To Feel, A Modern Tale (07.25.11)

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 <Click here for all of CHAPTER SIX.>

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

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

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

CHAPTER TEN

Ecker arrived back at the academy and watched the other students slowly filing back into the classroom. Each looked in a daze as they poured into the room chatting among themselves feverishly and heading to their respective desks.

The group’s team leader Niman scanned over the group of students and zeroed in on Ecker. “Ecker, where’s Chloe?”

Ecker looked behind him and then back at his instructor. “I thought she was right behind me when we left,” he said nervously. “I really thought she had my hand.”

Niman’s look of frustration grew. “What do you mean you thought she had your hand? We’re supposed to be staying closely at all times with our co-traveler,” she said. She stormed past Ecker and marched out into the hallway searching frantically for the young woman.

Ecker slouched in his chair and looked down at his tablet wondering if his friend would ever forgive him. He opened the packing list file that Chloe had worked on so diligently before they left and scanned the list of items. He stared at her bags which lay on the floor next to his under the desk. He felt badly about taking her things but knew that it was the only way that she would be safe there and not discovered by anyone else as the distant traveler that she was.

Niman returned to the classroom and stopped by Ecker’s desk. “She’s not here,” she said quietly. “Why do you have her things if she’s not here?” She stared at him with an increased intensity.

“I was trying to help her, so she wouldn’t have to carry everything while we made the jump,” Ecker told her. He stared down at his hands which were beginning to shake a little as he held his tablet. “I’m so sorry.”

“Go to Mr. Jackson’s office,” Niman told Ecker sternly and walked away. Ecker knew what was in store. When he had been found in Dunston and brought back, it was Mr. Jackson who had concocted the explanation for Ecker’s own disappearance. Ecker was sure that Mr. Jackson would find a way to get to the truth, so he would have to stay silent about the whereabouts of his friend whom he thought surely by now had connected with some friendly family in the village of CarthMoore.

He stood up and slowly made his way down the hallway to the academy head’s office. His assistant Rachel greeted the young man eagerly. “Hi, Ecker, what can I do for you? Oh, did you have a nice time on your trip?”

Ecker fidgeted as he stood there and stared at the floor. “Um, yes, um, Niman told me to come down here to see Mr. Jackson. Is he in his office?”

Rachel looked at the boy tentatively and glanced over at the executive’s door. “Yes, he’s in. Let me just let him know that you’re here to see him. Hold on a second,” she said and quickly disappeared behind the door.

Ecker looked at the walls and scoured photos of students taking part in academy activities, searching for the familiar face of his friend. There, there she was. There’s Chloe, he thought as he discovered her smiling face in a picture from last year’s talent competition. She had placed third for her song and dance routine. He smiled as he reflected on the performance.

Mr. Jackson stuck his head out of the door, as Rachel returned to her desk. “Ecker, what a nice surprise. Come on in,” he said and motioned to Ecker to enter his office. “What can I do for you?”

Ecker sat down in one of the chairs in front of Mr. Jackson’s desk. “Niman asked me to come see you,” He paused seriously. “It’s about my friend…Chloe…she’s…disappeared.”

Mr. Jackson sat down slowly behind his desk. “What do you mean she’s disappeared, Ecker?” He reached beside him to pull out a legal size tablet and a pen in the cup in front of him, and flipped over the cardboard flap to expose a blank page. He began scribbling furiously. “When did you see her last?”

Ecker leaned forward in his chair, his fingers intertwined and hanging between his knees and he kept his gaze firmly planted on the pencil cup on the glossy pine desk. “I mean, she was with me and then she wasn’t with me,” he muttered, barely audible for the administrator. “I thought she had my hand when we were leaping but when I looked back, she wasn’t there.”

Mr. Jackson studied the young boy and tilted his head to the side. This story sounded reminiscent of the boy’s own disappearance many years ago when the young man’s travel partner Clint Regal had sat in those same chairs and shared a similar story. Surely this was just coincidence, he thought to himself. “Well, she has her bags and her tablet, right? We can just reach out to her there at the OTE site,” he said. He turned around and grabbed a long device, punching buttons as quickly as his fingers could travel across its pull-out keyboard.

“No,” Ecker looked up at the principal. “She doesn’t have her tablet.” He paused and looked back down at his interlinking hands again. “Or her bags.”

Mr. Jackson’s fingers came to an abrupt stop, and the light tapping which bounced off the office walls ceased. “Well, where are her bags?” he turned to Ecker.

“Under my desk,” Ecker said matter-of-factly. “I have her things.” And with that revelation, Mr. Jackson picked up the device and returned it to its original location, pushing his chair back and stepping around the side of the desk to take the other chair beside Ecker. “You meant for this to happen, didn’t you?”

Ecker continued looking at his hands and moving his gaze between his fingers and the desk before him. He refused to look at Mr. Jackson for fear that the principal would be able to read his face and detect the lying. “No, I didn’t. I wouldn’t try to leave my friend behind. Why would I do that?”

Mr. Jackson ran his fingers through his own hair now and sat back in the chair, staring up at the ceiling above them. “Ecker, we’ve been here before. Now, I don’t know why you would do this, and I’m not passing judgment, but if your friend is out there somewhere on her own, all by herself, then you have to tell me the truth so we can help bring her back.”

“I swear, Mr. Jackson, I had her hand. I know I had her hand. I don’t know what could have happened,” Ecker said.

Mr. Jackson straightened up in the chair now, hands on his thighs, and stared at the boy who never wavered from his downward gaze. The principal pushed the boy’s chair to the side until it was facing him directly. Ecker looked stunned at the sudden grip on his chair. “Ecker, enough. Enough already. This is not a game. Tell…me…the…truth.” Each word hung out in the air with an intensity, punctuated by a stern, fixed stare directed at the young boy.

Ecker fidgeted and moved his body as far back in his chair as possible. He began to speak slowly and cautiously. “If I knew what happened, I would tell you, Mr. Jackson. But I don’t. So I can’t. She was there. And then she wasn’t. I’m sorry.”

Mr. Jackson arose quickly from the chair and opened the door to his office. “Rachel, I need you to get Mr. Mansfield on the line for me,” he barked at his assistant from the door then returned to the young student who stayed seated. “Ecker, we’re done here. Please go back to class and say nothing more to anybody. Do you hear me?”

“Yes, Mr. Jackson,” Ecker nearly whispered and walked around the other side of the chairs to avoid brushing directly past the principal, and quickly crossed through the entrance and out of the administrator’s office.

“Ecker, you need a pass to get back to class,” the assistant called out after the student and stepped outside the office door, but Ecker was nowhere in sight in the hallway.

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