that was probably going to stop soon.
A group of lads uniformed with maroon varsity jackets passed by the sidewalk just across him. The one with the gelled blond hair stole a glance at him. Tech shot back a cocked eyebrow through the windshield, and the blonde immediately diverted his eyes.
When will he plan on returning that wrench?
The blonde went in the entrance of the school, goofing around with his friends as if he didn’t see him. The sight of him drained Tech even more today. He was starting to doubt whether that guy even remembered about the wrench he borrowed, or was only avoiding him entirely.
Slipping through the crowd in the hallway had got him constantly pushing his glasses up. Everyone just couldn’t stay put. How could there be a lot of people in the last three minutes before class? It took him more time than needed to get to his locker, still having to tell the ones hanging around and blocking it to find another place to gossip. Pushing his glasses up for more than the fifth time, he turned the key and opened it. The locker door shook as it bumped on something, and a clipboard fell on the floor.
Tech peeked behind the locker door to see a girl with her blond hair tied up in a low ponytail. Her head hanged low still bracing from the impact, partly covering her face with her cheek leveled bangs that kept him from seeing her eyes. “Oh, sorry. Are you okay?”
She looked back, tucking one side of her bangs behind her right ear and revealing one of her glowing green eyes. “Y-yeah I’m fine. I’m sorry, I didn’t see where I was going.”
“I think I didn’t look where I was opening my locker too,” he joked. He heard a soft dry laugh from her as he bent to reach for her clipboard. Her attention was drifting from him to something behind him as he handed it to her.
“Thank you,” she said, flashing a smile before walking off.
Where is she going? The classrooms were on the other side.
She was trying to catch up to a guy, wearing the same varsity jacket as that good-for-nothing blonde, but with an unnatural white hair, leaning against a column with a phone against his ear as he faced the grassy field. Even the dim sunlight had actually made his white hair looked more transparent. The girl stopped next to him, looking like she was attempting for an urgent talk. The whitehead rudely ignored her and walked away—still away from the classrooms.
An involuntary mumble escaped his mouth. “What’s wrong with people today?”
The bell rang. Tech walked off, taking his phone out from his pocket as the bell reminded him that he hadn’t sent his sister a message yet. He had to tell her that he arrived safely—from his harmless short-distanced travel to school.
I’m at school now.
Not even a minute later, his phone vibrated with a reply.
Good. Be back before dark. I love you.
I love you, too.
* * *
Their chemistry teacher turned silent at the interruption. Tech’s classmates had been giving him constant pleading looks since the last several minutes. It was already thirteen minutes after the standard dismissal time. The overtime of school hours and the darkening sky would divert anyone’s attention to anything but school discussions. He just had to interrupt.
“Yes, Mr. Breyne?”
“It’s been eleven minutes after your two-minute extension.”
“Oh. Really?” Mr. Gilbert looked around the class, his face was obvious of playfulness Tech knew he was going to pull off again. He faced back to the whiteboard and attempted to write. “Another five minutes.”
“No!” The class erupted in disapproval.
“Fine, I was only kidding.” Mr. Gilbert’s laugh was husky. Tech sometimes find it either real funny or real annoying. Right now it was both. “You may leave.”
Everyone immediately shuffled and left the room in less than a minute, some sighing a relieving and quite exaggerated ‘yes’. Tech had to laugh. It was only one of Mr. Gilbert’s jokes that he did almost every end of the class that everyone still hadn’t gotten used to.
Tech had just started putting his stuff away when everyone had already left, with Mr. Gilbert still erasing the writings on the board. “I can’t believe those old jokes still work on them,” he mumbled, deliberately saying it out loud.
“Oh? Doesn’t work on you anymore?” The teacher shot back with his head turned towards him, challenging his statement. “How about I stay on my word and have those five-minute extensions every day?”
“Aw no,” Tech quickly chided, pushing his glasses up as it slid down his nose from the sudden jerk of his head. “Not with these new schedules.”
“It’s only an hour extension from last year’s normal dismissal.”
“And only an hour left before dark.” Tech shoved his bag around one shoulder. “Besides. I have an errand today.”
Mr. Gilbert shot a grin before turning back to the board, erasing the writings on the top. “Everything going well for you, John?”
“Huh?” The sudden change of topic direction almost caught him off guard. He adjusted the strap of his back uneasily. “Well, yeah. Nothing’s been happening at the moment. Except for Will, that is.”
“Hm?” The eraser made a thump as Mr. Gilbert tossed in on top of his desk. The whiteboard behind him was already clear from any streaks of writing. “What’s with Will?”
“He borrowed my wrench last Monday,” he said, his feet aimlessly approached his teacher, settling himself on a desk across. “He never returned it until now.”
Mr. Gilbert snorted. “That kid had never been affected in my talks.”
Not surprising, Tech thought. A small one-to-one talk wouldn’t probably affect the thickest heads in the school, especially that airhead Will. But he’d seen Mr. Gilbert not giving up, nonetheless, and had been setting schedules to talk with him when he had a chance, until now.
It’s a personal routine Mr. Gilbert do, to help shape their mentality, he’d say. Tech had been a target on his days, the first time when he had to give up his lunch for a “short” talk with him. Confessing personal troubles had never been very comfortable, but Tech admit it was the reason why he was really close to Mr. Gilbert.
He never mentioned anything about it since the start of class. Tech tilted his head, sudden curiosity hit him. “That reminds me. You have new targets this year?”
“I have.” He pointed an urgent finger. Sudden determination washed upon the face of the teacher. “Especially that new boy in my class. I heard from Mrs. Brett about his reason for transferring here.”
“He’s from Crosswell High, transferred here because of injuring a bully.”
