Sara Beth sat in the corner of the room crying, alternating from light sniffles to harder sobs as she tried harder and harder to tuck herself into a ball. She wanted to block out the whole world, and while successful in doing that, she wasn’t very successful in calming herself down. She never had actually gotten this particular method of coping to work well – she might push herself into a tight, small, space, but her problems remained as overwhelmingly large as possible.
It had been utterly cruel of her friend to say those things to her. All over some silly argument. Sara Beth grasped at the tether looped around her hand, tugging slightly on it to make sure she still felt resistance. She did, and it reassured her slightly in between hysterics. At least he wouldn’t betray her trust.
It had all started 5 minutes ago. The two girls had been playing with Sara Beth’s pet hedgehog, Sonic. Sara Beth never did quite understand why her parents felt it would be a fitting name for the hedgehog – it was something related to an old video game – but she was so happy to have a pet that she was alright with her dad trumping the naming rights. He had brought home little Sonic to her a few months before, along with all the appropriate hedgehog gear. Sonic was a friendly hedgehog, despite his spikes, and Sara Beth had become a good parent to Sonic, rarely holding him in the wrong way, rarely seeing the business end of his most prevalent defense mechanism. Sonic seemed to like Sara Beth, although one wouldn’t know how exactly to tell that from a hedgehog’s demeanor. Perhaps it was the way he would roll his little ball near to her when he was ready to go home to his cage, or the look on his face when she smiled at him (At least she saw a look on his face, others told her she was nuts). His ball had a small hole in which a tether could be looped. It made sure he didn’t roll too far away, and was very useful when your eyes are so full of tears you wouldn’t be able to see your new best friend rolling away after like your former best friend had.
“She’s jealous”, Sara Beth thought in her mind. “Jealous of Sonic and jealous of having a pet – her parents would never allow it!”. Each time Sara Beth would take Sonic out and let him play in his ball, her supposed best friend would try to snatch him away, play with him a bit too rough, or lightly push the ball around, throwing Sonic into a bit of confusion.
5 minute earlier, Sara Beth had had enough. Poor Sonic seemed disoriented and dizzy after being unceremoniously pushed by her friends foot.
“You can’t do that!!!”, she screamed as she snapped the tether onto the ball, in essence keeping Sonic tied to one spot, “He doesn’t like that!”
“How do you know – he looks like he likes playing with his Auntie”, came the sing-song reply of her friend.
“You play too rough with him, he’ll get hurt!”
“It’s fine Sara Beth, you worry too much. I wouldn’t do anything to hurt him… unless you made me really mad”, she said with a sly smile that Sara Beth couldn’t tell the true intent of. 99% sure it was a joke, but not 100%.
“You don’t care about him… you just want to play rough. And… and…. you don’t care about me! If you did you wouldn’t do it”
“That’s not true!”
“Yes it is”
“No it’s NOT”
“YES IT IS”
“NO IT’S NOT!!!”
Sara Beth mustered all of her courage and proclaimed:
“I HATE YOU! YOU AREN’T MY FRIEND ANYMORE! GO AWAY AND DON’T EVER BOTHER ME OR SONIC AGAIN!!!”.
She then tumbled to the floor while the other girl ran away.
Almost immediately, she regretted her words and actions. She was constantly told at school to act like an adult, but the impulsiveness of a child was still present at her age, and in this case it may have cost her a friendship she’d had for years. They’d practically grown up together, and while so often these spats resolved themselves, this was the first time either had used the H word. She hoped she’d hear her friend return and say something, anything, that would make things normal again. A long while passed and no timid small voice broken into Sara Beth’s balled up figure. This likely fueled her hysterical sobs that punctuated the silent sniffling in the empty classroom.
Eventually, she decided it was time to move on. To raise her head and get ready to go home. While she was old enough to be a ‘latchkey’ child, her parents were skeptical of how she’d do alone, so each day they dropped her, and Sonic, off at an after school program. They’d do some art projects, read stories, and have time at the end to work on whatever they like. From time to time, though, even the older kids like Sara Beth would have a breakdown, evidence that they weren’t quite yet the teenagers they aspired to be.
To her surprise, when she lifted her head, the room was darker than she remembered it. As her eyes focused, she began to realize that not only was it darker, it also wasn’t even the same room.
“Hello?!?”, Sara Beth called out, wondering if in her hysterics someone had come and taken her to another part of the school. She looked down and saw Sonic, still in his ball, still securely attached to her wrist. At least wherever she was, she had a true friend with her. Sonic looked up at Sara Beth in confusion.
Slowly she rose to her feet. Sara Beth hadn’t yet experienced her growth spurt that the others had begun to endure. Her small frame still spoke of childhood, not adolescence. It seemed to fit her well. Her blue eyes pierced through her pale complexion, hair neatly pulled back in the same pony tail that her mom had been putting it in for years. She wore her school uniform, today consisting of a simple red cotton dress, which sharply contrasted with the gray scenery around her.
She spent a few minutes wandering around before it hit her: She wasn’t at the school anymore. She wasn’t anywhere that she’d ever been before. She wasn’t anywhere that she’d ever heard about before.
She sat back down on the ground and tried her best to ball herself back up in the way she had been before, crossing her fingers. But when she looked back up she didn’t find herself magically back in the classroom, she was still in the barren abyss. Pushing her head back, she let out a long wail. The sobbing had returned.
“What should we do today, Sonic?”, Sara Beth asked her prickly friend. Sonic looked up at her, but failed to answer. The sky had undimmed and Sara Beth could make out the familiar splotch of gray that appeared almost directly over the spot she liked to sit in, the same spot she had been sitting in when she arrived.
