Mrs. Corum’s mind was working frantically. She needed to complete 6 more before she stopped. Sara Beth dutifully called them out.
Mrs. Corum thought for a few moments.
“1089. Make them farther apart, it’s more challenging”
And so it went for at least another few numbers before Mrs. Corum decided to take a break.
“How long is it taking me?”
“About 10 seconds”, Sara Beth replied.
“I can feel myself getting faster!”
Sara Beth was happy to be of help, but really saw no use to what Mrs. Corum was trying to do. G-ma happened by at that moment and seemed to have the same thought.
“What on earth are you doing?”, G-ma asked. Sara Beth braced herself to hear the same thing that she’d heard a few other times already from Mrs. Corum, as she explained it to her, to Jamie, and to Ryan. G-ma was out of the loop on this one.
“I’m teaching myself to mentally square two digit numbers as fast as possible”, Mrs. Corum replied.
“Why?”, G-ma asked.
“Because I remember reading about it years ago, and even remember hearing the steps, but never actually practiced it enough to do it quickly. You see, it’s based off of figuring out the easy calculations and then adding numbers together. Take that last number that Sara Beth gave me – 73. I’m gonna round that down to the nearest multiple of 10 – 70. Then I add whatever I took away, 3, and get 76. I multiply those together in my head – 6 times 70 is 420, 70 times 70 is 4900, add those together to get 5320. Then I take that little bit I shaved off earlier – 3, square that and you get 9, hence 5329”.
G-ma looked at Mrs. Corum like she was crazy, which unfortunately, Mrs. Corum took to be confusion.
“It’s really quite simple – take 32 for example – I shave off 2 to get to 30, then do 30 times 34 which is 1020, then I add 2 times 2, and get 1024”.
Before Mrs. Corum could do another example, G-ma stopped her.
“OK, dear, I get what you’re doing. But why are you doing it now? We don’t exactly need a lot of math done here in Julie’s mind. Why bother with this?”, G-ma asked.
“Because I need something – I need something to keep me interested. Spending time today learning this has made me forget all about where we are and what we’re up against. I realized it yesterday when we played Ryan’s game – if we do things that remind us of home, home doesn’t seem so far away.”
“You memorized weird math tricks at home?”, G-ma asked, sincerely.
“No, but I used math, and I taught it, and this would have been a fun trick to use at parties”, Mrs. Corum replied.
“Teachers have the wildest parties, I guess”, G-ma said with a chuckle.
There was some truth in what Mrs. Corum said, whether G-ma wanted to admit it or not. They all needed a good diversion to keep them from getting too stir crazy in Julie’s mind. This was as good as any, G-ma decided. She sat in with Mrs. Corum during her practice from time to time, but never got as fast as her younger companion. And while Sara Beth didn’t particularly try to learn how to do the math trick, she found after awhile she could do the same calculation, albeit a bit slower.
Over the next week, the group of five sat in their spots near the mountain range, watching it light up and fade away. It was especially beautiful at night. They also found, to their surprise, that a walk back toward their old spots seemed to take less time. Perhaps they’d found a shortcut or perhaps they were experiencing the same effect that G-ma talked about happening to her. The world here seemed to be very pliable, large and small based almost on nothing more than a whim.
The five had been camping, if you wanted to use such a term, by the mountains for about a week when Sara Beth brought up something that, unknowingly to her, the others had thought of as well.
“It’s less active”, she mused.
“I think you might be right”, G-ma replied, “Definitely seems like it was more active when we first got here. Sky seems a bit dimmer during the day too.”
“What do you think it means?”
Ryan jumped into the conversation, unexpectedly, “I think we’re reading too much into things”. The rest of the group seemed to differ.
“No, these things matter, Ryan”, Jamie replied.
“They certainly seem to”, Mrs. Corum added.
