by TJ Stone


Earnest awoke with a start as his head knocked not too gently into the glass window he was leaning on. He sat bolt upright as he forgot where he was for a second, then realizing that what he saw moving outside of the window was the dense green of an evergreen forest. Resting back down in his train seat his eyes became focused on the reflection of his long face, the eyes that he always thought were just a bit too close, and the short dark hair that spiked up on the top of his head. The sight of his own face always made him strangely uneasy. He wasnt very confident with his own looks, and how he had ended up with Hope was always beyond him. Speaking of which, he thought, where is she? She was just just with me right? He found it hard to focus on anything in particular about his day earlier. Actually, how did he get on this train? Looking down at the red and gold checkered carpet, stained with wine hopefully, he began to play his day out before him.

Earnest had woken up at 8:37 exactly. He knew this because he had hit his snooze button at exactly 8:27 and had thought it was a strange time to be awake. Stretching his arms out, he blinked, once, twice, three times, and then rubbed his eyes with the knuckles of both hands. Flipping off his plain blue comforter he kicked his flannel clad legs to the floor and sat there for a second, trying to blink off the sleep that seemed to hold him down to the bed like ropes. Pushing himself off with both arms Earnest walked across his room to his 65 flat screen his parents had gotten him for his birthday, and turned on the news, then thought better of it and changed the channel to cartoons. He grabbed his towel and headed to the shower, whistling Hells Bells and dragging his feet.

After he had pulled on his intricate purple and green band T- shirt, he poured himself a bowl of cereal and sat down at his desk to eat breakfast. This had been when Hope had called him, 8:59 exactly.

Hey there Sugar he said into his phone.

Hey! What are you doing?

Her voice got to him sometimes. Sure she was awesome, fun, sweet, WICKED cute, and just all around fun, but that voice.

Just eating breakfast, getting ready for school, sup?

I was just checking to make sure that you remembered we were going to go to have dinner with my parents tonight, Of course! Wouldnt forget! he lied.

Great! So we can go after our class later okay?

Was this where he and Hope had been going on this train? No, it couldnt be. Her parents lived within 5 miles of the school campus. They could have easily drove or even walked over there. Just at this moment a cloudy eyed beautiful blonde woman opened the sleek silver door of the cab, and walked in. Earnest noticed that she walked with an air of confidence, and yet she was kind of terrifying, like she could perform unmentionable acts of violence on someone. The light from the window glided smoothly through the air and fell onto the soft contours of her hips and thighs, giving her a glow that Earnest seemed to like.

When she reached his seat she locked her gaze upon Earnest, but didnt say anything. It was strange to him, but she seemed to be looking at who he was, not what he was, a human being. Those gray eyes seemed to say, I know everything that youve ever done wrong or right but Im not judging. A strong scent wafted towards Earnest in his seat, but he couldnt exactly tell what it was. It smelled strangely sweet, like cotton candy being burnt.

She broke her gaze after a few seconds and turned around to leave the car.

H-hey! Earnest called to her, but she seemed not to hear him or if she did, she wasnt paying attention.

When she reached the door she grabbed the long silver bar handle and slid open the door, standing to the side and making a sweeping motion with her hand, almost bowing. Earnest stood up and started to walk towards the girl and the door, both motionless but seeming somewhat kinetic, like a spinning top.

Where am I going? he asked her tentatively. But as he got to the door he saw Hope on the other side.

Come on babe. We gotta go, was all the explanation he could get out of her as she grabbed his hand and pulled him out of the car. His bare feet touched the cold concrete of the rooms floor, made colder by the presence of morning dew.

But that was the strange thing, how can there be dew inside of a room that only has one door and no windows? Earnest looked behind him and noticed that the train had left, and a large black hole was now behind him. It was strange that he didnt hear the train leave though, where was the whistle or the joints clicking together? Hope pulled on his hand and tried to get him to walk towards the door.

Wait wait wait. What, the actual fuck, is going on right now? he asked the back of her head.

Just come on, we gotta go,

No Im not just gonna come on! I dont even know where we are!

She finally turned around towards him and looked him square in the eyes, grabbing his other hand while her feet lined up with his.

Seriously E? You were that fucked up you dont remember where you are? I thought this was special for you,

WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? WHERE ARE WE? He made his mouth large with each word, not really yelling, just kind of sarcastically making the words bigger than they should have been.

Were... going to see your parents, and your friends, the amount of time that she took to answer worried him.

What? I dont understand

Just come on, Im sure it will come back to you. You trust me right? Dont you love me? Oh shit every girls go to line when it came to ANYTHING.

Yeah I do I just gotta clear my head and think though while we get to wherever were going He said rubbing his temples and forcing himself to calm down.

Okay. Good, She said smiling through those white teeth of hers. She closed her eyes and pulled his hands down while putting her chin back and pursing her lips. He leaned over to meet her kiss and closed his eyes.

Suddenly he pulled back with wide eyes and stared at Hope.

Yours lips are freezing. Holy shit theyre cold. Why the fuck are they so cold? he asked.

