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Life is but a...

By Bex JordanPublished 25 days ago Updated 24 days ago 18 min read
3
Be Seeing You

Sylvi rolled onto her back with a groan, the saccharine-pleasant chime of her alarm app ringing next to her. She opened her eyes and blinked once. Twice. Three times.

Reset your password.

She’d probably seen the prompt hundreds–maybe thousands–of times throughout her life. The request seemed simple enough.

The problem was, there wasn’t a screen in front of her.

The prompt floated about a foot above her face in the empty air of her apartment.

Enter your current password here, read the line just below the initial prompt, and a dialog box with a blinking cursor awaited her entry.

I must be dreaming. This is still a dream, Sylvi thought with a nervous chuckle.

She’d always had dreams that mirrored her waking life so deeply that they seemed just shy of real. She could smell things in them, taste even, feel…Yes, it had felt like waking when her alarm bell went off, but she was obviously still dreaming. Curious about the next steps of the dream, she reached up, tentatively. When she touched the dialogue box, a keyboard appeared just below the prompt. She typed in her usual password:

[email protected]

She was well aware that she should have different passwords for every account, but for the past several years she’d used some variation of this same password on every account. She did change it up a bit, but the more she used the password, the better chance she’d have of actually accessing her accounts when she needed to. Besides, she wasn’t important enough for someone to steal her identity.

She hit ‘Enter.’

Incorrect password. Access denied, the prompt box responded in bold, red letters.

Sylvi went back to sleep.

—----

Sylvi rolled onto her back with a groan, the saccharine-pleasant chime of her alarm app ringing next to her. She silenced the alarm with a swipe of her finger.

So, it had been just a dream. How strange. It had all felt so real.

She glanced again at her phone with a start and cursed. She must have slept through her first few alarms–she was running late for work already. She scrambled out of bed and pulled on the clothes she’d laid out for herself the night before. If she skipped breakfast and coffee, she might just make it…

…If she didn’t miss her bus, which she did by a minute. She could see her usual bus receding down the street as she ran to the stop.

No worries, she thought, I guess I’m driving in to work today.

She preferred to take public transit–it was faster, she didn’t have to deal with traffic, and it gave her some time to think before work. In fact, she hated driving, and cars in general. However, she knew the next bus wouldn’t arrive for another half-hour. She ran to her building’s garage and jumped in her car.

—----

It was pouring rain by the time Sylvi got to work, and thanks to eight red lights, two accidents, and one train crossing, she was almost fifteen minutes late.

She was soaked through as soon as she stepped out of her car. Her carefully-planned pinstripe pantsuit plastered itself to her body in an uncomfortable and suffocating way. A glance at her reflection in the mirror as she entered the building made her instantly regret the eyeliner she'd managed to hastily apply, which now ran down her face in inky black rivulets. Mr. Sanders, her boss, was waiting for her just inside the door to their office building.

"You're a mess! Where have you been? They're waiting for you!" He yelled in an uncharacteristically aggressive voice.

"I'm sorry, traffic was horrible, I–wait, who's waiting for me?" Sylvi stammered.

"The client! They're in the meeting room right now, get in there!" Mr. Sanders ushered her into the sterile whiteness of the multimedia room.

Sylvi cursed internally while she put on a winning smile for the posh men and women who stared at her skeptically. She'd planned to come in early to prepare for this meeting. She'd begged Mr. Sanders to give her this presentation so she could prove herself and start moving up in the company. Instead, she was late, unprepared, and looked like a drowned rat.

"Hello, everyone! Thank you so much for your patience! I hope you've all been enjoying our coffee," Sylvi laughed nervously as she wished she'd gotten to enjoy some coffee herself. No one laughed with her.

"One moment while I pull up my slide deck."

Her laptop was thankfully set up and attached to the projector, but she felt everyone's eyes burning into her as she turned her computer on and entered her password to unlock it. She felt a strange wave of deja-vu as she typed in the familiar keys.

With a sigh of relief, Sylvi hit the hotkey to share her computer screen only to realize she'd forgotten to turn the projector on. The two minutes it took the projector to boot up felt like an eternity.

At last, the projector displayed the slide on Sylvi's computer screen. There was a color-coded bar graph with a corresponding pie chart. The only problem was, Sylvi had no idea what either of them meant.

I can do this, Sylvi thought, I just have to speak with confidence and they'll never know I have no idea what I'm talking about.

"As you can see from these charts, our profits have been growing exponentially each quarter. This is all thanks to our excellent customer service! See, here at Sanders Marketing, we put the customer first!" Sylvi smiled at the clients, who stared back at her with blank, unchanged expressions, "Now, on the next slide…"

"What does the pie chart represent?" A woman with a sleek blonde bun and a charcoal gray suit asked.

