Chapter 11: The Mountains

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Mrs. Corum had a nagging thought about an area of the landscape they’d yet explored. Weeks earlier they’d thought of heading toward the tiny dot of difference on the horizon, perpendicular to hers and G-ma’s spots, heading away from the light valley. They’d started that direction but, upon realizing that it was farther off than they assumed, and finding Sara Beth, they decided to head back to more familiar surroundings. It was funny how the more familiar surroundings made them feel better, when the whole place was so wholly unfamiliar. But, Mrs. Corum supposed, perhaps not everything was totally different here. Some things, like a love of the place you know, may hold true. Continue reading “Chapter 11: The Mountains”

Chapter 10: Repression

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After that dim, the core group spent much of the next day trying to regain their composure. Ryan and Jamie basically ignored each other, with Sara Beth, G-ma, and Mrs. Corum wishing they could go back to a time before such tension existed in their group. On one hand, they all felt bad for Ryan in that he was an angry soul that nothing in this realm could placate. How could one go about living any sort of normal life in the mind of someone he disliked, with the feeling being very much mutual. On the other hand, Ryan had done very little to ingratiate himself to the group, taking the information he was given and using it to his own ends, seldom trying to work out any of the questions the group still had about this place. He would go off on long walks, now alone since Jamie had decided to stay with the other women. Continue reading “Chapter 10: Repression”

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 5: The Meeting

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“No, I can’t say that it ever got that bad”, G-ma said. The look on Mrs. Corum’s face was a bit crestfallen, obviously she had hoped that G-ma might empathize a bit more. G-ma noticed. They had been talking about their former lives outside of this place, specifically the low points.
“I’m not saying I don’t see how it could be that way for you, dear, I’m just saying I don’t think I ever got to that point”.
“It was years ago”, Mrs. Corum said softly, “Right after I found out that I wouldn’t be able to have children. I guess it took a huge toll on me. At that time, it didn’t seem like a man would want to date you if he couldn’t see a future with you… and they didn’t seem to see a future with me. I thought the world was ending – that no one would ever be interested, and that I’d be a spinster for the rest of my life”
G-ma didn’t quite know what to say. Mrs. Corum had been a lot more talkative over the last few days, ever since the rain storm and earthquake. It almost appeared that she had something she needed to talk out, but for the life of her, G-ma had no idea what that was or how to help. G-ma wasn’t used to serious conversations on mental health – her life had been mostly one of mundane happiness. It appeared that Mrs. Corum had been through some rough times that G-ma and her family only approached on rare occasion, and even then, were blessed to have pass quickly.
“I can’t imagine”, G-ma said. The words rang truer than most people would admit – in this case, she truly couldn’t.
Mrs. Corum and G-ma were lazily making their way back to Mrs. Corum’s original spot, planning to explore a new direction relative to it. They hadn’t seen any new or unusual weather events in at least 3 days, although they often looked up and squinted at the sky, wondering if they were missing some subtle shift of color. It was possible that they had become so attenuated to the world they lived in that that their sense had been dulled to it’s shifting nature. Or perhaps they hadn’t, but the ladies were simply all out of energy in a mental way, their bodies still fully powered as the moment they had awoken in this place.
They were both quiet for a few minutes, until Mrs. Corum began to speak.
“It just feels like I can think for the first time in years”, she began, “Throughout my entire working life I was consumed with the day-to-day world. Papers needed to be marked, students needed to be taught, bills needed to be paid, and I suppose that even leisure activities needed to be done. The TV wasn’t going to watch itself at the end of the day. Then I came here. Here I have no papers, no students, no TV. All I have is my time talking with you, and my own thoughts. You ever see that old Twilight Zone where the man is thrilled to have all the time in the world to read?”
“Yes, that’s the one where his glasses break right before he can start his first book”, G-ma replied.
“Yes. But in this case, my glasses haven’t broken. If anything, they’ve gotten sharper as I’ve got so much time now to think about things. I wonder how this place will change me, as I think about all that stuff I’ve ignored for so many years.”
G-ma hoped that the next question wasn’t going to be what she feared, but inevitably, it was.
“Have you changed since you got here?”, Mrs. Corum asked.
G-ma took a long moment that, to Mrs. Corum, would appear that she was gathering her thoughts. In reality, she was hoping something strange would happen again so that she could avoid answering the question.
No earthquake, sky color change, or warm fuzzy feeling came.
“I was afraid you would ask that”, G-ma began, “Yes, I have changed quite a bit”.
Mrs. Corum was somewhat taken aback by the abrupt reply and failure to elaborate. She weighed her options: Ask about how she’s changed, or simply let it hang there. In the end, she didn’t have to worry, G-ma had decided to open up.
“I used to be more extreme”, G-ma said as she sat down on the ground, indicating to Mrs. Corum that she planned on speaking for awhile. “I had wild mood swings day to day during my regular life. Before I came here, there were days I was no picnic to be around. I suppose now that I’m still no picnic to others, but at least I’m less annoying to myself. Maybe what you said about having time now to think is what it is. I can engage in the soul searching that I put off before”
For next few hours, G-ma let out all of the thoughts that, previously, had just been worked out in her mind. No one had heard the life stories, the philosophical rants, and the humorous musings that the older woman had pondered and pieced together over the past 8 years. It grew dim and then light again before they had finished.
After that conversation, Mrs. Corum changed her evaluation of G-ma. The woman had always seemed a bit too direct. A bit too sure of herself. It became clear, though, that this was simply because she’d had a lot of time to decide on what she believed to be true in this world and in her life outside of it. Mrs. Corum decided that speaking to G-ma was different only in that it wasn’t what she would say or do in the given situation. G-ma had a distinct viewpoint. Mrs. Corum wondered if she might, one day, have the same viewpoint, if she lasted long enough here.


