Where am I?
Am I finally done? Is it all over?
Sara Beth remembered a day years ago before she met Julie, back when it was just her and her parents, living far out in the country before they moved closer to the city. It was sunny, and warm, likely the first warm day of spring. The grass was green, and smelled great after the rain and passed. She had been cooped up inside the house for so long that she’d forgotten that there was so much to do outside, but on that day when she walked out without a coat and wasn’t freezing cold, she decided she couldn’t stay indoors any longer. She rode her bike all afternoon, and when she came in, her mother frowned, looking at her shoulders. They’d been out all afternoon, thanks to the tank top that Sara Beth was wearing.
“You didn’t put on any sunscreen”, mom had said with a sigh. Sara Beth didn’t quite understand why this was a problem. Sure, in the past her mom had always caught her before she’d gone out and slathered sunscreen on her, but it never seemed like it had any purpose other than to slow her down. But later that night, when her skin felt like it was nearly on fire, she appreciated the lesson learned. It’s easy overlook danger if you’ve never personally been ‘burned’ by it, and while Mom may have warned her to wear her sunscreen, she never truly understood why she should wear it before that day.
Today, she wondered if danger might be lurking for her, given the fact that Julie would be seeing a lot less of her in the near future.
‘Does that affect the way Julie will feel about me?’, Sara Beth wondered.
She could see it going both ways – perhaps Julie would forget about her almost entirely, leaving Sara Beth cold and alone in Julie’s mind. What happens if Julie forgets about a person? The group had no clue – perhaps the person gets to leave, or they get to control their own space in Julie’s mind, or they stay exactly the same as they are now. So many unanswered questions. On the other hand, perhaps Julie would miss Sara Beth so badly that she’d begin to imagine fun times with her more regularly – perhaps Sara Beth would feel that warmth of a spring day all the time. That could be nice, perhaps even a little addicting. It was foolish to hope for such things though, when so much was unknown. The truth would likely be none of the above.
As she sat there, she began to have a strange feeling. It took her a moment to realize what it was – she hadn’t felt it in so long. However as she sat on the ground, with Sonic in the middle of her legs, hunched over playing with him, she got the very clear feeling that she was being watched. But that wasn’t possible – this entire place consisted of only 5 people, and all 5 were in front of her, in the distance. Off to the right was Mrs. Corum and Jamie, likely practicing their mental squaring (Jamie seemed to be more the math buff than Sara Beth, and with Mrs. Corum’s perfectionism taking hold, Sara Beth was more than happy to pass off the reigns to someone else). Off to the left was Ryan, laying on the ground staring up at the sky. And farther off, straight in front of her, was G-ma, air knitting as fast as she could (She’d said she wanted to finish this pair of socks before the end of the day. For someone so tuned into their own hobby, it was ironic that she was confused by Mrs. Corum’s mental squaring). But still, it felt as if someone had their eyes on her. But if so, why wouldn’t the person come out and say hello – surely they’d feel just as alone here as the rest of them had when they arrived. It was unfathomable to Sara Beth that anyone could ever resist joining their group upon finding it. It was just too lonely out there on your own. Perhaps someone would be scared for a few moments before they watched the group and found them friendly, but no more than a few moments would pass.
Slowly Sara Beth stretched (out of habit) and put Sonic back in his ball. They were going to go for a quick walk to see if Sara Beth’s suspicions were right. As she stood, she could almost hear the movement of someone behind her. Turning slowly, she had just enough time to catch a glimpse of something as it darted away. It was hard to make out what it was, even what shape or color.
“Hey, guys…” Sara Beth called out toward the rest of the group. They were near enough to hear her.
“What?”, G-ma asked.
Sara Beth walked toward the group, with Sonic in tow.
“I think someone was watching me… I think someone else is here”, Sara Beth proclaimed.
“Betcha it’s just in your head”, Ryan said with a slight snicker. His mood had been slowly getting more angsty over the previous day. Soon, Sara Beth predicted, he’d be off to take a walk like he always did. The walks seemed to be less frequent, but frankly, Sara Beth had better things to do than keep tabs on Ryan.
“Did you call out to it?”, G-ma asked, as Mrs. Corum and Jamie finished their math practice and joined the group.
“No, I’m not sure what I saw – it moved so quickly”, Sara Beth replied.
“Should we go look?”, Jamie asked.
“If it is someone, they’ll eventually come to us, I think”, G-ma replied, “They’ll be lonely, and realize we’re not a threat”.
“That’s what I thought – how could someone want to stay alone”, Sara Beth said in reply.
“Oh trust me, there are reasons someone might want to be alone”, Ryan said, still staring up at the sky.
Did they see me?
What are they talking about?
Later that day, Mrs. Corum and Jamie had taken another break from their game to talk about the school they both knew so well, Mrs. Corum as a teacher, Jamie as a student. It was always interesting to hear the differing of opinions and views, not only due to position in the school hierarchy, but due to position height wise – Mrs. Corum had a good foot on Jamie.
“I don’t know why they don’t just fix those stairs for good”, Mrs. Corum said. The stairs in question had been a sore spot for many years. Literally sore – they became very slick in the winter, and countless students and staff had stumbled down them. Thankfully they were rather narrow and had hand rails on both sides, so one seldom slipped more than a stair before they grabbed on for safety.
