I was only allowed to bring three toys to my grandparents’ house for the summer. What was this, Russia? No, it was Orlando.
I rode in the back of my parents’ station wagon as we drove down the East Coast with the heat outside my backseat window growing more and more intense as we moved down the map until we reached my least favorite state in the union.
My grandparents decided to finally retire in Orlando after too many upstate New York winters and my parents had the grand idea of dropping me off at their condo for a few weeks each summer while they went sailing off to the Bahamas. I could sail with them once I was 12, but for the three years until then, I was stuck spending each night on the inflatable mattress in my grandparents’ spare bedroom with the smell of fresh ointment tickling my nose.
As you could imagine I wasn’t the least bit ecstatic about leaving my home, all of my friends, and my toys for three of the prime summer weeks to hang out in a condo complex with an average age of 75 armed with just an Etch-A-Sketch, Lite-Brite, and my stuffed Bear Leon. Well, and two surprises I tucked into the very bottom of my backpack in hopes no one would find them, but more on those later.
The first couple of nights at my grandparents were awful. I was the only person I saw who didn’t have grey hair, I wasn’t allowed to use the pool in the complex (you had to be 18 for some reason), my grandmother cooked based on a strict no salt and no sugar diet, and only let me read either the Christian short story books she had or things which were educational. To top it all off, I had to be in bed by 9 each night even though it was summer and I had nothing to do the next morning.
I would pass the time each night with the aide of my three allies which came in the form of toys. I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep for an hour so I figured I would pass the time in a more productive manner than just picking my nose and wiping the boogers on the wall next to my pillow. I set up a nightly art project.
Illuminated by the light of my Lite-Brite, I propped up Leon on the end of my bed and went to work with my Etch-A-Sketch each night, perfecting a portrait of Leon in aluminum powder. A few days in, and I had a serious piece of art I felt was museum-worthy. Maybe I had a future career as an Etch-A-Sketch artist? My parents were going to be sorry for abandoning me when I sold my first work of art and didn’t share any of my millions with them.
With this in mind, I was horrified when I woke up in the morning after four nights of perfecting my piece and discovered it had been erased and replaced with sloppy writing. Tears formed in my eyes.
“No. No. No. No,” I cried out in the morning light.
All my work went to nothing. Leon was no longer my personal Mona Lisa. Instead, I was staring at a hideous scrawl of writing I could barely even read.
I examined the work for a few moments before the message kicked in.
The balmy, little guest room went cold. My eyes locked on the crooked, ugly writing which looked to have been twisted out with the knobs of the art machine in a panic. My childish rage suddenly changed to childish fear.
“Jordan,” my grandma’s voice called into the closed door of the room.
I tucked the Etch-A-Sketch underneath my mattress.
My grandma rushed me from my Etch-A-Sketch discovery so I could make sure and join my grandpa on his fishing trip to a little manmade pond down the street stocked with perch which were about as big as my thumb. We spent most of the day reeling in the little wiggling fish, ripping hooks from their translucent lips, throwing them back into the muddy water and then reeling them in. Looking back I am pretty sure the whole practice was just an excuse to get away from my grandma and the impromptu sermons she sprung on the both of us all hours of the day.
I ran to my room as soon as we got home late in the afternoon. I dug out the Etch-A-Sketch. My brain exploded when I saw a new message scribbled on the screen.
WHY DID YOU LEAVE ME?
I looked around the room, searching for any kind of human presence, but it looked just as still and stale as it always did. I nervously went to the closet, peered into the back recesses. I saw nothing but a box of old photos albums which had been in there since I had shown up.
I went back to the Etch-A-Sketch and wrote a message back.
WHO IS THIS
The torture of dinner time came right after I wrote the message back. I gobbled down the tasteless meal with whole milk so I could excuse myself to bed a little early. My mind couldn’t think about the message which could have been waiting for me on the Etch-A-Sketch tucked beneath my pillow.
My answer was waiting for me when I got back into my little mattress with freshly-brushed teeth and ET pajamas clinging to my scared little body. I read the message back at least 10 times before it felt real.
