Zoning Out

for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.

In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.

-Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

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NOVEMBER 9

Chapter 1: Prognostication

After another tiresome day at school, 15-year-old Ashley Orswell was just wandering home when her life first began turning to shit.

Or rather, she stumbled upon an indication that things were getting weird. An omen, if you will. And this particular omen came in the shape of a letter.

Before we follow this tale any further, it would probably be best to introduce the town in which Ashley lives. Damp Mine Town was founded in the late 1800's, when Colonel George Damp discovered a rather generous mine in the area, naming it after himself. Since then, the mine was forgotten and abandoned, while the town has grown from a handful of houses to a small city. The locals simply call it Dampmine nowadays.

Ashley Orswell had lived in Dampmine her entire life. She got reasonable grades at school, took piano lessons in her spare time and was neither too well-liked nor downright unpopular amongst the other kids. Basically, she lived an ordinary life in an ordinary town.

But that was about to change as she came home from school on that grey Monday afternoon. Bandfield Street was as quiet and desolate as usual, although the overcast sky seemed intent on breaking the silence with an imminent shower. Ashley walked off the sidewalk and down a short path, past the front yard of 11 Bandfield Street, up to the main entrance of the two-storey house.

The letter lay on the door mat. Ashley nearly stepped on the unremarkable white envelope, and when she did notice it, her first reaction was nothing more than mild annoyance. What kind of idiotic postman would leave the mail there? Did he not know what the letter slot was for?

Ashley produced the key from her pocket and unlocked the door. Frowning, she picked up the letter and stepped inside, closing the door behind her. The narrow hall was dimly lit by a grey tinge flowing through panes in the door and a window in the kitchen ahead. The girl's parents would be on a business trip till sometime tomorrow, and her 18-year-old brother was probably "studying" (his oh-so-ingenious synonym for "fucking") at his girlfriend's place again. Ashley had the house all to herself.

She dropped her school bag and shoes on the corner of the stairs as usual, then leaned against the banister and examined the envelope. It felt too light between her fingers, as if someone had forgotten to put a letter inside. Turning it over in her hands, Ashley discovered that someone had also forgotten all about putting a stamp and an adress on. Instead, a single sentence was written on the back.

Give us the shipment code and we will release him.

Under the sentence, a signature or logo of sorts had been stamped on in black ink - a sun and a half-moon.

Ashley furrowed her brows. It had to be a joke. A bad one; some little obnoxious kid's idea of a prank. The envelope hadn't even been licked shut. Ashley held it out over her other hand and shook it until the contents fell onto her palm.

At first, the cold, organic slice didn't seem familiar to her. A greyish surface on one side, a bloodred glistening film on the other, shaped in a paperthin oval. Slightly wrinkled. A row of tiny hairs protruded from the curved edge.

Eyelashes?

Ashley nearly screamed out loud as the epiphany hit her. She hurriedly slipped the lump of skin back into the envelope.

Apparently someone had mailed a sliced-off eyelid to 11 Bandfield Street. This was either a very good reason to feel uneasy, or a goddamn weird prank. Ashley chose to believe the former option.

She blinked, and she had put on her shoes. Blinked, and she had opened the front door. The skies were now unleashing their cold shower on Dampmine.

blink

She walked down Bandfield Street through the cold rain, clutching the envelope.

'Stop. You're going too fast. Think about this.'

Ashley stopped and thought, raindrops trickling down her pale face and through the long strands of blonde hair that hung about it. No plausible explanation would come to her. The letter was too bizarre to be shrugged off as someone's bad idea of a joke. Yet, it was too absurd for her to take it seriously, no matter how horribly real that eyelid looked.

Some middle-aged guy bicycled down the street and shot Ashley a curious glance. The girl realized how weird she probably looked, zoning out as she stood motionless in the rain. She quickly walked on down the street.

'Right, so where exactly are you going, Ashley?'

Zach's place. The 16-year-old boy had been a friend of hers for a few years, although their relationship had always remained platonic. Right now, Ashley just wanted someone to help her decide what the hell she should do about the letter.

The girl quickened her pace, heading for the apartment building where Zach lived with his divorced mother.

The roads grew wider and more crowded. Ashley soon stepped onto the broad sidewalk of Kyanka Street, which was home to the Cosmorama movie theatre and all five of Dampmine's restaurants. To Ashley's right, a small park was situated adjacent to the mall. A grey-haired lady in her mid-sixties sat on one of the benches lined up between the sidewalk and park. She spoke cheerfully into a cell phone, and Ashley caught snippets of the conversation as she passed by: "… so you'll come sometime tomorrow? Great! Yeah, I've started preparing the dinner. No, it's a surprise …"

As soon as Ashley had wandered out of earshot, the woman on the bench resumed a less trivial conversation in mid-sentence. Not even changing her tone or the cheerful look on her face, she simply spoke on. "The girl has taken the letter with her to seek advice from her friend. She does not know the code."

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