Chapter 25: The Coma

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After Ryan’s apology, the group eventually returned to their discussion of summer camps. Mara hadn’t ever been to one, in fact, she’d never participated in any non-mandatory activity. Her parents sent her to school, but they never had much interest in sending her elsewhere. She told the group of the trips to the mall, and of night spent watching cars drive down the street while she waited for her father to go to sleep. It was the closest she’d come to socialization outside of school. Continue reading “Chapter 25: The Coma”

Chapter 24: Camp

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The mountains lit up brighter than they’d seen in weeks. Bouncing colors flitting from peak to peak. The sky seemed lighter than usual, the world seemed to be in a state of activity, if that could exist. It was noticed by each member of the small group, spurring discussion. Continue reading “Chapter 24: Camp”

Chapter 23: July

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“What month is it?”

“I think it might be July now”

“I can’t believe that I’ve lost track of time, this never would have happened when I was a teacher”

“It never would have happened when I was a student, counting down the days”

Mrs. Corum and Sara Beth were both about right, Ryan confirmed later in the same day that it was around July 5th.  Continue reading “Chapter 23: July”

Chapter 19: The Future

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“Julie is my sister, and all, but I just can’t help feeling what I feel”, Jamie said as the others scowled at her with a look of confusion and shock.

“I just wondered if, now that Julie is thinking more about us in her imagination, we’d have something more interesting than just this gray area with nothing to do.”

The older women supposed that Jamie was just showing her age in her thoughts. They would be lying if they didn’t admit the thought had gone through their minds as well, however more pressing was the lack of activity on the mountain. Julie wasn’t doing much in the real world, and that bothered G-ma and Mrs. Corum especially.

“It’s not good for an adolescent girl to just lay around all day”, Mrs. Corum would fret.

“I wish we knew what was going on out there, but I don’t suppose Julie is going to have any emotional interactions with someone if she isn’t going out.”, Replied G-ma.

Thus the two camps were established in a playful sense – the Wants versus the Needs. The Wants wanted to make sure that Julie was physically, mentally, and emotionally OK. Consisting of Mrs. Corum, G-ma, and Sara Beth, they firmly watched the mountain for any clue it might provide. Little activity was met with frowns and fear for what this may mean.

The Needs, on the other hand, needed something more than what they had here. Led principally by Jamie, with Ryan in tow, they couldn’t be bothered to worry about the mountains, their focus was on the here and now. The rivalry between the two camps seldom boiled over, however it was true that their priorities were different. Mara, for the most part, stayed impartial.

Jamie began to feel frustrated that she was the only one who seemed motivated to change her predicament in this space. She’d seen G-ma get a knitting bag, and could borrow Mara’s hairbrush, but she desperately wanted more. The mental games that Mrs. Corum tried to get her to do seemed foolish and less than exciting after the prospect of free stuff crept into her head. And while Ryan was on her side, he didn’t seem as interested as she was.

“Ryan, I don’t get it – you’re no fan of my sister, why would you not want her to give us things – doesn’t she owe it to us for keeping us here?”

“I guess, Jamie. But as long as I don’t feel like my insides are on fire, I’m not too worried.”

“Oh you’ll just go on those magical walks of yours, and then everything seems fine, while I stay here and rot. I love my G-ma, but I can’t take knitting 24-7 here. Maybe I’ll just have to go with you on a walk sometime”

Ryan thought over that statement, carefully choosing how he wanted to reply.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea”, he said, although a nagging thought in the back of his head told him it might be. That confused him.

“Why not?”, Jamie said in reply.

“Uh… because I like to be alone”, was all Ryan could come back with. That afternoon, he sat there, and became more and more perplexed as he thought about Jamie’s request. Why would he ever want her to learn about the light valley? It was the only thing that got him through this place, and he genuinely felt better every time he returned after it. His trips had become less and less frequent – it was almost as if the light was having longer and longer effects on him.

Finally, a voice rang out in his head, clear as a bell

‘TAKE HER”

Ryan almost tipped over backwards as he sat on the ground when he heard that. Take her to the light valley?

“Ryan?”, Jamie said as she walked up to him from behind.

“Uh… yeah?”, Ryan replied.

“I want you to take me on a walk… I feel like it would be good for me”. Jamie said, nervously.

