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 7: Trapped

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The three ladies didn’t say much for a long time after they heard G-ma’s theory. While it wasn’t the only possible explanation for the place they had come to know as a reluctant home, it was one that seemed to make sense.

A number of realizations would wash over each of them over the next few days, with each reacting to it in their own way. The first realization was that they were, and likely would remain, permanently trapped in this space. All hope of going back to their previous lives was lost. After all, it’s not like the mind has a backdoor that allows one to grab onto the spinal cord and ride it like a fireman’s poll, or perhaps a front door that lets one slip out of the mouth. No, they existed as incorporeal beings in the mind of a 12 year old girl. A 12 year old girl that they knew well and felt sympathy and even love toward, but nevertheless, a 12 year old girl keeping them prisoner.

They knew rationally that she hadn’t tried to do it on purpose. They knew that she had simply made a copy of them in her mind in the flash of a moment. Their personality and persona had split off from them at that point, and now a version of each of them lived here, while the other half (or majority, perhaps), was off living their life. Up until this point, none of the three victims would have described their life as 100% fulfilling – each had her own regrets – but they’d always banked on the fact that if there was a life of theirs to live, they’d be living in it. Yes, they might have died, but nothing in their existence ever prepared them to live stuck behind while the rest of them enjoyed the world. This feeling of being ‘robbed’ of a future outside Julie McKay’s mind deeply impacted all of them, with G-ma showing the most visible signs of distress.

G-ma had always been totally enthralled by Mrs. Corum’s stories about Julie, just as any grandmother might be. The love she had for her granddaughter was palpable and real, as was the guilt she felt when she thought she might have abandoned her in this place or back at home. Finding out that all of this time she was likely within Julie’s mind confused her emotions greatly. On one hand, she was able to spend time with someone she could not spend enough time with as a little girl. On the other hand, she had no choice in the matter. It nagged at G-ma that perhaps Julie could tell what she now thought, and while her thoughts in the past focused on how sorry she was to Julie, her thoughts now focused more and more on how angry she was at her situation. Not angry at Julie, per say, but angry at the situation she found herself in. G-ma loved Julie in the real world, but did G-ma love Julie when trapped in her mind?

Mrs. Corum, on the other hand, did not seem to miss her life as much as G-ma or Sara Beth. She was a woman nearly ready to retire, ready to move on to a new part in her life, and frankly, scared at what might come in the future. Here she lived a life without pain, without need, and without want (for the most part). She had friends in G-ma and Sara Beth, and while she supposed she might have wanted to travel during her senior years, this was a place like no other that any of her friends had seen. Aside from the periodic rainstorm, it was a pretty vacation spot.

Sara Beth felt robbed for sure, but had no idea what she necessarily was being robbed of, and G-ma and Mrs. Corum did their best not to dwell on it in front of the girl. At age 12, your reality is school and free time. You don’t yet find a huge interest in sex, or career plans, or family plans. You simply go to school and then you do whatever you find fun. For Sara Beth, she didn’t have to worry about school any longer (a good thing for a 12 year old), and she had all the time she could want to have fun (also a good thing). She had friends (G-ma, Mrs. Corum, and Sonic), and a pretty good imagination, to occupy herself. The only thing she ever knew she missed were her parents and family. And she wished for new friends close to her age. However she figured that over time they might arrive – after all, her host, Julie, was also 12, and likely would meet more friends over the next few years. Perhaps over time this place would get filled up with dozens of people Sara Beth could meet. And she didn’t have to worry about her pet dying, ever, which was pretty cool.

One day, shortly after G-ma’s theory, Sara Beth remembered something that might be important. They figured that they were near the beginning of June, if the dimming roughly corresponded to when Julie went to sleep. Naps could be explained by shorter than usual dims. Mrs. Corum had mentioned that her birthday was June 1, and she used the opportunity in her class to have a communal birthday party for all of her students, rather than have small celebrations all year. Julie had mentioned to Sara Beth that she was looking forward to this party way back in April. Mrs. Corum apparently threw a bit of a blowout that students would hear about all year. Slyly sneaking in educational experiences, Mrs. Corum could justify an entire day of fun, in which kids would learn math through buying and selling candy, learn reading through classroom-wide book scavenger hunts, learn social studies by electing a Birthday Manager, and learn science by dissecting birthday cake. The students didn’t even care that they were tricked into learning on this day, it was just fun to spend a whole day at a massive birthday party.

The three women realized that Julie would likely feel really happy that day, and that perhaps it would match up with the types of events going on in Julie’s mind. One morning, shortly after dim, G-ma felt a sudden onset of warmth. Realizing that this might be important, since Julie often called G-ma before special days as part of a ritual she’d done since childhood, all three began watching for signs of happiness, whatever that may be.

A few hours later, Mrs. Corum began to feel the warmth that G-ma had described. Perhaps this meant that Julie was in class and happy about something her teacher had done. Further evidence came when the sky turned a slight hue of blue, instead of it’s usual ashy gray appearance. It wasn’t the same copperish tone they’d seen before the earthquakes, and in deed, no earthquake came.