“Here it was”, Mrs. Corum said of the spot of ground in front of them.

They had gotten back to her original starting point in the abyss, and had decided to explore a new direction.

“I was over there”, G-ma pointed, “but I always sort of wondered what was that way”, as she pointed sharply in the opposite direction. Previously they had walked perpendicular to the two spots they knew well, today the would start walking parallel, off into the distance neither had ventured. They could make out something far off in the horizon that looked different than the rest of the sky. It would be a journey of several days, but perhaps would be worth it.

They began walking. Today the conversation had been rather light. Some shared stories from their childhoods, and discussion of politics and religious beliefs (They figured that there was no way they were going to scare each other off, so they might as well approach these ‘friendship forbidden’ topics). As they walked, slowly the conversation turned back to the world they found themselves in.

“What do you think you’ll do the next time we find someone here?”, Mrs. Corum asked.

“You think we’re going to find others?”, G-ma replied.

“Well, we found each other”, Mrs. Corum said with a slight bit of cheer in her voice.

“Yes, after I’d given up on ever having that happen. I guess my perspective is different than yours – I think a new person arrives here every 8 years or so, to you, they arrive every few weeks”, G-ma pointed out.

“I suppose you’re right, but I keep getting the sense that we’re going to find others, and not just one, perhaps a dozen. We might even get to start our own community here. You could be mayor”, Mrs. Corum said with a grin.

“I never had the mind for politics!”, G-ma said with a laugh.

“Seriously, though, what are we going to do when we meet them”, Mrs. Corum said, directing the conversation back to her original question.

“I suppose spend the first day just explaining everything – we don’t know much about this place, but we may know more than they do, assuming they haven’t been here longer than we have. Maybe they’ll know more. Maybe your community of friends has been here longer than I have”, G-ma said, as the thoughts came pouring out. Evidently this was one topic she hadn’t fully discussed in her mind during the previous years of living in isolation.

“I wonder if they’ll all be from the same place we grew up?”, Mrs. Corum pondered.

“Aside from you and I both knowing Julie”, G-ma replied, “We don’t seem to have any other link than geography. It would be interesting to meet someone who came here from a more exotic locale than the boring places we frequented on Earth.”

“Do you think we’re still on Earth?”, Mrs. Corum said, half jokingly.

“Aliens again?”, G-ma said with a smile.

“No, but perhaps we’re on a different plane of existence. Maybe we’ve evolved!”, Mrs. Corum optimistically replied.

“No hope of that for me, dear, I’m devolving if anything!”

“Why would you say that?”

“I don’t know… just seemed like something to say”, G-ma said with a smile.

As they walked further away from Mrs. Corum’s spot, a thought struck G-ma that hadn’t before. In retrospect, even if she had thought of it, she would have had no way to test it.

