NXT: CHAPTER 6 — A RHYME FOR EVERY REASON (X-HUME)

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Reading Time: 11 minutes

There’s a rhyme for every reason, and a place for any time. The difference between the two deposited an invisible barrier around her buried reluctance.

However, the door waited in place—shut away from the world like a pod of its own habitual state—and her fingers lingered on the icy knob, tarrying in place. It’s rosewood composite and four paneled distinctions stood out more than ever, complimenting the off-white structure and dark red roof top. The grass, well-watered and groomed, was free from any sticks and all debris. A sight worth placing upon soft eyes, and a note worth playing. 

     The brightness inside gleamed over from the hillside. It poured in radiant warmth through the unveiled bay window, splashing its golden glow upon a vintage afghan rug. Her nose crinkled, tugged away from matching decor.

She stood near a couch facing the fireplace with its square back turned towards the window. Its withered appearance made it seem untouchable, almost real. She venerated the way the edges around the arms creased, cracked, and peeled.

Familiarity struck her in the gut. The intoxicating scent of her mothers’ favorite perfume clouded with an invisible mask wrapping tight around her face. She choked a little, lunging the scent free from her lungs.

This can’t be all fake. No way.

Her nose lifted high, hungry for more, choking each time. A glint in the corner of her eye turned her attention. Others, from their own perspective pods wondered aimless, ignoring the fact she stood inside of a house they can’t see. But the shine from afar vanished like it never existed.

As a memory of gentle taps above and swaying bells unleashed, a locked sigh swam past her lungs relaxing every tensed muscle in her shoulders. “They—” They were never gone. They’ve always been here.

But the television played a fuzz of bright images, as if staring at it through the corner of one’s eye, and the only one knick-knack recognizable upon the built-in shelves: a nightmarish clown, which she vaguely remembers “accidently” breaking once before. The crack was still there.

A gentle wave of rippling déjà vu weaved around her head as if wearing a helmet made of gentle streams. Despite the brevity in this nostalgic euphoria, just an idea alone carried the weight of a transitory smile across her tight, woven lips.

Certain she was alone, the edge of the sofa lined with her knees. She crouched low enough for the scent of leather to make its way up into her quaint nose. Cracked fingertips bumped across the brim of each stitch along the middle cushion. Then, a wafting brush of lemon and pine polisher eased into the air. The floorboards creaked to her right, where her attention inadvertently wavered towards.

No one’s there, she thought, this is my memory.

The creaks continued, in where the kitchen remained, with each supposed step. Then, they stopped. Trapped in her trance-like state she wandered off back to the times of bitter, winter mornings and presents wrapped in shimmering paper that gleamed beneath the tall evergreen decorated with splotches of carelessly placed tinsel and a blanket of one too many lights.

She turned, pushed up into the same spot and a sigh broke within, moving serenity in place where her knots formed inside. But a certain familiarity set in, one inescapable from even the depths of the forgotten caves of her mind. Her eyes closed. It seemed possible, for once, she could sleep on her own accord. Drowsiness set in, and an empty weight of heavy slumbering pushed down on her chest. She took a deep breath, just one allowance for an everlasting moment.

A woman’s voice, familiar in tone, bellowed nearby. “You can’t do that!”

Jolted, heart sputtering with a horsepower too strong for any car, her skin crawled with trickling goosebumps. Red warmth leaked across the underlying parts of her skin as she searched the room and tossed glances out each window on the door and behind the sofa.

“What? Who was that?” she whispered, trembling in place at the thought of confronting anything here.

I can’t get hurt here. Its impossible.

Just like a dream, a memory is the next safest place.

The voice, wrought with stern care, snapped her eyes full on towards the direction of the kitchen. Concerned, she pressed on down the mini hall in which separated the two, diverse, rooms. Hair on the back of her neck raised at the sound of a small girls’ voice. “But, mom, I had to.” She mouthed the rest, expectant: “She needed help.” 

Elizabeth? She thought, almost picturing her now. Couldn’t be, she denied, pushing away any thought formed by that name. Though, she piqued sincere curiosity. Careful, her fingers wrapped around the edge of the solid arch. Her gaze drifted towards the people within.

Can it?

