“No, I can’t say that it ever got that bad”, G-ma said. The look on Mrs. Corum’s face was a bit crestfallen, obviously she had hoped that G-ma might empathize a bit more. G-ma noticed. They had been talking about their former lives outside of this place, specifically the low points.
“I’m not saying I don’t see how it could be that way for you, dear, I’m just saying I don’t think I ever got to that point”.
“It was years ago”, Mrs. Corum said softly, “Right after I found out that I wouldn’t be able to have children. I guess it took a huge toll on me. At that time, it didn’t seem like a man would want to date you if he couldn’t see a future with you… and they didn’t seem to see a future with me. I thought the world was ending – that no one would ever be interested, and that I’d be a spinster for the rest of my life”
G-ma didn’t quite know what to say. Mrs. Corum had been a lot more talkative over the last few days, ever since the rain storm and earthquake. It almost appeared that she had something she needed to talk out, but for the life of her, G-ma had no idea what that was or how to help. G-ma wasn’t used to serious conversations on mental health – her life had been mostly one of mundane happiness. It appeared that Mrs. Corum had been through some rough times that G-ma and her family only approached on rare occasion, and even then, were blessed to have pass quickly.
“I can’t imagine”, G-ma said. The words rang truer than most people would admit – in this case, she truly couldn’t.
Mrs. Corum and G-ma were lazily making their way back to Mrs. Corum’s original spot, planning to explore a new direction relative to it. They hadn’t seen any new or unusual weather events in at least 3 days, although they often looked up and squinted at the sky, wondering if they were missing some subtle shift of color. It was possible that they had become so attenuated to the world they lived in that that their sense had been dulled to it’s shifting nature. Or perhaps they hadn’t, but the ladies were simply all out of energy in a mental way, their bodies still fully powered as the moment they had awoken in this place.
They were both quiet for a few minutes, until Mrs. Corum began to speak.
“It just feels like I can think for the first time in years”, she began, “Throughout my entire working life I was consumed with the day-to-day world. Papers needed to be marked, students needed to be taught, bills needed to be paid, and I suppose that even leisure activities needed to be done. The TV wasn’t going to watch itself at the end of the day. Then I came here. Here I have no papers, no students, no TV. All I have is my time talking with you, and my own thoughts. You ever see that old Twilight Zone where the man is thrilled to have all the time in the world to read?”
“Yes, that’s the one where his glasses break right before he can start his first book”, G-ma replied.
“Yes. But in this case, my glasses haven’t broken. If anything, they’ve gotten sharper as I’ve got so much time now to think about things. I wonder how this place will change me, as I think about all that stuff I’ve ignored for so many years.”
G-ma hoped that the next question wasn’t going to be what she feared, but inevitably, it was.
“Have you changed since you got here?”, Mrs. Corum asked.
G-ma took a long moment that, to Mrs. Corum, would appear that she was gathering her thoughts. In reality, she was hoping something strange would happen again so that she could avoid answering the question.
No earthquake, sky color change, or warm fuzzy feeling came.
“I was afraid you would ask that”, G-ma began, “Yes, I have changed quite a bit”.
Mrs. Corum was somewhat taken aback by the abrupt reply and failure to elaborate. She weighed her options: Ask about how she’s changed, or simply let it hang there. In the end, she didn’t have to worry, G-ma had decided to open up.
“I used to be more extreme”, G-ma said as she sat down on the ground, indicating to Mrs. Corum that she planned on speaking for awhile. “I had wild mood swings day to day during my regular life. Before I came here, there were days I was no picnic to be around. I suppose now that I’m still no picnic to others, but at least I’m less annoying to myself. Maybe what you said about having time now to think is what it is. I can engage in the soul searching that I put off before”
For next few hours, G-ma let out all of the thoughts that, previously, had just been worked out in her mind. No one had heard the life stories, the philosophical rants, and the humorous musings that the older woman had pondered and pieced together over the past 8 years. It grew dim and then light again before they had finished.
After that conversation, Mrs. Corum changed her evaluation of G-ma. The woman had always seemed a bit too direct. A bit too sure of herself. It became clear, though, that this was simply because she’d had a lot of time to decide on what she believed to be true in this world and in her life outside of it. Mrs. Corum decided that speaking to G-ma was different only in that it wasn’t what she would say or do in the given situation. G-ma had a distinct viewpoint. Mrs. Corum wondered if she might, one day, have the same viewpoint, if she lasted long enough here.
“Here it was”, Mrs. Corum said of the spot of ground in front of them.
They had gotten back to her original starting point in the abyss, and had decided to explore a new direction.
“I was over there”, G-ma pointed, “but I always sort of wondered what was that way”, as she pointed sharply in the opposite direction. Previously they had walked perpendicular to the two spots they knew well, today the would start walking parallel, off into the distance neither had ventured. They could make out something far off in the horizon that looked different than the rest of the sky. It would be a journey of several days, but perhaps would be worth it.
