“Greg.”

Wake up.

Can you hear me?”

His voice was stern and curt and cut right through my sleep.

My eyes opened but my sight was blurry.

There was a man.

“I want you to listen very carefully.”

Grant-Lindsey, the headmaster kneeled over me clenching his bible.

I was in a sleeping bag on the ground of Dorm One.  It was cold.

“If you think it does not get worse than Hidden Lake Academy, you are wrong.”

His silver hair parted to the side and fresh shaven face stared at me with an eerie calmness.

“We’re not backing down Greg.”

The door was wide open and it was pitch black outside.

“This will get harder and harder.”

The cold did not seem to bother him.

The smell of his aftershave hit my face.

“What’s going on?”

“We’re not afraid to make your life miserable Greg.”

I had no room to speak.

“The more you fight us, the harder we’ll make it.”

“Wait—“

“No more waiting Greg.  We’ve contacted your parents. They’re fine with this.”

“Fine with what?”

“Get out of bed.”

“Where am I going?”

Grant-Lindsey stood up and took a few steps backwards.

Two large men guarded the door waiting for my reaction.

One of them spoke:

“Do we need to pull you to your feet?”

All I could think of was Flower.

“Am I coming back?”

With a startling change of emotion, Grant-Lindsey crossed his arms and spoke:

“Frankly, I don’t give a shit if I ever see you again.”

BLACKNESS.

I was locked in a car being driven through the woods.

BLACKNESS.

We were parked.

BLACKNESS.

I was on an airplane.

BLACKNESS.

We landed in Salt Lake City.

BLACKNESS.

I was strip-searched, brought to a room full of hiking equipment, assigned a backpack full of survival gear and thrown into a third car.

We drove for two hours.  The sun started to set. The road turned to dirt.  The mountains turned to desert.  Animal skeletons and cacti paved the horizon.  The sun went away and all turned black.

Then there was a dot.  An orange dot. We drove towards it.

We drove over bumps and ditches and mounds of sand, over the sage and up and down the dips of the desert.

The orange dot turned to a blazing fire.  I saw seven kids.

The car stopped.

“Get out.”

The car drove off and kicked sand up in my face.

A man with a red beard walked over.

“Welcome.  My name is Running Oak.  For the first three days we ask that you to stay fifty feet away from the rest of the group at all times and that you not speak to anyone other than myself.  This will give you the time you need to reflect. Follow me.”

We walked far far away then stopped.

“This is where you sleep.  We’ll talk more in three days.”

…FIVE WEEKS LATER