Charlie Jones and the Planet Behind the Sun

 

By

 

A. A. Gabriel

                                                  

1

The Men in Red

 

I had no other choice but to tell you my story. I’m doing it in order to keep myself sane. Keeping secrets makes me feel bad and since I have nobody to tell all my feelings to, I’ve decided to tell it to you.  Hopefully, you’ll understand me and the things you’re about to hear. I really wish people could feel the way I felt, see the things I saw and live my past experiences so they could fully understand what is like to be... well... you’ll soon find out.

My name is Charlie Jones (I was fairly sure about it) and my story began on a sunny school day at Eton College, Berkshire. It was a warm day with no clouds in the sky; it was perfect to take a walk. Lessons were over for the day and I’d decided to sit against an old oak tree near the school golf course to reflect on my life while the wind gently caressed my pale face and blond hair. I sincerely wished I could stay there all day and do nothing. I was going through a personal hard time. The moment had come to make an important decision about my future. I needed an answer to the most talked about question at school:

What career are you going to pursue?

I was seventeen years old and instead of loving to be surrounded by people all the time I preferred to be alone so my classmates couldn't ask me that question. I just hated so much when they did. The ones who knew I didn’t know what to study loved to bother me all the time. It was either because I didn’t know what to become or because of the fact that I was skinnier than them. I don't know.  Either way, I’d started hating school for that reason. They didn’t have my problem because they knew what they wanted to do with their lives. They knew exactly what they wanted to become, what they wanted to study after school, and even the university they were going to attend.

Sadly, I could not say that I had answers for those questions. To be honest, I had never given thought to how my life was going to be after I'd finished my last year at Eton. I would like to blame my parents for it because I was expected to get perfect grades; after all, what else could I guy like me do in school? Nothing, from my parents’ perspective, nothing but to study hard and get good grades, so I acted how they wanted me to behave. I really didn’t have time to think about my future.

I'd lived my whole life with a single thought in my head… getting good grades. I’ll say that I did a great job focusing on it because I never got to think about what would come after Eton until the end was literally around the corner. The emotional shock after realizing that there was so much more in life other than getting 9 all the time hit me so hard that my head had blocked itself and it had become something like a permanent blank space.

Jason Ash (my best friend back then) wanted to become a doctor. I always knew he was going to achieve it because he was a good student and a highly intelligent person. Jason Martin on the other hand, wanted to become a doctor as well but he was more like a party person without the good grades that my friend Jason Ash had. The point is that despite their situations they knew without a doubt what they were going to do. They had a goal; they were being guided in the right direction and they were happy about it. But I was not in their situation. I was in a complete state of despair while my friends were having the time of their lives enjoying the last month of school. Yes, you heard right, the last month of school.

That was my situation. That was the big deal I thought about all the time, day in and day out. That was the issue I simply couldn’t get out of my head. I was unable to think clearly and feared that I would not be able to make a choice. But the truth is that I had a secret, a secret so secret and private that I'd never confessed it to anyone. Nobody in the entire universe knew it except me, his jealous creator. My secret was that I did know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I did know what I liked. I did know what made my juices flow. I wanted to become a singer-songwriter, make amazing music and tour the entire world.

If I'd told my friends about it their heads would have blown up. “A singer? Seriously? No way!” I’d imagined them say. I was the shyest guy in the entire school (as far as I knew) and the less likely to choose such career that demands to have an incredible outgoing personality. But my friends and classmates’ possible reaction to my secret was a minor concern in my head because a much bigger obstacle laid on my way… my parents.

I was more than convinced that they would never agree to support me if I'd decided to enter the music industry. Songwriting, music and touring were not what my parents were expecting to hear. Not that I knew it because I had told them about my secret (I wasn’t that dumb to have my dreams killed by mom’s evil look) but because I already knew what they wanted for me, their eldest son.

