Secret Santa Gift for Ayers

The girl was laughing as her hands combed through her blue-stained hair. It fell down her body like a dirty river, carving a valley in the painful averageness of her reflection. The brown-blue mixture matched the shadows under her eyes, suggesting something else: a painful, latent sadness caused by something out of frame.

Details flooded through her mind all at once. Sounds of a fight echoed in the background; the bathroom was cluttered with useless and broken items; her lips were quivering as she smiled.

Her laugh remained as she collapsed against the counter. It remained as she fell through the tile floor, and spiraled through the void. Her laugh remained as her world faded into nothingness above her.

She fell for a long time.

In the intervening eons, people came and went. Butterflies of light and meaning whispered past her ears, carrying their own stories. A man in an orange jumpsuit wandered nearby, confused and alone. Dust rearranged itself in the sky above.

She fell for an eternity.



When the girl awoke, she was lying in a cot with a man leaning over her. She was still, and so was he, and they stared at one another for a long time.

Her first words were hesitant. "Do I know you?"

His lips parted and his eyes drifted away from hers, like he was thinking something over.

"I don't… think so," he said. "Do you know me?"

The girl shook her head and looked around the room to avoid his disappointed gaze. The space here was bright, but four half-built walls of stone conspired to make the house around them. She propped herself up on the cot and noted an empty bookshelf in the corner.

"Did you build all this?" she asked cautiously.

"No, I…" he trailed off, again finding a spot above her head to focus. "I remember building it, if that makes sense. It builds itself, sometimes: the cot, sections of the walls, those shelves — and you."

He ends that sentence pointedly, expecting her to respond. She had nothing.

"Thank you for taking care of me," she said, pulling herself out of the cot, "but I have to be going. Do you know what this place is?"

The man looked down dejectedly, shaking his head. "No, I… you're the first person I've seen here. And if you don't remember me, then I guess you're not… " He stuttered off.

She cocked her head to the side. "Not who?"

He looked sad, in a way she'd never known before. It was a different kind of sadness to the girl in the mirror — or herself, she supposed.

"All I remember is building this place," he said, quieter than before. "All I remember is hope, and then falling through the ground forever. The man — err, I — was waiting for someone, so I've waited here too. Y-you're the first…"

His voice cut off sharply again as he held in his breath, eyes screwed shut. The girl looked away uncomfortably, waiting for him to recover.

After some moments, he regained enough of his composure to continue. "This is a place where memories congregate. I think I'm that man's memory of hope."

He looked up at her, staring her down until she was forced to return his gaze directly.

The corner of his lip jerked up in anxiety, but he braced himself and continued. "Can't you be my hope? Just for a bit?"

Something echoed in her mind, bouncing off a memory that didn't exist. His words were alien to her, and they contradicted something she had learned in her past, imagined life. Outside the mirror, she knew no one could make themselves this vulnerable out of love.

Behind her, the stone wall groaned loudly, causing them both to jump. In the center of its mass formed a large oak door, with a simple bronze knob within the reach of her hand. The girl turned back to the man who built this house from nothing, noting the look in his eyes which begged for an answer to his question.

She shook her head and took hold of the doorknob. Behind her, the man sighed.

"Just as well," he said. "At least, I'm happy someone stopped by, even just for a little while."

His voice was hopeful, but his sincerity was questionable. She pulled open the door and walked into the void beyond.



By her first step, she had become well-versed in eternities. The length between her foot and its destination seemed to be an infinite distance, and she waited patiently. Time and memories flowed differently in the Noosphere, the latter given form in butterflies and jellyfish and amorphous blobs of peanut-buttery slime. On occasion, she would feel their cold weight on her shoulders as they attempted to chip away at her resolve. None succeeded in all the seventy-two eternities between the door and her ultimate destination.

After her twenty-fifth eternity, something whispered in her ear.

It was a beautiful day outside. Some of her friends were standing over her as she sat on the cement curb, and the girl directly in front of her was pissed.

"Holly, we need you for this to work. We all know how crazy your dad can be, and we're sure as hell not knocking on his door. Just get Olly's doll back when he's sleeping tonight and smuggle it to us tomorrow."