"Ah, of course, good eye!" Sylvi beamed at her, "that's our customer satisfaction rate per quarter! Now, on the next slide…"

"That doesn't even make any sense! There are no numbers or keys on your charts. Do you have a client packet I can look at?"

"I don't have one right at this moment, but if you don't mind waiting after the meeting I can print some out for all of you!"

"Fine," the woman was clearly perturbed but she let Sylvi continue to the next slide…

…Which was clearly wrong. It was a blown-up image of Dalí's The Persistence of Memory, but instead of melting clocks, there were limp eyeballs strewn across a barren landscape.

"Apologies, I don't know how that got in there…" Sylvi tried to click to the next slide, but nothing happened as she tapped the arrow key harder and harder.

"This is ridiculous. I'm going out for breakfast, I think it would be a better use of my time," the blonde woman got up. One by one, the other clients followed the woman out the door until only one other person remained in the room.

Sylvi hadn't noticed the young-looking woman with a black Peter-Pan haircut and wide blue eyes. Sylvi wished she had noticed the woman during her disaster of a presentation because at least she was smiling. However, the smile was a little…off-putting.

"Hello!" The woman said.

"Um…hello. I am so sorry for the…" Sylvi gestured weakly at the image on the projector.

"Oh, don't worry about that. It was all a part of the plan!"

"The plan…wait, did you do this?!" Sylvi's confusion quickly switched to rage, which made the woman giggle.

"Only in a manner of speaking. Sylvi, you're dreaming. This, the slides, your office, it's all part of your subconscious."

"Oh, thank God! I haven't made a fool of myself in front of the client!" Sylvi sat down heavily, finally able to breathe.

"Well, here's the thing, though. You have some issues to work through. There are some things you've been avoiding for years now–decades, even. I'm afraid you won't be allowed to wake up until you face them."

"But what about my presentation?" Sylvi protested.

"This is bigger than your career, Sylvi. In fact, if you don't work these things out now, they're going to continue to affect every aspect of your life."

"Just who are you, anyway?!"

"I've been called many things, but you can call me Nix.”

"Well, Nix, what am I supposed to do?!"

"You'll know. When the time comes, you'll know. Only then will you be able to enter the correct password."

"Password? Wait, that was real?!"

"Be seeing you," Nix winked before she disappeared.

"Wait…"

—----

Sylvi rolled onto her back with a groan, the saccharine-pleasant chime of her alarm app ringing next to her.

She was soaked–she must have left her heater on all night. She couldn’t still be wet from the rain in her dream...

Could she?

She swiped the alarm app off and stared up at the prompt hovering above her face. The dialogue box awaited her current password, the curser blinking expectantly. She touched the box and entered her work password.

[email protected]

She knew it was cheesy, but her therapist had recommended she give herself daily reminders and affirmations of her goals.

Incorrect password. Access denied, the screen read as it faded away…

—----

Sylvi slammed her hand down on the alarm clock next to her bed as it blared a dissonant buzz. The sound cut off abruptly, and she sat up. She was in her old room, the one she’d lived in when she was a teenager.

“Sylvia, get out of bed! You’re going to miss the bus!” Her mom’s voice screeched from downstairs.

“I’m up!” She yelled back at her mom.

She really didn’t want to see or talk to her mother right now. They’d had a horrible fight the night before and she didn’t even want to look at her this morning.

She glanced at the digital readout on the alarm clock. She was definitely going to miss the bus. She’d have to take her bike this time–there was no way she’d ask her mother for a ride.

—----

She pedaled hard, pushing herself to her limit. She still stopped at crosswalks to look both ways–she always stopped to look both ways. It was raining by the time she got to school, but she found it exhilarating. She didn’t care what she looked like anymore. It seemed like everyone stared at her for all the wrong reasons these days.

She barely had time to lock up her bike when she arrived at school, but she knew better than to leave it unchained. She ran through the empty halls to her first class. She managed to slip in just as the final bell was ringing and found a seat at the back of the class.

“Sylvia Conroy,” Mr. Jones’ voice boomed across the suddenly-quiet classroom, “Please come to the front of the class to give your presentation.”

“Yes, Mr. Jones,” Sylvi discovered she’d forgotten her backpack in her rush to get out the door. She stood and slowly walked to the front of the classroom, trying to remember what her presentation was on.

As she walked, she heard a few of her classmates gasp. All eyes turned to stare at her as she made her way between the rows of desks. When she finally got to the front of the room, she saw that everyone was looking at her with a mix of shock and pity. She glanced down and realized she was completely naked. Letting out a stifled shriek, she tried in vain to cover herself.

