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Rose/Butterfly

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TIMELINE ɑ: Day 1
“OK, now, one last—big—push!” The nurse encouraged the exhausted woman in the bed, who merely growled at her, teeth bared, hair spread all over the pillows, face as red as a rose. Just as the baby emerged, slick and dripping, another nurse happened to glance out the window in the birthing suite.

“Oh, look! A shooting star!” As it streaked past, the brilliant blue lit the newborn’s eyes with an eerie glow, leaving an afterimage of more intensity than the usual baby-blue. The air felt a few degrees colder for an instant, and the laboring mother’s breath puffed vapor as she growled and huffed to finish the process. A few seconds later, they could all see the luminous glow on the horizon as the meteor came to rest in some unknown place, but to Emma, it didn’t matter. Her sweet angel was born, and Amelie would need all the love and care she could give, now and in the years ahead.

2 days after
As Emma, Amelie, and the Justice Minister’s cavalcade drove past the park, police escort buzzing around them on the way home from the hospital, it was easy to see that something had happened there. Police tape was everywhere and there were blue-suited beat cops directing traffic around the ongoing investigation.

“My goodness,” Emma’s husband exclaimed, staring with dismay at the chaos. “This won’t do. We should really go to the mansion instead of your old apartment, darling. I thought it would be more peaceful here but it’s so loud! It really can’t be good for the baby.”

Emma sighed. She just wanted to be home, in the quiet of her place, without the press and the publicity of going to the mansion her husband, so recently appointed Justice Minister, had suggested. She wanted privacy so she could learn how to be a mother. It seemed every minute brought something new, some new change in her personal paradigm, and now it was this.

Without warning, the car braked, sliding Emma painfully against her seatbelt and jerking Amelie’s car seat just hard enough to wake her from her fitful doze. The baby began to cry, and Emma reached out to awkwardly soothe her.

“Terribly sorry, everyone,” came the driver’s voice a moment later. “A cat ran out in the road.”

Emma peered out the window. A tiny black kitten crouched against the curb, yellow eyes peering watchfully at the car. Emma’s stare was caught as a police car drove past, lights and sirens blaring, and the cat’s eyes gleamed bright blue as they caught the light. They held each other’s gaze—Emma frozen mid-pat on Amelie’s stomach and the cat, watching her. Emma felt her stomach twist. Something wasn’t right. The cat was—

Her train of thought, however, was derailed as the driver pulled to a stop in front of the apartment, a mere block down the street. Emma’s husband was still fussily considering whether they should leave and go to the Justice Minister’s mansion for the evening, but Emma, suddenly exhausted, shook her head.

“Let’s just go inside,” she said faintly. “I want to be out of this car.”

Her husband grumped but Emma held firm. They climbed out of the car, every available hand stuffed with the accumulation of new baby possessions. Emma’s peripheral vision was caught by a black flicker as it dashed around the side of the building but a moment later, she had put it out of her mind as she brought her darling angel home.

months after
Emma stared down at the baby in her arms, frustration filling her eyes. Amelie cried, it seemed, every waking minute. She wouldn’t feed, wouldn’t sleep, wouldn’t even smile at her mother. For her father? Oh, it was a vastly different story. Smiles aplenty and cooing, even, Emma could swear, some attempts at “Papa.” It rankled. She wanted a glass of wine with every cell in her body, but breastfeeding a child made that a bad idea. Attempting to breastfeed. Failing to breastfeed, more like. For the umpteenth time, she placed her nipple at Amelie’s mouth, and for the umpteenth time, the baby turned her face away and began to cry.

Emma chuckled wearily. “We could toast to my innocent angel if you would just eat already,” she told her daughter. “I suppose we’ll just have to make you a bottle again.” And a water for me, I suppose, she thought, just a little bitterly. Cautiously, holding the baby closely to her, Emma clambered up from the sofa. As she walked down the tiny, dimly lit hallway to the kitchen, the clangor from pots and pans grew a little more obtrusive until she entered the small room where her husband was attempting dinner.

“And how is my darling?” he said, over his shoulder, bravely wrestling with a sauté pot as he attempted to make whatever dinner he had gotten into his head for tonight’s menu. It didn’t look promising. Some sort of pasta? Probably? Emma was no cook, but she wasn’t entirely sure why he needed eggs, dragonfruit, and fish cakes for plain pasta. She was not, however, sure she should even ask. At least her husband was making an effort. Many women wouldn’t be so lucky. She walked around the counter and kissed him on the side of his head.

