“I call shenanigans!” Mr. Macintire complained with a wide smile. “Not fair, absolutely not fair. Hannah Banana, you tell them Miss Tabitha’s not allowed to leave the hospital yet. I’ve put in waaay more hospital time already, but somehow I still don’t get to leave!”

The exaggerated pout the grown man put on when his seven-year-old daughter was here was absolutely adorkable, and Tabitha couldn’t help but grin at seeing him in this new light. Both Mrs. Macintire and Hannah happened to be visiting with him when they stopped by and the little hospital room was crowded, so the Moore parents lingered by the door while Tabitha came in to say her goodbyes. As eager as she was to leave the hospital behind, she would miss getting to see Hannah every day.

“She can leave if she wants to,” Hannah put her little fists on her hips and gave her dad the cutest stern look she could muster. “She just got better faster.”

“Why don’t you tell your father about my operation,” Tabitha suggested with an amused smile. “Hannah knows all about it!”

“Tabby got... a third ventriloquist,” Hannah explained with a serious expression. “A third ventriloquist is, um… it’s like when…”

Mrs. Macintire turned away and covered her mouth, but not before everyone heard her snrrk of laughter escape.

“An endoscopic third ventriculostomy is when doctors open up…” Tabitha helped.

“Yeah, an endoscopal third ventriloquist,” Hannah continued to liberally paraphrase while making a shape with her hand as though she was holding something big. “It’s when doctors open up a bit of Tabby’s head, like they’re carving a pumpkin. Then they take out some of the seeds and pumpkin stuff. To make it so that there’s not too much.”

“Oh, lordy,” Mrs Moore laughed from the doorway.

“Seeds and pumpkin stuff, huh?” Mr. Macintire grinned, glancing from Hannah over to her mother who was still struggling to suppress her own laughter. “Hopefully nothing too important?”

“Cerebrospinal fluid was removed to help reduce swelling from the trauma,” Tabitha assisted Hannah’s storytelling with a gentle smile. “They didn’t quite turn me into a jack-o-lantern, they just made a few incisions and lifted back the tiny portion of bone that had been impacted where my skull was cracked. I’m told I was very fortunate in that regard at least—compared to what you went through, I think it was a much more minor operation.”

The bleed on her brain had clotted before even arriving at the hospital—which she was told was common—but the clot itself had been extremely dangerous, and with her swollen tissues from the head trauma the clot was in a position considered unfavorable for a more invasive operation. An endoscope was used through a small incision, the surgical bypass successfully helped drain some excess fluid, after which she’d been placed under observation to determine what would happen with the clot. The blood clot did disappear, but it did so along with all of Tabitha’s apparent brain activity, so everyone had naturally feared the worst.

Think I only survived at all because of my abnormal circumstance, Tabitha thought to herself, suppressing a wistful smile. But... who would ever believe it? If whatever electrical or neural signals that constitute my memories can somehow transmit backwards in time, is it possible for damage to be dispersed that way? I want to say that logically, no that’s not even realistic, but then on the other hand—neither is fucking time travel. It definitely DID seem like I carried that blood clot into the other timeline and left it there. Sorry, other timeline.

“Yeah, you got shot!” Hannah said, looking at her father in consternation. “On TV when people get shot they die.”

“Not always,” Mr. Macintire protested. “I’m the hero—I’m like James Bond, a bullet here and there won’t even barely slow me down.”

“Yeah, you’re the hero, huh?” Mrs. Macintire shook her head in exasperation. “I think from now on, no more letting Hannah sneak out of bed to watch Bond movies with you, okay?”

“Well, obviously I’m the hero,” Mr. Macintire grunted, reaching over ruffle Hannah’s hair. “Besides, how can you have late night father-daughter bonding without Bond? Right, Hannah Banana?”

“No, Tabby’s the hero!” Hannah insisted, struggling to fight off her dad’s hand with both of hers. “‘Cause—she’s the one that saved you!”

“Then, that makes Hannah the real hero, because she’s the one who saved me,” Tabitha said, slowly dropping into a crouch and opening her arms.