“Can you hear me?”, G-ma asked Mrs. Corum.

“Yes, why?”

“Just let me try something – stand here”

G-ma walked about 10 feet away from Mrs. Corum.

“Can you hear me?”, G-ma asked. Mrs. Corum nodded in agreement.

G-mailed about another 10 feet away from Mrs. Corum.

“Can you hear me?”, G-ma asked. Mrs. Corum started to nod, but then paused. A perplexed look came over her face.

G-ma walked back toward her.

“I saw you perfectly, you weren’t but 15 feet away, and I could see your lips open, and knew you were asking if I could hear you. But I couldn’t.”, Mrs. Corum stammered.

“That explains a lot”, G-ma said, and began walking, motioning Mrs. Corum to join her.

“I realized that whenever someone shows up in this place, one thing is generally on their to-do list as soon as they realize that they’re not in metaphorical Kansas anymore”, G-ma began, “They cry out. They scream. They yell. They curse. They make noise. Did you do that?”

Mrs. Corum blushed slightly. She hadn’t told G-ma that this was, indeed, something she did a few times during that first day. She called out, hoping others might hear her. In fact, a few times, she let out a yell so loud it surprised her.

“Yes, I did”

“But no one here heard you. Think about it – this land has some subtle rises and dips, but is fundamentally flat. We can see for perhaps a mile in any given direction. Sound should travel here just fine, but the distance it travels is tiny compared to the distance we can see.

Mrs. Corum was starting to put the pieces together as G-ma continued.

“So if there are others here, they might spend hours, or days, or weeks calling out, staying put where someone can find them, not realizing that even though they yell as loudly as possible, this place seems to dampen sound.”

“I wonder if there is anyway for us to train our ears to hear better”, Mrs. Corum replied.

“What do you mean?”, G-ma asked.

“I’ve taught my students in science about how the sense can become more highly trained. How they can adjust if need be. I wonder if we were to spend time practicing if we could train our ears to be more sensitive”.

“How long would that take?”, G-ma said.

“Got somewhere you need to be?”, Mrs. Corum smartly replied with a wink.

For the rest of the day, and the next few, G-ma and Mrs. Corum strained to pick up the smallest sound, often whispering to each other. To their amazement, it actually started to work. They could increase the distance between each other to 25 or 30 feet and be heard perfectly. They didn’t need to speak as loudly as they had before either. A light whisper was enough. It was almost as if super hearing was something this world found metaphysically cool, as a teenager might put it, and helped their minds grasp it quickly and easily.

Therefore it was not a huge surprise when they found themselves walking one day and having the following conversation.

“I just don’t know about…. Did you hear that?”

“Yes…”. The two women turned and pointed in the same direction.

They walked over a small hill, and found her sitting there, softly crying, a plastic ball with a missing piece lying to her side.


Mrs. Corum and G-ma turned to each other and shot a quick glance that communicated everything they both had rush through their minds. Who was this girl? Why was she crying? Had she been here long? What’s with the plastic ball? Where had she come from?

Despite all of these questions, the humanity in both women rapidly took over.

“It’s OK honey”, G-ma called out while they were still a few feet away. She didn’t want to startle the child and only make things worse.

“We’re here to help”, Mrs. Corum added.

Sara Beth looked up at them through tear filled eyes.

“Sonic got loose”, she sobbed.

“Who is Sonic?”, Mrs. Corum asked, showing a confused look to G-ma. G-ma, perhaps more skilled at pets than Mrs. Corum, picked up the plastic ball.

“Oh dear, the top came loose, didn’t it honey”, she said.

“Yeah…we were talking and I looked away for just a moment. He’s so small, and so gray, and so… easy to lose in this stupid place”, Sara Beth proclaimed.

“Who are you?”, Mrs. Corum asked.

“We’ll sort all of that out later – right now we have to find Sonic!”, G-ma said, taking charge of the situation. Mrs. Corum stood there, admonished for her curiosity, but felt perhaps G-ma should take the lead here.

“Is Sonic a hedgehog, dear?”, G-ma asked.

“Yes”.

“You heard her – let’s fan out and look. We know he didn’t come by us in the direction we came – I’m sure we would have seen the little guy. I’ll head this way, my friend will head that way, and, this is really important dear, you need to calm down and start looking that way. There are 3 of us, we’ll find Sonic in no time.”

