I’d just like to give a mild trigger warning here. There’s no graphically described violence in today’s post but as someone who has been through some heavy things in his life, I know that just the suggestion of one of those events can inspire anxiety in me. So, if you ever went through something even lightly traumatic, know that I think you can handle this, but I wanted to give you a heads-up, regardless. Like I said, it’s not graphic, but there is something horrible that happened to a major character in FIRE ESCAPE.
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Over the next couple of days, I just couldn’t get those flashes of memory out of my head. I felt like if I kept focusing on them, I could remember more. Several times I would sneak off to the bathroom or my bedroom for a break from prepping for our reconnaissance mission and try to push myself into those memories.
As it turned out, it worked–and what I remembered was not pleasant.
It was our last summer in Washington Heights and our last summer working for Uncle Julio and in The Trade. Early on, I stumbled across a journal, or a diary, I guess. I just assumed it was Jills and being the annoying little brother I was, I opened it. It was not Jill’s handwriting but it contained all of these notes and amazing drawings. This wasn’t a comic book but more like Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketchbook or something. Sketches of devices, vehicles, phenomena, circuitry, schematics, math equations, it was incredible and way over my 14 year-old head. When Jill came into her room (OK, so I stumbled across it while sneaking in her room), she yelled at me for 1) being in her room and 2) looking at “Jenny’s book.”
“Who’s Jenny?” I demanded.
“Nobody you would care about now get outta my room!” I didn’t do as I was told and she physically shoved me toward her bedroom door and kept shoving me until I was out of her room. She quickly slammed the door. “Jill!! COME ON!!”
I pounded on the door. I wanted to know more about this Jenny person. She seemed fascinating. I wasn’t going to let it go. “Damn it, Jill! Who is Jenny?! Her book is amazing!”
I waited for some kind of reply and then added: “I just want to know who she is! She reminds me of you!”
After a moment, her door opened and I could see her walking back to her desk. I stood in the doorway as she grabbed Jenny’s Book and leapt onto her bed and then began to fan through the pages. She stopped and looked up. “So, come in!”
She patted the bed next to her. I ran over and joined her, looking at the book. She began to tell me about this amazing woman–Jennifer Ellsworth. She was a scientist and doctor who lived back in the 1940s and had invented a great many things and concepts but she had been almost completely ignored by other scientists of her time because she was a woman.
“What happened to her?” I asked.
“Nobody knows. I mean, I don’t know. There’s nothing in her book that says. The notes just stop a few pages before the end.” She showed me the last few blank pages.
“Where did you get it?”
“I found it in some stuff we bought from those creepy old white guys in the black suits.”
“Wow. I wonder where they got it!”
“I don’t know. But…”
“But I think I’ve seen her.”
“You whaa–aaat?” I said, my voice cracking. We laughed.
“No, I’m serious, I think I’ve seen her like her ghost or something.”
“Yes way! I know it’s her because the ghost wears yellow!”
“So, Jenny’s favorite color was yellow–she says so in her book!”
“That’s weird. Are there really ghosts?”
“I don’t know… but maybe.”
“Maybe it’s something else.”
“Maybe. But she visits me. Well, she shows up and then runs away and I can’t catch up to her. But sometimes I get close. But I’m just glad she visits me.”
“At night. When I’m in bed.”
“Jill! You’re stupid! Those are dreams.”
“Noooo, you’re stupid. I know the difference between dreams and ghosts.”
“Yes and one day I’m going to catch her and talk to her.”
“When you do will you tell me?”
“Of course! You know how awesome she is too, now.”
We talked more that night but I conked out on her bed. When I woke up, it was very late.
The middle of the night. All of the lights were out except for the light coming from Jill’s cellphone, which I could see as she was using it to light her way out, to the living room where the nearest fire escape was. I immediately climbed out of bed and followed her. I hid behind the couch Dad had passed out on as she climbed through the window and closed it behind her. I saw smoke rising from dad’s cigarette, still in his hand, so I grabbed it and stubbed it out in the ashtray on the coffee table. Then, I made my way to the window. I climbed out onto the fire escape and looked up to see Jill climbing upward. I followed.
When I got to the roof, I saw something glowing by the access door to the stairway down. Jill was standing in front of it. I peered around Jill and saw only the lower left leg, partially covered by a yellow light. That’s when the bright glow faded to nothing. Jill turned around and in the lights from the the street below could see me. At first she looked angry but then she looked worried.
“JACOB!” She yelled as I heard a dull thud and then saw nothing.
When I woke, my eyes opened to see Jill’s face badly bruised and bloody. Her tank top was torn and stretched out of shape and her sweat pants were dirty. The blood on her cheeks had streaks from tears cut through them. “J-J-Jacob! P-p-please… I need help!”
As I remembered that, I was shocked. As an adult, I only then could understand what had happened to her when I just barely had a clue back when I was 14. My head was throbbing but I asked her if we could call for help. Like 911, or something.
“No! N-n-no… I only want help f-f-from you.”
I was dumb but her words made me feel like I could do it–I could help her–take care of her. I stood up and after a moment, I felt well enough to move. I helped her get to the fire escape since we couldn’t use the stairwell because then we’d have to wake Dad and explain what we were doing outside. Jill wanted to keep all of this to herself. I didn’t know if that was the best thing or not, but she was my older sister, so I was going to do what she wanted.
We got back into our apartment with no trouble. I helped clean up her wounds and got some ice for her bruised face. We even threw away her torn tank top and sweat pants because we couldn’t get the blood out.
She never talked about that night again and neither did I. Mainly because I’d forgotten all about it. Not by choice–it was the Conveniencer that the Grona guy had used on me after I’d ‘adapted.’ The more I thought about it, the more I realized what had happened back then. The Grona’s Conveniencer didn’t just turn me normal again, it locked away all the memories from around that time–not just what the Firerai educational machine had downloaded into my brain but a lot of other things. When Wise unlocked those memories so that I could once again access my adaptability abilities and survive on that asteroid, it gave me access to everything else from that time period that I had lost. He wasn’t reprogramming my DNA–somehow Wise knew what the Grona’s Conveniencer had done to me and he knew I needed that power again. But how did he know what that Grona did to me? Somehow, that Grona warrior was Wise. Or he knew Wise or something, I’m not sure.