“Both darlings are doing well, or we will be once we get some food into us,” she said. “Could you hand me one of the bottles from the drying rack?”

“Oh, is she not eating again? Goodness, babies are so complicated.” As he reached for the rack, the phone on the wall rang and he redirected his grasping fingers.

“Hello? Oh, yes. Oh, is the final decision today? Right now, you say? Oh, my, I’d better get there. Please call a car for me. Oh, and order a meal from the Chicken Kitchen for my dear wife. Yes, her usual. Good-bye.”

He put the phone down and shot Emma a limpid, pleading look. “I’m so sorry, my dear, but that decision regarding the programmer’s evidence has apparently been bumped to today. I really must be there to provide the deciding vote!”

“Hmph. I see how it is,” Emma sniffed. “Thanks for dinner, I suppose.”

“Now, Emma, dear, I’ll be back just as quick as I can, and we can all spend the evening together. Won’t that be nice?” He leaned in to give her a quick kiss and swooped down to kiss Amelie’s nose. “Be good for mama, won’t you, my little sweetheart?”

Amelie gurgled and cooed as her father shot out the door in response to a honk from downstairs. Emma shot a glance down at her daughter. “Why don’t you ever do that for me?” she wondered aloud.

Somewhere in the apartment, something fell and clattered against the floor. Emma paused, sensing that something wasn’t right. She looked down at the baby, who, miracle of miracles, was quiet, eyes round, listening. “Shhhh, angel,” Emma whispered. She tiptoed back down the hall to the living area and peeked in.

A cat, small and black, sat looking at her with wide yellow eyes from the center of the living room floor. Something about its gaze seemed off. It was too knowing, eerily human in the way it stared at her. Emma shuddered without knowing exactly why. A faint memory stirred, a feeling of déjà vu slithering down her back.

“Oh, how did you get in here? No noisy, messy animals allowed.” She flapped a hand at the cat. “Go on. Shoo.”

It merely stared at her, before deliberately swinging its head to the door and meowing.

“That husband of mine must have let you in. Typical!” Emma stomped to the door, past the odd cat, and opened it. “Go on, get out of here.”

The cat deliberately stood, stretched, and meandered past her, stopping to rub its head on her leg. Amelie’s eyelids slid closed as she suddenly began to wail and scream as loudly as humanly possible. Emma startled, “Oh! Food! Yes! Let’s get you that bottle, sweet angel.” She ushered the cat out the door with her foot and closed it firmly behind her.

They walked to the kitchen and Emma began to heat the bottle. As the formula warmed, her eye was caught by a bottle of wine and the wine glasses laid invitingly out in the cabinets.

“Well. It’s not as if you’ll eat what I have to offer anyway,” she murmured, glancing down at her daughter, who stared back with eyes half-closed, gleaming blue under her lashes in the dim light.

She pulled the wine glass down and used the fancy uncorker her husband had bought to open the wine bottle one-handed. As she began to pour the wine, the formula bottle tipped over in the sink, spilling barely warmed formula everywhere. As she reached out to save it, Amelie swung a clenched baby fist, coming close to knocking over the wineglass, and began to cry yet again. As Emma leaned precariously over, trying to right everything in danger of tipping, the cat appeared out of the night on the windowsill, glaring at her. She jerked back in surprise, knocking the wine glass into the sink and breaking it. Wine splashed and glass sprayed, narrowly missing Amelie and leaving Emma with a thin cut on her arm.

Emma jumped back. “What a disaster! Well. This is clearly kismet, my darling angel. I have learned my lesson. You could have been hurt!” She held Amelie to her and kissed her baby head as her daughter continued to wail.

Silently, the cat jumped off the windowsill, but Emma, preoccupied with finally feeding her daughter as Amelie finally decided to latch on, didn’t notice.

4 and a half years after
Amelie ran out the nursery door, beleaguered mother following behind. The servants in the mansion, used to noise and arguments between the little girl and her mother, turned to watch the entertainment.

“Wanna go to the park!” Amelie screamed. “Take me to the park! Mama, you’re so mean!”

“Now, Amelie, we can’t go to the park right now. Mama really must finish preparing for this party! Your papa and I are busy!”

“Please, Mama! Please!”

Emma sighed. What she wouldn’t give for just one sip of wine when dealing with her fractious daughter, but she had made a vow. Wine and Amelie didn’t mix. Whenever she felt like forgetting it, the scar on her arm served to remind her.

