Ryan was quiet for the next few days, seldom making eye contact with the rest of the group. It was obvious to all that the revelation he’d forced out of Mara had affected him in some way. Ryan could be cruel, but it didn’t seem like he was a full on sociopath who felt nothing at all for others. He was the quintessential adolescent man, trying to live up to expectations of strength while also avoiding alienating everyone who he came in contact with. The group, even Mara, pitied him. It was possible that this place would prevent you from ever growing old, but maybe it would allow people to grow up.
However Ryan’s state of mind and emotion was not on the top of the list of concerns that G-ma, Mrs. Corum, Sara Beth, and Jamie had. He was a bit of an afterthought in light of Mara’s confession. Slowly they pieced together the likely chain of events.
The night Mara swallowed the medicine cabinet, she’d recorded a video that she uploaded to the Internet. On the video, she talked about how she felt abused by others at school by their constant bullying. However even at a time when she felt she was about to end it all, she didn’t reveal in the video anything about her father’s abusive tendencies. She wasn’t sure why, perhaps it was a nagging worry that what she was going to take wouldn’t finish her off. It turned out that most of the pills she found were homeopathic remedies that her mother was a fan of. Despite being advertised as sedatives, with strict warnings on their bottles not to take too many or else it could be fatal, there were no active ingredients in them of any kind. Mara would later find that out when she woke up with a horrible stomach ache, but no other ill effects. Later she’d spend some time researching homeopathic medicine, and was disgusted with herself for not doing so before her attempt.
However what was done was done. And while her parents were a bit confused as to where all of the pills they used went, when they found their daughter still alive, they didn’t put two and two together. The only evidence of her attempt was the video. She didn’t think about the video for a few days, however when it came to mind she decided to delete it. By that point it had already received 15,000 hits. Scrolling past the comments to the delete button, she found support from some, cheap shots by others. She shook her head at the state of humanity, and looked for the link to delete the video. Before she could get to it, she found herself in this place, wearing the same clothes she’d had on the night she tried to kill herself. She was just thankful that when she recorded that video, she’d been too distracted to take her purse off her shoulder.
The group sized up the situation, and agreed that Julie must have seen the video and felt some sort of strong connection to it. It wouldn’t have been surprising – the group already was well aware of the way Julie was treated by people like Ryan, so her seeking out support online in some way would have been appropriate. What concerned them was Mara’s discussion in the video of her decision to end it all.
“What was the name of the video again, Mara?”, Mrs. Corum asked.
“I think it was just ‘Goodbye Bullys’ or something like that. The word ‘goodbye’ was definitely in there”, Mara replied.
“How much did you talk about your decision to… you know… do it?”
“The video was 10 minutes long. I probably talked about taking pills and getting out of the situation that way for at least 6 or 7. In my angry and emotional state, I tried to make a number of arguments for why it was the best decision possible. I don’t think that’s the case now”, she said as others looked very much concerned, “But at the time I truly did.”
“I’m really worried for Julie”, Jamie said, breaking into the conversation.
“I know, dear, we all are. Thank you Mara, for sharing this with us – I know it tough, but it lets us know what we’re up against”, G-ma said in reply to both Jamie and Julie.
“The mountains are so dim”, Sara Beth said, looking up at them.
“Just like the light in the valley”, Jamie replied.
It didn’t take a genius to figure out that Ryan had taken her there. The older women decided to ignore the question of ‘who’ and go straight to ‘when’.
“When were you in the valley?”, Mrs. Corum asked.
Jamie, realizing she’d revealed the secret Ryan had sworn her to, but that there was really no way to take it back now, reluctantly told them it had been a few days before.
“That valley was mighty strong when we were there”, G-ma said.
“And it took all of Sara Beth’s efforts to push us out of the hold that light had on us”, Mrs. Corum continued, “If Ryan had been visiting it regularly, it may have already weakened a bit before he got there. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to break free.”
It was a very disturbing trend. No activity. No light. No earthquakes or rain storms. And there was one other thing that G-ma had noticed, but didn’t mention earlier.
“I don’t feel Julie as strongly anymore”, she quietly said.
“What do you mean?”, Mara asked.
“Well, I’d always felt some sort of positive ‘vibe’ coming my way. It had always been there, so it was pretty rare I even noticed it. However in the past few days, it’s slowly died off. It’s as if she’s not even thinking of me”
“You guys don’t think my sister would…” Jamie said, not finishing the sentence. It trailed off into the same thought they all had. Julie McKay was depressed. Julie McKay might even be suicidal.
For once, they all agreed on something. Mara, Sara Beth, Mrs. Corum, Ryan, G-ma, and Jamie all agreed that Julie dying would be a very, very bad thing. They had all come to care about her in some way (Even Ryan, although after his last explosion, he wasn’t quite ready to fully embrace the idea).
But once the shock had worn off slightly that their host may be suicidal, they turned to a different question: What would happen to them?
It was decided that, since no one had very good answers to that question off the top of their head, that everyone would sit overnight and think about the problem. In the morning they’d discuss what each believed would happen. It was a long dim – with six people sitting and contemplating death. Specifically, what would happen after death, and not even their death.