“Yeah!” Hannah’s eyes lit up and she escaped Mr. Macintire’s grasp and rushed over to envelop Tabitha in a hug.

“Whoa—careful careful Hannah,” Mrs. Macintire stepped forward in alarm. “Careful with Tabitha.”

“She’s okay,” Tabitha assured her, wrapping her arms around Hannah. “She’s fine. She’s my hero! She grabbed my hand when I was lost in a very, very bad dream, and that’s how I found my way back. It was tough!”

“Really?” Hannah leaned back far enough to search Tabitha’s expression.

“Really,” Tabitha confirmed with a nod, booping her on the nose. “Thank you. How about, in the future, whenever your parents are busy or need some time to themselves, I can come over to your house so that you can babysit me.”

“Really?” Hannah’s eyes lit up. “I can babysit you?”

“Of course,” Tabitha said. “I need you to look after me—because you’re my hero.”

“Mom, can I babysit Tabitha?” Hannah twisted in Tabitha’s arms to throw her mother a look of excitement. “In case for uh, for whenever she needs someone to look after her?”

“We’ll see,” Mrs. Macintire chuckled, giving Tabitha a look. “We’ll see how Tabitha’s feeling when she’s a little better.”

“Soon as you get better, I’m going to babysit!” Hannah said.

“I’ll learn all of Momma William’s recipes you like,” Tabitha promised. “We’ll cook a big dinner together, and then get cozy under a blanket and watch Disney movies. How does that sound?”

“Hey, wait a minute!” Mr. Macintire made himself sound extra indignant. “What about movie nights with Daddy?!”

“Daddy’s movies are BORING!” Hannah confided to Tabitha in a whisper that was more than loud enough for everyone present to hear.

“They most certainly are not!” Mr. Macintire said in a childish tone. “There’s nothing boring about James Bond movies!”

“Boooring!” Hannah giggled.

I don’t think my favorite movie SPIRITED AWAY is out yet, but I’m sure Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service are on home video here already, Tabitha thought to herself, pulling Hannah back in close for another hug. If I can only find them—it’s not like I can just order them online. I wonder if she’s seen The Thief and the Cobbler?

“C’mon, Pumpkin,” Mr. Moore spoke up. “Let’s go and get you home and restin’.”

“Ugh,” Mrs. Moore thwapped him with the back of her hand. “Geez, Alan—don’t call her Pumpkin, not now. Not while I still have those images in my head.”

“Yeah, not after they carved ‘er open and took out all of the seeds and pumpkin stuff!” Mr. Macintire laughed from where he was reclining on the hospital bed.

“Oh, don’t you even get him started!” Mrs. Moore rolled her eyes. “C’mon Tabby Honey. Let’s leave them be, Officer Macintire here will be fine—he has Hannah here to babysit him.”

“Thank you so much for stopping by,” Mrs. Macintire said, gently pulling Hannah out of the way and assisting Tabitha back up to her feet so that she could give her a hug of her own.

“No, no,” Tabitha said quickly. “Thank you guys for spending so much time visiting me. If you two hadn’t been there on that day… I think I would’ve been in trouble. To say the least.”

“Open invitation for you all to join us for Thanksgiving,” Mrs. Macintire said. “I’m making a big feast to celebrate when this stupid lunk finally gets released, but he won’t even be able to eat solids for a while, so…”

“Mm-mmm, turkey milkshake!” Mr. Macintire chimed in, patting his tummy and spurring another fit of giggles out of Hannah. “My favorite.”

“You laugh now while you can, buddy—we’ve got a blender,” Mrs. Macintire teased, shooting her husband a look before turning back to the Moores. “It was great to see you all. Take care and drive safely!”

“Keep an eye on this guy,” Tabitha ushered Hannah back towards Mr. Macintire. “He’s a troublemaker.”

“I will,” Hannah promised with a serious nod. “Bye, Tabby!”

“See you later, Hannah.”

The wailing keen of ambulance sirens and flashing lights cut through the November air like a knife, and the sparse traffic along the road dutifully slowed and pulled toward the median to let the emergency vehicle pass.

