Disclaimer: I own this story and all the characters in it. You can't have them =P
R & R please, I'd like to see how I'm improving (and can improve) as this thing goes along.
I am thatryanguy. alus

Sorry this chapter's taken so long.. After the last two, I found it a tad difficult to write something interesting with the normal-world ยก^_^. In all honesty though, this chapter isn't complete. I decided that ending it the way I did would be more effective than going on to the rest of the day. Let me know if you disagree.

Forest Springs: Chapter 4. "Almost alive."

"Hey Brae!" Joseph's voice rang out at the bus stop. As usual, Braedan Connell was the first kid there, his best friend closely following in 2nd place. Today was particularly chilly, even for March, and the grey sidewalk, equally matched with the drab overcast that seemed without texture, held no warmth for the students awaiting their ride to school.

Running continually closer to his friend, Joseph found it somewhat weird that Braedan didn't turn his head, or acknowledge that he'd heard him in any way. Oh well though, he knew Brae was a bit of a scatterbrain, often falling into his little daydreams. Just meant he had more chance for surprise when he reached him.

Taking the last few steps on his tiptoes, he cupped his hands around his mouth, to amplify the sound of his upcoming shout. Just a few more steps before he'd be ready. Step. Step. Step. And -


He screamed it directly into his fellow 1st-grader's right ear, and pulled his face into a tight grin, ready to start laughing when his friend turned around in shock.

Yep.. Any second now.


As the moments passed, Joseph's grin faded out into a look of utter confusion. This wasn't right at all. Even the deepest of Braedan's daydreams would have been ruptured by that. Grabbing his shoulder, Joseph pulled him around, about to ask him "what's up?" In fact, the words half made it out of his throat, before the expression on Brae's face stopped him cold.

There wasn't one.

As he stared into Braedan's eyes, they stared right back out at nothing, as if they weren't in focus. There were dark rings both over and under his eyes, giving an impression as if he was suffering from two light black eyes. His mouth was no more than a thin horizontal line, giving no ground to neither smile nor frown. His blonde hair had none of its usual playfully messy look about it. Instead it just fell lifeless down the sides and back of his head, a few strands falling together over his forehead, and right eye. Even the freckles that adorned his nose and cheeks seemed paler, and less noticeable than normal. Maybe he was sick..?

"Hey Brae.. Are you ok?"

As he spoke the words, Joseph waved his right hand up and down in front of his friend's face, hoping to catch even the slightest response. Nothing.


He was at a complete loss as to what to do. His best friend was neither speaking nor moving. It was as if he were asleep.. But he knew that couldn't be true. After all, Braedan was indeed standing there, his eyes open, at the bus stop, awaiting his ride to school. How could he be asleep?

"Oh well.. Whatever.."

The words were meant more as reassurance to himself that nothing was wrong, and that Brae was just being weird, than anything. But even as he walked away to greet another of his friends, Joseph couldn't help but wonder what was up with him.

Minutes passed, and Braedan didn't move. No shuffling of feet, no shifting of balance, nothing. If it weren't for the occasional small wisp of misty breath escaping his mouth, it would have been impossible to know if he were even breathing.

Eventually, Suu showed up, skipping down the sidewalk towards the stop. Upon seeing Braedan, her already naturally happy expression opened into an even brighter smile, and was quickly followed by a cheerful call out to her friend.

"Hi Braedan!"

"Don't bother. He's being weird" Joseph's voice reached her, and she stopped in her path and turned towards him with a look of confusion.

"What do you mean?"

"He's being weird. He's not talking or moving or nothin."

"Oh? Is he alright?"

"Dunno. Like I said, he aint talking. I even grabbed him by the shoulder and he didn't say nothin. He's just being weird."

"Oh.. Does he get like this often?" Her words came with a distinctive tone of worry that, had Joseph wanted to be thought of as a wuss, would have been emulated in his own voice

"No. I dunno. Kinda. He zones out sometimes, but talkin' to him usually snaps him outta it."

"Not now though?" Despite his youthful ignorance, Joseph could tell by the tone of Suu's voice that the question was more of a statement than an inquiry, and as such, was not to be answered.

Without another spoken word, Suu walked over, placed her Mashi Maro backpack down in the line, and went off to chat with those of her friends who had arrived.


At school, it was apparent that things hadn't gotten any better. During class, Braedan hadn't spoken aloud once, had barely even moved other than to sit down in his chair, and had not accomplished a single thing in any of the lessons. Ms. Aoyama had tried to send him into the cloakroom as a form of punishment, but he had not budged. Had barely even blinked while she spoke to him. No recognition whatsoever.

However, as art rolled around, life seemed to stir back into him. Not to the point where he would respond to his other classmates, no, but in a different matter. He was sketching. Quick scribbled drawings of things he couldn't understand. A short creature with long lanky arms and tiny legs, leering out from the blackness that made up its form, with two big round white eyes. A place recognizable as the upstairs foyer, but with what looked like people lying in midair, suspended by something coming out of their stomachs that attached them to the rafters. The shapes of human bodies lying in impossible positions, thick strings of something strewn all around them, and into them. Images that a child should not be able to comprehend, being put down on paper by this normally nice and reserved young boy.

About halfway through the time allocated for art, Ms. Aoyama was making her rounds through the class, looking at what the children were drawing, and complimenting them, as was her job. When she came up to Braedan though, she was at a loss for anything to say.

Scattered across his desk were these pictures, and he was furiously scribbling away at another. It was another of the thing he'd drawn, the one with the large round eyes, but there were two more beside it. All seemed to be staring out at her, as if they wanted to kill her. She knew this was completely crazy, and that they were no more than the doodles of a 1st grader, but despite that knowledge, she could not help but be somewhat freaked out by them.

"Braedan.. What is that you're drawing?" Miss Aoyama tried to stop her voice from quivering, and was almost successful. She was a delicate woman, not a big fan of emotional jarring. That's why she'd taken this job teaching children, they were so innocent. This kind of stuff just wasn't supposed to happen.

Moments passed, the silence that was only fought by the incessant scratching of Braedan's pencil causing her to grow more and more worried. Finally though, the first real sign of recognition broke through, as he finished his drawing, and just sat there motionless. Everyone was watching him now, and when his head suddenly bobbed down as if he were going to pass out, more than a couple of surprised yelps rang out around the class.

Before his head hit the table though, Braedan caught himself, and a single, harsh, forced word pushed it's way out of his throat.

".. Dream..."

And with that, his head hit the table, and he laid there, silently staring out at the wall beside his desk, until the final bell rang..