The day had turned gray and rain was promised for the weekend. Across the street, the apartment stood empty and hollow. Which was pretty much how Ray felt.
Being woken up by screaming at 4 am was one thing, having to speak to Hannah again and having her blow up in his face (as usual) was another, but watching Erin grappling with the fact that everything she believed about her own existence could not possibly be true was truly heart-wrenching.
How could Hannah think she’d be dangerous? She seemed so lost, so helpless. Surely she must have had a life before she’d become delusional, people who cared about her who didn’t know where she was. And perhaps he had met her in that past life and she remembered him, although he had forgotten her.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
He was apologising for his own helplessness, but she shook her head. “It’s not your fault, wanting to have me admitted is a pretty normal reaction.” She wiped her nose on her sleeve and forced a smile, even though her eyes still shone with tears. “Do you want to go home now?”
Ray was done with lectures for the day, but the thought of going back to that empty apartment was not appealing. He needed a distraction, something to cheer them both up.
“You know what I do when I’m feeling down?” It was a rhetorical question. He didn’t expect an answer.
“You look at the stars,” she provide. “Because they make you think about how small your problems really are.”
He blinked at her. How could she possibly know that?
“I know everything about you, Ray. You may be studying something different, you may be wearing different clothes… but you’re still the same person.”
A chill raced down his spine. The way she said it, so calm and more than a little regretful… he didn’t know what to say. How did one respond to that?
“Anyway,” she continue. “It’s afternoon and it’s overcast so there’re no stars now.” She shoved her hands into her pockets with a little shrug.
Dammit. Why did he care so much? “Actually… that’s not quite true.”
She looked up hopefully.
“Tell me,” he said, “have you ever heard of a planetarium?”
Surprisingly, she shook her head. How did none of the other universes have planetariums? Perhaps they had and the other Rays had just never taken her to one… Wait. There were no other universes or other Rays.
“They usually have a three o’clock show,” he said, “if we hurry we can make it.”
They reached the planetarium five minutes before the show, out of breath from running across town. By the time they’d made their way to the side of the building where the theatre was situated, it was already dark and the ceiling was already covered in stars. Erin stopped in the doorway, blue eyes wide, looking something like a child seeing the moon for the first time. The ticket man grew impatient and took her ticket from her limp hand before ushering her in.
Ray tried to remember, after maneuvering a still-stunned Erin into her seat, how he had felt the first time he had seen this show, seen the planets coming to greet him. He had been so many times that he couldn’t remember the first. He wished he could.
When the lights came up, Erin was still staring at the ceiling as if by sheer will she could make it come back to life.
“You enjoyed the show?” he asked as the theatre started to empty.
She didn’t say anything at first, and he wondered if she’d heard. Then very quietly she said, “I feel safe here.”
It felt cruel to make her leave, but the ticket man was getting annoyed and the cleaners that collected sweet wrappers and whatever other rubbish people had discarded in the theatre were getting anxious.
“Come.” He took her hand. “ I have something else to show you.”
The planetarium was filled with various displays of planets and stars and other interesting scientific things. He took her to each display and at each display she showed equal fascination – eyes filled with wonder and a smile slowly growing on her face. By the time the planetarium closed she was laughing, as if all her cares were forgotten.
The skies opened when they were halfway home and they ran, hand in hand, through the rain to the sanctuary of the apartment.
Ray looked through the freezer for food, while Erin sat on the couch drying her hair. They talked about the strange things they’d seen at the planetarium, the ever-changing theories of the universe and it was almost as if she’d always been there. Sitting on the couch, sharing his space. He felt comfortable. He felt happy. And then the phone rang.
It was Hannah.
“Ray I just wanted to say sorry for the way I acted earlier… it was… immature.”
He tucked the phone under his chin, took a frozen pizza out of the freezer and put it into the oven. “I thought I was the immature one?”
“Oh, you are… but sometimes I can be too.” There was a pause. He didn’t say anything. She continued, “I wanted to ask you… have you tried looking for her online? You know, finding out if the story of being a kidnapped child is true? I mean maybe she’s been living in captivity all these years… Maybe that’s the trauma that set her psychosis off? You could find her real family… “
He glanced at Erin sitting on the sofa as reality fell back down on his shoulders with a thud. He lowered his voice and said into the receiver, “Are you still worried she’s going to try and kill me?”