“Tsk, terribly inconsiderate,” Mrs. Moore made a dour face. “Honestly. We’re trying to take our daughter home, here!”

“We’re on the main road that leads right to the hospital,” Tabitha reminded her with an amused expression. “I think that’s fair odds for encountering an ambulance.”

“Always hated the things,” Mrs. Moore shook her head, seemingly determined to be unreasonable. “They always mean something bad’s happened, it’s like they’re this dreadful… I don’t know, omen or something.”

“All a matter of perspective,” Tabitha smiled. “I’m sure when you really need one, the arrival of an ambulance is a very welcome sight.”

“Well, we won’t be needing one of those any time soon,” Mr. Moore said. “I think we’re done and through with them things for a good long while, okay?”

“Okay,” Tabitha readily agreed with a nod. I wasn’t even conscious for whatever ambulance took me in from the party.

Normally being situated in-between her mother and father in the tight confines of the truck cab was unpleasant, but right now Tabitha felt comforted to be surrounded by her family. She’d been in sore need of a change of scenery, and more than anything the seductive call of freedom and personal agency had been beckoning for far too long. It was inordinately frustrating sitting there cooped up in a hospital room simply waiting to get better, and no amount of trifling distractions would ever be able to change that.

Tabitha needed to do things.

I’m going to set up a garden, Tabitha decided. Always meant to, but just never made time. I can’t actually PLANT anything until Spring, but I can certainly—wait, I don’t even need to keep this to myself, do I?

“Mom? Dad?” Tabitha asked, breaking into a grin. “Can I clear space for a garden?”

“In November?” Mr. Moore laughed.

“Yes, in November!” Tabitha beamed. “I want to weed the yard so our grass looks better, anyways. Spend time out in the sun, feel the wind on my face. Get my hands in the soil. By the time everything’s ready and set up, Spring will be here.”

“Tabitha—the ground’s practically frozen, you’ll catch cold out there in the yard!” Mrs. Moore objected. “What sort of flowers were you wanting to plant next year?”

“Cucumbers, tomatoes, peas,” Tabitha said. “Peppers, maybe? I don’t know just yet.”

“Don’t sound much like flowers to me,” Mr. Moore gave his daughter a wry smile before turning his attention back to the road.

“Flowers... are only nice to look at,” Tabitha pointed out. “Vegetables can be nice to look at and good to eat. We already took just about everything from Grandma Laurie’s garden this year—I’d really like to be the one bringing her things, for a change.”

“That’s very thoughtful of you, Sweetie.”

“My birthday’s next month!” Tabitha’s eyes lit up as she remembered. “For my birthday, I’d like a big bucket for us to start composting with. And a pair of gardening gloves. If I can use some of those old bricks we already have in the shed, I can mark out an area the size of—”

“You’re not getting a bucket for your birthday!” Mrs. Moore seemed aghast at the idea. “Tabitha—”

“It’s not expensive!” Tabitha promised. “Even just a tall plastic bucket will do. I want to see if we can—”

“We can get you a bucket, but not for your birthday!” Mrs. Moore seemed rattled. “Can you just imagine it, a bucket, all wrapped up in wrapping paper on the table with a big pretty bow? What would everyone think?!”

“Oh, well you don’t have to wrap it,” Tabitha blinked. “You can just—”

“How ‘bout we get you fixed up with a whole gardening set?” Mr. Moore proposed. “Getcha some gloves, a little spade, trowel, garden rake—you name it.”

“I don’t know that I’d use all of them,” Tabitha admitted. “How about… a bucket, some gardening gloves, and... three or four tomato cages?”

“Why don’t we talk about ice cream?” Mrs. Moore suggested, rolling her eyes. “You’ve been talking about wanting yourself some ice cream for weeks. What kind did you have in mind?”

“I have been wanting ice cream,” Tabitha remembered with a dreamy smile. “Very much so, yes.”

“But what kind?” Mrs. Moore asked.

“All of the kinds!” Tabitha giggled. “I want all of the ice cream. All of it. Every kind. All of the ice cream.”

