Marie woke up to see that the clock read 7:46AM- sixteen minutes since her alarm should have gone off. Precious minutes of experiment time had been lost. She would scowl if emotions were worth her time, which they really weren’t. Ready to get caught up on her work, she navigated her cluttered floor in order to reach her drawer of mouse corpses.
Just as she was about to pick up the fattest little body, her mobile went off. She was a little fazed by this at first, but then made the long trek all the way back to her bedside table and picked it up.
Calling: Theresa Evelyn Jones [Accept/Decline]
She accepted. “Hello,” she said in her signature monotone.
On the other side, Tessa’s voice was shaky and sniffly. “Alright,” she greeted. “Erm…was wonderin’ if you were free today? I mean…nae reason, nae reason, just, erm, I’m free and I’m bored.”
“You have a reason,” Marie said.
“Erm.” Tessa sighed. “Just…meet me by the bridge in twenty minutes, aye?”
Marie nodded, though it was, of course, completely pointless. “’Aye’,” she repeated.
The bridge in question was a ten minute walk away from Marie’s house. It went over the river that flowed about twenty metres below as a means of crossing- if you wanted to get to the other side, your only other option was to run down the steep banks and wade through the water. That in itself was a challenge, as there were rocks that seemed to have the express purpose of blocking your way. If you were to walk down the riverside from the point of the bridge, you would not long be led into a thick forest bordered by the entrance to a network of caves.
It was a windy day, much more than any day Marie had known in years. Her long hair was blowing all over the place, completely destroying any hopes she had of seeing directly in front of her. The air was nippy and cold, but Marie wore only her thin jumper with the sleeves that were too long. It was all she needed.
She knew what the reason was as soon as she saw Tessa. The girl was sat on one of the walls that acted as a barrier to keep people from falling. She was face down, hands stuffed in pockets and glaring at every stranger who walked past. The absence of the red beanie she always wore gave it all away- her hair was tangled and without the form of the hat to keep it in place, it was even less controlled than usual.
Upon the realisation (which honestly wasn’t too shocking), Marie walked up and stopped just in front of her. Tessa looked up, only a little bit surprised by the sudden movement, and offered a weak smile. “Alright, mate?” Her voice was still not itself.
Unblinking and silent, Marie just stood and kept staring. The silence carried expectation: she knew Tessa wanted to say more than that and she intended to let it happen.
Tessa was a little unnerved by Marie’s refusal to respond, but again, when you’re friends with Marie, you learn to live with it, so she just sighed. She said, “You know me too well, ya ken?” She shook her head. “You know everyone a bit too well, even if you don’t know them.” This attempt to coax out a reply failed also.
She looked scared for a minute, scanning the area as if she was in danger. After a long minute and with sad eyes, she said with a lowered voice, “Ben’s using again.”
Marie had had her suspicions ever since the phone call, but she’d known for sure that would be the problem ever since she saw Tessa without the hat- Ben’s hat, the one she’d got from him, the one she always wore because she loved him, and she was proud of him. On days when thinking about him was too upsetting, she went without. Marie had figured out that simple pattern a long time ago, and she wasn’t sure if anyone else noticed, even Tessa herself.
As intuitive as she was, she was not the best at traditional means of comfort- she acknowledged that Tessa was sad and she knew why (her brother endangering himself again) but she couldn’t really do the sympathetic thing very well. She asked herself, what would Isabelle do in such a situation?
Voice level but eyes questioning, she ventured, “I’m sorry.”
It was so weird coming from Marie that Tessa actually laughed a little. “Don’t,” she said. “Just be yourself. I’m no looking for pity, I just…wanted to see you.” Their eyes met and Marie’s usual stare was attacked with the sudden urge to blink. Her cheeks were slightly warmer than was the norm, something only Tessa could do to her. She wasn’t sure how she felt about it.
“You make me feel a wee bit less shite,” Tessa continued. “I thought maybe I could help with one of your experiments today, get my mind off things?”
Marie nodded a bit, then nodded a bit more vigorously. She had to remind herself to stop because people were giving her weird looks. “Ahem- I was planning on testing a hypothesis in the caves further down the river, in fact, if you wished to accompany me it would certainly not be received negatively.”
Tessa nodded half-heartedly. “Sounds awesome.”
With that, the girl started to wriggle off the wall, her hands still hiding in her pockets. A sudden gust of wind knocked her off balance, and her immediate instinct was to bring her hands to her sides to steady herself. However, the fabric of her jean pockets stopped them and her movement only served to further knock her off course. Terrified, her feet flailed, longing to hit the bridge, but her legs were too short.
