Scent Notes: A bright guava mousse.
Catch up with the first chapter, Tesseract, before starting this one!
“Neverwas.” What did that mean, exactly? Mandy’s brain had gone completely blank, her body felt numb. The twins were still running around, shrieking, without a care in the world. She knew they were smart, but like, couldn’t they understand this was not a time for playing and screaming? Their mother was missing somewhere, leaving behind only a cryptic note. She’d seen a weird, robotic version of her father that was also definitely not her father. Her brain felt scrambled, which made sense, because she had just traveled through space and time and was immediately thrown into trying to solve this mystery of her missing mother. Her eyes were dry from already crying; her throat hurt from screaming; all she wanted to do was go to sleep and wake up and realize this had all been a horrible dream.
Maybe that was the key! Maybe the twins could tire themselves out enough so that they’d be able to all take a nap. Then she’d wake up and realize this had all been another nightmare! But the twins didn’t appear to be interested in napping. Instead, they ran into the kitchen, doing laps around her and the table and back again. “We’re hungry!” Allie shouted. “Food! Food! Food!” Amy added. “We want fooooooood!” they yelled in unison. “Okay, okay! Food it is,” Mandy responded. “Mac and cheese okay?” “Yaaaaayyy!” they responded, running out of the kitchen and back into the living room. How can two tiny people have so much energy? It was absurd, Mandy thought, grabbing two blue boxes of mac and cheese out of the kitchen cupboard. Her mom was missing, but she had her sisters here with her, and they all needed to eat something. Her dad had been the chef, and her mom had picked up the slack when he was gone, though her meals tended to be a bit simpler and nutrition-focused than the food her dad had made, which could be inventive and exciting and sometimes just weird. Mandy didn’t seem to have inherited the cooking gene, so on the nights her mom was working late and she had to watch the twins, or when she wanted to make her own food, it usually was something she had to defrost and heat up in the microwave or from a box in the cupboard. The twins never seemed to mind what anyone fed them; they’d eat it all with little to no complaint, which was the opposite of Mandy as a child. And, yeah, to an extent, Mandy in the present, too.
She put a pot of water on to boil and walked into the living room. The twins had finally calmed down and had put on one of their kid-friendly shows. They knew how to bypass the child locks that had been installed on every app and device in the house, but they were clearly being nice to Mandy now by watching approved TV. Not that Mandy really cared either way; there hadn’t been as much restriction on what she watched when she was younger and look how she turned out! 14 and totally…. Okay, bad example. But she went back into the kitchen to add the noodles, give them a stir, and try to understand what her mom’s note meant. Neverwas. Like, something that never happened? Never meant to be? Never existed?
The pot started to boil over and steam started billowing up to the ceiling, setting off the smoke alarm and taking Mandy out of her thoughts. Crap! Dinner! She turned off the burner, drained the pasta, added the sauce mix, milk, and butter, and started stirring. She cracked in some salt and pepper, but otherwise kept it simple for the girls. She walked to the cupboard and grabbed three bowls, and dished out mac and cheese into each, topping hers with a few dashes of hot sauce. Game plan set: they would eat dinner, she would watch the girls for a bit, then put them to bed and try to go in search of her mother. She set the plates down on the table and walked to get the twins, but the living room was empty. Mandy’s heart started racing. No. No, absolutely not, not again, not right now. No. And then the front door opened, and in walked the twins, flanking either side of…. “Mom? Mom, is that you? MOM!” Mandy yelled, running to hug her, nearly knocking everyone over in the process, feeling something hot pressing between them. “Yeah, what, I’m home, why are you freaking out so badly? God, you’ve been so clingy lately,” her mom said, basically shoving Mandy off of her. That … was unusual. Mandy stepped back, confused. “Did you make dinner for us?” her mom asked. Before Mandy could respond, her mom said, shaking the bag of food, “Whatever. I brought home fast food: fried chicken and biscuits, so we can eat whatever.” Mandy looked shocked. “What? We never eat fast food; I only make mac and cheese when I have to watch them and you barely tolerate that.” Her mom looked at her like she had six heads. “What is wrong with you today? We eat this all the time. Where is this attitude coming from?” she asked, walking past her and into the kitchen. The twins had no reaction to all of this and followed her into the kitchen to eat. Mandy calmed herself down. Maybe her mom just had a bad day? Or something bad happened in the tesseract and she didn’t want to tell her about it in front of the twins? She’ll have dinner and help put the twins to bed and it’ll be fine. It will all be fine.