“Uh… why?”, Ryan stammered.

“I don’t know, I just do… it’s almost as if something is pushing me to go for a walk with you. I keep hearing voices in my head telling me to go, and if I don’t go, I think I might go insane”.

“Then I guess we should go”, Ryan said, reluctantly.


“Maybe the mountains weren’t about activity”, Sara Beth said to Mrs. Corum and G-ma. Mara sat nearby as well, although she wasn’t too interested in the conversation.

“I suppose that’s possible, but it certainly seems like colors here mean something”, Mrs. Corum replied, with G-ma chiming in “Yeah, colors in the sky are emotions, colors on the mountain is activity”.

“There is just still so much about this place we don’t know”, Sara Beth said, while looking down to make sure Sonic was still at her feet in his ball.

In the days since G-ma got her knitting bag, she had become less and less interested in talking about the world around her. It was almost as if she was in her own little world, delighted and preoccupied. The other two women understood this, but at a time when they both seemed to disagree on the proper way to handle their situation, it had come at a bad time.

Ryan and Jamie had gone off for a walk together, and frustrated, Sara Beth left Mrs. Corum and G-ma and want over to Mara. Sitting down out of earshot, Mara asked Sara Beth what was wrong.

“I just don’t know what to make of any of this anymore”, she replied, “I think I might be getting close to a breakdown of my own”.

“I’ve been there”, Mara said wistfully, “know the feeling well”.

As the two sat together, Mara searched for a new subject to distract her friend.

“Want to watch a movie on my phone? I know it’s the same 3 as last time, but it’s still something”.

“Naw, not in the mood”

“What about Sonic – maybe we could play with him”

“Naw, I don’t think that will help my mood either”.

“We could go learn to knit”, the words burned Mara’s mouth as she spoke them, she really didn’t want to learn how to knit.

“Naw, I’m not in the mood for that either”. Mara felt a sense of relief.

“What do you want to do then?”, Mara asked.

“I dunno”.

This was very frustrating for Mara. She was trying to be a good friend, trying to help Sara Beth out, but it didn’t seem to be working very well. Was this what friendship was like?

Mara had never really had any friends in her pre-grey life. She’d been close to her parents before the events of the last five years started, and during those years, she hadn’t really wanted to get close to anyone since it always seemed that they simply turned out to be full of eventual pain. Now she had a friend, but couldn’t figure out how to be a good friend. This was just so frustrating.

“I don’t know how to be a friend”, Mara exclaimed.

“What?”, Sara Beth asked quizzically.

“I keep trying to cheer you up, I keep trying to make you feel better, and none of it works. I don’t know how to be a friend”, Mara said once more.

“You’re doing a fine job”, Sara Beth said. Seeing Mara’s confused look, she elaborated. “Friends don’t just exist to make each other feel better, Mara, sometimes they’re just there to help you out. To be there for you if needed. To support you. You’re supporting me. You talk to me. You help me. That’s all someone can ask of a friend”.

“Really?”, Mara asked.

“Yes”

A few moments passed before Mara spoke again.

“Sara Beth, what do you want from Julie? Jamie seems to want things, maybe Ryan too. G-ma got her knitting bag. What would you want?”

“I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it too much. I guess maybe something to read, or maybe something to wear other than my dress from school. What about you?”

“I only wanted one thing in the last few years, and that was a friend. I’ve got that now, so I guess I’m out of things to ask for.”

The two girls smiled at each other. Mara’s last line may have sounded corny to some, but they both knew how true it was.


“Where are we going”

“I told you’d ya it would take awhile to get there”

“Yeah, but where is ‘there’ – what are we walking toward”

“Apparently somewhere that you’re supposed to visit. Somewhere I ran into a few weeks ago. It made this place bearable for me, maybe you’re supposed to go there too and it will help you”

“Help me? Help me what?”

“Deal with this place. Deal with the boringness of it. Deal with being inside Julie’s head”

“It helped you?”

“I always come back happier, don’t I?”

“Yeah, I just figured that you were going a little bit more insane each time”

“Naw, this thing actually works… I don’t know how, but it seems to”

“How far away are we?”

“We’re actually pretty close – I recognize the sky here. It should be right over that hill”

“Good, So what is it?”

