New FREE Short Story from A Flutter of Darkness

And here is another great FREE short story by Jason LaVelle. This is one of many in an amazing horror short story collection he has coming out, A Flutter of Darkness, available for preorder now at https://threefuriespress.com/products/a-flutter-of-darkness-by-jason-lavelle


Link to the free ebook at the end.


Dementia


“I don’t want to do this at all,” Leigh crossed her arms over her chest. Three bracelets dangled from her right wrist, one a rainbow of beads, another of pink faux pearls, and a third that was a simple silver chain with an ID tag.

Her mother glanced over to her as she slowed before a stoplight. She tapped the brakes a little too hard, and Leigh jerked in her seatbelt. Then she looked over to her mother with a glower.

“What don’t you like about it? Seeing her, or being in the nursing home?”

Leigh stared out of the passenger side window, and flicked her thumbnail against her other fingernails. Her neck muscles bulged with tension. She leaned close enough to the window that her breath fogged against it. She didn’t like any of it, didn’t like anything at all, really. Just waking up in the morning felt like a huge task, and being around other humans was painful.

“I don’t like it either, you know. Being in the home makes me … uneasy. Seems like everything is dying in there.”

“Everything is dying in there,” she mumbled.

“You’re not wrong,” her mother said. “I don’t want to see those people dying, I don’t want to smell that awful smell, I don’t want to see the nurses go by carrying bags with dirty adult diapers in them.”

“But we’re doing it anyway,” Leigh sighed.

“But, she’s my mother, and your grandmother. It’s easy to be disconnected right now, especially for you. I remember being seventeen. You have a life, you have things to do, and you don’t want to go and sit with your dying grandma who likely doesn’t even know who we are anymore.”

“Then why do we do it?” Leigh knew the answer though, of course she did. She was seventeen, not stupid, and not oblivious, but there were things she didn’t want to see, memories she didn’t want to have. She wanted to remember Grandma five years ago, out at the lake, sitting around outside her camper, smoking cigarettes, and pot, and threatening to go skinny dipping if Leigh didn’t come back in time for dinner. That was her grandma. Everything had gone to shit these last few years, her friends, her parents’ marriage, and even her own sanity. This was just one more thing she didn’t want to deal with.

“Look down at that silver bracelet you’re wearing, Leigh.”

She grumbled, but turned her wrist to look at the ID tag. She didn’t need to, she’d read it a hundred times, or a thousand, or a hundred thousand.

“Read it to me,” her mother said.

“Madly, deeply, and truly,” Leigh read from the bracelet.

“It was your grandma that taught me that, that taught you that. It’s her instruction on how to live and love.”

“I know.”

“And part of loving truly is loving forever, and we’re going to love her forever, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us.”

“Or how bad it smells,” Leigh added.

Her mother sighed. “Yes. And I don’t know if it’s just old people smell or the home itself.”

“It’s both,” she said, and picked her head up from the window. They turned into Evergreen Acres, and Leigh’s stomach turned over on itself. Her grandma always joked that places like this were named after the things they’d bulldozed over to make them. Evergreen Acres didn’t have a single evergreen, just a sprawling taupe building with a tiled roof and a barren fountain in the front rotunda. She supposed they’d meant for it to look classy, but instead it looked like one of those cheap cars guys liked to trick out with all sorts of aftermarket parts; no matter what they did, it was still a piece of shit.

Her mother parked, and they sat in silence, staring out toward the nursing home. Leigh felt her chest constricting even as she focused on taking deeper breaths. Her mother opened a compartment between the seats and a pill bottle rattled out. Leigh saw the tremble in her mother’s hands, not quite concealed, as she twisted off the cap. She extracted a single, oval shaped pill and broke it in half.

“Xanax?” Leigh asked.

Her mother nodded. “Want half?”

Leigh took the jagged pill from her mother, and they both let out a long sigh. “Cheers,” she said, and popped the pill in her mouth, then grimaced at the biting, bitter taste. “Oh God,” she croaked as she choked it down.

“Sometimes I think the taste is punishment for needing it in the first place,” her mother said, and washed down the Xanax with a swig of water.

“That’s bullshit,” Leigh said, then clamped a hand over her mouth. “Sorry,” she mumbled.

Her mom giggled. “It is bullshit, you’re right. But don’t swear, or I’ll take your phone away.” Her mother reached over and squeezed her arm. “Try to remember her like she was, ok? It makes it easier-ish.”

