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

They moved over to the shed, out of view of the school windows. Miranda didn’t want to think about what punishments the school gave out now.

“What are we doing?” Cindy put the bag of their lunch leftovers in a low dumpster next to the shed.

Miranda considered the school. The building was taller, not enough for a second floor, but enough to have raised ceilings. She remembered that she used to think the ceilings were too low. “I’ve been thinking about what Dad said. About our powers.”

Cindy didn’t look like she wanted to talk about it.

Miranda pushed on. “I think when we let our minds slip from reality it lets the–” Cindy gave her a warning look. “It lets the one who changed dad change other things too. He messes up stuff when we let reality slip.”

The school didn’t look easy to change. It looked solid and huge. Cindy’s expression ran through exasperated and settled on scared. “That’s not what he said. Your dad said he holds reality together. They asked us to leave before he could say what to do.”

“Dad’s still hiding something.” Miranda looked back at the school. “All my meditation on physical things, on basic laws of nature, I think we can change things back.

Cindy put her hands on her hips. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Nothing makes sense. My dad used to be my mom.”

That was hard to even think about. Dad used to be Mom. What had he–she?–been like before the change? Thinking about the last thirteen years, it didn’t seem like Dad liked being Dad.

Cindy looked dubious. “We just have to remember how it used to be?”

Miranda shrugged. “Maybe if we think about it really hard? What harm could it do?”

“Your dad said we had to be careful we don’t wake up …” Cindy looked around. “you know.”

Miranda felt defensive and angry. “We can’t just leave things like they are.” She put her hands on her hips. “If it works, we’ll just fix a few things before we go.” She made herself not think about leaving Cindy. Maybe she could talk Dad into them all leaving together.

Cindy didn’t look convinced. She looked scared. “Your dad didn’t say I have powers.

Miranda’s head hurt. Why did every conversation with Cindy have to be an argument?

She blurted out, “But you’re a magical being!”

Cindy flinched. “It’s not like I’m a wizard or anything.”

Like always, Miranda had said the wrong thing. Guilt settled in her chest. They still hadn’t talked about Cindy and her dads being created from nothing three years ago. It just hung between everything else they said.

Cindy looked back in the direction of her house. “I don’t think we should be messing with this.” That gave Miranda pause. When had Cindy become the careful one?

“I need your help, Cindy. If we can undo some of the damage. Who knows, maybe we can undo Alice stabbing Dad. We could get out of here sooner.”

“I don’t think it’ll take much to convince my dads to leave.”

Miranda hadn’t thought about what they were going to tell Cindy’s dads. Cindy seemed to be avoiding think about it. How would her dads react?

She put her hand on Cindy’s shoulder. She was starting to feel more comfortable touching people. “Let’s try this just this once. It probably won’t do anything anyway.”

Cindy still looked dubious. She looked at the school. When she looked back at Miranda, she looked terrified, but she said, “Okay, just once.”

The relief Miranda felt was almost physical. She let out a breath. She didn’t know what she would have done if Cindy had said no. She realized that without Cindy to be strong for, she’d probably crumple herself.

They came out from behind the shed. Miranda said, “Okay. Look at the school.”

Cindy frowned and shook her head. “Okay.”

ch11

How this would work? “Try closing your eyes.” Miranda did it herself. “Think about how the school used to be.”

Dad had taught her how to do exactly this. She cleared her head and visualized how the school used to be. Not just the outside, but the halls and the desks and the lockers. She remembered the ugly pink linoleum and the teacher’s office door. She even thought about the posters in the office and the school rule book.

Goosebumps raised on her arm. A little breeze blew by. Cindy exhaled next to her.

How long were they supposed to do this?

She Peaked with one eye and looked at Cindy. She was frowning at the school.

Cindy said, “It looks the same.”

It sort of did. Maybe the roof line was different?

She sighed. That was probably wishful thinking.

As if on cue, the door opened and Penny Mosley came out again. This time she let the door bang shut behind her.

Penny was in a cheerleader outfit!

Again, looking left and right, Penny crouched down by a brick next to the door. She pulled the brick out a little and set it on the blacktop.

The colors on her cheerleader outfit were wrong. The school colors were supposed to be blue and silver and this outfit was gold and purple.

Penny pulled a pair of glasses from her waist. Miranda didn’t know Penny wore them. From behind the brick, she pulled out a candy bar. She quickly took a bite of it before she looked over to where Miranda and Cindy were standing.

Cindy waved.

Penny actually jumped. She whipped off the glasses. “You better not tell anyone!”

She ran back inside. Miranda wasn’t sure if she meant the glasses or the candy bars. Maybe both?

Cindy laughed.

