That Which is Called Home
I was staring out of the window, my attention focused on the brick wall. There was something about it that caught my attention; a warmth of rusty colors in something so common and ordinary. There was a yellowy off-white tinge to the mortar between bricks and worn browns on the edges of bright red. Ivy crawled up the war to the right, green in a sea of copper. I marveled at the colors at the inside of the ivy leaf; light greens, dark greens, and mid-greens all on the same little leaf. I smiled slightly as the leaves shivered in a soft, whistling breeze.
“Here.” I was woken suddenly from my trance-like state as Jeffrey called out and my head snapped towards him in surprise. He tossed me a pillow and I watched, eyebrows furrowed, as it landed at my feet. I stared at it for a moment curiously, cocking my head.
“Thank you,” I said as an afterthought. Jeffrey rolled his eyes as he crossed the room to pick up the pillow at my feet. He gestured for me to follow him with a number of soft-looking things in his arms, and he led me to the door across from the one I had guessed was the bathroom. The one he entered was the one I had correctly guessed as the bedroom. He turned on a light, and the room was filled with the pale gold from the light on the ceiling fan above our heads.
“You can sleep here,” he said, nodding to the bed as he crossed the room and dropped his handful of things. I saw blankets, pillows, and even a pair of thick, warm socks. “In case you get cold, there are all kinds of stuff I had lying around,” he said awkwardly, straightening up. “I heard girls get cold more, and you look thin, so I thought it might help.”
I nodded my thanks somewhat distractedly, reaching out towards a teddy bear that lay on top the pile of bedding.
“Oh, that was Rebecca’s,” Jeffrey said, laughing as he reached down to pick it up. “She gave it to me when I left…” My hand reached the bear before his did, and I snatched it from under his hovering hand. He looked at me in surprise as I stared at the bear in wonder. Its face was worn and one eye hung by a thread, but its faded smile was still bright and its little button eyes sparkled with life. My fingers slipped over its sides; messy fur that was soft to the touch. I squeezed the bear in my hands, and my fingers sank into its sides. A small smile split my face, and I felt my dry lips being pulled taut. I brought the bear to my chest and lowered my chin onto its head.
“It’s soft,” I said quietly.
“Well, feel free to keep it,” Jeffrey said. I think he was amused. He suddenly looked thoughtful. “Gosh, ever since she got it, she brought that old thing everywhere with her,” he mused. “When I decided to leave the house, 5 A.M., before anyone had woken up, I was heading out the door with my suitcase and I turned around and she was right there with the bear in hand, sucking her thumb. She was giving me this look… ach, she just has these looks. Anyway, I was feeling so guilty under that look, and then she just steps forward and holds out the bear, which she had named Honey. ‘Honey will protect you,’ she says firmly, shaking the bear at me. I had no choice but to take it, really. It was her favorite toy.”
I looked back down at the bear. This bear reminded me of something, something from my past life. It seemed… familiar, and comforting. It was a child’s toy, I thought, in an attempt to scold myself, but I had been a child once too. I had lost years of my past, and now, though I could be called wise, I was as naïve as I had been when I had arrived.
“Where will you sleep?” I asked suddenly as Jeffrey turned to leave the room.
“Oh, there’s a couch,” he said dismissively. My eyes widened. I hadn’t realized that this was the only bed in his apartment.
“I will sleep on the couch,” I said quickly. Jeffrey shook his head.
“What kind of a host would I be if I let my guest sleep on the couch?” he asked jokingly.
“What kind of a guest would I be if I let my host sleep on the couch?” I asked simply, watching his face. He sighed in momentary annoyance, and I apologized silently.
“Well, I like the couch better anyway,” he said. I could tell he was lying. It was a little one, but it annoyed me nonetheless. I didn’t know what I could say to convince him, because I could tell that he was… confident. It was something like that, anyway. He wouldn’t be convinced easily. I cocked my head in thought. Was there anything I could say…?
“Take the bed, please,” I implored. “It would make me happy.”
“You haven’t slept on a bed in years, but nice try,” Jeffrey said. “Are you hungry?”
I thought for a moment. It was polite to answer his question, but I still wanted to talk about the bed. Finally, I relented. “No,” I said. “I’m not hungry.” Jeffrey looked aghast.
“You must be,” he said. “I’ll order pizza. You’ve got to try that.”
Pizza. One of the things he had told me about. I had looked forward to that. I still did not feel hungry, but perhaps I could try it anyway. Maybe food would awaken my senses once more.
“Okay then,” I agreed shyly. “Pizza.”
Jeffrey smiled and left the room. Moments later, I heard him pick up the phone. His voice was blended sounds from another room. I looked back down at the teddy bear in my hands. It was Rebecca’s, he had said. Rebecca had named it Honey. It was a lovely name for the bear, the bear whose look seemed so sweet no matter how worn its face was.