Jamie…Jamie…Jamie… Was that a boy or a girl? Was she, or he, alive or dead? Was he or she in my grandparents’ house?
I paused the thoughts for a moment and wrote back.
ARE YOU A BOY OR GIRL?
I waited patiently. My eyes didn’t leave the cold gray screen of the Etch-A-Sketch until my eyelids became so heavy they closed and I drifted off to sleep and my mind and body forgot all about the conversation I was having with someone named Jamie who lived in a toy.
It would be the tall glass of milk which ultimately came back to haunt me. I woke in the middle of the hot, dark night having to pee. Still unfamiliar with my surroundings, my heart raced for a few moments when my eyes opened and scanned the alien room lined with various portraits of Jesus and paintings of scenes from The Bible.
After a few moments, I remembered where I was, but something was still off. Instead of the usual pure darkness of the night which enveloped the room, the entire room had a chemical glow, similar to the one you would see when you fall asleep with the TV on.
I sat up and let my eyes adjust to the new glow of the room for a moment. After a few seconds of fuzz, the source of the light became clear. Sitting across from the foot of my bed, over in front of the sliding glass door which led out to the patio was my Lite-Brite. Filled with color and lit up, a glowing plastic piece of art beamed back at me.
The picture wasn’t clear from as far away as I was, but I could tell it was intricate, someone put serious time into the thing. I got up and crawled down the bed for a closer examination.
From a closer vantage point, I could make out the design on the Lite-Brite board. Spelled out in pink plugs and surrounded by purple and yellow was the word GIRL.
A quick shot of wind made me jump up out of my squat in front of the Lite-Brite. My eyes traced the breeze through the black curtain which shut off my room from the outdoor lights of the patio. I pushed myself across the carpet until I was at the curtain.
I took a quick peek around the black cotton, laid my eyes upon the outside world and felt the breeze again. The sliding-glass door in my room was just a little bit ajar and without a screen, my room was about five or six inches completely exposed to whatever could want to get in.
Had it been Jamie? Had she came through my door, set up the Lite-Brite and split? Maybe I, or my grandma, left the door open during the day and never noticed?
I would have plenty of time to jog my memory with these questions when I laid in my plastic bed and stared up at the ceiling, until the light of day crept through the cracks at the edge of the blinds.
My usual depressing breakfast of plain toast, baseball box scores in the newspaper, and bitter orange juice was mixed up when my grandma finally laid some actually interesting information on me.
“We’re going to go to a barbeque today Jordan,” my grandma announced. “There’s going to be other kids there.”
My grandma was telling the truth. We arrived at the little pre-Fourth of July BBQ around the complex pool and I saw a smattering of kids around my age tucked around a fire pit in the corner. It was the first time I had seen anyone under the age of 60 since my parents ditched me in Orlando.
My grandma waved me off in the direction of the kids with instructions to have fun. I hoped I could follow them, but I had my doubts when I reached the kids huddled around the unlit fire pit, their faces buried in Sunday school books.
I found an open seat in the outer crust of the group and sat down.
“Hi… I greeted everyone, a few eyes looked up from their books.
“How come you don’t have to have one of these awful books?” A freckle-faced girl wearing the eye black that football players wear under their eyes asked me with contempt.
“Huh… I… uh.”
“He’s new,” a girl who looked about 12, with a red ponytail pulled tightly behind her head interrupted my stammer.
A flimsy, childish Sunday School book landed in my lap. I scooped it up before it hit the ground.
“Here,” a frighteningly-skinny boy of about my age who had thrown the book at me spoke with a slight slur. “Just put this in your lap, keep your eyes on it, turn the pages every now and then and talk to us. If any of the old people ask what we learned when they come by just say something about Jesus that sounds smart. They don’t expect much from us.”
Introductions started around the pit. The girl with the eye black was Sam. Red ponytail was Jessica. The skinny kid was Nick. The youngest of the group, a girl probably around six years old wearing a Care Bears shirt was Lilah and another boy my age who had a tight mohawk of blonde hair was Slater. All the kids seemed pretty cool in my nine-year-old book. We spent the next few hours talking about good cartoons, Ghostbusters and German shepherds until the clouds came and took away the sunny day.
