Rest Easy *Valentine's Day Entry*

*I'm submitting the first part of a novel, as it is still underway, but almost complete! I began it in January and the majority of it was written after the opening of the competition, but I had to re-upload because of the original upload date*

*Based on Prompts #1 and #2*

In Arizona, two teenagers spend a summer attempting to decrypt the life of an elderly woman with dementia, who had gone missing over forty years ago and cannot recall to anyone where and how she lived. This ongoing mission keeps the teenagers occupied all summer, bringing them closer and helping them to avoid the rough times they have been going enduring in their lives, and the pasts they just want to forget. As the pair grow a bond, it eventually appears that the world around them wishes against it. The price of overcoming the obstacles that stand ahead of them is hefty, but only they can determine whether it is worth the risk.

For those on desktop - I've added thematic songs to some of the chapters :)

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11. CHAPTER NINE | MEMORANDUM

“The lady lies on a cold iron stretcher, the only thing dividing her spine from the surface

Is a white cloth, a clean white cloth, not warm enough, not soft enough to protect her

From the Stretcher.

She can’t move - her wrists are tied to the sides, her ankles anchored down by a fabric much tenacious

Than herself.

She keeps her eyes closed but water still seeps out, like a broken faucet,

A leaking pipe, a chest full of turmoil and unrest, coughing and spluttering, a guttural cry

Unleashes from her sandpaper throat, She wants to go home.

She is naked, no clothes, no nothing, just the White Cloth under her back like a cape,

A cape that has no use or purpose. Heroes and Heroines never fall, they’d never let their

Capes fall under them, they’d never use their capes as shields, but that is all she

Can do, so she doesn’t have to feel the stinging cold metal underneath her.

She wants to go home.

The lady on the stretcher stares up to a strong light, one that envelopes her in

Incandescence, exposes her to those who she wishes to hide from. She lies in a room

Where men with suits write notes on clip boards and speak in hushed tones

Into each other’s ears, never to her, she wants to go home.

They’ll cut out her brain, or pump her veins with something that will eventually

Cease her humanity, her livelihood, her ability to feel something, she wants to go home.

The lady on the stretcher cannot move, she is an experiment, she does not know what the

Hypothesis is, what the results will be, she is purely the process, the middle part, the question mark,

The ellipsis, and she wishes to be a full stop, or an exclamation mark, she wants to be an Answer,

She wants to go Home.”

 

 

Dudley paused for a few seconds once he finished reading aloud. Marie started clapping. Naya smiled, but felt odd. This poem was one of the darker ones she had written, and she knew that it must have come from a darker time. She didn’t remember that, of course. But if Naya  and Dudley were to pretend that the book was merely a prediction of the future rather than a recollection of the past, they could commence with all the possibilities as to why she vanished out of thin air that sunny California afternoon, many years ago.

 

“There’s a window of opportunity to explore of government kidnappings and scientific experiments,” Dudley said on their lunch break. They had just finished having a fairly engaging conversation with Marie out on the grass, asking her what her favourite hobbies were and letting her diverge into already-told anecdotes about the younger life she still had a cerebral grip on. She still addressed Dudley as William. “MK Ultra were doing their thing in her time. It’s kinda plausible.”

“MK who?”

“MK Ultra.”

“Sounds like an EDM group.”

“Haha, very funny. It was a project of the CIA that started back in the fifties. I did some reading on it, a while back. I think it was also called the mind control program. They did all these experiments on human subjects, trying to see if they could manipulate their minds through all these different methods, like with drugs, hypnosis, all that kinda stuff.” He scrolled on his phone, trying to gather more information online. “It was psychological torture to the extreme, man.” His eyebrows furrowed as he kept reading on.

“But what was that all for?” Naya asked.

“According to Wikipedia, “Its aim was to develop mind controlling drugs for use against the Soviet bloc in response to alleged Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean use of mind control techniques on U.S. Prisoners of war in Korea.”

“Well, damn.”

“Fuckin’ nuts.”

“Where would Marie fit into this?”

Dudley shrugged. “It’s just a theory, right? Lady on a Stretcher just reminded me of this kinda stuff. Experiments done without the subjects’ consent. Drugging them up with stuff, writing down their results. Clearly some people were kidnapped. Why wouldn’t they have been? Marie kept repeating in that poem, how she wanted to go home. Maybe she signed up for it. It was disguised as something else, a flyer in the grocery store, but it was really a cruel ruse for an abduction. Makes sense, huh?”

“But if she knew she was going to be kidnapped and used for some experiment, even going to to write it down, why would she let it happen?”

“Who knows. Maybe these poems weren’t literal. Clearly, they’re figurative - a way she could let out her feeling, express herself. They aren’t a telling of true events. But maybe she didn’t know that she was predicting her own future, that it would all actually happen.”

