Multiple Muse Disorder: 1970

Chapter Four: Out on a Limb

• 6 June - Saturday morning - Smalton

I woke early the next morning, to the smell of coffee and baking. Risa and Resu were still asleep, or pretending to be, so I dressed and went downstairs to the kitchen.

"Good morning, Aunt Sarah! Anything I can do to help?"

"Oh, Lisa! You're up early. I just put the coffee cake in the oven. Would you like some coffee? I want to sit a spell before I wash up."

"That would be great. I was pretty exhausted yesterday, so I slept soundly. I'm usually up early, maybe from habit, to have some creative time in the morning before I have to interact with other people." We sat at the kitchen table. I waited for Aunt Sarah to speak.

"Are your friends still asleep?"

"Probably. They wouldn't want to come down, anyway. They're rather terrified now that they realize the mess we're in. Me, I'm on an adventure unlooked for, but they are afraid they may be trapped in a world that is very strange to them.

"If all else fails, I could hop a bus to San Francisco, put flowers in my hair, say I lost my memory on a bad trip, man, and somehow stumble along. Which I think they're worried I might do. They are totally clueless about this world, and I shudder to think what would happen to them without me.

"Not that I would abandon them. Aside from my feelings for them, they are the only people who know I'm not crazy, and who know anything about the timeline I'm from. I have to figure out what the three of us can safely do to survive here and now."

"You haven't finished high school, Lisa."

"Sarah, I mean Aunt Sarah. I finished high school with a D+ average. I finished college with a B+ average. I completed a masters degree in computer science in December of 1976, with a year and a half of study. I need to finish high school in Tulsa like I need a hole in my head. Come on, I know how you and Uncle Patrick feel about traditional schools. And you know I've dropped out of high school twice, right?"

"Yes, but not all the reasons."

"Since the end of grade school, I've felt out of step with everyone. It's like suddenly all the other kids were playing by new rules that I didn't know about, with nuances and subtext that meant nothing to me."

Middle school, by Lisa Lees.  

"Then my parents forced me to change schools for middle school, which made things surreal. I went from having 30 people in my single-class sixth grade, whom I'd known for years, to being one among a thousand strangers in seventh grade. I spent the next three years trying to be invisible. Mostly I succeeded.

"Then in high school for some reason people began picking on me, teasing me, calling me names, saying I was queer. I was beat up once when I tried to make it stop. The bullying was relentless and the teachers were no help. One day I simply stayed home and refused to go any longer.

"My parents put me back in the private school, and I managed to finish out the year with the people who had been my classmates almost four years ago. The curriculum was totally different, of course, and I continued to do poorly academically.

"When my junior year began, I realized that being surrounded by people who had known me since third grade was another kind of hell, and I just shut down and refused to go. This time my parents forced me into counseling.

"I had resolved one day to open up to the psychiatrist about what was really bothering me when he began the session by essentially saying that he was convinced that I was just another mixed up smart kid with no serious issues, and shunted me off to a dork of a psychologist who I did not trust. I've often wondered what my life would have been like if the psychiatrist had just listened to me for one more session.

"After a year out of school, following my successful participation in a summer program in North American Archaeology and Ethnology, I returned to the private school to make another go of eleventh grade. Because of the year out of school, I was now in a different class, while the people I knew best were seniors. But at least my fellow students weren't teasing and bullying me.

"However, all the phys ed instructors decided it was their job to make my life miserable. This wasn't new; I had always been bullied by phys ed teachers in that school. There's nowhere to hide in a small school. So when I realized that the public school system did not require phys ed for seniors, I threatened to transfer if I had to take it again, and they called my bluff. Which is where I'm at in this timeline.

"My future in Tulsa looks like a gaping pit of doom. There is no way in hell I'm going back to a public high school and go through what I know my senior year would be like."

High school, by Lisa Lees.

Twelfth grade creative writing
class in 1970, by Lisa Lees.

"Last summer you talked some about college," said Aunt Sarah. "Your mother just told me you're a National Merit Scholarship Finalist, and I know your Aunt Francis has some college money saved up for you. There are ways to skip finishing high school, since you'll be eighteen in a couple of weeks."

"Yes, that's true. But I don't see how I could go to college. I know too much about the subjects that I majored in, though come to think on it, I would no longer want to major in philosophy or minor in psychology or physics, and I'd certainly have to stay away from computer science courses. I've always loved languages and literature, so I could go that route.

"But what would Risa and Resu do? How could I explain having them with me? They have no identity, no history here, no skills; no common sense, in the literal meaning of the phrase."

"I don't think those are insoluble problems, Lisa. There are plenty of community and urban colleges where students live off-campus. Patrick and I have quite a few contacts in academia, especially in the less traditional institutions."

