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

The police station had changed again.

Not by a lot, just the windows had a little arc on the top of them.

Dad adjusted her gown and went in.

The inside looked smaller, a little claustrophobic. Officer Lidbeck wasn’t at her desk, which left the room empty. Dad didn’t seem to know what to do. Miranda worried that he’d rush downstairs to the jail. He looked manic.

He took a step forward, but stopped when Officer Lidbeck came up from the basement. Officer Lidbeck looked dazed. She put her hands out like she was on a tightrope and tipped forward. Dad barely got her before she fell. Dad seemed through by her own lack of strength. She Dad walked Officer Lidbeck over to a chair.

Once Officer Lidbeck was settled, Dad sat next to her.

Officer Lidbeck’s eyes rolled in her head. “What can I do for you?” She sounded as if she didn’t notice her own state.

Dad waved at Miranda. “Get a glass of water.”

The office was a maze of desks, but Miranda ran off looking for a water cooler. Cindy stood frozen at the front desk.

When she got back with a little paper cone full of water, Dad was nodding and listening intently. Officer Lidbeck mumble something unintelligible. Miranda stepped closer.

Officer Lidbeck whispered, “Alice McGee.” She frowned.

Dad said, “Yes, yes, my wife.”

The officer nodded. Miranda knelt down and put the cone of water in her hand. She was reminded of Officer Lidbeck giving her a mug of hot chocolate … it seemed like forever ago. She couldn’t believe it had only been two days.

Officer Lidbeck leaned forward to drink the water. She drained the paper cone and leaned back. When she opened her eyes again, she looked a less confused.

She pointed at Miranda. “I had a dream about you.” She frowned again. “And your mother.”

Dad’s face twisted in panic. He leaned in. “Where is she?” Dad searched the room. The door down to the prison was still where Miranda had seen it last time. Dad pulled Officer Lidbeck to her feet. “Take me down there.”

Officer Lidbeck eyes cleared. “Ma’am. Please calm down.”

Dad did … something. Miranda felt the tiniest ripple in the air and Officer Lidbeck’s eyes glazed again.

She nodded. “Right down here.” She walked stiffly, but navigated the desks easily. She grabbed a set of keys from her desk. Dad followed.

It was like Dad had forgotten Miranda and Cindy were there. She looked back to Cindy, but Cindy shook her head, no.

Miranda waved to Cindy and rushed to follow Dad and Officer Lidbeck. They were already through the door by the time she reached it. She barely caught it before it locked.

The stairs were dark. Darker than she remembered. Down at the bottom, Officer Lidbeck said, “That wasn’t real.”

Dad’s voice cracked. “There’s no one down here.”

Miranda felt cold in her chest. She wanted to turn and run, but almost against her will, she went down the steps.

There was only one bulb lighting the four cages. The room looked unused and dusty.

Dad fell to her knees. “You remember her. You said so.”

Officer Lidbeck leaned away from Dad, like her angst was catching. She shook her head. “I think that was a dream.”

Dad put her face in her hands. “Bring her back.”

Officer Lidbeck said, “I don’t remember.”

Again, as if against her will, Miranda backed away from the cells. She had to get away from Dad, away from what she’d done. She took the stairs two at a time.

Behind her Dad screamed, “Miranda, bring her back!”

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

The woman–her dad, her mom.

Miranda couldn’t help but think of her as a stranger, an alien–she kept shaking Miranda. The part of Miranda’s brain trying to stay calm cataloged the woman: hair similar, but slightly longer than Dad’s, the woman was almost the same height, maybe a little taller. Her eyes were exactly like Dad’s.

The alien woman screamed. “What did you do?”

“I … I–” Miranda couldn’t think.

“You don’t know what could happen. There are always ripples! You could have killed me, or yourself!” Dad/Mom was frantically looking around. “We have to check for damage.”

Then Cindy was there, pulling at Dad’s/Mom’s wrists. “Stop it.”

Shirley came from behind the desk. “Ma’am, please calm down!”

Dad/Mom let go of Miranda, looked out the front doors. “We need to check on Alice.”

She ran out the door.

Miranda’s head spun. She didn’t have time to even process how she felt about Dad being gone. Not gone, but… She took off after the woman. Outside, Mom was running down the road into town. The hospital gown fluttered behind her.

She realized something else about the woman. It wasn’t just that Dad had changed back. This woman was fourteen years younger. She’d somehow changed Dad back into Mom fourteen years ago.

