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

The front lobby was deserted, rows of empty chairs under cold florescent lights and white clean walls. It was creepy, but Miranda was relieved the hospital wasn’t now a train station or a coal mine or something.

She didn’t know why, but she knew Dad was here, like she could feel him.

The bright lights caused a glare across the rows of seats in the waiting area. Behind those was a counter with a sliding glass window. It was eerily silent in there.

Where was everyone?

“Hello?” Miranda’s voice echoed back at her. She took Cindy’s hand. Off to the right and left were double swinging doors with bright lights showing through their windows. A third set of double doors sat to the left, behind the counter. The first place her mind went was one of those zombie invasion movies. At least there weren’t bloody hand prints on the walls.

Cindy looked around. “Maybe we can look your dad up at the desk?” She pointed at a computer just inside the sliding window.

Miranda shrugged and they moved around the rows of seating to the counter. As they came up to the desk Cindy craned her head around. “The door on the side is probably locked. One of us might have to climb in through the window.”

“Climb what?” They jumped. A woman’s voice came from inside the reception area.

The woman leaned up to sitting in the receptionists chair, like she’d been crouched over asleep. She looked about Alice’s age, but less put together. She was wearing the uniform Miranda expected her to be. On her lapel was a name tag that read. “Shirley.”

She looked half asleep. “Can I help you?”

Miranda squeezed Cindy’s hand. The woman seemed to not quite focus on them.

Miranda spoke slowly and carefully, “Are you okay?”

Shirley’s face went a little blank. “I’m not sure.”

Whatever was changing things, was changing people too. Just like Officer Lidbeck and Mr. Hanson, whatever did this left people lobotomized. At least temporarily.

Miranda wasn’t sure what to do next. She was pretty sure if she asked Shirley to let them in to use the computer, she’d do it.

But it felt wrong to take advantage of her condition. “We’d like to see my Dad.”

“Are you family?” Shirley seemed to be working from a script.

Miranda had to keep herself from raising her hand. “I am.”

“And what about her?”

Cindy frowned.

Miranda squeezed her hand again. She wasn’t sure she could wander in the hospital with Cindy. “She’s not.”

Shirley paused. Miranda started to panic. Her brain ran through arguments why they had to see her father. Why Cindy had to go with her.

Shirley smiled. “Okay.” She sort of mechanically turned to the computer and tapped through a few screens.

“He’s in 1264.” She pointed at the doors to her right. “Second floor.”

That had gone much easier than Miranda expected. “Should we sign in?”

Shirley’s face went blank again. “No, do you want to?” She looked around her desk, as if for a scrap of paper.

“That’s okay.” Miranda dragged Cindy down the hall.

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

Back upstairs, Officer Lidbeck wouldn’t look Miranda in the eye. “I’ll call your guardian.”

Miranda needed to see Dad more than ever. She didn’t even care about finding answers anymore, she just wanted to know he was okay. Maybe he’d finally tell her it was going to be okay.

“No need, he said he’d be here.” She looked at her watch face, not really registering the time. “Any minute.”

Officer Lidbeck didn’t look like she believed Miranda, but she wiped her face and sat at her desk. The desk was now ornate, made of gentle curves. The front corners were carved like multifaceted bug eyes. Wooden dragonfly wings radiated out from the corners. Officer Lidbeck ran her hand along the curved edge of the desk like it had always been that way. Miranda thanked her and left.

Outside, Miranda tripped on a concrete curb at the bottom of the stairs. She fell into a light pole.

When she looked up, it took her a second to register what she was seeing.

There were no streets anymore.

The sidewalk extended out from either side of her. Within a block it twisted around itself and disappeared around a corner. Sidewalks twisted around buildings, sometimes forming unconnected loops. In between the sidewalks was tall green grass. Sections of sidewalk lifted up off the ground to form curved bridges over other sidewalks.

People basically used the sidewalks, though they had to cut across the grasses to get anywhere. Certain patches had paths cut through them where people had beaten down the grass by walking on it over and over. There weren’t any cars in sight.

