Stay Out, Stay Alive

He twirled the pencil around his fingers. Each time he got faster, until it spun out of his hand on to the floor. Megan looked over at him, at the pencil by her foot, and did nothing. He stood up to retrieve it, his neck burning from the eyes of Ms. Becket following him.

IIIIIIIIIIIIHe let out an involuntary laugh when he saw Megan’s drawing, but it sounded more like a hiccup. Everyone looked at him, including Megan, who smiled, slightly.
IIIIIIIIIIII Everett’s piece of paper was still blank, but Megan had filled up her page with a whole box of crayons. It featured a pair of feet sticking out from underneath a large rock and above it in colorful letters read “STAY OUT STAY ALIVE!!!!!!!!!” Each excla-mation point was a different color.
IIIIIIIIIIII Instead of having an hour of math after lunch today, a man had come in to talk to them about mine safety. He told them stories about teenagers and children exploring abandoned mines who fell into shafts and were never seen again. They all had to make response drawings around the theme “stay out, stay alive.” Drawing exercises made Everett fall into a panic cycle. As soon as he made a mark on the clean white page, it would be too late, even if he erased it, because there was always an imprint left behind. He could never get his drawings to come out the way they looked in his head. Someone had even told him once that his stick figures were wrong, so he figured drawing for him was already a lost cause.
IIIIIIIIIIII When the class had to hang up their pictures, he went up and looked at everyone else’s, and carefully folded the blank piece of paper into his pocket. He bit his lip to stop from laughing at Megan’s drawing again, but now other people were giggling at the feet sticking out from under the rock and the flashy letters. She looked quietly pleased with herself.
IIIIIIIIIIII As soon as the bell rang, Everett bolted out of the class-room, but it didn’t look like Ms. Becket was going to stop him, anyways, and make him explain himself. When he walked home, he still thought about what it would be like to fall into a mine shaft and never be found again. It made his stomach turn into knots, and he vaguely felt hungry, like he wanted to taste food to remind himself that he was still alive.
IIIIIIIIIIII For the last part of his walk he had to walk along the shoulder of the road because the pavement ended. His parents had had a fight about whether or not he should walk to and from school. His mom warned him to get off the road and wait if a car went by, just to be safe.
IIIIIIIIIIIIThere was a girl walking along the other side of the road when Everett was just outside his house. She was tall and thin, and Everett tried not to stare, but he never saw anyone walking from that direction along the frontage road, ever. The houses were too far apart after his.
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe turned to go up the driveway, and looked back, only to see her standing in the middle of the road, staring at him. He turned and ran up to the house. His hands were shaking as he unlocked the door and bolted it behind him. He dropped his back-pack on the floor and crawled to the front window. There were trees in the way, but as far as he could tell, she was gone.
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe had never seen a woman with hair that long before. Bright red, sort of orange, and down to her knees. She couldn’t have been old, maybe twenty? She was wearing boots, a long white dress, and a leather coat, but an old-style leather coat, a brown one, with buttons, and too big. The dress wasn’t a dress really, more like a nightgown. Everett tried to remember what had made him so afraid. Most of the time, when people are looking at you, and you look at them, they look away, he thought. But she just stared at me.
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe waited upstairs in his room for his mom to come home, like he did every night, but he stared at the ceiling for a while, instead of doing his homework.

“Did you know that there are only 2,683 people who live in Idaho Springs?” Megan asked.
IIIIIIIIIIII“That’s a lot of people,” Everett said, “isn’t it?”
IIIIIIIIIIIIMegan stopped walking and closed her eyes. She breathed a deep breath, and said, “Oh my god, Everett, that’s no one! No one lives here!”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Do you think you know 2,683 people?” Everett asked. “That’s a lot of people to know.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Why would I want to know every person who lives in Idaho Springs?”
IIIIIIIIIIIIEverett shrugged, and stayed quiet.
IIIIIIIIIIIIMegan’s family had moved before the new school year, so she and Everett normally walked most of the way together. Everett had never told anyone about seeing the strange red-haired woman, even though he was relieved he didn’t have to walk home alone now. He couldn’t explain why it had scared him, so he figured it was better to never bring it up.
