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The Light Bulb Effect
"Wait, what? We have a test today?" Renee didn't think she could take any more stress; her grades were plummeting, she had recently lost her wallet, and her dog was nowhere to be found. The sky outside resembled her mood, teeming rain slapping against the foggy windows of the school.
Shaking her head in sympathy, Marissa handed her a wrinkled study guide and led her to the social studies classroom as Renee stared down at the foreign information frantically. Students rumbled by her, bumping into her shoulder and knocking her off course so that Marissa needed to hold the sleeve of her shirt. She was trying to read as much of the notes as possible, but in a minute they had reached the classroom. Around the room, students were huddled over study guides, flipping through full pages and biting their nails. The teacher looked around, pacing back and forth as he waited for the bell to ring. In a moment it had, and the students scrambled to clear their desks. Hurrying to sit, Marissa and Renee settled into their desks and placed down their backpacks. Marissa handed Renee a dull pencil and wished her luck, turning back around to crouch over the test that had just been placed in front of her. Taking a deep breath, Renee took her paper from the teacher and began writing her name. She had only written the first three letters when something seemed to click in her forehead. It was a peculiar feeling, and Renee reached up to touch her head lightly, her fingertips grazing the skin. Letting her hand lower back to the desk's surface, she picked up the pencil and continued to finish writing her name.
Suddenly, a piercing pain shot across her forehead, originating from a certain spot in the deepest parts of her head. She felt the spot beating like a heart, each beat sending out a new wave of pain as she closed her eyes and tried to breathe normally. But, her breaths were staggered as her fear grew. Renee's hands started to shake, and her palms became sweaty with the continuous pain. She'd never felt anything like this before, this searing hot, stabbing pain. As she opened her eyes and stared wearily at the paper, the throbbing abruptly dulled, and she sensed that something was slowly spreading through her brain, something like liquid. It calmed the searing, white hot streaks of pain with its cooling, flowing movements, and Renee's eyes began to water uncontrollably. As she wiped away the wetness, she opened her eyes. Looking up at the clock, Renee saw that five minutes had already passed, and she scrambled to begin. She quickly scanned the first page, flipping through and seeing just how long the test was. A panic arose within her, but it died down as the liquid spread further and she began calmly.
1. What is the capital of Mauritania?
Oh God, where's Mauritania? Renee thought to herself. Rubbing her forehead, she felt her hand move to the page. The noise of a scratching pencil floated up to her ears and registered within her. When she next looked down in shock, she saw that she had written something.
‘What the...? How could I know that when I didn't even study?’ Renee asked herself.
It was impossible..unless..maybe she had seen something on the news? Shaking her head to dismiss the thought, she rubbed her eyes and continued. As she looked again at the paper, a sharp ping vibrated through her skull, and she coughed, straightening out the test and staring at the next question.
2. What is the climate of Southern Mauritania?
This time, Renee jotted down the answer before her mind fully processed the question. She looked down in shock, and her handwriting was right there, scrawled across the paper.
How was that possible? Now, the liquid couldn't stop her panic. Flipping through the papers and scanning the questions, word after word popped into her head, answer after answer. The text blurred as she read. A sharper pain shot through her mind, and a black veil seemed to drape over her sight,
darkening until she could see no more.
2 weeks later...
"Mom, I'm fine. I swear. Yes!"
It was complete and utter déjà vu. But this time it had been a math test that caused Renee to pass out...and surprisingly, it had hurt a lot less.
Renee practically felt her mom panicking through the phone. Her mom had already talked to the doctor about the unexpected fainting issue, but no doctor could identify anything wrong with Renee.
"I'm coming to get you," her mom demanded through the phone. Hearing the jingle of keys in the background, Renee handed the phone back to the nurse and layed back down.
Her mom had always had an anxiety problem, and Renee really didn't want to worry her anymore, but the fainting wasn't what was bothering her. That dull feeling that reverberated through her skull was getting worse, and the only relief she received was during quizzes, tests, or homework. Well, that, and any intelligent conversation, really.
The sounds of forks clinking against porcelain plates lingered around the quiet kitchen table. Coughing uncomfortably, Renee twirled her pasta around her fork, letting it drop back into the bowl with a soft thud. Her stomach was still churning from the day’s events, her mind still racing as she searched for some logical answer. Renee knew that her family was watching her closely, waiting for a sign as to whether she was sick, waiting to see if she would faint again. Their eyes bore into her like lasers, making her cringe under the close observation. It was all a bit of a shock to her. How could her life change so much in 2 weeks? How could she suddenly develop a fainting problem, and why were answers to even the most complex of questions popping into her head? Most importantly, why wouldn't the answer of what was happening pop into her head like everything else? Slamming down her fork a bit harder than usual, Renee grabbed her napkin and began crumpling it in her hand.