The layout of the buildings was basically the same. Shouldn’t the buildings change with the streets? With the way the grasses were tromped on, this setup had been here for a while now. Had the people changed? People’s environments changed how they interacted with each other.

Miranda had to sit down on the edge of a sidewalk for a minute. Mr. Murphy’s store was now a cell phone store. Mr. Murphy stood out front like usual, still dressed like a shopkeeper.

It as one thing for reality to change, but it made no sense for it to change and not leave ripples in everyone’s lives. Mr. Murphy should have changed. It shouldn’t even be Mr. Murphy working there.

Maybe she was crazy to try to apply any kind of sense to the changes. Nothing made sense anymore. Maybe she couldn’t apply logic to any of it.

She took off her shoes and socks and stuck her feet in the grass. The tall fronds parted like a curtain. She wasn’t even sure what species of grass it was.

If Dad was here, she’d leave town with him in a second. No arguments. She’d get a bus and bring Cindy and her dads. She’d … fix Alice. She sighed.

A grass stalk broke off easily in her hand. She waved it in front of her eyes. Alice had said she’d changed over time. Now that she’d said it, Miranda realized it was true. Like a fog cleared, Miranda now remembered how Alice had started out fairly normal. Again and again she changed, and changed and changed. Why hadn’t Miranda remembered that?

Her head hurt. She should walk right out of town, out into the countryside.

“Miranda?”

She jumped and twisted her neck around. Cindy stood on the side of the sidewalk, looking at the grass like she didn’t want to get her shoes wet. She held a coat in her hand. Looking at it, Miranda realized she herself was cold. She shivered and stood up. Her butt was wet where she’d slid off the sidewalk onto the grass.

Cindy held the coat out and looked at the ground. “Dads were worried.”

Miranda got up. “Thank you.” When she took the coat, Cindy looked up at her face, but just for a second.

“I’m sorry, Cindy. I really am.” She pulled the coat on. It was a little short, so she pulled down at the hem, hoping it would cover the wet spot. “You shouldn’t have come out in this.”

Cindy shrugged. “Some of the houses are changing too. Dads are starting to notice.”

“Really?” Miranda was starting to form a hypothesis. “I need to see my dad.”

The hospital still thankfully sat on the top of the hill. The sidewalks wound up to it like snakes. Cindy looked up at the hospital. “Can I come?”

Miranda wanted to hug her. “Sure.”

Hopefully the hospital was still … a hospital. Once they went around the corner off of main street, the sidewalk became weirdly steep. Eventually it was easier to just walk on the grassy parts. At least they got some traction from the dirt. How did they get sick people up to the hospital?

Cindy looked disgusted. “This is stupid.”

Miranda couldn’t disagree. “If things keep changing, it’ll be impossible to get anywhere.”

“We probably wont even have houses.”

Miranda laughed. “Maybe we’ll have caves.” She stopped. Maybe the next change would put them underwater, or in space. She felt a chill.

When exactly had the changes started. Even Alice wasn’t the start of it.

She thought about the stuff she’d said to Cindy about her dads. “I’m sorry I called you freaks.”

They were both a little out of breath from the hill. After huffing a few times, Cindy waved the apology away.

Miranda felt like there was more she should say. “I think I’m just jealous.”

Cindy smiled. “I kind of feel sorry for people who don’t have three parents. Each of them is good at something. I wish everyone had that much …”

“Diversity?”

“Yeah. It’s awesome.”

Something itched at the back of Miranda’s mind. “I wish we knew more about where you came from.”

Cindy blushed. “It’s not like I don’t know where babies come from. I’ve been on the internet.” She grabbed some tall grass and whipped it in front of her. “My dads are starting to worry.”

The hospital was still at least another hundred feet up the hill. Something bugged Miranda. She walked in silence for a bit.

Cindy said, “I didn’t think about how lonely you must be. I have the four of us. You really only have you and your dad.”

Miranda stopped. A cold feeling ran down her spine. “You mean five.”

Cindy turned around. “What?”

“The five of you. Four dads and you.”