It was all over within a few seconds. Marie didn’t have the time, or the mental processing, to react. The Scottish girl’s screaming inspired a shout of terror from Marie too, but the scream wasn’t nearly as bad as the horrific thump of Tessa’s body hitting the rocks in the water. Marie felt her eyes getting wet, her lungs burning, nothing made sense. She could barely hear the shouts of, ‘Oh my God, somebody call an ambulance!’ from the strangers all around her, her eyes working when nothing else would as she leaned over the edge to see Tessa’s lifeless body lying in the red-dyed water.
Marie sat up in bed with a jolt. A bad dream. Funny, she didn’t often have those, and when she did she wasn’t usually nearly so affected. Her heart was going so fast it was practically buzzing. Instead of going straight to the mouse drawer, she felt it necessary to take a moment or two in bed and steady herself.
The ringing of her mobile phone brought her back to reality. She scrambled for it and:
Calling: Theresa Evelyn Jones [Accept/Decline]
If she had been the type to find humour or even omens perhaps she would have reacted more, but one coincidence was hardy 5 sigma. She, of course, accepted and put the phone to her ear.
“Good morning, Tessa…”
Tessa sniffed loudly into the phone and greeted Marie with, “Alright.” She paused before going on. “Erm…was wonderin’ if you were free today? I mean…nae reason, nae reason, just-”
Those words were admittedly strangely familiar. “Okay,” Marie tested, “I can meet you by the bridge in ten minutes, if it is convenient.”
“Huh.” Tessa exhaled. “You know me a bit too well, ya ken?”
Marie wasn’t keen on making this resemble her dream any more than it already did, so she decided against staying silent. She didn’t like emotions when they did this- impaired her judgement, made her do things just to stay comfortable, but it wasn’t too big a deal. “I am, indeed, ‘alright’, Tessa Jones. And yourself?”
“Not really.” Tessa moved like she was going to scuff her shoes on the ground, but from where she sat on the bridge’s wall, her feet couldn’t reach it. She scoped the area with about as much subtlety as she could manage and then, with her eyes big and her voice low, she said, “Ben’s using again.”
Like the dream, Tessa didn’t have the hat on, so Marie already knew and it didn’t feel right at all. Perhaps this was some weird kind of interdimensional bleeding where she had seen something before it happened- not impossible, given the multiverse theory, and at the very least a considerable hypothesis at this point.
She remembered that in the dream- the vision?- Tessa didn’t see much use in Marie’s attempts at sympathy, so she didn’t make any, instead going for: “I’ve been meaning to do some experiments in the caves downstream. If you wished to accompany me, I would be happy with that.”
“Sounds…awesome,” Tessa said. “Tell you the truth, I’m a wee bit weirded out by all this- you keep saying everything I’m thinking before I can say it.”
“I know everyone a bit too well, ya ken?” Marie said tonelessly. “Please give me your hand. I wish to help you down from the wall.”
Tessa’s face started to go red. “I-I’m alright, really, I can get down myself-”
“I would feel more comfortable if you let me help you down.”
Marie’s urgent tone of voice inspired a weird look from Tessa. “Alright,” she said with one eyebrow raised. Her hands wriggled their way out of her jean pockets and reached towards Marie’s- stopping a few inches away, like the girl was scared. Nervous? Marie didn’t take much notice, just clasped Tessa’s hands with all her strength and inwardly sighed with relief.
“Jump down,” she said.
Tessa did so, and just as she did, the strongest gust of wind either of them has ever seen hit. Marie yanked Tessa down and once the girl’s feet were firmly on the bridge, Marie held onto her until the wind fucked off, because even though there was no obvious danger she didn’t want to take chances.
The Scottish girl stood there looking absolutely stunned. “Holy fucking shit,” she breathed.
Tessa blinked several times. “If you hadn’t been holding my hands…”
“Come on. Let’s go to the caves.”
They did so.
Tessa cheered up a bit as they walked downstream. She was aesthetically pleasing when she was happy. The corners of her mouth were just a little bit upturned and she walked with a bit of a spring in her step. She was scruffy and it was cute- her hair was all over the place, her clothes old and dirty, her shoelaces untied, and it wasn’t pitiable when she was like this.
It was pretty until those untied shoelaces tripped Tessa up and she fell to the floor, fact first into a pile of broken glass from a beer bottle. Her face torn up and bloody, she rolled and slipped down the riverbank until, in a horrifically familiar way, she lay broken amongst the rocks which her head had hit, which was why it was looking so awfully smashed as it dyed the water red.
The last thing Marie remembered was falling to her knees as she watched her precious friend fall into the rocks and die, so you can imagine her confusion as she woke up at 7:46AM for a third time. Was some kind of higher power giving her another chance to prevent this catastrophe? It just didn’t make sense. The chances of this happening spontaneously were so insignificant they may as well have been zero.