"That's a thought. I remember looking into some places like that, but my parents wouldn't let me go to any place unusual. I don't believe I had direct access to the money that Aunt Francis set aside for me."

"Perhaps Patrick and I can help with that?"

"That would be great, Sarah! I don't have anything now. All my retirement funds are lost in the future. Well, I'd best go and check on Risa and Resu. We'll be down for breakfast in a little while."

Sarah watched Lisa walk out into the hallway, toward the stairs. When I talk with her, it's like I'm talking with another adult, not a teenager. She can't have changed so much since last summer.

— ∴ —

I went back upstairs to talk with Risa and Resu before breakfast. They were up, and had evidently been talking with each other for a while. Risa looked up when I came into the room.

"Lisa? Don't worry about that chaos theory stuff. It doesn't apply to this situation at all. This is not your past; it's a branch timeline. The future here is not your future, or at least not the one you've already lived through. You can't affect that. It's done, up to the point of our disappearance."

"Oh? I don't suppose my disappearance will have much of an effect. I was practically a hermit. Just one of many unexplained disappearances. Though the smashed window might give the police a puzzle. But how does that work? If this isn't the past, then it's one of many?"

"I'm no metaphysics expert, and the Tree of Worlds is itself a thing of magic. All I know is that any forced change to a timeline causes a branch, or in our case more likely a new leaf on an existing branch. From now on, what we do affects only that leaf, nothing else."

"Really? So I could try to stop global warming, or prevent a certain someone from becoming President?"

"On this leaf only, yes. However, I'd suggest something realistic," said Resu.

"What do you mean?"

"Haven't you always tried to stop global warming?"

"True. Since high school I'd been sort of an environmental activist, on a personal level. Helped start the first recycling center in the town where I went to college. Always used my own bags when shopping. Gave up my driver's license in 1981.

"So, yeah, I guess you're right. I should just continue being the change I want to see. Doesn't seem to have done much good, though."

"And as far as butterflies go," said Risa, "that you're here as you are now, and Resu and I are visible and known to at least some other people, already makes this timeline different from yours. And..."

"And what?" I asked."

"Well, it's not certain," said Resu, "but we've been thinking that this timeline, this leaf anyway, might exist as a place to shunt people like us to so we're out of the way, and maybe under observation. If so, there might be some minor differences from the Earth of 1970 that you remember, depending on what was done to create this leaf."

"If you're trying to reassure me, that doesn't help. I'll just stay confused and try not to think about this leaf and branch stuff."

"Sorry. Is it time for breakfast?"

"Almost, and that brings us to something I've been thinking about. Considering Sean's and Nan's reaction when they met us yesterday, I think that you two need a change of appearance so you don't stand out so much in this time period. I'm surprised that no one hassled us on the bus or in the restaurant where we ate lunch yesterday."

"Uh, well, we didn't want to be hassled," said Resu.

"You used magic? I thought you two weren't using any!"

"I suppose it's magic," said Risa. "But you do it, too, when you want to be left alone."

"That's subtext; posture, expression, lack of eye contact, slow movements. Everybody does that. Or in some cases, the opposite."

"Are you sure about that, Lisa?" said Resu. "I remember you telling us that in middle school you had perfected the talent of sitting in a classroom for an entire year and never being called upon by the teacher or talked to by other students."

"Well, true, but there's always a couple of people like that in any group. And it doesn't work on people who actually know you or have a reason to talk to you."

"Exactly. Low-level avoidance glamour. Couldn't have described it better myself," said Resu.

"Whatever," I said, refusing to be drawn into another one of their circular discussions that only increased my confusion. "This is what I have in mind." I showed them the sketch I had doodled while we talked.

Anna and Maggie character design
sketch by Lisa Lees.

"It's not a huge change for you, Risa. Mainly loosing the Manic Panic hair, which really stands out in 1970, as it hasn't been invented yet. Then add a peasant blouse so it doesn't look like you'd really rather be walking around naked."

"Okay, but I am not wearing shoes!"

"Whatever. We'll pick up some sandals for you at some point. Resu, you can keep the combat boots, but the gothic lolita look has to go. I think an American tomboy ensemble suits your personality better."

"No problem," said Resu, and suddenly they looked like my sketch.

"Hey! That sure as hell is magic. Why?"

"Oh, sorry for startling you," said Resu, "but our appearance is magical. You designed us in the first place, and now you've changed the design."

"I am not even going to think about what just happened," I said. "And I don't want one of your explanations that doesn't explain anything!" I closed my eyes for a moment, thinking.

"Okay, we'll just run with this quick costume change."

