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We parted as I turned to walk up the driveway leading to my house. I opened up the front door and kicked off my shoes, tossing my backpack onto the sofa as I went to get a glass of water from the kitchen. I was parched, school was roughly a mile away, and we went by foot, like every day. The tile floor was cool under my sore feet, and I looked out the window while drinking my water.
There was something new out there, a small jungle gym, consisting of climbing bars, a swing set, and a slide, sitting on wooden chips. Must be for Jimmy, I thought, finishing my water, and setting my glass down on the counter. Jimmy was my little brother, and today he turned 6. My thirst quenched, I went outside to try out the jungle gym. I wasn't going to bother doing my homework, I had all A's and B's, and I figured that because tomorrow was the last day of school, I didn't have to do it. I fooled around out there for about an hour, and my parents came home from work, and Jimmy from day care. We then proceeded to follow our evening routine, and went to bed.
The next day, we got a ride home from Mr. Johnson in his truck, carrying supplies for our tree-house, and we got to work on it right away. We built a ladder first, you have to have a way to get up there in the first place. After giving the tree a little pruning, we built the base and the floor. We then built the walls, and then the roof. We were very proud of ourselves, and it was a mighty good-looking tree-house. By the time we were done, it was only a few minutes until suppertime, so we each had to head in. I discussed the tree-house with my family while we were eating, and Jimmy was absolutely fascinated, but Ma and Pa seemed a little disinterested after the first minute or so. We went to bed and I was too excited to go to sleep.
The next day, I wolfed down my breakfast and sprinted to Stan's house as my father tried to stop me, to spend our first day enjoying our tree-house. When I got over there, however, I saw Stan and his family leaving the house, all dressed up. I was confused, because it wasn't Sunday, so what could be the occasion?
"Hey Stan, what's with the suit?" I asked him.
"Well, George MacArthur passed away yesterday, and we're heading off to his funeral," Brady, his brother, explained to me, as his family entered their red minivan.
Somewhat disappointed, I headed back home, and was scolded by my mother for not being ready to head to the funeral. I really didn't want to wear that suit, it was a little tight, and itchy around the neck, and Ma kept getting mad at me for scratching because it messed with my tie. Hell, I didn't even know George, which was surprising because we lived in a small town, with only population of around 270 people. Anyways, we went to the funeral home, but the casket that held his body was covered, and I had only been to one other funeral, and the casket had been open. I wondered why. I asked around, and found out that he fell down a well and broke his neck, his skull, and his back. He was found by the county police two or three hours later. It also turns out that George and Stan disagreed often, but I saw him weeping in the corner.
When we got home, I was anxious to go to the tree-house, and so was Stan. We were up there for a few minutes, and then Stan had a genius idea. He told me to head over to his house to grab a couple tires, and some rope, and I knew exactly what for. We built the tire swings and played for about an hour before we noticed a thick, black column of smoke coming from the direction of Stan's house. We rushed over there to see what happened, and his house was engulfed in bright yellow-orange flames. The fire department later determined that there was no definite source of the fire, and told us that it probably started because it was a dry, hot day. That confused me, because all day it had been overcast and 20% humidity.
Luckily, his family was safe, Stan's mother was volunteering at the day care center, his father was at work, and his sister and grandfather were out shopping. They decided to stay at the homeless shelter, and were the only ones there, spending the daytime rebuilding their house, and the entire community helped, making the job go much faster, only lasting three days. Stan's family were more than happy to move back in, and were very grateful.
At some point the next week, Stan and I were painting the tree-house green and brown to blend with the tree. Stan had just come back after having lunch, and soon I had to go in to have some as well. After a few minutes, my father was shouting for me.
"Would you mind waiting for me? I'll be back out right quick, I swear." I asked Stan.
"Sure, I'm gonna rest for a minute or two," He replied, laying down.
I flew down the ladder and ran inside, ready to rush back outside. I quickly ate my lunch and was about to dash outside, when I noticed a wet spot on the ceiling. I stared at this peculiarity for what felt like a mere few seconds, but actually lasted six or seven minutes. Curious as I was, I left the room, and returned with a stepladder from the kitchen. I reached my hand up and felt the area.