Toward the end of the day, the warm feeling left Mrs. Corum and came to Sara Beth, and oddly, little Sonic too – he spread out on his back and looked up toward the sky, with what you would swear was an expression of bliss.

After that day, it seemed to make sense that what they felt internally had something to do with what Julie felt. They wondered if the connection might go the other way, but didn’t dare try it. They didn’t want to accidentally hurt Julie, and bring about another earthquake, rain, or even a flood. And they began to fear what might happen if their counterparts in the real world hurt Julie – would it be taken out on them like some mystical voodoo doll of the mind. What if G-ma didn’t come through with the handmade gift she said she would on Julie’s next birthday? What if Mrs. Corum assigned a lower than expected mark? What if Sara Beth got angry again. What if Sonic pricked her? In an ironic twist, in a state that should ease the mind, given the fact that no pain was present in it, the threat of pain became a principal worry.

In addition to the worry the three women had of how Julie would treat them, came the realization that, if this situation wasn’t unique to Julie, they may have treated others in the same ways in the past.

G-ma began to wonder if that moment she so tenderly burned into her mind, of Edgar waiting for her at the end of the church aisle, might have captured a 20 year old Edgar forever in her mind. Certainly she could picture him clearly when she was on Earth, perhaps because she had him locked away in the vault of memories. And while she didn’t talk about it to the others, she suspected they realized that they might also have housed copies of their friends and family in their consciousness. Maybe this is why memories became so hard to recall when in this place. All of the years she had known Edgar, she’d had him mentally walking around her brain. A brain that presumably still belonged to the other G-ma in the real world. The copy G-ma, while able to think about things, didn’t have the advantage of copy Edgar, thus it took her longer to remember his existence than it otherwise would have. She felt a bit of relief after 2 years of guilt – after all, one doesn’t take it lightly that one forgot about their spouse for 6 years.

Small talk dominated those first few days, while the ladies sat, walked, or paced with nothing of importance to say. Too much to come to grip with. Too much to think about in such a short span of time for some of them. Mrs. Corum and Sara Beth had been there less than a month still, G-ma’s extra time, though, did not seem to help her come to grips with it all any easier than the rest.


“What do we do now”, Sara Beth asked.

The ladies were out for a walk. Growing tired of exploring, they were going to go back to G-ma’s original spot so G-ma could show Sara Beth her air knitting, describing the pieces that she’d done over her years of captivity.

“We keep walking until we get there, dear”, G-ma said with a smile.

But the time for small talk was over for Sara Beth, and she asked the question again.

“No, I know what we’re doing right now… what do we do now that we know where we are”.

“I don’t think we can do much”, Mrs. Corum said.

“And the things we could do, we don’t know what the effect of them would be”, G-ma added.

“Am I going to grow older?”, Sara Beth asked.

It was a good question, one that neither Mrs. Corum or G-ma gave much thought to. The only one who had been here long enough to notice any signs of aging was G-ma, and she looked as befuddled as the rest.

“Dear, when you get to be my age, you kind of stop updating your mental picture”, she began, “Right now, you can probably close your eyes and imagine what you look like. Go ahead, give it a try”.

They women stopped, and Sara Beth gave it a go.

“Describe yourself”, G-ma said.

Sara Beth proceeded to describe herself, with good detail and accuracy – the other two women congratulated her on doing something she felt was not necessarily a big deal. Then G-ma completed her point.

“Dear, when I do that same thing… when I close my eyes”, G-ma paused and closed her eyes, “I see a beautiful young woman in her mid-20s, bouncing all around the house getting things ready for her husband to come home. I see myself wearing my favorite house dress, the one that caused Edgar to be unable to keep his hands off of me when he came home” Spying the look of confusion or perhaps something else in Sara Beth’s eyes, G-ma quickly clarified “He’d hug me every day when he got home, and we’d eat dinner and talk about our plans. I see that woman when I close my eyes. Then I open them and look down at my hands, and realize that I’m not that woman anymore, no matter how hard I try to be. So you see, Dear, I don’t know if I’ve aged. I may have, but if I have, I’ve tried to block it out as best as I could”.

The three women smiled and chuckled at the last comment.

“And even if you had noticed changes in appearance, the biggest way we know our age is really the minor aches and pains!”, Mrs. Corum added, “And we have none of those anymore. So not only do I see myself as a young person in their mid 20’s, I feel like it too!”.

“Subtle benefits of this place!”, G-ma said with a laugh.

“Well that’s great for the two of you, but I’d like to see my mid 20’s. I’m still as short as I was in third grade. I want to grow taller, I want to be mature… I want to have children… and a family… and more than this”. Sara Beth collapsed into a heap, with Sonic and his ball at her side. G-ma and Mrs. Corum sat next to her. They’d been wondering when she’d have her first breakdown over being in this place. Up until then, she would get sad and worried, but they could tell that this time she could actually appreciate the situation that she was in. This time she was realizing just what would happen to her, or in reality, what wouldn’t happen.

“There there”, G-ma said as she wrapped her arms around Sara Beth.

