The red ball bounced up and down the rainy driveway of 592 Gilmore street. It was being bounced by Amber, a little girl of no more than ten years old—just as she’d always done since it was given to her by her imaginary friend, Ross. Yari Englehut, Amber’s mother, worried constantly about her daughter’s state of mind. Even now, as she stood in the kitchen window, dressed in corporate attire, she couldn't help but to shed a tear looking at her daughter bouncing that ridiculous ball she found; she feels compelled to go out there and shake some sense into her.
She might say something like, ‘"Amber, sweetie, imaginary friends don’t exist. You found that ball in the attic of that abandoned house you had no business going into in the first place," but she knows it will make no difference. Besides, she was just arguing with her husband, and simply didn’t have the energy.
The therapist told Yari that this would pass—that it’s all just a phase but she didn’t buy it. There was something all too strange going on with Amber since she found that ball. This only added to her stress, being a busy mom and missing valuable time with her daughter—she couldn’t help feeling like it was her fault Amber made up an imaginary friend.
It was last March when she found the ball. There was a big fight between Yari and Amber’s father who, after the fight, stormed out vowing never to return—but then would return, only to leave again less than a week later after yet another argument. They seemed to be arguing about her, something that was relatively new, and Amber didn’t understand why. This up-and -down was too much for Amber to handle. She began to disassociate from reality each time her father left, and her mother, bogged down by her own business, found it difficult to console her daughter. What was once a bright, glowing happy face, arms twirling about as she danced to a Disney shows’ opening sequences, was now replaced by listless eyes, always staring at what always turned out to be nothing. Off into space she would stare, sitting on the back porch at night gazing at the stars. She was already on the back porch rocking back and forth when she heard more yelling—for the 5th time that day. Her parents where upstairs, so they didn’t see her suddenly spring up from her tea set and run off after they began arguing. Even though she ran to the neighborhood next to hers, she didn’t feel like she was lost. After she stopped running, she realized she was not by her house, but by a house that felt like it was calling to her. A house that appeared to have been burned at the top. She paid it no mind as she walked up the rickety stairs of the front porch…
The door was closed, but it was off its hinges so one push would surely send it crashing to the floor. The dust shot up and all around Amber as the caution tape fell to the floor. She covered her face and coughed a little. Then she continued onward in the house. She didn’t realize that she didn’t know where she was going—indeed something knew, and that something seemed to be possessing her to take each step forward. When she got to the top of the stairs, she saw the ladder for the attic had been pulled down. She started up them. When she got to the top, there, on the window sill was a red ball. It seemed to stand out against everything else up there. Amber saw the sun light shining through the only window there, right on it. She grabbed the ball, but just as she did, a thought popped in her head.
"Bounce me,” it said, “I like to be bounced.”
Amber didn’t think it was strange at all. She bounced it all the way home, and she’s been bouncing it ever since. It seemed to put her in a trance when she did so, and this is what worried her mother so greatly. Every time she would tell her, “Put the ball away sweetie, it’s bedtime.”
Amber would respond, “His name is Ross, and he doesn’t want to go to bed. He wants to be bounced.”
The therapist told Yari not to be worried, but he was just placating her. The truth was, he wanted to date Yari, and had been the one who instigated the fight between her and her husband in the first place. Yari wouldn't even have gone to him if it wasn’t for the fact that her regular therapist, Dr. Connor had retired. She originally sought therapy as a means to sort out the mental conflicts in her hectic life, but this new therapist didn’t care about Yari’s daughter and her problems; Yari had graduated from University with him ten years back, but she didn’t remember him. But he remembered her. He would always watch from afar—off in a separate crowd as she would walk from building to building between classes. He never got the courage to ask her out, and always wondered what would have happened had he did.
This wondering became an obsession—an obsession to which he subsequently fought to gain control of. The walls of his dorm back in college were sprinkled with polaroids of Yari at study hall, at the water fountain, at the coffee shop, at the bus stop, and many other places, doing various things. He knew it wasn’t healthy. So he became a therapist; he wanted to understand why he couldn't control his obsession with a woman he’d never dated, or even personally knew! He even got married (to a woman that resembled Yari of course) and had a son—but that ended in a fatal tragedy. He was just about done with Yari and the idea of being with her—until she walked in his office— unbeknownst to him, as a referral from the retired Dr. Connor to help deal with anxiety at work issues two years earlier.