They began walking. Today the conversation had been rather light. Some shared stories from their childhoods, and discussion of politics and religious beliefs (They figured that there was no way they were going to scare each other off, so they might as well approach these ‘friendship forbidden’ topics). As they walked, slowly the conversation turned back to the world they found themselves in.
“What do you think you’ll do the next time we find someone here?”, Mrs. Corum asked.
“You think we’re going to find others?”, G-ma replied.
“Well, we found each other”, Mrs. Corum said with a slight bit of cheer in her voice.
“Yes, after I’d given up on ever having that happen. I guess my perspective is different than yours – I think a new person arrives here every 8 years or so, to you, they arrive every few weeks”, G-ma pointed out.
“I suppose you’re right, but I keep getting the sense that we’re going to find others, and not just one, perhaps a dozen. We might even get to start our own community here. You could be mayor”, Mrs. Corum said with a grin.
“I never had the mind for politics!”, G-ma said with a laugh.
“Seriously, though, what are we going to do when we meet them”, Mrs. Corum said, directing the conversation back to her original question.
“I suppose spend the first day just explaining everything – we don’t know much about this place, but we may know more than they do, assuming they haven’t been here longer than we have. Maybe they’ll know more. Maybe your community of friends has been here longer than I have”, G-ma said, as the thoughts came pouring out. Evidently this was one topic she hadn’t fully discussed in her mind during the previous years of living in isolation.
“I wonder if they’ll all be from the same place we grew up?”, Mrs. Corum pondered.
“Aside from you and I both knowing Julie”, G-ma replied, “We don’t seem to have any other link than geography. It would be interesting to meet someone who came here from a more exotic locale than the boring places we frequented on Earth.”
“Do you think we’re still on Earth?”, Mrs. Corum said, half jokingly.
“Aliens again?”, G-ma said with a smile.
“No, but perhaps we’re on a different plane of existence. Maybe we’ve evolved!”, Mrs. Corum optimistically replied.
“No hope of that for me, dear, I’m devolving if anything!”
“Why would you say that?”
“I don’t know… just seemed like something to say”, G-ma said with a smile.
As they walked further away from Mrs. Corum’s spot, a thought struck G-ma that hadn’t before. In retrospect, even if she had thought of it, she would have had no way to test it.
“Can you hear me?”, G-ma asked Mrs. Corum.
“Just let me try something – stand here”
G-ma walked about 10 feet away from Mrs. Corum.
“Can you hear me?”, G-ma asked. Mrs. Corum nodded in agreement.
G-mailed about another 10 feet away from Mrs. Corum.
“Can you hear me?”, G-ma asked. Mrs. Corum started to nod, but then paused. A perplexed look came over her face.
G-ma walked back toward her.
“I saw you perfectly, you weren’t but 15 feet away, and I could see your lips open, and knew you were asking if I could hear you. But I couldn’t.”, Mrs. Corum stammered.
“That explains a lot”, G-ma said, and began walking, motioning Mrs. Corum to join her.
“I realized that whenever someone shows up in this place, one thing is generally on their to-do list as soon as they realize that they’re not in metaphorical Kansas anymore”, G-ma began, “They cry out. They scream. They yell. They curse. They make noise. Did you do that?”
Mrs. Corum blushed slightly. She hadn’t told G-ma that this was, indeed, something she did a few times during that first day. She called out, hoping others might hear her. In fact, a few times, she let out a yell so loud it surprised her.
“Yes, I did”
“But no one here heard you. Think about it – this land has some subtle rises and dips, but is fundamentally flat. We can see for perhaps a mile in any given direction. Sound should travel here just fine, but the distance it travels is tiny compared to the distance we can see.
Mrs. Corum was starting to put the pieces together as G-ma continued.
“So if there are others here, they might spend hours, or days, or weeks calling out, staying put where someone can find them, not realizing that even though they yell as loudly as possible, this place seems to dampen sound.”
“I wonder if there is anyway for us to train our ears to hear better”, Mrs. Corum replied.
“What do you mean?”, G-ma asked.
“I’ve taught my students in science about how the sense can become more highly trained. How they can adjust if need be. I wonder if we were to spend time practicing if we could train our ears to be more sensitive”.
“How long would that take?”, G-ma said.
“Got somewhere you need to be?”, Mrs. Corum smartly replied with a wink.
For the rest of the day, and the next few, G-ma and Mrs. Corum strained to pick up the smallest sound, often whispering to each other. To their amazement, it actually started to work. They could increase the distance between each other to 25 or 30 feet and be heard perfectly. They didn’t need to speak as loudly as they had before either. A light whisper was enough. It was almost as if super hearing was something this world found metaphysically cool, as a teenager might put it, and helped their minds grasp it quickly and easily.
Therefore it was not a huge surprise when they found themselves walking one day and having the following conversation.
