So, for the purposes of this week's story, dear reader, Friday is Thursday? Apologies, but the days got lost for me this week. Still, here we are on the back side of October and we have reached the end of what I think I'll call Teacher's Secret.
Please enjoy this tale of recovery and dark paths and, most of all...
Old Friends - a short story by M. K. Dreysen
Mel and Greg met two, sometimes three times a week. Lunch, dinner with the families, coffee. They'd held themselves together as friends, somehow. Even as all their other friends had blown town and never looked back.
School, the big city jobs and then they'd both found their way back here. They carried a lot more time and adventures than any of their parents had ever believed possible.
Even with Veronica and Ed Grange and what had happened.
So when Mel had called, Greg had answered, simple as that. Not that a trip to the old bank was a hardship, it was just a drive down to old Main, right?
Just at sunset on a Saturday. When the park just west of the bank and the post office had settled into beer league and the kids had all gone back to their evening games and movies.
They'd argued, called each other as soon as they both started driving that way. "Where's this headed?"
"How are you planning on getting the step loose?"
"What do we tell the cops?"
Only, the "We buried a time capsule twenty years ago, after Veronica..." story wasn't necessary. Not when the top step had heaved itself up, cracked in the middle and walked high enough to get an arm through to what lay beneath.
But even that much wasn't necessary. "Is that?" Greg whispered.
Of the young woman sitting on the top step. Thin. Straight fine hair blowing and tangled like she'd had a rough go of it these past few.
Her hair grayed as Mel and Greg, hesitating, walked closer. She got thinner, and she'd been skinny anyway, but Greg noticed how her knuckles and wrist knobs stood out.
In echo to the lines at her eyes and the corners of her mouth. By the time Mel knelt in front of her and tried once twice then succeeded at reaching for her shoulders, Veronica Abernathy had gone from a teenager lost and alone to Mel's older sister, just like them showing the hesitant signs of forty on the horizon and life behind and head in almost equal measure.
Greg felt a weight he'd grown used to bearing slip just a little, lighten a bit when Veronica smiled through the tears.
"He... we needed conservation of energy, mass," Veronica explained from the front seat.
They'd taken Greg's car, Veronica in front and Mel in the back ignoring the Toyota's ever insistent beep to buckle his seatbelt. "Transference, right, I get that. But you could have used sand or something?"
In the teleportation booth Veronica and Grange had built in the middle of the high school lab. All in a rush because Ed had come home Friday night, then called the Abernathy house first thing as soon as he'd found the boys trapped in his rose bush.
Greg rubbed his eyelids, wrists. The tiny black dots where the rose bush's inch long thorns had embedded themselves and fed from his blood. Mel had similar scars; both their respective better halves had suggested they go to a dermatologist, Mel's Jenny more than once. But the weight had helped them ignore such vanities.
The weight of not knowing what the smoking mess in Grange's lab they'd both awoken to meant. Only that they'd come to there.
And Mel had gone home to his sister missing. Only explanation? "Mister Grange called Friday night, said he needed his star pupil's help with a project. Veronica just said it was something big and that you two were helping."
"We had to finish quick, before. Before we had to come up with a story of what had happened to you."
She stopped there. To look at the old house, Ed Grange's property abandoned long since. Windows broken from storms and teenagers, shingles steady giving up the ghost. "I used some bags of concrete, Dad had some in the garage. It should have worked."
The transference. A rigged-up, half-finished, all-crazy attempt at something that was a century at least premature. Because the rose had been hungry. Thirsty. "I tried, you know? First?" Veronica said. "But the bush tore a little of your flesh away when anyone got to close or tried to grab the canes." She looked at Greg when she said it. "And then it started chewing on you."
Greg shuddered. There'd been a long sense of darkness between kneeling down to dig up some of old Grange's mushrooms and waking up in the lab.
Broken only by the pain. Yeah, he remembered the needle pierce of the thorns, and the tearing. "What went wrong?"
"Why didn't it work?" Mel finished.
Veronica sighed, then pointed at the barely-together gate to what had been old Grange's garden. "I think we'll find out back there."
"Sand and gravel can't replace flesh, not for this," Ed Grange told them.
Well, Ed Grange's spirit. Or whatever it was that spoke from the depths of the rose now grown to engulf the garden. "When blood and sacrifice come in, plain old physics just isn't enough. Older philosophies must also be addressed."
The trio, Veronica in the lead, did hesitate at the gate when it opened on its own. And the arched rose canes forming a path through the labyrinth. But there was no other real choice, not if they wanted to get their answers.
"Apparently," Veronica said.
"Right. Our calculations were incomplete." The rose encompassing their dark little world shrugged, somehow. "I admit, I never did understand such things. I still don't, not completely."
Greg stepped back at that. "You're not..."
"No," Grange said. "But you should go. I have only so much control of the garden and its appetites."
"Is there anything we can do?" Veronica asked.
"It's far too late for that, Veronica. Now run!" The canes shook, desperation and hunger squared off.
Veronica, Mel, and Greg didn't give either combatant a chance to win. They ran, tripping, bleeding, but helping each other through and then out to front yard and the car.
And the gasoline can in the trunk. One of the big old metal cans. "Will he thank us?" Mel asked.
Veronica pulled a road flare to light. "Some part of him, probably."
"We hope," Greg finished.