Pareidolia: Chapter Two

I’m publishing my science fiction novel Pareidolia in slow motion. A new chapter will be published every week. The premise is available here.


LEAH

Northwest Philadelphia | July, 1999

The long walks started in June. I was sick of sitting around at home, pretending to read or staring at the cat. I’d disappear behind the wall of trees across the street from our house almost daily, losing myself for hours. Dad asked about this over dinner one night, but I wasn’t sure what to say. Where was I off to? Just getting some exercise? Yes, that was it. Not that it was a secret.

It wasn’t just dad; I couldn’t have told anyone exactly what I was doing. The first time it was a late afternoon after finishing a desperately boring game of PC solitaire. The second time was in the middle of the day, a welcome alternative to zombie channel surfing, something I found myself doing more and more as the summer dragged on. I brought dad’s digital camera that time, hoping to capture the image of a lonely shed I encountered on my last walk, black and orange-brown in the late-afternoon haze (book cover city), but the shed eluded me. It hid among the trees as I wandered an unfamiliar network of paths that led out to a rusty pair of train tracks.

The tracks were perfectly straight, except for off in the distance where they curved ever so slightly to the left. Thick woods guarded them on either side. I might as well have been out in the country. Distant trains whistled but never materialized into the real thing. Ghost trains.

I snapped a few pictures of the tracks ahead of me, trying unsuccessfully to frame their symmetrical A shape. None of the shots came out particularly well, but the camera screen was difficult to see in the reflected sky.

I took more pictures, of flat warehouse roofs that peeked over the treetops, of towering power lines and screeching black birds, of tall elaborate arcs of steel latticework that I imagined acted as stoplights for trains. Other tracks eventually joined mine and led to a train yard. Traces of burning tinfoil joined the smell of tar and rotting wood that colored the air.

I’d spotted more than a few broken shards of glass and CD fragments by this time, so the reflected white glimmer from the ground did not come as a surprise. I stopped when I reached it, a half buried object of some vague technological purpose, surprisingly shiny given the environment. It gave off a flicker of colored light as I knelt down to inspect it, or maybe it was just a reflective glint of the sun. I picked it up and wiped it on the side of my shorts. It was heavier than I expected, and sort of reminded me of the first time I saw the inside of a computer. A logo was carved into the top, the outline of a triangle. I put it back down, snapped a quick picture, and popped it in my shoulder bag just in case. Might be worth something. Felt vaguely found art. Anyway to me, techno-industrial stuff like this was cool. Or at least it should be.

I forgot about the strange ingot for a time, only rediscovering it while digging through my bag a few days later. I put it on the bookshelf in my bedroom, intending to inspect it later. Was it a computer part, like a hard drive? No, it was too small. And it lacked any holes or ports: no way in. Its former purpose had now been rendered irrelevant, its functionality abandoned. It had been reduced to a citizen of my bedroom, taking up residence among the unlit candles and heart-shaped jewelry boxes and books and ripped concert tickets and half-used packs of fruit-flavored gum and all the things that screamed LITTLE GIRL’S BEDROOM but I just couldn’t seem to part with.


July 27, 1999

Dear mom:

Ugh, this is so weird. I’m not a big fan of writing these letters. Dr. Korzybski said I should try at least once. He said it was OK, as long as Dad and I keep showing up for sessions and talk about acceptance etc, and so here I am.

It’s been weirdly quiet this summer. Last year I had that job at The Churnery, and there was the volunteering and the tutoring. There was always something to do. All I’ve done so far this summer is watch TV and nap.

I’m starting college next spring instead of this fall. Dad said it would be OK as long as I spent part of my time researching educational and career opportunities. I just don’t want to leave home yet. I’m still totally a mess since you died, and Dad’s not doing much better.

I’ve been going for lots of long walks. Did you know about those train tracks? I can walk them for hours. Clears my head. Plus I keep finding all these random objects.

I got this watch when I was seven, remember? You bought it for me when we were in Zurich, and I totally fell in love with this shop like completely full of watches and clocks and mirrors. The ticking was everywhere at once, a thousand different times tapping at my ears. You made me promise to be extra special careful. Everything was made out of wood and glass and steel. Even the dust was Disney movie magic dust.

Dad didn’t see the watch until we came back from Europe. You were embarrassed because it was such an extravagant gift, so spur of the moment. You couldn’t help yourself. You loved me more than I loved that watchmaker’s store, and watching me fall in love with something, really for the first time, to totally fall out of myself and into something else was too much for you. I didn’t understand at the time that it was a totally inappropriate gift for a seven year-old, and you had already, I’m sure, blown your wad on the trip.

A circle of tiny diamonds, maybe more like an oval, and an eggshell white face. Dark iron hands and no hour marks, so it’s very grown-up. Black, black leather strap, liquid black, and a bright silver crown. Every couple of years I get a new strap, never as liquid black as the original. I only take it off when I shower. And when I do, I don’t just put it anywhere. It goes around here, this computer drive thing. It’s the perfect size. One of the found objects from the tracks. I cleaned it and nursed it back to health, and now it protects my watch and gives me super powers. If anyone ever tries to steal it, I will kill them with my brain.

There’s only five more months until the beginning of the twenty-first century. Crossing over into a new millennium totally sucks without you.

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