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In the dark: In Principio

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One more try.

River put the phone to his ear. He didn’t expect much, given his previous attempts hadn’t led to anything, but he could always hope that Lex would pick up. He was worried about her, too, and it got even worse now she wasn’t responding to his calls.

At least she didn’t hang up before the conversation could get started. She let it go to voicemail. It did not really matter - she didn’t want to talk. That was her right.

Still, River could not help but feel like he was purposely being ignored. They were still boyfriend and girlfriend - why wasn’t she answering even one of his calls?

River shook his head. Lex was probably busy keeping Hannah calm. She was needy like that. Sometimes, River thought it would be better if Hannah was normal, or if she was a little smaller, so Lex wouldn’t have to spend so much time with her.

His eyes fell on the drugs. He still hadn’t taken the opportunity to hide them, or even use them - maybe he should invite Ethan, if he was in the mood. Maybe he heard something from Lex that he could tell River about when he came over. If he wanted to.

What drew his attention more was Deb’s phone. It was still locked. River had only one try left. One try to unlock the phone or lose the dealer’s number.

Why did he care so much about that stupid phone? For a dealer he did not even know? To get more weed, which he knew how to get anyway?

Fate could be funny. River did not really care for it, but he understood it when he saw it. This time, fate decided to answer his calls almost literally. Deb’s phone rang. An unknown number called him.

River stared at it for a full second, flabbergasted, before he picked up the phone.


“Hello, River.”

River frowned. “How do you know my name?”

“My name is Ted. I have something that might interest you,” the voice on the other side said. “Are you interested?”

Something deep inside River, something that he could not stop even if he wanted to, made him nod.

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, I’m interested.”

The Stranger looked at his hotel wall. It was an amalgamation of everything he had learned; pictures, mementos, brief flashes into the mind of a man who’s seen and learned so much more than the average person would.

An average person might look at the wall and recognize some things. They’d take a look. They could recognize some maze on a picture, which a scholar might identify as the Minotaur’s labyrinth. They could see a simplified image of an Einstein-Rosen bridge and recognize it’s something scientific, nothing more. These were the same people who’d be puzzled to read the newspaper clipping on the wall with the headline “where is Tim?”, with the ‘where’ crossed out and ‘when’ written above.

This was hard to understand for those who weren’t meant to know these secrets. This was hard to understand for those who would never get the chance. But who did get their chance and who didn’t had been predetermined, and fate had decided the Stranger was one of the more important characters in this enormous cycle of life and death and rebirth.

Only one thing missed from this intelligible masterpiece. The stranger walked to the calendar he’d hung on the wall and crossed out yesterday, November 6th.

There. Perfect.

The Stranger knew his time had come to leave the hotel. The time had come to travel again. There was someplace else he needed to be. An appointment he couldn’t reschedule, one he knew he had to be at without scheduling it.

But though he had packed his bag, with the few belongings he had, there was something else he needed to take care of before he would travel again. During his time at the hotel, he had gathered some equipment and had put it in a box. This was not meant for him, but for someone else - a young man who would need it the most at this point in his life. Though only three items were in the box, they were all he needed to take the next steps.

But the Stranger wasn’t going to deliver this package. He knew he wasn’t going to be there when Ethan Green opened it, nor was he going to stay around for too long. He was needed elsewhere, and so it was up to the hotel to do the job.

With his suitcase in one hand and the package under another, the Stranger walked to the hotel lobby. The receptionist just called with a customer who wanted to cancel their reservation and wasn’t happy to pay the full cancellation fee.

Poor receptionist. It wasn’t her fault three kids had gone missing. It wasn’t her fault people no longer wanted to stay in their nice Hatchetfield hotel. And yet, she was one of the lucky ones, always in the dark, always unknowing. Another lucky one was Linda Monroe; he could see her walk to her office, like the proud woman she was. He was certain she had glanced at him when she thought he wasn't looking, and she'd scrunched up her face at the 'dirty man' who made use of her hotel's services, wondering where all the nice and posh guests were, blaming the Houstons for her misfortune. 

The receptionist put down the phone and greeted him with a forced smile.

“Good morning,” she said. Her voice sounded strained, too.

“I’m going to be traveling for a while,” the Stranger told her, “but I’m going to come back. In the meantime, I’d like to keep the room.”

“Of course,” the receptionist said with a relieved smile. She was a lot happier now, to hear one of their customers had decided to stay around and continue to keep the room. “How long will you be staying away?”

