Athazagoraphobia

                                                             1!

Derrick woke up in a hospital bed. He knew neither how he got there nor how long he had been there. All he did know, as he was coming to full consciousness, was that it was dark. He began to sit up. As he did so, a feeling of nausea overcame him. He turned to the side of the bed to stand, but as he leaned forward, he threw up instead.

Once his insides stopped spilling out of him, Derrick wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, and suddenly his surroundings started to come into focus. The first thing that he was able to bring into focus was the bed on which he was sitting. He found that he was not on a hospital bed at all, but rather on what looked like a metal Laboratory bed. The room around the bed was dark, due to the fact that only one light bulb on the ceiling was functional; the rest were shattered. The once white walls were covered in blood that looked like it had been thrown by the bucketful. On the white, tiled floor, two dead nurses in white outfits were also covered in blood. Instantly, fear overtook him, but rather than the fear putting him in a panic, somehow it helped him focus. After all, he was quite used to fear. Suddenly, he began to remember how and why he was here.

The laboratory belonged to a company named The Garza Institute whose supposed goal was to cure patients of mental illness. A couple days prior, Derrick had signed up to participate in a study for a procedure that was to cure him of a crippling phobia and pay him handsomely to do so. A win-win situation or at least, he thought it would be. It was clear, though, that while he was under, something terrible had happened. He needed to get out.

Quickly, Derrick got up and began to move towards a robe that was still hanging up on the wall directly across from him. His legs felt like they were made of jelly, not unlike the feeling one gets when they have been on a cruise ship for an extended period of time and then takes their first steps on the solid land. As he approached the robe, he had to step over one of the dead bodies. The nurse must have been pretty when she was alive, he thought to himself. She appeared to have once been young and blonde, but now her hair was matted with blood and her eyes were frozen open with an expression of terror. What happened here?! He wondered

Derrick grabbed for the robe and slipped it on. It had some blood on it, but appeared clean for the most part, at least on the inside. He then noticed that there was a door to the right of the hook that had seconds ago held the robe. Derrick grabbed for the handle. The door was unlocked. He flung it open with more strength than he realized he had possessed and sent it crashing against the wall by which it was hinged as he stumbled into the hallway.

The hallway, like the laboratory room, was dark. The only lights in the hall were the emergency lights that were flickering constantly. Derrick looked first left and then right, trying to find an exit. He squinted in the dark to try to see a sign, any sign that would point the way out. There was nothing. Making a snap decision, he turned left and headed toward the end of the hallway.

There were rooms on both sides of Derrick as he ran down the hall, hopefully toward a yet unseen exit. He resolved to keep his sights set in front of him, partially because he needed to focus on the goal of escape, but also because he was afraid of what he might see in those rooms. What he had already seen in his own room was going to stick with him until the day he died. There was no reason to make it any worse.

Reaching the end of the hallway, he found that he again had two options: left or right. Again, he went left, hoping he was making the correct decision. He wished that his memory was less clouded so that he could remember how he had entered the facility, but there was no time to concentrate on that. He was more worried about surviving than doing memory exercises. A few feet further, he made a blind right into another corridor. There, he was startled by a girl standing in the middle of the hallway with her back to him.

“Hey! How do we get outta here?!” he called to the girl down the hall, too desperate to wait until he caught up to her.

Even with the fairly large distance that separated Derrick from the girl, he could tell that she was visibly shaken, and it was clear that he had startled her, just as much, if not more, than she had startled him, because she jumped and whipped her body around to face him. He could hear her crying.

“Who’s there?” she yelled frantically in his direction. Derrick realized that she probably couldn’t see him because of how dark the building was.

Derrick took a few steps forward, quickly and yelled his reply to the girl. “It doesn’t matter who I am. The important thing is that right now we need to find a way out of here! There are dead bodies and blood everywhere. We’re next unless we find the exit! Do you know the way out?” Derrick’s voice had risen to almost a shout. He knew that it was the fear, and he could tell that this girl was in shock from all of the horrors that she had undoubtedly witnessed here. He hoped that she would snap out of it, once she realized that he was no threat to her, and tell him where the exit was.

Instead of helping him as he had hoped, the girl took off running and screaming in the other direction. She was fast. Derrick took off after her. Clearly, his presence had not snapped the girl out of her shock, so he needed to catch her and help her calm down. She was probably his only hope of finding a way out of this nightmare.