Not favoring their chances at the local McDonald’s soft serve machine being operational—it had become rather infamous around town for never working—Mr. Moore instead steered his battered pickup into the parking lot of the Food Lion so that they could buy a small tub of ice cream to take home and enjoy. The air was crisp and cool, so the two parents strong-armed their daughter into wearing Mr. Moore’s oversized hoodie overtop her dress and carefully guided her down off the cab’s bench seat until her sneakers crunched down onto dry fall leaves.

Being with her parents had felt restrictive and terrifying to her back in May, and Tabitha remembered feeling trapped by the loss of agency. As she linked arms with her mother and father to stride together down the rows of cars to enter the grocery store now, however, she simply felt happy. Sharing simple moments like this with her family wasn’t reliving a fond memory—it was treading new ground entirely. Tabitha wore a wry smile and couldn’t help but wonder to herself if it really took such a bewildering series of traumatic events to get to here.

I don’t know if I can say it was worth it, exactly... but I AM glad to be here like this.

Walking through Springton’s Food Lion was one of those surreal experiences that always seemed to pointedly remind Tabitha that she really was in 1998. The overhead strips of fluorescent bulbs were bright, but were they as bright as supermarket lighting she remembered from the future? Were they dimmer by a few shades? As they slowly stepped down the aisles and Tabitha marveled at the tightly packed shelves of product with all of their outward-facing brand logos, the familiar brands were rendered unfamiliar in some strange, subtle and difficult-to-place way. It was hard not to think of the store and everything in it as a veritable time capsule collection of days gone by, and she couldn’t help but search for things that stood out to her.

Maybe the colors are different? Or, the font the different brands use have all changed over the years and I’m not used to them like this? Maybe there’s less fine print? Maybe not? As Louis said in Interview with a Vampire—the world changed, yet stayed the same. I guess this feeling really can’t be described properly.

There was a magical feeling in traipsing down the aisles with her parents—after all, this wasn’t like waltzing through the grocery store from her childhood. It literally was the grocery store from her childhood. Just for today, a bit of that almost forgotten novelty and excitement had returned, the feel of being a kid again, where her parents just might be persuaded to buy her something really nice. After forty-some years of this, shopping would become the mundane; a matter of routine and nothing more.

Tabitha was intent on cherishing this with every fiber of her being.

The grocery store’s selection of ice cream was arrayed behind glass doors in the frozen section, partially obscured by foggy condensation and a glittering of frost. The different depictions of ice cream on each of the little tubs looked more than absolutely delicious, they sang a sweet serenade to her very soul and every single one made her mouth water with excitement. The picture of scoops of butter pecan ice cream conjured into being every memory of the flavor, until she could almost taste the dessert on her tongue again. The soft green of the mint with chocolate chips made her want to sigh with appreciation, and the cookies n’ creme likewise thrilled her with the simple possibility that she might be enjoying it soon. They even had bubblegum flavored ice cream—but, she hated that stuff.

Some things just shouldn’t have ever come to be. Science was a mistake.

“Lotta tough decisions,” Mr. Moore spoke up in amusement, seemingly having read her mind. “You need any help there, Sweetie?”

“We can get more than one!” Mrs. Moore spoke up. “We have room in the freezer.”

“This one,” Tabitha made her decision, swinging open the freezer door. “If it’s okay, I’d like us to get this one.”

Vanilla with peanut butter cup and fudge swirls; the paper tub was numbing cold in her good hand, and had more heft to it than she’d expected. Is this... too much?

“Is that gonna be enough?” Mr. Moore asked. “How much is it?”

“It’s two dollars and thirty-nine cents,” Tabitha looked up with a pleading expression. She’d forsaken the more expensive Breyer’s and Ben & Jerry’s in favor of Food Lion’s cheaper generic brand ice cream, and it surely seemed like a good price by her modern sensibilities, but—

“No no, I mean—is that there gonna be enough ice cream for all of us, or should we get another tub or two?”

“I... thought you were just kidding about that,” Tabitha said, feeling stunned. “It’s—um, it’s a quart? Oh, a quart and half.”

