“Last night, I died for the third time this week,” the 17-year-old boy said. “I’m in a place that looks like Madison Square Garden, only it isn’t. I’m playing in a championship ice hockey game, and the whole arena is sold-out. I score with a perfectly executed slapper in the last seconds of the third period, and my team wins. Then I hear an immense thunderclap. Glass shatters and people scream. My ears start ringing and everything slows way down. It’s like I’m an insect caught in amber staring out at the world through a lens. I see a bullet flying over the ice, Kat. Only how is that even possible? Then it explodes into my right arm, I slam into the ice, and my blood gushes over the rink.”
“How do you know the bullet is intended for you?”
“I just do,” he said. His eyes, normally a robin’s egg blue, looked dark and haunted.
“These aren’t premonitions,” Kathy said, shaking her head. She glanced up from her smartphone in an attempt to seem less distracted. “If I had to guess…I’d say it’s something else just bubbling into your subconscious while you’re sleeping. Everyone has nightmares, Jordan.”
He groaned as they waited on the empty sidewalk. Every time he tried telling her about his vivid dreams, Kathy blew him off. And they haunted him, growing worse with each passing night. Jordan didn’t know what to do, so he spoke with her and hoped that eventually, she might listen or at least pretend that she cared.
“I get what you’re saying, but trust me. It’s not like this,” he insisted. “It feels real, Kat. And the arena…I feel like I should know where it is, but I’ve looked for it with internet searches and found nothing. I can even tell you where there’s a dent the size of my fist on one of the Zambonis. But that’s only part of it. There are other sections of the same dream that I haven’t told you about.”
“Like what?” she asked, tapping on the screen.
“Sometimes, I see a basalt tower enclosed on all sides by an ocean of ice. It’s in a place where sunlight doesn’t reach, but I have a feeling that it wasn’t always like that. The tower is primordial, and it looks alien. However, before I can explore, the dream shifts. I find myself in an executive office, but the person that uses it has done a lot of terrible things. There are unspeakable objects kept in glass specimen jars within a secret alcove. And I’m not alone. There’s someone else with me—a girl. She has long brown hair and is very sad. She’s also naked save for a striped dinner jacket, and I know without a doubt that it’s mine only I don’t even own a fucking suit. As if that weren’t strange enough, I think I know her name only I can’t recall it for the life of me. I look to the door. I hear growls coming from behind it. She urges me to flee. But I have nowhere to run except to leap from out a shattered window a half-mile above the city. As I’m falling, that’s when I wake up…”
“Screaming,” she finished for him. “I heard you last night, but it’s not real. Shit Jordan, you need a fucking shrink, I swear.”
Jordan frowned, and she knew that she’d crossed the line and hurt his feelings. At that moment, she admitted to herself that he sounded desperate, that this might be a cry for help.
“I think I know why you’re having these dreams,” she said, “but, you need to let it go. They aren’t coming back.”
“What’re you talking about?” The tone of his voice lay somewhere south of resignation.
“I’m talking about mom and dad. It’s not your fault that they’re gone. Stop tormenting yourself, and maybe you’ll be able to sleep again. It’s that simple.”
He attached the earbuds to his smartphone. “I wish for once that you could just listen to what I’m saying. This has nothing to do with that.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, but he ignored her. She sighed. “You’re acting childish.” He still didn’t look at her. “Okay…so you expect me to believe that you’re somehow seeing something that’s going to happen in the future?” Kathy threw up her hands in frustration and almost tossed her phone. “Out of the two of us, you’ve always been the one with his feet firmly planted on the ground. What does all that science and math mean if you don’t use it? And for the record, tell me why I should believe something as crazy as this? And even if I did believe you, what the hell am I supposed to do about it?” Jordan just stared straight forward with his hands in his pockets. After a long, awkward silence, she decided it best to let him sulk, and she resumed her game of Angry Birds.
“I do miss mom and dad,” he said after some time. “I guess I’m jealous of everyone at school that has real parents. Do I sometimes feel incomplete? Yeah, almost like a half person. What I don’t get is how you seem to be all right with it.”
Kathy frowned. “The difference between me and you is I hide it better. We were abandoned, Jordy. That’s the only story I know. So until someone says anything different, I’m sticking to that story without remorse.”
He remained silent for a moment, chewing on her words. “Do you think I look anything like dad?”
“Why does it matter?” But she knew that it just did.
