Catapult

Chapter 4: Save me


June 2002
Taylor


I awoke, confused and disoriented. Lying on top of the cover in my clothes and shoes.

“Fuck,” I muttered. What was wrong with me? Why did my limbs feel like they were filled with concrete? Why was my head throbbing? I struggled to roll over, groaning. My face mashed into my pillow, and I opened my eyes. And more importantly, why was I lying on top of my covers, still fully dressed, with my bed neatly made?

I managed to force myself into a sitting position. Dazed, I looked around. My room was absolutely spotless. Not just a normal clean, as I was never one to let it get into a complete mess, but a weird, pristine, unlived-in sort of clean. A Windex-and-Lysol clean. It was my room, but it wasn’t… What the hell? Did Mom come in here and go through it while I was asleep or something? Weird…

Speaking of which… Damn, how long had I been asleep? My mind was swimmy; I felt like I’d been unconscious for weeks. When had I gone to bed? I scrunched my face, trying to remember. Strange… I couldn’t. Everything was blurry; fuzzy… I closed my eyes. Incredibly, despite the mass amount of shut-eye I was sure I had gotten, I was still so tired… I just wanted to sleep some more, not even worry about it…

After a moment’s thought, I decided that sounded like a fantastic idea, and fell back against the bed. Sighing, I pulled up the cover and slid in underneath it. It was unsuccessful, however, when I heard the sound of the shower starting up in the bathroom next to my room. I grumbled aloud. There was no way I could sleep with that racket going on.

I stood up unsteadily. Stumbling over to the door, I reached for the knob. Huh. Odd. I didn’t usually sleep with my door closed. The upstairs of our house didn’t have the best heating system, and so my room tended to get way too cold in the winter and way too hot in the summer if the door wasn’t open. I turned the knob and walked out into the hall. Where was everyone? It was so quiet… and that was a true rarity in the Hanson household. I stood in the doorway, chewing on my lip thoughtfully. Suddenly the door to my parents’ room, all the way down the hall, opened up and my mother walked through, looking gaunt and tired.

“Mom?” I said hesitantly. “Are you okay?” She looked up, her gaze going past me, and her eyes widened. She didn’t say anything. I stood still as she walked towards me. She peeked in my doorway, looking at my mussed bed. She made a small, confused noise and did an about-face.

“Mom?” I repeated. I watched as she marched into my sisters’ room. Bewildered, I followed her, standing just outside their door so I could listen.

“Did you just go in Taylor’s room?” I heard her ask my sisters. They both replied that they hadn’t, and she swiftly left, going promptly into Isaac’s room. I crept down the hall, listening. My confusion mounted when she asked him the same question. He gave a negative answer, as well, and she came back into the hall.

“Mom,” I said as she brushed past me. “What’s going on?” Why was she ignoring me? What was she so freaked out about? I watched as she went into my room. When I followed her in there, I saw that she was making the bed.

“Hey, I can do that,” I said. “Don’t worry about it…” She didn’t so much as look up. “Mom,” I repeated for what seemed like the hundredth time. She tugged on the corners to straighten the cover and quickly walked out of the room. Shocked, I watched as she firmly closed the door.

“What the hell?” I said aloud. What was this, some sort of fucked-up joke? Surely not, my siblings would never get Mom in on it… Irritated, I marched over, unlocking it and flinging it open. “Will someone please tell me what the hell is going on?” I shouted.

Nothing. The hall was empty, Mom having gone back into her room, and apparently everyone else was just ignoring me. I scowled. Fine. Be that way...

I was standing next to the bathroom door, I could hear the shower still running… must have been Zac. Mackenzie and Zoe avoided showers at all costs, and my parents had their own bathroom. I pursed my lips for a moment before banging on the door. “Zac!” I shouted. “I gotta go to the bathroom.”

“Who is it?” I heard him yell over the rush of water. “Can’t it wait?”

“It’s ME. Taylor! Lemme in, it’ll just take a second.”

“Hello? Who is it?”

Frustrated, I pounded on the door again. “Quit fucking around and let me in!” I shouted, not caring if my mother heard me or not.

“Isaac? Is that you?” Zac sounded confused. “Quit beating on the door! I’ll be out in a second!”

I swore loudly. What the hell was everyone’s problem? Grabbing the doorknob, I flung it open. Zac’s head peeked out around the shower curtain, a look of bewilderment on his face. I closed the door behind me. “This will just take a second,” I said to him. However, he didn’t reply – instead, his eyes widened, color draining out of his face.

