Five minutes later Craig was still sitting on the edge of his bed, his heart rate barely slowed. His eyes though, they moved. They shot around his room frantically, trying to make sense of it, trying to find something, anything, to help him understand, to feel grounded.
His eyes flicked from his own naked body, naked aside from one dirty sock, to the clothes strewn floor, to the messy desktop with his school backpack slung over his chair. A room very different in many ways than the one he fell asleep in eight hours previously.
Joel and Craig kept the bedroom tidy, almost immaculate. They didn't want to worry about tripping over anything in an emergency, and had found long ago that it was quicker, easier, and simpler to put things away properly rather than spending time searching later. This, though, this was a pigsty. He almost shuddered just looking at it.
Again there was knocking on his door, firmer and more insistent this time. “Craig! Get moving mister! You're running out of time, I'd better not have to tell you again!” said his mom's voice from the other side.
Craig felt numb. His brain covered in cotton and fog. He couldn't think. He found himself rising and making his way to the bathroom almost as if on autopilot.
Once he was out of the shower and his teeth were brushed he made his way back into his room to get dressed. Craig's mind was still not working well, like a loud buzzing was interfering with all his thinking. He continued to allow his autopilot to get him dressed. He had just finished pulling on what seemed a like a ridiculously impractical t-shirt when he reached for his nightstand and began looking around the room with a feeling of rising panic. Where the hell was his gun? His knife?
Craig closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. He had no idea yet what had happened, but he knew he should try and muddle through until he could calm down and think. Just get on with things. Figure it out later. He shook off the feeling of stupidity at going into the day unarmed and left the bedroom. He did, however, open a desk drawer and slip his dad's old pocket knife into his pocket. It wasn't much, but it helped slightly.
Craig walked into the kitchen and stopped cold. His mom had her back turned and was busily emptying the dishwasher. He felt hot tears come to his eyes, and he must've made some kind of a sound, because his mom turned to look at him.
“Good morning Craig, about time you....Oh my goodness. You look awful. What's wrong?” She hurried over and, as moms have done forever, felt his forehead.
“You're all sweaty. And you're burning up! And you're so pale. I think you'd better stay home today Craig. We'll go see the doctor if you're not feeling better shortly.”
Craig finally spoke, not really knowing why he said what he did, but it seemed important. “No!” He calmed his voice and forced it into a polite even keel. “No, I'm fine, just a bit tired that's all. I'll be fine. I need to go to school today, I can't miss it.”
Craig was still trying to figure out why it was important to himself that he go to school today when his mom responded.
“Do you have a test today or something?” she looked at him a moment before continuing. “Okay, Craig. But, I want you to call me if you are feeling too sick, I'll come and get you and take you home. Or to the doctor. And you're to call me at lunch either way. Is that clear?”
Craig blinked twice. “Uh, yes. Sure.”
Mrs. Jamison looked hard at her son for a moment, seeming to try and figure out if his answer was meant to be flippant, and then she let it go. “Hang on a second Craig and I'll make you a couple of eggs. The pan's still hot, I just finished some myself.”
Craig sat down at the table, staring at the traffic on 2nd Ave. out of the kitchen window. “Okay Mom, thanks,” he managed to say through his mental fog.
A moment later Craig's attention was drawn to his mom standing at the stove. “Oh, this stupid burner. Why does it keep going cold like this?”
Craig got up without thinking and went over to the stove and flipped up the fuse panel. “It's just the fuse socket for that burner. It always does that. It's loose. I've been meaning to fix it for a while now.” He jiggled the fuse in the socket and the burner slowly heated up.
Mrs. Jamison stared at her son, a curious mix of emotions on her face. “Craig, I swear you haven't been within five feet of this stove since we moved into this house. The only kitchen appliances you ever use are the toaster or the microwave. You've never even used the stove, never mind fixed it.” She smiled to take the edge of what she was saying, but still looking genuinely puzzled.
Craig just shrugged, not really knowing how to answer, and absently scratched at a scar on his left forearm.
Mrs. Jamison's expression changed yet again as her eyes were drawn to Craig's scratching. “Craig! Oh my goodness. What happened to your arm?” She shook her head slightly. “That's healed over. How come I've never seen it?” Her eyes caught Craig's, looking curious, but they also contained a slight amount of shock and uncertainty.