IIIIIIIIIIII“You know my parents used to live in Denver, and I was born there, but we moved here when I was four. Can you imagine moving from Denver to here? I hate them, I love going to Denver, I get to visit my cousins sometimes, and where they live is so cool. It’s not fair.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“My parents used to live in Denver, too,” said Everett, “and my dad still goes there a lot for work, but they like living here.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“I don’t understand why anyone likes it here. I can’t wait until I grow up and I can just leave.” She paused for a minute and said, “You’ve never invited me over to your house, you’ve been to mine.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIEverett started sweating. “Do you want to come over? You’ve never asked.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Do you not want me to come over to your house? I mean that’s fine if you don’t want me to, you just have to say so.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“No, you can come over, my parents are never home in the afternoon.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“So, I can only come over because your parents aren’t there?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“No! I’m saying you can come over, and that my parents aren’t home.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Do you ever have anyone over?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Why not? Your house is cool, it has all those woods around it.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“I just go over to other people’s houses instead of having people at mine.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“No, you don’t Everett.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe didn’t say anything. He didn’t know what exactly she was accusing him of, but when they walked by Megan’s house, she ran in and screamed that she was going to Everett’s house, and she came back outside without her backpack on.
IIIIIIIIIIIIIt was true that Everett did not often visit other people’s houses, and so he had never had a lot of examples to compare his life to, and this quick interaction left him shocked. There had been no discussion, and if Everett ever raised his voice like that…well, he never did, because he just knew his parents wouldn’t be happy, but Megan just ran back out the front door and resumed walking with him.

IIIIIIIIIIII “Do you ever go up there?” She was pointing across the street from Everett’s house to the woods. There was a faint trail through the pine trees.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Yeah, but that trail doesn’t really go anywhere. I mean there’s sort of a cave up there, but it’s not much to look at.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“I wanna see it,” Megan said.
IIIIIIIIIIII“No really, it’s small, and boring.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Come on, let’s go, it’ll be fun.” She started climbing up the hill, which quickly got steep. Nothing much grew underneath the lodgepole pines, but there were a few downed trees, and Megan climbed over these quickly. Everett still had his backpack on and felt slow behind her. He had never actually been inside the cave, because the opening was small, and it was hard to see how far back it went. Because it was so small, he never believed that there would be something like a hibernating bear in the cave, but he also never wanted to check. He had never come up here with his parents; he didn’t even know if they knew about the cave.
He came up to Megan kneeling at the mouth of the cave.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Do you have a flashlight?” she asked.
IIIIIIIIIIII“No,” Everett said, “I don’t think we should go inside, Megan.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“What are you so scared of?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“I don’t know, its fall, bears are starting to hibernate…”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Oh my god, you’re such a baby,” she said. She turned around and started to back up into the cave, and said, “Baby, I bet you won’t follow me.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe crossed his arms in front of his chest, watching her, until she was enveloped in darkness. And then she screamed.
IIIIIIIIIIIIEverett threw off his backpack and ran into the cave.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Megan!” he screamed, “Megan!”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe ran into a wall, and stumbled along it, feeling the edge.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Megan!” he screamed again.
IIIIIIIIIIIIAnd then something collided with him, hugging him, laughing.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Megan?” he asked.
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe was laughing, and now holding his arm in the dark.
IIIIIIIIIIII“You were so scared!”
IIIIIIIIIIII“That wasn’t funny!”
IIIIIIIIIIIIBut she just kept giggling; he pushed her away, and turned to leave, but then she grabbed his arm. Out of the dark came a light, and not the cold light of a flashlight, but the warm glow of fire, and the face that came out of the darkness was a face he had seen before. It was the same woman, with red hair, but now it was chopped short. She looked at them, holding a lantern with a can-dle inside and said, “You should leave, before you spend too much time in here.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIEverett grabbed Megan’s hand and ran out of the cave.