When Miranda looked over to her, “Holy crap” slipped from her mouth.

The tennis courts were gone. They were standing on a blacktop playground. White lines marked a basketball court. Behind Cindy was a playground, but in a different configuration than she remembered.

Behind her, the maintenance shed was gone.

Cindy didn’t look delighted. “Wow.”

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

Cindy suggested they have lunch in back of the school. A good change was the Thai place on the main strip. They bought a red curry to split. Cindy wanted it hot, but she got it mild for Miranda’s sake. They barely said a word to each other since the hospital.

They were going to sit on the swings in back, but the playground was now a big expanse of dirt and a maintenance shed next to tennis courts.

Not that there had been tennis courts yesterday. The painted lines looked fresh. The blacktop looked unused. The chain link shined.

They sat on the ground and ate silently for bit. The back door of the school opened and Penny Mosley came out. She looked left and right, like she was about to sneak away. She saw Miranda and Cindy and jumped. For a second, it looked like Penny was going to run back inside. Instead she stuck something in the door and sneaked over toward them. “What are you doing back here?”

Miranda couldn’t remember what day it was. She’d assumed everyone in the school knew she’d been absent for awhile. “We’re having lunch.”

Penny usually wore one of her cheerleader outfits around the school. Now she was wearing a new-looking green wool skirt and a white top. The blouse looked like scratchy polyester. It still had crease lines from its package. The skirt was below her knees.

She looked in horror down at Miranda’s legs. “You’re wearing pants!”

“I always wear pants.” Miranda was having trouble keeping up with all the changes.

Penny looked behind her, like someone might be listening. “It’s the new rules. Didn’t you get the flyer?”

For all Miranda knew, the flyer was in the mailbox at her house. Cindy looked at the skirt with disdain. “It’s been a busy couple of days.”

Miranda shook her head. Had people somehow missed what happened to her dad?

“They sent a reminder yesterday. It was about boy colors and girl colors.” Penny looked back at the school. “You can’t be out here.”

Cindy looked annoyed. “Why are you out here?”

Penny backed away from them. “Don’t tell anyone!” She turned and ran back inside.

The door slammed.

Miranda tried to think if she even owned a skirt. She was pretty sure she didn’t. She wiped her hands on her pants. “Pretty soon we won’t be able to go to school at all.”

“We should get out of here when your dad is better.” Cindy looked back in the direction of their houses. “All of us.”

They hadn’t talked about Miranda’s promise to say goodbye to Cindy. She wasn’t even sure if Cindy and her dads could leave town. What if they disappeared?

Her teeth hurt from her grinding them together. She wasn’t going to let that happen. “Cindy, we’re going to fix things.”

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

Miranda snapped her fingers. “That’s what you’re doing when you’re meditating.”

He nodded. “I’m keeping things from changing.”

“Is that why I’m meditating too?” It made sense. Dad was making her meditate on real things.

But Dad looked cagey again. “Sort of.”

Anger flared in Miranda. She was sick of secrets. She was going to call him on it when he said, “The mad god wants to wake up. I think it’s been trying for years. It pushed Alice to stab me so I couldn’t keep it asleep anymore.”

Miranda felt confused. “I still don’t understand why we keep running.”

Once again Dad was staring at the floor. “Anytime we stop somewhere … things start to change.”

Miranda wanted to yell, but she kept her voice calm. “Then why did we stop here?”

Dad’s face turned red. “Mostly I just got tired. Fourteen years is a long time to run. I thought maybe you were ready …” He trailed off.

“Ready for what?”

He didn’t answer. She felt the old fear that he’d get angry. Though he didn’t look capable of anger anymore.

He looked out the window. “Is Alice okay?” The machine started beeping again. He forced her breathes out more regularly, but it kept on.

She was surprised. “You’re not mad at her?”

He bunched up the sheets around his waist. “It’s not her fault.”

Miranda really wanted to change the subject, to go back to a safe topic, but she needed to know. “Did you always know Alice was …” She looked back at Cindy. “Not real?”

Anger crossed Dad’s face. “She’s real.” He glanced over at Cindy. “She’s a person, Miranda. She just came into being differently than us.”

He let out a breath. “I didn’t entirely know. I can sense when things change, but I don’t always know what has changed.”

The door creaked open and a nurse leaned in. “Visiting hours are over.”

Miranda hadn’t been sure there even were visiting hours anymore.

Cindy stood up. “Okay.”

When Miranda looked back to Dad, he wasn’t looking at his hands again. “This is really important. I should have told you this before.” Tears welled in his eyes. “You have to keep doing your exercises. As long as you focus on reality I think we’ll be okay.”

Dad leaned in and whispered in her ear. His voice cracked. “If we think about it too much, it might wake up.”

