NaNoWriMo 2016 – Wrong Exit – Week 3

As I drove, I kept thinking about what Trenton had said. Could I really influence things? How could I test that?

He had mentioned Lisa, but I really didn’t want to think about her; too many painful memories there. I started thinking about Sara instead; she was the only other woman I had had any kind of interaction with over the past few months. I started thinking about her then thought against it. I wasn’t sure what I would do if that somehow worked.

Instead, I thought about my car. Trenton had given me a hard time for driving a Corolla so I decided to see what I could do instead.

I couldn’t decide what I wanted though. I’d had this car for years, since I had been in college. I had always planned to replace it once I graduated but… well, that never happened. I wasn’t sure what I would want instead.

Something like a Jeep would be nice. Plenty of space in the back for my deliveries and a bit less dull than my Corolla.

I laughed. Hell, how about a Jeep like one of those from the *Jurassic Park* movie. People had them; I’d seen them in the DragonCon parade. And I had a *Jurassic World* costume; I had worn it to the office Halloween party last year. If I had a Jeep like that I could take it to the Con myself next year. Maybe I could even get a big stuffed dinosaur of some kind to put in back.

The idea made me smile. I started thinking about how it would go. Me in the Jeep, in my costume. People wanting pictures of me and the dinosaur. Yeah, that would work. I kept thinking along those lines as I drove home, my thoughts turning increasingly to how people might react and the attention I would get.

I had actually forgotten what started my imagination running by the time I got back to the parking lot of my apartment. I got out, grabbed my bag and slammed the door behind me. It made an unfamiliar “chunk” noise.

Startled, I turned and looked at the car. It was a Jeep, painted grey and red with a *Jurassic Park* decal on the door. I looked inside and saw an enormous stuffed triceratops in the back. Almost without thinking, I opened the back, pulled out the dinosaur, and slammed the hatch down. I had taken a couple of steps towards my apartment when I suddenly stopped and turned around again.

The Jeep was still there. I walked around it. My “Cthulhu for President” bumper sticker was still on the back and, glancing through the rear window, I could see my grocery bags lying in the back. It was definitely my car.

I walked slowly back to my apartment. What Trenton had told me was apparently real. I could, somehow, change the reality I was in. How this had happened, I didn’t know. But it was real.

I got into my apartment, dropped my bag and the triceratops, and immediately pulled out my phone and called Scott. He picked up after a couple of rings.

“Hey Dale,” he said, sounding somewhat annoyed. “Do you know what time it is?”

I glanced at the clock and felt myself flush. “Oops, sorry. No I didn’t.”

He sighed. “Can this wait until tomorrow?”

“Sure,” I said at first. “No, wait, I have to know. What kind of car do I drive?”

“What?” He sounded both tired and irritated.

“This is important!” I said, louder than I should have. “What kind of car do I drive?!”

He sighed. “That stupid *Jurassic Park* thing you bought back in college. The thing Lisa got so mad at you for wasting money on. Remember?”

“Lisa… what?” I stopped and thought for a moment. “OK, thanks. Sorry. Didn’t mean to wake you up.”

He sighed. “Whatever. Look, there better have been a good reason for this.” He yawned. “But… tell me later, OK?”

“Sure!” I said. “Sure. Goodnight.”

“Night,” he said, both tired and annoyed. He clicked off.

I went to the kitchen, grabbed a beer from the refrigerator, and opened it. I then grabbed a second, and headed for the living room.

I turned on the TV and found Conan, but didn’t really watch it. Instead, my mind was racing.

I had done it. I had somehow altered reality. I had decided I had something and it appeared. And everyone around me seemed to accept this as “normal”. I wondered, what could I get away with? What could I find?

I suddenly realized that Caleb had never gotten this far. Otherwise he would have “found” the place where Sara still loved her. Or, maybe he did. Maybe that’s why he never came back.

