I sat on the curb, once more looking at the picture that sat in my hand. It was all I had. Everything I had to try to explain to Julie's family and work and other friends that she no longer existed. Except, they knew she no longer existed. At least, they knew that she didn't exist. I knew this because I'd been trying to tell them for the past three weeks. But they didn't believe me, because as far as anyone else knew, Julie had never existed. Her friends claimed they'd never met a Julie, even though they remembered everything about me. Her work said that they'd never hired such a person. Even her family showed no recognition, her home had no signs of her presence. It was as if she'd been unwritten from history.
I knew, though. I had this picture, and I had my memories of her. Whatever was affecting the entire world wasn't affecting me. And the only proof that I wasn't going crazy was this picture of Julie's diary slowly erasing itself while she held it in disbelief.
The day had started like any other day. It was mid-summer, and I had been enjoying my time off from school by sleeping in. Julie, of course, had other plans. She always did. So at the annoyingly early hour of nine in the morning, I awoke to the sound of panpipes whistling loudly in my ear. I sat up quickly, my arms flailing about, trying to get rid of the offending sound.
Julie hopped back, laughing that enchantingly playful laugh of hers. Her smile was bright and intoxicating, and though I'd been woken up long before I'd planned on doing so, I found myself laughing right along with her. I rolled my eyes, and shook my head.
"Holy hell, Jules. How did you get in?"
"Your parents let me in, just like they always do. Heck, I might as well have my own key by this point."
She was right, of course. Julie and I had been friends and neighbors since we were five. Now, twelve years later, she was like a sister to me, albeit a sister that used her love of exotic flutes to wake me up long before I had planned. Her treachery really only left me with one option, and I went for that option with relish. I grabbed my pillow, and threw it at her. It flew through the air, landing with a satisfying thump against her face. She grabbed the pillow before it fell to the ground, threw it back at me, and proceeded to run towards the door. I just moved enough so that the pillow sailed harmlessly through the air and hit my wall.
"Anyway," she said, as she turned and looked at me from the doorway, "get up and get dressed. We're going to the beach today."
"Why are we going to the beach today? And what's my motivation for doing this? Other than avoiding having you assault my ears with your flute again, I mean."
"Panpipes. And because going to the beach will make me happy. And you'll get to see me in my new swimsuit."
"Oh sure! Keep using your breasts to get what you want! See if I care!" I shook my fist playfully at her. She gave me an annoyingly cute grin.
"I'll stop using them when they stop working!" And then she bounced down the hall, presumably to make a nuisance of herself to my parents.
I dragged myself from my bed, and began fishing through my drawers for my swimsuit. The beach was only an hour drive away, so there wasn't much reason to bring a change of clothes. Upon finding my swimsuit, I headed into the bathroom.
It took me all of twenty minutes to finish my morning routine and grab my camera bag, and then I attempted to track down Julie. It wasn't difficult. I just had to follow the pipe music. Julie was sitting out on my front porch, piping away like it was going out of style. I would have listened for a bit, but as soon as I stepped out of the door, Julie was up on her feet.
"Ready to go? I already told your parents where we'll be."
I nodded, grabbing my keys from the key hook near the door. "Sounds like we've got everything covered, then. Your car or mine?"
"Yours, duh. That way I don't have to pay for gas." She shot me one of her 'I'm cute and can get away with anything' grins as she said it. I rolled my eyes.
"More like yours might break down and stop working halfway there."
"Yeah, that too. Anyway, come on!" And then she was bounding towards my car, next to which she'd already dumped a pile of beach gear. I unlocked the trunk, but she made no move to put any of the gear in the car.
"I suppose it's my job to put this stuff in the car?" I gave her a mock-annoyed look. She shot back the world's cutest pout, her deep blue eyes looking like they might tear up. Damn theater students. I sighed, and put the towels and the inflatable toys into my trunk while Julie got into the passenger's seat.
After a few more minutes, we were on our way. It wouldn't be so bad, going to the beach. It was a nice day, and there were always plenty of people to photograph. Plus, Julie was good company. The entire way to the beach, we talked about nothing in particular. No different from any other conversations we'd normally have, except near the middle of our trip, she pulled out a small spiral notebook.
"What's that?" I asked, glancing from the road towards her.
"My journal. I've decided that I need to leave my wisdom and experience for future generations. I've been keeping the thing for about a month, writing in little notes and thoughts that I've had while doing whatever random thing."
I arched an eyebrow at her, chuckling lightly. "For future generations, huh? I suppose now you'll tell them what a horrible person you are for waking up your best friend before noon on his day off?"
"Actually," she smiled cutely at me, "the way history will remember it is that I saved you from a prison of your own mind, and guided you to your victory in the real world."
I would have responded, but I had to pay attention to the road since the exit was coming up. I rolled down the window before pulling off the freeway, breathing in the salty scent of a beach town. In a few more minutes, we were pulling up to a parking spot along side the boardwalk.
"First things first, she of the incredibly loud panpipes. I want a hamburger." I spoke in a mock-stern voice. She simply laughed, and saluted.
"Yes sir!" and then she was sliding out of the car, slinging her backpack onto one shoulder.
I stopped at the trunk to get my camera bag, and then we were walking across the street to a conveniently placed fast food joint. It was a tourist area; there were always conveniently placed fast food joints.
It was as we stepped in that things started going strange. The first thing I noticed was that a large number of men in black suits and sunglasses stood inside. Normally, even one or two would be weird to see in a beach-front fast food joint, but there were five of them in this one. They all sat at one table, drinking soda and eating hamburgers as if it wasn't the least bit out of the ordinary.
I turned to make a snarky comment to Julie about the oddness of it, when she gasped loudly.
"What? You alright?"
She held up her journal, and my jaw dropped. As I watched, the words were disappearing backwards, as if an invisible hand traced the letters and made the ink go away. I looked at Julie, and she simply shook her head in confusion.
My hand immediately went to my camera bag. This was too strange to not document. In seconds, I was snapping pictures while Julie kept turning the pages so that I could get pictures of the whole thing. I only got a few before things went haywire.
I heard the frantic moving of chairs, and saw the movement of the black suits out of the corner of my eye. For reasons I can only guess at, I stopped photographing, grabbed Julie's hand, and pulled her out of the restaurant.
"What...what are you doing? What's happening, Eddie?"
I could hear the confusion and fear in her voice. I was at least equally upset and fearful. But I kept steady, hoping that the people moving up and down the sidewalk would mask us.
"I don't know, alright? All I know is that in any Sci-Fi movie you can name, when something weird happens, and there's men in black suits and sunglasses nearby, it can only end in bad things!"
"This isn't an SF movie! Maybe they can explain it!"
"And maybe they're going to drug us so that we'll forget we saw anything. I don't want to find out!"
Sadly, the idea of people masking us turned out to be a false hope. We weren't even a block away before I looked back and saw the black suits moving quickly after us. They weren't running, but they were certainly moving at a quick pace.
I tugged on Julie's wrist and began running for all I was worth. She grunted and followed. I hated the look on her face. A look that spoke of confusion and fear made worse by my own reaction. I glanced back, and saw the black suits had begun running as well. I cursed, and shoved my camera into it's pouch so that I didn't drop it while running.
"Come on! We'll try to loose them in the alleyways!"
I turned down the first one that came up, and Julie followed. A few moments later, I could hear the sound of our pursuers' footsteps echoing about the alleyway. And then, like something out of a bad movie, the alleyway ended in a dead end. We turned to see that the black suits had gotten close enough to make a wall of bodies. There was no escape...