Julian had run. He paused in the hallway outside Melanie's room to catch his breath. He leaned against the door and watched his glasses fog with steam. He took them off. He decided to leave them off since the light inside was tolerable.

He knocked.

Then it occurred to him that the girl might be attended… though no one came.

He grasped the doorknob, turned it silently. He stepped inside and froze. Melanie was there. She was sitting by the window calmly, placidly. She did not stir.

Julian closed the door behind him—again as soundlessly as possible—and took up a position at the foot of her bed. He could see three-fourths of her face from where he sat. He watched; she stared.

The light, as it fell on her immutable expression, lent her skin an almost opalescent luster, quite incongruous, since it belied the awful blankness in Melanie's eyes. She looked estranged, though her gaze was tranquil. She appeared to be at peace, yet Julian found her state decidedly offensive. The spark that once ignited the girl's intelligence was doubtlessly out.

He grew impatient.

It was boring, this insentience. He wanted to shake her, to wake her up. He wanted to apologize for his callousness, make amends. But how could he? He fumbled for his glasses. Slipping from his pocket, they fell to the floor.

A familiar sensation then gripped him. His thumbs began to twitch, his eyelids to flutter.

 

wind breathing soft gentle meadowscents and meadowcolors walking (touch me touch me) passing through the air   molecules of air   pulsebeat footfall time adrift (she)…

 

Melanie suddenly turned in her chair (like a magnet to its pole) and looked, with a fleeting recognition, at Julian's face.

The door opened.

"You! Out!"

Sister Dana rushed between them, mantling Melanie's body with her outstretched shawl.

"You've done enough already, Mister Julian Papp. Leave us alone. Get out. Get out!"

Julian, stunned and disoriented, staggered as he stood. The meadow? Melanie? Sister Dana? He escaped the room, careening down the hallway as he ran.

 

 

Without his glasses Julian's flight to the woods was a torturous ordeal. He literally groped his way, using his hand as a sunshield, often falling. He slowed his pace.

Had he experienced his aura without a seizure? Yes... except it was different; Melanie was there. Which seemed impossible. Yet he had seen her. And she had seen him.

He spun around and headed back.

He had to talk to her—immediately—while things were vivid in his mind, while he still could envision his meadow with Melanie in it.

 

 

How much time had elapsed since he had stood where he now was standing, Julian could not tell. He knocked, barely waited, then barged on in—to an empty room. His spontaneous momentum stalled and died. He felt defeated. He felt exposed. An utter fool.

Despondent, he sat down on the bed. What was he doing there? Who was he trying to confront—some spacey, frog-haired teenager—or himself? And what had he to do with this 'child' in the first place?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. He had 'dreamed,' was all, merely suffered a nightmare—which seemed to have some basis in reality. So what? He seemed to have an affinity for this girl—but only as an element in The Game... which was likewise imaginary, of course, a mere invention on his part to pass the time, to stave off the boredom of an Everyday grown chronically inane. He thought about the schizophrenic games he had played at the cabin, how danger lay in losing one's objectivity. Was that what he had done? Had he acted rashly? Should he sweep his arm across the board and start afresh. Or would it not be better simply to resign?

He looked around at Melanie's room, glad she was not there. Still catatonic, she could only serve to remind him of his blunder. Except she had surfaced… for a moment, anyway. He was certain she had recognized him. And he had seen, or sensed… what? His meadow? Had she really been there? After, or before, or was it during? No; impossible. Auras were "the preambles of seizures," mere "symptoms" of a condition known as epilepsy. The facts were irrefutable. Why persist in doubting them? What foolish impulse made him think, even for a second, that his meadow could be shared with someone else?

He saw his glasses. Sister Dana must have found them, for they were now on the dresser. He got up to retrieve them. They lay on a book—the kind that has nothing but empty pages bound inside. He opened its cover and idly read, My name is Marcy. I don't know how I got here but here I am. With a twinge of interest in the unfinished Game, he mentally reexamined its position. If a winning move was to be found, he needed more evidence. Without a qualm, he stuffed the journal under his jacket. He crossed to the door, checked the hallway—all clear—and quickly left.

Chances for a clear-cut win looked promising.

 

 

 

 

Anticipating Julian would come back for his dark glasses, Sister Dana had taken Melanie for a nice long stroll. She had seen the look the two had exchanged. She had not understood it, but it had scared her. Whatever influence Julian had was stronger than her own. The girl had nearly torn away, nearly risen from her trance, as though abducted by some vile, perverse seducer. But she had acted quickly and her ward was safe and sound—though as they reentered Melanie's room the girl behaved strangely.

"Not again."

"What, Marcy?"

