'The Gateway to a New Life'

I stood there in that brightly lit hallway that was paneled in fine stained oak on the verge of hyperventilating. A million confused and frankly terrifying thoughts raced through my mind, so many and so fast that I couldn't begin to categorize them all. I was scared, and not of the vortex. I was scared because I knew, somehow, that I had seen a vortex just like that before. I had no actual memory of it, I couldn't recall any real moment that I saw it before, but I knew I had seen it. It was so clear, so familiar, so real… and I knew that I should be very afraid.

I didn't know what to tell Jack. Honestly, I wasn't sure I should mention the vortex to anyone at all. They would likely think I imagined it… or that I was absolutely insane. Either way, I knew then that I had to keep it to myself and hope I never saw the thing again.

I returned to the front of the clinic where Jack stood beside Emma's desk, looking quite uncomfortable as he tried to avoid catching the blonde's eye whenever she would look up at him from her computer. He smiled when he saw me, although I thought he was simply relieved that I had returned and would help break the uncomfortable silence.

"Thanks for the clothes, Emma," I said, flashing Jack a brief smile. "They... mostly fit."

"Oh, of course!" Emma chirped. "Anything to help a friend of Jack's!" I still don't understand why that's a nice thing to say. It's not as though she cared about me, she just wanted to win points with Jack. Whatever. I smiled at her regardless as Jack walked over to me.

"You look nice," he said, none of the discomfort he had around Emma present in his voice. "Much better than that robe."

"Thanks," I replied, taking note of the absolutely furious expression on Emma's face. I made a point right then to remember to never cross the blonde. I suspected that she might be just a little bit crazy.

"Dr. Buford is ready to see you," Emma said briskly, her angry expression vanishing the instant Jack turned to look at her.

"Great," said Jack, smiling at me. "It's this way," He led me down the hallway to a brightly lit room where a heavyset man stood with his back to us, looking intently at a set of x-rays.

"Hey, Dr. Buford," Jack called out, drawing the man's attention from the x-rays. He turned toward us, smiling widely.

"Well, hello Jack," he said kindly. He looked curiously at me. "Oh, and who's this?"

"I'm Belle," I told him, remembering how to introduce myself this time around. "Well... at least that's what Jack named me." I explained my story once again. I must say I was growing immensely tired of hearing it by this point. Sadly, I knew that I would likely have to tell it many more times.

"Well then, Belle, if you'll take a seat up here, we'll take a look at you," said Dr. Buford, patting the examination chair in the center of the room. I was once again apprehensive, but I could hardly refuse. I climbed into the chair and Dr. Buford performed what amounted to a basic yearly checkup, although he did perform a full body scan. I wasn't sure what else I expected a small town doctor to really do for me. Whatever had happened to me was clearly quite serious and it would require advanced medical knowledge to find an explanation.

"Well, if I may say so my dear, you're just as lovely on the inside as you are on the out," he said at last. "Physically, you're just fine. I'm not sure what caused your memory loss. I'll take some blood and run a few tests. I'll also talk to a colleague of mine over in
Portland... see if he has any ideas." I just nodded in agreement. What was I hoping for? That he would somehow zap the memories back into my brain and also tell me why I was seeing swirling vortexes in bathroom mirrors?

After Dr. Buford took a few blood samples, Jack helped me to my feet and together we left the exam room and returned to the reception area. Emma was waiting for us when we returned to the reception area. She smiled brightly at Jack, brushing her long red hair out of her eyes.

"So, is everything okay?" she asked, speaking to Jack instead of me.

"Dr. Buford said she's fine physically," said Jack quickly. "He's going to send some of her blood off to Portland and see if the doctors there can tell him anything."

"Well, that's good!" she said, still smiling.

"Yeah…" said Jack uncertainly. "Well, we'd better get going. Need to get Belle here settled in. See you around, Emma." Jack led the way outside and back to his pickup.

"Well, I guess we'll head to my place then," said Jack, firing up the truck. "There's a fair few of us at the house, but we're good folk and we've got room for you."

"I really appreciate everything you're doing for me," I told him sincerely. "I mean it, Jack. Thanks."

"Of course!" Jack exclaimed, waving off my appreciation. "I'm happy to help! That's what we do around here; we help folks out. Especially those who need it."

"Well, still... thanks," I said. I found myself suddenly very sleepy again. I sat back in my seat as Jack drove us down the street. I closed my eyes for a moment, resting my head against the cool glass of the window.

I found myself thinking of the vortex again. I knew I shouldn't because the damn thing scared me to death, but I couldn't stop. What had it been? Where had it come from? Perhaps most importantly, why was I so terrified of it? Obviously, it was a natural reaction to be frightened of something so odd and unexpected, but my fear was above and beyond what was normal.

I kept trying to remember any details of my life as we drove on, but like before nothing came to me. All I had was the strange familiarity with the vortex and that was a lead that wouldn't take me anywhere good. I wasn't going to go looking into that. No way.

Jack, meanwhile, had been talking practically non-stop. To this day I have absolutely no idea what he had been saying to me, but it must not have been anything overly important. I'm not sure that he cared if I responded or not. He just kept talking as he drove back in the same direction we'd come on the way into town.

We turned off of the main road outside of town and headed down a dirt path through farmlands. After nearly ten minutes we crested a low hill and out before us lay a sprawling farm complex. There were fields of various grains as far as I could see, the plants wafting idly in the gentle breeze that blew across them in the early evening hours.