The search party split into three directions and looked, careful to walk over and prod anything on the splotchy gray ground that could have been a tiny hedgehog. Sara Beth was worried, but happy to have the help of the others. She had barely even started looking when she heard a voice call out “I found him”.

Mrs. Corum had walked back over to Sara Beth and led her over to where Sonic lie, seemingly content. “I… uh… don’t know how to pick him up”, she said. Sara Beth adroitly picked up her friend and placed him in the pink ball, making sure the top was tightly in place. They then walked toward the direction G-ma had headed, and found her lightly tapping a gray bump in the ground with her foot.

“I’m glad to see the crisis has been averted”, G-ma said, as she saw the two approach.

“What did she say”, Sara Beth asked Mrs. Corum.

“She said that she was glad our crisis was over”, Mrs. Corum replied, aware that G-ma was still too far away for Sara Beth to hear her.

As the three women and one escapee hedgehog came together, G-ma reached out and put her hand on Sara Beth’s shoulder.

“I’m glad that we’re all safe.”

Sara Beth smiled, perhaps the first true smile that she had produced since coming to this place. She looked up at G-ma and asked “Who are you?”

“My grandkids call me G-ma”, G-ma said, “And as I told my friend here when I met her, no one has called me anything else in quite awhile. Guess I like the sound of G-ma now”.

“I’m happy to meet you G-ma, thanks for helping me find Sonic”, Sara Beth said in gratitude.

“What’s your name, dear”, G-ma asked.

“Sara Beth”

Both women paused for a moment, mentally scanning their pre-abyss memories for a Sara Beth. They were both keenly aware that despite their hard work to fill in the gaps, this place was still somewhat messing with their mind. Sara Beth would be the one to break the moment of silence.

“Who are you?”, she asked Mrs. Corum.

“I’m just a misplaced 6th grade teacher”, Mrs. Corum said with a smile, “My name is Mrs. Corum”.

“I was in 6th grade, well, before I ended up here”.

“Were you?”, Mrs. Corum asked rhetorically. In her mind she further scanned her memory. Sadly she knew very few of the other 6th graders at her school that were not in her class. That amounted to around 30-40 more students. And even then, they had no assurance that Sara Beth had come from the same general area they had.

“We were just going for a walk, would you like to join us”, G-ma asked.

“I can’t”, Sara Beth replied.

This took the two older women by surprise.

“Why not?”, Mrs. Corum asked bluntly.

“Because I need to stay in this spot so they can find me”, Sara Beth said indignantly.

“Honey, I don’t think that’s how it works here”, G-ma gently said.

“How do you know?”, Sara Beth asked.

“Because I sat in the same spot for almost 8 years”, G-ma replied softly. “No one came for me until Mrs. Corum happened to find me a few weeks ago”.

“Well you see – you see – someone found you by staying in the same spot”.

The girl had her there. G-ma had to think quickly.

“Then I’ll tell you what – we can come wait at your spot today, and then tomorrow go on our walk again, and if you choose to come with us, we can come back to your spot every so often and see if anyone is waiting for you”. Sara Beth pondered the idea, and shook her head in agreement.

The three of them sat down, just as it began to dim for the night.

