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The Curious Investigations of Miranda McGee – Chapter Seventeen – Part 2

WELCOME!

The surface stretched miles below in every direction. One of the holes expanded until it filled the entire surface, crowding all the other holes around its edges. It expanded out until it covered most of the sky, a world painted onto the inside of a beach ball the size of a planet. Coast lines and mountains and oceans and clouds, all following the inside arc of this inside-out world. The collection of other holes was collected together up above her head.

Or down below. She was still disoriented.

Looking into the cluster of holes, it struck her; each hole was a portal. Each hole led to a new universe.

“Hello?” Miranda tried to regulate her breathing, but the constant vertigo was wearing on her nerves. “I’d like to talk to you!”

She’d been yelling. A scared, small part of her brain whispered that when you yelled, it woke people up. She resigned to speak quieter.

Lights on the surface way below flickered on and off, like entire cities gaining and losing power. Her brain translated the flickers into:

GOOD POINT.

She held her breath.

It could read her mind.

Flicker. Flicker. Flicker.

HEE HEE HEE.

She wiped her face and realized she was crying. Then she realized she was still … human. That had to mean something. She was still wearing her clothes. She stuck her hand in her pocket. She still had her keys. She clutched them like a totem.

She took a deep breath. “Can we talk, please.”

Flicker. Flicker.

TALK? WHAT IS THIS?

The flicker language wasn’t very nuanced. She didn’t know if it meant “What is talking?” or “What do you think we’re doing now?”

She spoke softly. She probably didn’t even need to do that. “Can you come out so we can talk?

The air crystallized around her. The crystals read like words to her.

MAYBE THIS IS ME.

The crystal melted into water. The wave patterns were words.

OR THIS.

The water boiled away. In its place was a cartoon dragon. Its body itself was a word, like with a pictorial language.

OR THIS?

The dragon popped and she was back to looking at the surface miles below her.

Mountains broke apart, an enormous crack broke along the surface. The scale was so huge that the air around her vibrated. Whole forests disappeared into the destruction. The crack formed a giant arc. It opened like an eye.

An eye the size of a continent. Inside, it swirled like sunlight in water. Wave fronts of dust storms and wreckage radiated out from it.

The eye considered her.

A voice like an avalanche broke the sky. “DAUGHTER.

Miranda felt cold down in her bones. “You’re awake.”

“I AM NOT.” A horrible fissure broke beneath the eye, cracking open into a giant smile, simple like a smiley face. More waves of vibrating air radiated from the destruction.

“But you’re speaking to me.”

THIS IS THE BAREST SLIVER OF MY CONSCIOUSNESS.” The upper lid receded over the eye. Now it looked sleepy. The smile grew a little.

Miranda couldn’t plan in her head. It would just hear her.

The god waited.

Miranda said, “I came because …” To distract it? To get it to stop? She wasn’t even sure. “I was hoping we could talk.”

The giant eye, looked left and right. Like it was about to tell her a secret. “YOU’RE FUN.”

She didn’t know how to respond to that. “Thank you?”

I’M VERY PROUD OF YOU. YOU’VE MADE FUN THINGS. I SHOULD WAKE UP AND WE CAN START OVER TOGETHER!

It was talking about destroying the world.

Miranda forced herself to stay calm, even though she wanted to scream. She spoke very carefully. “Mom said you’d rather be asleep right now.”

OH! YOUR MOTHERFATHERMOTHERFATHER. I MISS HIMHERHIMHER!” The collection of holes migrated down to the side of the giant eye. One of them opened and bright blue light streamed out.

Miranda put her hands out, like she was calming a puppy. “Hey, we were talking about you going back to sleep, right?”

The ground shook like it was laughing. “YOU’VE DONE SUCH FUN THINGS. YOU MAKE PEOPLE. I MAKE PEOPLE TOO!

The thing was so enthusiastic, she felt like she was talking to Cindy.

YEAH, CINDYCINDYCINDYCINDY!

