CHAPTER THREE “Damn it!

” blurted Stephanie “It’s all right,” Mason said as he bent down to help pick up the pieces of her broken test tube. “At least you didn’t have any hydrochloric acid in it, yet. That would have been a real mess. Although, it would have been cool to see what that would have done to the linoleum.” Stephanie scowled at him. “No. It wouldn’t.” Mr. Salvatore, the chemistry teacher was watching them from his desk. “Clean that up, please,” he called, “then, re-start your procedure from the beginning.” “Everything’s cool,” Mason assured him. Stephanie didn’t say anything. She felt close to tears. The last two days had been total crap. She couldn’t get her mind off the weird vision she had in her bedroom Saturday night. After her grandmother interrupted the dream, or whatever it was, Stephanie had tossed the stone back in its box, replaced it and all the other items in the chest. She locked everything inside, and put the lion figurine, the chest and the key back in the Nordstrom bag and shoved the bag under her bed. She was frightened to touch it again, at least for a while. This morning, Stephanie had terrible trouble concentrating. She blew an easy Trig quiz in first period and then she made a spectacle of herself by smashing a test tube in the middle of Chem class. Mason was great to help clean up everything. He was always a gentleman with her. Stephanie always felt sort of honored that Mason opened up to her. He wasn’t the kind of guy that trusted everyone with his thoughts or his friendship. They always tried to be open and honest with each other, but he’d probably think she was crazy if she told him about the chest and the hallucinations she’d seen. Still, if she didn’t tell someone, Stephanie thought she might explode or something. Maybe Mason was the only person she could tell. They had been friends since junior high. If anybody might believe her, it was Mason. Stephanie watched his big football-player hands fumbling with the tiny shards of broken glass. Stephanie whispered, “Hey, Mase?” “Yeh,” he replied, still scanning the floor for broken glass. “I really need to talk to someone about something. Someone I can trust.” “So?” said Mason, looking at her with his straight-forward gaze. Stephanie paused, then spoke in a hushed tone, “Something weird happened to me on Saturday. Do you think we could talk at lunch? Alone?” “Alone?” asked Mason. “What’s the problem?” “I really can’t talk about it here,” answered Stephanie. “I don’t want anybody else to know, yet. Or maybe at all. Please, just meet me at lunch. Okay?” “Sure,” Mason replied. “Okay to give you another test tube?” She giggled nervously. “Maybe I’ll just take the notes if you handle all the breakable stuff. At least, for today.” “What are lab partners for?” said Mason. “Let the mad scientist get to work.”

Mason picked up a test tube and eyedropper while Stephanie picked up a pencil and opened the lab manual. He tossed her a reassuring smile over his shoulder and started to work. The noise in the cafeteria was even more irritating than usual. Stephanie poked at the lump of cold mashed potatoes on her plate as she watched Mason move slowly through the lunch line. He was kidding around with some of his friends from the football team. Mason had the talent of being able to relax and be friendly with everyone while never really getting close to anyone. He and Stephanie were such opposites. She always broadcasted her emotions on full volume intimidating everyone and making it uncomfortable to be casual friends with anyone. She came off as being super intense all the time. Most of the kids were afraid of her direct and opinionated style, except Mason. The two of them always had a great time talking together. Maybe they just gravitated to each other because they were both mixed. The rest of the kids in the school were pretty homogeneous. Other students were easy to label. Mason and Stevie both understood what it was like to not automatically fit into some kind of group, but that wasn’t the only reason Stevie liked hanging out with Mason. Mason was different from the Chinese guys, or the white guys, or the African-American guys, or the Hispanic guys, or the purple guys, or basically any other guys. He actually listened to what Stephanie was saying. He liked to listen. He didn’t get impatient or have some other agenda to distract him. That morning, someone who liked to listen was exactly what she needed. She had one hell of a story to tell. The sound of his lunch tray sliding on to the table roused her from her thoughts. “So, what’s up?” asked Mason. Stephanie tapped her fork nervously on the plate. “I’m not sure,” she said. Mason smiled. “You’re not sure that anything is going on or you’re not sure you want to tell me about it?” “Both, probably,” she replied. intelligent answer. Stephanie lowered her eyes trying to think of a more

Mason decided to try a different question. “Are you in some kind of trouble?” “No. It’s not that,” answered Stephanie. “Something totally insane happened to me on Saturday night. I guess I’m hoping that if I tell someone about it in the daylight, in a crowded room, that it may not seem so creepy.” “Okay. Fire away,” Mason said as he leaned back in his chair. “I wish I knew where to start.” Stephanie tried to mentally assemble the series of events as clearly as she could. “You remember on Saturday morning when you stopped and talked to me on Hawthorne Street? I was going to show you what I bought at the garage sale, but then my mom drove up.” “Yeh.” “Well,” Stephanie continued, “I bought a few things there. The funkiest was an old leather box. The lady who sold it to me said she didn’t know what was inside because she couldn’t find the key. The point is, I found the key while I was looking at something else. I didn’t say anything to her about finding it, I just grabbed all the stuff I bought and took it home.” Stephanie’s voice became softer, more conspiratorial. Mason leaned in to listen closely.