With a sigh, I looked down at the pile of blankets and pillows on the floor. The bed did look soft… so inviting, and not cold velvet, like the couch had been to the touch. I wondered how it would feel against my skin. I reached out and touched the covers. A shiver of pleasure went up my skin. I pressed the bed with my hand. It went followed my fingers, yielding to my gentle touch. I hopped onto it suddenly and bounced up and back down, a wondering smile on my face. I grasped a pillow from the floor and dropped it onto the bed, which was already furnished with a minimum. Honey lay next to me, and I stared at its button eyes for a moment. I felt like I was floating on a cloud. It was so unlike the cool, firm metal of the chair seat under me.
I brought my knees up to my chest and, without realizing it, my eyes began to close.
For the first time in a long time, I drifted into a deep, comfortable sleep.
The shadow was deep in thought. He was mildly upset but, as an understanding man, he could understand how she had escaped. Perhaps he should have paid more attention to the Noble boy after all. He stared up at the plain white ceiling, his face hidden in shadow somehow, though the room was light. There was a knock at the door. The shadow turned as the door opened.
“Oh, it’s you,” he said. “I’m glad to see you’ve recovered.”
It was the new doctor. Without so much as a cast, no more than an hour after what had seemed like fatal injuries, all he had was a distinctive darkness under his eyes like perhaps the remains of a healed-over broken nose, although something was slightly off about it. The new doctor stood on the doorway with an unimpressed look on his face.
“It was nothing much, sir,” he replied.
“Yes; you were one of the more lucky men, weren’t you?” the shadow murmured thoughtfully. He turned back to the wall and was silent.
“I can have my men ready within minutes,” the doctor suggested. “Mr. Noble can be easily subdued and we can reclaim the subject using force with barely any effort on our part, sir.”
“No,” the shadow replied. The doctor looked surprised.
“Sir?” he asked tentatively.
“I want to see what he’ll do next,” the shadow said simply. “It can’t be easy to run with the little miss. Keep an eye on him. Let him rest for the day. They’ll leave tomorrow, I’m sure; and then the chase begins. How I do love to hunt down my prey. An easy catch is no fun, doctor; I’m sure you understand at least that. What foolish mistakes will he make now?”
“If you say so, sir,” the doctor said uneasily. There was a moment of silence between the two.
“Well, doctor?” the shadow said at last. “I’m sure you must be very busy with all your injections to watch over, people to spirit away, and suchlike. Go on; shoo.” He made a little waving gesture with his hand. The doctor gave a quick salute in reply and headed out the door. The shadow had a satisfied smile on his face.
“Fly away, little bird,” he murmured. His tongue ran over his teeth, slightly pointed, in the shadows of his mouth. The corners of his mouth twitched very slightly upwards, as that of a mirthless half-smile.
There was a light knock on the door. Jeffrey crossed the room and peered through the eyepiece before opening the door.
“Thanks,” he said, taking the pizza from the pizza delivery boy and handing him the money without another word. The boy nodded his thanks and turned to go and Jeffrey shut the door behind him. He crossed the room and set the pizza on the table, then turned towards the bedroom.
“Miley?” he called. “Dinner’s here.”
There was no reply. Curiously, he left the pizza on the table and headed to the bedroom. The door was open. As he popped his head in, he stared for a moment at the bed.
He saw Miley comfortably nestled on top of the cover on her right side, her head on the edge of the pillow. Her hair trailed across the pillow as impressively as it could, being so short. Her right hand cradled her pale cheek and her left hand was slung across the teddy bear, lying next to her in the shadows of her body. Jeffrey watched her for a moment as the sounds of her soft, satisfied breathing filled the room, along with the muffled sound of the city drifting through the walls.
Jeffrey wavered between leaving her be and waking her up. She looked so peaceful, and he knew that sleep was precious to her. But she had also wanted to eat, and she looked so terribly thin. Somewhere subconsciously, Jeffrey also noted that her chest was as flat as a board, but he was able to quickly dismiss that thought. He began to wonder how old she was. Small as she was, he had no doubt that she was probably older than she looked. Perhaps even his age, though maybe a little younger. Four years for a child in the nothing… anger rose in Jeffrey’s mind every time he thought of it. He wondered if he could bring this matter to the police, but no. He had seen what the people at that strange lab could do. Police were no match for those monsters.
He watched Miley for another few moments.
There was a sudden rattling sound from somewhere at the other side of the room. Jeffrey turned curiously and watched in surprise as the small bookshelf against the wall shook slightly. He frowned. Was there an earthquake? Surely not. Books began to slide from their places. Jeffrey began to step towards it to catch the books as they fell, but he could only watch in surprise as his hands simply held below the books, which appeared to float in the air, held by some invisible force. Then they crossed the room neatly, smoothly, and hovered around Miley’s bed. There were maybe four of them. Small trinkets around the room acted in the same way, coming to radiate around Miley’s bed. Then they all began to move in a complete circle.
