Chapter IX

“Thomas?”
    Thomas didn’t know what to say. Here he was, a hundred miles away from his new home, and he still couldn’t escape Norie’s omnipresence.
    “Thomas?” The figure at the bottom of the hill was coming closer to Thomas, and all he could do was stand there like an idiot.
    The almost ethereal brunette was standing in front of him now and Thomas struggled to speak.
    “What are you doing here?” Norie asked.
    “What — What are you doing here?” Thomas stuttered.
    Norie blinked at him for a moment. “I’m visiting my aunt,” she said slowly. She waited. “What about you?”
    “Oh —  I’m here with my dad,” Thomas answered, finally stringing together a sentence of coherent thoughts.
    Norie smiled. “Fun.”
    “Not really,” Thomas said. Norie laughed at that.
    “If you’re here with your dad, where is he now?”
    “Oh, I told him I wanted to go on a hike. He had some work to do, so he let me go on my own.”
    Norie nodded.
    The two stood silently for awhile, neither one knowing what to say or do.
    “Well, you said that you had wanted to go on a hike. Do you want some company?” Norie asked Thomas.
    Thomas didn’t really care for hiking. He had merely decided to do it to get some time away from his father.
    But there was something about Norie that made him want to spend more time with her. So he found himself saying, “Sure.”
    The two stood for another few moments, not knowing what to do.
    Norie spoke first again, “So....which way?”
    Thomas quickly surveyed their surrounding and started walking further into the woods.
    “Which way is your aunt’s house?”
    Norie point in the direction she had come. Thomas nodded and headed in a different direction.
    As they walked, Norie asked questions to break the silence. “So, where is your mom this weekend?” She asked.
    Thomas tried not to let the question phase him. “Same place she’s always been. St. Marks cemetery in Virginia.” Geez, he was morbid.
    Norie looked at the twigs on the forest floor. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to...” This was the closest Thomas had ever seen Norie to being flustered.
    “It’s okay. What about your parents?” Thomas asked, wanting to keep the awkward silence from descending upon them again.
    “My dad is an English professor at the University. And my mom, well, my mom hasn’t been around in about 16 years. Well, she’s back right now, for some unknown reason, but she left my dad, my older brother and I when I was really young.”
    “You have a brother?”
    Norie smiled. “Yeah, one. He’s twenty-one and one of my best friends. He goes to school in America, though, so he’s hardly ever home.”  Norie seemed slightly more depressed after sharing this. She brightened a little and asked, “So, what about you? Do you have any siblings?”
    “No. It’s always been just me. My mom died when I was one and that eliminated all chances of any siblings.”
    “You ever wish you had some?”
    “Yeah, I guess I used to. I don’t really so much anymore. I’ve learned to enjoy the privacy and solitude.”
    “I get a lot of that now, with Aiden gone,” Norie said. She sighed, and appeared deep in thought about something.
    Thomas watched her for moment, wanted to ask what was wrong, because something clearly was. But Thomas didn’t want to bring up something he shouldn’t either.
    In a sudden burst of dare, Thomas decided to ask a different question, wanting to keep Norie’s mind off of what she of distraught over, and all to get an answer to a question that had been tormenting him.
    “Norie?” He finally asked.
    “Hmm?”
    Thomas took another deep breath, quickly convincing himself again that he needed to do this. “Norie, why don’t you like your name?”
    Norie’s face froze for a moment. But she didn’t look angry. In face, she held her facial expression in a manner that should indicate she didn’t have any emotional attachment to the matter.
    But even Thomas knew better than that.
    “I mean, I know some people just don’t care for there names, but you... — well, it seems like more than that.”
    It didn’t take long for anguish to seep into her eyes. She didn’t look tortured, but there was enough pain in her gaze for Thomas to regret bringing it up.
    But, just as Thomas was opening his mouth to do his best to erase the question, Norie spoke.
    “You know my real is......Norbertta,” Norie choked out of words. “Well, it’s —  it’s so weird,” she continued. She looked up at Thomas, meeting his green eyes with her dark ones. “But, well, when I was born, my mother chose the name Norbertta. My father had named Aiden, so she got to name me. 11 months later, when she left, some strange things happened. I don’t remember any of this, of course, but my father has told me stories, and even Aiden, who was four at the time, remembers some of it.
    “Apparently when my mother left, I never cried. You know how babies tend to scream and wail for their mothers?” Thomas nodded and Norie continued, “Well, I never did that. After she was gone, my father said, it was like I’d never thought she was there.
