Sometimes, it was like a hundred thousand years passed in an instant. That she could see the rise, change and fall of some species so minor no fossil had ever been found.
Other times, a single second seemed to encompass eternity.
Whatever this was, it was like a dream. You were only aware of time when you thought about it. The rest of the time-not-time-maybe-time, it just did whatever it wanted – people making faces when your back was turned. Peers creeping up during a game of statues. Background processes you didn’t know about.
And sometimes, she felt like the background process.
Ever since there had been the breakthrough that was red, there’d been more and more little detail seeping into this world of hers. Orange had swirled with the red, making it seem like she was in a world of fire, or a beautiful sunset, of an explosion caught waiting for some cool guys to walk away from it.
She could see herself, and that was something she was grateful for. At least every moment she was cognisant of it; sometimes she didn’t realise it; sometimes, she began to fade and shrink in on herself.
The less she tried to think, the less she was.
I don’t think, therefore, I am…not?
But there were more than enough thoughts to keep her occupied. More than enough holes in thoughts and memories to try and puzzle through to keep her from shrinking back into some comfortable nothingness.
She was swiss cheese, and that was probably being generous – at least cheese had some substance to it; she felt like more hole than mouse bait.
And it was…weird what she could and couldn’t remember. It wasn’t any proper form of amnesia that she knew of – and the fact she could think of different types of amnesia was an interesting data point in and of itself.
She knew…stuff. She knew what fingers were. What toes were. How to construct a computer. English; passable Spanish and at touristy bits of French. These weren’t, she knew, memories that were confined to one section of her life. There were definitely things she had learned in childhood – ABCs and one-two-threes; and stuff that surely wasn’t a part of childhood – such as the P versus NP problem.
Movie plots came easily; personal memories were hidden behind a paywall.
Falling asleep in this place wasn’t like falling asleep in the real world. She didn’t get tired. She didn’t hear the call of a soft mattress and a pillow to hold over her head. It just happened, and she would wake up, back in the centre of this strange space. Every time she opened her eyes, it was like opening them for the first time. Like it was the first time she’d lifted her arms and stretched. Like her body was forgetting what movement was like.
If this was her body at all. If this was a body at all.
If this was hell, limbo or some other place, there was no way of knowing how much her form really counted as a body. Or if she should think of it as…a metaphor, a projection, a memory.
Maybe it can tell you something.
Her little world was empty – sometimes, she imagined tumbleweeds in the middle distance. Still, there was no way of knowing if they were anything more than wishing that there was something to fill the void.
She was wearing clothes, clothes that felt like clothes, so – even if it was a memory or a projection, some form of matter could exist in this space. There had also been the little red ball that had broken her out from being just a brain-in-a-jar, though that had disappeared.
Things could exist here, but- But it had somehow been beyond her to think of trying to call something into existence. She wasn’t even sure it made sense – but if this space was hers, and it seemed to be, then maybe-
Holding onto the thought was like trying to stop water from dripping through her fingers.
Do it, Spyder.
She planted her feet on the ground as smooth as glass, crossed her arms over her chest, and stared hard at the space just in front of her. ‘A mirror,’ she said, thinking of a simple, full-length, wooden-framed mirror. Something that existed in the millions in the real world, an object so simple, so-
Woodgrain a subdued red, screws and hardware dull and rusty, the mirror was in front of her as if it had always been there.
She stared at herself for the first time, and for what couldn’t possibly be the first time, everything new and old all in an instant.
Colours in the mirror, at least, had a greater range than the reds of her small world.
She touched her brown hair, surprised at the haphazard ends, then like a game cartridge slotting into place, she suddenly knew her hair was always like that.
‘Cause fuck going to a hairdresser when scissors will do,’ she murmured, almost on autopilot, almost like repeating some old thought.
Spyder, take notice.