“Wait, what?” Tech’s face contorted in confusion. “He injured a bully? Not injuring someone because he’s the bully?”
“No. If that had been the case, he wouldn’t be in class B1. It was his aunt who came with his registration and explained about his behavior. He’s always been picked on. It just so happens that he has a temper.”
Tech scoffed. “We mostly have the same people who might trigger that temper.”
“Oh, but he’s really intelligent.” Mr. Gilbert pointing another finger, his tone boasting proudly at his new student. “That William Reid? He was pushed down to B2 because of him.”
Tech laughed, shaking his head and unthinkingly adjusting the strap of his bag on his shoulder. “Good for him.” Tech pushed himself up, remembering he shouldn’t be staying too long. “I actually need to go now, Mr. Gilbert.”
“Sure thing, John.”
“Let’s do hope you won’t scare that guy off,” he said, pushing a disarranged chair back to its place under the desk before proceeding to walk away. “People always say your intelligence and humor mix is intimidating.”
He pointed his third finger, this time accusingly, but then laughed it off. “See you tomorrow.”
* * *
The road was still wet from the morning’s nonstop rain, but there were no more droplets hitting his windshield despite the still gray clouds covering the whole sky. Tech was on a ten-minute drive towards a grocery store, having no choice that it was the only closest one from school. He had spent too much time talking with Mr. Gilbert, though it had helped lightening his mood.
The clouded sky dimmed into the darkest shade the color of gray can be, threatening to get dark thirty minutes early. He needed to work double-time. He needed to get home early before the dark engulf the sky.
Tech mostly took and dropped things from aisle to aisle, not bothering to look for the price and hurrying to get to the counter. The grocery’s unpopular name deprived itself from having too many costumers. That was a good thing, though his eyes kept glancing at the ticking hands of his watch. Time had left him only thirty-seven minutes left before his presumed nightfall. He didn’t have time to buy that alarm clock.
The sky shook and trembled at his arrival outside the small grocery store, striking about two streaks of harmless lightning before it trembled once more. He watched the sky as he placed the groceries inside the trunk. Surely they were heavy enough for the first drop of the rain. It didn’t. It was holding back a little more, waiting until it couldn’t hold in much longer and release it all at once on the surface of the earth.
The call stopped Tech from entering the car, turning to see someone he was holding grudges against at the moment. His face almost immediately scowled. “What do you want, Will?”
Will didn’t seem glad to see him either, his face betraying his actions he didn’t want to do against his will, but didn’t have any choice anyway. His constant adjustments of his bag’s straps gave away his discomfort.
“Can I ride with you?” he ask. Managed to.
Tech flashed a sarcastic smile at his thick face, wiggling his eyebrows once, then frowned. “I believe you still owe me something.”
“Geez, I know,” he said, scratching the back of his head with irk in his voice. “I’ll get to that later. For now I need to go home.”
The response ignited something in Tech’s chest, a feeling of his patience rapidly draining. It had been three days since Will borrowed his wrench. He had never seen it ever since.
Tech stared at him, displeased of the pride his guts could muster.
Will rubbed his face. “Look, I don’t have it right now. Okay? I swear I’ll return it tomorrow. Just…give me a ride home.”
Tech snorted. Wow. Demanding. For crying out loud. “Tell me one good reason why I should.”
He opened his mouth, clearly was about to burst out, then stopped and closed it. Tech amusingly praised his awareness that he wasn’t in place to get mad. Tech saw him clenching his fists to hold his pride in. Will took a visible breath. “Fine. I’m sorry about the wrench. But I really need a ride home. I don’t have enough money for a cab.” He stole a glance behind him and turned back. “Please?”
Tech raised an eyebrow, amused. How much pride did he bury down his conscience just to say that?
The sky shook once more, and Tech remembered that he was catching time as well. With a sigh, he motioned Will to get on the passenger’s seat. “Just try not to touch anything, will you?”
Fortunately, Will had been silent, busily tapping on his phone ever since they got on the road. He hadn’t looked away from it even when they got away from city proper and was on their way to the suburbs. That was a good thing, until he cursed and grumbled something about a low battery.
“D’you got any charger ‘round here?” he asked, his hands itched to reach out for the glove compartment.
“Get your hands off there, I don’t have any.” Will immediately stopped and retrieved his hand.
“Can’t you go any faster?”
“Why are you in a hurry?”
“Nothing. My grandma can drive faster than you.” Will’s smirk was evident in his mocking tone. Tech had started to regret even letting him ride with him.
He took a deep breath, holding his patience a little longer. “Well, I’m not your grandma, and this is my car.”
“Let me drive, then. We’ll get home much faster.”
Tech huffed. Now he’s considering to stop the car and drop him off or push him out right now. He was more inclined to do the latter. Holding his patience was getting harder by the minute. “Don’t even think about it—”
A streak of light flashed the sky, forcing Tech to flinch down his shoulders. He looked back to see the familiar abandoned structure once again, the dark nasty sky complementing its eerie ambience. It was even more unsettling when it was still alive two years ago, knowing it was filled with people who’re mentally unstable. Looking at it empty now was unexplainably disturbing.
A sudden blow cut through the still sound of the running car and swiveled the vehicle. Tech quickly stepped on the brakes, taming the car before dragging it towards the side of the road, right in the sidewalk of the dead structure. He stepped out immediately and strode towards the back. The back-right tire was deflated, completely out of air.
Tsk. His hand leaned against the trunk, holding down the boiling sensation in his chest through biting his lip. There wasn’t anything worse than being stranded in a deserted street, stuck with someone he hated at the moment, and right in front of a disturbing abandoned mental hospital. There were only a few minutes left before nightfall, and the darkening sky confirmed his presumptions.
He needed to get home before dark. He had to get home before dark.
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