Excerpt from the ██████████████████ of Leonie "Lee Astraea" Zhurong:

A Journey Entry and Letter Addressed to the Deceased's Loved Ones


... It was so dumb how conveniently scripted it all felt in the beginning. It wasn't that I died and was suddenly thrust into another world or that I woke up one morning with two different sets of memories competing in my head. It just came painlessly and abruptly, and I had no time to readjust before I found myself having to pick a side. Turns out, I picked the wrong one.

I know that the idea of the afterlife was quite popular in those books you liked reading: getting hit by a truck, falling to your death, prey to a rain of bullets, the wrong victim at the wrong time. I know that some people are fond of starting from the darkness and outwards as something bare and brand new and maybe my story does start there but this isn't that story.

My story begins with you.

I know that the story you want isn't going to be this one. You wouldn't be reading this if you got what you wanted after all and for that I am not sorry for because if you are reading this then I've done my job as your mother. Instead, we will start where you begin and dissemble the narrative. I named you after the waterlily leaves and my hope you will remember me as I am and not what I become— that you know my love. Remember that bit of poetry. It's the last bit of beauty I have left to gift. I didn't drown nor was I suffocating. It was all safely staged and if you want then you can probably find the scene online. You know the one I'm about to describe. The director had the cinematographer and set designer install me into the lake and altogether they painted me into Millais' Ophelia.

This was before I had you. And God knows how you even found it. When you did you couldn't stop watching the same scene over and over again. Like you couldn't believe that same girl on screen was the one sitting beside you braiding your tangled hair (please keep washing your hair properly, Irene. You shed like a dog)

Just as the scene cuts to a medium shot of Ophelia's submerged green dress and the small Swarovski diamonds start to glitter under the (pictorial lights , I closed my eyes and that was when I first knew.

Xia Ai, this is not the truth you want to hear, I know but I raised you well and you will get through this.

Zhurong Xia Ai, my beautiful and sweet Irene, you disgusting little goblin and precious daughter

I love you forever and always.

. . .

"When I share my later science, sitting humbly at his feet;

He may know the law of all things, yet be ignorant of how

We are working to completion, working on from then to now."

— Sarah Williams

. . .


The person in Leonie Zhurong's body was not her mom.

She might look like it with her well kept permed inky tresses and soft eyes, but Irene knew from the second she entered her shared room with Elena that this woman wasn't the same woman she called mom.

Irene knew this despite the fact she was quite literally in the hospital broken in several places. The uncanny starts beyond the physical, it comes in the whispers all around the outside of her shared space and the feeling she gets whenever that woman comes to visit. After she heard about Irene's supposed "stint off a cliff into the Lake", the woman who claimed to be Leonie flew back from an assumed business trip and was making house terrifying the entirety of Mystic Falls. The gossip that Irene was able to accumulate of her mother included and were not limited to: Leonie's up-incoming and highly anticipated comeback as a performing artist, her fortune and the fact she called Mystic Falls home, her move up the upper echelons of Mystic society now that Carol Lockwood had easy access to her, and the fact she was furious when she realized that no one knew that Irene was even missing and drowning in the Lake until they fished the Gilbert family out of it.

Irene didn't care for the last bit as much as the fact that she seemed to glower at the girl in the next bed every time someone stepped into the room to offer her their condolesences.

"What is wrong with you." She muttered once Elena left for the washroom with the help of a nurse. The doctors had only took the tubing out of Irene's throat the previous week and Not-Leonie seemed only the slightest bit welcome to the fact that their conversations would now be two sided.

The woman only stared at her nonexistent split-ends and muttered back in the same flat tone she used whenever no one was present, "that's not the kind of company you should keep."

Irene felt fury crawl up the pits of her stomach and hissed, "that's my friend and she just lost her family. What the fuck?"

It wasn't the first time the woman made unnessecary comments. In fact, when coupled with the dull expression that her makeup face fell into whenever they were left alone, Irene would say that her mom was replaced by a robot. This psychopath of a maladjusted socialite was not her mom and no one would even figure because no one even knew Leonie in Mystic Falls.

When Elena came back into the room, the expression on not-Leonie's face swapped from disinterest to pure humanistic concern as she changed places with the nurse and helped the girl to her bed. It happened so fast that Elena and the overnight nurse just went along with it like they went along with the rest of this imposter's actions. She even let Elena break down onto her shoulder when she started missing her own mother.

In the morning and shortly after the woman's departure back to wherever she sulked off to when she wasn't severely creeping Irene out, Dr. Meredith (shrug lastname) decided to participate in her mom's rumor pool herself.

"Is she trying for a new part or something? New concept?" At least, she pretended to be nonchalant about it, asking as she went through Irene's chart. The teenager had shifted uncomfortably under the gaze, unsure what to say following an awkward conversation with the Leonie Bodysnatcher that she knew Elena was eavesdropping on. Jeremy had arrived earlier that morning and was now passed out on the foot of Elena's bed. Not-Leonie had dropped a rather weird comment while Elena was awake and conscious and Irene had been forced to shoo her away so she wouldn't feel too left out. The whole reason the two were even in the same room together was because the hospital thought it would be better to keep the two together since they were friends and Elena shouldn't be alone.

