Veronica Ware has no children of her own. That’s not to say she doesn’t like children. She’s quite fond of them, actually. Especially her best friend Gayle’s daughter, Alexa. Alexa is still a baby. More precisely, she is seven months old. Gayle works in an important position at a big corporate office building. Veronica has never completely figured out what Gayle does, although she has no doubt that Gayle is completely deserving of whatever outrageous paycheck she receives. Once in awhile Gayle has to fly to Tokyo or Beijing or Chicago to meet with a high profile client and close an important, nondescript business deal. Veronica helps care for Alexa when Gayle has to go away for business. Veronica and Dennis, Gayle’s husband, take turns watching Alexa when Gayle is away. Dennis also works an important job, but his is in a law office doing something that involves a lot of paperwork and even more phone calls.
Gayle is going away on a business trip for a few days to Las Vegas, or somewhere else. Dennis is at work when Gayle needs to leave for the airport, so Veronica goes to Gayle’s house to watch Alexa. Alexa is excited to see Veronica, and Veronica is even more excited to see Alexa. Veronica excitedly greets Alexa and takes her out of Gayle’s arms. Gayle wastes no time grabbing her briefcase and fancy duffel bag to leave. She is already on the phone with her business partner and the client’s representative as she heads out the door. When Gayle is gone, Veronica carries Alexa through the large, fancy, beige house There are no signs that a baby even lives there. Everything is kept perfectly clean and in place. Gayle’s house has been this way since Veronica met her in grad school.
Veronica brings Alexa into the large kitchen with the shiny marble countertops and straps Alexa into her highchair. Veronica opens both doors of the extra wide refrigerator to reveal an array of produce and pre made meals, all labeled with their contents and the date they were prepared. She finds the collection of bottles filled with milk arranged in perfect rows. The bottle are each labelled as “Alexa’s Milk” and dated appropriately. Veronica removes a bottle and puts it on the counter. She opens the large pantry to reveal an array of canned, jarred, and unopened products organized by type and, if she looked close enough, by expiration date. She finds the baby food and picks out two jars that sound like they might taste relatively good. Veronica opens the flatware drawer to find the baby spoons and selects one. She warms up the bottle in the sink and checks it on her wrist before returning to Alexa in her high chair. Alexa quietly watches Veronica move around the kitchen and awaits her meal. She is incredibly patient and well mannered for such a small child. Definitely belongs to Gayle and Dennis.
Veronica spoons the mushy contents of the jars into Alexa’s mouth. She smells the food, recoiling at the scent. She does not envy what Alexa gets to eat. Finished with the food, Veronica holds the bottle up for Alexa, who takes it readily and sucks on it until the milk is gone. Alexa seems pleased with her meal. Veronica cannot understand why. Veronica cleans up the empty containers and wipes the small mess on the high chair tray. She loves Gayle and Dennis, but she always fears leaving the slightest sign of life in the house and being banished forever. She makes sure everything is in its proper place before removing Alexa from the highchair and bringing her upstairs to her room. All of Alexa’s things, except her food and highchair, are kept in her room. Veronica has been helping with Alexa since she was born, but the older she gets, the less content Veronica becomes with spending the evening sitting in the living room together telling stories. Alexa needs a bit more stimulation than she did two months ago. The room is just as neat as the rest of the house, but decorated in soft pastels rather than beige. Everything has a place and everything is kept in its place. If Veronica didn’t know any better, she’d think no one ever used this room for an actual child.
Veronica never understood Gayle’s style of decorating. Everything has a place and never strays from it. Gayle lives in a world that is ready to be photographed for a home decor catalogue at any moment. No life changes, even adding a baby to the mix, has changed that. Veronica’s house, on the other hand, is small and colorful and everything has a place, but most of her things like to trade places regularly. Veronica and Gayle tried living together once, but Veronica couldn’t get in the habit of washing her dishes immediately after using them and Gayle couldn’t accept the paint splatter that ends up on anything Veronica works near. While Veronica has been fortunate enough to dodge the business world after graduation and paint full time, she’s managed to find a way to avoid bringing any wet paint into Gayle’s life since they moved into different places.