    “But, I would avoid places that she spend a lot of time. She had a rocking chair she crocheted in a lot, and I would never be found near it. She had crocheted me a teddy bear and blanket, and every morning, my father would find them on the floor and me in my crib, shivering.
    “And my father and Aiden can both vouch for this, but even thought I never cried for my mother, I would scream if anyone called me Norbertta. My father used to drive himself insane, trying to figure out what was wrong with me. He thought that I was traumatized, or that maybe I was sick.
    “It was Aiden that figured it out. He had never called me Norbertta. It was too much for him to say. He had always called me Norie. And when Aiden was taking to me, I would never cry. So one day when my father was visiting with the toddler shrink he’d been sending me to,  Aiden, who had always been brilliant, came into my nursery, unlatched my crib, and dragged me into the living room. He sat me down in the middle of the floor, looked pointedly at my father and said, “Norbertta”. I immediately began to shriek and my father instantly went to pick me up. But Aiden stopped him. And looking down at me on the floor, said “Norie.” And I stopped crying.
    “My father had never had any success in calming me down before, and he understood my brother at once. Since then, no one has ever called me Norbertta. Everything baring even a hint to my real name was removed from the house, and I never had a fit again.”
    Thomas looked at Norie, incredulously. Norie smiled.
    “And you were eleven months old?”
    Norie nodded.
    Thomas blinked at her. There was no way that could be true. One and a half year old didn’t comprehend that much.
    Norie watched Thomas, and it was like she could see every thought he was having. She shrugged. “My dad always said that it was my way at getting back at my mom for leaving us. I rejected everything that she had made, everything that reminded me of her, I even rejected the name she had given me. Aiden says that why I am so good at holding grudges, because I started so early.”
    Thomas had to laugh at that. Norie laughed as well, but the sound didn’t sound right to Thomas. As he tried to find what was wrong with Norie’ s laughter, Thomas realized what was wrong.
    “Did you say your mother was in town now?”
    Norie closed her eyes and let out a breath. “Yes, she is.”
    “And your not there?” Thomas inquired.
    Norie shook her head. “My father sent me here.” Norie looked at the ground, and Thomas, who was craning his neck to see her eyes, realized how much shorter she was than he. Thomas stood roughly six feet, so he was used to looking down at people, but Norie was something else entirely. Thomas would be surprised if she stood five foot four. “He worries about me, still, and my reactions to my mother.”
    “Have you seen your mother since, well, since she left?”
    Norie nodded her head, still staring at the grass. “I saw her two days ago. In the apartment. She was there, waiting for me. Waiting to ambush me.”
    “What happened?” Thomas asked.
    Norie shrugged in attempted nonchalance. “I don’t know. My father made me leave the room.”
    “Oh.” It seemed to odd to Thomas that someone had any sort of power of Norie, even just enough to make her leave the room.
    Norie looked up at Thomas, and she looked more vulnerable than he had ever seen her. But it only lasted for a second, the slightest moment that made Thomas wonder if he had imagined it.
    Then Norie was looking up through the leafy layers of the trees and squinted at the sunlight falling through.
    “I’m sorry I’ve been talking for so long. It must be awfully boring for you,” Norie apologized.
    “No, it’s okay,” Thomas said. And he meant. He found Norie fascinating before, and after hearing more about her, he thought she was absolutely enthralling.
    They had been walking through the forest the whole time, at a pace that would bore snails, but they were approaching a fork in the trail.
    One side led down a rocky, potentially dangerous ravine, and the other began to wind it’s way up the mountain. Thomas evaluated both options, but found neither one appealing.
    The pair came to the two paths. Norie stopped for what seemed like a millisecond, before starting towards what Thomas could only assume was the ravine of death.
    “Woah — wait,” Thomas said.
    Norie turned around. “Yes?”
    “You want to go that way?”
    “Yeah,” Norie said, innocently. “Is that a problem?”
    Thomas blinked at her. “No, it’s not a problem. It’s not like that way looks like a contusion waiting to happen!” He face was disbelieving and his tone was sarcastic.
    Norie rolled her eyes. “We’ll be careful,” she promised.
    Thomas leaned over the edge and looked down at rocky path. It wasn’t even really a path, it was more of a slight indent where someone had probably fallen through the rocks.
    With a slight shake of her head, Norie began to descent through the rocks.
    Thomas found himself grabbing the rock and following her. He didn’t really want to tumble through the rocks to his death, but he couldn’t very well let her go alone now could he?

