It reminded him of the old house his grandmother lived in with its thick and heavy mauve drapes in the windows and cracked and faded shingles. The ancient glass oozed in its frames, the reflection of the clouded sun obscuring the dark world beyond the bolted door just up those creaking, rotted steps. The rushing air tickled his ears and brushed aside the leaves of surrounding trees as though the branches were eager hands pulling open the curtains to reveal an exciting new show. Despite the foreboding nature of this structure something about it felt warm and alluring. He shivered with chill and hugged his sweater to himself, suddenly aware of the dense weight of his bag upon his back. The breeze whispered sweet nothings to him, inviting him closer, but as he strained to listen he felt a firm hand grasp his wrist and quickly lead him away from the clearing. The softened voice of his friend Percy told him not to stray but the sound seemed muffled and distant.
He felt dazed, seeing changes in the light and hearing the crunching of twigs and leaves beneath their feet, only becoming aware again once they left the woods. His body felt light. His head was swimming. Percy tightened his grip on his arm to steady him.
“Max?” Percy asked gently. “Are you okay?”
Max blinked and squinted at his companion, slowly bringing reality into focus. Percy’s deep, almost violet eyes were filled with worry. Max didn’t understand where this concern was coming from.
“I… I’m fine…” Max said hesitantly, his mind still a bit foggy.
“Do you know that place?” Percy asked.
“That house back there. We were just walking home and you said this was a short cut but this goes away from the neighborhood. You ran here and- I don’t know, you stopped listening to me. I don’t think we’re supposed to be here. I think it’s private property or something. It doesn’t look like anyone lives there anyway.”
Max had no recollection of this. He slowly shook his head. “Oh… no… no, I don’t know it…”
Percy searched his face, frowning a bit. “We should go home. You need your medicine.”
Max nodded, slipping his hand into Percy’s for security. Percy didn't protest and gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. He didn’t deny it. There were often moments Max became unaware. Percy had been his friend since kindergarten and knew him well enough to recognize when he needed help and when he was okay. He watched their feet as Percy pulled him back to the sidewalk, trying to remember what had happened. He vaguely remembered voices. He felt like someone was calling him, someone he cared for but had forgotten. It was the sense of cluelessness that bothered him more than where it led him to. He wanted to ask Percy if he knew anything else but didn’t want to worry him more with his hallucinations. Max faintly whispered to himself in an attempt to recover what he’d been told but it was fruitless. The memory slipped away.
The late fall breeze swept through the quiet and damp streets of Pond Haven, brushing the dead leaves along the pavement with a soft scraping sound of protest. The air smelled strongly of the recent rain that squelched beneath their feet and soaked into the hem of their khakis as it caught under their heels. Max shuddered slightly. The autumn days in this town always unsettled him but Percy never seemed to mind it. He often told Max how lovely it was to watch the leaves change colour and reminded him of the glory of pumpkin pie and cinnamon spice, raking the leaves with Percy’s father and leaping into the piles. But then again Percy found delight in every season. Sometimes it was comforting to have a positivity like Percy in his life but other times it felt tiring and isolating as though Max was on a separate plane of existence from him.
It was just a few days after Thanksgiving. People had finished removing their pumpkin and turkey decorations and were in the process of setting up their Christmas lights and inflatable snowmen. A group of small children donned in their sweaters and scarves were busy mucking about in the puddles by the curb, splashing and laughing gleefully. The clouds rolled lazily across the sky in cliques of sagging grey hills, a single street lamp flickering like a candle as it struggled to decide whether it was night or day.
Percy’s voice startled Max for a split second as he quietly sang “the sun will come out tomorrow!” He tossed Max a hopeful grin, squeezing his hand a bit. “And it won’t be so cold and gloomy! Like you, maybe.”
Max exhaled sharply. “I’m not cold and gloomy.”
“You’re a little gloomy. Do you want to come over to my house tonight for dinner? Maybe Mom will let us make sugar cookies. I’m pretty sure I know how to use the oven now and won’t set anything on fire.”
Max shook his head. “No. I’m… tired. I think I’ll just go to bed early today.”
Percy deflated a little. “Okay. Maybe tomorrow, then.”
The boys stopped at the intersecting streets that separated their paths.
“Can you make it home?” Percy asked.
“I’ll be fine.”
“Remember your medicine. I’ll call you in half an hour to make sure you took it.”
“See you tomorrow, Percy.”
Percy let go of his hand and jogged right while Max turned left. Max pushed his hands deep into his pockets and kept his face low, breathing in short huffs as he made an effort to retain the warmth Percy’s touch gave him. He couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that there was something he was meant to do or find. A dull pain throbbed in the back of his head and he felt woozy. It was an awfully familiar feeling for months now. The pale bluish house with freshly replaced siding and polished railings glared down at him unwelcomingly as he approached it. Max never liked his house. But being here wasn’t his decision. He fished his house key from his pocket and unlocked his front door, entering and closing it behind him with a sigh. His older sister Edith and her boyfriend Justin wouldn’t be home until the evening. He didn’t like being home alone but he liked Eddie’s boyfriend even less. Justin tended to forget children weren’t as strong as him and often became too rowdy, much to Max’s chagrin. It usually ended in Max crying and Eddie yelling at Justin to be more gentle. He knew Justin didn’t mean to hurt him but it was best to avoid confrontation altogether.
Max kicked off his shoes, placing them neatly in the shoe cubby to the left of the door, and trudged upstairs to his room. Eddie had left the heat off when she went to work to save money and his room was chilly both in temperature and overall aura, complete with sloped ceilings and a skylight for a perfect view of the dingy sky. A shaggy brown carpet and robin’s egg walls gave the room a desperate sense of trying to look alive but the unpolished old walnut desk, creaky wooden chair with the pinching seat, and shelves of encyclopedias and dusty snow globes killed it. Max hung his bag on the back of his chair and fell into bed with a defeated flop, pulling his favourite childhood toy to his chest- a large teddy bear he named Doom. Doom had poorly sewn stitches in him due to a run in with the local dog and Justin deciding to give him surgery while a little tipsy but Max still loved the bear for all its imperfections. He buried his face into the brown fluff, breathing in the vague smell of strawberry air freshener leftover from the old house. His mother was fond of her fruity air fresheners.
“I should take my meds, right?” Max asked the bear, rubbing its ear between two fingers lovingly. “Percy said I should… I’ll take them at dinnertime…”
He pressed his cheek to Doom’s head and closed his eyes. As he sank into blissful unconsciousness he heard someone say “soon.”
But that was just a dream.