“I don’t damn know,” the warden responded with his office phone up to his ear seemingly frustrated, a sharpened texture to his voice. “She’s here right now, though. I say we let her back in to do her job, and I’ll make sure she meets with you afterward, Wes. She’s a smart kid; she’ll get the job done.” He paused and glanced over in Max’s direction. “Fine. Bye.”
The photojournalist was thankful that the man, she now knew was named Jack because of an earlier voice message, didn’t close the door behind them as they entered his office. It was tough to think clearly after the attack and knowing what could have happened if she hadn’t activated some sort of time reversal power. A faint memory of a butterfly and the prisoner had crossed her mind and she rewound to nearly ten minutes prior. Her skin crawled and her stomach churned at the horrific memory of being attacked. A mixture of confusion and rage clouded her thoughts, though she realized getting to the prison was her number one priority.
The trip to her destination was a blur, as autopilot had kicked on and her mind was still reeling. Once she arrived, Max was immediately escorted through the labyrinth-like halls, and to the wood-paneled office in the back.
“He’s pissed at you, girlie,” the man dryly stated with a crooked frown tightening the skin on the side of his face. “A little piece of advice: when your boss calls you or texts you, you should probably respond. I’m not saying you being eager is a bad thing, but he calls the shots for your job. Kids don’t understand respect these days.”
Respect? Fuck that asshole!
“Also, don’t push the damn panic button again if there’s no reason to. I know you deal with some sorta mental… stuff, I guess, but we absolutely cannot have a repeat of yesterday. Got it?” He provided the same cylindered device he previously had, so she could send them a signal in the event something unexpected took place.
Max felt her eyebrows lowering and her face scrunching down towards the center. Her fists were balled and her jaw clenched extra tightly, teeth forcefully pushing in on one another.
“Sure,” she managed to grumble out, though she didn’t feel like talking to anyone who associated with that misogynistic, abusive jerk. With so much recent media attention surrounding power abuse, and it being the twenty-first century, it blew Max’s mind that assholes like Weston still did this shit thinking it was no big deal.
Goddammit, I wish I could tell someone! He deserves to be punished.
“You okay, Max?” The man seemed genuinely concerned about her well-being, which slightly settled the photographer’s anger. After releasing her muscles and allowing herself to calm down a bit, Max felt her resentment drifting. Sure, she wasn’t going to forget what that monster tried to do to her, but she had more important matters to deal with first. Plus, it wasn’t like she could exactly tell anybody what went down. She rewound time and the entire thing never even really happened… or did it? One thing was for sure, the story and the job didn’t really matter anymore, all she cared about was seeing the prisoner again, seeing Chloe.
October 11, 2013
The sensation of falling was nearly overwhelming, as the girl and her butterfly companion plummeted at a horrifying rate. The rapidity of the descent caused Chloe’s skin to be pushed upward like jumping from an airplane, eyes watering with a fierce intensity. The only sight that confirmed she was still among the living, came from the illuminating halo that enveloped the insect, who was seemingly in the same predicament. She was glad the butterfly was with her, as it helped keep her sanity intact while seemingly falling for an endless amount of time.
Suddenly, an idea passed through her scattered mind, gripping on and taking root. Chloe’s arms and legs were extended, torso facing downward in the direction she felt like she was falling. After a shift of her weight and a jerky motion from her legs upward, her body moved from a horizontal position to a vertical one, feet now facing downward. Like a pencil propped on a table, standing on the eraser side, the girl realized she wasn’t falling any longer; she didn’t even know if she ever really had been.
With an evolving understanding of her circumstance, Chloe willed a false surface to form beneath her feet. All of the time travel and photo jumping she’d witnessed and experienced the past week, informed the girl that everything she thought she knew about the universe and reality could be tossed out the window. Wherever she was, she had a small degree of control over what she was perceiving.