Chapter 3: Similarities

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Mrs. Corum sat for a long time while G-ma happily air knitted. Finally she’d had enough.
“You know, I would have taken a nap to escape this, by now”, she said.
G-ma looked up from her knitting. “Funny how we realize that a lot of the time we spent napping, or eating, or any other mundane thing before wasn’t because of our need to do those things, but rather our need to not do them – to find anything else to occupy us”.
“Do you think we’re dead?”, Mrs. Corum asked.
It was the first time the thought had crossed her mind, and she mentally chastised herself for not thinking of it earlier. G-ma, however, appeared to have already thought it out.
“No matter what spirituality someone has, they imagine the afterlife to be different than this, honey”, G-ma started, “At the very least, there should be some torment or joy, purpose or interaction with some part of the Universe. Best I can tell, we’re not dead, although the thought crossed my mind that we might be stuck somewhere in-between life and death. In the end though, it’s those weird feelings we have when we’re near a spot we’ve been to before, or my emotional warmth, that lead me to think we’re still very much alive. I also had concluded that if I were dead, I’d meet someone at some point. You kinda destroyed that argument when you arrived”, G-ma ended with a smile.
“I don’t know why I didn’t wonder about being dead earlier”, Mrs. Corum mused, “Now that it crosses my mind, it seems like one of the first things I should have considered.”
“I didn’t think of it for at least a year”, G-ma replied. “It’s almost as if this place actively fights that thought away from you”.
“Speaking of actively fighting, that’s all I feel like I’ve been doing for the last few hours – fighting to remember a time before this place”, Mrs. Corum said softly.
“Damnedest thing, isn’t it?”, said G-ma.
“I kept coming back to one thought – if you and I are the only two here, is it because we’re somehow linked?”, Mrs. Corum asked.
G-ma paused for a moment, as if this time she was the one to have the revelation late to the game.
“I suppose it’s possible”, G-ma conceded. For someone who seemed to know a lot of this world, she appeared shaky in her convictions for the first time in Mrs. Corum’s presence.
“Maybe we should talk about our past, as much of it as we can remember”, Mrs. Corum suggested.
The women sat and spoke at length for several hours, each recalling their own personal history. G-ma had been born about 5 years earlier than Mrs. Corum, and they found they were both from the same part of the country – even being born in the same hospital. Aside from that link, though, most things were different. Mrs. Corum had worked all her life, never married, never had children, and socialized mostly with her students in the classroom, living a solitary life outside of it. G-ma married young to the love of her life, Edgar, had one child, John, and socialized almost exclusively with her husband and child until Edgar died. G-ma hadn’t ever held a job (well, a real job anyway, she’d worked as a teenager at a hamburger stand), and the only children she saw on a regular basis were Julie and Jamie.
Mrs. Corum was still having trouble recalling names of her students, so she began describing them. There was the little boy who was preoccupied with peeling glue from the top of glue bottles, cleaning the whole classes supply out of some sort of prepubescent OCD need. There was the little girl who couldn’t pronounce the word bird correctly, despite loving the creatures. And so on. G-ma humored Mrs. Corum as she told her stories, pushing back the urge to relate each one to an experience with her grandchildren.
“And this year, I’ve got one with one heck of an imagination”, Mrs. Corum started, “She tells the most fantastical stories, with such detail. It’s almost as if she plans them all out and rigorously rehearses them before hand”.
G-ma couldn’t resist this time.
“Oh, that reminds me of Julie so much”, G-ma started, “She would come over to my place when she was just learning to put together full sentences, and I’d listen to these broken stories that she’d tell.”, G-ma smiled while recalling the memory.
“Kids do that so well”, Mrs. Corum said, “Often they take what they see on TV and reinterpret it, re-telling it so that it scarcely resembles the original”.
“If that’s what Julie was doing, then she was mighty good at it”, G-ma replied, “I could never quite figure out where she got these ideas from. Her father wasn’t the most creative person, so I doubt it was from him. And her mom didn’t have time for such things either – too busy working. Such a shame when families break up and the woman must work”
Mrs. Corum wasn’t exactly a diehard feminist, but the last line tweaked her just a bit. She might have wanted to have had a life like G-ma’s, but she was happy in hers. By the time she re-focused herself on what G-ma was rambling on about, she was surprised to hear that G-ma had refocused her story back on little Julie.
Suddenly, as if a bolt of lightning had struck her, Mrs. Corum broke the story.
“My student’s name is… Julie”, she said.
G-ma didn’t waste any time “An interesting coincidence, dear, maybe all Julies are inherently creative?”.
“What is your last name”, Mrs. Corum asked.
“You don’t think that’s really possible”, G-ma said as she realized what Mrs. Corum was insinuating.
“Is this world supposed to be possible?”, Mrs. Corum retorted.
“Alright… McKay. My last name is McKay, as is John’s, as is Julie and Jamie’s”
The look in Mrs. Corum’s eye told the whole story. The women, who up until that point had been walking absentmindedly while talking, stopped, sat down, and looked at each other in disbelief.