We turned our conversation back to Bible study when an elderly man came by and lit the fire pit to stave off a little bit of the chill of the cloudy afternoon. Things got interesting as soon as he left again.
“You guys know why we can’t go in the pool?” Jessica asked with a mouth full of Big League Chew.
A couple of the kids nodded their heads in agreement. The rest of us shook our heads.
“A couple of years ago. A girl drowned in the pool. Supposedly they were having a barbeque like this and someone left out a glass of wine. She thought it was grape juice and drank the whole thing. She got drunk and tried to swim, but eventually passed out and sank to the bottom. Supposedly she walks around the complex at night. My older sister said she talked to her last year by the pool at night. She said she has the glowing red eyes from being at the bottom of the pool. She said her skin was like one giant wrinkle too. She said she’s mean. She said she tried to push her into the pool. My grandparents didn’t believe her. They sent her to counseling, but I know she was telling the truth.”
“How?” Sam asked in a hush.
“The girl has tried to talk to me before. You know those stupid plastic play phones you probably used to play with.”
“Yeah,” we all knew what she was talking about.
Everyone in the group was no longer pretending to be reading their books. We all leaned closer to the fire pit to hear Jessica’s story until our faces were flush from the heat of the fire.
“Well one night last summer, I wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of a phone ringing. I get up. Look around the room until I find the plastic toy phone… and it’s ringing. I picked it up. I heard heavy breathing, the wind, and then a young girl’s voice. She was asking for help. I said I couldn’t help her. She got really mad. Started cussing me out. Telling me she was going to come into my room and kill me in the middle of the night. I threw the phone across the room. Threw it into the bushes the next morning.”
“Wait… how do you know it was the girl who drowned though?” I asked.
“She told me her name,” Jessica answered.
“What was it?”
“Jamie,” Jessica answered and I gulped. “The next day, I asked my grandparents what the name of the girl who drowned was. They said it was Jamie Hayden.”
I couldn’t breathe. I coughed into my shirt. Wiped my suddenly-running nose.
“My sister said she is looking for help and she seems nice, but don’t trust her. She’s dead and thinks that if she can kill and take the body of someone else then she can be alive again, but she needs to get you to agree to help her to do that.”
“So what do you do if she talks to you?” I asked.
“Don’t answer. Especially if she asks for help,” Jessica clarified.
“But what if she already got into your house?” I asked another question.
Jessica shook her head.
“Then pray. Because she doesn’t mess around and just make sure. Do not agree to help her. Because that’s when it gets bad. That’s what went wrong for my sister. She took over my sister’s body and almost drowned her.”
Jessica stopped when an adult came over to announce it was finally time to eat.
I dreaded being separated from the group, but was pleasantly surprised when I discovered Sam was going to be seated right next to me.
“You think Jessica is being serious, or just trying to scare us?” I asked Sam as we both first tore into macaroni salads.
“I think so,” Sam stoked the first of my fear. “I heard about Jamie last year when I was here.”
“And…it’s really freaky here. I swear almost every night. I hear someone walking around outside the glass door in the room where I sleep. I think I hear them trying to get in sometimes. Then when I get up and look out the window no one is there. Just wet footsteps,” Sam went on.
“You aren’t trying to scare me, are you?” I asked.
“Promise you I’m not. I’m freaked out enough as it is. I usually try not to talk about this stuff,” Sam clarified. “I would just do whatever Jessica says to do. Don’t help Jamie.”
I retreated to my room as soon as the BBQ came to an end and went right for the Etch-A-Sketch. A cold wash of fear came over me when I read the message which was waiting for me.
PLEASE, CAN YOU HELP ME? I’M IN TROUBLE. JAMIE.
I tossed the Etch-A-Sketch down and looked over to the Lite-Brite which was still lit up in the corner of the room. It now displayed a piece of art which looked to be a swimming pool, illuminated in blue and orange bulbs.
