There’s...A whole fucking lot to unpack from today. Okay. Let’s start at the beginning.
It all started this morning. I woke up, rolled out of bed, and went to check my phone. Turns out it absolutely got blown up with messages while I was sleeping. They all came from that duplicate number of Amy’s, all of them short audio clips. It was really, really hard to understand since they seemed to be just...Random syllables, thrown together haphazardly in-between bouts of static, but after listening to some of them a second time, it started to sound familiar.
“I -led-- al------ce...”
“...t- --- --ag -f the ---ted...”
“...Sta--- o- ----ica, -nd...”
“...-o --e Re-----c f--...”
“...w---h -- --and-, on- -ati-...”
“...------sible, --th lib--ty...”
“...a-- -ust--- f-r -ll...”
For whatever reason, the only word that was really fully legible was “God,” but that kind of tipped me off to what the message originally was; the old pledge of allegiance. At least, I think. Some of those syllables sound like words from the pledge, anyways.
I think the strangest part was the voice reciting it, in all honesty. It was very clearly the voice of someone young, perhaps no older than about sixteen or seventeen, as well as distinctly female. For some reason, it sounded...Familiar. But I’m sure I’ve never heard it before, I would remember exactly whose voice this was if I had.
This isn’t strictly related to any of that, but I thought I’d mention how sweet it was that Ryan texted me just about a dozen pictures of him taking his mom driving all around town and taking her to her favorite restaurant; this place called Luigi’s that serves all kinds of Italian comfort-food-type-stuff. It was really heart warming to see him and his mom so happy together.
Once I’d resolved to just deal with the voice memos later (and after my phone rebooted yet again,) I headed out for work. The fellas at the office told me today’s client was an elderly woman named Dolores, said she was about 80 years old. They’ll let me know what kind of client I’m dealing with before heading in for the job so I know the best way to approach them, it’s like a social courtesy thing.
So, when I pulled up to Dolores’ house and started unloading my equipment with one of the other landscaping guys and a twenty-something walked out of the door, I thought she was maybe a visiting nurse or something of that sort.
“Hello, ma’am, we’re with Burkley’s. Is Dolores home?”
The twenty-something just laughed and shook her head.
“I’m Dolores, hun. Pleasure to have you here. I need some turf laid around the front garden.”
It was at that moment I became suddenly thankful for all of the weird people I’ve dealt with in my life inadvertently preparing me for that line, because I might’ve done an honest to god spit-take right then and there.
“I’m James, it’s a pleasure to meet you. We’ll get right to work.”
I walked back over to the guy who’d come with me, a real bright-eyed new kid named Robbie. He looked as confused as I felt inside.
“Dude, what the shit? She was clearly elderly on the phone. Were the dispatch guys just screwing with us?”
I could only shrug my shoulders and give him a tired look.
“Look, man, all I know is I’m here to put down some turf and do some terraforming. She didn’t mention it yet but she said over the phone that she wanted us to flatten out some of the uneven patches of ground, they’re apparently sticking up like little hills and being eyesores. So, if you haven’t done that before, I can show you the ropes.”
Robbie nodded, grinning.
“Yeah, I get you. This whole “Dolores is actually super young” thing reminds me of this weird story my buddy told me about something he saw the other day.”
I gave him a curious look as we unpacked our equipment and began to set about working.
“Says he was at a gas station, y’know, one of the ones where they do the lottery thing? Well, my buddy says he watched this guy hand over a winning lottery ticket; but the guy didn’t seem to think it was a winning ticket.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean the guy stormed in there, absolutely pissed, demanding to know how many fake lottery tickets the store printed and passed off as genuine. Cashier guy rolls his eyes a bit, but took the ticket and looked it over to humor the guy. His face goes white as a sheet; dude just came in with the winning lottery ticket, worth about two fucking mill.”
“Why did the guy think it was a fake, then? He must have seen the winning lottery numbers on TV, right?”
“That’s just the thing, dude, I dunno. But the cashier guy immediately phones up the guys at the lotto company, and tells the pissed off dude he’s just won the jackpot. My man looked completely bewildered, according to my friend. Said he practically shat bricks right then and there, he was so stunned.”
“Damn. I’ve been pretty lucky lately, maybe I ought to buy one too.”
I laughed, Robbie laughed with me. Dolores had, at some point, gone back inside. I don’t blame her, it’s not exactly a riveting prospect to just stand outside and watch a couple schmucks do landscaping shit.
When we eventually finished with the work in the front, I knocked on the front door and politely entered Dolores’ house to speak with her about where to start work in the back, and also ask her if I could use her restroom. I had to piss with a vengeance.
