Year Nine by Kumari Pacheco

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It all began with a bike lock, wrapped around the neck of a tree. Mind you, this was not just any old thing. It held secrets beyond comprehension, beyond simple understanding. It harbored the promise of a reality that could be lined with the greatest light, or saturated with grief and loss, for whoever would free it of its perch.

For days, it went by unnoticed, ignored completely by many a passerby, people who were too preoccupied with their activities to even give it a second glance. Perhaps they were the lucky ones. Next up the sidewalk came a woman with a young girl, who was aged nine. The girl’s name was Amy Schmitt. She was a pale child, thin and short, with cropped brown hair and mouse-like features. Her eyes held a distracted, vindictive look as she trotted alongside the tall frail-boned woman with blotched skin and florid arms and legs. The two could have been mistaken for mother and daughter, but they were not, at least not in Amy’s eyes. The woman, whose name was Megan, was actually Amy’s stepmother. The two were always at odds for one reason or another, and today was no different. Anyone walking by could feel the crackle of tension bouncing between the two as they walked. It was for this reason, Amy sought for other things to hold her attention, that, and the diagnosis of ADHD she had received years ago. Her brown eyes delved into the park’s landscape, sliding down the dimples and slopes that made up the small golf course to her right. Next, her gaze skirted the greenish liquid of the lake, before finally coming to rest on a single, lonely tree. Its branches were fully leafed with green, its bark swirled with rings of age. And from one of its limbs, hung a bike cord.

Amy Schmitt was not an ordinary child. Ordinary children didn’t find themselves curious about bike locks hanging from trees, at least not enough to want it for themselves. But this is exactly what Amy wanted. Her eyes took on a hungry color as she stared at bike cord, curiosity etched across her face. Megan seemed to sense her sudden change in attitude, and her eyes snapped to her step-daughter, then followed her line of vision to the bike cord. “Amy, don’t you think about it.”

The girl blinked and turned to look at her. “Why? It’s just sitting there. It doesn’t belong to anybody.”

“Because I don’t want you getting in the habit of picking up garbage wherever you see it.”

Amy pursed her lips, eyes flashing with challenge, but she knew better than to argue. After all, why bother when there so many ways of evading her orders? Amy stopped and dropped onto one knee, hurriedly untying her shoelace before proclaiming, “Wait, I have to tie my shoes!”

Megan glanced over her shoulder before turning back forward. “Just hurry up. I won’t have walked that far.”

Amy grinned as the woman ventured farther and farther. She had been counting on her stepmother’s indifference. She waited until Megan was a few more steps away before jumping to her feet. She then dashed to the tree, and grabbed hold of the cord, yanking it. The tree shook with protest, but eventually, it gave way. Amy casted a nervous glance at Megan before tucking the cord into the small pack hanging from her shoulders. With a smirk of pride, the girl then capered back to Megan’s side, humming jollily and fighting to keep the grin of triumph off her face.

Once the two arrived home, Amy immediately leaped up the stairs and ran into her room. Without missing a beat, the girl reached a hand in her bag and pulled out the bike cord. She smiled in satisfaction, basking in the glory of deception. In her world of loneliness and stagnant dreams, fooling her stepmother was the only joy she ever got. Amy frowned slightly as she turned the cord over in her fingers. It looked old. Amy sniffed, then shrugged, tossing it across her room and onto the pile of things that sat near her desk. It was a random assortment, with stuff that ranged from broken watches to scratched picture frames. Her room had a certain likeness to the heap. There were boxes full of things everywhere, books scattered across the floor, clothes draped over the desk and bed. Not an inch of the floor could be seen, and it had been this way for so long that Amy herself had forgotten what the color of her rug was. Ever since she was old enough to form thoughts, she had vowed never to throw anything away, fearing she might accidently discard a remnant of her past, of her birth parents. Megan refused to talk about them besides when and how they had died, which wasn’t the most heart-warming information. She wanted to know what they were like, what they liked to do, and who they spoke to. Shaking her head, Amy plopped down on her bed and stared at the ceiling. However, she soon began to fidget, her eyes darting to the bicycle cord that lay atop the pile of trinkets. A sudden feeling gripped her, one that wasn’t unfamiliar. She often had these urges to get up and do something, to inspect something or look at something. However, this time, the urge was much stronger, and it was focused directly on the bike lock. Amy slowly rose to her feet and tottered her way through the minefield of things in her room. She picked up the bike cord and tilted her head at it. Hesitantly, she flipped around a couple numbers, so that the number row read 2673. Instantly she was entranced. She swapped more numbers around, growing more obsessed by the second. A satisfactory click followed each switch of numbers, and she went faster. Click click click. Then there was a creak on the stairs. Amy immediately froze, a rabbit cowering in the presence of a wolf. Then, she bolted onto her bed, rolling herself in the thin blanket and shoving the cord beneath her pillow. She should have been asleep by now, but in her fascination, she had lost track of time. The door flew open. Silence followed. Footsteps. Amy squeezed her eyes shut, trying to keep her body from quivering in fear. More silence. Then the footsteps receded, the light flicked off, and the door closed.