I knew that my mom, Lilian, wanted me to follow my father’s footsteps. She wanted me to become a teacher, just like my father, Albert. He'd been the English Language and Literature teacher at the University of Oxford and had later become its chancellor, a position they somehow wanted me to inherit. My dad had always had a passion for books unlike my mom who had a quite different opinion about my father’s liking in spite of the important role books play in a teacher's career. She strongly believed that books were an obsession, an insane and out of control obsession that had no cure. It was as if my father was cursed or something because no matter what my mother did (like secretly throwing my dad’s books away while he was gone) my father seemed to not get the message that mom tried to convey and would just continue buying more books and bringing them home. Books were responsible for much of my mom’s madness. She hated my father’s books. She hated them with all of her being, all because my dad seemed to pay more attention to his ever-growing book collection than to his family. I couldn’t do anything about it, of course. I just couldn’t tell my mom to not get angry because it was simply not going to work.

My parent’s house, which was is west London, was full of books. There were books everywhere... not really, there were only books in the library (which was huge) but in my mom’s head books had taken over the house. That’s probably why I started liking them since I was a kid. Instead of playing with toys and cars like most children I devoured most of my father’s books. It was really fascinating to me to discover the world through their pages. I have to admit it, images were my favorite part, pictures of amazing places, beautiful buildings and exotic animals. I learned most I can remember thanks to the books my father kept at home. I even put together my little book collection about my favorite subjects when I was a kid (Architecture, Biology and Paleontology) and I didn’t like anybody to touch them. They were almost sacred to me and I was really obsessed about them too. What a surprised, right?

I was at a crossroads, caught right in the middle, trying to decide whether I should do what my parents wanted me to do or if I should try to find my happiness somewhere else. Glastonbury sounded like a better option than Oxford, but I doubted my parents thought the same. I certainly didn’t want to damage my relationship with them, but I also didn’t want to do something I knew wasn’t meant to be for me and regret it for the rest of my life.

It was hard to understand, even for me. I… Charlie… singer? I didn’t know where it had come from, but I knew music was simply the answer. I knew in my heart that it was what I wanted to do. I wanted to write songs and let my heart out. My facet as someone who didn’t know what to do in the future was just what I wanted everyone to believe about me. I wanted to keep my secret safe from people who were more likely not going to understand me.

Sometimes, my classmates would ask me “What are the things you like?” in hopes of helping me find my perfect career. It seemed as if they wanted to get the credit for it, but I’d reply with the same lie every time: “I don’t know”. I didn’t like my friends to know about the things I liked. I’d never been an outgoing guy and preferred to keep my things to myself. I was always considered to be a serious kid, and I use the word serious as a kind substitute to the word weird. I'm sure everyone thought of me as the weird one in every grade of my life. My personality type and being mostly ignored by my classmates made me confirm what I'd felt since I was a little kid: that I was different than the rest of the people out there and that my family was different than the other families too. I was probably crazy, but my feelings were real. It was just that I had no idea of how to handle it all.

“Charlie, there you are!” said Jason Ash as he approached me, sounding relieved that he'd found me at last (I was good at hiding). “I've been looking for you everywhere. Come on, let’s go to the house.”

I kept silent. I didn’t want to get back to the house. Jason put his notebooks and folders on the ground (backpacks are not part of the official uniform of an Etonian) and made me company by sitting next to me right under the oak's glorious shadow.

“Come on,” he said, passing his fingers through his black hair. “You don’t have to be like this anymore. Forget it.”

“I can’t,” I said in pain. My eyes sad, my face depressed.

“I don’t know what to do to make you feel better,” he said, turning his gaze to the horizon. “I don’t want you to be like this. You always seem so serious. I still can’t believe you don’t know what you’re going to study.”

“I know,” I lied followed by a sigh. “Trust me. I’m the one who wants this crisis over once and for all. But I just can’t decide for a particular career. I truly have no idea what I’m going to do and what I will tell my parents.”

“But you have to,” said Jason firmly, his eyes on me now. “Keep in mind that we only have this month of school left and you’ll soon have to come up with something. You've waited long enough, Charlie. Come on. Get up. Let’s go to the house. I'm hungry.”