Stephanie continued with her story. “That evening after dinner, I used the key to open the box. Nothing seemed all that interesting except this strange, polished rock. At first, I thought it was just like a beach rock from a vacation or something, but as I was holding it in my hand looking at it, I started to feel like I was going into some kind of trance. I’ve never fainted or been hypnotized, but I guess it felt sort of like what that feels like. Suddenly, I got transported to somewhere else.” “Maybe you were just dreaming,” suggested Mason. Stephanie shook her head. “That’s what I thought at first, but what I saw was way too vivid and intense. The sounds and smells were so strong. The things I touched had a solid feeling. I’ve never had a dream that detailed before but soon I snapped back to my bedroom.” “So?” Mason probed further. “Why are you still upset?” “Because,” Stephanie proceeded, “I didn’t put the stone away right away and a couple minutes later, the same thing happened again. I, like, picked up the dream where I’d left off and it kept going. I saw even more and stayed longer. How often do you dream about the exact same place twice in a row on the same night?” Mason paused thoughtfully for a moment, then answered, “Not very often. I admit it’s pretty strange, but probably not impossible. What do you want me to do?” “I’m not sure, exactly,” said Stephanie, “but maybe if I recreate the whole sequence while you’re observing me, it might happen again and you can tell me if I’m asleep or hallucinating or something.” “Sounds logical, I guess,” Mason said. “Is tonight, okay?” asked Stephanie. “I’d like to get some definite answers before this whole thing blows totally out of proportion and makes me more insane than I already am.” Mason checked the calendar on his cell phone. “I could come to your house after dinner. I have football practice after school and I’ll have to eat something first. I’ll tell my grandma I’m coming over to study. My mom’s working late.” Stephanie winced a bit. “I guess I’ll have to tell my parents something to explain you being there. My dad doesn’t even like other girls to come up to my room. Hopefully, he’ll be working late or something. If he isn’t, I can say we’re studying for a Chem test. I’ve sucked in that subject lately and he’ll be glad I’m looking for help. I suppose it wouldn’t be a good idea to say we’re doing some kind of strange, metaphysical experiment upstairs.” Mason laughed. “Probably not. You know this is very likely just a case of you working too hard, stressing out, and having some kind of mild mental meltdown. After all, you can’t be a real over-achiever without at least one nervous breakdown. I thought when you said you had something serious to discuss that you were going to tell me you were pregnant or something.” Stephanie felt her cheeks blush deep red as she exploded with laughter. “No chance of that.” When she laughed she felt her body relax for the first time since Saturday. She had been totally stressed. Mason knew it. He smiled that million-dollar, football player smile of his. He was a good friend. Suddenly, the bell rang. “Gotta go,” she said. “Thanks, Mason. I mean it. See you tonight?”

“Sure.” Mason dug into his hamburger. Stephanie grabbed the chocolate cookie off her tray and stuck it between her teeth while Mason watched her dump her uneaten lunch in the garbage and walk out the door. ‘This is pretty weird, even for Stevie,’ thought Mason. He walked over to the garbage cans, dumped his leftovers, then returned his tray to the kitchen. As he passed the snack machines, he bought an extra bag of chips and put it in his pack for later during practice. He looked through the small window beside the cafeteria door. ‘Man!’ he thought, ‘I hope it stops raining before we have to go out on the field’ “I’ll get it!” shouted Stephanie as she galloped down the stairs. reinforcing breath and opened the door. “Hi,” said Mason. “Everything cool?” Stephanie smiled. “Yeh, sure. for me.” Come in.” She yelled into the depths of the house, “It’s She took a quick,

Mason wiped his wet shoes on the mat and walked in. “It’s really pouring out there,” he said. “Mud was flying all over the place during practice.” I’ve got everything set up in my room,” said Stephanie. “Can I take your jacket?” “Thanks,” he answered politely and handed his waterlogged fleece jacket to Stephanie. “Have you looked at your magic stone yet this evening?” She shook her head. “No chance! I’ve been waiting for an eyewitness before I touch that thing again. Come on. Let’s go upstairs and I’ll show all the stuff to you.” Mason followed Stephanie up the stairs along the wall and into her room. Her small halogen desk lamp emitted a warm glow. There was a pile of books and stuffed animals on the floor that she had cleared from the green armchair where they were normally dumped. She moved the chair closer to the bed. The small leather chest sat waiting on the blue down comforter. “I’ve been so spacey today,” confessed Stephanie. “Would you like something to drink or anything? I forgot to ask.” Mason smiled. He set his pack on the floor. “No, thanks. I’m fine. I drove through Java Jive on the way over here. Besides, you really made me curious about this thing, I’m almost as anxious to do this experiment as you are.” He sat a bit awkwardly in the delicate green wicker chair. Mason wasn’t as large as a lot of football players, but he was a guy. The chair was intended for young girls and stuffed unicorns, not wide receivers. Stephanie reached under her bed, grabbed the Nordstrom bag, containing the figurine and climbed onto the mattress. She sat with her back against the headboard and pretzeled her legs in front of her, cautiously shook the figurine until the key fell out, then used it to open the box. The old fabric released a musty smell into the room. Stevie’s nimble fingers reached inside and pulled out the small box with the stone inside it. She held it gingerly between her thumb and index finger beneath the glow of the desk lamp. Mason stood and walked over to the lamp to get a closer look. “Do you see what I mean about the markings?” she asked. “Do you think somebody carved them in there?”

