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.
- 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
“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!
“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.