“Pick another one, Honey,” Mrs. Moore encouraged. “Grandma Laurie and the boys’ll be there at home waiting for us, I’m sure they could eat that whole tub in a single setting.”

“Oh!” Tabitha blushed, passing her father the tub of Vanilla with peanut butter cup and fudge swirls so that she wasn’t awkwardly managing it with her hand that was still in a cast. “Right. Okay.”

She didn’t know the boys’ preferences for ice cream, so she played it safe and chose the combined vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry stripe of a neapolitan for them.

“I’ve got forty dollars here, you go and get all the ice cream you want,” Mr. Moore said, gesturing across the freezer doors again.

“This is enough!” Tabitha smiled. “More than enough. This is just for tonight—I don’t want us to have any leftover, or to make this a habit. I want us to keep eating healthy, and then have ice cream only on very special occasions. To help keep ice cream sacred and special.”

“Sacred, just listen to her,” Mrs. Moore chuckled.

The Moore family walked up to the nearest checkout counter to wait while the customer in front of them finished writing out a check. The nearby newsstand display featured a Time Magazine with the ominous text The Fall of Newt above the face of Newton Gingrich who was currently Speaker of the House of Representatives, almost prompting Tabitha to reach over and examine it. She paused for a moment, made a face, and finally withdrew her hand. Temptation was always greatest here, and she was both interested in what was going on in the wider world stage here in ‘98... and repelled by the thought of getting caught up in constant thoughts about the timeline and her place in it.

Definitely not tonight— I just want to enjoy being a teenage girl tonight. I feel like I never got to do that the first time, so… so this is fine, I can give all the serious thinking a rest for a bit longer. I’m not ACTUALLY mentally regressing. Right? At least, I hope I’m not. I mean, Mom and Dad certainly never cared about world events, so it’s not like— She turned to regard her parents for a moment, and did an immediate double-take, her mind completely blanking from whatever thought she’d been having.

Her parents were making out.

What the actual fuck, Tabitha’s eyes went wide and she felt disoriented for a moment, even double-checking to ensure that yes, these were in fact her parents.

Alan and Shannon Moore didn’t kiss, in her memory that wasn’t something that would ever even happen behind closed doors—let alone in a shocking public display of affection here in a checkout line! They were parents, not horny teenagers! Their relationship was supposed to be completely platonic. She knew that, in theory, they had somehow conceived her into being, but that—that was in distant eons past!

What the—what the fuck, Tabitha quickly looked away, feeling shell-shocked and lightheaded. This is… this is… new? This never… uh. What the fuck? When did…?!

Studiously examining the texture of the checkout’s conveyor belt and not daring to look up, Tabitha politely cleared her throat when the man in front of them finished and was walking away with his bags. They all shuffled forward, and Mr. Moore passed the tubs of ice cream over her shoulder and onto the counter.

Okay. Okay, they’re done. That was… weird.

“Grandma Laurie’s gonna kill us for getting the boys ice cream,” Tabitha’s mother laughed, certainly sounding like she was in higher spirits all of the sudden. “I really can’t believe they finished off all that Halloween candy so fast.”

“Wait, what?!” Tabitha’s head snapped back to her parents in consternation. “They what?! They can’t possibly have eaten all of that. There was so much! How long was I out of everything?! It’s—it’s just barely November, right?!”

“Honey... we weren’t sure how to break it to you,” Mr. Moore said with a somber expression. “It is November—but of 1999. You were zonked out for a whole year.”

“That’s—that can’t be—” Tabitha hurried to grab for the nearest magazine and then fumbled to find the publication date. “It is not! It says right here 1998, I can’t believe you would—that’s not funny! That’s not funny!”

The Food Lion cashier couldn’t help but give them an amused glance as he rung up the two tubs of ice cream, because both parents were laughing while their red-head daughter ineffectually swatted at them both with her one good hand.

“That’s so not funny! I can’t believe you would say that! I’m gonna get you for that!”

They were welcomed home by Grandma Laurie and all four cousins, and for a while the trailer seemed like a madhouse of activity as the boys struggled to contain their excitement. Raised voices echoed throughout the living room despite their grandmother’s attempts to get them to lower their volume, and if not for Mrs. Moore protectively hovering over Tabitha they would have crowded in and smothered her with questions and attention.

