Iota's Midnight Part I

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I traipse across the deserted sidewalk, my breath forming puffs of smoke in the cold, winter air. My face is numb; Seattle in January is not the opportune time for walking to dinner.

Dan and Shelly walk behind me, talking about the scandal between Lea and Fuzz. The normal teenage drawl. Lately, it's been infecting my friends, one by one, until all they seem to talk about are romances and each other.

The epidemic hasn't caught me yet, though. I couldn't care less about whom and what and when and where. Sure, it pains me no one talks about me like that, but it's all for the best, I guess. I don't want to be a part of the stereotype that a woman needs a man to be complete in life.

We continue down the walkway, dressed in simple jeans, turtlenecks, and warm coats. It's not long before the five of us arrive in front of La Bella's Italian Restaurant.

'I'll go check the wait,' Fuzz says, and darts into the bustling building, his long brown trench in tow. The rest of us huddle outside the restaurant, shivering quietly and stuffing our hands into our pockets to keep from freezing them off.

'What's going on?' Lea asks distractedly, glaring at Fuzz inside as he talks to the head waitress, flashing his whitened smile. I can tell it's going to be a long wait. I open my mouth to say something, but Dan beats me to the punch.

'What? You mean, what's goin' on with us, or what's goin' on between Fuzz and that chick?'

'Both. Mainly, the latter.'

'Don't worry about it,' I soothe, rubbing Lea's back. 'It's all a fling. He's not going to do anything majorly stupid. I mean, we're only here for another week. What could possibly happen?'

'A lot, Mel. A lot.' Dan eyes me, scrunching his brow together. I punch him in the shoulder; Lea needs the reassurance. He backs away, and after a minute of silence, Fuzz walks out the door, the scent of garlic bread and salad dressing wafting outside.

'Hour wait outside. Then at least another twenty minutes inside,' he says, shaking a blond strand of hair from his face. 'Any other day I'd wait, but it's cold enough to freeze hell over, so I'd say let's move on.' I hear Shelley groan; she loves Italian food. But, Fuzz is right about the weather, so we walk on, crossing the street and clunking over a small stone bridge.

'Dude, where are we going? There's not another place to eat down here for three miles!' Dan says, checking the tourist map we picked up back at the hotel. 'Unless you like Outback.' Lea and I cringe; we're vegetarians.

'Why not go the center mall? They've got food,' I reply, glancing around. There's no one on the street except the six o'clock traffic and a few stray bikers training for the Seattle to Portland.

'Sounds good to me,' Fuzz says, and we all continue down to the mall.

It's about a mile to the mall as the crow flies, giving me plenty of time to text Jeremy back at the hotel. He got a bad case of food poisoning at the Thai place yesterday night, so he couldn't come along with us. He informs me that the bathroom's wallpaper is starting to creep him out, and that the toilet will need to be cleaned later on. I laugh, and tell him we're going to the mall, and that I'll pick him up some sprite and soda crackers, if I can find any.

Pretty soon, we come to the entrance of the Pavilion Mall. It's huge and scarily intimidating, all five stories of it. The food court is on the fourth floor. I notice it's the Vietnamese New Year from the scarlet and yellow banners erupting from the glass walls on either side of us. We all climb onto the escalator and ascend to an array of fast food kiosks.

'I'm getting a salad from Buster's. You want one?' asks Lea; I nod, handing her a five and instructions to get me a peach Snapple. The guys and Shelley head over to a Chinese noodle place and give the server gal their orders. A little while later, Lea returns with a salad and a drink, and we find somewhat clean seats over by the penny fountain.

We eat in silence until the others gather around with their steaming food.

'Did you get the wontons or the wasabi stuff?' asks Fuzz to Dan. He points at his plate, to which Fuzz steals a piece of chicken and stuffs it in his mouth before Dan can object.

Shelley picks up some chopsticks and digs into her rice without soy sauce, happy to get some nourishment after a full day of driving around and recording stuff for our English projects at school. We're from eastern Washington state, but came to Seattle for a science competition.

I eye Dan as he shovels veggies into his mouth, not bothering to chew them as he swallows them down, creating a second Adam's apple down his throat.

'Chew, Danny. Chew the food.' I roll my eyes as he sticks his tongue out at me. I nibble on my salad like a baby rabbit, savoring the taste of Caesar dressing on romaine lettuce.

'So, how's things between you two?' Lea asks Shelley and Dan, while gazing over at Fuzz, who has managed to drip something down his navy button-down shirt.
'Fine,' Dan says between veggie bites. 'We're sailing along.' Shelley stares confusedly at him. He shrugs, then returns to his carrots. She sniffs reflexively, staring down at what's left of her dinner.

'How're things between you two?' Dan fires back as he wipes soy sauce from the corner of his mouth. 'I assume you've gotten over the'you know. Thing. Right?' I can tell he's drowning in his words.

'Things between us?' Lea asks, turning her head up. 'Nonexistent.' She smiles, and then walks over to dump her dinner in the trash. Ouch.