“It’s more plausible than the alien theory, I’ll give it that,” Naya chuckled. Today, she was decked out in all purple. A scoop-necked crop top covered with a lilac cardigan, denim mom jeans, purple Vans. She had on the same indigo eyeshadow Dudley first saw her with, all those weeks back. Her eyes were almost jumping out at him, that was how bright they were. It was hard not to look straight at them, even harder to pretend that they weren’t stupefying.

“Hell yeah, it’s more plausible. I’ve got the most realistic theory here.”

“A bit of a stretch, but I’ll let you have it. For now. We’re only getting started, Dud. I thought this was teamwork, a collaboration. But…if you wanna make this a competition, we’ll see who comes out winning by the end of the Summer.”

“I’m game.” They shook hands like they were ready to commence a kickoff.

 

 

The next day, Dudley decided to hang out with his friends in No Man’s Land. Only this time, he brought Naya along. It was the first time she’d be diverging from activities with the Girls, and crossing into unknown territory. She was slightly nervous to say the least, but it had been three weeks since Summer commenced, and three weeks since she had been working alongside Dudley. Co-workers always hung out after shift hours - it wasn’t wrong. That’s what Naya told herself.

The hangout went a lot better than she originally had expected. Ash, Wallis and Taylor were there. Totem wasn’t. The Guys taught her a few tricks on their boards, and she fell at least three times, obtaining a minor grazed knee on her second attempt. They spoke about anything and everything, and their jokes were a little more abdomen-clenching, a bit more crude, yet also wholesome. They asked her tonnes of questions about her appearance. Ash thought she was biracial, Wallis responded, of course she isn’t you dickwad, I knew some kid like that in forth grade back in Tucson. My Moms told me what it was when I asked her why that one white kid had both black parents. It’s pretty trippy, right?

 

“Why’d you keep this programme thing a secret for so long, Dud?” Taylor Evans asked. He was the only guy in the friend group who lived in Smithson, and one of the few black kids who did, too. He was a little more reserved and serious than the rest of the boys, and didn’t spend that much time in No Man’s Land. He was often applying for internships and going to TEDtalk-like stuff, on his way to becoming his own entrepreneur by the time he was twenty-one. He was the best-dressed of the bunch, and it could be said that he was also the most romantically successful, too. He had a new girl hooked to his arm every other week. Totem followed closely behind (before he met Tori) in the tally, then Dud (More so in quality than quantity, with Vanessa, at least). Ash and Wallis were always scrambling somewhere at the bottom. Dudley could tell in Taylor’s voice what he might have been getting at. Everyone and their dog knew about the most scandalous break-up at South Harlow High since Aubrey Wright and Glenn Tryniski.  If news got out that there was a new female companion in Dudley’s life, platonic or not, it would cause unnecessary town-talk. It wasn’t something he needed.

“It’s not exactly the coolest thing in the world, is it?” Dudley said, legs dangling off of the pool. Naya lay along the edge, arm swaying on the wall below. She didn’t say anything.

“It ain’t that bad. I applaud you for doin’ something like that. That’s some G shit.”

“Not in Harlow.”

“Who gives a fuck about Harlow? This town is trash,” Taylor said, though he did live in Smithson, so his idea of trash may have been a little bit disparate from other peoples’.

“Isn't it called the Pretty City?” Naya piped up. The guys looked at her. She sometimes didn’t know how to feel whenever this happened. She’d throw in a question that seemed jarring enough to make everyone turn and face her, whether that be with the Girls or the Guys. She’d feel like a fly on the wall, one that had just made itself known. Dudley was the only one who didn’t bat an eyelid to the sound of her voice, and she didn’t know whether to think of that as appeasing to her timidity toward this kind of social analysis, or  anything otherwise.

“Yeah, it’s a superficial town. Everything’s surface level. It’s just gossip and fashion. Nobody pays attention to the fucked-up shit, like the poor people or the crimes and all of that. This place is just for show. That’s why I commend y’all for actually doing something for the community. When I get rich, I’mma do the same kinda thing, tenfold. Open up more homeless shelters, alleviate poverty, you know the drill.”

“Bravo, Evans,” Ash clapped. “You’re the hero we didn’t know we needed.”

“Haha, suck a dick, Ash.”

 

A few minutes later, Totem arrived with Tori. They walked down to everyone, hand-in-hand. Dudley could literally vomit at the sight. Tori almost stopped in her tracks, seeing Naya lounging around with the Guys. She certainly wasn’t expecting it.

 

“What’s the deal with you and Dud?” She asked her after pulling her aside.

“What do you mean? He’s my volunteer partner.”