“What are you talking about?” Cindy bunched up her skirt in clenched fists.

“You have four dads!”

“Stop yelling at me! We talked about this. You said I used to have four dads and now I have three.”

Miranda sat down on the grass. She didn’t know how to talk about this anymore. She put her hands on her head. She just wanted to go home.

Cindy wailed. “I have three dads!”

Miranda didn’t look up for a bit. When she did, Cindy was gone. She turned around and saw Cindy was crossing the ridge to the hospital lawn. Miranda jumped to her feet and ran up after her.

She was out of breath when she got to the flat lawn, but she ran till she caught up with Cindy. They didn’t talk, just trudged to the front entrance. Cindy just stared at the ground as they walked.

As they approached the sliding doors, Cindy whispered, “You have to help me.”

She grabbed Miranda’s arm; her voice cracked. “Please.”

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

Alice smiled, like she was waiting for Miranda’s next question.

It was like Officer Lidbeck snapped out of a trance. She hopped up. “I think we’re done here.”

There was still the question Miranda didn’t want to ask, but had to ask. She put her hand out. “One more second.”

Before Officer Lidbeck could say anything, Miranda went to the bars. “Alice, I don’t understand. How can you love Dad and hurt him.”

Alice cocked her head like a dog. For the first time since Miranda had met her, Alice’s smile cracked. Her face fell into a horrible mask of pain mixed with that same forced smile Miranda was used to. “It’s all a little confused.”

Alice reached up and readjusted her eyebrows with her hands. She pushed up the edges of her mouth. Her face stuck in the smile-mask she’d made.

“Sometimes … many things are true at the same time. Your father needed someone to take care of him.” She got up from the bunk.

Officer Lidbeck dropped her hand on her gun. “Ma’am.” She reached out to grab Miranda.

Alice took a step toward the bars and Officer Lidbeck rang behind Miranda. “Ma’am, step back from the bars!” Her voice cracked.

It was all moving in slow motion and Miranda couldn’t get herself to move.

Alice took another step. “At first he needed help with you. You needed a mother. He needed someone to take care of the house while he worked all the time. While he worked with you.” Another step.

Officer Lidbeck unclipped the gun. “I need you to take two steps back, ma’am. Now!”

Alice reached out to Miranda. Miranda felt frozen by Alice’s eyes.

Officer Lidbeck’s hand dug into Miranda’s shoulder.

“When I met your father, you needed one thing. Then you changed, and I changed. And then you didn’t like me, so I changed again. Your father needed to rest. I helped him rest, didn’t I?” Alice reached through the bars and put her hand on Miranda’s cheek. “You look so tired. Do you need help?”

Officer Lidbeck’s gun passed by Miranda’s face. She jerked on Miranda’s shoulder and Miranda fell backwards. “I’m not going to tell you again! Step back!”

Alice shook her head, like she just noticed Officer Lidbeck for the first time. “Oh, of course, dear.”

She turned perfectly on point, like a ballerina. In two graceful steps, she was back by the bunk. She paused to smooth her skirt before she sat.

Miranda grabbed the bench and pushed herself up from the floor.

Alice tilted her head down. “Don’t rip your clothes, dear.”

Officer Lidbeck pulled Miranda to her feet. “Okay, let’s go.”

Alice lifted her hand. Her wave was gentle. “Talk to you later.”

Miranda automatically started to wave back. Halfway through, she lowered her hand. “Bye, Alice.”

“Call me Mother, dear.”

The Curious Investigations of Miranda McGee – Chapter Eight – Part 8

Miranda really couldn’t say if the police station had changed. Last night she’d been too out of it to notice, but the walls were some kind of marble, a lot of marble. Marble columns, marble floors and ceiling, marble carvings of faces in the corners.

A lot, like a roman temple a lot.

There was a quarry just ten miles down the highway near Junction City, but this was a lot of marble.

As far as she could tell, the upstairs was a single room with a cage in the back, like on old westerns. The cage was filled with file cabinets. Miranda supposed they needed the space.

