Because I’m a computer, and none of this is real. That’s what Toby said right before he vanished. One moment he’s freaking out, jumping off his bike and looking over his shoulders like a madman; the next, he’s just a black silhouette of himself. A Toby-sized splotch in my front yard. Then his bike fell to the wet grass and he was gone. Morphed into the night air, I think. It was like he never existed at all.
I ran to my mom’s room, screaming at her to wake up. When I opened her door, she was already standing in front of me. She kept trying to calm me down, kept trying to get me to relax, but I wouldn’t. Toby had just disappeared. What didn’t she understand? Help me, mom. Help me figure out what happened.
She told me that everything was okay. George, she said over and over, it was a dream. Just another dream. It’s just what happens when you have sugar before bed; she knew she shouldn’t have bought me soda. I told her I didn’t drink any that night. Then I yelled it at her. Then I screamed it. But she only laughed and hugged me. George, she joked, middle school is too soon to start having mental breakdowns.
I knew what I saw, though. So when she said she was going back to bed, I went downstairs and called the police. Whispering, I said that my best friend had just disappeared. Please come investigate. Please. Then my whole face got hot and I started crying. My mom doesn’t believe me.
What? George, could you please settle down? We couldn’t catch that last bit.
What if nobody ever believes me? I hung up.
The police rang my doorbell shortly after. My mom was livid. She came running down the stairs in her pajamas, saying: George, how could you? The two policemen got really serious and asked her what the problem was. He’s just having nightma – but I stopped her and ran passed the police. I didn’t have a nightmare, mom. What I saw was real. I’ll even show you his bike – just please, please follow me.
But when I got to the spot, my heart dropped. His bike wasn’t there. My whole chest got numb. Face: hotter. Had I forgotten where his bike fell?
There’s nothing there, one policeman said. The other asked if I was okay.
I swore it had been right there. Somebody must have stolen it, I said. That’s the only explanation.
Within the ten minutes it took us to arrive? They asked.
Well, I hadn’t called you right away.
Still, they said. It’s two in the morning. Who would’ve stolen a bike at this hour? Then they turned to my mom again. I could tell she was very worried. Excuse me, ma’am, would you like us to take him in tonight? No! my mom snapped back. Please don’t. If you could only come inside for a second to talk, I’ll explain everything. George, she continued, really is under control.
They gave my mom this interview. For ten minutes, they were locked inside her room while I sat at the kitchen table, waiting. Sometimes I heard her sobbing. Other times I heard nothing at all. Then the policemen came out, walked passed me like I wasn’t even there, and left. My mom came out a couple minutes later, looking more exhausted than I’ve ever seen. She said to go back to bed, and I did because I could tell she would tolerate no more arguing. Then she came into my room a couple minutes later and told me what I saw was a dream.
Every night from then on, I’ve woken up at two in the morning and haven’t been able to go back to bed until I’ve written down what happened. I don’t know why, but I have to. It doesn’t make me feel any better, but it’s the only way my body lets me go back to sleep. I have notebooks full of this same story. Full of this same sentence. And all these pages live under my bed.
My mom found a stack of them one day and threw them out. Then she came into my room and stared at me for at least an hour; half the time in silence as she scanned her brain for the right words; and the other half with only the sound of her crying. Right before she finally gave up and left, she said that if someone ever knew what was happening, I’d be sent away. She added, as she walked out the door: like, to some home for loonies or something.
But now I’m not so sure that’d be a bad thing. Maybe the loonies are the only ones who know the truth. Who cracked the code. Maybe I’m the kind of person who they sit around all day and make fun of because I still haven’t figured it out yet. It’s so obvious, isn’t it? I’m sure they’d laugh and laugh if they ever heard about me.
But I hear them laughing all the time, so maybe they have. It’s loudest when I see myself in a mirror. Sometimes I’ll just stand in front of the sink in the bathroom for hours. Listening to them. Staring into my eyes. Thinking of ways that I could kill myself. I know it’s selfish, but does that even matter? Because, if nothing’s real, then it wouldn’t be selfish at all. It’d be nothing. Only a possibility that occurred. Meaningless to everyone but me. Just like Toby.
Just like this story.