“Dad, stop!”

The door opened again. It was probably Cindy. She didn’t stop to see. “Dad!”

Dad (Mom?) turned on her. “You stupid girl. Reality doesn’t work like a switch. Every time you change something, it creates an effect like dominoes, one change causes a million more.”

Dad stopped and put her face in her hands. She stood there like that. Cindy came up behind Miranda and put her hand on Miranda’s shoulder.

Dad dropped her hands. She checked her abdomen. “I don’t appear to be hurt anymore. We have to take care of Alice and then we need to get you out of town.” She looked around. “We need to normalize in a new environment.”

Dad continued down the street, there was a street again. Miranda ran after with Cindy in tow.

Cindy said, “Mr. … Mrs. McGee, can my dads and I go with you.”

Dad didn’t look back. “No.”

They walked for a block and Dad said, “I’m sorry. Miranda needs to be around real life things.”

Cindy stopped. “I’m real!”

Dad kept walking, “I’m sorry.”

Miranda took Cindy’s hand and kept following Dad. Ugh, Mom. She wanted to tell Cindy it was okay.

Nothing Dad said made sense. “Why are we getting Alice if we need to be around ‘real’ things?”

Dad’s shoulders slumped. “We’re not getting her. I just need to say goodbye.”

They walked in silence. Then Miranda said, “Are you in love with Alice.”

Dad said, “Not really. That’s not how it works, exactly.” He walked for a while. They were almost to the corner of Main Street. “The magic can’t make me love Alice, but in my head, she’s my wife. That’s the reality now.”

She looked back. “I know that doesn’t make any sense.” She shrugged. “Anyway, now that I’m changed back, I feel the reality fading.”

Miranda thought she was done, but Dad said, “I want to get there before it’s totally gone.”

That made even less sense than anything else. Miranda looked to Cindy for support, but she was staring at the ground, lost in her own thoughts. There didn’t seem to be anything to do but follow Dad.

Miranda looked at the horizon. The pink water tower was still there, but its surface shook with static, like a giant television.

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

The hospital had a parking lot again. It was somehow comforting that it was full of cars.

The lobby wasn’t quite right either. There was a huge Indian rug under the seating area and all the seats were wooden benches. It bustled with people. They had to wait in line to speak to Shirley the receptionist.

She seemed to recognize them when they came up, but she didn’t mention it. “May I help you?”

Miranda said, “My dad is in 1264. We’d like to see him.”

Shirley didn’t look as dazed as before, but she frowned at Miranda, like she was trying to remember her. “What’s your father’s name?”

“McGee.”

Shirley tapped at her computer. “Close. Mr. McGee is in 1272.”

Nothing went back perfectly to how it had been.

Part of Miranda still felt the draw to fix that. “Is it okay if we go see him.”

Shirley frowned at Cindy. “Are you family?” She still looked confused, but like she thought her confusion was their fault somehow.

In a way she was right. Miranda said, “I’m his daughter.”

Shirley kept looking at Cindy. “Are you sisters?”

As much as Miranda willed her to lie, Cindy shook her head no.

Shirley turned back to Miranda. “Family only.”

Hot anger flared behind Miranda’s eyes. It would probably only take a little push to change the rules so Cindy could go with her.

Cindy seemed to sense what Miranda was thinking. She blurted out, “It’s okay. I’ll wait out here.”

Miranda still felt angry, but the look on Cindy’s face made her stop.

Shirley nodded at Cindy. “You can wait on the benches.” She looked at Miranda. “The elevator to the right, second floor.”

Nobody in the lobby looked sick or hurt, it was like they were waiting in a bus station. Miranda walked Cindy to an empty spot in the benches. “This’ll just be a second.”

Cindy’s legs dangled when she sat down. “I don’t like this.”

“It’ll be fine. I’ll fix Dad’s injury, we’ll go back home and we’ll fix the things with your dads on the way out of town.” She still had a nagging doubt about Cindy’s dads, but she didn’t say so.

Cindy looked haunted. Miranda wasn’t sure if she should leave her here. She picked Cindy’s hand off her lap and squeezed it.

With her other hand, she pulled the photo out of her back pocket. It still showed Dad and Alice. Dad still looked scared and stressed. If only she could fix that.

She closed her eyes, imagined Dad before the stabbing. She concentrated. This shouldn’t be that hard.