“Dear, you may not have grown taller, but you’ve definitely matured since you got here.”


The day after Sara Beth’s breakdown, the group decided to explore a new direction they hadn’t been to before. The older women felt it might be good for Sara Beth, and perhaps them as well. After all, this place held secrets that it seemed could be revealed at any time. Prior to Mrs. Corum’s arrival, it had never rained. Prior to Sara Beth’s arrival, the sky had never been anything other than gray, let alone blueish as it was on the day of the birthday party. Perhaps they’d meet a new friend, or discover a new land.

What they found, however, was a new phenomenon, one that would prove to be very beneficial while also very dangerous at the same time.

The trio (plus Sonic in his ball) wandered toward the unchartered lands. While they knew something was off in the distance in one direction, they decided time would be available to look into it later. Instead they went in the opposite direction, perpendicular to Mrs. Corum’s & G-ma’s spots. The horizon appeared utterly usual in its appearance, making it all the more attractive. Perhaps it held something that could not be seen from a distance.

As they got around 8 hours from where they started, they happened along an unusual formation of ground. Whereas ground in Julie’s mind tended to be lumpy, but seldom had hills or valleys, this almost looked like a steep drop. It lasted but a few feet, with a small hill on either side. Sara Beth decided that she and Sonic would roll down to the bottom, while G-ma and Mrs. Corum walked about 20 feet away, along the side of the ridge where it wasn’t as steep. When the three of them met up at the bottom of the hill, they realized something was different.

“I feel warm”, G-ma said.

“Me too”, Mrs. Corum replied.

“Yeah, me too”, chimed in Sara Beth. Perhaps Sonic was too, but he wasn’t talking.

“It’s different than on the day of the birthday – it’s not as pointed toward me”, G-ma said.

“Do you think Julie is thinking good thoughts about all of us at the same time?”, Sara Beth asked.

“I doubt it”, replied Mrs. Corum, “It wasn’t often she’d see all 3 of us together at the same time in her daily life. But now that you mention it, today might have been important to her. It’s around 5 days after my birthday party – that should put it around the last day of school. Perhaps Julie is just generally happy.”

“No, this is more intense than her usual happiness”, G-ma said. “Previous years I’d felt warmth at different times, times I now think were probably major milestones in my Julie’s life – perhaps her first day of school, her birthday, and others. But this is so much more widespread and intense.”

As the three stood and marveled, they had another realization.

“I don’t want to leave”, Mrs. Corum said.

“Neither do I”, Sara Beth replied.

G-ma stood there with her mouth slightly agape, as if she was experiencing something akin to joy for the first time in many months. The others looked at her as they realized a ray of light had enveloped her. They looked up at the sky and saw the most amazing sight – something that looked like the sun was peaking through grey walls. It had caught G-ma.

“Do you think we should do something about this?”, Sara Beth asked.

Mrs. Corum wasn’t sure. As she started to speak, the ray shifted, and now enveloped both her and G-ma.

“Hey… you two… HEY….”, Sara Beth called. With every ounce of her being, she withdrew from the little valley. The feeling as she stepped back out of it was cold, almost as though she’d just taken a freezing shower. Within a few minutes, the feeling passed, however she had to fight the urge to step back inside the warm space of the valley. She watched as her two friends stay there, transfixed at the sun.

“I’ll just wait until it dims”, She told Sonic. “Once it dims, they’ll break free and come out with me”.

But Sara Beth knew this was a long shot. Somehow she knew that the longer one stayed inside the valley, the harder it was to leave. Within a few minutes, she realized she needed to come up with a plan.

“I’ve got it”, she proclaimed to Sonic, as she put his tether down. She walked about 50 feet away from the sharp gradient and began to run. As she got to the top of the grade, she took a leap, propelling her out away from the hillside and down into the valley. She landed squarely on G-ma and Mrs. Corum, before all three of them were pushed out of the light and back to the outskirts of the valley.

Immediately both Mrs. Corum and G-ma got up and began walking back toward the sun. Sara Beth needed to act fast. She quickly ran out of the valley to grab Sonic’s tether, which she then took and tied to the legs of her friends. Thankfully they did not move too quickly! Again moving a few feet away, she began to run toward the end of the tether, snatching it as she passed and toppling G-ma and Mrs. Corum as she dragged them from the valley. The three sit outside the valley, as the world dimmed. But to Sara Beth’s amazement, the sun beams never went away. They stayed there, bright and beaming.

Chapter 6: The Link

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Hi Everyone – before we get into Part 6, I just wanted to thank those who have been reading the novel so far. I’ve come up with a name for it – “Cinereous”. I hope that you’re enjoying the book so far. This chapter clears up a few big questions, and asks a few more. Remember, in the end we’ll be at 30 chapters, so we’re getting a decent way in, but there is a lot more to come! If you have a chance, shoot me a message on Twitter (@jonwestfall) or leave a comment!

Best,

Jon.

Shooting up like a bolt of lightning had hit her, Mrs. Corum blurted out “I think I know you”, toward Sara Beth’s general direction.