Veronica looks around the room, holding Alexa, bouncing her slightly.
“So. You have a full belly. What should we do now?”
Veronica spots the toy box on the floor against one of the walls.
“This looks promising.”
She walks over to it and lifts the lid. Inside, the toys are neatly arranged in perfect stacks and rows.
“What are the chances your mom won’t notice if we take one out and actually play with it?”
Veronica looks to Alexa then back to the toy box and closes the lid.
“Ya, she’s definitely going to notice.”
Veronica looks around the room once more then gives up and sits on the floor in the center of the room, placing Alexa on the floor in front of her so they are facing one another.
“I have an idea. Bear with me. It’s kinda lame. But I think you might actually like it. I used to love it.”
Veronica puts both of her hands in front of her face, palms facing her, so that she cannot see anything and Alexa cannot see her face.
Veronica quickly pulls her hands apart to reveal her face, saying “peek-a-boo,” as she does.
Alexa smiles and gives a short, bubbly giggle.
Veronica smiles back. “I thought you might like this one.”
Veronica places her hands in front of her face again and holds them there a little bit longer than last time. She swiftly separates her hands and says, “peek-a-boo.”
Alexa is even more amused this time.
Veronica covers her face again and Alexa’s laughter trails off as Veronica keeps her hands up. Veronica holds them there until Alexa stops laughing.
Veronica lifts her hands apart and says, “peek-a-…oh.”
Veronica looks around, hands still raised at either side of her face. She is standing in the middle of an aisle lined on either side by cubicles. To her left and right there are more rows of cubicles. And behind her. Somehow, she has ended up in the center of a large office floor. Judging by the view from the row of windows covering the entire wall across the room on her right, she is in a rather tall office building. People answer phone calls and type quickly around her. Someone pops up from their chair and leans over the divider to speak with someone on the other side. A few people move through the narrow aisles. One person walks straight toward her. When they approach her, they simple dodge around her, not noticing how out of place she is.
Veronica slowly lowers her hands to her sides as she looks around the wide open room for some sign of where she is. The last thing she remembers is playing with Alexa on the floor. Now she is in an office building. Looking down she realizes that she is no longer in a pink cropped t-shirt or faded overalls covered in multicolored paint splatter. She is wearing a pantsuit. A beige pant suit. With a pale blue button up blouse under her fitted suit jacket. Her hair is no longer falling out of a clip. It is pulled neatly back into a tidy bun. Ever her fingernails are cleaner than she remembers.
A woman walks up the aisle, straight toward Veronica. Instead of moving around her like everyone else had been, the woman stops in front of Veronica and holds out a small stack of papers.
“There you are. I need you to look these over and get them sent to marketing,” the woman says. She seems to know why Veronica is here.
“Uh….” Veronica, however, still doesn’t have a clue. She holds out her hand for the papers.
The woman places the papers in Veronica’s hand and immediately turns around and disappears between the many cubicles before Veronica can think of a coherent question to ask that might make sense of her situation without coming off entirely crazy.
Veronica looks at the papers. They’re some sort of design for a product. She must be in the research and development division of whatever company’s building she’s standing in. Except Veronica has never worked in research and development. Or a cubicle. Or an office building. Not even as a receptionist. She dodged that life straight after college. Almost sooner.
Veronica looks around and notices a small sign on the side of the cubicle walls, three desks down.
This must be hers. She steps into the cubicle and scans the desk. She has a computer, a printer, a file cabinet, a rather uncomfortable looking chair, a potted plant, and not much else. Business Veronica appears to be a minimalist. And boring.