I was so stressed out that I decided to get a chocolate out of my suit pocket to distract my mind from the subject. I ate when stressed out and walked in circles when thinking in my room which might as well be the reason why I didn’t get fat. My crisis was getting bigger and bigger in my head, bigger and bigger every day. I was going through a genuine hell; I can tell you that. And you know what was the worst part? The worst part was that I was feeling lonely, not because there weren’t any people around me but because I was unable to talk to someone about what was really important to me. That was my issue. I never talked to our headmaster about it. I also never shared my feelings with the dame, the only female figure at the house. I avoided to discuss it with my parents at all costs and the only reason why I sometimes talked to Jason about it was because he really insisted on doing so.

“I noticed you were distracted back in class,” added Jason really concerned as we got up, took our things from the ground and started walking back to the house.

“I know,” I said still thinking of my worries. I’d been lost in my own thoughts instead of paying attention. Not good because I had to study harder than ever before for my tests results to be the highest possible. Oxford was waiting for me but not as much as my parents were (specially my father). Their son going to Oxford… it couldn’t be more perfect than that!

I was getting crazy in the meantime. My head couldn’t handle stress anymore, and all the tests were getting me really stressed out beyond my normal limit. I wanted to quit and leave school to never return. I couldn’t do that, obviously, because I had to study at least until I was eighteen years old.

Even though it was a beautiful day in Eton, I was so immersed in my thoughts to actually enjoy it. Walking always helped me remember what my mom had told me a couple of times before. She would tell me that even though I would see my problems as being big they were small when compared to other people’s problems so I shouldn’t worry about them that much. She wasn’t with me at that moment and I doubt that it could have helped me to not feel depressed. I'm actually glad she wasn't around because, of both my parents, my mom was the one who put more pressure on me related to my future studies.

I wished I could have been able to stop thinking, but I couldn’t. I was sick and tired of having to deal with that issue. Nothing but confusion was coming to my head and the time for me to choose was getting closer with every passing day.

“I hope you find what you’re looking for,” said Jason walking by my side across the lively Eton streets full with teachers and students in their well-known uniforms, sporting black tailcoats and big smiles on their faces that made me remember how miserable I was.

“I’m afraid that if I make a decision, I'll make the wrong one,” I confessed after I’d finished eating my delicious chocolate. “I'd like if somebody could tell me what I’m destined to do so I wouldn’t have to waste my time and energy trying to figure it out myself.”

“What?” exclaimed Jason looking at me as if I’d lost my mind. He was definitely surprised by the words that had come out of my mouth. A guy like me could certainly have said something smarter than that.

I wasn’t a confident guy though. I had doubts about everything I did. Perfection was always out of my reach and I was tired of trying to find the answer that eluded me day after day.

There it was across the street, in the corner of High Street and Common Lane, the school’s library with its magnificent gray dome and superb ornamentation standing right in the middle of town and, right next to it, the Manor House, the four-story building that I'd been calling home for all of my school years at Eton.

I didn’t understand the reason why my parents had decided that the best for me was to attend an only-boys boarding school. My father had a job, yes, an important one, but not my mom. She stayed at home all the time and I wondered what she did there. My two younger brothers, Ronald, 16, and Maurice, 8, were already attending school. Ronald was at Eton, like me, and Maurice was attending a smaller boarding school in Surrey. However, he was going to be transferred to Eton the moment he turned 14. My parents’ house was large, but we didn’t have staff in spite of its size. I doubted my mom cleaned the house because my brothers and I weren’t there to make a mess. My mom liked cleanliness and I’m sure the house was kept in perfect condition all the time. I really wanted to know what my mom did while my father, my brothers and I were not home. That was another mystery I wanted to solve.

Jason and I crossed High Street and approached home. Common Lane looked as normal as usual, with a couple of very tall trees in its vicinity and surrounded by red brick buildings. Jason hurried inside the small front garden and then entered the house, but I had no rush to get inside so I stopped for a moment to listen to a small red bird singing, perched atop one of the trees nearby. Was it a sign? Was the universe telling me to go for my dreams? Probably not. It was just what I was ready to see, what I wanted to see, what I wanted to be… a happy singer.

