Reading Time: 7 minutes

The tug on her collar sent her arms flailing. Her fingers slipped, squeezed, and pried against this person’s giant wrists. She cried in broken sobs. “Let…me…go. I-I have to help her. She can’t breathe!”

“What did you do?” Kyah accused.

Echo kicked and screamed, then knocked themselves both down. Dust kicked up, landing a small amount in her mouth.

“Stop fighting me!” Kyah said, restraining Echo the best way she knew how.

Echo cleared her throat, heart pounding. “Why won’t you let me save her? I need to help her. Somebody, help!”

“That’s not your mom. You’re going to kill that woman!”

A lump formed in the back of her throat. Her heart sank, drowned inside her treacherous revelation. “No. No, that can’t be true.” She jumped up. “That was my mom sitting there. Right there! You’re going to tell me this isn’t her?” She checked the face again. The blueish tone and black lines were gone. And Kyah was right. The ground brought comfort to her bottom. Disbelief shrouded her mind. “She was just here!

“E, I didn’t realize you were getting worse.”

“What? You talk to my dad?”

“What? No, you do need to talk to someone though. First there’s people outside, now this? Did you try talking to Clyde?” Kyah condescended, caressing Echo’s shoulders.

She brushed away her hands and stood back up. “I’ve tried, now don’t touch me. Where is she?”


“My mother.”

“I don’t know. Are you feeling alright?”

“Yes,” she sighed, unsure. “Maybe I thought she was my mom. I was crying all the way up here and short of breath, but I didn’t mean to hurt her if I did. Now, have you seen her?”

“No,” Kyah’s voice firmed as her fists clenched. “I haven’t. I’m sorry.” She struggled to reach her chair. “Can you help me up?”

“Why would I do that? You just tried to call me crazy, too!”

“Please?” Kyah outstretched her hand. Echo, reluctant, couldn’t say no.

“I’m not crazy,” she justified in a stance, and squeezed her fists deep into her jean pockets.

Kyah nodded. “No one said you were.” She pushed on her wheels, hurried away, and glanced back a few times. But, she shrugged, shaking her head as she pressed down the road. Echo followed her path with her eyes.

“Right,” she said, taking her gaze off the back of her chair.

Two brawny men, guarding a box, an exit, at the back of the pod eyed them with intent. The transducer created the perfect spot for her to rest upon. While they faced away from the path, their angle directed towards a screen of white, partly flattening the crease of the tip. The transducers gave a certain comfort for any pending announcements from ‘The Doctor. He’d answer any question, but one remains on her mind.

The leathery plush of the seat numbed her legs. Her shoulders dropped their weights, and her eyes glued shut. Tracing the seam of the chair’s silk stitching, each tiny rivet bumped her finger across tiny mountains she pictured climbing and then descending.

Desperate for an answer, nothing compelled one worthy of comprehending. The exuberance, though strong, drained in a fleeting manner of hopeless woe buried within sight. What was there to do? Nobody cared, and never believed they should.

Except Mom. She’d care…in her own way, anyways.

A dejected sigh crossed her wry smile. She knew what she had to do at a time like this. Follow in her mother’s footsteps and relieve this building pressure inside her the one way she knew how. However, it sickened her. Not in the sense of motion, or nausea, but in the concept of hooking a metallic gadget in the back of her head. A choice would have been nice, but as of two years ago, viability in survival became key to their existence. In a way, there was never going to be one.

Her other hand traced the outline of the diminutive, matted squares found on the bottom right side of the transducer’s arm rest. The silicone touch smoothed the pad of her fingertip, more so than she recalled. Except the one in a triangular shape. The Activator Switch. It’s a manual on and off switch.

The button sunk in, surrounded the entire tip of her finger. A click snapped under hair line, and her hands tucked firm against her chest.

“Engage,” she demanded the voice activation.

Within a single motion, all her worries melted away, her problems ceased their incessant begging, and her independence swept her dependency beneath her minds rug. Peace, it’s all anyone need anymore, no matter how reveled or serene. But maybe there’s a reason for this particular yearning to attach itself within the embodiment of every person’s soul.

“No, stop.” Her eyes flickered open. The machine whirred as it clicked, disconnected from her built-in cisterna. “I can’t. I shouldn’t be doing this.”

A hollowness gaped inside. Her stomach churned rocks, and eyes weighed down. The thought of appended euphoria made her obstinate belief about the simulation silence her intrepid persona. A kind of fearlessness that could be looked up to, rather than ran away from.

A subtle flash in the corner of her eye reminded her to breathe. But, within her peripheral gaze, a fuzzed pair of eyes glowered. She wondered just a bit at the persecuted glare but didn’t read too much into it. Instead, Echo continued her gaze above where the faint clouds evanescenced the minute she stared too long. As her eyes passed one, an outline of another illuminated, but only for a second before fading back in the rest of the artificial sky.