Veronica sits down and hits the keyboard to wake up the computer. Luckily, she is already logged in. She looks over her emails and randomly opens some of the neatly organized files but can’t make much sense of any of it. She recognizes the format and the terms, but not the context of anything. She has no idea how she got here.
Thinking back, Veronica just remembers Alexa. She tries to mentally retrace her steps. She went to Gayle’s house. Gayle left. She fed Alexa dinner. She cleaned up the kitchen. She took Alexa to her room. Looked in the toybox. Closed the toybox. Sat on the floor. Put Alexa in front of her. Pitched an idea to Alexa. Played peek-a-boo. Appeared in an office.
Peek-a-boo. That’s the last thing she remembers doing. Well…Veronica looks around to be sure no one is watching her. She puts her hands in front of her face, feeling like a lunatic. She pulls them apart and quietly says, “peek-a-boo.”
Still in an office.
No one seems to have heard her.
She puts her hands up again. Pulls them down again. “Peek-a-boo.”
One more time. Just one more.
She puts her hands up. Pulls them down. “Peek-a-aaaaahhh!”
Veronica is crouching down on the ground in a white room, ducking behind what appears to be a table turned on its side. Lasers – lasers? – are being fired at her from across the room.
“We have to pull back.” Someone yells from behind another table. There is a gap between them, but they are on the same side of whatever fight she ended up in. A man, her age, short, dark hair, dressed a white jumpsuit, holding a gun in a style she’s only seen in sci-fi movies before.
“We’re too close. It’s in the next room.” There is a woman on the other side of Veronica, squatting behind the same table as her. She has short blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. She is dressed in the same white jumpsuit as the man, holding the same type of gun.
The man leans out from behind the table and fires a few shots before retreating. Someone cries out across the room. He must have hit someone. Veronica realizes she is also holding a gun. A laser gun. She is dressed in the same jumpsuit as they are. She risks leaning out from behind the table just enough to glance at who is firing at them. A shot hits the table, nearly hitting her, and she quickly pulls back. She catches sight of who is firing at them. Four – maybe five – men in jumpsuits, similar to the ones Veronica and her apparent team are wearing, but black. They are hiding behind pillars, shooting lasers across the room at Veronica and the two other people behind the tables.
Veronica has never shot a gun before. Nor has she held a gun before. Nor did she believe lasers existed outside of science fiction until this very moment. She still isn’t sure they exist. A minute ago, she was in a cubicle. Now, she is in the middle of a battle. And she doesn’t even know why.
“Scott, please tell me you’re almost done.” The voice seems to be inside of Veronica’s head. When she looks beside her, she sees that the blonde woman is holding her watch to her mouth and speaking into it. Veronica feels her ear with her fingers and finds that she is wearing an earpiece. They must have communication linked via earpieces and the matching watches they all have on.
“Almost. They put so many passwords on this things. I just have one…more…I’m in.”
Veronica looks around again. She’s not sure who this voice belongs to. Must be Scott. Whoever, or wherever, he is.
“Good, now open the east entrance to this room. Reinforcements should be ready and waiting by now,” the woman says.
“If they didn’t get bored waiting and fall asleep,” the man says.
“Real funny, Todd. Doors will open when reinforcements arrive,” Scott says.
“They’re not here yet?” the woman asks.
“Looks like someone was expecting them. They ran into a barricade about halfway to you.”
“Can we get an ETA?”
“Shouldn’t be long now. They only have a few guards to deal with. I’ll check the path ahead of them for any more surprises.”
“Try and get those guys here fast. We can’t last here much longer.”
“I’m on it Tara.”
Tara and Todd each reach around the tables and take a few blind shots.
“Alright. Reinforcements will be there in about thirty second. No obstacles in their way now, except that door, which will be ready when they are,” Scott says.
“This is it,” says Tara, looking at Veronica and Todd. “Let’s show them what we’ve got.”
Todd gives Tara a sure nod, holding his gun ready to take action.
Veronica gives a smaller, less sure nod. Tara seems content with it though.
