Chapter 6:


Galaktika Gamble: Stolen Light

After my mother died, my father decided we should move to a different house. We didn't move far though. His reasoning seemed a bit like an insult to Neil, but at the same time, I could understand it. He said that since the people in the area of Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside knew about Neil and the death that seemed to follow him, it was less likely for as many people to die since they would avoid him upon seeing him.

Even though we stayed in the same area, living in a new house made me feel very out of place. When we moved, my dad seemed to remove every reminder we had of my mom and it really bothered me. As a kid, I often questioned if he really loved her after seeing him do that, but now that I'm an adult and have been through the similar experience of losing my girlfriend, I believe he was probably still in denial. Seeing that he slipped into a serious alcohol problem, I wouldn't doubt it honestly. Drinking away problems seems to be a habit that a lot of people can easily slip into if they aren't careful. Like all things though, alcohol is temporary and would leave him feeling even worse once it wore off, which would start up his cycle of drinking even more to keep himself stupid and numb to whatever he was feeling. Sometimes I almost felt jealous of him, since I wished many times that I could just..stop feeling. At the same time though, I saw what it was turning him into and I didn't want to end up like that. When I think about it, I actually wonder how he didn't end up dying of alcohol poisoning. Sometimes it almost seemed as if he was hoping he would.

During the next few years, I fell into depression pretty bad. With the new house, Neil and I didn't have to share a bedroom anymore so I really liked that since I didn't have to worry about possibly dying in my sleep or something like that with Neil nearby. At the same time though, I started slipping into some pretty bad habits of my own since I was alone in my room and didn't have anyone to stop me. When I couldn't sleep at night, I'd mute my tv and play video games until the morning to distract myself from all my negative thoughts about my life. It was the only time I really had to myself, so I felt like I should try to enjoy it at least instead of letting my depressing and anxious thoughts get in the way. I always told myself I would go to sleep after the next save point, but that usually didn't happen. I would play all night and as soon as I would hear Neil's alarm go off in the morning to wake up for school, I'd immediately think "Shit" and regret my decisions. I repeated this cycle every night and told myself I would get extra sleep the next night, but that usually didn't happen. My grades were affected by this of course. It's impossible to make good grades when the only time you sleep is in class.

John: Ivan? Yo, Ivan!

John, sitting in the desk next to me, kicked my leg lightly to wake me up.

Ivan: Huh? What did I miss? Do we have homework? What class are we in?

John: Class hasn't even started yet doofus. I was telling you about something funny my sister did last night and you fell asleep! Also, this is Mr. Robinson's class- science!

Ivan: Oh, sorry about that. Thank you.

John: You've been falling asleep a lot lately! Are you okay?

Ivan: Yeah, I'm alright! I just haven't been sleeping too well.

I laughed nervously as he continued to stare at me with a concerned look.

John: You need a break! You should stay the night at my place sometime!

Ivan: Are you sure that would be okay?

John: Of course! You should be able to have a break man.

Zack: Being around a guy like Neil all the time, I'm not really sure how you stay sane.

John's face became a bright shade of red as he realized his crush had walked up and sat in the desk behind him. Trying to stay normal, he focused on his breathing. I always found it a little interesting that John liked Zack so much since they were very opposite of each other, but I never questioned it. Zack arranged the books on his desk, making sure it lined up exactly 3 centimeters with the edge of his desk in the corner, using a ruler to check. Once his books were in place, he looked at me and continued speaking.

Zack: I'd love to know where your mental strength comes from, because with the stuff you're surrounded with being around Neil, you should be very psychologically damaged. Have you seen a therapist?

Ivan: Neil isn't that bad, he can't help what happens around him! He's just a normal kid with really bad luck....and no, I haven't seen a therapist. The school counselor makes us talk to her anytime something happens though….if that counts.

Zack: I would recommend seeing a psychiatrist. With the amount of trauma you go through you guys are bound to break sometime. If and when you do, it won't be pretty if you're going through it alone.

John: I think as long as Ivan has friends like me to support him then that's all he needs! He doesn't need to go to some place where they'll just diagnose him as crazy and lock him away in mental asylum somewhere!