IIIIIIIIIIIIIt was night when they came out, and Everett stumbled over his backpack in the dark.
IIIIIIIIIIII“How long were we in there?” Megan asked in a shaky voice.
IIIIIIIIIIII Everett pushed the light-up button on his digital watch, but it read 3:15.
IIIIIIIIIIII“I think my watched stopped working.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“It was only a few minutes, wasn’t it? Tell me I’m not crazy.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“No…it only felt like a few minutes.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIThey held hands as they slowly made their way through the woods to Everett’s house. The lights weren’t on. He fumbled around in his backpack for his keys and let them both inside. The clock on the microwave said it was 9:00.
IIIIIIIIIIIIThe answering machine on the phone was blinking, and he pushed the button.
IIIIIIIIIIIIHis mom’s voice came out saying, Hi, honey, your dad and I had to go up to Vail for work today, and we’re going to be a little late coming home. Call me when you hear this.
IIIIIIIIIIIIThe next one started, Hi, sweetie, there was an accident in the tunnel, and it snowed on the pass, we might be stuck for a while, make yourself something for dinner.
IIIIIIIIIIIIHi Everett, please give us a call.
IIIIIIIIIIIIHi Everett, just wondering if you got home OK, call us back.
IIIIIIIIIIIIEverett, you need to call us back, right now, we’re really worried.
IIIIIIIIIIIIEverett, this isn’t OK, you need to call us.
IIIIIIIIIIIIEverett—the phone rang.
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe picked it up, quickly, “Hello?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Everett! Where were you! We were so worried! This is not OK; we’re not going to let you keep walking home by your-self—”
IIIIIIIIIIII“I was over at Megan’s house; we were working on a school project together.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe looked over at Megan, and she stared back, unques-tioning.
IIIIIIIIIIII“You still should have called us!”
IIIIIIIIIIII“I know mom, I’m really sorry, it just took a lot longer than we thought it would.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Well, there was an accident in the tunnel, and we were already past the turn off, so we’ve been stuck for hours, they’re starting to turn traffic around, but it’s going very slowly.”
“I’m OK mom, I had dinner with Megan, it’ll be OK.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“OK, well make sure the door is locked, and don’t wait up for us, you should go to bed soon.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe hung up, a little too fast, but he was dying to talk to Megan. She was looking at her cell phone, and said, “It died, I bet my mom is freaking out.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIEverett went into the kitchen and found a flashlight.
IIIIIIIIIIII“I’ll walk you home,” he said.

He got to Tommy Knocker’s Brewery before Megan but got a booth anyways to wait. The hostess gave him one water, and he wanted to tell her that he wasn’t eating alone, he was just waiting, but the moment passed.
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe walked in a minute later, and she wasn’t alone. He waved to her, and the four of them came over. He recognized her friend Rebecca, but he couldn’t remember the names of the two guys. They had been on the football team, and they were even bigger than he remembered through the shoulders.
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe slid in next to him and gave him a hug, and said, in a loud voice, “It’s Everett!”
IIIIIIIIIIIIRebecca sat across from him, and the two guys squeezed in next to her.
IIIIIIIIIIII“How are you?” he asked her.
IIIIIIIIIIII“I’m so good, they have the best bacon wrapped jalapeno poppers here, we have to get them.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“How was your first semester, Everett?” Rebecca asked.
IIIIIIIIIIII“It was good, I like living in Boulder.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“I never saw you on campus,” she said.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Oh yeah, it’s such a big school.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“God, I know, my first lecture class really freaked me out, I think there were 500 people in it.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe turned to Megan and asked, “How’s your mom doing?”
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe opened the menu and said, “Where’s our waiter? This is taking forever.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIOne of the football players pulled out his wallet, and said, “Shit, I knew it, I forgot my fake.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHis friend shook his head and said, “We fucking went to high school with the hostess, you can’t use a fake ID here.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe shrugged and put his wallet back.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Sorry for the wait, here are some waters,” the waitress said, “what can I get started for you this evening?”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe looked up at the waitress as she handed him a glass of water and dropped it on the ground, where it shattered.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Nah, that was Everett,” one of the players said, “don’t apologize.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIEverett didn’t say anything, but he kept looking at her face. She placed the rest of the waters on the table and said, “I’ll be right back to clean that up.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Why did you do that Everett?” Megan slapped his arm, but with no force. He realized she was drunk; she couldn’t make eye contact with him as she said this. She was sort of looking through him, instead of at him.
