1. You find a stack of Missing Persons news clippings under your parents’ bed. All with your photo.
2. You decided to read a book about hypnosis. After reading the book, you realize your spouse/parents have been using hypnosis on you for years.
Home for Christmas
I waited for the garage door to clang shut before peeking through the living room curtains to watch my parents pull out of the driveway. It hadn’t been easy to convince them to let me stay home alone, even though I was twelve and was, like, the most boring kid I knew. They were just so protective of me.
The heater kicked on and a gust of wind rattled the windows. The blizzard hadn’t hit yet, but it was supposed to blow in by six o’clock. The clock in the living room read three thirty-seven. They said they’d be home by five, but the way my dad drove, I could easily cut half an hour off of that time. I had to hurry to make sure I covered all my tracks.
Christmas was a week away, and I was on a quest to find my gift. I don’t know what possessed me to lie to my parents so I could go snooping around, but now that they left me alone for the first time, I sure as heck didn’t want to spoil the opportunity. Who knew when I might get this chance again? Santa Claus is Coming to Town was playing on the home audio system my dad bought for himself last Christmas. A small pang of guilt hit my heart like an icicle, but I shrugged it off and made my way to the den.
The den seemed like a stupid place to hide a gift since I was in there all the time, but then again, my parents often said that the best place to hide something was in plain sight, so who knows. Maybe something would be hidden in there after all. The book I had just finished reading, The Barking Dentist: How to Hypnotize Anyone, was still on my favorite reading chair. My parents tried to make me return the book without reading it because they said it was nothing more than pseudo science.
“Woo,” my mother had said. “Pure, ridiculous woo. Just like auras and palm reading. You’re too smart to waste your time with such nonsense.” But I held my ground and they eventually gave up, though every time they saw me reading it, they made snarky comments.
I searched the top of the bookshelves, inside the family desk that was used mostly for paying bills and writing thank you cards, and in the antiques hutch. Nothing. No sign of a gift anywhere. Okay, so much for the “in plain sight” theory. Next stop: my parents’ room.
The song on the streamed radio station changed to I’ll Be Home for Christmas. I don’t know why, but that song always made me sad. I blinked back my tears and pushed my parent’s bedroom door open. The room was huge, and there had to be about a zillion places to hide presents. If I had been smart, I would have come here first instead of wasting time in the den. The clock on the night stand warned me that it was ten to four. I had to pick up the pace. My best bet would probably be to work from the back of the room to the front.
Their bathroom had a ginormous walk-in closet that they both shared. Seriously, that closet was bigger than my bedroom. Not only did that seem like a great place to hide a new laptop or karaoke machine, but it was in the very back of the room. If they came home while I was in there, I might not hear them in time to get out. Then they wouldn’t trust me to stay home alone again until I was thirty.
The built-in drawers reminded me of a dozen pale mouths refusing to open up and share their secrets. They were easy enough to open, though, and in the end they had no secrets to reveal. The shelves were as dull as the drawers. After ten minutes, I had to admit that the closet contained absolutely nothing of interest to me. My parents were so boring!
Back in the main part of the bedroom, I felt myself pulled toward the four poster bed. Like everything else in the house, the bed was huge. From nowhere, a memory of when I was about six hit me. My mother had strung rope between the posts and then hung sheets from the rope, which made a cozy fort out of the bed. I used to pretend I was in the Captain's cabin on a pirate ship. Every now and then Mom would knock on the wood footboard and ask if the Capt’n was ready for a snack. I’d shout “Aye!” and she’d pass crackers and juice to me. She was so different, so fun, then. Now all she did was volunteer to every committee under the sun. And she totally flipped her lid if I even took a single step out of the kitchen with a snack. Food in bed was like the biggest sin I could commit as far as she was concerned.
I got down on my knees and peeked under the bed. Two long, shallow storage containers rested like little coffins in the dark. I pulled them both out. My heart raced. This was it. One of the two containers had something for me. The green clasps on the first opened easily. I pulled the lid off and cast it to the side. Shorts, tank tops, bathing suits. Nothing but summer clothes. I straightened out the clothes, so it looked like I hadn’t been rifling through them, and slid the little coffin back into the mausoleum.
After the continued disappointments of the afternoon, I didn’t hold out much hope for the second box, but I had to check. My heart thundered in my ears as I removed the lid. More summer clothes. Darn. I carefully moved the clothes around, and my hand brushed against something papery. A manila folder. My throat went Sahara dry and I licked my lips. My hands trembled as I pulled the folder out of its hiding spot. This was no present. It was also none of my business. I should just put it back. I looked from mysterious file to the clock. If my dad drove as fast as he usually did, they’d be home within ten or fifteen minutes. I really should put everything back the way it was and settle myself into a book before the garage opened. But I couldn’t will myself to tuck the folder back into its resting place.
I opened the file and gasped when I saw my own face staring up at me from a newspaper clipping. I dropped the folder and dozens of articles and fliers, all with my face, fell to the floor. I picked up the nearest one and stared, stunned thoughtless. It took a moment for my brain to decipher the words on the paper, but when it finally did, something in my mind clicked and I understood.
Name: Marcie Snow
Last Seen: December 20, 2013
Oh my God. It was me. It was a younger me, with a different name, but it was me. There was no denying it. “Marcie Snow,” I whispered to my younger self. “Not Emily Whitmore.” Tears burned trails down my cheeks as I gathered the articles and fliers. I shoved them all back into the folder and carried them to the den. I picked up my hypnosis book and hugged it and the folder, to my chest. No wonder they had pitched such a fit about me reading that book. They were afraid I’d find out the truth, but they couldn’t forbid me to read it because they never forbade me to read anything, even Stephen King. But why wouldn’t they just hypnotize my desire to learn hypnosis out of me? They were clearly skilled. They had me convinced I was theirs. They implanted all sorts of false memories, like the pirate ship bed. I didn't have an answer, but I did know I only had moments to decide what to do. Should I put everything back and try to act normal? Just carry on with my life like nothing was wrong? Should I confront them? Something else entirely? I wished for some sort of sign. And then I got one.
Sometimes, with streamed radio stations, different versions of the same song played within a few songs of each other. My dad hated it when that happened, but I liked being able to compare the styles. After Santa Baby ended, I’ll Be Home for Christmas came on again. Without thinking twice, I put on my snow boots, coat, and scarf. I took one of the missing person fliers and set it on the desk and walked out the front door. I didn’t bother to lock it. I gripped the folder in my gloved hands and walked as quickly as I could toward the next street. I had to get off of this street before they drove by. It was dark, and the roads were all mostly deserted. It shouldn’t take me long to get to the library. From there, I could get help.
The wind almost tore the folder from my hands, but I managed to hold on to it.
“I’m coming home, Mom and Dad!” I hoped the wind would find their ears. “I’ll be home for Christmas!”