Amy sat up almost immediately, relaxing her bunched muscles. After her heart stopped racing, she reached over the side of her bed and pulled out a flashlight and a notebook. Clicking on the flashlight, she opened up the notebook, flipping past pages and pages of notes on other things that laid in the pile. She liked to write down everything she noticed about them, even make up the story of their origin sometimes.

The bicycle cord has a long, curly, thick, rubber wire with a small rectangle shaped metal cylinder in the middle. There is a little red sticker indicating where you line up the numbers for the combination. The numbers go up to nine. They flip in columns, so if you had one lined up with the sticker and you flipped it up, two would come and line up with the sticker. It looks old and rusty, and it has a little gold button on the opposite side to the red sticker.

Amy stopped writing.

“Why do I even care about this thing?” She whispered to herself.

It seemed ‘practical Amy’, as her stepmother had dubbed it, was making an appearance.

It was in these moments she questioned her priorities, and even her own sanity. How many nine-year old girls collected random things and hoarded them over the years as she did? That was something Megan said a lot. Amy snorted, and pushed thought of her stepmother to the back of her mind. She had to think for herself, stay strong against the suppressing force that was Megan. However much Amy liked to claim that she was alone in the world, that wasn’t true. Her only friend was a stray cat named Misitu. He had been there ever since Amy was old enough to go outside on her own. She still remembered the day they had forged a pact in trust, that they would help one another, keep the other company, and walk by each other’s side as equals. As crazy as it sounded, no one seemed to understand Amy as well as Misitu did. Suddenly, Amy yawned. A wave of sleepiness hit her and she let the notebook slip off the edge of her bed, turning to place her head in the pillow. The flashlight clicked off and silence ensued. She fell asleep thinking of the bike cord she had found in the park.

“Amy!”

Amy flinched and stared at the teacher blankly. Kids snickered around her, reminding her of where she was. Berch Elementary School, the place where she was loathed by all, despite her best efforts. Amy raised her hand, but still stared into space. The teacher continued with attendance.

Amy had no friends, at least not human ones. There was always Misitu, but Amy knew having a cat as a best friend was weird. According to Audrey Fuse, Amy was weird, painfully so. But Amy didn’t care what she thought, or what anyone else thought for that matter. To her, the world was an ugly place, with an even uglier center, named Amy Schmitt. She had to admit though, some things in this world were good. Like Steven Ramirez. An olive-skinned boy with clean-cut features and hazel eyes. He was a nice boy, at least this is what she observed from distance. He was at the top of the hierarchy, the 4th grade food chain. And yet, somehow, he didn’t seem as stuck-up or pompous as her other classmates. But who was she kidding? Steven didn’t know Amy even existed. On top of that, everyone knew that Audrey liked him. Poor Amy didn’t have a chance against blond haired, blue eyed, popular Audrey.

The brown-haired girl made her way past the jostling kids streaming through the halls, sighing every time she was shoved. As usual she was late for class, that is, if she even showed up at all. She meandered down the corridor as the other kids steadily trickled into their classrooms, until there was no one left. Suddenly she was pushed up against the lockers by two pairs of hands. There she was, the bane of Amy’s existence, Audrey Fuse. Holding her up against the lockers though, was Rachel Scott and Jody Lai, Audrey’s minions, who always did her dirty work for her. Amy struggled, but they weren’t Audrey’s bruisers for nothing. The blonde menace smirked at Amy’s helplessness, but Amy had too much dignity to accept ridicule silently.

“Shouldn’t you be in class Audrey?”

“You shouldn’t be the one to talk, Ms. Skipping School.”

“You know that I don’t care about grades or class, or did that info just go through one pretty ear and out the other?” Amy sneered.

Audrey made an expression close to a snarl. “Search her.”

And so, Amy was held still as her lunch money was emptied from her pockets and the contents of her backpack were spilled onto the floor. Then, the bike lock thudded onto the ground.

Audrey narrowed her eyes, snatching it from the floor and holding it with a look of disgust on her face. “What in the world are you doing with this?” She muttered, glancing at Amy with a devious smirk. “Weirdo.”

“Give it back!” Amy blurted without thinking.

Audrey grinned, seeing how much the odd trinket meant to the other girl. “Nah, I think I’ll keep it.”