She regarded him with a skeptical eye—hooded pullover complete with kangaroo pocket, skater jeans; blond hair gelled into a spike and tried to imagine her father wearing the same thing. Kathy didn’t know why, but she had always pictured her father as the kind of man that played a concert piano and listened to Chopin more than Owl City. “Ummm, no,” she replied after some time.
“Thanks, for nothing.” He scowled but his attempt at “mad” fell flat.
“You’re welcome.” She detected a hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth. “By the way, are you working this weekend?” The schedule on the wall of the manager’s office flashed in Jordan’s mind. “You didn’t write it down, did you?” she asked.
He glared at her like he always did when she pointed out his shortcomings. “Of course I did. I just don’t have it on me right now. I think I’m expected on Saturday night.” Jordan and others from his high school swim team dove from indoor cliffs as part of a water show at the Mayan Adventure restaurant. Handsome didn’t even begin to describe him at almost six-feet tall, thin, and covered in flawless, cream-colored skin common in those of Scandinavian lineage. The lone exception lay on the sole of his left foot—a birthmark in the shape of a monarch butterfly. It embarrassed Jordan, and he took precautions to hide it even from his sister. In fact, to his knowledge, she’d never seen it. He went so far as to view it as a deformity. However, despite this flaw Jordan remained a popular choice for jobs that required a Speedo and little else.
“You’re going to have to quit when ice hockey season is in full swing,” she said, “There’s no way you can do both. Not that you’d want to.”
“Yeah—it sucks too because I need the money.”
High school, hockey, and a part-time job made for a precarious balancing act. Sometimes, Jordan felt angry that he had to work. He knew kids his age that didn’t have jobs. They stayed at home and played video games. It made him resentful. He could understand why kids quit school, sold drugs, or did tricks for married men who indulged their homosexuality through hook-ups on Craig’s Lists. They made enough in a couple hours work to pay for an entire week of expenses. One time outside a 7-Eleven, a guy offered him two-hundred dollars to consent to a few photos back at his place. That money sounded awfully good right now.
A chirp from a bird perched in a tree with yellow leaves brought Jordan’s mind back into focus. But it also reminded him that the last days of summer had arrived. “Only one week until fall, Kat,” he said. The morose tone in his voice reflected an inner need to shift topics in a different direction.
“Why do you hate this time of year so much? I personally love it,” she said. “Everything is cool, you don’t have to run the air conditioner constantly, and your clothes aren’t all sticky with sweat.”
“Well, most things die in the winter, you know.” She didn’t respond to his statement, and Jordan stared at the street in silence for almost half a minute. “But aside from that, I hate saying goodbye to summer,” he finished.
“It’s only for a couple of weeks, and your first game is coming up soon, so I’d try to snap out of it. Once that starts, you’ll be off having fun with the other jocks. For the record, I hate most of your teammates, and the sluts they date.” She glanced up from her iPhone and said, “Something’s on your mind. Why don’t you just spit it out?”
“Nothing’s on my mind,” Jordan scoffed.
“Whatever. You’ve been brooding on something for the last hour. When your eyes become frosty, I always suspect you’re up to something.”
“I’m not up to anything,” Jordan snapped.
“As if you could tell when I’m lying,” he said. But in the off chance that she could, Jordan feigned a sudden interest in the traffic. Jordan wished she didn’t read so many psychology books. Earlier that day, Robbie Hart, his only real friend since middle school, had asked him if he wanted to get high. Rob had gotten his hands on some crystal and wanted to try it out. Jordan had told him no, but there had been little soul in the rejection. In truth, Rob wouldn't have to push very hard for him to say yes, but he wasn’t about to let Kathy in on this. He’d hear no end to the nagging that would come from a confession like that.
How can she see that in my eyes though? he wondered.
A cool breeze that held just a kiss of winter blew down off the mountain. It ruffled his blond hair. Jordan turned his gaze slightly upward and narrowed his eyes to shield them from the bright sunlight. He saw bursts of color everywhere. In the east, he saw angry purple storm clouds gathering at the base of the Wasatch Mountains. In the west, yellow sunlight clear and unhindered fell over a valley choking with urban sprawl.
Behind him, the afternoon bell sounded off followed by the gentle roar of hundreds of teenage feet. The distant clang of locker doors as they slammed shut filled the air. A traffic jam soon formed in the parking lot. It spilled out onto the street in front of East High School as students boarded buses or drove off in cars comprised of the most affordable “out-of-warranty” automobiles belonging to the prestigious German Car Club—Volkswagen, Audi, and BMW. Privilege, had its hallmark.
