IT. IS. SO. COLD.
Yesterday, with windchill, it was -15 out while I walked to class. If that doesn’t give you a solid idea of how cold it is in Michigan right now, remember that 32 degrees Fahrenheit is freezing. So it was 47 degrees below freezing. 47 degrees ABOVE freezing puts the temperature at 79. 32 and 79 are two very different temperatures. Therefore: -15 is not just freezing, but SO. SO. SO. SO. COLD. OHMYGOSHCOLD. (If my brain ever unfreezes, I’m transferring to somewhere warm. Like the University of Hawaii.)
But anyway, outside of that and the continuing mess with Amazon, I’m doing well. I went home over the weekend, at which point I got to annoy Sammy for four days straight (yay long weekends!) and see lots of movies (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a new fave) and work a ton on editing stuff, both for my critique partners and myself (I edited approximately 450 pages in three days–besides my brain being frozen, it is now also mush).
The winning option for this week’s Wordy Wednesday is “NaNoWriMo excerpt,” so here’s Chapter Seven from The End Where I Begin. 🙂
As always, a reminder that this has seen little to no editing and I’m still in the process of writing the novel, so there will be mistakes and inconsistencies and all that fun stuff throughout.
Read previous chapters:
“I told you she was crazy.” I don’t know why I feel the need to say the words, but I do. I want him to believe that Ramsey is the one who is lying, not me.
Why would Ramsey lie about something like that? The Identibands prove that we’ve known each other almost our entire lives. Saying it isn’t true doesn’t make the fact go away, as much as, believe me, I would like it to as well.
“I did not deny your assertion.” Dr. O’Brien’s shoulders are rigid and he still won’t meet my eye. I stare at him. Sweat glistens above his eyebrows. “We just needed to verify that you and Miss Carp were indeed once friends, in order to assure that the Identibands had not glitched. As you know, Miss Dylan, the system is not yet perfect. We are still working daily to improve it.”
“Of course.” I nod. The edge of the table bites into my palms, but I don’t dare unwrap my fingers from around it. They feel like they’re the only things anchoring me to the thin sheet of steel, to the Earth.
“Our records collected from the Identibands of the other students at New Capital High show that a majority of the students in all four years knew ahead of the Recruitment Assembly that Miss Carp wanted to attack you, as they all spoke of it with their classmates throughout the morning, beginning at approximately 0745. Do you know whether this was simply a rumor, or a verifiable threat?”
I hold back a laugh. “Well evidently it was a threat, seeing as she went through with it.”
Dr. O’Brien’s eyes flit up from the tablet then back down again—a quick, agitated movement that says he is not amused. “Do you know why Miss Carp chose the Recruitment Assembly—such an important day—to target you?”
“She likes to make her attacks as public as possible. The first time she went after me, back in May, we were standing outside New Capital High with half the student body standing around us as we waited to be let inside for morning classes.”
I remember the morning perfectly. I hadn’t seen her since school the day before, when we parted at the subway station around the block from NCH. She wished me luck with my chemistry homework and I reminded her we had an Español quiz in the morning. I took the steps down to the subway, to take the train out to the suburbs, and she began the walk to Portsmouth. It had already been over a year since my family moved to Riverhorn, but we still ate lunch together every day and I stayed at her house every Friday night to help care for her two little sisters while her parents pulled the night shift.
That morning, though, Ramsey looked different from how she did the night before. Her tawny hair was loose and unbrushed around her shoulders, and dark bags hung beneath her eyes. She looked at everyone around us like she thought they might attack her, all the students in their matching navy blue pants and button-down shirts.
Our conversation was peculiar. She kept asking me what was wrong, and grew angrier and angrier when I didn’t know what she was talking about. Then she grabbed my wrist, I yanked it away, and we haven’t spoken since.
I wonder how Ramsey is now, locked up somewhere in this building. I wonder if she’s scared or cross or if she just doesn’t even care anymore or—
—No, I will not be sympathetic towards the Ram. She doesn’t deserve it.
I concentrate on Dr. O’Brien’s tablet as I speak. “So, a couple weeks after her first confrontation with me, she attacked Brad Jennings during the county tennis match—Ramsey and I used to play doubles together, but then after our argument she switched to singles. Brad didn’t provoke her in any way, but she threw a tennis racket so hard at his stomach he had to forfeit the match because he was throwing up so much. Students still make fun of him for it. She always chooses as public a location as possible, in order to better humiliate her victim.”
“Interesting.” Dr. O’Brien taps away at his tablet.
I glance round the office for a clock, but don’t find one. I’m about to ask if I could have the time, or at least know how much longer he’ll need me, when he catches me in a stare and holds my gaze. My fingers tighten around the table.
A single drop of sweat trails its way down the side of his face, although as far as I can tell his office is actually unnaturally cool, not warm. Another one of the expenses the Clinic can afford that the rest of us cannot is to control their temperature down to a tenth of a degree, so the temperature in here is his decision, and it’s definitely cooler than what I’m used to. I don’t know how he’s hot enough to sweat.
He dabs away the drop with the edge of his lab coat sleeve. “Now, we must discuss what occurred directly before Miss Carp’s attack yesterday.”
“We invited you to join the Clinic.”
I wait a second for him to go on, but he doesn’t. He raises his eyebrows at me and I blink. His lips are pressed firmly together. Another second passes. I open my mouth. “Um. Yes?”
He leans towards me as another drop of sweat snakes down his cheek. It slips from his chin and drops to his knee. He braces his elbows on either side of the tablet on his lap. “Do you know why, Miss Dylan?”
