The circle lay there. Nothing was around it—literally nothing. The circle was there and nothing else—only a grey mist where the rest of the world should have been.
There were eight places. Not chairs—the ones who had built them could not sit as humans did—but places, small raised platforms big enough for a being to stand upon them. The faced towards the center of the circle, a symbol of unity.
But four of the places were cracked.
Justin Kobe woke up on the floor of his classroom. He was lying on his back, staring up at the inquiring, fearful, and mocking faces of his peers. He had blacked out again—and judging by the width of the circle around him, had had a seizure too.
“Show’s over,” a voice called. The crowd began to disperse as two figures shouldered into the crowd. One offered his hand for Justin to grasp.
As Justin got to his feet, his teacher patted his back. “Go with the nurse. She’ll get you more pills.”
Justin nodded. Mr. Yule was only trying to help—but he didn’t understand. The pills, the psychiatrists…none of them helped.
But he left the room with the hunched drab woman that was the school nurse, if only to avoid the looks and absence of looks from his “friends”. She took him to the office where she kept her various supplies and doled him out a handful of various medicines that Justin swallowed dry.
He had taken so many in the past year water was no longer necessary. The pills began to affect him almost immediately.
Feeling nauseous and light-headed, he sat in the office, unnoticed by the busy secretaries and teachers that bustled in and out of the small waiting area. Phones beeped, copiers rumbled, and the random mumbles of conversation were all around him.
The latest blackout had happened in his second to last period, so no one would miss him if he left. He didn’t bother retrieving his things from his locker. He didn’t want to see anyone.
Silence is the best defense of the humble. An ancient Chinese proverb.
As Justin pushed open the doors of the school and walked out into the cold afternoon air, he wished it were true. His ability to quickly recover from his blackouts had meant he had been able to stay in the classroom and avoid a special class.
He snorted, watching the steam of his breath bloom and then vanish against the grey sky. Special class. There was nothing special about his condition. Conditions, to be more accurate. Thinking about it almost made him start counting his numbers. But no, he had to wait. He would be in enough trouble as it was. It wouldn’t do to have some passerby called 911 on a teenage boy rambling and counting in the middle of the sidewalk.
Putting his hood up over his black-dyed hair, Justin stuck his hand deep into his pockets and slid his feet through the snow, willing the long walk back to his house to go swiftly.
The sooner he was in his room the better. His sanctuary. There he could unwind and count.
On the other side of the street a woman stood, her hair concealed with a colorfully hand-knit cap. She wore contact lenses to disguise her eyes and a long overcoat, a light tan one on the verge of a trenchcoat.
She kept pace with Justin, but he failed to notice her despite the fact that there weren’t many who cared to walk in the winter. Maine’s winter was fierce this year—several feet of snow and more expected. Despite that, Justin was focused on two things alone—not counting and reaching home.
When Justin reached the entrance to his neighborhood, the woman kept walking. She reached a bus stop and sat down. She pulled off her fingerless gloves, rummaging in the pockets on the inside of the coat.
She pulled out a phone, an older, bulky model. She flipped it open and hit speed dial 1. The called connected immediately.
The woman looked around, but there was no one who could overhear. The bus was not due for another half-hour. “I found another possible. Symptom manifestation is consistent—almost exact from my findings.”
The phone hissed with a rush of static as the other sighed. “What’s your personal opinion? There are plenty of other possibles.”
Hesitating, the woman weighed her words. “Unlikely. He appears to be, from what I’ve seen, unsuited for the role.”
“What about your…sense?” The voice on the other end was deep and male.
“It says I am close. But not necessarily here. It could be anywhere on the East Coast. Maybe Canada.”
“Very well. Finish your background research, file it, and move from there. We have to hurry.”
Nodding sharply, the woman closed the phone. Two more days and then she would move on. They didn’t have time to waste—they had been too long without guidance.
She boarded the bus.