He tiptoed as quietly as he could through the hall, not intent on disturbing even the soft carpet beneath his bare feet. Blake reached the kitchen before long, still quietly creeping on the smooth linoleum. He reached the fridge and opened it; the bag lunch he'd made the night before sat on one of the shelves. He pulled it out and made his way to the nearby kitchen table where a black backpack sat. Blake unzipped a pocket and set the lunchbox inside, then opened the larger pocket and checked the contents within.
Civil War notes, check. Health notes....crap, I forget to read that Mockingbird chapter.
But Blake shook his head; there wasn't time to worry about that. The door adjacent to the kitchen table practically screamed his name already. As did the shoes and socks sitting before him. He leaned down and put on the garments before reaching for the door and his pack.
Oh crap. Almost forgot.
He left the door and pack, and tiptoed back again down the hall. He reached the entrance to a room at the end and on the left, and very carefully pushed open the door. Blake heard a tiny creak but ignored it and opened the door halfway.
The room was dark, but the small bit of light behind him allowed a brief glimpse into the dim space. A woman lay on a bed, covered by gray bed sheets but no comforter. And she looked deep in slumber.
Blake turned his attention to the nightstand beside the bed. He spotted an alarm clock, a glass half-filled with water, and two little white pills, the latter of which Blake remembered setting there the night before. He frowned and looked back at the door, where his gaze fell downward. There was a sticky note, which he picked up and stuck back onto the door.
The note read, 'Don't forget your medicine this morning'.
He closed the door most the way and tiptoed back down the hall. After throwing his backpack over his shoulders, he gently twisted the knob and departed.
As soon as he closed the door behind him, Blake breathed in the soft morning air. Even for the early hours in May there was a slight breeze that tickled his face, and enough sunlight to easily burn away the light fog covering the ground. Blake set his hands in his pockets and walked down the sidewalk through his front yard.
Blake looked up before he heard the greeting. A girl his age, about thirteen years old, stood at the end of the pathway, carrying a backpack of her own. She had dark brown hair that stretched just past her shoulders and matching eyes that stared him down with a bright friendliness all their own.
"Hey, June," he greeted in response.
"You were..." The girl paused and momentarily eyed an old watch on her left wrist. "Twenty-four seconds later than me."
"And you're weird."
June just laughed at the remark. Blake joined her and together they made their way down the sidewalk.
"You're usually out earlier than me," she mused aloud. "Everything okay?"
He set a hand on the back of his hand. "I sorta forgot to check Mom's meds right away. No big deal."
June's wide eyes conveyed her surprise. "Whenever she doesn't feel great, that's always the first thing you check in the morning isn't it? Maybe I should be asking how you're doing."
"I haven't gotten a lot of sleep lately is all." Of course she would worry. The two of them were neighbors, close friends, after all. Still, he didn't want her concerning herself too much with his well-being.
"Have you tried, what's that stuff Dad mentions? Melatone?"
Blake raised an eyebrow as he stared at June. "Come again?"
"It's supposed to help with sleep," she answered, still deep in thought about it. "Anyways, apparently a lot of them are gummies, and I know how much you like gummies."
A smile crossed Blake's face and he realized he could not help it. "You know me too well. Thanks, June, but I don't think it's serious enough that I should get something for it. I'd rather let Mom save up for when she needs her meds."
"Then I guess I'll just have to pray for the both of you."
June gave Blake a playful nudge with her shoulder, but he knew she was half-serious about her own words. Prayer was a common thing amongst this community, given that the small town of Jordan Heights was a very Christian one. Blake wasn't very religious himself, and neither was his mother, but he respected the faith and beliefs of his fellow townsfolk. He so rarely talked about it with anyone; June knew of Blake's lack of beliefs, but the Joan rosary necklace she wore every day said it all about her.
Either way, he liked to keep his own agnostic thoughts to himself.
Two blocks and a right turn later, Blake and June found themselves before a school. It covered an area as large as a quarter of a regular street block. A large sign on the corner of the street read '2 weeks until summer!' A myriad of students gathered at the front yard and near the entrance. Some looked to be younger than Blake and June, but many others looked much older.
Jordan Heights had a small population for a town, which meant that only one large elementary building was needed. Meanwhile the remaining junior high and high school grades combined into the single facility that was Jordan Heights Secondary. Blake enjoyed some of the classes and the teachers....but the students? Well, some of them were alright.
"June, Blake, over here!"
The voice was loud, shrill, and attracted the attention of some teens in the crowd. Blake followed June as she skipped towards the side of the crowd and approached a pair of pre-teens like them, a boy and a girl. The girl was the first to speak up.
"So, I don't know about you, but I already have tons of plans for summer vacation!"
"And there she goes again," said the boy. "June, please talk to my sister so she doesn't overdo her planning. Again."
Blake did not catch up to the duo until many seconds after June did. The girl, Amelia, was good friends with June; they'd known each other well for years. Amelia and Cameron were fraternal twins, and all four were the same age. This in turn made Blake and Cameron friends by default, but at least they didn't hate each other, far from it.
"Come on, Cameron, you know I can't talk her out of anything once she puts her mind to something!" June laughed, loud enough for him to easily hear her voice.
