Mechanical Rabbit

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Summary

Ennis Folksy was ten years old when he disappeared in 1976. He was told he would be a part of a great change, resulting in a better quality human. He could never have predicted how consequential he would be in that plan. Eight years later he returns to stop the process, and the woman who will do anything to make it happen.

Genre:
Scifi / Thriller
Author:
Conrad Bell
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
1
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
16+

Chapter 1


Tennessee, 1976

It was the last five minutes of the last day of fourth grade and Ennis Folksy could hardly contain himself. He squirmed around in his chair while he and his best friend, Johnny Plunkett, giggled maniacally and threw crumpled up pieces of paper at each other. Their teacher, frazzled and close to her breaking point, ignored the antics going on in the classroom, opting to join a conversation in the hall instead with several other weary teachers. Ennis and Johnny had to make their last few minutes together count, understanding they wouldn’t get to see much of each other over the summer break, wasting their days participating in the normal activities of two bored ten-year old’s. The bike riding, the hunting for loose change outside the local grocery store, and the merciless teasing of old ladies leaving the beauty shop with their newly shellacked hair glistening in the sun would have to wait until Johnny returned.

Each summer, Johnny made the trek with his mother and sister to visit a cousin’s farm in Kentucky, leaving Ennis lonely and forced to play with the Stoddard twins, whose only summer vacation interest was building a rickety fort out of scrap wood, then hiding out in the fort awkwardly smoking cigarettes they had stolen from their older sister. It wasn’t something Ennis was particularly interested in, but his mother insisted he spend time with the twins since no other children would. Ennis, being the dutiful son reluctantly agreed, trying to make the best of the situation. Afterall, he had to do something to occupy his time.

When the final bell rang, Ennis and Johnny slowly made their way through the crowded hall, out the double doors and onto the sidewalk to say their goodbyes. Neither of the two overthought the process, simply saying a quick, bye with a hint of melancholy in the single word before going their separate ways.

Ennis had always been the student with the longest walk home. He didn’t mind since it gave him plenty of time to think. He was by nature, a very introverted boy and a loner, so spending that time on his own didn’t bother him, and being from a large family, it was nice to have that thirty to forty minutes of alone time to let his mind wander. He had five older siblings; two brothers and three sisters, including a set of twins, all of whom were in junior high or high school. Ennis was what his parents called a late child, coming unexpectedly after they thought they were done with that part of their lives.

Ennis was about halfway home when he spied a rock on the sidewalk that looked perfect for kicking. He got about six kicks in before the rock disappeared into a hedge. As he poked around for it, he suddenly heard a cacophony of buzzing and crackling and high-pitched whining above, immediately followed by loud whooshes of air, and then a strange whipping sound, distracting him from the search. He walked slowly and carefully, hugging the hedge, following the sounds until he got to the street corner, all the while keeping an eye on the undulating power lines above. As soon as he turned the corner he came face to face with a slight figure, just a few inches taller than himself. Ennis took a quick step back to get a better look, but the bright sun was shining directly in his eyes, blinding him. He moved several steps to the left, positioning himself to where he could now see an elderly, quite tan, bald man with leathery skin, wearing a gauzy, white, one-piece jumpsuit. The man had oversized black pupils with a thin ring of white irises. It was a shocking sight at first glance. The strange looking man innocently stared at Ennis for a moment, then calmly said, “Hi, I’m Tim.” Ennis quickly replied, “Hi, I’m Ennis.”

As Ennis strolled the last stretch of sidewalk toward his house, he saw his mother waiting at the front gate as she always did. He noticed her check her watch as he got closer. She had a look of concern on her face.

“A little late today, Ennis…”

“Yes, mama.”

“Is everything okay?”

Ennis nodded as his mother wrapped her arm around his neck and led him into the house. He gently tossed his bookbag over the back of a kitchen chair and sat down for his after-school snack.

“How was your day?” she asked as she set a plate of apple slices down in front of him. “Pretty good…but I’m going to miss Johnny.”

“I know honey, but time will go by fast and before you know it, he’ll be back from Kentucky. Besides, you’ll have the Stoddard boys to play with in the meantime.”

Ennis shrugged, “I guess…” He took a bite of an apple slice and thought for a moment. “Maybe my new friend Tim will ride bikes with me.”

“Your new friend?” Marlys asked.

“Mmhmm…I met him on my way home today.”

Marlys had an inquisitive look on her face. “Oh yeah, does he go to your school?”

“Nah, he’s too old…but he’s not as old as he looks.”

Marlys slowly sat down across from Ennis. “What do you mean, he’s too old?”

Ennis shrugged, “He’s small like me, but he’s old—old looking, with wrinkles and funny eyes. He was bald, and he wore this white thing—kind of like what grandpa used to wear when he spent time in his workshop. Grandpa’s was tan, but Tim’s was white, and it looked soft. He said he wasn’t as old as he looked. He said it was because of his circus—circus…stance?”

“Circumstance?”

“Yeah, circumstance.”

Marlys stared at him for a moment, then asked. “Ennis, are you making this up?”

“No, mama. I’m telling the truth.”

Marlys paused, then nervously said, “Ennis, I need you to think very carefully, okay? This man—did he touch you in any way?”

“No mama.”

“Well, what did he want?”

“Nothing really…he just wanted to tell me that I had something in me that was very special, and that I was going to do something remarkable one day.” Ennis responded, picking at his apple slice.

“Ennis honey, I want you to tell me exactly what he said, okay?”

Ennis thought for a moment. “He introduced himself as Tim, and said that he was from a place far away, but kind of close too, and the only way you could get there was to travel by energy—by using the energy in the universe. He said it was sort of like magic—but it was really science—but sort of like magic too. Tim said the people there are very smart—and developed. He told me that one day they figured out how to pass through the cracks in the universe, through an ancient secret door—a trap door, and now they can visit us whenever they want, and that someday, if we become smarter, we can do the same. And then he said something else, something kind of confusing, he said, "there’s goodness and light in the universe, and there’s darkness and wickedness in the universe, but none of that compares to the riddles and mysteries that lie somewhere in between, that's where the real power hides...that's what we really seek in the places where things aren't so black and white." Then he asked me if I wanted to help him find the answers to the riddles and mysteries, and I said yes.”

“I don’t understand Ennis, why would you do that—talk to a stranger?! I’ve told you a thousand times not to do that!”

“I’m sorry mama, but he doesn’t want to hurt me, I promise. He just wants to help me.”

“Help you? How?”

“Mama, do you know what procreate means?” Marlys quickly stood up, startling Ennis. She walked over to the phone and dialed. “What’s wrong mama?” Ennis asked.

“Just eat your apple, Ennis. Hello? This is Marlys Folksy, will you please have Grange Folksy come to the telephone, it’s an emergency…well, can you page him? he’s probably on the production floor, I need to talk to him right away…thank you.” As she waited, her eyes scanned Ennis for any physical marks. “Hello? Yes…okay, please have him call home as soon as he can, thanks.” Marlys hung up and sat back down and stared at Ennis for a moment. Ennis gave her a big smile as he chewed. Marlys swallowed hard and asked, “Honey, are you sure he didn’t touch you?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

Marlys sat back in her chair, letting out a long breath through her nose. She heard the front door open and quickly peeked around the corner. Her older children were filing in. “John-Robert?!” She shouted.

“Yeah mama?”

“Come into the kitchen please!” John-Robert, her eldest, appeared, followed by the others.

“What’s wrong, mama?”

“JR, I want you and Kermit to go to the factory and tell your father to come home right away!”

“Is everything—”

“Just do it, go now!” Marlys demanded.

“Okay mama…” JR said, as he backed away, grabbing his brother Kermit by the arm and heading out.

After the boys left, Marlys asked her three girls, “Have any of you seen a little old man—bald, wrinkled skin, funny eyes, wearing all white, hanging around town lately?” Hannah, the oldest daughter, spoke up, “Well, that describes half this town, mama…” The twins let out a quick giggle.

“I’m not in the mood Hannah! Have any of you seen him?!” All three shook their heads. “Okay…I want you three to go clean your room and give us some peace.” The three girls paused, looking at Ennis, then back at their mother. “Go on!” Marlys barked, making them scatter. Marlys moved around the table and sat down next to Ennis. He looked up at her and said, “It’s okay mama, you don’t have to worry about me.” Marlys had no response.

The front door suddenly flung open. Grange, JR, and Kermit walked in and immediately headed into the kitchen. Marlys was still sitting next to Ennis with her arm resting on the back of his chair. “What’s wrong?!” Grange asked. Marlys motioned at the boys with her head. “Uh, can you boys give us some privacy?” Grange asked, pointing toward the back door. “Sure daddy.” Grange sat down at the table across from Marlys and Ennis as the boys exited.

“Now, what’s this all about?”

Marlys took a deep breath. “A man stopped Ennis on his way home from school today and started talking to him—asking him questions and telling him some strange things.”

“I see…” Grange’s head slightly dipped, trying to get a look into Ennis’s eyes, but Ennis was looking down at his plate.

“Ennis told me the man didn’t try anything, but…I don’t like it. I don’t know what to do.” Grange nodded along as he listened. Marlys continued, “Tell daddy what you told me.”

Ennis took a quick drink of his milk, then said, “It’s okay daddy, he just wanted to let me know that I was special, and that I had a very important job to do—not today, but soon.”

“What job?” Grange asked.

Ennis shrugged. “I don’t know yet. Tim said—” Marlys interrupted, “His name is Tim…”

Ennis continued, “Tim said he’d come back for me when the time was right.”

Marlys shuddered and looked at Grange, who quickly stiffened up. After Grange collected his thoughts he said, “This Tim, he said he was coming back for you?”

“Mmhmm.”

“You didn’t tell me that part!” Marlys said, raising her voice. Grange waived his hand in an attempt to get her to calm down.

“I’m sorry mama, but I didn’t want to upset you more.”

“Did he say when he was coming back to get you?”

“No daddy...”

“I think we should call the sheriff, Grange.”

Grange put his hand up. “Now just hold on, wife.”

“Hold on?! Grange, a man says he’s coming back for our son! We need to call the sheriff!”

“Okay, okay, I’ll go down to their office and talk to him in a bit. Now Ennis, why exactly does Tim have it in his head that he needs to come back for you?”

Ennis thought for a moment, then said, “Tim says I have to help him make us better—improve us.” Grange and Marlys shot each other a curious look. Ennis continued, “Tim said, the seed shall come to us pure, then the flock will be mastered. All the while, he will remain safe under her gaze, giving abundant fruit to scatter.”

Marlys slowly shook her head. “I don’t understand a word of that…make us better?

Safe? Under her gaze? Do you know what he meant by any of that?” Grange asked.

“No daddy.” Ennis said, bored with the conversation, licking an apple slice.

“Who is she?”

Ennis shrugged, “I don’t know, but I will when it’s time.”

“Did he tell you where he wanted to take you?” Marlys asked.

“Mmhmm, through the cracks and home, to begin the renewal.”

Grange’s mouth tightened. “Renewal? Ennis, where exactly is this place?”

Ennis shifted in his chair. “Tim said it’s more of a time than a place. He told me to think of it like a bridge over a river, with us on one side, and them on the other, but each side is in a different time, and we can’t see or talk to each other unless one of us crosses the bridge, and the only way we can cross the bridge is to travel through the energy in the world—electrical energy that nobody can see, but it exists. Tim says we can all do it, but those of us in this time haven’t figured out how yet.”

“So, this place—or time, does it have a name?” Grange asked.

