Chapter 2

My life was never the same after that. It became my greatest fear to fall asleep and wake up somewhere else. It was this fear and Jamieís badgering that kept me from telling my parents what was happening. I continued waking up tired, and just dealt with it, hoping that if I let them do their thing Iíd be able to continue my average existence during the day.

Every morning for the next week, though, I woke up in my own bed. I felt tired, but quite at home. And every night I prayed to God that Jamie and Kale wouldnít find what they were looking for. The week after that, I kept on praying, and I kept on waking up at home.

"Now I lay me down to sleep.

I pray my Lord my soul to keep.

If I should move Ďfore I should wake,

I pray the Lord return me safe."

You already know what happened next. One night I didnít pray. And one morning I didnít wake up in my own home, my own bed. The first thing that struck me was the noise, and the repetitive movement of the hard surface beneath me. The awful stench came next, and then the whole room lurched around me, and sunlight streamed onto my face. My eyes opened immediately.

"What?" I cried in surprise and fear, not recognizing my surroundings at all.

"Where am I? Where have you taken me?"

"Relax, shrimp, youíre perfectly safe. Nothing to worry about."

"You didnít answer my question, Kale."

"Where does it look like we are?"

I surveyed my surroundings, a smelly old train cart, I realized. There were a lot of boxes piled up on one side, and the ground was dirty. I walked over to the door and pushed it open to see rolling hills flying by, and the early morning sun brightly lighting the sky. But it didnít answer my question at all.

"Where are we going?"

"Youíre too uptight, shrimp, just relax and enjoy the ride."

"You took me away from my home and you expect me to relax? I donít even know where I am! Or where Iím going! Do we have any money? Do we have any food? Iíll end up starving to death out here if Iím not murdered by some psycho, first! You IDIOTS!"

"Deep breaths, precious, youíre hyperventilating."

I did take deep breaths, and paced around the small floor area in a rage. My face was burning with anger and indignation over the simple fact that there was nothing I could do. I wanted to rant, and shout, and I wanted to hurt someone, one of the idiots responsible for my current predicament. Preferably Kale as this must be all his fault since Jamie had never done anything against my will. But yelling wouldnít help, they didnít listen. And I couldnít hurt them, not unless I hurt myself, and even then I wasnít sure they would feel anything.

At length my boiling blood cooled and I sat down, still a little bitter, but not raving mad anymore. I took a few more deep breaths before speaking again.

"I take it you found something."

"Of course."

"What?"

"A clue."

"Where?"

"Youíll find out when we get there."

"Why donít you just tell me now?"

"We donít want to fight against you. If we told you now you would try to stop us."

"What if I promise not to?"

"You wonít."

"There isnít anything I could do to stop you, anyway."

"True."

"We donít want to deceive you, precious, but you must understand that this is your destiny."

"If thatís true then why donít you let me do it? If itís my destiny, then I donít have a choice in the matter, and Iíll end up bringing all of you together whether I want it or not. Why do you need to help destiny along?"

"Itís your destiny to be used by us to fulfil our destiny."

"Kale, donít be so rude. Youíll understand, when youíre older, precious. Please, donít question us now. Go back to sleep, precious, you look so tired. We will wake you when we get there."

"And whose fault is it that I look so tired?" But despite whose fault it was, I was tired. So I did go back to sleep. It might have been a mistake, but there wasnít anything I would have been able to do if I had been awake. I was nine years old. I grew up in a small town. I didnít know anything about the world. If it werenít for Jamie and Kale I would be dead now. If it werenít for Jamie and Kale, I would be in a small, back water town doing grunt work at some general store and going about my average, boring life. Part of me is grateful, and part of me hates them. Itís really an amusing contradiction. But at nine years old, alone, hungry, and cold, all of me hated them.

Because it did get cold. And I was getting to that. When I woke up I was colder than I had ever been before. Only then did I realize that I was wearing one of my sweaters that my grandmother had knit for my brother when I was fouróhe never did wear it. Still, I was freezing. I could see my breath as I shivered in that boxcar.

"Oh, good, youíre already awake."

"Where are we?"

"Look outside, itís beautiful."

I pushed the door open a little farther, and was met by the most amazing thing I had seen in all my life. If Sunday school hadnít pounded it into my head already, then I would never question again whether God really existed or not. They had, and I did, but thatís not important to the story right now. I could scarcely breathe and for a moment I was convinced I was dead. I was dead and this was Heaven. Then I remembered it was cold, and it should not be this cold in Heaven.

"What is it?" I asked out loud, staring at the landscape around me.

"This is snow, precious."

"Moron."

