November 15, 2013
It's been three months (And apparently, ten years) since I've written in this Journal. The military put up a quarantine, until they were convinced we weren't all about to grow a third eye.
I'm a far more paranoid person than I was when this started, so I have to wonder why a military commander that laughed off our story on the spot would lock down the survivors and surround the wreck of our town with short range, radar guided anti-aircraft weapons.
Took me a while to figure out what they were, but apparently the Internet has become quite a massive force in the last decade. Makes me wish I'd been there to see it. One of the soldiers let me search the Internet on his 'smartphone' so I could figure out what's been going on while we were away. I gotta get one of those phones.
It's a little depressing that our town could actually vanish and nobody noticed or cared. When I was last in circulation, VHS was being replaced by DVD's, and now apparently DVD's are being replaced by something called Blu-Ray. The Internet has gotten faster and doesn't tie up the phone lines any more, even in the country... Ben would have loved that.
The military has been letting people in, but letting none of us out. The soldier that let me use his phone was gone the next day. The military put up temporary housing, and is working to rebuild the town. I don't know if there's any point to it. So many of us are missing.
Turns out the number of people abducted was less than I thought. So many people went missing in this town that night... and a lot of them ran to the mist, trying to escape Curtis Creek. Those that had dodged the Saucer-Drones made it out, but didn't get anywhere. Some of them didn't make it even that far. The military took all the bodies and refused to give them back. Including Zack. Marie and I put a marker down next to his mom.
The people that came out of the Dead Zone were the same people that went into it over the last few weeks (Years?). They have no idea what happened. The last thing they remember was walking or driving into the mists, and then suddenly they're walking out the way they came in. Depending on where they were, they had company. None of them remember time passing.
I spoke to Mrs Mitchell at the Chow Line yesterday. Apparently a lot of wildlife went into the mists too. They all came back at the same time. Some of the people who came back were freaked at how many rats and field mice were running back toward town around their ankles.
It took Jess a while to realize that her parents weren't returned as her reward for turning on us. I have no idea what her father's been told, or what they think of their daughter. Her father spoke to mine briefly, and dad was smiling at me for most of the day.
We didn't talk about it. Nobody talks about it. The town of just over a thousand people has shrunk to just over three hundred, and nobody talks about it.
Small Town Secrets, as Marie would say. We all know which subjects are off-limits.
I went looking around the Town Hall, Tracy's house, Maggie's shack... The alien bodies are gone. The alien weapons, the Saucers, all of it is gone.
The whole town is under military jurisdiction, and in too much shock to care. I still have my mom and dad. So does Marie. Pierce has his dad, but wishes he didn't. Mr Washington hasn't spoken a word to anyone since Zack's memorial. Jess has avoided us altogether, which is just fine by me. I understand she tried to talk to Marie, who promptly slugged her again, and Jess got the message.
There's been no sign of Ben since that night at the Bridge.
The Military engineers have been working around the clock to rebuild our homes, just the way they were before. I don't know why they bother, since so many of the houses will stand empty. Whether or not Marie will live where she used to... I don't know. She still has some friends in New York, but I don't know if any of us will be let out of town ever again.
We all go quiet when the sky goes dark at night. No Aurora, no endless darkness. Just the moon and the stars. Just like it always used to be.
Jake sat on the porch of his quick-build home. It was fully functional, the walls and roof were far more solid than the tent he'd been living in until then. The new house had insulation, running water, and power. No wires showing, furnished pretty well...
By all accounts, it was a house. But it was three bedroom, two baths. Just like the house had been originally. Except the Colbert family didn't need a third bedroom anymore, because Ben was gone.
The street no longer smelled of smoke and destruction. All up and down the street, there were houses built. And most of them were empty.
With the streetlights on and all the houses empty, it felt a lot later than sundown. Jake kept his eyes focused on the horizon as the sky changed from red, to purple, to dark blue.
He heard the faint sound of a soft footstep on grass and tensed, suddenly alert. The footsteps kept coming, and Jake relaxed, recognizing the stride. "Come on up, Marie."
He could hear her chuckle. "I can remember a time when you were easier to sneak up on."
"So can I." Jake sighed and looked over his shoulder at her. She was carrying a long black case under one arm, and he could tell it was heavy.