I feared it might already have been too late for me. I had foolishly continued the conversation with Jamie and left the door open once already, letting her in, but I was going to do everything I could to fight her off. I thought of the pieces of contraband I brought down to the sunshine state with me.
Still resting in the bottom of my backpack, buried beneath dirty underwear, socks and pajamas, hid my secret weapons. A pack of snapdragon fireworks and a Playboy stolen from the woods behind my church. The trip had not yet been lonely enough for me to resort to the nudie magazine, but the snapdragons were perfect for the kind of perimeter defense I was looking for.
Those little, stone-shaped fireworks wrapped in white tissue you throw on the ground for a loud snap, snapdragons fall just barely ahead of snakes and right below sparklers when it comes to lamest fireworks. However, they would come in very handy on that night. I needed to set up a security system.
I checked the area outside of the sliding-glass for any signs of life before I opened the door and stuck my head out into the night air. The coast was clear. I opened up my box of snapdragons and gently spread them out in front of the doorway as quickly as I could without accidently setting one of. Once finished, I ducked back into my room and shut and locked the door.
There was a stiff knock on the bedroom door behind me. I screamed like the little kid I was.
“Jordan,” my grandma’s stern voice cut through the closed door.
I dashed across the room and opened the door. I was greeted by something even more terrifying than Jamie and her soggy haunting. My grandma glared down at me through her thick glasses – my October 1986 Playboy in one hand, a bar of pink soap in the other.
“You brought THIS, into my house?” My grandma shook the magazine with the buxom model on front in my face.
“I…I…I…someone else must have put it in my bag,” I tried to form a lame excuse before I was grabbed by the ear and dragged out of the room.
I was drug into the bathroom where I sat on the closed toilet seat with the gag-inducing taste of Dial soap grinding into the inside of my mouth and trickling down my throat. I was ordered to sit there for 20 minutes and it was pure torture, but I feared my grandma still had a much worse punishment in store for me.
A few minutes into my bar soap buffet, my grandma stomped back into the bathroom holding my Etch-A-Sketch and Lite-Brite.
“Oh no, no, no. You don’t want those,” I spit the soap out and pleaded.
It was no use though. My grandma just bent down, picked up the soap, and stuffed it back into my blubbering mouth then fast walked out of the room with my toys.
I was sent back to my dark, hot room without supper as soon as the timer ran out on my soap tasting. I laid in my bed in the dark, thinking about what had just happened, actually kind of relieved that my grandma had taken away the Etch-A-Sketch and Lite-Brite. Now maybe Jamie would leave me alone?
The thought was enough to send me to sleep.
A flurry of miniature explosions outside of the sliding glass door woke me in the middle of the night. I flew up in a sweat and waited until the crackling stopped.
I let the silence creep in for a couple of minutes before I got up to check the scene outside the sliding glass door. I shook when I pulled away the curtain just a few inches and peered out onto the ground where most of my snapdragons lay ragged and useless.
Leading away from the spent snapdragons was a trail of wet footprints of bare feet
My punishment was not over. I was grounded to my room for the next few days. I know bringing porn into a good Christian household is a bad move, but solitary confinement for a nine-year-old for three days? I thought my grandma had lost it. I wanted to sneak into the living room and place a frantic call to my parents, but they didn’t even have a phone in the Bahamas.
So I just sat in my miserable, little room, reading all of the Bible stories I usually only pretended to read because I had literally nothing else to entertain myself with and occasionally got some awful meals served to me by my grandpa. I assumed I was too dirty for my grandma to even look at anymore. I never saw her on my bathroom breaks where I was allowed out into the living room.
The days could not have gone by any slower. I spent all hours feeling sorry for myself, picturing my friends back in New York at the water slide park on a sunny day, playing pick-up baseball at the school and riding bikes through the woods. Why was this the hand I was dealt?
The only thing that kept me sane was a game I made up with a crumpled-up piece of paper and a few boxes I scattered about the room. My own basketball of sorts, getting the paper ball into the different boxes added up to different amounts of points. I ended up playing about 50 games on the first day alone.