“It’s kinda hard to explain – I think it has something to do with how this place messes with your mind. This place really messes with it, but I guess in a good way.

“Sounds interesting.”

“Yep, here it is, right over….”

“Where? I don’t see anything”

“It’s right here, or at least it’s supposed to be right here”.

The two intrepid explorers walked into the formerly light filled valley.

“It feels a little warm here”, Jamie said, walking around.

“Yeah… its supposed to be a lot warmer”, Ryan said, as he paced around the valley, “It’s not supposed to be like this. It wasn’t like this last time I was here. That wasn’t too long ago! Maybe 4 or 5 days.”

“What was it like before?”

Ryan described the light valley to Jamie, in the way that he’d always seen it, and the same way that Mrs. Corum and G-ma had found it long ago.

“Look up there”, Jamie said as she pointed toward the sky, “It almost looks like what you described – almost looks like a parting, but it’s really hard to make it out”.

Ryan looked up and saw the spot that Jamie pointed to. He looked down at where it should point to, using approximately the same angle he remembered from the last time. Sure enough, a tiny pinprick of light was still barely visible on the ground.

“Jamie – come over here – stand here”, he said, as he positioned her into the light.

“Whoa… that’s kinda… nice?”, Jamie said as she stood directly into the light’s path. Its power had clearly diminished. Gone was the stream of light that had intoxicated Mrs. Corum and G-ma, and had been the regular source of inspiration for Ryan. Now a weak version remained. Clearly something was wrong here.

“I guess stand in it as long as you can”, Ryan said, “Maybe something will still work”.

As it grew closer to dim, the light slowly faded even more. Finally it appeared to be gone, and Jamie walked out of it’s path.

“I don’t care anymore”, Jamie said, half resigned, half astonished.

“What do you mean?”, Ryan said.

“The whole way here, all I could think of was what wonderful thing you were gonna give me or share with me. I had decided that I was going to take it back to the group, and show it off – I thought you’d found something physical, like G-ma’s knitting bag. I’d imagined all sorts of things it could be – something obviously you would want to keep to yourself. But now I don’t care about it anymore. I don’t even care about getting stuff really. I guess I feel kind of happy, but not excited happy. It’s hard to explain.”

“No, I understand… it’s kinda what I felt each time I’d stand in the light. But now the light’s gone… almost like it ran out.”

They sat in the valley overnight, and the next morning, the light appeared again ever so slightly.

“We have to get back and tell the others about this”, Jamie said. Ryan wanted to protest. He wanted to save whatever was left for himself. But in the end, something pushed him from that. The light had helped him come to peace with this place. Perhaps that was it’s true function. Maybe it should be shared, whatever of it was left.

Chapter 21: Dark Thoughts

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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.

Continue reading “Chapter 21: Dark Thoughts”

Chapter 18: Torment and Resent

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The next day the mountains turned red once more, and the cycle repeated itself. The following day, however, they lit up sporadically, but no flash of red appeared, and no pain or despair came upon the group. Ryan had stood up early that morning and decided to go for a walk, shrugging off the suggestions of others that he stay back. If he was going to be in pain, he reasoned, then it didn’t matter where. No one could help him anyway. Thankfully, though, he likely escaped pain free that day.

Back at the group, about midway through the day, a different event happened that caused excitement.

“Oh my! I can’t believe it!!!”, G-ma said as she looked to her side. She’d been sitting with Mrs. Corum to her right, talking with her about everything and nothing, and didn’t notice a bag that appeared next to her, seemingly out of nowhere.

“What is that?”, Mrs. Corum exclaimed. It was the first new thing to ever appear for either of them, excluding living people.

“It’s my knitting bag!”, G-ma said, amazed and nearly speechless, “I haven’t seen it in so long”. Quickly she opened the bag, and tears of joy streamed down her face. “It has everything in it! Everything I ever needed. Needles, patterns, yarn, markers, absolutely everything. And wait… I never owned this…”

She reached into the bag and pulled out several skeins of yarn.

“Feel this”, she said as she handed the yarn to Mrs. Corum.

“Feels like yarn?”, Mrs. Corum replied. Obviously Mrs. Corum did not appreciate the finer points of fiber arts.