Notice. There was something to notice. But thinking was still hard. Even when all the time there was more, even when she’d managed to summon a mirror from nothing, thinking in a straight line was still…
Spyder. A name she called herself. A name said gently, insistently. A name shouted by part of her when something important was being missed.
Even when she hadn’t known her own name, there had been no doubt about the voice, the thoughts, the bit that wasn’t directly her.
There had never been a question. No wondering if some outside party was trying to communicate with her. It was her. She was her, and it was her. There was… just some slight separation.
And it was comforting. A sensible part of her made manifest. A babysitter for when her train of thought went on the wrong track. The guiding hand of a sister, trying to drag her towards being a half functional human being.
It wasn’t normal, but she couldn’t imagine life any other way.
In the mirror, she was reflected in true colours, not the shifting fire tones that she saw when she looked down at herself.
It was something so banal, so ordinary that it had escaped notice how unordinary it was in this place.
For a moment, she simply marvelled at something that wasn’t red or orange. Straight, limp, brown hair, cut by an inexpert hand, was a joy compared to the volcano spectacle around her.
Let you tell you about yourself.
One thing at a time. Anything more than that would be too much. But she needed-
Beside the mirror, a conspiracy board appeared. Pins, cord, and fat stacks of note cards and pens.
Carefully, she grabbed the first card and wrote down “Cuts own hair – why?”, then pinned it to the board.
She turned back to the mirror and tried to see herself.
If she didn’t look too hard, her entire body was reflected, the mirror working like it should. But if she tried to look, tried to see it all at once, then things became less clear. Her eyes slid away from certain details as if the mirror wasn’t ready to show her yet.
Or as if she wasn’t ready to see them yet.
Her face was right below her hair, and like a full-body sigh, the reflection stopped fighting her, and she stared into her own eyes.
“Eyes, blue” went onto a conspiracy card.
The face that looked back at her was… unsurprising. A dictionary perfect plain Jane, and cresting, half-formed memories told her that this fact had been a disappointment. A mother who had wanted a perfect doll making do with what she had.
Age was going to be more challenging. The face staring at her could have probably been anywhere over seventeen to her mid-twenties.
The younger end of that spectrum felt wrong.
“20+” went onto a card.
Clothes were of no help. Even when in the mirror, she seemed to be in nothing more than a generic loose t-shirt and cargo pants.
Cheeks taking on a little of the world’s red colour, she slowly stripped, dropping the clothes into a pile between the mirror and the conspiracy board.
There was no one around, but she still felt embarrassed. Worried someone might-
Brown hair. Blue eyes. A face that-
There’s been a thought, something important, and it had cut, blanking and throwing her back to something safer.
She looked at her body. Tried to look at her body. Every other blink it was nothing more than a glitch. Not a pixelated privacy blur, but a mess of shapes and colours, and when it wasn’t trying to be postmodern art, she just couldn’t focus.
She touched the mirror.
‘Let me see, please.’
On her body was the flutter of a tutu, the familiar pressure of slippers and the feeling of her hair being pulled back too tightly.
And on her naked reflection, scar after scar began to appear.
Some that were as ugly as when they’d first healed. Some that had faded slightly over time. A curved one on her arm that had constantly reminded her of a crescent moon – and therefore proof positive that she was a secret Sailor Scout.
Ragged scars from wounds, straight ones from surgeries, each a reminder of the day her life had changed forever.
It was right there in her mind, a bubble waiting to be popped, a memory finally ready to be unlocked.
She looked down at herself, and the perspective skewed a little, no longer looking at the fire-toned body she was used to.
The red and orange were gone. Now she existed in tones of yellow – and it belonged to someone younger – someone without a scar on their arm.
She looked back to the mirror and its true colour truth-telling.
Herself as a child – ten, maybe twelve – looked back at her in a pale blue and white recital outfit. Swan Lake.
Slowly, her reflection reached for her, inviting her to reciprocate the gesture.
One touch and the memory would be hers.
‘Okay,’ she whispered and touched her reflection’s hand. ‘Show me.’
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