“Miss Quinn, you are here to remove one memory and gain one in return. When you relinquish the memory you’ve chosen, it will become the property of Cerebrum, and we may use it how we see fit. We will make all attempts to protect your privacy so that it will not be linked to you once it is no longer yours, and we may also make changes to it for whatever reason. Do you consent to this?”
I got unlucky after a respawn; the game had placed me right near him. We both frantically jumped, crouched, and dashed from side to side to avoid each other’s shots. I nailed a couple shotgun blasts and was about to get the last one I needed.
That was when I saw a shadow out of the corner of my eye.
It was so unnatural that it pulled my attention away from the game just for a moment. Its body was devoid of all light, and the edges thinned out like ripped, fraying black cloth. Its eyes were bright red. I could have sworn I saw its teeth when it smiled—they were sharp, and they glistened.
A headshot K.O. alert brought me back to my senses.
“What the heck is wrong with you?” Samantha yelled, her voice getting higher as she got more flustered. “Do you have any idea what’s going to happen to you if they find you out of the cabin right now? Especially after all the crazy stunts you pulled today.”
“They can do their worst. I’m not scared.”
“You should be.”
Why did office complexes have to feel so dead after lunchtime?
She pondered this while her heels clicked against the white tiled floor as she made her way toward the security desk. Office lobbies were always so large; they suggested an influx of people traveled in and out, but in the middle of the day, there were only security officers and the occasional food delivery service person to be found.
Every step, every click, click, click was like a rope being wrapped around her lungs tighter and tighter still.
She could barely breathe.
That evening, Sylmae—who currently resembled her best friend, Aina—wore a dress she knew she never would’ve been able to wear as the poor girl from the forest. It was only because she was in this privileged house with plentiful food and well-known guests that she was in this position. But every time her eyes lingered on the various cheeses in front of her, one of the servants gave her a stern glare.
Light circled their fingers and filled their hands with warmth. Two girls giggled as they drew shapes in the air and shot stars from their fingertips. They sat in a small clearing, surrounded by a dense collection of trees on all sides. The bright orange leaves, fully having changed colors at the height of the season, obscured the sun, but the pair of girls could tell it was getting late by the dimming light.
As I looked closer, I saw a folded piece of paper inside. My stomach tightened. I told myself there was no need to feel anxious; it was probably nothing, after all.
Yeah, probably nothing at all. I tossed it back into the river, past the dragging branch, and let it continue to float downstream, away from me.
The car sitting in the driveway looked ready to burst—stuffed to the brim with camping gear and snacks. The vehicle waited, idling in front of a row of townhouse-style attached apartments that resembled a line of trees, albeit quite different from the actual ones they’d be seeing soon on the trip.
Molly leaned against the closed trunk of the two-door sedan and wiped the sweat from her brow. She didn’t think the three of them had packed all that much, but then again—it was a small car. After glancing into the interior to make sure that nothing had been forgotten and that she still had a place to sit in the back, she returned to her apartment.