“Is this some sorta space between time?” Chloe hypothesized aloud to no one in particular. When she noticed her words were more than likely spoken to an insect, she grinned to herself. Her blue butterfly friend fluttered up and perched on her shoulder, glowing brightly once then dimming as if confirming the answer to the girl’s question.
With her grasp of the situation broadening, Chloe noticed translucent columns of what appeared to be running water beginning to take shape all around her and in each direction. It was as if an endless hallway lined with these shimmering pillars slowly faded into sight. She compared it to how it felt when she walked into a darkened room after being outside in the midday sun. It took several moments for her eyes to adjust, but once they did, she was astonished by what she saw.
“Holy shit!” the amazed girl instinctively called out. The spire-like structures were neither water nor were they simply shimmering columns. She turned to look at the one to her immediate left and witnessed herself driving her truck. At first, it seemed like a typical trip she might’ve taken at any point. After watching this version of herself for several moments, she noticed the girl had a sleeve tattoo on her left arm, while the right arm was bare.
“Damn. I almost decided to get my left arm tatted instead. Guess now I know I made the right decision.” She raised one eyebrow and looked over at the insect still lit on her shoulder. “Get it, dude? ‘RIGHT’ decision. My sleeve tat is on my right arm. Shit, never mind. I’m trying to make a pun to a damn butterfly.” Her new friend brightened then dimmed again in several quick pulses.
Chloe turned left then right quickly analyzing the hallway, then arbitrarily decided which direction to go. She witnessed dozens of versions of herself that ranged from slightly to largely different from the reality she knew to be hers. They all seemed to have a plastic sort of property about them except for one in the distance. It wasn’t the brightest and it wasn’t the most vivid, but it was the perfect shade of truth. She didn’t understand how she knew it, but this one specific window into a particular universe was her reality, and she realized her Max would be there as well.
She suddenly recalled the last moments she spent with her little hipster and it saddened her heart. Max had been faced with an impossible decision, and Chloe knew her best friend was about to choose her over Arcadia Bay. In her mind, she felt her life wasn’t worth the lives of potentially hundreds or thousands of others. She didn’t want to be the reason that her mother and so many others would die, so she made the case for Max to go back and let her go. Chloe wasn’t sure if she could live with herself if her partner in time decided to choose the opposite.
Like a bus barreling into her after speeding down a hill, it dawned on Chloe that Max might not be able to live with herself either if she had to witness the murder again, but this time without rewinding. “She showed me time and time again I was all that mattered to her. With me gone, would nothing matter then? It would suck ass not being able to share this shit with anyone. She’d sound batshit crazy if she tried to explain her time travel power. Fuuuck! I’ve gotta get back to her!”
The column beside the one she knew was hers shimmered brightly, drawing her attention. The butterfly on her shoulder took flight and started towards that particular one. When it made contact with what appeared to be a thin-layered surface, a ripple undulated, and the insect was transported into the scene. Chloe reached out in an attempt to catch her recently departed companion and her hand slipped inside as well.
A vacuum-like, unknown force pulled at her, nearly sucking her inside. “Shit, no! Not this one!” Chloe dug her heels in and reached out for her reality with the opposite hand. Both universes were suddenly attempting to force her inside simultaneously. The girl’s consciousness shot through to both, staggering back and forth between the two.
In a split second, Chloe could see a version of herself standing over a man with a Glock G19 pointed downward towards the back of his head. What she was seeing appeared to have a more plastic-like tangibility than the reality where she belonged.
“For Rachel! For Max! For all the other girls you… you, you fucking monster!” She was abruptly whisked around and what she was witnessing changed to a first-person point of view. It became her that was physically holding the gun, and she could feel her trigger finger inching inward on steel, compressing the actuator mechanism. Struggling to remove her finger and drop the weapon, Chloe felt powerless. It was like being behind the wheel of her truck, yet no matter what she did, it refused to respond to her commands; she was a passenger and all she could do was watch.