I dont know, must have been the wind when I was looking out the window of the train. Stop being silly. Lets go,

She turned on her heels and pulled his hand, this time getting him to go with her. This was when he got the first whiff of something awful, like something was rotting right under his nose, but it quickly went away and Earnest didnt think anything of it. Walking towards the door he gathered himself to join Hopes pace as they walked side by side, hand in hand towards the white door and tried to think of what he had done last.

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Earnest had walked into his Biology class late and tried to avoid the proffesors glare that he felt piercing the back of his skull. Taking his seat in the back of the classroom Earnest put his red and black book bag down and unzipped it, grabbing a light blue notebook and pulling it out flipped open to the next clean page he could find. Doodles and notes riddled the pages that seemed to force him to live in boredom. He remembered seeing something funny on the internet the other day, one of those class assessment papers that professors give out at the end of the semester, and some kid had written under other comments If I had one hour to live Id spend it in this class because it feels like an eternity. Hahaha, wow. Funny stuff some people can come up with.

An hour later he was a free man again, and walking across the dark green grass in front of his schools main welcome sign. The fragrance of the rose of sharon trees were strong, mainly because the campus was surrounded by them, and you couldnt go five feet without having to swat away a bee or two, probably not the most exciting thing if you were allergic to them. There were a few people out walking around, but not too many that he recognized.

Twenty minutes later he met up with Hope under one of the rose of sharons, having to swat away a big rollie pollie jolly yellow bumble bee a few times. He saw her walking towards him in her nice khakis and neat striped polo, which contrasted the tattoos spiraling and twirling like a Cirque Du Soleil show up her neck and down her arms. He pushed himself up with one arm and grabbed his backpack with the other, smiling and starting to head towards her as well.

Hi there, she softly said to him as he leaned down and kissed her.

So whats the game plan for tonight? He asked her as he grabbed her right hand, feeling the ring that his mother had given to her. Hope thought it was a sweet gesture, but Earnest knew that it was a more of a sign of approval than a sign of kindness, and to Earnest this was the biggest display of kindness that his mother could show. Hope knew this, and also knew that to Earnest this was the best thing that could have happened to their relationship. Earnest only found this out because they had talked about it so many times. Now Hope never took off the ring.

Well first of all you have to change. You cant go to see my parents like that, She said eyeing him up and down.

Okay, so well go back to my place and then head to your house after I change. What time did you tell them wed be there? He asked her as he adjusted his backpack.

I said six, but Id like to be a little bit early okay? We were late last time and you know how much they hate that,

Yeah yeah okay. Lets get this stupid lecture over with and then we can talk business boss lady, Earnest laughed.

Heading off to the large buildings brightly lit by the mid afternoon sun Earnest and Hope walked with a brisk pace as they usually did.

By the time they reached their economics class it was already 1:15. Walking into the fluorescently bright classroom, Earnest picked up Hopes hand and kissed the back of it before dropping it and letting his own swing to his side. They walked to their usual spot, not necessarily in the back like Earnest liked, but more in the middle so that Hope could get a good view of the board. Earnest always sat behind Hope. He liked knowing what she was doing, but he also didnt necessarily like her knowing what he was doing all the time.

Three hours later they walked out of the class, Hope more knowledgeable, Earnest just happy to be awake, as he was sure he was going to start snoring at one point in the class, which would have made Hope pissed, but he wasnt sure why. Women are strange. At 4:49 they arrived at Earnests apartment and were out again by 5:12, headed to Hopes home where her parents awaited a very neatly dressed Earnest.

The hallway that led away from the concrete room was long and plain, and even though Earnest couldnt see any, he heard water dripping into a puddle somewhere. He smelled mold and could barely see through the darkness of the hallway. At the end was a large well polished wooden door, the kind you see in old antique homes, with a curved ornate golden handle and deep dark streaks that spread through the grain.

Earnest let Hope lead at this point, and she opened the door, causing light to explode out like some sort of flash grenade. Earnest quickly let go of Hopes hand and covered his eyes in a foolish attempt to save his sight.

Moving his arm down slowly, Earnest peered into the brightly lit room.

Wha? he started his statement of wonderment.

Inside the door was a large circular room, with windows all along the walls. Outside of the windows was a beautiful sight of a mountain lake. A scene that you would have expected to see painted onto the cover of some big time authors book. There was a large wooden pillar in the center that had a round bench curved all the way around it, like the kind you see attached to trees somewhere. The walls below the windows were light tan and had dark green chairs lined up underneath them. In the seats was what amazed him the most. He looked in one direction and would see his great uncle Moe, look around and see his friend from elementary school, Trent that he hadnt talked to in years. All of the seats were filled with faces that he knew, but didnt expect to see. They were all sitting emotionless not moving. Simply staring at him. A strong smell of apples and cinnamon rose out of the room, causing Earnest to feel suddenly comfortable and familiar.

As he entered the room everyone stood up as if they had been activated by some sort of switch. They started mingling and talking to each other. As he walked past people they would turn to him and say Hey! Or Yo whats happening man?

A familiar ring found its way into his hand and Earnest turned to see Hope standing there smiling at him.