“No, stop it!” Amy watched helplessly as her nemesis stuffed the bike cord into her backpack.

“Thanks Amy!” Audrey said sweetly, before turning and going down the hall. Jody and Betsy released Amy and followed, laughing. Amy slumped, staring at the floor. She had to get it back. However, she would have to wait. She already knew that telling a teacher would do nothing but bring up questions about her own negative track record, so she would have to do this alone. She would get it back. Amy closed her hand into a fist. No matter what.

“Misitu, are you sure this is a good idea?” Amy muttered as she darted down the street. The sun had already sunk behind the houses, shedding a dim yellow upon the pristine neighborhood. Misitu meowed and brushed against her leg, gray tail curling. With a sigh, Amy ventured forth, approaching a tall white house. It was Audrey’s house, which Amy’s entire grade had visited for her sixth birthday. Sure, it had been a long time ago, but Amy still remembered the embarrassments that day had held for her. Nevertheless, if she had not attended, she wouldn’t have known where Audrey lived, nor where her room was located. And she would need that information for the heist she had in mind. Amy narrowed her eyes and looked up the side of the pale building, painted yellow by the fading sunlight. She felt like a burglar, mind and body dressed in black, but she had promised herself, she would not let that deter her.

“How are we supposed to get in?” The girl asked Misitu, looking for any type of way up. She could see the wooden balcony of Audrey’s room up above, silhouetted against the darkening sky.

Misitu licked his paw indifferently, then stretched and walked over to a tree. After dragging his claws against the tough bark for a moment, he began climbing it.

Amy nodded, smirking. “Clever.”

Taking hold of a low branch, she began climbing up the tree after Misitu. The cat was already at the top, and leapt off onto the balcony silently. By the time Amy pulled herself onto it Misitu had begun to clean himself.

“You don’t have to brag,” Amy huffed but smiled.

Misitu was a lot like her. With a nervous swallow, Amy tiptoed to the door and twisted the knob. It was locked. Amy grimaced. But luckily she had brought a backup. She reached into her pocket and brought out a paper clip. It seemed dumb, but Amy had spent hours one night researching how to pick locks. She knew it was a useful skill, and that she would most likely need it in the future. Boy, was she right. Unbending it, she put the clip in the keyhole. Struggling, she twisted it this way and that. Finally there was a satisfying click. With all the tenderness in the world, Amy turned the doorknob and eased the door open. To her horror there was a dismal creak at the movement. Somewhere in the darkness Amy heard the sound of shifting. She froze. The small-framed girl stood there for several minutes until finally she decided it was safe, which is when she bent down and crawled inside on her knees. She glanced back at the gray cat, Misitu, but he was sitting by the door bathing himself.

“You lazy cat,” Amy muttered good-naturedly, despite the fact that she did not want to proceed alone.

She stopped mid-crawl and blinked, waiting for her eyes to adjust to her surroundings. Slowly, the black mounds of shape around her morphed into furniture. Amy heard a soft rustle, and glanced to her left. There she was, Queen Audrey, sleeping in her queen-sized bed. Amy glared at her sleeping form, then she continued crawling, her eyes peering through the gloom in search of what was hers. There it was! On the dresser, right in front of Amy, was the bike cord. However, it looked like Audrey had been messing with it. All the numbers were lined up on one. Amy rose up and snatched the bike lock, then turned to head back. Suddenly there were footsteps. Amy’s heart shot up her throat. With a desperate lunge, she scrambled out the room and closed the door behind her. Picking up Misitu, who protested with an irritated meow, she pressed herself against the wall, out of view of the room. Just then the balcony door opened. A woman stuck her head out, green eyes narrowed and forehead creased with worry. She didn’t step outside, simply swept the front of the balcony with her eyes before returning inside. Amy stood there, rigid, for a few minutes, before relaxing and letting Misitu down. The cat stretched and lazily clambered back into the tree. Amy glanced at her hand and smiled at the bike cord that was pressed in it, then followed.

An hour later, Amy was back in her room. She and Misitu had parted ways a block from her house, and she had proceeded to climb back inside through her window. After drawing the blinds, the girl sat on her bed and looked at the bike lock in her hands. She kept telling herself she had performed that risky endeavor to get back something that belonged to her, but the truth was, it was more than that. Something about this item intrigued her. Her eyes studied the thing meticulously. The numbers were still lined up as one. Amy then began to inspect other elements of the cord, pressing and twisting the screws that were embedded in the sides, uncoiling the cord and watching as it would bounce back into a curl. Then, her fingers pushed on a gold button on the side of the numbers, experimentally. Immediately light flashed from the numbers, blinding her with such a ferocity, Amy cried out. She dropped the bike cord, rubbing her eyes, and when she opened them, she saw the world folding in on itself, creasing and pulling her into the crevices. There was no time to scream. Her vision seemed to shrink around her until it was nothing but a speck of light, which finally winked out.

