Chapter 9: Escape
“Come over here”
“Why are you whispering”
“Just follow me”
“I don’t want to”
“Just do it”
“We’re gonna get out of here.”
“I have a plan.”
“It will never work.”
“Sure it will – just because they think it won’t you’re gonna believe them? They don’t know everything. They think they do, but they have it all wrong.”
“What makes you so sure you’re right?”
“Because I know how she thinks – I know what she’ll do. I know her better than anybody here.”
“Hey, what about me? I think I know her pretty well!”
“She’s ignored you for years, she’s all about the special one. You’re closer to me than you are to her!”
“Face it, it’s true. You with me or not?”
“What if we get hurt?”
“Well, we might – but eventually we’ll win. We’re stronger. Just stick with me – you’ll see.”
“I hope you’re right about this.”
Julie McKay was an interesting subject to ponder, and for the five people trapped in her mind, she was really the only subject to ponder. Slowly a picture emerged of the average 12 year old girl, written by those who arguably knew her best, the people stuck in her subconscious.
On one hand, you had Julie the ‘good kid’ who had been through ‘rough times’ in the past, as evidenced by the school counselor’s report that passed through Mrs. Corum’s desk months ago. Family was stable, but her mental health wasn’t always. Mood swings, impulsivity, and other issues in slightly higher than normal concentrations.
On another hand, you had Julie the friend and sister, with both Jamie and Sara Beth thinking of her in that regard. An extremely uneasy truce had developed between the girls. Having not met before, they simply had what they had heard of the other to understand their new brain companion. Sara Beth had heard that Jamie was a whiny annoying younger sister who would bother her older sister incessantly. Jamie had heard about the almost-god-like Sara Beth, whom her sister looked forward to seeing each day after school. It wasn’t surprising that neither was that warm to the other.
On yet a third hand, you had Julie the granddaughter, sweet and perpetually stuck at age 4. G-ma knew what she’d been told about her oldest grandchild, but still didn’t quite believe it. She hadn’t ever met her in person at age 12, she’d only experienced the tremors and floods of the mind. It was just easier for G-ma to think of her as 4 rather than 12.
And finally, on the last hand, you had Julie the crazy annoying girl in class. Ryan didn’t know quite why Julie annoyed him so much, but he knew it was insanely enjoyable to torment her. Adult level sadism has nothing on adolescent, and Ryan was merciless in what he would imagine doing to Julie in his mind. As many pranks as he could pull. As many ways to embarrass her in front of the class. As many jabs he could deliver as he saw her eyes begin to melt. Ryan was in control and he loved the power. The only thing that prevented him from executing all of his plans was the fear of getting caught, or worse, the fear of himself being humiliated again in front of his adoring fans and potential victims. To describe Ryan as a bully would be generous to other lesser bullies. He likely wasn’t in their ballpark or even their league.
“They’re gonna do it”
“How do you know?”
“I heard them. They didn’t know I was nearby.”
“They think it will work?”
“Yes, they’re pretty convinced. Well, at least one of them is, the other seems reluctant but will go along with it”
“Well, I don’t think they have a chance in hell of it working. It seems stupid, but also seems incredibly dangerous”
“Think about it. If they do what they say they’re going to do, it’s not going to get them ‘erased’ or ‘repressed’ or anything like that. It’s just going to make her mad. And when she gets mad…”
“Things here get a little crazy”
“But here’s what troubles me”
“Besides it being dangerous to us all?”
“Yes, besides that. I agree it’s stupid, and it can be dangerous, but in the end, we have absolutely no way to stop them”
“Well, I’ve thought of ways…”
“Now who has a plan that doesn’t have a chance in hell of working”
“Shhh… keep your voice down.”
“They’re in their own little worlds anyway”
“Yep, but they don’t need to hear that we have a plan for fighting back, even if you don’t think it will work”
“Tonight right before it dims, OK?”
“Fine, we’ll try it.”
“You’ll thank me later!”
