Old Souls Segment 5
Ashlynn wiped her dewy eyes on the sleeve of her favorite Hello Kitty pjs. The LED glow from the clock read 4am. She dropped her head back on her pillow and sighed heavily. She grumbled to herself, “I have a math test today. I need to sleep.” Ash wasn’t worried about not being able to do the work, she was worried about being able to feign any kind of struggle with the level math her class was doing. When she was tired she would forget to make it look like she had to think about the school work. Fractions. Ashlynn had been reading white papers on spatial dynamics and gamification in computing constructs. It was work to step back to fractions. It took effort to write like an elementary student. It took effort to read the simple text books. It was work to pretend to be a normal 3rd grader. Even though her teachers knew she was far advanced, they had no idea how far. Ash would be glad when she could complete the testing for advanced placement, then she could stop pretending, at least a little.
Ashlynn closed her eyes but knew she wouldn’t be able to drift away; her mind was whirling around the remnants of the new dream. Ash stretched and then resigned herself to being awake. Months in Dr. Hu’s therapy program had taught her many things, one of which was don’t fight going to sleep, and don’t fight being awake once you are. She’d also learned to keep a dream journal so her therapist could help her interpret what was going on in her subconscious. Ash sighed, she didn’t really think that part helped much. All the kindly woman did was try to adhere school situations, television shows, or childhood fears to what Ash wrote. Ash had documented a bit of the peacock angel nightmare and the therapist had viewed it as “part of an early budding of sexual identity.’ After the session, Ash went online to read what that was, she knew the woman was patently wrong. Grossly wrong. After that, it didn’t take long for Ash to learn to just write down what she thought the woman wanted to read rather than what was actually happening in her dreams. She didn’t tell them of every new dream, and not about the new skills that went so far beyond pretty cursive writing that Ash knew without a doubt she couldn’t share the talent explosion with anyone. Ash documented what she actually dreamed and experienced in hidden files on the laptop her folks gave her for her birthday last month. The laptop had actually wakened some of the new skills. Her laptop had been built with a nanny lock and protective software. It had taken Ash less than two days to not only by pass the safeguards, but establish artificial logs of appropriate sites for her family and medical team to review. She had hacked the router in her mom’s office and created new ports that she could use to access the real internet. It had all come to her as easily as breathing. It was definitely weird. Handy, but up there with Da Vinci and Tesla level weird. It was the kind of weird that would make her mom sob in the bathroom when she thought no one was around.
Ashlynn knew that the lies and subterfuge were wrong, but she also knew that her mom and dad were a lot less worried now that Dr. Hu’s team had begun pronouncing “progress” at their family sessions. Ash smiled, “I just wish they’d teach me how to stop screaming and waking the whole house in the middle of the night. That would be real progress.” Personally, Ashlynn had decided that “truth” came in different forms. It wasn’t black and white but varying shades of gray. She’d decided that intent was where the real “wrong or right” determination lay. She’d written in her private journal about the change in her moral compass. Another thing she couldn’t share with the people she loved. Ashlynn loved her family, she liked Dr. Hu’s team. She didn’t want the stress of this “illness” to keep hammering at her parents. It was better to mislead them and see them happier and smiling. Ash mentally shrugged, “Besides, I do share with one person. Grandma Ann.” Grandma Ann knew Ash was keeping lots of secrets from folks. She would nod and ask Ash “Is it best for you, or best for them?” She didn’t criticize or judge but she always challenged Ash to think about true intent versus convenient lies. Grandma Ann would push at her, “Why do you think you know this, Ash. Is it something good for you and those you love? Is it dangerous? If it scares you, why?” Ash loved that she had one person she could be real with who wasn’t scared. Grandma Ann was never scared. Surprised sometimes, yes, but not afraid. She also didn’t worry that Grandma Ann would betray her confidence. The woman had held her close after a particularly difficult nightmare and whispered to her, “The dreams are from far away. You are right here with people who love you. They may be scary, but they can’t hurt you unless you let them. I will help you keep everything in balance, Ash. And, I’ll help you protect your mom and dad. I know. I get it. I’m here anyway.” Grandma Ann understood. Grandma Ann frequently reminded her that she would have to be more open with her parents, at some point. She agreed to let Ash decide when, and how that honesty would happen.