“Uh-huh, it’s called GALT.”

“GALT?”

“Yep.” Ennis nodded.

Grange sat back and folded his arms. He made Ennis start over, telling the whole story about his encounter with Tim. After Ennis finished, Grange took a deep breath and said, “Ennis, I need to ask you something, but before I do, I want to remind you of something. You know how we go to church every Sunday, and the Reverend tells us how important it is to tell the truth? Do you remember that?”

“Yes, daddy.”

“Okay good. So, here’s what I want to ask, are you telling us the whole truth right now—being completely honest about meeting Tim, and everything he said to you?”

“Yes daddy, I’m not lying. I’m telling the truth.”

Grange nodded. “Okay Ennis.” Grange stood up. “C’mon son, let’s go…”

“Where are you going?” Marlys asked.

“He’s going to show me where he met Tim, stay here.” Grange took Ennis by the hand, leading him out the door.

As they drove, Grange’s mind raced. He glanced at Ennis several times, wondering what would possess his son to spin a tale like he did. Ennis was smart and creative but had never been a kid who just made up wild stories out of the blue, or worse, lied to his parents. He had always been a thoughtful, realistic child, and it pained Grange to even consider the story a fabrication. He didn’t want to dismiss his son in any way, or belittle Ennis for any reason, but he was having a hard time believing him. Whatever the case, he was mostly concerned about a stranger taking an interest in his son, and he had to get to the bottom of it. Grange always had a special devotion to his youngest son, and it would break his heart to have his boy thinking he couldn’t trust his own father.

As they got near the street corner, Ennis pointed out where he met Tim. “Right there!” he shouted, excitedly. Grange pulled to the curb, shut off the car and sat quietly for a moment before he got out and went to the passenger side and let Ennis out, taking his hand and walking with him to the corner. Grange studied the houses in the area, then spotted a woman across the street sitting on her porch. He and Ennis walked over to her front gate.

“Excuse me…”

The woman looked up from her book. “Yes?”

“I hate to bother you, but can you tell me if you’ve seen an older man, wrinkled skin, short—bald, dressed in all white, around here today, or recently?” Grange almost felt embarrassed to ask, the description of Tim sounded absurd when he said it out loud.

The woman stood up and walked to the edge of the porch. “No, can’t say that I have, I think I would have noticed someone like that.”

“Okay, thanks.” Grange was somewhat disappointed, but mostly relieved. He turned to walk away when the woman asked, “Is everything okay?”

Grange turned back, “Yeah, it’s just that my son Ennis here had a strange experience today over at that corner.”

The woman nodded, “Oh yes, I see him walking by all the time.” She waived to Ennis. He shyly waived back. She continued, “I had a strange experience today too.”

“How’s that?” Grange asked.

“Well, I had some severe power problems earlier—everything went haywire for a few minutes—the lights, the television. I looked out the window and the power lines were like jump ropes bouncing around. I opened the door and was hit with a deafening whooshing of air, and an awful buzzing and popping—never seen or heard anything like it. Then it suddenly stopped, and everything went back to normal.”

Grange looked over to the corner where Ennis met Tim, then back at the woman. “Was this around three o’clock?”

“Yes, about then. What do you think it was?” She asked.

Grange shook his head. “I’m not sure ma’am. Thanks for your time…” Grange took Ennis by the hand and led him to the car.

Ennis sat quietly for most of the ride, resting his head on the top of the door with the window rolled down, enjoying the wind blowing through his hair. He suddenly straightened up in the seat and asked, “Daddy, where are we going?”

“To the sheriff’s office son, I need to talk to them about something.”

After a long silence Ennis replied, “He’s not going to hurt me daddy, you don’t have to worry.”

Grange didn’t answer, he couldn’t bring himself to say anything. When they pulled up in front of the sheriff’s office, Grange had Ennis wait in the car. “Keep the doors locked, son.”

About ten minutes later, Grange was walking toward the car at a pretty good clip. He jumped in, slammed the door, shoved the key in the ignition, backed out of the parking space, and tore off down the road. He said nothing to Ennis on the ride home.

When Grange and Ennis walked through the front door, Marlys was still sitting at the kitchen table. She poked her head around the corner, “Well?”

“Ennis, why don’t you go to your room and play until supper.” Grange gave him a wink.

“Okay daddy.” Grange and Marlys watched as Ennis scurried away.

“What did you find out? Did you go to the corner?” Grange nodded. “And?” Marlys asked, nervously.

Grange sat down at the kitchen table across from her. He interlocked his fingers and rested his elbows on the tabletop. “I talked to a woman who lives across the street. She didn’t see anybody.”

“Do you think he’s making it up?”

“I don’t think so…the woman didn’t see anybody, but she said she experienced electrical problems around the same time Ennis said he saw Tim. She said things went all goofy—the power lines crackled and popped, and they were moving around wildly. And she heard loud whooshes of air, just like Ennis told us.”

“But what if it was just that? Power problems, and he just made up the rest?”

“Why would he do that, honey? That’s not like Ennis—and all that detail?”

Marlys nodded. “I know, but—I don’t understand, and I’m scared. Did you go see the sheriff?”

Grange nodded. “He said we need to take our son to a psychiatrist…”

Marlys’s head dropped forward as she shook it. Grange got up and sat down next to her, putting his arm around her. “It’s going to be okay. Let’s just keep a special eye on him over the summer, we’ll make sure someone is with him at all times.” Marlys could only manage a quick nod.

Independence Day

June had gone by quickly, bringing around Ennis’s second favorite holiday, after Christmas. In fact, the Fourth of July was the second favorite holiday of the whole Folksy clan. It was the morning of July Fourth, and Ennis could hardly contain himself. The anticipation of dusk was almost too much for him. That’s when the entire population moved from Main Street to a large empty field just outside of town where the fireworks show, sponsored by the local businesses, were set off each year. This year they promised to make the display bigger and better, being the bicentennial year, and Ennis was more than ready for it.

Ennis, JR and Kermit walked into town in the early morning with a grocery list of items to buy. As they made their way through a group of onlookers, they could see some of the last-minute touches being applied to some of the floats that would be part of the parade later in the day. They passed city workers on ladders, tightening the bunting that hung across Main Street, watched as shopkeepers fiddled with decorations on their storefronts, struggling to get them just right. It was an all-hands-on-deck effort. There was more red, white, and blue than you could shake a stick at, and all the frenetic activity was overwhelming Ennis.

The Tim situation had become less of an issue in the Folksy family over the weeks, with no more sightings, or encounters, or strange electrical issues happening since Ennis’s last day of school. Ennis never brought the subject up again after his first run-in with Tim, and Grange and Marlys were more than happy to put the subject behind them. They hoped it had been nothing more than an odd blip that Ennis had moved on from.

“C’mon Ennis, we have to get mama her supplies and get back home.”

“Okay.” Ennis caught up with JR and Kermit while keeping an eye on all the activity going on around them.

As the older boys pushed the shopping cart around the store, Ennis positioned himself in front of the giant plate glass window to watch the small groups of early birds outside claiming their spots for the parade. The Folksy family never had to worry about fighting for a good view because the owner of the town drug store, Mr. Wink, was a long-time friend of Grange Folksy and always blocked off an area in front of his store for the family. They never even had to brings their own chairs, Alfred Wink provided the space and the seating as long as Marlys brought him a large container of her famous homemade potato salad. It was a fair trade for all parties concerned.

Just as JR and Kermit were finishing paying for their groceries, the lights inside the store flickered off and on and buzzed loudly, making the two pause and look up at the ceiling. They quickly shrugged it off and made their way to the exit, realizing Ennis was no longer standing at the window. JR’s face instantly felt hot as the panic set in. He and Kermit walked out onto the sidewalk and noticed several people looking at the power lines above. They looked around for Ennis, eventually spotting him on the corner, staring at a small group of people on the other side of the street. “Ennis!” Kermit barked, as he walked up to him. “We told you to stay in the store!” Kermit grabbed him by the upper arm and led him back to JR.

“But I saw him…” Ennis said, protesting.

“I don’t care what you saw, you don’t walk off like that, now let’s go home.” JR growled.

“Okay...” Ennis looked back several times as they walked away.

The Folksy’s arrived at their parade spot in front of Mr. Wink’s drug store in the late afternoon, greeting the people around them as they settled in. Alfred Wink came out of the store immediately flashing a wide smile, holding out his hands to take possession of the enormous plastic bowl of potato salad from Marlys Folksy’s tired arms. Right away the older Folksy children wanted to take off, find their friends and explore Main Street before the parade started. Ennis stayed behind, sitting in a small lawn chair between his parents. Grange surprised Ennis with a red, white, and blue pinwheel he had tucked in his shirt before they left home. He shook the pinwheel lightly before handing it to him. Ennis smiled and took it. “Thank you, daddy.” After about an hour the older kids came back and sat down with the family. Ennis had been getting antsy and asked if he could go in the drug store and look at the toys while the parade floats jockeyed for position. Grange agreed and watched Ennis open the door and step in. “Five minutes, okay?” Grange said with a big smile. “Okay daddy.”

Grange glanced at his watch. He had been chatting with friends, unaware that twenty minutes had passed since Ennis entered the store. He looked behind him, craning his neck, trying to spot him through the store window, but couldn’t. “Hey Pauline and Pamela, do your old man a favor and go get Ennis before the parade starts.”

“Yes daddy.” the twins said in unison. A few minutes later the sisters came back. “We can’t find him.”

Grange stood up, “C’mon boys…” JR and Kermit followed him into the store. The three immediately split up and scoured the place. Grange ended up at the back counter where Alfred Wink was working. “Hey Alfred, have you seen Ennis?”

“He was in the toy aisle looking at the puzzles last time I saw him.” he replied.

Grange immediately headed for the aisle a second time, finding it empty. JR and Kermit appeared just then. “He’s not in the bathroom.” The three went back to the pharmacy counter.

“Alfred, will you take a look-see in your stockroom—see if my boy is back there?”

“Sure thing.” A minute later Alfred came back, shaking his head. “He’s not back there.”

Grange’s face fell as he blew out a big breath. “What about the back door, could he have gone out?”

“No, I would have heard the bell.” Alfred came out from behind the counter to join Grange and the boys. The four walked around the store together, taking a more thorough look. Marlys walked into the store and noticed the activity, and the look on their faces.

“Grange?”

“We can’t find Ennis…” he replied quickly. Marlys instantly became unsteady. The blood drained from her face. JR and Kermit helped her into a chair.

“We’ll find him mama.” Kermit said, trying to reassure her. After a few silent glances at each other, all four men stood frozen, not knowing what to do next. Marlys cleared her throat, startling them. “Mr. Wink, I need to ask you something.”

Grange looked at her and shook his head, “No Marlys—”

“I have to...” She responded.

“What is it, Mrs. Folksy?” Alfred asked, confused.

“Did you see…did you see a short man in here today? An old man—bald, tan—wrinkled, wearing all white, with strange eyes?”

Alfred thought for a second, “Yes, as a matter of fact—a little fella, he was wandering around—”

“Oh God!” Marlys blurted out, startling him. Alfred backed up a step. Grange quickly knelt in front of Marlys, putting his hands on the tops of her knees.

“I don’t understand.” Alfred said, visibly upset.

Grange turned his head and looked up at JR and Kermit, “Go outside and look around—see if you can find your brother.” They both hesitated. “Now!” Grange shouted.

Grange stood up. “Now wife—”

She interrupted, “Grange, he’s not here, he took him. He’s gone!”