I also realized that there was a lot I didn’t understand about was going on. Obviously everyplace didn’t change, else Caleb would still be here. I wondered. Was there someplace where I had disappeared? Did I even know where that was?

I suddenly felt sick. What could I do? What could I get away with? I realized then what Trenton had been warning me about. If I could alter reality in this way, then obviously a *lot* of people would be interested in what I could do.

But would they even realize I had done it? Scott hadn’t realized anything had changed with my car. Would whoever Trenton was worried about see what I did? Or would they think I just disappeared? There was obviously a lot more to this than I understood.

But understand or not, there were things I could do. I went on-line and deleted everything I had ever posted about this. Hopefully that would give me some distance.

Everything but that one video. I replaced the video itself with a random few minutes of driving footage from my dashcam, but added a comment below it. “I get it now. Call me.” I then headed off to bed.

The next morning I got a kick out of seeing the Jeep in the parking lot and driving it up to the office. I was a bit disconcerted at how much gas it was using and thought about what I could do about it as I hit the road again.

Most of the day was uneventful. I was still ecstatic at having the Jeep but every time my mind started to wander I pulled it back. I had proven that I could alter reality just by thinking about it. I was almost afraid of what I could do.

I was looking for a place to grab lunch when my phone rang. It was Scott.

“Why the hell did you call me so late last night?” he asked without preamble.

I hesitated. “You… you probably will think I’m crazy.”

“I know that,” he replied, “but try me anyway.”

“That Jeep I drive? I don’t. I mean, I didn’t. I didn’t have it until last night, right before I called you.”

I heard him sigh. “What? What are you talking about?”

“I created it.”

He sighed again. “Dale, you aren’t making any sense. Well, even less sense than normal.”

“Look,” I said. “I didn’t have that Jeep until last night. Really.

“What are you talking about?” he asked. There was a long pause. “Did you… did you find it ‘over there’?”

I nodded. “Not exactly.” I told him about meeting Trenton at the Vortex the night before, about finding the tracker under my car, then about my car changing into the Jeep as I drove.

He was silent for a long time. “You aren’t lying to me, are you?”

“No!” I shook my head. “I just… It *happened*! I can’t explain it, but it… happened!”

There was another long silence. “OK,” he said finally. There was another long silence. “You wouldn’t…” He hesitated. “You wouldn’t want to demonstrate that, would you?”

It was my turn to hesitate. What was he asking. “Sure?” I said finally.

“Can you meet me and Diane downtown tonight? We’ll do dinner.”

“Um… sure? Where?”

“Since you just mentioned it, how about the Vortex? I don’t think we’ve been there since we graduated.”

I paused, thinking about Jenny. “Yeah, that’ll work.” I paused. “The burger I had last night was pretty good.”

I heard a sigh but couldn’t tell what it was. It sounded more like apprehension than tiredness. “OK, great. See you about 7.”

“Sure,” I said. “See you then.”

“Thanks,” he said. I could hear something in his voice, but I still couldn’t tell what it was. “See you then.” He hung up.

I continued driving for a while. I could tell that Scott wanted something, but I wasn’t sure what it was. And I wasn’t looking forward to going to the Vortex and maybe running into Trenton again. Or maybe Jenny either.

I kept thinking as I drove along, daydreaming almost, then I suddenly caught myself. If I could change things just by thinking about them then I had better be careful what I thought about. I needed to be careful.

If I could do it again. I thought about the Jeep I was driving. While I really liked having a “Jurassic Park” Jeep, I realized I probably wouldn’t leave the decals on it all the time; I’d just have them and have someone put them on for me (or put them on myself) when convention season rolled around.

After a while I noticed that the decal on the hood was gone and somehow knew that the side decals were gone as well. I knew they were in the storage closet in my apartment, and knew of a place that would put them back on for me come convention season. I smiled. I could do this.

I felt myself flush. What kind of power did I have? What could I do? I thought about Lisa then immediately pushed it back down. No. I didn’t want to think about her.