"Well, let's hear it," Blake shouted during his own approach, catching the attention of all three of them. "What are your ideas so far, Amelia?"
The young teen raised her eyebrows, though she carried a huge smile on her face. "Didn't think you heard us just then."
"Your voices carry, you know." He pointed. "Yours in particular."
Amelia stuck out her tongue, but obliged with answering the initial question. "Well, we should definitely spend a weekend camping, just the four of us. We've done it enough where we should be mature and experienced enough to handle a little camping on our own."
"Mature....and experienced." Blake slowly nodded his head, his gaze briefly flicking over the group. "Sure, those are words you could use."
"Oh lay off." Amelia breathed out a quick puff of air. "Me and June cook-"
June was nodding at first, but then she quickly shook her head. "Correction, I cook, you grill. You're better with that stuff."
"Yeah yeah yeah, right right," Amelia agreed before continuing. "So that, then Cameron sets up camp, and Blake does everything else!"
All three of them stared as they attempted comprehension of Amelia's words. Blake in particular tilted his head to one side while also glancing up at the sky with thoughtfulness. "Uh, everything else?"
"Figuring out hikes, starting campfires, organizing..."
"Hey, that's kudos to you," said Amelia. "I wish I was a better organizer, and your survival skills are nothing to sneeze at."
"Give yourself more credit from time to time," Cameron piped, as he wrapped his arm around Blake's neck and shoulder. "Besides, Ames did just pay you a bunch of compliments."
Still Blake rolled his eyes, but in a somewhat playful manner.
"Well, I think it sounds fun." June clapped her hands together. "But, out of curiosity Amelia, what other ideas did you have? We might have to keep our options open just in case."
"You know that water park about 25 miles south?"
Blake and June both nodded, but it was the former that raised a question. "Isn't that place a little spendy?"
"I mean, sort of?" Amelia shrugged her shoulders. "But everybody's been saving money, right? We all get money from chores."
"Maybe we can save that for summer's end," June suggested.
"Which is why I suggested the lake," said Cameron.
"Okay, Miss Technical. It's pretty close, doesn't cost a thing. The south side gets really warm, but maybe we shouldn't go on the 4th of July......."
Blake's attention slowly drifted away, though not out of boredom. A strange sensation crept up his spine. He could feel the very hairs on his arms standing on end despite the coverage of a long-sleeved shirt. A chill coursed through his blood....and yet at the same time the feeling was still gentle and warm. He knew this sensation all too well.
However, he dare not mention any of this out loud.
A gentle electronic bell tolled away, catching the attention of all the students outside the school.
"Five minute warning, guys," said Cameron with a slight groan; he still ushered his companions with a simple wave of his hand. "We'll talk summer plans later, yeah?"
The students began filing into the building, with the four friends near the rear of the crowd. But Blake had already slowed down, rapidly thinking. With subtlety, he reached behind his back and carefully undid one of the zippers on his backpack. As if to reposition, he leaned towards one side.
A few moments later the weight on his back lessened, and a few books and notebooks crashed on the sidewalk behind him.
Blake spun around and stopped. "Shoot." He glanced back at his friends. "Hold on, I gotta pick up my things. I'll meet you in class."
Cameron and Amelia took little notice of the incident through their own conversation, but June gave him a brief thumbs up before all three of them disappeared through the main school doors. While a few students still remained just outside the entrance, Blake now had enough room to quickly gather his things, and then creep backwards to a secluded corner of the building. He shoved his things into his backpack, and scanned the grounds intently.
"I know you're there," he called out. "You can stop hiding."
But no one appeared. No one peeked out from any corners, nor did they slink out of any shadows or hiding places. Blake once again felt that unusual warm chill from earlier, much more noticeable than before. He knew he'd been right, and so his voice grew quieter.
"I'm not going to hurt you."
They must have understood his words, because Blake suddenly looked just left, near the side of the school wall. No one stood there.
No one tangible, anyway.
While Blake didn't actually see anything himself, he could feel it. He never knew if it was a strange distortion, a tiny amalgamation of heat and electricity, or just something in the wind, but he sensed an invisible presence here. Based on what he felt, he could almost see the entity before him: a humanoid figure, a small male, clutching the school wall. Blake let out a sigh.
"Sorry, kid. Not sure how you went, but I hope you're not in pain anymore."
Just as he could not see the spectre, he could also not hear a voice. Blake could, though, sense the emotions coming off the spirit in waves. Literal waves. A small tightness came over his chest as though his lungs struggled for a breath of air. The discomfort was accompanied by a sense of cold, fear, and longing; the overall impression was easy enough to dissect, and Blake closed his eyes. He focused on the residual uncertainty and fear for a few moments longer.
"It was an accident. They couldn't have known." Blake looked around a bit, getting a feel for the directions. Finally, he pointed northeast. "You should go that way. You'll find it before long, I promise. And I bet if you wait you'll find your family there. You should be able to rest then."
Some of the fear subsided. The uncertainty too had faded a little, replaced by a slight but warm feeling of trust. Blake could feel some of the relaxation emanating from the spectre, and in mere moments the presence had vanished. No more weird feelings, no more strong emotions. As he rushed back into school, Blake pondered over the conversation earlier with his friends, and what just transpired now.
Maybe we ought to rethink that lake trip. I'll try to convince them.