Ash looked at the clock again. Her folks wouldn’t be awake for a couple hours. Ashlynn closed her bedroom door softly then flopped back onto her bed and flipped open her laptop. The new dream had been vivid, not scary. Not a nightmare like the others. It was sad, and it woke her just the same. A house, a desk, and old fashioned CRT monitor, text flashing in the pale amber of old code. Ash couldn’t quite place why her subconscious focused on the web address, nor why it seemed to be so very important. The dream always ended the same way, a fall, a broken picture frame of people she didn’t recognize. Then a flash of sorrow, so sad, the tears always woke her. Not screaming in fear, just sad tears.
She stared at the screen for a few minutes, then accessed the internet. She typed in the dream’s web address to the browser bar. The screen loaded a series of old landscape photos. Ashlyn scratched her head as she contemplated the images. She’d done this before, the first time she clearly remembered the dream. None of the images were more than just vaguely familiar. They looked like stock images from Discovery or National Geographic. She scrolled down the page, each image seemed static, there were no embedded hyperlinks or graphics of text. Halfway down the page, she stopped. The image showed a field of wildflowers and a few paint horses. The only image with animals. One of the horses was staring intently into the camera lens. Ash trailed the cursor over the horse and absently clicked on the animal’s eye. Instantly the site changed. Ashlynn sat up, startled, “Oh, this is new.” The hidden page was a series of text entries dated from the early era of computers. The items were written in basic text and Ash read through a few of the lines. Her eyesight blurred, her head hurt, then she stopped and just stared. She knew these words; she knew them as well as if she had written them herself. Ashlynn closed her eyes and tried to think. Maybe she had written the words, but not as herself, maybe another part of her, one she didn’t know. “Gods, maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I’m sleep writing or something.” She laughed at her own foolishness. Finally, she gave up trying to rationalize. She scrolled to the last entry dated June 3rd, 1989.
“3, june 1989/ good job finding the trail / imagine you are young/ dont worry/ please just dont worry/ i worried so early on/ i meant to write more/ didnt know my time was short/ know that you arent crazy no matter what your people or doctors say/ keep journal/ it helps sort out the memories/ you can use this site/ careful about others / it can seem crazy/ book n Lib of Cong Wash DC USA. //the 3time warrior// the earlier 1s/ hope you read english/ nightmares will ease up after you remember/ unless strange should be the 10 cycle. Start in the 1990s?? hard 2 predict/ NOT crazy takes time to remember dont medicate/ drink/ no pot stuff/ everything becomes clear time”
Ashlynn just stared at the text. “Don’t medicate, drink or ‘pot stuff’, I’m a kid! Sheesh.” Ashlynn thought more about the text, it was like the dreams, just not trapped in her head. It was stuttering and disjointed, not at all like the other crispy written entries. There was something important here, but, what? Ash whispered to herself, “I know these words like I wrote them, but I didn’t write them. I don’t remember writing them, but I kinda do remember.” Ashlynn felt a shift in her awareness, “If I did write this, who was I?” Ashlynn scrolled back to the top of the page. The first entry was noted as “Transcribed from handwritten journal of Andrew David Stanton, Sept 7th, 1954, age 10. She began to read.
“7, September, 1954. I had received this journal for my birthday and have decided to make daily notes. Since the nightmare started, I have been sleeping in the loft above the stable as to not wake Father every night. He has implied that the dream will pass and that I likely have some confession for which to atone. Since he is a man of the cloth, he is convinced that is why I am being tormented by demons in my sleep and waking him with screams. Perhaps he is correct, but my confessions would likely not lessen his use of the strap. He is not one to spare it even for a wrong committed in dreams. It is for my selfish desire to be able to sit comfortably that I choose the hay over my cozy bed. I will document here what I can recall of the dreams and see if the library in Fayetteville has any books that explain my nightly distress.”
Ashlynn shook her head, at least her parents didn’t beat her for her nightmares! Fascinated with the discovery of another kid in her similar situation, she continued to read.