With a rush of sound and light, Amy was brought back into the world. Blinking, she looked at her surroundings. She was in a small car, in the passenger seat. To her right was a tight-lipped woman with dyed black hair and solemn blue eyes. Amy drew in a shaky breath, heart pulsing with cold. A babble from the backseat attracted her attention, and she turned to see a cradle fastened down firmly by two seatbelts. A baby was inside the cradle, brown eyes staring at her with curiosity. A swirl of thin brown hair covered the baby’s head. Amy then gazed back at the woman. She seemed not to have taken notice of her, instead muttering to herself.

“I should be happy…this baby is all I’ve wanted. Even if John doesn’t want her, I do.” She trailed off and licked her lips, pain blossoming in her gaze.

Amy finally managed to utter a few words. “W-who are you?”

She was met with silence. Panic set in.

“Where am I? Who are you?” Amy repeated, voice cracking.

Still, the woman did not reply, nor did she even look her way.

“Say something!” Amy screamed, reaching out to yank on the woman’s sleeve.

To her utter shock, her fingers went through the cloth, rippling the woman’s image like a pond.

“What?” Amy breathed, trembling in fear and confusion. “Megan? Misitu?” Her voice simmered down to a whimper, recoiling from the woman with wide eyes. The baby began to cry from the backseat.

The woman smiled and casted a fond gaze at the backseat. “Don’t worry, Amy. We’re almost home.”

Amy froze. Suddenly, things began to take form. The baby’s hair, her eyes, her name, all the same. The baby, presumably about one year old, the woman, whose face was long lost to her but still shallowly imprinted on her mind.

“M-Mom?”

Suddenly there was the screech of tires. The woman’s eyes widened and her hands swerved the wheel sharply to the right. Amy barely had time to scream. A red truck rammed into the side of the car, Amy’s world went upside down and the shriek of metal hitting metal filled the air. The movement stopped. There was the hiss of escaping gas. A baby screamed, frantic voices called out to one another. There was not a peep from the woman at the wheel. Then darkness.

The next thing Amy knew, she was on the ground. Her hands were fastened to her legs, her body stiff and throbbing in fear. Her mind reeled. What just happened? The bike cord lay on the floor a few inches from her foot. Amy scrambled away, diving onto her bed and staring at it with wide eyes. It was that thing! It made that happen. But…how?

She stayed there, frightened out of her wits, then turned, curling herself up in the covers. This has to be a dream, just has to be. Just a bad dream. And with those thoughts spiraling in her head, the young girl dozed off, exhausted by the day’s events.

When Amy next woke, her room was washed with warm sunlight. She sat up, running a hand through her disheveled hair, and almost immediately casted a glance towards the bike cord. It seemed to call her, beckon her, saying, I dare you. Slowly, Amy stepped towards it. She picked it up, tentative, hesitant. The numbers were still lined up at one. She raised a finger, moved it towards the gold button. A nervous swallow. She pressed it. Moments passed, nothing. She pushed it again. Still nothing. She wasn’t sure if she should be disappointed or relieved.

“I must have been imagining things,” She mumbled to herself, as if to convince herself of that fact. With a half-hearted shrug, she stuffed the cord into her book bag, afraid her stepmother might go through her room and throw away all the ‘garbage’ she found, and got ready for school.

“You little rat!”

Amy stopped and turned around, ignoring the looks she got from the passing schoolchildren. She had seen it coming. That’s why she had come prepared with an excuse, and a new hiding place in her backpack for the bike cord. She wasn’t letting Audrey take it again.

“What are you talking about?”

Audrey bared her teeth like an angry dog. “I know it was you! I could sue you for robbing me of that stupid bike cord!”

Amy blinked. “What proof did you say you had again?”

The other girl’s face turned red in anger. “You, you little…” She then turned to her friends, who stood nearby, silent. “Don’t just stand there! Do something, you dorks!” The two flinched at Audrey’s tone and immediately rounded on Amy, who promptly took off. She may not have been an athlete, but she could sure beat those two dunderheads by a mile. Amy streaked down the hallway, dodging clusters of students who went along. However, she was so busy looking behind her shoulder that she didn’t notice Steven crossing her path. With a painful smack, she slammed right into him. The two tumbled to the ground, her with a yelp, him with a grunt. Amy looked up and felt her heart sink as she realized who she had toppled.

“I-I’m sorry.” She breathed, so nervous that the words couldn’t even be heard. Not knowing what else to do, she leaped to her feet and sped down the corridor.