She knelt to look Amelie in the face. “We’ll go to the park tomorrow, darling angel, I promise, but for now, you need to be good for Papa and let me help him, so the party goes well. It’s so important to him! Can you do that, please?”

Amelie pouted, but nodded reluctantly.

“There’s my good girl.” Emma smiled at her and beckoned for a hovering nursemaid to come closer. “Will you please get her ready for the evening? I’ll see you in a while to tuck you in, darling.”

She tapped down the hall, opening the door to her husband’s office and striding in. He sat, muttering, at his desk, as he so often did nowadays. Emma noted with concern that his hair was growing gray fast.

He looked up, eyes unfocused, waving a newspaper at her. “Have you read this? One of my best up and coming detectives has shot and killed his wife! I know this man well. He’s been here in this office many times! How could this happen?” He bowed his head and ran his hands through his hair, frantically rubbing and kneading his scalp. “What a disaster! What terrible press!”

Emma handed him a glass of water. “Take your pills, darling. You don’t have time to worry about this right now.”

“Oh, how can you worry about a party when this is happening?!”

Emma kissed his head. “That’s what you keep me around for, dear. Take your pills.”

At the party, the murder of the Detective’s wife was the only topic of conversation. Emma understood, truly she did, but was frustrated as her services as hostess went unneeded and unremarked. She ended up pleading a headache and bowed out early, spending the evening with Amelie instead.

The next day, Emma and Amelie headed to the park. Amelie made a beeline to the swings but stopped short at the sight of another little girl, about two years older, sitting in the swing she normally used. The child sat despondently, slumped, staring at nothing in particular. Her eyes were red, her lavender hair and pretty clothes in disarray.

A black cat sat primly on the lowest branch of a nearby tree, eyes squeezed nearly shut as it overlooked the scene. Emma looked uneasily at it. She remembered the cat that had startled her so five years ago. Surely this wasn’t the same one? It swung its head to look at her, yellow eyes widening. After a second of intense staring at each other, it jumped out of the tree in a graceful arc and slunk away. Emma took a breath, relieved, but unsure why she should be.

Amelie, meanwhile, was attempting to talk to the girl on the swings, who was resisting Amelie’s attempts to cajole her into playing. A moment later, a tall, red-haired young woman dashed into the park, long legs skidding as she fought for momentum.

“Kamila! Kamila! Where are you?” She saw the tableau at the swings and ran over, panting. “I was so worried! You can’t run away like that, sweetie. What would your dad say?”

The purple-haired little girl said listlessly, “I’m sorry, Miss Lynne. I won’t do it again.”

Emma suddenly realized who the child must be as the woman she’d called Lynne knelt, inadvertently flashing the badge she wore so proudly on her chest. Her heart ached for the girl as she walked up to the scene, putting a hand on Amelie’s head.

“Amelie, why don’t we let them go about their business,” she said, awkwardly attempting to smile at the red-haired woman, wishing she was anywhere else, wishing she had a glass of wine, wishing things were different than they were.

“Oh, are you the lady who lives next door? I heard you and your daughter came to the park sometimes. Aren’t you the Justice Minister’s wife?”

Emma’s hackles rose, despite her wish to be polite. She hated being called that. She had her own accomplishments. She was, after all, a writer, never mind that she hadn’t sold a novel in five years. She just couldn’t seem to find the inspiration in her that she’d once had.

“Please, call me Emma,” she said crisply. “And yes, if you live in that apartment building over there,” she gestured with her head, “then I suppose we might be neighbors. That apartment is only where I stay when I need to get some writing done, though.”

“Oh, OK. Well, I’m Lynne, and this is Kamila, and… what’s your name, kiddo?” she bent, asking Amelie.

“I’m Amelie!” the girl piped. “Can Kamila and I play? I never have any friends at this park.”

“Well, Kamila? How about it?”

Kamila shrugged. “I don’t really feel like playing. Um, maybe another time?”

“Oh, OK…” said Amelie, disappointed. She and Emma watch Lynne and Kamila leave the park, Lynne’s arm around Kamila.

The Holiest of Nights, ten years after Temsik’s fall
Amelie bounced on the bed. “Mama! I don’t feel good. Can I skip my lesson tonight?”

Emma looked up from her typewriter, where she had sat, staring glumly at the blank page, for an hour.

