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Catching Up

Catching Up Mike clicked send on the email, and with that he was done with high school. He had just tested out of all of the required courses at his former place of education. He could have gone back to the public high school in the fall now that St. Adelaide’s was kind of... not there anymore, but he didn’t really see the point. It might even draw more attention to himself than he wanted. Mike Miller had only been an average student at best, what would the teachers think if he suddenly came back with straight A’s? He wasn’t even sure he could fake anything less. Sitting back in his desk chair, Mike tried not to wince at the squeak and stared up at the ceiling. It was easier, the atoms of the ceiling moved less than the zippy electrical signals from the computer. He remembered how much Mike Miller used to like video games. Now there was so much going on behind the monitor that he couldn’t focus for more than five minutes before he needed a lie-down and an aspirin. Everything moved. Always. Atoms and quarks and bits even smaller than that, buzzing and humming and it made him so tired. He didn’t leave his room if he could help it. Too much noise, too much movement. Nihil hadn’t had this problem. He hadn’t cared. That had been the world to him; he hadn’t known any different. Buttercup had also gotten by just fine. She’d been able to block out the movement, but she’d had years and years of practice. He didn’t want to wait years and years. In all honesty, he just wanted thing to go back to the way they were. But that simply wasn’t possible anymore. That had been half of Abigail’s experiment, he was sure: seeing how a person reacted to an entirely new reality. It was the reason she had allowed Cindy and Tommy to make him remember. Though she wasn’t watching him at this very moment, and hadn’t been since she and Victor had fled into the night, she would certainly come back for him soon. At this point, he wasn’t even sure if he would put up a fight. What was the point? Mike Miller would have had a bone to pick with her, after everything she’d done to him, and Doug, and Jilli... What he’d done to Jilli... But nothing mattered. None of this was truly real in a way that really mattered. It was bleak, sure. Even Doug might have raised an eyebrow at that. Mike wondered just where Doug was now... What does it really matter? Nihil seemed to ask him from over his shoulder. What does anything matter? Why not just close your eyes and go to sleep for forever? Because then his mom would be sad. It was a silly reason, he knew that. But if he went away, his mom would cry. And after everything she’d been through, after all the hard things she’d had to do to give him and Cindy a good home? He couldn’t put her through that pain of losing a child again.

In her head, he mattered to her, and he didn’t want to take that away from her. Eventually, he’d have to explain to her why he wasn’t aging, but he didn’t want to think about that right now. He still had some time left. Mike looked older, anyway, even if he really wasn’t. Though it still had some boyish roundness that he supposed would never leave now, his eyes had lost their former spark, his cheeks their rosiness. That put a couple of years on him easily. Looking over at the clock—and having to focus on it for a solid thirty seconds—Mike realized that he’d been lost very deeply in thought. He’d been staring up at the ceiling for a good half-an-hour. His mom would call him down to dinner soon. He thought he remembered her saying that Tommy was coming over tonight. Good. That would take some of the pressure off of him to act normally. Tommy was one of those people naturally gifted at keeping a conversation going for as long as necessary. Mike Miller would have admired him a great deal. A shame he never got to meet him. Mike was just about to get up and try to ignore the sounds of his tendons straining, when he received a text message. The vibration wasn’t on—it sent little waves of agony through his head—nor did the screen light up. He could tell just by the slight pulse of the electrical current inside his cell phone. Mike braced himself and picked it up. At first he thought his ability to make out the surface-level visuals of the small square were just worse than usual. But now, with a second glance, he was positive. An unknown number had just sent him a series of digits, divided specifically with degrees and apostrophes and the like. Coordinates. He knew that was what they must be immediately. And probably close, by the specificity in seconds attached to the end. Mike Miller would have pondered the danger of following them. Nihil may have ignored it all together. Right now, however, he was just sick of them bickering in his head. He was going. It wasn’t even a question. What was the worst that could happen? He’d die. Highly unlikely in theory, but rather pleasant in thought. Standing up, he grabbed a pair of sunglasses and a sweatshirt—for when the sun went down—and left the room. Normally going out into the light and noise was a tricky endeavor, but when their was a goal involved, it was much easier. And maybe some of Mike Miller’s curiosity had crept back into his head as well. His mother was in the kitchen just to the left of the stairs. As she heard him coming, she stuck her head out of the doorway. “Mike,” she blinked as he passed. “Dinner’s going to be ready soon.” “Sorry,” he turned back briefly. “Something came up. I’ll be back in a minute.” “But—” “Don’t wait for me.”