“No… shit!” Chloe gloomed, squirming around trying to pull herself out and back towards her own reality. As soon as she heard the gunshot, her mind twisted out and in the direction of her own universe. Upon entering, she noticed both realities swirling together like a shot of creamer being stirred into a cup of coffee. Her peripheral sight bled away, and she felt the cold steel of the weapon once again in her hand and a warm spatter of gooey liquid sprinkled across her face. Through distortion and blurred vision, Chloe noticed a sulfuric scent fill her nostrils.
Like steam clearing from a boiling pot of water, clarity returned. The plastic-like features of what once seemed to be a distant, improbable reality, were no longer present, and she knew that meant one thing. Chloe had somehow intermingled and assimilated what she was experiencing, combining a universe where a version of herself murdered a man, with her home universe where her Max lived.
“Drop the gun!”
Everything slowed to a sludging crawl, as Chloe watched men in police uniforms tighten in around her, forming a semicircle with weapons drawn. She glanced down the length of her arm, stopping her scanning gaze at the very end. Vapors from the Glock still twisted upward from the barrel, and her outstretched arm and hand trembled in place. Past the gun and on the floor, the lifeless face of Mark Jefferson, eyes and mouth permanently frozen open, stared towards the wall behind her with a shuttering look of terror forever captured by the moment of death. From what Max had told her, it felt like some sort of poetic justice had taken place, yet she understood the gravity of her own situation. While she didn’t exactly pull the trigger, there would be no way to explain what happened without ending up in a psychiatric ward – which didn’t actually sound too bad in comparison to where she figured she might go otherwise.
In slow-motion, Chloe crouched down and placed the weapon on the ground. While being apprehended and tossed to the floor, the girl’s thoughts were of her best friend. She needed to find Max and make sure she was okay; it was all that mattered. In her current situation, she had no clue where to start. There would be no way to prove her innocence or what actually happened here; she wasn’t even sure if she knew herself. It was obvious she made it back to her own reality, but it was less clear how she managed to insert a scene from another into hers.
A million words, phrases, thoughts, and ideas skated around in her mind; none solid enough to set a course of action. There was no doubt, she would need a plan; when or how it would come to her was currently a mystery. For the time being, she would keep her mouth shut and refuse to speak. That way, she could focus every single ounce of her energy on getting back to Max and making things right.
“If you say you’re fine, Max,” the warden hesitated, “I believe you. Last time I’m gonna say this; the governor will want a full report soon. This story is big for you and for your organization, but it’s much larger for others. A lotta damn malarky to me, but it’s not my role to understand things way above my paygrade. You understand?”
Max slowly nodded, thoughts playing an intense game of ping pong with one side focused on Chloe and the other trying to shake the terror of the recent attack from her memory.
“Well, let’s go,” she calmly insisted, an even inflection in her tone. The photojournalist wasn’t interested in small talk or beating around the bush any longer. She was in the same building as the prisoner, and she didn’t want to waste any more time. “I’m ready.”
The warden reached over to the walkie talkie, which was fastened to his dress shirt near the middle, and pushed the button in, holding it as he spoke. A few moments later, the same guards from the day before entered the office attentive and prepared for their next orders. They confirmed the cameras were disconnected and all forms of communication were cut off from the cell, and the prisoner was securely shackled in place at the table.
“Alright, come on then,” the man behind the desk confirmed, starting for the door. He stretched out his arm and waved it in front of himself, indicating his intention to have the journalist go before him. The guards lead the way; the two of them in the front, and Max and the warden bringing up the rear.
…”Why look, an otter in my water.”…
Max scanned her surrounding in a 360-degree rotation then continued on.
As they drew nearer, all other thoughts melted away, leaving only Chloe on the girl’s mind. The four pairs of boots and shoes echoed through the narrow hallway, as everything seemed to slow to a snail’s crawl. Like a steadily beating drum in an empty warehouse, she could hear the endless thumping from her chest deep inside her ears. Her heart punched outward from within, causing Max’s breathing to tremble. She didn’t think anyone else noticed, but she physically felt uncomfortable, and wished she had her meds with her. An indescribable loyalty to the inmate persuaded the girl to stop taking her pills, which somehow felt like the right thing to do despite the fact that she didn’t understand why.
