“You look different”, Mara said as Sara Beth walked toward her.
“What do you mean”, Sara Beth said, visibly confused. Nothing here ever changed in appearance. That was the most disturbing part of living in another person’s mind – you were pictured however they thought of you, and it turned out, it wasn’t often you were remembered wearing different clothes.
“I’m not sure – something about you looks different”, Mara said as she turned to face Sara Beth dead on, to look at her as closely as possible.
“It’s almost as if I’m seeing you through a really dirty pair of glasses”
“That doesn’t make any sense – it’s not like my red dress can fade without being washed!”, Sara Beth said with a giggle.
“I think we should check with the others”
Mara wouldn’t take no for an answer. But instead of walking toward the others as they sat near Ryan’s comatose body, she pulled out her phone and took a picture of Sara Beth. The others wouldn’t notice this, she reasoned, and she was correct.
Sara Beth took the phone from Mara and laughed.
“Very funny – you put a filter on me! I look like I’m faded!”
“I didn’t put a filter on you”
“No one looks faded out in real life!”
“You didn’t until just a few minutes ago, after dim ended.”
By this point, Sara Beth was beginning to be a bit concerned, but for the life of her, she still couldn’t fathom looking faded out. So Mara and Sara Beth began to walk over to the group, as they kept vigil over Ryan.
Mrs. Corum was the first to see them approach, and as soon as she saw Sara Beth, a puzzled look flashed over her face. She squinted, looked away and back, and squinted again, all while trying not to give any indication that anything was amiss. Jamie wasn’t quite as covert.
“Whoa – what’s wrong with you?”, Jamie said as she looked at Sara Beth. Sara Beth simply shrugged.
“There is something weird going on here”, Jamie said aloud. By this point, Mrs. Corum had regained her composure enough to add into the conversation.
“I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me… but they aren’t. You look like the red stripe of a faded flag, although not tattered, just sun scorched. What happened to you?”
“Nothing, I didn’t know I looked any different until Mara pointed it out to me”.
With G-ma out on another walk, the four women were alone to contemplate the strange situation they were in.
“Do you think Sara Beth and Ryan’s situations are related”, Mrs. Corum asked aloud, to no one in particular.
The entire group shrugged.
“What could fading out symbolize to Julie?”, Mara asked.
“Maybe she isn’t thinking of Sara Beth as much”, Mrs. Corum replied, unaware of Sara Beth’s own concern over this. So it was surprising when Sara Beth began to cry softly. Mara walked over to her and put her arm around her, intending to comfort her, but finding a new surprise in the process. As Mara jerked her arm away from Sara Beth, the younger girl knew something else was wrong.
“What? Why can’t you put your arm there?”, Sara Beth asked, stifling tears.
“Uh… it’s probably nothing.” Mara wasn’t a very convincing liar.
“It’s something. Mrs. Corum, come here and try to put your arm where Mara put hers”. Reluctantly, Mrs. Corum obliged. The same confused look streaked across her face as when she thought she was seeing things earlier.
“It’s really hard to explain”, Mrs. Corum said, as Sara Beth put her own hand on the spot, rubbing it slightly.
“It feels the same as usual to me”, she said confidently.
“But not to us”, Mrs. Corum replied.
By now, Jamie had walked nearer to Sara Beth and touched her arm. She too jerked her hand away quickly, just as Mara had. With no words to describe, Sara Beth felt it was time to test the only other animal available, Sonic. Reaching into Sonic’s ball to pick him up, she found he darted away from her hand, as if it didn’t feel like it usually did.
“Somebody please tell me what it feels like!”, she exclaimed.
“OK… there’s no easy way to say this… but you don’t feel ‘solid’ – your arm feels a bit like gelatin. It pushes back and forth a bit as I try to touch it. It’s not at all what you expect when you go to touch another person.”
“I knew it… I knew it was going to happen…”, Sara Beth began to say as she walked away slightly from the group. The rest of the group reflexively walked with her.
“What? What did you know?”, Jamie asked.
