So much had happened earlier in the day, that Max was almost too overwhelmed to care about her mom popping in for a surprise visit. She figured the trip from Seattle to Fresno would take a hurried driver around twelve hours. If you add in stops for gas, using the restroom, and grabbing a couple of bites to eat, one could easily spend fourteen or fifteen hours on the road. Her arrival must’ve been important, even urgent, for her to be there at that moment.
An older yet similar set of Max’s own blue eyes stared back into hers, alternating between the left and the right. A heavy silence fell between the mother-daughter pair after they joined each other in the living room.
“So,” Max began as she shifted her position, pulling her hand out from between her mom’s, “Arcadia Bay? What do you need to tell me?”
Gosh, I don’t really remember much. I was just a young teen then.
“Have you been taking your meds, sweetheart? You’re starting to act a little like you did before.”
“Actually, it’s funny you ask. I just stopped taking them today. Chloe said I should quit because…”
Before she could finish her thought she was interrupted. “Chloe?! Wait, when did you speak with Chloe?” Her voice slightly folded then cracked and seemed a bit more intense than previously. “You really need to take your pills; you have no idea how bad things were for you before.”
“The prisoner. The one I’m interviewing. Sh-She’s special, Mom. I don’t expect you to understand, but, someway, she knows me. I have to figure out how. Wait a minute,” the younger woman stood to her feet and turned to face her still-sitting mother who was looking back up at her. “What do you mean ‘how bad things were before’? Before when?”
Geez, ‘before’? What does that even mean?
Vanessa sighed. “We tried so hard to keep you safe. I suppose you’d eventually figure it out again, but… your dad,” she paused and stood from the couch, taking a few steps towards the opposite wall, her back now turned towards the interior of the room. “He… he thinks bad things are on the horizon. Your meds are very important, sweetie.” She looked over her shoulder then back down towards her feet.
“Mom, what are you keeping me safe from? Why the hell did you drive all this way? It doesn’t make any sense. Tell me. Please.” Max assertively marched over to her mother’s location and placed a palm on her nearest shoulder. She thought she heard a slightly muffled whimper so she withdrew her hand and stepped backwards a couple of paces to give the woman more space.
The older of the pair briskly swiveled around, the wet in her eyes shimmering with an extra gloss that wasn’t there previously. “Max, my sweet girl, we were keeping you safe from yourself.”
From… myself? What?
“But… wh-why… er, uhm. I just… I-I don’t… I don’t understand.” She was having a tough time articulating her thoughts, but she figured her point was understood at least.
Clutching both of her daughter’s hands, Vanessa pulled in close and locked eyes with her daughter once again. Max returned the gaze slightly squinted, still confused. “I’m so torn. The way you were after…” she swallowed hard then continued, “the incident. I just don’t know if you’re ready to open that door again. I guess we were hoping we could disguise your wound to the point of you not even knowing it was there. Your father and I don’t think it’s best for you to dig too deeply. No need to tear open old scars.”
“What the fuck, Mom! Stop speaking in riddles. Just tell me!”
“Fine. After she… died, you went completely numb. Your eyes were open but you couldn’t see. Hell, you rarely spoke to anyone. At least not for a while. You retreated to some far corner of your mind to be alone with your grief, I guess. It was sort of how you acted after William passed but magnified a thousand times. We assumed it was just your way of dealing with the pain of death. We didn’t even know you still cared about her, if I’m being honest. I mean, she was your best friend when you were kids, but you two hadn’t spoken in years. Then, after about a week, you started talking this crazy nonsense about going back in time…”
“Who is ‘she’? Chloe’s in prison, Mom, not d-dead.” A barely perceptible movement shook the room, but only for a second. Max moved her eyes from one side to the other, scanning the walls for the source. She looked towards her mother who apparently hadn’t heard nor felt what she had.
Vanessa cleared her throat and took in a deep and pronounced breath. She seemed to be preparing for something big, and her nervousness to open up to her daughter was clear. “It’s Chloe, Max. Chloe Price. She was murdered at Blackwell.”
Max’s breathing hitched and a series of tremors continued to shake and rumble the ceiling and walls.