G-ma and Sara Beth were taken aback. They’d been together for about a week at that point, and had decided, mutually, that they’d spend most of the dim hours in silence. The only time this place didn’t mess with how you thought was when you could devote 100% of your attention to thinking, and so minimizing distraction was the goal. The only one who didn’t get the memo was Sonic, who from time to time would move around in his ball and require Sara Beth to pull him out and cradle him for a bit.

Sara Beth looked toward Mrs. Corum, subtly asking if she was talking to her.

“Yes, Sara Beth, I think I know you, or rather, I knew you, in the past, before this place.”

They’d been over a number of common questions in the previous week. The only thing they hadn’t done was an exhaustive listing of names. Sara Beth lived in the next town over from G-ma, and Mrs. Corum lived slightly north. They didn’t see any immediate connection. G-ma and Mrs. Corum had mentioned their shared link in Julie, yet Sara Beth hadn’t recognized the name. So again they launched into a long discussion about where they may have crossed paths.

“And the daycare center, Other Worlds, was where I met my best friend”, Sara Beth began, telling the story of the last day she could remember away from this place.

“‘Other Worlds’,” Mrs. Corum began, “I remember I had a few students who mentioned that place. Seems like an ironic name for all three of us to be saying given where we are right now!” They all laughed at the ludicrous observation. The people at ‘Other Worlds’ weren’t thinking of this place when they themed their classrooms and common spaces in foreign and space landscapes! I visited a few times when I’d drop students off at the request of their parents”.

Sara Beth then began the retelling of the fight between herself and her best friend, and both G-ma and Mrs. Corum took more interest than in the past – actively asking questions of things they didn’t understand. They both supposed that when Sara Beth had originally been found, with this as one of the first stories they’d heard, they didn’t think of it as critically as they might now, a week later. At the time all they knew was that a frightened little girl was upset, and had been more interested in her emotional wellbeing than the facts of the story.

“Sara Beth”, G-ma started, “What was your best friend’s name?”

Sara Beth looked a bit sheepish, and G-ma knew instantly that she’d asked a question with a less than obvious answer.

“Uh… I don’t think that’s important”, Sara Beth said, before launching into more of the story.

But when she naturally paused, G-ma again pressed the issue.

“I don’t know…” Sara Beth said casually, moving on in the story. This caught both Mrs. Corum and G-ma by surprise. Perhaps even Sonic too!

“Dear, you don’t know the name of your best friend?”, Mrs. Corum gently asked.

Sara Beth grew quiet. Finally she spoke.

“I never knew her name…”

“She never told you?”, G-ma asked.

“No….”, Sara Beth began, her speech shaky as she suppressed emotions of sadness and guilt, “You see…, we met at ‘Other Worlds’ 6 months ago, and we’d see each other every day. But when you first meet someone, they introduce themselves, and you introduce yourself, but you don’t always know they’re going to be your best friend”.

“And once you do…”, Mrs. Corum said.

“You feel stupid asking them what their name is”, Sara Beth concluded.

“Oh dear, we understand”, G-ma said. It was a common enough occurrence, the forgetting of a name, but in the world of a 12 year old, when names of classmates are known from first grade on, one doesn’t think to remember new names outside the classroom. There are no teachers to call on new friends, however, and it’s quite remarkable how little someone refers to themselves by name. Poor Sara Beth had grown to care about a friend deeply that she couldn’t even identify by name.

“I always kinda hoped she’d give me a card, but then when she did for my birthday, she just signed it with ‘your best friend and Sonic’s Aunt’”. The older women could not help themselves from giggling at the irony of the 12 year old’s ploy and it’s failure to work.

As they finished the story, a thought struck Mrs. Corum.

“G-ma, I think there is a similarity between your story of how you got here and Sara Beth’s”, she said.

G-ma hadn’t told Sara Beth the story of the sweater yet, and couldn’t see any sort of connection. After all, there were no hedgehogs or arguments in her story.

“What do you mean?”, she asked Mrs. Corum.

“Both of you were with other people. Both of you were talking with those people. And both of you had a memorable moment happen. For you”, she said as she gestured toward Sara Beth, “it was a fight that was a major event with your friend. For you”, as she motioned toward G-ma, “It was a moment with Julie where she beamed up at you with pride over your sweater. Both moments are things that people would look back upon in the future”.

The other two looked at Mrs. Corum skeptically.

“Shame you still haven’t come up with your story, honey, or else we might be further convinced!”, G-ma said to Mrs. Corum.

“I may have come up with my story…”, Mrs. Corum replied.

G-ma looked shocked. They’d been together for nearly 4 weeks at this point, and Mrs. Corum hadn’t shared this with her. She would have remembered – it was, after all, big news in the world they all lived in.

“Well… don’t leave us waiting!”, G-ma said with a tone that implied that this was definitely shared knowledge – there would be no secrets between the three of them.

“It’s embarrassing, and I’m afraid you’ll be mad at me”, she said to G-ma. G-ma was incredulous.

“How can I be mad at you? We didn’t meet until you came here”.

“Yes… but it involves Julie”.

They sat there for a few moments, wondering if Mrs. Corum would say more. Finally she did.