“Um, that will be all, Miss Conroy. You are dismissed for the day. Please come back when you're feeling better,” Mr. Jones said, gently. She saw the sympathy on his face.

She hated it.

She didn’t want people to feel sorry for her, as though she were fragile or fundamentally broken. It made her furious when they treated her differently. These thoughts and feelings of resentment burned in her as she ran out of school, grabbed her bike, and pedaled home.

—----

She snuck up to her room as soon as she got home, hoping her mother had already left for work. She scrambled into her pajamas and laid back down on her bed. She wished she’d never gotten out of bed in the first place.

“I’m sorry.”

Sylvi sat up and stared at the woman in the corner of her room–or was she more of a girl? She seemed to be a teenager now–about the same age as Sylvi was in this dream, actually. She did have the same Peter-Pan haircut and wide blue eyes, though.

“Nix! What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to help guide you. But this next part is going to be hard,” Nix responded with a sad smile.

“What do you mean? Wait…you look…who are you?”

“Sylvi? Sylvia! Why aren’t you at school?!”

Sylvi cursed at the sound of her mother’s voice downstairs. When she glanced back to the corner Nix had been in, she was gone.

“I didn’t feel well. Mr. Jones said I could come home,” Sylvi yelled to her mother, weakly.

“Get down here!”

“But mom, I–”

“NOW!”

With a heavy pit of dread in her stomach, Sylvi ambled downstairs.

“Sylvia, your grades have been horrible lately. I don’t know what’s gotten into you! You're worse than ever!”

“Puberty, mom. Hormones have gotten into me.”

“Don’t you talk back to me! I don’t want to hear excuses, do you understand me?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“I wish you were more like your sister,” her mother said with a look of utter disgust.

“You, know what, Mother? SO DO I!!!” Sylvi screamed.

"How dare you," her mother whispered, suddenly cold and quiet.

Her mother's once-kind eyes narrowed at Sylvi with a look of pure hatred. She moved faster than she'd ever moved before–in the blink of an eye, she was at the knife block. Sylvi blinked again, and her mother stood directly in front of her with a butcher's knife in her hand.

"You will never be as smart as her," her mother said as she slashed into Sylvi's arm.

"Ow, Mom, what are you doing..."

"You will never be as good as her," Sylvi's mother stabbed her in the shoulder. The pain was sharp and real, and deep red blood welled from her wound.

"Mom, stop, please! I'm sorry..." Sylvi pleaded.

"I wish you had been the one to..." her mother thrust the knife into Sylvi's stomach. Sylvi doubled over with a guttural moan.

"Well, I wasn't!" Sylvi pushed her mother away with an unexpected surge of strength. She scrambled back upstairs to her room, holding her wound and trying to stop the blood that was gushing from between her fingers. Her mother yelled after her, but she tuned her out. She slammed her door as hard as she could and collapsed onto her bed…

—----

Sylvi rolled onto her back with a groan, the saccharine-pleasant chime of her alarm app ringing next to her. She hissed at the sting of a fresh cut on her arm.

She swiped her alarm off and tapped the dialogue box in one smooth motion this time. She typed in the password she’d used as a teenager:

Numb3r1Sylph

Incorrect password. Access denied.

Sylvi cursed as she was thrown back into sleep.

—----

She was flying far above her street. The houses in her neighborhood looked like toys from up here. Her powers of flight were new, and she had a little trouble controlling them. If she held her arms out a certain way, she could steer herself from side to side. She felt so free!

Until she heard a ringing next to her…

She hit her kitty alarm clock on the table by her bunk bed. Her hand had shrunk to the size it was when she was a little girl, and she noticed her body had diminished to match. Looking around at the toys and dolls and pastel walls, she recognized her childhood room.

The one she shared with…

“Hello, Sylvi! Time to rise and shine!”

The ladder creaked slightly as Kaylee climbed down from the top bunk. Sylvi always let her sister have the top bunk.

“It’s you,” Sylvi’s eyes blurred as she realized who Nix had reminded her of, “It’s been you all along.”

“Of course, silly,” Nix/Kaylee’s bright blue eyes smiled at her from under the fringe of her Peter-Pan haircut, “I used your sister’s image from your subconscious. I hope you don’t mind.”

“I do mind. Very much. How could you…”

“Tag! You’re it!” Kaylee tapped Sylvi’s arm, and she scampered downstairs. Sylvi chased after her, the feeling of foreboding temporarily forgotten.

Kaylee and Sylvi ran around the kitchen table as their parents laughed. Their mother was cooking breakfast, and their father was enjoying his morning coffee at the table.

“Girls, girls! Sit down! I made your favorite–blueberry pancakes!”