Leigh nodded. “I know.”

“Ok, let’s do this.” Her mother shut off the car, and they exited, meeting around the front to make the awful walk up to the entrance. Leigh pulled her denim jacket close around her, covering the tight black camisole beneath. Fall had only just begun, and it wasn’t terribly cold, but she felt chilled anyway, the kind of chill that accompanied a fever, a clammy, uncomfortable cold. She focused on her breathing, pushing the air in, fighting against the constricted air that wrapped around her. Even though her chest was tight with anxiety, her stomach felt loose, floppy within her abdomen, free to turn and twist and roll as it pleased.

Her mother grabbed a hold of her hand tightly before they reached the doors. Her face looked a lot like Leigh’s stomach felt: loose, a little saggy, ready to vomit at any moment. She stifled a chuckle, thinking they weren’t so different, then quickly frowned, wondering if she was going to end up looking saggy and loose someday too.

They pushed open the doors and were immediately greeted by a receptionist with white, coiffed hair, and the sick stench of urine, insulin, and disinfectants. 

“Welcome back, Mrs. Stroop,” the woman said, sliding a clipboard with a sign-in log across her desk.

She looked like she should be a resident here, not an employee, Leigh thought. Maybe she was both, though her face, while deeply creased, seemed to be free of the old person gunk usually stuck to the people living here.

“Please,” her mother said, “call me Heather. Goodness knows you’ve seen me enough.”

“Very well, Heather. Would you like an escort to your mother’s room?”

“No, thank you, I know the way.”

“Very well,” the woman said, and took her clipboard back.

Leigh fidgeted with the tarnished brass buttons at the cuffs of her jacket and followed her mother down the long, tiled hallway. Every twelve feet, a turquoise, steel door frame protruded from the walls on either side of them, and inside, well, she didn’t want to think of the residents, with their shriveled bodies and broken minds. She mentally strapped a pair of blinders on, only seeing directly in front of her, her mother’s back and legs, and the tiles that clapped beneath their feet.

Grandma Hazel’s door was open when they walked up. Her mother knocked on the door frame, then Leigh followed her in, and immediately ran into her mother when she stopped short.

“Mom—”

Grandma sat in a cushioned rocking chair at an angle to her bed, and she looked … dead. Her hair was the same brown mottled with gray she’d worn for ten years. Her cheeks sagged down, no longer puffy and rosy, but wrinkled and cracked and colored a pale cream. Her mother rushed over to the chair, but Leigh was stuck to the spot, transfixed by Grandma’s seemingly lifeless body. Her eyes had sunken into her face, and deep red rims made a half circle beneath them, like a basset hound, perpetually sad. But it was the eyes that worried her, they looked straight forward, and didn’t blink. The irises didn’t move, not even when mother shook her.

Then just as her mother sucked in a deep breath to scream, a jerk went through the old woman, as if she’d been touched by an electric current. Her eyelids relaxed, and she pulled in a deep breath. Her mother let out a sigh that sounded like a scream, or a wail of pain, or relief, or maybe not relief, she didn’t know. Her mother sank to the floor beside Grandma and put a hand on her arm. Grandma’s eyes moved around the room, not reacting, and Leigh wondered if she saw anything at all. Then they stopped on her, right on her, and Grandma smiled.

It was a small thing, not a big toothy grin, but a twist of the lips that transformed Grandma’s face into something Leigh recognized. She must have taken too long to return the smile, because her grandma let it fall and extended one hand out to her, fingers beckoning Leigh to come closer. She glanced over at her mother, who was still on the floor, hyperventilating, probably wishing she’d taken the whole Xanax herself. It was just Grandma, why did she feel nervous? Ridiculous. Leigh stepped forward.

“Hi Grandma,” she said, “do you remember me?”

Grandma didn’t speak, but raised her hand higher. Leigh took her grandmother’s hand just as the smile twitched back up on the octogenarian’s face. Her sweaty palm pressed into Grandma’s scratchy dry hand, and zaap, a jolt of something shot through her, and she thought she’d been electrocuted. Her back arched and she clenched her teeth, fighting not to scream. A bright white overcame everything, like a lightbulb cranking up in her mind, the light drowning out her sight. Then it receded, and when her sight returned, the hospital room had gone. 

