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She stares like you have all the answers.
“What happened?” his mother cries, her nails digging into your shoulders. [i]She hates me[/i], you think, gazing into her burning eyes. Her family—his family— tries to unlatch her hands from your body, but instead, they morph into fists as she screams, “Where is my son?” Your eyes glide past her to the others. The disconnected—the people in the waiting room, a sea of anonymous faces—stare with the sick fascination usually reserved for car accidents and celebrities. To them, you’re just an unfortunate stranger. A nurse shoves you to the side, trying, but failing, to shield you from this woman's accusations. “What have you done to my baby?” Her sobs stretch around the wall protecting you and bring tears to your eyes. "Where is my [i]son[/i]?"
You look down at your hands; they’re shaking, you knew they'd be shaking. Your arms are covered in scratches, your face with bruises. Maybe if you stare at them a little longer, as your vision blurs from the heat of her words, all your memories will return. You may recall why you’re in this hospital, covered in wounds made by an accident you don’t remember. Perhaps it was all a dream.
Your hands don’t hold the answers. You stare at them for another ten minutes, long after Stephen’s mother has been dragged away to wherever it is that mothers of now-missing teenagers go. Eventually your grandmother taps you back to reality. You look at her like the lost little kid you are, searching her eyes for some semblance of why you were driving on that road when that bright light appeared out of nowhere, what happened to your best friend. Because her eyes don’t have the answers, you can only rest your head on her frail shoulder and cry.
You remember bits and pieces. You remember the color of his shirt (blue), his smile, the way he helped you sneak out of your house that night. He wanted you to be less of a goody-goody, more daring. "Someday you'll wish you had lived," he said. "Someday you'll realize what you've missed out on." You caved. He wanted to give you enough memories to last a lifetime, he said. You've always wondered...did he mean nightmares?
If you close your eyes, you can still recall that day at the beach when you were seven years old. One minute you’re building a sand castle and Stephen is running after his shovel, swept up in a wave. The next, he’s gone. His distraught mother organizes a search party; you and your grandmother are with her when it returns. The leader can only bow his head in silence and hand her a broken sandal. The next morning, Stephen reappears and it’s almost as though nothing ever happened.
After he returns, Stephen begins saying strange things. He wonders what will happen when he leaves, never to return. For weeks, he talks nonstop about this desire. Sometimes you catch him staring out the window at the ocean as you play inside. He doesn’t seem…here. Then one day, he stops talking about leaving. You think that’s the end, but maybe it was only the beginning.
Where were you that night? What happened? And where is Stephen? These questions are killing you, so you stop looking.
Stephen is all anyone can talk about for weeks, months, even. After that, his name fades into nothingness. He becomes [i]that [/i]kid, the one shrouded in mystery, an enigma. That, you remember, is something he always wanted to be, always was. You’re no closer to finding him than you were before.
You’ve always hated mysteries.
One night, you sneak into his room. Maybe it contains clues his parents couldn’t understand. You tear through every book (only five), flip through his iPod, scan underneath his bed. But of course, you knew better than that. Who keeps secrets there anymore?
You’re almost ready to give up when you notice a blue piece of paper sticking out from behind an Einstein poster on the wall. The blue paper isn’t what caught your attention; it’s the poster. Stephen hated anything involving math. Why would he have a scientific poster hanging on the wall? And why is the top left corner bent? You tiptoe next to the window and rip the poster from the wall. On the back are letters from an alphabet you don't recognize, scrawled in your friend’s handwriting. What the heck? You’ve never seen anything like this before. If you didn’t know better, you’d think…
A bright light begins to creep across the room. You drop the poster and it tumbles to the ground. A whirring sound surrounds you and you know what it is long before you turn. Resisting won’t help. The aliens have taken your best friend. Now they’ve come for you, too.