I am currently sitting on a bench between classes, absolutely exhausted and basically to the point where I want nothing more than to sleep for the next 48 hours until it’s the weekend. Midterms are kicking my butt, but THANK GOD, because I just turned in a literature paper in my previous class, and that was the second to last major thing I’ve got this week (every day has had something–quiz Sunday, quiz Monday, exam yesterday, paper today, project tomorrow; I basically feel like I’m going to die).
Meanwhile, yesterday I had the huge honor of participating in an event here in which creative writing instructors nominate their students to share their short stories and poetry in a reading at the undergraduate library, as well as in an annual anthology. I read my short story “The End,” which you can check out here if you’d like. It was really fun. Everyone else’s pieces were amazing and so unique and it makes me really proud of my school to know such talented people attend here.
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is Chapter Eight of my NaNoWriMo project for 2013, 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:
My pulse slows. Dr. O’Brien is not sweating due to heat—it’s nerves.
He has been nervous that I will be upset that Ramsey does not remember me. That she actually does not remember me.
My jaw throbs as I smile. “Ramsey doesn’t remember me? Ramsey’s personality has been altered by that of the Fourth Reality Ramsey?” A laugh builds in my chest. I suppress it. “Okay. That explains why she suddenly got so violent.”
I’m lightheaded, but I don’t know why. The soft, expensive yellow lights are too bright overhead.
“Would you like to sit back down, Miss Dylan?” Dr. O’Brien’s tone is gentle, but spikes with alarm on my name.
“Yes. Yes. Maybe.” I giggle and smack a hand over my mouth. I gasp with pain as my fingers connect with the bruise. “Ow. Sorry. Ouch. That hurt.”
“I understand this is big, complicated news.” He stands and places a hand on my back. He leads me to the table. My palms brace against the cold-as-ice steel and the urge to laugh leaves me as quickly as it came. The lightheadedness does not.
I pull myself onto the table and press my palms against my temples. The lights are so bright.
Ramsey probably does not remember me.
If I am the only one who remembers all those conversations we had, all those games we used to play and the nights we spent soothing her little sisters’ nightmares, how real does that make them? Do they even count?
My Identiband flashes again, and this time I cannot help but stare at it. My eyes have trouble focusing, they struggle to take in the color I do not have a name for—the color that I have never seen before, that does not seem like it should exist.
Dr. O’Brien clears his throat. “Is something wrong with your Identiband?”
“No.” I shake my head once, twice, then three times. I clench my eyes closed to clear the fog, then open them. “It’s fine. I’m fine. I’m sorry. I don’t know what that reaction was.” I turn to where he’s standing beside me, an awkward but safe distance away. “I’m fine. That was strange.”
Something feels incomplete. Missing. “You mentioned that something major had to have happened in the Fourth Reality in order for their influence to bleed into ours. To alter Ramsey’s memories and personality. How does that happen? Why are you telling me these things?”
Dr. O’Brien takes another step away. “It’s tricky, these things. Inter-reality communication is difficult to say the least. After all, we weren’t even aware of the existence of the multiple realities and the Quantum itself until sixteen years ago.”
“I’ve taken history classes. I know that.”
“Of course you do.” He nods. Quieter, more to himself, he says, “Of course.”
“Doctor O’Brien.” My eyes ache, but I stare at him until he meets my gaze. My jaw throbs with the effort to speak. I hear my pulse in my ears, my heart is pounding so hard, and I don’t even know why. “What happened in the Fourth Reality?”
“Well, we aren’t… positive… exactly, yet.” He lifts his shoulders in a manner that would seem almost sheepish if it weren’t for the fact that he is the authority figure in the room. The way he looks at me has stopped being the way a parent views a petulant child and more like the expression my father wore the day he told me Mom had passed.
Lips pinched together so hard they lose some of their color. Eyebrows low over downcast eyes and a stiffness to every swallow.
I fold my hands in my lap, fingers gripped so tight my knuckles go almost immediately numb. “It’s bad, then?”
“The fact that it is bad is entirely the reason we chose to recruit you, Miss Dylan. And why you are here today.” Dr. O’Brien steps around the table and faces me head-on. The lights reflect off his receding hairline. I hadn’t noticed his age until now, because his hair is cropped close to his skull and the wrinkles around the corners of his mouth smooth when he frowns.
But Dr. O’Brien is indeed older than I assumed, and it is this—the fact that he has been alive long enough to truly experience life, to know when something should be made a grand event or not—that scares me. He is old enough to know when to be alarmed, and alarmed is the best way to describe the wobble of his Adam’s apple as he speaks.
“We think you could be of some use to us, you see.”
“I don’t understand.”
“But don’t you?” He is trying desperately to maintain is composure, I think. The sweat continues to drip from his brow. It catches on the dark shadow along his chin and slips down his throat. Damp patches have gathered beneath his arms. “As I said, we have monitored you for many years to decide whether or not to recruit you, and even without the unfortunate circumstances we currently face we most likely would have invited you to join at the Recruitment Assembly next year.”
I twist my fingers until one of my knuckles cracks, and the sound is like a gunshot in the small room. Dr. O’Brien’s stare leaps to my hands and I separate them, return to clenching them around the edge of the table. I lick my lips.
He brings his eyes back up to meet mine. “As I was saying, we likely would have recruited you anyway. However, at the moment you are in a unique position that has become most valuable to the Clinic.”
His left eye twitches, like he is trying not to blink. Like he is afraid to lose the staring contest we have stumbled into. “The only notable way the Fourth Reality has bled into the Fifth has been in the personality shift and memory loss of Miss Carp. You know her better than anyone. You could help us determine why the events in the Fourth Reality touched ours solely through an otherwise unremarkable sixteen-year-old girl.”
Ramsey has never been unremarkable, not to those who know her. But of course he doesn’t, so he doesn’t know that.
I don’t want to work for the Clinic, but if it’s important enough for them to recruit me one year early, I probably should. The Clinic would not change their traditional protocol unless it was important.
Perhaps that’s why I said yes yesterday afternoon, as well.
With my heart in my throat, I lean as far forward as I can without losing my balance. My fingers slip against the smooth steel and my knees clench. “I’ll help you find out why what happened to Ramsey did. What do you need me to do?”
Without thinking, I glance around the office again, in search of a clock. How late is it getting? An hour must have passed since I first slid onto this table. The metal has grown warm beneath me.
“Thank you, Miss Dylan.” Dr. O’Brien walks to the door. “If you will just follow me.”
I don’t move. “Follow you where?”
He releases a breath that almost sounds like a sigh. “You are going to speak with Miss Carp for us. We will monitor your interactions to see if her behavior aligns with our theory, in which case we will be able to better determine what occurred in the Fourth Reality.”
“When? Now?” I am not ready to see Ramsey, not when I have still had so little time to think that I will never have to see her again.
I don’t want to see her again.
It’s not fair to take this away from me so soon.
Dr. O’Brien slides his fingers around the doorknob. His knuckles are swollen. He has been using his hands too much for something, and I do not want to know what. I have already learned more than I want to know.
He nods. “Now.”
PS. My sleep-deprived brain just realized that the short story I read at the library is “The End” and the novel the chapter above is from is The End Where I Begin, and for some reason this is hilarious.
PPS. I WANT SLEEP.