“Well that’s just great.” Rune sounded weary, as he sat on his knees at the spot where Annie had been sitting. “First Rex, now Annie.” He closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his knees.
The Bird walked over, took a seat next to him on the damp grass. “What happened to Rex?”
Rune shook his head, an action which seemed to open his eyes. “We went looking for Double-J, like Coach asked us to.” He sniffed, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “We were on the second floor, at the top of this staircase, when we finally saw him, heading out this door. So we followed him, outside to this big field — ” he pointed behind them — “kinda like the one that just appeared.”
The Bird nodded, waited for Rune to continue. “Finally, we saw Double-J, crouching behind this stone wall, watching Hamlet talk to a bunch of soldiers — probably Fortinbras’ army.”
“Anyway, we go up to Double-J, ask him what he’s up to. Said he was going to fight Hamlet, soon as he was alone. Then I remembered what you said, how we had to let this play continue, that we couldn’t leave until it was over, and I’m thinking, if Double-J fights Hamlet now, that could change the entire course of the play.” The teen’s face then brightened, as he looked up at The Bird. “So I told him about Laertes, how he was just as good a fencer as Hamlet, but he wasn’t back yet. Told him if he let Hamlet go, Laertes would come back, then in the last scene he could fight both of them.”
The Bird was impressed. “How’d he react?”
“He seemed — intrigued. Then he asked me when Laertes would come back, and I said it would be around the same time that Ophelia drowned. Then Double-J, he gets that wild look in his eyes, you know when he’s up to something?” The Bird nodded. “Said he needed to find someone, he’d catch up with us later. I want to stop him, look to Rex for help — that’s when I found out he was gone, just like Annie. I look around, see that the army’s marching away. Guess who I see bringing up the rear?”
The Bird drew her head back, mouth opening but no words coming. Rune frowned. “Yeah, there’s Rex, he was easy to see ‘cuz he’s so much taller than the other soldiers. He was close enough for me to catch up to him, so I grabbed him by the arm, asked what the hell he was doing. Told him we needed to get back, to Coach and our friends.”
Rune looked away, out at the river in which Ophelia had just drowned. “He starts talking about not wanting to go back, about wanting to stay in this world, the world of the play. I tell him that’s crazy, we don’t belong here, but he’s like, ‘who says we belong in Bark Bay either, we’re just a bunch of freaks, like Myles told us that night. I kept trying, asked him what his family would do if he didn’t go back, and he’s like ‘I’ve never been much help to them, I wasn’t able to keep my father from leaving, can’t help my mom stay healthy, can’t stop the state from putting my sisters in foster homes.’ Tells me there weren’t no more point fighting any more, his family was too poor to fight the state.”
The sophomore shifted his weight back, his rear resting on the grass next to The Bird, his knees propped up. “Tried to pull him away, but he stepped back, broke my grip.” He rested his forearms on his knees. “Then all of a sudden, this circle of mist comes over him, gets dark really quick. I reach out, try to grab him — but then the mist blew away, and he’s gone.”
He lowered his greasy head between his knees sighed heavily. The Bird thought about his incredible story, realizing that given all that had happend in the last few hours, it was hardly incredible at all. She laid a hand on Rune’s shoulder — “We need to go.”
“Why?” Rune looked up, tears forming in his eyes. “First we lose Double-J, then Rex; now Annie’s gone, and who knows what happened to Butch and Coach. Seems like the more we do, the worse things get.”
The Bird stood up, extended a hand down to Rune. “Rex and Double-J, we know they’re still somewhere in the play. Annie and the rest, most likely the same — and if they did find a way out, that just proves it’s possible. But the only way we’ll find out, is if we get back to the play. Why go? Because staying here isn’t going to help.”
She sneezed. “Besides, I’m sick of being cold and damp, and this place smells like dead fish.”
Rune looked up with a reluctant smile, then took The Bird’s hand and rose, the two teens continuing to hold hands as they walked towards the open field.