Then I found myself thinking about Sara. I knew I shouldn’t, but I remembered what she had said about her and Caleb. She had confided in me. She probably hadn’t confided in too many others.

Then I thought about how Scott had invited me to bring Sara along to the game Friday night. Would she? I wasn’t sure. I kept thinking about her and suddenly my phone rang. I answered.

It was Sara.

“Hi Dale!” she said. “How’s it going?”

“Fine,” I said, suddenly cautious. “Down near Columbus at the moment.”

She laughed. “I’m in Augusta. I was just wondering…” she paused. “I was just wondering if you had found out anything more. You know, about those… places?”

I hesitated. “Yeah, I have. In fact, I’m meeting with someone to talk about it tonight.” I paused. “Listen, we’re meeting at the Vortex downtown, why don’t you join us?”

It was her turn to hesitate. “Do they know who I am?”

“Sure,” I said. “I’ve told them what was going on.”

“You mentioned me and Caleb!” I could hear the surprise and anger in her voice.

I grimaced for a second. “Um… yeah. I didn’t know it was a secret.”

“Dale!” she almost shouted my name. “I trusted you!”

“I trusted you too!” I said, feeling annoyed.

“And I didn’t tell anyone what you told me!” she countered. “But you apparently thought my personal life was worth sharing!”

“Don’t be mad,” I started saying to myself. “Don’t be mad.”

I took a deep breath. “Look, I’m… sorry. I didn’t mean to share something you thought was private. I’m sorry. I was just trying to figure out what was going on with me and you had more information than I did. I was just trying to figure things out.”

There was a long pause, then I heard a sigh. “OK. OK, fine.” She sighed again. “Just don’t tell anyone else, OK? I don’t need a bunch of questions from the FBI again.”

The pit in my stomach reappeared. “FBI? You didn’t mention them before.”

“I didn’t?” She almost sounded sarcastic. “When Caleb vanished I had told everyone what I knew about Caleb’s disappearance. The cops and the company didn’t seem that interested, but a couple of weeks later these two guys –well, a guy and a woman– showed up at my apartment and started asking about Caleb’s disappearance. I couldn’t tell them any more than I told anyone else. They said they were looking into a pattern of people disappearing; I guess that’s why I was so upset that you had said something to anyone else.”

I sighed, but the pit didn’t disappear. “OK,” I said, trying to sound normal. “I guess I understand.”

“Yeah, sorry,” she said. “I guess it isn’t a secret, but it’s still kinda touchy to me.”

“I’m sorry too,” I said. “I won’t do it again.”

“I know you won’t.” She sounded more trusting than I would have been. “What were you saying about meeting tonight?”

“I’m going to be meeting with the people I’ve talked to about this downtown at the Vortex tonight. There have been some… developments that I want to talk to them about.” I paused. “You may be interested in some of it too.”

“OK,” she said almost immediately. “Sure! When?”

I shrugged, though she couldn’t see it. “I was planning to just stop there when I got into town and turn in my manifest tomorrow. So… 5 or 6?”

There was a pause as she thought. “I’ll probably be there just after 6. That OK?”

I nodded to myself. “Sure! See you then.”

I heard a laugh. “Thanks.” There was another pause then, “It will be good to be able to talk to someone about this.”

“I agree with you there. Believe me, I agree.”

A couple of hours later I was back in the Vortex parking lot. I had gotten a bit earlier than I had planned but went on inside anyway. I got a booth so the four of us could talk and sat where I could see the door. I was focused enough on it that I was surprised when someone called my name.

“Dale! Back already?” Jenny came over and gave me an unexpected quick hug.

I shrugged. “Hey, I couldn’t resist the service.” I gave a half-smile.

She laughed. “Well, you aren’t in my area tonight, but I’ll make sure Shelly takes care of you.” She waved at the table. “Expecting someone else?”