Zack: Actually, that's a very big misunderstanding a lot of people have. Most people that go to psychiatrists are not crazy, nor do they get locked away. And those who are in a mental hospital aren’t usually “crazy” either, they just need some help. Most of them are normal people that just need a little help in learning to control things that make their life a little harder than the average person. I go to appointments like that but I'm not crazy.

John: Oh, sorry! I had no idea. I'll remember that!

John looked away awkwardly. It was pretty obvious he felt like he said something insulting towards Zack and embarrassed himself. After a moment of silence Zack changed the subject.

Zack: If you're having a hard time sleeping at home, I think you should try drinking some chamomile tea before bed. If you're often burdened with stress and worrisome thoughts, anything with the scent of lavender might be calming as well. Not sure if stress makes you feel nauseous, but peppermint is believed to help calm the stomach and also works great for anyone that gets carsickness on road trips.

Ivan: I'm not sure if I'll be able to remember all of that, but thank you for the suggestions! I'll try to keep that in mind haha..

I laughed nervously and tried to write down what I could remember on a sticky note pad. The bell rang for class to start, ending our conversation. I ended up falling asleep in class, multiple times. When John would notice, he'd kick my leg again to wake me up. I was grateful that he tried to help keep me awake, however each time I fell asleep he would kick me a little harder and it kinda hurt. I knew he meant well by it though, so I'd just smile and give him a thumbs up every time he woke me up to let him know I was awake. Shortly after waking me again for the 5th time, the intercom on the ceiling gave an announcement.

Intercom: We are requesting that all teachers keep their students in their classrooms until further notice. Do not let them go to their next class when the bell rings. Keep your students in class until we announce that it's okay to release them.

The announcement ended with the usual pop sound of the intercom being shut off. John, Zack, and a few other students in class looked at me, waiting to see how I was going to react. This wasn't the first time this had happened, so it was pretty obvious what this announcement was about. Looking out the window of the door, I confirmed it. Neil walked by the classroom, keeping his head down low as if he didn't want to be seen. Instead of being with a teacher like usual, a few police officers were with him. This made me quite anxious of course, but I tried to sit quietly and appear normal.

John: Holy shit dude. Was that the police?

Mr. Robinson: John! Language!

John covered his mouth and apologized quietly. My classmates started to whisper their thoughts of what could’ve happened to each other. Hearing their ideas and rumors made me a bit angry, but I didn't want to waste any time on them at that moment. They wouldn't listen to me anyway even if I tried. I tried many times before, but no one cared about whatever good things I said about Neil to clear up the rumors.

John: Don't listen to them, they don't know anything.

Ivan: Thank you, John..

Suddenly a knock was heard. The class became quiet as the teacher opened the door, revealing Officer Langston on the other side. He spoke quietly with the teacher for a moment before looking at me.

Officer Langston: Ivan. Come with me please.

I started to shake a little bit as I stood up from my seat. The class let off this little "Ohhhhhh" sound mixed in with their laughter, joking with each other about how I probably did something wrong.

Officer Langston: Make sure to bring all your stuff, you're being checked out of school for today.

Ivan: Oh.. okay.

I grabbed everything off my desk quickly and followed the officer into the hallway. He walked with me to my locker as I grabbed my backpack and the rest of my things.

Ivan: Did something happen again? I saw Neil walk down the hallway earlier..

Officer Langston: Yes. Have you eaten lunch yet?

Ivan: No, not yet. Lunch break is after this class.

Officer Langston: Alright, I'll make sure we get some lunch then.

Ivan: Where are we going?

Officer Langston: I just need to talk with you for a bit.

Ivan: Does my dad know you picked me up from school?

Officer Langston: Yes, and he said it was fine. We actually requested that he pick you up from school but he didn't sound like he should be driving so I picked you up instead.

Ivan: Yeah.. He really shouldn't be driving. He drinks a lot.

Langston gave me a sympathetic look. I looked back for a moment as we walked to the car. Noticing some of the kids looking at me through the window, I looked away and closed my eyes, hoping this day wouldn't start any weird rumors about myself.

The officer took me to a fast food place to get lunch. After grabbing some food, he took me to the park by Woodland Lake, where the Father's Day Fishing Tournament had been held every year. We sat on one of the benches as we ate our meals.

Ivan: You said you needed to talk to me, right?