Bethany woke just before the alarm. She felt rested. There had been no nighttime disruptions, Ash must have slept peacefully through the night. It was happening more frequently since they’d started working with Dr. Hu’s team. Her little girl was doing better. There were fewer nights of screaming terror, Ashlynn seemed calmer, if not a bit sullen. Bethany figured that would pass as her baby got through this terrible time. Bethany turned and spooned against Mike. She drank in his scent and wrapped her arms around him and let her fingers trail in his chest hair. They were all doing better. She and Mike had agreed to counseling with Dr. Hu’s team. The sessions with the couples’ counselor had been returning gloriously intimate dividends. She and Mike were in a much better place, closer, stronger, more in tune. Between two high power careers and Ash being sick, they’d lost touch with each other. Mike had taken a new role with his company that didn’t require being on out of state projects. It was a promotion and Mike felt good about the change. Bethany had dialed back her work hours, she had adopted the no phone zone rules for meal times and the hour before they went to sleep. She still had last minute meetings and frequent unexpected demands on her time but she was managing them more effectively. She had hired an assistant to delegate some things to and was in a good place at home and the office. Bethany sighed, at least Ashlynn’s illness had let them get the help they needed to salvage their marriage. Bethany thought about the last family meeting, the team felt that they were all making progress. Bethany kissed the back of Mike’s head and reluctantly released him to answer the morning call of nature.
The alarm sounded and she heard Mike fumble across the bed to turn it off. “Bethany?” He sounded sleepily confused that she wasn’t there, “I’m in here, Mike. Be out in a few.” Mike grunted a reply and made his way to the shower. Their morning routine comfortably continued.
Ashlynn heard rustling in her parent’s room, then the alarm sounded. She’d lost track of time while reading the journal entries of a man who had died before she was born. A man she knew, but had never met. It was confusing and scary and a little thrilling all at the same time. Reluctantly, she exited the site, and closed her laptop. She had to get ready for school even though she’d much rather stay in bed and figure out who had written those words. But she had a 3rd grade life to go live. She sighed as she forced herself into motion.
“School sucks! I hate them all!” Ashlynn screamed at her father as they walked through the front door, “I’m never going back! You can’t make me!” She bolted up the stairs, two at a time. Mike called after her, “Ashlynn Marie! You will not,” the door slammed, cutting off his words, “slam that door.” Mike turned and sat on the first stair and put his head in his hands. He’d been urgently called out of a meeting by his secretary. Ashlynn’s principal was on the line; she was being suspended for fighting. Fighting! His beautiful little angel was suspended for 7 days for punching a boy in the face, kicking him in the groin and then spitting on him as he lay crying under the monkey bars. Spitting on him! Mike groaned, “What the hell is going on?” He had taken Ash home but the principal scheduled a meeting with him and the boy’s parents for the next afternoon. Mike fished his cell phone out of his pocket and texted his wife, “Call me as soon as you land. Emergency.” He hit the send button and glanced at his watch, it would be a couple hours before she got the message. He stared at his phone for a minute, then took a deep breath and dialed Ann. She picked up on the second ring. “Mike? You never call me, what’s going on?” Mike hesitated then blurted out, “Ashlynn just got suspended from school for beating the crap out of a boy, Bethany is on a plane to San Francisco. Please, can you come?” He felt useless, felt like he should be able to handle this himself, but he needed someone and Ash was closer to Ann than anyone else in the family. Ann didn’t even hesitate, “I’ll be on the next flight.” Mike thanked her and hung up. He glanced over his shoulder at the sticker covered door of his daughter’s room. He was torn between checking on her and getting a stiff drink. A crash of musical sound, the Black Eyed Peas, rolled through the closed door and helped him decide, he headed to the kitchen for that drink.
Ann arrived on the 5pm flight. She’d been texting back and forth with Mike and Bethany while at the airport. She picked up her rental car and headed to their house. The 20-minute drive gave her time to think about the whole scenario. She didn’t think that Ash would pound some boy for no reason but the feisty girl had been too angry to explain to her dad or the school officials what was going on. Ann thought about the last 18 months. It had been a steady stream of strange but last she’d gotten a report from Mike and Bethany, things had been calmer and going smoother. This new development was certainly not aligned to those reports. Ann pulled in the driveway and fished her stuff out of the trunk. It wasn’t much, an overnight bag which contained her clothing, laptop, a few files from work and her makeup. She was glad she traveled light, it made these kind of trips easier. Mike met her at the door with a hug, “Ash hasn’t emerged from her room.” Ann glanced up the stairs at the door that was vibrating from who she thought was Lady Gaga. Mike took her bag, “I’ll put this in the guestroom for you if you want to brave the fires of adolescence.” Ann laughed, “Sure, send in the old lady, her time’s nearly up anyway.” Mike smiled at her and headed to the guestroom off the kitchen while Ann mounted the stairs in time with the heavy beat of Gaga’s music.
