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The Last of a Dying Breed

I’d been living in San Diego for two months, and I still hadn’t fully adjusted to the city. I was working for less than minimum wage at a run down fast food joint and renting a lackluster apartment just outside of town, where my girlfriend and I were living. I missed everything about my old life, but what I missed the most was my own name. Aside from the obvious security risks of using my real identity, it was an easy way to just try to move on with my life.

Move on. The words rang sharply in my eardrums. It went against everything in my nature to just give up fighting for what I believe in, but I knew I had to do what Jackson said. As strange as it was to have very few possessions while traveling across the countryside, it was just as strange to suddenly have possessions; albeit very few. The only indulgences we allowed ourselves were a laptop and a television, the required services of both having been “borrowed” from others in the apartment building.

If there was one benefit to living in California, it was the freedom it granted me. I truly felt like an adult, even if I wouldn’t turn seventeen for another ten months or so. My fake I.D. lists my name as a twenty-two year old named “Tim Grayson”. Tim Grayson the fry cook; what an underachiever that guy was. Underachievement is exactly what I needed though. I needed to be inconspicuous, but I was still drawing attention to myself with the sleep incidents.

The incidents happened once a week; starting from the very first day we rented the apartment. I would wake up bright and early, usually before sunrise, as I had back home. From there, things would go one of two ways; bad or worse. Occasionally, the past few months didn’t register with my brain, and I’d wander into the living room to check on Lukas, who was probably sleeping miles and miles away. I was shaken, but eventually the memories would come flooding back, and I was okay. But other times I would wake sharply in the darkness, visibly shaken and nearly having a panic attack. The nightmares wouldn’t stop, and I’d seen so many horrors…

Megan tried to sympathize with me, but her attempts were in vain. She hadn’t seen her own home burned to the ground with her family still inside. She hadn’t seen Brian Ritter reaching out to me helplessly as his flesh burned away. She hadn’t looked into his eyes as his skin turned to ash and seen the emptiness, the longing to be saved. She hadn’t seen the things I had. She hadn’t seen the pain I’d caused.

Occasionally I found a note at my doorstep from Derek Frost, but they were always vague. At least he was still alive. When he went missing back in Arizona, I knew he wasn’t coming back. After talking to him on the phone, I knew he had survived, but I could tell from his voice he would have much rather died. I was worried about him, I was sure he needed my help, but he never gave me much to go on. I did the only ting I could do; wait.

The only other real mail I received at the apartment was a package from Jackson that had been sent through a friend of his in Tennessee to avoid suspicion. For a week, I kept the box closed in the corner of my bedroom. But one morning I woke up after having rolled off my bed and onto the floor. The crash didn’t wake Megan, who was the heaviest sleeper I’d ever met. Lying flat on my stomach on the bedroom floor, I stared directly at the box, and I knew I had to open it.

I pried the cardboard box open with my nails, and brushed my hair, which was finally growing back, out of my eyes. To my surprise, Jackson had filled the box with what little he had kept of our childhood together. There were pictures of Lukas, Megan and I as small children playing in the front lawn, and pictures of Jackson and me in matching outfits for the holidays. One picture touched me the most, though; a family photo I had sent to Jackson the year before. He had kept it.

I sat on the edge of the bed and sobbed silently. I wasn’t alone in the world, but I had found something worse. My life was never going to back to what it was, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t mourn.





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