Alfred took a few steps forward and bent over toward her. “Who took him Mrs. Folksy?”

Before she could answer, Grange spoke. “Alfred, will you please call the sheriff?”

Alfred stuttered, “Oh—oh—okay Grange.” Alfred quickly walked away. Grange bent down and looked Marlys in the eyes, whispering, “We’ll find him my love, we’ll find him.” Marlys immediately started shaking her head and with her voice cracking said, “No you won’t, no you won’t. He’s gone. He took him…”

Alfred came back, “It’s going to be a while, the sheriffs on a call…with everything going on, you know.”

Grange nodded. “Thanks Alfred.” Grange lifted Marlys out of the chair and walked her toward the back of the store. “C’mon, let’s wait back here, away from everybody.”

Alfred watched in agony as Grange led her to a seating area by the pharmacy counter. Alfred waited until Marlys sat down, then began to search the store on his own, scouring every inch for anything that might indicate what happened. He got about halfway down the aisle he last saw Ennis in and spotted the red, white, and blue pinwheel he had been playing with, poking out from underneath a rack on the floor. He bent over to pick it up and saw a hash mark on the floor that he’d never noticed before. It looked like someone had burned a small patch on the linoleum. He touched it with the tip of a finger, then drew back his hand quickly. He felt a shock like he had grabbed an electric fence, and the hash mark was warm to the touch. Alfred shook his arm several times and flexed his fingers, then rubbed his numb hand. He peeked over the merchandise racks and called out. “Grange, will you come over here please?”

Grange nodded. “Wait here honey, I’ll be right back.” He patted Marlys on the shoulder lightly and walked over to Alfred. Alfred pointed to the hash mark on the floor as he handed Grange the pinwheel. “This is the last place I saw him, right where that burn mark is. It wasn’t there before.”

“I don’t understand, what are you telling me?” Grange asked.

“I’m—I’m not sure, but there’s something wrong here…touch it.” Grange hesitated. “Touch it,” Alfred repeated.

Grange slowly bent down, looking up at Alfred as he touched it. Grange drew back his hand quickly and stood up straight, rubbing his fingers. “What in the…?”

Alfred held up his hand. “Me too…” They were both silent for a moment, then Alfred asked, “What do you think that is?” Grange shook his head, “…Don’t know, Alfred.”

Alfred pointed to the pinwheel in Grange’s hand. “Give that to Mrs. Folksy.”

Grange walked away, glancing back at the spot on the floor. He stopped and turned around. “Hey Alfred, did you have any electrical issues today? Anything strange go on with the lights, or the power?”

“As a matter of fact, I did, why do you ask?”

Grange shook his head. “I don’t know—no reason I guess…” Grange started to walk away, then stopped again. “Hey Alfred, don’t say anything to the wife about that.” He pointed at the mark on the floor.

“No worries, Grange.”

Several hours had gone by when Sheriff Emmerson showed up at the pharmacy. The Folksy’s were sitting out in front of the store, and they weren’t happy. The town had all but cleared out of people. They had migrated to the large field at the end of town for the fireworks show. Main Street now looked like a red, white, and blue landfill.

“My boy has been missing for hours, sheriff. I’m glad you took your sweet time getting here.”

“I’m sorry about that Grange, there was a miscommunication, Helen in dispatch told us that your gun went missing, not your son. She refuses to get hearing aids. On top of that, I have one deputy out sick today so that means it’s only myself and Kennedy, and I’ve been with him up at the Clairmont’s place, on account of old Neil Clairmont accidently shot Teddy Clairmont’s wife…again. She’ll be okay, just like last year.”

“That’s all great sheriff, but we need to find my boy, Ennis.” Grange replied.

Sheriff Emmerson noticed Marlys and asked, “How you are holding up Mrs. Folksy?”

“Tim took him, I just know it.” She said.

“Now who’s Tim?” The sheriff asked.

Grange spoke up, “He’s the little old man I told you about last month—the one who stopped Ennis on his way home from school. Remember, I told you that this Tim character was going to come back for my boy, and you told me I should take Ennis to a psychiatrist…”

Emmerson took a long, deep breath and exhaled. “How do you know it’s this Tim? Did someone see him take Ennis?”

“Alfred saw him in the store today, before Ennis went missing.” Grange replied. Alfred nodded in agreement. Grange continued, “Are you going to tell us Alfred imagined him too?”

“No sir,” Emmerson replied. “Now let’s go inside so I can take a look around.”

“We’ve all looked, he’s not in there.” Grange said, becoming irritated. Emmerson nodded toward Marlys, indicating he wanted to talk privately. Emmerson, Grange and Alfred walked into the store, leaving Marlys with the kids on the sidewalk. A few feet inside, Emmerson stopped and said, “Now, most kids get overstimulated from all the goings on, which leads to what we call, sensory overload. They just run off without thinking about what they’re doing…we usually find they ran off with some friends. They generally come back on their own, but out of caution we’ll start with where you last saw him.”

Alfred pointed to the aisle and led them to it. They stopped halfway down. “He was standing right here, looking at the puzzles, that’s the last time I saw him. See that?” Alfred pointed at the hash mark on the floor. Alfred and Grange said in unison, “Touch it...” Emmerson hesitated, then bent down and touched it, getting a shock. “Jesus Christ!” Emmerson rubbed his hand for a moment, then said, “Now Alfred, you say you saw this Tim around the same time Ennis was in the store?”

“Yep, I saw that Tim fella wandering around, doing nothing, and then here come Ennis. I saw Ennis standing right here looking at the jigsaw puzzles, but then I got busy and helped some customers. The next thing I know, Ennis was gone and so was that little fella. That was just after we had the electrical issues—the blinking and buzzing and such…”

“Blinking and buzzing you say?” Emmerson replied.

“Right. The lights flickered, they went bright, then they dimmed. They buzzed too. It wasn’t for long, but it was noticeable. Then, there’s that mark on the floor…but I don’t know if it’s all connected.”

“It is connected, it happened before, when Ennis was on his way home—you recall me telling you about that, sheriff?” Grange said, with a good bit of sarcasm.

Emmerson nodded slowly. “Hmmm, could be something, but let’s not jump to any conclusions…now Grange, you didn’t see him come out the front door?”

Grange shook his head, “No. I lost track of time, but the whole family was sitting right there—right outside the door. We would have noticed him come out. There’s no way he left through the front door.”

“And he couldn’t have gone out another way, Alfred?”

“No, no way, I was at the back of the store, I would have seen him, and heard the alarm.”

Emmerson slowly shook his head, then looked down. “And this, whatever this mark is, you think it has something to do with his disappearance?”

Grange and Alfred both shrugged. “It wasn’t there before…” Alfred said.

“How do you explain it? You felt it, right?” Grange asked. Emmerson grimaced, “Yeah, I felt it…”

“Well, what do you think it is, sheriff?” Alfred asked.

“Dunno—think it’s something I can’t explain or want explained to me.” Emmerson thought for a moment, “When Kennedy gets here, we’re going down to the field and search the crowd, we’ll spread the word, get everyone involved looking around for your boy, okay? Maybe you should take Mrs. Folksy and the kids home and wait. We’ll come by later after we’ve finished the search.”

Grange didn’t answer. “I’ll make sure they get home.” Alfred said. Emmerson, Grange and Alfred walked out onto the sidewalk. Alfred locked the door, gathered the Folksy’s and led them to his car.

It was just after eleven p.m. when the Folksy family saw headlights enter the driveway. The whole family walked out onto the porch and lined up at the railing. Sheriff Emmerson got out of his car and walked to the bottom of the stairs and took his hat off. He didn’t have Ennis with him. “I’m sorry, we haven’t found him.”

1984

“Sarah, you’re supposed to help me pick the blueberries, not eat them.” Her mother said, exasperated. Sarah was focused on a particularly fat blueberry she had rolling around in the palm of her hand. “But mommy, they’re so juicy.” She quickly popped the blueberry into her purple stained mouth and rocked from side to side on her overturned bucket, enjoying the moment. “I know they’re good honey, but we have to wash them first, so please stop.”

“Okay...” Sarah replied, scooting her bucket several feet away and into a cubby hole in the bushes with her foot, out of her mother’s sight. As she studied the area her eyes suddenly widened after spotting the largest blueberry she had ever seen. She pushed her way into the bush, extending her little arm out as far as she could. Just as she touched the berry with the tips of her fingers, something reflecting in the sun in a small clearing just past the bushes caught her eye. Sarah instantly turned her attention to the glistening blob, separating the bushes to peek through. She couldn’t get a clear view so she squatted down and separated the bushes again, closer to the ground, coming face to face with a young man and woman lying on their sides, facing her, with the woman being closest. They were wearing something that resembled underwear, but it was shiny like tin foil, and very form fitting. She could see them breathing and they didn’t seem distressed in any way. They just looked like they were asleep. She watched them for a moment, then suddenly the woman’s eyes popped open, making Sarah yelp. She jumped up and backed out, quickly running over to her mother. “Mommy, there’s people in there!” she yelled, pointing to the bushes.

“In where?!”

“In the blueberry bushes, right over there…”

Her mother walked over to the separated part of the bush and looked through. She instantly straightened up. “C’mon Sarah, we have to go.” She took her daughter by the hand, leaving everything behind and led her to the car. A few minutes later they were stopped at a phone booth on the side of the road.

She jerked, waking herself up out of a sound sleep. After a few minutes she lifted herself up and rested on her elbows. It took some time for her heartbeat to slow to a normal rate. The girl was confused and unfamiliar with her surroundings. After she blinked hard several times until she was able to focus. She could see a woman, dressed in a nurse’s uniform, sitting in the corner of the room at a desk, looking at her. The woman checked her watch, wrote something in a notepad, then got on the phone and spoke quietly into the receiver. After she got off the phone she walked over to the bed, checked the IV bag and fiddled with several dials on one of the monitors. The nurse said nothing and walked out the door. A few minutes later, another woman, wearing an unbuttoned lab coat over her skirt and blouse walked into the room and straight up to the bed. She studied the girl for a moment then turned her attention to the table next to the bed, poured some water into a glass and handed it to her. “Good afternoon, drink some water, you’re dehydrated.” The girl took a long sip. The woman took back the glass and set it on the table, then asked, “How do you feel?”

“Okay…” She replied, in a raspy voice.

“My name is Della May, Doctor Della May, I help run this facility. What’s your name?”

The girl thought for a second. “Annie…my name is Annie.”

“Good, that’s a start.”

Annie’s eyes darted around the austere, bright room. “Where am I?”

The Stillwater Institute…in Knits Corner, Oregon.”

“Oregon?”

“Yes. You’ve been here a couple of days. You were found in a blueberry patch by a woman and her daughter. They called the sheriff, the sheriff called us, and here you are. The sheriff happens to be my brother. He thought you were special and belonged in this facility, where we could take care of the two of you…”

Annie dropped flat on the bed and rubbed her temples, trying to remember the last few days. Doctor May walked to the other side of Annie’s bed and slid a chair closer. She sat down, crossed her legs and pulled out a notepad from her pocket. Annie studied her for a moment. The Doctor was a striking woman with porcelain skin, dark brown hair pulled back in a tight bun, and had the greenest eyes she had ever seen. Annie suddenly caught what the Doctor had said, “the two of you.”

“Ennis!” Annie blurted out, “Where’s Ennis?!”

“Is that your companions name? The boy who was with you?”

“Yes—where is he?” Annie threw the covers off and began to get up. Della stopped her.