Ryan shrugged his shoulders. The rest of the group had noticed that Ryan seemed a bit less hateful of Julie over the past few weeks, but certainly wasn’t her biggest fan either. They suspected that being in Julie’s mind may have simply started to wear on him, perhaps causing him to like her to some extent. While they read this as like, the real truth wasn’t as positive. Ryan had simply become disinterested in Julie – he didn’t dislike or like her. He just wanted out of her brain. He had come to the realization that whether Julie was happy or sad was irrelevant. Whether she moved a lot or moved very little didn’t matter at all. It was more important that he keep his eyes on the prize: Finding a way out. So far he hadn’t been that lucky, but thankfully he had found other ways of handling his depression than lashing out against Julie, drawing the ire of the rest of the group.
Returning to the debate at hand, Sara Beth spoke again.
“I wonder if maybe summer vacation finally started, and Julie is spending time being lazy without having to think of school.”
“Not my sister!”, Jamie said firmly, “She was always a ball of energy during summer break – we’d go out and play, sometimes Dad would take us places when he had time, and even if we were cooped up inside, we’d find ways to run around and be crazy – Mom always hated that at the end of the day”.
“Maybe Julie isn’t into that as much, dear”, G-ma said, “She is getting older, maybe she is doing things with her friends – talking with them on the phone, texting them, all things that aren’t as active as running around like an indoor tornado”
Jamie gave that some thought, and turned her face down. Maybe G-ma was right, maybe this summer wasn’t going to be as much fun as the previous ones had been, now that Julie was nearly a teenager.
Mrs. Corum made a different suggestion.
“Maybe Julie is playing more with Sara Beth, outside of school and daycare, and they’re not as active”.
Now came Sara Beth’s turn to look sad.
“What’s wrong”, Mrs. Corum asked.
“If it is summer vacation, than Julie isn’t playing with me”, Sara Beth said quietly.
“Because I’m not going to be around to play with”, Sara Beth replied.
Over the next few minutes, Sara Beth would relay how her parents had told her, a few days before she had come to this place, that they were planning on moving near the start of summer – around the end of June. She was going to be living in Chicago, a long way away from where she grew up, and she’d have to make new friends. Her parents were sorry they had to do this to her, but her dad had taken a new position with a department there, and it was a big promotion, and they were all making adjustments so he could make more money. Sara Beth didn’t care about the money though – she wanted to stay where she had made friends. At least she could bring Sonic with her, but she couldn’t take Julie.
“So if it’s near the third week in June”, Sara Beth said slowly, “I’m not around to play with”.
The group commiserated with her, although in a strange way, the move wasn’t necessarily a big deal anymore – Sara Beth lived inside of Julie’s mind. She couldn’t move away if she wanted to, irony not lost on Ryan as he sat watching from the outskirts of the group.
He had been keeping track of the time – he knew that it wasn’t the third week of June yet. Just as Mrs. Corum had her love of math, Ryan liked knowing the stages of the moon. He’d been following it since he was a child, and knew it’s cycle well. Based on the last time he’d seen the moon, he knew only about 3 and a half weeks had passed. It was the first week of June. The others, in their excitement over the events of the past week, had accelerated time. He felt like correcting them, but then wondered what the use would be. He didn’t care about the mountain range, didn’t care about Julie, and certainly didn’t think anyone here should care about time. He’d simply been following it too long to easily forget.
Turning his attention back to the group, he found them still talking about the mountain range. Finally he couldn’t listen to them drone on anymore about it, and got up, walking away from the group and the mountains.
It was several moments before anyone realized he was gone. In the end it was Jamie who decided to follow. The other three women figured that there wasn’t any harm in her tracking him down. After all, what sort of trouble should you get into in a world where there was no pain.
Jamie caught up with him fairly quickly.
“Where are you going”, she yelled as soon as she was within range.
“None of your business”, he replied, “Go away”.
“No – you’ve got to tell me what you’re doing. Why don’t you care anymore about the Mountains? Why don’t you participate with the group? A few days ago you came up with that game – that was fun – why don’t we do something like that again?”
“You ask too many questions, Jamie”, Ryan replied.
“I just want to know what’s up with you”, Jamie said strongly.