He closed the door behind him before she could say anything else. Mike knew he was being rude, but if his suspicions were correct this message was more important than a missed dinner. For most people, getting out of the house and into the outside could be comforting, could allow them to clear their heads. For Mike it was nearly oppressive. So many noises and lights and everything else that assaulted his senses. But he tried his best to block it all out. He tried to see the surface of things, as other people see them, not the building blocks beneath. Focus on the coordinates. Even though he was now innately in touch with the inherent placement of the earth, he was still terrible with directions. Mike pulled out his phone and typed in the coordinates given. He had been right, it was very close by, at the phone tower just outside of town. Mike knew how to get there. All along the way he stuck to the shadows of the trees as much as he could, and jumped slightly at moving cars. The houses meandering down the streets looked nearly identical. He could see why they’d been designed that way. It was like a factory line, incredibly efficient, you could make a lot more in the same amount of time that way. Easy. Maybe a little sad too. But soon enough the small, clumped together abodes gave way to bigger McMansions with large, open yards. And then, just as the sun began to dip downwards, there was the telephone tower, nearly hidden among the hills. The wind blew louder around here, it was almost... peaceful. Almost. At least the bits of matter were moving in generally the same direction. The maintenance ladder was pulled up and out of reach, dangling a good fifty feet over his head. It blended right into the dark, metal framework, just another part of the tangled creation of metal. The only way to access it was a key-powered mechanism. But that was fine. Mike didn’t need it. Grabbing the lowest beam, Mike easily hoisted himself up the six or so feet like it was no different than closing a window. Once he was firmly balanced on the narrow metal, he reached up again, and in this manner scaled the entire bottom half of the tower, all the way up to the maintenance platform. And it was up at that great height, where the wind nearly threatened to blow him off and away entirely, that he found a cellphone duck-taped firmly around one of the main steel supports. Not just any phone, either. It was one of those old, nearly indestructible Nokias that you could just about take a jackhammer to and still make calls afterwards. He knew what it was doing here. Clearly, it had been left for him. With a sneaking suspicion of just who would be on the other end, Mike sighed and ripped the duck-tape away. Predictably, it promptly began to ring. The number was unknown, of course. He waited for a moment; he wanted to leave them hanging for a little while. Then he took the call. The speaker on the other end did not wait for him. “Hello, Nihil,” she said, and he could hear the smile on her face. “Or do you go by Mike again?” “I don’t care,” he responded simply, trying not to grind his teeth. “Ooo, so hostile,” she giggled. “Do you hate me, Nihil? Do you hate how I killed Mike? How I killed Jilli? Oh wait,” she interrupted as he opened his mouth. “That’s right. You’re the one who killed her.” The volume of her laugh made the phone crackle. Mike sighed, trying to focus on the wind around him, all blowing in one, uniform direction. “What do you want?” “Want? Oh, Mike, you wound me! I don’t want anything at all. I’m just finally back in town and decided to say hello. I missed you.” “Missed me?” his lip crinkled in disgust. “I created you,” she whispered. “You’re like one of my children. What mother doesn’t miss her child?” He nearly dropped the phone. But he didn’t. “Don’t you miss it too?” she asked, and for a second, he nearly felt her eyes on him. “Not having to think, or feel. You can have that again. You just have to do exactly what I tell you. The world must be so hard for you to exist in. Why not just let it all go?” “I—” his throat was dry. No words would come out. “I’ll be in touch soon. Think about it Nihil.” She hung up. For a while, Mike just stood there, unable to move. He abhorred her, and every word from her mouth sent shivers down his spine. And yet, if he looked deep down, and really, truly allowed himself to feel, he discovered a rather ugly truth. That she was right.

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