Fairly soon, we all finish eating, dump our stuff, and head down the escalator. It comes as an unwelcome surprise when the cold air outside meets our warmed up bodies, and we walk a little faster, trying to get back home. Dan checks his map every fifteen seconds or so, and stops us as we come to an intersection.

'You know, we could shave a couple minutes off our time if we cut across this lot,' he says, pointing out towards our right. 'Course, you guys will probably just want to go back the way you came. It'd be easier. I mean, less of a workout on the thighs.' I shake my head in disagreement.

'I'll go back that way,' I say, pointing to the lot. 'I need to get out of this meat locker.'

Shelley, Lea, and Fuzz look a little hesitant. I hypothesize that Fuzz wants to go with Lea, the kind and considerate cheater that he is. Lea recently had a leg injury, so she would rather walk the long, easy way. Shelley is not the most fit person in the group. They all motion towards the sidewalk.

'How about Danny and I go through the lot, and you guys walk the other way?' I ask, compromising. 'We'll see who gets back to the hotel first.' I know that this will intrigue Dan and Fuzz; they've always been competitive, even in kindergarten, when they both hurt themselves trying to see who could swing the highest.

'Works for me,' Fuzz says, the others nodding in agreement. All except for Lea.

'Don't you think this is a little unsafe, you guys? I mean, it's Seattle, and it's after dark. Do you really think we should split up?' I can sense the tension in her voice.

'It's fine. No one's going to come and mug us. Besides, we have two very able and strong men to protect us.' I motion to Fuzz and Dan. Lea rolls her eyes, but quietly and quickly caves. When the intersection sign motions for us to walk, we break off silently, each trying to get back to the hotel before the other.

Dan and I walk side by side through the vacant lot, a single street lamp flickering on and off in the distance. A couple times, I glance up at his face, hidden behind thick, curly, dark brown tresses. I've always secretly liked his hair. It's pretty awesome.
'So, sailing along, huh?' I say, bumping quietly into Dan. 'Very original.'

He doesn't look at me as he answers. 'Yeah. Pretty much. It's getting kind of boring, though. It's like we're just friends who say they're together, but really aren't you know?'

'I know.' I look straight ahead, focusing on a line of evergreens blocking the lot from the street view. They stand tall and black, casting ominous shadows across the pavement, like thick and dangerous soldiers, ready to attack out of the blue, at any moment. Their spindly branches quiver in the frosty night air. I can almost envision men hiding behind them, waiting to mug us. Then I realize I'm just being silly, letting my imagination play games with me head'

'Curb!'

'What? Oh, God!' I trip on a cement curb, crashing down hard on the asphalt. For a moment, I'm completely in shock, not feeling anything except a coldness in my neck. But then, then the pain. My left arm throbs near the elbow.

'Dan?' I cry, but it's all black. I can't see anything. I realize my eyes are clamped shut. I open them slowly, and I'm on the ground, on my side, half on the curb, and half off. Dan is hovering over me, his eyes frantically searching mine. He analyzes how badly I'm hurt.

'Can you get up? Don't try too fast.' He grabs me from under the shoulders, and with his assistance, I manage into an awkward standing position. Tears of pain fall off my cheeks, and I let out a whimpering noise from the back of my throat. Cradling my left arm with my right, I turn around to face him.

'Let's get going,' I manage. 'I need to get out of here.' He nods, and we hurry towards the edge of the lot. The flickering street light is over here, and as we walk under it, it extinguishes, leaving us in more darkness.

Reflexively, I lean into Dan, really feeling vulnerable. He carefully puts his arm around my shoulder. Suddenly, I hear rustling coming from the line of trees. Adrenaline courses through me, and I bite my lip, controlling my fear.

Dan calls out, and the rustling stops. We look at each other; even though we can hardly see, we know that someone's hiding there.

'Hello?' Dan calls again. I spot a glimmer of light reflecting off another street light. It's shiny and thin, and immediately, a gun comes to my mind.

'No!' I scream, running the opposite direction, and pulling Danny with me.

That's when I hear a shot. It rings clear and clean, but we keep running. More shots fire. But we keep going. We run for what seems like forever. I feel sluggish, and start slowing. Dan runs with me, and slows with me. He looks over, and his eyes widen. I look confusedly at him.

That's when I sense it. There's coldness in my side. I place a pale hand over it, and take it off. Even in the nearly midnight blackness, I can see the dark stain on my hand. Vertigo sets in, and Dan's contorted face begins to push and pull.

I crumple to the ground in a heap, the dizziness intensifying. Oddly enough, I can't feel any pain. Just the coldness.

'Melanie!' Dan shouts, bending down. 'Melanie!' I see the panic in his face, but only for a minute. Then, the landscape starts to spin, and I can only see the sky. I hear Dan's voice, but it's coming through something thick, like a towel or a blanket.

Then I black out, and feel the coldness melt away. A light shines in my eyes, a thousand times brighter than the sun. I can't look away; I'm lost in the brilliance and warmth of the light'

Something's happening, but I can't tell what's going on. It's not like heaven, but it's not like hell. And it's sure not like earth.

Something's happening. And it's very different.





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