The permission form in his hand seemed foreign. His grandmother was always willing to sign papers, but Bram had failed this time. He had forgotten it at the bottom of his bag, and today was the snowboarding trip with school. He had his own spending money, between Evelyn buying all the groceries and Bram’s newspaper delivery job, he had a regular meal at home and school now. His mother never asked why it took him hours longer to return home after school, but she did complain about the backdoor cut apart. His birthday money from lucky number thirteen last month paid for the doggy door. YouTube supplied the instructions.
“There’s a hole in the door!” she had screamed from the kitchen as Bram had returned the hand saw to Malhi’s father’s toolbox.
“Yeah, Mom. I’m making Denim a door,” he had hoped she would walk away. If she weren’t deathly silent, she was screaming lately. He wished she would just up to her medications some days and stare blankly at the wall.
“For a dog!?” The fury in her voice that day matched when he first presented the puppy. He had been so proud, and Denim had hidden in his hoodie the whole walk home. He had even remembered the flowers to surprise his mother. The reaction was about as opposite as he expected. Victoria screamed so much, her face went blue, and she fell unconscious. Bram had his grandmother before the ambulance, as instructed. The hospital bills were piling up, and he knew it was getting closer to Evelyn selling her farm. He didn’t want his grandmother to give the farm up. His mother still ended up in the hospital for two weeks. By the time the doggy door went it, she had accepted the dog. She never pets it, though.
Bram would silently pick up all the poop from the backyard and flush it down the toilet. He would even double wrap it in toilet paper, so she wouldn’t see it as he carried it through the kitchen to the washroom. Denim was such a relief from Bram’s life., cuddling her every night and walking her early in the morning before school. She listened to him and loved him unconditionally. Evelyn did too, but part of her heart belonged to the horses. Denim’s whole soul was for Bram.
His heart now belonged to where this permission form would take him. It was a school ski trip, and he had been lucky enough to snowboard a few times at the local mountain. He knew he had enough money, and his mother had been trying extra hard since Denim came around, so he didn’t want to put the extra stress on her. He needed to go to this snowboard trip, both Malhi and Christopher were going, and the bus was due to leave in an hour. That gave him just enough time to pack a lunch and run to the bus. There was no time to check his mother’s mood or to call his grandmother. Even his father was not fast enough nor reliable enough.
Bram picked a blue pen from the junk drawer, recalling when his grandmother had cursed the forever messy junk drawer and scribbled a copy of his mother’s signature. He felt guilty, but it had to be done. He nearly forgot his jacket before he dashed out the door but double-checked his pocket was full of enough dollar bills to cover the lift ticket.
The air bit his cheeks as he ran, stopping periodically to catch his breath, he suddenly wished he had taken the long way to Malhi’s to walk with her. Then at least if they missed the bus, it would have been together, and then he would have an excuse to be with her for the day. Instead, he doubted she would have left it to so late, and it left him dashing by himself for the bus. Christopher lived in a posher side of town only about a ten-minute bicycle ride from Bram’s house so that Christopher would have made it on time as well. Bram didn’t have a bicycle.
By the time the city bus stop came into view, Bram was sure his lungs would burst. He was never one for much physical activity other than walking to school, and most days, he would get a ride from his grandmother with Malhi in the front seat. The school was closer than this particular city bus stop, and this was the only one the ski hill bus would come. If Bram had gotten his permission form signed earlier, he could have walked to school and then carpooled with a friend. He kicked himself mentally as he got in the short line for the bus. The last few kids were boarding just before they were to take off. The excitement was built in his chest but also anticipation to see Malhi. To hang out with Christopher, snowboard and see Malhi’s smile up close and personal all day!
Bram was beaming by the time he boarded the bus. Teens were laughing and yelling, throwing paper balls already. Bags of ski and snowboard equipment piled in the very back four seats of the bus—teachers scattered sporadically throughout the teenagers. Only one more boy got on behind Bram, and the bus driver yelled for everyone to sit. They didn’t take much slack from school kids, but Bram scanned the heads frantically looking for his friends.
The engine came to life, and the bus teetered off, down the street through the sun rising light. Bram had sat down only two rows from the front of the bus, not daring to push the already angry-sounding driver. He turned instantly, searching for the red shock of Malhi’s hair or the ballcap Christopher always wore. Sedric caught eyes with him and glared, his gym teacher, Mr. Luof, sat next to the angry teen and Bram nodded to Mr. McCrane. His grade four science teacher was always the first to volunteer for these trips. The last few he had always come as well. Bram had begun to grow a liking to the man and wondered if he could trust him to expose Obscura. The man was a science teacher, and he could give some insight.