Derrick continued to race after her, for what seemed like an eternity. Right. Left. Right. Two more lefts. He was beginning to lose his sense of direction and had no idea how to get back to where they had come from. It didn’t matter. He wanted to move forward, away from the death and destruction, not back toward it. The girl continued to run. Derrick was falling further and further behind her until the sound of her crying and screaming served as his only beacon in the dark facility. Her screaming was horrible, too, and it never stopped, except when she would yell back at him to leave her alone.

Surely, she can’t think I’m the killer, can she? Derrick thought to himself.

The girl whipped her head back around and ducked into a room to her right. Once Derrick entered, he saw the young girl lying on the floor curled into a ball with her back against the far left corner of the room. She was crying, or more accurately, sobbing.

“Please, don’t kill me! Whatever happened to you wasn’t my fault!” She screamed.

What is she talking about? Derrick asked himself. He looked around the room, desperate to find something, anything, that could help him in this situation, but there were only two objects in the otherwise plain, white room. The first was to his immediate right, against the same wall as the entrance in which he was standing: a bed, covered with a white sheet and white pillow. The second was bolted to the wall on his left, near the same corner that the girl was currently occupying, in the fetal position: a mirror.

She must be talking about me, he realized. What happened to me? Derrick looked himself over, fearing that he had been injured and had not noticed it before, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

“There’s nothing wrong with me.” Derrick told the girl. “Let me help you.”

Derrick took a step toward the girl, slowly reaching out his hand to calm her. As he did so, the girl screamed. She closed her eyes and put her hands out to block him. Flames suddenly shot from her hands, igniting Derricks robe.

Derrick let out a sharp yell and separated himself from the robe, falling to his back and down the back wall, as he did. Then, Derrick looked straight up, into what he had thought was a mirror. His initial reaction was that it could not have really been a mirror, because as he stared into it, he saw nothing but an empty room, at first. But then, he saw something else. He could see his robe, lying on the floor, burning.

What the hell? He thought to himself. Where am I? Suddenly, all of the events in the hallway with the girl came flooding back. He put it all together, right then and there: her not being able to see him in the hallway, and her fear of him whenever he spoke. It was not because she was in shock, or the hallway was dark.

He was invisible.

She never saw him, because he was invisible. What she did see, was an empty robe floating towards her. No wonder she ran.

Not knowing what else to do, Derrick got up and rushed back out of the room, forgetting the girl still crying hysterically on the floor. All he knew was that he had to get out. A thousand questions raced through his head all at once. What happened to him? Was he dead? How did that girl light his robe on fire? This place was worse than a nightmare, because at least in a nightmare, you can wake up. This was different. This was real.

Derrick ran blindly through the halls as his panic continued to consume him. Somehow, though he didn’t know how, he found the exit. He burst through the double doors and suddenly emerged outside.

On the other side of the doors was a scene just as grim as the one from which Derrick had just escaped. There were two more young girls in the parking lot of the facility, one on an ambulance gurney, and the other talking to a pair of police officers. Both girls were covered in blood.

Although everyone looked toward the doors that Derrick had just burst through in surprise, it was clear by their reaction that none of them saw him.

This was Derrick’s greatest fear. Athazagoraphobia: the fear of being forgotten. That was the entire reason he was here in the first place. It was a disease with which Derrick had been diagnosed when he was ten years old. One summer day, as a young child, Derrick was abandoned by his parents in a park in Lexington, Kentucky. His psychologist believed that moment to be the origin of the phobia. Ever since, Derrick had been crippled with the burden of feeling obligated to introduce himself to people multiple times and having panic attacks when people had forgotten they had met before.

The study at this medical research facility was supposed to be his cure. Instead, Derrick now found himself standing in front of a crowd of people who could not see him. A crowd of people who could never meet him, who would never know he existed. Suddenly, Derrick started to feel a familiar, terrifying sensation bubbling up inside of him. He felt panic. He felt fear. He felt helplessness as if nothing else in the world mattered, because he did not matter. This was the same feeling he got every time someone had to ask him his name for a second time. The same feeling he got when someone had forgotten they had met before. Things were so much worse now. These people could not even forget about him because they would never even know that he existed. They would never see him. The fear was so intense that he thought it would cause his body to explode. He could not breathe. He could not think. All he could do was panic.

Derrick looked around, hoping someone would see him, would recognize him, but deep down he knew that they could not. Instead, he saw people going back about the work that they had commenced before he broke through the door of the medical facility. Then, before he knew what he was doing, Derrick began to scream. At first, it was a piercing sound with no words. Then, it progressed into words. Derrick could not control what was coming out of his mouth. All he could do was ride the wave of panic and hope for it to end, much like a passenger in a car crash.