A chill ran down Miranda’s back. Suddenly she felt claustrophobic. She staggered away from the bed. “I need to know one more thing.”

Dad looked at Cindy briefly, then back to Miranda.

The picture snagged on her pocket as she pulled it out. She couldn’t bring herself to unfold it. “There was a woman in this picture. Was she my real mother?”

He reached for the picture, but she couldn’t let herself let go of it. He looked to the water pitcher in the corner. “Can you get one of my pills?”

The pill bottle was marked anti-anxiety. She wondered if he’d been taking these even before Alice stabbed him.

After he swallowed the pill, he said, “Please don’t forget to do your meditation. Okay?”

She nodded and he said, “Pretend nothing has happened.”

The picture was still in her hand, but he wouldn’t look at it.

She said, “Dad…”

He looked defeated. He nodded. “The picture is of your mother.”

Her teeth hurt. She realized she was clenching her jaw. “What happened to her?”

Dad eyes filled with tears. “The woman in the photo is me, before I caught the mad god’s attention.”

ch10

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

A god.

 

 

 

The word just lay there between them.

Finally Miranda said, “I don’t know what that means.”

He played with the top of his sheet. “A god. A supernatural thing. It … noticed me.”

The words slipped out of Miranda’s mouth. “There are no gods. You taught me that.”

He shook his head. “We have to think there are no gods. It keeps them from noticing.”

The machine to Dad’s left made an insistent beeping sound. He started breathing deeply and it stopped.

From the door Cindy said, “Who from noticing?”

Dad started, like he’d forgotten Cindy was there. “I not sure it even has a name.” He laughed hollowly again. “The rare times I let myself think about it, I just call it the mad god.”

He looked crazy. Miranda wanted him to be crazy. Her head couldn’t fit what he was saying into anything else she’d learned. He’d taught her to only believe in solid, real things.

“The less you think about it, the better. All I can tell you is that it … it’s not a person honey.” He reached out and she took his hand. She couldn’t remember the last time he’d done that.

Certainly not since she was a teenager.

He considered for a moment and then he said, “Cindy, you and your dads are about three months old.”

The door clicked shut with a snap. Cindy had leaned against it. “That’s not… That’s not…” She wound down. Almost like she was in a trance, she walked back to her chair and sat down.

Miranda couldn’t focus on anything. “The school changed. The roads are gone.” She waved to out on the halls.

Dad nodded. “That’s what happens.” He looked cagey, like he was still hiding something.

He pushed himself into a sitting position. He winced and a gasp fell from his lips. The sheet fell away. Three pieces of gauze dotted his chest and abdomen. A red dot showed through each.

His hand shook, but he took her hand again and squeezed it. “It’s not even awake. I tricked it into falling asleep, but it can still do all this.” Dad motioned out the window. “You can’t even imagine what it can do when it’s awake.”

Behind her, Cindy quietly cried. Miranda really wanted to hold her hand.

Her voice sounded surprisingly calm to her own ears. “How? How did you make it go asleep?”

Dad squeezed her hand. “The mad god noticed me because … I have powers.” He looked at his hands. “You and I both have powers.”

This was too much at once. Miranda looked back at Cindy, but she looked like she’d checked out. “What kind of powers?”

Now Dad looked a little less small, like saying this took a weight off of him. “I can hold things together. I can keep things from changing.” He pulled the sheet up over his wounds. “At least when I’m conscious.”

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

A few people wandered the hospital halls. It was hard to distinguish patients from staff, maybe from people who’d wandered in from the street. Some immobile patients were scattered amongst the empty rooms. Occasionally an orderly walked by, a clipboard hanging from their hands or distractedly pushing a broom.

Everyone looked dazed.

The hospital was like a maze. They found room 1264 on the second floor. They had to search three sections to find it.

The door was shut. Miranda couldn’t get herself to push it open. What if Dad wasn’t there? What if he was dead? She looked at Cindy.

Cindy nodded.

Miranda pushed. The door moved inward with a little click.

The sun ran in a bright little stripe over Dad’s hands. His eyes were closed. He looked twice as thin as the last time she’d seen him.

One of his wrists was wrapped in gauze with a tube running to a drip. The other hand had a plastic clip on his thumb. Miranda was pretty sure it was a blood oxygen monitor, but she didn’t know how it worked. She thought about looking it up later, but as soon as the thought came, she knew she was just looking for excuses not to think about Dad.

He didn’t look good, but he looked well cared for. It didn’t make sense with how people had looked out in the hospital halls. Who was taking care of him?

ch9

Cindy pushed the door closed behind them, which made a much louder click than when they’d come in. Dad stirred. His eyes half opened.