…“As long as you’re my partner in time”…
“Fuuuuuck!” A deluge of soapy froth began pushing through the spaces between tremors filling the room and sending her to the floor. From her back, Max looked upward, only seeing what appeared to be a thick, filmy fog.
Immediately, the liquid-like substance took shape, forming into a countless number of tiny suds. She urgently attempted to push the bubbles away from her face, seeking a clear breath of air like she’d been buried underneath an avalanche. As she struggled to breathe, one bubble popped and the light previously contained inside, twisted around like a vortex of water, pulling Max inside. She forced her eyelids together tightly in response, out of reflex, and the world went black.
As quickly as she closed her eyes, she opened them again, finding herself lying in bed. The panic that she’d experienced moments ago vanished from her mind; just like the apartment she was in a split second before. The scents of chlorine, musty beer bottles, and cigarette smoke filled her nostrils and she felt a confident wave of happiness roll throughout her body. She slid her eyes upward and over, noticing an American flag casually ruffling in the breeze that was slowly drifting in through an open window.
Max swiveled her head to the opposite side and noticed she was waking up beside a blue haired girl in a bed she didn’t recognize.
Wait a minute. I can’t move.
Like watching a movie from a first-person point-of-view, the scene played out with Max experiencing everything but not controlling any of it. She shifted her weight then reached down and picked up her old Polaroid.
“Always remember this moment…”
Did I just… think that?
She held the camera up and out, arm extended, prepping to take a selfie. She preferred to be behind a camera but something about what she was experiencing felt nostalgic and warm.
“Photobomb!” The girl she thought was asleep beside her called out, jumping up and into the shot.
“Photo-hog,” Max quickly responded, pressing the button in and snapping the picture.
Holy shit! That’s the prisoner. Th-That’s… Chloe?
Suddenly, two floating hands appeared from midair, grabbed Max by the shoulders, and pulled her upward from the floor. After rubbing her eyes and shaking her head to clear the fuzziness, she noticed her mom staring down at her with a dreadful look of concern plaguing her face.
“Max! Are you okay? Oh, God! I knew this was a bad idea!” She was crouching down, hovering over her daughter with both arms now propping herself up.
“Mom?” Still woozy from the fall to the floor, Max felt for the coffee table and slid over, pulling up to her knees.
“Yeah, I’m here. Maybe we should talk in the morning, Max. Your face is flushed. Looks like you’ve just seen a ghost. I think sleep will do us both good. This conversation is too taxing for you right now. Probably for me too.”
“Y-Yeah,” Max responded, a little disoriented and weary. “That’s a good idea.”
The women helped each other up from the floor and groggily discussed sleeping arrangements. Max offered her mom the couch; there was no way she was going to give up her own bed. After gathering spare blankets and a pillow from the small hallway closet, the older woman decided on a shower. The younger Caulfield showed her where extra towels were located and then gave Vanessa her privacy. Max snuggled into bed and almost immediately drifted off to sleep.
On most nights she dreamt, though rarely recalled any specifics. She had several recurring dreams but she couldn’t remember exact details once she awoke. One involved a classroom somewhere that she didn’t fully recognize with her classmates staring at her while she didn’t know an answer to a question the teacher asked. Another involved driving during a storm intently focused on arriving to a destination of utmost importance. She never made it where she was going, but she knew she exited the car at some point to help others who were in trouble. When the chirping of the alarm clock on her night stand alerted her to begin getting ready for the day, she felt thankful she slept through the night without a single dream.
For a brief spell, she forgot about the events of the previous day. She just knew she had to get moving so she wouldn’t be late for work. Rolling out of bed and placing two feet on the floor, Max turned her head around as she yawned and stretched. When her gaze landed on a middle-aged woman asleep in the living room, just outside her bedroom door, her heart felt as if it drifted a few inches down in her chest.
Shit. I’ve gotta see Chloe.
A profound and instinctual urge quickened her pace the next half hour. She showered, did her hair and makeup, brushed her teeth, then grabbed some fresh fruit from the fridge. In her haste, she intentionally neglected to make herself a cup of coffee, quietly ensuring her mom wouldn’t wake and delay her departure with unwanted conversation.