“I suppose there really isn’t anything I can do about it now. I just feel bad about it, still.”

“I promise I’ll keep my emotions in check”, G-ma said. In her mind, she ran through a list of all the potentially bad things that could have happened between a teacher and Julie, and was prepared for the worst.

“Julie has been a bit different for the past few months”, Mrs. Corum began, “She seemed to spend most of her time in a bit of a daze. It didn’t affect her schoolwork, but the other kids did start noticing. I was worried, so I talked with our school counselor, and she told me, confidentially, that Julie had gone through periods of inattentiveness, mood swings, and mania over her entire time in school. They generally passed without incident, but teachers were made aware of it so they weren’t surprised if the girl with the normally high grades suddenly checked out for a month, emotionally, or if she became overly social, or if she began to have boundary issues with other kids. Julie is a wonderful young woman, but she has these moments”

“You were afraid I’d be mad that Julie wasn’t perfect?”, G-ma asked, confused.

“Well, I didn’t you’d be happy about it, but that wasn’t what I was afraid of”, Mrs. Corum continued.

“A few weeks ago, another student in class, Ryan, began to notice Julie was, well, different. And he wasn’t happy to let it slide by. Each time she’d blurt out something in class, he’d make a wisecrack about ‘that crazy one’. I’d hush the children, but never do anything more. He attracted a small group of kids who began to scrutinize Julie for anything they could pounce on – you know how kids are – and they’d take the opportunity to point out her impulsive actions, her mood swings, her quietness even. I kept the classroom in order, but between teaching and managing everyone in the room, I never had much time to do anything else. Finally, one day, Ryan said something that struck a nerve with me. Julie had been working on an assignment that asked the students to imagine their future families. She’d drawn a picture of herself and her two children, and her husband. When it came time to present, she told the class that she wanted to have two kids with her charming husband. Ryan, upon hearing this, yelled out ‘As if anyone would want to marry you, you crazy ugly thing!’ Julie’s mood immediately dropped from ecstatic over her future plans to heartbroken, and she began crying.”

G-ma and Sara Beth attentively looked at Mrs. Corum as she paused.

“I lost it. I launched into a tirade against Ryan. The kind of tirade teachers aren’t supposed to launch into anymore, or at the least, launch into only in private with a student. I told him that he was being a horrible classmate to Julie, and a despicable person for saying such a thing. I told him that I would ask him to apologize if I felt his apology would be worth anything, but that I doubted it really did. I told him that he should be amazed if anyone in the class would ever want to be friends with him after such a mean spirited remark. By the time I was done, Julie’s tears had subsided, but Ryan’s had just begun. I emotionally tore down a 12 year old kid who was just acting like a 12 year old kid. A cruel 12 year old kid, but I mustered all of my might to be a cruel elementary school teacher in return.”

They sat there in silence while Mrs. Corum looked down at the ground. Tears rolled down her face.

“Everyone snaps, sometimes”, G-ma said, “I don’t know why you felt that you should worry about my reaction, it sounds like what you did was perfectly natural”.

Mrs. Corum looked up.

“Natural, perhaps, but not something I should have done. And I didn’t think you’d be mad at me for yelling at Ryan. I thought you’d be mad at me for not defending Julie earlier. In retrospect, I could have done a lot more to stop him before it ever reached that point. I failed Julie as a student, and I feel ashamed and embarrassed at my behavior. And the next thing I knew, after that, I was here. I never had a chance to make things right”

G-ma let a moment pass before speaking again.

“There is no point in chastising yourself for this again and again, it was a mistake – we all learn from mistakes”.


Sara Beth had sat there quietly through Mrs. Corum’s emotional story. Sonic sat idly by as well, almost as if he knew something important was happening, and that he shouldn’t interrupt. Both G-ma and Mrs. Corum had grown quiet, and Sara Beth knew that it was time to speak up.

“I think….”, She said as they looked toward her, “I think that I’ve heard that story before”.

“From who?”, Mrs. Corum asked. She feared that, if indeed they were copies, her present self my find herself in the unemployment line due to her little outrage, and that news may have spread of that fast. “Was a friend of yours in the class?”

“Yeah, I think so, I remember her telling me the story”, Sara Beth replied. “And another thing…”, Sara Beth took in a deep breath, “I think I know the name of my best friend”

Putting the pieces together, G-ma and Mrs. Corum looked at Sara Beth.

“My best friend’s name is, well after the fight, was, Julie”.

They paused, with Mrs. Corum breaking the silence.

“Julie told you about this?”, she said quietly.

“Yes, but you should know how she told me”, Sara Beth said with a upbeat note, “She told me all about how her teacher had stood up for her that day. That the other kids thought she was weird, and she’d been really upset, but that her favorite teacher finally told them off. She didn’t even remember everything you said, because she was still upset, but by the time she felt better, the rest of the kids were in shock and you were sitting behind your desk. She said that after school you held both her and Ryan back. You apologized to her for not stepping in earlier. She didn’t know what you said to Ryan”. The memories Sara Beth spoke from had become crystal clear over the past several minutes. Almost as though they’d been dusted clean and placed in the forefront of her mind.