The problem actually wasn’t passing the day, it was passing the night. The setting off of my alarm the night before was still at the front of my mind and I was already out of all my snapdragons.
I had a feeling whatever had set off my alarm last night was going to come back again and this time I wouldn’t have a warning. I completely forgot about the pain of the shame my grandma had inflicted on me the day before once the sun went down and no light shone through the curtains in front of the sliding-glass door.
I eventually fell asleep sometime after midnight, but it would not last long. Even though it was soft, a knock upon the sliding glass door seemed to shake the room and wake me just before 12:30.
I sat up in bed and looked across the room to the curtains.
Another knock. No. No. No.
I was one second away from fleeing the room and waking my grandparents, even knowing that could create worse punishment, but it was better than death by drowning in your own miserable room, but a voice stopped me. A young girl’s voice that was just a little bit familiar.
It was Sam from the BBQ.
I foolishly raced over to the curtain and threw it open not thinking about how it could be a trap and not thinking about being wrapped up in my tight E.T. pajamas.
Sam’s head of long, straight black hair with bangs and eye black underneath her eyes greeted me. She laughed.
I tried to cover myself as much as possible with my two little hands, but it was futile. Sam laughed on.
“What are you doing?” I asked with a face as red as a gym class dodgeball.
“We didn’t tell you about the night swims?” Sam asked.
“Oh, well, we do them almost every night. Almost all the kids here stay in rooms with sliding-glass doors like this one and since we can’t use the pool during the day, we sneak out at night together to go swim. No one showed up tonight, so I figured I would see if you are up.”
My heart raced with the good kind of excitement for the first time in a long time.
“Do you have a swimsuit in here?” Sam asked.
“Yeah, I actually thought I would never use it at this point.”
“Put it on. Let’s go,” Sam insisted.
I followed Sam to the pool on the tips of my toes, shirtless in the night, clad in just a neon yellow swimsuit I hoped wasn’t as embarrassing as my pajamas.
“So that was you last night who set off my snapdragons?” I whispered the question to Sam when we snuck through the gate which led into the pool which shined brightly in the night.
Sam’s answer froze me for a second, but I pressed on, distracted by watching her walk up to the entrance of the pool in a red one-piece swimsuit with navy blue shorts over the bottom. I watched her walk into to the pool and go right to work, swimming around with proper, overhead form.
I walked over to the edge of the pool, nervous. Sam swam over to me.
“You aren’t afraid of getting caught?” I asked sheepishly.
“You kidding me? All these old people have been asleep since eight and they sleep like rocks. You ever tried waking your grandparents up?”
Sam was right, but I still wasn’t sure about getting in.
“Is it cold?”
“Here, find out.”
Sam splashed a sheet of water at me. I yelled in fright.
I ignored Sam’s laughing and jumped into the shallow area of the pool next to her, hoping to block out her laughter and no longer seem like the little boy who wore purple pajamas with friendly aliens on them.
I almost died when I came up out of the water and saw Sam smiling at me with the black ink from her eyeliner running down her chubby cheeks. I splashed water back at her until she dove under the surface.
Our playful game paused when she came back up out of the water and caught her breath.
“I love pools,” she said once her breath returned.
“Me too,” I lied a bit.
“The funny thing is,” Sam started again, still a little out of breath. “I watched Jaws for the first time before last summer and I was too afraid to go in the pool all summer. That’s how scared I was.”
I genuinely laughed.
“Well, I promise you chlorine is like Kryptonite to sharks,” I joked.
“I thought it was just the lack of salt water that was the problem…”
Sam cut herself short. Her jubilant face melted to a slack look of fear. She stared off behind me into the deep end of the pool.
“What is it?” I asked.
I turned myself around in the chin-deep water. I saw what froze Sam. Swimming below the surface in the deep end, going from side-to-side was a dark figure. About the size of Sam and I, whatever it was swam swiftly and seemed to have no interest in coming up for air.
“What the hell is that?” I whispered at Sam.
We both started slowly backing out of the pool with our eyes glued to the figure.
“Go,” Sam screamed at me.