“What are you scared of?”

Echo jumped at the sound of a gritty voice belonging to the woman she thought was her mother. Her eyes, blue, yet daunting pierced away at Echo’s flesh. They bared no possibility of looking away no matter how long she ignored this woman’s question.

The woman pressed further. “Well?”

Echo clenched her jaw. The shaking of her head rattled an answer. “Nothing,” she cleared her throat, “I’m not scared of anything.”

The woman cackled to her dismay. “Foolish. There’s plenty to fear in this,” she waved her hand around the area, “this place. This world.”

“We’re safe here,” Echo objected. “Nothing can hurt me here.”

“Then why are you trying to ‘escape’,” a sly smile crept across the woman’s forties-face, “Trouble in paradise?”

The sarcasm silenced Echo. She shrugged; arms crossed. “I don’t know, okay? I just, needed a break. I feel trapped in here, and a bit stir crazy.”

The woman sat up and folded her ankles within each other. A long necklace dangled towards her abdomen, and at the bottom a quaint emerald, in the shape of a heart, vacillated between her pushed out arms. Faint blue veins lined down her pale, almost translucent forearms. She shook her head, sighed. “Nothing is ever perfect, it’s all on how you perceive the world you feel is faulted. Don’t let it be that way,” she tapped her temple, “nothing ever good comes from locked perfection except for the alignment of perfect insanity.”

“What does that even mean?”

The woman chuckled, slight crinkles peeked across at the edge of her serene, livid, eyes. “Don’t drive yourself nuts because everything’s not as you had planned. Accept what is and let go of what isn’t.”

“That’s the thing. I don’t know what this is. What anything is anymore.” A tear ripped inside her and crumpled a shred of hope she held dear.

“Then, wake up.”

“But I am. I am awake.”

“Are you sure? I never sleep, just meditate. I’m not sure if I would ever wake up the next morning.”

“My eyes are wide open. Haven’t slept all day, not in lack of trying, either. How much more awake can I be than now? I love sleep. It’s the best time of day, in my honest opinion. I wouldn’t mind if it were the only thing I could do. Why want to wake up in a world like this? I want to go home.”

“You tell me, I don’t know. All I do know is that you said ‘stop instead of ‘disengage.”

A quick glance around proved otherwise. The walls, gone, replaced by a solid red boarder. She kicked her head back.


“I didn’t want to be here. I have to leave.”

“Something tells me that’s not all true.”

“I don’t want to be here, okay? I don’t. I have some-things I need to do. And here, I can’t do them! I hate this place. It’s such a joke.”

“No, no, not that part. The part where you ‘have to leave. I don’t think you’re the type of person that ever does anything you don’t really want to. Are you? Or aren’t you?”

“But I do want to leave, and where do you get off thinking that you anything about me? Honestly, since the confinement, I don’t think we’ve ever actually talked before this,” Echo said, leveling with the woman’s gaze as her legs swayed above the ground. “You know, I don’t have time for this. I’m looking for someone.”

“Well, okay then. Look away. But remember, if you wanted to leave, you would have already,” she continued with a sigh, “But, this place…it’s nice, through my eyes anyways. The way the birds chirp, and trees line down a paved path. Look around. Enjoy what you see.”

She brought her face up as if basking in the warmth of the sun. “Memories are a tricky thing, though. Mine keeps placing an old, decrepit house at the end of the path. I’m not sure why I would remember something that I swear, I cannot recall at all. I’m thinking the system is faulted. Maybe I’m getting someone else’s memory by mistake. Needless to say, I’d much rather avoid that house for some reason.”

With a shifted gaze beyond the woman’s head, the grassy knolls weaved through an otherwise flat terrain. A hill, just on the other side, was a patch of farming land. Corn towered over, and small tufts from a tractor’s pipe emerged from its center. Her projected memory of the place was just as she expected. Summer of May. The third, she recalled. But as she looked back at the woman, she was gone.

“Of course,” Echo said, tensed and fed-up. Considering what that lady was talking about she never thought to approach the house she was talking about. It dawned upon Echo, that she hadn’t even considered doing the same with her grandparents’ place.

Here, it’s within sight, not unlike the two miles she recalled.

There’s not much left to lose, especially in a social media system. She ventured down, knocking back and forth the thoughts and fears of what this place might conjure up based on how well she remembers it all. Yet, as time had gone on, the inability to bring back the sound of their voices failed her at this very moment.

Chapter 5: X-Eunt "She Can't Breathe"
Chapter 5: X-Eunt



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