Now here she is, in his office once again, but this time it’s about her daughter. When he saw Yari, all his progress vanished from existence. When he found out through conversations she had a husband, he didn’t take that too well either. He sat there with a calm smile every time she would come in to talk about her daughter, but as the months passed and turned into years, he grew more and more upset that one—she still didn’t recognize him, and two—that she was definitely not on the market. This angered him so much that he, going against all protocol, got from her personal files the name of her husband, called him from a blocked number and told him very disparaging things about her. While going through her personal files, he also saw her address.
“So that's where you've been,” he said, his glasses glaring in the LED light of his computer screen.
Jason, Amber's dad, sits a his work bench, tired from a hard days work at his construction company. A no-nonsense type of guy, he prides himself on his work and even though sometimes he feels like his wife outshines him, he is happy. Well, he was, until his phone started ringing after hours. Another blocked number. The calls are getting worse now; the last time he picked up a voice said, “Your wife is a whore!” and then hung up. He talked to Yari about it, but those talks soon began to turn into arguments. The voice on the other end seemed to know about things—very personal things; where she went to school for instance—and things about her past relationships. Is he an ex boyfriend? This was beginning to be a problem. I’m tired of arguing with my wife, he thought. He looked at his phone, vibrating across the new Lake London plans he had sprawled out across his desk. He picked it up with the intention of hanging it up, but a voice stopped him in his tracks.
“I know about Amber, Jason, the voice said. "She will be calling me ‘daddy’ in no time. Yari didn’t tell you about me yet?”
He turned off his phone. He rushed home furious—how did this guy know about my daughter? What kind of people does Yari associate with that I don’t know about? Is she seeing someone else behind my back? He hastily unlocked the door and ran up the stairs to his wife’s home office. This was the cycle for six years. By the time it ended, Amber was on her way to her junior year of high school, back to her happy self again.
At the beginning of the third year (of the six-year cycle of drama), the therapist had a sudden change of heart when he followed Yari home one day and observed her greeting her family in their front yard. He knew the neighborhood well, so he knew where to watch them from without being noticed. Jason was already outside, sitting on the front porch watching Amber bouncing her ball. Jason looked despondent. Then Yari pulled up and walked over to them. She glanced at Amber. Jason pulled Yari in for a hug and she fell in his arms, sobbing.
They sat down together and watched helplessly as their daughter, with a twisted smile on her face, continued bouncing. Amber never took her eyes off of it. They all looked so hopeless, and in that moment, it clicked for the therapist. It wasn’t about him—he needed to help this family and more importantly, that child. He drove away unnoticed, the phone calls stopped, and he vowed to never tell Yari about his own little “break from reality.” He had been cunning enough to use disposable cell phones—because of this, Yari and Jason, despite trying, never found out where the calls where coming from.
Jason eventually got a high paying job offer to move 500 miles from his current job; Yari reluctantly agreed to go with him, fearing that uprooting from a life she was used to would render bad consequences in the future. Still, she supported her husband. She thought, well at least now he will feel that he’s financially equal to me. And that made her feel good. Although, after the phone calls stopped, it took a while for the dust to settle in the Englehut household. The arguments continued for a while, becoming less and less over the span of three years. Now the focus was only on Amber, and getting her well. The therapist felt awful about what he had done, having almost broken up a marriage, so began to offer his services free of charge. It made no difference to Yari, but she was still appreciative of the gesture. She was still having problems with her daughter, so all of her attention went to her. It would take her a while to put two—the phone calls stopping—and two—the free services—together. Besides, Amber was getting worse now.
A little bit after her 11th birthday she began talking to herself. She hardly ever ate, and when she wasn’t eating, she was standing in the middle of her room muttering, “Bounce, bounce, bounce look me bounce…I’m Rossamber…Rossamber…Ross and Amber forever..” while bouncing the ball mindlessly.
The therapist told Yari about a program for children with her type of problem. It would require Amber to move away from home and live at a facility for a while.
“It’s unreal,” Yari said.
“I know,” Jason said. “But it’s our only shot at getting our little girl back. I hate it just like you do.”
Jason hated it, and Yari was uneasy about it. However, since it was relatively close to where they would be living, and since the programs’ method had helped so many children in the past, they both reluctantly agreed it was the best option. They took away her red ball, after which she went stark raving mad, packed her things and shipped her off.
