Chapter: 31 of 43
Other Info: Sequel to Walls
Warnings: Drug-usage, cursing, violence etc
Excerpt: Jason sat on the other side of the fire, watching his friend sleep. Relief that Zac had finally dozed off, and as peacefully as he had, negated somewhat by the ominous noises he could hear in Zac’s breathing. Inhale, liquid and slightly foggy, it made him want to clear his own throat, listening to it. Exhale, high pitched whistles, strange little sounds like no breathing he’d ever heard before.
Sighing in frustration, he slid closer, reaching out to gently set the back of his hand to the other boy’s flushed cheeks, pulling it back in alarm. Zac’s skin was hot enough to nearly burn. He couldn’t just let it go, he had to do something. But he looked so peaceful, he couldn’t bear to wake him, not knowing how terrible he felt. Shaking his head, he sat back, tears stinging his eyes. Why had he ever made them do this? Calling himself every name he could think of, helpless to come up with a solution, he gave up then, and stretched out again, next to Zac. Maybe this time, they’d be able to sleep through until morning.
“How long you been feeling this way, Tay?” Isaac’s soft voice carried an edge of anxiety. “Is that why you were sick? Because you’re worried about Zac?” Taylor shook his head, eyes fixed on his sneakers, ears tuned to the scritch of pebbles, dislodged as he walked.
“I don’t know, I woke up scared. I don’t think that’s why I got sick though, but…” He stopped, eyes puzzled. “The last couple of times, it almost seemed like I was somewhere else.”
“How do you mean?”
Again the head shake. “I don’t know. But I felt like, if I opened my eyes, I’d be someplace else. I could smell things, smoke, and water, and trees… it smelled like camping. Maybe because I was thinking about Zac.” He shrugged, and kept walking, guilty pleasure, being outside, walking familiar streets, with his brother beside him. It’d been so long that he’d been cooped up inside. The breeze on his face felt good. If they would just find Zac…
Isaac watched his brother absently, lost in his own thoughts. He’d been uneasy about Zac since supper, when he’d asked where he was, and received “Camping out with Jason” for a reply. He had no idea why, but the words had sent a chill up his back. The idea that something was wrong, somewhere, had seeded itself in his head almost immediately. He’d shoved aside his vague uneasiness, telling himself he was being stupid. Zac was fine. Jay was fine. But still… sleep hadn’t come easy, and when it had, it’d been filled with unpleasant and disturbing dreams. Dreams of cold, darkness, fear, filled with the sound of his brother’s voice calling him, calling Tay. He’d woken up a dozen times, each time more agitated than the last. Finally, voices in the hall had caught his attention. Tay, asking to call Jason’s. So he felt it too. That had convinced him. Something was up. He and Taylor both knew it. Now, looking at his brother, walking along next to him, he voiced the thought he’d been keeping to himself.
“You know we’re not gonna find them there, don’t you…”
Taylor shot him a glance, then dropped his eyes back to the ground, nodding. “Yeah. I know. So, we’re wasting our time, aren’t we? And Zac’s…” Sighing, he picked up a rock, absently tossing it from hand to hand. “I don’t know what to do, Ike, I’m wishing so hard to find them there, camped out in the yard, but here…” He tapped his chest, “Here, I know I’m not going to. You think we should skip it, and just start hunting?”
“Hunt where, Tay?” Ike asked him gently. “We better make sure first. We could both just be nuts.” Nodding, flinging the little pebble he’d been playing with away, in frustration, Taylor sighed.
“I know. I hope we are. Okay. But if they’re not there, then what?”
“Tay…” Ike’s eyes went bleak “we’ll know that, very soon.”
Zac’s eyes closed. God he was tired. The ground, rough and bumpy, suddenly sinkingly soft, warm. Heat from the fire warmed his face, and the breeze in his hair felt good, peaceful, his room on a summer evening, breeze blowing curtains, brushing against skin. He snuggled deeper into the sleeping bag, hand snaking under the makeshift pillow of Jason’s jacket, pleasantly lightheaded. Tense muscles relaxed, and the sounds of the world faded, as sleep pulled him under, and his breathing slowed and evened out. Behind closed lids, eyes moved, and his voice murmured softly, as dreams set in, taking him with them.