“No, darling angel, you may not. Look at you, you’re in the peak of health.”

Amelie coughed unconvincingly a few times. “No, see? I’m sick!”

Emma sighed and straightened. “I’ll walk with you to your lesson, then, and if you seem sick once we get there, we’ll come back home.”

Just to be certain, she bundled Amelie into her warmest clothes and they walked downstairs. It was oddly quiet; normally their neighbor’s dog, Missile, would be barking his head off at the noise outside his apartment.

“Guess they’re out walking the dog, huh, Mama?”

Emma snapped her eyes away from the door, which she thought was hanging slightly ajar. Uneasily she said, “I suppose so,” while considering what else should be happening that night. She and her husband had fought, viciously and uncompromisingly, about the fate of Kamila’s father, but he’d refused to budge and so she had come to work on a new novel. She still loved her husband, of course she did, but that poor detective didn’t deserve to die. A small sound from Lynne’s apartment drew her attention back to the door, but it now appeared firmly closed.

As they headed down the stairs, Emma’s unease only grew. The light in the entrance way was out, as were many of the streetlights. The air was chilly and cold, the kind of air that normally carries sound, but it was so quiet.

Amelie, oblivious, chattered away next to her. “Ooh, Mama, let’s go through the park. Do you think Kamila will want to play tomorrow?”

“Probably not,” said a slick, oily voice from the shadows. “Beauty, my dear, isn’t this the girl we’re seeking?”

“Yes, I believe so, although I wasn’t expecting this rosy complication,” said a smooth, husky woman’s voice.

Amelie cowered, holding onto her mother’s leg for dear life. “Mama?”

Emma stood in front of her, protecting her with the only resource she had. “Who are you? What do you want with my darling angel?”

“Ah, my dear, I’m afraid that’s for us to know. Step aside now, and you won’t be hurt.” The owner of the oily voice slid from the shadows, hand grasping for Amelie, blue skin dark in the dimming light of the cloudy evening.

“Absolutely not!” Emma drew herself up and frowned at him. “You stay away from my angel and me. My husband will have your heads for this.” She faltered. Maybe she shouldn’t announce their actual identities, a thought nipped in the bud by the blue-skinned man in the next instant.

“Ah, so you are the Justice Minister’s family. Wonderful!  Ah, but, Beauty, I’m afraid we’ll have to finish this quickly, my dear. Do you want to do the honors, or shall I?”

“Oh, get it over with, Dandy. Your foolish so-called chivalry is worthless here.”

“Ouch, Beauty, that hurts! But that’s why I love you.” The blue-skinned man leered at Emma. “Sorry, my dear. At least you don’t have to worry about what comes next.” He raised the gun in his hand and aimed. “Rest assured, it’s nothing personal.”

“No, wait,” Emma said, and “Amelie, run!”

But the blue-skinned man neither waited nor let Amelie follow her mother’s instruction. Without further ado, he shot Emma in the chest, grabbing Amelie with his other hand.

“You don’t need to say good-bye, my dear. You won’t be parted for long.”

The last thing Emma heard was Amelie crying for her, as her vision darkened. The last thing she saw was yellow eyes, gleaming at her from somewhere in the dark.

 


 

 

TIMELINE β: Day 1
“OK, now, one last—big—push!” The nurse encouraged the exhausted woman in the bed, who merely growled at her, teeth bared, hair spread all over the pillows, face as red as a rose. The woman screamed as the baby crowned.

Stars burst behind Emma’s closed eyes as she fought through the pain. Eyes and teeth clenched closed as she pushed and pushed, feeling as though it would never end. Out of the darkness, a vision swam and burst before her eyes. She had lived this before. She had died before. She had been shot, bullet punching into her chest. She jerked and spasmed with the dual pain of dying and labor mixed, causing her heart to stop and her breathing to hitch and slow into nonexistence.

Just as the baby emerged, slick and dripping, another nurse happened to glance out the window in the birthing suite. “Oh, look! A shooting star!” As it streaked past, the brilliant blue lit the newborn’s eyes with an eerie glow, leaving an afterimage of more intensity than the usual baby-blue. The air felt a few degrees colder for an instant, and the laboring mother’s breath puffed vapor as her vitals dropped.

No one noticed the meteor landing as the crash team fought to resuscitate the mother and make sure the baby was born safely. Emma was revived, and Amelie was placed in her arms, healthy and happy. The brief vision stayed with Emma, however, her own death replaying before her eyes every time she closed them and marring her enjoyment of new motherhood.