    It was two thirty is in the morning, but Brina wasn’t going back to sleep. She stood up and pulled her camera bag out from it’s hiding place under her bed. She quietly set her stand up in front of her window.
    She peered through the lens and looked out over the city.
    Lights flickered along the pier and were reflected in the inky sea. Brina took a deep breathe and inhaled the salty air. She sighed and close her eyes. This, standing at a camera looking at an amazing shot, that was what she lived for. It was the closest thing she had to a religion.
    Brina avoided the subject of religion with Norie. Norie wasn’t what you would call devout in her church attendance, but Brina knew Norie had more faith than she let on. And that’s not to say that she never went to church. She went to a lot of youth events and other activities that didn’t sound like church outings to Brina. She just didn’t attend church on Sunday mornings. She said that she found it boring and redundant.
    Brina agreed with this statement. Church was boring- and at times, wildly unrealistic.
    Her parents attended Sunday morning services sporadically, taking her younger siblings with them. She had talked her way out of that one years ago.
    She had Norie hadn’t discussed this is awhile. Brina didn’t want to bring up an uncomfortable topic or bring on the ire prematurely. And, despite the fact that Norie was her best friend and she knew that she was exempt from Norie’s “moods”, but she still worked not to offend her.
    There was a rustling below her window. Brina pulled herself from her reverie and listened. There was a slight crack and another rustle. Slowly, Brina stuck her head out of the window and stared down the stone wall and into dark yard.                The house cast a long, deep shadow over the already dark yard. Brina stared into the abyss, but she couldn’t see a thing. There wasn’t that much wildlife in Iceland at all, much less right outside the city. It couldn’t be a opossum or a racoon. Unless it was a fox?
     It was probably just a stray dog. Those were present in the city.
    Brina continued to listen, but nothing but the slight sloshing of the ocean in the distance.
    Brina shook her head and shifted her attention to the flickering city. If she didn’t get to work soon she was going to lose the shoot.
    Quietly, Brina focused her camera and pressed the shudder. It clicked and the image of the boats on the water was frozen forever. She smiled to herself and pressed the shudder again.
   
    Thomas didn’t like this. He did not like this at all.
    Currently, Thomas was dangling off the edge of a rock, precariously close to the side of the mountain.
    Norie was yards ahead of him, painlessly leaping over rocks and gracefully dodging holes and logs. She climbed as if it was natural to her, to be making her way through a mine field of stone.
    Thomas’s climbing wasn’t nearly as elegant. He stumbled and fumbled his way through the jagged rocks and barely caught himself several times from falling to his doom.
    They didn’t seem to be climbing anywhere in particular, just wandering through treacherous landscape, risking their fragile lives.
    Thomas didn’t see why Norie had to do this. She was such a strange girl. She fit in at school, sashaying through the hallways, everything bowing out to the lockers in fear. But then, here, in the middle of the forest, she seemed so ordinary.
    Well, not ordinary. Norie could never really be ordinary. Common or regular could never describe her either. She was completely and utterly unique.
    But she seemed more......humanized in the forest. Thomas had never seen her smile quite so much, or laugh so openly. Granted, Thomas hadn’t known her that long, but it looked like her face hadn’t held such a happy expression for such a long amount of time in awhile.
    Norie was steadily gaining more and more distance in front of Thomas. He groaned to himself and started to more faster. The rocks were getting smaller and a little less sharp. That was the only relief for Thomas as he narrowly avoiding spraining his ankle on a tree root.
    Thomas began to rethink the reasons he’d followed Norie. She had such a curious effect on people. Curious effects indeed.