“Slightly,” she admitted. “Listen… I know that we haven’t spoken for a long time… but I just wanted to say…”
“It’s okay. I understand. Things went bad between us. These things happen.”
There was silence on the line. Then, “Would you like me to run the searches? I have access to programs and…”
“Hannah, you really don’t have to. She’s fine. We’re about to have dinner now.”
Another long silence. Then, “Ray… please… you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.”
“I thought you phoned to apologize?”
His voice sounded harsher as it cut into the receiver than it had in his mind, but he didn’t really care. His whole mood had been dampened. No matter how much he tried to distract himself, the problem remained. He didn’t know what to do with or about Erin.
Ray didn’t know what woke him, only that it was too early. The lounge was still dark and his eyes were scratchy from too little sleep. He rolled over to try get more comfortable on the couch and there was Erin.
She was standing in front of the large window, wearing one of his old shirts as a nightdress. Perhaps she was watching the sunrise, was it that time yet? Or was she watching the drizzle that had been falling steadily since the previous evening?
There was no answer. She was like a ghost. There but not there. Was she sleepwalking? Ray climbed off the couch and approached her slowly. Her eyes were open and she was hugging herself as if she was cold.
He draped his blanket over her shoulders. “Come on, back to bed.”
She didn’t protest as he escorted her back to his room, but as he helped her into bed she whispered, “Something bad is going to happen today.”
It took him a while to get back to sleep after that.
When he finally awoke it was to the smell of pancakes… and he was reluctant to open his eyes, certain that he’d find Gina and more of her bizarre questions and theories. Instead he found Ed – home for the weekend from his seemingly endless string of parties. He was whistling to himself while doing his Master Chef impression, flipping pancakes with one hand behind his back.
“You’re up early.” Ray stated, voice groggy.
“It’s part of my new routine, Man.” Ed kept his eyes on the pan, “I’m going to be delinquent this semester.”
Ray rubbed sleep from his eyes, “I think mean ‘diligent’. And it’s a little late. The semester is almost over.”
“It’s never too late, Bro,” was Ed’s reply.
Ray pulled himself off the couch and stretched. It was still raining outside, the deserted campus across the street was dripping and water was pooling in the walkways. He wondered if the kids in residence would have flooding like a few years before.
Erin came out of his room, dressed in jeans and a white turtleneck he assumed was part of the wardrobe she’d received from Gina. She was in the process of tying her hair back when she stopped and stared at him. At first he thought there was something wrong with him. Then she looked out the window, eyes focused on something he couldn’t see.
Then she launched herself across the room, knocking him to the floor.
And the room exploded.
More precisely the Physics Department building across the street exploded and the window blew in. Shards of glass rained down upon them. Had Ray still been standing by the window, he would have probably been killed – definitely injured.
Before he even had a chance to work out what had happened, Erin was scrabbling off him. She shouted something but his ears were ringing, he couldn’t hear her.
And then she was gone, darting across the littered floor, slipping on the shards of glass, with little care whether or not she was cut.
Ed? Where was Ed? Ray rolled over. He was still standing in the kitchen and, from the way he was waving his arms around, he was swearing vehemently. He’d been behind the fridge, and it had shielded him. He looked at his pan sorrowfully, filled with shards of glass, and put it into the sink.
She’d warned him. Erin. She’d said that something bad was going to happen… she’d been looking right at the Physics Department. And she had been there the day before.
“Maybe when she flips out and kills someone, you’ll finally grow up.” Hannah had said. And it sickened Ray to realise, to admit for the first time, that she might have been right.
To her credit, she didn’t say, “I told you so.”
She handed him a polystyrene cup of coffee (“three sugars for shock”) and asked him if he was hurt anywhere. No. He wasn’t hurt. His back didn’t even feel sore from hitting the ground when Erin had bowled him over.
The whole street had been closed off and there were police vehicles and ambulances everywhere. Hannah had only been let behind the crime scene tape because she was a psychologist and could talk to those who may have been traumatized by the explosion. Ray was wrapped in a trauma blanket and his ears were still wringing from the sound of the blast, but otherwise he was perfectly fine.