Officer Langston: Yes. I don't believe it will be easy to talk about though. I won't force you to tell me anything you don't want to...but please keep in mind that any information you have could help us.

Ivan: O-okay..?

I felt a little bit of anxiety at the way he worded this. All I could think about was the possibility of Neil being in trouble for something that wasn't his fault. I didn't want him to have to be punished for stuff he didn't do.

Ivan: Is Neil in trouble?

Officer Langston: There's no evidence to prove that he's the cause of these deaths. All we know is that they seem to happen when he's nearby. Some of the police department thinks that's enough evidence, seeing how many people have already died. They want to avoid the possibility of more death, so they believe taking Neil out of the picture, innocent or not, would benefit your school and community.

Ivan: But Neil didn't do anything wrong!

Officer Langston: I know...that's why I want to talk with you. You can trust me, okay? I'm not for the idea of locking Neil away somewhere like that. I want to make sure Neil lives a normal life, but I need your help.

Ivan: Okay..what is it that you want to know?

The sounds of nature echoed as we became silent for a moment. I watched as some ducks waddled by, thinking about how nice it would be to be one of them. Life would be so simple as a duck. I wouldn't have to worry about any of this. Langston snapped me out of my thoughts as he spoke up.

Officer Langston: The night Sally died and Kyna went missing...did Neil tell you any details about what he saw?

Ivan: I...well...

I thought for a moment, thinking back on those times. It had been years, and that was a time in my life that I tried to push out of my memory as much as possible.

Ivan: I think he did actually..

Officer Langston: Can you remember what he told you?

Ivan: He mostly just described what Sally looked like when she died..

Officer Langston: Did he mention anything about the killer?

Ivan: No, all I remember him saying was something about everything being time he described it as "blinding", but other than that he didn't say anything else.

Officer Langston started jotting notes down in a little book as I spoke.

Officer Langston: When he said it was blinding, do you know how he meant that?

Ivan: What do you mean?

Officer Langston: Any clues as to what he meant when he described it in that way? Were his eyes covered by something red? Or do you think he might have been referring to all the blood making everything red..?

Ivan: that you mention it, the way he worded it was kind of weird. He said that everything was red and blinding, so you would think his eyes would be covered...yet he described Sally's appearance and what happened to her very clearly, as if he could see it very well. But...

Officer Langston: But?

Ivan: He told me the lights in their bedroom were off..

Officer Langston: Thank you for telling me this. I know it's not easy, but that's actually very helpful.

Ivan: It is?

Officer Langston: Of course! I have a few more questions to ask if it's alright.

Ivan: Okay..

Officer Langston: How does Neil behave around the house?

Ivan: He's become afraid to talk to most people. He's definitely a loner. To him, distancing himself means keeping them safe.

Officer Langston: Have you noticed anything abnormal about Neil besides that?

Ivan: ...No? He's a loner but he doesn't act strange or suspicious.

Officer Langston: Alright. Thank you.

Ivan: You're welcome.

I ate the last bit of my meal in silence, thinking that our talk was over. As I stood up to throw the wrappers in the trash can, Langston spoke up again.

Officer Langston: What about Sally? Did you notice anything abnormal about her?

I turned to look at him, wondering why that would even matter. He seemed to be able to tell what I was thinking by the look on my face.

Ivan: She's dead, why does that matter?

Officer Langston: It could help in figuring out why they killed her in the first place.

Ivan: Huh...well..I guess she was a little strange compared to a lot of kids our age.

Officer Langston: How so?

Ivan: She had very little fear for most dangerous things. She was very strong in her personality.

Officer Langston: Can you explain?

Ivan: She liked to climb trees a lot even when we were very young. She didn't seem to have a fear of falling unlike Neil or I. When we hung out, she usually chose what we did or played because she was a little bit bossy.

Officer Langston: How old was she when she started climbing trees?

Ivan: Uh...I don't really know? That was years ago. I can't remember the exact time she started, I just know she did.

Officer Langston: Alright. Thank you.

Langston sat in silence, looking as if something were bothering him. I threw my trash away and sat down on the bench again, wondering if he had anything else he wanted to ask me. After another minute of awkward silence, I stood up and started to walk towards his car. I wanted to go home. I didn't dislike the officer, but something about being around him made me feel on the edge of an anxiety attack. His questions always felt like a stabbing reminder of all the things we were losing in our lives, and all I could think about was what he may question me about the next time we'd meet. Who would be lost by the next time he questioned me? Who's death would we be discussing in our next meeting? It made me feel sick.