"You see what they've done with the Supermarket? Another month and the town will look like it did when all this began." Marie said. "At least, it will on the surface. Same chairs in the Clinic, but none of the same pictures on the wall. Remember those crayon drawings that the kids did?"
"Remember? I drew one of them, years ago." He gestured to the long black case that she had set down beside the swing. "What's that?"
Marie rose, set the case down on the handrail of the porch and unsnapped the latches. "For you."
It was a new telescope.
Jake stayed in his seat, not going near the thing. "Where did you get this?"
"The PX that the Army set up." Marie explained. "Turns out most people buy things on the Internet now too. When they started giving us 'discretionary funds' so that we could replace all the stuff we lost? Figured I could at least buy you something."
Jake sighed. "They're gonna do it, you know? They're gonna bury it. You said it yourself: Another month, and everything looks like it used to. We're just a small town surrounded by farms. Anyone comes to look, they'll see a small country town dying because the people are all gone. Just like any one of a thousand other small towns that are losing people to the big cities. It was a problem back before this all started, and apparently it's only gotten worse in the last decade. The Government pays us all off so that we can get our stuff back, and we all look like lunatics if we try to tell our story."
"Yup." Marie nodded, not surprised. "The payoff from the Powers That Be let the farming families pay off their farms, and without having to pay mortgages, they're self-sufficient. You know as well as I do that they grow their own food and trade mostly with each other. Things will be hard, but they're not leaving."
"Why would they?" Jake waxed philosophically. "They never saw anything. They came into town from outside the Dead Zone, and when they got the mist outta their eyes it was eleven years later. They're freaked, but... They never saw it. Nobody saw it but us. Everyone else who saw anything are... gone."
He was going dark again, and Marie watched him worriedly. After a moment she reached out and took his hand. "Jake? Why didn't you get a telescope for yourself?"
"Same reason we both chose nightfall to get out of the house." Jake sighed. "We hate the stars. I can't stop watching them, but I have no desire to get any closer."
"I was talking to some of the soldiers. They say that kind of reaction is normal." Marie nodded. "They say it gets better." She reached out and put the telescope she'd brought into his hands. "And one day, you'll remember that you liked doing this, Stargazer."
Jake smiled a little. "Maybe."
They sat together silently as the sun went down completely.
"Marie?" Jake spoke softly. "Can I ask you something I have no right to ask? What was the fight with Zack really about?"
Marie sighed hard. "Didn't buy it, huh?" She hesitated. "He asked me if I was angry about Jess getting closer to you, because I wished I hadn't ended things between us."
Jake reacted. "I hope you told him that you were just looking out for me because you didn't trust Jess. An instinct that turned out to be the right one."
Silence. Marie wasn't looking at him.
"Marie?" Jake pressed.
"I told him I didn't know." Marie confessed, miserable. "I told him that I loved him, and that things had been over with you for a while, and that I had no regrets... and that when I saw you with Jess I felt crazy jealous and didn't know why."
Stunned, Jake shifted back to look at her.
"What a horrible thing for me to do." She said finally. "What a terrible thing for me to tell my boyfriend, the guy I loved, right when we had so much bigger and more important things to worry about than the love lives of teenagers."
"...Marie." He said her name as a sigh. "I'm so sorry."
Marie nodded, rubbing her face. "I can't even tell him how sorry I am."
"He'd know." Jake promised. "I know Zack... I knew Zack better than anyone, so did you, take my word for it. He loved you too much to stay angry, the only thing that would break that was if he thought you didn't want him any more." He told her. Then he froze. "Not... That wasn't a come on."
Marie snorted. "Believe me, Jake; any chance of us getting back together was shot to hell when I saw Zack's... body." She shook her head. "I could never do that to him. Not after..." She rubbed her eyes. "Well, anyway."
Jake hesitated to touch her, but couldn't stop himself. He wanted to give her a hug so badly his arms were hurting, and finally he put an arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him, grateful for the attempt at consolation.
"So. What now?" Jake said finally.
"I'm thinking of getting my own place." Marie said softly. "I can live off the Discretionary Fund for a while. If your mom ever gets herself together, she's got ten years of medical training to catch up on. I can't see any of my friends back in New York. As far as they're concerned... Actually, according to my birth certificate, I should be almost thirty by now..."
"Another reason that the rest of the town will stick together." Jake observed. "The rest of the world expect us to be ten years older."