“So I did make it right… but my copy was made before that”, Mrs. Corum mused.

“Again with the copies”, G-ma said. “Its as good a theory as any, but it’s a crazy one”.

By this point, the dimness had passed and it was about halfway through the lighter cycle of the day. The women had stood and idly began walking toward their latest destination – a spot still very much far off in the distance. As they walked, their conversation turned toward lighter matters. They all knew their common link, Julie, and as best they could place, they’d come here during emotional moments in her life. They joked that perhaps Julie was a supernatural being that could zap them away from life and seal them up here somehow. But still they had no concrete idea about where ‘here’ might be.

“Julie loved recess”, Mrs. Corum said absentmindedly, “It would be about recess time now, I suppose”.

“She’d tell me about how she would play with her few friends at school during recess – they’d make up stories to tell each other”, Sara Beth added.

“She was all about stories, even as a little girl”, G-ma concluded. Of the three, the situation regarding Julie was probably hardest on G-ma. It had been so long since G-ma had seen her, and while hearing about her from Mrs. Corum and Sara Beth was lovely, it also stung.

As they walked, something in the sky caught Sara Beth’s eye. “What is that?”, she said as she pointed up.

A flash of coppery shimmer appeared above them. They’d barely had a chance to talk about it before the earthquake began. Similar to the one that Mrs. Corum and G-ma had experienced weeks before, however much more severe. The tremors knocked the women back and forth, far enough from each other as to not be able to hear. Periodically they’d believe it to be over and get up to wander nearer to the rest of the group, only to have a tremor knock them down once more. Finally the rain came, dropping buckets of water onto their heads. The ground couldn’t soak it up fast enough, with Sonic’s little ball floating slightly from time to time as water pooled under him. Thankfully once the rain had stopped, and the ground was still, and the dimness came for the night, the women had time to gather their wits. All three were thankful that they couldn’t feel the pain they would inevitably been afflicted with if they were still on earth. G-ma and Mrs. Corum wondered if that one might have been fatal if they hadn’t been here.

“I wonder what happened”, Sara Beth asked.

“No idea, but whatever it was, it was severe”, Mrs. Corum replied.

“We’ve been talking so much about Julie”, Sara Beth continued, “That I thought of how her moods would change from time to time. They’d start out as if nothing was wrong. Then a burst of intense emotion, and then she’d end up crying. It was weird that the weather here was almost exactly the same as that”

The women thought about this for a moment, when G-ma broke the silence.

“Mrs. Corum, I think the copy idea may truly be right… I think I know where we are”

“Where?”, both Sara Beth and Mrs. Corum asked at the same time.

“You know how it is when you’re thinking about someone?”, G-ma began. The others nodded. G-ma spoke slowly and purposefully.

“It’s almost as if you place them in your mind, and you think about how they’d react to a situation, how they’d be if they were there. Sometimes you have them say things and control their behavior. Other times you just imagine them to have them near you during tough times.”

“What if sometimes you stole them away for yourself later? What if you kept a copy of them to recall in the future. We would have no idea how many times we’d been copied. How many of us there would be out there. We’d go on living our lives as if nothing had happened, with clones of us living out their days in the minds of others.”

“They wouldn’t feel any physical feelings, because they weren’t physically people”, Mrs. Corum added.

“They wouldn’t have any needs – I don’t think of my friends as having to eat, or drink, or use the bathroom, when I remember them in my mind”, Sara Beth said.

“Ladies… I think I know where we are… We’re in the mind of my granddaughter, your student, your friend, and little Sonic’s Aunt: Julie McKay”

When Humans Make it LESS Creepy

I was born in the forgotten generation – those not quite old enough to be Gen X, but those definitely too young to be a Millenial, an era some have called the Oregon Trail Generation. As such, I share some traits with either generation, and have some unique ones of my own. And sometimes I think I’m the only one who sees the odd mashups of both.
Here’s my example for today: The “Aversion to Talking to People” of the Millenials versus the “Computers are Tracking YOU” paranoia of Gen X.

I admit that I do enjoy not having to make awkward phone calls or initiate conversation with strangers – I share that with many millenials raised on instant Google gratification. I’ll do it if necessary (or get someone else to, just ask friends of mine that had to ask someone to take our picture at Graceland last week when I chickened out), but I’d prefer to avoid dealing with humans for needs, instead dealing with them simply for wants. (In other words, if you want to become friends, I’m up to chat all afternoon – but if I need to call you to ask what time you close tomorrow, I’m not that excited).

Now let’s contrast that with the “Computers are tracking you” paranoia of many Gen X’ers (and older). I’m not a huge fan of things like loyalty cards that track my purchases, but I begrudingly use them to get small discounts at the grocery store. Recently our local grocery store started sending coupons to us in the mail (I say recently, but it could have been several years ago, my wife would know for sure. I stereotypically leave most of the couponing to her). Upon the arrival of the latest batch, my wife said “I think they track what you buy and send you the coupons you might actually use”. I agreed that this would be a smart move on their part, and that it actually sets up kind of a win-win situation. Store has a greater liklihood of me buying something because it’s something I like and I have a coupon, and if I was going to buy it anyway, I get a small discount (I suppose if I were a big impulse shopper, this would be disastrous, but thankfully I don’t tend to be).