“No!” She was terrified what would happen if the god focused on anything but her. “I mean, I also made Alice.”

ALICE WAS BAD TO MOTHERFATHERMOTHERFATHER.

Everything she said was like stepping on a mine. “She didn’t mean to, she was confused.” Miranda couldn’t believe she was defending Alice stabbing Dad. But she was gone now anyway.
I COULD MAKE A NEW ALICE AND PUNISH HER.

“No, don’t!” Miranda put her hands out.

The god paused again. The giant eye looked left, then right, like it was about to tell her a secret. “ACTUALLY, I MADE ALICE STAB HIMHERHIMHER.” The huge grin looked proud.

Miranda was suddenly so furious her forehead hurt. She barely kept herself from yelling. At least Mom wasn’t hurt anymore.

RIGHT! ALL BETTER!

Her fists hurt from her clutching them so hard. She felt helpless. It wouldn’t do to anger the god.

I’M NEVER ANGRY. I JUST DO WHAT’S MOST FUN.

The collection of holes expanded. Miranda caught another brief glimpse of earth, then another hold expanded and quickly took up the entire landscape. The seas and clouds disappeared until the gods eye sat in the center of a huge dome of purple mountains.

It could do anything.

That gave her pause. A little hope lit inside her. “Could you bring back Alice?” Could she undo what she’d done?

The eye seemed to frown. However that was possible with one eye. “ALICE IS GONE.

“I know. Can you bring her back?”

I CAN MAKE ANOTHER ONE LOOK JUST LIKE HER.” A purple boulder flew up from the ground, so fast it glowed red from friction with the air. It spun and chunks flew from it. When it stopped, it was a perfectly smooth statue of Alice, complete with house dress and apron. Miranda’s heart hurt.

BAD!” The statue exploded to dust.

Miranda screamed, “Stop it!”

???????” The god actually thought question marks into her head.

Miranda held out her hands, like she was pleading. “It’s okay. You don’t need to punish Alice. Even a fake Alice.” What if the god decided to punish Mom, or Cindy?

YOU KEEP THINKING OF CINDY. LET’S BRING HER HERE.

Miranda didn’t even get a chance to speak. Cindy popped into existence.

It took Cindy a moment to realize where she was. Her face filled with recognition. She looked below her and screamed.

Then gravity took her and she fell.

The Curious Investigations of Miranda McGee – Chapter Seventeen – Part 1

“–th.”

The rectangular opening winked out of existence and she wasn’t in Aught anymore–or anywhere in her world.

She fell through air that smelled like ozone from a burned capacitor. But now burned electronics smelled good, like burning was how flowers should smell. She tried to find up and down, but it was hard to orient because the gravity was lower and ever so slightly sideways. She wasn’t falling so much as floating.

Her lungs hurt and she realized she was holding her breath. She forced herself to breathe. At least the air wasn’t poisonous. For all she’d known, the mad god lived in space or on a sun. She hadn’t known what to expect, but it wasn’t this. She didn’t regret saving Mom, but she was terrified. She wished she’d had longer to say goodbye.

It took second for her to realize gravity had shifted. The sky was now beneath her feet and ground spun above her.

She closed her eyes. She was part god, she should be able to do something, like float to the ground. She listened. There was no breeze. No birds. No sounds.

Hopefully mom had been right. If the mad god was distracted by finally finding its old wife (husband?), maybe the daughter it never met would provide even more distraction. She wanted to imagine Mom and Cindy and her dads were now safe, but the truth was she just didn’t know.

Perhaps if she presented herself, that would help? She tried to think of some way deduce a direction to the mad god. The larger problem was what she would do once she found it.

“Is anyone there?”

The sky changed by degree until it was night. Flowers floated around her in a cloud. The petals danced around each other like little birds and… it wasn’t that they formed words, the movements cycled and somehow she could read the actual moves, like semaphore or sign language.

The dancing flowers read:

THIS PLACE.

YOU FOUND IT.

YOU SEE ME.