“Yeah, I know, but…” Tori looked over at the Guys. “I just thought you’d keep things to a minimum. Go to work, go your separate ways…”

Naya narrowed her eyes. “Do you have a problem with it?” She was surprised, to say the least. Dudley was Totem’s best friend, and Tori was Totem’s girlfriend. There shouldn’t have been any bad air between them. Tori and the Girls were judgemental, but maybe there was a reason why.

“You’re a super-cool chick. Like, awesome.”

“Thanks.”

“But you’re better than that. You know what we think of him.”

“So I can’t even be his friend?” Naya was getting annoyed.

“Oh, yeah - of course you can be his friend. I just… don’t want you to fall into anything, you know? Even I don’t hang out with the Guys. Well, I try to keep it to a minimum. Us girls, we stick together, we hang out. Cool, artsy, black girl magic. That’s what we are. There’s an invisible chasm between us and them, and we gotta keep it that way.”

“Does this have anything to do with the fact that Dudley’s not black?”

“Absolutely not! Neither is Ash. Or Totem, for that matter.”

“Yeah, he is.”

“Only half!”

“You sound ridiculous.”

Tori giggled. “Yeah, you’re right. I don’t know what I’m saying. But What I do know, is that Dudley isn’t the best at all times. Things could get a bit messy. I just want you to watch out for yourself.”

“I’m fine. It’s fine. I don’t need a warning.”

“I know, I know. Just… giving you a heads-up.”

 

Naya kept Tori’s words to herself. They were harsh, ominous at worst. This was the Blank Slate painting itself, the past coming into play. Maybe she shouldn’t have been turning the other way, like she had been doing so. Maybe it wouldn’t kill to take a peek. She spent hours trying to figure out Marie’s life, trawling and clawing through her leaden recollections. Marie was still alive, she was still breathing, and she still had a past. Everyone had a past, of course. The question became whether the past was more important than the present, than the future. Whether the past was a warning, a premonition, a prophetic memorandum. Naya was to figure this out on her own.

 

 

“The Girls don’t like you that much. You know that, right?” Naya said to Dudley on a lunch break at Salvation Hill a few days later. Though the Guys didn’t really mind Naya, the Girls minded Dud, and she thought that the reasoning behind their distaste didn’t hold that well. He was coming across as everything the opposite of how they acted like he was.

“I don’t care bout who likes me and who doesn’t, especially the Girls. I only know them because of Totem. That’s the only link I even have.”

“I don’t know. I mean, they spend time talking shit about everyone. I guess that’s what girls are supposed to do, right? But… I don’t know how to act when they say things about you.” Because I don’t hate you like I should, she wanted to say. I don’t mind you at all.

“What do they say?”

Naya kept quiet for a moment.

“Seriously. What do they say about me?”

“They mainly talk about your ex, stuff like that.”

Dudley sighed. “Jesus. That was literally two months ago. Don’t they have anything more recent to talk about?”

“Well, Evie’s gotten pretty close to Vanessa since she joined jazz band, and apparently they’re always talking about you. Evie relays the information to Tori, Jas and Amber.”

“Vanessa’s always talking about me?” His face softened. But he didn’t look hopeful; he looked sad, like the past eight weeks he’d spent trying to shake the thought of her had almost worked, but not quite.

“Yeah. I gathered. But she’s seeing someone, you know. Evie mentioned it the other day. Some tall guy named Pearce.”

Dudley didn’t say anything. He just poked and prodded at his sandwich like it was a foreign specimen. Naya suddenly felt bad, like she had just taken the effort to pull out all the stitches his wounds. She told herself that this stuff didn’t matter, but it did, because it still bothered him, and for as long as he was still bothered, it mattered. She knew she couldn’t do much to help, being suspended in the middle of him and her friends, but she wanted to reassure him that she was someone he could trust, even when she gave the time of day to people who couldn’t do the same to him.

“You know, I never cheated on her,” Dudley scratched his neck. “I just know I didn’t. I couldn’t prove otherwise, though. That was the problem. I couldn’t prove anything, so I was screwed the second the news came out.” He shrugged. Not once did he look up at Naya. “Now she’s dating Pearce Wilson, top-tier douchebag. Fuck. It’s crazy how some things happen, right?”

“I don’t know if it’s that serious,” Naya tried diluting the tension in the air. “I think it was probably one date. I wouldn’t worry too much.”

“Do I look worried to you?” He snapped. He didn’t - he looked restless, though. Like something was hounding him underneath his skull, tugging at the base of his ribs. She had switched a bad switch on, and she knew it.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up.” She said quietly. The one way to tell how stressed he was was to watch him throw a knee-jerk rebuttal to the proclamation of his shifted mood. He could never truly admit to being tormented by anything. He didn’t need the scrutiny that came along with it, though it appeared now that there seemed to be more scrutiny in his efforts to hide. His feelings were leaking through, and he was afraid that the truth would, also.

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