Snow must be the most beautiful and perfect thing in the world. Iíve been around a lot more than I ever wanted to, and Iíve seen a lot of things. Some were beautiful and some were not. But nothing ever compared to the first time I saw snow. The ground was covered with it, and sparkled under the evening sun. The trees were covered with it, branches bowing under the weight. Birds skittered about near the trees, leaving thin prints in it. Gentle gusts of wind would pick up thin layers of the crystals and blow them across the land in a breath taking display of grace and agility.

And everything was shattered by the loud, coarse whistle of the train. I leaned out of my car a little to look down the tracks, and saw that we were almost at a townóa town just as snow covered as the rest of the land was, but a town nonetheless. The thought that I could find help there struck me and a small smile began to tug at my lips.

"Jump, shrimp."

"What?"

"I said, jump!"

"Are you crazy? Donít answer that, I know you are. But you want me to jump? I could get myself killed!"

"Precious, youíll be fine, the snow will catch you."

I eyed the white stuff on the ground with wariness. As beautiful as it was, it was still a foreign substance. Iíd only ever heard of it before, and not often at that. I didnít have any experience with snow, or trains, for that matter. But one of my cousins once fell out of a car, and he was in the hospital for two weeks afterwards, so I knew this wasnít something that I wanted to do.

"Jump."

And I jumped. I closed my eyes, griped the door and the frame tightly with my fingers on either side of me, and just pushed myself off the floor and away from the train. What possessed me to do such a crazy thing, Iím not quite sure. But when Jamie wants me to do something, I do it. I donít ask questions, I just do. Woman will always be manís downfall.

I rolled across the snow, which did soften my fall quite a bit, and when I came to a stop the train was already rolling away and I was mostly intact. My nose was bleeding, and my hands were a little scratched up, and my clothes were quickly soaking through with freezing water, but I was alive.

"Can you stand, precious?"

I stood, feeling a little sore, but nothing was broken. Maybe my mother was right when she called me lucky. Despite the protesting of my stiff limbs, I started walking to the town a few moments later.

There is something else Iíve learned about the world. Everything that is beautiful is in turn dangerous or harmful in some way. The stars in the sky are some of the most beautiful and wondrous things you could ever see, but without the protection of the atmosphere, the heat from the nearest oneóour sunówould boil us down to nothing more than our base elements, and probably do a good job destroying those. A wasp has a beautiful, slick yellow and black jacket, but when annoyed it attacks and through a small needle injects enough poison into a person to, in the best case, produce a small, irritated welt and, in the worst case, instigate a highly allergic reaction leading to death. Snow was no exception to this rule, as I now found.

As has already been said, I was sore, I was cold, I was soaked with freezing water that had come from snow. While Jamie and Kale were considerate enough to dress me in long pants and a sweatshirt they had forgotten what in my opinion is a very important part of the wardrobe. My shoes. My feet were absolutely freezing, and turning red from the cold. The snow I was tramping through was, in turn, making them colder. And further, the tiny crystals of ice which I soon learned the snow was made of (after Kale called me a moron again) dug into the bottom of my frozen feet in the most uncomfortable of ways.

So I was miserable the entire trudge into town. This did, however, make me very pleased when I finally reached town, and I quickly found the first place that looked hospitable that I could go in.

It was a lounge, the windows fogged up from the warmth inside. I stumbled into the warm, cheery room half dead with exhaustion, sore everywhere and specifically on my feet, freezing and shivering, hungry, tired, and with a killer headache caused by two pleased spirits living in my head who just wouldnít shut up. I half expected to be shot on sight, I couldnít have looked better than that rabid dog in my home town. I wasnít, though, obviously.

It felt like a dream, to suddenly be warm after stumbling through the cold and snow for at least an hour, though it might have been closer to two. It was dark out now, but that isnít a terribly important point. A large man stood behind the counter, and he saw me come in. His face immediately filled with some emotion I couldnít identifyómost likely some collaboration of pity and disgustóand bustled over after snapping a few words at a fourteen year old boy who was lounging on the steps nearby.

He led me across the room to where a fire was burning invitingly in the fireplace, and had me sit down once heíd wrapped me in the blanket the boy brought. Iím sure he spoke to me, but I was practically asleep on my feet and didnít retain a word of it. I donít remember anything between some point where I was staring mindlessly into the living flames, and when I woke up in a small bed some time later.

So where were we? That was exactly the thought on my mind when I woke up that morning, in a bed that was definitely not my own. Well, that and will you two please shut up, some of us are trying to sleep? But they didnít shut up so that thought is rather inconsequential and I got up to find out where I was.