2 days after
As Emma, Amelie, and the Justice Minister’s cavalcade drove past the park, police escort buzzing around them on the way home from the hospital, it was easy to see that something had happened there. Police tape was everywhere and there were blue-suited beat cops directing traffic around the investigation.

“My goodness,” Emma’s husband exclaimed, staring with dismay at the chaos. “This won’t do. We should really go to the mansion instead of your old apartment. I thought it would be more peaceful here but it’s so loud! It really can’t be good for the baby.”

Emma sighed. She just wanted to be home, in the quiet of her place, without the press and the publicity of going to the mansion her husband, so recently appointed Justice Minister had suggested. She wanted privacy so she could learn how to be a mother. It seemed every minute brought something new, some new change in her personal paradigm, and now it was this.

She closed her eyes for a second and the vision replayed. It was beginning to go a little fuzzy, but it still felt so real when the bullet punched into her chest and threw her back. Emma had talked to a doctor about the strange delusion, but he had said some platitudes about childbirth being difficult and many women suffering hallucinations. She had gritted her teeth and just let him blabber, while quietly resolving not to bring it up again.

The car pulled smoothly up to the apartment complex as she opened her eyes.

“No, wait,” Emma said, suddenly firm in her convictions. “You’re right, dear. Let’s go to the mansion. We’ll have a nursemaid help with taking care of the baby and you and I can have a glass of wine together.”

Her husband stared at her, open-mouthed. “But, Emma, darling,” he finally said after a small eternity. “I thought you were going to breast-feed Amelie? You can’t drink during that time… right? Babies are complicated, but not that complicated.”

Emma said, trying to hide the tremor in her words, “Oh, I have it under control, dear. You don’t need to worry about Amelie. She can go on formula a little sooner than planned. It’s probably healthier for her anyway.”

“Sooner than pla—” his mouth snapped closed. “Well, if you insist, I suppose. Driver, to the mansion, please.”

6 months after
Emma stared down at the baby in her arms, frustration filling her eyes. Amelie cried, it seemed, every waking minute. She wouldn’t feed, wouldn’t sleep, wouldn’t even smile at her mother. For her father? Oh, it was a vastly different story. Smiles aplenty and cooing, even, Emma could swear, some attempts at “Papa.” It rankled. She wanted a glass of wine with every cell in her body. It didn’t help that every time she closed her eyes for more than an instant, her own death awaited.

Emma surrendered. “I’m going to get you a bottle and me a glass of wine and we will toast to my innocent angel,” she told her daughter. Cautiously, holding the baby awkwardly away from her, Emma clambered up from the sofa in her dressing room. She walked to the phone and called down to the kitchen, asking them to bring the formula and wine.

After a few moments, there came the quick tap on the door. Emma strode over to it, eagerly holding out a hand for the wine glass, only to realize it was her husband.

“Ah, there you are, darling. I have a quick judgment to make, and then I thought we might spend the evening together with Amelie?”

Emma’s eyes filled with anxious reluctance. “Oh, I was planning to put Amelie to bed after her bottle and then write for a while. I have a deadline coming up.” She squeezed her eyes shut; that was a mistake, as it happened, as the bullet slammed into her chest yet again. Emma had hoped the visions would disappear by now. They were fuzzier, but the impact of the bullet never seemed to lessen.

The Justice Minister sighed. “I see. Perhaps we could make a little time soon?”

“Oh, of course we can, dear. We have plenty of time.” A servant stepped behind her husband, holding the tray with the glass and the two bottles. “Now, dear, you’re in the way. Go, dispense justice!” She toasted him with her glass, then took a big gulp to hide the slight tremor of her hands.

“Emma, I wish you wouldn’t do that around the baby,” her husband said with unaccustomed firmness.

“You’re right, dear, of course. I’ll call a nursemaid and have her put Amelie to bed right after she finishes her bottle.”

Emma’s husband stared at her, gaze level. Emma met it with no change of expression. After a moment, as she knew he would, he backed down. “Well, good night, then, my dear. I’ll see you soon.” He bent down and kissed the baby. “Be good for your nurses, Amelie darling.”

Amelie eagerly finished her bottle, as did Emma, with another bottle to chase the first one after Amelie was put to bed. Sodden sleep at least held no nightmares.