“Ike?” he asked tentatively, studying the door as if it were a poisonous snake. I watched as he grabbed a towel and slowly stepped out of the shower, moving cautiously towards the entrance. I stared at him. When did he cut his hair? Did he grow three inches overnight? What in the world is going on?

“Zac, what happened to your hair?” I asked.

No reply. I watched as he slowly opened the door, studying it for a minute. Finally, he closed it and slowly backed away, shaking his head. “Weird,” he muttered, stepping up to the mirror and wiping off the steam.

 I seethed. “Nevermind the hair… why the fuck are you all ignoring me?!? That’s what I really want to know!”

I watched as he cleaned off the last of the shower steam, smearing it across the mirror. I leaned back against the wall, glaring, my arms across my chest. As the mirror slowly dried, Zac tied the towel around his waist and picked up a comb, running it through his short hair. I stared at his back… I didn’t remember him being so… big… Glancing up, to see if I could meet his eyes in the mirror, I noticed something.

Something very disturbing.

Because although there were two Hanson boys in the bathroom, the mirror only showed one. Zac. Who was continuing about his business, seemingly unaware of my presence… I blinked hard, and uneasily fought against the lightheadedness that threatened to overtake me.

I stayed in the bathroom even after Zac left a little while later. I was shaking, leaning against the wall, uncertain and weak… what was going on? Was this some sort of elaborate hoax? How was that even possible? Some sort of weird, tricky, fun-house mirror? Surely not… the sheer logistics of pulling something like that off were just outrageous… and Mom would never approve of a prank that complicated…

I stared into the mirror. Nothing. Absolutely nothing… it was incredibly creepy. I slowly walked up to it, running my hands across the smooth surface. Taking a deep, tremulous breath, I eyed the hair products lining the counter. I picked up a bottle of gel, holding it in the air.

“Holy shit,” I said faintly, watching the bottle mysteriously ‘float’ in the mirror. Impossible…

“I’m dreaming,” I said aloud. “I’m still asleep, and just dreaming…” I set the bottle down, scooting it back in line with the others. “This is so fucked up…”

Yes, just a dream. Now just go back to bed and lay down… Nodding decisively, I left the bathroom and went back into my room.

                                                                                                   *****

“Supper’s ready! Come and get it!”

I jerked awake. I’d just had a long, troubled nap... It was just a dream… just a dream… you’re really awake now… I sat up groggily, taking in my surroundings yet again. Yep, same pristine room. Same clothes. Sighing, I walked out of the room. My siblings, having heard my mother’s call for dinner, had apparently raced down the stairs already. I slowly made my way downstairs, yawning and rubbing sleep from my eyes.

The entire first floor was filled with the scent of roast beef and slow-cooked vegetables. God, I was starving… I felt like I hadn’t eaten in weeks. My stomach rumbled as I entered the kitchen. Everyone was already seated around the kitchen table, and my mother was standing over Jessica’s shoulder, dishing out vegetables on her plate.

I shuffled towards the table. “Hey,” I said through a yawn. No one looked up. I stopped abruptly when I was only a few feet away. What the… where was my seat? There were only eight place settings… and everyone was already seated. There wasn’t even room for me to scoot in – everyone was evenly spaced out.

“Am I not allowed to eat tonight?” I asked sarcastically. I was in no mood for these sorts of games. When Mom finished serving everyone and sat down at her place, they all started grubbing. “What’s going on?” Still no answer. They sat and ate and talked, as if everything were perfectly normal…

“Mom, will you pass me the butter?”

“Isaac, scoot over, your elbow is jamming into my arm…”

“Is it okay if I go to Mary’s house later? She just got a new puppy, I want to see it!”

“Hello!” I barked. “Where am I supposed to sit?” My voice was shaky. As I stood and watched them, a tiny little nugget of fear formed deep in my chest… no, this wasn’t happening. It just didn’t make sense… I wasn’t still dreaming, was I? I pinched the top of my hand, hard. It stung, and I swallowed. My family had gone silent for a few rare moments, everyone stuffing their face full of food.