Jeffrey watched, eyes wide, as the objects orbited the bed like the planets orbit the sun. Miley didn’t react and continued to sleep peacefully. Jeffrey’s mind went back to when the doctor had been thrown backward, apparently without so much as touching him. He had remembered a look on Miley’s face, unlike anything he had ever seen. A look of concentration and emotionless watching, like Rebecca had once watched a spider before smashing it under—well, Jeffrey’s hand.
Injections to stimulate the mind. Jeffrey had seen that; a reference to drugs they had created. To stimulate the mind with drugs in an environment without stimulation, something they had called reverse stimulation. Forcing the mind to create for itself, therefore evolving beyond a normal person’s. What did it do to her? Jeffrey wondered. Could she ever go back to being a regular person, or would she… he could barely think it… end up like all the others? Insanity or death had followed each of the unsuccessful research experiments.
He took a step forward, towards the bed, careful to stay well out of reach of the flying objects.
“Miley,” he said. There was no reaction. “Miley,” he repeated, a little louder. The objects seemed deadly in the way they leered almost protectively around her. Jeffrey reached forward. His hand touched her shoulder gently, and her eyes sprang open in surprise.
There was a thump as the various objects proceeded to descend to the ground.
I didn’t remember falling asleep, but the next thing I felt was a light warm weight on my numb skin. It had woken me up suddenly and I had found myself looking into Jeffrey’s nervous eyes. I sat up almost immediately. I didn’t like the look on his face.
“What?” I asked, almost begged. I had a feeling like I had done something very wrong. “What? What did I do?”
He seemed surprised at my choice of words. Maybe I had already figured out, I could see him thinking. Figured what out, though? What did he think I knew?
“Dinnertime,” he said simply, and left the room quietly, as if nothing had happened. I got up to follow him and stumbled as I stubbed my toe on something on the ground. I winced and turned to stare in surprise at the book on the ground, my eyes resting on its title. It was nothing especially interesting; something by Jane Austin. My toe throbbed with an unfamiliar pain. I looked back up.
And then I wordlessly headed after Jeffrey, all excitement at the prospect of pizza gone from my mind. Instead, a wary uneasiness replaced that excitement. What had he seen, I wondered? What had I done? Some part of me knew I had changed. My fingers fidgeted.
I followed him silently out of the room and into the kitchen. He seemed fine now, but I had already seen how he could act. I wished he’d tell me how he really felt, and for some reason I couldn’t help but consider that to simply be the nature of boys.
Jeffrey handed me a plate.
“Here,” he said, smiling once more. I watched his face almost sadly. Yes; nothing to even clue me in to what he was thinking. He was acting like nothing was wrong.
“Thank you,” I replied, taking the plate from him. I looked down at what was in my hands. A simple, plain paper plate with what looked like an orange triangle on it. I stared at it for a moment, and then looked at Jeffrey helplessly. He showed me how you could put a finger in the center of the short side of the triangle and bend it a bit so that it curved, and then you bite off the thinnest pointy end formed by the two longest edges. My teeth sank into the pizza, and for a moment I felt shock as the sudden heat of it raced through my gums. I nearly dropped it on the floor in surprise.
But then I felt it with my tongue. The taste came as a further surprise to me, and I think Jeffrey could notice my widened eyes. Eating was unfamiliar to me, but somehow the greasy, savory taste reminded me of home, like the bear from Rebecca had. I couldn’t explain it. I chewed slowly, savoring the familiar taste. I was sure I’d had it before.
“What’s in it?” I asked with my mouth still full, staring down at the pizza on my plate.
“It’s bread that they roll out flat and then spread tomato sauce and cheese over it. Then it gets stuck in the oven and they bake it until the crust gets crunchy and the cheese melts,” Jeffrey explained. I think he was amused this time, too; most likely at the expression of wonder at something that must have seemed normal for him. But then again, I realized, there were lots of things in the world that seemed normal to him that were all new to me. Did he love the sky as I did? Did he smile every time he ate pizza? Perhaps I was strange in the way I acted. Did he mind?
I swallowed. It made its way down my throat uncomfortably.
“Am I strange?”
For some reason, I felt the need to ask. There were some questions I thought but never spoke, but in the same way, there were the questions I spoke without thinking. Perhaps I didn’t need to ask, but I was frightened by the look of surprise I had seen on Jeffrey’s face. It was too close to fear, and I didn’t want to be the cause of that look. I didn’t want to be the kind of monster from nightmares. I didn’t want to make my angel leave me.