A moment after, the bird stopped his song and flew away, following another passing bird. As I was about to turn and enter the house's front garden, I managed to get a glimpse of a man dressed all in red clothes walk away towards the end of the street and lost sight of him as the street curved out of sight. I paid no special attention to the way the man was dressed, but in a town where everyone wore black uniforms it was hard to ignore anyone dressing differently, specially some scarlet or vermillion attire.

Once the man had disappeared, I made my entrance into the house. Jason was waiting for me in the kitchen and he seemed overly excited about what we would eat... pizza… again. It seemed that the fact that the school year was soon going to be over had made the dame forget about our healthy diet. I wasn’t feeling like eating tons of fat and I didn’t like meat on the pizza anyway, so I left the dining room and headed to my dormitory located on the second floor, leaving the rest of my annoying housemates behind. Like always, I wasn’t feeling like seeing their faces.

Jason followed me as I went up the stairs to my room, which was nothing more than another place where I could get bored and stressed out. Boarding school life hadn’t been easy for me.

As I was about to open my dorm door, Jason approached me and asked sounding worried if I’d planned to stay in my room for the rest of the day.

“No,” I said trying to sound as if Jason had not guessed my thoughts that time.

“Really?” He asked unconvinced by my response.

“Yes. I actually have plans for the evening,” I said with pride. “I want to take a peaceful walk around Windsor. I should stay and study, but I think a walk will make me a greater good now.”

“Can I come with you?” he asked.

“Of course, just bring your best coat. It might get chill.”

“Ok, just let me finish eating,” He said taking a few steps backwards. “I won’t take long.”

“Hurry,” I said with a faked smile so he could just go and let me in my room.

Jason went down the stairs yelling they better hadn’t touched what was rightfully his part of the pizza. I got in my room at last and hoped it wouldn’t rain that day. The weather had been weird lately.

I’d decorated the walls of my room with pictures of beautiful places around the world like the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat. The truth is that despite my family having the means to go on vacation around the world, we had never been out of the United Kingdom. I’d actually had even never been to Northern Ireland. I had no idea what the reason behind it was, but it made me feel like a prisoner in an island. It was an island much better than Alcatraz, that's for sure, but in a world so big I couldn’t feel other than frustration for being unable to travel.

Even when I could have gone to other countries to play for my school soccer team, my parents always stepped in and forbade me to go. I didn’t like soccer that much, in fact I didn't like a bit, and the only reason why I'd decided to become part of the team was to get to travel abroad, but my strategy never worked. The farthest I'd been from home was Edinburgh and I really wanted to visit many places. We had passports but my mom would say that they were only to be used in case of extreme emergencies and not for leisure travel. Mom had left it clear that unless Britain blew up my family would never set foot on other countries. How that could be possible, leaving once everything was gone, had yet remained to be explained to my brothers and I.

I had as well pictures of Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, Kurt Cobain and other personalities hanging around the walls. They were my company and I liked them because they didn’t judge me (God, I was really crazy). I told my picture of Queen Sofía of Spain that I knew a little Greek, I said to my picture of the Romanov family that I wish they hadn’t been killed, I bowed to Empress Kōjun of Japan, I said aloha to Queen Liliʻuokalani of Hawaii and told Leonardo da Vinci that he should had focused solely on painting and forgotten everything else. I spoke to my posters as if the people they portrayed were there in front of me. If I couldn’t make lots of friends at school, I could certainly play the game that I was friends with more interesting people.

I kept my laptop on my perfectly organized desk right under a large world map with red push pins indicating the places I desired to visit (Imagine the map almost entirely covered with pins). I looked at it all the time and wished to soon be able to start taking some of the pins off meaning I'd visited the places they represented.

“I’m going to visit Windsor, Diana,” I said sadly as I put my school papers on my bed. “I hope I can find something nice for my room in London. A miniature Windsor Castle would be nice.”

