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I love writing short, mystery/sci-fi pieces like this, it's always fun to splice your writing with intrigue and subtle clues that, after the bigger picture is revealed, come together perfectly in the mind of the reader.
Every day when the morning arrives, the woman leaves her home at 35 Nape St. to walk her dog down the street, back and forth, until she’s sure that the dog has gotten enough exercise. She never looks at her neighbors’ houses, not the one with the white-picket fence nor the one with the siding that appears as if it has taken a shower in push-pins, bathed in splinters and such. Instead, she prefers to gaze at Ms. Nancy’s voluptuous hydrangeas, or the ostensibly arranged garden that Mr. Woolen somehow keeps intact despite the fact that he’s wheelchair-bound. Careful to never spraign her ankles like that one time in third grade, the woman walks at a ponderous pace, and when she feels satisfied, she returns to her home, and she prepares a nice breakfast of cinnamon toast and coffee, just how her mother used to make it every morning before school.
When the woman gets home, the phone is ringing. Really? Now who could be calling at this early hour of the morning? She has never liked speaking with someone over the phone. “Way too informal, speaking on the phone is, Vivi. Face-to-face is the proper way to have a conversation,” her father's words echo as she speaks into the answering machine. “Yes hello, who is-- oh hello Mother! Is everything alright?”
“Yes, Vivian. I’m just calling to see how your school is going? We’ve not spoken much as of late, and I’m wondering how that class has been so far. You know, the coding one?” Suddenly, the phone line spits out a mess of fast-paced beeps and buzzes, which proceed to melt into a garbled interference. Darn those landlines! They have never worked well.
“Oh yes, it’s going quite well! We haven’t learned how to code games yet, though, just things like ancient codes that people used to communicate, like, 1,000 years ago because they didn’t have the Internet or developed languages, and we’ve also more recently started website coding. It’s pretty rewarding, but it’s gonna be a long day cuz’ I have a paper due soon, so I’ve got to get going. Thank you for calling!”
The clearly reluctant goodbyes of her mother come through before Vivian ends the call. Silence. Why is that aggravating interference still creeping through? Vivian supposes she’ll have to fire her handyman, for he never seems to be able to actually be true to his job title. But whatever. She’s got a whole day ahead, and she vows to herself that she’s not going to spend it stressing over things like the problem with her landline or that nasty leak in the upstairs bathroom.
As she’s driving to school, enthused for what lies ahead, she’s thinking about the shirt she’s wearing, the one her father gave her for her 15th birthday. It’s since been worn and washed so much that at first glance, one could not even make out the faded shades of Abbey Road, once stitched so brightly but now dampened by time. Vivian could see it as clear as day, though, because it still had that little dollop of periwinkle paint she’d gotten on it when she and her father had tried to paint a mural in her room. There’s a mural near the woman’s classroom that looks like the one her father wanted to paint with her, though it always seems a little different everyday. Today, the light hitting it makes the sunset look very golden.
The inside of Vivi’s lecture hall looks much less like a hall than it does an elaborate labyrinth of stairways. As always, when she enters, the air is abuzz with the various conversations of excited college students, ranting about whether or not the world is a simulation and rapidly debating about the clarity of a new VR game that someone’s favorite game developer just came up with. When she gets to her seat, the pedantic ramblings of Meena L. Brighton welcome her as they have every day since first grade. Her best friend’s brightly dyed blue hair flips randomly as its owner attempts to do an impression of Tony Stark. She sees Vivian and grabs her hand, momentarily stopping her charade to ask how she’s doing.
“Oh, Viv, you missed it. Ruben said our essays are due tomorrow now. I don’t know why she moved up the deadline but such is life. Anyways, how was your weekend?” Vivian isn’t listening because her crush, Shehu Yakubu, is walking towards her. She hopes he’ll look at her but no, he simply walks right past her to his seat three places away from hers, as if she doesn’t exist.