#

She opened her eyes to a cool, sunny day, with fresh air on her cheeks. She was sitting on a bench, looking out at a playground. She didn't remember closing her eyes, only the jolt of energy when she’d touched Grandma’s hand. Leigh blinked hard and shook her head, but the nursing home didn’t come back. She wondered if she had hit her head somehow and knocked herself out, but this all seemed so real. The playground was surrounded by concrete, a tiny island of wood chips and children’s play equipment in a courtyard of cement. Sidewalks ran along two sides and up a gentle hill, where mobile homes covered the land like a beige and pastel mountain range. They weren’t the usual trailers, not like Leigh saw in her own city, these were well kept, almost cute, and there were no aging muscle cars sitting on cinder blocks in the driveways.

Children played on the metal superstructure, climbing the sides and dangling over the edges. She didn’t see any parents out there with them, tending to them, making sure they were safe. But around the edges of the oasis were tube-steel benches, where mothers sat quietly. One was reading, glancing up now and again to look at the children. On a different bench, a woman gently rolled a stroller back and forth with her foot, looking up at the sky, maybe searching for answers, maybe hoping to just disappear.

“I always come back here,” a voice beside her said.

Leigh jumped and fell sideways in her seat, another of the hard benches. Chest heaving, she looked over to her grandmother, who sat calmly, a pleasant smile on her face. Only, it wasn’t really her grandmother. The woman beside her was beautiful, with wavy brown hair, a smooth face with chubby cheeks, and a long dress that hugged her body and showed off more of her chest than Leigh was comfortable with seeing. But her voice, and her eyes, the way her lips looked as she smiled. It was undeniable. Oh my God, what the hell is happening? She sat back up and turned to face the family’s matriarch.

“I’m sorry I startled you, Leigh,” Grandma said, then turned back to watch the playground.

“I peed my pants, Grandma, thanks. Wait, you know who I am?”

Grandma reached over to her and touched her leg. Leigh flinched, remembering the sharp jolt she’d received the last time they’d touched.

“Of course I know you, honey. You’re my little spitfire, my granddaughter, the girl who came running back up to the camper after a mud fight with little Trenton Monty. You were covered with leeches, and do you know what you said to me?”

Leigh shook her head, shocked, beyond shocked.

“You said, I got him good, Grandma, I knocked one of his teeth out!” Grandma laughed, a real laugh, a mirth filled, from the belly laugh.

Leigh’s eyes watered. “Later that summer he kissed me for the first time, and I punched another one of his teeth out.”

Grandma nodded. “My little spitfire. Nothing could stop you. Course, it’s not the same anymore, is it?”

“Grandma, how are you remembering all this. Wait, no, first, where are we? Why are you so young? Am I in a dream?”

“You’re in my dimensia, visiting with your dear old Grandma. I can remember things here, heck I can remember everything.” She stood up from the bench and bounced on the balls of her feet. “And I don’t hurt either, I can do just about anything.”

“Your dimensia? What does that mean?”

“It’s like another dimension, only, I think my brain made it for me.”

“So, we’re in your dementia, but literally?”

Jesus H. Christ.

“I don’t understand. This has to be a dream, I know this isn’t real.”

“Well if you really want to get your noodle in a twist over it, how do you know if anything is actually real? Can you touch it and taste it and hear it? That’s real enough for me.”

Leigh shook her head.

“Come on,” Grandma said, “they’re getting ready to go now.”

Grandma walked off after the woman with the stroller. A boy of about seven years walked alongside her.

“Who are they?”

“Take a good look,” Grandma said.

Leigh stared at the woman, the way she walked, her perfect hair, even the profile of her face when she looked down at her son. “Oh my God, it’s you, isn’t it?”

Grandma nodded. “It is. Fifty years ago. I was in the prime of my life. I think that’s why I always come back here. It’s a happy time for me to visit. That little boy is your uncle Leif, and in the stroller ...."

"My mother?" she gasped.

Grandma squeezed her arm, "You got it, my little spitfire, that's your mother, not quite two years old.

“Don’t you worry they’ll see you? I mean, she-you’ll be freaked if you see another you out there, right?”

“I’ve been coming here for years now, and sometimes I stay for days at a time. Actually, I’m hoping that one day I won’t have to leave. So, I’ve had some time to learn about it. Everything is real, I can touch things, I can feel things, I can eat, but they don’t seem to see me. I have a theory about it though. Since I already exist here, as her,” she said, pointing to the woman with the two children, “I can’t actually be recognized, it’s like they just don’t see me.”