All day there had been an eerie silence among the group. The adults were busy chatting about their previous lives, joking about places they’d traveled and the colossal let downs they’d been. Sara Beth and Sonic sat a bit away from the rest of the group, playing a new game that Sara Beth had developed whereby Sonic wheeled his ball around in time with her guide on the tether. The goal was to see if the taught line on the tether would go slack, as the little hedgehog kept up with the predetermined path of his owner. It wasn’t much, but it was a diversion.
Ryan and Jamie seemed to have an uneasy truce, with Jamie apparently feeling it was better to hang out with her sister’s tormentor than her sister’s best friend. ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’ was apparently the philosophy she had decided to take.
The previous day had been filled with ‘group’ activities in a sense. After the pain incident, Mrs. Corum felt it would be useful for all five of them to sit around that day and discuss their interactions with Julie, and how their actions now might affect her still. Ryan seemed disinterested in much of the conversation, only curious if the older women had ever thought of getting out of this place. Mrs. Corum admitted that she hadn’t given it much thought since she felt it was probably impossible from the moment she arrived, however apparently G-ma had felt differently.
“It was 2 days after I arrived”, G-ma began, “And I was ready to do anything to leave this place. That was the day I realized that I could run here and not feel any pain, any exhaustion, or any need to stop. So I started running. I ran as fast as I could and as far from where I was as I could. I felt there had to be some exit, somewhere, that I could hit. Even if it were a wall, perhaps I could run up against it at full speed so many times it would finally break, or maybe I’d break, either way, the problem would be solved. Thinking back on it now, I passed the light valley we saw the other day, and I probably passed other things that I’ve now long since forgotten. The point is, I ran from dim to dim, day after day, direction after direction, and found nothing. Eventually I decided to just return to my spot, and found that I was only a day away from it. It was at that moment I realized that I couldn’t trust anything here. I could run for days, and then turn around, and be back at the spot I started at in a few hours of walking. I wouldn’t find any walls. I wouldn’t find any doors. It was all the same. The only thing I learned from that experience was that this place does change from time to time. When I came here, the ground was much flatter. The little hills and valleys didn’t really exist. All I can figure is that as Julie grows and matures, so does this place”
Everyone listened to G-ma’s story, even, surprisingly, Ryan. It was as though he realized that his original plan for escape had probably already been disproven. A sullen look came across his face as the conversation turned to the emotional feelings everyone had experienced, likely at the direction of Julie. G-ma realized that the small amount of warmth she had always felt was probably Julie’s familial love after Jamie reported feeling something similar. Blood was thicker than water, after all, and it seemed that even if Julie wasn’t always fond of being with her sister, she still cared a great deal for her. Sara Beth said she reported a similar feeling, but wouldn’t describe it as warmth, more like it was a light embrace. She described it as being tucked into something, a member of a group, which she felt probably was how friends of Julie’s felt.
Ryan, on the other hand, had to be prodded to share his feeling.
“Nothin’”, he muttered.
“Ryan, even though you’re probably not anywhere near Julie’s favorite person, I have a hard time believing that she has no feeling directed toward you. In fact, she probably has a major feeling directed toward you”, Mrs. Corum said.
“Nope, not a thing”, he relayed.
In reality, he was telling more of the truth than they thought. He did feel something, but it was best described as ‘loose ends’. It was a sort of eternal shakiness of the mind – Ryan continually felt as though something small may be off. He’d check his shoes, they’d be tied. He’d run his fingers through his hair, finding it mostly straight. He’d repeat whatever he was planning on saying aloud in his mind, worried that he was on the verge of saying something stupid or incorrect. It was never the feeling that something major was wrong, just a feeling of uneasiness. And it was driving him slowly crazy. He knew he had to find some way out of that subtle disturbing feeling.
So on the next day, when everyone was off doing their own thing, Ryan put a plan in action, recruiting the only one of his companions that wasn’t, in his mind, freaking insane. Jamie had been here with him longer than with the others, and while Jamie loved her grandmother, she also loved the idea of getting out of here. Jamie disliked Sara Beth, so Ryan figured he’d pass on trying to recruit her. And the old women, they’d never go for this plan. They wouldn’t be able to do it.
Shortly before dim, Ryan looked at Jamie, and they began to move farther off from the rest of the group. G-ma and Mrs. Corum didn’t seem to notice, and neither did Sara Beth and her hedgehog. By this point, Ryan and Jamie knew about the fact that sound dampened quickly, but hadn’t learned that Mrs. Corum and G-ma had trained themselves to hear farther than the rest.