“Okay. Joke’s over,” I said, my voice rising and cracking. “Not funny, guys. Seriously… stop. You’re scaring me.” I walked forward, intending to clap my hand down on Isaac’s shoulder. “I’m not exactly in a joking mood right now…”

I lowered my hand… what the hell? Instead of landing firmly on Ike’s bony shoulder, it… No. I didn’t just see that. I tried again. My breathing sped up as I watched my hand pass through Isaac’s skin. I couldn’t touch him. It was like trying to catch smoke, or something… just grasping at air. I stared down at my hand. It looked normal, same as always... I clamped down on my own wrist. I could feel my own skin… I sucked in a deep breath and darted around the table, reaching out to try and touch all of them… nothing. When all that failed, I stepped back, trembling. No… what’s wrong with me? It’s like something out of a movie… like in that one with Demi Moore, Ghost, or something… I jerked back to attention, that word searing into my conscious. Ghost? No… no way… It didn't make any sense...

“Wha--” I stuttered aloud. “Mom? Dad?” I jumped from face to face, looking, hoping for any sort of recognition in their eyes…

Avery took a deep drink of her soda and set it down, her face downcast. “I miss Taylor,” she said suddenly. I froze as everyone swiveled their heads to look at her. Mom pursed her lips together, looking like she was about to cry.

“I know, honey,” she said softly. “We all do.”

What? Miss me? I was right here, right beside them! “Stop it! STOP IT!” I yelled. “I’m right here! I’M RIGHT HERE!”

“When are we gonna visit again?” Avery asked. She set her fork down and looked at my parents expectantly, sadness in her eyes. Visit? Visit what? Visit where?

“Not tonight, Avie… maybe tomorrow.”

She looked down at her plate, nodding. They all remained silent after that, with apparently nothing else to say. The looks on their faces… My parents, drawn and gaunt. Isaac, lost in thought and gazing off into space. Avery and Jessica, eyes downcast. Zac, looking broody and grave, poking a piece of meat with his fork. Mackenzie and Zoe, looking appropriately somber, as if at even their young age they knew something was terribly, terribly wrong.

I suddenly whipped around and headed for the downstairs bathroom. A mirror, I needed another mirror… I ran inside, flipping on the light. As I studied my non-existent reflection in the bathroom, I felt something hot burning just behind my eyes. God, what was happening? What was going on? Could they not see me? Why were they talking about me in third person? Why couldn’t I even fucking touch them?

I slowly walked back into the kitchen, eyeing the table. I wonder… I’d picked up the bottle of hair gel earlier, hadn’t I? I’d opened doors… I’d lain under the covers… it just didn’t make sense, how I could feel those inanimate objects and yet not even touch my own flesh and blood?

Over by the stove, just a few yards away from the table, there were several dirty dishes scattered about, including a near-empty glass of water. I cautiously walked over to it, half-listening to my mother tell Mackenzie to finish all his broccoli. I slowly reached my hand out, pressing my fingertip against the smooth edge of the glass, pushing it about six inches across the countertop. Yep, I could feel it, ice-cold and wet. It had responded to my touch – I had physically moved it. I stepped back, wrapping my arms tightly across me. I felt ill, almost nauseous… when I turned back around to look at my family again, I immediately noticed Zac’s expression – his sullen eyes had grown wide, and he was staring at the glass I’d just pushed.

“Excuse me,” he said abruptly, and I watched as he leaped to his feet and promptly strolled out of the room, shaking his head as he left. Mom called after him, but he didn’t stop. He thundered up the stairs, and moments later, I heard the door to his room slam. I glanced over at Mom – she was looking at Dad worriedly as silence overtook the table yet again.

I closed my eyes and took a heavy, ragged breath. I walked out of the kitchen like a zombie – I didn’t know what to do, where to go… in the end, I retreated back to my room to collect my turbulent thoughts. I sat on my bed, running my hands absentmindedly over the soft top blanket and staring at an ancient stain on the carpet next to the nightstand. There was still a small, almost infinitesimal part of me that believed that I was still dreaming – that this was all just some huge, bizarre hallucination, and tomorrow I’d wake up normal again. As I gazed into the soiled fibers of the carpet, that tiny part of me chanted the same sentence over and over.

This isn’t real. This isn’t real… this isn’t real…

                                                                                                   *****

However, when my situation hadn’t changed the next morning… or the next… or the next… I knew it was real. I was lost; confused. I had no idea what had happened… some of my memories were still fuzzy; I was unable to grasp them. I kept waiting for the lightbulb to come on inside my head – an ‘A-ha!’ moment where I finally figured out what the fuck was going on… but it wouldn’t come. I was trapped; invisible and unable to declare myself, in a household that seemed to be mourning my presence. And no matter how hard I tried to figure out what had happened – why I was constantly being referred to in third person – I couldn’t. As soon as my name would be mentioned, everyone would immediately get quiet, as if speaking about whatever had happened was forbidden.