“I’M REAL!!” He yelled at the top of his lungs, in a shrill voice that sounded nothing like his normal one. “I’M REAL AND YOU WILL ACKNOWLEDGE ME!!”

Everyone, once again, turned to face the doors from whence he had come. This time, there was more than surprise in their faces. This time there was also terror. One of the girls let out a scream and started to cry uncontrollably. The cops all drew their weapons and pointed this way and that, trying to find the source of the noise and let it know that they were in charge.

Again, Derrick let out a yell. This time, the yell was so loud and so high pitched, that it shattered the windows of the emergency vehicles parked nearby.

“I EXIST!!” Derrick shrieked at the crowd. Then, without thinking, only reacting to the traumas he had experienced since his reawakening inside the medical center, Derrick took off in a dead sprint, knocking over several cops and rescue workers as he did so. Although he was not in his right mind, Derrick’s instincts still knew the way home, and his feet began to carry him in that direction, whether his mind wanted to go there or not.

Derrick did not remember the details of the run home. All he really remembered was the panic that coursed through him as he did so. He had no idea for how long he had run, or really how far. All that he knew now was that the panic was beginning to subside, and once again, Derrick found himself in control of his own body.

Several questions once again began to emerge within his psyche. Derrick had no idea what had happened to him in that medical center. The thought, of course, had crossed his mind that he was a ghost. Few other solutions seemed plausible. The other possibility, which he was more willing to accept, was that all of this was a dream. As he approached his campus house at the local university, he decided that there was only one way to find out. Derrick pinched himself as hard as he could. It hurt, and it bruised, but it did not wake him into a calmer, less confusing world. Clearly, this was not a dream. Was he dead?

Derrick approached the front door of the house which sat on a patio. He tried the door knob, but the house was locked. Derrick descended back down the three worn, grey patio stairs and turned to face the house. The entire house was the same dull, grey color as the porch, and it was clear that it had seen better days. The university wasted no money on its upkeep, and it showed. There were shingles missing off of the roof, and several of the windows were cracked. As a result of the lack of attention to the building, none of the windows had working locks. This was, of course, a security risk, but on a small, private campus in a small town in Indiana, that was not a worry.

Derrick rounded the left side of the house and found the window into the dining room of the house. Underneath the window was a bucket that he and his roommate had put there one night when they had both had entirely too much fun at a party and had locked themselves out of the house. Derrick climbed the bucket, and opened the window leading into his home. He climbed through the window, but, as he did so, his foot got stuck on the window sill, spilling him into the dining room with a loud crashing sound.

Derrick lay on his back for a few seconds on the floor of his dining room, looking at the ceiling. He suddenly became extremely tired. He was struggling to keep himself awake. He lay there and contemplated what would happen if he were to fall asleep. Would he disappear into the afterlife? Would he wake up and realize that this was all just a dream? He had no idea. The only thing he knew was that he was losing the battle with fatigue. He tried to quickly come up with something witty to mutter just in case this was the end. He tried hard to think of something, but exhaustion made his brain numb. In the end, he muttered one phrase.

“Dammit, I’m not wearing any pants.”

With that, he fell into unconsciousness.

                                                   2!

“Dude, wake the fuck up. What the hell’re you doing?”

Derrick felt a kick to his ribs. Slowly, he opened his eyes. His head was cloudy. He could see the white, peeling ceiling of his dining room, though not too crisply, because the light from the window was blinding.

“What the hell, dude. You go too hard last night’r what?”

It was his roommate Freddy. He and Freddy had been best friends ever since Freddy’s parents had adopted Derrick. Those two had been through everything with each other, but when he turned over to his side, he saw a look he rarely saw on his friends face: concern.

“What’s wrong?” Derrick asked.

“Well, for one, I can see your dick.” Freddy replied.

Derrick looked down and realized that he was naked. Quickly, his hands went to his crotch to cover himself up. Then, another realization hit him.

“You can see me.” Derrick said.

“A little too much,” Freddy responded. “What happened to you last night?”

Derrick thought back to the night before. Everything that he had thought happened to him last night must’ve been a crazy dream. He tried to remember what he actually did, but could not. He must have partied really hard.

“Dude, I have no idea. I don’t remember anything.” Derrick said. “Must’ve been fun, though, if it ended like this.”

Freddy laughed. His pale face lightened from the previously concerned expression, back to its normal one.

Freddy helped Derrick to his feet, careful not to look at any of Derrick’s exposed body parts. The two boys were about the same height, roughly six foot. This was not the only physical similarity the two shared. In fact, the boys looked so much alike that most people believed them to be blood-related upon first meeting them. Both had brown hair, pale skin, and both boys were slim in stature.

