If you missed Untold 1, find it here.
My head spun. My breath came too quick. All was reset. The curtains drawn closed, blocking out the sun. The bathroom light off. The hint of burning casserole in the oven. And the picture frame, where it laid when I stepped on it, now unbroken. Except for the missing photo that should have been inside it, all was as it had been the first time I awoke.
As I sank on the bed, my fingers squished into a wet patch within the mound of blankets. I jumped back immediately. Yet examining the spot, no discoloration affected the sheets. Not a droplet of liquid clung to my fingertips. I pressed a finger down again. Definitely cold and damp. Visibly no moisture anywhere.
The smoky stench choked me again and I repeated my new routine of yanking a scorched dinner from the oven, black as last time. As I plopped it on the counter in haste, I realized this time, with my mind whirring, the oven mitts sat on the counter. My ungloved hands handled the metal casserole dish.
I dropped it with a gasp, stiff noodles splashing over. Not as single pain, not a burn scarred me. Hesitant, I poked at the searing surface again. Nothing. I stuck my whole arm in the blazing oven. Not a hair singed.
Scurrying to the bathroom, I picked up the pink razor that had to be mine. I swept it sideways against my thumb, at only the depth of a paper cut. My skin came out of it whole.
I was invincible.
Yet I hadn’t been. My ribs, the scratch on my jaw. And the world around me was imperfect too, with the shattering frame and the burned food.
Nothing made sense.
Thuds clomped against the ceiling again. The noisy neighbors. I dug deep in my memory though. First time around, the rhythm pounded clearly. Thump, thump-thump. Now, just as clear, thump, thump-thump. The pitch and placement exact. This wasn’t just a similar activity. It was one and the same. My surroundings reset. Time reset too. My awakening was playing over again. The only change was me.
The same instinct as before, I wanted to answer their thuds, but then realized I was close to where it cut me off the last time. If I waited, perhaps more of the story would unfold.
I held my breath, crept into the bedroom, standing in the same place I awoke every time. All remained deathly still, no sudden movements, no heavy-footed neighbors. Minutes ticked.
Then a knock at the door.
My blood rushed cold.
I remembered this.
I woke facedown on the floor.
I backed as far from the door as possible, once my bearings returned. That knock meant something to me. Fear spiked higher than ever before. I couldn’t remember what it meant, but I knew I had to run from it.
Resetting to the start, I had time to kill before the mysterious visitor came back, though. I could discover all I could from my few clues, find a way out.
The whiff of casserole, not quite burnt yet, drew me to the kitchen where I saved it from ruin for the first time. The cheese bubbled golden and the scrumptious aroma of pork wafted from it.
All at once, my knees buckled with dizziness. The first visual of a memory crashed down on my mind.
The creamy, melted yellow cheese. I watched my skilled spatula spread it across the noodles. As I finished, my tongue licked the leftovers, some of the cheese dribbling down on my shirt. A trill of laughter sang from my memory's lips. I hadn’t heard my laugh yet.
Barbecue Mac and Cheese. I had made it. This was my signature dish on a budget.
The recollection carried a light joy with it, followed by the taint of the same, bottomless pit of fear.
I woke facedown on the floor.
I was so close, only inches from remembering. The picture frame, the knock at the door, the cheese mishap. Each brought me to the edge of the anomaly. And each time I snapped back to the beginning, yanked away from the precipice.
That must have meant I was onto something. And someone wanted to stop me from knowing, somehow altering my reality. They were taking away the pieces of who I was.
I rushed back to the oven, grasping at the one memory I had, hoping the simmer of barbecue would trigger more.
No smell hit me this time. The oven was off, the rack inside empty.
I had come too close. And my captor took away the reminder again.
My third trip to the bathroom. I scattered the feminine version of every toiletry over the sink. I dragged the brush through my hair, scrubbed the toothbrush across my tongue, squirted shaving cream onto my palm. Nothing seemed habitual yet. No flashes of memory.
I hiked up my pant leg and scraped the razor around my ankle. The crunching of my knee to my chest ached my ribs, but I ignored it. I was onto something.
The razor slipped through my shaky grip and to the tiles. I bent to retrieve it. The pit opened in my stomach. This movement was familiar. Not in this setting. Not reaching for the razor. But this was how I stooped when-
I woke facedown on the floor.
Resolute, I curled up at the foot of the bed and held completely still. No solving mysteries. No memory triggers. No reason to restart my loop. I knew everything I was allowed to know. The scene needed to play out to learn anymore.
I squeezed my eyes shut as I waited. I lived here, or at least stayed here often. In a relationship with the resident? A man, a sloppy, absent man. I cooked dinner. Something happened. I had been injured. How and why?
Thump, thump-thump. The noisy neighbors struck right on cue.
Five long, deep breaths.
A knock at the door.
Though my subconscious screamed at me to take off in the other direction, I crawled to the door, leaning an ear against it.
“Hello?” I called, my own voice startling me, hearing it for the first time.
The knock came again, sending me spiraling back from the door in surprise.
Alarms sounded in my head, but I squashed them and jiggled at the knob again, desperate. Still no give. “I need help. Can you help?”
“Hello?” I begged again. “Can you hear me?”
The doorframe quivered as the unknown visitor battered against it. The logical part of my brain rejoiced. This person would get me out. They could save me.
The pit in my gut disagreed. My brain was in full panic, the part of my brain that remembered all. For some reason, no one could be allowed through. All would be lost.
And I woke facedown on the floor.
To be continued in Untold 3...
© 2021 by Kelsey Garber