The very moment that Dylan opened his eyes that morning, he could feel that something was different. Just as some people feel from time to time that they are being watched, Dylan felt that he was being watched, from all sides at once. And not only that, he felt as though every person watching him was also talking about him. He couldn’t literally see or hear anything strange, but it was if he had suddenly acquired some new sense. He felt sure that he was either being carefully examined and scrutinized, or he was losing his mind. The feeling was so strong that there could be no other alternatives. I’m losing my mind!
Dylan sat up and looked around from side to side. The room was well-lighted by the sun; it’s morning rays streamed through the window. No one could possibly be watching him without his noticing. Hidden cameras? He wondered. Dylan started humming a nameless tune that he made up on the spot. He put his hands over his ears to try and block out all sound. Nothing helped. If anything, the sense was getting more and more strong as the seconds dragged on. He no longer felt that he was being watched by some unknown source. Even the walls are watching, he realized. His discarded clothes from the day before, the ceiling, the bird in the tree outside the window, the very air. Everything was buzzing with excitement, happy to see him.
Dylan realized that even if he weren’t crazy yet, he was being overwhelmed. Tears sprang suddenly and unbidden to his eyes.
“What’s going on?” he cried.
We’re so happy to see you!
“Aaahh,” Dylan yelled. The words had come directly to his mind. He could feel the words echoing in his head. Louder and louder it seemed, though in truth, there was no sound that anyone could hear. “Quiet!!” he screamed at the voices. “Go away!”
In a single timeless moment, all the voices in his head ceased. All sensation of being watched or talked about was gone in an instant. All was quiet. Dylan took a deep breath and slowly moved his hands away from his ears. The only sound was the singing of the bird outside in the tree. Slowly and quietly, Dylan went through the motions of getting ready for the day. He took a shower, got dressed, and headed toward the kitchen to find some food. With Garrett sleeping at Gwen’s now, the house felt empty and sad. And after what had just happened, the house felt even more quiet.
As Dylan began to fill up on a bowl of cereal, he began to feel that perhaps he had imagined the whole situation. He had been having a lot of nightmares lately. Couldn’t this have just been another, albeit extremely realistic, nightmare? The terror he had experienced only a short time earlier faded quickly and curiosity began to take precedence. “Are you there?” he asked his surroundings in the kitchen.
He didn’t hear any words in his mind, nor did he feel that he was being watched, but a new sensation filled his mind. A chill coursed down Dylan’s back as he suddenly knew the answer to his question. It, whatever it was, was still there. The knowledge was simply in his head in the same way as any other piece of knowledge was in his head. It had obeyed his request to be quiet, but it hadn’t really gone away. Could it go away? If it was really the walls, the air, everything all around him, what would it mean for it to go away? Could he ask it?
“Can you go away?” he asked aloud.
Once again, Dylan didn’t hear any voices, within his head or without, but the answer was suddenly just there. No. It was everywhere all the time. It inhabited every space.. It could not go away without the universe coming to an end. It was the universe.
Dylan sat at his kitchen table, bewildered. What was going on? He was having a conversation of sorts with the universe! He was asking questions and it was answering them! What should I ask next? He thought.
“Why are you talking to me?” he asked.
The answer came again. The universe was talking to Dylan for the simple reason that Dylan was talking to It. And It liked him! Dylan felt a warmth spread throughout his body as he felt the affection of the universe being expressed. For the second time that day, and for a very different reason, tears fell down Dylan’s cheeks. He had never felt this kind of feeling before. This love. Why would the universe care about him?
“Why?” was all he could get out, not sure of how to express his emotion.
As the answer flooded into Dylan’s mind, Dylan’s life changed forever. Until now, his life had been ordinary. He was a good kid in general, but no more special than the next. With the knowledge that he had just obtained, he would never again question his own self worth or that of any other human being.
Garrett had no more tears to shed. He had cried so much over the past few days that it was physically impossible for his eyes to produce more tears at that moment. Stupid Ashling! If only he could open up to his brother. This secret was too big to handle by himself. Last night, Garrett had entered Dylan’s dream and tried to make Dylan notice him… not as Garrett – that would be breaking his promise, but by projecting images into the dream. Nothing had worked. In the end, Garrett had taken the box and opened it himself. Garrett remembered the light that came out of the box. It had been so brilliant! Even then, Dylan’s dream self had stayed oblivious to it all. He had gone on dreaming as if nothing had changed. And nothing had changed, had it?
With an unhappy groan, Garrett rolled over in the large bed. Even after a week, he was still not quite used to it. What if something had changed? Garrett stayed in bed for another half an hour, debating with himself whether or not he should go look for his brother. How could he go about asking Dylan without betraying Ashling’s trust? Stupid Ashling!