Steven raised his head with a groan, eyes narrowed. “Watch where you’re going!”

Amy felt embarrassment fill her as she shoved past the kids and out the school doors. The good thing about going to Berch Elementary was that no one cared if you came or went. There were so many kids to account for, the staff didn’t bother to account for any of them. And so, Amy was free to go to her favorite place in the world, her hideout.

Amy’s pace slackened as she neared the copse of pine trees about fifty yards from the school house. Taking the time to actually breathe and process what had just occurred, she cursed and slammed a hand against her forehead.

“Idiot! That was Steven you ran over! Now he’ll never talk to me again…”

With a sigh, she slipped between the trees. Sun filtered through the branches, casting stripes on her skin and clothes. Before her was a single hill, green and pure. In the side of it was a small cave, made of dirt and stone. Amy ascended the slope and went inside, setting her things down on the makeshift table she had made, a slab of stone. She came here often, whenever she wanted to get away from school or Megan, or Audrey. Birds chirped quietly outside and a nice breeze brushed through the cave. Amy closed her eyes and breathed in and out, to calm her nerves. Then a familiar twitch returned. She opened on eye. Peeking out of her backpack was the bike cord. She pressed her lips together, then sighed and reached for it. Pulling it out, she inspected it with an almost suspicious gaze.

“What are you hiding?” She asked it, not caring if she sounded crazy or not.

She pressed the golden button again, to no avail. Then she blinked. Slowly, her fingers rolled all the numbers until the row read 2222. Her finger against reached for the button. The second it was pressed, the cave melted around her and she was thrusted into pure darkness.

Amy was enveloped in light. The world was bleached and everything was a bright, sterilized white. Then, the color bloomed, and she found herself in a hospital room. A man laid on the bed, hooked up to five machines, skin pallid and grey, chest barely rising and falling. His head was shaved, but Amy still knew who he was. She had seen pictures of him.

“Dad.”

The name felt weird on her tongue, but her heart still clenched at the sight of her dying father. A woman kneeled beside the hospital bed, face buried in his stomach, sobs wracking her shoulders.

“Megan.”

And beside her, on the floor, was a cradle, with a baby inside, whose eyes were once again focused on Amy. Can…can she see me? Amy was broken out of her thoughts as the heart-wrenching beep filled the air. Doctors stood by, with a knowing sadness in their eyes. Amy’s eyes blurred with tears and just like that the world dissolved, and she was back in the cave. Her hands were once again clamped on her thighs, the bike cord on the ground. Amy drew in a shaky breath. She knew she wasn’t crazy! This was real, this was reality. She had a time machine.

“In and out, ten minutes,” Amy told herself.

She tossed her handy dandy paperclip – which was now bent to fit the lock of the front door – to the side and rubbed her hands together.

Her stepmom thought she was at school, so it was all clear. Still, she didn’t know when she would return, so her best bet was to be quick. Amy grabbed the largest backpack she owned. In it, she stuffed two bags of chips, several water bottles, matches, a flashlight, extra pairs of socks, blankets, a pillow, hair brush, tooth brush, her fully-charged phone, and a picture of her dad she stole from her stepmom’s room. Amy slipped on two sweaters and a raincoat, because she could now hear the patter of rain outside. With that, she walked out the door, hood drawn over her head and hands cupped around her mouth. “Misitu! Misitu!”

She hoped the gray cat could hear her; she didn’t have time to wait for him. Just as she reached the end of the neighborhood, she heard a meow and saw a pathetic-looking and soaked Misitu beside her. With a good-natured laugh, she picked him up and put him up her coat. The cat purred and poked his head out the top. Thunder roared overhead, and the sky was frequently split by daggers of purple lightning. Quickening her pace, Amy trotted past the school and towards the woods. Amy knew very well where she would stay, and she knew the discomfort she was going to meet on the way there. The soft ground she had encountered earlier that day was now marsh. She grimaced at the squish squash of her feet as they trudged through the muck. When she made it across, her shoes were soaked. That’s one thing she had forgotten. Extra shoes. Rain beat down on Amy and Misitu and they hurried into the cave. Amy set about organizing her new home, setting the food out on the rock table and laying out the blankets and pillows in a dry corner. Misitu meowed and brushed past her leg. Amy stroked his flank and smiled, then sat on her blanket. The cat curled up beside her, and she reached to yank the bike lock out of her backpack. She held it in her hands for several moments, doing her best to grasp the reality of it. This bike cord had taken her back in time twice. The numbers, as far as she could tell, correlated with the years of her life. One and two had already been visited, and, seeing how her attempts at revisiting Year One had failed, it seemed she could only visit each once. Amy narrowed her eyes. In the visitations, no person could hear, see, or touch her, except Baby Amy, but Amy herself could touch inanimate objects. Amy’s eyes glossed over the nine numbers in the columns and she nodded. She would do all nine now. There was no telling when her stepmother would find out she was missing and send the cops out after her. It was now or never. Amy scrolled the numbers to three and closed her eyes. Her finger hit the button and she was gone.