“Nothing! You know what’s up with everyone here – it’s all the same – Nothing! We sit and we watch stupid mountains all day, or we talk about how what we do impacts Julie. I don’t care about Julie anymore. I didn’t like her when we first got here, and now I just don’t care anymore. I think I’m just going to go insane, and I’d rather go insane alone”.
“If you go insane”, Jamie said slowly, “Then 20 percent of the entire population of this place goes insane. That’s not good for all of us”.
“I don’t care what’s good for all of us – there is no good as far as I’m concerned. Now Go away! Go back to those other crazy women who care too much about things they can’t change. Just leave me be”. Ryan said, as he started walking faster.
“Are you going to come back?”, Jamie said.
“What? Back to the mountains?”, Ryan asked incredulously.
“Yes”, Jamie replied.
“Why should you care?”, Ryan said angrily.
“Because I do – because maybe I’m just as mad as you are, I’m just keeping it together better. Maybe I want to know you’ll be around to balance out things. Will you come back?”, Jamie said. Honestly she didn’t know how much sense she was making. It seemed to her, though, that Ryan, despite being the most ornery and hard to get along with person in the group, still played a vital role.
“Sure, I’ll come back”, Ryan replied as he kept walking.
Jamie wasn’t convinced. Running at him at full speed, she tackled him, taking him down to the ground. As he tried to push her off of him, he found her to be surprisingly strong. Much stronger than a girl her size should be.
“You can’t leave until you promise to return”, she cried.
“FINE – I’m just going to go for a walk, but I need some time ALONE”, he said as she pinned him to the ground.
“OK”, she said, releasing her grasp.
“I’ll be back before tomorrow night”, he said quietly. She didn’t ask him why his walk was going to take that long, and if she had, he wasn’t about to tell her.
“I’m back”, Ryan called out.
The others looked up from where they were sitting, surprised to see him in such a good mood.
Jamie ran up and hugged him, Ryan was relieved this time he didn’t end up on the ground.
“Where did you go?”, Mrs. Corum asked.
“I just had to go clear my head”, Ryan revealed with a smile. “I needed to sort some things out”.
“All of us are different”, G-ma said with a grin, “Some of us just need more space than others, I suppose”.
“How’s the mountains”, Ryan said, gesturing up to the peaks above.
“A little more active this morning”, Mrs. Corum replied, “But last night they were really quiet – for a few hours before it dimmed. If those mountains are her activity level, then she’s not doing much far in advance of falling asleep”.
“Maybe she’s sick”, Ryan replied.
The thought hadn’t really crossed the other’s minds, even though it could explain a lot. Since they didn’t see too many differences in the overall world other than the darker than normal sky, they had fixated on something happening to Julie, but not necessarily something on the inside. Thoughts about what she might be doing or feeling emotionally seemed to be their most common theories to explain the inactivity, they hadn’t thought much about the fact she might just be ill.
“I know I don’t move around much when I’m sick”, Ryan replied, “and I feel a little down because of that. Maybe everything is just natural – and she’ll be feeling better soon”.
“Perhaps”, G-ma replied. The group was clearly shocked, once more, than Ryan had some sort of insight into the group that the others hadn’t. He was the most unlikely person to be coming up with these revelations.
“I don’t know what you do on your walks, Ryan, but you seem to really get a lot out of them”, G-ma continued.
Ryan looked at her with a grin
“I guess I never really knew how useful walking and ordering your thoughts could be until I came here. I don’t know how, but a good walk seems to do me wonders”, he replied.
“We all have the things we do to stay happy, or at least to stay sane, dear. I say if you’ve found something that makes you feel better, go for as many walks as you need.
“Don’t worry, I certainly will – just don’t be worried if you don’t see me for a day or two. I’ll always return”. In his mind Ryan knew he would always come back, because despite how he felt when he left the group, for some reason he was always compelled to walk back. He still didn’t quite understand how it all worked, but it was keeping him from starting a giant fight, and from having a giant breakdown. And he had, so far, kept it under control.