After narrowly escaping death in a school shooting, 9 year old Alice Carroll realizes she can time travel when under extreme stress, a situation she is determined to learn to control in order to go back to the day of the shooting to save the lives of her teacher and classmates and to discover the identity of the woman who sacrificed herself so Alice could live.
Chapter 1 - Alice is 9
The first time it happens, it happens like this:
I'm huddled beside the bench in the grade three cloak room in an upright fetal position, head scrunched against my knees, hands clasped behind my head. I hear the shots, three of them, and I swear my heart stops pumping each time. There's a woman next to me, kneeling, whispering in my ear, telling me it's going to be okay, but I'm either too frightened or it was too long ago to remember exactly what she says. Her hand grips my shoulder firmly, and there's a familiar quality to her voice that's somewhat soothing. Then the man's heels clack into the cloak room and the gun cracks as he readies it for the next shot. The woman stands and I can tell by the air she moves with her that she's taken a step toward him. Her lips make a wet sound as if she's parted them, and she draws in a breath as if to speak, and then the gun booms--it's deafening--and she goes down.
I scream and then I go away.
When I come back the woman is gone. So is the man with the gun. The classroom door opens with a whoosh. My breath catches in my throat and my heart thumps in my chest and I hear shoe clacks again…
Chapter 2 - Alice is 9
“Alice?” a man says when the clacking stops. It's loud enough to snap me from my trance. “You're covered in blood! Are you okay?”
I blink at him. "I don't think it's mine."
The man, Principal Cotton, clucks his tongue and says "For God's sake, girl, where are your clothes?"
I've somehow lost them.
His shoes click away. When they click back he has the DPA--Daily Physical Activity--parachute in his hands. I feel the warmth of his body as he nears and the wet warmth of his breath at the back of my neck as he drapes the parachute over me. He's a smoker. I can tell.
The parachute is silky, like Auntie Cora's satin sheets that night I slept over when Mommy and Daddy went to Buffalo for the weekend, and it starts to slide off me. I grab as much of the slippery stuff as I can and pull it close.
Mr. Cotton finds my clothes near the bench and stoops to pick them up. He smashes them into a ball and stashes it, football-style, under his arm. He holds his hand out to me. I take it and let him lead me to the office.
It’s weird sitting in the Bad Kid Chairs, and I get A Case of the Nerves waiting for my parents to come. I have to breathe deeply and evenly; the last time I got A Case of the Nerves, I went away, and I don’t want to do that again. Not here. Not now.
By the time my parents come for me, Mr. Cotton has let me get washed up and dressed. I’m missing a sock. I’ll have to go back for it later. We sit in his office, the four of us around a small, round table. I try to picture us sitting this way in a coffee shop, waiting for the waitress to take our orders. Mom orders a latte, lactose free and with three sugars. Dad orders something slushy. Mr. Cotton looks like a tea man to me. I order something fruity and icy with lots of whipped cream.
Mr. Cotton says, “She was completely naked when I found her,” spoiling the illusion. “She just was just huddled into a ball and holding her breath,” he continues.
“Where were her clothes?” Mom sniffles; I hate it when she cries.
“On the floor. Close by.” Mr. Cotton shuffles with papers on the table in front of him. “I want to give you this.” He hands her a pamphlet. “Grief councillors will be here for the foreseeable future to talk to the children who need it, but seeing as Alice was so close to…well, to the action, Post Traumatic Stress is a likely possibility.”
“Oh God!” Mom gasps. Dad reaches for her hand. I sit in my chair taking long, deep breaths, willing myself to grow smaller and smaller until I disappear.
“Call this number, Mrs. Carroll. There are councillors there to help you cope, too. Support groups and the like.”
Mom reaches for a tissue from the box on the table. She blows her nose, looks at her lap, and continues to weep.
“Thank you, Mr. Cotton,” Dad says. He stands up and shakes the principal’s hand. He touches Mom’s shoulder and she stands, too. She nods and forces a smile at Mr. Cotton.
“Come, sweetie,” Dad says to me. He takes my hand and pulls me from my chair.
The drive home would be silent, but for Mom’s sniffles and snorts and gasps; she cries all the way home. When we get there, she announces, “I’m going to lie down for a bit.” She smiles at me and says, “You can lie with me if you like, Alice,” as an afterthought.