I wished so much I could add some excitement to my life. I felt like a prisoner in Eton and all I wanted was to escape and be free to do whatever I wanted. I’m not saying that going to school was bad, of course not, what I mean is that I craved to explore the world and have fun. I wanted to discover all the things that gave me happiness and find my own paradise here on Earth.

Someone knocked at the door.

“Is that you Jason?” I said hoping it'd been Jason and not someone else who had heard me talk to my posters.

“Yes, Charlie. It’s me.”

Relieved, I grabbed by favorite black coat and left my meticulously organized room. I was hoping to get tired by the walk so I could have an easy time falling asleep at night.

“Where do you want to go first?” asked Jason who was wearing a thick gray sweater and holding a piece of pizza that he enjoyed as if it was the last one in the whole world.

“Where the wind takes us,” I replied confidently walking across the hall towards the stairs.

We got out of the Manor House, which was empty; all our housemates had left home, and a strange silence had taken over the place. As we walked along the school library, I noticed that the day had definitely gotten colder. I could feel the chilling air on my cheeks and gray clouds had appeared in the once clear sky. High Street wasn’t as crowded and noisy as usual either. It seemed as if most of the people had left town. The stores along it were lonely and silent with no customers to be seen.

“Strange,” I said while looking around waiting for Jason to tell me if I didn’t know about an event or something that was going to be attended by everyone. He said nothing; he was busy finishing his pizza.

It wasn’t long until we got to the bridge at the end of the street that connects Eton and Windsor. Across the River Thames, which was flowing as calmed as usual, stood the mighty Windsor Castle. The largest inhabited castle in the world, with its superb architecture and powerful looking Round Tower looked as commanding and strong as it had been for centuries. The Union Jack waving atop the Round Tower reminded me that the queen wasn’t in town. She was in London, closer to my personal sanctuary called my room in my parent’s house.

An odd chill in the air (I don’t know what it was) gave me the impression that there was something peculiar going on. But since I had gotten used to the changing weather, I stopped paying attention to the atmosphere in the city and right after Jason and I crossed the bridge I turned my attention back to finding a cool souvenir to add to my collection in London. Unfortunately, it seemed as if everyone had suddenly decided to visit Windsor because we immediately noticed that the town was crowded with locals and visitors having a nice afternoon.

“This is not what I was expecting,” I complained because I’d planned a nice and silent walk around a peaceful town and not a touristic landmark overflowing with people.

The streets were really crowded. There were people buying food, clothes and souvenirs and tourists taking pictures of everything and everyone. The streets next to the castle were not ideal to meditate about my life. There was too much noise and too many people. We visited a couple of shops, but I didn’t find something that I really liked so we walked away from the center of town right after Jason got himself some chips.

“Let’s go to the Long Walk,” I said hoping there weren’t any people there. “I think it’s more peaceful and quieter than here.”

“Whatever you want,” said Jason ignoring me to pay attention to his recently bought potato chips.

We passed by one of the gates of Windsor Castle, the one called Cambridge Gate, and entered the Long Walk, a more than two miles long tree-lined straight road that runs from that gate all the way to the equestrian statue of King George III known as the Copper Horse up on Snow Hill. It was just what I was looking for... a very, awfully long walk to clear my mind. To my surprise, it was empty; not a single person was walking along it.

“We aren’t going to walk all the way to that hill over there, aren't we?” said Jason expecting me to turn around and get back to Eton right away.

“I have nothing else to do,” I said. “I’m going all the way to the top of Snow Hill.”

“Charlie, no,” cried Jason rolling his eyes at me. “That’s really far away. Do you really want to get there and then walk all the way back to Eton? It’s going to get late.”

“I don’t mind,” I said as I started walking. “You can go back to the house if you want.”

“It’s fine,” said Jason keeping up with me. “I’ll go with you. I haven’t been to the Copper Horse before and I doubt I'll visit it once we’re out of Eton. Have you thought about... you know?”

I was looking down at the ground while walking to the Copper Horse. I had something but didn’t know what it was because I wasn’t feeling anything. It wasn’t sadness. It wasn’t depression. I felt nothing in me. No emotions at all. Probably just worry but I was so used to it that I can say I didn’t feel it anymore.

