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”

Chapter 15: The Sins of the Father

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They’re all staring at me

Mara sat about 20 feet away from the rest of the group. It had been a tiring few hours with them. She’d learned all about their past, while successfully keeping them away from her’s. The boy had come back, and she learned his name was Ryan. He looked like he could be trouble for her, as many boys were, but at least he seemed pretty jovial after his walk. She wondered what his secret was.

Continue reading “Chapter 15: The Sins of the Father”

Chapter 14: Contact

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If I go out there, there is no coming back.

The girl sat alone in the park. It was near dusk, and the birds were beginning to fly up into the trees for the night. They didn’t like intruders mulling around below them, making a terrible racket whenever they sensed a disturbance. The girl hoped and prayed that perhaps they’d allow her to stay. She needed to be here, now, more than anything. She knew they wouldn’t be likely to understand. Birds don’t have to deal with the issues she had been dealing with.

She felt ashamed, deeply, deeply ashamed. It shouldn’t get to her like this, she thought, and that made her even more ashamed and guilty. She didn’t think it was her fault, but then again, no one had told her she was free from guilt. Others, however, did seem to think she had a hand in it. Whatever the reason or cause, she felt very unhappy that night, and she hoped the birds would show her some sympathy.

I don’t trust them.

This time she wasn’t in a park – she had ventured to a local shopping mall. She’d blend in well here, since there were others about her same age. She wondered what time the mall closed, and what time security would chase her out. If it closed at 9, she’d probably have until 9:30, provided that she kept moving until finally a guard told her it was time to go. Then she wasn’t sure where her next stop would be. The gas station on the corner wasn’t very reputable looking, and she’d tried that in the past with disastrous results. The park was an option, but perhaps somewhere new would be best.

As predicted, around 9:30 she was asked nicely, but firmly, to leave so the mall could be locked up. She left the bright fluorescent world and went out into the cold. It was around 30 degrees that night. She figured she wouldn’t want to be home until around 11:30, so for 2 hours she looked for somewhere to rest. A bus bench seemed like a good idea. She checked the schedule and found two busses that would be by. She could easily fake that she was waiting for the other, and at this hour, the drivers wouldn’t be back around. They’d be off and back home to their families. That thought, of the tired bus driver heading home to his wife and children made her tear up. She pictured herself as the wife, waiting for her loyal husband to return, tending to her children. It was all so enviable, so desirable. She wanted it to be her so badly.

By the time she came back to reality, the busses had stopped coming by her little bench. It was 10:45, and she knew that without busses coming by, the cops were bound to stop and ask her questions. She looked a lot older than she was, which was why the guard at the mall hadn’t asked her about why she was there alone so late. Cops rarely checked her for ID, which was good, because at her age, she didn’t have one quiet yet, except for her school’s library card.

It was a blessing and a curse to look older at her age. She’d developed early, or at least that’s what her teachers had told her. She knew something had happened as soon as the boys stopped avoiding her and instead began looking at her, staring her down while pretending to look another direction. Some days she wished she looked like the other girls again, to keep the boys at bay.

11:30 – enough time had passed now. She quietly walked toward home. No lights were on, but the key was easy to find. She’d been prepared this time – last week she’d found her dad’s oil can and oiled the hinges so they wouldn’t creak. She even lubed up the lock and handle mechanism so it turned silently. The preparations had paid off, even though at the time, she had hoped she wouldn’t have to make use of them. Silently she crept in, got up to bed, and feel into a restless sleep.

They’ve already seen me – they’ve already decided what they like about me.

Six months later the door had begun to creak again, however by that point, the rope ladder had been acquired. She’d found it out on the curb the previous month, a discarded portion of a child’s backyard treehouse. Each time she climbed it she would think of it’s original owner, wondering how many days he or she had climbed in excitement to get back up to the treehouse. She knew his or her name was Taylor, as she’d found a discarded piece of wood near the ladder bearing the name. Taylor was all grown up now, and didn’t need the treehouse anymore. The new owner of the rope ladder wished she could slide back in time, pre rope ladder, when she wouldn’t have needed it’s assistance.

It was sad that she found herself in this situation – it wasn’t supposed to be like that. She thought back to the trip to the mall, over a year ago, and the bus driver’s wife fantasy she’d had. It was a foolish fantasy of a girl just beginning to notice the effects of puberty. Now that she’d become accustomed to it’s effects as well as the way the world reacted to her transition from girlhood to womanhood, she took a much more jaded view of her future. What were the odds she’d find a decent bus driver husband? Previous experience didn’t seem to predict future success.

Climbing up the ladder, she was grateful it was dark. She didn’t need to worry about anyone nearby, looking up at her (and thus looking up her skirt), and also could climb slowly, careful not to touch too loudly on the outside of the house. Thankfully her window was on the far side of the house from the other bedrooms. She wondered if that was intentional, or just circumstance.

Into her bedroom, she quickly but quietly pulled the rope ladder up. It was getting increasingly hard to find a place to stash it, but she realized that under the mattress still worked pretty well for now. Had to put it in the middle, so that it wasn’t visible when the corners were lifted to put the sheets on, or else Mom would have found it. She carefully stowed the ladder and changed from her clothes into her pajamas. Picking out her clothing for tomorrow (the one day a week she could wear blue jeans, which was fine, since she only had one pair of blue jeans), she settled into her to-do list. Homework had been finished hours earlier. She thought of the essay she was supposed to be writing, but figured that she wouldn’t actually need it’s grade to pass the class. She could still get a D without it. She’d also finished her chores already, leaving her free to work on her own projects. Tonight that included work on removing a loose floorboard in just such a way that it could be easily put back in place. She’d found a tutorial on the Internet that spoke of this, and had the plans committed to memory. She’d grabbed a butter knife from the restaurant they’d been at last Saturday, and used that to gently loosen the edges of the board. Soon the rope ladder would have a new hiding spot.