“Oh you wouldn’t understand… Jamie!”, G-ma called out. Jamie, a bit farther out, turned to face them and was shocked to see G-ma holding the yarn.

“Where did you get that?”, Jamie asked, excitedly.

“I don’t know! It just appeared here a few moments ago. Come over here and feel this”.

Jamie obediently came over and sat down next to G-ma. Holding the yarn, she began to speak in amazement.

“This is the softest yarn I’ve ever felt – it’s not coarse or stringy, and the dye job is beautiful”.

“I know, dear”.

As they sat there, a torrent of yarn-speak came forth, with Mrs. Corum tuning out after they began talking about what sort of animal the yarn had come from. Sadly it had no marking on it.

“Ladies…. Can we talk about what happened?”, Mrs. Corum interjected.

“Uh… sure”, G-ma said, “Just let me get started on something here. I haven’t had real needles and yarn in so long!”. G-ma grabbed a size eight needle and the yarn.

“I’m going to knit a scarf!”, G-ma said excitedly.

“That’s great…so where do you think that yarn came from”, Mrs. Corum asked.

“I don’t know… and I really don’t care”, G-ma said.

It was obvious that Mrs. Corum wasn’t going to get much out of G-ma or Jamie. So she got up and began to walk toward where Mara and Sara Beth were sitting.

“What’s going on over there”, Sara Beth asked. She wasn’t close enough to hear the commotion, but could tell something interesting had occurred.

Mrs. Corum explained what she’d seen, and both Sara Beth and Mara were left speechless.

“G-ma is so preoccupied with the arrival of her knitting bag that I don’t think she realizes how weird this truly is, or what it could mean. If it is the case that Julie can ‘control’ us in some ways, or can create a reality for us, she could also give us things. Maybe the knitting bag is the first step. Maybe somehow G-ma signaled to Julie she wanted her knitting bag, and that’s how she got it.”

“Well, she has been knitting here for 8 years without yarn or needles”, Sara Beth observed, “That’s a pretty strong signal”.

“Perhaps. I just hope we don’t have to spend 8 years before we get something nice”, Mrs. Corum replied.

Mara eyed Sara Beth, wondering if this might be the point at which Sara Beth mentioned Mara’s purse. But Sara Beth stayed quiet. Mara felt relieved.

After Mrs. Corum had left, Mara looked at Sara Beth and quietly spoke.

“Jamie knows why Julie would suddenly start handing out presents”

“Should we talk to her about it”

“We can try”


 

“Jamie”, Sara Beth said as they walked toward the girl. She was sitting next to G-ma, watching her knit.

“Yeah… what do you want?”, she replied, obviously not interested in interacting with Sara Beth.

“Mara wanted me to ask you to come see her.”

Jamie was torn. On one hand, she wanted to know what Mara wanted. The girl was an enigma, that so far only Sara Beth seemed to be special enough to crack. Perhaps Mara was getting tired of Sara Beth, and wanted to be friends with Jamie. On the other hand, Jamie was quite happy watching G-ma knit, and learning how to do it herself.

“Go off and see her”, G-ma said, urging her granddaughter to be more social.

“Fine”, Jamie said, getting up and walking in front of Sara Beth on the way to where Mara liked to sit.

As she went over the small hill, she was shocked by what she saw in Mara’s hand.

“Come sit in front of me”, Mara said. In her right hand she held a simple hair brush, the kind that secretly, Jamie had dreamed about since coming here. It was bad enough that all she was wearing was a nightshirt and underwear, but the fact that her hair was a complete disaster had always bothered her.

“I’ll brush your hair out for you”

Jamie eagerly accepted the offer, sitting in front of the older girl as Mara gently began to brush her hair out. Jamie hadn’t ever had a haircut, other than simply work done to trim split ends. She’d insisted that she wanted long, flowing locks, and her parents had allowed it. Her sister kept her hair trimmed to about the middle of her back, whereas Jamie’s reached at least 4 inches lower. She would normally spend 20 minutes or so brushing her hair each morning before school, and it was always easier if someone else would help, like her mom, or in years past, Julie.

“Thanks…”, Jamie said as she felt her hair finally get under control.

“Don’t thank me, thank Sara Beth – she’s the one who noticed my hair brush and suggested you might like to use it. I’d been so preoccupied with this place that I didn’t realize it.”

