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Fast Forward to the End

by Jenn Kruczynski 5 months ago in Short Story · updated 4 months ago
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When dream and reality collide and you can’t even trust yourself, who do you turn to? A tale of romance, half-truths, and misdirection.

The fringe of Everly's eyelashes flutters in the cool night air, blinking against the light from a full moon. She lays on the ground in a spotlight of moonbeams. The crimson of her dress pooled around her in sharp contrast to the dry grass. As her dark eyes open fully, she jumps to her feet. Her long hair fanning out around her as she spins in half-circles in each direction searching for someone, an answer, a reason for how she finds herself here.

She takes a deep quaking breath to calm herself as if she can breathe deeply enough to erase the events of the night before. Goosebumps rise on her arms, tiny prickling beacons of sensation. She is the only person in the clearing, at least as far as the moon's fingerlike beams spread but she doesn’t feel like she is alone.

"Hello?"

Crickets chirp back in reply.

"Kieran?"

"Noah?" She half chokes out the second name. How can one night, just twelve hours have fractured her reality?

In torn stockings and nearly bare feet, she falls to her knees, a crumple of red velvet and sobs.

All the while, as she awoke, yelled, searched, and fell, dark eyes watch her. A figure lingers, across the stretch of the field, standing at the edge of a dark expanse of trees. Half in shadows, half-obscured by vegetation, he watches, too fearful to approach her again. He is reminded of the look on her face when their skin last brushed. His breath comes out shaking, hands white-knuckled by his side.

He watches the glow fade from her skin. He watches as the waves of warmth radiating around her dissipate and the sobbing slows. Slowly, she lays back on the grass.

He lets another puff of breath, steam rising in the cold night air. Mind made up he takes a step forward, cautiously. Before he can take a second step, he hears the snapping of undergrowth, twigs, and dried leaves, coming from the other side of the clearing. He watches another man move quickly, faster than anyone should be capable of, across the field towards the girl. He sinks back into the shadows carefully watching.

He watches the girl wrap her arms around this person’s neck, his arms encircle her, as he lifts her off the ground. Her head rests on this rescuer’s shoulder as they cross the clearing passing the figure’s hiding space. She lays still in his arms splashed like a bloodstain across the man’s torso. The figure holds his breath as they approach and then disappear into the trees beyond him, echoed by the crunching foliage beneath their feet.

He lost his chance to be alone with her again. How would he even have explained what happened, when he was still answerless himself? Determined to make sense of the chaotic events of the night, he retreats; stride set to a new purpose. He will prove to her that this one slip, this one truth he kept hidden did not strip the meaning from all his other words and actions. It was the only way to ensure her safety. She might be safer away from him for now, but for how long he didn’t know.

Everly stirs in the warmth of morning sheets, reaching out to the other side of the bed. All she finds is the slight indent where he should be. Refusing to open her eyes and face the morning light, she rolls onto her stomach stretching and relaxing into the evaporating warmth. She takes time to relish the moment. The stillness, the cool breeze wafting in through the windows. The quiet. The moments before she knows her mind will start to race. She shushes those thoughts for this moment, locking the door to the outside world just a little longer, sinking a little deeper into the warm sheets.

She keeps her breath as slow and even as possible when she feels him gently lift the covers, straining to not make a sound or jostle the bed as he climbs back in. Everly tries to keep her breath still and listens intently as he settles his own. She cracks a smile as she pictures him, huddled in the small corner of the bed that she left open.

“I know that you’re not really sleeping.” He speaks then in a whisper that flutters her heart, as he whisks the stray hair from her face and behind my ear. His callused fingers send a thrill up her spine.

“I know that you’re staring at me creepily again.” She smiles, peeking open the one eye closest to his side of the bed. He lets out a good deep chuckle.

“I’ll be staring at you like this for the rest of our lives. I remember you agreeing to something like that.” He laughs again tapping her ring finger. She rolls her eyes exaggeratedly but opens her arms, motioning for him to come in closer. His top arm seeks the familiar spot around her waist, the other finds its way under the pillow and behind his head. She threads an open arm over him to trace circles with her delicate fingers on his back.

They stay there for a while, eyes closed, breathing each other in. It is too long before his thumb started tracing half-moons on the exposed skin between her top and bottoms. It isn’t long before his lips find hers. She gets lost for a moment, in that familiar touch and sound. She gives into that feeling of unity, a feeling of total unadulterated bliss. His hands just start moving up her waist when she hears the door creak open. She freezes.

“Everly? Everly, what happened?” The dream snaps away as she wakes to the startled girl who entered the bedroom.