Holly shook her head again. "Why should I care about Olly's dumb doll?"

A spark of rage in her friend's eye ignited the memory, burning it from her mind's eyes.

Holly, the girl thought. So that's my name.

Infinite lives were lived between her forty-sixth and forty-seventh steps. She could see a light at the end, a meager twenty-five eternities away.

Olly went missing three years later. Her parents were investigated but ultimately cleared of suspicion, and no culprit or body was even discovered.

Still, there was an old urban legend in her town. It went that if you waited until sundown in an old part of the neighborhood's forest, the red of a scarlet sun would paint the rocks and trees in brilliant crimson. And if you waited long enough, you could find a rock or tree or ripple in the pond that resembled Olly's long-abandoned face, clothed in the bloody red of celestial wine.

Is that what this was? Holly asked. Is that what life was like?

Sixty-two was a big number, but sixty-three was one step closer to infinity.

It was a mundane school project. The room was filled with the sounds of pencils on paper. But Holly stares at the question in desperate confoundment.

Write three vocabulary words that stand out to you the most.

  1. Self-absorbed
  2. Disconsolate
  3. Failu Persitent

Seventy-two. Her hand reached out and grabbed for the light of understanding.

Holly Mills cried in front of a mirror. She realized, all at once, that she could never know how to dye her hair.

The light gave her what she wanted.



Holly Mills relaxed in her college dorm room, surfing the web on her phone. On her desk nearby was a picture of two adults, smiling with her for a picture. The rest of her desk was piled high with books, one of which was on cosmetology.

Her phone buzzed as a text message rolled in at the top of her screen. She frowned; an unlisted number.

Unknown
Blue hair Holly. Do you have blue hair?


She paused, considering responding. Maybe it was an old friend from back home.

Unknown


Blue hair Holly. Do you have blue hair?

Hey, haha, who is this? And no, I don't have blue hair anymore. That was back about a year ago. 😅

It's been longer

I have blue hair

Okay, lol? Do I know you from school?

I know you from one year ago

I know you from the mirror

?

I know I want to be more

I want to be not selfish

I want to be more than the mirror

Who are you Holly?

Who are your parents?

Did you have fun with your friends?

Did you fix your hair?

Alright, I'm going to stop texting now. I hope you find whatever you're looking for.


Holly set down her phone and stared at the ceiling of her bedroom. Eventually, her eyes shifted on the picture on her desk, and she lay still. The eyes of her father and mother stared back at her, their smiling faces frozen in time.

She looked back at her phone, where message after message had begun to accumulate.

Unknown


Holly please

I need to know who the girl in the mirror was.

Please holly

Listen

Umm

I don't know who you are

But it's more complicated than that

Life is more complicated than that

I'm more complicated than that

You need to let go of whatever the blue hair thing is and find out who you really are.

You there?

okay



Howard stared at the empty bookshelf, trying to recall which books he had placed on it in his past life. The classics were a given, but had there been any modern additions? His questions served to burn out the droning ache in his heart.

When the door opened, he hardly reacted. He turned around slowly, expecting to see that it had merely fallen off its hinges under the weight of its lofty implications. Instead, he saw the girl from before, and his eyes widened in shock.

Her hair, once a mismatch of dark color and blue dye, had been transformed into a cascade of rich sapphire. There was a spark in her eyes he hadn't seen before, and she closed the door behind her with confidence.

"Sorry about that," she said. "I've reconsidered your offer."

Howard blinked incredulously, but smiled all the same. "Would you like to help me build this house?"

She smiled back. "I would, yes. It seems like most of the Noosphere is a kind of void, but if we start walking in one direction, we may found something or someone interesting. Maybe even some raw materials. How about it?"

He nodded before giving her a strange look. "What was that word you used a second ago?"

She shrugged "'Noosphere?' I don't know, it just came to me. Now, come on, we've got some exploration to do."

And with one brisk motion, both left the house and shut the door behind them. There was laughter in the Noosphere after all.

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