"Strange," I said to myself.
You would expect it to be wet, if it was dripping water, but it was surprisingly dry. I couldn't believe what I was feeling, nor what I was seeing. Not only was the spot dry, it was extremely cold, and there was something else. It appeared as though the water was dripping through my hand. I reached with my other hand to catch the drip, and not only did my hand hold the water, none fell through. I lowered my head and raised my hand, tasting the water. To my amazement, it was crystal clear. Another odd thing was that when the water hit the floor, there was no spot there. Deciding that I had to tell Stan about this immediately, I jogged over to the tree-house. But when I exited, what I saw shocked me.
The tree-house was up in a white-gray smoke, the wood crackling loudly and blackening in places. I got over there as fast as I could, shouting Stan's name at the top of my lungs. He finally woke up as I was climbing up the ladder to get him, and was coughing and sputtering as he inhaled the smoke. He was groaning in pain as the smoke stung his eyes and filled his lungs, but managed to get out of there, stepping down onto the top rung of the ladder. I tried to move back out of the way so he could climb down, but he tripped, falling to the grassy ground. I assumed that he was safe, until he started shrieking in pain. His blue jeans were turning purple around where the middle of his shin was. You could easily see that his left leg was broken, it wasn't natural for anyone's leg to stick up and out like that. I rushed over there to help him, although there was nothing I could do, so I just stood there panicking, with my hands in my hair. I was racking my brain, trying to figure out what to do next.
"R- R- Rob, I- I think m- my leg's bro- bro- b- broken..." He told me, his screams settling down as tears ran down his cheeks. The pitch of his voice was all over the place, and he was struggling to speak to me.
"I'll be right back buddy, I need to get some help, okay?" I responded, running to get a phone.
When I got inside, I called an ambulance, and they were here pretty quickly. I spent the rest of the day worrying over my friend, drinking ceiling water. It tasted pretty good, but it didn't help much. I watched the fire department extinguish the remnants of our tree-house and a couple trees. When he came home the next day, I had him taste the water from the wet spot on the ceiling, which seemed to have moved overnight. Instead of being in the dining room, it was in the kitchen. But nothing changed other than that.
"Tastes great!" Stan exclaimed, a fresh cast placed on his leg.
"I know, like nothing you've ever tasted before, right?"
It turns out another fire happened, at the cemetery. Nobody found out how it started, or the one in our tree-house. Anyways, the next day, Stan invited me to sleep over at his house, and I happily accepted. We were going to sleep in the basement, and we spent most of the day roaming the town. Just like the one on my ceiling, we found several other wet spots around town. And yes, we were stupid enough to drink random puddles of water that we just happened to stumble across. We also found out that Mr. Parkinson’s cellar flooded, because the water pipes froze up. Everybody signed Stan's leg cast, and it seemed that they all knew how he got it. But hey, small town. There was also an odd sickness spreading around town. It started with some pretty bad recurrent migraines. Then, it developed into sore arms and a sore neck to the point where your arms were paralyzed and you couldn't talk. Then, as it was understood, you got stomach pains.
Stan and I weren't too worried, though. I spent the night at his house, and as we were drifting off to sleep, I remembered I needed my stuffed white tiger, Marvis. I strolled back home and sneaked in, careful not to wake my family. I returned to the basement about half an hour later. I stepped down as quiet as I could be, and I almost yelped at the sensation that touched the flats of my feet. The floor was cold as all hell, and a little wet. I was ashamed at my behavior, and I felt like a little girl for doing that. Even though it seemed as though that the ground was sucking the heat out of me, I tried to ignore that and kept moving forward. I stumbled back as I hit my head against the... wall? It was sloped, but when did that get there? I walked back up the stairs, holding my head in pain, and I flipped the light switch to see what I hit my head against. I found out that I had apparently hit the ceiling. I also found out why the floor was so cold. It was pure ice, and it appeared as though the entire basement must be frozen like that.