When Amy next opened her eyes, she is in a familiar room. The living room, the place where she had been not an hour ago. However, boxes laid piled against the walls, furniture messily placed. Amy flinched as she hears the cry of a baby. Snapping her keen brown gaze to her right, she recognized baby Amy’s cradle. Inside laid the child herself, fussing and crying even harder as Amy neared. Amy heard footsteps coming from the kitchen, and suddenly, she was reminded of what Megan would tell her whenever she asked what was for dinner.

“Make yourself something, you’re a big girl. I won’t feed someone who won’t appreciate it.”

Amy had always been confused by this statement, because she never seemed able to scrape up a shred of memory that might justify her stepmom’s coldness. However, suddenly, is comes to her. Rushing over to the cradle, Amy hovered over it. Then she covered her face with her hands, before revealing it with a playful smile. Baby Amy laughed and cooed at the show of peek-a-boo. The noises from the kitchen ceased and footsteps came near. Amy quickly dived behind the bookshelf, eyes peering over the side. Megan appeared, jar and spoon in hand. She knelt beside the cradle and tentatively raised a spoonful of mush to the baby’s face. Baby Amy, already in a good mood, happily opened her mouth and swallowed the stuff whole. A smile of relief lit upon Megan’s face, and something close to happiness glittered in her eyes. Then Megan and the baby eroded into dust and melted to black, and the green and brown as the cave returned.

Amy shook out of her daze and looked around. Misitu was still asleep, purring. The bike cord was in Amy’s hand. Smiling, the girl reached over to grab a bag of Classic Lays. She tore open the seam and popped a few into her mouth, smiling at its crisp, salty, taste. After quickly finishing the bag, she wiped her mouth and arranged the numbers to 4444. The button was pushed and darkness descended.

Amy blinked and was in her old house again. She bit her lip, thinking. What was something memorable that had happened to her when she was four years old? With a nod of recognition, she recalled what had occurred. The time she burnt herself horribly, because of messing with a candle. She remembered she had been running through the house with a flaming candle, and had tripped. The wax dripped onto her arm, resulting in a nasty burn. Instinctively, her eyes flitted to the still not fully-healed burn mark on her wrist. The pale flesh seemed to glint in the moonlight. She looked back up and took a few steps forward, eyes scanning the room for the candle. She saw it resting on the small table in front of the couch. Deftly, she sidled up to it and blew it out with a puff of breath. Just like that, the world spiraled into nothingness, and she was back in the cave. Amy quickly rolled up her sleeve and grinned as she saw the scar gone.

“This is easy!” She remarked, glancing over as Misitu raised his head with a yawn.

“Sorry.” Amy mumbled, before flipping the row into fives. “Next up!”

Year Five was of the time she had gotten her first and only pet, a fish which she named Em. As she watched from behind the bed post as Megan gave Young Amy the fish, Amy noticed something she hadn’t before. There was a silent joy in Megan’s eyes, a secret satisfaction at seeing her step-daughter happy. Amy returned from Year Five with a smile on her face. As much as it was hard to believe, it seemed Megan did care for her. She suddenly felt a new respect for Megan, a new emotion that was close to gratitude.

Year Six was of Audrey’s Birthday Party. Amy crept through the neatly trimmed shrubs as the kids played outside. She spotted herself standing on her own, looking aloof. With a sigh, Amy slipped inside Audrey’s house and extracted a doll from her room. Acting quickly, she wrapped it in some paper, taped it as neatly as he could, signed it with her initials, and then set it on the gift table. Audrey was much too dumb to notice the difference, Amy just hoped the change would make a positive difference in her standing with her peers. When Amy returned from Year Six, she heard a buzz on her phone. She looked to see Audrey’s name on the Caller ID. Her heart seemed to stop beating, her eyes widening at the friendly message: Where you at, Amy? No one has seen you since lunch!

It seemed the whole fiasco that had happened in the hallway was gone, an echo of a reality dismantled. What did that mean for her? Was she truly accepted into the higher ranks of her grade?