“Uh… Thanks Sara Beth”, Jamie said, with slight hesitation.

“Sara Beth is always doing those caring things for others”, Mara said, as she continued to brush the younger girl’s hair.

“Uh… yeah”

Mara knew that, if she were to get anywhere with Jamie, she’d need to start slow. Over the next hour, they chatted about a number of topics, with Mara showing extreme restraint every time Jamie said something that was mildly infuriating to the girl who had spent most of her life as an outcast. Jamie had bought into a lot of the cultural aspects that Mara never found important, and the thought crossed her mind that in the real world, Jamie would have despised Mara for not ‘fitting in’, much like she despised Sara Beth for being a better sister to Julie than Jamie was. This was an angle that Mara could use.

“It’s funny”, Mara began, “In the real world, we’d probably never be friends. And here I am, brushing your hair like girlfriends do for each other”

“Yeah… I guess I wouldn’t have thought you’d want to have been my friend – you are kind of…”

“Weird?”

“Uh… yeah…”, Jamie said, self consciously.

“It’s OK, I know what people think of me”, Mara replied, reassuring her.

“Doesn’t it bother you?”, Jamie asked.

“Not anymore, it used to bother me a lot though. It used to really hurt me that others found me so different and would make judgments about me. They didn’t know me, and it felt like all they did was try to hurt me.”

At the last few words of that sentence, Jamie flinched slightly. Mara suspected she may have struck a nerve, figuratively speaking.

“Have you ever been hurt by others?”, Mara asked.

“Just my sister… she doesn’t like me as much as she likes other people”

“Why do you think that is?”

“I don’t know…”

“Well, something must have happened to make her like you less. After all, you are sisters”.

This line of questioning took awhile, with Jamie dodging around the issue, and Mara re-focusing back on Julie and Jamie’s relationship. Finally, Jamie couldn’t dodge any longer. Mara had asked about what Julie and Jamie did together over the past few years.

“I guess Julie doesn’t like playing with me anymore, cause of what I say”, Jamie said, as she moved away from Mara and ran her fingers through her hair. It was long and straight, no more clumps or mats.

“What do you say?”, Mara said, as Jamie turned to face her.

“I guess I kind of figured out how to get to her”, Jamie said, “But it was just for fun – she’d get so upset, and I’d keep kinda, you know, poking at her. Saying stuff that would get her riled up until she finally went a little crazy at me”

“Crazy?”

“Yeah… anytime she’d get really, really angry with me, she’d kinda cry and then start mumbling the craziest stuff. She’d talk about how she was gonna get me back, how she’d… make me feel the same pain she did…”

“How would she do that?”

“Uh… I don’t remember”

“I think you might, if you want to borrow my hair brush in the future, you’ll tell me”. Mara felt it might be time to use the biggest threat she had available.

“She said… that she wished I’d burn up with the same embarrassment and rage she felt… she described it like a fire burning within her”.

As soon as she let it out, things began to make sense to Mara and Sara Beth, but they weren’t prepared for what Jamie said next.

“If I made fun of her further, then she’d really go a little nuts, and talk about how she’d change things. She’d talk about G-ma, and her friends, and other people, and how she imagined they all had these wonderful lives, with cool stuff, and fun adventures.”

As Mara and Sara Beth watched, a thought occurred to Jamie.

“She always talked about giving G-ma 100% baby alpaca yarn, as much as she wanted, to make whatever she wanted from it”

“I think we might know why the knitting bag appeared today”, Mara replied.


 

As the reality of the situation set in, the characters all took stock of how life might change. It seemed that things were really getting pushed to the extreme for Julie, on a regular basis, if she’d actually started imaging the physical items she’d give to people vividly enough in her mind as for them to appear. G-ma was happy she had her yarn, but wasn’t sure if it was worth it, knowing how Julie might be feeling.

The red mountain tops had stopped appearing regularly, which they took to mean that perhaps Ryan and Julie weren’t having their meetings anymore. It could be summer, or perhaps Ryan wasn’t getting to her as badly. No new items had appeared since the knitting bag a few days earlier, and the group wondered if Julie needed to get upset to make new items appear, or if perhaps she just needed to use her imagination, even when happy, to manifest them. So many questions.