Ann knocked, then tried the door. It was locked. “Ash, it’s Grandma, open up.” She heard some shuffling and the music turned down a notch, “Dad called you? God, I’m gonna die! He should have asked me first! He probably called mom too! God!!” Ann leaned against the doorframe, “Ash, just open up, it’s not like I’m some stranger. We need to talk and you know it.” The silence stretched into a couple minutes, then Ash flipped the lock on the handle. Ann opened the door and stepped in. Ash closed the door behind her and frowned as her fingers hovered over the lock. She pulled her hand back and Ann spoke, “Well, at least part of your reasoning appears to be returning.” The woman took a seat on Ash’s bed and settled back against the headboard. “Now, tell me what the heck that slimy bastard did to deserve a beat down.” Ash looked at Ann, smiled slowly. The smile shifted with a trembling quiver and tears welled up in her eyes and she lunged into the grandma’s arms wailing, “I am so glad you are here!”
Ashlynn followed Ann downstairs to the dining room a few hours later. Mike was on Skype with Bethany when the pair walked into the room. Ash flopped down in the chair next to her dad and glanced up at her mom. “Hey, mom, I’m sorry, I know your trip is important. Dad, I’m sorry you had to come get me, and that I yelled at you and that I slammed my door.” Ash let out a long sigh and picked at the edge of the table cloth. Bethany just wanted to gather her daughter up in her arms and cuddle her. “I accept your apology, Ash. My meetings aren’t until tomorrow. Would you tell us what happened?” Ann interrupted, “Mike and Bethany, if the school has security cameras on the playground, which I believe they do, you are going to want to make the principal show it at the meeting tomorrow.” Bethany looked at Mike, “What meeting tomorrow?” Mike replied, “Sorry, I hadn’t gotten to that part yet. The principal scheduled a meeting with me and the boy’s parents for tomorrow afternoon.” Bethany huffed, “I can’t get a flight back for tomorrow! What a mess!” She fretted for a moment then looked at Ann, “Mom, you have to go with him. Please!” Ann nodded, “I already planned on it, don’t worry. Now, let Ash explain what happened.”
Ashlynn started talking, she didn’t look up from the table cloth. “Rory has been picking on me for a while. Since before the winter break. I told my teachers and they just tell me to stay away from him. He’s got some of the girls teasing me now too. They call me names. Mostly smarty pants, or Trashy Ashy, or stuff like that. Usually I can ignore them. Most of the time I spend our free period reading but the kindergarteners were doing plant identifications by the planters where I sit. The teachers were over under the pavilion so I couldn’t go there.” Bethany interrupted, “why not? Won’t the teachers let you sit near them?” Ash sighed, “Yes, they’ll let me. But if I sit near them then I’m a teacher’s pet and the kids bark and meow at me for a week.” Bethany shook her head, “Oh, Ash, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know this was happening.” Ash glanced up at her mom, “I didn’t tell you, it was easier to just deal with it. I didn’t want to worry you with something more than is already,” Ash’s voice trailed off. Mike put his arm around her, “I get it, Ash, go on, what happened today?” Ash wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. “Rory and Anne were really mad because I scored 100 on the math test. Usually, I’ll miss a few so they get the high score and get to spin the prize wheel. I was tired and forgot to mess up a little.” Bethany exchanged startled looks with Mike. Ann cleared her throat to get their attention and shook her head to keep them from interrupting. Ash continued, “At free time, them and some of the other kids followed me out to the playground. I went inside the monkey bars to try to get away from them. They were calling me smarty pants, smarty pants, over and over. They were whispering it really loud, but not loud enough for the teachers to notice. Then Rory climbed inside the monkey bars too so I tried to climb out. When I bent down to climb through, he pulled down my shorts and all the kids started laughing and pointing. I snatched them back up and when I turned around he was in my face yelling ‘smarty pants lost her pants!’ and I just hit him. He grabbed his nose, there was blood gushing out between his fingers. He started to scream and I kicked him in the balls.” Ash’s voice had been getting louder and louder as the story reached its crescendo and she realized that she was yelling again. Ash stood up suddenly as she continued, her eyes had a far away glaze, “He fell down, he was crying and moaning. I was so angry! I was glad I hurt him! I wanted to hurt him! I was screaming at him to shut up, shut up! I kicked dirt on him and spit in his face. Then all the teachers ran up and were pulling me away, back through the bars. Anne and the girls were yelling about what I did and no one would listen to me about what he did and I just got so mad I couldn’t even think!” Ash suddenly stopped with a sharp inhale and the silence that followed nearly had a tangible presence. She sat down with a thud and dropped her face in her hands and began to sob. Mike gathered her into his arms and stroked her hair. “Shush now Ash, it will be ok. Calm down. Grandma will get you some water.” Ash continued to sob and hiccup against his shoulder and Bethany looked on, frustrated, and feeling helpless from 2000 miles away.
