To Feel, A Modern Tale (05.10.11)

CHAPTER ONE <Click here for all of CHAPTER ONE.>

CHAPTER TWO <Click here for all of CHAPTER TWO.>

CHAPTER THREE <Click here for all of CHAPTER THREE.>

CHAPTER FOUR <Click here for all of CHAPTER FOUR.>

CHAPTER FIVE <Click here for all of CHAPTER FIVE.>

CHAPTER SIX

“Chloe!”

The young girl awoke with a start as her group leader Niman shouted her name. She had dreamt about it again, that place she knew yet had never traveled to. This was a common occurrence. She had found herself often dozing off during lessons as she grew bored. Bored with the same routines– same lectures in classes, same discussions, same projects assigned. Let us just get going so we can see it for ourselves, she thought to herself.

Ecker nudged his friend. “You fell asleep again, and she is not happy with you one bit,” he whispered with a scolding in his tone. “She’s not going to let you come with all of us to CarthMoore if you keep being disrespectful.”

Chloe looked at him with disgust and rolled her eyes. But she knew he was right. And all she had ever wanted to do since she could remember was go on an OTE. An Outlying Travel Exploratory, her teachers called it. She didn’t know what it was exactly but she knew they would finally get to witness the people, the places and the events they had heard so much about. At only eight years old, this would be Chloe’s first one ever. Ecker had been on only one other OTE before when he was younger than Chloe, but told his friend that he could not recall any of his earlier experience.

Niman moved to the front of the classroom and picked up her pointer, touching the image on the wall beside her. As the pointer tapped each part of the map, the image of the region expanded and the contents of that region popped out and hovered over the wall in surrounding holograms. “We will be investigating each of these locations in our search for witnessing the phenomenon in person,” she said facing the wall images and occasionally peering over her shoulder to glance at the students. “Are there any questions?” A few hands went up in the group. Niman pointed to one young boy near the front. “How long will we be there?” he asked.

“We expect to be there for one full day but that could be extended if we are successful in our expedition,” she said to the boy while she pulled out a few tablets from the bookcase behind her. “Each of you will take a tablet with you to record anything of interest that you find. And of course, you will be expected not to talk to anyone while you’re there unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

Great, Chloe thought. How can we be expected to learn anything at all unless we can talk to people? After all, we had spent all of these years working on our communications, only to stay silent on the off chance we can enter into a real conversation? It just didn’t make sense to Chloe.

“Any more questions?” Niman asked but turned away from the classroom, not noticing a few hands still raised. She gathered her belongings and leather satchel. “Okay, then, you may go back to your centers now.” And with that, she turned away from the students and exited the classroom.

Ecker turned to his friend with a smile stretched across his face. “I can’t wait to go,” he said as he picked up his tablet and shoved it into his backpack. “We’re finally going to see it for ourselves!” He piled the backpack over his shoulder and began to walk toward the door.

Chloe watched him walk away, completely swept up in his own enthusiasm. She too couldn’t wait to go on this journey that she had hoped for all these years. But she also felt a little afraid, for she knew that if this place she had yearned to visit all this time offered her the kind of life she had always dreamed about, that she could find herself doing the unthinkable. What if she chose to stay behind, she wondered to herself. It would mean leaving the only world she had ever known and her best friend Ecker. She couldn’t bear to think about it but knew that she would sacrifice anything if it meant the experience of knowing a family for the first time in her short, empty life.

Chloe picked up her tablet and backpack, and raced out of the door to catch up with her friend. “Ecker! Wait for me,” she shouted through the busy hallway. It was mid-day break, and the students had been attending their studies for the past five hours. She hoped to join her friend for lunch so they could talk about the trip tomorrow. But there he was already, at the end of the hallway, talking with the other older kids. Chloe stopped in her tracks and gazed over at him. He glanced over and smiled, then turned back to the other students to continue talking. She was left behind again.