Breaking the silence, Renee’s mother tried to start a conversation. Her eyes looked wide and afraid, just like they had for the past two weeks. “Hmmm..feels warm out. I wonder what the temperature is...”
Before Renee realized what she was saying, the answer “76.4 degrees” shot out of her mouth.
Surprised, her mother nodded.
“Did you just look at the temperature?” Her mother asked, confused and concerned.
Watching closely, Renee noticed her send a glance towards her husband, probably preparing for another incident. With a sigh, she responded truthfully. “Uh...no.”
“Then how did you know the exact temperature?”
“I just did, I guess…” Renee didn't know the answer to that question herself. “Can I please be excused?” Her heart began to beat quicker and quicker until she felt like she may explode. Rubbing her hand over her throbbing forehead, she let out a quivering sigh.
“No, Renee, just stay,” her father demanded. “Will you please explain to us what's going on?”
Pausing abruptly, she prepared to lie, knowing that by telling the truth her life would change even more. “I think I'm just overwhelmed or something. It's fine. I'm fine.” With that, she lifted her full plate of food from the table, placed it into the sink, and proceeded to lock herself in her room.
“That's wrong. The answer is 32,” Renee whispered to Marissa. She could tell that Marissa was becoming annoyed with her, but she couldn't help it.
It was like someone was controlling her mouth...it just came out. Tucking her hair behind her ears, Renee gulped, trying to keep her loud mouth shut.
Rolling her eyes, Marissa erased her original answer with sharp movements and turned back to her math paper in a huff. By now, there were eraser marks everywhere, scratchings of pencil covering half of the page. Next to it, Renee’s page sat clean and tidy, her pencil resting beside it.
Two minutes later, Renee whispered again. “No, it's not 44, it's 43.”
“God Renee, I get it!” Marissa’s eyes were wide and angry, and Renee reorganized her binder slowly, trying to distract herself from Marissa’s worksheet.
“You get what?” she asked a second later, dreading the answer.
“I get it! You're smarter than me! You don't have to keep correcting me!”
Standing up quickly, Renee left for the bathroom, trying to hold herself together. The whole...whatever it was, hadn't affected her friendships yet. Was this the beginning of a brand new stem of issues?
Math class couldn't end quickly enough. Renee had corrected Marissa at least 12 times on math, politics, events, and any other information Marissa brought up. Sighing, Renee followed her to the lunchroom and sat in her usual spot, placing her lunch down and trying to keep quiet. The noisy racket of the cafeteria made her head hurt even worse, and she cupped it in her hands, breathing shortly.
“Oh, Janie, what'd you get on that biology homework for the question on ribosomes?” Marissa had been stressing about the huge assignment for days, and she had finally handed it in during first period.
“Well, I said they produce proteins and are found on the rough endoplasmic reticulum. What'd you say?”
Interrupting involuntarily, Renee’s head shot up as she began to speak. “No, you're wrong. They're also found free floating.”
“Of course…” Shaking her head in confusion, Janie returned to her lunch, looking embarrassed.
Whipping around in her seat, Marissa slammed down her sandwich. “Renee, what are you doing? Since when are you into correcting people and making them feel stupid?!”
It felt as if she was snapping out of a daze. Renee shook her head, guilt flooding through her. “You don't understand...I-”
“What, am I too stupid to understand?”
“No, I just meant that I didn't mean it, I didn't even mean to say it, I swear. It's like...it's like I'm a robot or something. I don't know what I'm saying.”
Standing up, Marissa grabbed her backpack to leave. “I'm not stupid enough to believe that.”
As she stormed away, Janie whispered to Renee. “What'd you do that for? You know she gets stressed about her grades.”
“I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, I swear!”
“Renee, I've known you for three years, and these past couple of weeks you've been acting really weird. Just tell me the truth.”
“I am! I don't know what's happening! All I know is that answers pop into my head and I can't help but say them!”
“Do you really not trust me?”
“I do trust you, I'm telling the truth.”
“I don't believe you.”