“Rose, what are you doing here? I was having the best dream.” Everly sits up in bed, rubbing her eyes trying to remember what the dream had even been about. When her eyes begin to adjust, she notices dirt under her nails and smudges on her arms. The petite blond girl is standing in the doorway, mouth agape.

“Uh, hi, what? Do you remember the nice dinner party I planned with Micah’s family last night? The one I spent weeks planning and you swore you would be at? You completely disappeared after going to grab the bottle of wine I left in the car. You flaked on that nice guy, a total babe I might add, who they brought over to set you up with. You flaked on me, your supposed best friend. What is going on with you?”

Everly just sat there, blinking at her friend, dark eyes wide. Her shoulders lifted as if to shrug but like she gave up halfway through. Every word she pulls at in her mind vanishes before she can send it through her mouth.

“I, uh.” She looks at the dirty hands in her lap, picking at her nails as she tries to recall anything from the night before.

“I don’t know. I guess I don’t remember.” Everly watches as her friend walks back out the door, calling behind her, “Well if you ever decide you do remember, try cluing in your best friend.”

Everly drags herself out of bed, in the hopes that a shower might clear the fog from her mind. What had even happened last night?

She stands in front of the bathroom mirror, her hair sopping wet, bare feet against the cold, white tile floor. She sees first that she badly needs to trim her hair, which falls in thick chestnut waves down past her shoulders. Then, she notices the scar on her face, a neat reddish-brown line just above her eyebrow, and freckles dotting her nose from too much sun. What she is looking for in that reflection, she isn’t entirely sure.

She sighs in resignation but as she turns to leave, she catches something out of the corner of her eye, a glimmer. She turns back toward the mirror quickly but sees nothing there, other than the stark doe-eyed look on her face. Everly looks around the small bathroom, the only light is coming from the vanity itself, nothing sparkly. Assuming that her mind is playing tricks on her, she turns to leave but then there it is again, out of the corner of her eye she sees it. This time, without turning her head, she starts to see it a little more clearly. The edges of the mirror are shimmering gold and silver like a holographic image. Everly lets out a deep breath, fighting the urge to ignore the strange sight, and decides to follow it. Her palms begin to tingle as she turns slowly toward the mirror to take a closer look.

She sighs in resignation but as she turns to leave, she catches something out of the corner of her eye, a glimmer. She turns back toward the mirror quickly but sees nothing there, other than the stark doe-eyed look on her face. Everly looks around the small bathroom, the only light is coming from the vanity itself, nothing sparkly. Assuming that her mind is playing tricks on her, she turns to leave but then there it is again, out of the corner of her eye she sees it. This time, without turning her head, she starts to see it a little more clearly. The edges of the mirror are shimmering gold and silver like a holographic image. Everly lets out a deep breath, fighting the urge to ignore the strange sight, and decides to follow it. Her palms begin to tingle as she turns slowly toward the mirror to take a closer look.

Now standing facing the mirror, she watches the undulating shimmer. It begins to roll like a mist, taking over the mirror before the reflective surface disappears altogether. Absently, Everly reaches out to touch it, consumed by the feeling that she must. It isn’t as solid as she expects and it feels cool to the touch, like slipping your fingers into the cool sand of a beach in the heat of the day. She shudders and withdraws her hand, clasping it to her chest, that’s when she realizes that the image in the mirror is not her bathroom. It looks as if she is peering into another room entirely.

She gives a curt nod and a quick dart of breath as if steeling her resolve. She reaches out again through the mist, through the damp dark feeling of the mirror, and feels for the wall on the other side. She strains on her tiptoes, now touching what feels like a desk on the other side. Then she is reaching her whole arm, her whole torso through, boosting herself up with her knees on the ceramic edge of the sink. She’s about halfway in the ‘other room’ and towel-clad butt up in the air, knees on her own bathroom sink, feeling like she’s climbing in through someone’s window.

“What on earth am I doing right now? What happens if someone finds me here like this? Am I completely delusional? Well, obviously I am because I’m talking to myself. I must be dreaming. Though, if I am dreaming, then there’s no harm in finishing what I started right? Right.” She chirps out the last word in response to herself, nodding her head.

Everly uses all the strength in her arms to support her weight enough to pull her backend through the mirror and lands in a tumble and a thump on a carpeted floor. She lets out a curse as she lands and is rubbing her knee when she hears footsteps. She freezes, suddenly very aware that she’s laying on a stranger’s floor, in a towel.

She climbs to her feet, pulling the edges of the towel around her as if by tugging it, dignity would tumble out of its folds. She hears two voices, growing louder as they approach the wide-open door. She lets out a held breath as they move past, not even turning in her direction. She runs on her tiptoes to that door closing it as quietly as possible.