I nod. I don’t feel like being comforted by my mother. I feel embarrassed at losing control. Ashamed at being found by Mr. Cotton of all people, naked at school. I want to eat chocolate cake ‘til I puke and then crawl into a hole somewhere and die.
“Ice cream sundaes, kiddo?” Dad asks.
I nod and smile in spite of myself and follow him into the kitchen.
Chapter 3 - Alice is 9
Dr. Hatfield is a pretty redhead about Mom’s age. She let me go into her toy room before sitting on this couch. “Pick any toy you like,” she told me. I chose a stuffed pink and fuzzy unicorn with an iridescent horn and wings.
Dr. Hatfield smiled at my choice and said, “She’s pretty, isn’t she?”
I turn toward her, hold the unicorn at arm’s length and say “It’s so fluffy!” in my best Despicable Me Agnes voice. Dr. Hatfield smiles, but I don’t think she gets it.
We go to the next room. I sit on a worn sofa; Dr. Hatfield sits in a worn, brown leather arm chair on the other side of a beat up, old, wooden coffee table.
“What happened, Alice?” she asks me.
I shrug and pretend to be more interested in the pink unicorn’s fur. I think I’ll call her Princess Pinkie Pie.
“Do you want to tell me about your last day at school?” Mom pulled me out of school after It happened. I haven’t been back in three or four days now. Mom hasn’t been to work in that time, either. It’s really boring at home with her. We watch a lot of television, bake, make crafts. Mostly Mom lies in bed and either watches television or sleeps.
I shrug again. Princess Pinkie Pie’s horn looks twisted, but when I try to unravel it I realize it’s just a cone of pretty material sewn to look twisted.
“When did you first think you might be in trouble?”
Again, I shrug. I let Princess Pinkie Pie run her fluffy, white tail through the circle that forms when I touch the tip of my thumb to the tip of my forefinger.
This goes on for a while, Dr. Hatfield asking questions, me shrugging as I examine every centimetre, every millimetre of Princess Pinkie Pie’s body. At last, she tells me to put the unicorn to sleep for the night and calls Mom into her office.
There’s an oversized bed in an oversized doll house that’s not quite large enough for Princess Pinkie Pie to sleep comfortably, but the room has pink and cream striped wallpaper with pale pink flowers in full bloom. There’s a window and a dresser, too. A picture of thick blades of grass and a happy-faced daisy under a blue sky is hung over the headboard. A fat yellow and black bee buzzes over the daisy wearing a huge grin.
As I lay Princess Pinkie Pie on the plastic bed, I imagine myself in a make-believe house, in a make-believe room, lying on a make-believe bed. I am the same as all of the make-believe people who live in the house. I am the perfect doll of a child. I never get into trouble. I am not sick with Post Tra…whatever Syndrome. I never disappear. I never find myself naked and shaking in the cloak room at school, make-believe or otherwise.
“…traumatized to the point of…” I hear Dr. Hatfield say. I kiss Princess Pinkie Pie goodnight, lay her on the bed and sneak to the door. If I stand behind the open door and peek through the crack between the door and the jamb, I can just see Dr. Hatfield and my mom in the next room and hear them as if I were still in the same room with them, as if I were right there, still sitting on the ratty old couch beside my mom.
“What do I do?”
“I can help her. Next time she comes, we’ll play a game or two, try to build a rapport.” Whatever that means.
“Once she trusts me, I’m hoping she’ll open up to me.”
“What about school? I can’t keep her out much longer. I can’t miss work much longer either.”
“Take her back to school tomorrow. Stay with her for a while.” Like that’s going to happen. “She needs to begin to feel safe in the school environment again.”
When we’re alone in the car I tell her, “I think I can handle school tomorrow.”
I can tell it takes a lot of effort, but Mom smiles. “Didn’t I tell you it’s not polite to eavesdrop?” She backs out of the spot in the parking lot. When we’re on the road she says, “I can go with you, you know, ‘til you feel safe and all.”
“It’s just school, Mom.”
“But Dr. Hatfield said—“
“I heard what Dr. Hatfield said.” Mom looks at me out of the corner of her eyes and presses her lips together in disapproval. “But I think I’m good.”
“Uh-huh.” There’s one other thing I’m good at apparently—lying to my mom.