Aught had at least five police, she’d seen them all last night, but Officer Lidbeck sat at one of the only two desks in the room. The police must usually work in shifts. She imagined them standing around waiting for a desk to write up their reports.

Officer Lidbeck obviously recognized Miranda. She jumped up from her seat and came around. “Ms. McGee, is your guardian here?.”

“He ….” She was going to say “He dropped me off” but she was already sick of the amount of lying she’d done in the last few days. “He’s at home. I walked here.”

The officer glanced at the phone, obviously concerned.

Miranda said quickly, “I needed a little time alone.” She wiped her nose. “I’d like to check in with Alice.”

Officer Lidbeck looked at the stairs behind her. Miranda had heard the town’s prison was really just some cages in the police station’s basement. “Your stepmother is to be shipped off to the state prison tomorrow. We’re still processing her.”

She sat down at her desk. “Actually, maybe you can help me.” She motioned Miranda to the seat in front of her desk, which Miranda took grudgingly. Officer Lidbeck pulled a file from on top of the pile in an inbox. “Do you know your stepmother’s maiden name. We … can’t find any record of her.”

Miranda considered for a moment. “I think I have some information, but I want to see Alice.”

Officer Lidbeck looked uncomfortable. “Your stepmother has committed a very serious crime. A violent crime.” Miranda flinched and Officer Lidbeck’s face softened. “We’re not supposed to let anyone see her till she’d been processed.”

“I just want to talk to her for a few minutes. You can be there if you like.”

“I’m certainly not leaving you alone with that woman.” Officer Lidbeck’s face was hard, but Miranda knew she was going to let her in. Officer Lidbeck opened the folder. “Tell me what you know.”

“I found a pile of papers in the garage–“

“You were back in the house?”

“I’m living across the street. I needed to change my clothes.”

She shook her head. “Go on.”

“I found these papers in the garage. Alice’s name might have been Smith before she married Dad.”

“Alice Smith.” Officer Lidbeck made a note. “Are these papers still in the garage?”

“Yes.” But they had totally different stuff on them now. Miranda would have to answer to that later, after she saw Alice and Dad.

The officer looked back at the stair, once, twice. “Okay, but it’s a short visit.” She put the folder back on the pile. “And I’ll end it at any time if I need to.”

Downstairs, Officer Lidbeck made Miranda wait on a bench, a wooden slab resting on two marble squares stuck out of the wall. She was pretty sure that wasn’t here last night.

She came out of the steel door she’d disappeared behind. “Okay, come in. You’re not allowed to touch the prisoner or even come within six feet of her. Clear?”

Miranda nodded.

Past the steal door was a row of cages, two on a side. All were empty except the one on the far left. Alice sat quietly on the bed looking at the wall. She looked perfect, no hair was out of place. Her clothes looked fresh and unwrinkled. She didn’t react to the noise of the door.

There was a wooden bench near the door, and Officer Lidbeck dragged it loudly over to the cage, she pushed it against the cage across from Alice’s. “Mrs. McGee, you have a visitor.”

Alice didn’t look over. “Oh, good.”

Office sat in a plastic chair in the corner. She motioned Miranda to come over.

Miranda sat on the bench, but Alice still didn’t look at her. “Hey, Alice?”

The cell looked dirtier in comparison to Alice. Her dress was clean and arranged perfectly, like she’d been sitting perfectly still for hours. She turned and smiled sweetly at Miranda. “Oh. Hello, dear.” She waved. “You look hungry, have you eaten?”

Miranda looked at Officer Lidbeck, who was looking off at the corner. Miranda looked back to Alice. “I’ll eat after I see you. Are you okay?”

“I think so, dear.”

“Do … you know where you are?”

“Oh yes, I’m in jail.”

“Do you know why you’re here?”

“Officer Lidbeck explained it to me. I’m to be arraigned for aggravated assault. Isn’t that right?”

Office Lidbeck looked sheepish. “That’s right, ma’am.”

Alice smoothed her hair. First the left side, then the right. She looked Miranda in the eye. “How is you’re father dear?”