“Did you really die?” Joshua asked.

“We missed you, Tabitha!” Aiden exclaimed.

“Did you see a white tunnel to heaven?”

“It’s white light, not white tunnel, doofus.”

“Does it still hurt? How hard did it hurt when you got hit?”

“Yeah how would there be a tunnel to heaven? It’d be a tunnel only if it was to hell. Because hell’s underground, like a thousand feet down.”

“Um…” Tabitha’s body was feeling heavier and heavier and she was already looking for a place to sit down and rest with anticipation.

“You were on the news, Grammy got it on the new tape we bought. Do you want to see?”

“Can we see your stitches? How many stitches did you get?”

“We saved you some candy.”

“Yeah—you like Reeses, we saved all the Reeses!”

“All the rest is gone.”

“You... can’t have possibly finished off the rest of that Halloween candy,” Tabitha said with an incredulous smile, carefully dropping herself down into the cushions of the chair beside the sofa. “Even with four of you. There was so much!”

“We did.”

“Yeah, we did.”

“There wasn’t even that much candy to begin with, honestly.”


“Josh ate most of it, I barely got any.”

“Liar. You took almost all the gum.”

“Yeah, but gum doesn’t count. It’s gum.”

“We went over to where the Taylors used to live and threw eggs at their back door!”

“Yeah, we threw eggs but they weren’t even bad and rotten yet.”

“Yeah, but the policeman said they didn’t even live there anymore.”

“Yeah, the grass wasn’t even mowed.”

“We didn’t even get in real trouble, though!”

“Do you want your shoes off? I can take your shoes off.”

“We’re gonna find out where the Taylors went, and then—”

“Ssshhh don’t tell them that. We’ll get in trouble.”

“Aiden stop, geez—you can untie the other one. I’m untying this one. She has two shoes, idiot.”

“I know, duh.”

“Do you want a Reeses? Josh, go grab the candy we put in her room.”

“Boys, boys,” Grandma Laurie shooed them back to give Tabitha some space and grabbed Tabitha’s left shoe out of Samuel’s hand. “Give her some air, for crying out loud, she can’t get a word in. Why don’t you boys go get the dinosaur you prepared for her?”

“It’s not a dinosaur, Grandma geez.”



“Sorry. Here’s your other shoe.”

The ‘dinosaur’ they had acquired for Tabitha in place of a bell to ring for assistance turned out to be a foot-tall square-jawed Godzilla toy from the American Godzilla movie that had premiered earlier that same year. When a small button on his chest was pressed, the iconic Godzilla roar would play, albeit in that tinny, distorted way that electronic sound effects built into cheap toys sounded back in 1998. Tabitha turned it over in her hands with a wry smile before looking up at her expectant cousins.

“Isn’t it way betterer than a stupid bell?!” Joshua asked. “It’s way betterer.”

“Better,” Grandma Laurie corrected.

“Yeah, better.”


“Well—thank you,” Tabitha paused, taking a moment to search for something appropriate to say. “It’s very… um. Cool. Whenever I look at it, I’ll definitely be reminded of you boys.”

“We just put in new batteries,” Sam said. “It was the only toy we had that was loud enough.”

“Sometimes it just randomly roars though even if you don’t push the button!” Nick added.

“Yeah, it does that all the time,” Aiden said. “But, we put in new double-As!”

“Press it again, press it again!”

“Yes, I’ll… thank you, cherish it,” Tabitha said with a weak smile, looking to her grandmother for help.

“Alright, alright, that’s enough excitement for Tabby for one day!” Grandma Laurie began to corral the boys. “She needs her rest. Tabby, just in case the batteries in that awful thing die out, there’s a tiny little hand bell in beside your bed. You give your father a ring and he’ll come wait on you hand and foot. Won’t you, Alan?”

“Hand and foot,” Mr. Moore nodded. “Room service for Tabitha.”

“Don’t use the bell—that’s lame!” Aiden protested. “This is Godzilla!”