“I’m always thinking about it,” I said with my usual sad tone. “You know it.”

Jason was a good friend, but he couldn’t do anything to end my suffering. I was the one responsible for finding the answer to my prayers. Happiness was after all a decision I had to make on my own.

“I just know that I have to get out of here and go somewhere else,” I said looking up to the sky. “I want to leave this place and find my happiness, but I don’t know what exactly I should do or where I should go.”

“I knew I was going to become a doctor ever since I was a little kid,” said Jason happy and pleased about it.

“Please... don’t make me feel worse,” I exclaimed.

“Ooops... sorry.”

I saw the short green grass on both sides of the avenue and felt like lying down on it, looking at the sky, closing my eyes, listening to the birds and staying like that until the answer to my problems decided to show up in my head. Another weird thought of mine.

I really needed peace and a quiet place where to think, but even when I’d found it I could only think of my inability to make a decision and would simply start thinking about my classmates’ lives and how happy they were with all their friends. They all seemed to get along with each other well and all that made me fall into a deeper sense of dissatisfaction. I felt disconnected from the rest of the world. I really thought my place was probably somewhere else in the vast galaxy, but that could simply not be true, right?

“I beg you for an apology, Jason,” I said looking at him with a sad face.

“Why do you say that? You have nothing to apologize for,” he said.

“It’s just that I don’t think I’m a good friend,” I continued. “I wish I could be more like the other guys.”

“Crazy?” He asked raising an eyebrow just as he was about to eat another chip.

“Not that crazy,” I replied. “I’m crazy. They’re crazy fun. I wish I could have some of it.”

“You’re good,” he affirmed. “You’re simply confused. That’s all. No big deal. You’ll find what your heart is looking for someday. Trust me.”

“Thanks, Jason,” I said in a low voice. “I really hope that as well. I really hope that.”

A deer herd came out of the forest and began crossing the avenue. It was composed of around fifteen animals. They were right in front of us, some twenty feet from where we stood. Then, a diminutive and adorable fawn appeared and made me smile for the first time since... since... I don’t know since when, but it’d made me smile which had been something good for me. Jason and I were just looking at them and how they were in tune with nature. I liked animals. I’ve always liked animals but didn’t have pets at home because my mom didn’t like them, and I didn’t want to become a biologist because I had a very sensitive nose like the rest of my family.

“I wish I could talk to them,” I said with the same depressed tone.

“Do you want to talk to the deer?” exclaimed Jason shocked.

“I would like to ask them what they think of life. I think it’ll be interesting,” I said as the deer entered the opposite section of the forest.

Jason was silent. He was seeing that weird side of me for the first time and he didn’t want to find out what other crazy stuff I could start saying or doing. So, he took another bag of chips out of his sweater pocket, opened it and began eating once again without even offering some to me. However, I had meant every word I'd said to him, but it wasn’t his fault if he thought that I was crazy. We’re all different and I was simply going through an emotional hard time.

I don’t know what was wrong with me. I was just a normal guy going to a nice school, but I was unhappy. But why? I really wanted to know why. I was really confused and wished more than anything else to not be like that anymore.

Suddenly, a tall man wearing a red coat, red pants, a red hat and black sunglasses that matched his shoes was coming our way from Snow Hill. He was in his way back to wherever he had to go next. I didn’t pay attention to him. I was lost in my own thoughts and was sure that he was the same person I'd seen earlier that day. I just saw him pass by our side and his peculiar choice of color didn’t disturb me at all. I could have had an opinion about wearing sunglasses during a cloudy afternoon, but he was certainly free to do whatever he wished.

We were getting closer to Snow Hill; the place was empty. The man in red, Jason and I were the only people there. I could say that it was a perfect walk except by the fact that I could hear Jason chewing his chips. It was annoying.

“Charlie...” whispered Jason after a while. “Charlie...”

“What?” I replied a bit angry. He'd taken me out of my concentration.

“That man… he was looking at us,” he whispered with an even lower tone of voice.