A minute went by and nothing felt different. When she opened her eyes the lobby was still full of the same people.

Cindy said, “Are you going to do it?”

“I thought I did.” Miranda frowned.

She turned toward the elevators. She should go up and check on Dad. She folded the photo and put it back in her pocket.

With one more squeeze of Cindy’s hand, she leaned to go. “I’ll be right back.”

Something felt weird, but she couldn’t put her finger on what. Shirley and the front desk looked the same it had a few minutes ago. Miranda crossed the Indian rug to the desk. “I’m going to head up now.”

Shirley nodded.

Miranda only got two steps toward the elevators when one dinged. The door opened and a woman burst from it, a hospital gown flapped behind her.

The woman was panicked. She looked like a frightened animal as she scanned the room.

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She looked familiar.

Miranda’s head swam, not ready to admit the obvious. The woman still had tape on her wrists from where the IV had been in. The gown opened across her belly. One of the bandages fell away. It still had blood on in but the wounds on her abdomen were gone.

Miranda pulled the photo out of her back pocket. Part of her tried to ignore the woman, who let out a yell when she saw Miranda. She ran at Miranda as Miranda unfolded the picture. Dad and Alice were gone. The photo had reverted back to Jane Smith. Back to her mom.

The woman crossed the lobby in a few strides. All Miranda could think was, “she’s healed.”

She grabbed Miranda by the shoulders. “What have you done?

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

The roads had been easier to change than she’d thought. The cars came back with them. Some of the store fronts changed back, but not all of them. Mr. Murphy worked in a doughnut shop. He still wore his shopkeeper apron.

Miranda felt giddy. This all was much easier than she’d ever thought. They were on the corner of Warren and the road up the hill to the hospital looked much easier to walk. Miranda wondered if they imagined they were at the hospital, if they’d appear there. She giggled.

Cindy didn’t seem pleased. She looked out across the town.

Miranda poked her shoulder. “What’s going on?”

When Cindy turned to her, she seemed to be looking through Miranda to somewhere in the distance. “Do you think we can bring back my two dads?”

Miranda felt a little jolt to her confidence. She shook her head. “I don’t see why not.” If she could change a whole school, why not two people.

A thought still nagged her. Mr. Hanson hadn’t changed, just his circumstances. Why were Cindy’s dads different?

She smiled anyway. “It’s okay, don’t worry. I’m going to fix everything.”

Cindy rubbed her arms. She looked lost, scared. “Are you sure this is sure a good idea?”

Miranda had never felt so sure of something in her entire life. She could feel confidence and power running through her. She smiled bigger than she ever had before. She shouldn’t stop with getting things near to how they were. She should keep going till everything was perfect.

She looked around. What needed changing. Clearly Mr. Murphy needed his shop back. She closed her eyes and imagined the shelves, the neat little rows of items.

When she opened them again… it was back. The windows of Mr. Murphy’s store had the same hand-lettered title and hours. The awning was back, but a different green than she remembered.

She closed her eyes again.

When she opened them. The awning was the correct color, but the font on the lettering had changed. Mr. Murphy sat at a little table in front of the window. That was new. He was rubbing his temples.

She let out a frustrated breath.

Cindy gasped and Miranda looked at her. She was looking behind them.

The pink water tower was back.

The writing on it read. THIS IS FUN. THANKS!

Miranda felt the cold on her spine again.

Cindy said, “What’s that?”

Dad had been right. If she did this too much, the god might wake up. She’d have to be more sparing in her usage.

She remembered the photo in her back pocket. She pulled it out. Now it was Dad and Alice, but she still remembered the woman in the photo.

There was at least one more thing she had to do. “Come on, Cindy.”

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

Inside the school was almost how Miranda remembered it. The floor was more greenish than pink or blue. Apparently the popular fashion now was wearing solid colors from head to toe. The halls were packed wall to wall with kids wearing solid blue, solid green, solid red. Only the nerds and stoners wore mismatched outfits.

She and Cindy set themselves up in the hall by the gym. Kids looked at them like they were aliens.

Maybe it was their clothes.

Miranda scratched her nose. “We didn’t get it perfect.”

A jock in the purple and gold football uniform passed. Cindy shook her head.

Miranda grabbed Cindy’s hand. “Come on.”

“Where are we going?”

“I want to check on Mr. Hanson.”

