I’m in the library of the Commune, staring at a blank canvas. No matter how many times I sit and meditate, refocus, heart just isn’t in it, and my head is in Chapter 38. I wish I never would have gone there in the first place. I felt like I was at the beginning of something good for me here by myself. I was starting to remember what it felt like to get lost alone, happily writing my own story in words and paint. I can hear the Mother in my head...

Binaural beats? You already have that, dear, in your own chest. Leave those fools to their gimmicks and go find quiet somewhere.

I went back three more times after throwing my words into the fire. I was nervous for the sisters to find out I couldn’t talk, but when I finally wrote it down to tell them, Azra just shrugged it off.

“We might as well all be mute, Bezel never shuts the hell up.”

My silence intrigued Moira, however, and she asked so many questions that by the last night I was there, the sisters knew as much as the fire bowl. The relief I felt sharing my secrets all but eliminated the shame they held; if anything, they only seemed to like me more after they knew what I had been through. I understood why when they told me their own secrets.

The three of them started going to Chapter 38 after they had the Treatment during the Burnouts. They were orphaned when they were all really young, and when they found out they’d have access to all their memory files after being uploaded, they were hopeful it might lead to them finding their real family. Instead, they suffered one of the most horrific side effects...apparently the brain has pretty good reasons for hiding some things, and I guess they had pretty good reasons to be orphaned. Some memories are just too painful to be retrieved, she told me. They don’t even know anymore what it was they saw, only that it was bad enough for them to go looking for hackers who could undo it, which led them there.

The menu items at Chapter 38 were really healing for a lot of people, she told me, but the truly broken ones skipped all of that and went right to the basement. Right under the bar is an underground treatment center that has a much more complicated menu. She said they ordered the first thing they saw; a total memory wipe. The sisters are blanks, like me, but by choice. They are almost at the end of a rehabilitation program that makes sure they’re functioning well enough to re-enter the world, then they’ll probably go their separate ways and start new lives. They even chose new names before undergoing the treatment.

“And birthdays”, Bezel added. “Now we all share a new birthday.”

. . .

I wake up drenched with sweat and shivering in the floor of the library, my face resting on the notebook I fell asleep writing in. My breathing becomes shallow as I recall the nightmare that woke me.

I was a little girl, walking in the woods with my sister and father. He stopped us suddenly, but this time it wasn’t for a snake. An absolutely enormous black bear and her cub were standing less than 20 yards away from us. Our father backed up slowly, an arm around each of us as he whispered under his breath.

“When I count to three, we are going to turn around and run as fast as we can, okay girls?”

I nodded, gripping his arm so tightly I couldn’t feel my hands.


I spun around, grabbed my sister’s hand, and ran so fast I was practically dragging her, her cries saturating the air around us. We didn’t stop until we reached the cabin, where we collapsed in tears. Our father wasn’t with us. I made my sister promise to stay inside, walked on shaky legs to the edge of the woods, and yelled for him. Nothing. I walked back into the woods two steps at a time, my voice becoming weaker each time I called his name. I was standing in my echoes when I saw him, his body lying across the path in a dark pool, a gaping hole in his chest. I looked through the trees ahead and saw The Mother bear and her cub, walking together up the mountain side.

. . .

The path in the woods becomes the wet city street, my painful memories chasing me like an angry Mother bear. I don’t stop running until I see the flickering green neon sign. Gory is holding the door open for me, a towel in her hand. She stuffs the wet piece of paper I hand her into her apron pocket without reading it, wraps the towel around me, and walks me to the basement.