“I gotta tell you about this crazy dream that I had.” Derrick told Freddy.

“Alright man, but can you put some damn pants on first?”

Derrick laughed as he brushed by his friend and up the stairs that led to the two upstairs bedrooms and one bathroom. At the top of the stairs, Derrick took a quick left-handed u-turn and went into his room. Usually these houses had three students staying in them, but recently, the third wheel in this house had been forced to move back into a dormatory after campus security had found marijuana in his room during one of the rowdy parties that the house was known for. Derrick had felt bad when it happened since the guy was out of town visiting his family that weekend, but now enjoyed the fact that it was just him and Freddy. Freddy wasn’t just Derrick’s best friend, but also, his only friend. Ever since they had met, Derrick could not care less about any person in the entire world, except Freddy. The parties were just a way for Derrick to make sure that he was known by as many people as possible on campus. It helped with his phobia.

As Derrick entered his room, he took a quick look around to mentally inventory what was available to him. As usual, his room was a mess. The bed, which was against the wall to the right of the door, was not made. There were sheets on the floor and clothes on the bed. The desk across the room from the bed was covered with a mixture of schoolwork, technology, and past meals. Against the left side wall was a closet, which was open with clothes and had boxes spilling out of it.

Derrick walked the short distance to his closet and pulled out a pair of jeans and a black tee shirt. Then, he went over to a dresser next to the desk, which was also covered in clothes and old meals, opened the top drawer, and pulled out a pair of plaid boxers and black socks. Derrick dressed himself quickly, and headed back down the stairs, toward the living room. There, he saw his roommate eating a bowl of cereal and surfing the web on his laptop.

“Okay, let me tell you about this dream.”

Immediately, Derrick sat down on the tan couch by Freddy and began to give the account of his dream. For most of the story, Freddy seemed like he was only half listening, which was typical, but when Derrick started describing the scene outside of the medical facility, Freddy’s expression changed.

“Wait. Tell me that part again!” Freddy said with urgency in his voice.

“Man, listen the first time.” Derrick said, jokingly.

“Seriously. Tell me again.”

“Okay. Like I said, in the dream, I came running out of the doors, and there were several people outside. I think there were cops and two girls, but I’m not sure. It was all a blur.”

“Holy shit, are you fucking with me?”

“No. Why?”

“Seriously. Are you fucking with me?”

“No, I swear. Why?”

“Check this out.” Freddy started typing emphatically on his laptop, clearly on a mission. His eyes quickly moved back and forth as he scanned the screen. When he found what he was looking for, he turned his laptop toward Derrick. On the laptop, was an article from the local newspaper, The Evanstown Courier, which was dated from the day before. The headline read, Tragedy at Local Medical Facility. Underneath the headline, was a photo of the scene of the crime. The photo looked like a typical crime scene photo. There were cops and victims, ambulances and police cars. What did make this picture special, however, was that it was the exact scene that Derrick had described from his so-called dream. Turns out, it was not a dream, at all.

“Shit.” Derrick muttered.

“I saw the article this morning. I thought it was the same facility that you were supposed to have that thing done, but I just figured you didn’t go. What I don’t get is that the journalist stated that there were three survivors, all women. What about you? Why didn’t they mention you?” Freddy asked.

A familiar panic began to rise within Derrick. It was all true. He was at that medical facility. He did run through the building. He did break into his own house last night. But, that all meant that two other, previously inconceivable events were true. First, the girl that threw fire from her hands, igniting his robe was also real, but second, and more importantly, somehow, he was invisible when it happened! How could this be? It made no sense. Derrick’s head was spinning with many emotions, not the least of which was fear.

“I told you. I think I was invisible.” Derrick’s voice trembled. He could not believe the words coming out of his mouth. Invisible? He thought to himself. But, it must be true.

“Nah, man. That shit’s crazy. You’re off your rocker. You must have panicked and ran outta that shit before anyone even noticed you. Everyone that was there was too distracted to even notice you were there, or if they did, they forgot you.” Freddy began to laugh, but it must have slipped his mind who he was talking to momentarily, because there was one word, which he was never allowed to use in front of Derrick, which he spoke that was about to have a huge effect on this moment, this day, and, in fact, the rest of his life. The word: forgot.

Derrick, however, did not miss the use of that word. Derrick heard it loud and clear. The familiar panic inside of him began to grow. It grew to a point that he thought it would devour him whole until he would no longer exist. Derrick felt the world swell around him and turn an ugly hue of orange. The room started to spin. Before he could do anything about it, Derrick started to yell.

“THEY DID NOT FORGET ME! I WAS INVISIBLE!”

