Chapter 16: Lows and Highs
Sara Beth knew she couldn’t tell Mara’s secret to the rest of the group, but at the same time, she also thought it was something Mara might want to mention at some point since it would, likely, get the others to stop wondering so much about her. Sara Beth reasoned that it must be quite difficult to have others talking about you all the time, wondering about your intentions, and whispering about every little action you did. It would drive Sara Beth nuts to know it was happening, however it didn’t seem to be bothering Mara very much. Sara Beth wondered if Mara simply didn’t notice. Should she tell her? Would that make it worse or better? And what if (And this really threw Sara Beth for a loop), Mara knew about it and really didn’t care. This caused a great deal of conflict within Sara Beth – it was the first time she had ever realized that perhaps it wasn’t important for others to approve of you – Mara certainly didn’t seem to be caring if the others talked about her.
Besides the point of caring what other people thought, the information Mara had told Sara Beth was disturbing but also informative – it may provide a clue as to how she got here, even though none of it had anything to do with Julie. It had to signify something, given how large of an impact it had on Mara. Sara Beth had never experienced anything like it in her life, and even she knew how life altering it would be.
As for Mara, she felt different after she shared what she’d endured with Sara Beth. It was totally bizarre to feel like one could trust someone enough to tell them about the years of abuse without worry of them involving others. Mara didn’t know what it felt like to be safe – she hadn’t been safe in so long that the feeling had been long ago forgotten. Maybe this was it? Or maybe this was just ignorant bliss. Whatever it was, Mara had recognized that she needed to do something about her past, before it corrupted her future, even in this place. Her dark story needed to be known at least to someone.
It had started about 4 years ago, maybe even a little before that, if Mara really thought about it. She’d always been close to her father, going on little adventures with him to fish, or hunt, or just go for a walk. But something about him changed as she got older. Even to herself she had a hard time admitting what was going on, and most of the time thought of it simply as “he had done things to her that no father should do to a daughter, and perhaps no man should ever do to a woman in general”. She knew when he’d get into his moods, and tried to hide, or leave whenever possible. The late night wanderings around town, the early morning departures, and the meetings that always seemed to occur at her school right at 5:30. Her poor mother was completely clueless about what was going on, or worse, didn’t care to stop it. Her father had convinced her that it would only get worse if she involved others, and until coming to this place, telling any other would have made the pronouncement come true, she was sure of it. But now she was here, and the torment was gone, at least physically. Psychologically, she was still dealing with it every moment of the day. Sara Beth seemed to be the only person she’d ever met that wasn’t in a hurry to push her into “feeling better”, and she appreciated that. She wondered if she’d ever feel better, if she’d ever feel normal. Maybe one day.
“Hi Mara”, Sara Beth said as she walked over.
“Hi”, Mara said in return.
They began to talk about, of all things, music, finding that they each had a bit more in common with each other than they thought when it came to that subject.
“Can I let you in on a secret?”, Mara asked Sara Beth.
“Another one? I don’t know if I can take another one!”, Sara Beth replied. She was nervous if she should make such a joke, however in the end, she took the risk. Thankfully Mara grinned.
“Yea, but this one isn’t as scary”.
“We have to go for a walk first”
They got up and walked about 50 feet away from the group, over a small hill. It had been where Mara hid while watching periodically, and they sat down with their back to the hill.
“This is gonna blow your mind”, Mara said, as she reached into her purse. Slowly she pulled out a slim small rectangle, which Sara Beth instantly recognized.
“You have a smartphone!?!”
“Yeah… and it works!”
“What do you mean it works?”
Mara turned on the phone, and a familiar row of icons appeared. At the top read the battery percentage – 100%.
“Wow, it’s lucky that you charged your phone before you got here, I haven’t noticed an electrical outlet anywhere!” Sara Beth joked.
“That’s the weird thing – I didn’t charge it. In fact, it was dead in my purse – I’d left my charger at home when I went out that night”. Sara Beth looked confused.
“Yep, somehow it recharged itself”.
“Why did we have to go away from the others?”, Sara Beth asked.
“Because they’ll just want to take this from me. I’m the only one that has something remotely interesting to play with, well other than Sonic. They’ll bug me for it to borrow it, they’ll ask me what else I have in my purse, which is none of their business, and they may even gang up on me and take it. I’m trusting you with the knowledge I have this, and only you, OK? This is just as big as my other secret!”.
Sara Beth reluctantly agreed to the prohibition. They looked through the phone and found that all of the music that they could ever want was stored there. They tried to browse the Internet, but of course found no Wi-Fi or cellular signal was present. Mara had a few movies on the phone, and also some videos she’d taken. They took a quick video, and found that it worked as well as it would anywhere else. It was truly amazing what Mara had. Sara Beth was curious what else she might be hiding in that purse, but figured it was more important to be a friend than a snoop. Besides, if she was going to tell anyone about the contents, it would likely be Sara Beth anyway, so no need to look further.
After a few hours, they decided to go rejoin the group, figuring the others might come looking for them if they didn’t. The battery life on the phone still shown 100%, no signs of decrease. It was obviously running off of some sort of power, potentially the same power that the girls supposed powered them in this strange place. It was a strange moment, seeing the never-dying smartphone – it held up a mirror to their lives in this place, pointing out how mundane it all had become. So what, they had a phone that didn’t die. So what, they never had to eat or sleep. So what, they felt comfortable all the time, never in pain, never hot, never cold. As it turned out, though, these mundane aspects would become treasured when they began to slip away.