There were a number of large barns and other outbuildings scattered about the land, including a massive wind turbine that towered above everything else around it.

"Welcome to the Greene Family Farm," said Jack as we trundled down the dirt road. "There's a lot to see and do around here. I'll show you around in the morning. We're just gonna head up to the house for now. It's just past the barns there and up that hill a little way."

We passed through a small scattering of trees once we were clear of the barns and I finally saw the house sitting perched atop a sloping hill. I'll never forget that sight. It was beautiful... and somehow, I felt at home. Jack drove us up to the farmhouse, a large white two-story structure, and parked in the grass behind it.

"Well, here we are!" he said proudly as we got out of the truck. "Home sweet home! Let's head inside and we'll find you a room." Jack led the way into the house. I followed him through the backdoor and found myself standing in a dimly lit kitchen. It was filled with everything you would expect to find in a kitchen on a backwoods farm including a number of dirty work boots by the door.

"Anybody home?!" Jack called out. An instant later a plump woman with the same color hair as Jack bustled out of a storeroom to our right carrying a bag of flour.

"Hello, Jack," she said brightly. "Oh, and you've brought home a girl! It's about time, son. I've been worried about you! I know you're shy, but I was beginning to wonder if you even liked girls. It would be okay if you didn't, of course! I just thought…"

"Momma, please just… please stop." Jack groaned, holding his hands to his face.

"I'm just saying," she replied with a shrug. She smiled warmly at me. I couldn't bring myself to look at Jack, but I could actually feel the embarrassment burning off of him.

"Hi, Mrs. Greene," I replied, giving Jack's mother my full attention to further avoid seeing the expression on Jack's face.

"Oh, please, call me Virginia!" she exclaimed, shaking my hand with both of hers. "I'm so happy Jack finally has a girlfriend, I…"

"She's not my girlfriend," said Jack firmly.

"Friends with benefits, then?" Virginia asked him plainly.

"God, Momma!" Jack shouted. "No! We're not having sex either!" Jack explained my story to his mother. I was very glad to be spared having to repeat it yet again. Virginia was utterly horrified by the tale and immediately set about preparing a meal for me.

Jack and I sat down at the table in the middle of the kitchen while Virginia cooked. Before long, she placed steaming plates of macaroni and cheese in front of both of us. Jack smiled happily.

"Thanks, Momma!" he said, seizing his fork. He grinned across the table at me. "You haven't lived until you've had my momma's macaroni and cheese. She's the best cook in the state, I promise."

"Thank you, Mrs… uh, Virginia," I said, picking up my own fork.

"Oh, I'm happy to do it dear," said Virginia, smiling kindly. "Now, if you'll both excuse me, I've got a few more chores to take care of before bed. Jack, after you get Belle settled would you help your brother out at the turbine?"

"Sure thing, Momma," said Jack, pausing between mouthfuls to speak. Shaking her head, Virginia left through the backdoor.

"So, you said your mom's the best cook in the state," I said, taking my first bite. "What... state are we in, exactly? Better yet, what country are we in?"

"We're in Maine," said Jack absently, distracted by his plate. "About seventy miles south of Portland, actually. Good town up there. Nice folks."

"I wonder if I lived there," I said thoughtfully. It was possible, of course. I could have been from anywhere, really. From Europe or Australia or... anywhere. I was just debating the likelihood that I was actually an alien from the moon when Jack put down his fork. He glanced at my plate and noticed that I had barely eaten have of my meal.

"Not very hungry?" he asked, nodding toward my plate. I shook my head.

"Not really," I muttered. "I'm... it's been a long day. I'm just tired." Jack nodded understandingly.

"Of course," he said. "C'mon, I'll take you upstairs. There's a spare room you can have." Jack led the way out of the kitchen, into the hallway, and up the stairs. I followed him left down another hallway and to a door at the very end. Jack opened the door and stood back to let me go in first.

The room was sparsely furnished and it was clear the room was just that; a spare. There were cardboard boxes with different names written on them with a marker that indicated who they belonged to stacked on the floor near the door. There were several bookcases filled to bursting with every book anyone could ever need. Against the far wall there was a simple bed with a rickety-looking nightstand placed beside it.

"Well, it's not the best place in the world," said Jack, suddenly sounding uncomfortable. I, however, smiled at him.

"It's perfect," I told him sincerely. "Really, Jack. Thank you for this."

"Happy to help," said Jack, smiling again. "Listen, I've got to go help my brother. The bathroom's the last door at the end of the hall. If you need anything, my sister's in the room across the hall and my momma's out back."

"I'll be fine, Jack," I said. "Thanks again."

"Sure thing, sweetheart," he said. He grinned again and left, leaving me alone in the darkened room. I sat down on the edge of the bed and fell back across it. I sighed heavily as I lay there, staring at the dark ceiling. I was on the cusp of starting a new life, on this farm of all places, with people I didn't even know. It was scary, but also exhilarating. I was actually a little excited.

I rolled over and fell asleep almost instantly. I dreamed of dark, rainy fields, doctor's offices and towering turbines... and vortexes. I woke with a start some time later, screaming. It was back, the spiraling vortex. It spun furiously mere feet above me, and although I was terrified, I knew what I had to do. I stayed where I was and stared deeply into its depths, determined to discover what it was.