By the time she regained her composure and walked into the kitchen, her mother had unbagged the chicken and set out paper plates and the plastic utensil sets that came with the meal. She’d taken Mandy’s bowl of mac and cheese for herself and started doling out pieces of chicken to everyone, only giving Mandy one piece. She looked Mandy up and down. “You don’t need to eat much, and you definitely don’t need this mac and cheese. Consider it a favor,” she said, taking a big bite out of the bowl. “Ugh, wow, this is terrible. You really didn’t inherit any of my cooking skills, did you?” Mandy sat down in silence. The twins were ignoring the scene playing out, speaking rapidly in their special language while they ate their mac and cheese and took nibbles off their drumsticks. What was wrong with their mom? She decided to just ask. “Mom, what is wrong? Why are you acting this way? Is it something to do with the tesseract?”
Her mom gave a sarcastic laugh, a type she’d never heard leave her mom’s throat before. It was shocking. “You know nothing about my work or the tesseract,” her mom said. “But since you just want to be Little Miss Nosy today, I was denied tenure and I’m on a formal probation warning period because my work has been deemed irrational and impossible. So, yeah, I’m pretty upset tonight, Mandy.” Mandy looked confused, but she sat down anyway. “Didn’t … didn’t you get tenure a long time ago?” She tentatively nibbled on a piece of chicken.
Her mother sighed. “No, Mandy, I was denied at my prior university. I was denied tenure today at this university. I will never be anything. I’m a neverwas, just like your father. So much potential, wasted, because people think I’m insane, and maybe I am. I certainly feel crazy, since you keep asking me inane questions. Damn, you sound like your father sometimes.” Mandy stopped even pretending to eat upon hearing that. “What is a ‘neverwas,’ exactly? Like that Edgar Allan Poe poem?” Allie and Amy interjected before their mom could. “That’s ‘nevermore’ not ‘neverwas,’” Allie said. “Yeah, the scary bird,” Amy said. “How do you two know anything about Poe, and I didn’t think you were listening to us talk,” Mandy said, but they ignored her as they’d already started babbling again. “It is sad how smart your sisters are compared to you, Mandy,” her mom said. Mandy couldn’t believe what was happening; yet another mind-bending situation in a day full of absolute insanity. Nothing was making sense. “Mom. Your transducer works. We went on an adventure; you took me to another … something where we saw some version of dad. Do you not remember this?”
Her mom was munching on her second piece of fried chicken. She put down the leg and rolled her eyes, wiping her hands on her pants. “You’re having one of your weird spells again, Mandy, and I don’t want to hear anything else about this nonsense. I’m done with this conversation. Girls, how was your day at school today?” The twins started to talk about their day, and that’s when Mandy really looked at the kitchen and her surroundings for the first time since arriving back. There was no fresh fruit in the bowl on the counter; instead, that was full of mail. Specifically, what looked like unpaid bills. It wasn’t dirty, per se, but the whole place felt grimier and less clean than her normal kitchen, the one her father had cooked in, the one her mother still cooked in. She knew there would be many varieties of packaged cookies in the cupboard, and for the first time in her life, she didn’t want any. This wasn’t the right house. This wasn’t the right mom. She was somewhere else, again. Mandy felt the tears come flooding back, but she resolved to keep them at bay. This version of her mother wouldn’t tolerate tears; she knew that already from the time she’d spent talking to her. It wasn’t like this version of her mom was evil, necessarily; this wasn’t the version of her that had a secret volcano lair or something. She just seemed bitter and indifferent to Mandy. She wasn’t used to an indifferent parent. Heck, her father just leaving seemed kind compared to this passive, noncommittal cruelty. Her real mom had always been kind to her, even during the periods of anger and aggression Mandy had been experiencing lately. This was rough in a way she’d never experienced. It made her yearn for her real mom in the same way she’d been yearning to find her father. She’d always just kind of taken for granted that her mom loved her and took care of her and her sisters.
“Can I please be excused?” she asked, not waiting for an answer. Her “mom” acknowledged her with a half-hearted wave goodbye. She headed up the stairs to whatever version of her room had to exist in this dimension. Sure enough, she had a room here, but it was completely different. It was even more of a mess than she’d ever make in her own reality. Does this version of herself, wherever she is, also keep a diary? She walked over to the bed and shoved her hand between the mattress and box spring. Sure enough, there she found the spiral-bound notebook she’d converted to a diary. She’d done it first because her therapist had recommended that she “reflect” on her own behavior, but soon found the whole act of writing down the mess of experiences in her head to be therapeutic by itself. Sometimes writing calmed her down more than a therapy appointment. Mandy never understood why putting all the thoughts down on paper helped; it should’ve been the opposite, to her brain. To clearly see everything bothering her, in her face, forever on paper, should have been mortifying and disheartening. Instead, it brought a sense of order to the chaos that sometimes overtook her mind. Perhaps this version of her felt the same way? And … how many versions of her were there, and of her family, anyway? One step at a time, she reminded herself. “Like your therapist always says to you: you have to accomplish the small things first before the bigger things can happen,” Mandy said out loud, slowly opening the notebook.