The foyer and entrance hall of her home were nice and normal enough, definitely had that “old lady chic” thing going on. Which only really served to confound my confusion, honestly. Why would such a young person live in a house so full of the typical elderly trappings? I can’t say my confusion was lifted at all by continuing deeper into the house, either.
I saw what may have at one point been potted jade or ivy hanging from the ceilings in a couple rooms, sometimes sitting on shelves. The plants that were originally planted in them had been completely overrun by those bloodied white roses; their tangled, gnarly vines had outgrown the pots and had started stretching out across the entirety of what looked like it was once a dining room and some kind of study. When I say that these vines and their accompanying flowers had grown over everything in those rooms, I mean literally over everything. They’d completely covered the walls, all of the furniture, they even made a makeshift curtain over the entryway into both rooms that, while not being completely ceiling-to-floor, did come down to about halfway.
I mumbled some swears in confusion under my breath as I cautiously made my way further into the house.
“Dolores? I was looking to consult with you about the work you wanted done in the back...”
A voice sounded in reply from a room further down the hall and around a corner.
“Come here to the kitchen, dearie, I’m just putting some tea on.”
“O-okay, I’ll be right there.”
I headed further down the hall, the walls of which were lined with framed photos of an elderly woman standing next to an elderly man I can only presume was her husband. When I came to the kitchen at last, I wasn’t terribly surprised to see several pots full of those white roses in here as well. They hadn’t quite consumed the kitchen just yet, but they were definitely creeping out of their pots. Dolores was humming to herself, a weirdly calming, tranquil melody.
“Hey there, ma’am. Now, I know you said over the phone that you had some hills in the back you wanted us to deal with, but I was wondering if there was something more specific you wanted us to do with that land? It’s not a lot, but we have some spare seeds from a previous job loaded in the truck, we could pretty easily make a pretty little arrangement out there once we put down the new dirt.”
She looked at me like I’d just casually offered to step on her puppy and lifted a hand to her heart in offense.
“Excuse me? The only flowers I need on my property are my precious little babies.”
She reached her hand out to the nearest potted white roses and stroked them in this uncomfortably loving and defensive way. I think what made it more uncomfortable is the fact that she maintained direct eye contact the entire time. I think it was about forty-five seconds, but it felt like ten minutes.
“...Sorry, ma’am, I didn’t mean any offense by it. I just thought I’d offer, is all. I’ll see to the hills.”
“Yes, you’d best.”
I could feel her glaring daggers into the back of my head as I left, doing my best not to look freaked the fuck out. Contrary to what you may think, being scared like this distracted me from having to piss so much that I completely forgot till I got home.
Me and Robbie toiled away for several hours more, and, when the job was all said and done, we told Dolores and dismissed ourselves. I didn’t mention anything about what happened inside her house to Robbie. The kid was brand new, practically right out of the box, and I didn’t want to scare him away from the business on one of his first-ever jobs. The drive back to Burkley’s was silent, though.
By the time I got home, I was so tired and weirded out I nearly forgot about my dinner invitation over at Amy’s. I set about taking a shower and cleaning myself up so I wouldn’t smell quite so much like grass and sweat, and then headed over.
Amy greeted me at the door, a sort of nervous smile on her face. I didn’t fully get why, though.
“Hey, James! I’m glad you could make it!”
She wrapped me up in a tight hug, which I returned with a smile.
“Hi, Amy. Thanks so much for inviting me. Let me tell you, it’s been...Strange, lately. I’m glad for some normalcy.”
“Ah, I’m sorry to hear. Come on inside, we can talk some more about it in here.”
She led me inside; Amy lived in one of those apartment complex buildings, so we went in through the lobby and up an elevator to get to her floor and, by extension, her apartment. The place was pretty much exactly as I remembered it; walls painted a light, pastel yellow, bookshelves all over the walls filled with everything but books; her collection of seemingly-infinite CDs and vinyl records were on proud display alongside her collection of particularly pretty stones and rocks, each laid out neatly with their own little spotlight along some of the shelves that weren’t stocked full of music in various formats.
Her cat, Mittens, an adorable ball of orange fur, was sleeping peacefully on her grey linen couch as we came in. I couldn’t resist giving the cute little bastard a couple good scratches behind the ears; those were his favorite spots, after all. He awoke with a little cat sound, and turned over so I’d scratch behind his other ear, and I couldn’t hold back a little chuckle.
“Hey, so, I’d actually been working on dinner while waiting for you so you wouldn’t have to wait when you got here, so it’s ready for us in the dining room whenever you’re ready.”