“I remember stumbling there last year”, Mrs. Corum continued, “I was holding a stack of papers and dropped them when I grabbed out for the railing. I remember the papers falling down the stairs before me. They weren’t paper clipped together, or stapled, or bound in any way and before they’d left my hand I’d already begun to fear what the effects of the fall would be. I imagined myself picking them up and it taking hours to reassemble them in the right order – students never put their names on all of the sheets like we ask – but to my surprise, the entire stack fell as one, not a piece drifting off. The neat little pile was waiting for me a few steps below. I could never have gotten so lucky if I’d tried”
“That’s funny. I remember one time, last year, Mrs. Smith stumbled and then hopped down the rest of the way – she just couldn’t get her bearings and responded by doing this funny little skip hop thing from step to step. I know it shouldn’t have been so funny but it really was – it was almost as if she didn’t know how to stop herself without falling”, Jamie said with a smile.
“Oh, I remember that day. She talked about that for the rest of the day and the week. Several faculty meetings in a row she asked the administration to have the stairs fixed, and they kept telling her that they were working on it. I think she kept talking about it because she was so mortified that her students had seen her do that”, Mrs. Corum replied.
Jamie looked confused. “What’s ‘mortified’ mean, Mrs. Corum?”
“It means she was really embarrassed and upset about it. She felt like it was too embarrassing for her to get over and she wanted to somehow take it back. I think she felt that if the stairs weren’t there looking at her every day – if they were fixed or recoated – she could get over it.”
“Did she get over it?”, Jamie asked with questioning look.
“Yes, eventually. It took her awhile though. I don’t think she’s used those stairs since – she walks around to the other side of the building now, even on dry days when those stairs aren’t treacherous. It’s funny how little things can hang you up so well – in her case, it was simply that one moment that gave her a life long hatred of those stairs”
The women sat for a moment, chuckling about poor Mrs. Smith, before Mrs. Corum spoke suddenly.
“Did you hear that”, she asked Jamie.
“No”, Jamie replied.
“It sounded like someone crying, but they were trying to be very quiet about it”, Mrs. Corum said as she scanned the area around her. Ryan had gone for a walk, and G-ma and Sara Beth were playing with Sonic a ways away.
“Maybe I just heard Sonic squeak”, Mrs. Corum concluded.
“He doesn’t make that much noise, for a little animal”, Jamie remarked.
She just looked around – They heard that?!?
I’ve got to be more careful.
The next morning, Ryan had returned from his walk in his characteristic good mood. He suggested they play a game, and the others agreed. In essence, they were playing tag – with Mrs. Corum and G-ma excited to be able to play the game fully and competitively for the first time in many years. Amazing how it was to be able to run at full speed, stop on a dime, topple someone over tagging them as it, and then tripping as you ran away, all without feeling a single ache or pain. Loosely grouped into teams (Mrs. Corum, G-ma, and Sara Beth, against Ryan and Jamie), they spent most of the first few hours that morning running around their endless playground, using the sound dampening to their advantage – able to run up without the slightest sound betraying their approach.
And since they didn’t get tired, they could play fast, hard, and without even a moment for a breath. So it’s no wonder they found themselves a bit preoccupied.
When they returned to their spots later that day, they had a strange conversation.
“Did you ever have that experience, Mrs. Corum, of your eyes tiring out and and seeing something out of the corner that you knew wasn’t there”, G-ma asked as they sat down.
“Yes, my eyes played tricks on me since I was about 30, but here they’ve been fine, as is the rest of me”, Mrs. Corum replied.
“Yeah, same here. But when we were running today, I could have sworn I saw something run past me. It was dark, and gone as quickly as I turned to look.”
Jamie perked up at this comment.
“That sounds really weird G-ma”, Jamie began, “But I think I may have seen it too”.
“Seen what?”, Ryan said as he joined the conversation.
“Some strange black whoosh – that’s about all I can call it”, G-ma said.
“I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary”, Ryan said confidently.
“Neither did I”, Mrs. Corum added.
“I didn’t either… but Sonic may have”, Sara Beth offered.
“How would Sonic have told you that?”, Ryan asked.
“Well, it’s more what I noticed about his ball”, Sara Beth began, “Before we started playing tag, I took off my shoes and tethered Sonic to them. He’s not strong enough to pull them when he moves around, so it’s my little way to keep him nearby. I specifically remember putting my shoes one inside the other, to keep them together, however when we were finished, I found them side by side”.
“Is it possible Sonic knocked over one shoe? Putting it outside the other?”, Mrs. Corum asked.
“Probably not – he never has before, and the shoes were placed neatly side by side, not toppled”. Sara Beth asserted.
The group thought for a few moments.
“Maybe someone has been around, darting in and out. It might explain some of the oddities we’ve experienced yesterday and today”, Jamie said thoughtfully.
“I hope it’s a boy”, Ryan interjected with a grin, “I’ve been hanging out with too many women lately”. It was playful Ryan at his best, the kind of thing that a few days from now might come out sarcastic and biting.
“I wonder why he or she hasn’t decided to just come out and talk to us. We look friendly enough”, G-ma mused.
“Well, it got kinda rough when we were playing tag”, Jamie pointed out. During the game, she’d been the victim of a pretty rough tag from, of all people, G-ma.
“I guess it did”, G-ma said with a laugh, “If you’re out there, whoever you are, you don’t have to worry – we’re friendly! Come visit us!”.
G-ma circled around the group’s edge, repeating the same invitation so that it could be heard if anyone was lurking over a hill or beyond the horizon.
“Maybe we should go looking – it wouldn’t take long to spread out and search”, Mrs. Corum said after the invitation had been sent.
“No, it’s important that people come to us when they’re ready.”, G-ma said, echoing her advice from the previous day, “This place is already scary enough, we don’t need to be scary people too”.
All five of them were in agreement, they’d wait until their new friend made contact, if indeed that was what the situation was. Although their was the nagging thought that, perhaps, they were just hearing and seeing things. Maybe Sonic did channel his inner maid and decide to neatly place the shoes there, or Sara Beth had forgotten she placed them like that this time. It was hard to tell.
I don’t know…. It might be safe.