But what nobody expected was what happened between Jamie and Sara Beth after the hair brushing (Incidentally, Mara was happy to loan her hairbrush around to the rest of the group, as long as it came back to her. She also told the others that it was the only thing in her purse, and strangely, no one pressed her on that strange fact). Jamie and Sara Beth were, amazingly, on speaking terms with each other. Apparently Jamie had decided that, perhaps, she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life angry at 20% of the population she knew presently. Or perhaps in revealing her secret, she felt little need to stay so angry, realizing that perhaps she was somewhat to blame for the way that Julie felt about her.

Sara Beth welcomed having Jamie behaving in a less hostile way, however she felt she’d probably remain skeptical of Jamie’s motives for at least some time. After all, while it might be nice to instantly make a friend, it didn’t seem to work that way in the real world. Nonetheless, it appeared that after the events of the previous week, life may be calming down a bit inside the mind of Julie McKay.

Chapter 17: Pain

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When Mara turned 13, she decided that she was entitled to at least one night free of torment, so she decided to sneak out around 7 PM and go see a movie with her friend Jessica. Her dad didn’t like her out after dark, so generally she didn’t sneak out until after he was asleep, around 9 or 10 PM. This night, however, she felt it was OK to risk his wrath if she was caught.

Before she left her room, she decided to take a few precautions. Using the webcam on her computer, she set up a video stream so she could hear what was going on. It was very rare her parents ever set foot inside her bedroom, usually they just called out to her and waited for her to answer. Using a bit of technical know-how, she rigged up the speakers in her room to play whatever she sent them through her cell phone. So this way, if her parents started calling out, she could placate them enough to get home and get back to her room before they would open the door. She thought it was a pretty brilliant plan, as many adolescents thing before the experience of the real world reminds them that things are seldom that easy.

She was right about one thing – the webcam certainly did allow her to hear what was going on. As the movie started, she inserted one earbud from her phone to keep an ear on her room at home, while the video streamed into her pocket.

As was her luck, that was the night her parents decided to call up to her at 8:30, and she heard it as she sat in the theatre. Springing up from her seat, she darted out into the hallway and out the exit. Jessica wasn’t at all shocked – she knew this was possible – however she was amazed at the speed with which Mara moved. Mara lived about 10 minutes from the movie theatre, so hopefully she’d make it home in time.

Desperately trying to not sound out of breath, she tapped on the button that would allow her to talk through her phone to the speakers in her room. Her mom was calling up to her, and she yelled back that she’d be down in just a minute. However something was wrong – Mom kept yelling. Frantically Mara raced home, wondering what was wrong with her setup. She briefly thought of calling the house phone from hers, under the ruse that she wasn’t able to come down right now but would be there in a moment, but knew that this angered her father, so she decided not to risk it. Another decision she’d regret later.

About 5 minutes from home she pulled her phone from her pocket and watched the video stream. It was no longer her mother just calling her, her dad had started yelling up as well. This was getting bad, and Mara prayed for a few more moments before her parents were motivated enough to get up and investigate. Sadly she didn’t get them. As she watched, her father burst into her bedroom, and instantly figured out what was going on. Unaware she was watching, his fury let loose as he screamed about his ungrateful daughter, using dozens of other words in the process that were far less complimentary. When she got outside her home, she could tell that things were much worse than they ever had been before, when she heard noises coming from the second floor clear out to the street. She briefly thought of running away for good – never opening the door to the pain that awaited. Now as she sat thinking of the story and telling it to Sara Beth, she wished she had. Instead she went into the house, found her bedroom room in shambles, and found her father waiting for her with a crazed angry look in his eye. It took several weeks for her to completely heal physically. Emotionally, she doubted she’d ever heal.

Sara Beth listened to the story, patiently waiting as Mara worked through the more difficult parts. At the end, she hugged Mara, which was not what Mara was expecting, but she wasn’t opposed to the idea either.

“Why did you tell me that story today?”, Sara Beth asked, “I don’t mean that it wasn’t something you shouldn’t have told me – don’t get me wrong – you can tell me whatever you need to – I’m just curious what brought it up”

“That”, Mara said as she pointed toward the mountains in the distance.