Everly then rushes back across the room to the mirror, the stranger’s mirror, gold and gilded, but relatively the same size as the one in her bathroom. She taps against it, pulls it away from the wall, stands in front of it, and even side-eyes it but no matter what she does she can’t get the mist to reappear. She even tries telling herself to wake up, pinching her skin which results in nothing other than a yelp and a sore spot.

“Okay, I am stuck here, I might as well try to figure out what is happening.” She speaks to herself quickly raking her hand through her damp hair.

She moves through the room, inspecting the tight corners of the carefully made bed. The barren walls, and hyper-organized closet. It reminds her of something vaguely military. She pulls on the stranger’s clothing, an old green shirt logo no longer legible, saying a silent apology as it is certainly being stretched out.

“Girls in movies are always swimming in guys’ clothes. Even in a dream, I’m too big for them.” She rolls her eyes at her own vanity and stretches the shirt a little more to better fit her shoulders and chest. Her hips are too wide for the jeans she tries but she finds black jogging pants that fit well enough. Once dressed, and in shoes close to her own size 9, Everly makes her way out the door and down an unfamiliar hallway.

Everly tiptoes down tan carpeted stairs, pausing at the bottom as a man with shoulder-length blond hair disappears out the front door. She clenches her fists by her side and follows him. She opens the door to the afternoon sun but as she steps through it, she is greeted by the full force of an autumn evening. She looks back behind her as if she’ll find an explanation in the cracks in the sidewalk. When she looks back forward again, the blond guy is not too far down the path in front of her. She walks as inconspicuously as possible behind him.

His strides are sure, even, and quick like he is in a hurry to get somewhere he’d been before. He is dressed nicely but relatively casually, wearing a black woolen coat about knee length. His hands are tucked into his pockets. His surfer-like hair is tucked behind his ear on one side. Everly has the strangest feeling that she knows him but can’t figure out how.

She was watching him so intently that she is surprised to see a familiar building come into focus. It is her house, the one she shares with her best friend. They’d only lived here for a couple of months, but how could she have not recognized the path they were walking? She stands back, just watching to see what he will do. She is in the shadow at the corner of the street, behind the hedges, her house on the other side. Peering through the thick tangle of branches, she can see the front door. He knocks a couple of times and then stands there politely, arms at his side.

Rose, her best friend for all her life, opens the door and greets him like an old friend. She stands there, in a pink dress Everly thought she’d bought for the dinner the night before, smiling and talking with him. He pulls out a bottle of wine, which Everly hadn’t known he was holding, and Rose thanks him before ushering him inside.

Everly moves to confront them, determined to figure out what is happening but as she turns the corner the scene fades and she steps out of one scene and into the next. When she looks up, she finds herself standing at the edge of a forest. She can see a shadowy figure standing in front of her a few yards away. She shouts at him, but he doesn’t react, as if he couldn’t hear her. Before she can react to that, she hears a girl shouting. Everly moves out into a clearing to inspect the situation.

There, a hundred or so feet in front of her she sees a girl. She sees herself. She sprints to the middle of the clearing, eerily looking into her own eyes. This girl, who she decides is a past version of herself, looks dressed up as if she’d been on a date at a fancy restaurant. She is wearing a deep red dress, tight enough to accentuate her curves at the midsection before flowing out into soft waves of velvet.

Everly stands there in the center of the clearing, in a strange man’s clothing, starting at herself in a fancy dress.

“What the hell is going on? Didn’t I buy that dress for Rose’s party? Why don’t I remember wearing it?” She exclaims, reaching out to shake the shoulders of the dressy version of herself but her hands can’t make contact.

“Kieran, where are you? Come out, we need to talk.” The girl shouts into the woods.

“Everly, I have been looking everywhere for you. I haven’t heard from you in days. Where have you been?” It is strange for Everly to hear her own name being called by a voice she swears she recognizes, knowing that they are speaking to some other version of herself.

A man about her age comes running into the clearing. He jogs right to her, arms outstretched as if to cup her face. Present Everly is standing there between the two, as Past Everly jerks back from this man’s touch like it would be her undoing. She raises a finger in the air, wagging it at him. Present Everly nods in solidarity, though not totally sure why.

“Kieran Alexander, do not lay a finger on me. I’m just, I mean…I’m trying to understand why you would do it. You are the most privileged one of all of us. I thought I knew you. Why do you have to do this? Why would you risk hurting so many people?”

Present Everly is standing there, eyebrows knitted in confusion, looking between the two trying to figure out what she’s missed. Staring at this guy with a curly messy top knot and eyes to drown in, he looks pitiful. He looks like someone wrung all the light out of his sun and returned it limp and lackluster. He has managed to both look surprised and guilty all at once.