“Oh, Um...” He sighed and answered truthfully. “I cut it with the reciprocating saw a month ago or so. While working on something in the shed.”
“Now Craig. You know I don't really like you using power tools. It's dangerous. You should be supervised for that.”
Craig couldn't help smiling at his mom's comment. He choked back his laughter and said, “Don't worry, I was supervised. It just slipped.” He was remembering Joel calling him a numbnuts for not being more careful. “After all, I wouldn't want to do anything dangerous.” He couldn't help it. He really tried, but his voice held a note of sarcasm in it despite his best efforts.
Again his mom looked hard at him. “Craig, you're really acting odd this morning. Anyway, here's your eggs. Eat up quickly. The bus will be here in five minutes. Your lunch is in the fridge. Now, I need to get ready for work so I'll leave you to finish up if you'll be okay on your own for a few minutes.”
Craig laughed out loud this time. A short bark that sounded almost more like a cry than a laugh before he swallowed hard and answered. “Sure Mom. I'll be fine.”
His mom turned to go upstairs, then yelled over her shoulder. “Oh, I let Rabble outside before you came downstairs. She was whining something fierce. Make sure you feed her before you leave. Honestly, I don't know why I ever let you adopt that puppy.”
Craig dropped his fork and, despite his shock, ran to the back door, only now noticing the scratching, and opened it. A mottled brown puppy ran in at top speed and leapt into his arms as he knelt down.
“Rabble? What the hell? How did you get here? You're not even born yet!”
The only answer he received was a lick on the nose. Craig filled her bowl with food from the bag, sitting exactly where he and Joel had always kept it.
Craig's mom came downstairs a few minutes later as Craig was slinging his backpack over his shoulder. She looked over at the kitchen counter and then did a double-take. “Um, thanks for cleaning up Craig.” She smiled again. “Maybe you should stay home. You're obviously not feeling well. I didn't even ask you to clean up.”
Craig just smiled and turned as his bus turned the corner and was pulling up to the house. He opened the door, then paused and turned back.
He'd been wanting a chance to say this for months. He'd be damned if he was going to pass it up now. He smiled at his mom, his best most heartfelt smile, “Mom, I'm sorry I've been such a pain lately. You know I love you more than I can ever possibly say. Thanks for being here for me.” And he moved in and hugged her.
He pulled out of her surprised embrace a few seconds later and looked at his mom's face. Her eyes were moist, and the largest, most delighted smile he had seen since his dad died spread across her entire face.
“I love you too, son.” she seemed to sniff slightly. “Now go catch your bus before it leaves without you.”
Craig ran out the door, his day somehow suddenly seeming slightly better, despite everything.
He climbed onto the bus and found an empty seat after looking around the bus quickly. He met the eyes briefly of the other half dozen kids on the bus but, as he really didn't know them at all, he didn't say anything to anyone. The bus started to move, giving Craig a a few minutes to sit and really think for the first time this morning.
He looked down at himself. He was wearing clothes he found in his closet, a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and a pair of sneakers. The sneakers had given him pause as he toed them on. They, like the t-shirt earlier, just didn't seem like adequate footwear to be wearing while going anywhere away from the house.
Then he was struck with another thought, one that he didn't know how he had missed earlier. He was wearing his clothes from September of last year. His thirteen year old clothes.
They fit him.
Craig had grown the past year. At least two inches. And his feet were yet another size larger. Nothing should have fit. So, he was smaller again. He was in his thirteen year old body.
He looked down again at his arm, where he had been idly scratching his scar.
A scar he had received a month ago. When he was most definitely fourteen.
Craig reached down and rubbed his leg. And thought about his shower this morning. His scars were all there. Present and accounted for. Scars earned the hard way over the past year.
But his penis, he realized, thinking back to his shower, it had shrunk slightly, back to his thirteen year old size. And the hair above it had become sparser again. He was too much in shock earlier to think about it, but it seemed so obvious now.
This was too weird. How could it possibly be? And then there was the presence of Rabble, and his mom's seeming blithe acceptance of her.
Going back to the morning of the Disappearance he could almost understand. Not really, but almost. This though, this was a complete non-sequitur.
Nothing made sense. And now, they were pulling up to his school. A place that had most definitely had not made any sense to Craig before.
Now he had to deal with it again.