This wasn’t the first time it had happened. Few understood their friendship, she not even ten yet and Ecker, recently becoming a teen, yet they truly understood each other. Was this what having a brother was like, she wondered. She had heard about such family relationships, but as one accustomed to life without such elements as parents, grandparents and siblings, she had only come to know one so-called relationship: friendship. And for Chloe who had always felt alone for so long, Ecker had truly become her best friend. Now he stood there across the room, completely oblivious to his friend’s excitement and need to talk about tomorrow’s big journey. She turned away from where she watched him and headed back to the resource center. She had gotten used to skipping lunch to work on her studies.

When she entered the resource center, she was struck by how unusually quiet it seemed. Many of the students were going on OTEs tomorrow, besides her own class, to various towns and villages to observe and interact with others. Maybe they’re going home to get ready for their trip, she thought. She wondered if she should begin planning for travel, too. Ecker had been so young the last time he visited and could not remember all that it involved in preparation, so he could not offer much guidance. Her group leader had instructed the group that if anyone asked them about their reasons for being there to say it was a school field trip and make up some reference to their parents back home, parents that she of course had never known. It all seemed so complicated, she thought to herself, but she would do whatever it takes to finally get the chance to meet these others she had heard so much about. She laid down her books and tablet on a study table and typed into her navigator the search topic of OTEs, hoping to find a resource that might offer suggestions for what to bring.

An article titled “Planning for Your OTE” ranked at the top of the search listing, and she clicked on the link for more information. Its author Jeremy Fowler had written many e-books about the various journeys during his youth but his most notable spoke of an adventure he too had taken to a small, tucked away village called CarthMoore, the same village that Chloe and her group would be visiting tomorrow. It was here that she first learned about Jeremy’s discovery of Element N.

According to Fowler, Element N had been labeled an unidentified phenomenon but he had experienced it firsthand when left behind on one such OTE. He described it as an all-encompassing, emotionally-charged magnetic pull that prevented him from wanting to return home for nearly seven years, during which time he studied the phenomenon, the people and their surroundings, leading to his groundbreaking work, Rediscovering Home. Though she was only nine, she had read the book nearly three times already, and was excited to see the OTE planning article was written by the author.

“I knew you would be here,” a familiar voice whispered behind her. It was him. It was Ecker. He had come back to talk with his friend. She smiled at him and showed him the link to the story and he too keyed the information into his navigator.

She turned to Ecker, still speaking in a hushed voice in the quiet, nearly empty center. “Ecker, what if we go and like it so much that we want to stay?” her eyes welled up a little now as she looked seriously at her friend. “What if it feels like home?”

Ecker looked into his friend’s eyes and then down at the table with Chloe’s backpack and OTE materials scattered across its surface. “Why do you say things like that?” he asked his friend with some incredulousness in his voice. “This is home, Chloe.” He sat down beside her and plopped his backpack on top of the table alongside hers. The thud sounded especially loud in the quieter than normal room.

“Don’t be mad at me, Ecker,” Chloe laid down her navigator atop the backpack, the article still beaming from its shiny, lit up screen. “You know I’ve never been happy here. What if we meet people there who know all about Element N and are willing to let us stay there and learn about it for a long, long time. Would you stay behind with me?” her eyes implored her friend to look directly at her as he continued to avert his gaze.

He glanced behind their table, searching for other familiar faces nearby. “I don’t know, Chloe. It could be really dangerous. We don’t know anything about the place and what the people will really be like. Sure, we can read it in e-books but until you’re actually there, you can’t know whether or not you can survive there,” he said and looked over at his friend. He put out his hands to stop his friend’s fingers which had resumed punching keys and skimming pages on her electronic device again while he spoke.

“Aren’t you tired of always knowing what each day will be like, Ecker?” she asked him. “Wouldn’t a few surprises in life and some new people to meet and new places to go be worth it?”

Ecker held his head in his hands as his elbows rested on the crowded table. “Maybe. But if I didn’t stay, I’d worry too much about you, leaving you behind. I’d never do that to you,” he said. He rested his nervous hands now back on his legs as he looked deeply into the eyes of his friend. “You know that, right? It’s true, Chloe. I’d never leave you behind. Never.”