A moment later, the doors on the other side of the room behind the men in the black jumpsuits opens up. The other team turns around, clearly not expecting the group of a dozen or so reinforcements, all dressed in white, coming in the room shooting. Tara and Todd wait behind the table a moment longer before they get up and join the shooting. Veronica waits. Better to stay behind the table where it is safe instead of putting herself in the middle of the lasers shooting all around the room. Everyone is distracted, but not for long. The men in black jumpsuits fall quickly. Another door opens along a different wall and the people in white jumpsuits start moving through it. Veronica decides it’s now or never to get out of here. She hears Tara calling to the team to move.
Quickly she covers her face. Uncovers it. “Peek-a-boo.”
Scott warns into their earpieces that they’ve got more resistance coming up behind them.
Covers. Uncovers. “Peek-a-boo.”
She hears loud footsteps hurrying into the room on the other side of the table.
Covers. Uncovers. “Peek-a-” Veronica lets out a relieved sigh.
She is in a long dress, not a jumpsuit. She has a small carpet bag in her lap, not a laser gun. She is sitting on a bench seat, not on the floor behind an overturned table. She is surrounded by the sound of a train moving along the tracks, not lasers and shouting. She is somewhere safe. Somewhere safer than she was at least.
Veronica looks out the window at the landscape passing by. She tried to find anything to give away her location. There do not seem to be any signs or highways or even waterways to give her a clue as to where she is. She looks around inside the train to see that she is in a private booth. She has never seen a real train like this. Just cars full of benches like the trolleys that run through town all the time. She doesn’t hear anyone else, although she is sure that she is not alone in the train car. Outside there is nothing but endless fields of drying grass and an occasional hearty looking tree or shrub. She notices a few wooden building not too far away from the tracks, but still no paved roads. Or vehicles. She thinks little of where she is and takes the opportunity to relax after the stressful place she came here from.
Veronica lazily watches the landscape pass by, listening to the steady sound of the train chugging along the rails. After some time, she hears a few people speaking outside of her booth. They sound like they are having a casual conversation, but Veronica cannot make out what they are saying well. They are speaking lowly and do not linger outside. They pass by her booth as quickly as they came. She does not let their presence worry her. As Veronica loses herself in the view outside again, she hears more muffled sounds outside of her booth. The noises do not grow closer and pass by. They stay put, but get louder and louder until it is clear that someone is arguing further down the car.
Veronica slides open the door to her booth just enough to look outside. Two booths down, the door is open, and a man in a suit with a long black jacket and a matching fedora is standing just outside of the doorway, shouting at someone inside. He yells something about how he never should have done business with the other person and how he knew something like this was going to happen. He’s going ahead with whatever they had planned on his own. The man storms off into the next car, away from Veronica’s booth. A woman in an old fashioned pink dress with a full skirt appears in the doorway from inside the booth. Her hair is curiously pinned into loops along the bottom of her hairline and a small black hat balances off-center on her head. The woman watches the man as he closes the door to the next car then hesitates before glancing down the hallway toward Veronica. Veronica pulls back inside of her booth. She thinks she was not spotted by the other woman. Since no one comes over to her, she decides she was not seen.
Veronica takes her seat again and stares out the window, leaving her door open slightly. She relaxes again and tries to calmly recount everything that has happened. She remembers going to babysit for Gayle. She recounts everything she did with Alexa. The office and the woman with the papers for marketing. The cubicle that belongs to some alternate business version of herself. The white room with the white furniture and the white jumpsuits. The lasers. Tara with her walkie-talkie watch. Todd and the reinforcements brought to them by the unseen Scott. Now, the train. The unidentifiable landscape outside of the roomy train. The lack of cities or roads outside. The man yelling. The old style clothing of the man and the woman she saw. The old style of the dress she is wearing. The past. She must be in the past. Just like she must have been in the future before. So…she’s time travelling? No. Everyone knew who she was. Dimensions? Maybe she is in some strange sci-fi reality. Travelling between dimensions with a child’s game.