I AM EVERYWHERE.


ch17

The ground stretched like rubber, obscuring the sky, up and around Miranda. Convex became concave, the edges came together until the entire landscape became the inside of an enormous ball and she floated in its center. The surface seemed to be perforated with millions of holes. Some of them expanded and she could see windows into space. Another shrank into a pinprick. For just a second, she thought she saw the earth, but the hole containing it shrank again.

She’d never felt this alone.

“Hello?”

The petals burst into dust. As it blew away it created one word:

WELCOME!

The Curious Investigations of Miranda McGee – Chapter Sixteen – Part 4

Miranda tugged.

Nothing happened.

Mom said, “Did you–“

Miranda’s stomach fell as the world shifted. A door-shaped rectangle of reality rolled down like an old window shade. Through the portal, reality fell away.

The door had it’s own gravity, like the whole world was tilted toward it, like she’d fall in if she even moved.

Through the door was just sky, disturbingly bright blue, dotted with fluffy clouds.

Mom squeezed Miranda’s shoulder. “Okay.” She wiped her eyes with her palms. “Okay, okay. Time to go.” Her breath came out in short gasps.

Petty immature thoughts flashed through Miranda’s head. She’d tug the string and close the door. She didn’t care about the world. She didn’t care about anything except holding onto Mom until everything ended.

Cindy’s dads struggled to stay standing against the gravity shifts. As they swayed, they leaned protectively around Cindy. Miranda had promised to protect Cindy’s dads, to protect the world as best she could, no matter what.

Maybe growing up meant sacrificing for other people. She tried not to cry, but tears dripped off her jaw. She wiped her nose.

Mom turned and grabbed her, sobbed onto the top of her head. “I’m so sorry, hon. If I had known it would to lead to this anyway, I would have done better with the time we had.”

Miranda tried to say Mom did the best she could. She tried to say Mom did everything right, but she just sobbed into Mom’s chest.

That moment could have lasted forever, for all Miranda cared, but the ground shook and Mom pushed her away. “It’s got to be now.”

She shook out her hands at her side. “Goodbye.”

The slightest leaning forward made mom fall toward the door, like the door held a vacuum sucking her in.

Miranda grabbed Mom’s shoulder with strength she didn’t know she had. Mom spun sideways away from the door. Miranda shot forward.

Mom screamed, “No!”

ch16

On the other side of the door the air was sparkling and thin. Through the rectangle, Miranda got a perfect view of Cindy pushing off from her dads, reaching out to Miranda.

Miranda yelled, “Love you bo–“

The Curious Investigations of Miranda McGee – Chapter Sixteen – Part 3

Outside was even more fragmented. The houses were staggered, some recessed and others right up against the river. Blue stones clattered melodically down stream toward town. Could you still call it down stream when the river was made of stones? The sound was beautiful, but nearly deafening. The air smelled of dust.

Miranda was numb.

Mom still held onto Miranda’s shoulders. “Please don’t argue. If I go back, I’ll distract the mad god and it won’t…” She motioned around her. “Wipe everything.”

Cindy’s dads stood around Cindy on the driveway. Their lawn was now a tangle of tiny ferns. Cindy eyes were huge. Her body was there, but Miranda suspected her brain had shut down from too many emotional hits.

Miranda couldn’t think clearly either. The practical part of her brain focused on the details. “You don’t have powers to go back to the god.”

Mom looked her level in the eye. “I don’t, but you can send me.”

Her brain chewed on that. She only vaguely noticed the words coming out of her mouth. “I won’t do it.”

Mom didn’t raise her voice. She didn’t look angry or defeated. She looked calmer than she ever had. “Miranda. We’re talking about everything. If I go back, who knows what will happen, maybe I’ll be fine, but if we don’t do something, the mad god will… reset us.”

Mom turned to Cindy and her dads. “Mr. …Bauteils, will you take care of my daughter?”

Bill looked from Miranda to Mom. Bill said quietly, “We’d be honored.”