He looked even more frail searching around, confused. First he just stared out the window, then he eventually scanned the room.

He jumped when he saw Miranda. “Hon?”

Every muscle in Miranda’s body tightened. She wanted to run to Dad, but instead she held back. She had no idea how he’d react to seeing her. She realized she never knew how Dad would react to anything anymore. Her own father was a complete mystery. She balled her hands into fists and waited.

And waited. Dad looked away and focused on a spot just to the side of her. “What time is it?”

She didn’t even look at her watch. She shrugged. Cindy was silent behind her.

His gaze settled on the floor. It had a swirly pattern on it, like little abstract flowers. She wondered if it had looked that way yesterday.

Dad’s eyes focused on Cindy for the first time. He face cycled through shock and anger and fear.

Cindy raised her hand. “Hi, Mr. McGee.”

Dad looked like he would push himself up in the bed, but he deflated again.

Miranda didn’t wait for him to speak. “We need to talk.”

The room was so silent, Miranda could hear her heart pounding. Dad stared at the floor again. “Cindy, could you give us a minute?”

Cindy started to move, but Miranda put out her hand. “No, she’s staying.”

Dad pushed himself up higher, as if to argue, but Miranda said, “I’d just tell her everything as soon as I leave. I’m not keeping secrets anymore.”

Dad shrank further into the bed. He looked so small and frail that Miranda felt guilty for yelling.

A machine near the bed beeped. Miranda’s heart continued to race. Dad nodded.

Miranda’s feet still ached from the hike up the hill. She looked around for a chair.

Before she could move, Dad said, “I was trying to protect you.”

She froze. She still felt like a coiled spring, like she was going to explode any second. The only chair over by the window. She grabbed it and dragged it over to the door. Cindy looked worse than Miranda felt. She motioned Cindy to the chair. After a second of non-verbal arguing, Cindy sat in it.

She felt better having done something. She turned back to dad. He still wouldn’t look her.

She said, “You’re running from something that changes reality.”

He stiffened. She waited for a full minute for him to say something. Finally he said, “What do you know?”

She shrugged. “Not much.” It was true. “Something … made Alice.” She choked. “And it drove her crazy. Something is wrong with … with everything.” She slid her shoe back till it touched the front of Cindy’s. “Who are we running from?”

Dad laughed, a hollow sound that made Miranda’s chest hurt. “Technically, we’re not running.” He coughed.

By the window was a counter with a pitcher of water and a cup. She went and poured him a glass. She brought it to him. She couldn’t help but notice that she waited for Dad to lean back before she set it down. He waited till she backed away before taking it.

While he sipped at the straw, Miranda said, “I broke into your safe.”

He smiled halfheartedly. “Finally.” His face fell. “I guess they’re gone then. I’ve been trying to protect them for years.”

Miranda thought of the dust and the changing photos. “I think I saw an old picture of Alice. Her name was Jane?”

Dad tried to rub his face, but the plastic thing on his finger got in the way. “No, she’s always been Alice.”

Nothing Dad was saying made sense. “Dad, was that a picture of Mom?”

A hard guffaw came out of him. It quickly turned into a sob. Miranda took a step closer to him, but she was too terrified to touch him. Her eyes watered up. But she bite her lip to stop them.

He only cried for a second. He wiped his eyes with his other hand. “Okay, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll tell you what you need to know. Then you have to do exactly what I tell you.”

She shifted. Dad had never looked so serious. She nodded.

He took a deep breath. “After I tell you this, you’ll have to use your meditation exercises to forget it. As soon as I’m better, we have to move on.” He looked to Cindy. “Cindy, I’m sorry, but you two are going to have to say goodbye soon.”

Dad said, “I’m serious.”

Even with Cindy right behind her, Miranda felt alone in the room. She couldn’t focus.

Cindy sniffed behind Miranda.

Dad waited.

Miranda nodded. She wanted to look at Cindy, but kept Dad’s eyes.

Dad closed his eyes and took two deep breaths. Miranda recognized their calming exercise.

He sighed. “Hon, your step mother is three years old.”

Cindy’s chair scrapped backwards, probably just an inch, but it sounded like nails on a chalkboard. Outside in the hall someone was mumbling to themselves.

Miranda wanted to laugh, but Dad stared at her till she shook her head. “What’s that mean?”

Dad started to answer, but Cindy’s chair scraped louder and slammed against the wall.

She stood and backed against the door. “I don’t want to hear this.”

Dad’s face turned red. “We’re running … no, we’re hiding from a …” He stopped short. He actually looked embarrassed.

Miranda almost said, “Aliens?”

He looked out the window, his voice so quiet, she could barely hear him. “A god.”