Chapter 7:

"August, why is your sister talking to the coat guy?" Caleb interrupted my silent, frozen daze.

She wasn't just talking. I watched in horror as she giggled, twirled her hair, put her arm around his shoulders, bit her lip. It was exactly how she acted to the giant poster of Aaron Carter in her room.

"Amber, stop!" the words sounded like mine but I didn't feel them leave my mouth.

She glanced up and rolled her eyes, taking the coat guy's hand and casually walking over. Caleb, Janie, and I all shrunk back as he flashed that wide, toothy smile again.

"Listen up, birdbrains, the 'bad coat man' is one of my teachers for upcoming freshman year. He's been helping me prepare for my classes and he's totally chill. So stop acting like he's a sign of the apocalypse or something," she giggled mockingly and embraced him from the side again.

This man was Amber's teacher!?

"Now, now, I completely understand why they were a little standoffish. I don't blame the little fellow, he's just trying to be brave for Mommy," he waved it off charmingly.

"Mmm, I'm glad you understand. You are so insightful. Really though, I do apologize for them being so disrespectful. Come on, Ed, Edd, and Eddy, Dad's waiting for us in the car."

"But...but, Mama!" I protested as she began to drag me away.

"She's with Dad, dimbulb. By the way, she's gonna kick your butts for wandering away from her."

"But we didn't-" Caleb started.

Amber just rolled her eyes and waved one last goodbye to coat man. I looked back as well and he locked eyes with me and winked.

"See you around…"

When I finally saw Mama out in the parking lot by the car, I broke into a run and threw myself into her arms.

"Mama, why did you leave?" I asked tearfully.

"What's that now? I didn't leave, you silly boy! My, such a vivid imagination!" she chirped, then broke the hug and climbed awkwardly into the passenger seat.

Caleb, Janie, and I exchanged long glances with eachother.

The entire car ride back, she sat with her face pressed against the window talking softly to herself, her eyes constantly darting around.

"Do you think I have a 'vivid imagination'?" I asked my two friends after supper that night. We were playing Chutes and Ladders on the floor in my room, but none of us were very into it.

"August, we know what we saw…" Janie said, but her voice had hints of hesitation in it. "...right?"

"Maybe we just daydreamed the whole thing," Caleb added. "Like Max does in 'Where the Wild Things Are'."

No...we couldn't have. She left us, I knew it. She moment she was there and the next she wasn't. That's how it happened. Wasn't it?

Did...Mama really ever leave us?

The question wracked at my brain.

"My Mommy says that sometimes if a person is very sad, they can 'relive' things that remind them of what happened," Janie offered. "You're still sad about Allison leaving, so maybe you thought your Mama left, too."

But...I was over Allison. It had been two and a half years. I wasn't still seeing things that reminded me of her. I wasn't!

"But you guys were there! You guys were scared, too!" I interjected desperately.

Caleb and Janie just looked at eachother.

Late that night when we were all tucked in, me in my bed and Caleb and Janie in sleeping bags on the floor, I continued to toss and turn restlessly over what had happened. I didn't imagine it! I didn't! That feeling of fear had been so powerful and raw. The kind of fear I hadn't felt since not knowing what happened to Allison that one day in school so long ago.

Finally, my hair matted, my whole body sweaty, my eyes bloodshot, my teeth chattering, I gave up trying to sleep and just sat in my bed staring out the window.

"I miss you, Allison Kristina…" I mumbled.

That's when I saw it. A dark figure trudging around the edge of our house with what looked like a flashlight or a lantern. My heart skipped a beat and I jumped out from under my covers. Were we being robbed? Was someone stalking us? Maybe that old man from the stadium!

Pressing my nose against the glass, I watched this strange person warily as they tiptoed calmly from one end of the yard to the other. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as the strange figure paused momentarily and started But it wasn't a funny or silly dance…

I felt my eyes grow wider as their body contorted into weird positions, bending backwards and forwards at unnatural angles, their fingers twisting in on eachother, their feet jutting out and spreading apart painfully.

Then suddenly they squatted down and began digging in the dirt. They stayed like that for a few minutes, pawing almost like an animal, then rolling around, jumping back up, rolling around, jumping back up.

I could feel the tears welling up at this strange display of behavior. Yanking myself from the disconcerting sight, I scurried down the hall and pushed open Mama and Daddy's door.

"I think the coat guy came back!" I whispered urgently, pulling on their covers. Dad's large frame stirred and groaned before falling silent, but the other side of the bed was strangely flat.

SLAM! The front door.

I startled and attempted to make it back to my room, but collided with someone or something lurking in the hallway behind me.

"August!" a voice hissed.

A tousle-haired Janie stood there looking bewildered. "Are you okay?"

"Ssh. Get down," I ordered quietly, and we crouched behind the hall closet door, listening for footsteps. After a few minutes with no sound, she suggested we go scope out the front room.

"When this happened last time, my Mama was talking in secret to someone. Do you think that's happening again?" I asked Janie as we crept along.

She gave me an odd expression at the phrase 'talking in secret to someone', looked over the corner wall, and then gasped. "I think she's doing a lot more than talking in secret. Look."

We both peeked around the corner and saw Mama sitting on the couch in her nightgown, her legs drawn up to her chest, rocking back and forth and muttering softly to herself.

"What is she doing?" we chorused.

"Eeeee…*indistinguishable gibberish*...f-f-for this the last other way now for n-n-none…*more gibberish*..."