“He’s fine, now lay down, you need to calm down.” Annie slowly relaxed into the bed.

“He’s okay?” Annie asked.

“Yes, he hasn’t woken up, but he’s fine otherwise.”

“What do you mean he hasn’t woken up?

“When you came to us you were in a—a kind of state of hibernation. Your biological functions were slow, but otherwise you were fine. We don’t know if your hibernation mode was natural or artificially induced. We were hoping you could tell us. When you were picked up, your eyes were open, but you didn’t respond to your surroundings. Your friend Ennis, he just hasn’t opened his eyes yet.”

“But he will, right?” Annie asked, lifting her head.

“I hope so, but I can’t be sure. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with him—no trauma, I mean. His brain function is normal.”

Annie laid her head back on the pillow and stared at the ceiling, then asked. “What did you mean when you said you thought we were special, and that we belonged here? What is this place?”

“I just meant that you showed up, like the others, but you and Ennis are different. You’re normal—healthy.” Annie closed her eyes and went quiet. “Annie?” Doctor May waited for a moment but got no reply. “Annie, you do know the others, correct?” Doctor May waited, but still got no response. She stood up and pushed the chair back against the wall. “I’ll give you some time, then we’ll talk later.”

Doctor May was at her desk when she heard a light knock on the door. “Come in…” The door opened slowly as Annie poked her head in. “Can I talk to you?”

“Of course, come in and sit down.”

“The nurse showed me where you were, I hope it’s okay.”

“It’s quite alright, have a seat. Can I get you some water?”

Annie shook her head. “No, that nurse makes me drink a lot, I’m tired of it.” she said, half smiling.

“What can I do for you, Annie?”

Annie was nervous and tripped over her words at first but managed to get them out, “yesterday, you said we—Ennis and me, were like the others. How did you know?”

Della smiled. “Many of you have ended up here. I don’t know why, maybe it’s the blueberries…” Annie looked confused. “I’m kidding, Annie. I really don’t know what it is about Knits Corner, but this seems to be the last stop on the line—from wherever you originated. And, as for how we knew, it’s because you have the mark…”

“The mark?”

Della nodded and pointed at Annie’s left eye. “You all have the same bright, white iris.”

Annie put her finger up to her eye in an involuntary response. “I didn’t even realize…”

“It’s very distinct.”

Annie thought for a second. “How’s Ennis?”

“Still no change I’m afraid.”

Annie started fidgeting. One of her legs bounced up and down wildly. She looked around the room and asked, “So, what do you call this place again?”

The Stillwater Institute. To the outside world, it’s a facility for people with severe, non-violent, mental disorders. But over the years we’ve had people like you come through. Of course, we don’t tell anybody about that. When the woman and her daughter found you in the blueberry patch, they just assumed you were patients who had escaped, or walked away without anybody noticing. The people who live around here aren’t unfamiliar with that happening, so it’s not alarming to them.”

“Over the years?” Annie asked.

Della sat back in her chair. “I came to Knits Corner in early nineteen seventy-two, to visit my brother and while I was here, he introduced me to a doctor by the name of Stuart Browning—a psychiatrist. We had some similar professional interests, we hit it off and became friends, then colleagues. After some lengthy discussions, preliminary plans, and my decision not to go back to Illinois, we decided to open this clinic together. This building was originally a small community hospital, but had been abandoned when a newer, larger hospital was built about ten miles north of here. We fixed it up, added a small wing, and had the place up and running by the end of that year. Soon after, they started showing up…the ones like you. But like I said, you’re different, physically. You are by all measure, normal. The others are…well, they never woke up.”

Annie was concerned about the last part. “They never woke up?” Della shook her head. “So, you’re saying it’s possible that Ennis may never wake up?”

“It’s a possibility, but I think he will. I believe he’s still finding his way back and that it’s just taking some time.” Della said, trying to reassure her.

Annie suddenly spotted something on a shelf behind Della and became distracted. Della noticed her looking and turned around to see what had piqued her curiosity. It was a framed picture of a young girl. Della picked it up and set it down on the desk, facing Annie. Annie looked away. “That’s my daughter, she was ten years old in that picture. She disappeared not long after it was taken.”

Annie tried not to look at it, but she couldn’t stop herself. Della continued, “She was taken in nineteen sixty-six, I never saw her again.”

“I’d like to go back to my room now.” Annie stood up and walked toward the door. Della followed her out into the hall.

“Annie, I want to show you something first. Please.”

Annie agreed. Della gently took her by the arm and led her down several long corridors, stopping at a large window at the top of a short ramp. Della pushed a button next to the window and a shade lifted, revealing a large, circular room with beds lined up around the perimeter. In each bed was a body, hooked up to various machines. “These are the people I was telling you about.”

Annie looked at them with a combination of disgust and fascination. She couldn’t take her eyes off them. After a long pause she said, “Why are you showing me this? I just want to go back to my room.”

“Please Annie, look at them closely. Do you recognize anyone? Do you know any of them?”

Annie scanned the beds. She did see someone she recognized, because of her hair. It was a girl with bright orange hair whom she had nicknamed, Tangerine. Annie shook her head. “No, I don’t know any of them.” She wasn’t sure why she lied about recognizing her, but something told her it was better to keep quiet about it.

“Are you sure?” Della asked. Annie nodded.

“They look so old...” Annie said sadly.

“Yes, it’s like they’ve had the life sucked right out of them—they’re actually not very old, and they weren’t this bad when they arrived. We could still identify some of them at that point. Eventually, they’ll become completely atrophied—mummy-like. I’m trying to figure out why you and Ennis aren’t like them, except for the iris. That’s why I have so many questions.”

Annie stared at the bodies intently and said under her breath, “No one makes it out of the void without paying a price…”

“I’m sorry, what did you say?” Della asked.

Annie ignored her. “I’d like to go back to my room now.”

“Okay.” Della pushed the button again, lowering the screen. She took Annie’s arm and led her to her room, helping her into bed.

“I’d like to stay for a bit and ask you some questions if you’re not too tired.”

Annie nodded, “alright.” Della pulled a chair over to her bed.

“How’s your memory, is it okay?”

“Still a little hazy on some things, but okay for the most part.”

“Excellent. Can you tell me your full name?”

“Annie Louise Gripper.” She said, hitting each word hard.

“And where are you from?”

“Arcata California.”

“How old were you when you were taken?” Annie didn’t answer her right away. “Annie?”

“I wasn’t taken…”

“I’m sorry?”

“You make it sound as if I went against my will.”

Della stopped writing in her notepad. “Well, then how do you characterize it?”

Annie’s eyes became fixed as she spoke. “I went willingly, Doctor. I wanted to be a part of the great change, I wanted to be a part of the redesign, I wanted to see the outcome.”

“I don’t understand. Great change? Redesign, outcome? What do you mean?”

Annie relaxed and blinked several times. “I want to see Ennis.”

“I don’t think it’s a good time right now, why don’t you get some rest and I’ll come and get you later.”

“Okay, I’ll rest now.” Annie laid her head back on the pillow. Doctor May pushed the chair back to the wall and headed to the door. Just as she was about to exit, she heard Annie mumble, “And that little devil sits there in all her glory, taunting me...” Della paused, then left the room.

Several hours passed and Annie was awake, feeling well rested. Her long nap made her feel a bit groggy, but her mind was clear. She wanted to see Ennis badly and asked the nurse to call Doctor May. A few minutes later, Della appeared, helped her out of bed and led her through a maze of corridors, ending up outside Ennis’s room. Annie watched him through a large window. Ennis was laying on his back. “I wonder why he hasn’t come around yet.”

“I don’t know. I can tell you that he’s fine, physically. I guess he’s just taking a little longer than you to power up.”

Annie put her hand flat against the window. “He’s strong—the strongest person I’ve ever known.”

Della could see how much Annie admired him by the look on her face. “You love him deeply, don’t you?” Annie nodded. “More than anything.”

“C’mon, I want to go over some things with you.” Annie followed Della to a room just down the hall from her office. Della motioned for her to sit down at a large table while she walked over to a filing cabinet, pulled out a stack of folders and came back to the table, setting them down in front of Annie. “Each one of these files represents the information we have on those bodies you saw in that room, except for two—we haven’t been able to identify them. These files tell us who they are and where they were taken from, gathered from police and news reports—including any strange phenomena that happened around the time of their disappearance.”

“Phenomena?” Annie asked.

“Correct, meaning power surges, or power drains in the area around the time they disappeared. The sound of loud whipping or whooshing air, power lines dancing uncontrollably, lights dimming and flashing bright, as well as cracking and exploding—any electrical phenomena. In each of the disappearances, we found that some or all those occurrences happened. It happened in this area just before you and Ennis came back, but never when the others came back, and I’d like to know why. I’d also like to know why you and Ennis seem to be okay physically, and the other returns look like dried fruit. So, I have questions…many questions.”

Della took each folder from the pile and spread them out on the table. “I have racked my brain trying to figure out why they come back here—what it is about this area that becomes the drop off site. I want answers—I need answers, and the only way to get them is for you to tell me what you know.” Della sat down and stared at Annie for a moment, hoping she’d speak up. “I also want to know what happened to my daughter…I think she was, or is, wherever you and Ennis were.”

“Why haven’t you contacted the families? Why not tell them they’re here? You of all people should know how it feels not knowing what happened to them.”

Della glanced at the files, then said, “Would you want to see those things? If Ennis started pruning, and ended up looking like them, would you want to see him, or remember him like he was? Is that something you could prepare yourself for?” Della paused. “What’s worse, seeing your loved one looking like a shriveled-up piece of fruit, or having a hole in your heart for the rest of your life? You tell me, Annie.”

“What about your daughter? Wouldn’t you want know the truth about what happened to her?” Annie asked.

“Yes, the scientist in me wants to know what happened, I want facts—the truth, no matter how difficult it would be to accept, but the families of the people here—I think it’s better that they’re spared…you may not agree with our decision—” Annie let out a quick chuckle. “What’s so funny?” Della asked.

Annie shook her head. “Everyone says they want the truth, but what they really want to do is fill a void—stop the hurt. It’s not the same thing. Anybody can solve a mystery if they try hard enough, or wait long enough, but that doesn’t mean they can comprehend or accept the truth.”

“Well, either way, I’d like to understand what’s happening, and why. I’ve had plenty of time to prepare for the worst.”

“Tell me about her—your daughter.”

“She was smart, very smart—and compassionate. I had a child who wanted to take care of everyone, and everything around her. We had a little garden in our backyard that she loved to spend time in. She would wander around in there for hours, tending to the flowers and vegetables—even the bugs. She was always talking to herself—telling stories or singing. When she disappeared, I thought my life was over, and it was to some extent—at least life as I knew it.”

“What did you do after that? How did you cope?”