Year Seven was a memory that Amy didn’t even recognize. She was at school, in Mrs. Shubert’s class. Amy quickly ducked behind the teacher’s desk, who was gone for some reason. She peeked out from behind it and saw a somewhat younger version of herself, surrounded by Audrey, Jody, and Rachel. They weren’t crowding her in an aggressive way, inversely, they were talking to her. Amy gaped. Had the past she already changed altered memories in the nearer future? Was she seeing a memory that she herself had fabricated without knowing it? Suddenly, a familiar olive-skinned boy sidled up to the four. Audrey, Jody, and Rachel shied away, smiling, but Young Amy simply looked up at Steven, brown eyes even. Amy blinked. Who was this girl? It wasn’t her, for sure. She was never this calm and collected, especially around Steven.

“Hey Amy.” Steven wore a sportive grin as he spoke, sitting in the seat beside her. “I was um, wondering if you wanted to go out for ice cream sometime.”

Amy could barely keep herself from squealing in delight, but Young Amy simply shrugged. “Sure.”

The memory swirled away and Amy found herself grasping at its corners, not wanting to let go.

Then, she was back in the cave. Happiness coursed through her veins, and she stretched, then reached down to pet Misitu’s back. Her hand was met with cold cave floor. A dagger of panic knifed through her and she looked down, then around the empty cave. “Misitu? Misitu!”

Worry knitted itself across her forehead as she got to her feet, still calling her friend’s name. Rain pounded down through the trees, and silence met her words. Misitu wouldn’t have left the cave if it was raining. Somehow, he was gone.

Then Amy’s phone rang. With wide eyes and shaking hands, the girl picked it up. It was from Audrey.

How’s Max? I knew he would be the right cat for you, better than that stray you used to hang with. You did the right thing by taking that thing to the pound.

Amy felt her world stop. Pound? She did not do that to Misitu, she couldn’t have. How could she have, when she had been in the cave the whole time? Then she remembered. There were several different versions of herself in the realm of time, one for every year, and perhaps every moment of her life. There was an Amy out there right now, living this new life she was crafting for herself. And it seemed this Amy was radically different than her. The girl shook her head, fear and pain seeping through her chest. She had vowed to never betray his trust. She had broken her promise. Her dear friend Misitu was gone. And it was all her fault. Amy sunk to her knees, eyes wide and welling up with tears. “This can’t be happening…Misitu!”

She screamed his name, voice hoarse and words half-hearted. How could any version of herself have done this? Frantically, Amy got to her feet and grabbed the bike cord. There had to be something she could do, some way to reverse this change. She lined the numbers up to Eight and pushed the button. The world flashed dark, and suddenly she was in her room. Footsteps sounded in the hall. Amy darted into the closet and pressed herself between the clothes, which were a lot girlier than she would have expected of herself. The door was slammed and Young Amy, wearing appallingly bright clothing, plopped onto the bed. The door suddenly opened, and through the small crack between the wall and the door, Amy saw Megan. She too, was different. She looked prim and small, eyes retaining a weakness she had never imagined to find in her stepmom’s eyes.

“Sweetie, I was just making a valid point…I never get to spend time with you anymore. You’re always out with Steven, or with your other friends, or on your phone, and –”

Young Amy sat up, brown eyes holding a savage humor in them. “Yeah so? They’re easier to talk to. Why should I have to sacrifice every second of my day to chat with you?”

Megan flinched at her words, hurt flashing in her eyes. “Amy, please.”

Young Amy stood, stalking over to the frail woman and jabbing a finger in her face. “You’re always blaming me for everything but who’s the one always at work, or on a date? You’re never home, so when do you even expect to talk?”

Megan narrowed her eyes. “Now that’s quite enough, you shouldn’t talk to your mother that way –”

But Young Amy wasn’t finished. “Well then I guess it’s a good thing you’re not my mother!”

The room fell silent, Amy trembled inside the closet, eyes wide. Despite her and her stepmom’s differences, she would never have expected such a thing to leave her own mouth. Megan’s lower lip quivered ever so lightly, pain and hurt blossoming in her eyes. Young Amy held her gaze evenly. Suddenly, Megan turned and fled down the hall. Unable to stop herself, Amy pushed open the door of the closet, racing after. She heard the startled “What the hell?” come from Young Amy but ignored it, racing after Megan.

“Please, wait!”

The woman ran out the house, snatching her car keys and pushing through the door. Amy could see tears glistening in her eyes. The woman opened the car door and sat in the driver’s seat, not even buckling herself in before turning it on.

“Wait!” Amy cried, slamming her hands on the car and staring through the window at her step-mother. However, as expected, the woman could not see her. The car revved and Amy was forced to step back as it took off down the street.

“Please…” Amy whispered, reaching out feebly before dropping her hand. Her head bowed. She had failed. The girl looked back up as there was the sound of a revving engine and frantic honking. Amy’s eyes widened as she saw her stepmother’s car collide with another, flipping past it and tumbling into someone’s yard.