IIIIIIIIIIIIA man came out with a broom to sweep up the glass and put a “Caution!” sign over the water. Everett still didn’t say any-thing, he was hot all over. They saw her in that cave six years ago. They had been 12. Even though he had walked Megan home, they hadn’t said a word to each other. In fact, they never talked about it again, and in high school they no longer walked home together, so even though they were friends and saw each other, they were never alone.
IIIIIIIIIIII What was there to talk about? What had happened that they needed to talk about it? They had spent several hours together in a dark cave without realizing how fast time was going by. That happened to everyone, that you might think it’s one time, and then look at a clock and realize it was actually several hours later, what was so strange about that?
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe came back to the table to take their orders, and when he saw her face again, he felt like he was going to throw up. He found himself walking out the front doors, into the night where it was starting to snow. He started walking up the street, and then turned around, and paused. He didn’t know why he had left, and he didn’t know whether or not he should go back.
IIIIIIIIIIII“God, Everett, you were always so weird.” Megan was outside, without her coat, holding a bottle of cream soda. She sipped it and said, “This shit is so good isn’t it? Have a sip.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe held out the bottle, and he did as she commanded.
IIIIIIIIIIIIMegan had to lean her neck back now, to look up into his face, and as she did this she placed her hand on his chest, almost to catch herself, and said, “You got so tall, it’s not fair, I always wanted to be tall.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe took the soda back and had a sip.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Did you know Colin and I are dating?” she asked.
IIIIIIIIIIIIIt took a minute for him to remember it was one of the football players.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Oh,” he said.
IIIIIIIIIIIIOh,” she mocked, “come here, I need to tell you a secret.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe leaned down so she could whisper in his ear, and she grabbed his neck and kissed him on the lips. He pushed her away and turned his head, so he didn’t have to look at her as he turned red.
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe sighed and said, “Why can’t you just come out, Ever-ett? I knew, after I tried to kiss you in the cave that day, and you freaked out.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“What?” he said, “You didn’t try to kiss me.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Yes, I did, you were just too gay to realize it.”
IIIIIIIIIIII He didn’t say anything.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Here, I don’t need all this sugar,” she pushed the bottle into his hand. “But I have a real secret to tell you. I tell my mom that I’m visiting Colin on the weekends, she thinks I drive all the way to Fort Collins to visit that asshole, but instead, I go to the cave.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe felt like the pavement had dropped from underneath his feet.
IIIIIIIIIIII“What did you say?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“I go to the cave.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe grabbed her shoulder, and said, “What?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“You heard me.” The cold had sobered her up enough that she could look him in the eye.
IIIIIIIIIIII“I just have to wait about an hour, and poof,” she waved her hand, “weekend gone. Two days closer to moving out of this shithole.” She took the soda back and had a sip. “The weekend after everyone else went away to college, I went for a little hike, and I went back to the cave, and I met Rita, but this time, I actually talked to her, and she told me about herself.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe smiled at him, and said, “Look at you, you’re so scared, you little scaredy cat. I’m not going to tell you anything until you come back inside and buy me those fucking jalapeno poppers.”

When he went back inside Everett told the table that he had left his wallet in his car, and suddenly remembered. He went from feeling sick to suddenly starving and ordered a blue cheese bacon burger, which had been rated the best item on the menu since he had first gone here as a child. At the end of the meal, where Everett didn’t talk much, they split the bill five ways, and then Megan casually said, “Everett can drive me home, we live close to each other.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIColin shrugged and said, “We can catch up some other time. It was nice to see you Everett.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIEverett waved and said, “Nice to see you too.”