Ivan: If there's nothing else for you to ask me..I'd like to go home now.

He stood up from the bench and started to walk with me to the car. I thought we would leave right away, but once we were in the car we sat there quietly for a few more moments. Starting to feel a little irritated, I spoke a little louder.

Ivan: I want to go home.

Officer Langston: Something is happening..and it's not Neil's fault like everyone thinks.

Something about the way he said that seemed strange to me. He sounded confused and hopeless, yet confident in his view of Neil. I wondered what he may have meant. Why would Sally matter? Was her murder connected to the random string of deaths following Neil?

Ivan: Do you think someone might be trying to set Neil up? Like make him look as if he killed those people when really it was whoever killed Sally?

Officer Langston: Its hard to say really..evidence shows that the deaths following Neil are completely coincidental accidents. However...

Ivan: However?

Officer Langston: Sally's murder was much more personal. Whoever killed her wanted to make sure she would be dead. They even went through the trouble of sneaking in through the window to get to her.

Ivan: He snuck in the window? Was it broken?

Officer Langston: The glass wasn't broken. Instead, it looked more like..a large hole was melted into it.

Ivan: But how would they do that? It takes a lot of heat to melt glass, I don't see it being easy to melt the window without some kind of special tool to do so.

Officer Langston: Exactly. None of it makes sense. Her wrist had burn marks on it too, but it looked as if whatever burned her was wrapped around her wrist. It also appeared as if her arm were ripped off instead of cut off..but that wouldn't make sense.

Tears started to form in my eyes as I thought about what he said, keeping Neil's descriptions in my mind as well. I blinked a few times to try to hold back the tears and took a deep breath.

Ivan: ...Why are you telling me this?

Officer Langston: I used to talk with your mother about this stuff. She always said she didn't know, yet my gut always told me she knew something, even if it was a small detail she felt wasn't important. She's gone now, and you're the closest thing to her. Your father is useless to talk to. Neil is more clueless than anybody involved, despite being the center of it. You're still young, but you're growing up and you're forming a better understanding of things. I don't wish to cause you any stress, but I want to figure things out to make life better for bring some peace. You're a smart kid Ivan. Everyone else seems to be against Neil, but I won't let anything happen to him. I've tried figuring it out on my own, but sometimes it's good to see things from other points of view. If I tell you a few details I haven't mentioned before, it's because I feel like a new set of eyes and your clear observation may be useful to me. You're the closest to Neil, so if anyone knows he's innocent and may be able to prove would be you.

Ivan: I see...Thank you for trying to help us.

Officer Langston: I promise I'll do my best. Are you ready to go home?

Ivan: Yeah..

As Langston started the car, I remembered what John had said earlier that day.

Ivan: you think I could borrow your cell phone for a minute?

Officer Langston: Oh, sure.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. Flipping it open, I started dialing the cell number of John's mom. After a few rings she finally picked up. She seemed surprised to hear my voice on the phone, but I explained John's offer, along with what happened that day, and asked if I could stay the night. She seemed hesitant at first, but after a moment of thinking about it she agreed. When the phone call was finished, I gave the officer his phone and sighed with relief.

Ivan: If it's okay, do you think you could drive me home, let me grab a few things, then drive me to John's house? It's okay if you don't want to, I could walk...

Officer Langston: That's fine. I would rather drive you to make sure you get there safely. Are you sure that's okay though? You didn't ask your dad for permission.

Ivan: He won't care anyway. He doesn't know we are there half the time anyway.

Officer Langston: Are things okay at home? He doesn't hit you, does he?

Ivan: No, it's nothing like that. He's not abusive, he just lets us do our own thing usually. He still makes sure we have food, clothes, the basic stuff as well. We just don't talk much.

Officer Langston: You'd let me know if it ever got worse, right?

Ivan: Of course.