Unlike Max’s typical routine, caffeine wasn’t something she cared much about at the present time. She needed to deal with Weston, maybe have a word or two with Maria, then quickly get to the prison to continue where she left off the prior day. She couldn’t get her mind off of… that girl, a prisoner on death row. Yet for some reason, Chloe occupied Max’s thoughts like the primal cravings of an addiction. The feelings weren’t like having to take her meds, or even a morning jolt of caffeine; they were more… intoxicating, and she passionately needed to be in the girl’s presence once again.
The first barrier hindering Max’s path was her boss. He instructed her to catch him up on yesterday’s encounter first thing in the morning. She badly wanted to skip going to the office and head straight towards Chloe, but she needed to appease him first. The photojournalist worried that Weston would make a call to the warden and end their arrangement if she didn’t do what he wanted.
With fruit and bag in tow, Max exited the apartment and hopped in her vehicle. She didn’t slam the door, but slowly closed it managing to create as little noise as possible. She cranked the ignition and backed out of the parking spot nearest her apartment entrance – the one she had claimed as hers. Since moving into the unit, she selected the same spot each time she parked, and it seemed to be common knowledge among the other residents that the space now belonged to her.
The commute flew by and she was pulling into the Fresno Herald’s pothole-ridden parking lot in no time. A hundred thoughts rattled around in her head and she couldn’t seem to deviate her main focus from the prisoner. Max removed her keys and tossed them in her bag. As her eyes trailed from the ignition to her satchel, they caught a glimpse of the pills she’d left in her middle console the evening before. As she stared at the bottle, she realized her desire to consume her meds had been replaced with child-like excitement to be around Chloe again, even though she didn’t understand why. She glanced in the mirror and took a moment to stare into her own eyes.
What’s wrong with you, Max? All you can think about is that prisoner, that… Chloe. MY… Chloe?
A strange wave of energy passed through her and she felt as if she’d been in this exact spot at some point previously.
Déjà vu, I guess.
She shook it off and twisted around, exiting the car and making her way toward her workplace’s entrance. As Max approached the steps, Maria nearly knocked her down running out of the building.
“Sorry, gotta go, Max.” She paused for a couple of seconds to address her colleague. “Your ass better fill me in with what happened at the prison yesterday. You’re not off the hook, girl.” The seasoned journalist smiled and turned back towards the parking lot resuming her quickened pace, disappearing in the distance as she entered her vehicle.
Max opened the door to her workplace and quietly walked directly to her cubicle. The scent of freshly brewed coffee was trailing from the break room area enticing her to follow the smell. She craved a cup, but her desire to get on with her day trumped everything else. Setting her bag down and powering on her computer, Max decided to go ahead and meet with Weston; more so to just get it over with. She wasn’t afraid of the man, she only knew he wasn’t very happy with her.
As she proceeded towards her boss’s office, the man stepped out and shook his head. “Shit, Max. You’re way too new to come and go as you damn well please, and what the fuck happened that made you push the panic button?” Weston stepped to the side, swinging his extended arm and open palm towards the doorway. Max followed his direction and stepped inside. She turned back towards the entrance and watched as the man shut the door behind them. It surprised the girl when she noticed him push in and turn the metal button on the handle, locking them inside together.
Did he just lock the door?
“Listen, Max,” the brawny man began, stepping directly towards her. She tiptoed away as he drew nearer, finally stopping with her back against the frontside of his desk, slightly bent backwards. He snatched both of her hands from her sides and held them in his own.
“What are you doing?”
“I know how much this case means to you. That whore on death row wouldn’t have asked for you without specific reason.” Max attempted to move her hands, wiggling them and pulling away, but the man’s grip tightened and she realized she wouldn’t be able to get free. “Some way, you two are tied together, whether you know it or not.”
“You’re hurting my hands, Weston.”
“You need to learn that I’m in charge around here, not you.”
“I’ll fucking scream if you don’t let go.”
“Okay, that’s fine. Then you’ll never see that bitch again and you can kiss your career goodbye.”
