“We have to go! It’s our 10-year high school reunion,” my wife, Griffin, said as I looked at my watch. Six o’clock. I’ll admit I didn’t care to go. I didn’t care to see all the people I had spent four years avoiding, but I would and will do anything to please Griffin.
I looked around as I slowly backed out of the garage. Immediately as the back windows exited the dark and breathed in the light, I pressed my foot against the brake. I rolled down my window and stared up at the picture unraveling before my eyes. The sky was a tannish sand color, with the clouds beginning to circle one another. I feared what might come down and destroy the beautiful car I had skipped two summer vacations to afford.
I quickly pulled the car in the garage, parked, and ran towards the door. My hand slapped the garage button as my other hand struggled to grasp the door handle. Finally, I twisted and turned, shoving the door open. “Woah there!” Griffin exclaimed. The door swung open, almost hitting her as I stumbled in. “What’re you doing?”
“The sky… it’s yellow.”
“Like tornado yellow?” Griffin slid past me and opened the garage. I followed behind her and watched the garage door rise up, preparing myself to see a…
“Babe,” Griffin turned around and raised an eyebrow as she crossed her arms over her chest. “I know you don’t want to go to the reunion, but really? A fake tornado?”
“I swear the sky was—”
“How’d you think you were going to pull that off? You’re not Thor.” Griffin walked past me and headed inside. “Start the car, I’ll be out in a sec.”
“Thor summons lightning, not tornadoes,” I mumbled under my breath as I turned around and stared up at the sky. A light gray replaced the yellow clouds I had “made up.” The clouds no longer circled one another, but laid in the sky like a soft, fluffy comforter on a bed. What in the world had happened to the clouds? I knew for a fact what I had seen before was not what appeared in front of me now.
I put the gear in park as I watched all the kids running around while their parents talked amongst one another, sipping on cheap wine and beer. I didn’t recognize a single person in the ocean of rednecks, drug addicts, and wannabes. I turned to my wife and stared into her beautiful blue eyes. “Is it too late to turn around?”
She chuckled and placed her soft, yet cold hand on my cheek. “I just want to see a few of my friends. One hour tops, and then we can get the hell out of here, I promise.”
I nodded and said “Okay,” as I smiled and unbuckled my seat belt. “Probably should bring an umbrella, the sky is getting darker by the minute.”
“Yeah, you should. Maybe it’ll protect you from the tornado.” Griffin laughed sarcastically as she began to get out of the car.
I grabbed the umbrella from underneath my seat, and as I came up he was standing to my left. His thick, brown hair blew in the wind ever so graciously, while his hazel eyes appeared darker than usual with the sun being hidden behind the clouds, and he stood tall, with his hands shoved into the front pockets of his jeans.
“You gonna just stand there or give me a hug?” my high school best friend said as he removed his hands from his pockets and held his arms out in front of him, waiting for my embrace.
I shut the car door and grasped him tightly, squeezing him as if I hadn’t seen him in years, and said, “I miss you! It’s been way too long.”
“I know, I haven’t seen you since when? The wedding?”
“Everett!” Griffin shouted as she circled the car and hugged the both of us.
“I want in on this group hug,” a voice called from behind our huddle.
“Christy!” Griffin released Everett and I for just a second before pulling Christy in and embracing the three of us. “The gang’s back together.”
“Just like old times.”
Christy, Everett, Griffin, and I made our way through the sea of people and arrived at the cafeteria. “Wow, it’s been over a decade since we sat in this cafeteria.”
“We used to sit right over there. You, me, and Shane.” Everett pointed across the room.
“Can’t forget Harley.” I grinned, eyeing Christy.
“Oh god, don’t even mention that name.” Christy rolled her eyes and looked at Griffin, who sat back and remained quiet.
“You think she’ll show up?”
“She better not.”
“For her sake.” Griffin chuckled and searched the room for Harley. “Look, there she is.”
“Christy, you wanna go say ‘hi?’” I laughed as Harley’s eyes met mine and then moved to Everett.
“She’s walking this way, what do we do?”
“Hold me back before I beat—” Christy began as Harley interrupted.
“Hey guys, I haven’t seen you in forever. How’re y’all doing?” Harley said in her fake high-pitched voice.
Harley placed her hand on the top of my chair and leaned in as each and every one of us eyed one another with disgusted looks on our faces.
“Harley, I’m not trying to be rude, but why’d you come over here?” Everett spoke in a soft voice, looking up at her.
“Wow, okay sorry for bothering you guys. Just thought I’d be polite and say ‘hi,’ but whatever,” Harley removed her hand from my chair and went to turn away as Everett stood up and stopped her.