    Norie didn’t understand. It should be here. She was sure that it would be there. Sure that he would be there.
    Norie stood atop a hill and overlooked a forest of dense trees and overgrown weeds. She didn’t really know what exactly it was that was looking for, but she was positive this wasn’t it.
    Thomas stood beside her, breathing hard.
    “You don’t want to go in there, do you?” Thomas asked. He sounded nervous.
    Norie grinned to herself. Thomas was adorable. Some would call him a coward, but Norie found him perfectly adorable.
    Norie smiled at Thomas warmly. “No,” she sighed. “I mean, I would love to, but we should probably be getting back.”
    Thomas nodded and turned back.
    Norie stared into woods for a moment longer. The trees were still and dark. Norie made a face and slowly turned back to ascent back up the hill.
    As she was spinning, out of the corner of her eye Norie caught the slightest glimpse of something moving among the trees. She spun back around and inspected the forest again. Nothing was still moving or seemed out of place. Norie squinted into the looming darkness, but saw nothing.
    Norie shrugged to herself and started to follow Thomas. The wind kicked up and the breeze rang through the trees. And, maybe only in Norie’s mind, it sounded like laughter.
    Norie wrinkled her eyebrows and listened for a moment.
    “Are you coming?” Thomas asked. He was already standing on a bolder and waiting for Norie.
    Norie nodded quickly. “Yeah,” she smiled.
    The pair hiked back to the top of the hill. It didn’t take Norie long to surpass Thomas. She jumped onto the rocks, still peering around the forest, looking for the fair-haired boy.
    Norie’s head snapped up at every noise; a crunch of a leaf, the skittering of a rock. As they walked, Norie began to relax, knowing all the noises were just a result of Thomas’s clumsy climbing.
    Norie let her mind wander, trying desperately to distract herself form her paranoia. She thought about the meeting between her mother, her father, and her brother tonight. Norie had always found most people easy to read. The mind, while a strange, and sometimes twisted place, wasn’t usually all that complex. But, for the first time in her life, Norie had know idea what was going to happen.
     There was a snapping of a twig - but from the wrong direction. Instead of coming from behind Norie, where Thomas was, this sound had come from off in the forest. Norie spun off to the side, but her foot caught on an exposed tree root.
    Norie felt herself losing balance. It was a peculiar feeling. Of course, so was knowing that she was soon going to be tumbling down a rocky, steep ravine. Not begin familiar with the idea of falling, Norie didn’t really know what to do to regain her balance.
    Just as her foot began to slide of the ledge she was on, a pair of hands caught and steadied her. For a fleeting moment, Norie was sure that he was back. She was positive that her rescuer was saving her again.
    Of course, it only took a moment for Norie to realize that, in fact, it was not the boy from behind, it was merely Thomas that had saved her from her impending death this time.
    “Are you okay?” Thomas asked. His tone was concerned. Norie didn’t see his face, she was still looking off into the forest. She knew that Thomas had been the one that had caught her, but she still had the very distinct feeling that they were not alone.

    It was eight o’clock Saturday evening and Brina was exhausted. Saturday had been a day of tiresome redundancy unlike anything she had ever experienced.
    Throughout the day, Brina had felt many emotions and come to many conclusion, but there was one thing for which she was absolutely certain: she was never having children.
    The day had began for Brina at seven in the morning. Her parents had set her alarm for that distasteful hour. She had to get Maura up and ready to go. George slept a little longer, then Brina had to get him ready as well. Hale was much easier than the younger two. He actually was an enormous help today.
    When Maura threw her ravioli on the floor in the kitchen, Hale played airplane with George to keep him out of the mess while Brina cleaned it up.
    And when George colored on the walls in the hallway, Hale cleaned the walls while Brina took Maura and George to the park. Between all the crying and screaming, Brina managed to keep both kids alive and wrangle them up and get them home, where Hale had prepared corn dogs for dinner.
    As they ate their appalling dinner of what Brina’s mother would call “unappealing chicken food”, Maura and George has something of a food fight and resulting in the formerly clean kitchen being covered in ketchup and bread crumbs.
    Brina and Hale corralled their two siblings and cleaned them both up. Hale got them into their pajamas while Brina set up a movie in the family room. Hale brought Maura and George downstairs and set them up in front of the movie.
    Brina had mopped up the mess and reorganized the kitchen. Sighing, she tossed the mop back into the closest and headed into the family room. Hale was in there supervising a very tired Maura and George. Brina flopped into the large, fluffy chair and closed her eyes.
    Suddenly there was a tug on her jeans. Brina reluctantly opened her eyes and saw George standing before her, bottom lip stuck out and eyelids drooping. Brina smiled and picked up George and set him in her lap.
    Brina wasn’t really paying attention to the movie. She stared at the ceiling, thinking about her rather outlandish life. Her wondered if she had gotten more sleep if she hadn’t stayed up the night before taking pictures of the city.
    Eventually, George feel asleep on Brina’s shoulder. Maura was asleep on the couch next to Hale, sucking her thumb.
    Brina and Hale looked at each other. Wordlessly, Brina pointed upstairs. Brina lifted George up and Hale hoisted Maura up.
    When both of the children were asleep in their beds, Brina and Hale meet up in the hallway.
    “Wow,” Brina said, resting against the wall.
    “No kidding,” Hale said.
    “Well, if there was ever any doubt in mind my about not having children, there isn’t now.”
    Hale chuckled. Then he glanced over at the grandfather clock in the hallway. “It’s only quarter to eight. I mean, it’s still early, if you wanted to go somewhere.”
    Brina studied Hale for a moment. He looked serious. But this wasn’t the type of thing that Hale did. Hale wasn’t the responsible, mature child. Hale was the reckless, carefree kid. A bit like Norie in that respect.
    Hale noticed Brina’s reluctance. “I can handle this.”
    Brina smiled at Hale. “I can’t. Mom and dad-“
    ”-will be home in half an hour,” he finished.   
    Brina thought about this for a moment. “ I don’t know-“
    ”Go to school. It’s been forever since you went to the dark room. It’s Saturday  night, isn’t it open then? Go there.”
    Brina opened her mouth the say no, but she knew she couldn’t deny it. She had mountains of film canisters building in her room. Brina bit her lip and Hale saw that she was deliberating and he rolled his eyes and shoved her towards her room.
    Brina had quickly gathered her camera and thrown her film canisters in her bag. She flitted out of the house and made to the corner just in time to catch the bus, which was where she was now.
    The Pala High School photography club opened the school dark room every Saturday night from eight until ten. It had been weeks since Brina had gone and she apprehensive about what it would be like.
    Photography club members weren’t what you might picture as a “conventional” crowd. To Norie, they were sometimes stranger then the bus riders. To Brina, they could just be weird sometimes.
    Very, very weird.
      