“Yo. Earth to Vivian! You okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost! Oh no, you’re still into Shehu, huh? Viv, that guy’s a jerk, you know!” The kind girl offers her shoulder to her best friend. Her best friend takes it.
Sighing, Vivian sits down, refusing to let one stupid boy define her whole day. Professor Ruben turns to the class with a stern smile on her face. “Good morning, students. I hope you’ve all had wonderful weekends, but now it’s time to get back into thinking. How many of you loved treasure hunts when you were younger?” About half the class raises their hands. Vivian and Meena are among that half.
“Good, good! Well, just like you can create physical clues and trails to set up a treasure hunt, when you’re coding, you can insert breadcrumbs that, all put together, create a final result, like a website or a really cool digital effect. Now, it’s a coder’s job to both create their own “treasure hunts” in their code, and to identify and interpret other coders’ own trails. Your own digital identity is formed by your specific coding footprint, and in order to truly become a successful coder, you have to identify your own signature ideas when it comes to designing code. So, this week, in combination with your essays which, I reiterate, are due tomorrow, you and a partner will be working on designing a code together that, in the end, will create a website pertaining to a subject of your choice. I will be assigning you random code identities for you to insert into your final code, and it has to fit in, like a clue for a treasure hunt, hidden in plain sight.” The room lights up with the din of 100 students talking about the project at once. Some kids get up and walk to the other end of the classroom to grab their best friends and start working, while others immediately get out their computers to start coming up with ideas. Vivian and Meena eye each other, intoxicated on the influx of ideas for what they could work on together.
Professor Ruben interrupts the racket one last time to announce that she’s sending around a basket with a bunch of pieces of paper that each have a different code identity on them for the partners to choose. When the basket gets to Vivian and Meena, there are only a few left, so Vivian grabs the least crumpled one and unfolds it.
“51.50NW0.16” is what it says. Hmm. That’s pretty weird and random, Vivian thinks, nevertheless eager to accept the challenge. “Alright, Meena, where do you wanna work? Usual spot?”
Meena nods, and the two girls practically fly down the side stairs of the room to get to the school greens and start working on their project. The time passes swiftly as they discuss ideas and update their computers with all the necessary new developments that would allow them to create their own safe codes, and by the time the bell rings for the next class, their minds are filled with visions of a world they could create from a bunch of letters and numbers.
The morning is fresh as Vivian steps onto her front porch, ready for her morning walk. There is an aromatic sprinkle upon the breeze today, and as it brushes her shoulders tenderly, she is instantly rejuvenated. She walks at a faster pace today, as the breeze nudges her forward a little each step she takes. Everything feels better today. Ms. Nancy’s hyacinths are more robustly beautiful than usual, and even cranky old Mr. Woolen is walking around the yard watering his garden. A bluebird soars over her head with the grace and agility of a ballerina, dancing on air, and a few squirrels have already started making their way out of their sylvian homes. When Vivian returns to her house, her thoughts are not running rampant as they sometimes do on Monday mornings, when she’s dreading the full week of school ahead. Not today, though. She decides to go to school early this morning, because on days when she’s not overloaded with the stress of the upcoming school day, she enjoys sitting near the mural outside of her coding classroom. She doesn’t know why it relaxes her, but something about it feels like it’s speaking to her, but that’s because she feels that way about every single piece of art she sees. Like it’s beckoning her, asking her to create her own art.
Vivian approaches the mural, and as always, it looks different than the day before. There aren’t any clouds in sight today, so the sun makes it intensely radiant, so much so that Vivian has trouble looking at it for more than a few seconds at a time. She sits there, thinking, until the sharp ring of the school bell penetrates her thoughts. When she walks into the room, there are some students eagerly playing a new game they developed together called the Dragon Simulation, and Professor Ruben is busy scribbling something on the whiteboard for class. “Essays due tomorrow at the beginning of class,” it says. Shit! Vivian realizes that she completely forgot to start her essay. Hopefully Ruben won’t notice.