Calling: Theresa Evelyn Jones [Accept/Decline]
Almost in a daze, she agreed on the bridge as their meeting spot once again.
As soon as she laid eyes on Tessa, she made her hold her hands and jump down from the wall. Then she sat her down and did her laces for her. Just for good measure, she put her cousin’s bicycle helmet on top of Tessa’s head.
“I look like a twat,” Tessa whined.
Marie scrambled for an excuse. “It’s for an experiment.”
She looked like she was going to complain but thought better of it. “Alright…” she agreed, suspicious.
“If it would help you take your mind off Ben, we could walk back to my house and spend the day together.”
“I didn’t say it was about Ben.”
Again, Marie wasn’t quite sure how to explain that- ah, but she was! “Your hat’s missing,” she said. “When your hat’s missing, you’re upset with your brother. And you’re only ever upset with your brother for one reason.”
Tessa looked down. “He started using again,” she muttered.
“I gathered.” Marie was once again confused as to what to do, so she just put an arm around Tessa’s shoulder. Tessa’s face went bright red once again.
“Is this wrong?” Marie asked.
Tessa shrugged. “Let’s go to your place, aye?”
The underpass between Marie’s house and the bridge was notorious for having a bunch of stupid high schoolers smoking weed hanging around in it. However, it was less dangerous than the only other route- crossing the busy road above. When Marie had come, there hadn’t been anyone there but still she was a little bit…worried? This was worried, right?
“Wait here,” she told Tessa as it came into her vision.
Tessa frowned. “What are you doing?”
“Checking.” She didn’t give her friend a chance to complain, just ran ahead. The underpass was empty, nothing but some weird slime on the ground, and that couldn’t pose too much of a threat. Her heart felt a little better contented now as she turned on her heel to go get Tessa.
Her heart did not like hearing Tessa shout, “I’LL FUCKIN’ FIGHT YA, WEE MAN!”
She sprinted back outside. Tessa was surrounded by older kids- young men of about nineteen, clearly intoxicated and at least one of whom was in possession of a knife. Marie knew she was physically no match for this kind of person and searched desperately for another solution.
“Listen, mate,” the tallest one growled, “our fucking underpass right there. You’re too near. We said get lost.”
“And I said NO! Now fuck off!”
Another stepped in. “You’re a stupid bitch, you know that?”
“Get away from me!” Tessa promptly kicked him in the shin. It was like she realised her mistake immediately, because she started trembling, but she was still too proud to apologise or run.
“Oh, fuck- that’s IT, you fucking…”
Marie could only force her feet forward in an attempt to fight the boys off, but one pushed her to the ground. She was reduced to watching as two of them held Tessa down and the other punched her in the face. She kept kicking out and got her attacker in the balls this time. He roared in rage and raised his knife, bringing it down on the Scottish girl’s throat.
Tessa’s body was dropped onto the pavement as three very scared teenage boys scuttled away from the situation. Now they were alone, Marie dragged herself over to Tessa and touched Tessa’s face with her finger, once again in disbelief. This time Tessa still lay in a wet pool of red, this time no river required.
The fourth time it happened, Marie took Tessa to the shopping centre instead and bought her a chocolate milkshake, which Tessa enjoyed greatly until she tripped on an escalator and her face was ground up at the bottom. She would have been okay, but in her fall, she had taken a few children down with her, and was trampled by the crowd of people making sure the little ones were okay. Marie stood paralysed and watched as she always seemed to.
The fifth time, she tried staying on the bridge with Tessa. It went fine for a few hours and Marie thought she’d finally got it right, when a snarling Rottweiler spontaneously broke free of its restraints and attacked them. Marie was okay, but Tessa was mauled. The owner apologised profusely before she broke down crying. Marie was the one to go into the woman’s bag and find a mobile to call 999 with. Tessa died on the way to hospital.
The sixth time, Tessa died when a child threw a big rock and miscalculated where he was aiming. The seventh, they went into the woods and she was crushed by a falling tree. The eighth, the wind blew her hair into her mouth and she choked on her own blood when it literally tore her windpipe apart. The ninth time it was a lorry, the tenth it was a car, the eleventh and twelfth were both seemingly-rabid four year olds. The thirteenth was squirrels. Every time, so much red. It was somewhere around the sixty-fourth rendition of the same day that Marie decided that maybe God was real after all, and this was her own personal Hell, constantly looking for the change to the experiment that would make the real difference.
Another few thousand days, and she had an idea.
She took Tessa across the busy street again, except this time, when the car came, she shoved Tessa aside. The car hit a child just the same as always, but this time it was a darker-skinned and fairer-haired one that made the red water.
The next morning, Tessa Jones woke up from a nightmare with an odd sense of déjà vu.