I stopped walking and turned around. The man in red was walking normally back to Windsor Castle. He was as busy walking as we were and didn’t seem a bit interested on us. Why would he?

“Why do you say that?” I asked, frowning.

“Well... he was looking at us suspiciously but turned and continued walking just as I was about to fully turn around and look at him. Why is he wearing only red clothes?”

“Let him be, Jason,” I said as I resumed walking. “Who cares about him? Not me. He might just be a tourist. I saw him today when we’d gotten back from the golf course.”

“What?” said Jason surprised, almost choking on his chips. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Well, because he’s just a man. It doesn’t matter.”

A little more than an hour had passed when we'd reached the end of the Long Walk. It was now time to go up Snow Hill to get to the Copper Horse, the destination of our walk before returning home.

“Damn, Charlie,” exclaimed Jason staring back at the castle. “Eton is really far away. I definitely don’t like walking this much.”

“We have the rest of the afternoon to return,” I said. “What’s the hurry? I told you to go back but you’re now going to stick with me 'til the end.”

Glad for being so close to the statue, we climbed up the short hill covered in grass and reached the Copper Horse at last. I walked around the giant pedestal of the giant sculpture to enjoy the views from such a vantage point. The afternoon was beautiful even when it was cloudy.

“Look, Charlie! I can see Wembley!” said Jason excited, pointing at the massive structure in the horizon with a dirty and oily finger.

“I can see the skyscrapers of London,” I said wishing I could soon be there.

“Let me see!” he exclaimed.

“The castle looks magnificent from here,” I added after I turned around.

After a couple of minutes enjoying the panoramic views a cold breeze made us shiver and we agreed that it was time to go back to Eton. The sun was coming down and we didn’t want to get punished by the headmaster for getting home late. We came down Snow Hill and were able to admire Windsor Castle as we slowly approached it. I loved castles, palaces and royalty. I loved architecture in general but didn’t want to become an architect because I didn’t like math. It was too stressful for me.

“He’s gone,” said Jason after a while.

“Who’s gone?” I asked.

“The man in red,” said Jason lowering his voice as if he didn’t want the man to hear his words from wherever place he could have been hiding.

“Forget him! Enjoy the walk,” I insisted, trying to sound cheerful.

I was admiring the castle all while Jason looked around to every direction to make sure that nobody was after us.

“What are you doing?” I said hoping he could start acting normal again. “Are you worried that the evil baby deer could come and get you?”

“Charlie...” whispered Jason, discretely pulling me from my coat.

“What is it now?” I asked annoyed.

As I turned my upper body to see Snow Hill again, I saw another man in red with black glasses pass by our side without even saying hi or good evening. He didn’t even look at us. It was as if Jason and I were invisible and the scary part was that he had appeared out of nowhere. We had just come down from the hill and we were sure that we were the only people there.

“This is getting strange,” muttered Jason, sounding worried once the man was far enough to not hear his words. “I don’t like this. Where did he come from?”

“Calm down," I said. "I don’t think they’re bad men. They’re probably businessmen taking a nice walk. There’s nothing strange about it.”

“But… what about the red outfits? Was that a coincidence?”

“Probably... I don’t know... who cares?" I said. "Let’s just go home now.”

“That’s an incredible idea. Let’s just go home right now!” exclaimed Jason happily. “One thing is for sure... I won’t return to this place to take another leisurely walk ever again!”

Jason was acting crazy. I'd become the normal one when compared to him. He was either paranoid or his senses were perceiving something mine weren't. Once we'd finally gotten back to Windsor, I was looking for a snack to eat when Jason started acting like crazy again.

“Charlie! Charlie! Look!” he said.

As we're walking alongside Windsor Castle, we noticed that there was a man in red sitting in a bench and peering down at a map. We passed by him, but he didn’t pay attention to us. We had more than enough time to glance at him and know that he was definitely a different person than the last two.

“It’s nothing. Forget it. Look at the girls instead,” I suggested.

“That’s exactly what they want you to do,” said Jason convinced that something was going on. “They want you to think that they’re only regular people. What if they are spies or secret agents?”

