THE MANDATORY SIX, Part Six: Alix Twelve 10/12 | 10:02 a.m.

Alix paced around her apartment, a clean space with light colors and minimal clutter. A simple design for calm of mind, she liked to tell her subscribers. Right now, those simple lines were blurred by tears.

She wasn’t sure what to call this feeling. Panic? Adrenaline? Nauseating excitement?

For years she’d thought of David Youngstone. She’d repeated his name in her head, each time forcing herself to focus on the memory of his face. It was all she had left of him, and from day one, she’d been aware that it would fade if she didn’t work at keeping it alive. Every night, before falling asleep, she’d run through the memory again, from the moment he’d walked up beside her after school to the last time she’d ever looked at him. She remembered the loving touch of his hands when he’d shared that vision of her life. He had a magical jewel called a vauxna that allowed him to see such things. She could still see it glimmering in the low light of the diner.

Everything he’d predicted had come true. His visit had been a pivotal experience in her young life, giving her the strength to run away from home, which, despite being an unwise decision on paper, had turned out well for her. She’d shared her story with her audience, but his part had remained a secret. It was more than the worry people wouldn’t believe her. It was like somehow, she’d known this moment was coming.

 

She stared at her laptop on the desk. The video was still open, an orange blur of streetlight against a night sky visible on the paused screen.

She got out her vlogging camera and held it up. “Hey guys,” she said, running her fingers through her auburn hair as she let the camera adjust to the light coming in the sliding-glass door. “So, I was gonna film a video about stress management today, but something really weird just happened.” She stared at the camera. “I have chills all over my body even trying to talk about it.”

She stopped the recording and set the camera down. Maybe she should think twice about this. With over a million subscribers now, deleting a video and hoping no one would notice wasn’t an option. If she put this out there, out there it would be. Normally, that was no big deal. She’d shared every detail of her transition journey, and it didn’t get more personal than that. It was in her nature to share, but this … Something told her this was different.

She fixed herself a strawberry smoothie with Greek yogurt and sat down at the computer, heading straight for Reddit. David Youngstone, she typed into the search bar. A list of subreddits popped up, the top one named after him. It had fifty-seven subscribers. The title of the pinned post read: IF YOU’VE HAD A DAVID YOUNGSTONE EXPERIENCE, PLEASE SHARE HERE.

It opened into a large post full of information and links. There were only two comments, one from a user called golden_dahlia76567 and another from someone called Thisshitreallyhappened111. She quickly learned the latter user was Daniel Hale, the guy from the Crocodile Terrorist movies.

Her phone buzzed with a video call from her boyfriend Jay, who was working a brunch shift at one of the most popular restaurants in Los Angeles. They’d both worked there part-time since moving here a couple of years ago.

Jay appeared in one of the seats on the restaurant’s back patio in all his dirty blonde glory.

“Hey babe.”

“Hey,” she said. “Oh my god. Something like … astronomically crazy just happened. David Youngstone is back.”

Jay narrowed his eyes. “What?”

“I’m not kidding. He came through a portal and appeared to other people. There’s a subreddit about it, and I’m sitting here trying to decide if I should tell my story—”

“What do you mean, a portal?”

“Look up the video. Just search David Youngstone. It’s the top thing.”

“You didn’t say anything about a portal when he came to see you.”

“There wasn’t one. Maybe I didn’t see it. Okay, I think I’m gonna tell my story anonymously on here and see what happens.”

She left Jay to check out the video and began typing out her post, leaving out any identifying details, like the reason she’d been suicidal that day. It was the other part that really mattered. David’s part. The way he’d treated her with such kindness. The way he’d walked with her down the street, butterflies in her stomach every time she glanced over at him. She was becoming a butterfly then too, not fully formed but ready to work on it. All she’d needed was a push.

After finishing the post, she tried to go about her day as normal. She filmed the video and wrote the blog she’d planned, struggling to keep her focus the whole time. At 3:30, she went to meet Jay at the restaurant, where she had avocado toast with eggs and a Bloody Mary. They went and handled some errands, did an aerial yoga class, got some groceries, and headed back home. They were getting set up on the couch with food and a TV show to binge when she checked her reddit account again. The message symbol glowed orange.

“Oh my god,” she said. “People responded.”

The first two messages were public responses from the users who’d already posted their stories. She’d read those in a minute. It was the latest response, a private message from a user called Ghost_Collector, that caught her eye.

Jay read along over her shoulder as her eyes scanned the words.

Hey there,

My name is Robert. I just read your story. I don’t want to post mine in public, but I met David Youngstone too. Like you, he came to me on a day I was thinking about ending my life. For years, I’ve kept that to myself. I figured he was just some kid, not a real time traveler. Now, I’m not so sure. On top of that, I’ve recently gone through something that brought me a great deal of healing from my past. Something that seems could have only occurred thanks to divine intervention of some form. Because of these experiences, I’ve changed my entire worldview, and now I want to reach out and find others who might understand. I guess that’s the point of this message.

Feel free to ignore this if it makes you uncomfortable, but if you want to possibly get together in some way and discuss our experiences, please let me know. I’ve already contacted Daniel from the video and Ella, who also had a David Youngstone experience. We’d all like to meet up if you’re willing.

Hoping to hear from you,

Robert Johnson

Alix pursed her lips and looked at Jay. “What do you think?”

“I think you’ve waited a long time for answers.”