I didn't know what to think. All I could do was shout, but I couldn't even do that. I stood there gaping for a few minutes, and I then proceeded to touch it. That's right. I had to know this wasn't a dream. I reached down, and sure enough, it was real. I was shocked, but I ran back up the stairs to Stan's parent's room.
"Mr. Price! Mr. Price!" I shouted in his ear, not being able to tell whether me shaking him, or me shouting woke him. I bet he knew.
He ended up smacking me on the side of the head, and demanding to know what the meaning of this was. I explained to him everything that happened, and he sat up, just staring at me with a surprised look on his face, as Mrs. Price stirred unhappily. We rushed back down there, and Mrs. Price cried for about an hour, while Mr. Price was slumped there on the ice, beating on it, whispering his son's name, sobbing. My eyes were closed, my head pressed against the wall. Why, after all Stan had been through recently, did he have to go now? To end up like this?
The fire department ended up retrieving his dead body from the ice, a job which lasted about 14 hours. We held his funeral the next day. I learned that the new illness was spreading, too. At first, only two people had it. Now, there were at least 50 people, and it caused three people to go blind. Even so, I held a private funeral for Stan, just for me. I made a little shrine for him, a framed picture of Stan surrounded by blackened wood from what was left of the tree-house, a small quartz crystal that we found when our families went out of state on a vacation, an old necklace he gave me when we were 5. For days, I mourned over my short-lived friend. I didn't eat for days. Eventually, my parents had Father Daniels come to my house and convince me to start acting normally. After an hour, I accepted their help, but that didn't replace Stan. We prayed that his soul would be safe.
"Sorry, but I best be going now. I have quite a headache," Father Daniels told us, leaving our house.
It wasn't too long before people started to die. More and more bit the bullet because of this damn disease. The government noticed that it was starting to pass around the county, so they spared no time at all blocking off roads. They began enforcing curfews. Scientists wearing HAZMAT suits became a common sight. Military helicopters were often seen patrolling the skies. Martial law was enforced just on our county. I was a bug to them, and they were ready to put their magnifying glasses over us, observing us until we caught on fire. They did that, too. They took flamethrowers to houses to prevent contamination where it was the worst, even if the inhabitants were still alive. More things flooded, froze over, caught on fire. I saw with my own eyes a chopper burst into flames with no cause whatsoever, and explode after crashing into the garage of an abandoned house. They called it "quarantine."
The government eventually came up with numerous ideas as to what this was. What was causing it? They didn't know, and neither did we. They tried everything, they even took Jimmy when he started having headaches and his right arm was sore. But he most likely had the headaches because he was refusing to drink any water, and his arm was sore because he had an accident involving the table and the wall. The last thing they tried, they admitted was a long shot, but they did it anyways. The government requested the presence of a Cardinal, and sure enough, one showed up. They figured it had to be anything from a ghost to the Devil himself. They performed exorcisms, blessings, banishings, and it was a while before anything happened.
What did happen wasn't exactly extraordinary. It was a ghost, a poltergeist maybe. And it spoke to the Cardinal. It spoke the name of George MacArthur. Could it have been his ghost? Nobody really knew. All I learned was that after that, things stopped, and that was it. People who had the disease ended up dying, but it no longer spread. The spontaneous ignition, flooding, and freezing of unusual objects and places no longer happened. I didn't, however, see my little brother ever again.
The occasional oddity of a fire or a wet spot happens, but you'll always find a cause, if you look hard enough. And none of those random puddles taste like those during the incident when I was a child, but I grew a sense of common sense at some point, so I didn't go around drinking any water I happened to come across. We lost some good people, George (didn't know him, but he is still remembered), Stan, and Jimmy. Now I'm an old man, I was 10 when all that happened, and now everybody pretends like it never even happened. That was 57 years ago, and there's only really time for me to say goodbye. I'm leaving soon, and if I'm coming back, it certainly won't be like George MacArthur.