At the very thought of the mysterious black plane, the faces of the laughing classmates around Bram all seemed to vibrate and float off their heads. Leaving their faces, a solid black mass and the white of the stars moved in quickly. Bram blinked and pulled Obscura further toward him, anxious to see where Malhi was he threw himself onto the alternate dimension faster than he had attempted previously. The rattle of the bus beneath his physical body disappeared, and the blackness engulfed him.
Bram found himself in the darkness, and he felt calm in this place. It was silent, it was his, and it was perfect. The solid black surrounded him was always the same; he had grown fond of it and found himself resting in Obscura more often than his bed. Frustration melted away, surprise, worry, even regret meant nothing here. They were all absorbed and taken into the darkness. It would leave him cleansed, free and reliable.
He searched for the essence of Malhi, brought her to his mind and focused. Following the scent, she gave off of new bath bombs and smouldering candles. He moved through the dark tunnels. Followed the waves of smell so thick they were on their clouds—soft white wisps floating through the black abyss, calling Bram to follow. A sound of music surrounded the aroma, and it took no time at all for Bram to find the correct entryway to where Malhi was.
He could see her, and the outline came through the thick of the dark. It brought with her the sounds of old rock music. The type of songs his grandmother listened to while brushing the horses, but Bram didn’t know Malhi liked that type of music. As he moved closer to see her, he was keenly aware it was not her music.
The scene bleeds to colour in front of him, from out of Obscura came several images. A first once more for Bram. He could see Malhi, hiding in her room with the door closed the drift of music stopped by the solid of her door and behind her bed crouched Christopher! Bram was so shocked to see his best friend in Malhi’s house he nearly stumbled out of Obscura. Pulling back his vision just enough; he could see Malhi’s father on the main floor. Bram couldn’t recall ever seeing him upright before, and he never remembered him dropping Malhi off at his house or school. It had always been Malhi walking by herself, arriving alone and leaving alone.
In retrospect, Bram was shocked he had never noticed before. He had never known how lonely she must be that just as quickly, and he felt guilty for the immediate jealous thought he had seeing Christopher hiding behind her bed. Malhi had turned Bram down enough times that maybe he should accept that his two best friends would be together?
The thought quickly left him as the sounds of the old rock music were drowned out by yelling. Malhi’s father was yelling downstairs and walking in circles, knocking furniture over, emptying drawers and tossing chairs. His motions and yelling were not unlike Victoria’s but also vastly different in the intention.
“Where’s my stash? Dammit girl, if I find out you touched it!”
Malhi cringed and moved back from the door. A flimsy overstuffed bean bag chair was blocking an entrance that would inevitably open. One that Bram saw through as well as the floor where her father paced. Face reddening by the lack of response from Malhi’s room.
“Is this your way of trying to help? Is this what you were talking about! This is bullshit, Mal, get down here!” he kicked a wall, and it didn’t put up much fight. The drywall dented in, and Malhi’s father hardly flinched. Bram could imagine there would have been enough pain to count from that kick.
“Christopher,” Malhi whispered, “he won’t stop. I thought you said he would give up.”
“That’s what my mother said. Drug addicts need to hit rock bottom. This is rock bottom, isn’t it?” His eyes were wide. Bram could feel his jagged breaths, could smell his fresh sweat.
“What if he doesn’t? You already flushed it, didn’t you? What if he doesn’t stop…” her voice trailed off, and Bram imagined the worry in her mind. He didn’t know if her father ever hit her before. He vaguely recalled a time when he thought she might be beaten only to realize the bruises were induced from her trying to save him. Chances are he may have always been so doped up he didn’t care to hit her. “What if this sets him over the edge?” Malhi continued as if she read the thought from Bram’s non-existent mind.
“I need to get out of here, he will beat me for sure!” the shaking of Christopher’s thick legs shook her whole bed too. Bram knew it wouldn’t be possible and didn’t even need to listen to Malhi’s reply. He turned away as he saw her father storm up the staircase. It mirrored his townhouse, and he knew exactly how short it would take her father to get into Malhi’s room. He had the same run of time from his mother, with all too much experience.
Bram had to do something, and he couldn’t stand to watch either of his friends get hurt. He pulled energy from Obscura, peeling it through the blackness and creating a tunnel of his own and building a scape way that could get Christopher and Malhi to safety. It could buy them enough time for Malhi’s father to at least reload his drug stash, get high and relax. It was the best Bram could do. He pushed the tunnel he built of Obscura to the window, not minding any attention to Malhi and Christopher as he pushed them through the second-story window and down the shaft. He was watching long enough only for them to set foot on the grass before pulling back from the energy.
But not before Obscura stripped him of a piece. He peeled away a sense of his being in the trade for the tunnel. The energy of Obscura took Bram’s humour. His laugh, his love of funny.
He found himself once more sitting in the full bus on its way toward the ski hill. Now it would be a long day spent by himself.