“I’m so glad I have a way to keep track of you”, Sara Beth continued, “You’d be so easy to lose here”. Indeed Sonic’s grayish colors would act like natural camouflage if it weren’t for the ball made of light pink plastic that he lived in most of the time. When it got close to dim, Sara Beth would often take Sonic out and let him walk around the circle of ground enclosed by Sara Beth’s arms. She figured he needed his exercise, although he never stretched the way he used to when she took him out of the ball. Maybe he wasn’t as stiff.
It had been about a 2 weeks since Sara Beth had arrived. In that time she’d progressed through several emotional stages. For about the past 3 day/dim cycles she’d been mostly stable, and now found that talking to Sonic relaxed her.
“Maybe today we’ll go for a walk again”, Sara Beth proposed, “We’ll go see that spot that looks like a dinosaur before we come back here and wait.”
Waiting was all she could think of doing. If somehow she had been taken to this place, then somehow she could be taken away, right? It seemed so simple. The universe dumps you in a strange land you’ve never seen, somehow it should dump you back out. Maybe this was a crazy dream.
“You know Sonic, we have to wait right here, so that they’ll know where to find us”, she said with a forced smile, “What’s that? No, they’ll come back! I’m sure they miss us. Yes, even her – she’ll come back soon, and I’ll even let her be your Aunt again – I know she just made a mistake when she rolled you that last time”.
Sonic hadn’t eaten in 2 weeks, but of course, neither had Sara Beth. Sonic hadn’t slept, but neither had Sara Beth. Sonic hadn’t wept, but Sara Beth certainly had. Even on her ‘good’ days she still spent a good deal of time crying in some way. The long wails and sobs had subsided, but now the subtle tears of loss and longing had taken over.
Sara Beth’s parents were both busy people who loved her, but had very little time for her. Her father, an overworked police officer, was one of the most dependable people on the force. This meant he often was corralled into taking on double shifts, arriving home either right as Sara Beth had to go to sleep, or right as she was leaving for school. Every 9 weeks, when the school quarter ended, provided she got good grades, she got to ride along with him in his police cruiser for a special date with her handsome police officer dad. That was supposed to be three days ago, but the date never happened. She imagined him looking for her, missing their special ritual just as she did.
Her mom worked as a line supervisor at a local factory. She got off work around 5 PM daily and would pick Sara Beth up and go run errands. Some nights they’d go to the pet store to pick up something for Sonic. Other nights they’d just go home where Sara Beth would help her mom make dinner. She was old enough to start learning the sacred recipes her mother guarded with her life. Yesterday she was supposed to learn the secret to her mother’s sugar cookies.
“They wouldn’t leave me”, she told herself as the sky dimmed each night, “They’re looking for me”
“They’ll find me.”
Three statements she’d repeat time and time again, only to see the sky brighten each morning without a visit from her parents. The memory of them the only thing she could hold on to. Sometimes if she listened really intently, she’d hear something that sounded like voices in the distance, but they never came closer.
Sara Beth and Sonic had begun their daily walk, out over the small hill toward the place in the sky that looked remarkably like a T-Rex, if you looked at it the right way.
“It’s safe, Sonic”, Sara Beth would reassure her little companion as he rolled alongside her, “They’ll certainly wait at the spot for us if we’re not there, besides, it’s good to get out”. She had no idea if that were true – maybe it was good, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was the only thing that stopped her crying.
When they’d reached the T-Rex, Sara Beth noticed something she hadn’t before. The T-Rex was changing color. It was almost brownish, as opposed to the gray it had been.
“Something must be happening today!”, Sara Beth said to Sonic, “I bet it’s Mom and Dad! I bet they’re coming to find me. The T-Rex is telling me that’s true”. Sara Beth needed no further proof that this was true. What else could it be?
Sara Beth raced back to her spot. But all that awaited her was a rain storm. She picked Sonic’s ball up and held it close to her chest, keeping him dry from the rain as it poured forth. The rain started slowly, but it gradually increased in magnitude and force.
“What if this is punishment, Sonic?”, Sara Beth said, as water streamed down her cheeks.
“What if this is what happens when you push away your best friend? I wish I could tell her that I was sorry. I wish I could tell her that I didn’t mean what I said. I wish I could take it all back and see her again. I’d let her play with you – I know she wouldn’t be too rough. I’d invite her along with Dad and I – she’d be so excited to ride in a police car. I’d teach her how to make Mom’s cookies. It could be like it was”
Sonic looked up at Sara Beth, but even Sara Beth couldn’t infer emotion in his little face. As Sara Beth thought about her friend, momentarily focusing on their friendship and the fight, the ran slowly stopped. The sky returned to it’s normal shade, and Sara Beth looked out from her huddled mass covering Sonic and his ball.
It was at that moment that the most magical thing happened. It was the thing that would keep Sara Beth from almost certain insanity in the days to come. It was the thing that gave her hope that this world wasn’t as bleakly depressing as it appeared.
As she sat there, Sara Beth began to feel a warm feeling from within her. It was as if she was covered in a warm blanket. All of her worries about her parents and her friend evaporated along with the rain, and she swore that when she looked down at Sonic, he was smiling at her, his little snout pointed up so she could see the curve of his mouth. Suddenly she didn’t care if her parents ever found her. She didn’t care if she were stuck in this world forever. In that moment, everything seemed perfect and right, to the point she even wondered what she had been worried about moments earlier. The sky brightened, and Sara Beth could swear that it looked like a glorious yellow sun might come out from behind the thick gray wall. Slowly Sara Beth stood up, extending her arms out. She prayed this feeling would never end.