“Sounds like a sci-fi movie,” she said, then regretted it. She hated sci-fi.

“Science fiction is just science that hasn’t been proven yet.”

Leigh rolled her eyes as they stalked the young woman and her kids, following them through the homes.

“But, and this will really get you thinking. A few days ago, little Leif was playing in the sandbox while I was inside cooking, so I went up to him and touched his head. And he felt it! He actually turned his head to see who was there, then he waved at me. It was the cutest darned thing.”

The woman turned into her driveway and hauled her stroller up the steps and through the door. They stopped and watched the house.

“How much longer are we going to be here, Grandma?”

“You know dear, I was hoping you’d like to stay. There isn’t much left for me in the other place anyone, not much left of me at all really. And from what it seems like, you aren’t too happy there either.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I can feel it on you, you’ve got the depression. I’ve had it many times, my mother, too, and it only got worse the older I got. But you could stay here with me, it’s a happy time.”

She shook her head. No, when this strange dream was over, she’d be going home.

Then a jolt passed through the world. The ground trembled, and a sharp hum ripped across the sky. Only for an instant though, then it was done.

She grabbed onto her grandma's arm. "What was that?"

"Oh, nothing to worry about. I call em brain zaps. They happen now and again. See all this time we're here, the other me is still out there, and she's not doing so great, her brain is deteriorating."

"So you think the zaps are changes in your, uh, real brain?"

"It could be. But they only come and go. Like I said, nothing to worry about. Come on, let’s take a walk around the neighborhood. I can show you where all of my friends live.”

“Fine, okay,” Leigh said. The temperature was perfect, warm with a gentle breeze, and puffy clouds in the sky. They passed women weeding gardens and a few men mowing lawns. Many children were at play. They passed one house with a little girl playing with a mound of dirt in the side yard. She looked up at Leigh as they passed and smiled. Leigh was startled, but waved to the girl.

 “It’s nice, isn’t it”

“It is nice, grandma.”

“Shame about that little one,” she said, and gestured to the girl and her mud creation.

“Why, what’s the shame?”

“Oh, well, you don’t want to know the details. Very bad thing what happened to her family.”

Leigh stared at the little girl as they walked away, and Grandma detailed the social dynamics of the community. She seemed happy there, and Leigh really wanted to be happy for her. It had been years since she’d known a grandma that wasn’t in pain, that had control of her mind, and didn’t need a nurse to take care of her bodily functions. But there was something in the perfect sky, or maybe carried on the breeze, that just wasn’t right.

By the time the sun set, Leigh had heard every bit of neighborhood gossip about the one-hundred-home community. It wasn’t boring, not really, not boring like hanging out with her grandma and listening to her old stories should have been. Her feet didn’t hurt, even though they’d been walking all day. Her allergies weren’t bothering her, including the nasty eustachian tube dysfunction that had plagued her all summer. She felt pretty damn good. Her depression was—well, she didn’t know if it was really gone, but she didn’t feel its weight on her, didn’t feel the constant pull of fatigue, wasn’t dreaming about a long trip down into nothingness with a bottle of pills in her hand.

“Wasn’t this a perfect day?” Grandma asked.

“It was weird. But yeah, it was really nice. I haven’t talked to you like this in a long time.”

“I know dear, and I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry I faded so quickly when you were still young.”

“Don’t apologize, you didn’t do it on purpose. It was your body. Mom always says that we can’t beat the clock.”

“Well, I always say you should listen to your mother, but in this case she’s wrong. As you can see,” Grandma made a little pirouette. “We can beat the clock, here. That’s why I’d like you to stay. We could be happy here, just the two of us. No worries.”

“I can’t really stay here, Grandma, I mean, what about mom? What about school? I have to go back.”

“You don’t have to do anything, Leigh.”

“But what about my body? What about yours? What happens to them while we’re here?”

“I don’t really know, dear,” Grandma said, looking thoughtful. “But my body is a wreck, a broken, mindless, miserable wreck. I don’t want to be there anymore. And you know you aren’t happy there either.”

Leigh frowned, and scuffed a foot on the ground. Sunset gave way to real darkness, and she could barely see her Converses.

“Oh dear, we stayed out a little late, we should be getting back to the park now.”

Grandma sounded concerned, but like she was trying to conceal it from her.

“Why the park? And where do we sleep here? Do we go into somebody’s house?”

