A breathy voice swept through Hazel’s mind like the glimpse of a memory: This is your last day.
She gazed out from her square view of the world, mind muddled from a combination of medication, insomnia, and disease. Her cloudy, green eyes followed a busy blue jay flying back and forth from the ground to a giant oak tree that loomed over the facility. The bird was shaping a tight little nest in the crook of two branches.
“She’s building her life,” Hazel uttered. This spry little creature had become her companion. A companion, she believed, that observed her as much as she it.
“Ms. Aurora?” An attendant approached her.
Hazel bowed her head slightly, then turned back to the window.
“Ms. Aurora, it’s time for lunch.”
“Oh, sure, Cadence.”
“No, my name is…” she sighed.
In the cafeteria, Hazel lifted a tea sandwich to her mouth. The rhythmic chewing soothed her into empty reverie.
Her eyes pulled open. A middle-aged woman, oddly dressed in a bright-blue pantsuit with a white poet shirt puffing out from beneath, sat across from her. Her sharp feathered bangs were harsh against her oval face. Hazel choked back the half-chewed sandwich, then swallowed.
“Hello,” Hazel said. “Do I know you?”
“I’m Branwen. We met in a previous life, although I know you don’t remember…”
Hazel nodded, scanning the room absently. She turned back to the strange woman. “What do you want?”
“You’ve sacrificed so much already, Hazel. I’m here to do something for you.”
Hazel’s eyes darted from Branwen to her tray.
“Stay calm,” Branwen said. Her hands fanned out like peacock feathers, fingers swaying as if moved by a slight wind. Hazel’s eyelids began to flutter. “It takes a few minutes to complete the Untangling, but memories will soon return.”
Hazel’s eyebrows pinched. “Are you a witch or something?” The words were both strange and familiar in her mouth.
Branwen shrugged. “Something like that.”
A flash of a small girl, her eyes fading from vivid green to cloudy grey, flitted behind Hazel’s eyelids. Unfiltered loss and blind anger rose up inside her chest.
“How dare you?” Her eyes bulged. “Leave me alone!”
“No, Hazel, the Untangling is not finished! It’ll all make sense…”
“Ms. Aurora?” The attendant appeared by Hazel’s side. “Are you alright?”
“This woman! Sh-she’s trying to confuse me!”
“Ms. Aurora, there’s no one sitting with you.”
Hazel’s head whirled back and forth, her neck cracking with the sudden movement. “Back to the window. Please.” She placed a shaky hand on her forehead.
Once Hazel was settled, she noticed the nest was complete, but her flighty friend was nowhere in sight. The room grew dark as exhaustion weighed heavy on her.
“Do you remember,” Branwen’s voice sounded suddenly, “anything about the war? About Cadence?”
Hazel surveyed the room, but there was no woman to match the voice.
She turned back to the window. The blue jay was suspended in midair next to the screen.
“Just listen,” the beak moved with the voice, “and you’ll soon remember. You told us to Tangle your memories and leave you in darkness… unless we found a way to go back and save Cadence.”
“Cadence. Cadence. Cadence,” Hazel murmured like a prayer. “I-I don’t understand.”
The bird rested on a branch near the window. “Long ago, you were a key mover in dethroning the evil King Habrok. You fought bravely in the war, believing your daughter would be safe, but the person you trusted to protect Cadence gave her over to Habrok.”
Lightning strikes of memory seared into Hazel’s mind. Her sweet Cadence, vying for her mother’s attention while Hazel scoured over maps and plans, continually leaving her daughter in the hands of a Caregiver. A Caregiver, she later found out, that’d been working for Habrok. How could she have been so blind?
That same day of the victory, of Cadence’s death, she’d begged King Munin to Tangle her memories and leave her in the human world as memories had a tendency to Snag and Untangle in familiar surroundings.
Hazel doubled over, releasing a low groan.
“I know this is painful, but it’s mandatory before changing the outcome,” the bird continued. “Ever since you left us, King Munin has been working with our best and brightest to figure out how to travel back and save Cadence without undoing the victory. But we need you.”
Hazel whimpered, but nodded.
“Let’s get to it then. Take out the photo you look at often.”
She did so without question.
“Imprint the faces in your mind.”
Hazel’s pointer finger outlined the pair standing beneath a flowing willow tree: Her young self, sitting against the trunk, holding the hand of a small blond girl with clever green eyes. Cadence.
“Now, close your eyes.”
The lovely faces danced in the darkness.
“Hazel, after you lost Cadence, you said the hands on the clock were choking you. Time was a burden to be carried for the rest of your days.”
Hazel felt the hands around her neck and gasped as her memory lit on fire. How she missed the beauty of Nothingness.
“Today,” the bird continued softly, “we’re going to force those hands to release.”
Hazel wrapped her arms around her middle and rocked as every molecule of her being revolted.
“It’ll all be over soon, Hazel. Or, rather, it’ll all begin again, but this time your heart will remain whole. Repeat after me: Tempore illo non est!”
“Tempore illo non est.”
Time does not exist.
“Hic manebimus optime!”
“Hic manebimus optime.”
Here we will stay.
Hazel could hear the attendant call her name as the room evaporated. A world of birdsong and war took its place. Clever green eyes greeted her.
“Mama, will we be okay?”
Hazel pulled Cadence in close and kissed the top of her head.
As King Munin, a team of soldiers, and a brilliant blue jay made their way over the eastern hill, Hazel felt the hands of time loosen their grip.
J. Lynne Moore is a literacy specialist residing in a bustling town near Chicago with her husband, young daughter, and two pit bulls. She’s been writing since she could arrange letters into words and believes storytelling is the one string that ties people from all time-periods and cultures together. J. Lynne writes travel memoirs for her blog, It’s in the Journey. Two of her fiction stories were recently featured in 72 Hours of Insanity: Volume 3. She will also be featured in the upcoming anthology, Writings to Stem Your Existential Dread.