As the group of four opened the corridor door and rounded the last corner, Max anxiously looked towards the prisoner yearning to see those beautiful, mesmerizing eyes once more. Just as she hoped, Chloe’s gaze was beaming in her direction, creating an almost palpably lined trail between the girls, connecting somewhere in the middle. Like a downpour on a car’s windshield, everything except the girl in the jail cell washed from sight, mixing to an unnoticed grey hue.
She’s so beautiful. Those eyes… Is-Is she smiling at me?
Suddenly, she felt her movement abruptly stop, crashing into the guard in front of her, tumbling both herself and the broad-shouldered man to the ground. It was like she had been floating for the last several seconds and all awareness of her surroundings were lost to the hypnotic aura of the prisoner’s presence.
“Watch it, girl,” the guard huffed from the floor beside her. He quickly stood to his feet, straightened his uniform, and then helped Max up as well.
“Shit, I’m so sorry, I-I…” As she was stumbling around with her words, Max realized she heard laughter coming from the cell so she didn’t get a chance to finish her apology. It wasn’t a tiny chuckle, or a laugh the inmate was trying to hold back; she cackled like it was the funniest thing she had ever seen in her life.
“Well, well… I’ll be god damned,” the warden gasped. “I’ve never even seen that girl smile.” The light tone in his voice sounded pleasant and hopeful unlike his typical inflection. Max remembered that the man spent years around Chloe, and this was probably the most he’d ever heard from her.
When falling to the floor, Max had broken eye contact with the girl shackled to the table and hadn’t looked back her way since. The power of their connection was a little scary; not in a bad way, more like exciting and new. She felt as if she was on a voyage of discovery and she couldn’t wait to continue exploring the unknown depths.
Despite the dimly lit room, Max noticed smirks on the faces of all three men; laughter that hard and genuine was usually infectious, and this instance was no exception. The prisoner continued for a few more moments finally subsiding to a low-breathed giggle. The visitor was pleased there wasn’t much light to illuminate her face; the warmth of her cheeks would no doubt be visible otherwise.
“Guess we’re making progress, Jane,” he spoke to himself. The man in charge stepped to the cell door and inserted his key, twisting it and grasping a bar with the opposite hand. It creaked open as rusted metal rubbed together in spots and old hinges rotated with sharp, elongated clangs. “Too bad she’s gonna die soon…” He tailed off, snapping Max back into the situation with such a horribly sobering reminder of Chloe’s predicament.
I’ve gotta get her out of there! But how? Maybe if I can use that… rewind somehow…
The prison’s leader motioned for the group to get back on track and make their way into the cell. Once inside, Max sat and scooted to the table while glancing upward, obviously avoiding eye contact until the men departed. They locked the two girls inside the cell, then proceeded to stroll back down the corridor. After the heavy door at the end of the hallway slammed shut, Max lowered her eyes and lined them up once again with the convicted murder.
A mystifying electric torrent prickled down Max’s arms and legs, creating tiny goosebumps, and she was sure this was exactly where she was meant to be. “H-How was your night?”
Apparently, Chloe wasn’t finished laughing. It started small then revved up to near hysteria. “Max,” the girl spoke between laughs, “that was amazing! You ran that damn guard over. You… you… b-b-badass!”
The photographer shyly reached her arm backwards and touched the back of her head with her palm. “Yeah, I’m an idiot.”
“No, dude. You’re not.” Almost like flipping off a light switch, Chloe became more focused and direct. “You’re the smartest, most amazeballs girl I’ve ever met.”
The room rapidly swayed then returned to normal. “I keep having these… these, I guess memories. Since I was assigned this case, they keep sorta popping up. They like… I dunno. I hear your voice or imagine an image, but it fades away.”
