Emma was running late. Her hair was wet and for a moment she thought she had her pullover on backwards. She didn’t, but these were valuable seconds she was wasting. She plucked her car keys and house keys out of the bowl by the door and hurried outside. She had one set of keys in her hand and the other between her teeth. She unlocked the car and got in. There was something she’d forgotten. She looked over at her house and the front door was still wide open. She groaned, got out and walked back to her front door. She tried to lock it, but the key wouldn’t fit. She looked down at her hand and after a moment of disbelief she realized she was trying to use her car keys in her front door.
Emma screamed in frustration, but with teeth clenched to keep her keys in she made a very odd sound indeed. She tried to swap the sets of keys over, but one fell from her grasp and hit the ground. Emma sighed. Her frustration had gone beyond a scream. She picked the house keys up off the floor and locked the front door before rushing back to her car and getting in
She started the engine and checked in the rear view mirror. Annabelle looked at her from the back seat.
‘Oh God. You’re here.’ said Emma.
‘Yes.’ Annabelle agreed after a brief pause.
‘But you’re here, and now.’
Annabelle was confused.
‘Never mind, I’m just glad you’re out.’ Emma switched the engine off, turned to face her sister and continued. ‘So the experiment is over. You must be the last one.’
‘Yeah.’, she turned back to face the front. Emma was knackered and the day hadn’t even begun. She pulled her sleeve up to look at her watch. She was late and getting later. ‘Do you want to come in? I think I ought to call in sick.’
Light filtered through the gaps in the pub’s thick curtains. It made fascinating patterns as it shone through bottles on tables. No one in the pub was particularly interested in refraction. Instead they were all trying to pretend that their heads didn’t feel too small for their cargo. Each of the benches against the walls bore a prone figure in black.
Annabelle sat with Emma in her kitchen as her sister lied to someone on the telephone. She was working her way through a bowl of corn flakes, although couldn’t understand what she was supposed to do with the bottle of milk Emma had given her. Emma made her apologies and hung up.
Annabelle asked a question, but the words were lost in a mouthful of dry cereal. Emma asked her to repeat herself as she poured some water in the kettle and switched it on. She opened the bottle of milk, drizzled some over Annabelle’s corn flakes and buried a spoon in it.
‘Tell me more about the experiment.’ Annabelle asked again, this time unencumbered by her breakfast.
The answer wasn’t what Annabelle was expecting, instead Emma said, ‘I’m so proud of you. It was always easier for the rest of us. We had each other, but you were always separate.’
Annabelle picked up the spoon and made short work of the rest of the bowl’s contents.
‘And you’ve learnt so much, so quickly. Life is more complicated on the outside, isn’t it?’
‘I knew you were out. Just like I knew you were nearby. Of course, I didn’t realise just how nearby, but you were always good at hide and seek.’
‘You didn’t seek.’
‘I hid, but you didn’t seek.’
Emma changed the subject and Annabelle listened, but the question about the experiment wouldn’t go away. Annabelle asked it repeatedly until she got an answer.
‘Alright, alright’, Emma relented ‘the facility was set up to do experiments. Well, one experiment in particular. There were twenty-six children, but only one experiment. You were separated out. I can’t remember how old we all were.’
Emma stopped. The kettle had boiled and she missed it. She flicked the switch and it began to boil again.
‘I’ll take your word for it. So at five, you didn’t see the rest of us, but we were still there.’
‘I know. I could hear you all.’
‘You could. ’ said Emma as she poured herself a cup of tea. ‘Well, the scientists were doing a series of tests on us, but over the years they lost interest.’
Emma looked out through the kitchen window at the tree being buffeted in the wind and said. ‘I don’t know, loss of funding, bad results, maybe. The up side was that they started to let us go. Did they ever tell you anything?’
‘No, but it got quieter.’
‘I’ll bet. Well one by one we would leave. Nathan was first. One day, he was just gone. We all wanted to know what had happened to him and they said he’d gone to a better place. We panicked. We thought he’d died. Then they panicked and told us, he’d gone out through the door at the end of the corridor. You know the one I mean.’ She looked to her sister and added ‘of course, you do.’
‘The tests stopped. Maybe they’d proven or disproven whatever it was they wanted. As the years went by there were fewer and fewer of us. When it was my turn, I left three of them behind.’
‘Four of us.’
‘Yes. The strange thing is that we all did what you’re doing now. We all went in search of the others.’
Annabelle wondered if doing this was her choice or someone else’s. Emma pointed at the left temple and said ‘something buried in here means I know where the rest of you are all the time. You can feel it too, can’t you?’
‘It used to drive me crazy, but I’ve learned to take comfort from it. So anyway, I went to see Nathan and Rebecca and the others. Nathan sold me that car, that’s what he does. He sells used cars. I had hoped that we’d all see more of each other, but we don’t really keep in touch. Well unless you count.’
Emma pointed at her left temple again.
The meteorite skimmed the atmosphere of the planet. It was unconcerned with Earthly matters.
Thank you again for reading.