A note from stellajo

This chapter is in Orl's perspective, and she's a bit unusual. Let me know if you become confused.

This room was Orl’s, for now. Though it was cold and smelled Not Used, it had a Best Ever. The door could be locked from Inside. The Leader’d shown her how to flipped the lever, shutting everybody Out. A first-time experience in her world of Locks Outside. A taste of Free, though she wasn’t ready. Her mind had Needed the pills, more than she’d realized. All this noise, the Singing, the other people’s Thoughts garbled her own thinking. But soon her mind would clear, and she would Leave.

Not Left and Alone felt good, though a lie had created Aloneness. The Leader had said Everyone was going to bed. But everyone was Not In Bed. No. The garbled Noise of Many people, like wet gravel rolling in a drum, floated up from the mess hall. Local proof of Not Everyone In Bed. Also, the astronomy book had shown that the Earth spun on its axis and right now, a portion of the globe faced the sun. Most of these daytime people were Awake.

Hence, Not Everybody was In Bed.

She considered the Leader’s Lie. Did it anger her? Hard to tell. The Pills had evened out her Feelings until they lay flat as this old pillow. The lie remained a Data Point, possibly part of a Pattern, like the patterns of this coverlet, barely visible except in the slanted rectangle of moonlight that shared her bed. Each fabric square she tented felt Different, one silky, the next nubbled, the next felty and soft. In combination, the multitude of small squares formed the Entire, the coverlet. Like people. Some have a large square of Lie. Some a small.

The Supervisor lied too. Tucked his feelings into a square and hid them with a Self-lie. He heard the Singing, too. Once their feet touched the stubbled field, the song had flowed through their chips. It’d filled her mind, connecting her to all things, an overwhelming Belonging. But he resisted the Song, wouldn’t acknowledge hearing it, not to himself, not to the others. And why did he lie? Because he was afraid. Clearly, nobody had mentioned the Signal to him. Because the Song must be Rasp’s precious signal. But “Signal” was the wrong word to describe the Singing. Rasp was looking for a machine; she’d found a Singer.

She opened her mind and waited. Time passed in a vast absence of Song.

Not Nice, the Singer withholding the music. The Supervisor was Older. Maybe his fears were justified. Maybe the Singer was not good. Hard to believe, considering the beauty of the Song, but Rasp and his henchmen wouldn’t hesitate to send her after something Bad. They didn’t care if she was hurt or Killed.
The idea of Hurt worried her more than Killed. She tuned her Blue chip and listened to the building. Nothing beyond the noise of the Living. She left the Bed, justified because everybody was Not In Bed, and stood at the window.

Behind the curtains, Night coated the yard. Cool white moonlight dusted the forest’s trees with glitter. Some Dead congregated in a section of the yard, vibrating squiggles from this distance. The Supervisor was correct, ghosts were no trouble. Harmless even, these ghosts who’d stayed too long. Their thoughts were few and on repeat, the usual set: excuses, unfinished business, regrets, blame, yearnings. Nothing new to add to the category of dead-thoughts.

Mommy? Where are you?

Orl snapped her toward Elsewhere beyond the yard. There! A dead shimmering at the edge of the forest, separate, and Alone. She opened her other chips to see clearly, even though Open meant risk and danger. But she’d no reason to fear one small and lost ghost. He became Crisp, even without the medication. She was stronger without it, another of Rasp’s lies exposed. This dead shone brighter than most of the yard-dead, more Contemporary. She steeled herself for a dead-conversation; the dead, unmoored in time and place, spoke even less Sense than the living.

Where did you last see your Mother?

She helped me zip up my costume. We were walking home. We weren’t supposed to stay out past dark. We didn’t. We were good. But…something happened. And we’re late. And now my brother’s gone, too.
A wave of confusion followed his story: “late, alone, gone,” all common complaints among the dead. Dead usually couldn’t answer “when” questions, but no harm in asking.

When did your brother go missing?

Yesterday. One minute we were going home, then he was gone.

Yesterday might mean Yesterday or yesterday five hundred years ago. Were you walking toward the Door?

No? I have to get home. Mommy will worry. But I’m lost.

Your Mother went through the Door. She’s waiting for you.


Maybe your brother’s there too. But if I find him here, I’ll send him to you. Go on. You’re Late.

You’re sure?

Yes. And anyway, you can’t stay here Alone. Go.

The dead wavered, flipping through Memory: gravel roads, a tidy cottage, a three-wheeled vehicle, a red ball, the all-encompassing presence of Mother. A special night, a treasured costume.

A real childhood with Mother. What would that’ve been like? Something hot splashed on her fingers. Tears. Had they come from her? She touched her cheek and found Wet. A phrase of Song joined the boy’s memories, and a swell passed through her, tingling and warm, a Good feeling shared with the boy and the Song. A kindness. Kindness was rare. He deserved kindness in return. She willed him to focus on his Door which was now well defined, his personal door, a bedroom door or his home’s front door.

You should go. She’s waiting for you. She misses you.

I miss her too. Bye. And if you see my brother, tell him to come soon.

I’ll remember. I will.

And in that instant of Receptivity, he crossed and was gone. Back to being Alone, she swept her perception across the border between yard and trees. Nothing. The Singing has stopped again. Hopefully, the Singer would wake and fill the abyss that opened in the Song’s wake.


In the crystal moonlight, trees and fences cast attenuated Shadows, gray on gray. And there, in the ink-black void between two trees, something cold and Silent regarded her. An Awareness, but curiously empty and not one of the Dead. It’s watching rubbed her raw, paring her down to Less. This something Unknown was something Not Right. She stepped away from the window and hid trembling under her blanket.


About the author


Bio: Writing about unusual people in unusual situations with works falling somewhere between science fiction and contemporary fantasy. Author of Harmony Lost and Discord and Harmony, available direct from website or multiple ebook retailers.

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