“Oh, yeah?” The prisoner impishly questioned, a broad smirk widening on her face. “Anything specific you wanna share, Maxter?”
“Well… what do you make of the phrase ‘an otter in my water’?” No sooner than she heard the words leave her lips, the chained-up girl directly in front of her burst out laughing again. This time, her giggles were accompanied by her hand marginally raising then striking the table over and over again.
“Do you think that’s funny?” Max asked, puzzled and a little flustered.
“I do, dork. It’s fucking hilarious. Your memories of us couldn’t be contained forever; no damn way. They’re coming out and I’m excited as shit.”
Never breaking eye contact Max stayed lazed focused. “Chl-Chloe… were we in love with each other? I know it sounds ridiculous, but I’ve never felt the things you’re making me feel. And I don’t remember much about Arcadia Bay or our time together.”
“Hmm,” the inmate responded. “In love, you ask?” A goofy grin stretching her cheeks upward.
“It was stupid. I’m sorry I brought it up.” Max lowered her head and eyes then stared at the table, ashamed by the question. “I could have asked anything else. I SHOULD’VE asked anything else. I’m sorry I started with that. Why would I think you would love me?”
You’re a fool. Geez, Max.
“Max,” Chloe began, stretching out her arms as far as her restraints would allow, fingertips barely grazing the visitor’s chin, “you’re doing great. Have some confidence and we’ll get through this, I promise.”
Enjoying the magnetic sensation sparked by her cellmate’s touch, Max looked back up, gazing into the girl’s eyes once again. “I don’t know how, but I’m getting you out of here, I swear. I’m not too sure about the past, but I do know one thing… I want you in my future.”
Chloe grinned again, playfully rolling her eyes. “It’s good to know you’re still a goop, Caulfield.”
Reality suddenly trembled.
…“You were really sweet.”…
…“Oh, man… I was really goopy.”…
…“I like it.”…
…“That’s because you’re a goop.”…
“Holy shit! I-I…Chloe? That was the day your father… d… d…” She paused, eyes widening as she continued to stare at the prisoner.
“Max, are you okay? Looked like you were looking past and through me there for a second.”
“I just remembered something big, I think. We were together that day, weren’t we?” A briar-like string of horror tore at her heart, causing it to miss a couple of beats. “It was the worst day of your life; the worst week, and moment… and…” Her breathing shuddered and her eyes began to fill.
“Listen, Maximus, I’ve made peace with what happened then. Let’s focus on the good news, your memory is coming back, dude! That’s great!”
“It doesn’t feel too great.” The sadness of that day flooded the photographer mind. She could see two young girls standing in a hallway watching a woman open the front door, stumbling as she entered. The blonde ran up and Max could almost audibly hear her heart shatter like a glass vase falling to a concrete floor. Their lives were forever changed in the blink of an eye, yet Max felt the guilt of a thousand pounds crashing down in an instant, nearly crushing her. “Chloe… wh-what did I do? Why do I feel so guilty?”
“Shh, Max. I’ll make you a promise. When you figure out how to get me out of this shit shack, I’ll tell you everything I remember. Deal?” Chloe held her hand up from the table and spread her fingers. She kept it up and glanced down at Max’s hands, which were now balled up together in the center of the table.
The brunette slowly released her fists and inched one hand upward. Hers was smaller than the inmate’s but it seemed to fit perfectly in place. The two girl’s, futures in question, shared a silent moment with fingers interlocked and stretched out before them.
Max leaned in a little closer and looked down at their hands, then back up to Chloe’s eyes, fully diving inside. She released her guilt, and allowed herself to simply exist. In that instance, things felt right. It was the first time in as long as she could remember that she didn’t want to turn around and run away. There was no where else in the entire world that she would rather be than exactly where she was; in a dank and dingy jail cell with a convicted murderer.
The smaller girl confidently opened her mouth, breaking the quiet moment that had set in; a tiny smile beginning to curl the corners of her lips. “Deal.”