It’s two years later. Amber forgot about the little red ball’s significance, and when she began 9th grade the following year, she made many new friends. Real friends. She was transformed back into the social butterfly of her “youth” and was going to a public school. A brand new school for her, having just completed the program in the facility just prior to 9th grade enrollment.
During the two years she spent in the facility, the program Amber was a part of consisted of psychological-barrier-breaking exercises, one of which included being around children her age. They sat kids in an environment, say a lunch room, and gave them all the things they needed—making social interaction the only thing left to do. Or not do. They did this many times, and often they would repeat certain environments. In the lunch room, some kids sat by themselves, and Amber was one of them. One day she was sitting alone, muttering about her red ball as she would often do, but this day another child sat beside her.
“ Hi,” the little girl said. “My name is Candice.”
Amber didn’t even look at her.
“But I wanna know who you’re talking to,” Candice said.
“I don’t care. Go away.”
Behind one of the one-way mirrors overlooking the environment, a man in a white lab coat notices the change.
“Hey Jim, look at this. Amber made a new friend.” They both chuckle at the idea.
“Zoom in closer. Let’s see what they’re talking about,” one of them said.
Candice stood up.
“Well that does it,” Candice said. “If you won’t tell me about your friend I won’t tell you about mine!”
Candice was just about to walk away when Amber said, “you have a friend too? What’s his name?”
Candice appeared thrown off a bit, but she sat back down anyway.
“Well, her name is Abreezia," Candice began. "She tells me things, and no one can see or hear her but me.”
Amber looked at her and said, “What kind of things?”
It was the first time Amber had voluntarily spoken to someone since her dramatic change, and suddenly she began to remember how it felt to interact with people outside herself.
“This is the final step,” Jim said.
The girls sat there for a while, talking about what their ‘friends’ tell them to do and sharing experiences of how it made them feel while doing those things.
“This one time,” Candice said, “Abreezia told me she wanted to go outside. But it was raining out there! I don’t wanna get wet!”
Amber laughed—for the first time in a long time— before saying, “I know what you mean! Ross tells me the same thing, to go outside, but I don’t wanna.”
“Then don’t go,” Candice said laughing. “I didn’t. I don’t always do what she says, ya know.”
Amber stopped laughing.
“What?” Candice said. “What’s wrong?”
In Amber’s head, a memory reel played in black and white of her standing in her driveway in the rain. She was bouncing the black ball, resisting with all her might to do so. She remembered when she discovered she was a prisoner in her own body. Finally, she spake.
“I couldn’t say no,” she looked at Candice. “I couldn’t say no,” she said again, crying.
Amber then stood up and looked at her, wiping her tears.
“How could you say no?” Amber asked angrily.
“I don’t know, I just..didn’t do what Abreezia asked me. Are you mad at me?” Candice asked.
Amber froze. She remembered all the times she was trapped in her own mind, looking out of invisible synaptic iron bars while the world in front of her played out like a horror film. She remembered seeing her father sitting with her mother trying to console her on the porch one day. The little black ball bounced in and out of view as Amber slouched into what would be the “corner” of her cerebral cell and wept. Many more scenes played back to her in that instant. The final one was the day she came to the facility. She remembered seeing her parents drive off, and that’s when everything became colorized.
“Please don’t say you’re mad me. I don’t have any friends here and I was hoping we could be friends.”
Candice’s words were nearly muffled as Amber struggled to balance herself. The real world was coming back into view, and she was finally free from her prison. She balled her hands into fists, then released them over and over again, as if she were trying on new gloves—or getting used to her old ones. Without looking at her Amber said, “No, I’m not mad. Not mad anymore.” Amber was fixated on her own bodily movements, particularly the arms and hands.
She wondered how something could “live” inside her like that.
“Well that’s good. Is there something wrong with your arms and hands?”
“No,” Amber said, finally looking at Candice again. “But I still wanna talk about Abreezia. You said you could say no to her. What did she say when you told her that?”
“Nothing," Candice said. "She would just suggest other things and if it was cool I would do them, and if it wasn’t I wouldn’t. She couldn't actually hurt me, because she’s imaginary. I made her up because no one wanted to be friends because of my—”
“Your what?” Amber asked. She got her answer instantly when she noticed Candice had a birth defect. She was amazed she hadn’t realized it before. You can’t miss a lazy eye—it STARES you right in the face!
Amber laughed at this thought while Candice was explaining. Candice stopped talking.