“Ah-hem.” Present Everly clears her throat though no one can hear her anyway. “So let me get this straight. This is supposed to be me, from yesterday, after the dinner party? Why is it that this guy who looks like he’s been lost in love with me for years but is someone I’ve never seen before? I mean I haven’t seen him before, right?” Present Everly brings a hand to her forehead, clasping it tightly. She feels like there is a memory fighting to get out like she’s watching something new on TV and can’t figure out what else the actor has been in.

“This is not a memory Everly, this is a dream, don’t crack up on me now.” She whispers to herself in the dark, staring at two people who can’t see or hear her.

“I was only trying to protect you, Eve. I would never intentionally hurt you or anyone for that matter. I couldn’t live with myself if I did. Why do you think I have to do this?” He says, crestfallen.

“You have to do this, huh? Neat, so glad to know that I was always just a means to an end for you. Happy to know I’ve wasted the last three years of my life.” Past Everly turns to walk away. Kieran reaches out to try to stop her, his hands brushing her arm. There is a flash of light and an explosion of sound. Suddenly, Present Everly watches as Past Everly collapses to the ground and as the guy is thrown across the clearing. Present Everly searches the sky for signs of a thunderstorm as she is certain they had been struck by lightning. The sky is clear and bright, the moon reigning over them.

“Okay, what the hell just happened? Where did that puppy-dog-guy go and why am I unconscious? Hey, me, wake up please!” She stomps on the ground in frustration.

She watches a new scene unfold in front of her in fast forward. Past Everly stands, shouts, falls, and cries. Puppy-dog-guy watches from where he thinks he is well-hidden. Then the blond guy from earlier swoops in, whispers something inaudible in her ear, and carries her away.

Seeing the blond man again but in the clearing with her past self, triggers something in Everly. It starts as flashes but turns into a carnival ride tugging at her mind, bouncing her from memory to memory. She knows she has to pick one thought to focus on or she’ll surely vomit.

She picks the one which seems familiar. It is a memory of the dream she vaguely remembers from the morning. A dream of warm sheets, and comfort, and love. How had she forgotten? She tries to move the sheet in the memory so that she can see his face but before she can, she is jolted through another memory.

She is standing outside of her house again, wine bottle in hand when the blond guy she just met came outside to help.

“Hey, sorry I know that this must be super awkward for you too--” He looks down and tucks a shining strand of blond hair behind his ear.

She cuts him off. “They don’t know this, but I am seeing someone. I’m sorry we wasted your time.” She smiles kindly and turns to move past him.

“I know when someone isn’t interested, don’t sweat it.” He smiles bright white teeth at her, a dimple is exposed in the stubble on one cheek. There is something about that memory that feels off to Present Everly. It feels different than the other memory, like a scripted scene that isn’t her own. The moment Present Everly thinks that the scene is rewound.

Past Everly is standing there, in her velvet dress in the driveway, hands on her knees, gasping for air.

“Look I didn’t mean to startle you, but I couldn’t get you alone otherwise. I don’t know what Kieran told you, but I am not trying to hurt you.”

She straightens at the sound of his name, a look of irritation spreading.

“Noah, are you seriously trying to tell me that Kieran, our Kieran, is some mastermind power-hungry murderer and you’re just an innocent bystander?” She passes him in a huff, shoulder into his arm, making her way back towards the house.

“You’ve noticed something different about him, right? He’s been distracted, moody, disappearing for hours at a time? Come on—” He grabs her by the hand but in her subtle attempt to move away, he grasps her waist with the other hand. “You know he has been using you all along. He wants to steal your power for his own and destroy the Order.” Her nervous look fades and she begins nodding, resistance growing slack in his hand.

“Yeah, now that you say that… but why would he tell me to keep an eye on you then, that you were the one who was trying to siphon power from the Order?” He moves his hand to the side of her face, smiling wider.

“Because he wants to keep us apart, Everly, don’t let him destroy what we have together.”

The scene flips again and suddenly Everly is back inside somewhere. She steadies herself, still searching, trying to figure out what she had missed.

She hears a noise in the other room, it sounds like books or papers clattering to the floor.

“Oh good, you’re here.” A voice from the other side of the door calls to her. Everly looks behind her, then at the door again.

“Are you talking to me?” She lets out in a near whisper.

She pushes open the heavy wooden door. The man from the clearing is there, dark unruly hair in tangles framing his tanned skin, pencil behind his ear.

“I can explain everything.” The words he speaks call her home.

Everly wakes then, in a green cotton t-shirt, drenched in sweat.

Short Story

About the author

Jenn Kruczynski

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