IIIIIIIIIIII He got up to sit across from Megan. They sat in silence as the table was cleared off by the hostess.
IIIIIIIIIIII“How’s your mom doing?”
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe was rolling a straw wrapper into a tiny coil. “Not great. She can’t do a lot. She can’t clean, she can’t drive. She also hates taking painkillers, they make her sick. So at least I know she won’t get addicted to anything. But sometimes I wish she could just be normal and like taking painkillers, because most days she can’t function.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Is she getting better?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Yeah, she is, she can walk a lot better.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Are you still going to CU Boulder in the spring?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“No, I’m going to wait the full year. It’s hard to move there and start half-semester.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIEverett didn’t know if this was true, but he didn’t want to ask.
IIIIIIIIIIII“What do you think happened to us in the cave, when we were twelve?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Time passes differently inside. It’s slower, so when you come out, more time has passed. I don’t know why. Do you want to know how old she is?” Megan nodded over at the girl she had called Rita.
IIIIIIIIIIIIEverett felt very hot. “Don’t make me guess.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“She was born in 1920, does she look 90 to you?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Exactly, she just disappeared one day. She found an old newspaper in the library here and showed it to me. It was a cold case.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“That cave isn’t exactly hidden.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“I don’t think they tried very hard to find to her to be honest.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIThe restaurant was closing around them, the staff was putting chairs up on tables and sweeping the floor.
IIIIIIIIIIII“What did you mean when you said that you go to the cave every weekend?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Well, I tell my parents that I’m going to visit Colin, and I think they’re happy to see me get out of the house. When it was nicer out, I told them I went camping or backpacking, with people from work. Like I’ve met so many cool young people working as a part time receptionist…and I drive my car away from the house, park it for the weekend, and I go wait inside the cave, for, I don’t know, an hour, with a book, and when I come out it’s Monday morning, and I can get on with my life.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe took a sip of the soda bottle in her hands and said, “I wish I could order a real drink.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe looked at Everett, but he didn’t say anything.
IIIIIIIIIIII “Sometimes I overshoot it. One morning it was Tuesday instead of Monday. There’s also no cell service in the cave, there’s no way to keep track of how much time is passing out there while you’re inside. You also can’t go in very far, I mean, unless I wanted to lose a lot of time.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Why would you want to do that?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“I didn’t say that, I just mean, Rita, she told me that when she first went in, she went in really far, and when she came out, ten years had passed.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIEverett felt like he was going to be sick again.
IIIIIIIIIIII “You mean, when we went in there, we could have lost ten years?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Well we didn’t.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“But, Megan! How can you not tell anyone about this? This is crazy!”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Who should I tell?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“I don’t know, a scientist, a physicist, why is it this big secret?”
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe didn’t answer.
IIIIIIIIIIII“What if there were kids like us who wandered up there and didn’t come out for years?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Do you want me to put up a sign that says, caution: worm-hole? Or, do you want a sign that says, beware, you might experience some Rip Van Winkle type shit?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Well…yeah, something, anything.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“What about me?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“What about you?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“I like using the cave.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“But, Megan, how can this be all about you?”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHer eyes teared up, and she stood. “Nothing in my life is about me anymore, how can you say that?”
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe walked out the door, and Everett stood up to follow her, but Rita was in front of him and said, “Hi.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIThe last time he had seen her, she had been taller than him. But now he was looking down into her face. Her skin was very pale.
“Can I talk to you?” she asked.
IIIIIIIIIIII“I was going to give her a ride home.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Does it look like she wanted a ride home?”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe swallowed. It was only a twenty-minute walk.
IIIIIIIIIIII “I’m sorry I scared you, the last time we met. You got so tall I didn’t recognize you at first.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe sat down in the booth, and Everett meekly sat down, too.