“What about them?”, Sara Beth replied. The mountains and their strange colors had moved into the ranks of the mundane for all except Mara, who pointed out their strange behavior the day before, and would today.

“There isn’t any activity today”, Mara said, “If the activity happens when Julie is active, she doesn’t seem to be very active right now”.

“Yeah, she doesn’t, but what does that have to do with the story”.

“The problem that night at my house was that I was too quiet. My mom told me later that they were used to me making noise – music, TV, something. When they heard nothing, the got suspicious and worried. The irony is that I thought about that in advance, and had music just loud enough to be heard outside the door set up to play while I was gone. Just one problem – before I left I forgot to turn my speakers on. So no music, and no “calling back” to Mom and Dad as they called me. I might have saved myself a lot of pain if I’d just checked that button on the front of the speaker.”

“Mistakes – we all make them”, Sara Beth said reluctantly.

“It was quiet – too quiet – just like those mountains”


 

As it turned out, the mountains didn’t stay dark for long. A few hours later, a few colors danced across their tops, and the group became hopeful that perhaps normality was returning. But the hope didn’t last long, as a blood red color appeared on the tops. Ryan, who came back earlier that day, began to nervously pace, hoping that a repeat of yesterday was not in store.

However about an hour after they watched the tops of the mountains begin to turn, Ryan began clutching his stomach. The same pain as yesterday came flooding back to him. It lasted approximately the same amount of time as it had the day before. As it ended, like clockwork, Sara Beth broke into tears, with G-ma following after her. Nothing had happened to the others.

That night, the group tried to make sense of the events.

“Is it going to keep happening?”, Sara Beth asked, “Well, I know no one knows if it will, but do you think it will?”

Ryan, exhausted from the ordeal, spoke up with a shaky but calm voice.

“I think it will keep going as long as whatever is bothering Julie keeps bothering her.”

“But what could that be?”, Sara Beth replied.

“Perhaps she’s being reminded of something each day, of something sad. Maybe she found out that you’re moving, Sara Beth”, Mrs. Corum offered.

“Or perhaps she isn’t doing very well in school, or her home life is a mess – both possibilities”, G-ma added.

“I guess so”, said Sara Beth.

Curiously absent from the conversation was Jamie, who appeared to be interested but not inclined to talk. Mara eyed her suspiciously.

“I just wish it didn’t target me”, Ryan said, “You know, maybe it could share the wealth”, flashing a slight grin. He was only half joking – at age 12 all ideals that may become altruism in the future are absent. Ryan would have given this torture to any of the others in a heartbeat. But unfortunately, he had no say in it.

“I don’t know what it means when one person is hurting and two others are crying”, Mrs. Corum began, “Unless somehow Julie is doing something with all three of you in the real world. Maybe it translates to us somehow”.

“Well, it would probably then go in order of when Julie sees us”, Ryan said, “She’d see me at school, then Sara Beth, and then G-ma later in the day”.

“Yeah, but she’s been doing that for months, if not longer, why are we feeling this now?”, Sara Beth replied.

Mrs. Corum had a theory on that.

“Ryan… I’m not quite sure how to put this…”, Mrs. Corum began, “Did you make fun of Julie outside of class?”

Ryan looked down, averting his eyes from any of the others. It was the obvious body language of guilt. He surprised himself in that regard – the pangs of guilt he’d felt before had now bloomed into full regret for his behavior in the past.

“Yeah… I kinda noticed she was walking home a certain way, and thought about where I could find her along the route and who I could take with me to have some fun with her, at least that’s what I thought it was in my head. Just some harmless ‘fun’”. He stopped himself before he let out anything remotely like an apology. He wasn’t completely weak willed quite yet, he told himself.

“You were doing this before you came here?”, Mrs. Corum asked, in confusion.

“No, I thought to do it closer to the end of school, when there was less chance I could get in trouble. I figured the teachers would be busy with things, and that Julie wouldn’t say anything since it would have been over in just a few weeks.”

“I think I know what’s happening after that”, Sara Beth said. The look on Ryan’s face was somewhat one of relief – Mrs. Corum hadn’t seemed to happy to hear what he had to say, and he briefly wondered if he was in for a verbal dressing down akin to what had happened in class weeks ago.

“What is that, dear?”, G-ma said, urging her on.