"Where are ya?" Obviously, I had found my way to the lounge area again, and the big man behind the counter seemed to find it quite amusing that I didnít know where I was. "Pretty hard to get to Weyburn, Saskatchewan accidentally!"

I blinked, "Weyborn what?" I asked, scratching my head with bemusement, "What state is that in?"

The man laughed, he must have thought I was joking. I wasnít. "Youíve got to be kidding me, kid! Saskatchewan ainít a state! Where do ya think you are, the United States?"

"ErÖ" That happened to be exactly where I thought I was.

"This here is the town of Weyborn, only a few miles north of the border!"

"The border?" I asked timidly, my gut tying itself in knots.

"The U.S. border, kid! Didnít ya know you were in Canada?" The man only laughed again at my blank look, "Thatís rich! Howíd ya get here without even knowing it?"

"IÖ I fell asleep on my train," I muttered, "Must have missed my stop or somethingÖ"

"Ah, thatís really too bad, kid," the man said. He wasnít laughing now, though his large blue eyes were still shining, "Look, if you donít have anywhere to stay you can sleep here for a few nights, least until ya figure something out, eh?"

"Thank you," I said, smiling with relief.

"No problem! Say, whatís your name, kid?"

"Oh, Vió"

"Donít give him your real name, moron!"

"Why shouldnít I give him my real name? Itís mine to give!"

"Weíre not ready to go home yet, precious."

"So what do you want me to tell him?"

"A fake name!"

"An alias."

"You want me to lie?"

"Yes! Now tell him your name isÖ Vincent."

"Vincentó"

"Marlin, I always liked that name."

"Thatís duó"

"Marlin." I finished, my face flushing red as I blocked out Kale and Jamieís argument.

I should now make something perfectly clear, if I havenít already. I came from a small, dust ball of a town in the middle of Arizona. There was one school, and there was one church, and all the kids in town attended them both. If you missed a day of church youíd get at least twelve people poking around your house, asking where youíd been on Sunday and why werenít you in church. I was born and raised to denounce the Devil, and to hate evil. I was taught not to steal, lie, or cheat least the Devil steal my soul and bury it beneath hot tar. Of course, I had told my share of tales, but not when it was something serious. It just felt wrong to tell this man that Victor Trump was Vincent Marlin, and I could imagine the Devil standing in front of me grinning his evil grin and hoisting a shovel over his shoulder. Heíd holler down to all his demonic servants, "Oi! Weíve got another one! Start boiling the tar!"

"Vincent Marlin, eh?" His blue eyes looked so trusting and I felt my insides twist again with guilt. He stuck out a hand, "Well, itís a pleasure to meet you, Vincent! My nameís Jack Barley, and I run this here lodge."

"Itís a pleasure to meet you, too," I managed to force out as he exuberantly shook my hand. This story isnít about Jack, but he was good to me so I felt he needed a mention. The world is a frightening place for a nine year old, especially one that grew up as sheltered as me. I felt like I was completely dependent on the two psychotic voices residing in my brain, but Jack provided a refreshing change.

I didnít stick around Weyborn long, and when I left I had a pair of boots on my feet that I didnít remember getting. We walked west until we ran upon a frozen river, and thatís where we stopped. I donít recall how it happened. I just remember waking up, freezing and soaking wet. My skin was pale and stiff and I had a perpetual cough. I swore I was going to die, then, but I didnít.

I happened to be picked up by someone. I happened to be picked up by Jack Barley, who was concerned when I vanished like I did, without telling anyone where I was going. He gave me a good lecture, most of which I didnít hear, and brought me back to his lodge. You can guess what happened next.

I dreamt. Of burning houses, and burning people. Whole forests burning under a sea of molten rock. Babies screamed, and no one was fast enough to get away. Fire crawling along the ground, and ashes falling from the sky like rain. Like snow. I woke up sweating from more than just the fever, and I saw the snow falling outside my window. It was the middle of the day when I woke, and small white pieces of snow were falling down the window.

I thought I was hallucinating, that my nightmare was warping with reality in the hours before my death. I was growing far too accustomed to the idea of death. But I wasnít dead yet, and I wasnít hallucinating, either.

"Itís snow, precious."

I laughed in my delirium, hardly believing that I was hearing Jamie at all. Of course, then again, who was Jamie but a figment of my imagination?

"How can that be snow? It isnít on the ground! Itís flying through the air!"

"Itís falling. Snow falls from the clouds, like rain."

"Snow fallingÖ fallingÖ fallingÖ Jamie?"

"Yes, precious?"

"I donít feel well."

"I know."

"It wasnít my fault!"

"Shut up, Kale."

Kale promptly shut up and I had a feeling I had missed out on a conversation or two.

"It will be alright, precious, youíll be just fine."