The next day, Mike and Ann waited in the guidance counselor’s conference room. They were seated beside a couple who must have been Rory’s parents but no one made any effort at civil banter. The couple had glared at Mike and Ann when they’d come in and pointedly ignored them after that. Mike had called the principal that morning to request the camera feed from the playground be reviewed and provide for the meeting. There was a television monitor in the corner of the room. Ann busied herself setting up her laptop and mobile hotspot. She would dial Bethany in via Skype for the meeting. The principal and guidance counselor arrived a few minutes later. Bethany was on a grainy screen but could hear well. The principal, Derrin Rolds, introduced everyone, including the counselor Betty Jans. Then man continued, “This is an unusual occurrence at our school. I must say how terribly disappointed I am in both Rory and Ashlynn.” He held up his hand as Rory’s mother began to protest. “If you will give me a few minutes, I believe you will understand exactly what I mean. At Mr. Randall’s, suggestion, we pulled the security camera footage from the incident yesterday. I’d like to go ahead and play it now. The sound is muddled but clear enough to get the gist of what occurred.” The spent the next 5 minutes in silence as the video replayed the story nearly exactly as Ashlynn had recounted to her parents. Ashlynn had left out, or not remembered, the boy pushing her down in the dirt, twice, prior to her trying to escape him. The real shock for Mike, Bethany and Ann was that Ashlynn’s attack had the skill and execution of a ninja. The tiny girl’s body moved like a seasoned fighter and the whole encounter from punch to spit took mere seconds. As soon as the video stopped, Rory’s mother tried to come to his defense but her husband put his hand on her arm and told her to stop. The principal and counselor explained that the school had a no tolerance policy for violence and that Rory was also suspended for 7 days. Neither child would be allowed to return to school until the attorneys for the school board had reviewed the incident and provided the principal with a legal opinion. Mike asked if Rory was injured and Rory’s dad indicated that it was just a bloody nose and a bruised ego. Mike and Bethany apologized to the couple, “We’re sorry that Ashlynn hurt your son.” Rory’s dad held up a hand, “No, don’t apologize. That boy had it coming for what he did. I’m going to make certain he understands that this kind of bullshit won’t be tolerated. Kudos to you for teaching your little girl how to defend herself. That was quite the one-two combo.” After that, there wasn’t much more to be said. The counselor handed both sets of parents a couple of pages of school board policy and everyone went their separate ways.
Ann drove and Mike sat in the passenger seat. He stared out the window and began to speak. “I guess you know we never taught Ash how to fight.” Ann didn’t take her eyes off the road, “I figured that.” Mike continued, “I guess this is another one of those weird things she just knows, huh?” Ann cocked her head slightly, “I suppose so, but that was muscle memory kind of stuff, she had to learn it sometime, who knows when. Hell, who knows what life.” Mike looked at Ann, “what life?” Ann shrugged, “Is that idea really any weirder than her just magically knowing all this stuff?” Mike sighed, “No, no its not. But what does that actually mean? How do we…I mean, what does she know… how…” His voice faded with the weight of the questions and he went back to starring at the passing scenery.