Illusion

I've been in this place for a while. I don't know how long but I know it has been a long time. It's cold, and I'm hungry and I wonder where Mommy and Daddy are. They said they would come for me. But then the bad man came and took me away and I want Mommy and Daddy! It's cold and I'm hungry and I want my Mommy and Daddy.....I hear someone coming closer. I have to be quiet so they won't find me. That's what Daddy told me. And then BANG! BANG! Mommy and Daddy have been gone a long time.....They opened the door. I don't know who they are but they see me. A boy. A boy and an old man and a girl. The old man is holding out his hand. He's smiling at me. He doesn't look mean. He wants me to follow them. He knows I'm hungry. If I go with them maybe they will give me something to eat. I'm so hungry. Maybe I will follow.....

13 years later

It's a quiet day in town. No noise but the swirl of the fog in my ears and the cool autumn breeze as I walk leisurely through the park, fascinated by the colors of Fall. Many other people crowd the large space, mostly college students having lunch and studying as they enjoy the break from the scorching hot days of the past few weeks. But to me they are more or less background noise. I scans the crowd and smile when my eyes land on my three beautiful guardians. Christian, a boy my own age of twenty-one and a head taller with dark hair and shining green eyes, Tony, an old man, leaning heavily on a cane. He wears a hat and an old wool coat to buff out the cool breeze. Last is a little girl, around eight years old named Loretta. Most of the time she just stared off into space, but whenever she wanted to play, or when she knew I was having a hard time, she was as talkative as a bird.

"Hey, how was class?" Christian asks as I run to meet them. I let out a huff of air.

"It was boring, as usual. Not that it matters, I'm passing."

"Good, good," Tony praises, "Now we will have some down time."

Loretta jumps up and pulls on my sleeve, giving me an adorable smile.

"Does this mean you will play with me today?" She asks. I nod and she squeals with delight as she runs ahead. Tony, Christian and I begin toward the car garage at a slower pace, chattering animatedly as we do so.

As we pass people, I notice they stare or shoot strange looks our way and whisper to their acquaintances. It makes the hairs on my arms stand up. But people had been casting strange looks for years and I was well practiced in the art of ignoring them. My guess was that they were jealous and just wished they could have such awesome guardians as I myself did.

We pile into my car, and as I pull into the street, my cell rings.

"Hello?" I answer. Several loud voices echo through the speaker.

"Hey Cristine!" Chatter my two best friends, well, besides the three in the car with me.

"Hey Laura, Emily, what's up?" I ask. Loretta and Christian stick their heads between the seats.

"Hi guys!" Loretta squeals, unnecessarily loud.

"Hey Emily, we should get together sometime!" Christian yells over Loretta. I laugh.

"Did you hear them?" I ask.

"Uh, who?" Jane asks. I roll my eyes.

"Christian and Loretta, duh."

"Er, uh, yeah we uh-we heard them."

I laugh. My friends were so ditzy that most of the time they never listened when Christian or the others talked to them.

"Well we thought that we could get together and have lunch?" Emily says. I nod, forgetting that they can't see me and suddenly my mind feels very empty. I let my gaze wander over the road and to the warm blue sky through the sky-scrapers. White clouds drift by peacefully slow and an image of a room with the sky painted over the walls flashes in the back of my brain.

I jump, jerking the wheel violently as my phone blares loudly in my lap. I must've dropped it without realizing. I scramble to pick it up and cease the irritating noise .

"Hello?"

"Hey what happened? You weren't answering." Laura asks, worry clear in her voice.

"Oh, you know me, I zoned off. Sorry what were you guys saying?" I ask, adding a forced laugh that comes out way too shaky to be convincing.

"Uhm.....we were asking if you wanted to meet up for lunch. You know. So we could talk about.....things."

"Oh yes! Uh yeah sure lunch sounds good I'm starving. Where should I meet you?"

After deciding where to meet I try hard to focus on the road but Loretta and Tony begin to argue about something. Buth get irritated and start at Christian when he tries to keep the peace and pretty soon all of them are screaming at each other.

A migraine creeps it's way up my neck like a scorpion would raise its deadly tail and I try desperately to ignore them.

I pull up to Laura's apartment, casting irritated looks frequently toward the group that piles out after me, still screaming. Emily skips up to me.

"Hey, you okay?" She asks. I sigh.

"Their fighting again. It's giving me a headache."

Emily glances nervously behind me, then she smiles warily.

"Why don't you sit down and we can talk about it?" She asks. I nod distractedly and follow her to where Laura sits patiently, a sandwich in her hand. I sit down and play with a spoon sitting to my left and decide the clouds look pretty so I need study them. The way they float by peacefully puts me in a serene trance. My irritation grows when Loretta squeals loudly close to my ear, yanking me furiously from my daze. Laura and Emily ignore the whole thing as if it wasn't even happening, which annoyed me even more.