Though I said I would tell Langston if it ever got worse, I couldn't help but feel like I was lying in that moment. It was true that my father never hit us or neglected us of our physical needs, but if he ever did I couldn't see myself calling the police. I appreciated his kindness in Neil's situation, but I was so tired of feeling weak. I didn't want to have to ask for any more help, especially from the police. I just wanted to live a normal life as a kid. No more questions. No more rides in cop cars. No more talking with adults that supposedly wanted to "help" me while questioning everything in my life to the point of making me feel on the verge of an anxiety attack.

I stared out the window in silence as he drove me home. Once there, I gathered my things quickly, stuffing my backpack with enough clothes for a day or two. As I was about to walk out the door, my dad stopped me for a moment.

Mikhail: Where are you going?

Ivan: I'll be staying the night at John's house. Officer Langston is driving me so I have a ride there.

Mikhail: Where is Neil?

Ivan: I don't know, probably at the police station? If you had paid attention earlier today when they called you, you probably would've known all the details about what happened.

My father continued sitting there on the couch, looking at the TV. He wouldn't even look at me. Irritated at his lack of a reaction, I stomped over to the door.

Ivan: If you're concerned about Neil, figure it out yourself. I doubt you are though, you never are and never have been. I could die tomorrow and you probably wouldn't even notice or care, cause all you care about is being stupid and numb on your comfy couch. You're a fucking mess, dad! Quitting your job? Having Grandpa pay for everything?

His eyes left the TV as he looked at me with shock. He opened his mouth as if he were about to speak, but I cut him off.

Ivan: You think I don't know about who's actually paying for everything? It's obvious you're not, all your money goes towards making yourself stupid. I'm not a child anymore. I'm old enough to figure it all out. Mom was right, you're a sad excuse of a man. You've turned into a slob with nothing to live for! It's disgusting and I refuse to live like that! I deserve a break and I'm going to get one!

Mikhail: ..You sound like your mother.

Ivan: Good! At least she gave a damn! I'd rather be like her instead of you any day!

I slammed the door behind me as I left, running back to Langston's car before telling him to leave quickly. Langston did as I asked, but seemed awkwardly quiet as he drove me to John's house. After a few minutes, he finally spoke up.

Officer Langston: Did everything go okay in there? I heard yelling.

Ivan: Yeah, I just got mad for a moment. It's alright.

Officer Langston: What happened?

Ivan: Nothing specific, he just irritates me sometimes. Every year since mom died he just seems to get worse. He wasn't the most understanding guy even when she was alive, but at least he wasn't like this.

Officer Langston: Do you think he may have saw something?

Ivan: What do you mean?

Officer Langston: When she died.

Ivan: No, we had come home and she was already on the floor.

Officer Langston: Can you remind me how you found her on the floor?

Ivan: No. I would rather not. I'm done for today.

Officer Langston: Alright. I'm sorry for asking.

Ivan: You're just doing your job.

The rest of the car ride was filled with silence. I chose to look out the window for the rest of the way there, but every once in a while I would take a quick glance at the officer. I wasn't sure what he was thinking, but there was some form of strong emotion behind his eyes. I couldn't tell if it was anger, determination, fear, or something else..but whatever it was, it seemed to be occupying his mind. He was so lost in his thoughts, he missed the turn for the street John lived on.

Ivan: You missed it.

He snapped out of his thoughts and glanced at me for a moment before looking back at the road.

Officer Langston: I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do that haha.

Ivan: It's alright. You seemed pretty deep in thought, was it something important?

Langston looked hesitant to answer for a moment, but then laughed as he replied.

Officer Langston: I was just thinking about my dog Pickle, I think I forgot to lock the shed so she may have torn up some of my stuff in there hahaha..

My gut told me that he was lying to me about what he was thinking about, but I rolled with it.

Ivan: You have a dog named... Pickle?

I chuckled a bit as a thought about him hysterically screaming "Pickle, no!" while a dog tore up stuff in his yard.

Officer Langston: Yeah...She was supposed to be trained as a drug dog but she failed the tests so I adopted her. She had a different name that sounded much more elegant, but she was just so silly I felt like she deserved something that suited her. She used to steal burgers off my plate when I wasn't looking and she'd only leave the pickles behind on the ground as evidence. Maybe some time I'll let you meet her, she's a bundle of energy and loves playing with kids.

Ivan: I'd like that. I'm sure Neil would too! He pushes people away but he doesn't seem to mind animals as much.