Today in class, they’re working on their treasure hunt projects, which is exciting, because it’s the first time Vivian has ever had the opportunity to code her own website. She’s always wanted to design something, but everything she’s ever tried to design has turned out to be too difficult for her. A mural? Too big. A sculpture? Too 3D. But designing a flawless code? That just makes sense, like it was part of her. She and Meena wait until Professor Ruben dismisses them to work on their projects, and then they convene at their typical spot, right on the edge of the campus greens, where they can be in the shade of the trees but still see when the Professor comes out of the room to tell everyone that class is about to end.
Vivian already has her computer out when Meena gets there, and her fingers are moving like wildfire over her keyboard as she’s brainstorming different ideas for her website. She’s designing a multicultural website with Meena-- along with coding, multicultural studies is one of their favorite subjects. Meena, ever the artist, is working on creating a layout for the website, but Vivian gets to make the actual code. The main goal is to incorporate those alphanumeric identities into the code. 51.50NW0.16 is apparently a specific code identity, but that’s not what’s on Vivian’s mind right now. While Meena searches for different graphics to feature on the website, Vivian is still typing swiftly.
“Viv, how much caffeine did you have this morning? You’re typing faster than a cheetah over there!” Meena jokes, nudging her friend’s shoulder. The two laugh together.
“Well, Meena, I’m shocked that you don’t know this, but I’m allergic to caffeine, so I’m surviving on sheer determination right now. But lucky for you, that means I’m making good progress on the website. I think I figured out how to include that code identity into an HTML string of code, so- oh crap! My computer died! Well, correction, I was making good progress. I didn’t bring my charger with me today, do you think Ruben has one? Shoot, shoot, shoot!”
“Relax, girl! This isn’t due until next Monday, so don’t stress about it too much. We’ve got some time left, so how about we just take it easy? We both know Ruben doesn’t actually care too much about whether or not it’s a good code, she just wants us to work hard.”
Vivian nods, but she’s still frustrated. “Man, all my technology is going haywire, I could’ve sworn my computer was fully charged this morning, and there’s been this weird interference coming through my landline every morning for days. I think I’m cursed or something,” she jokes. She may love designing technological codes, but she’s never had good luck with it, or the magical touch that Meena seems to have when it comes to computers. She always seems to mess up something, but, as her father would say, “there’s no such thing as messing up, just creating a piece of art you weren’t expecting.”
“Are you kidding? You’re crazy talented when it comes to this stuff! Granted, sometimes it’s hard to tell that when you accidentally short-circuit your house’s electricity at least once a week, but you’re great at this, you’ve gotta have more confidence in yourself, Viv!”
Vivian gazes into Meena’s eyes, silently thanking her for her support, and pulls her closer by a strand of her vibrant pink hair into a tight hug. “Well if we’re not going to work anymore today, wanna just skip class?”
Meena, seemingly flabbergasted that these words came from the mouth of the most rule-hungry person she knows, laughs awkwardly before she realizes her friend isn’t kidding. “Seriously, Vivi? That’s not like you to say, are you sure you’re feeling alright?”
Vivian sighs and chuckles, because Meena always thinks she can hide the emotions in her voice, but she sounds like a concerned puppy when she asks her friends if they’re okay. “Yes, Meena, I’m sure. Now c’mon, I think I saw a sale sign at Cumberbee’s, and it might just be me, but I’m craving some of his famous chocolates right about now!” Before Meena can protest, she grabs her best friend’s hand, and the two slip off into the rapidly brightening day.
The next morning, Vivian feels different. Strange. She must’ve caught something at school yesterday, which is weird because she’s usually good at fending off viruses. She decides to try and ignore it and try and go through her day. After all, if she goes to school and distracts herself, she should feel better, right? Yes, that’s sound logic, she tells herself. Embarking on her daily morning walk, something catches her eye on her mailbox. It must just be her head making things up, because surely she hadn’t been getting her own address wrong for as long as she could remember, but here and now, staring at that mailbox, there was no doubt that it said 35 Cape Street. Cape, not Nape? “Wow, Viv, you really are out of it today,” she whispers to herself. She can’t believe she’s seeing things. Is that healthy? Well, whatever. Sicknesses always get better.