“NO!” Amy began to run down the sidewalk, eyes blurring with tears. “Megan!”

People were already coming out their houses, eyes wide in shock as the two cars began to smoke.

“Megan!” Amy screamed as the road before her began to disintegrate into dust. “No! Not yet! Megan!”

Then the world caved in and Amy was back in her cave. Tears trickled down her face, and the bike cord was laying discarded against the far wall.

“No…” Amy whimpered, putting her head in her hands. What had she done? Now the two beings she loved most in the world were gone, because of her, because she tampered with time. Amy began to cry, tears trickling down her wrists and dripping to the ground. She wasn’t one to cry, but there in that cave, Amy Schmitt broke down into hysterical sobs. After minutes of this, she slowly raised her head. She reached for the bike lock, picked it up. Her teary eyes inspected it. Only Year Nine was left. Fear thudded in her heart. Should she do it? Should she see what horrors laid for her at the end of the road? Amy hesitated, fingers retracting. Then, her resolve hardened. What if there was a way to save Misitu and Megan? What if through some indistinct wormhole, she could change her changes? With a decisive nod, Amy scrolled the nines into place. Her finger moved to the golden button. She hesitated, then pressed it down firmly.

Amy found herself falling forward as the world shot up around her, coming up and over her head like a tent. Her face pressed into the rich green grass as the breath was knocked out of her. Then, she pushed herself up and looked around with wild eyes. This was the last one, the last year. What memory did this hold for her? Her breaths came in gasps of fear, a distraught look on her face. She was in a park. The sun smiled down upon her, spreading warmth across her skin. Her eyes searched the landscape desperately for any sign of what might transpire. Then two people came up a still far off hill. One woman and one little girl. A wave of shock billowed through her. She knew when she was. The day she had come upon the bike lock for the first time.

Amy’s eyes immediately darted to the left, where a familiar small tree sat. And from its neck, hung a bike lock. Amy felt joy fill her, a happiness like no other she had ever experienced. She could reverse it all. She could have Misitu and Megan back. Amy ran over to the tree and pulled on the cord. It was stiff, wrapped firmly around the trunk, refusing to budge. It seemed though she could touch and affect the cord, she could not move it from its spot. Then, Amy noticed something. The bike cord, it was unlocked. The lock and the part that went in it were separated. Amy held her breath as she picked up each end, inching them closer to one another. Then, there was a voice.

“Don’t do it Amy.”

It was her voice. Amy turned around, dropping the lock’s parts in her shock, and saw herself standing there. Same face, same hair, same eyes; the only difference was her outfit, a grotesque plaited skirt and tank top.

“Who are you?” Amy asked, dumbfounded.

“I’m you.” The girl replied simply. “The better you. The you you’re going to throw away if you do that.” Her eyes flicked to the bike lock.

“You don’t get it,” Amy blubbered, “Megan, Misitu, they die. They’re gone, because of what I did with this! I need to make it right.” Amy turned back to the lock.

“No! Don’t you realize what you’re doing? You’re erasing the perfect life you’ve created for yourself, a life with Steven, at the center of popularity, no pesky stepmother, no mangy cat.” The other Amy’s hand were outstretched in a beseeching way. “Don’t be stupid. You know I’m right. I’m you now, and this who you’ve always wanted to be.”

Amy blinked at the girl’s words, then let go of the bike lock and turned to face her. “You’re wrong. If you think that I would be satisfied with substituting Megan and Misitu for popularity and Steven, than you’re not me at all.”

And with that, Amy turned and slammed both pieces of the lock together. Light burst from the lock, engulfing both Amys.

“NO!” The newer Amy screamed, but then she split down the middle in light and dissolved into the air. Amy felt a chill run up her spine, cold and heat coursing through her body all at once. She looked over her shoulder, then realized there was no shoulder to look over. She was made of nothingness, and as the light rapidly consumed her body, she felt a sudden peace. Her eyes closed and she surrendered to the light, allowing it to devour her and crumple her into dust.

The Old Amy was gone by the time the new one looked over. Her eyes brightened in their mischievous way as she saw the bike cord fastened around the tree. She feigned the need to tie her shoe, waited for her stepmother to walk off, the rose to her feet and dashed to the tree. Her hands clutched at the bike lock’s cord and pulled, but it wouldn’t budge. With a pang of disappointment, she noticed it was locked. She growled in frustration, then retreated, joining her stepmother on the path.

From the trees, there were eyes watching. The gaze of a girl who was erased from a reality that had never even existed. As she watched herself cavorting around her stepmother, she used the last ounce of energy left in her formless vessel and whispered simple words. While the past is forever lost, the future remains to be molded. Use your years wisely.

 

   

  

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