I shrug for what feels like the hundredth time. One side of my mouth lifts almost of its own accord. “I guess because you decided I would be a good candidate?”
“Now is not the time to be smart with me.”
My lips fall back in a frown. “I’m sorry. I was not trying to be.” I stare at my lap. “I just don’t understand why you’re asking me this.”
“Of course.” His tone is kind, but his eyes are hard and unblinking. “Let me explain: While we have surely been monitoring you since you were small because we thought you could become a beneficial addition to the Clinic someday, we had a very particular reason for choosing to recruit you one year early. You are not meant to be a traditional recruit.” A flash from my Identiband catches my eye, but I ignore it this time. I keep my attention on Dr. O’Brien. “You see, Miss Dylan, the Fifth Reality recently encountered—well, I guess you could call it a case of glitching.”
“Like you were worried about occurring in Ramsey and my Identibands?”
He flinches but does not lean back. “In a way… yes.”
“Wait.” My grip on the table tightens until my fingers are numb from loss of blood. “How can a reality glitch? We’re real, we’re here. The Quantum is a natural phenomenon. It’s not like we’re a piece of technology that can break.”
Now he does lean back in his swivel chair. He pinches his eyes closed, takes a deep breath, and holds himself in that position. It looks painful.
I raise an eyebrow. “Doctor O’Brien?”
He exhales, then inhales again. He opens his eyes and some of the pain leaves his expression. “Let me begin to explain by asking you a question. Tell me, Miss Dylan, when did Miss Carp begin acting strangely?”
“About four months ago. In May. The day she bruised my wrist.”
“May 16th, then.” Dr. O’Brien nods to himself. My Identiband is pinching my wrist again, but I don’t want to take my attention off the conversation to shift it. “Miss Dylan, explain how the Quantum works to me.”
“You want me to explain the Quantum?” I stare at him. “The Quantum is the Quantum. It’s everything. The all-encompassing term for every version of the universe, held together by the Thread of Reality.”
“Yes, yes, very good. But how does it work?”
“Would it help to draw it?”
I open my mouth, close it, then open it again. “I guess?”
“Very well, give me just a moment.” He places the tablet back on his desk and walks to a cabinet with a wooden door. While he rifles through it, I uncurl my fingers from the steel table and place my hands in my lap. Fiery lines with paler skin on either side of them separate my palms in half. My knuckles are nearly white.
My jaw aches. I don’t want to know what color that is.
Dr. O’Brien slips a crumpled, blank sheet of paper out from under a stack of books and passes it to me, along with a book to write on. He pulls a pen from a cup on the counter.
“Now, Miss Dylan.” He stands beside me and taps a practiced finger against the paper. “Explain to me how the Quantum works.”
I stare at the blank paper, nothing but a matching blankness in my mind. I uncap the pen and place the tip against the sheet. My Identiband flashes—holds the strange color for a good half a second this time—and I blink, shake my head.
I open my eyes and the color is gone. The lights are all a perfect, bright green. Out the corner of my eye, Dr. O’Brien doesn’t appear to have noticed a thing.
I look back to the paper and draw a circle. “This is us. The Fifth Reality.”
“Good, good. Go on.” Dr. O’Brien folds his hands behind his back and smiles just barely.
“We are just one reality within the Quantum. The Quantum is large; constantly expanding. Lately we’ve been adding one new reality a year. Our existence is spread throughout each reality, so that while each of us exists in the Fifth Reality, another version of us also exists in the Fourth and the Sixth and all the rest. The realities all exist linearly—in a straight line. So the effects of what happens in the reality here,” I draw a circle on the paper to the left of the one that represents us, then an arrow pointing to ours, “can affect what happens here. And what happens here, to us, can affect the reality after ours.” I draw a circle and another arrow to the right.
“That is correct, Miss Dylan.”
I look up, pen still pressed to the sheet. “Is that enough, or would you like me to go into more detail?”
Dr. O’Brien steps back to his chair and sits. He passes the back of a hand over his forehead—more sweat. “That is plenty. I only had to make sure that you understood the basics of the Quantum in order to ensure that you will understand the severity of what I am about to tell you next.”
I swallow. “Yes?”
“You are aware of the effects when a new reality comes to existence. Certain members of our society experience dizziness, nausea, or disorientation as another version of them is born. It was worse when our reality was younger, and thus the new realities were held closer to us by the Thread of Reality. However, as you have so aptly mentioned, this is not the only time one reality will affect the others.”
He holds out his hand for the paper and I slip off the edge of the table. I hand it to him and hover beside him as he stabs one finger onto the sheet—the circle that represents the Fourth Reality, the one before ours.
“What happens in this reality can affect what happens in this one.” His finger follows the arrow to the Fifth Reality.
A plummeting feeling free falls through my stomach. I do not think I will like where this goes.
“On May 16th, Miss Ramsey Carp woke up suddenly much different from the person she was the night before.”
Oh my goodness.
“Somehow, something major has happened in the reality before ours in the Quantum. And because of that, your friend’s personality has overlapped with that of the Ramsey Carp from that reality. Thus, Miss Carp was correct, from her personal viewpoint, in telling us that she had never spoken to you before last May. Memories from the Fourth Reality Miss Carp easily could have muddled her memories of this reality when they crossed over—and it’s possible the Fourth Reality versions of the two of you have never even met, yet alone spent time together as the two of you in this reality have.
“As far as Miss Carp remembers, it’s possible she truly does not know you at all.”
I feel like I haven’t asked in a while, so, Reader Dearest, how are you doing? Got any good classes? Interesting stories to share? I’m all ears.
Be on the watch for new chapters of This is a Book Too going up on the official This is a Book series blog here.