Her off-tone and weird movements really threw me off and I placed a hand on Janie's shoulder when she tried to approach her.

"I think she's sleepwalking," I whispered. "It's dangerous to wake up a sleepwalker."

"Who's there?!" Mama's head snapped up, her voice a guttural, husky pitch.

Janie and I yelped and threw ourselves to the ground, covering our heads. As if that could have helped us remain unseen. After a few seconds, however, we looked up and Mama was staring at the opposite wall, clearly upset.

"It was YOU! Do you have any idea what you've done?!" she rasped, waving her arms.

"August…" Janie whimpered, goosebumps lining her arms.

"It''s okay, she's just, uh, sleep talking," I stammered.

"You've ruined EVERYTHING!" Mama continued. A large BANG echoed through the living room as she kicked the wall and sputtered in anger.

For the first time since we'd met, Janie seemed truly scared. She nestled against me and held my arm. "I think we should get your dad."

"Everything, everything, EVERYTHING!" Mama screamed, clawing at the wallpaper and then breaking into sobs. That's when neither of us could take it anymore.

"Mama, Mama, it's okay!" I yelled, reaching forward and touching her quivering back.

A flash of pain, then everything blacked out.

"August, I said hold still!" Janie demanded, something icy and smooth connecting with my forehead.

I jerked away and a wave of red hot sharp needles shot through my face.

"What...are you doing?" I attempted to ask her, my voice hoarse and pinched. "Stop poking me!"

The blurry red above me started to come into focus as her hair, and slowly my eyes adjusted to her familiar freckled face and the surrounding area. We were back in my room, but it was...morning? Sunlight leaked through the blinds and the birds flitted back and forth from the windowsill. Caleb was nowhere to be seen. His parents must have come and gotten him earlier.

But why was my face burning? I attempted to move my limbs but they felt sluggish and cramped. My tongue felt like cotton, even after I pushed it in and out of my mouth several times, and my skin was sort of hot and shaky.

Slowly the memories refilled my brain. Mama saying her disappearing was just my imagination, the creepy trench coat man, not being able to sleep, seeing her dancing in our yard at midnight, sneaking out of bed with Janie to investigate, Mama crying, yelling, freaking out at things unseen. I had tried to comfort her…

"I'm not poking you!" Janie interrupted my thoughts. "You have scratches. Look." She shoved a handheld mirror into my face.

I shrunk back at my own pale reflection, looking like I had upset a hungry, caged tiger.

"Who did this?" I whimpered.

She stared at me softly for a minute. "I guess you were right when you said not to wake up a sleepwalker."

"Breakfast!" a sing-song voice rang out from downstairs.

A cold silence fell between the two of us as we looked toward the door.

"Was that Mama?" I asked hesitantly.

Janie avoided my gaze. "After you passed out, she did too. She sort of sat there frozen but her eyes and mouth were open. She didn't move at all. I got scared and dragged you back to your room. Then I had to leave again to get this rag for your head. When I went to the kitchen, she was gone and back in bed with your Dad like nothing happened. Then this morning she greeted me and she's been cheerful like normal ever since."

"Breakfast!" the voice called again, almost too sweetly.

"If we go down there, will she start acting scary again?" I whispered.

"She might start acting scary again if we don't go down there," Janie said reluctantly, helping me get to my feet.

"Good morning, my angels! Eggs and toast for you two at your placemats."

Janie slipped her hand into mine when she noticed my tense stature, leading me to our chairs.

"Good morning, Mama," I said quietly, sitting down.

"Good morning dear!" she chirped. It was like she didn't even notice my scars.

"Just eat. Don't upset her," Janie advised quietly.

We did so for a few minutes in almost catatonic silence, the only sounds piercing through the air being Janie clearing her throat and the sizzle of the griddle.

Janie cleared her throat again louder and made eyes at me.

I looked up and Mama was staring me straight in the face with a tight grin. "Do you like it?"

"Uh, it's, it's good," I fumbled. "It's really good." I attempted to hold her gaze. Shame on you for feeling afraid of your own mother, my head said. It's not like she was threatening me. In fact, from the outside, she looked pretty much like normal Mama. Her hair was brushed through, I think her makeup was on. She was wearing a nice clean dress and bouncing around the kitchen like she usually did. But for some reason, her 'normal' demeanor had a more sinister tone to it. And I couldn't put my finger on the source.

A twinge of uneasiness fell over me and I redirected my glance to my plate. Still, I could feel her eyes on me.

Janie cleared her throat for the third time. "Um, thank you for taking us to the game, Mrs. Lantz."

"What's that, hon?" Mama's brow furrowed slightly.

"The Rockies game. Thank you for taking us."

Mama tilted her head and stared at us in confusion. "What Rockies game?"

I choked on my eggs and a wave of nausea swept over me right as Amber thudded down the stairs in gigantic heels and clown makeup. Mama's baffled expression disappeared and was replaced with another enormous smile as she turned back to the stove.

"Hurry up and get me my plate, Mom, I have somewhere to be!" Amber announced, plopping down in her chair and puckering her lips.

"Why do you look like Jessica Rabbit?" Janie smarted at her.

"Shut up, carrot top, you look like Jessica Rabbit," Amber snapped back.

Normally Mama would have intervened about this time, but instead she just continued to move around the counter with her back to us, humming a strange tune and putting all the dirty dishes in the refrigerator.