IIIIIIIIIIII“What did she tell you?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“You were born in 1920.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Yes, I…don’t really know how old I am anymore, because I don’t know how long I was really in the cave. I wasn’t in there the whole time, you know, I would come out and get food. And the first time…it was hard to figure out what had happened, but eventually you figure it out. I ran away from home, not that I had a plan.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“But how old were you when you ran away?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“How did you get a job?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Megan did everything, once she figured it out, after she came back to the cave and she had lost a weekend. I figured out I could tell her, and she would believe me. And she helped me get ID and the job.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“How did she get you ID, if you didn’t exist?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“I…couldn’t tell you, I mean I’d never seen a computer until a few months ago.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIEverett stood up and said, “I’m going to go find her, I don’t feel good about her walking home.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“I used to live in your house, before it was remodeled.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“My family lived there. That’s why I was watching you when you walked home from school. I was trying to figure out how much time had passed, and the last time I had seen the house it was abandoned. Then I came out and it was unrecognizable. I’m sorry if I scared you.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“How long ago was that for you?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“It’s hard to tell. Six months?”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe turned and walked out the door. His hands were shaking as he got in the car. He clicked off the radio and turned the heat all the way up.

Megan was still walking, although she was almost home. He pulled up next to her and rolled down the window.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Megan, can you get in the car?”
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe paused, but he could see that she was shivering, and she walked around to the other side and climbed in.
IIIIIIIIIIII“You got her an ID? Is it fake?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“No, it’s real.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“How the fuck did you do that?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“I mean, it’s sort of real, what does that even mean? What makes your name real?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“I have a Social Security number, that’s pretty real.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Yeah, she has one of those, too. I know, I know, I should have been recruited by the fucking CIA.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“But seriously…”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Why are you asking me these things? She told me she ran away because her father tried to rape her. I helped her. What’s wrong? Why do I have to explain why I helped her become a person in the world again?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Megan, how can you do this? With the cave, it’s so wrong.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Haven’t you ever just wanted a bad day to be over?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Yeah, but you live through it. What you’re doing isn’t living.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“This whole fucking year is my bad day though, why can’t I just want it to be over?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“What if you had someone you actually wanted to visit, over the weekend?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“You’re one to talk, I bet that was your first kiss tonight.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe was now idling outside of her house, in the middle of the street.
IIIIIIIIIIII“I think that’s my cue,” she said. “Next time you want to tell someone how to live their life, why don’t you start with yourself.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe slammed the car door behind her.

Everett decided to go for a walk, and he told himself that he didn’t have a place in mind. He walked downtown, past the water wheel, and the hot springs. It never smelled like sulfur until you got to the river. He walked up the street, past Tommy Knocker’s, and then came back.
IIIIIIIIIIIIIt was in between lunch and dinner so it wasn’t busy. He looked at their beers and eventually grabbed a case of cream sodas, feeling intensely silly that he couldn’t just buy actual drinks.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Does that girl Rita still work here?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“No, she actually quit about a month ago,” said the hostess, “it was too bad, she left without notice.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Did she move?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“No idea. Are you home for spring break, Everett?”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe paused, his mind reeling.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Were we in school together?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Yeah, I was a grade ahead of you.” She paused, waiting, and then said, “Maddie.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Right, Maddie, how are you?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Fine, it’s been a good snow year.”

He started walking home and stopped below the snowy hill. It had melted and frozen again, so it had a crusty top and was soft underneath. He also hadn’t worn boots, so after a minute his tennis shoes were filled with snow. There was a delay before he would fall under the surface, so every step took twice as long. When he reached the cave, he was sweating underneath his coat, despite the cold air. He opened up one of the sodas, took a long sip, and then smashed it against the rocks. He smashed the rest of the bottles and the air smelled like cream soda, and there was shat-tered brown glass spotted throughout the snow.
IIIIIIIIIIIIMegan had been missing for about month, so maybe around the same time Rita quit. He wanted to go in after them, but to come out ten years later…
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe folded the empty cardboard carrier into his coat pocket and started back down the hill. He fell more than once, backwards, and felt the coming of a bruise by the time he reached the street. He tried to swallow the lump in his throat, because what would he say if he came home crying? That he knew what had happened to her, even if he couldn’t explain it? He took a handful of snow and pressed it against his throbbing forehead, until water started running down the inside of his sleeve.