4 and a half years after
Amelie ran out the nursery door, unruffled mother following behind, wineglass in hand. The servants in the mansion, used to noise and arguments between the little girl and her mother, turned to watch the entertainment.

“Wanna go to the park!” Amelie screamed. “Papa! Papa! Take me to the park! Mama’s mean!

“Now, Amelie, we can’t go to the park right now. Mama really must finish preparing for this party! I am very busy!”

“I hate you, Mama!”

Emma sighed. Beckoning to a servant, she bade him go and get her another glass of wine. It made dealing with her fractious child so much easier if she always stayed a little tanked up. Besides, she couldn’t hallucinate about being dead if she was drunk.

She knelt to look Amelie in the face. “We’ll go to the park tomorrow, darling angel, I promise, but for now, you need to be good for Papa and let me make sure the party goes well. It’s so important to him! Can you do that, please?”

Amelie pouted, but nodded reluctantly.

“There’s a good girl.” Emma smiled at her and beckoned for a hovering nursemaid to come closer. “Will you please get her ready for the evening? Good night, angel. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She tapped down the hall, opening the door to her husband’s office and striding in, accepting her requested glass of wine from a hovering servant. The Justice Minister sat, muttering, at his desk, as he so often did nowadays. Emma noted that his hair was growing gray fast but took a sip of wine to distract herself from any concern.

He looked up, eyes unfocused, waving a newspaper at her. “Have you read this? One of my best up and coming detectives has shot and killed his wife! I know this man well. He’s been here in this office many times! How could this happen?” He bowed his head and ran his hands through his hair, frantically rubbing and kneading his scalp. “What a disaster! What terrible press!”

Emma toasted him. “Not to worry, dear. A party and plenty of wine will help everyone forget all about it. A toast to my hostessing skills!”

“Oh, how can you worry about a party when this is happening?!”

Emma stomped out the door to get another glass. “That’s what you keep me around for, dear. Take your pills.”

At the party, the murder of the detective’s wife was the only topic of conversation. Emma understood, truly she did, but was frustrated until she managed to get a few cronies talking about her newest novel, a bodice-ripper about a time-traveling jungle explorer and her lover. The mood of the party slowly shifted as the detective was temporarily forgotten and the normal political maneuvering for favors from the justice minister’s wife began. Emma happily accepted them as her due.

The next day, Emma and Amelie headed to the park as promised. Amelie made a beeline to the swings but stopped short at the sight of another little girl sitting in the swing she normally used. The child sat despondently, slumped, staring at nothing in particular. Her eyes were red, her lavender hair and pretty clothes in disarray.

A black cat sat primly on the lowest branch of a nearby tree, eyes squeezed nearly shut as it overlooked the scene. Emma ignored it. After a second, it jumped out of the tree in a graceful arc and stropped on her ankle. Emma took a breath and shook her foot. “Shoo. I don’t want you right now. Noisy, messy animals need to stay away.”

Amelie, meanwhile, was attempting to talk to the girl on the swings, who was resisting Amelie’s attempts to cajole her into playing. A moment later, a tall, red-haired young woman dashed into the park, long legs skidding as she fought for momentum.

“Kamila! Kamila! Where are you?” She saw the tableau at the swings and ran over, panting. “I was so worried! You can’t run away like that, sweetie. What would your dad say?”

The purple-haired little girl said listlessly, “I’m sorry, Miss Lynne. I won’t do it again.”

Emma suddenly realized who the child must be as the woman she’d called Lynne knelt, inadvertently flashing the badge she wore so proudly on her chest. She walked up to the scene, putting a hand on Amelie’s head.

“Amelie, why don’t we let them go about their business,” she said, awkwardly attempting to smile at the red-haired woman, wishing she was anywhere else, thinking about the little flask in her purse.

“Oh, are you the lady who lives next door? I heard you and your daughter came to the park sometimes. Aren’t you that novelist? The one married to the Justice Minister?”

Emma preened a little. Her novels had been getting some good critical acclaim lately and being called “that novelist” was so much better than being called the “Justice Minister’s wife.”

“Please, call me Emma,” she said. “And yes, if you live in that apartment building over there,” she gestured with her head, “then I suppose we might be neighbors. That apartment is only where I stay when I need to get some writing done, though.” She tipped an imaginary wine glass at the red-haired woman. “Don’t make too much noise and I’m sure we’ll get along just fine.”

“Oh, OK. Well, I’m Lynne, and this is Kamila, and… what’s your name, kiddo?” she bent, asking Amelie.