Shuttering disbelief crippled her breathing.

Young and serene—unlike the older lady off to the side—with hair draped across her shoulders as if a shoal keeping her warm in mid-winter nights, and curls loaded with a readied spring, her mother closed in near the little girls’ face. “E, Elizabeth isn’t real, sweetie. Just in your imagination. You should be over her by now. I thought. Besides, what you did was extremely dangerous. Don’t you know that? Do you know how many sickos and weirdos are out there lurking for beautiful girls such as you?”

I didn’t, at that moment…

“She is real. She’s my sister!”

Her younger self emerged from the kitchen. Red in the face, her shoulder missed Echo’s elbow by a smidge. She followed her younger self towards the living room. Warbled—not by choice—voices continued throughout the kitchen.

Cross-legged on the sofa, E wiggled her tiny knees up and down. Jeans outstretched, wearing a pink tutu style shirt. Echo looked down at herself. Black zip-up hoodie, dark purple tee, with matching shoes except for the bright pink laces looped between the two parallel rows of eyelets.

“Huh?” she asked, more so beside herself than at the cognizance itself, and at the clarity found within herself. E didn’t appear to have noticed her at all. “Well, then,” she shrugged, and continued, “figured as much.”

Though the thought of being her own imaginary friend did in some twisted way had amused her the moment before she considered this to be nothing more than a lost memory.

A change in light, or perhaps the motion of a change, yanked her gaze up. Just beyond the other side of the centered windowpane, a woman came into view a short distance away, traipsed along the forbidden red wall.

She turned, as if staring directly towards Echo with an aged complexion. More in the way that shows the years of laughter, or maybe even horrors, she may have witnessed, or succumbed, throughout the entirety of her life so far.

Nonetheless Echo’s heart tugged, fluttering. Her feet lifted off the ground one after another like a motion resembling the gentle flow of a river stream. A clenched burden released within her body, taken away from the trenches of potential hopeless. Hope. Certain it’d fade away the second it’s acknowledged; she wasted no time.

Her hand slipped from the knob. Excitement freed from the depths of tightened capillaries. Edged closer, the short distance lengthened. Short and rapid breaths clapped out a whisper she never once considered a possibility. “Elizabeth?”

But it wasn’t her at all. Someone she didn’t expect lingered near the edge. The one person she thought she’d never see here in a million years. Not even for a second. He’s here for her, she supposed, grip tightened in a ball of white-knuckled mounds. Her heart shivered; skin crawled at his presence.

Screw him.

She brushed back her brow, the tiny hairs trickling across her fingertips. For a moment, he vanished beyond the providential wall her pale wrist provided. But he remained unsettle, stoic, as if waiting…

Maybe for a reaction?

Certainty of his promised disappointment wielded inside of her solid stance. Her shoulders rolled back, spine straitened, and began sweeping the area looking for anyone of greater importance than him. Anyone that would ruin any chances he may purloin.

Twyla sat cross-legged near her, entranced. Curious, Echo approached. “Hey,” she said, “are you okay? Er, awake even? Hey.” Her hands turned ice as she grasped her shoulders. Trickles ran up her spine. “Twyla?” But she was still breathing. “What is this, Meditate Day for Pod Three?”

A shadowy glimpse reminded her why she came this way.

Her eyes diverted, from any hint of his. “Just go away,” she whispered towards her side. “Go away, go away,” she repeated.

“You need to come home, now,” his voice boomed, rolled through thunderous clouds of his demonic tone. “I have someone you need to meet. Someone important. A person you haven’t seen for far too long.”

Her attracted interest filed its way towards his words.

What could he mean by that?

Surely not what he might mean. “I’m not coming home. I like it here. I’ve misjudged this place.”

“I don’t care what your reasoning is, Missy. You’re coming home now. Now say it!”

Her eyes narrowed, lips pursed. “Never.”

Wrong response, she thought, after he swung his arm towards her. His grip tightened around hers. She pulled, and tried, but failed beyond the point of bruising, if possible in virtual reality as real as this. But he tightened, glowered. “Now. Say it.” His voice matched his grasp. Firm, unceasing.

“You can’t hurt me here. Nothing can.”