"So....." Emily says as she sits down and hands me a sandwich. I'm no longer very hungry.

"Laura and I were talking and we had an idea that we thought we should share with you."

I rest my head on my hand and prop my elbow on the table.

"Okay. What is it?"

They both exchange a look and I effectively attempt to ignore the steady pain in my head.

"Um...well we just thought that, you know, since you're getting older, and these people have been following you around for quite some time and-"

"Tony, Christian and Loretta, and their not just people. Their my guardians." I interrupt. Emily takes a deep breath and answers me as if I am a small child and have a hard time understanding.

"Right yes, your guardians. Well they've been around a long time and we just think that it might be time to get some help and have them...leave?"

My hand freezes on the spoon. Loretta and the others stop their useless argument and scoot closer to listen.

I finally drag my gaze away from the clouds and look Emily in the eyes.

"What do you mean leave? They can't leave their my family. My guardians. I need them."

"Christine! Their not even real! For the past thirteen years you've pretended like the person that killed your parents locked you away in some dark room in the middle of nowhere. We looked into it. You ran and hid in the closet and stayed there for days. And no one led you out of there. You found your way out on your own! It's all in your head!" Laura snaps.

"Not real? What the hell is she saying! You can't just kick us out Christine!" Christian yells. Tony agrees with him and both of them continue to chastise me, blending in with Laura's snappy tone and Emily trying to calm her down. All their voices meld together in a harsh, confused ensemble, with Loretta's voice ringing out in one long high pitched scream.

I cover my ears.

"Shut up." But the noise continues.

I close my eyes.

"Shut up. Shut up!" But the music still painfully tears through my brain.

I stand and scream.

"Shut up. Shut. Up. SHUT UP!"

Crash! Goes the glasses of ice tea and lemon. Crash! I throw the silverware and toss the glass plates. Crash! I knock over the table and stomp on the sandwiches. The scorpion plunges its tail into the back of my head and poison shoots through my bloodstream and out my mouth, adding to the force of my command.

Everyone is silent, except for Loretta who is still screaming.

I glare fiercely at the two girls, who I once called my friends, as they stare back in shock.

"How dare you! You call yourselves my friends and then you go and do this crap? Three years you've both been jabbing these thoughts at me, telling me they aren't real. Their right-freaking-there! You can see them! I know you can see them!"

Emily puts her hands up shakily as she walks around the table, as if she is trying not to frighten a wounded animal.

"Christine, honey we know it's hard for you. But we want you to get better. We called a physiatrist and he thinks that with time he can help you and you can get better."

Even as she is talking I am shaking my head and walking away.

"No. No there's nothing wrong with me. I'm normal! It's you two who are insane. This was a mistake. I'm leaving. I'm going to get as far away from here as I can."

I jump in my car and speed out of the parking lot. Emily runs after me, then gives up. I see her pull out what must be a cell phone and shiver. Time to go.

I get home and throw anything I need haphazardly into a bag, not waiting to zip it as I throw it in my trunk and not bothering to pick up the spilled items.

Twenty minutes later I am on the freeway out of town. Twenty minutes is to long.

To long. To long. To long!

I take a deep breath and try to calm my muddy thoughts but the mud clings like cobwebs and I can't shake them off. I want my guardians.

"Were right here Christine." A velvet covered voice whispers in my ear and I jump, looking over to find Christian sitting next to me.

"How did you get in here?" I ask nervously. He smiles.

"I'm your guardian honey. You needed me, you called, I answered. Isn't that all that matters?" He pats my hand comfortingly, immediately easing my nerves.

"I'm here to help you Christine. I'm here to keep you safe. Just focus on getting out of here. After we get out they won't be able find you."

Small arms wrap around my neck.

"And we can play all we want!" Loretta chimes. I catch Tony's nod in the back seat and smile in relief. They were right. I just needed to get away. My guardians would keep me safe.

My relaxation doesn't last long though. Alarms blare and I see blue and red lights flash brightly not very far behind me. Emily called the police? My friend hated me so much that she would not allow me this little sliver of happiness?

The lights begin to gain on me and I have no choice but to accelerate my own speed. I turn a sharp corner, coming close to the guard rail which is the only thing separating me and the steep drop into tall trees. Nervous, I swerve away, almost hitting another car, and over correct. We crash through the rail and suddenly the trees are flying towards us in a blurr. Glass shards stick in my skin and My head knocks hard against the steering wheel. I feel pain. Then nothing.

When I finally pry my eyes open It's dark. My lips are cracked and my throat is dry. A steady beep beep.....beep beep echoes through the dimly lit hospital room. Right then I wanted nothing more than a drink of water.

And just like that, There they were. Each one holding a bottle of water and a sandwich. They smile, beckon me to follow them to safety. And I do.....





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