"We probably should use more common names for you, too, at least in public. Any ideas or preferences?"

"How about Anna?" said Risa. "I'm probably more like Pippi Longstocking than Anne of Green Gables, but Anna is enough like Risa that it will be an easy change."

"And I'll go with Maggie," said Resu, "for secret reasons."

"Secret, hah! Not secret from me," whispered Anna.

"Shut up, runt!" said Maggie, smiling.

Anna and Maggie, by Lisa Lees.

"Anna and Maggie it is, then," I said. "I thought about saying we're sisters, to explain why we're so close. But it'd be too easy for people around here to find out that I don't have two sisters. So I think you had best be cousins from California. I actually do have cousins in California, and it's too far away to be able to easily check. Everyone in this part of the country thinks that California is full of weirdos, too."

— ∴ —

After an awkward breakfast during which I explained that Risa and Resu had decided to update their appearances to better fit in, and would now be using the names Anna and Maggie, we moved to the den. Once we were all settled, I summarized what I had said the night before. "The three of us have to figure out where and how we're going to live together. I look like a teenage girl, but I have the mind and experiences of someone who is sixty-five years old and has lived into the second decade of the twenty-first century. Anna and Maggie know almost nothing about this time period. How are we going to fit in? That's our problem."

Nan and Anna, by Lisa Lees.

"I still find it hard to believe what you're saying," said Sean. He had been looking at me, shaking his head, looking away, then repeating the process.

"Well," said Nan, "clearly you do have a problem, even if it's just that you're all crazy."

"And you have a problem whenever you open your mouth," growled Anna.

"Neither of you is being helpful," I said.

"Let's stay on topic," said Patrick. "Lisa, even during the short time I've spent talking with you, I have to agree that it would be very difficult for you to pretend to be a normal teenager. And your friends, well, their appearance and names are now normal, but as an experienced teacher, I have to say their behavior sets off warning bells. If they know nothing about this time period, what skills do they have?"

I nodded at Maggie.

"To be blunt, my mother leads an elite corps of warriors. I was trained from birth to follow in her footsteps."

"Oh, really?" laughed Sean. "Do you wrestle? I'm the regional champion. Think you can pin me?"

Anna covered her face with her hands. "Bad idea, dude."

"How about we arm wrestle?" smiled Maggie.

"Okay, to start with," said Sean, moving to the large oak coffee table.

Maggie took her place. I sighed and counted down. "Three, two, one." Wham! Maggie instantly slammed Sean's arm against the table.

"Ouch! Dammit!"

"Sorry," said Maggie, as she returned to the sofa to sit beside Anna. "I didn't think it would be so easy, from the way you were talking."

"Okay, you can arm wrestle," snarled Sean, rubbing his arm as he returned to his seat.

"And fight hand-to-hand, use knives, swords, spears and bows, on foot or mounted. Not, I gather, very useful skills in this timeline. But I will protect Anna with my life."

Anna glanced at Maggie, then at me. "Should I show them?"

"Can you?" I asked.

"Of course; it's what I am." She assumed her aspect and materialized the Hammer. Then Maggie took her place beside Anna and showed off her wings. (They forgot to incorporate their wardrobe changes.)

Anna with Hammer, by Lisa Lees. Maggie with wings,by Lisa Lees.

"I'm the Guardian," said Anna, returning to normal and resuming her place on the sofa with Maggie.

"Guardian of what?" stammered Sean.

"The Hammer."

"Cutting this short," I said, "it's the Hammer to break the Seals of Time and end or restart the Universe."

"I have seen the destroyer of worlds..." began Patrick.

"Not worlds; the universe," said Anna. "Everything."

"Oh, my," said Sarah. "Either someone dropped LSD in the coffee pot, or we simply have to believe what they're saying."

"How did you do that?" asked Nan.

"It's just appearance," said Anna. "Like I change my hair color." She demonstrated.

"You just think about it and it hppens?"

"Basically. You don't have the words or concepts for me to explain it further."

"So it's magic."

"Any sufficiently advanced..." began Sean.

"Could you teach me how to change my hair color?" whispered Nan.

"Maybe," replied Anna.

"Absolutely not!" yelled Maggie.

"Nan! What are you thinking?" said Sarah.

"We're loosing focus again!" said Patrick.

"I always thought you were a freak!" said Sean.

"Stop. Right. Now!" I said, using my crewhead voice. All eyes turned to me.

"Whatever you think of our claims, I believe we've amply demonstrated our problem with fitting in here. Any suggestions on what we can do?"

"You're welcome to stay with us for as long as you like," said Sarah.

"Thank you, but that would only postpone the problem. And I think it will be even more difficult for us to move around and explain ourselves once the school year starts again."