This is what purgatory is like… I thought, despaired, as I watched Jessica and Avery lounging around on the couch in our den. The seventh layer of hell. Dante had nothing on this…  I was standing in the far corner of the room, observing life going on without me, as it had been for the past few days… or was it weeks? I'd lost track of the calendar. Since realizing that I was barely more than a specter in this house, I’d spent copious amounts of time holed up in my room, asleep. It was the safest place for me to stay, since no one came in. I had no calendar; I couldn’t watch television or listen to the radio unless someone else was in the room, and very few of the Hansons bothered to watch the news. Night and day were running together, and it was just easier to sleep the hours away. What was the point of staying awake, anyway? It’s not like I had anyone to talk to… the loneliness was nearly unbearable. I was going to go crazy without any sort of human contact. Hell, I’d even tried to call Jennifer, if that tells you how completely desperate I was… but no such luck, she had hung up after repeating ‘Hello?’ several times.

“AAAAARGH!” I shouted, barely resisting the urge to pitch a big fit and start throwing things around. That wouldn’t do any good… I would just scare them all half to death. I dragged my feet, shuffling from one room to another. I’d been restless all evening – a result, no doubt, of the 18-hour sleepathon I’d just completed. It was late, and everyone except my sisters was upstairs. It looked to be another long, lonesome night. I trudged up the steps, holding tightly onto the handrail. There was a long, tall bookshelf in the upstairs hall, and I walked over to it, skimming over the titles. I’d never really been a fan of reading, but I’d discovered it was one way to pass the time, at least. Sighing, I grabbed a thick, worn paperback – The Firm, by John Grisham – and tugged it loose from the shelf. I turned to go back to my room, startled when I saw Zac standing there, having just come out of the bathroom. He halted, and was staring at the book in my hand. Well, at the book that, to him, was merely levitating in mid-air. Unsure of what to do, I immediately dropped it.

He took a step back, looking furtively around to see if anyone else had witnessed that. I watched, amazed, as he took off down the hall and went into Isaac’s room. I hastily picked up the book and dashed into my room, trying to open and close the door as quietly as I could. Once I was inside, I pressed my ear against the door, listening. I heard unintelligible conversation for a moment, and then he returned, Ike in tow.

“It… it was right here. I swear…”

“Zac… I am too tired for this shit. I’m going back to bed.”

“I’m not joking! It was right here! It was just… hovering, and then it dropped! Something's going on... I’ve seen other stuff, too – the glass on the counter I was telling you about… the doors…”

I wasn’t sure what to do… open the door, get their attention? Try to communicate with them in some way? Obviously Zac already knew something was up… he was the one with the most active imagination anyway… Isaac’s next words, however, stopped me.

“Zac… listen. You didn’t see anything. Alright? Remember what the doctor said.” Doctor? What doctor? What was wrong with Zac? “You have an appointment with him tomorrow, right?”

“Ike, why won’t you believe me? I’m not making this shit up!” Zac sounded pissed. I couldn’t blame him… I would have been, too. But it didn’t surprise me that Isaac was playing the practical role, the disbeliever… well, I could fix that easily enough. I’d tried to keep from scaring them all as much as possible, and so far Zac was the only one who had really noticed anything out of the ordinary. That was about to change. I gripped the doorknob, throwing it open. It’s true, Isaac… see for yourself… except when I stepped out into the hall, Ike was no longer there. He’d gone back to his room. Zac, however, was still standing by the bookshelf. He looked up at my door, his face aghast.

“Fuck,” he whispered. “I’m losing my fucking mind.” I stood, helpless, as he stalked back into his room. Doctor? I thought, Isaac’s words repeating in my head. Doctor for what? I wonder… I ran my hands through my hair nervously.

You're not crazy, Zac... I wish I could let you know that, somehow... I leaned against the doorjamb, thinking… could I find some way to commune with them? I’d considered it once, but had never tried because I wasn’t sure what I would say. 'Hey, guys, it’s Taylor, I’m fine, just invisible'? Uh, no. Maybe I could try writing a letter… but then there was the problem of having them witness it being written so they wouldn’t think it was a joke, albeit in poor taste, written by someone else… and writing a message on a mirror or wall was just creepy… too much like a horror movie. I buried my face in my hands. I needed to think… clear my head for a bit, then I could formulate some sort of plan.