“That’s it, Jason,” I said flatly. “I don’t want to hear about men in red anymore. Ok?”

Jason kept silent but I was sure that he was still disturbed. Then, as we left Windsor and were crossing the bridge back to Eton another surprise was waiting for us. Jason didn’t say anything this time but another man in red with black sunglasses was reading a newspaper right in the middle of the bridge. He looked just like a normal person, but his red outfit was impossible to ignore.

Jason and I just looked at each other but didn’t say a word. Jason’s look was trying to tell me that there was something curious happening, something he didn’t feel good about. We had never ever seen men dressed like that before, but since nothing special ever occurred to me I simply couldn’t believe that something out of the ordinary was actually happening at last.

To Jason’s dismay, we were unlucky enough to encounter one last man in red (with sunglasses as well) in the corner of the school library. Jason looked at me terrified because we had to pass by his side to turn left and get to Common Lane on which the Manor House was. That man in red didn’t look at us either. He was busy making a phone call, but he was not talking at all. We didn’t know if he was having a genuine phone conversation with somebody or if he was just faking it, pretending to be... well... normal.

The moment Jason and I got inside the house the moment he started panicking. I had plenty of things in my head to worry about and I now had to deal with Jason’s madness too.

“Did you see, Charlie? Did you see?” He said exalted.

“I saw them,” I said calmed taking my coat off and walking across the living room.

“What if they were aliens?” he suggested. “That’s why they were all wearing sunglasses, so we couldn’t see their big and scary eyes!”

“Silence, Jason!” I exclaimed. “Your stories are not going to let me sleep. Do something to not think about it.”

“You can’t sleep anyways,” he added.

“I know but you get what I mean,” I mumbled.

Jason and I went to the kitchen to make some sandwiches and then started playing chess in the living room. That could stop our minds from thinking of conspiracy theories.

I wasn’t altered by what had happened to us that afternoon but once I stopped for a second and thought about it I came to the conclusion that it had been something really strange indeed. Men in red walking around Windsor and Eton? Men with sunglasses in a cloudy day? We were probably creating the whole drama in our heads after all. Men in red with sunglasses… it sounds normal, right? We were hoping.

After having supper with all the other housemates, we all went to our rooms. Before parting, I told Jason not to tell anybody about what had happened to us because they were most likely going to start telling everyone that we were scared just because we had seen some men in red coats.

I couldn’t sleep that night (what a surprise) but it wasn’t because I was scared of Jason’s alien theory but because June was coming to an end. I thought that facing aliens wasn’t as bad as having to face my mom and her Medusa stare able to petri... I mean paralyze anyone fool enough to look into her eyes.

Unable to rest, I got up and started walking around the room, my daily routine when stressed out that was supposed to help me but that didn’t seem to work the way I expected it.

I don’t know why, but after several minutes of walking in circles, I had the strong feeling to look out a window, and so I did. I looked out one of my room windows and saw something that froze me at once. I saw a man with sunglasses standing in the middle of the street. He was looking straight at my window, straight at me. The few street lights near the house allowed me to notice that the man was wearing all red clothing, just like the several others we had seen earlier that day. Shivers went down my spine like I’d never felt before as I tried to understand what was happening. I got scared... really scared. Who were those men? What did they want? Were they after me? Why?

What in the world was I supposed to do? I went immediately back to bed, hid myself under my duvet like a scared child and hoped they were not going to get in and kill me in my sleep. They didn’t have a reason to hurt me, right? I hadn’t done wrong to anybody. I was almost a saint.

I thought of calling my family or telling our headmaster, but I didn’t want to give them more reasons to think that I was crazy. And after a lot of thinking, I decided to wait until the next day to tell Jason about it.

I didn’t dare to look out the window one more time fearing I would see not one but several men outside and this time without their glasses. And with some struggling and after a hundred different sleeping positions, I managed to fall asleep hours later.

“Charlie... Charlie... come, Charlie,” I heard a woman’s voice say in my dreams. “Charlie... Charlie... Charlie...”