His hand leveled with his head, pulled back inside an invisible sling shot. It released, burning the other cheek. “Does it hurt now? Huh? Because I can make it hurt more if you’d like!”

Stunned, she stumbled back, he pushed her free. On the ground, her eyes wept. She peered up through the prism tears. “You’re not a dad, you’re not even a father. You’re a monster. A demon. The devil. You are not a man. I hate you! I hope you die!”

She lunged, headfirst, fist swinging into his side.

Unfaded by her battle, he chuckled. She kicked his shin, pounded his chest and still, he laughed. “You know, you’re right. Nothing can hurt you here. Or you are just weak. A weak, stupid, little girl.”

She growled through her teeth, mustered all the strength in her body in one last swing towards his jaw. The crack of joints signaled her pain. She jolted away, face streaked with lines of anger and sadness.

Weak? Maybe. Stupid? No.

“I’m going to tell everyone what you did,” she said through her teeth. Anger pouring out of her. “Not only to me but to my mother.”

Eyes pressed upon her from those who watched with solid intent, but she didn’t care.

“I didn’t do anything, E,” he chided.

“That’s it!” she screamed, pushing her entire weight upon him, where he finally succumbed to the virtual ground. He winced in pain, a bit too much. The victory, however, of standing above her tormentor delayed the realization of his act.

Tons of people stood behind her—all of them it seemed. Watching, judging, making their remarks. Her stomach tightened as one of them stood out more clearly than the rest. A silver-haired man, with an icy stare.

The Doctor.

“He’s already here,” her father chortled, in zero obvious pain. “Disengage.” He vanished in thin air as did many others. Except for Twyla, who remained unearthed from her state of mind.

Another shiver crawled up her spine, this time as if a snake made of gentle glass, frozen in the snow, slithered its way up with legs made up of witches’ fingers. False warmth sliced across his lips, curled in the edges, sanding down the subtle twitch of a madman’s grin. Just inches from her face now, his breath tinged with missed morning rituals.

Garbage truck juice.

“No, I’m not going. Not yet.”

“It’s a beautiful day, wouldn’t you say so? It’d be a shame to waste it fighting with dear loved ones.” His nonchalance tone twisted her gaze. “How are you?”

“Delightful,” she mocked, rocking back and forth with her arms tucked safely within each other. “You?”

His head weighed down, eyes still on her. “The act of acting out is punishable by exclusion from the pod. But I’m not going to do that, since technically no real harm was done,” he said, ignoring her, stationed nearly inches from Twyla now.

His gaze dropped, swaying back up. “She’s not ignoring you.”

That snobbish tone pinched her ears.

“I figured that. She must be meditating or something.”

He revealed a translucent, glass, tablet from his pocket. An image of Twyla illuminated the screen, words filled the bottom in tiny, broken, lines and boxes shaped from each sentence. “No. She’s been induced into a memory allowance. Something you failed to show up for this morning.”

“The house,” Echo murmured. “That’s why I only got to see a part of it. Isn’t it?”

“Can we talk more about the altercation you just had? It needs addressed.”

She shook her head, oddly complacent. “What about Clyde? What about him?”

“You’re not allotted any authorization any knowledge about such people. Now, let’s focus on you, whilst determining your fate here.”

Whilst. She doesn’t know what it is about that word, but it always hits her ear in all the wrong places. “What are all these memories doing here? Why can’t I recall them at home?”

“Well, sometimes the memories we encounter here are traumas we’ve set aside. Some freeze, can become cathartic after some time, or worse. But they are here because no one wants them anymore. To face them is practically suicide.”

“Or exactly where they need to be. Back into the minds of who they belong to.”

“Not everyone—as you can see—comes here expecting to relive their worst nightmares. Why are you so concerned? Did you experience a lapse in memory?”

“Yeah, but it was nothing like you’ve described. It was pleasant.”

“Pleasant? Are you sure? Only the worst of memories rest here. Unless it had scared you once before, but now, as you are older, it became understandable in a way.”

“Now, it still spooked me. What was pleasant about it, was just seeing my mom again. When she was young. I felt happy.” But maybe it was a trauma, she considered. But, instead asked, “What about my mom? Surely, I can be authorized for that.”