As it turned out, they wouldn’t need to hear them to know what they were doing.
“You’re sure this will work”, Jamie asked, for about the seventh or eighth time.
“Yes, stop worrying!”, Ryan replied, “Just follow my lead. We’ll get Julie to push herself to forget about us. And when she does, we certainly won’t be here anymore. I’m hoping that we somehow get pushed back to our own minds, reversing how Julie got us here”.
“When did you get so sure of your scientific theories?”, Jamie asked sarcastically.
“Yesterday night, actually. I figured if there was a way to copy someone, there must be a way to push them back out, or for Julie to get us to copy ourselves back. Something weird like that”.
“You’re just doing this and hoping it works. And I’ll try it with you, but I don’t think it will do anything.”
“Just don’t chicken out”, Ryan said.
After they’d walked far enough that they could barely see the others in the distance, Ryan began his mantra.
He’d been practicing it all day in his mind. He’d remembered a time in 4th grade when another kid had bothered him on the playground. Ryan’s response was to create a sentence that combined all of the insecurities his target had. Realizing that most bullies were childish in their statement, and that the perfect zinger could incapacitate his victim more quickly, Ryan had refined this skill over time. Today he’d thought of all of the things that made Julie different and annoying to him, and he wrapped them all up in a vile, disgusting, sentence that was only correct in grammar, style, and syntax – not in moral or ethical behavior.
Jamie, upon hearing the mantra, was a bit taken aback. It was so cruel and biting that she was almost felt protective of her sister. Ryan motioned to her, and she reluctantly joined in. She felt a bit bad about it, but wanted out of this prison.
Off in the distance, G-ma, Mrs. Corum, and Sara Beth braced themselves for potential trouble. Astonishingly, they could hear what Jamie and Ryan said crystal clear, almost as if it was being broadcast over some mind wide public address system. About a minute into the mantra, the sky began to take on the copperish tone that Mrs. Corum and G-ma had noticed before the previous earthquakes. Sara Beth gripped tightly on to Sonic’s ball, the tether tied around her hand as well. But to the surprise of all five, the sky did not stay copperish in tone – it turned darker and darker, until the only hint of color was a streak of burgundy, with the occasional splotch of scarlet red.
“This can’t be good”, G-ma said.
Off in the distance, Jamie was beginning to waiver in her commitment to the cause.
“I can’t keep doing this”, she said to Ryan, as she ran back to the other 3 group members. G-ma grabbed on to her and held her tight. G-ma wasn’t happy about her granddaughter’s actions, but in the end, she figured there would always be time for a stern talking to after this passed.
Ryan, on the other hand, wasn’t phased in the least by the sky turning colors. He kept on chanting his mantra. Finally after an eternity of time, or so it seemed to the rest of the group, he gave up. As he approached the group, the sky began to revert to it’s normal color. Ryan expected a smug look of satisfaction on G-ma and Mrs. Corum’s face. After all, his plan hadn’t worked. He was stuck here with them. Instead, they looked at him in horror.
“What?”, he said, “I tried to get her to get rid of me. I wanted her to repress me or transfer me back or move me somewhere or something – why would she want me in her mind anyway??”
“Ryan”, Mrs. Corum said slowly, “Look at your arms”.
Holding his arms out in front of him, Ryan flipped his wrists down toward the ground. On the underside of each arm, red welts appeared slowly, starting at the wrist and snaking their way down toward his elbow. Blood appeared to start pouring out.
“I don’t feel anything”, Ryan said, just as Sara Beth shrieked.
They looked at her, and then themselves, just in time to see all of their arms beginning to bleed in the same manner.
“This hasn’t ever happened before”, G-ma said, not in her usual matter of fact tone, but in a tone that betrayed more than just a little bit of concern on her part.
By that point, it was time for the sky to dim again, as usual. As it grew dimmer, the five looked at their arms, hoping to see the bleeding stop.
Suddenly, about an hour after it began, it abruptly stopped. The marks, however, would stay for considerably longer.