I walked out of the room and quietly closed my door, despondent. It was late, nearly midnight. I slipped downstairs, where my sisters were still on the couch, staring idly at the TV screen. I passed by them and went into the front foyer. Earlier in the day, my parents had put the screen door in to let the cool summer air inside. After glancing around to make sure no one was around, I slid the door open and sneaked outside into the dark. I couldn’t handle being indoors much longer…

The streetlights seemed extraordinarily dim as I trudged down our long driveway, finally reaching the gate that guarded our house from insane fans. The roads were empty, there were no cars driving past, no other people outside. I ambled down the street for a bit, stopping at an intersection, looking around at the sparse, neighboring houses longingly. Why, God, why? What is going on? What have I done? I sighed, watching the lightning bugs fly helter-skelter across the sky.

“What am I supposed to do?” I said aloud. Such weak, defeated words… My shoulders slumped, and I stuffed my hands down in the pockets of my khakis. Looking down at my ensemble, I scowled. And I’m getting so sick of these goddamn pants… Ah, the khakis. I’d been wearing them, and the same plain black t-shirt, for what felt like weeks – that was yet another uncanny development in my life, as if I didn’t have enough of them… I’d discovered that all my drawers had mysteriously been emptied, so I hadn’t changed clothes in who knows how long. I’d also been unable to shower, for fear of scaring my family, especially the younger siblings, half to death. After the glass episode, I’d tried to stay out of the way as much as possible… I simply couldn’t bear the thought of seeing the undoubtedly terrified looks on their faces whenever something ‘moved’ on its own. That went double for the shower, so I’d simply stayed away, figuring that when my hair and body got too grimy, I could maybe sponge-wash in the sink after everyone had gone to bed. Turns out I had no reason for worry – my hair, amazingly enough, stayed as clean and untangled as it had been when I first woke up. I didn’t feel dirty. I didn’t smell. My face wasn’t greasy. You would think that I would appreciate that – but I didn’t, as it was simply one more thing about me that had become freaky and unnatural.

I wish I had someone to talk to… even just one person, that would be enough… Enough, at least, to keep me from completely losing my sanity. I wanted – needed – to commune with another human being. Anyone. My brothers, the mailman, the girl at In-and-Out who always stuttered when she took my order, anyone! Just to have some semblance of normalcy and companionship…

I shivered in the unusually cool breeze. It was summer, wasn’t it? At least, as much as I could tell, from the temperature during the day and what others were wearing. Why the hell was it so cold? Sighing, I decided to go back and get some rest. Obviously the productive ‘thinking’ I’d planned on doing wasn’t going to happen tonight. My footsteps were quiet and soft against the asphalt as I approached our house. I nearly walked past it, lost in my melancholy thoughts… especially since the porch light was off and the streetlamps offered very little illumination. Wait a minute. When I'd left, the porch light had been on, hadn't it?

I stopped, staring at the front door. The closed front door; the screen had been pushed back to its normal resting place. All the lights downstairs had been turned off… shit. Avie and Jessica must have gone on to bed, and I didn’t even think to get a key. Although I knew it was fruitless, I reached out and tugged on the door handle. Locked out… Does it get any worse than this? Really, is that possible?  On top of everything that was fucked-up about my life… now I was locked out of my own house for the evening? What was I supposed to do? Where should I go?

Having no method of transportation, and nowhere else to seek refuge anyway, I curled up on the chaise lounge my mother had put out on the porch. The cushion was cold, dirty, and slightly damp, but it was the softest thing in the vicinity. I shivered again as the wind picked up, pulling my knees up to my chest and wrapping my arms tightly around my legs. When the tears began trickling from the corner of my eyes, I didn’t even try to stop them. Instead, I prayed, trying to ignore how cold, uncomfortable, and useless I felt.

Now I lay me down to sleep… I pray the Lord my soul to keep… I'd never been a particularly religious person, but they were somehow comforting, those words. I chanted them over and over in my mind. It was a good distraction. The wind stopped – a small relief. The night was completely quiet, a rarity – I heard no cars, no people, not even any animals or insects. Total silence… except for my own desperate thoughts. I felt strangely dizzy and drowsy as the unspoken words echoed in my head, loud and clear.

Please, God… if there’s ever a time I need you, it’s now. Please help me. Save me. Save me...