Mason studied it carefully. “It doesn’t look like a random pattern, but there are so many of them, it’s hard to tell. The lines in the shapes are really thin. If someone drew them they used something very sharp. They might be pictographs like Chinese or Egyptian writing. But then you’d be better at recognizing that.” “Yeh. Like I can read ancient Chinese symbols,” said Stephanie sarcastically. “It doesn’t exactly come with the genes.” She turned and reached into the chest again and pulled out the strip of embroidered velvet. Gently, she stretched it across her palm and held it closer to the light. “This is the cloth I was holding when I had the hallucinations. I saw a version of it in my dream. My dress was made out of it. Maybe this is what caused the dream and not the stone.” Mason raised his eyebrows. “For creepy, slightly mysterious possibilities, I’d still put my money on the rock at this point.” He took the stone from her fingers and placed it in her palm on top of the cloth. “You sure you want to do this?” he asked. “Definitely,” she affirmed. “It’s the only way I’m going to get some peace of mind. Besides, I’m not so afraid now that you’re here and I’m not by myself. You’ll stop me if something dangerous happens, right?” Mason scowled. “Duh. Of course.” “It’s getting late,” observed Stephanie. “If we’re going to do this, we better get started.” “Let me bring the chair closer,” said Mason scooting the chair slightly closer to the top of the bed and Stevie. Stephanie looked at the cloth and the stone in her hand. “It seemed to start getting strange when I used the cloth to polish the stone,” she said and began rubbing the cloth across the surface of the stone. A minute passed and nothing happened, but then she began to feel a sensation that she was drifting. Her thumb stroked the cloth across the stone methodically. Mason watched as Stephanie’s eyes began to close and the muscles in her face relaxed. He thought for a moment she had fallen asleep, but suddenly her back stiffened and her eyes opened. Stephanie’s muscles became rigid except for her right thumb that was rhythmically moving across the carvings on the pale stone. She wasn’t asleep. It was not like Stephanie to joke around or pull some kind of elaborate prank. Something was really happening. Mason became concerned. He called her name. “Stevie?” He said it softly at first, but there was no indication that she had heard him. He said it again a little louder, “Stephanie?” There was still no response. Mason wasn’t sure what to do. If he yelled any louder her parents might come upstairs and they’d both be in trouble. “Maybe if I touch her hand and stop her from rubbing the stone, she’ll snap out of it,” he thought. Mason reached out his large hand and draped it over Stephanie’s. Immediately, the room faded away and became dark. He felt a dampness in the air and the acrid scent of burning candles. A weird image came into focus, a woman dressed in an embroidered velvet gown was kneeling in front of him with her elbows resting on some sort of railing. She had her hair pulled tightly back and tucked under a dark red cap with a thin veil hanging off of it. His hand was resting on her clasped hands. She looked up. He recognized something in her eyes. It was Stephanie, but it didn’t look like her – at least not exactly. Mason couldn’t put his finger on it. She was scowling at him. The expression was definitely Stevie, but the face wasn’t completely hers.

“Mason?” she asked doubtfully in a hoarse whisper. “Stef?” His voice sounded strange. It startled him a bit. “Where are we?” Stephanie shook her head slowly. “I have no idea. This is not the same place I went before and what are you doing here?” Her eyes continued to study him gravely. Suddenly, they widened with total amazement. “This is nutty, but you’re white. Like totally Caucasian. Your hair…and your face are so different. Are you sure it’s you?” “Yeh,” Mason answered. His eyes drifted up from Stephanie’s face and he began to look around. He saw a shaft of light that streamed through a colored window nearby. The light shone across his hand. In his mind, he commanded the fingers to move and they responded obediently. He didn’t recognize them but they were his hands. He looked back at Stephanie in awed disbelief. “This is officially crazy,” he said in a hushed voice. “How can two people share the same dream?” “The Travelers’ Society: The Patch of Red Velvet” is available on Amazon.com for the Kindle and in paperback. P L Haines-Ainsworth is a writer, actor, and artist in Washington State. Visit her blog at http://winkingkatbooks.blogspot.com or follow her on twitter – pathainesains.

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