“Oh no, we go back to my bench, then just close our eyes, and just like that, it’s a new day. Magical, really, but then this is a magical place.”

They were at the far end of the community when they turned back. She could see the single street lamp illuminating the back. It was deserted of course, and maybe a ten-minute walk.

“When we wake up, will it be a different day?”

“I’m not so sure about that. Sometimes there are little differences, but mostly it’s the same, yes.”

A loud slam startled her and Leigh flinched, jumping to the side, bumping into Grandma. “What was that?”

Grandma didn’t answer right away, and in the darkness, Leigh could barely see her eyes turn down. “We stayed out too late. It is a bad night tonight.”

“What does that mean, what’s happening?”

Another loud bang, then a scream that was cut off abruptly. The tightness came back around her chest, wrapping like a band under her armpits to squeeze against her lungs. A roar began in her head and she squeezed her hands against her ears. Through the cacophony she heard her grandmother say something about “that family,” and “this is the night he killed them.”

She didn’t wait any longer, Leigh ran down the hill, towards the sounds, towards the home, for she knew which one it was. She pictured the little girl out in her yard. Shame about that little one. She reached the trailer and pressed her face to the window. A single light was on, illuminating the living room and what was transpiring there. Her stomach lurched. A man with a hood on his head held down a woman on the sofa. He had a knife in his hand, tight to her throat, raping her. Oh my fucking God. Before she could bang on the window, before she could scream, the man finished his act, and the knife swiped over the woman’s neck. A bloom of blood sprung up out of her neck. Her eyes, wide with terror, flicked rapidly, then stilled. Leigh vomited down the front of her shirt.

Then the little girl walked in from hallway. The man saw her, pants still around his knees, hand still holding the knife, covered in the mother’s blood. I can’t watch this, he’s gonna kill her.

“I’m sorry dear,” her grandma said from behind her. “I’m so sorry.”

“We have to do something, Grandma!”

“We can’t, I can’t. I can’t interfere, I—I don’t think it’s allowed.”

“Allowed?” she yelled. Fuck that. Leigh sprinted to the side of the trailer and burst through the door. The man had the little girl by the hair. She was screaming. He was going to rape her or kill her, or more likely, both. Men are the worst.

She didn’t have a plan, she just charged, screaming a battle cry that had never come out of her mouth before. The girl stared, the man turned, shocked by the intrusion, then Leigh crashed into him, sending him flying into the wall. His head bounced off the paneling, and he dropped the knife. Leigh grabbed the girl by the arm and dragged her out of the house. She ran with her down to the next street, and before she made the turn, she heard the man coming after her. 

The girl thrashed against her, trying to escape.

"I want my mom!" she screamed.

"I know baby, I'm bringing you somewhere safe. What's your name?"

"Angi," she said, her voice almost a wail.

"Ok Angi, we're almost there, just be brave for me."

Three more houses then she recognized it, her grandmother’s home, her past grandmother’s home. She picked the girl up and slammed into the door, dumping her onto the carpet.

“DO NOT LEAVE,” she told the little girl, then ran out, slamming the door behind her.

The world jerked and blurred, and a sizzle of ozone hung in the air. Leigh caught herself on the rail of the steps, then dashed forward once more.

“What are you doing? You can’t do that!” Grandma yelled, meeting her in the road.

Leigh kept running, forcing Grandma to run alongside her. “I’m not gonna let some little girl die if I can stop it!” She ran for the side of the community, where trees rose up like black sentinels in the night. She heard the pounding of heavy, male footsteps behind them. “We have to get to the police, we have to tell somebody!”

“There is nobody, Leigh, there’s nothing but the community here, it ends beyond that.”

“Ends, how does it end?”

“This world is only the mobile home park, there’s nothing else.”

Fuck. “Come on, let’s get to the trees, we can hide in there.” Only a little further, just a couple more streets, then darkness, trees, safety. She hoped.

“He’ll just find us!”

“No he won’t, we can do this, grandma.” Her grandmother kept pace beside her, and even though her lungs felt like they were filled with fire, she pressed on. Then, the trees. She grabbed her grandma’s hand and dragged her through the trees, turning and searching until she found an especially gnarled old oak, and tucked them in behind it.

"This isn't good Leigh, this isn't good at all," Grandma whispered

"What's going on with you, Grandma, you would never let something like this happen if you could stop it."

Her grandma shook her head. "I'm just, I'm only a passenger here. I shouldn't get involved. You don't know what it's like, Leigh, back in your world, back in my body. It's like being in Hell, and I can't escape it."