The figure changed its direction in the blink of an eye, turned towards us and shot at us like a torpedo from a submarine.
We ran through the shallow end as fast as we could without checking on the progress the dark figure made on us until we were both at the top of the steps which led out of the pool. I looked down to see what looked like a girl about our age, but covered in rotten skin swim out of the shallow end and away from us. My eyes locked with her red eyes for the faintest of moments before she was gone again.
“Go back to your room,” Sam whispered to me as we ran away from the pool.
I laid back in my bed soaking wet, tried to find sleep, but couldn’t for hours. I was actually surprised when it eventually came, but maybe it just did because my body wanted to dream about Sam so much.
The excitement of the night before made me forget I was still grounded for another full day when I woke up. I innocently walked out of my room and headed to the bathroom for morning relief.
“What are you doing young man?” The stern voice of my grandpa greeted me as soon as I came out of the bathroom. “You’re supposed to ask for permission to leave your room.”
I looked to see my grandpa sitting at the kitchen counter, nervously sipping on a cup of hot coffee. The anger on his face melted when he looked to my terrified face.
“I’m sorry,” my grandpa looked down into his coffee, then back at me with the same fearful look I’m sure I was giving him. “I think something might be wrong with your grandmother. Can you take a look?
It was only the second time I was ever allowed into my grandparents’ bedroom and I couldn’t have felt more uneasy. My stomach quivered when I followed my grandpa down the hallway and heard pained moans seeping out from the closed bedroom door.
My grandpa turned to me and held a quieting finger up to his lips.
“Don’t be alarmed. Be very quiet,” he directed, I nodded.
I followed my grandpa into the bedroom slowly and the moaning got much louder. I looked straight to my grandparents’ bed and saw my grandma tucked beneath the white covers with the skin of her face and her exposed hands spiderwebbed with what looked like black veins.
“Get out of here. Get him out of here,” I heard her hiss to my grandpa through her teeth in the way I imagine a snake would talk if it could.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” my grandpa apologized and went right back to me.
I wasted no time in running back to my room and slammed the door behind me.
I jumped up onto my bed and tucked myself up into a ball until I caught my breath.
What the hell should I do? Should I tell my grandpa about the Etch-A-Sketch, Lite-Brite and Jamie? No. He would never believe me. Besides, my grandma was in her 70s, she may have just been really sick. It could have been a complete coincidence. But I just couldn’t make myself believe that. I think my grandma saw Jamie ask for help on the Etch-A-Sketch and agreed to do it. Then Jamie took over her body.
I remained in my ball of fear for what must have been an hour until a knock on the sliding-glass door uncoiled me with a scream.
I knew I should have been more cautious about going to the sliding-glass door, but I had a feeling it was Sam and I didn’t want to miss her. I walked across the room without caution and opened the curtains.
The absence of Sam threw me off at first, but then I looked to the doormat in front of the door and saw a note and a walkie-talkie waiting for me. I threw the door open and scooped up my mail.
The note read:
Hey. I got caught sneaking out that night at the pool so I’m grounded for a couple days. But talk to me on this. There is some freaky stuff going on around here.
I went back to my bed and fired up the walkie-talkie.
“Sam?” I spoke into the thing.
The walkie-talking crackled and came to life.
“Jordan?” Sam’s voice sounded like it was coming through a radio station with a horrible signal in the way people always do on toy store-purchased walkie-talkies. “How’s it going?”
“Something really weird is going on with my grandma,” I explained. “I think Jamie has possesed her.”
“She looks really sick, like her skin is turning bad or something and she won’t leave her bed. It looks like The Exorcist over here.”
“Hum… that’s freaky. Let me know if it gets too bad. Someone was outside my door last night. Like you said for a second last night someone was the night before then.”
“Yeah, and they left something? A locket.”
My tongue suddenly grew heavy. I didn’t want to think about or say what I knew.
“Jordan? You there?”
“Yeah…what does the locket look like?”
“It’s, um, silver…and there is a picture of like a Scottie dog inside.”