In the morning, the group began the discussion. Both Mrs. Corum and G-ma felt it might be best to let the kids go first, to see what they’d decided. And while they were both united in their desire to have the kids go first, it was for entirely different motives.
For simplicity, they decided to go from youngest to oldest. That put Jamie up first. Her argument was very simple: If Julie were to die (Jamie had a hard time saying that without tearing up slightly), then they’d all cease to exist. They wouldn’t get to go along with her soul or mind, wherever it went, they’d simply blink out of existence. This seemed to scare Jamie quite a bit, as it does to most people.
Sara Beth was next up. Her argument was slightly different, but no less grim. She reasoned that they lived inside the same consciousness that would travel with Julie wherever she went. However whatever lie ahead would be very exciting or very scary, and Sara Beth felt that Julie simply wouldn’t need them anymore. With Julie’s imagination not as active, nothing like the light valley or gifts of yarn would ever come their way again. And if Julie were to live forever in paradise, then they would live forever in an unused mind.
As Sara Beth sat down, Mara stood up and delivered a very short argument: She had no idea, but it didn’t seem good. That truly summed up the same position that all of them had agreed to the night before, but it was no less true this morning as it was then. Mara sat down.
While technically younger than Mara, Ryan was happy to stand up after the girls and give his thoughts. His arguments were similar to the rest, but he urged the group to try to do all they could to make Julie feel better. The younger members of the group nodded, with Jamie even exclaiming “I can’t believe I didn’t think of that!”. While Ryan’s central idea was not that groundbreaking, he put a lot of passion into his speech, showing a clear love of self-preservation, if not a subtle bit of compassion for Julie.
Second to last was Mrs. Corum. She’d wanted the kids to go for a very simple reason: She was completely winging this one. As a teacher she could always tell when a student hadn’t prepared for the assignment and was trying to bluff his or her way through it. Now she hoped that the others wouldn’t notice that within her. She borrowed a bit of the thoughts of the previous 4. It would be a bad thing if Julie were to die. They’d be trapped and be unhappy. They needed to do all they could to get Julie to be happier. At the end of her speech, she looked at the rest of the group and was relieved that they appeared to have bought it as an original idea.
Nothing at all could have prepared them, though, for what G-ma had to say. There was some cunning strategy in the old woman’s request that the kids go first. She wanted to have the last word.
“I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I know it’s going to come to you as a shock what I’m about to say. I don’t think I’ve even come to grips with it yet. But after so much thinking last night, it’s the only thing I’ve come back to repeatedly. I can’t seem to get it out of my mind, and it seems to make the most sense of what we’ve talked about.
All of you are right in that our existence now isn’t best for anyone. It’s not good for us, trapped here, and it’s not good for Julie, who retreats into her mind at times and seems to use us to escape the pain. A few days ago I was deliriously happy when I found my knitting bag. It nearly put me out of a sane mind. In retrospect, that’s what Julie wanted. She wanted to see how happy I was because she couldn’t be happy. She was using my happiness as a substitute for her own, which breaks my heart.
I can’t bear to think of her suffering, but there is simply nothing we can do here to make the torment go away. If she doesn’t find a way to deal with it in the real world soon, I don’t think we have any control over the situation – she’s going to try something. It’s just a matter of time for us. Either she’s going to get better, or she isn’t. Working to make her happy doesn’t make any sense – it’s not going to change things. It’s the real world that makes her happy or unhappy, and right now, it seems like she’s going to need the real world to step up quickly or else she’s doomed.
Now here’s the part that I really can’t believe I’m saying, but let me begin by telling you that it’s different for me than it has been for the five of you. I was here for 8 years before you all arrived. I’ve been lonely. I’ve been insane. I’ve been everything one could possibly be in this place. This place isn’t somewhere you’re supposed to spend your life. But thankfully, we don’t have to. All we have to do is let her die.
I can see all of you looking at me like I’m crazy, but hear me out. If she dies, I don’t think we blink out of existence. I’m a spiritual person – I firmly believe her consciousness goes on. As for us, I think we go with it. But I don’t think we go on to where she goes – I think we go back to where we came from. After all, it was memories that created us, and as many a preacher will tell you, the deceased live on in their memories. I don’t know how exactly we get back into our own bodies, but I think that’s the only logical thing. If we’re still alive, we can’t go on to the afterlife just yet. With no where else to go, why wouldn’t we go back home?
Now I’m not saying we should be happy about this. Julie is my granddaughter, and I love her as much now as I ever have. But I don’t think we should fear what would happen if she were to do it. We’re not going to blink out of existence, we’re going to go back home. You might be skeptical, I realize that, but think about it good and hard like I have. We’re already memories – but we are memories of Julie from our own points of view, not hers. We’re not going with her, we’re going home.
I see from the looks on your faces that this is going to take time, and I understand that. My theory is just a theory, just like all of yours. Let’s all take some time now to think about these things. I think soon we’ll all agree on one that works for everyone.”