"How long has it been this time?"

"What, since we left for our walk?"

Melanie tried to think. She could never seem to reconstruct the order, as if like playing cards, her memories all got shuffled. She knew she had paid a visit to the Miniature Man—a rather long one. And Julian was prominent, before maybe, or after. Not much else was clear.

"Take off your coat, my sweet. Lie down and rest."

The nun could sense her patient struggling to recall. Would she remember her name, the surname she had written on the windowpane? Certainly, supplied with that, the authorities could trace her. Parents would be found. They would come. And Melanie would go away… forever. The nun hung up their coats inside the closet. Melanie sprawled on the bed.

"Oh!"

"What?"

"Julian."

"What about him?"

She sat back up.

"He was in here just before I screamed."

The essay sprang to mind. She checked her desk.

"Did you see a piece of notebook paper anywhere? It had a composition written on it."

"I put all your school things in that drawer."

Melanie pulled open the top left drawer.

"Find it?"

The last word veritably jumped up from the page. She read: raped... smelled it, tasted it, knew its horrid sights and sounds and sensations... and, finally, she accepted it as true.

Bit by bit more details rematerialized: Julian telling her about his dream; the image that matched her own; the van; the wash; the terrifying faces of that brutalizing night; and Benjamin—protecting her from the traumas of her past.

The plastic chess set rested on her desktop. A pawn lay broken. Beside it lay a tiny tube of glue. Sister Dana moved behind the girl, sensing her reverie's import. She braced her patient's shoulders with nervous hands.

"I'm sorry about the chess piece, sweet. I stepped on it by accident. I meant to mend it. See, Marcy?"

Melanie picked up the tube of glue. She opened it and squeezed. Had Benjamin called her by her christened name? A tear oozed out. He had. She pressed the pieces of the broken pawn together. Melanie… something. Slowly, like a photograph developing before her eyes, the memory of who she was appeared.

She set the pawn back on the board and turned to face Sister Dana.

"Why do you keep calling me Marcy?"

The nun faltered.

"I… hadn't realized. Have I been?"

Melanie suddenly remembered that not only had she heard her name, she had written it. Where? On the window, in the frost, in Sister Dana's presence.

"What's my name?"

The question was more like a challenge. It had the tone of an accusation.

"It's Melanie. I forgot, that's all. Marcy—Melanie, the names are very sim…"

"I mean, my last name."

There was no mistaking her tone now; Melanie was bristling with indignation. The poisoned pawn. The warning. Sister Dana.

"But, Marcy, I…"

"Melanie. My name is Melanie. Melanie Chamberlain! And you knew it! And you didn't tell me!"

"Melanie, I'm sorry. I didn't—I wanted—I mean, I wasn't sure that you were ready. I wanted to…"

"You wanted to keep me here forever. For yourself!"

"Oh, no! I love you!"

She tried to soothe the girl, to hug her. But Melanie squirmed from her embrace and backed away, her eyes keen with mistrust.

The nun felt stabbed by Melanie's look, impaled. She dropped to her knees. She bowed her head, unable to face her beloved's outrage.

"Please forgive me!" She began to sob. Her body trembled. She was abject in her suffering. "Please don't hate me, Melanie. Don't hate me; I couldn't bear it."

Her sobs redoubled.

Melanie, repelled at first by Sister Dana's vehemence, grew embarrassed, then compassionate. As the poor nun's tears continued, she took a step toward her.

"I don't hate you, Sister Dana."

"Yes you do. And I deserve it. I've been selfish, and it's true; I wanted you to stay here, Melanie. I wanted you to be my friend."

The girl stepped closer. She reached her hand toward the kneeling woman, touched her wimple.

"But we are friends."

The nun looked up at her.

"Do you mean that you forgive me?"

Her eyes implored with such humility that Melanie again found herself embarrassed.

"Uh huh. Sure I do."

Sister Dana exhaled with a peculiar little whimper. She got to her feet. She kept her head bowed, trying to avoid the young girl's eyes.

"May I… May I hold you?"

Melanie stiffened slightly, but did not shy away; this the nun interpreted as consent. Tentatively, then firmly, she gave the girl a heartfelt squeeze.

"You are a saint, Melanie. Thank you."

They parted. Melanie moved to her dresser—relieved that she and the nun would still be friends—and excited that this very day—Wednesday, November 12th, at 9:15 A.M.—could mark the last and final entry in her journal.

She rummaged through her things.

"What are you looking for?"

"My journal."

"It's on your… It was, I mean."

"Where?"

"On top of your dresser. I set it there myself."

"Well it isn't here now."

"I see that. And neither are Julian's glasses!"

 

The library...

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