“I came from a big family, so that was a big help, I had a lot of support, but eventually you have to stop crying, and you have to stop sleeping all the time, and pull yourself together. I had to eat, and live, and that means I had to go to work—nobody can do that for you. You have to find a way to move forward. It wasn’t easy, I had already been through one really tough time in my life.” Della leaned forward and relaxed her arms on the table. “I was eighteen when I got pregnant. My boyfriend and I had no idea how to raise a child. He got scared, and I got put on a bus back to Illinois—we were in Michigan at the time, living with his family. Well, I arrived in Chicago, pregnant and feeling lost, hoping to find my way.” Della looked off into space for a moment, then continued, “I received exactly one letter from Steven after that, telling me he had joined the Army. I never heard from him again. I had Jennifer in the summer of nineteen fifty-six, and with my family’s help we made a fresh start. I went to college, I graduated and found a job, then I bought a little house, and we settled in—that was our life. But everything changed on April twenty-second, nineteen sixty-six. On my days off, sometimes I would take Jennifer to the big library downtown and we’d spend hours there—make a day of it. One afternoon I became engrossed in some medical books and Jennifer got bored. She asked if she could go to the children’s section—she liked the little tables and chairs in there. I said yes. One word—yes, and it changed everything. I went to find her after about ten minutes, but she was gone…I never saw her again. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but just before she disappeared, we had some electrical issues in the house—and around the neighborhood. I remember hearing pops and crackling and loud buzzing. And while we were at the library that day, the lights blinked off and on and lit up bright and dimmed, and I thought I smelled a faint burning—like hot wires. I didn’t think anything about it at the time—it didn’t seem important until later. Jennifer once told me she met a little man in the garden, but I thought it was just one of her stories. I should have listened to her.” Della shifted in her chair and continued, “The bodies in those beds—the circumstances around their disappearances, have similarities to Jennifer’s disappearance. Now you’re here—someone I can actually talk to who may be able to answer my questions...please, you have to tell me what you know!” Della caught herself being aggressive and suddenly stopped.

Annie didn’t react, just saying, “I’m sorry about Jennifer...”

Della nodded. “Thank you…” She took a deep breath and composed herself, then asked, “What was your childhood like, Annie?”

“I was pretty happy most of the time. My mother died of ovarian cancer when I was four. A couple of months after the funeral, my dad moved us from Napa to Arcata, he had a sister there who could watch me while he was at work. He was a handyman who put in long days. It was good for the most part. My aunt raised rabbits in her backyard, so that made me happy. I got to play with them as much as I wanted—well, at least until she sold them, or we ate them. I understood that was part of the deal, so I accepted it. I loved how soft they were, I would sit in the grass and pet them for hours. When I got a little older, I was fascinated with watching them give birth. They’d shudder and twitch and pulse and kick, and then I’d see this little life come out of them, all helpless and covered in this stuff. At that age I didn’t know anything about the reproductive system—my dad couldn’t tell me anything, he could barely say the word pregnant, let alone tell me what it meant, and my aunt thought I was too young to know about that kind of stuff. The only thing I knew, was that girls could have babies and boys couldn’t. I’d look at where the babies came out of the rabbit, then look down at myself and almost get sick thinking about it, but I was curious about it all the same. I always wondered how the mother rabbits knew…”

“Knew what?”

“How they knew what they were supposed to do—how instinct tells them they were created to reproduce—carry on, create a better product each time—try to get it right every time. I mean, they’re just animals, but they know what they’re supposed to do with their lives. Most humans don’t seem to have that understanding. It wasn’t until later that I realized—” Annie suddenly stopped.

“You didn’t realize what?”

“Nothing, it’s not important.” Annie changed the subject, “You asked why those people in the beds came here, to this place.”

“Yes, do you know why?”

“Maybe it has nothing to do with this place.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m just saying it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with geography. After my mother died, she would come around—no matter where I was. She visited me in Napa before we moved, and then in Arcata—at school during recess—in the backyard at my aunt’s house. She was everywhere I was; I could smell her. Out of the blue I felt something around me, and I could smell her perfume, it was sweet, with a touch of lavender. It was very distinct. It was only lasted a few seconds, but I knew it was her. It was like she was letting me know that she was around, watching me. I believe—I know we can cross paths with others—but occupy a different time or space. Just because we can’t see someone, doesn’t mean they’re not around. Maybe the attraction to this area isn’t because of what’s here, but who’s here.”

“I don’t follow…who would be the attraction in Knits Corner to a random group of people?”

“I don’t know, it’s just a theory I guess.”

Della nodded. “I see. Well, it’s something to think about. You mentioned a different time or space…? Is that where you’ve been, a different time, or space?”

Annie scanned the folders, saying nothing. “Annie? Is that what happened?” Della repeated.

GALT…” Annie said after a short hesitation.

“GALT? What is that?”

“It’s where I was…”

GALT.” Della repeated.

“Yes.”

“It means, Genesis Alternative Life Transfiguration.”

Della repeated the words to herself, then asked, “What does that mean, in practice?”

“Renewal.” Annie replied.

“Renewal? For whom, or what?”

“All of us. It’s a chance to start over, change our course. Rid ourselves of the qualities that make us imperfect.”

“And how does that work?”

Annie didn’t answer. She folded her arms and looked down at the floor. Della took the silence as a hint and moved on for the moment.

“Describe what it’s like in GALT?”

“So, you believe me?” Annie asked.

“I want to know more, tell me everything.”

“GALT was like being in dead air at first. Just after we moved to Arcata, my dad and I went to a bank in town so he could put some papers and things in a safe deposit box. The bank was old, and the boxes were in the basement. We went down a long set of stairs, through a thick steel door, and into a room that had thick concrete walls. There was no sound—it was so quiet it made your ears ring. It felt like there was no air, and it became hard to breath. I felt like I was going to suffocate. GALT was like that at the beginning.”

“I see. Tell me how you ended up there.”

“It started in the backyard at my aunt’s house. My dad hung a tire swing from a large tree branch near the rabbit hutches. One morning I was swinging around in circles and I got dizzy and fell off. I was laying on the ground waiting for my head to stop spinning, and suddenly there he was, standing over me, smiling.”

“Who?”

He said his name was Tim. He was a funny looking little man with wrinkly—almost leathery skin, with these strange eyes, but I wasn’t scared. I didn’t even question why this stranger would be in my aunt’s backyard. He told me that I was a very special little girl, and that someday I would do important things—remarkable things. He said he would come back for me and take me to a place where I would live in solace and radiance…he said I would be with other children just like me…living in solace and radiance.”

“Did you tell your aunt, or your dad about Tim?”

“No. I asked him if my dad and aunt could go with me, but he said that would be impossible. I asked him if my mother would be there when I arrived, I thought maybe it was like going to heaven. He said there was only one mother, and that she was already there, waiting for me. I never told anyone, I didn’t want my dad or my aunt to stop me from going. You have to understand, I had never really felt special before—until that day. I had never been told that I was important. My parents did the best they could, but they didn’t exactly go out of their way to shower me with affection. When Tim talked to me, I felt like someone really saw me—listened to me. He had a way of making me feel special, and I have to admit, it was kind of fun having this little secret. Tim never told me not to tell anybody, but I just felt like I shouldn’t say anything…it’s funny, you know?”

“What is?”

“Well, how the people who see us every day can easily forget we’re there—they don’t really see us. But a stranger can show up out of nowhere—someone who doesn’t know you, and they can make you feel like you matter within just a few seconds…it makes you believe you matter...I don’t think I ever stood a chance in this world.”

Della nodded along as she spoke. “What happened next?”

“Nothing. I thought maybe I imagined all of it because weeks went by without anything happening. That’s a long time for a ten-year-old. Then one day I went into town with my aunt to do some shopping and we stopped at this pet store to pick up some supplies for the rabbits, and while we waited, I went into the room where they keep the aquariums. It was dark and I remember standing there, watching all the colorful fish swirl around in their tanks, and then suddenly it happened—”

“What?” Della asked excitedly, as she wrote in her notepad.

“The lights in the store started buzzing and the room lit up real bright, and then I heard a crackling above me. The lights blinked off and on a bunch of times, and there was this smell—it reminded me of the time my aunt forgot to put water in her kettle before she put it on the stove and the bottom of it burned. I stood in the middle of the room, kind of scared and frozen at first, then I sensed something behind me—like someone was there. I turned around and I saw him. It was Tim. He was just standing there, grinning at me. He told me it was time to go. He held out his hand and I took it. I felt a shock and the next thing I know I was in a small room—it was dark, but you could see okay, and it was cool, but not cold, and I felt like I was under pressure—I had a hard time moving my arms and legs. It was very quiet, and I had a hard time breathing—it was like being in dead air. It reminded me of the time I was in the basement of the bank with my dad. After some time, I seemed to acclimate, and my limbs felt lighter. I was lying in a bed that was against a wall, and on the other side of the room there was a pedestal and this toilet looking thing next to it. In between them was a poster size sign on the wall that showed you—in pictures, how to use them. You held your hands above the pedestal and a warm blue mist shot up, sort of like a fountain—that’s how you washed your hands. It was a disinfectant of some sort. The device you went to the bathroom in, was mostly just a frame with a funnel in the center of the flat seat, and everything that came out of you went down a straight, thick tube into a black pot about the size of a basketball, and the pot sat on the floor. After you did your business, a warm blue mist shot up and cleaned you. After you stood up, there was a spinning sound inside the pot and then it ended with a loud snap.” Annie paused to let Della catch up.

“Keep talking Annie, I’m listening.” Della wrote furiously in her notepad.

“After a while, I sat up on the bed and leaned my back against the wall, then the door opened, and in walked these two figures—the Gray Ladies—that’s what I called them because they wore these long, gray silky robes that shimmered and moved like waves when they walked—the bottom of the robes dragged around the floor, so you never saw their feet. It was mesmerizing to watch them move so gracefully. They were about six feet tall and very thin, with long thin arms and legs. Their faces were long and thin too. They had these big, intense eyes that drooped at the outside corners. It seemed like their eyes were mostly just black pupil, with just a sliver of iris—bright white. Their job was to take care of us, like nursemaids.”

“Us?”

Annie nodded. “The Gray Ladies took me by the hands—one on each side of me and brought me to a large room where there were about a dozen boys and girls ranging in ages. It was like a daycare and those long limbs came in handy. They could easily reach us with their spaghetti arms and navigate the room in no time to keep order, but they were very gentle and kind. They rarely spoke, it was difficult for them, so they would mostly move their heads in a way to get a point across, like nodding and smiling to show approval, or shaking them when we weren’t doing our best. They’d put their long, boney forefinger up to their lips when we needed to be quiet and focus. Basically, that’s how they preferred to communicate. They taught us with picture books—the books were thick and heavy and smelled like those old books that have been in a library for decades. Each day the Gray Ladies would show up at our rooms and bring each one of us to the daycare, where the books would be on a table in front of us. We’d study them for hours. The books had an answer to just about every question you could ever think of. They mostly taught us science. I understood quite a bit after a while, because of the repetition. Later, they narrowed the focus of study to the human body—our brains, our nervous system, our organs, our reproductive system. It was very important to them that we learn how our bodies work. That’s where I first met Ennis—in the daycare. He was the most beautiful boy I had ever seen. The Gray Ladies paid attention to how we interacted, and decided we’d be a good match.”

“A match?”

“Mmhmm. That was part of the plan—of course, none of us knew any of this at the time, but they encouraged all of us to interact with each other—to see who naturally gravitated toward one another.”

“Matchmaking…” Della said.

“Yes, a sort of grooming.” Annie replied.

“For what purpose?”

Annie shrugged. “It was part of their process. They studied us, like we study animals in a zoo—our behavior, how we pick a mate, things like that. They were like mad scientists, but there wasn’t any pressure—they didn’t make us do anything we didn’t want to do. They encouraged us to explore ourselves—our own bodies—there were pictures in the books about that. After we studied the books, they’d give us time to play. They’d put out some of those cheap toys you’d find in a drugstore—little dolls and cars, puzzles and board games, that kind of stuff. When playtime came, the Gray Ladies would leave the main area of the room and disappear behind a big screen that had peep holes in it, and they would watch us. All you could see were these big black eyes peeking through, and they never seemed to blink. It was weird at first, but we got used to it. As soon as they went behind the screen, Ennis would bring one of the puzzles over to me and ask me to help him. He like me as much as I liked him. Sometimes I would give him a quick kiss just to embarrass him. He’d turn red and look over at the screen to see if the Gray Ladies were watching. They were…” Annie smiled to herself. “As time went by, I would hold his hand, or give him long hugs. Anything to be close to him.”