Sure enough, there were the thoughts of this alternate universe version of herself. Except, these ones rhymed. And what were the weird marks scribbled above and below the words? This wasn’t going to be any help, was it? She threw the book on the ground and laid down on the bed. What she really wanted to do was punch several holes in the wall, but she had a feeling this mom wouldn’t be so kind when the holes were discovered. She’d need to learn to control her anger better. It was a process, just like everything else. She did a few breathing exercises like the ones her therapist had taught her, and tried to clear her mind of intrusive thoughts. Focus, Mandy, she said to herself. Focus. List the things you know for sure. First: the real version of your mom is a scientific genius and invented a way to travel through time and space. Okay. Sit with that for a second. She took a deep breath in, and let it slowly out. Second: the version of your father she took you to was a weird robot version of himself, and you went from that to this parallax universe where your mom is rude and unsuccessful and dad is still apparently not in the picture. Third: your sisters are apparently geniuses who understand the tesseract and parallel universes/multiverses/whatever this place was way better than you can, and they’re less than half your age. Sure, that makes sense. Deep breath in. Hold it. Slow release.
“It does make sense,” a small voice said. Mandy sat up to see the twins standing in the doorway, staring at her. She froze, temporarily scared, before opening her arms and letting the twins come in for hugs. “Listen,” Mandy said. “I don’t understand what is happening right now, but you two seem to be geniuses beyond measure. Could you please explain to your vapid older sister what, exactly, is going on here? Are you the twin sisters I know from my reality? Are there multiple versions of each of us? Where’s mom? How do you know about the tesseract? How—” Allie cut her off by grabbing her hand and looking into her eyes. “It’s okay,” she said. “It is very okay,” Amy said, grabbing her other hand. Their curls were bouncing, shimmering in the soft light of the bedside table lamp. They looked so young, and yet, they looked ancient, timeless, eternal. It was beautiful and eerie. Mandy shuddered uncontrollably, caught in the beauty and terror of the moment she was living in. She squeezed their little hands. “Thank you,” she said. “Now, please tell me what you know.”
“We are your sisters. There are no other versions of us in any of these parallel worlds or dimensions,” Allie said. “We are also not your sisters,” Amy added. “Because we are both everything and nothing. We’re geniuses, yes, and also goddesses. The women in our family are descended from a long line of deities. You’re one, too; you just haven’t realized your full potential. Yet,” Amy said with a smile. Mandy looked at them like they each had two heads. First there’s time travel through to parallel worlds and now goddesses? What is this, lazy writing or brilliant plot-building?
“It’s both,” Allie said, reading her mind again. “When we’re on Earth, in our normal lives, our powers were dimmed, but present. But real mom took us through the tesseract before she took you. We met with many ancient beings, who gave us these crystals.” Allie and Amy both pulled small, glowing crystal clusters out of their pockets. “That’s how we’re able to mindread here. We can sometimes do it at home, too, but we can’t stop doing it here. We can also see through space and time a little bit. We can see the other worlds. No, we’re not crazy,” she said, looking into Mandy’s bewildered face. “We heard real mom talk about how you’ve been having visions and weird dreams lately,” Amy said. “They probably aren’t dreams; they’re probably your powers trying to tell you something. She was going to take you to meet with the beings, but you asked to see dad instead.” Mandy’s brain went on a whirlwind. Had she caused this whole thing by selfishly wanting to see their father instead of, say, wanting to just see what her mother wanted to show her in the first place? Is that why she was in a world where her mother appeared perpetually angry at her? Her heart ached further, wondering if she brought this on herself and dragged her sisters into it.
The twins carried on, kindly ignoring Mandy’s thoughts. “There are multiple versions of mom and dad, and there seems to be multiple versions of you, but we haven’t seen any of them, just evidence that they exist. This room, for example,” Allie said calmly. “There are also weird robotic versions of our parents in different places, and scary people in certain places.” “Scary people?” Mandy asked, furrowing her brows. “How are they scary?” “We don’t know, exactly,” Amy said. “We’ve had visions of people, and things that might be people or machines, invading and taking over alternate realities. Sometimes they chase you.” Mandy nodded. “I’ve had those visions, too. Well, I just thought they were weird dreams, but I guess I was wrong.” The twins just sat in knowing silence. “We don’t know where mom is,” Allie said quietly. “We’ve been looking for her. We thought this was her since this place is so similar to our ‘real’ reality, but clearly we were wrong. This is the version of mom who didn’t succeed, and she takes it out on everyone else. That’s why dad left this place.”