Are you happy? she asked.

Yeah, I guess so. Im happy to see all these people here, but what are they here for? he asked back.

For you silly. Dont worry, everythings going to be alright, she said squeezing his hand.

Earnest turned to see Jamie, a small beautiful girl that he had met in high school when he was nave. She had piercings all over her face that gave her a strange reflective appearance. She always wore too much perfume though, which he couldnt seem to smell now over the sweet scent of apple pie.

Hey Ernie! Whats been going on with you? She seemed genuinely interested.

Not much, just living life ya know? Haha, he laughed nervously, not really sure why he was nervous.

Yeah I feel ya man. Alright well Im gonna go see Pauley K? Ill tell him to come say hi!

Okay. Thanks! he said still shaky.

This was all strange, but familiar. He felt too comfortable, like he had known this place his whole life but had never been here before.

He felt a small squeeze in his fingers and looked over to see that where Hope had been, his mother now stood still holding his hand, wearing Hopes ring. At first he was startled to see the change, but then he just accepted it. Anything like that can happen. He was happy now. He was where he was supposed to be. He didnt know why but he was.

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They walked the way that they always walked. It was the quickest way to get to Hopes house, but it was also the safest. That works out huh? They werent holding hands now though; Earnest kept putting his hands to his neck trying to adjust his tie that seemed to be strangling him like a snake bent on making a feast for itself.

Will you stop fiddling with that? Youre gonna stretch it out or something,

Nah fuck that, I aint being no tie dinner tonight. Who still says fiddling? Earnest smirked as he looked at Hopes bottom lip popping out from under her upper one. He loved when she made this face. It was adorable. They walked side by side down the sidewalk for almost fifteen minutes, Earnest continuing to fiddle with his neck snake, and Hope trying to ignore it.

Soooooo what are you parents making for dinner?

I dont know probab- DONT FUCKING MOVE!

The first thought that ran through Earnests mind wasnt fear, it wasnt annoyance, it wasnt shock, it was the irony of the fact that whenever someone says this the first thing anyone does is move. Not like in the movies, you have to see whos yelling at you, if its your friend or if its a cop. Or even if its someone trying to rob you.

The first thing Earnest saw was the silver of the gun pointed directly at his face. The sight seemed to bring a taste of the gun into his mouth. Like sucking on a copper wire and getting the taste of metal in your mouth. It reminded him strangely of blood. Hope was standing behind Earnests left arm, gripping it for dear life as the silver flashed around in the sunlight.

Give me your cell phones your wallets and everything else you got! the gunman yelled at them. Or was it the gun yelling? Earnests head was light and he couldnt concentrate.

Hey man, someone is gonna see you doing this, Earnest had to swallow several times in order to not vomit all over this man.

Not if you hurry the fuck up! the man yelled, sticking the gun in Earnests face, then in Hopes.

No no no dont do that, leave her out of it, dont fucking point that thing at her. Im telling you stop, Earnest was finding it hard now not to cry. He began to reach into his pocket and suddenly music was running through his head. Sweet sweet music. He remembered seeing red, hearing that music and seeing Hope and the gun flying towards the sky like they were on a perfect line to the moon. The song that seemed to be playing in his head was Dont take the girl by Tim Mcgraw. It reminded him of his mother and his childhood. Ironic how the last thing he thought about was joining the two women he loved the most in the world. He had never said that before, but he did. He loved Hope. He was sorry for leaving her, he was sorry for not being better to her, he was sorry.

Earnest looked at his mother, she was humming a song.

Dont take the girl mom

She simply looked at him and smiled. That smile that he knew so well. That smile that he would never really be able to see again. He had left her and all of them behind. Earnest started to cry, trying to hold his composure. Knowing that there was nothing he could do, and nothing that tears (Were they really tears? What else would you call them?) could fix.

He fixed his attention on the door that he had come through to get to this room. It, like all of the faces in the room, and the colors on the wall had changed and become something new. He dropped his mothers hand and let it lay limp by her side as he slowly started to walk towards this ever changing door. When he opened it he was not sure what he would find, but he couldnt find anything. In the door was another room that he had never seen before. It was so bright that he could not see anything, but at the same time darker than anything he had ever seen before. The room seemed huge but Earnest knew he could probably touch wall to wall in here, because thats how it was now.

What happens now? he asked the darkness.

The voice came to him not in his head, but not in his ears either. This was how he had been hearing everything here but just didnt realize it. He wasnt sure he even realized it now, but he had to. The voice wasnt particular in any sense. It wasnt that of a man, nor that of a woman. It simply was.

Whatever you want to happen

What does that mean?

Whatever you want it to. This place is created by your needs and wishes. You can see everyone you have ever known, or no one. You can go anywhere. Do anything

But theyre not real are they?

Of course not. It is only you and I

And and who are you?

Think of me as simply a guide. A principal if you will

Earnest had nothing else to say. He shut the door on the light and turned around to see a large field with grass at waste level. He suddenly wished that he could simply hear her voice again. That god awful irritating beautiful voice of his Hope, and of his mother.

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