The teacher’s door was back to normal. Maybe the wood was a little darker, but it had the hand printed sign that read Teacher’s Lounge.

Miranda took a breath and knocked. She wasn’t excited about the possibility of getting yelled at again, but she needed to know. She turned to Cindy. “If this gets ugly, we should just run.”

Mr. Hanson opened the door himself. He was wearing blue shirt, pants and shoes. He saw Miranda and a look of shock crossed his face. Behind him, other teachers craned their necks. They looked equally shocked to see her. Miranda steeled herself for the yelling.

“Oh my God, Miranda. I’m so sorry.”

He grabbed her into a hug. “How is your father?”

After a second, he seemed to remember himself. He took her by the shoulders and put a few feet between them. Other teachers got up and came over.

Mrs. Johnston looked like she might cry. “We’re so sorry to hear.”

Miranda had never gotten so much positive attention at school. She didn’t quite know what to do with it. “It’s okay. I’m okay. I saw Dad today.”

Mr. Hanson rubbed his neck. “Good.”

A few of the other teachers moved back into the room. Miranda said to Mr. Hanson. “Can I talk to you for a minute.”

He looked behind himself. “Of course.”

They moved out into the hall. Students must have gone to their next class, because it was empty. Cindy walked down the hall to the drinking fountain.

The halls were eerily quiet now. Mr. Hanson looked conflicted.

It didn’t look like he was going to say anything, so Miranda said, “I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

“Me?” Mr. Hanson looked surprised. “I’m not the one who… who’s going through what you are.”

She’d been thinking about this since Dad had told her about the mad god. Mr. Hanson had been furious the other day. Was that Mr. Hanson gone? Had that whole day been erased? Could the mad god change people? Just the thought of it was horrifying. She had the feeling that if that were true, people were just … puppets.

The drinking fountain clicked on and off down the hall. Cindy was balanced on one foot and clicking the foot-switch with the other.

Mr. Hanson smiled for a second, but when he looked back to Miranda, the smile faded.

She said, “I just… the other day–“

Mr. Hanson put up his hand. “I … I was hoping that was a dream or something. I yelled at you?” He looked lost. “I can’t quite remember it. It seemed too fresh to be a dream.”

He looked incredibly guilty. “I think I might be having blackouts or something.”

So she’d been right. People changed, but they still kept the old versions of themselves. Everyone in town must be so confused by now.

She patted his shoulder, like he was a kid. “Don’t worry about it. It was just a dream.”

All the tension drained out of his face. “Okay.”

Like she’d given him a post hypnotic suggestion.

She nodded and he nodded along with her. His body language relaxed. He looked around, like he’d forgotten why he’d come out there in the first place.

It was probably a good time to end the conversation. Miranda waved to Cindy. “I think we need to get going.”

Mr. Hanson turned and put his hand on the lounge door. “We’ll see you soon.”

“Of course.”

He seemed lighter already. “Bye, Cindy.” He went inside.

Her heart hurt a little. It still felt like she’d lost an old version of Mr. Hanson.

But she had other things to worry about. She started down the hall. “Let’s go to the center of town.”

This version of Mr. Hanson remembered the changes, but just as a dream. People couldn’t really be changed. She felt strangely relieved.

Cindy frowned. “Why back into town?”

They made their way to the front doors. Miranda had never realized how creepy the school was when the halls were empty. “Next we need to start fixing the rest of town.”

Of course, people staying mostly the same when the rest of reality changed didn’t explain why Cindy’s dads were disappearing. Miranda needed to think about that more.

The front doors were lighter now and the lions out front were gone.

She’d liked those. She’d need to fix that too.

Cindy stopped short. “You said just the once!”

Oh, right. She had. Miranda turned to her. “Cindy, The town doesn’t have any roads.”

Cindy didn’t say anything. She bit her lip.

Miranda took her wrist. “Come on.”

They’d have to cross another plain of grass to get back into town, but there were more sidewalks once they got downtown.

Cindy yanked Miranda to a stop. “I couldn’t concentrate.”

“What? When?”

Cindy motioned around them. “We were supposed to be concentrating on the school, but I couldn’t imagine it. I didn’t think of anything.”

Miranda rubbed her forehead. “Maybe that’s why things are a little different than they were?”

Cindy frowned. “I don’t know. I want to see my dads.”

Miranda grabbed her wrist again. “Come on, I have an idea.”