An hour later, Garrett opened the door to his house and walked inside. He hadn’t contacted his brother before, so he didn’t know if Dylan would even be there or not, but as the front door had been unlocked, Garrett assumed that Dylan was still there. Also, Garrett doubted that Dylan would be heading to the beach on such an unpleasant day. It wasn’t rainy, but the wind was so strong that Garrett suspected swimming would be less pleasant. But who knew with Dylan? This could be ideal swimming weather for all Garrett knew.
Just as Garrett turned the corner into the kitchen, he saw the window suddenly come unlatched, allowing a strong breeze to invade the room. Papers on the counter flew to the floor and Garrett heard and then saw a pencil roll across the kitchen table and into Dylan’s waiting hand. Dylan had an odd look of surprise and wonder on his face.
Garrett rushed over and latched the window again. This wasn’t the first time that wind had caused the window to open like that, but it was still quite the rare occurrence. It had happened, perhaps twice in the last five years. “Hey,” Garrett greeted his brother.
“Hi,” Dylan responded. “Thanks for getting the window.”
“No problem.” Garrett sat down in a chair across from Dylan. “Any change?”
“You mean Dad?” Dylan asked. “There hadn’t been any change when I saw him yesterday. I was planning to go again this afternoon. You wanna go with?”
Garrett hadn’t visited Travis since the morning after the attack. Even now, memories of bad dreams flooded his mind. Now that he remembered all of his dreams, the nightmares remained with him, even when he was awake. “Maybe another time,” Garrett answered coolly.
After a few more minutes of uncharacteristic chat, Garrett left, leaving Dylan alone with his thoughts. What’s going on with him? He wondered. Garrett had come all that way and all they had done was talk about the weather, Gwen’s cooking, the end of summer, and not getting enough sleep. Dylan didn’t have a problem with sleeping fortunately. He slept soundly every night. Garrett had always had poor sleep though. Whether it be nightmares, or just waking up in the middle of the night for whatever reason, Garrett regularly had bags under his eyes attesting to the fact that sleep had been elusive once again.
Dylan wasn’t a fool though. He knew that Garrett was keeping some secret from him. Since that night, just before the news had come about their father, Dylan had known that something had changed in Garrett’s life that he was not willing to share. For a moment, Dylan considered asking the “universe” (he wasn’t sure what else to call It), but then decided against it. He didn’t doubt that the universe would know. What information could there possibly be that the universe did not know? He decided not to ask though because Garrett had his own reasons for not telling him. Wouldn’t taking that information be somewhat akin to stealing if Garrett didn’t choose to share, or at least figure it out on his own.
After a while, Dylan’s mind turned back to his interrupted experiment. He had been sitting right where he was still sitting now, and he had been thinking about what the “universe” was. This thought had quickly turned into what is the universe not, because everything hadn’t been getting him very far. Then again, nothing hadn’t gotten him much further. If the universe was everything, couldn’t it do more than give him knowledge? It seemed like all the universe was in motion all the time anyway. Perhaps the universe would move something for him, if he asked it.
Dylan had looked around then and saw the pencil laying on the other end of the table. As he had opened his mouth and begun to make his request, several things happened all at once. The window had suddenly swung open, blowing things around the room, and the pencil right into his hand. Garrett had rushed in then and closed the window. Now, as he thought about it for the first time, he wondered that he hadn’t noticed the wind beforehand. In talking with Garrett, he had learned that the wind had started picking up rather suddenly, just a few minutes before Garrett had walked into the house. Perhaps he had just been too preoccupied to notice. Dylan remembered that his shock at hearing the wind howling so loudly and the window coming open suddenly had caused him to choke on his utterance. He had said something though before he had stopped. What was it? Could you.. Can you.. or was it just pencil?
Had the universe listened to him? Had it understood his intention even though he hadn’t expressed himself clearly. He hesitated to try the experiment again. What if something worse than wind came. The pencil had come to his hand just like he had wanted, … but why the wind? Was that really necessary?
“Did you cause the wind?” Dylan asked. As before, the answer came to his mind. He, Dylan, had wanted the pencil to come to his hand. There were an infinite number of ways in which that result might have been achieved, but the least complex path involved that sudden gust of wind. Least complex! I don’t think the universe decides what’s complex in the same way I do, Dylan thought.
Just as soon as he had digested the answer to his last question, others began popping into his head. What do you ask when you have a friend that will tell you anything? Dylan had so many questions that he couldn’t focus on a single one, and so he decided to put them off until later. The wind had died down shortly after the incident with the pencil. The sun was out and it was a beautiful day. Thus naturally, thoughts of spending the rest of the day at the beach came pleasantly to Dylan’s mind. After over an hour of sitting at the kitchen table, Dylan finally stood up. He went to his room and changed into his board shorts and then left the house. Small twigs and branches were strewn across the lawn as a reminder of what had happened earlier. Fortunately, it didn’t look like there had been any major damage so Dylan put the matter out of his mind.