The young girl smiled. “I know. You’d miss me too much.” She pushed his backpack one inch at a time toward the edge of the table with a devilish grin on her face as Ecker’s belongings got increasingly closer and closer to the edge. She stopped poking the backpack just as it was about to fall off the edge and let out a soft giggle.

Ecker looked back, his arm now resting on the other side of his backpack to prevent it from careening to the floor. “So what time are you going to get up in tonight for the trip?” he asked her.

“What about 8 o’clock?” she suggested. “Want to meet up then? We don’t leave until twelve but it gives us some time to come up with our question list and work out our travel stories to tell others we meet.” By this point, she looked up from her navigator only to see Ecker had picked up his backpack and was balancing it on his head.“Sure,” he said, seemingly more captivated by the feat he was presently trying to master than any of the homework his friend thought the two of them still needed to do.

Chloe thumped the backpack, causing it to tumble over her friend’s shoulder and to the ground below. “I’ll see you then,” she said to her friend with frustration and a forced smile pasted on her face. She gathered her belongings and headed out the door. I wish he would take this trip more seriously, she thought as she whisked past classmates chatting in the hallway. I wish he’d see how important this is to me, she practically whispered her thoughts to herself now as she exited the center and walked home.

CHAPTER SEVEN

 “Ma’am, I would never do anything to hurt Chloe,” Ecker looked at Lu with big eyes that seemed to be begging her for attention. “You have to believe me.”

At that moment, Lu turned back to Chloe, “Was he on that original trip with you?” She fidgeted as she spoke, still unsure about what this stranger’s visit would mean for her Chloe.

Chloe was quietly bursting with emotion, secretly excited to hear Ecker speak of her in such a tender way yet still stunned that she and this woman whom she had grown to think of as a mom were having their first ever candid conversation about the truth behind Chloe’s arrival at CarthMoore. “Yes, mom. He was part of my group’s OTE—” The young woman caught herself. “Our class trip, I mean.” She felt Ecker staring at her as she spoke and she kept her eyes firmly planted on the kitchen stove for fear that their eyes would meet and he would sense her feelings.

“Well then, I think it would be rude of us not to sit down with this young man and let him explain what he’s doing here, don’t you think, Chloe?” Lu turned back to the kitchen, opened a cabinet and pulled down a few cups. “Now go and get the tea kettle fired up, Chloe. I’m sure he doesn’t have all day.”

Chloe glanced at the back of her mom who now was poking in the fridge for cream and gathering sugar and spoons, then sneaked a peek at Ecker and she was right – she had felt his smile from clear across the room. He was practically beaming at her now as he took a seat at the table, brushed down his hair so his bangs were no longer flying every which way, and folded his hands in front of him on the table, all without stopping even for a moment from smiling at Chloe.

“Yes, mom, you’re right,” she said quietly to the older woman. She filled up the kettle at the sink and laid it down to rest on the stove gingerly and started the burner. She turned around and joined Ecker at the table, sitting just to his right in her usual seat. She realized that he was sitting in her father’s old seat and motioned to him to move across from her since no one had ever taken the man’s seat at the table since his passing. As he started to get up, Lu spun around. “What are you doing,” she asked him.

Ecker froze in motion. “I was just going to sit over here instead,” he pointed to the other chair. “Nonsense!” the old woman exclaimed and turned back to setting up her tray of baked iems and tea goodies. “You should stay where you are. By Chloe.”

Chloe perked her head up at this last comment and looked over at Ecker. Who was this woman, she thought to herself. Why was she being so nice to Ecker all of a sudden and what did it all mean? She wondered how long this discussion would go on and how long her friend could stay. She signaled to him by pointing to his watch and raising her eyebrows. Ecker shook his head as if to tell his friend to rid her mind of all concerns- he wasn’t going anywhere. Chloe put her own folded hands on the table and waited for the loud whistle to fill up the otherwise quiet kitchen.

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