"She just did her makeup differently," is the answer Irene settles on even though its not even close to a quarter to the truth.

To Mystic Falls, Leonie Zhurong had always been something of an enigma. Besides the fact that the two of them contributed along with the Benets to Mystic Fall's minority population, Leonie's profession kept her far from home and far from fully integrating with the community. Welcomed by the Founding Families on the basis of being New Money, Irene often found herself invited to balls and making up for her mom's nonpresences. A fact that wasn't so bad since she had had grown up in this community and bounced between all of the families whenever Leonie toured or filmed. The arrangement that the Zhurongs had, however absent it may seemed to be, was never an arrangement absent of love.

Because let it be known that Irene loves her mom.

She loves loves loves her even when shes not home and even when she transitions from stardom to pen and hours locked in her own office to create pages and pages of story-boarding and drafts. She loves her so much because the lock in means she gets to stay home more and be a part of her life and actually be her mom instead of an idea or fading presence.

This woman wasn't that though.

The Leonie before her, alongside to the rest of her memories and her prescribed concussed state of mind, was cold and distant and a referent point that was more clearly defined than Mystic Fall's relationship with Leonie Zhurong. That is the scariest part. Because while Irene can make sense of it all, she knows that as uncanny Leonie is to her, she is every bit the Leonie that the rest of the world around her knows. Where Irene sees the nurses and doctors all pause in their tracks when Leonie passes, she knows that they just see the rumored star of Mystic Falls. The fact that this woman triggers her fight or flight response is attributed to Irene and to Irene alone.

At the same time, Irene can't believe how naturally this woman who calls herself by the same name as her mom acts like her mom when people are watching. She ghosts her fingers across Irene's cheeks like Leonie does when she's not paying attention. Irene doesn't even flinch away from those same cold sharp fingertips that dug into her wrist when the doctor left. She asks questions about how shes feeling, knows her medical history like the back of her hand, and is still furious at Liz for losing track of the kid she was supposed to look after. She even makes her and Elena food and despite it being nowhere as flavorful or close to what her mom makes as she remembers, it looks and smells just as close.

It's also the fact that while she doesn't like Elena, she hides it in front of her that makes Irene quizz because its just such a Leonie thing to do and




Of course, Irene doesn't dare voice this out loud though because of Elena.

Irene feels like the woman counted on that though and that's why she keeps upping the uncanny valley every time she visits.

Her suspicions are confirmed when she does finally get discharged and the woman inhabiting Leonie Zhurongs body finally introduces herself as her "great" grandma.

"I have many names but you may call me Taai maa," is how the confrontation starts after she pulls up their driveway. " i used to be—"

"Where am i?" Falls out of her mouth because now that shes out, she can feel so much heat in her veins. It's been literal months in the hospital, months of constant surveillance and she's so antsy. There is so much around her and so much in her. So much nerves boiling up and so much magic.

"You know where this is," taaimaa says, unimpressed, "you practically grew up here."

They're still sitting in her mom's new car, the seats still not yet quite broken in yet. Irene could feel the stiffness of the leather bubbling against her warm skin as the woman who isn't her mom stares back at her with eyes she shouldn't be allowed to have. She watches Taaimaa sigh and tip taps painted eyes against the steering wheel. Between them, the solar powered panda that Irene had bought randomly dances on.

"Wheres leonie zhurong?"

"Right in front of you." The rhythm the woman was tapping dropped down to one beat. Her index finger lifted and the jewel that refracted the sunlight blinded her if only a little bit.

"No, you don't understand. I want to know where my mom is." The magic was starting to boil and Irene knew that shouldn't be a thing. The acknowledgement came naturally though and a part of her didn't want to argue but it was Wrong. She woke up and listened to Elena and realized it was Elena and knew that this was all wrong.

The woman staring back at woman almost eminates heat. The two of them hadn't even moved and Irene felt like there was a whole canyon between them that extended past the prndl. Leonie was fully relaxed against the drivers seat, confined in such a small space with one hand drapped over the steering wheel and doors locked and yet still made it seem like a throne. The inky black hair Irene always admired in its absolute shade was pulled up in a messy bun, she was dressed in an oversized sweater and her silver frame glasses didn't even have lens in them. Irene knew that her mom was always known as the successful single mom of the town but this image before her felt like just that.

She couldn't breathe.

"The one you know as Leonie Zhurong has long since passed. This body is Leonie Zhurong. Just not yours." Leonie said this in a droll, like she was bored of it all already but kept her eyes locked onto Irene. Like she didn't just drop a bomb inside the idling import car.

"You're not making any sense- I literally... why was I in the hospital? What happened?"