"Except in here," Leigh said.

"Except in here. I'm afraid if I meddle in someone else's affairs, they won't let me back."

Another shockwave shook the landscape, followed by a flash above the dark trees.

"Listen to me, Grandma, there is no they, it's only you. You control this pl—"

A hand reached behind the tree and grabbed her by the hair. He dragged her out of her hiding spot and threw her against the tree. Her back cracked loudly and the air whooshed from her lungs. Dizziness clouded her head, then a fist slammed into her chest, and she folded over, choking. The air wouldn’t come, just a tiny wheeze in her chest.

“Help me,” she squeaked.

The man kicked her in the side, and new pain, and more cracking filled her body.

“Help me, Grandma,”

Distantly she heard her grandma’s reply. “If I interfere, I might not be able to come back. I don’t want to go back to the hospital, Leigh, I don’t want to go back.”

Leigh wheezed as the man clubbed the side of her face. She couldn’t see him, not with the mask on, just his eyes, filled with wild rage, and lust.

“Please,” she whispered, and thought for sure that those were her final words.

“Stop!” her grandmother screamed, but he didn’t hear her, didn’t notice her, not until she stepped in front of Leigh, and swung a branch at his head. The wood splintered when it hit him, soft from rot, not heavy enough to do any real damage, but the man stopped, and stared.

There was silence for a few seconds. Her Grandma's legs trembled before her, and Leigh worried she might fall over out of fright. She tried to gather the strength to stand, but even breathing proved painful and problematic.

So she just watched, and as she did, the rage in the man's eyes gave way to shock, then he spoke. “You—you shouldn’t be here. Go home!”

What?

The tremble in Grandma's legs stopped. She must recognize his voice.

Her hand shot out and ripped the mask from the man's face. Then Grandma gasped and dropped it. She took a step back, closer to Leigh.

"Julien, what are you—you're supposed to be on a work trip."

Julien, why does that name sound so—oh!

The man sputtered, and Grandma stepped toward him. "Julien, you murdered the Munsels? You raped that woman?" She screamed the words out into the silent night.

"You're my wife, and you'll do as I say! Get back home, now!"

Oh God. Leigh was thankful she'd already vomited the contents of her stomach up, because it was rolling hard.

Grandma launched herself at him, kicking him, scratching his face, aiming for his eyes. Grandpa Julien slapped her across the face, and sent her tumbling into Leigh as she struggled to stand.

"You're going to mind me!" he shouted and advanced on them.

But Grandma didn't back down. She grabbed him by the face, and in a growling voice said, “You do not control me.” She dug her fingers into his face. “You are not real.”

Then she stepped back. The world shook, and a roar like a jetliner filled the air. Pinpricks of light shone through his face, then his entire body, enlarging until they met as one blinding white light that blotted out the rest of the world. 

 #

Leigh gasped on the floor of the nursing home. A nurse hovered over her with a blood pressure cuff and a stethoscope. Everything looked as it had, except for the nursing staff who had swarmed the room. She sat up, heard her mother crying, felt her arms squeeze around her tightly. Grandma was in the chair, unmoving, tears had fallen down her face, but her eyes did not move.

“I’m so glad you’re okay,” her mother cried.

“I love you mom,” she said, getting her feet under her. Her chest hurt, as if someone had punched the living hell out of her. She stepped over to her grandmother, then reached out and touched her hand. She thought about her grandmother’s smile when she met her on the park bench.

"Grandma passed away honey, while you were unconscious."

She nodded. She didn't cry though, just thought about her grandma's smile.

"Thank you, Grandma," she whispered.

“At least she's with Grandpa now," her mother said.

Leigh flinched a little. "No, I think she's somewhere much better."

They turned from the room with her mother's arm around her, then another pair of arms squeezed her from the opposite side. She turned to see a tall, dark haired woman embracing her. She looked just a little older than her mother.

"Are you okay, Leigh?"

"Yes, um, who are you?"

The woman glanced over to her mother then back, "I'm your aunt Angi honey."

"But I don't have an Aunt Angi."

"My sister Angi, Leigh, don't you remember?" Her mother said. "Angi, we should take her to the ER."

Angi nodded. "Don't worry, dear, you're going to be okay."

Leigh stared straight ahead, and put her blinders on, focusing on the hard tile beneath her feet, the only thing she knew was real.


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