“That’s my grandma’s locket…”
“You think your grandma was outside my door last night? There’s fingerprints smudged all over the glass like someone was trying to get in.”
“I don’t know how else that could have gotten there.”
“That’s really, really weird.”
I waited for a response from Sam, but got none.
More silence. I thought about getting up and running over to her room across the complex, but then her voice crackled through.
“Hey, my parents are bugging me. I have to go, but stay by your walkie-talkie and I will talk to you later.”
I followed Sam’s directions. The walkie-talkie never left my side all day while I threw crumpled up pieces of wide-ruled notebook paper into old shoe boxes and listened for any signs of life through the door which separated me from the horrors of my grandma. I occasionally heard footsteps out there, but they never got too close.
I waited patiently until I heard the crackle of my walkie-talkie and Sam’s voice just after nightfall.
I dove at the walkie-talkie on my bed.
“There’s something new outside my door.” Sam started in.
“What is it?”
“It’s one of those Etch-A-Sketch things. It said, can you help me?”
“Whatever you do, don’t write back.”
“Oh shit. I already did.”
“What? No. You guys told me not to do that. You heard Jessica, it’s Jamie and as long as you don’t…
“I know, I know,” Sam began to cry.
“I think she’s over here. Can you come help me?” Sam asked.
“Yeah. Yeah. I’ll run over right now.”
I wasted no time. I took off out my sliding-glass door without a care dressed in my nerdy pajamas. I ran on the cement path which snaked around the complex. I knew Sam’s unit was across the complex from mine, on the other side of the pool which centered the building.
My sprint started out completely normal, but about 25 yards into it, I had to slow down, my throat started to feel clogged, my mouth began to taste like stinging chlorine. I stopped, bent over and coughed up a quick puke of chemical-laced water. I staggered forward towards the heart of the complex, coughing up water all the while until I was almost to the pool.
I stopped myself before the pool and looked down at my hands which were perched upon my knees. The black veins I had seen on my grandma were now present on my hands. I tried to stand up straight and keep walking, but I could no longer. I walked like a clumsy drunk, staggering forward until I was at the edges of the pool.
My brain wanted me to keep moving past the pool and go to Sam’s unit. Maybe I could get help there, but something inside of me was making the calls for my body. My silent inner captain steered me straight towards the deep end of the pool. There was nothing I could do. I put my head down and dove into the bright night waters of the pool.
I had time to think about what happened as I descended down into the bottom of the pool with my eyes open all the while, but my body paralyzed. One thought flooded my mind before everything went completely dark.
That was Jamie on that walkie-talkie the last time, wasn’t Sam.
I woke up on that awful inflatable mattress in my room at my grandparents’ house. Oh thank God. Maybe it was just a dream?
My hopes of a dream were dashed when a middle-aged man walked into the room after a few minutes.
“Alright, you’re up,” the man said with a smile. “My name’s Alec, I’m a social worker from the County of Orlando.”
“What happened?” I asked with a foggy mind.
“It looks like you were sleepwalking and fell into the pool. We got really lucky your friends from around here were sneaking out for some night swimming right around then, saw you, dove down, and brought you up. Too much longer down there and you would have drowned.”
“Sleepwalking?” I asked.
The man ignored me. Stepped a little closer, squatted down to me and put his hand softly on my arm.
“Son, I have some good news and some really bad news.”
“The good news is you are okay. The bad news unfortunately is that your grandmother passed away from a heart attack in the night while all of this was happening. I’m sorry.”
I was thinking too many things at once to feel anything about this news. Too many questions burned inside me.
“Here’s what you should do Jordan,” the man started in again. “Take your time to feel better and recover right in this bed, and when you are ready, head out to the living room, and someone will be able to talk.”
I was too out of it to even give a response. The man walked over to the doorway and came back with an item in a brown paper sack.
“Here, if you need something to do, your grandpa told me this was your favorite toy. Take your time,” the man said.
I watched the man take the blank Etch-A-Sketch out of the paper bag. He set it down on my chest and walked out of the room.
I was frozen, my eyes stuck on the Etch-A-Sketch until it started to write a message…