Jason sat on the other side of the fire, watching his friend sleep. Relief that Zac had finally dozed off, and as peacefully as he had, negated somewhat by the ominous noises he could hear in Zac’s breathing. Inhale, liquid and slightly foggy, it made him want to clear his own throat, listening to it. Exhale, high pitched whistles, strange little sounds like no breathing he’d ever heard before. Sighing in frustration, he slid closer, reaching out to gently set the back of his hand to the other boy’s flushed cheeks, pulling it back in alarm. Zac’s skin was hot enough to nearly burn. He couldn’t just let it go, he had to do something. But he looked so peaceful, he couldn’t bear to wake him, not knowing how terrible he felt. Shaking his head, he sat back, tears stinging his eyes. Why had he ever made them do this? Calling himself every name he could think of, helpless to come up with a solution, he gave up then, and stretched out again, next to Zac. Maybe this time, they’d be able to sleep through until morning.
Taylor eyed the yard, devoid of tent, bags, or boys. He wasn’t surprised, but his heart had hoped. Sighing bleakly, he turned to his brother.
“Now what, Ike? He’s not here.”
Isaac shook his head. “I don’t know, Tay, maybe we should walk out into the woods, just in case. They might have hiked out to the clearing.”
“You want to try to walk out there in the dark? Now? Ike, you know they’re not out there, why do you want to keep wasting our time?” He spun on his heel, heading for the back door of the Elliott’s house.
Isaac, seeing instantly what he was up to, trotted up after him. “Tay, no, you can’t wake them up until we know we have to.”
“Ike!” Taylor shoved off the restraining hand Isaac had extended. “We do know. He’s not here, they are not here. We both know something’s wrong. Now why do you want to keep stalling?” Taylor rubbed his chest absently, coughing lightly. He was beginning to feel a little out of breath. “We have to at least find out if he’s with Jason. And to do that, Ike…” He gestured expansively at the back of the house, “we have to wake these people up. Now lets go.”
Isaac grabbed the back of his shirt. “Tay, stop! Listen to reason. If we wake them up, they’ll be all in a panic thinking someone’s dead or something, and the guys could just be out in the back woods. We owe it to everyone’s peace of mind to make sure.” Taylor wrenched away, one hand held warningly.
“Don’t you grab me again. I do know, and so do you!” He broke off, coughing. His chest burned now, and he was feeling as if he couldn’t get enough air. Isaac slid an arm around him.
“See? You see? You need to get home, you’re getting sick, you shouldn’t even be out here…” Taylor pulled back, struggling to breathe. “I am not sick, it’s not me, it’s Zac! It’s him who’s sick, and we have to find him.”
“Tay, you have no way of knowing that.” He didn’t want to admit that he felt exactly the same thing. It made no sense. There was no way they could know what Zac was feeling.
Taylor, however, was having none of it, he knew what he knew. “Ike, I know. I can feel it.” He turned again to the door, and Ike just stood, unexplained fury suddenly flooding him.
“What are you, anyway?! The psychic friends network?! Just stop it! You’re just trying to freak me out! There is no way you could know anything about where Zac is! Or how he is, or anything at all!”
Taylor turned back to him, unperturbed. “You might want to stop yelling, our you’ll wake them all up on your own.” He reached out, and rapped loudly on the door, glancing back at his brother. Ike was scared. He knew it. He was too. But he had to find out, he had to know. Stepping back, he watched as lights blinked on, inside the house.
Jason pulled his t-shirt out of the stream, and wrung it out, hoping it wasn’t too cold. Trotting back to the fire, he crouched next to Zac, giving him a gentle shake. “Zacko, sit up some, now. Come on…”
Zac cracked an eye open, gazed bleakly at his friend, and let his eyes shut again. He wasn’t sitting up. He was dying, he knew he was. It felt like his lungs were filled with gravel, and every breath burned like fire. He was exhausted, and terrified that he’d simply become too tired to continue the struggle to breathe. Nausea ran up and down his throat, and his stomach had started to hurt. Whatever this was, it was getting worse instead of better, and he was scared. Shivering suddenly, he opened his eyes to see Jason unzipping the sleeping bag. He reached weakly to pull it shut, the night air was cold, too cold. Jason stopped his hand gently.
“Zac, you’re way too hot, you need to cool down.”
“No, Jay…” Zac winced. His throat felt like someone was striking matches on it. “Jay, I’m cold…”
Jason nodded. “I know. But it’s ’cause you have a really bad fever.” He put on a stern face, and shook his finger in Zac’s face. “Don’t make me fight with you about this. The condition you’re in, I’ll take y’easy.” Zac smiled faintly, and pulled his hand back, letting Jason continue his ministrations. “Here,” Jay handed Zac the wet tee shirt. “Rub this on your face.” Zac did as he was told, sighing a little. It felt good. His face was burning. “Zac, I really need you to sit up.”