I fell back on my pillow, the dream already forgotten amongst my fever and the strangeness of seeing snow fall from the sky. I watched it through half lidded eyes, it looked as beautiful as ever.

"Go to sleep now, precious, youíre tired."

I went to sleep. And I slept a very long time. I didnít wake for another two days, not until after the fever finally broke and my body recovered enough. Jack said it was amazing that I hadnít died of pneumonia. I donít rightly know if the first time I heard him was only after I recovered or if I had heard him in the deliriums of my fever, but it seemed like the first time I heard him that day. They were arguing again, trying to decide what we all should do now.

"Whatís the use in hanginí around here? We know there isnít anyone else weíre going to find here!"

"We will stay here one more week. Precious needs time to recuperate."

"The shrimpís fine! Hell, heís walking around already! He doesnít need more time."

"I have said weíll stay one more week and we will stay one more week. It wonít do any harm."

"Well I say we leave tomorrow!"

"Nobody cares what you say, Kale."

I groaned, feeling my headache coming back, and with friends.

"GuysÖ"

"People! People! Come on! Love! Peace! Turtles!"

It was the strangest thing. It seemed as if everything went silent. The bickering of Kale and Jamie came to an abrupt halt and even the sounds of the Ďreal worldí faded out around me. Time could have stopped for all I knew. And then reality came rushing back and I found myself banging my head against the nearest wall repeatedly.

"Precious, sweetie, what are you doing?"

"DumbÖ mustÖ killÖ shut up!" I muttered incoherently with each bang of my head against the wood.

"Hey, moron! Show a little respect to this fine establishment!"

"Kale, youíre not helping. Precious, calm down. Come on, now, deep breaths. Thatís it, just calm down and take a seat. Whatís bothering you now?"

I grudgingly sat on the sofa, my head really throbbing again now. No doubt there was a nice red mark in the middle of my forehead, and I vaguely noted the wet presence of blood, but really none of it mattered at the moment. All that mattered is what I heard, and the ever-calm and sugar-sweet voice of Jamie trying to cajole me into telling her what was wrong even though she already knew.

That was the thing about Jamie, though. If you knew her as long as I had you would realize this. She doesnít need to be told how you feel or whatís going on. You get the kind of feeling that she must know everything, and not just about you. I was convinced after knowing her for only a month that she knew all about everything in the entire universe. And yet she still asked me. This is one of the main things Iíve always liked about Jamieóshe made me feel important, somehow. I sighed resignedly.

"So. Whoís the newest member of my internal circus?"

"Well he doesnít have aó"

"I know, I know, he doesnít have a name. He doesnít remember it. Of course, God forbid he actually be somewhat normal."

"PreciousÖ"

"Alright, so what, is he shy? Hey mister turtle-joy arenít you going to say anything about all this?"

"What am I supposed to say? Donít smoke and I donít want to be named Ted?"

I would have started hitting my head again but as I was sitting on the sofa I didnít have any hard surfaces readily available. I coped by putting my face in my hands and groaning again as if in pain. Life really wasnít fair at all. This one seemed crazier than the others, and so I set to the tedious task of picking a name for himówhich, of course, heíd hate but grudgingly accept anyway.

"Fine, donít say anything. How about Greg?"

"Greg? Greg? Dude, do I sound middle-aged or what? Is my hair thinning out already? Jeez, kid, you really know how to beat a guy when heís down!"

I raised an eyebrow. He was whining. The voice in my head whined. Great.

"Okay so you donít like Greg. How about Edward."

"Youíre breaking my heart, babyÖ"

"Donít be so dramatic. How about Ed."

"I like it."

"I hate it."

"Iíll take it! Short, sweet, sexy!"

"ErÖ"

"Ed, you and I need to have a talk about age appropriatenessÖ"

"Hey, whatever you say J-bird."

"Donít ever call me that again."

And thus Ed was christenedÖ Ed. As I learned over the next week (since we didnít move on much to Kaleís chagrin) Ed was a veryÖ interesting bloke. You know all that stuff nobody ever says? Well, he says that. You can always count on Ed to have some cheesy comment ready to spout, especially if it in anyway pertains to love, peace, or turtles. Either that or heíll say something completely random. He definitely redefines the word Ďcrazy.í

I liked him, though. With him around I found myself smiling a lot more. Heíd crack dumb jokes at a momentís notice and could always get an amusing response from Jamie and Kale. He knew exactly what buttons to press. His voice was smooth and loud and I imagined that if he were a person he would be the coolest man alive. Well, until he opened his mouth at least. He was an idiot (as Kale pointed out several times a day) but a nice idiot (as Jamie would frequently add).

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