It was a full ten minutes before Hannah said, “I hate to bring this up but didn’t you say she was in a physics lecture yesterday?”
“Don’t you have somewhere important to be?”
Her eyes filled with concern, “of course I do… I’m worried about you.”
“You don’t need to worry about me.” He added a silent ‘any more’.
Hannah reached into her bag and pulled out some printouts. “I know this might not be the best time but… I found these last night.”
So she had run a search. Good ‘ol Hannah always knowing best. Well, it seemed in this case she had known best. He took the printouts from her. The first was a list of children who had disappeared between fifteen and twenty years before and never been found. Some of them had thumbnail pictures. The second page was an enlarged thumbnail of a small blonde girl with a mini-profile who had disappeared 16 years previously .
“You think this is her?” Ray asked unnecessarily.
Hannah handed him another pile of printouts, these were newspaper clippings of a woman who had escaped from the mental hospital in the next town.
He checked the date. “This was two months ago. Do you honestly think -”
“Yes, Ray. I do. You aren’t still going to defend her are you?”
He was silent.
Lecture chairs were strewn everywhere, their dark blue now a charred black. The firetrucks had put out the flames that had followed the explosion at the Physics building and now emergency workers were sifting through the rubble… Ray didn’t want to follow that thought through.
He’d been looked over by a medic, on Hannah’s insistence, and had promised to wait while she brought her car around. She’d even offered him her couch. Nice of her, considering.
Pity he’d lied to her.
He was almost certain that Erin was crazy, but what he couldn’t believe was that she’d blow up a building. No matter how insane she was, that didn’t fit. He didn’t know where she’d gone for sure, but he had an idea.
Journalists swarmed on the other side of the crime scene tape, desperate for comment. One caught Ray as he stepped over the tape. Where had he been? What he had seen? Then recognition crossed the journo’s face.
“Hold on weren’t you at the physics lecture yesterday? You were with that crazy chick”.
Ray eyed the fresh-faced reporter, wondering if he was jumping to the same conclusion that Hannah had. “What were you doing at a physics lecture?”
The journalist laughed, “I do physics. I just write for the student paper. Can I get a picture of you please?”
Ray refused the picture and stalked off into the town. He was worried about Erin… worried, perhaps irrationally, that if anyone else found her their thoughts would also go to her craziness and the fact that she didn’t technically belong on campus and she would be blamed.
The planetarium was empty. They had a show on at midday but after then there was hardly anyone around. It did not take long to find Erin.
She was sitting cross-legged on the floor outside the domed theatre. A display of the solar system cast an odd blue light over her features. Ray sank down next to her without saying anything and handed her the printouts from Hannah he was still holding.
She glanced at them and then at him. “So the games up is it?”
That was not the response he’d been expecting. He blinked at her.
“You didn’t really believe I came from another universe did you? That’s ridiculous,” she said. “But now you’re here to take me to the madhouse, finally having come to your senses.”
“Did you blow up the Physics Department?” he hadn’t meant to ask so abruptly, but he was shocked and floundering.
She considered him carefully and then looked up at the display of the stars before saying, quietly, “I wish I knew”. Then slightly louder, “they will have given you tranquiliser. You can’t run with that in your system.”
“They didn’t.” He was certain of that. He wouldn’t have let them.
She gave him a small half-smile. “Eyes getting heavy?”
They were, but he shook his head. He wouldn’t have accepted a tranquiliser, but he suddenly remembered the coffee that Hannah had given him. Coffee with extra sugar. Sugar could hide a multitude of things.
“If you can’t run how do you think you’re going to catch me?” Erin rose to her feet.
So that was it then. She wasn’t some kind of mystical being from another dimension. There weren’t other Rays who were heros rather than gullible idiots. The fact that she didn’t deny the printouts spoke volumes.
He scrambled up after her, ready to grab her, but the room tilted and his knees turned to jelly. He crashed to the floor, spots closing around his vision.
She held up one hand in a gesture of farewell. “I hope you have a nice life, Raymond Livermore.”
She turned and walked away as his vision began to blur.
He was certain that he had never given her his last name.