    It was glaringly obvious. She was insane.
    There was absolutely no other explanation for her behavior the past few days.
    Norie made the diagnosis rather calmly. It was nice to finally know what was wrong with her.
    Norie trudged along the path back to Aunt Glenda’s house. Should she tell her aunt that she was crazy? Obviously she would need to tell someone. Who knew what she would hallucinate next.
    Strange blond-haired saviors, visions of woody cities, talking forests, none of this was normal. And none of it was real.
    Aunt Glenda’s house came into view and Norie sighed to herself. She didn’t want to do this. It wasn’t going to be fun.
    But she had to. She needed help. That was apparent. 
    Thomas and she had split up once Norie recognized where she was. She had to reassure Thomas that she could get home okay, before he let her go. She may have under estimated him. He was an okay guy.
    It was too bad that she figured this out right before she was committed. She would miss Thomas when she was locked in a room with padded walls.
    Norie bit her lip and opened the door into Aunt Glenda’s house. It was quiet inside, no sign of Aunt Glenda.
    Norie crept through the kitchen and peered into the living room. Aunt Glenda was sitting her favorite chair, just like that morning. In the same still trance.
    Norie lowered herself onto the couch across from her. She sat still for a moment, gathering her courage. She took a deep breath and opened her mouth to speak, but Aunt Glenda beat her to it.
    “How was your walk?”

    Norie didn’t even know what to say.
    “Your not crazy, Nora,” her aunt said. Norie’s head snapped up and she stared at her.
    “W-What?” she stammered.
    “I said your not crazy,” Aunt Glenda enunciated. “I know that you think that you are, but your not.”
    Norie looked at her aunt. She didn’t know how she knew this, but Norie wanted so badly to believe her.
    “Those thing you have been seeing aren’t hallucinations. They’re real.”
    Norie wet her lips to speak. “Aunt Glenda, they can’t be real. This can’t be normal-”
    “Well, you have that right. It’s not normal. But it is real.” Aunt Glenda peered down at Norie from behind bifocal glasses. “Your not a normal girl, Nora. I’m surprised you haven’t figured it out already.”   
    Norie narrowed her eyes.”Not normal?” She had always known that she was different. She knew that others didn’t get their ways as easily as she did hers. She knew that not everyone could ace their math exams without even cracking a textbook. But-hey, she’d only done that once. It could have been a fluke. And the crying thing? When she was younger? Babies do weird stuff all the times. They’re babies.
    And her indigo eyes? Could just be a recessive gene. And they didn’t change with her mood. That was just an illusion.
    These visions or whatever, they were just the product of an over-taxed mind. Her mother’s return must have triggered something. Some sort of psychotic break.
    Great, well, at least there was another thing she could blame her mother for.

The End

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