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 "We'll come through for you!"

 Josh, living a nightmare 




The next morning, on the bus to school, Josh was the most popular Kansas kid since Dorothy. Everyone wanted to hear how he rode a tornado for a hundred miles, and lived to tell about it. Only Josh wouldn’t tell. His adventure was not a fairytale in Oz. His was a story of warfare and creatures bent on conquering—everything.

When he got to home room, the first pair of eyes that caught his were Emily Kinicki’s. She smiled. It was the first time she ever smiled at him, ever paid him any attention at all. His heart didn’t flutter nearly as much as he thought it would, back a few days ago when the real Emily Kinicki seemed to mean so much more to him. Josh didn’t really need Mr. Blaisdell, his home room teacher, to make a big deal out of Josh’s miraculous return to Wheatland Junior High. How relieved everyone was that Josh was safe. How worried they all were during the two school days he’d missed. How Mrs. Twining would allow him to make up that English test.

On the way to math class, Emily Kinicki hurried to catch up with him in the hall. This became the first time she actually spoke directly to him.

“What was it like, Josh?”

She said his name. How he’d longed to know what his name would sound like coming from her lips. Then he realized Tempo had already often said his name, and with Emily’s lips, and with Emily’s voice.

“Wh-What?” he stammered.

“Being inside a tornado. Gosh, I’ve lived in Kansas my whole life and I’ve never even seen a tornado.”

“It was scary,” Josh told her.

“Did you think you were going to die?”


“But you didn’t. I think that is so cool! I’ll bet you’ll be on TV. Maybe even Oprah!”

“Geez, I hope not.”

“Are you crazy? That would be truly stellar. You’d get paid lots of money, I’d bet. Maybe even have a book or something written about you.”

Josh had to force himself not to allow her into the intimate knowledge of the adventure he’d shared with the telepathic space/time entity, Tempo. This was not Tempo using the form of Emily to help Josh relate. There was something unsettling about the real Emily’s gushing over how worried she was about him. How her father and older brother had joined the search parties. How everyone in her church prayed for him. Josh’s family didn’t belong to the same church the Kinickis did. Josh thought about how he’d often, in the past, wished the two families shared the same religion so he could see Emily on Sundays. Now, he was strangely very glad they didn’t.

“Gotta hit the can,” Josh said, and he quickly ducked into the boy’s room. “Whew!”

In math class, where Emily sat two rows over and two seats forward from him, Josh didn’t steal the many glances at her he’d entertained in the past. He didn’t feel like looking at her at all. In his peripheral vision, he could see her, and everyone else, glancing back at him. When the math teacher, Mr. Clemens, welcomed him back, Josh just shyly smiled and said, “It’s good to be back,” for the hundredth time since his return.

Billy Engle, with whom Josh had had a fistfight at the age of seven, had become Josh’s best friend. They couldn’t even remember what it was they’d fought about. Even Billy’s friendship didn’t warrant disclosure, and Billy didn’t press him. Billy and Josh gave each other space, and that was one of the things that made them fast friends. They walked the campus together at lunch time, like they always did.

“Glad you’re not dead,” Billy said, cutting to the chase, as Billy always did.

“Me, too,” Josh answered, as they came upon one of the many posters of Josh put up when he was missing. Josh tore it down and crumpled it up.

“Billy, I’m gonna have to go away again,” Josh said, “I can’t really tell you everything, but, well, it wasn’t a tornado that took me away. It was, like, a government thing. But please, don’t tell anyone.”

“‘Course not,” Billy answered, highly intrigued.

“It’s just that, well, it’s something that affects the whole world. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s important.”

“It’s cool, dog,” Billy replied. “You can tell me about it when you’re ready.”

The two friends continued their aimless walk around the campus. They almost always used their lunch hour to walk and talk. The subjects used to be television shows and sports and video games. Both were also avid skateboarders, but boarding was not allowed on campus. Sometimes the subject was girls. Billy was the only one that knew Josh’s feelings for Emily but, like a good friend, he never told anyone, never brought it up unless Josh did. On this walk, they were mostly silent. They came upon another poster of Josh. This one, Billy tore down and crumpled up.

It was two days later, while Josh was in chem class, that his burn band vibrated for the first time. The vibration sent an instant lump to Josh’s throat. He yelped, startled! Everyone looked! Josh asked the teacher if he could be excused. Everyone watched, and felt sorry for him. Only Billy Engle felt the hand of intrigue caress him.

Josh hurried down the hall to the restroom. It was during classes, so the restroom was thankfully empty. Josh stood so he could see the door and could step behind a partition if anyone came in. He pushed up the sleeve of his shirt and hit the communicator button on his burn band.

“Hello?” he said, instantly feeling stupid that he hadn’t thought up a cool way to answer his first call from interdimensional space. Like: “Come in, DimensioNoids!” or “Josh Miles, here!” but it was too late for that. Starla’s synthetic voice greeted him succinctly and without the warmth of a greeting a human might have offered.

“We need you,” Starla said. “I’ve input the terminus for your burn. You will rendezvous with the others in the dimension of Zebulon, where atmosphere and temperature support organic life. Though I hear it’s a bit warm.”

“Uh, gotta get my backpack,” Josh answered, then added, “Josh Miles out.”

Josh hurried to his locker. He put on his helmet, then his backpack, which held his skateboard and several other items he’d decided might be of use to him when called again into interdimensional space: his pocket knife, a small flashlight, ten protein bars, money, gloves, a warm sweater, and two extra pairs of socks. He took his books out of the backpack and left them in his locker to lighten the load. He was wearing his new sneaks. He blew all his savings to buy the new Nikes, and he’d been breaking them in for two days. If this mission involved running, he was determined to keep up with Tempo. “Leaving early?” a voice said behind him. Josh turned to find the school principal, Mr. Rupert, standing there.

“Oh, uh, don’t feel well,” Josh lied.

“That’s all right,” Mr. Rupert smiled, “your parents picking you up?”

“Yes, sir,” Josh lied again.

“Well, you go on ahead,” the principal nodded. “I’ll square it with your teachers and I’ll give your parents a call later. See how you’re doing. You’ve had a rough week, Josh, so it’s understandable.”

“Thanks,” Josh said, mustering a crooked smile.

Mr. Rupert patted a comforting hand on Josh’s shoulder then continued, thankfully, down the hall. Josh turned and hurried away in the other direction. He was almost to the exit door, when Billy Engle called out. “Josh! Wait up!”

“Billy. Uh, I’m not feeling well. Gotta go.”

“Here,” Billy said, handing Josh his cell phone, “you might need this.” Josh was not surprised. Billy had a way of seeing past the obvious. “You can give it back when you get back,” Billy added.

“Thanks,” Josh smiled, and then he gave Billy a hug.

Both were surprised by the hug. It was not something boys do. Josh ran out the big glass double doors and down the steps. Josh called home on Billy’s phone as he hurried across the street. He was relieved it was his mother who answered. He told her he’d be disappearing again, how he’d told Mr. Rupert he didn’t feel well, and how Mr. Rupert was going to call her to check on him. “You gotta tell him I’m sick. You picked me up at school.” She protested, but Josh just said, “Gotta go,” and hung up.

Billy watched as Josh went into the alley between the hardware store and Pop’s Hamburger Stand where Josh and Billy often spent time waiting for the school bus to take them home. Josh wouldn’t be taking the bus today.

Josh disappeared into the darkened alley. Billy watched awhile longer. He flinched just a bit when there came a flash of fire from the dark recesses of the alley. The fire soon flickered out, so Billy took a deep ragged breath, quietly said, “Good luck, dog,” then turned, and went back to chemistry class.