“No, no!” Amber was trying hard not to laugh, “It’s not what you’re saying I’m not laughing at you. I was just in my head for a sec it’s…it’s nothing. Continue though. I’m so sorry.”
“Well it doesn’t matter,” Candice said. “I don’t get to make people laugh—even if it isn’t with me, so I’ll settle for it.”
Amber planned to hug Candice in reassurance of her intentions, but before she could, the bell rang. A woman in a white lab coat walked in and said, “Alright, everyone. Lunch is over, you must return to your rooms at once. Class starts in half an hour.”
Immediately, all the children began filing out of the room. Candice abruptly followed, leaving Amber the last one in the room. She noticed how in unison all the children were when they filed out of the room. She also noticed the walls were padded. She began to notice a lot of things. She looked at the woman in the white lab coat. The woman just stood there, moving slightly back and forth, on some sort of loop as she moved her head left—then right—in a very subtle manner.
Amber expected to be yelled at, or at least talked to, but she got nothing. Just an empty padded room, save her and this weird lady moving back and forth.
“I think it’s time for the final stage.” Jim said behind the one-way mirror. “Call her parents. And someone go down there and escort Amber to the lobby please.”
The woman vanished. Amber jumped, and another door opened beside her. It was part of the padded wall—it opened and a real person, wearing normal clothes greeted her.
“This way, Amber,” they smiled, holding out their hand.
Amber stood up and slowly walked towards her saying, "What is going on here? "
“It’s alright. We think you’re ready to know now.”
She got no answer. She walked through the door and a blinding light obscured her vision for a moment. When things came back into view, she recognized that she was in a waiting-room type of setting, complete with magazines on top of brown mahogany tables.
“Sit here,” they instructed. The door closed and Amber looked around.
Her parents pulled up to the facility and Jim greeted them at the door.
“They’re about to tell her,” Jim said. “You guys might want to see this.”
Jim took her parents to a room with a one-way mirror. Through it they saw Amber, sitting in a chair, in what someone would think is an empty doctors office, looking around with conscious curiosity. The door opened and a woman came in.
“Amber, before we get started I want to tell you that you’ve made great progress.”
“You experienced a very long ‘black-out’ period, in which you were not yourself. But we believe you are yourself now. Would you agree?”
Amber continued to look around the room.
“Where are my parents? What is this place?” Amber asked, confused.
“It’s just as well. You were brought here by your mom and dad. They care about you and wanted what was best for you. You must remember that.”
“Ok, where are they now?”
“Close, but right now I want to show you something.”
She drew her attention to another door, opposite the one she came in.
“Come with me, and all your questions will be answered. But remember—” The woman looked at her intently. “Your mom and dad love you.”
“Okay..” Amber said.
They walked through the doors and down a very long hallway. At the end of it, there was an elevator. They got on. As it started to rise, Amber felt that it must be going really fast—she nearly fell down when it suddenly shot upward. Suddenly, the walls around the elevator vanished—or more accurately, because the elevator had glass walls, the floors with walls ended—and was replaced by all glass everything. She looked at the number pad on the glass elevator wall, and it was in the process of passing the 20th floor, then the 30th, then the 40th.
When they got to the 65th floor, the elevator stopped. Amber was scared of heights, but she never knew it until today. She cautiously stepped out the elevator. The woman she was with walked out casually. “It’s okay. The floor isn’t going to break,” she insisted. “It took a while for me to get used to as well.”
Amber and the woman walked down another hallway—this time it was all glass—at the end was a huge window. Amber walked up to it and was amazed at what she saw. There, down below, it looked like a bunch of ice trays next to each other. She counted at least 100 little squares.
“What is that?” She asked.
“What you see are rooms. We have close to 300 of them.”
“Whoa…” Amber continued to look below, fighting the feeling of vertigo.
“This facility was created to bring children ‘back.’ Back to what, you may ask? It’s very simple. The idea is one child for every room. In every room, a virtual reality is created to mimic real life situations, with simulated people around your age. At any time, if you were to reach out to touch someone, you would see it is all a hologram. But you didn’t, because you were dissociative.”
Amber looked at her, still confused. The woman continued talking.
“The first step bringing you ‘back’ involved numbers and shapes—you failed miserably at that—which we expected; but the 2nd and 3rd step you passed with flying colors. It involved interaction with people, and you began to remember how it felt to interact with people outside yourself. This is the last step before the final, final step—to realize you were not in a normal setting. You’re now free, and I’m telling you this now so you can understand how lost you were.”
