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.