“Fuck you, man.”
“Oh, that’s exactly what you’re gonna do. Well, maybe not all the way, but everyone has to prove themselves to me. You’re no exception.” The man spun Max around and tightly held her in place from behind, arms firmly wrapped around her petite body. She could feel the man’s breath on her skin as he sniffed her neck. “Mmm, you smell good this morning.”
Fuck, fuck, fuck! No! This can’t be happening!
From behind and down below, she could hear the jingle of pants unbuttoning and a belt being unclasped. “All you gotta do is go down, Max. It’s not hard.” The man chuckled. “Well, it’s definitely getting hard.
Max felt the trails of warm liquid cascading down her cheeks as the tears she was holding back wouldn’t be denied further. She was helpless, and if she wanted to see Chloe again, she knew what her boss was requiring her to do.
“Oh, you fucking will. Nobody says no to me. Especially not some shy bitch who thinks she’s special.”
“Get away from me, psycho!”
…a blue butterfly…
Max felt a surging mixture of fear, anger, dismay, and rage boil up from inside. She suddenly found the strength to push away. In one quick action, she kicked the man between his legs by lifting her foot off the ground and thrusting it back and upward at the knee.
“Fuuuck!” Weston grimaced, falling towards the ground. Max saw an opportunity to get away and ran towards the door, stretching her arms out and grasping the handle. Because of the sweat that had formed a thin, lathered layer on her hands, she clumsily fidgeted with the lock unable to get it open.
Almost instantly, she felt her hair being pulled as her boss had two clutched fists, fingers deeply woven in nearly to her scalp. Max reached up and grabbed both of his wrists with her left and right hands seeking to disrupt his grip. Her effort was thwarted as she was yanked backwards and to the floor. Scooting back as quickly as possible, the brunette found herself curled up in the far corner with her assailant hovering over her.
“You’re gonna pay for that, bitch.” The man seemed like a rabid animal, saliva dripping from his lips. “I’m gonna enjoy this.” All of a sudden, one hand gripped the girl by the throat and lifted her from the ground, while the other was balled up in a fist preparing to strike.
As the punch was on its way towards her head, Max extended her arm, “No!”
A spire of energy shot from her palm, blurring the world from her vision. A pulsating blast warped and distorted reality as she witnessed the last ten minutes speed past her in reverse. Before she knew it, she was sitting in her car staring at her own reflection.
Whoa. What the fuck?
Max looked around nervously.
How-how can that be? I was just in that asshole’s office… He attacked me… I held up my hand… and then I was back here. Shit.
The front door to the Fresno Herald busted open and Max witnessed Maria sprint out, jump in her car, and speed out of the parking lot.
Did I… rewind time?
…”Okay, I see you’re a geek now with a great imagination, but this isn’t anime or a video game; people don’t have those powers, Max.”…
“Oh, fuck… Chloe!”
October 11, 2013
Like a spilled can of red paint, a pool of partially congealed blood puddled on the floor near where she now stood in the Blackwell restroom. Though alarming in its own right, it wasn’t the blood that caught Chloe’s attention. Residing on the opposite side of the gathered scarlet goo, a beautiful blue butterfly held its position, fluttering her wings a couple of times. The way the insect’s tiny head marginally craned forward, it appeared to be staring up and directly at Chloe. She gazed back through squinted eyes, observing its unearthly radiance that illuminated the floor beneath.
An undeniable urge flowed through the emotion-filled girl’s body, luring her towards the majestic being that was presenting itself before her. She slowly stretched out her arm, making a careful approach to not step in the puddle between them, and folded her fingers into a balled fist, leaving her pointer out for a perch. Like a trained animal to its owner’s call, the butterfly took flight, landing on Chloe’s extended finger. As soon as it landed, an azure ring of energy momentarily encircled them. She briefly saw a vibrating vortex of spinning spirals materialize in front of her, pulling her forward. She didn’t resists its forceful current. As quickly as a flash of lightning brightening the night sky, the Blackwell restroom vanished leaving the girl and her insect suspended in an endless dark ocean, being carried away like driftwood on the swell.