She was sitting at the kitchen table, with his mom. They had teacups in their hands, and Everett tried to remember when his mother had ever invited anyone over to sit at their table and drink tea.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Hello,” Megan said. “Your mom said you’d be back soon.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe didn’t say anything. His sleeve dripped water onto the floor.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Well,” his mom said, “I have to get going. It was so nice to see you Megan.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe found her purse and left. Just like that they were alone.
IIIIIIIIIIII“I told her that I came by to get a book back from you,” she said.
IIIIIIIIIIIIEverett stared at her.
IIIIIIIIIIII“You know my parents sold their house?”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe didn’t respond. She held the mug tight.
IIIIIIIIIIII “Look, Everett,” she cleared her throat, “you need to tell me the truth. Did you ever tell anyone about the cave?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Of course not,” he said.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Good. Do me a favor, and don’t go back up there. Don’t go near it, ok?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Where have you been?” he asked.
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe looked down, and said, “You know, you never asked me to make you a fake ID. Do you even have one?”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe shook his head. She nodded.
“I made them for everyone. It was great. I made so much money. So, with Rita, you know, I told her that I was ready, that I could help her. I had never met anyone before who really actually needed help like that before. All these people from school, just wanted to drink and party, but she needed to start a new life.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe looked at Everett, waiting for him to speak, but he didn’t. So, she continued.
IIIIIIIIIIII“If you tell anyone, your life won’t be the same. I shouldn’t be here. But I had to make sure you wouldn’t do anything stupid.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“I’ve been wondering,” Everett asked, “how many week-ends did you lose? How many hours?”
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe paused, and said, “I didn’t go right away. It was about mid-September, and now it’s March. So almost…30 weekends? I would go in Friday night, try to come out Sunday evening. But I wasn’t always accurate, you know. Sometimes it would be Sunday morning or Tuesday afternoon, so who’s to say.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Are you going to school?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Not exactly. Look…it was easy to break up with Colin, we weren’t really together. And everyone else, I don’t even really have to say goodbye, because no one is going to worry. But I was worried about you, that you might try and look for me.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe sat down and looked at his hands.
IIIIIIIIIIII“I got in trouble, for the IDs, only I didn’t exactly. Do you know what I’m saying?”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe looked at her, blankly.
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe took a deep breath. “My parents are moving because of me, and I can’t tell them the whole truth. I can never tell anyone the whole truth, and I don’t want your life to get screwed up.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe passed the teacup from hand to hand and looked away.
IIIIIIIIIIII“What’s going to happen to you?” asked Everett.
IIIIIIIIIIII She laughed slightly. “I get to leave. It’s so fucked up, but I’m so happy. After my mom had her accident, I thought this was going to be my whole life. This town, these people, and now I get to leave. And I’m not going to take care of her anymore. And I’m not even allowed to tell her the truth. It’s like a—” she hiccupped, “dream.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“You shouldn’t feel guilty about being happy.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Fuck you. You shouldn’t feel guilty about being happy.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIThey looked at each other, and Everett reached out to touch Megan’s hair: she had cut it short. She took his hand and held it.
IIIIIIIIIIII“I’ll probably never see you again. So just promise me you’ll pretend like you didn’t even know the cave was there.”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Is it OK if I pretend, you’re working for the time travel division of the CIA?”
IIIIIIIIIIII“Everett, listen to me, I can’t tell you anything.”
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe smiled and then started laughing, which only made Megan look disgusted. He took a deep breath and said, “Can you please say, ‘I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you?’”
IIIIIIIIIIIIShe rolled her eyes, but also smiled and said, “I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”

One evening when he was home in July, he hiked up to the cave, and it was gone. Sealed or covered up, he didn’t know, and he never went back again. Megan was right, though, that no one tried to look for her. Her social media disappeared. In fact, he never spoke her name again. Even though he never forgot about her, she stopped feeling real. After all, as he got older, she would forever be eighteen, sitting across his kitchen table telling him that the world was full of mysterious things he was not meant to understand.

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