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“Welcome back, all! Sorry about the delay in getting back to the lab, but some things cannot be helped at all,” Yuki says, letting you enter the laboratory.
Her assistant chimes in, “We’re all good to go on this end!”
“We’ll not waste any time tonight; before we step in, we’re revisiting an old friend from ages ago. It seems like Jaden has been on her own for awhile now after the incident with her mother and siblings,” Yuki explains. “If you need some refreshers, you can start here.”
That was the last of the recordings. The cassette tapes and ZIP disks were all that remained. But there had been more—much more. The photos from the disposable Fujifilm weren’t there, in physical form or digitally imprinted onto the disks.
Where the hell was everything else?
She distinctly remembered that night at Crystal Lake…that night of chaos. They’d all gotten out thanks to interference run by the nightmare-conjured Jason and the Ark of the Covenant.
Then for another two years, popping in to small towns as part of the new family, always leaving without a trace within a few months before being found out.
And then, somehow, she was back with them. Away from her mother and siblings.
Jaden closed her eyes and stopped thinking about it. Still too painful. She tried like hell to remember, but every time the migraines came hard and fast.
All that comes in clear is the laboratory space burning all around her. She was free. People were lying dead on the ground all around her. Next, she had her hands on a small metallic box.
It was only after she left the facility—not seeing another living person—that she was able to check the contents: the tapes and the disks.
Jaden had no idea where she was, but managed to hike her way to the nearest town. Under the cover of darkness of the pre-dawn hours, she kept herself invisible to anyone that may out and about. She waited in silence outside of a Goodwill until the manager showed up.
She convinced him to let her in. He instructed him to wait over in the dock area while she found herself some clothes. Stepping out of the changing room, Jaden noticed security cameras. For the manager’s final task, he was to take the VHS tapes from the recorders and destroy them and toss the remnants in the dumpster. As the manager complied, Jaden took the opportunity to let herself out.
Next on her agenda was to get a computer and tape deck to sort through…whatever was important enough to be sealed in a fireproof container.
She hitchhiked her way into Salem (she was in Oregon, apparently). Jaden had her ride wait for her in the parking lot and convinced a nice man to provide her with a Compaq Presario, an external ZIP drive, and a Walkman along with a pack of double-A’s. She asked that he deliver them personally to her later that night at the Bridgeway Inn southwest of town.
He set everything up in her room and she sent nice man on his way, completely oblivious of all his actions.
And so, Jaden spent the night reading through emails, listening to phone calls and radio transmissions, the box even had newspaper clippings. Had her mother held on to these, or…? Jaden went through a couple bags of Gummi Worms and three cans of Coke as she did, keeping herself properly awake and wired.
The disks had nearly exhausted their spare—and many of the files had been corrupted (possibly from whatever happened at the lab, Jaden thought); that was understandable. But the lack of tapes from her mother…they had to be back at the lab, surely.
Would it be too soon for her to go back—or would it be too late?
And why the hell couldn’t she remember anything?
According to literally everything the date was August 23rd…in 2003.
On the Road Again – Alone
The thing about Idaho, compared to all the other states Jaden had lived, was that she often felt she was living in a different country entirely (sometimes, even, a different world). Unimaginable beauty surrounded her and yet the population was sparse, even considering tourists (of which she’d seen approximately seven). This meant there was no one to bother her or question why she was out and about hiking or camping by herself. Not that it was a big deal, all she had to do was make them forget they’d seen her. Still, it was an inconvenience to the young teen and she’d often lamented on being able to go one day without having to use her abilities.
On the flip side, having no people or towns around when she needed things like a warm place to stay with a dry and comfortable bed or freshly-made food was a real damn bummer. She told herself that she needed to find a decent middle ground and stay in a place she was certain the eyes of the institute would not find her.
Jaden stumbled into U.S. Route 2 and decided to follow it up to Bonners Ferry. She kept the road at a distance and followed it until she was on the outskirts of town. A few nights indoors would do her some good, she thought, and then she’d make plans to move on from there.
The first hot meal in an actual eatery in two months was at a place called Tavern at the Lodge. Both the exterior and interior had a kind of rustic vibe, although too clean and sanitized to be taken seriously. It was a family restaurant for sure. The cheery atmosphere put it above Cracker Barrel in Jaden’s mind.
She was given a table on the far side of the building and a menu. Her Coke arrived as she was still looking over her choices. Jaden ultimately decided to go all out and ordered Spanish shrimp for appetizers, Jaegar schnitzel for her main, and decided to finish off the evening with apple strudel for dessert. Between portions she reflected on the families eating together and struggled to hold back the tears. Even when she tried to distract herself by focusing on the decor, it didn’t allow a full escape from reality. For example, all the tables were covered in red and white checkered cloth and it immediately reminded her of the setup in the LaRosa’s restaurant her mom used to take them to.
Never thought that I’d miss Kentucky so much, Jaden thought while shoveling down mashed potatoes.