Suddenly, Freddy’s complexion became ghost-white. He began to look around frantically. His eyes were wider than any person who had previously met him would have thought possible.

“Derrick! Derrick!” Freddy stuck his hands out feeling for some unknown object.

“I EXIST AND NO ONE FORGOT ME!” Derrick shouted. His whole body felt warm. He had no idea when this was going to end, but it was the most intense a panic attack had ever been.

“Derrick, you’re right, man. You disappeared! Right now, you just fucking disappeared! Where are you?” Freddy stood up and reached toward the shouting. After a couple of whiffs of his arms, Freddy managed to grab Derrick’s forearm. He squeezed tight. Then, he attempted to talk in a soothing, calm voice. It was supposed to be the same voice that he had used thousands of times when Derrick was having one of his attacks, but instead, it came out as a small, stuttering, nervous voice. “D-d-d-errick…listen..t-t-o me…I know you exist…I-I-I know you’re real…it’s going-g-g to be okay.”

Although Derrick could sense Freddy’s fear, his voice still seemed to be calming him down. Freddy was usually the only person that could calm him down, and apparently this moment was no different.

“It’s going to be okay.” Freddy felt his voice getting stronger, as was his resolve to make his friend and adopted brother return to visibility.

Slowly, Derrick’s heartbeat began to decline. His breathing became less hard, and the fear that was heating his body began to dissipate. Soon, Derrick began to phase back into a visible spectrum. At first, he was slightly see-through and pale, and then his image began to solidify into something resembling his previous self. The more that he came back, however, the more drained he felt. When he finally did phase back in, he did the only thing he could. He fainted.

Still holding on to his forearm, Freddy watched his friend come back to him, visibly. Then, he felt Derrick go limp and collapse to the floor. Immediately, Freddy bent over Derrick and started calling his name.

“Derrick, Derrick, wake up. WAKE THE FUCK UP!” Having no idea what else to do, Freddy smacked Derrick across the face, hard, a little harder than he had meant to do. Unfortunately, however, that did not work. Quickly, Freddy ran to the kitchen, grabbed a glass, turned on the faucet, and proceeded to fill the glass with cold water. Once the glass was filled to what Freddy thought to be an acceptable level, he ran over to his friend and threw the water on him. In the excitement, however, the glass slipped out of his hand and smacked Derrick on the forehead.

Derrick awoke with a start, half from taking a drinking glass to his head and the other half from being nearly drowned in cold water. He opened his eyes, and the only thing he could see was a relieved, grinning Freddy standing over him.

“Dude, you were fucking invisible.”

Upon waking, and getting his senses about him, Derrick felt two emotions: dread and hunger. He was not sure which was more overwhelming. He was now positive that everything that had happened the night before was real, and that this was who he was going to be from now on.

The invisible guy. Great. He thought to himself.

Although Derrick was clearly upset, Freddy was feeling a different emotion. His was excitement. As a kid, Freddy had always been obsessed with comic books, although none of his friends knew this fact, other than Derrick. Ever since Freddy could remember, he had been enamored by super heroes and super villains, and the ever-present struggle between good and evil. Now, as unbelievable as it would have been not three hours before, Freddy had a friend with super powers. He was so excited that he did not know what to do with himself.

“How’re you feeling, bro?” Freddy asked Derrick. Derrick was now sitting on the couch beside his roommate, holding his head in his hands. His eyes were closed with concentration, and maybe a little pain.

“Honestly, I’m just hungry.” Derrick responded, massaging his temples.

“Yeah, man, that makes sense, I guess.” Freddy said so matter-of-factly that it startled Derrick a bit.

“How does that make sense? How does any of this make sense to you, or anybody? In case you missed it, I just turned fucking invisible, for god’s sake!”

“Yeah I know, fucking crazy.” Freddy had a hard time containing his excitement about the situation but thought that sharing some of his super hero knowledge would help calm his friend, “ I was thinking about it just now, you know, while you were recovering, and so I was thinking about the comics that I read, and…”

“You’re using comic books as a fucking base of knowledge?!” Derrick interrupted, now more angry than either of those previous emotions he had been feeling.

“What else do you have to go on, Super Douche?” Freddy asked, his anger also growing. “Now listen, in the comics I used to read, sometimes using powers took an extreme amount of energy. Now, you said you passed out last night, and you passed out just now. That seems to be consistent with that school of thought. Going off of that supposition, it would make sense that it would make you hungry, because food is our main source of energy.” Freddy let out a loud exhale. He had been speaking with such fervor that he had forgotten to breathe during his entire speech. He stared at Derrick as he tried to catch his breath.