A wind picked up and blew Mom’s hair into her eyes. She put her hands on each of Miranda’s shoulders. “I was with the mad god longer than you can imagine.”

With Mom leaning over her and Cindy and her dads in a line behind them, it felt like a funeral. Miranda’s mind picked at details. The Bauteil’s driveway sloped right down into the river. She wondered if their car was now a boat.

Her eyes were blurry and she absently wiped them. “What keeps it from just killing you?”

Mom shook her head. “The mad god never gets angry. Everything is fun and interesting. The worst thing is to bore it.”

“What if this doesn’t work?”

Mom sighed. “Honey, if this doesn’t work, none of us will ever know it.”

The total annihilation of everything. Miranda couldn’t get her head around it. She forced herself to look up into Mom’s eyes. “Except you.”

Mom’s voice hitched. “Except me.” In Mom’s eyes, Miranda saw endless years of pain and fear, never ending. She’d go through it all again, all to save Miranda.

The steel returned to Mom’s eyes. She wiped off each with her thumb. “Okay, let’s do this before I lose my nerve.”

Miranda shook her head. “I can’t do it.”

Mom pushed on like Miranda had agreed. “Do the opposite of everything I ever taught you. Imagine something for me.” She turned Miranda so they were shoulder to shoulder. “Think about the world as a series of strings. Everything interconnected.”

One of the houses down the block popped into a puff of smoke. In its place was a golden tree.

Miranda shook her head no, but when she blinked, the strings of reality were there, threads between her and Mom and Cindy, between all things around her. Threads to the river and the sidewalk, the edges of things.

She tried to will herself not see the strings anymore, but she couldn’t. She felt reality cracking. Things were changing each second. They’d change until everything just … popped.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Cindy rest her head on Bill’s arm.

Miranda nodded.

Mom swallowed. “There’s a string to open a door to the mad god.”

The power came easily. Terrifyingly easy. Everything was real, and at the same time everything was a page in a book with infinite pages. All she had to do was flip. Everything fit together in infinite ways.

It was exhilarating.

Mom squeezed her shoulder. “Pull, honey.”

Seeing two realities at the same time was like surfing, like she might fall over at any moment. She wished Cindy was holding her hand, but Cindy was too far away. Miranda could change that, pull a string and make Cindy right next to her. Everything was barely perched in its current reality. The slightest touch would send it somewhere else. Something new would take its place.

She had to shake her head. The power was intoxicating. It was hard to keep on track.

Mom’s voice was calm, hypnotic. “The door. Pull the string.”

The Curious Investigations of Miranda McGee – Chapter Sixteen – Part 2

The many days of exhaustion felt like concrete on Miranda’s shoulders. She would give anything to just sleep.

Cindy stood in the middle of her room with her arms crossed. “Now what?”

The look on Cindy’s face said she didn’t really want to know. Miranda wasn’t sure she could have this conversation, but she felt trapped in Cindy’s room till Mom was done.

Miranda realized she still had the towel around her neck. She wiped it over her hair to give herself a moment to think.

She realized she was running through ways to lighten the blow, to downplay it. She sighed. “Cindy, I made you.”

It was like the words reverberated around the room. Miranda heard them in her head over and over. She couldn’t read Cindy’s face.

Cindy just stared at her. She uncrossed her arms. “I don’t know what that means.”

There was nowhere to put the towel, so Miranda just dropped it on the floor. She took a step toward Cindy, but Cindy took a step back.

“I just found out myself. Mom … the mad god is my father.” Miranda could hear the pleading in her own voice.

She looked out the window. The sun was above the horizon. The red river glimmered in the light.

Now she knew why Mom had so much trouble looking at her when Mom was upset. Nothing could make her look at Cindy right now.

The silence dragged out so long, Miranda convinced herself that Cindy had somehow disappeared, that Miranda was alone with her own guilt.

She finally forced herself to look away from the window.

Cindy screamed, “What does that mean?”

She fell to the floor like a rag doll. Miranda ran over. A shiver ran through Cindy’s whole body. She pulled her knees to her chest.