I nodded. “Yeah, having dinner with some friends.”

She smiled. “Great! I’ll come by and say hi later.” She hurried off.

A few minutes later a dark-haired woman brought a beer and sat it in front of me. I looked curiously. “Um… I haven’t ordered yet.”

“I know love,” said the waitress. She waved towards the bar. “Jenny said this was your beer. I’m Shelly; I’ll be taking care of y’all. And don’t worry, we take care of Jenny’s friends here.”

“Um… thanks?” I said, uncertainly.

She patted me on the shoulder. “Hey, if Jenny vouches for you you’re one of the good guys.” She winked. “Check back with you when your friends are here, OK?”

I nodded an picked up my beer as she left. It was the same as the one I had been drinking last night. I guess Jenny remembered her customers. Or, at least those that were friends of Trenton.

I hadn’t been there too long when Scott and Diane showed up. Diane looked nervous but Scott was confidently walking towards my table while she followed slowly behind.

“Heya Dale!” he said, sliding into the booth across from me. Diane came up and paused before sliding in beside him. I wasn’t sure if she was upset or embarrassed.

“Thanks for meeting us,” he said, glancing over at Diane. “Have you ordered yet?”

“Just this,” I said, holding up the beer. “And I guess I should be thanking you for listening to this mess.”

He shrugged. “Well… If what you are saying is true, maybe you can help us.” Diane grimaced at that but before he could say more or I could ask anything Shelly came up.

“Howdy folks!” she said, dropping menus in front of us. “What’r y’all drinking?”

Scott ordered the same beer I was drinking while Diane asked for a wine. Shelly then asked if we wanted to order yet.

“Um… not yet,” I said. “We’re waiting on one more.”

“Oh?” asked Scott with a grin. “Someone you haven’t told us about yet?”

I sighed and shook my head. “It’s Sara. I was talking to her today and since she knows something about this as well I figured I would invite her.”

He hesitated and looked at Diane. She looked unhappy. “I really wanted to just talk about this to you.” She sounded unhappy as well.

I flushed. “Sorry, I didn’t know that this was a private thing. I thought we were just going to talk about what I’ve found out.”

She was becoming angry. “I told you I didn’t want to talk to him about this!” she said, turning to Scott angrily. “This isn’t any of his business!”

I felt myself leaning back into my seat. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to…”

“It’s OK!” said Scott sharply. He turned to Diane. “Look, I thought we decided that…” He trailed off as she looked away.

“I’ll… go get those drinks,” said Shelly uncomfortably. She headed for the bar.

We all sat there uncomfortably for a few seconds. Finally, Scott sighed and turned back to me. “OK, why don’t you tell me what you’ve found.”

Thankful for the change of topic, I told him about what had happened since game night. Nichole showing up again, what she had told me about her past, and about my meeting with Trenton the night before. I was just starting to talk about how I had caused my car to change into a Jeep when Sara walked up to the table.

“Hi Dale!” she said, bending down to give me a hug. I awkwardly hugged her back then slid over to give her room. She sat down and looked across the table. “Hi, I’m Sara,” she said, extending her hand to Diane. “I’m a friend of Dale’s.”

Diane and Scott introduced themselves. “Yeah, we’ve been friends of Dale’s since college.” Scott glared at me. “Not that he seems to remember that.” I leaned back as he continued. “He’s been telling us about the strange things that have been happening to him and said that you know something about them as well? Or knew someone who did?”

Sara looked sharply at me but turned back with a nod. “Yeah, a… friend of mine apparently encountered the same thing, but he…” She paused and looked at the ceiling for a moment. She sighed and looked back at Scott again. “He disappeared. Now I’m worried that the same thing might happen to Dale here.” She reached over and rubbed my arm, causing me to look at her in surprise.

“Don’t worry,” said Scott. “We’re going to help him stick around.” He paused. “OK, Dale’s told us what you told him, but can you tell us again? In case he got something wrong?”