As they went over the hill, they saw the rest of the group had gathered around Ryan, who was lying on the ground. He seemed to be moving up and down, in some way, almost as if he were trying to find some position to lay in that worked for his current predicament.
“It burns so badly”, he said as he clutched his stomach, as the others watched.
The group was silent – they had no idea what to do in this situation. He’d been lying on the ground without motion for a long time before anyone noticed anything was wrong. Eventually, G-ma had asked him if he was OK, and he described the feeling.
“Its like I swallowed lighter fluid and someone lit a match in my stomach!”, he said in a very concrete description of the pain.
The rest of the group seemed to be feeling no ill effects, certainly not anything close to that, and they sat with him until, about an hour later, the feeling passed. As he stood up, he noticed that his body ached for the first time since he’d arrived here, almost as though he’d been through a rough workout. Sore muscles was something most 12 year olds don’t experience regularly, so this was extra jarring for Ryan.
“I’m going for a walk”, he said as he started to slowly walk away.
“Are you sure that’s wise?”, Mrs. Corum asked.
“There is nothing else I can do – I don’t want to lay down again anytime soon”, he said, “I’ll turn around and come back if I start to feel it again”. With that assurance, the group was complacent with his decision to leave, although not happy about it. As he walked off, Sara Beth turned to the group, who acknowledged her and Mara’s arrival.
“What was that?”, Sara Beth asked to the shaken group.
“Who knows”, G-ma replied, “I don’t think it’s ever happened before – none of us have talked about it if it has”.
“I think I understand”, Mara said weakly.
The rest of the group wheeled around, looking at her in disbelief. It was the first sentence she’d uttered to anyone other than Sara Beth.
“I haven’t felt that here”, Mara said, as they looked on, “But I’ve felt something similar back in my old life. Sort of the feeling that your entire body is burning up from the inside out”. Mara stopped short of relaying the story behind the feeling. When she was 10, her father had bought her a new dress. One morning, she had come down for school wearing it, and between her dad’s general bad attitude in the morning and her mom’s desire to placate him, no one had noticed it. That day, at school, it only took a few moments before a teacher pulled her aside and began berating her for wearing something ‘so inappropriate’. The teacher railed on about how no parent would ever buy such a thing for their child, and that surely Mara must have bought it and changed into it after leaving home. Mara felt a fiery feeling of embarrassment wash over her from the inside out, and at the time, she believed that drinking burning jet fuel would have felt cooler. Obviously she couldn’t reveal this story to the group, though, they’d learn too much. Maybe she’d tell Sara Beth.
Before anyone could ask anything further of Mara, and before Mara could get Sara Beth’s attention to leave, a strange look came over Sara Beth’s face. It was obvious something was affecting her, and attention quickly changed focus from Mara to Sara Beth, with Mara being the first to both willingly deflect the attention and speak.
“Sara Beth?”, Mara asked.
Sara Beth couldn’t speak a word in reply. All she could do was cry. The crying came slowly at first, but within a few minutes, she was sobbing with some intensity. Jamie, Mrs. Corum, and G-ma all took turns trying to talk to her, but she wasn’t able to put together more than a few sounds. At first they thought she was having a sort of mental breakdown, or perhaps was really upset about what happened to Ryan, or even that she knew what Mara was speaking cryptically about. However quickly they realized that Sara Beth didn’t know why she was crying, but nonetheless, she cried with intensity.
Slowly it began to stop, and Sara Beth seemed to calm down. But as the tears began to stop for her, they began to start for G-ma. Having almost exactly the same reaction, and inability to speak, G-ma cried for about an hour while Mara, Mrs. Corum, and Jamie all worried that perhaps they’d be next to succumb to uncontrollable tears. However after G-ma’s tears had dried, no other crying attacks were observed that day.
“It was as if the saddest thing in the world had happened to me”, Sara Beth said after they’d all calmed down.
“But you didn’t know what that thing was”, G-ma added, with Sara Beth nodding.
“I’ve never felt anything like that – it was so much grief at one time.” G-ma said, “I’ve felt pain in the past – emotional pain, physical pain, but never anything like that. I’d always found that there was a silver lining somewhere whenever I’d felt something like that before. There was absolutely no lining this time. It was all darkness, all sadness”.
“Did it hurt at all?”, Mrs. Corum asked, remembering how it had affected Ryan.
“No, no physical pain, no burning”, G-ma said as Sara Beth nodded, “But horrible sadness”.
Mara, who had been watching from the outskirts, especially after Sara Beth began to feel better, decided to share an observation with the group.
“Did anyone else notice the mountains?”, she asked timidly.
The rest indicated they hadn’t – they’d been too focused on G-ma and Sara Beth.
“The mountain peaks were dark, dark red. They stayed that way the entire time Ryan was in pain, and when G-ma and Sara Beth were crying. Now they’re completely unlit”. As described, the mountains were visually silent. They wouldn’t begin to be active again until after dim the next morning.