“So you can get your shirt off. You need to cool off. Don’t make me toss you in the stream.”
Zac’s eyebrows raised at that. He felt a little better with the wet cloth against his head, a little clearer. “Jay, I’d have to hurt you.” He put the cloth down, and started to sit up, whimpering a little, as aching muscles screamed, grabbing for Jason’s hand. “Oh, Jay, help…”
Jason pulled him up, and moved to sit behind him, supporting him. “Zacko, you are in bad shape. Can you get your shirt off?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. Jay, I feel like I’m gonna die…” Jason sighed. He was afraid of just that, but he wasn’t about to tell Zac.
“Aw, don’t be a baby, you’re gonna be fine. It’s just the flu or something. You have really crappy timing, though.”
“Me? You’re the one that wanted to ride the train. If it weren’t for you, we’d be in your back woods.” Jason glanced at him, taking in the flushed, sweating face, and fever bright eyes. The banter in his words dried up, then, and he nodded, speaking softly.
“Yeah, Zac, I know, and I’ve never been more sorry about anything in my life. Come on, get your arms up…” He helped Zac out of as many of his clothes as possible, anxiety going up as his friend winced with every movement, stacked them up under the top of the sleeping bag, and gestured to Zac to lie back down. “Maybe you’ll breathe better with your head up like that. I don’t know, that’s what my mom does, anyway.” He reached out and took his t-shirt back. “I’m gonna go soak this down again. Gimmi yours, too. I’ll be right back. ” Zac nodded, and handed him the other shirt. His eyes closed and he felt himself drifting. “Zac. Hey. Zac, wake up.”
Zac’s eyes opened. Everything was black, and he couldn’t hear the fire. What was going on? “Zachary!” The voice, too loud, stabbed into his head, knife-like. “Geez, could you quiet down? I have a headache.”
“Oh. Sorry.” The voice softened a little. “Zac, where are you?”
“Huh?” He was a little more awake now, looking around. It sounded like Tay, but there was nobody here. Not even Jason. And where was the fire?
The voice came out of the darkness again. “Zachary. Where are you? We can’t find you, Zac, tell me where you are”
Zac shook his head. “Where are you?? I can’t see you.” He felt a touch then, on his arm, and all but leaped out of his skin. Gasping, struggling to slow his breathing, he looked at his arm, saw a hand, followed the hand up an arm, to a shoulder, to a face. Taylor. How could Tay be here? “Tay? Am I dreaming?”
Taylor smiled. “Maybe. I don’t know. But I need to know where you are.”
Zac clutched his brothers hand. “I don’t know what to do. I’m sick, Tay…” He felt his brother’s arms slide around him, pulling him close, and he rested his head gratefully on his shoulder.
“I know, Zac, I know you are. It’s gonna be okay, but I need to know where you are.”
Zac sighed, “I don’t know, we jumped the train. I don’t know where we are.” He shivered a little, and Taylor’s arms tightened around him.
“What’d you do that for, Zac?”
“I don’t know. I wanna go home, Tay. I’m scared.” He felt his brother’s hand, warm and soothing, stroking his hair. “I know, Zac. It’s gonna be okay.” He relaxed into him, startling suddenly when he felt him begin to grow insubstantial, and whispy.
“Tay? Tay, please don’t leave!” One last gentle touch on his arm, and his brother was gone like mist. Fear flooding him, alone in the dark, he felt himself starting to cry. Almost immediately arms were around him again, and the dark was replaced by the glow of the fire, silence by the sharp crackle of flames. He looked up into worried brown eyes. Jason.
“Jay…” His throat felt clogged, and he cleared it, wincing in pain, turning away to spit out the mouthful of stuff he’d brought up. “Jay, I’m going insane. I was talking to my brother.” Jason shook his head.
“It’s the fever Zac. You’re not crazy. Try to go back to sleep.”
“Don’t go anywhere, Jay, okay? Don’t leave me alone…” Jason shook his head.
“No way, Zacko, won’t do it. Now go back to sleep.” Zac settled back down again, hanging on to his friends hand. Gazing into the fire, watching the flames licking at the branches, he pulled his brother’s face into his mind, refusing to let it go. “Tay…” His thought carried the force of a prayer, “Tay, you got to find us. Please…” The thought became a chant, that eventually followed him down into sleep.