This week’s Bonus Episode comes to use from:
The Price of Friendship, episode 7
By: Norval Joe
Chad and his mother stood between the first base dugout and the nature trail that followed the creek through the oak trees. He was holding the black box in front of him and looking from its screen to the trees ahead of him.
“It’s right there in front of us. It’s right there, Mom. Can’t you see it?” Chad was trying to convince his mother, as Amy’s dad ran up behind them.
“She can’t see it Chad. She’s not holding the key. You have to hold the box to be able to see the gateway.” He told them, slightly out of breath.
“Here, Mom. Take it and look. I’m not crazy.” He shoved the game player into her hands.
“Point it over there and look.” Chad said, pointing into the trees.
“Oh, Chad. It is there. No wait. Sorry, It’s back.” She said.
She turned to Mr. Snider, and continued, “It disappeared for a moment, but now it’s back.”
“That’s not good. If won’t be here much longer. Chad, you need to go now.” Mr. Snider took the box from the hands of his mother and gave it to Chad.
“No, wait. Don’t go Chad. We can figure something else out.” Chads mother was frantic and angry. She was crying. The sight of the tears on her face stabbed him in the heart. She would be completely alone now; his older brother in Iraq and Chad, who knows where.
Mrs. Snider spoke for the first time, since arriving at the ball field. “Please, let him go. We need him to go. It’s not just for Amy, there is more going on, but we don’t have the time to go into it right here.”
Chad looked toward the oak trees. He loved his mother and wanted to stay with her, but he also felt the need to go help Amy. He felt that need stronger than the need to stay. He felt guilt in putting his, or Amy’s, need over that of his mother. While he battled with these emotions the gateway disappeared. The arguments of his mother and the desperate pleading of Mrs. Snider faded from his hearing as he panicked. The gate was gone and he had lost the ability to choose.
The gateway flickered back into view, was gone, and then back again. He didn’t wait another second, but ran head long at the gateway. He vaguely heard his mother shout his name and he was through, into darkness and mist. He looked behind him and for only an instant, he saw the scene as if at a movie theater, from the back row.
The view of Amy’s parents and his mother worriedly searching the trees closed and Chad was left alone in the darkness.
It was pitch black and reminded him of when he had gone with his cub scout pack to a cavern in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The tour guide turned off the lights to show the kids what absolute darkness was.
Chad scuffed his fee and felt dirt and grass through the soles of his running shoes. He closed his eyes and listened. He laughed and said out loud to himself, “I guess I don’t need to close my eyes, it’s dark enough already.”
His voice didn’t echo like it would in a cavern or an empty room, and when he listened closely he could hear the soft gurgling of the creek. If it wasn’t the creek along the school, there was another one to his side.
He slowly turned in a circle and listened for other sounds, but there were none. No birds chirping or insects buzzing past. No people sounds either. At the school he could always hear cars driving past on the main street close by.
As he turned the box in his hands suddenly warmed and cooled again. He looked toward the box in the utter blackness and was surprised to find a small red bar flashing back at him.
Before he entered the portal the box displayed a small pulsing red dot. Its brightness had faded with each minute that Chad hesitated to enter the portal, warning of the its impending closure.
Now that he had gone through, there was a glowing red bar that gave off just enough light for Chad to see the sides of his thumbs as he held the box. The bar moved from right to left as Chad shifted his body from left to right. As the bar passed the center of the devices screen the box noticeably warmed in his hands, and then cooled as the bar moved onward to the edge of the screen.
With the bar centered and the box warm in his hands the burbling creek was to his right as it had been when he entered the gateway. Chad assumed that the box was telling to move forward in this direction. But to follow its direction would take him, where, further into the darkness?
Chad was at his first dilemma. He sat down where he was. He could feel the dry dirt of a trail underneath himself and the short grass off to the sides. He felt funny about sitting in the middle of what was obviously a path. Who knew, something could come rushing past and trip over him; or trample him, for that matter. Holding the device in one hand he felt around through the grass to the side of the path to insure that there was adequate sitting space, and moved well off the path, opposite the creek. As he felt around with his free hand he found the occasional dry leaf in the short moist grass, No obstruction prevented him from sitting cross legged in the grass to think.
He reviewed what he knew. The game device may or may not have been left intentionally, so he couldn’t trust it. The box was a key to the gateway he had just passed through, and now it was telling him which direction it wanted him to go.
Mr. Snider had told him he would have to pass through a number of gateways, each one taking him to another dimension. Each gateway would need a key. Mrs. Walker had also told Chad to use the box sparingly.
Therefore, his choices were such: He could remain where he was and wait for something to happen, such as a key appearing or a helpful stranger to walk up with a flashlight; or he could follow the directions of the dubious box and walk blindly into the darkness. He wished he could ask someone for advice.
“Wait a minute. I can,” he said and felt through his backpack for the cell phone. Logically, his mother and the Snider’s were only feet away, though in another dimension. Perhaps they had left already, but it wasn’t likely. Chad was sure that his mother was still standing in the spot where he had left her, arguing with the Snider’s. She was a strong willed woman and Chad knew she wouldn’t accept anything as just given.
He flipped open the cell phone and pressed the power button. The face of the phone lit up enough for Chad to see his hands. He turned it over and faced it toward the ground, but the light was far too weak to reach more than a few inches.
A small hourglass spun in a circle as the phone searched for a network signal. With in seconds all four signal bars lit up, showing a strong connection. Chad quickly punched in his mother’s phone number and waited as it rang, once, twice, and “Chad,” his mother asked, clearly astonished.
“Yeah Mom, it’s me. I’ve crossed over, did you see me go,” he asked?
“Yes. We saw you run into the trees and then…then you were gone.” Her voice trailed off. She sounded desolate and Chad felt renewed guilt at leaving her all alone.
Then her voice was back, “Chad, you’ve got to come back. Now.”
“Sorry, Mom. The gate closed behind me. I couldn’t come back right now, if I wanted to. I was just testing the phone to see if it would work, from here to where you are. Oh. Tell Mr. Snider it’s pitch dark here, I can’t see a thing. But the box is telling me which way to go. Should I follow it?”
Chad heard his mother repeat his words to Amy’s dad, not removing the phone from her mouth. She said, obviously speaking to Mr. Snider, “What do you mean he has no other choice? Be careful? All you can say is, ‘be careful’?”
She was sounding hysterical, “Who wouldn’t?” Chad thought. His mother had just seen him disappear from in front of her eyes, and now he was speaking to her on the phone, like he was just down the street.
“Mom. I’m sorry. I have to go. I don’t want to burn up the battery. I’ll text you when I know something. Text me if you want. I’ll check a couple times a day to see if you sent anything. I love you Mom. Stick close to the Snider’s, we all need to work together. I love you.” His mother started to reply but Chad shut off the phone. He was afraid that if she started talking, she wouldn’t stop and let him go.
“Follow the box and be careful. Not a lot to go on.” He steeled his nerves and got back to his feet.