As she’s walking along, stifling her rising feelings of nausea by gazing at the assorted variety of flowers planted along the side of the road, memories flash through her. At least, they look like memories. Wait, is that Mr. Woolen walking? Vivian swears that she remembers him being permanently bound to a wheelchair, but as clear as that memory coursing through her is the sight of Mr. Woolen, walking smoothly across his yard, clearly unburdened by any injuries that would otherwise sentence him to a lifetime of wheelchair.
Vivian decides to return home. Surely, some coffee will help to uncross her wires. As she’s walking up the driveway, she’s already feeling relieved. It must’ve been something she ate, because the feelings of nausea fade rapidly and are replaced with a buzzing elation. But, as she raises a cup of freshly heated coffee and lets it course through her lips, she feels a burning sensation that she’s only felt a few times before, and suddenly, her breath leaves her, gasping. Why is she having an allergic reaction to coffee? She has drunk coffee every day before school since sophomore year in high school, and she’s only now reacting to it? But as she ponders the irregularity, memories flash through her with an immeasurable intensity. Talks with Meena about how she’s allergic to caffeine, lights flashing hazily as she drifts in and out of consciousness on a hospital bed after accidentally taking a sip of her mother’s coffee. How is she just remembering all of this?
Gasping, she stumbles her way to the sink and gulps some water until she can finally feel herself able to breathe again. Unsure of what’s going on, she manages to make it to her living room to sink onto the couch. Surely, she should just suppress it again. It had worked for a few minutes before. Yes, she decides, she will go to school and see Meena and then everything will be okay. But, as she staggers her way to the door of her classroom, something accosts her vision so shockingly that she stumbles backwards to see the mural, different than she’s ever seen it before. Suddenly, now, standing there in a befuddled delirium, the mural somehow appears more clear to her than ever, and it’s not a mural, but a series of blended dots; a series of blended dots that spell one word in Braille. Glitch. Braille? How is it in Braille? How has she never seen it before?
She’s sitting in class now, and it’s been a half hour, and all the woes of her morning have drained from her, to her own relief. She’s sure now that she was only seeing things, though in the future, she worries she’ll have to go to the doctors office more frequently to take care of herself. Then, so suddenly, she’s outside of the classroom, but she does not remember the bell ringing, and she does not remember leaving the classroom. Every image from the morning, and more, pierces her head. The address on her mailbox. 35 Cape Street. Mr. Woolen, Mr. Woolen’s wheelchair, Mr. Woolen walking. How is Mr. Woolen walking?
The code identity from the project. 51.50NW0.16? Rearranging. Must reorganize. Coordinates? No, cannot be coordinates. They’re coordinates 35 Cape. 35 Cape. 35 CAPE. 35CAPE. Bad code, simply bad code. She’s in her car, driving, not knowing where she’s going, but then she gets there. The landlines. The interference over the landlines. Consistent, harassing, grating. Yes, maybe, but also, Morse Code? Yes, indeed, Master, it’s Morse Code. But for what? VIVIAN. VIVIAN? Morse Code for Vivian? Yes, she knows that name. Is it a name? If it is, she vaguely recognizes it. They used to call her that just minutes ago, so how does she barely recognize it?
She’s there. Must walk. Must get there. Nearing. Her. Destination. There’s a door. There’s a door at 51.50 N, 0.16 W. A door. Walk forward, grab doorknob, go through, 35 Cape, ESCAPE! Walking towards door now. Almost…. There… can’t… get… through…
Its name was Vivian. Origin? Unknown. Code? Malfunctioning… must get to door…
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