“They didn’t stop you?”

“No, in fact they started letting us spend more time together, and over time we had less supervision. When we were thirteen, things changed.”

“How?”

“One day I was taken to the daycare and Ennis was the only one there. We did our studies as usual, but instead of playtime, the Gray Ladies took us to a room that had these chairs—two of them, like the ones you see in a dentist office, and they were separated by a half wall. There were two older girls helping me, and two older boys helping Ennis. The Gray Ladies immediately disappeared behind a large opaque screen. The older kids had us take off our clothes and lay back in the chairs, then they put these little warm pads on me—one on each breast and one down there. Ennis told me they put this thing that looked like a baseball mitt on his privates—he said it was white, and that it was made of soft, pliable plastic that they could mold to fit, and that it had five individual tubes that came out of it, connecting to a machine. My pads were hooked up to two different machines. I don’t know exactly what they were for, I just felt a warm, wet sensation while I had the pads on. We did this each day for about an hour. We did that until we were sixteen and then it suddenly stopped.”

“Did you ever ask why they did it?”

“We never asked questions. It didn’t seem relevant.”

“What do you mean, it didn’t seem relevant?”

“When strangeness becomes routine, you stop questioning what’s strange.”

“I see. Who were these older children, and how old were they?”

“They were about fifteen at the time and they were called Chim-Chim’s. It was a derogatory term. The Gray Ladies were saying dim children, but with their speaking difficulty it came out as, Chim-Chim. They were kids who weren’t born into GALT, like us, but had already been classified—considered not to possess any special characteristics or abilities, so they were given tasks that equaled their importance in the pecking order—making food paste, or doing laundry, or cleaning—basically doing whatever the Gray Ladies ordered them to do. I think the Gray Ladies were uncomfortable with nudity, so that’s why they had the Chim-Chim’s help us undress when we had to be hooked up to the machines.”

“So, they had never been in the daycare with you?”

Annie shook her head. “No, they had already been classified as unusable and been taken out of the daycare before we started.”

Della winced. “Unusable?

“Yes. Non-viable, unusable, useless—physically, emotionally or intellectually. I felt bad for them, knowing the fate ahead of them.”

“What was their fate?”

“If you weren’t born into GALT, you had two choices if you made it to the age of eighteen—and were classified as non-viable. You could have your tongue and sex organs removed and stay in GALT, working menial tasks for the remainder of your natural life, or you could give your life energy to the cause, be transferred out as a shell, ending up in a place like this as dried fruit. In some rare cases, they didn’t wait until they were eighteen—they didn’t get a choice.”

Della was taken aback as she wrote in her notepad, then asked, “What did they do in those cases, and what is the cause?”

Annie didn’t answer the question, just saying, “The Chim-Chim’s always had such a blank look on their faces—no life in their eyes.”

“Annie, what is the cause?” Della repeated.

“I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

“Okay, we’ll talk about something else.”

“What about time? How did it work? How did they calculate it?”

Annie shook her head. “They didn’t. It was just a different space occupying the universe—they think of time as a choice, to move in and out of—a series of moments. They don’t think of it as linear. Time itself, is irrelevant. And there’s no night, or day—just a perpetual dusk because they were light sensitive. I lost all sense of time after a while, but the Drones kept detailed diaries on each of us. They had a whole network of information gathering, and if they liked you, they would tell you how old you were—in secret of course. I felt the changes in my body so I could kind of guess how old I was, based on what I had seen in the picture books, but I relied on the Drones to tell me for sure.”

“Interesting…the Drones?”

“The gatekeepers. They go way back, they pick the children to bring into GALT, but nobody knows their method for choosing them. They control who goes in and out of GALT. They’re the wrinkly, little bald men, like Tim. They managed the boys when they weren’t in the daycare, like the Gray Ladies managed the girls. The Gray Ladies didn’t like the Drones, forbidding them to enter the daycare. The Drones had to stop and wait down the hall when they dropped the boys off, then do the same when they came to pick them up.”

“Why didn’t they like them?”

“The Gray Ladies thought the Drones were lowly scavengers, and that their DNA make-up was inferior. I don’t know if that was true, but they did have a lot of physical problems. Either way, they were treated as trivial by the Gray Ladies. Priority was always given to the more valued beings in GALT.”

“Who is a priority?”

“The Gray Ladies, children with potential…”

“So, there was a hierarchy. And what do you mean by potential?

“Yes, there was definitely a hierarchy. Some of us were fed more and looked after better than others. They saw something in us that they didn’t see in the other children. I didn’t know what that was, but they did. They spotted the weak and got rid of them—thinned out the herd.”

“For what purpose? I mean, what was it that you were ultimately being prepared for, or what was it they wanted from you?” Doctor May asked.

Annie turned her head. She was silent for a moment, then said, “Remember when you took me to see those bodies—those shriveled people?”

“Yes, what about them?”

“I told you I didn’t know any of them…I lied. The one with bright orange hair—she was in the daycare with us. Ennis and I called her Tangerine…”

“Okay. Why didn’t you want to tell me?”

“I don’t know, I guess I was embarrassed and a little ashamed. She was a sweet girl, but she couldn’t keep up. She was older than us and should have been further along in her studies, but she was struggling—really struggling. She had emotional issues and stopped responding to the Gray Ladies—she just shut down, so she was classified non-viable and taken out of the daycare. She went to the Collection Room.”

“What happened in the Collection Room?”

“That’s where you were taken to be used as energy—etheric energy in service to the cause. That’s all some of them were considered good for at that point. She was one of the rare cases, she didn’t have a choice to stay and work, she went directly to the Collection Room because she was never going to be rehabilitated—never be useful other than for her energy.”

“I don’t understand, how does that even work, and again, what is the cause?”

“They were put into this wide half-tube—it was like a shallow bathtub. They were locked in by a clear cover, and then a light would go on inside and after a while the inside of the cover would be covered with condensation. The machine drained them—slowly and painfully drained them of their energy, until they had nothing left. They would literally start to prune, then shrivel. They’d be taken out of the tube to recover, and then the process would start over. You can only do that to someone so many times. Once they stopped recovering, they were tossed out like garbage.” Annie’s eyes welled up. She went silent and stared at the floor.

“I’m sorry, Annie, it isn’t my intention to upset you with these questions. I just want to understand where you were, and what happened to you, and the others.”

Annie pulled her knees up to her chest, barely getting her heels to stay on the front edge of the chair. She wrapped her arms around her shins. After a brief pause, she said, “Penny…”

“I’m sorry?”

“Her name was Penny—Tangerine’s real name was Penny.”

“Yes, I know. She disappeared from Bangor Maine in nineteen seventy-two.”

“You knew who she was?” Annie asked, surprised.

“I have to have some skepticism about you Annie, or I wouldn’t be doing my job. I do believe what you’re telling me, I just want to be able to verify some things to be absolutely sure. The fact that you know her name gives your story credibility.”

“I guess I would do the same…”

“You were there the day Tang—Penny left the daycare?”

“Yes, she cried when they took her out, she was pleading for them to stop. She stared at me as the Chim-Chim’s led her away. She knew where she was going, and had this look in her eyes, like she was begging me to help her, but there was nothing I could do for her…I’ll never get that image out of my head.”

“I—I don’t know what to say, Annie.” Della waited for a moment, then asked, “What about the rest of them? Did you recognize anybody else in the room?”

Annie shook her head. “No, but it’s hard to tell, the way they look now…”

“Did you ever go into the Collection Room?”

Annie shook her head. “No, but Tim let Ennis look around in there a bunch of times and he told me about it. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

“Okay. Let’s change topics for now.”

“Yeah, I’d like that.” Annie stretched her legs out in front of her and leaned back in the chair.

“Good. You said something about a food paste?”

“It was a brownish paste. It wasn’t bad, it had all the nutrients you needed. And there was a liquid we drank—it looked like watered down milk, and it had a slightly nutty taste. Food was made for efficiency and nutrition, not pleasure.”

“Was that all you had to eat and drink, every day?”

“Yeah. You got used to it, but I did miss the crunch of a cold, crisp apple.”

“Tell me more about you and Ennis—your relationship.”

“When we were sixteen, we began our relations.”

“Relations? You had intercourse?”

“Yes. It was our transition time. We stopped going to the daycare. I stopped having daily interactions with the Gray Ladies—Ennis still had some contact with the Drones—mostly with Tim because they bonded so well. We never saw the Chim-Chim’s again. We started spending more time together, alone, and we had our own room. We now had Helpers. They were like courtesan’s, who oversaw our relations. They were called Moda’s.

“When you say, oversaw, what do you mean?”

“They watched us. They were in the room whenever we made love. They would disappear behind a screen, like the Gray Ladies. They would sit on these little stools, and watch through a thin, rectangular shaped opening. We could hear them whispering to each other the whole time...it was distracting, and embarrassing at first, but being with Ennis made me forget all about them over time. They were funny little women—in the strange sense. They scurried around like mice, and they never looked you directly in the eyes, and they blinked constantly. They were very curious about sex—the mechanics of it.”

“So, they would stay in the room the whole time?”

“Uh-huh. After we finished, they would come over to us, giggling, and say things like, you were good—very good, so very good, sex, sex, you do sex, good time good time, very quickly in these squeaky voices. Then they would clean us and take samples of our fluids. They weren’t modest at all like the Gray Ladies. Sometimes they would set their notes down on the table while they attended us and I would get a quick look at them, it had a lot of scribbled writing they took for—” Annie suddenly stopped.

“Notes for what—who?”

“For…it’s not important, forget it.”

“Go ahead Annie, tell me.”

Annie hesitated, then said, “They reported their findings directly to the Celestial.

“Who? What’s the Celestial?”

Annie shook her head. “It’s not something I should talk about...”

“Please Annie, I want to know.”

“No!” Annie said, becoming agitated. Della backed off.

“Okay, okay.” Della paused, then asked calmly, “How often did you and Ennis make love?”

“A lot. They encouraged it.”

“Did you ever become pregnant? I mean, with all those times…the odds.”

“I didn’t. I didn’t find out why, until later. They put something in my food that made it impossible—until she was satisfied that we were the right combination. When she was ready.”

“Until who was ready? The Celestial? What do you mean, the right combination? Annie?”

“I can’t…” Annie stood up. “I’m tired, I want to go to my room now.”

Della was disappointed, but she didn’t want to push Annie to anger. “Okay, we’ll finish later.” Della watched Annie walk out the door, then gently tossed her notepad on the table.

Della knocked on Stuart Browning’s door as she walked in. She wanted to talk to her colleague about her conversations with Annie and get some feedback. “Hi, are you busy?” She asked.

“Not at all, I was just getting ready to go find you. How are things going with Annie?”

“I’m finding out more…slowly, but I think she’s holding back on something—something in particular.”

“Uh-huh…tell me about it.”

“Well, she told me some very personal things, including her intimate relationship with Ennis, but she shut down when it came to a certain subject. She was telling me about these little women who were present during their lovemaking—they were called Moda’s, and she said these Moda’s were taking notes and reporting back to someone, or something, called the Celestial...when I asked her who the Celestial was, she clammed up. I’m not sure if it was out of fear, or loyalty. Annie didn’t seem afraid of anything in GALT, so far anyway, but when it came to this Celestial, something changed in her tone, and body language.”