Impossible. Wasn’t it?
Veronica shakes the thought from her head and sits, trying to think of what to do next. Too afraid to transport herself again. Maybe she will just wait to see where the train stops and go from there. She thinks that sounds like the best option. She does not want to end up in the middle of another dangerous situation.
Just as Veronica settles into her decision, a blast is heard from up ahead. She sits up straighter, preparing herself to flee if she must. But, where would she go? She is on a moving train. She looks up and down the hallway. No sign of a disturbance. She catches sight of the woman in the pink dress slipping through the doorway to the next car. The one that the man went into after he finished yelling. Veronica returns to the window and looks out to see if it was something outside. She thinks the train is moving faster now, but she really cannot be sure. She forces her window open. It is stuck and takes some effort. She sticks her head outside and looks ahead at where the train is going. She sees more dry grass. More tracks. Then, nothing. They are heading into nothing. The tracks are split into two directions and they got on the wrong one. These tracks head to what appears to be a cliff. An unfinished bridge. And they’re not stopping.
As the train moves closer and closer to the ledge, Veronica panics. What is she going to do? She can’t jump. They’re going too fast. She can’t stay put and hope for a soft landing at the bottom of the cliff. She can jump. Through time, or dimensions, or whatever. She can play peek-a-boo.
She quickly covers her eyes and uncovers them. “Peek-a-boo.”
She is still on the train. It didn’t work. She’s going to die on a train in the past in some other dimension. She looks out the window again. Almost at the cliff. She runs into the hallway. She moves quickly down the aisle to the door that the man and the woman passed through. She pulls on the door handle, but it is locked.
She runs the other way. Almost to the other door, the whole car jerks to the side before tilting downward. Veronica leans forward to keep from falling back. They’re going over the edge. She runs forward, pulls the door open. There is no car behind her. She can see the side of the cliff passing by her as she falls down to the ground with the train. She closes her eyes in preparation for the impact. She holds onto the sides of the doorway and closes her eyes tighter.
She stops. She is no longer falling. She carefully opens one eye. There is no cliff passing before her. She opens both eyes. She is not in a train. She is sitting again. On the floor. In a quiet room. She looks down in front of her. Alexa. She is back with Alexa. Sitting in the child’s room. Alexa laughs her small, bubbly laugh. Veronica smiles and laughs a mixture of nervousness and relief. The two fall into laughter on the floor as the sight of the child in the pastel room and the sound of Alexa’s giggling wash away Veronica’s fear.
“I see you two have been having a good time.” Dennis is standing in the doorway, his suit jacket unbuttoned, his tie slightly looser than usual. He is home from work. Veronica is back in her paint covered overalls. Her cropped t-shirt. Her hair is falling out of its clip. She pushes some of her loose hair behind her ear and smiles at Dennis.
“What did you get up to while I was out?” he asks.
“Oh, not much. Some dinner. A riveting game of peek-a-boo.”
“Ah,” Dennis raises his eyebrows and nods, playing at being impressed.
“Ya, you didn’t miss much.”
“Well, thank you. For filling in again. Really, you’re a huge help.”
“Oh, it’s no trouble at all,” Veronica says, remembering where she’s been. Where she thinks she’s been. She could never tell Dennis though. Or Gayle. They’d have her committed or something. “Well, if you’re all set here, I should get going.”
“Yes, of course. I can take it from here.”
“Bye sweetie,” Veronica says, leaning over to give Alexa a kiss on the forehead before getting up from the floor, smiling at Dennis as she passes him in the doorway. She walks to her car in the driveway trying to decide what happened. If any of it was real. She shakes the idea from her head. She will always be there to help take care of Alexa when Gayle and Dennis need her. But from now on, she tells herself, no more games of peek-a-boo. It’s the only way to ensure she’s actually there to take care of Alexa.