“Well, whatever it is, I need to eat. Let’s hit Roxy’s up for some pancakes. Also, I’m not a fucking super hero, asshole. So, don’t even think about that shit. In fact, let’s just not talk about this at all. I need some time to think.” Derrick got up and grabbed his keys from the dining room. He then went to the front door to leave, and Freddy followed him.

Outside, the weather was bleak. The skies were grey, and there was a slight drizzle coming down, which was usual for Evanstown. Although it was in the middle of the United States, the city saw the same amount of annual precipitation as London, England. What made the weather particularly bad was that there was a heavy wind blowing. Although both boys had put on coats, the wind seemed to blow right through them, instantly freezing them to the bone.

Freddy and Derrick descended from their porch, and started to follow the sidewalk leading away from their home southward, toward Roxy’s. Roxy’s Diner was a small, family-owned restaurant that was a few blocks from their campus, making it a typical gathering place for college students. The cheap prices and free internet did not hurt either.

Luckily for the two boys, Moore’s Hill College was a small campus, measuring at just over a square mile. There were only about thirty thousand students attending the private college. As the boys walked past the campus, neither of them said a word. Derrick stared at his feet and had both hands in his pockets. Freddy observed the campus buildings across the street. He pretended to be particularly interested in the former student union building, which had been closed down for several years since a new one was built. The only reason that the building was still standing was because the alumni association had made a big fuss about it, claiming that the building held some sort of historical significance. So, now the building sat there, usually useless, but currently the perfect alibi for a distraction. What Freddy really wanted to do was talk about what had happened to Derrick and what it would mean for them. He could tell, though, that Derrick was in no mood to do so.

After about five minutes of walking, the two boys arrived at their destination. They crossed the small parking lot to the entrance of the red and white building. The diner had been opened in the fifties by a couple who had moved into the town, and must have been quite a site when it was, but now, the weather and decades since its opening did the exterior of the building no favors. The paint was dull and chipping everywhere, showing the concrete underneath. Although the building looked like it may collapse any moment, it was common knowledge that the food was the best in town, especially the pancakes.

Entering the building, Derrick and Freddy took a booth that was in the back, right corner, each sliding in to one side so that they were facing each other. Immediately, a young, white, brunette waitress came to them. She was clearly distracted by something else and had only a fake smile to spare for them.

“What’re you ordering?” She asked them both, not even looking up from her notebook or greeting either of them.

“Pancakes and a chocolate milk.” Derrick answered, also clearly distracted. He was reading something on his cell phone that he had pulled from his pocket.

“Same for me.” Freddy said.

“Coming right up.” The waitress replied monotonously, then turned and walked back toward the kitchen to place the order.

Freddy stared at his friend, absent-mindedly tapping his fingers on the off-white table, trying to figure out what to say. Meanwhile, Derrick continued to read something on his phone. Freddy stared at Derrick for several moments. Finally, he got up the nerve to breach the super subject, again.

“So…what’re you gonna do?” He asked.

“I told you I didn’t want to talk about this.” Derrick responded, without looking up from his phone.

“I know, but I think it’s important for you to get it out there, you know, and talk about…stuff.” Freddy was trying to choose his words carefully. It was the only chance he had at having any success with his friend opening up to him.

“What is there to talk about? My phobia has apparently been medically enhanced to include invisibility. The way I see it is that I need to handle it like I always have.” Derrick still refused to make eye contact with Freddy.

“This gift is not something to avoid, like a disease, Derrick, it’s something that you need to learn to control and turn into something good for the world!” Freddy’s tone was verging on pleading with Derrick at this point. The solution to him was so obvious. Every comic book he read had a scene where the hero realized his power was a blessing that he could use to right the wrongs in the world. To Freddy, Derrick was no different, but the only way that his friend was also going to see it was by getting past his fear.

The waitress walked up and delivered the two chocolate milks to the young men. Derrick used this distraction as a moment to avoid the conversation. Deep down, he knew that Freddy was not going to let this go, no matter how much Derrick wished for him to do so. He took a big drink of his chocolate milk, downing almost half of it in one shot. He had both hands around the glass as he replaced it on the booth in front of him. His eyes now had moved from his phone to the glass, hoping to look interested enough in it for the conversation to halt, but that was not going to be the case.

“You could really help some people out there if you could just learn to control it, man. Think about that for a minute. From what I’ve read…”

“In your comic books.” Derrick countered quietly.

“Yes, in my comic books.” The jab barely slowed Freddy down. He was ready for a verbal sparring match, so he kept right on moving. “What I’ve read is that these powers that people get were like muscles. You know, the more you move them, the more controlled you can move them. It’s just like babies learning to walk.”