G-ma hadn’t felt so free since before she came to this place. It was as if the weight of the world she’d been carrying for so many years was lifted.
They talked for hours, filling in each other’s memory. Verifying it was the same Julie McKay was first up, and everything checked out. From there it went to how Julie was doing, and by extension, Jamie. Mrs. Corum didn’t know Jamie, other than to know that Julie had a little sister a grade behind. G-ma was ecstatic to hear that Julie was alive, well, and a good student in Mrs. Corum’s class. They were so caught up in the discussion of Julie that they didn’t think about what their connection meant to each other, until finally Mrs. Corum remembered a small detail.
“Last Halloween, all of the children dressed up as usual, but Julie said something I didn’t even think about until now”.
“What was that?”, G-ma asked, intently. She waited to hear the answer, as she had waited on edge during the entire conversation. She craved more knowledge about her granddaughters, and badgered Mrs. Corum with her eyes to spill the beans as quickly as possible.
“Well, Julie dressed up as a witch, and when I asked her about her costume, she mentioned that her grandmother had helped her make it.”
“Wow, I only met her mom’s mom once, but she didn’t seem like the kind who had the skills or desire to help out with a halloween costume”, G-ma replied.
“That’s just it”, Mrs. Corum replied, “I think she was talking about you”
“How could she? She probably barely remembers me – I’ve been gone so long”
“What if you weren’t gone?”
“What do you mean? Of course I’m gone, I’m here with you”
“It sounds crazy”, Mrs. Corum conceded, “But what if, somehow, we were copied.”
“You on about aliens again? You can’t copy someone!”, G-ma replied harshly.
“But there isn’t any other way this makes sense. Think about it. If you had disappeared when she was 5, don’t you think that would have made news and a bit impact on a little girl? But she never mentioned it, and I never saw a news story about a local woman missing”
“You wouldn’t remember a news story about me from 7 years back! And kids are resilient, she probably made up a story in which I went away”, G-ma said in return.
“I don’t know”, Mrs. Corum mused, “I think there is something way stranger going on here than we know already”.
The ludicrous nature of the statement caused both of them to smile and laugh. It seemed way stranger than a world that existed in tones of gray, where you couldn’t feel pain except in your emotions, where you didn’t need to breathe or eat, where you didn’t sleep… How could something be even stranger than that?
After several minutes, G-ma spoke.
“I guess anything is possible, since this place even exists… and if you’re right, than I’m even more relieved than I was when I heard Julie was OK. I’m relieved because apparently, somewhere, I might exist… OK… maybe I might even get back there some day”
“Let’s not run too far with it”, Mrs. Corum replied, “It was just a thought, and as you said, it’s a bit unlikely that I’d even remember those things from years ago”.
“Yes, but I believe sometimes that you need to choose what you want to believe in, or else you’re going to go mad”, G-ma said quietly. “And I might just choose to believe that a world exists where everyone is OK, with the exception of clones of you and I, which are stuck here”.
“Well, it seems as reasonable an explanation as any”, Mrs. Corum said.
The rest of that day was filled with more discussion of Julie, Jamie, and some shared connections both ladies had. Mrs. Corum had met Julie’s mom and dad, knew they were divorced and had even met the man Julie’s mom was dating. G-ma, despite feeling that her own son wasn’t the best parent in the world, scoffed at the idea that the girls might have a stepfather at some point.
They had begun walking again, and eventually Mrs. Corum realized they had gone all the way back to where she had arrived in this world, days ago. Their mental map of the space they inhabited had begun to form a bit, and while they had no idea how big the space was, they at least found they could recognize the subtle changes in ground gradation, and tones of gray in the sky. What a crazy situation – this world that was so foreign was beginning to have some orderliness to it. Upon arriving at Mrs. Corum’s old spot, the two decided to turn sharply 90 degrees and head in a new direction. They even joked about spending the rest of their days just devoted to mapping this place out, like an intrepid and cursed modern-day Lewis and Clark expedition. That is if Lewis and Clark were female… and didn’t need to stop to rest.