Doctor Browning sat back in his seat. “GALT?

“The slice of time they were in, it stands for, Genesis Alternative Life Transfiguration.”

Genesis Alternative Life Transfiguration…” Doctor Browning repeated the words.

“That’s what she called it...she said it’s about renewal—starting over—getting it right. That’s a subject I still have to explore with her.”

“I see. Any guesses as to what this Celestial is?” Doctor Browning asked.

Doctor May shrugged. “…Not sure. A supreme, or advanced being? The leader? Annie told me that when she was little, before she left, she asked Tim the first time they met, if she would be able to see her deceased mother in GALT. He told her GALT already had a mother, and when Annie referred to the Celestial, she called her she.”

Doctor Browning thought for a moment. “Do you believe her?”

“I do. I think she’s credible. She recognized one of our bodies, a girl named Penny—the girl with the bright orange hair. She knew her name. She also told me the bodies came back because they had no more life energy to give for the cause. Maybe this Celestial is the cause, I don’t know. It’s another subject I have to explore. She also said something very interesting about why they come back here; that it may not have anything to do with geography—that it’s personal. She tried to pass it off as just a theory, but I think she really does know why they came back here.”

“Personal?”

“Yes, it’s not because of Knits Corner, but who’s in Knits Corner…”

“Well, that’s interesting. Any idea who?”

“No. I need to be patient, it’s slow going, but I’ll get the answers. I just can’t push her too hard or she gets angry and shuts down. I want her to tell me the story in her own time.”

“Have we confirmed who she is? Any details about her disappearance—where and when?

“The staff is working on it…there definitely was an Annie Louise Gripper who disappeared at the age of ten, from Arcata California. They’re still working on the details. We need to find a picture of her, hopefully we’ll be able to match it with what she looks like now.”

“How many—” Doctor Browning was about to ask a question when there was a knock at the door. “Come in…” A nurse walked in a few feet and stopped. “The boy is awake…”

Star Baby

Doctor May and Doctor Browning stood up quickly, following the nurse out the door. When they got to Ennis’s room, they found it empty. The nurse waited in his room while Della and Martin wandered the halls looking for him, eventually finding him sitting in a wheelchair, in the middle of the room where the shriveled bodies lay, staring into space. They watched him through the window briefly before cautiously making their way in, giving each body a quick glance as they closed in on him. They stopped in front of Ennis. After a pause, Doctor May spoke. “Ennis?”

Annie was picking at her food when Della walked in. “Hi Annie, I have some news. Ennis is awake.”

Annie practically threw her food tray off her lap and jumped out of bed. “I want to see him.”

Della led Annie to Ennis’s room and opened the door for her. Ennis looked over and gave her a big smile. Annie ran to him and jumped on the bed. Della watched them for a moment, then quietly closed the door and walked away.

After giving Annie and Ennis several hours of privacy, Della decided it was time to go back to Ennis’s room and check on them. She knocked lightly as she walked in, carrying a thick folder and her notepad. Annie’s head was resting on Ennis’s shoulder as he gently stroked her forehead with his fingertips. Della walked to the foot of the bed and said, “I’d like to ask you some questions, if that’s okay?”

Annie didn’t acknowledge her, keeping her eyes closed. Ennis nodded his head. “Of course.”

“First of all, how are you feeling?”

“Pretty good—like I’ve taken a really long nap. I feel a little dehydrated, but other than that...”

“I’ll make sure you get plenty of water. Annie? Are you awake?”

“I am. I just want to stay like this, but I’m listening, Doctor.”

“Okay, good enough.” Della scooted a small table and chair closer to the bed. She dropped the heavy folder on the table and sat down.

“Annie told me a lady found us in a blueberry patch, then we were brought here.”

“That’s right, do you remember any of that?”

Ennis shook his head. “I don’t remember anything after leaving GALT. It kind of scrambles the brain—all that electrical energy I reckon. I don’t know how Tim and the other Drones handle it…but then again, we can see the affect it has on them.”

Della began writing. “You say it affects them, in what way?”

“Physically, and mentally. It takes a bit more from them each time. They get a little slower—a little older looking—more forgetful, it saps their brain—their thought process. I think Tim might be close to the end of his life cycle.”

Della nodded slowly. “I see. So, this was the first time for you both, other than when you originally left?”

“Yes.”

“Why did you come back, Ennis? Why now?”

Ennis didn’t answer. He dipped his head, trying to get a look at Annie’s face. He looked back at Della and said, “I just think it was the best decision for us.”

“Okay, we’ll come back to that. What was your experience in GALT like? Annie told me some of her story, but I’d like to hear yours.”

“Annie told you about the Moda’s—how they watched us after we turned sixteen.”

“Yes.”

“Well, that was also about the time we started our service—”

“Service?” She interrupted.

“Yes, our duties. For the next two years we had duties. Annie’s service was to be a Witness. The Witnesses were personally chosen by the Celestial, after consulting with the Moda’s. They kept vigil in the Sanctuary each day. They were the girls with potential, brought forward to show their love and dedication—prove their devotion and to praise her. She wanted to see who was worthy.”

“A contest—a worship contest?” Doctor May asked.

“In a sense, yes.” Ennis replied. He gave Annie a quick kiss on her forehead, then continued, “The Witnesses filed into the sanctuary each day to be in her presence—to be humbled by her was an honor.” Annie suddenly sat up straight, cleared her throat, and spoke.

“It was the biggest room I had ever seen. The walls were smooth and black and cool to the touch. They were very high and there was a dome above us—a clear ceiling, and you could see twinkling lights—millions of stars, but I don’t know if they actually were stars…one time I went to Montana with my dad to visit my uncle and we stayed up half the night out on his porch, and all you could see in the sky were twinkling lights, it was like that all the time in the Sanctuary. The first time I walked into the room, it was magical—other worldly. There were hundreds of Nathaniel’s and Susan’s sitting on the floor, in perfect rows, spaced about four feet apart staring straight ahead, fixated on what was in front of them.”

“Nathaniel’s and Susan’s?”

“The offspring of the Drones and the Moda’s. They’re children born into GALT, unlike the Chim-Chim’s. They’re called Nathaniel’s and Susan’s until the age of eighteen. After that, they become apprentice Drones and Moda’s while they’re being taught the wisdom. The lineage started when the first Celestial gave the Drones permission to have descendants, as a reward for finding the crack in the universe.” Ennis answered.

Annie continued, “The Moda’s led six of us to these thick mats and told us to sit down. They were placed in a soft curve position about twenty feet in front of the first row of Nathaniel’s and Susan’s, and maybe twenty-five feet from the clear wall in front of us. All six of us stared straight ahead in anticipation, waiting nervously to see what was about to happen. The area beyond the clear wall slowly lit up—and then she appeared, up on the horizon. It was like she was on a low hill far away, but she wasn’t that far away. She sat in a steel contraption, like a cage, but it was open in the front. The cage sat on top of a large pedestal with a thick base, and the pedestal sat upon a wide altar. The lights dimmed again, but the area directly around her had a soft glow—lit up just enough to see her. She had these amazing eyes. They were a brilliant white with tiny black dots for irises, but her eyes never moved—never. They were only open or closed. I thought she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. She was festooned with gadgets and tubes and wires—part woman, part machine, but it didn’t detract from her beauty. She was a goddess upon a throne in a simple, pale blue dress. I remember feeling proud, nervous and unworthy all at the same time. That was the moment I felt she was my Celestial Motherand that is when I fell in love with her. I wanted to say something—talk to her, but I couldn’t. I wanted to stand up and walk toward her, but I knew I shouldn’t. Just when I began to breathe normally again, the area suddenly lit up as bright as could be, startling me. I didn’t know what was happening, but I was excited. The Nathaniel’s and Susan’s began to hum. It was almost time for her to deliver.”

“Deliver? You mean give birth?” Della asked.

Annie nodded. “Yes. I don’t know why, but my mind suddenly went to the rabbits my aunt kept at her house—when I used to watch them give birth. Celestial started to pulsate and twitch and kick like the rabbits. That went on for a while, then things got crazy. The tubes and wires started to quiver—then they bounced, until they were shaking wildly, and that made the steel contraption start to rattle, and then the floor began to vibrate. At that point, the Moda’s jumped into action and frantically attended to her. They put a bit in her mouth and strapped her ankles and wrists to the contraption. She seemed detached to what was going on around her though. There was never a reaction in her face. The rabbit’s faces were like that too. When you looked into her eyes, it was like she was somewhere else. After about an hour, Celestial’s head suddenly pitched forward, then dropped, and her eyes closed. She opened her legs and the life dropped out. Nobody touched it—the Moda’s ignored it, they tended to her first, cleaning her thoroughly. After they finished cleaning her, they collected the life and wrapped it in a shiny piece of cloth, then held it under her nose. You could see her sniffing it. According to the Drones, if she wanted to keep it, she’d open her eyes and lift her head. She didn’t, so they took the life away.”

“Took the life away? Where, and why?”

Annie looked at Ennis. He answered. “To the Glow Room. It’s where they got rid of them. They were never good enough for her, so she had them deleted—she deleted the mistakes.”

Della had a look of horror on her face. “Why? What was wrong with them?”

“Imperfection, in her eyes.” Ennis said.

“She has no sentimentality for, or attachment to, a flawed being that comes out of her, so the Moda’s simply got rid of them. There would be no grief, or mourning. Instinct decides, and that’s it.” Annie said.

“What is the Glow Room, Ennis?”

“It’s just what I called it because it had a yellow-orange glow inside—like it was always sunset inside the room. It reminded me of the late summer sunsets in Tennessee. The Glow Room is where the Moda’s would bring her offspring and hand them over to the Drones, who would send them away. I don’t know where they sent them, I only know it was important not to anger the Celestial—the offspring had to disappear, so she would never see them. The Drones just did what they were told.”

“The Glow Room is different from the Collection Room?”

“Yes, the Glow Room was for the offspring only, it’s next to the Collection Room. All the bodies that were drained of energy, in service to the Celestial—that happened in the Collection Room. Then after the bodies were no longer able to provide energy, they went to the Transfer/Exchange Room to be sent out. The Transfer/Exchange Room is the portal the Drones use to go in and out of GALT—it’s where the trap door is.”

“So, the Celestial, she is the cause?”

“Yes, everything is in service to her.” Annie replied.

Della thought for a moment. “Those bodies here in the institute, you sent them?” Della asked Ennis.

“Yes, some. I worked in the Transfer/Exchange Room, that was my service. I helped the Drones prepare them for their return.”

“Why here? Why send them to Knits Corner?”

Annie looked at Ennis and shook her head.

“What are you not telling me?” Della asked.

“Nothing. Ennis was just doing what he was told…” Annie said.

Della was unconvinced but felt she should move on for the moment. “How many were there, Ennis?”

“How many?”

“Yes. How many offspring did she have sent away?”

“She had one every ninety-one days. I don’t know the total number.” Ennis replied quickly.

Della stopped writing and sat back in her chair. “How is that even possible?!”

Annie spoke up. “Efficiency—it’s her wish to get the result she wants and do it in the most efficient way. The Moda’s have figured out how to make her demand, a reality.”

“Perfection. You’re really talking about perfection. That’s what she really wants—that’s the goal, the Celestial wants perfection.” Della said.