For the first time since arriving at the diner, Derrick looked his friend dead in the eye. In fact, his eyes felt, to Freddy, as if they were digging straight through his own eyes and into his brain, as if to try to see his thoughts. Freddy did not blink though, he met Derrick’s glare for every moment of what seemed like an eternity and waited for his friend’s next move.

The waitress returned one more time with syrup and the two pancake dishes that had been ordered.

The two boys, who were leaning into each other a bit from opposite sides of the booth, both so that they could talk quietly, but also as a stance displaying dominance to the other, leaned back in their seats to allow for the waitress to set the table unimpeded. They did not, however, avert their eyes until the food was laid safely on the table. In an obvious hurry, the waitress did not even ask them if they needed anything else, she just took the check out of her pocket and placed it on the table, before turning and walking away.

Derrick began to cover his pancakes in butterscotch syrup as his friend continued the conversation, ignoring his own pancakes.

“Look, I’m not saying that you should become some sort of super hero or whatever, but this can’t all be bad. Something good can come out of this, bro.”

Derrick sat down the syrup. “I don’t even want this. Do you know how hard it is to be afraid of being forgotten when you’re invisible? It’s a nightmare. And there is not one person in this world that can help me. Not even you, as badly as you want to, you have no idea.”

Freddy sat there feeling defeated. Of course he had no idea what his friend was going through. How could he? Maybe it would be best for Derrick if he was able to cure himself, if that was even possible, but if finding a cure was the only thing Freddy was going to worry about he would be missing out on an opportunity to change the world. Maybe if there were someone who could relate to Derrick who felt the same way, Derrick could be convinced. Then, suddenly, Freddy had an epiphany.

“You’re right. I don’t. But there may be a few people who do.” Freddy replied.

“Who?”

“Well, remember that article? It said there were three other survivors. Maybe they got the same thing you did. Maybe you can all turn invisible. You wanna fix this? I think our first step is to find those girls and see what happened to them.”

“Our?” Derrick asked, quizzically.

“Yeah, I mean, I want to help, man. I’ve always helped you when you needed it. Plus, you’re not very computer literate. I can do research and stuff.” Freddy wore a half-smile on his face, which he was trying to keep from evolving into a full smile.

“I don’t know. This is some serious shit.” Derrick said, stabbing his pancakes, absentmindedly.

“You want answers, right?” Freddy asked.

“Yeah, okay.” Derrick sighed. “But I am not gonna do some super hero shit, and you’re definitely not my sidekick. Let’s just try to get some answers so I can cure this shit before it becomes permanent, if it isn’t already.”

“Sounds good to me, man.”

The two boys then dug into their pancakes and ate in silence for the rest of the meal, both lost in their own thoughts of the seemingly limitless possibilities that could stem from what had happened to Derrick the night before. It would have been hard for either of them to believe that one event, on one night, could change their lives so drastically, and yet neither of them fully understood what was to come.

                                                          3!

After finishing their meals, both boys exited the diner. Outside, the weather was as grey and crummy as ever. The rain, which was still drizzling, seemed to be showing no signs of stopping. In the parking lot, Derrick and Freddy just stood for a few moments, watching both pedestrians and vehicles pass by the diner.

“I think I’m gonna start on that research to see who those girls are. You wanna come?” Freddy asked, at last.

“Nah, I need a few minutes to myself to clear my head. Don’t you have a class or something to go to, anyway?” Derrick responded, clearly distant and still being occupied by his own thoughts. Freddy worried about his friend. Sure, having super powers seemed like a cool thing to him, but he really did not have any clue as to what his best friend was going through. He wanted to reassure him, he wanted to calm him in the same way he would when Derrick was having an attack, but he knew that he could not. This was an internal battle that Derrick had to deal with alone. For now, all Freddy could do was respect his friend’s wishes.

“Yeah, but it’s theater 101. I don’t feel like going today. I’ve barely missed the class, so I can afford to miss a day. Plus, I wanna get started on this. Catch you later.” Freddy said. He then turned back toward the direction of their house and walked away.

Derrick, still deep in thought, started walking across the street, toward the main campus. He had been trying to avoid thinking or talking about his condition ever since he turned invisible in front of Freddy, but Freddy’s constant badgering had left him little choice but to attack the situation head on.