As she worked, she thought of her former friends. She reasoned that at one point, she had actually been popular. But those days were long past. Tears dropped to the floor as she went about her task.

Why not, it’s better than going crazy watching them.


 

She decided to head out right after the sky brightened up for the day. The boy was off – she’d watched him long enough to realize that he left for awhile and then came back. The less the better. The two older women were sitting and talking, and the two girls were sitting conspicuously far from each other. She wondered why they didn’t get along, but drawing on her own past, could come up with a number of plausible reasons. She’d been in that situation before, she knew how relationships could look innocent and friendly on the surface, but in reality be deeply dysfunctional and hurtful. Same old story, just new people playing the roles.

She knew she was going to regret this. She always did regret opening up to other people – they never bothered to care about her anyway. Once she had tried talking to the man sitting next to her at the bus stop. He seemed friendly, and interested in what she had to say. He also seemed different than the others – he didn’t make lewd comments or ask her if she was one of ‘those kinds’ of girls. At least he didn’t initially. But after about 20 minutes he showed his true colors. Thankfully the bus came at exactly the right moment, and she hopped on board, begging the driver to simply drive off without fare, who did so, recognizing the look in her eyes and the situation before him.

But this place was too weird to stay away. She’d been hiding just over the hills for awhile now, circling to stay out of sight, moving quickly in and out of their midst as she could. She’d knocked over the girls shoes that last time she rushed by, and hastily put them back differently than they were. She knew that they noticed this, but could do nothing about it. She was surprised they didn’t bother to come look for her after that one. It was a sign, she was sure, that they didn’t care already. Otherwise they’d come find her on their own, right? Or maybe this strange place was inhabited by stranger people.

She meticulously planned out how she would approach them. What she would say, or more appropriately, what she wouldn’t say. They were going to ask questions. People always asked a lot of questions. At first she thought they asked the questions because they wanted to help her. But over time she realized they just wanted lurid details for their own use. She wasn’t into giving details, even if they weren’t particularly interesting. Best to keep some distance. She was going to need answers that wouldn’t arouse suspicion, so she quickly came up with some.

She also wanted answers – she’d been here for about a week and had no idea where she was. This place was really weird, and she hoped they had a better clue as to what it was than her guesses. Her guesses were that she was dead (unlikely, since nothing seemed to happen to her – no afterlife – no life at all actually), or that she was held captive (also unlikely, nobody would want to kidnap her). With her guesses falling flat, she was prepared to open up just enough to get the answers she wanted, without opening up too much. With answers prepared, she stood up and began to walk toward the group.

Before she was within sight, she stopped and paused – she hadn’t thought about if she should talk first or they should. In the past, whenever she had appeared friendly, people would behave the same way even if they weren’t to be trusted. She figured she’d let them make the first move. See how they reacted.

A few moments later, she got close enough they could see her. What they saw was a five foot seven inch young woman who looked to be around 16 years old, but in actuality was only 13. Slightly overweight, but by no means fat, and dressed in a black v-neck blouse and her only pair of blue jeans, she looked out of place within the rest of the group. Her black rain boots and long matted black hair further made her stand out among the group of women. Over her shoulder hung a black purse. On her face, dark makeup accentuated wrinkle lines not typical of someone so young in age, but typical of one so old in experience. She walked quietly and purposefully toward the group.

G-ma was the first to notice her and immediately they locked eyes. G-ma smiled, trying to put the new person at ease. As the others talked to G-ma they realized she was no longer listening, and turned to see what G-ma saw.

And while all four women knew it was impolite to stare, they had a hard time looking away. She just looked so different than them. For one thing, she really had a thing for the color black. If anything, this group had a love of grey and red, black wasn’t a color they saw often.

“Hello”, Mrs. Corum said, in a tone that wasn’t meant to be too cheerful and yet was also meant to be welcoming. Mrs. Corum had been in these situations before – approaching new children on the first days of class. She knew she’d have to be gentle.

Following her lead, G-ma spoke next “Hi dear, welcome”. G-ma referred to everyone as dear, but noticed the clear wince that the new visitor had to the term. She mentally made a note not to use it again.

They all looked at her, unsure what to say next.

Finally one action seemed to diffuse the tension. Sara Beth got up, holding her most precious possession, Sonic, in her hands. She walked over to the visitor and smiled.

“Hi, My name is Sara Beth, and this is my friend Sonic”.

The visitor looked down at the squirming hedgehog.

“I’ve never seen a pet hedgehog before”, she said in a low voice.

“They’re super fun – you just have to know how to hold them, and don’t get your fingers too close to their teeth.” Sara Beth then gave a quick lesson on how to hold little Sonic, and passed him off.

As she held Sonic, she almost let her guard down. These people seemed nice, and one of them even trusted her with her pet. But she’d been burned before. She briefly thought of jamming the hedgehog back into Sara Beth’s hands before running as fast and as far away as she could. This was too much and way too fast. She was holding another person’s pet! What happened to her plan to stay aloof, to learn what she needed to learn, and then decide purposefully if she wanted to stay with this group or if she wanted to go off on her own. She had plans that apparently she was breaking already.

But, alas, she was already here. Already committed. So instead, as she held Sonic (Who appeared to be fine with it), she simply looked at the group and spoke softly.

“My name is Mara”