“After you cheated on me with my best friend, spread rumors that I gave you an STD, and then proceeded to have your boyfriend beat the shit out of me, you think saying ‘hi’ is polite? No. It’s downright immature, and by the looks of it I can see you haven’t changed a single bit in the last ten years.”
As Everett finished his speech Christy, Griffin, and I all stared up at him in awe. Everett wasn’t the type of person to speak up for himself and especially not to Harley after everything that had happened. I guess after ten years, Everett finally felt it was time to stop being the mature one and tell Harley what he had always wanted to say.
My eyes fell on Griffin’s and the two of us looked at each other, extremely surprised. Harley stood in front of Everett with her mouth wide open, completely shocked, with no sassy or rude comeback to spit out. Although it had only been a few seconds, it felt like the two were in a standoff for several minutes. Everett’s face grew red, and I could see the flames steaming from his ears. Everett cleared his throat and proceeded to say, “You can go now.”
“I’m… sorry. Bye, Everett,” Harley stuttered and walked away.
“Did she just say she was sorry?” My voice raised in shock as my eyes followed Everett back to his seat.
“Yeah, I guess she did.” Everett stared down at the table, his mind trying to wrap around the event that had just unfolded.
“Well, that was… interesting,” I responded, looking around the table and observing everyone’s expressions.
“I think I need a drink. Griffin, you wanna go to the gym?” Christy asked as she stood up and grabbed her purse.
“Yeah, I’ll go with you. We’ll see you two later, okay?”
“Alright, babe,” I said as Griffin leaned down and kissed me before the two exited the cafeteria.
I looked over to Everett, who remained staring down at the table. “You okay?” I asked as I stood up and moved my chair closer to him. His mouth opened to speak, but nothing came out. His eyes moved frantically, and I could see the gears turning inside his head. “You don’t have to say anything. It’s okay.” I placed my hand on his back and gently rubbed it.
My eyes drifted away for just a second and looked at where Everett, Shane, and I used to sit way before Harley ever came along. It was a tall, brown coffee table that was shoved against the plain school wall, with three gray chairs on each open end. I remember Shane and Everett would always get the nasty school lunch while I would buy a blueberry muffin and a watered-down hazelnut coffee from the new coffee bar our school got our sophomore year. Shane’s family was poor, and therefore he had the lunch meal plan whereas Everett’s family had a little more money, but despite that Everett would always go with Shane to get the school food that either gave me diarrhea or made me throw up every time I ate it.
Even though I hardly ever ate the school food, I would always go and wait in line with the both of them until it was time to go behind the glass wall that meant you were about five to three minutes away from a nutritious, suspicious, and definitely not delicious meal. After they “disappeared” behind the glass wall I would walk to the bar and get myself the same muffin and coffee before sitting down and watching our backpacks until the two arrived.
Everett’s words brought me back. “I can’t believe she had the nerve to talk to me.”
“It’s Harley. I’m not surprised at all.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“She did the same thing at prom.”
“She asked me if I hated her,”
“And you were so drunk, you said—”
“’Yeah, pretty much.’” Everett and I both busted out laughing. I was glad to see he had returned to Earth and shook the spell Harley had cast on him.
As Everett and I continued to chat, reminiscing on old memories, I began to notice people were becoming frantic and anxious. As each second passed, more and more people began to get up and rush out the doors. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know.” Everett looked around. “Hey, do you know what’s going on?” he asked a person who was speed walking towards the exit.
“You didn’t get an alert on your phone? It’s the storm,” the random person said as he quickly continued past us and out the door.
“Maybe a tornado warning?” Everett and I began to make our way towards the exit. “We have to find Griffin and Christy.”
While we made our way towards the front doors, I began to call Griffin. “Shit, she isn’t answering.” I tried again. “I think her phone died.”
As I placed my hand on the handle to open the door, I could already feel the coldness from outside. I pushed on the door and struggled to get it open. “It… won’t… open!” I yelled as it took both Everett and I to push the door open against the wind. The door swung open and slammed against the side of the building.
“What the hell,” Everett mumbled under his breath while I stared up at the sky. In front of us were the darkest clouds I had ever seen. Completely pitch black, only illuminated by the hundreds of lines striking through the sky. “It’s snowing.” My voice cracked as the words came out.
Everett and I slowly looked at one another and fear and confusion filled his eyes. I took a deep breath and looked back at the clouds. I had always known myself as a fight rather than flight type of person, but in that moment, I realized being frozen was another option.
All of a sudden Everett and I were interrupted by a stampede of people fighting their way through the four front doors. The two of us pressed our backs against the brick wall and watched as everyone ran in different directions, screaming, shouting, and panicking.
After a majority of the people had exited, Everett and I decided to go back inside and cut through the cafeteria as snow, rain, and hail violently fell from the sky. “What the hell is going on?!”