The girls cheered as they sat at the breakfast table and their mother served them pancakes smothered in butter and syrup. Everything seemed perfect–almost as though there was a rosy hue to the idealized family scene in the kitchen.

Kaylee and Sylvi had always been close. They were only a year and a half apart in age, but they were in the same grade since Kaylee had skipped ahead. Everything–from academics to sports to art–came so easily to Kaylee, while Sylvi struggled. She didn’t mind, though. She loved her sister too much for any of that to matter.

When they were finished with breakfast, their mother escorted them out of the kitchen.

“You two had better go, you're going to be late for the bus!” Their mother scolded.

“Have a good day, girls!” Their father chimed.

“Oh! I forgot my show-and-tell!” Sylvi said, and rushed up the stairs.

She was sure she’d put her Magic Eyeball on her desk, but it wasn’t where she’d left it. She looked in the closet, her bedside table, and finally found it under her bed. It was a Magic 8-Ball that was painted to look like an eye. Her uncle had given it to her as a gag gift, and she thought it was the coolest thing she'd ever seen.

“Sylvi, we have to go!” Kaylee said from the doorway.

“I'm coming! Sorry, sis.”

“We’ve probably missed the bus already,” Kaylee pouted.

“That’s okay! We can ride our bikes to school!”

“Okay!”

—----

Once they were outside, Sylvi stopped Kaylee by their bikes.

“Hey Kaylee, do you want to see something cool?” Sylvi asked.

“Sure! What is it?”

Sylvi flapped her arms, and suddenly she was hovering a few feet above the ground.

“I can fly now!”

“Wow, that’s amazing! Maybe you could fly us to school!”

“Well, I wouldn’t want the grown-ups to find out. They’d probably do experiments on me–like E.T.!”

“Yeah, you’re right. We’d better go, then!”

“Okay! Hey, I’ll race you!”

—----

Kaylee was much faster on her bike than Sylvi. She was a few yards in front of Sylvi when it began to rain.

Suddenly, Sylvi understood what day this was.

She remembered the rain, Kaylee in front of her on her bike...

The car.

“Kaylee, wait! Stop! Slow down, PLEASE!”

Kaylee just giggled as she pumped her legs faster.

She didn’t see the car as it sped through the crosswalk.

KAYLEE!”

Sylvi would hear that sickening thud for the rest of her life. The screech of tires would always, always put her on edge. She would see her sister's little body laying next to her broken bike when she closed her eyes to sleep.

Sylvi jumped off her bike and flew to her sister, but she was already gone. She was once again in her adult body as she cradled Kaylee in her arms.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, Kaylee. It was all my fault. I shouldn’t have tried to race you. I made us late. It’s my fault,” tears streamed down Sylvi’s face, mixing with the rain as it fell harder.

Sylvi flew up into the rain, her sister’s tiny body in her arms. She went higher and higher, trying to escape the people who had gathered around the scene to gawk, trying to forget about her father’s face as he walked out the door forever, trying to rise above all the terrible things she knew would come next.

She broke through the clouds and floated in the sky, gazing at the sun. The landscape stretched out beneath her, the fields and trees and rivers were brushed with warm, white light. She wished Kaylee could see this right now. She looked down at her sister and realized her eyes were open.

“Hello,” the girl said to Sylvi (she wasn’t sure if it was Kaylee or Nix speaking).

“Hello,” Sylvi replied.

“It wasn’t your fault. And your sister never blamed you, Sylvi. She loved you so much,” Nix said.

“I loved her, too,” Sylvi’s face crumpled as she broke down in tears. Nix reached up and wrapped her arms around Sylvi's shaking shoulders.

“She knows,” Nix said.

Sylvi wept while Nix embraced her tightly. Finally, Sylvi lifted her head to discover she was alone. She glanced one more time at the sun, the sky, the clouds below…

Then, she fell…

—----

Sylvi could swear her bed bounced with the impact of her body as she landed. The saccharine-pleasant chime of her alarm app rang next to her. She swiped it silent, then wiped her dripping eyes.

She touched the dialog box gingerly and typed in the password she’d used as a child–the very first she’d ever created.

eyeLoveUSis

Password accepted. Congratulations, Sylvi.

A figure materialized at the foot of the bed–a young girl with a Peter-Pan haircut and bright blue eyes. She was smiling at Sylvi, her face full of love. She blew Sylvi a kiss, then disappeared.

Reset your password.

The cursor blinked, expectantly….

supernaturalpsychological
3

About the Creator

Bex Jordan

She/They. Writer. Gardener. Cat-Lover. Nerd. Always looking up at the sky or down at the ground.

Profile photo by Román Anaya (https://www.roman-anaya.com/).

Instagram: @UmaSabirah

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