“What?” I think Jeffrey was horrified. Not at me, but at my question. Though I didn’t dare meet his eyes, I could also feel his regret. Regret at showing me his fear? He would just hide it and lie again? I wanted the truth. Faces shouldn’t tell lies. An emotionless face is as good as dead, colorless, or gray; but a face that lies is hiding something, and I want to be worth the truth.
“Miley…” Jeffrey couldn’t find words. I was disappointed, I think, somewhere inside.
“If you’re strange,” Jeffrey said finally, “then what does that make those guys who kept you? The people who made you the way you are? What could be worse than that? Miley, you all a little bit strange, but it’d be stranger if you weren’t. You act just like any other girl, no stranger than Rebecca could be. To be honest, she’s a little scary, but she’s no monster. I’m sorry; I was just surprised. I guess it was instinct. Most people can’t do what you can, but some people would call it a blessing. You’re like a superhero, Miley.”
There was a lie in there somewhere. I could hear it. Not quite a lie, perhaps, but something he held back from me. Something else that caused his voice to break as he spoke. He knew something that I did not.
“What… did I do?” Maybe he could answer that. I knew he knew.
“You can move things, Miley,” Jeffrey said eagerly, or almost eagerly. He was eager, I could hear it. I could also hear sorrow. “You can move things with your mind. That’s what it was for. All the injections, the experiments; it was reverse stimulation, meant to make your mind outstep normal human bounds. It was inhumane, and it was wrong, but it worked, Miley. It worked.”
“How can you be sure?” I met his bright eyes. He seemed too eager about it. I recoiled slightly. “How do you know it worked?”
“I saw it,” he answered. He didn’t look as haunted as he had. “You were asleep, and the books came off the shelf and were floating in the air. I saw it, Miley. Sure, it was a little surprising at first, but so is when you first lose a tooth, or when a friend jumps out from around a corner and scares the crap out of you. I was just surprised. I’m sorry.”
I stared down at the pizza in front of me. I thought it was probably cold by now. I watched it, wondering. Somehow I knew I could manage it. It wasn’t my fault – if I wanted something moved away from me, it would go. I had always known my imagination to be boundless. Had that been because of what they did? Were they trying to help me? Did they just not know any better?
“Don’t be sorry,” I said. I turned to Jeffrey and smiled. “I’m the one who should be sorry. I should’ve known all that. I shouldn’t need you to tell me.”
“Hey, teenagers get self-conscious,” Jeffrey said matter-of-factly, casually taking a huge bite of the pizza in his hand. It flopped a bit and nearly missed his mouth when he tried to catch it between his teeth, and I thought it was amusing. “Don’t worry about it.”
I looked back down at my pizza. I smiled a bit more. I shouldn’t worry about it.
I finished that slice and promptly took a second one.
“I have something you will love,” Jeffrey nearly sang, as he disappeared into the kitchen. He left the pizza carton on the counter and he reached into the little freezer to pull out a container I didn’t recognize. I craned my neck curiously to see what it was. As he came toward me, I could read the label, but only just – ‘Classic Chocolate.’ It was then that I knew what it was: chocolate ice cream. I was giddy with anticipation before Jeffrey dropped a spoon in front of me and popped off the lid. He had a bowl, and so he dropped a large spoonful into the bowl. After debating for a moment, he added another heaping spoonful. He placed it in front of me.
“Eat slowly or you’ll get brain freeze,” he warned. I barely heard him.
I took a very small bit of ice cream on the edge of my spoon and slid it past my lips. A shiver of pleasure ran through me as first I felt the cold metal over my lips and on the tip of my tongue, and then I tasted the rich, creamy sweetness. I nearly melted with happiness. Jeffrey laughed when he saw my expression, but I didn’t care. He put the ice cream away as I took another nibble, wanting to spare it to last as long as possible. Jeffrey reappeared with his own serving.
“Don’t eat it too slowly, or it’ll melt,” he said as he sat next to me at the table. He watched my face and laughed once more. He had a nice laugh; a real laugh. “It’s good, isn’t it?” he asked, putting a spoonful into his own mouth.
“It’s incredible,” I said. There were really no words that could describe it. As I took another bite, I glanced at Jeffrey, who had his spoon stuck between his teeth, sticking out of his mouth. He made a funny face and moved his jaw, making the spoon bob up and down. I laughed again. Maybe I would never stop laughing. It was certainly better than crying.
“It’s been scientifically proven that chocolate makes you happy,” Jeffrey pointed out, snatching his spoon from his mouth and sticking it back into his mound of ice cream to stick up like a flag. He grinned down at me. “So eat a lot of it, okay?” he said gently.
I smiled back. “Okay,” I agreed. That would be easy.
For once, I actually felt like I had a place for me. Sitting here with Jeffrey, eating pizza and chocolate… it felt like a place I could belong. It almost felt like a home.