“Julie… this is because Julie has forgotten about me. I moved away a few weeks ago… and now she’s at camp… and she doesn’t think about me as much as she used to. I’m slowly fading away as my memory becomes more and more distant” Sara Beth then began to cry more forcefully, and unfortunately her companions had no good way to argue away her belief. It seemed to add up, the only thing it didn’t have was a link to Ryan’s situation. But it certainly didn’t have to have one to be a real phenomenon.
“I’m so sorry”, Mrs. Corum said, breaking the silence. “We don’t know if that’s it, but we also don’t know if it’s something else”.
As the group stood around Sara Beth, they heard the cry of a familiar voice off in the distance.
“Hey everyone, what’s going on”, G-ma yelled as she neared the group. They clustered around Sara Beth, so it wasn’t until G-ma got closer that she realized that something was different.
“Sara Beth! You…” G-ma left her thought hanging, realizing that certainly Sara Beth knew what she looked like. Skipping ahead, she began to speak again. “When did this happen?”
“Just a few minutes ago.”, Mara replied.
“This place is getting stranger by the moment”, G-ma replied, “It’s a good thing I figured out how to get us out of here quicker. Gather around, and I’ll tell you my plan.”. Reluctantly, the group gathered, hoping to perhaps hear some sane idea come from the older woman’s mouth. Instead, they heard something far different.
“Now I know that this isn’t exactly what all of you want to hear, but trust me, I’ve given it a lot of thought, and it’s our best shot to resolve all of our problems. Julie must be our top concern, and we’re doing this for her. She’s in a lot of anguish right now – I can tell. It’s my belief that Ryan told her something that made her take out her emotions on him here – sending him into that coma. And she’s forgetting about her own best friend, which is happening way too quickly to be by normal circumstances. She’s pushing people away, and we’ve got to help her get back to normal.
The only way to do that is to make her confront her own problems. She simply cannot hide away anymore. When I was a girl, my grandmother wouldn’t let me shy away from the things I needed to do, and I can’t let Julie do that either. She needs firm guidance, and Lord knows her parents aren’t giving it to her. They’ve never been very good at providing structure for her or for Jamie. I don’t know what I’ve been doing on Earth for the past 8 years, but apparently it hasn’t been enough. Maybe I’m blinded by age to what I need to do.
Anyway, I’m getting off topic. You see, I realized that the only reason Julie is able to escape from her troubles, rather than face them directly, is because she’s got us here in her mind. She can retreat here and play with us, or watch us, or imagine us doing whatever she wants us to do. She gave me a knitting bag and imagined how much I’d love it. And while I’m not ungrateful for that, I am worried that she’s using things like that to escape. It’s not healthy for an adolescent girl to do that – she needs to face facts and grow up. The world’s not always going to be kind to her, and we can’t sugarcoat it for her.
So what I’m proposing is simple: We don’t play the game anymore. We stop being Julie’s ‘toys’ and simply disconnect. She’ll realize that the voices inside her head are gone, so she’ll start connecting with the outside world. Once we see the mountains lighting up regularly, and the light valley returning, we can go back to normal. But until then, we need to show some tough love by just sitting here, or lying on the ground, and doing and saying nothing.
I know it’s going to be tough. I know that it could backfire, but it’s a risk that I’m going to insist we take. Starting today, from this moment on, as soon as I finish speaking, we disconnect. We don’t talk to each other. We don’t even move. I’ll help us keep in line. But as the oldest of our group, I’m going to take charge here. Everything will be OK, we just need to ride out the storm. Now lay back, stay quiet, and we’ll save Julie”
The group looked at G-ma in shock. Her demeanor had definitely changed. She wasn’t asking for feedback, she was demanding obedience. Seeing the older woman change so abruptly over the last few days shocked them into submission, fearing what might happen if they didn’t obey. For now, they’d follow her commands. They all laid down on the ground, and closed their eyes. G-ma stood watch. Any hint of noise or rustle of movement was met with a pointed “Shh!”, as well as a G-ma moving to stand watch closer over the offending party. And while their voices on the outside had been silenced, their thoughts inside raced.