As Dylan began walking toward the beach, a sense of something being wrong began pecking at his heart. Guilt came swiftly as he realized what he had forgotten. Dad! What’s wrong with me? And with that thought, Dylan turned fully around and began walking in the opposite direction, away from the beach and toward the hospital. How had he completely forgotten that his father was lying alone at the hospital in a coma. As his father was potentially battling for his very life, Dylan had been acting like everything was fine, heading toward the beach without a care in the world.
Carla Brettonwood hated her job. She absolutely hated it. Just one glance at the lifeless face of Travis Green and anyone could tell that there was nobody really there. It was a dead body just waiting for the official pronouncement of death. What was worse, his kid kept coming back every single day and chatting it up with him as if there were really someone there. Poor kid. If only someone could clue him in that his father was dead already, the boy could get on with his life.
To be fair though, it had only been a week. Some people kept visiting their comatose relatives for months and even years. In many of those cases however, there was some hope that the family member would wake up eventually. In Travis’s case, she knew that hope did not exist. “Just bury the guy already,” she grumbled quietly to herself.
“Sorry?” a voice questioned from behind her at the open door.
“Aaaah!” She jumped visibly in surprise. “You startled me,” she confessed. Then she beckoned to the now familiar face, “Come in. Come in.”
“Sorry. Is there any change since yesterday?”
Carla wanted to tell the boy to just go home and start planning the funeral, but she did still have a heart, despite the idiocy of it all. “I wouldn’t expect any change too soon,” she said instead. “This kind of injury can take weeks, months, or even years to heal. You should just go home and we’ll call if anything changes.”
“This is my Dad you’re talking about. My Mom’s already gone. I’m just a kid, but I’m living in a house by myself. How long do you think I can wait?”
“Look, I didn’t mean it that way.” Carla realized too late the callousness of her words. “I just.. I want you to be prepared. I mean..” Carla struggled to find the right words. “It’s not my place to say anything to you. I just work here. But.. look at him. He’s not going to wake up anytime soon.”
From the very first day, Dylan hadn’t much cared for the woman whose name badge read “Carla B”. Though he was generally a very calm individual, Dylan had to fight hard to keep himself under control. “Would you let me have a few minutes alone with him please?”
“Sure,” Carla said through pursed lips as she exited through the open door.
Dylan sat down beside his father and examined his features. There was so much there that was familiar to him from whenever he looked at himself in a mirror. Garrett resembled his mother more, but Dylan looked just like his father. They had the same sandy blonde hair, the same square jaw, the same prominent cheekbones, and even the same eyes that were so dark you couldn’t even see that they were actually blue without observing closely. This was all so wrong.
“Wake up Dad,” Dylan said softly. He could feel the sting of tears about to fall. Whispering, but with real emotion, Dylan continued to talk to his father. “Please wake up! Garrett and I need you so much. What are we going to do if you keep sleeping like this? How are we going to…,” Dylan succumbed then to the emotions which he had been holding back for a week. He dropped to the floor and wept like a small child.
“God!” he cried after a few minutes. “Are you there? If you exist, please help my Dad. Don’t let him die, please.” At that moment, Dylan felt a comforting presence all around him. Recognizing the universe, he said, “Are you God?”
The answer came into his mind, coupled with an increase of that beautiful comforting sensation. The feeling was not unlike being hugged by someone that he knew loved him. The answer however, was no. The universe was not God.
Dylan pondered on this for a while. The universe seemed to know everything, and it could likely do anything. If God was real, what could It do? Dylan realized suddenly that worrying about whether God was real or not when he had just met the universe that day was rather silly. Explore what you know first, then go after what you don’t. Can you help my Dad? He pleaded, suddenly hopeful that there might really be a solution available right then.
The answer sent Dylan crashing to the floor one more time. No. There was no explanation, only the knowledge that his father was gone already. The universe surrounded him with a sensation of comfort, but Dylan was not ready to be comforted. Leave me alone, he told it. The messages that the universe sent directly into Dylan’s mind were absolute. He knew without a doubt that they were true. If they were false, Dylan’s brain was not capable of knowing it. Dazed, Dylan stood up and walked out of the room, not even caring enough to wipe the tears from his eyes.
Without even considering where he was going or what he was going to do, Dylan soon found himself facing the ocean. Dylan knew the universe loved him, as strange and impossible as the idea seemed, but he did not yet love the universe. Here before him however, was something that Dylan truly loved, and to it he turned in this time of need. He walked quickly and steadily toward the sea, not even stopping long enough to see where his discarded shirt and sandals landed in the sand behind him.
He walked out into the water until he was waist deep and then began swimming. He swam out toward the horizon, going farther and farther until his arms began to ache and his legs threatened to cramp. Dylan didn’t bother to look back and see how far he had come. He turned over onto his back and closed his eyes.