“Whenever Julie had a bad day at school, she’d tell me about at ‘Other Worlds’”, Sara Beth began, “And I’d always try to just listen and then try to make her feel better. But in the past few months, it’s been harder and harder to help her. Nothing I could really say could make her feel any better. I’d get really frustrated, and I think she started to realize that. She wouldn’t always talk to me about it – sometimes she’d even tell me ‘Oh, it’s just going to make you sad cause there is nothing you can do about it’, and I’d have to insist she keep going, telling her not to worry about me”.

Off in the distance, Mara felt a bit relieved hearing this story, understanding that, perhaps, Sara Beth truly had no ulterior motives. She simply was a caring soul.

Next to Sara Beth, G-ma looked up to speak.

“She’d come over to my place sometimes, on her way home from daycare, especially if it had been a bad day. I’d try to cheer her up too… and I think she felt the same way about my reactions. It’s frustrating when you can’t help someone you love”.

Mrs. Corum looked at both of them, and Ryan, and began piecing a theory together.

“Here’s my guess. The mountains turn red when Ryan begins taunting Julie, and Julie runs off, heading to daycare. While going there, she imagines what she might want to happen to Ryan, in retaliation. Later, while talking to both Sara Beth and G-ma, she feels guilty for burdening them with her story, and imagines how they must be feeling inside. I think Julie might have the ability to do something this world can’t do on it’s own: Change how we feel or do, perhaps even how we think.”

This thought took them all by surprise, even Jamie who was desperately trying not to be involved in the conversation, yet still needed to be close enough to hear it.

“I always felt bad”, Mara said, as she walked closer to the group, “I always felt bad when others suffered because of what I was going through. Felt somehow responsible”.

“There’s nothing I can do here”, Ryan said, “Just hope that maybe I stop doing things in the real world”.

They all looked at him and nodded. They’d noticed such a change in him after the first few weeks he’d been here, but were still not quite ready to accept he might be changing before their eyes. He wasn’t ready to accept that either.

As the conversation trailed off, they gazed up at the mountains. No real activity, other than a burst of light here or there. It was getting close to dim, and Mara looked at Sara Beth. They’d been sitting together the last few dims, talking about their past. Mara looked forward to those times, as did Sara Beth.

After they left the large group, in an uncharacteristic twist, Sara Beth opened up to Mara.

“I don’t want to cry anymore”, Sara Beth said, “I don’t think I can handle it”.

“I know how that is”, Mara said, soulfully, “I’ve been there too”.

“How did you get through it”, Sara Beth asked.

“I didn’t… I still cry a lot about my past”

“Maybe we can get through it together?”

“Maybe”

The two young women hugged, and then sat next to each other as the sky darkened.

“Sara Beth”, Mara began.

“Yes?”

“Jamie knows something about this”

“How do you know?”

“It’s written all over her. She didn’t say a word while you guys were talking. She knows something about all of this that she isn’t sharing. It may be something really important, but she isn’t going to share until someone forces it out of her”

“What do you mean?”

“Someone needs to push her – she’ll deny she knows it but I can see it so clearly. You don’t go on for half a decade trying to hide something without knowing what that looks like in other people”

“What should we do?”

“I don’t know… I don’t know if I can get it out of her alone. I’m still not sure who to trust around here, other than you”.

Sara Beth smiled, taking the compliment.

“I guess we’ll try to talk to her about it tomorrow”

Chapter 16: Lows and Highs

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Sara Beth knew she couldn’t tell Mara’s secret to the rest of the group, but at the same time, she also thought it was something Mara might want to mention at some point since it would, likely, get the others to stop wondering so much about her. Sara Beth reasoned that it must be quite difficult to have others talking about you all the time, wondering about your intentions, and whispering about every little action you did. It would drive Sara Beth nuts to know it was happening, however it didn’t seem to be bothering Mara very much. Sara Beth wondered if Mara simply didn’t notice. Should she tell her? Would that make it worse or better? And what if (And this really threw Sara Beth for a loop), Mara knew about it and really didn’t care. This caused a great deal of conflict within Sara Beth – it was the first time she had ever realized that perhaps it wasn’t important for others to approve of you – Mara certainly didn’t seem to be caring if the others talked about her.

Continue reading “Chapter 16: Lows and Highs”