"That's true," said Patrick. "You will be eighteen soon, Lisa, and you have a driver's license and Social Security Number. Your friends, though, do present a problem."

"Hey! Maybe they should go to a place that time forgot?"

"Nan! Honestly; behave yourself," said Sarah.

"Oh, you mean Uncle Kevin's place, Nan?" said Sean. "That could work, I suppose."

"Who?" I said.

"You remember, Lisa?" said Sarah. "You went with us several times. Up in the Ozarks. That former lodging house on the lake that Kevin's taken over."

I was drawing a total blank, as my expression must have made clear.

"You've got to remember that, Lisa," said Sean, blushing. "That's were..." He faltered to a stop.

"Sean and Lisa, sitting in a tree," began Nan. She stopped when Sean whipped around and waved a fist in front of her face.

"Children!" said Sarah.

What the heck was going on? How could I not remember a relative, and what Sean and Nan were obviously suggesting?

"Lisa? What's wrong?" asked Maggie.

"I have absolutely no memory of anyone named Kevin, or of an old house in the Ozarks. I've been to the Ozarks, of course, and over Bagnell Dam, but that's all."

Sean was staring at me with a perplexed look.

"I'm sorry, Sean, but I don't remember anything like what you seem to be suggesting, either."

"Whoa!" said Nan. "What's going on?"

I looked at Anna and Maggie. "Any ideas?"

"Well," said Maggie, "this is an alternate timeline. Your memories are from your original timeline, where certain things were quite different."

"That might explain the difference in my relationship with Sean, but not a relative of whom I've never heard."

"You're totally freaking me out, Lisa," said Sean.

"Sean, the simplest thing I can say is that I am not the person you have known before now. I'm a young-looking version of the person I was in 2017. Because of that, this timeline is different where it intersects my life. What that means for me seems to be that my memories don't match up completely. And of course, after almost fifty years my memories of this point in my life are fuzzy and probably not very accurate." No way am I dragging my gender identity baggage into this life! "I'm sorry, but it's best if you try to think of me as being a completely different person than the girl you used to know."

Sean stared at me for a minute, then stood up and walked out of the room. Nan followed him a minute later, saying that she had developed a headache.

Sarah leaned toward me and said quietly, "Lisa, it seems to me that there's something important you're leaving out of what you've said about your school experiences. If it could help us understand the situation?"

"I'm leaving a lot out. But I don't think it matters, and some of it, the most important thing, wouldn't even be true of me in this timeline. Things are confusing enough. You'll just have to trust me that I'm not trying to deceive you in any way."

"Okay, we'll leave it at that for now."

"Who is Kevin?" I asked Sarah and Patrick. "Is he actually an uncle?"

"No," said Patrick. "My best friend in college and the army. But Sean and Nan, and you, Lisa, have known Kevin for more than ten years. I left the army as soon as I could after the war, but Kevin was involved with Korea and I don't know what else, until around 1960.

"Soon after leaving the army he came into possession, I'm not certain exactly how, of a run down lodging house in the Ozarks. He lives there himself, year round, and often has guests of some kind. Not that he's still running it as a lodging house, exactly, but he seems to know a lot of people. We've been there during a number of summers, and mostly you've come with us.

I turned to Anna and Maggie. "Okay, I understand why not all my memories of growing up are going to match, but how can it be this different? You sure I'm not a butterfly?"

Anna looked thoughtful for a moment. "It's kind of like a copy of the timeline we came from was made up to the moment of your birth, then adjusted to fit. So, yes, you've changed the timeline from that point, but it's not a change in anyone's past, because everyone but us three simply lived through those eighteen years."

I suddenly remembered something I had seen in my room in Tulsa. "Hey! There were silkscreen prints of Risa and Resu in my room. I do remember doing silkscreen printing as a teenager, but I wasn't seriously drawing comics that early."

Anna nodded. "That's exactly what I'm talking about. The last eighteen years have been adjusted to make the existence of the three of us fit as well as possible."

"So my memories of those eighteen years are totally unreliable?"

"That would be the safest assumption."

"But still, I remember Aunt Sarah and Uncle Patrick, Nan and Sean, this house, and spending time here. So why not this Uncle Kevin and his place in the Ozarks?"

"That does seem odd, but unless we take the time to map out your past here, there's no answer."

"Oh, right. I can just see myself going around asking everyone to tell me what I did while I was growing up. No, thank you! Anyway, the problem is our future here, not my past here."

"Sarah, Patrick. I'm sorry for this mess and upsetting Sean and Nan. I'm going to go try and talk with them and smooth things over, then I'd like to hear more about Kevin and his artist thing."

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