Derrick enjoyed walking. There was something peaceful to it that he could not describe. In high school, he had been a three sport athlete, football, basketball, and baseball. He was pretty good at all three, but never really enjoyed them. The only reason he participated in any of them was to be the big man on campus. He thought that if everyone knew and liked him, it would help with his condition, and, for the most part, it had worked. The worst part of sports was, by far, practice. In practice, no one was watching, except the coaches, and you always had to run. What was the point to do it if no one knew you were doing it? But walking was different. It wasn’t exercise; it was just something that you did. Ever since he could remember, it was the best thing Derrick could do to take his mind off things, or calm down after a particularly violent attack.

Derrick arrived across the street to his campus. The entirety of the campus, aside from the sports complexes and campus houses, was contained within a one square mile block within Evanstown, which was not a huge city, but was big enough for two small colleges. Evanstown’s rival school, Southwest Indiana State, was across the city. It was a public college, with a campus spanning several miles. The Moore’s Hill College was a stark contrast. What was great about its size, however, was the walk ability of it. In a couple of minutes, a pedestrian could see everything there was to see. Usually, it only took Derrick one or two laps before he would have himself sorted out.

At the southwest corner of the campus, where Derrick was now standing, was an old, cement sign with the university’s name upon it. Derrick walked past it without even taking a look at it.

What am I supposed to do with this? He thought to himself. It was one thing to be different, but this was ridiculous. He had been given something that may have been a gift to anyone else, but to him, a guy with Athazagoraphobia, it was a curse. Of course, he supposed Freddy had been right that any normal person would be obligated to use this power for some sort of good in the world, but the fact was that he was not normal. He had been reminded of it over and over again. Every decision that he had ever made revolved around his phobia. It was the reason he played sports, it was the reason that he was a political science major, it was the reason that he introduced himself to every person he ever met multiple times, and sometimes even sent them a follow up email or text, just to be sure. It was always a devastating event when someone had forgotten that they had been previously introduced. When most people found out about his phobia, they laughed. It was a hard thing for people to understand. In fact, some even thought it was a joke, or some sort of elaborate game he was playing, but the fact was that he was often crippled by it. The only person that understood that, ever, was Freddy, but now, that was the same person asking him to put it behind himself, and move on with this new “gift”. How was he supposed to do that? How was any of this remotely fair?

Derrick was now passing in front of the admissions office of the campus. The building looked very much like a castle. It sat off the street and had a wide, circle drive leading up to it. On its right, was the school’s science building, where Freddy spent much of his time studying technology, engineering or something else that Derrick could never quite remember, and to the left was the alumni building. The entire scene may have been visually impressive if it were not for the terrible weather.

But, what about those girls? He thought. Could Freddy be right? Are they invisible, too? It seemed probable. What are the odds that he was the only person that was affected by whatever had happened in that building? On the other hand, if he was not the only one with this invisibility curse, then why was it that the rescue workers could see all of those girls but not him. He was not even reported as a survivor in the news article.

And what did happen in that building? This was the greatest question of them all. Was it an accident? Did someone do this to me on purpose? So many possibilities were running through Derrick’s head, each more unbelievable than the last, yet here he stood. The invisible guy.

Derrick was now in the home stretch of his walk. He had just passed several more buildings and was rounding the corner toward all of the freshmen dormitories. His house was across the street, at the next corner.

The truth was that Derrick was scared. In fact, he was not just scared. He was petrified, but in the end, he knew that Freddy was right. He needed to find those girls. Then, they needed to figure out what happened to them, hopefully together.

As he approached the corner, Derrick again saw the rundown building that was the biggest eye sore on campus. The rain was starting to pick up. Luckily, Derrick was almost home and was ready to be. Whatever waited ahead, he knew he could now handle it.

Derrick walked in the door to his house, which was unlocked, and bounded up the stairs. At the top, he turned left and entered Freddy’s room. Freddy was sitting at his desk with his back toward the entrance.

“Okay, man, let’s do this.” Derrick said in a semi-cheerful and determined manner.

Freddy whipped his chair around. He wore a look of excitement on his face and was not trying to hide it.

“What’d you find?” Derrick asked.

“I found one of them.” he said, smiling.

“Great. How do we find her?” Derrick asked.

“We know her.” Freddy grabbed the laptop on his desk and handed it to Derrick.

The picture on the laptop was large. Derrick instantly recognized her. He had seen her a million times. She had given the two boys pancakes less than an hour ago. It was the waitress at the diner.

Derrick could not believe it.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Yeah.” Freddy said, almost shouting from his excitement.

“We just saw her.”

“Yeah.”

“We need to go back and talk to her, like fucking now!”

“I know.”

With that, the two boys bolted out of their house, back toward Roxy’s Diner.

Next Chapter: Necrophobia