Note: To read The Wishing Map from the beginning, click here.
The Wishing Map
Chapter One: The Double Moon (continued)
Previously: Mike’s bike shop attempted to snatch a carpet out of the hands of a passing red-headed woman. Zack Dore missed it, but sensed that something had changed.
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Zack shot a glance across his shoulder at the double moon. The peculiar orb had remained visible for three weeks now. People called it the “double moon” because they said it looked like one moon hiding behind another, although others insisted it looked more like a 3-D image without the glasses. Whatever it was, it had first shown up the day of the Eighth Grade Promotion Ceremony, the day life as Zack and Gina Dore knew it had ended forever:
Even before the Dore family car came to a complete halt at redundantly named Middleton Middle School (Mid-Mid for short), Zack, twelve in every sense of the word, flew out the door, his yellow straw hair flaying his pale blue eyes.
“He’s going off to play with his immature friends,” his sister Gina graciously observed.
“Zacky, come find us before the ceremony starts!” Mom’s voice faded into the distance.
Zack raced across the athletic field, hungry to reconnect with his friends. He dodged multitudes of parents, who in turn were dodging multitudes of green and gold balloons as they searched for unclaimed folding chairs.
Zack spotted his second and third best friends Michael Wassen and Casey Egger at their usual place just outside the 800 Building. There Zack, Michael, Casey, and Arman had spent the last two years doing the only thing, in Zack’s opinion, worth doing: pretending. In fact, Zack was so good at pretending, that his friends had long ago surrendered all control of play to him, not because he was demanding, but because his imagination was so much better than theirs.
But then last week, within three days of each other, Michael and Casey had both turned thirteen, and immediately begun to change. Which is to say, they’d begun to act the way they supposed all proper teenagers act: bored and superior, and completely uninterested in pretending. No, worse than uninterested—hostile.
“Hey, slime monkeys!” Zack yodeled as he slid across grass and onto the concrete at the base of the steps.
Michael and Casey both started to laugh and instinctively reached out to grab his arms in order to soften the blow, but then, as if suddenly remembering Zack was made out of razor blades, Michael pulled back and stifled his laugh.
Nervously following suit, Casey released his grip.
Zack crashed bottom-long into the cement steps. Undaunted, he bounced back up onto his feet and said, “Ta-da!” He’d have a black and blue butt for a week, but so what? At any given time at least some part of his body was black and blue.
Eerie silence. Where was the roar of appreciation? Even a small roar would have sufficed.
Michael murmured “hey” in a self-consciously low tone, and then resumed the cool-bored pose he’d been working on for the last week and a half.
“Sup?” said Casey, glancing uncertainly at Michael, then back at Zack.
“Did you guys see the double moon? I mean, crud, it is SO freaky!’
“Uh, yeah, I guess,” Casey replied.
“It’s abnormal, I tell you!” said Zack in his famous mad scientist voice.
“Yeah, it’s kinda yellow and blurry,” Michael offered with a “so what?” shrug.
“Kinda yellow? Kinda blurry?! Why, Doctor Merriweather, Doctor Farquhar, I am shocked at you. Could you not see that something is monstrously amiss? Do you not realize…”
He waited for them to chime in with a dramatic, “Yes, Doctor?” Arman would have picked up the cue in a flash, but Arman wasn’t here. A fleet of trucks could have driven through this pause, with a stop for pie and coffee along the way. “Do you not realize that behind what appears to be a mere blurry moon lurks a planet-sized alien mother ship preparing to annihilate the earth!!!” He followed this chilling revelation with his long-perfected musical sci-fi movie sting: “Wrrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”
Michael leaned in, conspiratorially. Zack brightened and leaned in to meet him, but it was not the face Zack had known since fourth grade. Michael’s words were chilling and, to Zack’s ears, pure evil: “We’re not doing this kiddy crap anymore, Dore. Game over. And nobody says ‘crud.’ It’s not even a word.”
“Yeah,” Casey said, and then, unable to think of any actual words, leaned back and repeated, “Yeah.”
Zack’s ears began to burn.
“So, my brother got his license,” Michael reported, “and he’s gonna buy this awesome dark black roadster.”
“Excellent!” said Casey. “He should get it with triple turbos and…a fuel-injected muffler.”
“Oh, well, that’s obvious.”
Zack’s temper started to bubble, but he lidded it and attempted a playfully teasing tone: “Why, gosh and golly, I hear that’s a superb little roadster, fellow teens!”
Casey started to nod, but Michael shook his head, as if to say, “He’s making fun of us, you dope.”
The silence between them began to congeal.
Zack made one final effort to resurrect their collective childhood: “So, you guys want to sleep over? We could pretend we’re—”
“Hey, Christy!” Michael shouted. But Christy Miller, a gorgeous soon-to-be ninth grader, was unable to hear him due to the fact that she now existed on a different plane of reality.
Michael grinned—as if acting like she’d noticed him could somehow make it true. He turned back to Zack and said, “Time to grow up, Z-boy.” And without another word, Zack’s suddenly ex-second best friend hurried off after Christy Miller.
Casey was disoriented until Michael glanced back and cast him a look-hook, which he gratefully swallowed.
As Michael and Casey grew smaller, Zack pushed the hair out of his eyes and hollered after them, “There’s no such color as ‘dark black!’”
He was painfully aware that he now had only one friend left in the world, and that friend was eight thousand miles. He and Zack had talked on the phone just once since then, and Arman had sounded annoyingly happy:
“Zack, it’s really cool here…they drink this really sweet tea…it’s really good and…I kissed a girl!…her name is Maryam…she’s the only person in the village I’m not related to…she likes Mickey Mouse and she’s really…” Then the phone had made strange noises and gone dead.
Suddenly the whole world seemed to be making strange noises and going dead.
Zack had never felt more alone in his life.
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Thoughts: Was there a moment when you let go of your childhood? What was gained? What was lost?
To read The Wishing Map 4, click here.