This got me thinking – for many older folks, a local grocer (physical person) who knew them by name, knew their likes/dislikes, and offered them discounts would be a valued shopkeep, something lamented when they were replaced by a big-box grocery chain. Yet those same people find it creepy when a computer tracks their purchases and targets them with coupons or ads, essentially providing the same service. Somehow it’s less creepy if it’s a person doing it. Contrast that with the Millenial attitude that dealing a person is more uncomfortable than a computer, and you have a strange cohort effect. Older generations find it creepy if it’s a computer, younger find it uncomfortable if it’s a person, and vice versa.

I, for my part, shall continue to straddle the two generations, embracing my Oregon Trail-ness while teaching (mostly) Millenials. And continue to notice strange inconsistencies like this one, which I shall report to, no doubt, millions of interested readers!

Oracle, Are You Really Hurting for Cash This Badly?

Saw this just now via MacRumors – a wonderful note that our friends at Oracle have decided to bundle the Ask.com toolbar (an invaluable tool if there ever was one) with the Mac version of Java (as they’ve done with the Windows version for some time)…

For years, Oracle has been bundling an Ask.com search toolbar with Java for Windows, relying on what some call deceptive methods to get users to install the add-on to their browsers. Now, the company has extended its adware strategy to Java for Mac, according to ZDNet.

Thanks Oracle, now this is another thing I get to think about next time I have to install Java on something. The question is – are you really hurting for cash so badly that you need to bundle things like this in? And for that matter, are large companies really getting that much money from this stuff.

Wait… of course they are… otherwise they wouldn’t do it. Oh what a stupid sad maladjusted state of affairs. Friendly PSA folks: Watch your install wizards closely!

How I Ended up Following a Makeup Blog

At Least thus far it is mostly about makeup, something I’ve never used. The reason it’s in my Blog Roll and my news feeds? Because a former student is writing it, and I generally encourage this whole blogging thing, despite the fact that I have a hard time motivating myself to blog (Fun Fact: JonWestfall.Com is now over 10 years old… Where did the time go?!?)

So if you’re into Makeup (with presumably more topics to follow), check out Maghen’s blog Lavender Lipstick. I know I’m going to follow so I can bust out random cosmetics knowledge and amaze/scare my female friends. And to support a fellow Blogger.

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Karey & Jon Go To The (Caldwell) Zoo

Yesterday Karey & I went to the Zoo, specifically the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, TX. Friends told us to check it out, and since Karey is the quintessential animal lover, I try to take her to a zoo every once in a while. I’m a bit different – zoos tend to bore me (I’ve seen animals before). However Caldwell was a bit different – it was a smaller zoo than we’re used to, and actually had exhibits pretty well laid out so you could see animals without having to squint. The animals themselves seemed pretty content, and active, and you could feed fish, ducks, & birds. Here are some photos from our trip – we recommend Caldwell Zoo to anyone nearby!

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Mourning Resolutions

Through the wonder that is FaceBook, I just received word that a high school classmate of mine, one that I hadn’t talked to in years (but was a FaceBook friend), passed away yesterday. Sudden heart attack at the age of 30.

Shock is the right expression for how I feel. Then sadness, because even though we weren’t close by any stretch of the imagination, it is always sad when someone who brings joy and life to the world exits it, abruptly or not.

It got me thinking of the “resolutions” I’ve been trying to live by over the past few years in order to avoid the guilt sometimes associated when people are sick, in need, or dying, and to be a better friend. So here they are, in case situations like this make you wonder what could be done to not only ease future pain, but grab life today and hold on to it before it flits away.

  1. Keep Contact. Fred Rogers famously woke up at 5 AM every morning to have time for a number of things we rush to do, including writing correspondence to friends and fans. A few years ago I realized I was losing contact with people as I moved from place to place – always meaning to stay in touch but rarely doing so except for once or twice a year. So I started a list with reminder times on it (it’s actually part of my To-Do list). Every 30-50 days I am reminded to “Call X” (Which in reality might be a call, a text message, an email, a wall post, etc…). This helps me stay in touch when life gets busy, and avoids the pain of having to apologize for not reaching out “since last Christmas” or “since the reunion 2 years ago”. It’s not hard to do – It takes less than 5 minutes of my day, and to the people I reach out to, it can mean a lot.
  2. Times are rough when you’ve got too much “stuff”. One of my favorite Jimmy Buffett songs includes a paraphrasing of that line, which reminds me regularly to collect friendships and experiences, rather than material goods. It might be nice to have a big house full of cool things, but it means nothing if you don’t have anyone to share it with, romantically or platonically. Make the high points of your year visiting friends, versus big-ticket purchases.
  3. Never be afraid to reach out. In January 2013 I read a FaceBook post about a former student in dire emotional turmoil. Rough days had turned into rough months, and medical issues had further complicated life. I wrestled with the fact that my heart wanted so desperately to reach out to this woman – just to let her know that someone cared, that someone would listen; but my mind kept telling me “Don’t be creepy – you haven’t talked to her in years! You were just her Psychology professor – you don’t know her well enough!”.
    In the end my heart won, and I posted a comment. We exchanged a few messages, and I felt good knowing I’d reached out. A few months later she sent me a private message (in response to something I’d commented on) that included this sentence: “On one of the hardest days of my life you contacted me offering support, and I am forever blessed.”. I tear up every time I read that. Reach out – if you get rebuffed, swallow your pride and move on to reach out again. Because more often, you make a difference you’d never thought you could make.
  4. When it comes to death, never feel guilty about how you feel. I’ve lost people in my life that I’ve been very close with and felt very little. I’m sad, but I’m not devastated. On the other hand, I’ve lost people that I’ve only known a short while or haven’t talked to in years and it’s shocked me to my core. We don’t know what exactly resonates when we lose someone – and we shouldn’t be afraid to admit that. We all mourn in our own way, and our strength comes from using mourning to not only celebrate another’s life, but also better structure ours. Perhaps by making resolutions and keeping them.

