Dib was prepared for a very, very long day. It had already started off brilliantly. He'd gotten virtually no sleep the night before; knowing what he'd discovered yesterday was much more disruptive than a news article. There was a feeling bubbling in the deep pit of his stomach which he couldn't quite place a finger on. It was like a seething mixture of dread and excitement, overlayed with a large amount of anxiety. He'd wound up lying on his bed all night with his face illuminated eerily by the laptop screen, his fingers working overtime as he valiantly battled the Irkens' firewalls and various security devices to gain every scrap of knowledge the Empire's archives contained on PAKs and Irken biology. He struggled through about 40 billion gigabytes of it, but it was all just a very detailed account of what Dib already knew (having hacked Zim's computer a myriad times in the past). Not the answers he was searching for.
Overall, it had been a rather unsuccessful night. And an unfortunate loss of sleep. Just as he was reviewing this something large and heavy hit him in the head.
"Pay attention, Dib!" The PE teacher's voice thrummed right through his skull and out the other side. There was a reason he was the skool ball coach, and it wasn't that he was sort of pudgy and had his own whistle. The lanky teenager wobbled a bit, fighting an epic battle to work out exactly which way was up, and what he was supposed to be paying attention to. The dodge ball rolling around by his feet should have been a memory jogger.
God, he was so tired. And now he had a splitting headache and an angry voice in his head to temper that.
He straightened up somewhat. "Whrr
The coach was unimpressed. "Dib, if you're going to behave like a sack of potatoes, I don't want you in my game! Go sit outside until we are in desperate need of a victim!"
And it was about to get a whole lot better.
After being too distracted to copy down the notes on dollhouse possession (the bad kind) he'd copped one of Ms Bitters' famous chilling stares. After being too cold to go outside in spattering rain during recess, he'd copped another one from the principal. And when he failed to hand in his essay (which he'd forgotten to finish on account of the whole blood episode), he'd been condemned to spend the remainder of the day in the underground classroom, where he'd wiled away the hours trying to stop spiders from eating his 'alternative task essay'.
All in all, Dib was extremely glad when he was able to limp out of the skool, happily pretending he wasn't riddled with spider bites. It was a fair walk home, since he was weak from either exhaustion, relief or the venom that the spiders may possibly have injected into him, but fortunately the rain had ended abruptly again and was rapidly giving ground to clear sky.
It was around half an hour before he stumbled in through the front door, to be greeted by his father and sister, and the television, all resolutely ignoring his entry. Dib stood in the doorway for a moment, wobbling slightly. But it soon became clear that the only greeting he would get was a grunt from his father (which could have meant just about anything), so he turned on his heel and began the trek up to his bedroom.
It was only natural that he was halfway up the stair when Professor Membrane called up to him.
"Son, I'm leaving again in a few hours. Important business trip. Get some dinner for yourself, will you? Your sister has a gaming convention. How are your grades going at school?"
Dib curled his lip at the greeting he received. Sure, he was fine. It was his grades that mattered to the professor.
He stalked up to his room, slamming the door with just the right sound balance, and flopped down in front of his desk. His school reports were stashed somewhere under the desktop. Bored, Dib took them out and stared dully at them.
A, A, B, A, A.
A, A, B, B, A.
B, C, B, A, C.
He looked down the list. The grades got progressively worse, and so did the comments that went with them.
His father wouldn't be happy. He could just hear Membrane's lecture; You need to wake up to yourself, son! This paranormal business is affecting your brain. Real science is the road to success!
Dib growled, slamming the papers down. The school, his family, they were all making him out to be some hopeless freak. Screw them all. He'd seen things those twerps at school didn't even dream of. Hell, he'd seen death! How dare they tell him he wasn't good enough!
The boy found he was breathing rather hard and clenching the papers tightly; they were crumpling a little. He sighed out and released them. Fresh air, that was what he needed. This whole place reeked of society.
Passing the living room, he noticed that the couch was now empty and the TV set was switched off. Huh, they must have already left without telling him. How nice of his kin.
The weather had changed dramatically in the last half hour. Despite not being high in the sky, the sun hammered down on Dib, forcing him to walk slower and slower in the heat. And it wasn't just hot, it was disgustingly muggy. Stupidly he'd chosen to walk to the wheat field again, where there happened to be no shade. Dib had hoped that the densely packed stalks might still hold a little coolness or moisture left from the morning shower, but they were dry and hot as kindling. And they scratched annoyingly against his waist and legs, making it even more difficult to walk. Dib was hoping to reach a small clump of trees at the far end of the field, where there'd be shade, quiet and maybe some place he could get himself a drink. Because he'd smartly forgotten a water bottle. How ingenious of him.
Grunting, Dib scratched at the heavy black fabric that was hugging his back. Trench coats might look cool, he decided, and they were definitely practical. But they weren't so good for this dense, sticky city air, and were rather uncomfortable when they were sweaty. Dib would have liked to tear it off, but muggy as it was, he still didn't want to risk sunburn. Not with his pale skin. But this trapped heat was beyond unbearable. Groaning, Dib finally opted to take it off and hold it over his head like a shade cloth. It made his arms ache a little, but at least he wasn't so hot anymore, since there was now a soft breeze blowing. He found it amazing how the air managed to stay so dense even with a breeze blowing. Hang on, it was picking up now. He shivered. The breeze was a wind now. He held tightly to his precious coat as the air leeched into its folds and blew it out, almost wrenching it out of his grip, Quickly, Dib pulled it close to him, struggling to put it on but managing. He squinted up. The sun had disappeared. Grey clouds were scudding across the sky at the speed of an aeroplane. Another weather change! Dib slitted his eyes even more as he stared into the wind, back down the way he'd come. The stalks were being flattened and rippled in an ominous pattern, and dirt and leaves were being tossed into the air. Of course. What did hot, muggy air mean? A storm on the way. And even as the thought occurred to Dib, he spotted the coming threat and his pulse nearly stopped. The cloud was a massive, swirling monster of nature, eating up the miles like they were inches. The boy didn't waste another second. He turned and ran for it.
The wind lashed at him, the wheat stalks beat at him mercilessly. He struggled on, coat hugging his legs and flapping around like some mad bat creature. A peal of thunder split the sky. Damn, this was worse than the time a Vortian ship had entered Earth's atmosphere! Except there was no sign of any ship in the sky above, only that great, black thing that was eating up the city. The wind had long since become a gale, and as Dib finally struggled out of the last of the wheat stalks and pelted at a full stretch across the short expanse of grass, the wind shot after him like a rabid wolf. Snapping at his heels and howling ominously in his ears.
Blind with panic, Dib made a mad dash for the nearest building. He didn't care where he ended up, anything was better than being swallowed by that black cloud. Another crack of thunder and he was wrenching open the unlocked door and tumbling inside.
Dib just lay there for a while, shaking and panting. The wind was roaring at him outside, but almost drowned out by the ringing in his ears. Once he'd recovered his composure somewhat, the teen shakily stood up and stared with sudden dread at his surroundings. They were all too familiar, and with a sudden shock of realisation, he knew where he was.