Brian returned to his house around midnight on Wednesday, stayed up all night and cut school the next day. His right leg had four deep gashes diagonally down his lower thigh and knee, one cut trailing down his shin. He had bled enough to make him feel faint before the wounds clotted, and then he’d drank a ton of orange juice, had a hot shower, and wrapped his leg in toilet paper. By the next morning the cuts had begun the slow healing process, and he slept from till four, complaining of stomach aches.
That night, he’d been inches from calling the hospital, regardless of the consequences, but he made himself wait to see what happened and in the light of morning things didn’t seem so bad. By Saturday, roughly three months would have passed in the other world. Even if the other things had tracked him all the way to the cave, once they found their dead friend what were the odds they’d hang around? He decided he would check. He was reluctant to tell the others what had happened, but he couldn’t not tell them, could he? Even if it meant they’d want to shut the door forever. Maybe if he took a few trips back and made sure the beast men were gone for good. They’d only seen him because he’d been all the way on the other side of the mountains, after all.
Brian spent the rest of the day in his room, feigning sickness, coming downstairs only for the occasional meal or cup of tea and looking forlorn, while inside he exalted. He remembered the feeling of mad exuberance that had come over him as the thing writhed in its death throes beneath him. He was alive! He had killed a real live monster! Him! It was like a movie!
He briefly considered telling the others, or even just Elyse, but it was a stupid idea. He was smart enough to know the difference between fantasy and reality, and that she would be horrified rather than impressed and demand they close the door straight away. Better to say something else, warn them what was out there, but excite them at the same time. He would tell them the truth about the village, and even about the beast men he’d seen running in the distance, but in his version they wouldn’t see him and pursue him over the hills.
Yes, that was the way to tell it. They could all be more careful then, but not so terrified they’d want to shut the door for good, and in the meantime everything would go on as normal. If they saw any of the things, they could always run away or fight them, but Brian didn’t really believe that would happen. He thought the beasts were scarce, and judging by the look of them (and the man in the village) they were starving. They would move on when they found there was no food in the area.
So Brian stayed home for the rest of the week. He edited his map, wrote in a journal he’d started (titled: Brian’s Book of Worlds), relived the most terrifying moments of his life to date, and thought about the future. He was really doing it. He was having an adventure. When Saturday came, he made a short trip to the world. He didn’t go far, just walked out to the clubhouse, knife clenched in one hand the whole way, eyes flicking left and right – but after a few hours he realised all was as quiet and empty as it had ever been. There was no smoke, nor tracks in the sand, nor any signs of life at all.
When he returned, Brian cheerfully texted Matt that he was over his sickness and ready to party for days, as per usual. He wrapped his leg in bandages, ignoring the curious burning that lingered deep in the cuts, and just hours before he was due to meet the others, he went to retrieve his schoolbag.