Miranda leaned in hug her, but Cindy screamed, “Don’t touch me!”

She rolled back, stunned. “Nothing’s changed. I … it’s not my fault!”

“You made me!” Cindy curled into a tighter ball.

“I didn’t mean to! It wasn’t conscious.”

“I’m not even a real person! My dads …” Her voice hitched so hard, she choked. “My dads aren’t real!”

“Cindy–“

Cindy shot up so quickly that her shoulder clocked Miranda under the chin. Miranda fell back as Cindy ran out.

Her vision filled with spots. She tasted coppery blood in her mouth.

For a second she couldn’t think about anything but the pain. The floor felt cool against her cheek.

She had to fix this, somehow. She started to push up from the floor, but the thought of seeing Cindy’s pain again sapped all Miranda’s strength. She crumpled.

It was her fault. Everything. She’d ruined absolutely everything.

Something about that Cindy’s wails, deep and muted through the door, made Miranda feel selfish and alone. She pushed herself up from the floor again. This time she stood. Before she could think about it, she dragged herself to the door and into the living room.

Cindy was curled up between her three dads on the couch. Mom stood by the counter, looking ashamed.

The silence dragged on. Miranda would have given anything for someone, anyone to tell her she was okay. She tried to catch Tom’s eye, but he stared blankly right though her.

Mom glanced at Miranda, but didn’t make eye contact. Cindy’s sobbing was the only sound.

“There must be something we can do.” Miranda was startled her own voice. It sounded brittle and hopeless.

Mom shrugged.

With a sound like the wind, Bill exhaled. He wiped tears from both his eyes with hard, quick jabs. “Mrs. McGee, You think it will work?”

It took forever for Mom to nod. She put her face in her hand.

What would work? Miranda heard the pleading in her own voice. “Mom, you suggested we clear the river. I could change it and we could all just drive out of here.”

Mom didn’t answer.

Miranda was missing something. Bill smiled hollowly and tapped the window behind his head. “Your mom thinks the four of us are lightening rods for the mad god.”

The practical part of Miranda’s mind could see that. Miranda was connected to the mad god. Each time she changed something–Cindy sobbed again– each time she made something, it was another crack in the wall between the mad god and here.

She pushed the thought away. What was done was done. She threw up her arms. “What do we do?”

Thunderous noise shook the windows, like an avalanche. The light changed outside. The window glowed blue. Bill pushed back the curtain and gasped, but Miranda couldn’t see what he saw.

The house shook. Mom started to speak, but Bill interrupted her. “Maybe if there were less of us?”

“What are you talking about?” Cindy lifted her head. She looked dazed.

Bill motioned out the window. Something huge and blue drifted by. “There used to be five of us.” Tom nodded. “If there were less of us, would it help?”

Cindy shot up. “What?” She pressed a hand to John’s chest, like she was about to push herself off the couch.

“Darling, if we can fix this… we have to.” John gently moved Cindy’s hand and brought her into a hug. Tom put a hand on her head.

Bill looked to Miranda’s mom. “Mrs. McGee, can you take care of Cindy?”

Thunder crashed outside. Cindy coiled like a wild animal, but John didn’t let her go. “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

Cindy searched around the room like she was looking to escape. Almost randomly, she made eye contact with Miranda. She struggled again. “Miranda, stop this!”

Miranda’s stomach dropped like she was on a roller coaster. Everything was happening so fast. Where was Miranda’s say in this? Where was Cindy’s?

She caught Mom’s eye. Mom sighed and wiped her face again. Miranda felt cold.

Mom said, “I’ve been only thinking about myself, trying to get you to sacrifice yourselves so we’ll be okay.” She stepped over and put her arm on Miranda’s shoulder. “I know what we need to do.”

Cindy froze. Her dads waited for Mom.

Mom squeezed Miranda. “I’m going to need your help.” Miranda felt a deep chill down her spine.

Mom’s eyes were wet. “What the mad god really wants is me.”