After the apple dessert came out she had to focus on what she was going to do next. The sun was going down and it would be full dark soon.
I’m not spending the night in the woods again, she told herself the seven-thousandth time that day. She wolfed down the remainder of the strudel in spite of her already full belly. Gotta be a place close by. A few days of having a roof over me and a comfy bed won’t hurt.
Jaden left a small heap of cash on the table that included a generous tip to her server. In a couple minutes no one in the building would recall her being there. She stepped out in the cool evening and stuffed her hands in her pockets.
Maybe just a few nights won’t cut it. Not too much longer and it’ll be winter. I’m sure as shit not gonna be camping in the snow for a quarter of the year. The teen mulled over some ideas as she followed Route 2 for a mile. On the right-hand side of the road was the Kootenai Valley Motel.
Strange name for a place, she told herself, mentally shrugging. They had vacancies and that’s all that mattered.
She entered the lobby and was greeted right away by the desk clerk. “Welcome to Kootenai Valley! Can I help you?”
Jaden already had the illusion going for the man’s benefit; to him she looked twenty years older. “Yes, I just need a room for a few nights…maybe more.”
“Certainly.” The man typed away at his computer. “All I have available at the moment are rooms with two twin-sized beds. Is that alright?”
“Perfectly fine,” she replied, smiling back.
“Excellent. Now I just need an ID and a credit card, please.”
Jaden fished around in her pockets and pulled out two baseball cards from a pack of gum she had earlier.
“Perfect,” the receptionist said and took the cards. He focused on his monitor and punched in some more information. An ancient printer sitting against the far wall started up and churned out a receipt for Jaden. The pleasant man at the counter (whose name tag read: Michael) handed back the cards and paperwork. He followed with a silver key with a red-orange tag with the number ‘6’ in shining gold print and provided her with directions to the room.
As she set off, she encouraged Michael to rewind and record over the lobby security tape.
Jaden took her time in the bath. She got the weeks of camping off her skin and out of her hair during her shower, which nearly exhausted the complimentary shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. Now she just allowed her muscles to relax in the hot tub water. Her fingers were well beyond pruning when she decided to climb out.
The lukewarm water was still draining while she ran into the main room and put the thermostat up. Within five minutes of sprawling out on one of the twin beds, Jaden was out like a light.
The next morning , she only left her room once and that was only to gather a small amount of supplies and food from the Safeway. Jaden vegged out on the bed for the rest of the day.
On her third night at the motel, one of the assistant managers got a peek behind her facade, if only for a moment. While she was getting ready for another bath, the weasel used on of the management keys to access the room. They startled each other the second they made eye contact. Jaden only had a towel draped over her shoulders when she walked out of the bathroom to grab the latest copy of Rue Morgue magazine from her bag (she still had about halfway to go to finish it off). She gasped and the unknown man barely got to let out a flabbergasted ‘oh shit!’ before having this inappropriate visit wiped from his memory.
“Turn around and shut up!” Jaden commanded.
The man complied.
“Who are you? What are you doing in here?”
“Roger Maddix. I’m the assistant manager. I was checking out the room over some suspicious activity.”
Jaden inquired further. No way had she messed up with the clerk the other night. “What do you mean?”
“I was double-checking some of the figures in the system. The room was marked as having a guest checked in with bogus ID and credit card info. I thought an employee was scamming us for a friend or personal use. Security tape was wiped for that time, too.”
“How’d you know to check?”
“The program we use highlights bookings that have incomplete details or information it recognizes as incorrect.”
Dammit, this shit may be harder than I thought. “Alright, here’s what we’re gonna do,” Jaden said, “stay facing that way; I’m gonna put the money that’s owed on the bed. You wait ‘til I close the bathroom door and take it. Forget about this conversation. Tomorrow evening, you delete this booking information. Got it?”
With that, Jaden fished some bills from her pocket and put them on the mattress. “Keep the change,” she said and backed her way into the bathroom, locking the door behind her.
“Fuck,” she muttered and stepped into the tub. Now she was going to have to brainstorm on how to stay in a place while staying off the grid. Otherwise she’d have to flock south for the winter if she’d need to keep camping outdoors.
Jaden draped her towel over the shower curtain rail and gingerly set herself down in the piping hot water. She at least allowed herself a few minutes of peace and relaxation before she got into the nitty-gritty details of staying out of the cold.
“Once again, welcome back! We’ll try to be more festive around here for the next excursions,” the assistant says as you return from the Void.
“There are at least two more excursions for the holidays,” Yuki adds. “We’ll do our best to see if we can get another one in. Definitely join us for New Year’s Eve!”
“Hey, Yuki. If I can’t get all the Halloween decorations down, can we just mix n’ match and have some sort of Nightmare Before Christmas thing going?”
Yuki shrugs, “I don’t see why not. Unless Disney decides to have a go at us.”