“I just don’t know about…. Did you hear that?”
“Yes…”. The two women turned and pointed in the same direction.
They walked over a small hill, and found her sitting there, softly crying, a plastic ball with a missing piece lying to her side.
Mrs. Corum and G-ma turned to each other and shot a quick glance that communicated everything they both had rush through their minds. Who was this girl? Why was she crying? Had she been here long? What’s with the plastic ball? Where had she come from?
Despite all of these questions, the humanity in both women rapidly took over.
“It’s OK honey”, G-ma called out while they were still a few feet away. She didn’t want to startle the child and only make things worse.
“We’re here to help”, Mrs. Corum added.
Sara Beth looked up at them through tear filled eyes.
“Sonic got loose”, she sobbed.
“Who is Sonic?”, Mrs. Corum asked, showing a confused look to G-ma. G-ma, perhaps more skilled at pets than Mrs. Corum, picked up the plastic ball.
“Oh dear, the top came loose, didn’t it honey”, she said.
“Yeah…we were talking and I looked away for just a moment. He’s so small, and so gray, and so… easy to lose in this stupid place”, Sara Beth proclaimed.
“Who are you?”, Mrs. Corum asked.
“We’ll sort all of that out later – right now we have to find Sonic!”, G-ma said, taking charge of the situation. Mrs. Corum stood there, admonished for her curiosity, but felt perhaps G-ma should take the lead here.
“Is Sonic a hedgehog, dear?”, G-ma asked.
“You heard her – let’s fan out and look. We know he didn’t come by us in the direction we came – I’m sure we would have seen the little guy. I’ll head this way, my friend will head that way, and, this is really important dear, you need to calm down and start looking that way. There are 3 of us, we’ll find Sonic in no time.”
The search party split into three directions and looked, careful to walk over and prod anything on the splotchy gray ground that could have been a tiny hedgehog. Sara Beth was worried, but happy to have the help of the others. She had barely even started looking when she heard a voice call out “I found him”.
Mrs. Corum had walked back over to Sara Beth and led her over to where Sonic lie, seemingly content. “I… uh… don’t know how to pick him up”, she said. Sara Beth adroitly picked up her friend and placed him in the pink ball, making sure the top was tightly in place. They then walked toward the direction G-ma had headed, and found her lightly tapping a gray bump in the ground with her foot.
“I’m glad to see the crisis has been averted”, G-ma said, as she saw the two approach.
“What did she say”, Sara Beth asked Mrs. Corum.
“She said that she was glad our crisis was over”, Mrs. Corum replied, aware that G-ma was still too far away for Sara Beth to hear her.
As the three women and one escapee hedgehog came together, G-ma reached out and put her hand on Sara Beth’s shoulder.
“I’m glad that we’re all safe.”
Sara Beth smiled, perhaps the first true smile that she had produced since coming to this place. She looked up at G-ma and asked “Who are you?”
“My grandkids call me G-ma”, G-ma said, “And as I told my friend here when I met her, no one has called me anything else in quite awhile. Guess I like the sound of G-ma now”.
“I’m happy to meet you G-ma, thanks for helping me find Sonic”, Sara Beth said in gratitude.
“What’s your name, dear”, G-ma asked.
Both women paused for a moment, mentally scanning their pre-abyss memories for a Sara Beth. They were both keenly aware that despite their hard work to fill in the gaps, this place was still somewhat messing with their mind. Sara Beth would be the one to break the moment of silence.
“Who are you?”, she asked Mrs. Corum.
“I’m just a misplaced 6th grade teacher”, Mrs. Corum said with a smile, “My name is Mrs. Corum”.
“I was in 6th grade, well, before I ended up here”.
“Were you?”, Mrs. Corum asked rhetorically. In her mind she further scanned her memory. Sadly she knew very few of the other 6th graders at her school that were not in her class. That amounted to around 30-40 more students. And even then, they had no assurance that Sara Beth had come from the same general area they had.
“We were just going for a walk, would you like to join us”, G-ma asked.
“I can’t”, Sara Beth replied.
This took the two older women by surprise.
“Why not?”, Mrs. Corum asked bluntly.
“Because I need to stay in this spot so they can find me”, Sara Beth said indignantly.
“Honey, I don’t think that’s how it works here”, G-ma gently said.
“How do you know?”, Sara Beth asked.
“Because I sat in the same spot for almost 8 years”, G-ma replied softly. “No one came for me until Mrs. Corum happened to find me a few weeks ago”.
“Well you see – you see – someone found you by staying in the same spot”.
The girl had her there. G-ma had to think quickly.
“Then I’ll tell you what – we can come wait at your spot today, and then tomorrow go on our walk again, and if you choose to come with us, we can come back to your spot every so often and see if anyone is waiting for you”. Sara Beth pondered the idea, and shook her head in agreement.
The three of them sat down, just as it began to dim for the night.