Marissa and Janie wouldn't pick up any of Renee’s calls as she walked home from school. The trees swayed in the light breeze, and the sound of her footsteps were the only noise on her quiet walk home. Renee’s eyes teared up as the events of the day piled up on her, and as her vision became blurry,
small drops fell from her eyes like crystals, rolling down her cheek slowly. A few houses down, the mail truck pulled up to her house and dropped off one letter. Walking to the mailbox, Renee opened it up and took out the one piece of mail. The envelope was perfect, with no crinkles or tears, and the handwriting was neat and thin, scrawled across the front in tall, narrow letters. A tear fell onto the envelope as she turned it over to see that it said her name. The handwriting was unrecognizable, and Renee let her fingers hover over her name for a few moments, staring down in confusion and curiosity. The envelope was sealed tightly shut, and she ran her finger along its edge, opening the flap. As she pulled out and turned over the paper, she searched for a name, a signature, something to identify who had sent it. But there was only one piece of information. Typed on the front of the paper was one sentence, one line that would change everything:
I know what you are.
Dropping the letter onto the ground, Renee stepped back and peered up towards her house. No one was home...a haunting idea popped into her head, but it wouldn't disappear as she let herself into the house. Closing the door behind her, Renee turned the lock and dropped her backpack to the floor. In her hand, she held the envelope and the letter lightly, feeling as if she was in a nightmare. The house was silent, and shivers crept up her spine as she entered the kitchen and took out some food. Pouring herself a bowl of cereal, Renee sat to think. She placed the envelope in front of her and reread the address it had been sent from. It was only a bus ride away...maybe she could go and do a bit of investigating. She could leave a note for her parents, make sure they didn't worry too much...they wouldn't worry too much, right? No, she'd tell them she was fine, she'd bring her cell phone. All Renee knew was that every piece of her screamed to go to the address, to follow the envelope. How else could she figure out what was going on? How else could she fix her life? Making her final decision, Renee stuffed the letter back into the envelope, ran to the drawer, and pulled out a sharp knife. Next, she hurried to the door, emptying the contents of her bag onto the floor and resting the knife at the bottom of the backpack. Zippering the letter into the front pouch, she slung the bag over her shoulder and entered the kitchen. Renee opened her snack drawer, placed granola bars and water into her bag, and pulled out her phone to send her parents a text.
Forgot to tell you, got invited to Marissa’s birthday party. We're going camping. Be back in a few days.
Hopefully her parents would believe her...it was a Friday, after all. Hitting send, she darted up the staircase and emptied her money into the bag, finally running to the front door to open it up.
It was time to figure out what was going on. It was time to fix things.
The door slammed behind her.
The bus ride only lasted about an hour, during which Renee almost threw up, reread the letter at least fourteen times, and checked her phone for a response from her mom or dad. Beginning to panic as the driver announced the next stop, Renee dropped the letter into her backpack and prepared herself. Fear paralyzed her, as fear often does, and she took a deep breath, staring out the window as the bus pulled up to her destination. Thanking the driver, Renee stepped off the bus and looked up at the building that the letter had come from. It was an attorney’s office. How could the answer to her problems be here? Shrugging and preparing herself mentally and physically, Renee marched to the door and swung it open, hearing the tinkle of a light bell. Suddenly, a woman in a long coat stood next to her, gesturing her towards a desk. Reaching into her backpack, Renee took hold of her knife. Something felt weird about this place.
“Did you get the letter?” the woman asked in hushed tones.
Stepping away, Renee nodded suspiciously.
Renee reached into her backpack and pulled out the envelope.
After an inspection, the woman nodded. “Follow me.”
As Renee followed her through windings staircases leading deep underground, she began to ask questions. She only received one word answers, so she kept quiet, dialing 911 in case a situation arose. The lights became brighter and brighter the further underground they went, a weird phenomenon for Renee. Lamps hung from the white, reflecting walls, and they finally reached a tall door with a metal scanning device set into the white wall besides it. The mysterious women gently pressed her finger into its screen, and within a moment, the door slid open to reveal a huge laboratory. Hundreds of people in white coats sat at their computer screens, watching live video. Renee's grip tightened upon her knife as she realized that they were watching through the eyes of someone, somewhere. The only sound echoing through the room was the clicking of computer mice and buttons, but it grew fainter and fainter as attention shifted. Eyes began to turn in her direction, and Renee stepped backwards, shaking.
“Okay, tell me what's going on.”
A man in a spinning chair sat up, looking amused. His hands were clasped together, and he looked around at the crowd of workers. “Well, Renee, you're an active test subject in our project.”
“And what would that be?”
“We call it The Light Bulb Effect.”