Footsteps crunched the fallen leaves behind them, and all of a sudden a familiar face was matching their stride, strolling casually, hands stuffed in his pockets.
“Duke?” Miles said in surprise. Wes’ face twisted in annoyance as he glared between the two of them.
“What are you doing here? We told you we want nothing to do with your Uendas thing,” he snapped.
“Eruendas,” he corrected with an easy smile. Lines creased his face and his skin was leathery from the sun, though he couldn’t be more than forty-five. “Look boys, I saw you go into the clinic again. Still having those ‘bad dreams?'” he asked.
“I know I am,” Miles looked at his brother with distaste.
“Oh, come off it Miles,” he glanced briefly at Duke. “And you wouldn’t know that if you weren’t following us.”
Duke stopped walking, and Miles stopped with him. It was obvious that Wes wanted to keep going, but he would never leave his brother with some potentially dangerous rebel. No matter how friendly he seemed to be.
Their surprise visitor crossed his arms, intent on getting his point across. “Alright listen, we have been following you, I’ll admit, but it’s only because we want you to know the truth, okay? There’s nothing sinister about honesty, right?”
“Depends on what your intentions are,” Wes muttered.
“My intentions,” Duke stressed, “Are to help you boys understand that what the government is doing to everyone is just plain wrong. Takin’ away your memories to keep you happy and easy to control? That’s not living, kids.”
“So tell us what is, then. What are we even having these dreams?”
“I can’t tell you the exact science behind it, but something’s unique about the both of you. It might be just a chemical imbalance in your brains, or even a genetic trait, but you’ve developed more of a resistance to the drug, and so the memories that were taken from you are seeping into your dreams at night. These are things that you’ve experienced before, you just can’t remember.” He looked around, taking in the lush green scenery around them before he spoke again. “This is the last time that I’ll be reaching out to you. You have to decide for yourselves if you want to remember. It ain’t always sunshine and roses, but you’ll get to know what living truly is. And that’s sure worth something.”
Miles took a deep breath and looked anywhere but Wes for a moment. This was his chance to get answers to the questions that’ve been driving him crazy; his brother too, even if he wouldn’t admit it. He could either continue on the path of oblivion, or he could trust Duke and be enlightened. He looked to Wes to gauge his reaction. While he didn’t look completely exasperated, like Mile’s was expecting, he definitely didn’t look convinced.
The rebel took a small wrapped parcel out of jacket and held it out to Miles, who reached for it, but Duke held on for a minute. He looked Miles in his curious green eyes, and lowered his voice. “Whatever you decide, it doesn’t have to be the same as what he does,” his eyes flicked toward Wes, waiting impatiently for the man to leave. Letting go of the package, Duke started to turn away. “Just read that, and if you feel differently after, find us.” He sauntered away, in no hurry after fulfilling his purpose, leaving the brothers more confused than ever.
“W-wait! How will we know how to find-” Miles started to follow, but Wes yanked him back by the arm.
“Miles you can’t be serious-” Wes said.
“Wes, we need to know what happened to our dad, its obvious that something big is happening, why can’t you see that?” Miles pleaded.
“I’m trying to keep us safe, Miles, why can’t you see that? And I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy experiencing bad dreams and anxiety. I want to be content, like everyone else.” He took Miles’ silence as an opportunity to quicken his stride, leaving his brother to contemplate his options.
When they arrived home, Miles devoted his free time to reading the book Duke had given him. It looked like an ordinary book. A solid gray hardback cover, just over an inch thick. There was only one line of description of the back, which read, “Truth prevails, even if there is no one to see it, it’s presence is overwhelming.” The title had worn off the spine after years of cracking it open.
Miles was only roughly a third of the way into the yellowing pages, and from what he’d read so far, two best friends were on the run from a group of officials and were no longer safe in their city. A company had been brainwashing people by planting chips into their heads that acted as a sort of communicator called a “phone,” and also did stuff like project videos and games in your eye. But they could also be used to control their mind, and make them do the the company’s dirty work, which could all be erased from memory afterwards. The two teens in the novel found this out, refused the chip, and began to warn others, earning the wrath of the corporation.
Wes sat on the other side of their room in silence, passively skimming through his environmental magazines. He was curious about what the book contained that had his brother so hooked, but he would never admit it. He couldn’t understand why Miles was so keen on disrupting their lives for a stupid dream. He couldn’t help but glance at Miles every now and then, but Miles had his head buried in that damn book.
“I don’t know what this has to do with our dreams,” Miles complained, snapping the book shut and placing it on his nightstand. He had only made it halfway through the book and all that it had done was frustrate him.
“Honestly, what did you expect from that nut job,” Wes scoffed. He watched as his brother flopped onto his small bed, exhausted from the eventful day they had. “Did you take all three pills today?”
Miles glanced over to his brother for a second before looking back up to the ceiling, “Um, yeah, of course.” He had actually only taken the standard amount of one that morning.
Wes stared at him for a moment, but decided to let it go. They had been fighting all day, and he just wanted one moment that wasn’t filled with tension. “Sleep well, Miles,” he said softly, clicking off the lamp by his bed. Miles did the same.
They both rolled to face opposite walls, and Wes listened to the sound of his brother’s breath even out and slow, until finally he was asleep. He sat up, wondering if he was beginning to act as crazy as his twin, and reached for the book. Turning his lamp back on, he began to read.
Wes had stayed up most of the night reading the book. It wasn’t until the sky outside began to lighten, and he had far surpassed where Miles had stopped reading, that he put the book down. He gently placed it back on the nightstand, exactly how Miles had it earlier, and clicked his lamp off. He burrowed into his blankets, his thoughts flowing rapidly through his mind. He was not any more enlightened than his brother about the purpose of the book, other than the fact that it contained two rebellious teens who seemed to mirror their predicament, finding themselves in a situation where they had the option of choosing to comply or rebel against the higher ups.
He only barely sunk into a deep sleep when distantly he heard their mother calling for them to wake up. Groaning, Wes peeled his eyes open and saw that his brother was already out of bed, hunched over the book. He was just about to the place Wes left off earlier that morning.
“So how far did you get last night?” Miles asked distractedly.
He glanced up from the pages, amused at his twin’s surprised face. “I woke up and heard you turning the pages. You must’ve been more curious than I thought.”
Wes pursed his lips, debating whether he should deny the claim, but said, “I'm only a few pages ahead of you, and just as confused as you, too.”
Closing the book and placing it aside, Miles jumped up and stretched, Wes following suit. “We’ll finish it after school, together.”
Later that night, the brothers lounged on Wes’ bed and took turns reading the final pages of the book aloud to each other. When they finally finished, all they could do was sit in somber silence, pondering the ending they’d been left with. Something about the final chapters left them with an uncomfortable tightening in their chests. Every book either of them had ever read had resolved in the end and left the reader with a sense of closure. This book was different, though. The author didn’t seem to care whether the readers were happy with the ending. It was almost as if the author wanted his audience to be left uneasy, to think about their place and how they could change it. What could someone hope to gain from provoking miserable thoughts?
Miles flipped through the pages one last time while his brother drifted off, and noticed a piece of paper poking out from the very back of the book. He pulled it out and skimmed it quickly, then backtracked and read it again, slower. He nudged Wes, who was starting to doze off, barely able to contain his excitement. “Wes, wake up! Come look at this,” he said. Wes sighed and scooted closer, leaning over his brother’s shoulder as they read.