The journey of the intrepid explorers could best be described as monotonous. Day in, day out, they wandered. Occasionally they’d decide to switch directions, and sometimes they’d quiz each other about the mental map they were building in their head. They became experts at the subtle differences in terrain they found. A 2% grade drop was exciting, and splotches in the sky that resembled something were named accordingly. An equivalent of naming passing clouds, yet those clouds remained the same whenever one returned to that spot.
Mrs. Corum did, however, begin to notice some of the same things G-ma had spoken about earlier. Sometimes the ground did seem to shake slightly. Sometimes Mrs. Corum could easily dismiss this as her own stumble, but other times her and G-ma would both stop and look to each other, acknowledging what they both had just felt.
The two also noticed that the dimming seemed in some cases to be darker, and in other cases, it seemed to occur too early, or last for just a short amount of time. G-ma swore it had always been pretty predictable, so this was exciting news, if for nothing other than it indicated something different than the norm.
“Do you think there is an edge, somewhere”, Mrs. Corum asked G-ma one day.
“You know, sometimes I think there has to be”, G-ma replied. “And then I think about how the Earth wouldn’t have an edge if there wasn’t so much water… one could just keep walking around it, eternally”.
“True, although I think we’re still quite away from walking around the Earth, distance wise”, Mrs. Corum replied.
“Especially since we like to double back sometimes”, G-ma said with a laugh.
As they shared the moment, they both saw something quite unexpected – the sky, normally tones of ashy gray, began to take on a more coppery tone to it. They both stood, in awe, as colors they hadn’t seen began to wash over the area above their heads.
“Did this ever happen…”, Mrs. Corum asked.
“No… nothing like this…”, G-ma replied.
“Did you feel that…”, Mrs. Corum asked.
“Yes”, G-ma replied.
The feeling Mrs. Corum spoke of was a minor ache in her soul. The sort of way you feel when something is wrong but you just can’t put your finger on it.
“Same way I felt the day John called me to tell me the marriage was over”, G-ma began. “Just knew something was off that day. People would tell me I was crazy if I’d told it to them, but I knew a phone call was coming. I also knew it wasn’t going to be as bad as it could be, but it was bad – what’s the word for that kind of thing?”
“Foreboding”, Mrs. Corum replied, “Its one of the challenge words my 6th graders learn during their weekly spelling lesson. I always put it around the end of the year, and make an example of final examinations giving one a foreboding sense”. She tried to force a laugh, however the very real sense of foreboding she felt prevented that from happening.
Suddenly, the ground began to move. It moved faster and harder than both women had expected, and they lost their balance and tumbled to it.
“That would have broken a hip, if we were back home”, G-ma said as they both righted themselves and sat on the still shaking ground.
“How far out are we from where we both started?”, Mrs. Corum asked. G-ma always had the slightly better mental map. G-ma thought for a moment.
“About 2 days journey from my old spot, about 3 days from where you began”, she replied as she gestured toward each of the locations she mentioned.
“I wonder if we would have felt this there”, Mrs. Corum mused.
“Good question… this is pretty far out for us, maybe this area just gets that sky color regularly and these… tremors”, G-ma conceded.
And then, something neither of them had dreamed was possible occurred. It began to rain.
The rain came slowly at first, before it gradually increased to a moderate downpour. The women had nothing they could hide under, and thus just sat there, as the water washed over them. The ground seemed to soak it up, ending all fear they might have had of swimming back to their original spots.
“Why now”, G-ma said.
“Why not now?”, Mrs. Corum replied.
“I suppose – but for 8 years this place has been dry as a bone. Maybe once or twice the ground felt a bit soggy, but I always thought I was imagining that”.
“Perhaps it never rained where you used to stay”, Mrs. Corum offered.
“I guess…”
Gradually the rain let up, and the two women stood to take stock of the situation.
It was then they noticed that neither was water logged in anyway. Sure, they’d felt the rain, but their clothing was dry to the touch. Their hair was the same it had always been. They didn’t feel particularly cold, despite the normally comfortable temperature not going up.
“I’d expected it to be like coming into an air conditioned building after a storm”, Mrs. Corum said as they began walking again.
“Yeah, that cold feeling you get, even though the temperature inside is just fine”, G-ma replied.
“Do you think we should keep exploring, or should we head back to one of our spots?”, Mrs. Corum asked.
“Why would we head back?”
Mrs. Corum didn’t have an answer. It had been a crazy few days. First they’d found they had a mutual connection in Julie, then they’d seen colors in the sky, and finally they’d been rained on. Perhaps heading back to her original spot was a way of seeking safety.
“I don’t know”, Mrs. Corum finally replied, “I really don’t know”
“It’s starting to get to you, isn’t it, dear?”, G-ma asked with a knowing smile.
“I suppose it is. Is this what happens before a mental breakdown here?”, Mrs. Corum asked.
“Well, I’ve had my share of them, but they never included hallucinated weather events”, G-ma replied.
“Maybe there is a first time for everything”, Mrs. Corum said.
It would be the last words she audibly spoke for several hours, perhaps even days. She felt the frustration mounting and it wasn’t going to go away by returning to her original spot. It just needed to be dealt with over time. G-ma gave her space, both metaphorically and physically, trailing her as they continued to explore the world.