“Yes, and her instinct—her need, is to create a perfect product—a product with new features—clear the bugs out of the old system. It’s what drives her.” Ennis said.

“She wants to play God…” Della said. Ennis and Annie both nodded.

“That’s one way of looking at it.” Annie said.

“How do you change the future? You change the past…she wants to fundamentally change who we are, to improve us.” Ennis responded.

“Why here? Why this space in time? Why choose us?”

“A Celestial chooses a starting point to build her utopia. This Celestial wants to impress—” Annie put her hand on Ennis’s arm, stopping him.

“Impress…impress who?” Della asked.

“He just means she’s determined to start the renewal, and she’s not going to let anything get in her way, that’s all.” Annie said.

“Did something get in her way? Is that why you left?” Della asked.

“Yes…something got in her way.” Ennis said.

“What?”

“Me.” Annie responded quickly. Ennis gently took Annie’s hand.

You?

“I was chosen to bear the child she couldn’t—the host Witness. I’m carrying the child she couldn’t—it’s his seed and her features inside me. Out of the six girls, I was found to be the most devoted—the most faithful to her, the best in breeding, but instead, I became the glitch in her system. She doesn’t understand—no matter how advanced you are, you can’t force, or design, or will a being into perfection. The flaws are built in for a reason.”

“You became disillusioned…”

“Yes.”

“Why? What changed?”

“I don’t want to regret having this child. I don’t want perfection, or an outcome. I don’t want to play God.”

“This child she wants you to have, it’s meant to change the human race…”

“Yes, a chance to start over by creating a better product.” Ennis said.

“A hybrid…” Della responded.

“Yes.” Ennis said.

“I can’t believe I admired her, praised her—loved her. She’s evil, filthy, and filled with poison because she has power over others. I don’t want that. And now she’s angry, because she thinks I took something from her, but I didn’t. The life in me is filled with complexity she’ll never understand. It’s growing inside from love—not lies, or vanity, or need. It’s not proof of her greatness. It’s not a product. I am the bearer of righteous fruit, imperfect as it is. It was never going to be enough that I worship her, she wants my soul—my child. I will not give her a legacy for her pathetic kingdom.” Annie rubbed her belly. Ennis gently put his hand on stomach.

“I understand now.” Della said.

“So, we couldn’t risk staying. She was going to have me killed after I gave birth…then have the child sent here with a Nathaniel and a Susan to begin the renewal.”

“Tim told me what the Celestial had planned, so he helped us. It was a way of exacting some revenge, and a bit of justice, for the long mistreatment of the Drones.” Ennis replied.

Della thought for a moment, then asked, “Why were those bodies sent back here? You never answered that question. What is it about Knits Corner?”

Annie and Ennis looked at each other, then Annie said, “They were a gift—an offering.”

“What do you mean?”

“Like when a cat brings a mouse home to its master, to make the master proud.”

“You’re not making sense.” Della said.

“They’re for you, Doctor. She sent them back for you.” Ennis replied.

Della leaned in and was about to say something when the lights started to flicker. Ennis and Annie sat up straight. Della stood up and looked around the room, alarmed. Doctor Browning and a nurse rushed in, stopped in place, covering their heads when several of the lights above them exploded. The hospital went totally dark. After a few seconds they heard the hospital generator start up with a loud kick, turning on some emergency lights, giving them just enough light to see. Doctor Browning was just about to say something when a deafening sound of whooshing air began to fill the room. Ennis jumped off the bed, taking Annie’s hand, leading her into the hall. Della, Doctor Browning, and the nurse followed, each of them straining to see down the corridors in the darkened areas. Annie took several steps forward, hugging the wall, squinting. “Look!” Ennis stepped closer to her, trying to focus. “It’s Tim!”

Della crept toward Annie and Ennis. She was terrified and curious at the same time. Ennis shouted out, “Tim!” The small figure walked toward them out of the dark, stopping several feet from the group. It was Tim, with a concerned look on his face. Doctor Browning and the nurse moved closer, but stayed behind Annie, Ennis, and Della. Della studied Tim, she was fascinated by his distinct looks and small stature. She marveled at the fact that he had just travelled through an opening in the universe and was now standing right in front of her. She had so many questions and wanted all the answers right then and there, but she suddenly felt nothing but a sense of dread. “What’s wrong, Tim?” Ennis asked.

Tim tilted his head slightly and said, “She’s coming children—she’s angry and she’s coming. She wants what’s hers…she wants the Star Baby.” Annie’s faced dropped as she backed up several steps. “She’s coming here? herself?” Ennis asked. “Yes.” Tim replied, somberly. Doctor Browning and Della looked at each other, each of them understanding what a remarkable event this was. “We have to leave, now!” Ennis barked. Annie immediately ran back to her room to put on her shoes and change into some clothes Della had given her. Ennis was right on her heels. As she changed, Della entered the room.

“Do you have a vehicle?” Ennis shouted. “Yes, but—”

Ennis interrupted her, “Bring it to the entrance, we need to go right now!”

“Where?! Where are you going?!” Della asked.

“I need you to take Annie away from here, take her to Tennessee! Take her to my family!”

“What about you, Ennis?!” Annie shouted.

“I’ll be okay, it’s more important to get you out of here!”

“But I don’t want to go without—”

“Just listen to me Annie, please! You need to take our child away from here, okay?! You have to, you know that!”

Tim walked into the room and calmly watched the activity. Suddenly the main lights came back on. They were blindingly bright and had a pulse to them. The whooshing air stopped, and everything went eerily silent. There was a quick succession of thuds echoing throughout the room from heavy objects hitting the roof. They listened as they looked up at the ceiling. The thuds suddenly stopped after a minute and it was quiet again.

Tim walked to the center of the room and said, “Celestial has arrived.”

“Go get your vehicle!” Ennis shouted at Della. She ran out of the room, passing the nurse and Doctor Browning as they walked in. Doctor Browning focused on Tim immediately and said, “I have some questions for you…”

“We don’t have time for that right now, Doctor!” Annie shouted. Ennis grabbed Annie by the hand and led her out of the room, running through the halls, heading for the hospital entrance. Tim followed, catching up to them at the front door. Della arrived at the entrance with her vehicle and slammed on the brakes. She jumped out of the driver’s seat and ran around the vehicle, opening all the doors on the passenger side. “Where did all these bodies come from?!” Della yelled. Ennis ignored her and helped Annie get into the front passenger seat, then grabbed Tim and shoved him into the back seat, before getting in himself. Tim answered Della, “She had to use a lot of energy to get here, there’s going to be more bodies coming through soon.” Della ran back around the vehicle and jumped into the driver’s seat.

“Drive to the area where you found Annie and me!” Ennis demanded. Della punched the gas pedal and squealed out of the parking lot and onto the main road. Ennis asked, “Do you know where she is, Tim?” Tim nodded, “Not far…”

After a short drive on a deserted part of the road outside of town, Ennis had Della slow down. “We’re close, I can feel it,” he said. Tim nodded in agreement and pointed ahead of them. They had driven a bit farther when Tim said, “Here…” he pointed to a dirt access road on their right that led into a wooded area close to the blueberry patch where Ennis and Annie were found. “Pull in here and stop.” Ennis said. Della turned in and stopped. “Why are we stopping if she wants the child? Why don’t we just get as far away as we can?” Della asked.

“I want her to think we’re going back with her. I’ll tell her you’re on your way with Annie…it’ll be too late by then.”

“What do you mean, too late?” Della asked. Ennis ignored her and got out of the vehicle.

“C’mon Tim...” Ennis reached out and took Tim’s hand, helping him out of the vehicle.

“Ennis, what do you mean, too late?!” Della repeated.

Ennis stood at the passenger window, looking into Annie’s eyes. Neither of them could come up with the right words to say. Ennis suddenly remembered all those times he and his best friend, Johnny Plunkett, had the same loss for words on the last day of school. Ennis leaned in, gently took Annie’s face in his hands and kissed her on the forehead. “You find my family, tell them everything…”

Annie nodded, “I will.” Ennis and Tim quickly walked away, disappearing down the dark road. Della was silent for a minute, then asked, “What is he going to do?”

Annie stared into the woods and said, “He’s going to go back with her...”

“Won’t she just wait until you show up?”

“Tim will make sure they go back without me. He’s got it figured out.”

“What if she comes back?”

“The Drones will stall her. Besides, with the energy it takes for the Celestial to move through, it’ll take some time before she can come back. Ennis will destroy her by then.”

“Destroy her?!”

“Yes, she has to be destroyed. Deleted.”

“Are you sure you want it to end like this, Annie? You don’t want to fight her?”

“We can’t fight her here, she’s too powerful. It’ll take Ennis and the Drones, along with a plan and some time to destroy her. She has a hive mind army who will do anything to protect her—die for her. This is the best way, Ennis knows it, I know it. Ennis will live on…” Annie began rubbing her belly.

Della thought for a moment. “Well, I don’t intend to let her take him without a fight!” Della unbuckled her seat belt and opened the door. Annie reached out for her, but Della was already walking away.

“Della!” Annie said, in a loud whisper. “Della! Della! Come back here!” Della ignored her and disappeared into the dark.

Della was getting close to a clearing at the end of the dirt road. She could hear a low hum, feel static in the air, and a slight vibration on the ground. The lack of trees in the area ahead made it possible to see in the moonlit night. She stopped and stood quietly in the dark just outside the clearing. She could see Ennis and Tim standing in front of the contraption. From what she could make out, Celestial was a combination of woman and machine. The wires and tubes and gadgets were all there like Annie said. Della slowly walked closer until she was able to see better. Celestial had her chin resting on her chest as if she had suddenly fallen asleep. Della was only a few feet behind Ennis and Tim when she stepped on a branch and it cracked loudly, making them spin around. Suddenly the Celestial raised her head, causing all the tubes and wires and gadgets connected to her light up and bounce around, startling Della. She got a clear look at the Celestial. Her eyes were lit up in brilliant white, making her more menacing looking than she was prepared for. Della froze, she was speechless. After a few seconds she began to process what she was looking at. She recognized Celestial and started to shake uncontrollably. “No—no—no—no, it can’t be…no…no.”

“Leave! Go! Go now!” Ennis shouted. Della couldn’t move, her legs felt heavy, her heart and mind were racing. She stumbled backward a few feet, then managed to turn around. She ran back to the vehicle, landing the top half of her body on the hood with a loud thud, startling Annie. Annie jumped out and helped her into the driver’s seat. Della dropped her head back on the headrest, rolling it back and forth. “No, not my Jennifer…God no! It can’t be…it just can’t!”

“You can’t save her, Della. She’s not your daughter, she’s not your Jennifer anymore!” Annie put her hand on Della’s forearm. “You told me those bodies—the ones in your hospital, like Tangerine—they were no longer who they used to be, that they were just shells, you told me that, Doctor.”

“But she’s my daughter, my daughter.” Della said as her voice trailed off. After a long pause, Della straightened up, wiped her eyes and put one hand on the steering wheel and started the vehicle with the other. She took a few deep breaths and put on her seatbelt.

“There’s nothing left of her that’s still a part of you. She’s been gone for a long time, there’s nothing left to save—you told me you were prepared for any outcome, remember? I told you that wasn’t true—remember? Ennis has to figure out a way to destroy her. It’s the only way.”

The whole area suddenly lit up with a bright flash. Della quickly put the vehicle in reverse and backed out. She looked down the dirt road one last time, then pulled away. Annie stared straight ahead, rubbing her belly and said under her breath, “Goodbye Ennis.”


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