“Because that’s never happened, right?” Sara laughed and looked at me as I flushed, then leaned over and kissed my cheek.” You’re so cute when you’re embarrassed.

That caused me to flush brighter red; Sara was suddenly being a lot friendlier to me than I had expected. Fortunately Shelly returned at that point with their drinks. She put them down then looked at Sara.

“Sara, right?” she asked, questioningly.

Sara flushed slightly, as if in embarrassment. “Um… yeah. Shelly, isn’t it?”

“You know each other?” I asked.

Sara nodded. “Yeah, I used to… we came down here a couple of times.”

Shelly nodded. “Good to see you again! How’s Caleb?”

Sara turned bright red. “Um… Caleb and I…. We aren’t together anymore. I haven’t seen him in a while.”

“Oh, I”m sorry dear!” said Shelly in what seemed like genuine remorse. “I wondered what had happened to y’all.”

I turned to Sara. “You and Caleb used to come here a lot?”

She shook her head slowly. “No. Just… a few times.”

I hesitated. “Were you… down here to meet Trenton?”

She turned to me in surprise. “You know Trenton!”

“Not until last night,” I said. I paused. “Look, let’s get our order in then we’ll talk.”

We gave our orders, argued over an appetizer before passing and I got another beer. When Shelly had left I turned back to Sara.

“So… You and Caleb used to meet Trenton here?”

She nodded, seeming uncomfortable. “Yeah, once or twice. I didn’t think too much about it. Caleb wanted me to meet him down here on my way in one night and when I got here he was talking to him. Trenton was friendly enough, but I kinda felt uncomfortable around him for some reason. Then…” She paused.

I waited as she looked away. Scott and Diane were both looking at us; Scott with interest while Diane seemed more uncomfortable. Finally Sara spoke again.

“The other time I saw him was the night when Caleb gave me… tried to give me that ring.” She glanced over at Scott and Diane then turned back to me. “Trenton and that waitress were both here and telling me how lucky we both were. I didn’t want to turn him down in front of them and I kinda felt like he had asked me to come down here just so they would be there.” She sighed. “I told him later I couldn’t go through with it. Not with knowing where the ring came from.”

Something was nagging at me. “He never tried to… convince you to change your mind?”

She shrugged. “I suppose. He talked about it a few more times. Then he seemed to drop it.”

“Those strange exits,” I continued. “You said he never saw anyone at them? Just the empty places?”

She nodded, looking at me curiously. “Yeah, like I told you. Except maybe at the end. A few things he said made me think something was going on.”

“Maybe he didn’t know…” I said, more to myself than anything else.

“Know what?” asked Scott.

I waved my hand. “Never mind, just thinking.” He looked at me but said nothing.

Shelly returned carrying my and Sara’s drink and a plate of wings. She dropped them off and turned to leave.

“Wait!” I said, pointing at the wings. “We didn’t order these!”

She turned her head back. “Don’t worry sweetie, we take care of Trenton’s friends around here.” She nodded towards the bar where Jenny waved at us then continued on her way.

Everyone at the table was looking at me. “They never gave me and Caleb wings when we were here,” said Sara, almost petulantly. The rest of us laughed.

Sara looked hurt. “So how well do you know Trenton?”

“Not very,” I admitted. I told her about Nichole, the call from Trenton and meeting him there the night before. I was about to talk about the Jeep when our food arrived.

We talked about mundane things while eating. Sara talked about the deliveries she made while Scott talked about his work at the engineering firm and Diane hers down at the hospital. Everyone seemed to relax, especially Diane. After the meal was over and Shelly had brought us another round of drinks I got back to my story.

When I finished everyone looked at each other for a moment. “That’s… that’s a bit hard to believe,” said Scott.

Sara was nodding. “You’ve had that Jeep as long as I’ve known you,” she said. “I thought it was odd when you brought it in with those movie stickers on it, but everyone kind of accepted it.”