“I don’t know, but did you see those clouds and the lightning? I’ve never seen anything like that!” I shouted as Everett and I jogged through the cafeteria.
I pulled my phone from my pocket and saw Griffin had just called me. “Where are you? Everett and I are about to leave the cafeteria and go to the car.”
“We’re in the gym now. We’ll start heading to the car.”
“Be safe babe. I love you.”
The call ended just as Everett and I arrived at the cafeteria’s side doors. “You think the umbrella will protect us?” I joked, trying to lighten the mood.
“It’ll probably just increase our chances of getting electrocuted.”
“You’re probably right.”
“Are you ready?” Everett’s voice shook.
“Hell no,” I mumbled as we both stared out the glass doors and watched the rain and hail pour down, the wind blowing trash cans and belongings all over the land stretched in front of us. I took a deep breath as Everett sighed, nodded, and replied, “Let’s do it.”
Everett and I pushed open the doors at the same time, our shoes smacking against the sidewalk. “We just have to make it across the park, and it’ll lead us to the parking lot!” I screamed as we fought against the forty mile per hour winds, heavy rain, and hail smashing against our bodies.
We reached the grass where we had eaten lunch on beautiful fall and spring days, where the kids who were too cool for school tried to smoke instead of eating lunch, where the earth lovers planted their gardens, where the yoga class held their morning meetings, and where my geometry class attempted to fly the horrible kites we had made.
As we got about a quarter of the way across the land, I saw the tree Griffin and I had shared our first kiss underneath on the last day of school. “There’s yours and Griffin’s tree!” Everett shouted as we ran past it, my eyes following the tree as we got farther away from it. Once I could no longer see the tree, I focused back on the woods ahead of us.
“I think I can see the parking lot!” Everett yelled over the wind and thunder as lightning struck a tree about five hundred feet in front of us.
“Fuck!” I screamed as we both stopped in our tracks and watched the electricity flow through the tree. Branches and leaves flew into the air as the lightning disappeared, leaving behind a roaring clap that pierced our ears. We both covered our ears as we watched pieces of the tree fly towards us and in every other direction. “It’s a good thing we didn’t bring that umbrella!”
As I turned to my left to look at Everett, I gazed beyond his head and stared at the most terrifying and horrific thing I had ever seen. “Everett, look…” I said as I faced him and pointed to the sky.
“Oh my God.”
The two of us stood in the middle of the park watching the storm pass over the small mountain, Comanche Peak, that was just beyond the school. The clouds were layered and appeared as waves, with the top wave being gray and the very bottom pitch black with hints of a sand yellow. Every second, hundreds of lightning bolts struck throughout the wall of clouds ahead of us as the storm’s waves quickly moved towards us.
“That’s one hell of a thunderstorm,” Everett said shaking his head.
“Dude, whatever that is, it’s a million times worse than a thunderstorm.”
“We’ve got to get the hell out of here, now.” Just as Everett said the last word, lightning struck the top of the mountain, but not in the same way as it had struck the tree to my right. The lightning bolt struck down in a perfectly straight line. It then became clear to me that it wasn’t lightning after all, but a beam of light.
Everett and I stood there with our mouths hanging open, frozen in time as the end of the beam of light disappeared behind the mountain, making it impossible to see the light’s destination. Before I could say a word, Everett read my mind. “Are we about to be abducted?”
“Or worse. There could be a horde of aliens heading our way.”
After a few seconds the beam of light began to move over the mountain and towards the sky. The light shined in front of us and then directly in our eyes. As the beam of light shined in our faces, I noticed that the light resembled a movie projector light beam. Just as the beam reached the clouds, the sky completely changed. The sky turned from dark, thick clouds to plain black. Darkness filled the sky, and after my eyes adjusted I saw that the sky resembled a dome-like structure that was outlined with green lines measuring the sky. The hail, rain, and wind had completely stopped.
“Where’d the storm and the sky go?” I questioned as I looked around at the dome hanging over our heads. “What the fuck is that?”
Images emerged in the sky where the beam of light had originally been. Six different boxes appeared, stretched across the sky almost as if they were tabs open on a computer screen. In the first box was hundreds of videos playing live feed cameras from different places in the state. In the next box was news broadcasts from every major city in the state. The third box looked as though it were weather regulations for different sections of Texas. The last three boxes were controls, a calendar, outlines, and plans for the state’s weather.
I stared at the boxes floating in the sky, my mind racing and my heart pounding. Since I was old enough to conceive dark thoughts, I had toyed with the idea that the world we lived in wasn’t the world we knew at all. I had always enjoyed conspiracy theories and crazy ideas about life being a simulation, the government controlling every aspect of our lives. I had always known the government had its secrets, and although it was fun to think of and research theories about Earth and the world we live in, I never thought something like this could be true.