I’m sure I have other resolutions, but those 4 seem most important today. My heart goes out to the family of my classmate, and to all those affected by her loss.

Which is More Difficult? Being a Student or a Professor?

With the new semester starting, I’ve had a lot of interactions with students as of late. Some are returning familiar faces, others are new faces that (in some situations) are new to college completely. They’re all undergraduates, taking 5 or so classes at one time, and many are trying to earn the highest possible grades in those classes.

The voice of the people - left for me on my office door from two students in Learning & Memory
The voice of the people – left for me on my office door from two students in Learning & Memory

It’s interesting to me to think about the roles and responsibilities in academia. The semester sees me shuffling from class to class, preparing lectures and activities, and of course grading. I spend several hours a week cruising around classrooms, telling jokes that my students mercifully laugh at, and making observations about my field and the material I’m presenting. In some cases I need to keep the conversation going for 75 minutes, or at the least direct attention toward an activity or video if I decide to rest my voice. I then retreat to my office, where I answer emails, respond to texts, post more bad jokes online (that my friends mercifully “like”), and grade assignments and exams. I also take time to work on research, follow-up with students and colleagues, and attend meetings.

Students have a similar routine – they move about classes, copiously write what professors like me say, download notes, skim textbooks (or even “read textbooks deeply” on occasion), and juggle requirements along with a myriad of campus activities, jobs, families, and friends.

In my mind it is debatable who has the more difficult job. For example, most of my effort is front-loaded into the semester. I can begin preparing classes months in advance if I like, where my students need to react as material is thrown at them – taking exams when I dictate, covering material that they’ve only had (in the best case scenario) 8 weeks to learn. I’ve learned the same material for over 10 years – so it’s no wonder I consider the exam questions “no brainers” – they came from my brain!

And at least when I do have to learn new material, I can fit it into my head’s schemas of information better than what my student’s face – they’re learning 5 new courses of content each semester with little to no overlap. What I learn from 3 journal articles may very easily overlap central concepts. How much overlap is there between, say, psychology and chemistry? Maybe 5%.

So I try to stay away from the easy way out – I don’t let myself think I have it harder just because I had to do 99% of the talking during the semester, or because I had to grade 50 exams whereas my students only had to take 1. It might be a long trek for me, but the path seems to be rockier for them.

Then again I may be wrong… wouldn’t be the first time! What do you think – is it harder to be a professor or a student?

Key Bracelet

Last Christmas I made Paracord Bracelets for my friends, in my first and to date only attempt at any sort of jewelry making. I’ve worn mine ever since, pretty much daily. I’m a big believer in only wearing jewelry that means something to me, so with an absence of other bracelets, the paracord was the only accessory I would wear. Recently I’ve thought of branching out – for instance, I’ve got a student who makes paracord bracelets making me one of her signature pieces, and the other day I stumbled upon something in my closet that reminded me of times past – and gave me an idea for a new bracelet.

So back about 15 years ago, if you bought a computer case, you’d find something that today would baffle most: A tubular key lock on the front (And usually 2 keys that fit it). These key locks could be plugged into a special set of pins on the motherboard that, when the key was in the locked position, would lock out the keyboard. A cheap and effective way to disable a computer so that unauthorized individuals couldn’t access it (Have you tried to use a computer without a keyboard? Today you can sorta get away with it – in 1995 it was impossible!). I had a bunch of the keys for these locks, as did many of my friends, because they were mostly universal. Everyone carried one on their key ring in case they came upon a locked keyboard (Which could happen in computer labs – ask me about my 8th grade computer class final sometime for a story), and it was (at least to me) somewhat a badge of geekdom to have one.

The other day I found a few in my closet and thought “Gee, anyone who sees one of these will instantly recognize it… and anyone who doesn’t recognize it hasn’t been a geek too long!”. What better thing to make a geek bracelet out of?

A leather bracelet with a keyboard lock key.
A leather bracelet with a keyboard lock key.