“Do you know why dad left in our real life?” Mandy asked, trying to keep her voice steady. The twins shook their heads. “We don’t,” they said in unison. “We didn’t realize we were special until after he had left because we were tiny when he did,” Allie said. Mandy smiled. “You’re still tiny!” she said, starting to tickle them both, leading to shrieks and giggles. Their mom’s voice boomed from downstairs. “Hey! Be quiet, I’m watching a movie. Keep your mouths shut!” They all quieted down. “We have to get out of here,” Mandy said. The twins nodded. “I thought if I came up to this bedroom and looked through a journal, it might give me some clues. But I can’t even understand what this means.” She picked up the journal and opened it to a random section. “See? The words rhyme and there are weird little dots and lines around them. What is this person trying to say? It doesn’t even look like my handwriting!” Mandy said, exasperated. The twins looked down. “That’s not yours,” Amy said. “That was dad’s.” Mandy’s eyes went blank. “Yeah, that’s full of music,” Allie said. “Those are lyrics and music notes.” “How do you two know how to read music?” Mandy asked. They just shrugged. “We know a lot of things, obviously, duh,” Amy said. Mandy rolled her eyes. “Yes, you know so much. I get that. Do you know where dad is?” The twins looked at each other for a moment, clearly sharing some secret between the two of them. “Yes and no,” they said together yet again. They were still holding their crystals, which began glowing more and emitting steady, low vibrational sounds. It sounded nearly like a hum, but it was distinctly otherworldly, a tone she’d never heard in her entire life reverberated from the very core of the crystals. “We have to get going,” Allie said. “The crystals enhance our powers and give us messages. When they start to hum, it means something bad is about to happen.” Amy’s eyes went wide as she nodded and said, “Mom has a prototype here. It’ll work; we just have to find it.”
The three sisters scrambled up out the door. The twins went to their mom’s bedroom while Mandy ran downstairs to their mom’s home office. She started frantically pulling out drawers, rifling through papers, trying to find anything resembling what she remembered of the tiny object that had transported her through time and space. Her mom came and stood in the doorway and began berating Mandy, telling her she had no right to go through the office and mess everything up just because she was a spoiled brat and other nonsense that Mandy was tuning out in her frantic search. Just as her mom was about to physically grab and force her out of the room, the twins appeared in the doorway, pulling on their mom’s clothing and asking for snacks and ice cream and pretending to just be normal, tiny children with no ulterior motive of helping their older sister steal a scientific instrument so they can time travel. Finally, Mandy noticed a box on top of the filing cabinet in the corner, and sure enough, there was a little gadget that looked just like the ultrasonic transducer she remembered. “Got it!” she yelled, pushing past this mom and sisters and running through the back door. The twins followed as fast as their little feet could carry them, their mom bringing up the rear, yelling, “It doesn’t work!” at their heads.
The clouds in the sky began to shift as Mandy grabbed Allie’s crystal and held it to the transducer. It wasn’t a perfect fit, but the transducer lit up. Her sisters clung to either side of her, wrapping themselves around her legs as they started to chant in their twin language. The crystals were almost screaming, signaling them to leave as fast as possible. Mom was nearly upon them, and the men in suits from her dreams were suddenly coming at them from the other side as Mandy screamed and pressed the button on the transducer. But it worked. They were flying, shooting up into and through the air at terrifying, exhilarating speed. The twins clung tightly to her, and she wrapped her arms around their heads, securing them to her body. She had no idea where they were going, but it appeared the twins did. They were still chanting as they soared, and just like before, they suddenly landed into a field, all three of them collapsing onto the ground. All three girls lay in the grass, breathing wildly, trying to calm down. The twins burst into giggles, got up, and started running around. How they had this seemingly boundless energy, Mandy didn't understand. She was completely worn out. Were those guys in the suits the same ones from her dreams? Would she ever find her parents again? And where, exactly, had they ended up? After a few minutes of contemplation with the twins running around like crazy, she finally stood up. In the near distance, maybe a mile or two away, there looked to be a small town. “Girls! Let’s head over this way and see if we can figure out where we are,” Mandy said, beckoning the twins to run ahead of her and lead the way.
Evening was approaching here; the sun was going down. Mandy’s stomach growled. She hadn’t eaten much, and she was completely exhausted. Maybe someone here would take kindness on them and give them food and a place to sleep? “Don’t get too far ahead, now!” Mandy yelled. The twins slowed down, and Mandy caught up to them quickly. They reached the edge of town just as darkness was setting in; the little street lights lit up as they walked up to the carved wooden sign that proudly announced the “Town of Bailiwick. Population: 7632.” “What a funny name,” Mandy said as they walked past and down the cobblestone street. Up ahead, in front of a restaurant, there was a figure standing in the street, looking straight at them. Mandy’s breath caught in her throat. The girls stopped walking. Mandy stared at him in complete disbelief.