Jack spent the rest of the afternoon in a daze. He looked through every picture in the photo albums, and in every single one, the main subject was missing. At the back of the last album, he found their class picture. She stood right behind him, he knew, because she’d kneed him in the back. But there was a gap in the picture now.
The gap was in more than just a picture, Jack thought.
He skipped lunch, picked at his dinner. Conversation around the table was subdued. What can you say when somebody just vanishes by walking next door?
Ellie wanted to know when Beth was coming over so they could play Barbies. She promised, after all.
“She’ll be over when she can, Pumpkin,” Jack’s dad told her.
Jack skipped dessert and Saturday night TV, heading up to bed instead.
He didn’t even bother changing into his pajamas, just dropped into bed, staring at the clock, watching the minutes tick by.
* * * * *
Jack’s eyes snapped open, and he sat up, cocking his head. He was sure someone had called his name. He listened, but the only sounds were the wind through the trees outside, and the puffing of his curtains in the same wind.
It was dark out, but the moon was up. He looked at the clock. 11:58. Two minutes to the Witching hour. Jack lay back, hands behind his head, staring up at the dreamcatcher. He traced one of the strands, up, over, under, around…
Beth was sitting in his chair, spinning lazily in a circle.
“What— where the heck have you been?” Jack sat up, remembering at the last minute to keep his voice down. After all, it was the middle of the night.
“I told you, I went home.”
“I followed you over there. The house was empty.”
“Thats because its just a house, its not my home.”
“And stop spinning. You’re making me dizzy!” He reached out, grabbed her arm. It felt solid, warm beneath the long sleeve. “What happened? Where did you go?”
“So now you want to know?”
Jack had heard this conversation before. Or a version of it.
“Tell me. Please.” he said.
“Fine,” she said, after staring at him for a long moment. “Are you going to let go of my arm?”
“You might disappear on me again if I do.”
“I could do it right now, with you holding on,” she said. To make her point, her wrist turned to smoke. In less than a blink, her arm reformed, crossed with the other in front of her chest.
“This is a dream,” Jack said. He reached for his upper arm with a thumb and forefinger.
“Pinching yourself? That really works?”
“Yes, but you can’t do that when I’m here.”
“It would take too long to explain.”
“I can’t understand if you don’t explain it to me,” Jack said.
Beth closed her eyes, took a few deep breaths.
“Okay, ummm…. You know when Mr. Grady’s being a jerk and gives the bus a little gas when you only have one foot on the step?”
“I hate when he does that!”
“Its like that, but he steps all the way down on the gas. And keeps going.”
Jack lowered his hand. “So… bad.”
“Not for you. You’re on the bus.”
Jack sat on his hands.
“I don’t think I understand any of this,” Jack said.
“I was trying to explain it to you this morning.”
“I said I was sorry about that!”
“Its okay,” Beth said after a deep sigh. “I’ll just have to explain it to you here, instead.”
“Well, it makes certain parts a bit more believable,” Jack muttered. He settled himself more comfortably on the edge of his bed. “So, start explaining.”
“You just said you would!”
“I will. But… You forgot to turn your alarm off. Thats worse than a pinch on the arm.”
Jack looked over at his clock. It still read 12:00.
“Rule number one: Time works differently here. A lot of things do.” Her words were coming faster, her whole manner had gone from relaxed to tighter-than-a-clockspring.
“Wait, what am I supposed to tell people? I mean, you are okay, right?”
“I’m fine. As fine as can be expected. Don’t worry about what to tell them.”
“You’ll see what I mean. Don’t worry about me. I have to go!”
“But I am—”
She winked out.
Jack hit the floor, bright spots dancing in his eyes giving way to the reddish-gold light of the sun creeping its way up from dawn. The ringing in his ears resolved itself into the mechanical, buzzing grate of his alarm clock.
He sat up, rubbing his head, stared up at the dreamcatcher.
“I am worried,” he said.