Adjacent to him, Kathy texted Dustin, the boy she’d been seeing for almost a week. She was a natural in using a small digital keyboard and could probably type the Declaration of Independence in a text message faster than Jordan could lace up a hockey skate. Jordan admonished her with a shake of his head and pressed the orange iPod application at the bottom of the screen. He loved Eminem, and the rapper’s latest album began just as their ride pulled up to the curb in a sporty black BMW X5.
Kathy walked to the driver’s side and hopped into the backseat. Jordan peeked in through the passenger window and noticed Wayne’s yoga mat rolled up on the front seat and decided to hop into the back as well. Despite being several years old, the interior of the BMW still had that pristine smell. Each seat had been upholstered in black leather and complemented by a highly polished tortoise shell dashboard. Wayne looked sharply dressed in an Armani Exchange t-shirt, gray utility shorts, and sandals. Michael Bublé played on the satellite radio.
“How was school?” Wayne asked. Jordan watched him angle his head to the left to check for an opening in the traffic. He had broad shoulders and a slim build, the kind that tapered to a narrow waist that wore designer clothes rather well. He had brown, thinning hair.
“I’m just glad that it’s finally Friday,” Jordan said. “I’m a little tired.”
“You’ve been getting up early every morning to go in for practice at the rink. If you’re tired, go to bed a little earlier and cut back on your practice days.”
“That’s not why I’m tired,” he said, then realized too late that he’d just opened a can of worms.
Should I tell Wayne about the nightmares? He thought about this for a moment and decided to stay silent. Instead, he moved the conversation in a different direction. “There’s just this big game coming up the first week of October in Park City. It’d be nice if we win; if we take State again this year, it’ll be something I can add to my college application.” Jordan possessed natural athletic ability in buckets and probably could give up a few precious hours on the rink in exchange for more sleep. The thought seemed doable on paper, but Jordan knew he would never follow through with it. He loved playing ice hockey and wanted to start for a college that had a respected athletics program. This would never happen if he snoozed until 7 a.m.
Wayne stepped on the gas and merged into the traffic with the skill of someone that has done it for years. It always amazed Jordan that Wayne seemed to be able to get around so well in the flow of rush hour traffic. In driver’s education, he’d been nervous while driving on the interstate and oftentimes ended up getting into the right lane several miles ahead of his exit to avoid having to merge. Wayne didn’t do that. He drove in the left lane for miles and then flipped his blinkers on and forced his way into the right lane just before he needed the ramp. “Have you thought of where you’re going to college?” Wayne asked him, putting his signal on to change lanes.
“Not really,” Jordan replied. Between him and his sister, they had numerous options as both had been National Merit Finalists. Being an athlete rounded the package while his sister did a lot of extra-curricular clubs. “I’d like to go to Cornell.”
Kathy looked up from her smartphone with enough exuberance that her blond hair flicked over the ear as if she were in a shampoo commercial. Jordan immediately sensed a subject change. “Dustin wants me go over to his house tonight and watch a movie with him,” she said.
“Are you going?” Wayne asked.
“I haven’t decided yet.” She tried to hold back her excitement and stifle it into an androgynous monotone.
“You’re going,” Jordan said. “Stop lying, you’re not any good at it.”
“And you are?”
Kathy looked crosswise at him, then, half playfully, half mad, punched his arm when he scowled at her. Then his expression changed and it frightened her. Jordan seemed transfixed with the flow of traffic just outside the window. “What’s wrong?” It was the last thing she said as she plunged into the longest twenty seconds of her life.
Neurologists have studied the remarkable layering of memories that the brain does during times of stress. This is why some people claim that your whole life flashes before your eyes at the moment of death. The phenomenon is also responsible for the alteration in the perception of time flow. With each passing second, the brain encodes dense layers of information, tracking the movement of a person’s environment at the moment one’s life is threatened. This was one of those instants. Time slowed to a crawl and horror erupted all around them.
An intense bright gleam from the polished grill of a semi blinded Jordan. Then his ears rang from the awful caterwaul of twisting metal. Shrapnel exploded into the entire cabin of the vehicle. He heard his sister scream and the piercing shatter of glass. The world turned upside down. Somewhere in all the chaos he heard a resounding boom as the airbags deployed and his body hit something hard and unforgiving. Pain shot through him as debris from the car struck his head. His vision turned black. He wanted to cry out, but he felt himself pulled into a suffocating darkness.