"Small town secrets." Marie nodded. "There's plenty of empty houses around. I thought I might pick one, get away from my parents place, make an attempt at a fresh start at least."
"Sounds fair. I was thinking the same thing." Jake nodded. "I was talking to Doug. Maggie's place? He kept it. With Maggie gone, it's his now... but he doesn't want it. I offered him a cut of my own Hush Money."
"Whaaaat?" Marie spun around. "Explain that, please."
Jake nodded thickly. "I know, it seems crazy, but... They brought Doug Gunn back. Ten years from now, maybe..."
Marie gave him a sharp look. "You think they'll be back?"
"I am absolutely positive they'll be back. And they might bring Ben back with them. Jake nodded thickly. "I know, its crazy. But... They brought Doug Gunn back after eleven years. We were gone the same amount of time. Eleven years from now, maybe..."
Marie chewed her lip. "What you just said... about how we're the only ones that saw anything? If they wanted to bury this... They could just bury us."
Jake snorted. "Grady won't confess. Neither will Jess. They'll plead ignorance, just like everyone else that wandered out of the mist. Sheriff Tanner, who the hell knows? Our parents haven't said a word about it since the sun came up. Every time I try to ask them about it..."
"My parents too." Marie nodded. "Nobody's going to believe it if they start shouting 'Aliens'." She sighed. "Grady was right. We try to tell the world, and we'll be a Morning Show joke."
"Colonel Yates wants me to talk to a shrink. He says it's Trauma Counseling, but I don't know if I believe him." Jake said. "If we push this... we might just get ourselves locked up in a padded cell."
Marie nodded. "The thought occurred."
Jake's voice hardened. "So if I'm ever going to find my brother... I have to do it myself."
Marie glanced up at him, suddenly nervous. "Jake?"
Jake Colbert didn't answer her right away. His gaze was focused on some far distant point, and his eyes were pure steel. "Whatever they wanted, they found it here." He said coldly. "Maybe we can't stop them, but we know they're not perfect, and they make mistakes. The worst one they ever made was letting me live. One way or another... I'm gonna find my brother, and bring him home."
Marie didn't have an answer to that. She didn't want to disagree, but didn't want to encourage him; so they sat on the porch for a while as the night deepened around them. After a while, Marie dozed off on his right shoulder. Jake shifted slightly so that he could reach his waistband, pulling out the Black Gizmo, before she discovered it was there, hidden under his jacket.
Marie didn't wake up as he sat her upright and rose slowly, putting his jacket over her. It wasn't the first time she had stayed at his place. They were all having trouble sleeping.
Jake looked around quickly to make sure he was alone, and opened the telescope case. It was just like his old one, and he lifted it out, setting it up on its tripod beside the porch swing. With the case empty, he slipped the Black Gizmo into it, and quickly locked the case shut.
Even after this long, Jake could tell the thing was still working. Unlike Maggie's battered old war souvenir, the Heavy Duty Model apparently didn't run down. The Black Gizmo was the only thing he'd been able to find in time. It was the last piece of evidence, and the only working weapon Jake had left; and he hid it safely in the telescope case, away from Marie.
Marie stirred as he sat down beside her again, and mumbled something as he settled. "Jake? What's wrong?"
"It's okay. Don't wake up. Everything's fine." He shushed her, and adjusted the eyepiece on his telescope quietly. "Go back to sleep. I'll keep watch for a while." She smiled a little, too asleep to be bothered, but awake enough to be glad he was using her gift. She slept again.
Cold and determined, Jake Colbert turned his gaze back to the stars.
I kept my promise to Marie that night. I played the game you wanted me to play. My official testimony has been put into the record. I claimed ignorance. Just another kid who wandered into the mist and woke up in a new decade.
Colonel Yates won't buy that, since I've already told him the story twice. But he'll be glad to know that I'll keep quiet. I think you'll be glad to hear it too.
This Journal is now the only complete record of what happened. I want word to get out, because after Zack, and Maggie, and so many others, someone has to know. Someone has to take it seriously. But if I try to say so at the hearings, I'll probably get laughed out of the room, or committed.
So I might send this to you privately, or I might send it to the newspapers. More likely, I'll just toss it in a fireplace.
But there's one thing I am positive about: They will come back. There's not a damn thing we can do to stop that.
And when they do, I'll be ready for them.