“Thank you for everything, Grandma,” Tabitha said. “You too, boys.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t come out to see you when you were cooped up in the hospital,” Grandma Laurie sighed. “The boys have been a handful here, and you’ve been getting a lot of calls. You even have a few letters, I set them in on your dresser. You go in and lay down, we’ll be back by here to see you tomorrow. Love you, Sweetie!”

“I love you,” Tabitha gave her grandmother a hug and accepted a kiss on the forehead.

“Get some rest—you look dead on your feet, girl.”

“Well, wait—we did buy a bunch of ice cream for everyone,” Mr. Moore reminded Tabitha.

“Ice cream?!!”

“Ice cream! We get ice cream!”

“Wait what kind?”

“Ssh, who cares, it’s ice cream.”

“Shush, you hooligans!” Grandma Laurie barked, giving Tabitha a look of concern. “Do you want to have some ice cream now, or do you want to wait and we’ll have an ice cream party tomorrow? You look like you’re slippin’ in and out, Honey.”

“Um,” Tabitha gave the boys an apologetic wince. “I think that… why don’t we have an ice cream party tomorrow? Sorry, everyone.”

Despite her earlier enthusiasm to celebrate her freedom, Tabitha indeed found her energy was already flagging in a big way. It seemed silly to her to look forward to a serious nap after spending so long in a hospital bed, but there was something incredibly alluring about being able to tuck into the comfort and privacy of her own bed, in her own room. Simply being home was a relief all in its own.

After saying her goodbyes and seeing her Grandmother and cousins out the door, the mobile home filled with peaceful silence and the call of cozy blankets beckoned to her. Tabitha passed the Godzilla toy to her mother with a wry smile and carefully crept down the hallway towards her room, keeping one hand on the wall for balance. Tabitha’s room was quiet and still, and in her absence someone had tidied up and neatly made her bed. The forgotten yellow Flounder stuffed animal rested on her dresser, and her Ariel costume hung from a hanger in front of the mirror.

Tabitha traced her fingertips down across the outfit in surprise—she hadn’t expected to see it again. The dress was intact, but as she examined more closely she found several new seams and lines of stitches where panels of fabric had clearly been replaced.

Of course, I was wearing it that night—paramedics must have cut it apart, Tabitha surmised. Grandma, you didn’t have to put it all back together…

A large pile of individually-wrapped Reeses peanut butter cups from the boys’ candy stash was sitting atop some mail on her dresser like a heap of treasure. Some of the half-buried envelopes had that squarish look that signified they might be Get Well cards, while others were rectangular and suggested people had actually written her. Tabitha was very interested in going through them, but the slowly-mounting exhaustion won out and she stepped over to sit heavily on her bed.

Home. Finally home.

She sleepily struggled out of her new dress, half-heartedly folded the garment, and managed to land it on her dresser on her first toss—her bedroom was tiny. Tabitha tugged back the covers, slipped her bare legs in along the clean linen, distractedly combed her hair back from her face, and then gingerly rested her head down on the pillow so that she wasn’t laying on her stitches. Tabitha let out a long, slow breath, and was asleep in moments, with the faint roar of Godzilla out in the living room not even able to rouse her.

A note from FortySixtyFour

   The circumstances of 2020 had me fall behind on writing for quite a bit there, sorry about that. Back on my feet now, and I even have most of the next chapter written! Patreon readers really loved parts of it because the plot developments are kicking back in and hitting hard, but other aspects didn't land as well as I hoped and I'm gonna work on them some more. Will post up when I feel like it's good enough for you guys. Or, I'll grit my teeth and post it up on the 1st of next month even if I don't feel like it's good enough.

   For readers able to forgive my several month lapse in posting, there's a Top Web Fiction thing here. It's boosting instead of voting now apparently. Fair odds I'm not even providing the right link.

   I've spent a fair bit of time lately working on the game adaptation of my other fiction, it's frustrating and expensive but also interesting and honestly fulfilling. Seeing character art, background illustrations, and custom music themes tailored to the project all coming together to become more than the sum of their parts is incredibly satisfying.

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Bio: Avid reader, reluctant writer.

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