Though it took about a minute longer, we had finally arrived at John's house. I grabbed my stuff and spoke through the open car window as we finished our conversation.

Officer Langston: You let me know if you need anything, alright? And if you ever want to play with Pickle just let me know and we can work something out.

Ivan: Alright, thank you, Officer Langston!

I walked to the house and knocked on the door. Langston waited in the driveway to make sure I got in the house safely before driving away.

John: Hey dude, I just got home and heard you were coming over! I'm so happy you get to stay the night! We are going to have so much fun! I recently got this new game that we can play if you want to try it, you get to control big robots and stuff!

Ivan: That sounds awesome!

John: Also I know you haven't slept well lately, so I made sure to get out the super comfy air mattress we bought last summer! It's the best! It's like the size of three air mattresses so it shouldn't deflate or make you feel like you're sinking into the ground!

John waved his arms around as he talked, full of excitement. He led me to his room and dived into the air mattress, showing me how sturdy it was. I plopped down onto the air mattress for a moment and closed my eyes, imagining how great it would be to fall asleep on it later. My body didn't seem to agree with my mind on when I should sleep though. As soon as I hit the mattress, I was out like a light. When I opened my eyes, I thought that only a few minutes had passed, however John had informed me that it was actually a few hours and showed me the time on the clock.

John: You were out cold! It was like your body just shut off!

Ivan: I think I'm more tired than I realize haha...Sorry about that.

John: No problem, that's what you’re here for! To get whatever rest you need. The air mattress was great, huh?

Ivan: It really was! I was surprised! I think it's better than my bed at home! Maybe I should just live here hahaha...

Though I was joking around, a part of my mind wished that it were a possibility.

John: I wish you could too man, you don't deserve all this bullshit going on.

John's mother called from the other room.

Maria: John! Language!

John: Sorry mom!

John started to whisper instead. He sat on the air mattress next to me so I could hear him better.

John: Seriously though, you don't deserve that bullshit. What was so important to them that they pulled you out of class?

Ivan: Officer Langston keeps asking me the same old questions. Mostly about Neil, but sometimes about Sally as well.

John: Sally..? What does she have to do with what happened today?

Ivan: That's what I want to know too. Langston seems to think that there's something different with Neil that is attracting all this bad stuff, and he seems to believe that Sally may have been the same way...just that she didn't live long enough to actually have this stuff happen to her too.

John: That's...odd. He's wasting his time thinking about that. Sally is gone..figuring out more about her won't solve whatever is going on in the present day.

Ivan: I think so too. But he's very fixated on asking questions about all the dead people instead of actually trying to figure out how to prevent future victims. He asked me about my mom today too.

John: That's awful! Did you say anything?

Ivan: Of course not. I got tired of talking about it so I told him to take me to your house without any more questions. I'm tired of his questions.

John: He should just let you be a kid! Having to be sucked into that negativity all the time sounds depressing.

Ivan: It is. He says he needs me though to figure things out. Apparently I'm the only one that can help him and he needs my "clear observation". Each time he talks to me he seems to reveal details I never knew about just hurts. I'm so tired. I want to forget the pain. I just want to move on. I can't move on if he's reminding me all the time.

I felt like I was going to cry, but I choked back the tears and focused on staying calm. I didn't do it very well though, since John could easily tell I was not okay. He pat my back and stood up.

John: How about we forget right now? Let's forget all of it! We can play video games and snack on whatever we want! My mom is making her awesome stew too, it's the best! I'm sure you'll love it! We can forget all of it together and enjoy this good stuff! Fuck it all!

John threw his hands in the air and stretched. His mother called from the other room again.


John: Sorry!

John was right, his mother made a wonderful stew. We spent the rest of that night playing video games, often passing the controller around to let his sister try as well. She was too young to understand how the game was supposed to be played, but it was fun and made me wonder what it would be like to have a normal life like John's. Having a little sister seemed like it would be a good distraction from stress as well, since little kids are always doing silly things. The rest of the night we watched a few anime episodes on TV, keeping it on as we fell asleep. Though the night was so short, it was the first time in years that I was able to relax and enjoy time with a friend with no worries in the back of my mind. I wanted that night to last forever.

Polaris Archon