I continued to stare up at the sky, my mouth hanging open. The world I thought I knew was a complete lie. The blue sky that hung over our heads was nothing more than a picture. But if this was all a simulation, how did the lightning strike that tree? How did snow, rain, and hail crash against my skin? How would a tornado have struck and destroyed the high school? How was any of this possible?
What had once been a fun and crazy theory came crashing down on me. This theory was no longer a fun idea. Everything I thought I knew was a lie, and I couldn’t comprehend it; I couldn’t process the truth behind my new reality. If this was true — if our sky, our weather, our lives were a lie — what else was the government hiding? Was the mountain in front of me even real? The high school? Everett? My wife?
Was I even real?
I turned to Everett, who gazed up at the boxes floating above our heads, and it was then that I realized Everett wasn’t there; he wasn’t seeing what I was. As I walked closer to him, I noticed his whole body was frozen in a trance. I stepped in front of him and waved my hand before his eyes. His eyes. They were glazed over, and a light gray particle whirled inside his eyes where the color hazel should have been.
“Everett,” I mumbled. “Everett!” I said sternly. “Everett please!” I shouted before turning my head, checking to see if the sky remained the same. I closed my eyes and ran my hands through my hair as my mind raced. I breathed in deeply before letting my hands fall down my face and drop to the sides of my body.
I stared into his eyes, watching the gray swirl around. “Everett, I don’t know what to do,” I said, my voice cracking as my breaths grew shallow. “You’re frozen, and the sky is fucking fake!” I breathed in deeply and sighed as a tear slid down my cheek. I stared at Everett for another second before letting my eyes drop to the floor. “Is this grass even real?!” I screamed as I slowly turned around. I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks, anger growing in my chest. I stared up at the sky that I could no longer see as blue. “What other secrets are you hiding?” I mumbled. “Huh? Tell me!” I yelled, struggling to breathe.
A few seconds later, all of the tabs hanging in the sky began to disappear except for the tab that appeared to be some sort of control panel. A cursor moved across the sky, and as it selected something on the control panel the sky was filled with computer codes flying at a thousand miles per hour. I tilted my head and stared in awe as the millions of codes shuffled before my eyes.
“What is it doing?” My eyes moved back and forth, trying to make sense of what was appearing in front of me. It only took a few seconds for whatever was happening to happen. The coding disappeared along with the dome’s green lines as a white rectangular box popped up in the middle of the sky. I began to walk closer as a loading sign floated inside the box before the box went blank.
For a few seconds the box remained white until the words RESET IN 15… appeared. As the number counted down from fifteen, the world around me began to piece back together. The wind began to pick up, increasing by the second. Drops of rain fell against my skin, and a tiny piece of hail thumped me on the head. I looked up to the sky, and rain began to pour down. The hail grew bigger, and the wind pulled me in every direction. I looked back at the white box, and as the time reached six seconds, colored pixels spread across the sky rapidly and created the picture I had always known as reality. The time reached three seconds, and the sky pieced together completely, the storm’s giant waves appearing in front of me as if nothing had changed.
“Two, one…” and before I could mumble the word “zero,” thousands of lightning bolts struck down, traveling from the storm all the way to where I stood. I brought my hands up to my face just as lightning struck down before me. A flash of light blinded me, the wind pulling me backwards, knocking me off my feet. As my body hit the cold, wet ground, thunder roared throughout the air, and the world around me grew dark.
I slowly opened my eyes and saw Everett lying a few feet in front of me. A high pitch squeal rung in my ears as I attempted to keep my eyes open. Between blinks I could’ve swore I saw Everett’s lips moving. I could hear the vibrations of him talking, the echoes of his voice, but his words were nothing more than that. He began to get up as my eyelids grew heavy, darkness closing in. Through the ringing I heard him calling my name in a blur, and before I knew it, his hands grasped the sides of my arms and shook me violently.
“Dude, wake up!” He continued to shake me as my eyes opened wide. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. Help me up.”
“Did we get struck by lightning?” Everett asked as he grabbed my hand and yanked me to my feet.
“No… I don’t know.” I stared up at the sky and saw the end of the beam of light disappear into the storm.
“Hey.” Everett waved his hand in front of my face. “Hello? What is… what are you looking at?”
“The storm… we gotta find Christy and Griffin.”
“Oh shit, c’mon.”
Everett began to sprint towards the trees, heading to the parking lot as I stared up at the sky one last time. Someone must have seen that. Everyone saw it; they must have. I can’t be the only one.
This story was ranked 4th in the second Broken Mirror contest.