“He’s … I haven’t seen him yet.”

“Remind him to look at the water heater when he gets home. It’s been acting up again.”

Miranda felt lost. “Alice, I don’t understand, were you angry with Dad?”

Alice kept smoothing her hair. Left side, right side, left side, right side. “No, don’t be silly.”

“Was Dad bad to you? Do you hate him?”

Alice laughed. “No, never.” She waved off the suggestion. “Your father is a wonderful man.”

Miranda looked to Officer Lidbeck for help, but she was rubbing her face.

“I don’t understand, do you love Dad?”

Alice looked confused. “Of course I love your father. I love you both very much.”

“So, you didn’t stab him?”

Alice grinned. “No, dear. Of course I did.”

The Curious Investigations of Miranda McGee – Chapter Eight – Part 7

With the house behind her and out in the sunlight, she felt … not better, but at least human. The image of the brown stain on her carpet wouldn’t go away.

She tried to reduce it to the chemical process of blood platelets oxidizing and turning brown, but it didn’t help. Dad was fine, Dad was fine.

The clothes felt better than she’d imagined. She’d put the old clothes in her hamper, which choked her up a little. When would she ever come back for them? Even if they all came back home, she might never wear them again. The old clothes smelled like fear and stress.

Not all of them. Even if Dad came out of the hospital fine, Alice was probably never coming home.

She trudged up Huntington until the corner of Park, which went over to the hospital. If she had let Bill drive her, she’d probably be there by now, but she couldn’t face them right now. She had to find some way to apologize.

It took till she was halfway across town for her to notice the new water tower.

It was pink. Nothing in the town was pink.

There was something written on it, but it was around the cylinder’s curve and she couldn’t make it out.

  • THAN
  • MAKI
  • SO E

That was probably the biggest change she’d seen in town yet. She was getting to the point where she felt flippant about it now. Oh, look, a new thousand gallon structure that wasn’t there yesterday. No big thing.

Still, she looked up at it every few blocks to see what was written on it.

  • THANK YOU
  • MAKING EV
  • SO EXCITI

Finally as she got closer to the hospital, she could see the edges of it clearly:

  • THANK YOU FOR
  • MAKING EVERYTHING
  • SO EXCITING!

She stopped. At this point she felt more irritated than scarred. She shook her head. If she pointed the tower out to anyone, they’d just say it’d always been there. Oh, the writing? It was an ad for the new travel agency and international airport. She wanted to throw a rock at it. Would Mr. Murphy have the same answer as Mr. Walters? She was starting to feel like the whole town was in on a conspiracy to drive her crazy. She kicked some stones into the street.

The writing had changed.

When she was kicking around rocks the writing had become:

  • MAYBE YOUR DAD
  • KNOWS!

“Ah!” She caught herself pointing at it, looking around for someone to agree that words painted on water towers shouldn’t change. She jumped into the street and grabbed one of the stones.

The text had changed to:

  • DON’T WORRY!
  • I’M NOT AWAKE YET!

She threw the rock as hard as she could, but of course it just fell down into the parking lot across the street.

She stared at the water tower. Daring it to change.

She blinked and it read:

  • BUT MAYBE SOON!

chsketch08

“Whatever!” She looked up the hill to the hospital. Nothing made sense. Maybe Dad was right. As soon as he was better, they should just get out of this town.

She pointedly ignored the tower. Whatever was leaving the messages, it could bug off. Someone else could read them.

Her thoughts flew every which way and she forced herself to slow down. She’d been backwards about this. Cindy was right. The first time life really stopped making sense was when Alice showed up. Alice was the key, there was that picture in the garage and the papers. Was Alice Smith Alice’s maiden name? She hadn’t thought the woman looked particularly like Alice, but with everything else that was changing, who knew?

She looked at her watch. As desperately as she wanted to see Dad, Bill had said visiting hours didn’t start till nine, another hour and a half.

Rather than trying to sneak in, maybe she should go check in on Alice, try to get whatever information she could from her, then see Dad.

She turned and walked west, to the police station.