“I’m Amelie!” the girl piped. “Can Kamila and I play? I never have any friends at this park.”

“Well, Kamila? How about it?”

Kamila shrugged. “Sure, I guess.”

The cat stayed in the park, watching. Both girls patted it a few times until Emma shooed it away yet again.

The Holiest of Nights, ten years after Temsik’s fall
Amelie lay listlessly in bed. “Mama! I don’t feel good. Can I skip my lesson tonight?”

Emma looked up from her typewriter where she sat, pounding away at her newest story.

“Yes, darling angel, I suppose you must. A toast to my sickly angel!”

Amelie coughed and lay back. “Can we call Papa?”

Emma’s lips tightened. She and her husband’s disagreement over the execution of her neighbor’s father had come to a head and she had moved out. They had both said many things, things she wasn’t sure could be taken back.

“No, not tonight. Go to sleep, Amelie. I don’t want to speak about your father right now. Tonight’s my deadline!”

The rest of Emma’s night could really only be called peculiar. Hours later, she hung, trapped, in a chandelier, staring down at her feverish daughter. Wondering what choices had brought her here, wine glass empty and dangling from her tired hands, deadline left unmet, she closed her eyes and the vision bloomed yet again. It hadn’t come back in years; Emma had been too careful to stay sozzled. But now she couldn’t reach her wine, or her novel, or anything else she’d chosen to keep herself distracted.

She had died. She had failed to protect her daughter and she’d died. Hallucination? Or vision? Who knew? The vision itself was only sharp at the point of impact, but she remembered Amelie crying, remembered her being pulled away. Emma couldn't let it happen again. She'd tried to layer over it with a skin of drunkenness and self-centeredness, but she couldn't let Amelie be taken again. Couldn't die again.

Was this better? She wasn’t sure it was better. Her marriage was in shambles. Her daughter hated her. She was trapped in a chandelier, for heaven’s sake, and no one would rescue her. Emma dropped the wineglass, letting it crash and tinkle on the floor below. From tomorrow, she vowed, it would be different. She would fix this. Just as soon as she managed to get out, things would change.

Slowly, she slipped into sleep, dreams of death running through her mind, over and over, as the hours slipped by. Elsewhere, though she didn’t know it, layers of plans clashed, and timelines looped and re-looped until the whole thing was reset once more.

 


 

 

Timeline γ: Day 1
“OK, now, one last—big—push!” The nurse encouraged the exhausted woman in the bed, who merely growled at her, teeth bared, hair spread all over the pillows, face as red as a rose. The woman screamed as the baby crowned.

Stars burst behind Emma’s closed eyes as she fought through the pain. Eyes and teeth clenched closed as she pushed and pushed, feeling as though it would never end. Out of the darkness, a vision swam and burst before her eyes. She had lived this before. She had died before. She had been shot, bullet punching into her chest. She jerked with the dual pain of dying and labor mixed when a new vision swam out of the dark. She hung from a chandelier, caught and trapped as she stared down at her daughter below, slowly sobering and wondering how on earth she’d managed to get here—

Just as the baby emerged, slick and dripping, a nurse glanced at the vital signs and shouted for the rapid response team. In all the bustle, the curtains were twitched closed and no one noticed the meteorite falling as mother and nurses fought for equilibrium and to make sure the baby was born safely. Emma regained stability, and Amelie was placed in her arms, healthy and happy as she nursed for the first time. The brief dual vision stayed with Emma, however, replaying every time she closed her eyes.

Death or continuous drunken stupor seemed no kind of choice at all here in this soft moment, with Amelie snuggled into her and the lights dimmed, quiet music playing somewhere, and her husband passed out in the en-suite cot. Emma gazed at her family and felt nothing but love and peace. She closed her eyes deliberately and watched her death play out, then her equally sad chandelier time, and thought, hard, about how she wanted her future to go. She didn’t want those things. She wanted to be a wife, a mother, a novelist, but above all, she wanted to make the choices that kept her from being the person she saw in those visions. She wanted to choose love and safety.

She bent her head down to Amelie’s and nuzzled her baby head, smiling fondly at her husband. She didn’t know where this life would take her, but she was sure, suddenly and without doubt, that she could and would be better than the terrible visions she’d seen. They were hallucinations, nothing more. This was the reality. As she dropped into a light doze, the shadows of the past faded, until the visions of what had been were gone without a trace.