He tapped on the screen, the folds in his cheeks deepened as her photo popped up. A red box lined around her frame, he clicked it off instantly. “Last login, December 21st, 2065.”

“That was two days after we were brought here,” she said, shifting her weight on each leg. “That’s impossible, that can’t be.” She stopped in her tracks; her eyes bore into his. “My dad got to you, didn’t he? Didn’t he?”

“No. But he did come to me. You were brought here with a diagnosis of both schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder. I promised that I can help, but I fear your treatment may need an adjustment.”

“She was here. Just yesterday. Here, even. She was here.”

“If you’d like, we can finish this conversation at your house. With your father, as well. Because not many people are aware of their problems except their loved ones. We just want to make sure you are all right, okay?”

She snapped her head away, her body followed, and channeled something Kyah would have said to her if given the chance, or opportunity. “Yeah, well, talk to my back since that’s today’s hotspot for heated conversational topics about me.”

He placed his palm on her shoulder. It was soft, almost inviting, and warm. “Listen, I am on your side. The side that eliminates pain.”

Her throat thickened; eyes glazed as her cheeks warmed. “Okay. Fine,” her voice cracked. “But can you tell me? Tell me my trauma? What am I suppressing? What did I forget?”

His hand dropped, he sighed. “I’m afraid I can’t tell you. If you are not able to face it in memory, then maybe you’re not ready.”

“Or you know nothing, and just act as you do. Forget it.” She kicked the ground. “I know someone who knows way more than you probably do.”

He didn’t respond.

She whipped around, yet he was gone. “Of course. They all talk to me, but once I open my mouth, they disappear. Delightful.”

She checked Twyla’s state once more. “I hope it’s a good one,” she whispered into her ear. “Disengage.”

The force tugged her back, floating in a gentle white light. Her arms floated above; her legs were suspended in the air. Nothing surrounded her except the darkness against the light. It was a time of sleep, relaxation, yet lucid at the same time. As if she could just reach out with a single finger and tear a shred in the blanket of light. When she looked back, a chair neared her. A girl sat in place, unrecognizable at first, but somehow, deep down, she knew it was her. Her hair, her face. She closed her eyes, and then for a moment, she slept. Even if only seconds passed.

The golden walls of the pod hung above her as she lifted her eyes open. She peered gently around.

Some chairs were vacant, others not. The ones she had hoped for, filled. Her legs swung down, dangling like two pendulums after sitting back up. “Home.” the distaste of such word left a film of stank across her tongue.

A tap stung her shoulder, and she shrieked before turning around.

Clyde.

He waved his hands above his shoulders. “Hey, hey. It’s okay, it’s just me. Are you okay? I thought you swore off these machines.”

That was before I knew what they could do.

 “I’ve changed my mind. What about you? You completely ignored me.”

“When?” The puzzle was all there in his face, however, jig sawed out of order.

“In the street. Meditating, I guess? Unconscious, perhaps.”

He smirked, “Do I hint a bit of worry in your voice?” He laughed.

Her face twisted in failed amusement.

“I’m kidding. But, no, I had to…go someplace,” he continued.

It was as if he were guessing.

“Let me guess, your Happy Place, or Safe Space? I have both.”

“Kinda, look, are you sure you are okay?”

She hopped down from the machine, jerked away from his help. “Yes, geesh. Why?”

“Your dad, he is saying things,” his voice drifted, but his gaze remained. “Bad things,” he dragged on.

“Like what?”

“You attacked him? Threatened the doctor? What is going on?”

“Nothing, okay? None of those happened like that.”

“It’s okay,” he stopped her, “I believe you.” The sincerity in his eyes opened like windows on a warm, summer evening.

He did.

Then, an unfamiliar sensation took hold of her. A friendly feeling. She grabbed his hand.

“Don’t let me go alone,” she begged. “I know I haven’t been the nicest person to you—”

“I won’t,” he said.

Her heart stopped. Won’t what?

“You won’t be alone. As I said, I’m your friend. We are friends. And I know you are innocent. You can deny it all you want, but deep inside, you’re a softy.”

She knocked him back with a single, light push.


Chapter 6: X-Hume "rhyme for every reason"
Chapter 6: X-Hume

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