I sighed. “Y’all think I’m crazy, don’t you?”

Scott shook his head again. “Look, Dale. You’ve always been… creative, shall we say. You’re the best game master we ever had, and I still think you need to start trying to publish those.” He looked at Diane, who nodded, then back at me. “But look at this from our point of view. You disappear for a year-and-a-half, suddenly show up with some wild story, then keep calling back with even more wild tales.” He shook his head. “Even you have to agree that what you’re telling us sounds… hard to believe.”

I pointed at Sara, frustrated. “She’s seen the same things! Well, some of them! I’m not lying and I’m not crazy!”

Sara winced. “Yeah, yeah. Caleb said some of the same things you have. And he had a bunch of stuff he was getting from somewhere. But, creating a new car out of thin air? Meeting someone from some world where the, what, Orangutans invaded the US? None of that makes sense!”

I sighed. “Well, what about Trenton? He seems to think something is going on. Enough that he got us appetizers or… something.” I stopped, realizing how weird that sounded when I said it out loud.

Everyone looked at each other. “Look,” said Diane, joining in the discussion for the first time. “We want to believe you. I,” she pointed to herself, “want to believe you. But… how?”

I wasn’t sure if I was angry or upset. “What do you want me to do!” I said, louder than I had planned.

Scott and Diane looked at each other then back at me. “We… had an idea,” said Scott. Diane was suddenly looking uncomfortable again. “But… not here. Let’s go outside and we’ll talk.”

“OK…” I said, my turn to be uncomfortable. I waved for Shelly.

A few minutes later we were outside. Scott and Diane were talking quietly to one another as Sara came up to me.

“Look Dale,” she said, looking embarrassed. “I was… I was kind of hoping to be able to talk to you about things but…” she looked over at Scott and Diane, “I kinda feel like I’m an extra person here.”

“Nonsense!” I said, a bit too loudly. “I’m glad you’re here!” She seemed a bit taken aback and I took a deep breath and paused before continuing.

“I need you here,” I said more quietly. She looked surprised and started to say something but I waved her back. “Look, listen… Whatever is happening to me is weird. Yeah, I get that. But you’re the only other person who has even any idea of what is going on. You’ve seen it before. Caleb and I can’t both be crazy in exactly the same way but you’re the only person who has seen us both. I need that.”

She still looked uncomfortable. “Trenton knows you both,” she said finally. “And Shelly.”

I shrugged. “But I don’t know them. Not really. Hell, I never met Shelly before tonight. That’s another piece of this I don’t understand. And you’ve met both of them too.”

She looked away for a moment then sighed. “Yeah, I guess.” There was a long pause. “Part of me thinks I should really get out of here but another part…” Another long pause. “The other part of me wants to see where this is going.” She looked at me with a faint smile. “OK, I”m in.”

“Thanks,” I said, unexpectedly relieved. I looked over to see Scott and Diane looking at us. They both walked over then looked at each other.

“Look…” said Diane. “If what you have been telling us is true then… maybe there is something you can help us with.”

“Sure!” I said, looking from one to the other. “What do you need.”

Now it was Scott’s turn to look uncomfortable. “Let’s… head out.”

I shrugged. “OK, where to?” I pulled out my keys.

Scott hesitated. “Let’s… all go in your car.”

“OK…” I said. “Why?”

He sighed, then started speaking a bit too fast. “Because I think whatever it is you can do requires that you be moving. Probably on an Interstate. I don’t know why. But I think the travelling part is important. That’s what Nichole said you were, right? A ‘Traveller’?”

I nodded. “Yeah, I can see that. I can show you what has been happening.” I started towards the Jeep, Scott with me and Diane and Sara following along behind.

Scott and Diane got into the back seat while Sara, after a brief hesitation, got into the front passenger seat beside me. I started the car and pulled out. We were soon on 10th street heading for the Interstate.

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