“Thanks, Amy. Y’know, you don’t have to sound so formal. We’ve known each other for, what, our entire lives, practically?”
I stood up from crouching next to the sofa to pet Mittens, and turned to her as she stood in the doorway to the kitchen. She just gave me that same anxious smile and chuckled, somewhat-awkwardly.
“Sorry. Guess I’m just a little tense. Come on, let’s eat.”
I nodded and followed her into the dining room, where she’d prepped a couple pork chops with some assorted steamed veggies on the side and some kind of gravy poured conservatively over the pork chops. I sat down and started eating, praising her on her cooking. She mostly just smiled politely but with that same air of anxiety underlining everything she said.
After a while of eating and making occasional small-talk, I sighed and looked her in the eye.
“Alright, tell me what’s up. You look like somebody’s holding a gun to your head, are you okay, Amy?”
“...Look. James. First and foremost, I feel obligated to apologize to you for everything that’s been happening, and for my part in them. You seem like a really, really nice guy, and that’s what made this so hard for me. So hard that I cracked. I can’t fucking do this anymore, James.”
She gave me this remorseful, guilty look and seemed like she was on the brink of tears. I was just confused and growing more and more concerned.
“What are you talking about, Amy?”
“There’s a lot I still can’t tell you, either because I don’t know or because I’m taking my life in my own hands as it is, but...”
She runs a hand through her hair, taking a deep breath and letting it out in an exasperated sigh.
“...I’m not ‘Amy.’ Not your Amy, I suppose is more accurate.”
I just stared at her across the table, feeling something cold grasping at my insides. Maybe it was panic? Perhaps concern? I don’t fully know. Maybe fear.
“What...What the hell does that mean?”
“Exactly what I said. I am technically ‘Amy,’ but not the Amy you knew. Believe you me, I’m still a bit confused about the whole thing myself. Don’t bother asking me where your Amy is, I have literally zero clue. I think a good way to distinguish us is referring to her as Amelia, and me as Amaryllis, since those are what our actual names are. Or, alternatively, refer to her as Amy, and just me as Amaryllis, or whatever.”
I gave her a look of frustration and opened my mouth to tell her to quit bullshitting me but when she actually started to cry, I shut up.
“...Okay, Amaryllis, uh...Do you know what’s up with the flowers?”
“So...You know how things have been going really, really well for you lately? How everything just seems to fall into place?”
“Yeah...How did you know about that?”
“Just. Just listen to me, James, okay? Look. It’s not all a coincidence, James; Benjamin is making it happen. I don’t know how, I don’t even think I want to know, to be honest. But I do know that the flowers appear whenever he makes things happen. Maybe they appear around places where he makes things, maybe they appear around people whom he’s in direct contact with, I have no idea.”
Amaryllis stops to take a deep breath and wipe some of the tears from her cheeks. It was eerie, y’know? She got Amy’s mannerisms and movements down perfectly, aside from a couple small behavioral things like back at the cafe when she ordered something differently I would never have guessed she wasn’t Amy. She even looked perfectly identical; same sharp nose, dyed platinum hair, eyes, everything.
“So, uh, where did you come from? Who put you up to the job of pretending to be Amy?”
She fixed me with this look, like she was trying to decide between begging me not to insist on an answer and actually explaining things.
“I’ve gone too far as it is, and I’m sorry I can’t tell you everything, but you have to understand. I never meant for any of this to happen. I don’t know what happened to your Amy. I don’t know where she ended up. But, I can tell you-”
Her phone buzzed twice, making a louder noise than it normally would since it was sitting on the wooden table, and she practically jumped out of her chair. Her face went white and her eyes went wide, like she’d just seen a ghost. She stood up abruptly and grabbed my hand.
"You have to go. Right now. I'm sorry, James, I hope you can forgive me."
"Hey! Jesus, Amaryllis, what the hell?"
She pulled me out of my seat and yanked me over to the door as I stumbled along behind her. She threw open the front door of her apartment and pushed me out through the open doorway.
"Please go home immediately. Don't stop anywhere or hesitate. Run if you have to."
And that was that. Before I could even get a word in, she slammed the door shut, and the dull clicks I heard a moment later told me she'd locked it as well. I was still reeling from everything I'd been told, trying desperately to process it all. I quietly made my way out of the building and to the bus stop down the road, eventually coming to a stop back at my place.
I threw myself onto my bed, grabbed my journal, and, well, here we are now. I need time to take it all in...I'm gonna call Ryan tomorrow and see what he thinks of all of this.