“I’m not sure. A while,” he responded.

The Stranger placed the package on the counter. He had written the address of Ethan Green on the box already, so the receptionist only had one job to do.

“Could you deliver this for me?” he asked her. “A friend asked for it, but I can’t make it. He’d like to have it before this evening.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

“Thank you,” the Stranger said with a polite nod. Then, he turned around and walked out of the hotel.

Ethan visited River that afternoon.

He did not want to go to the caves again. He tried that yesterday, and it hadn’t amounted to anything. He found nothing yesterday and he wasn’t feeling up to the task of trying again today. Instead, he visited his friend.

When Ethan arrived, he heard from River why they were allowed to stay at home - Alice Woodward had gone missing. It was sad, of course, River said, but it gave them the opportunity to start smoking some of the weed they’d stolen from Deb’s stash. Ethan didn’t protest - he could use some to calm his nerves about the passage in the caves and why he couldn’t find it.

A couple of minutes later, it reeked in River’s room as both of them smoked a joint.

“Have you heard from Lex?” River asked after some moments of silence. “She’s not answering my calls.”

“She’ll contact you when she’s ready,” Ethan responded. He decided not to tell him that Lex had called. He had wanted to bring it up, but after learning that Lex hadn’t gotten back to River and instead chose to contact Ethan, it did not seem such a good idea anymore. He didn’t want to anger or disappoint River in his own room.

River shrugged. “I hope so.” They remained silent for another minute before he asked another question.

“Is she trying to shut me out?” When Ethan looked at his friend’s face, he could see that River genuinely worried about her - and specifically about Lex ignoring her. Now it was Ethan’s time to shrug.

“I don’t think so,” he said. She had tried contacting Ethan, so she wasn’t trying to shut people out. Why she wouldn’t answer her boyfriend’s calls was another story- one Ethan couldn’t piece together yet.

River nodded. “Good.”

They smoked their joints until there was only a small stud left. They dumped the remains and decided they weren’t going to use it all in one go. Instead, they amused themselves by playing a game on one of River’s high-tech game consoles - one Ethan could never afford.

It was a shooter game with a split-screen. Ethan tried to keep his attention on the game. River was more invested in the game than Ethan was; River was the more aggressive player and Ethan provided him cover. They had been playing for a while - River barking commands and Ethan following them - when their peaceful play was interrupted by a strange question.

“Can I trust you?” River asked him.

Ethan glanced at his friend. River hadn’t even taken his eyes off of the screen. A question he shouldn’t need to ask - he should know Ethan’s answer by now.

“Of course,” Ethan said, still not fully trusting this situation. Why had River asked the question? What was his goal and had Ethan fallen into a trap? was he going to do something illegal, or did he just want to make sure that whatever would be said in the room, did not leak out of this room? Did he want to talk about a possible surprise for Lex and make sure Ethan wouldn’t tell?

Whatever the case, Ethan was curious and slightly distrustful, whereas River did not seem to make a big deal out of it at all. He merely nodded at the confirmation.

“That’s great,” he answered. “Deb’s dealer called.”

Out of everything River could have said, this was not what Ethan had been expecting at all. He wasn’t even sure if he believed his friend.

“Really?” he asked.

“I’m meeting him tonight,” River said matter-of-factly. “Do you want to come or not?”

Ethan wished he had more time to think about it. He wished he didn’t have to make the decision right then and there, which River probably wanted him to do. But Ethan needed time, and eventually decided that he did not trust the dealer and did not trust anyone. Deb had gone missing - maybe it was that dealer that did it? If Deb disappeared, the dealer must’ve heard, so why call that number in the first place?

But then again, he missed the interaction with his friends, and since they probably wouldn’t need to go to school, there were going to be fewer opportunities to see them. Besides, someone needed to protect River from his impulsive self.

“Yeah, sure,” Ethan said. Two is better than one in these times.

“Awesome,” River said. “We’re meeting in the forest, near the— watch out!” River smashed the buttons on his console. A second later, Ethan did the same, but their virtual attackers had already arrived en masse. “No, no, no, no, no, NO!” The characters River and Ethan were playing as were quickly killed. GAME OVER flashed in big red letters on their screen.

“Damn it,” River said, roughly placing - just this short of throwing - his controller next to him. Ethan was less concerned with their recent loss, and more with the mysterious dealer, and how he could prepare for the meeting - one he hadn’t wanted to go to in the first place.