Chapter 2: G-ma

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Mrs. Corum stood there, blinking several times to be sure she was seeing what she thought she saw. There sitting before her was a woman, slightly older than herself, knitting. Well, she would have been knitting, if she had actually had yarn or knitting needles, but her fingers moved in concert as if they were present. The woman sat on the ground, legs crossed, hands busy with their imaginary handiwork. She wore a scarlet handmade sweater, and simple black slacks. House slippers adorned her feet. Her face showed the signs of age, with her wispy grey hair loosely framing features.

“I’m sorry if I startled you”, the old woman said. Mrs. Corum stood there, still not saying anything.

“Please, come sit down with me”, the woman continued.

Continue reading “Chapter 2: G-ma”

Chapter 1: Mrs. Corum

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I hope you enjoy this story. In it we are introduced to Mrs. Corum, a lovely person, albeit a tired person. I haven’t decided on a title for this project yet, so for now we’ll just go with the Chapter titles. This is part 1 of 30. Happy NaNoWriMo!

Mrs. Corum opened her eyes and yawned. She barely remembered the previous night, no doubt one punctuated by grading papers and planning lessons. One wouldn’t think that 6th grade could be as hectic as the 2nd graders she’d left a few years back, but it surely was. At least the kids were a little less rambunctious, on most days. Nights felt like they were sent from God in heaven – a time away from the noise and activity. She could rest in her bed, away from the job and the world, for a blissful 8 (or more commonly, 5) hours.

Continue reading “Chapter 1: Mrs. Corum”

Dread

This morning my car started flashing a service engine light as Karey and I began a long drive. We’re at the service center now, and should be back on the road around noon (a bit lighter in the bank account, but with a more reliable vehicle!). As I sit here, I think about the sense of dread I feel when I know I have a pending car repair. How long will it take? How much will it cost? How serious is it?   Will the mechanic be busy? All questions that nag at me while waiting for the repair to be completed.

And it makes me wonder – would I have wanted to know about this issue late last week, when it was likely I would have had to wait until this morning to even get the ball rolling, or is it better to find out on Monday morning? They say ignorance is bliss, and I know for sure that I would have felt uneasy (“a disturbance in the force”) all weekend when I should have been more present, enjoying life. Humans tend to want more information rather than less, and it’s interesting how that abundance of information can make us unhappier than we otherwise would. 

Out of Their Element

It’s been cold the last few weeks in Mississippi, a contrast to the summer heat that seems more memorable and typical of not only the Delta, but the south in general. Southerners seem confused by cold – it’s not their native environment. The town seems to go into a low-energy hibernation when the temperature drops below 35. Oddly enough, 35 in Northern Ohio is considered uncharistically warm for January, thus skewing my perspective (although by no means am I happy with the cold weather!). So on a night after the first 50 degree day in a few weeks, and the ensuing activity it has brought, I bring you a poem. Stay warm!

Cold in air, slumbering restless south
Infused with confusion, the thaw brings certainty
Moving back into motion, the soul returns

A passing event, the air expected to chill once more
But for a few passing days, life returns to normal
Hoping for the permanence of spring

Never Been Said

I did a Google search today for the phrase “my relationship with my wife is the easiest thing in my life”, and this is what I got:

Relationship

Google is a full text search engine, which means that, apparently, according to Google, no one has ever said that phrase before. In my experience, when you are with the right person, your relationship is not marred by regular conflict, and I’d choose spending time with my wife over dozens of mundane things because it’s easier (I.e. Spend time with her or solve a Sudoku puzzle: I like Sudoku, but I’m not in love with it.)

So I’m writing this post to rectify the situation. Yes Google, someone out there does say:

my relationship with my wife is the easiest thing in my life.