Amber suddenly remembered Candice.
“100 percent hologram. A good one too. We have voice actors that voice our avatars; and when you wouldn't initiate contact, we would— and we tried many times to interact with you. Then one day the person voicing Candice suggested that we try talking about imaginary friends with you. We thought it was crazy, until we let her try it. Looks like someone’s getting a raise, huh?”
She smiled, but Amber was clearly in shock about the whole thing. She leaned against the glass wall and slouched on the floor. She could see down at least 10 floors, and got sick when she did so. But when she looked up at the woman, who was smiling and talking like this all was normal, she felt even sicker. She stood up while forcing a smile and saying, “Yeah, looks like they are.”
“That’s what we want to hear—things like that!” The woman said. “That’s awesome! So you ready to go home?”
Amber looked out the window again down to the little ice cubes below. She saw one child in one of the many rooms, rocking back and forth.
“Like you wouldn’t believe,” she finally said.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ time passes...
“And don’t forget—don’t tell any one about your stint in the crazy house!” Yari joked with Amber, as she dropped her off for her first day of 9th grade.
“I know, mom, I’m not crazy anymore. I will be fine.”
“Yeah yeah, I’m fine just go.”
She didn’t want to be embarrassed by her mom. But what normal 13—going on 14 year old wouldn't? Everything was back to normal. For a few years anyway. It wasn’t until her first year of college when old demons came back to play. She was in her freshman Geology class, and her professor used a laser pen to emphasize his lectures. One day, as he was discussing ocean currents, he moved the laser pointer back and forth to simulate wave formation. When he did this, instantly the room went dark. All Amber could see is the red point of light, moving back and forth, back and forth, until it resembled a little red ball, bouncing back and forth at right angles.
“Ammmber….” Something inside her said. “Bounce me. I like to be bounced!”
She shook herself out of it, realizing what it was, let out a small scream and ran out of the room—causing a few to laugh and others to be completely thrown off guard by her outburst. When she got home she talked to her parents about it, but they had returned to their busy life—gone were the days of all attention on Amber—even if it was because she had a serious problem. She wished she could get their attention long enough to tell them what happened, but every time she tried, they would say, “You’re over that now. That was a long time ago. You’re a grown up now.”
So she went snooping through her parents files to get answers. She saw the therapists number who counseled them all those years ago back in her hometown. She called him. She told him her parents wouldn't listen to her about what happened.
“Well I’m glad to know everyone is doing alright,” he said, “but what is the voice telling you to do this time?”
“The voice?” Amber asked. “You must have my files somewhere around there. It’s not just a voice. He has a name!” Amber began to feel herself slip from reality again. She took a deep breath and continued,“I’m sorry…I’m really sorry for yelling…what’s wrong with me?”
“It’s ok Amber,” he said. “Your mother never told me it had a name, just that you had an imaginary friend who lived inside a ball. What is his name then?”
There was a long silence. Finally, the therapist spoke.
“I’m sorry, who?”
“Ross.” She said again.
The therapist dropped the phone and there was another long silence.
“Hello? Are you there?”
He picked the phone back up.
“I’m sorry, you’ll have to excuse me. I just haven’t heard that name in a long time. You see, I had a son named Ross, but he died in a house fire—in the attic—and I couldn’t get to him to save him in time. The fire department came and forced the attic stairs down but…there was so much smoke. I’m sorry, you’ll have to excuse me.”
He hung up the phone.
“No….fucking….way.” Amber said, still holding the receiver, way past the point when it began beeping in her ear. She barely got any sleep that night. The next morning, she awoke, still clutching her pillow she'd clung on to for dear life the night before. She snapped herself out of it, and got ready for class, which was like any other class. Suddenly, right after class began, she started to feel her body tingle, and she became nauseous.
"Ammmmmbeeerrrrr.." A voice said in her head. She raised her hand and said she needed to use the restroom. When she stepped outside the classroom door into the empty hallway, she saw the little red ball, as if it had been waiting for her to come outside.
“No….fucking…way,” Amber said in a whisper, her lips quivering.
The ball moved slightly in her direction. She gasped.
About the Creator
Born and raised in Atlanta Ga, Flow brings an introspective flavor to hip-hop. Beginning in 2003 with beat making, and 2005 with protools, there has been an exponential growth in both productivity and creativity. Won't let me say more smh
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