He was right, although “waited” was probably the wrong word. For the longest time, she’d accepted it as a weird experience she’d likely never understand. And maybe that was still true. But at least now, there were others who got just how difficult that lack of understanding was. And maybe, if they were lucky, they’d somehow come together and figure this out.

She took a deep breath and began writing her response to Robert.

__

Discover the rest of the story in BEYOND MY DYING MIND, available now on Amazon.

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THE MANDATORY SIX, Part Five: Daniel Hale 10/11 | 3:47 p.m.

Daniel drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, trying to focus on the music pouring from the speakers rather than his thumping heartbeat. Ella shouldn’t have gone up there. This was a mistake. He could feel it in his bones.

The hope had been for a solution to come to them on the drive over, but upon arrival, they’d drawn a blank, and after sitting on the street for twenty minutes, Ella had grown frustrated and stormed up to Jasmine’s apartment to give her one last warning and “put an end to all of this”. David Youngstone had said they needed to do something different, but Daniel was pretty sure this wasn’t it.

He leaned to the side, peering up at the building. Then he spotted Ella, exiting the bottom of the staircase and storming across the grass toward him, her dark hair bobbing with every angry step.

“What happened?” he called from the window.

She ignored him and returned to the passenger side. “Nothing,” she said, yanking open the door and climbing in with far more aggression than was necessary. “We can’t help her. We might as well go.”

“We can’t just give up.”

“What are we supposed to do? Hang out here all night and make sure no one murders her? If she sees us loitering, she’s gonna call the cops.”

“Well, do you blame her? I told you not to go up there!”

“At least I did something. You just sat here like a useless lump. What are you even good for? I can’t believe I almost had sex with you.”

“You haven’t come up with anything either. And believe me, the feeling is mutual.”

“Well, you’ll be rid of me soon.”

He sighed, resting his forehead on the steering wheel. “You know that’s not what I want.”

“Me neither,” she said, her voice barely audible.

“Then stop the bullshit. We know what we have to do.”

“Talk to Noland? I did. He was up there.”

What?” Daniel flailed in his seat. “You saw Noland?”

“Yeah. He came upstairs because Jasmine was yelling at me. I told him only he can save her now.”

“But did you tell him not to go to Pasadena? And about Bumbles?”

“No … We already talked about this. You can’t just go up to a stranger and tell him not to go to Pasadena.”

“That’s why you should’ve mentioned Bumbles! It’s his cat! Only he’d know about his cat. What if Bumbles was the key?”

She threw a finger in his face. “Why don’t you go tell him about Bumbles? I’m sick of looking like a crazy person.”

Daniel forced himself to breathe. She was right. He was failing to do his part. They’d gone over every scenario in the past few weeks, trying to think of a way to intervene. So far, they’d come up with two ideas. Starting a small fire outside the building to hopefully draw the authorities and deter Jasmine’s killer was the first. The second was to attempt a mild fender bender with Noland, stalling him long enough to ruin his plans in Pasadena and keep him in Los Angeles for the evening.

Obviously, both of those plans could result in life-ruining consequences, and they’d already seen from their dealings with Jasmine how unwilling people were to listen to strangers who popped up out of nowhere claiming to know the future. Daniel didn’t blame them. But he also wasn’t okay with failing the mission.

“David Youngstone chose us for a reason,” he said. “We can’t just give up.”

“Fine,” Ella said. “You go talk to Noland, and I’ll lurk in the bushes and watch for anyone who looks like they might be in a murderous mood.”

“And what’ll you do if you see someone?”

“I wasn’t being serious. Do you really think I’d crawl around in the dirty bushes?”

“Come on, Ella, the past few weeks have led up to this. Please help me think of something.”

“Why won’t you go talk to Noland?”

“I will. I’m just trying to think of the right approach.” He chewed his lip as they sat there in silence, the minutes ticking by. Then, it happened. The first raindrop, falling from the cloudy sky and landing on his windshield. Then another. Then hundreds.

“The storm,” Ella said. “It’s starting.”

“We’re running out of time.” Daniel let out a slow breath. “Okay. I’m gonna go find him—shit!” He threw himself forward, eyes wide.

“What?” Ella followed his gaze to see Noland coming down to the street. He turned in the opposite direction and headed toward one of the cars parked up the road.

“He’s leaving,” Daniel said. “Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.”

“He’s going to Pasadena!”

“Okay, we have to do something.”

“Get out!” Ella shoved him toward the door. “Now! Go! Run!”

Daniel opened the door and stumbled out, falling to his knees on the wet sidewalk. By the time he was on his feet, Noland was already in the car with the engine running.

“It’s too late. He’s going.” Daniel jumped back in the car and put his seatbelt on. “We have to chase him.”

Chase him?”

“Yeah. Maybe we can approach him wherever he stops. Maybe he’ll need gas or something.”

“Hang on,” Ella said, popping her door open. “You go. I’ll stay here.”

“Why?”

“Someone has to make sure Jasmine’s okay.”

“But what are you gonna do?”

She shrugged and made a face. “Hide in the bushes?”

“Okay,” he said, looking ahead to where Noland’s car was pulling out into the street. “I’ll text you when I get somewhere. Remember—if she’s still alive after the storm passes, she made it.” He gave Ella a firm nod and started the engine.

He made it to the end of the road just in time to see Noland’s car make a right on the next road, which led to the freeway.

This was probably the most important thing Daniel would ever do. Failure wasn’t an option.

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Discover more of the story in BEYOND MY DYING MIND, available now on Amazon.