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Strange Reflections

Contents

  1. Cover
  2. The Series
  3. About the Book
  4. The Author
  5. Title
  6. Copyright
  7. 1. Things Aren’t How They Used To Be
  8. 2. For Every Action
  9. 3. How Far From The Tree Does The Apple Fall?
  10. 4. Hail, The Returning Hero
  11. 5. And Then There Were Two
  12. 6. What Lies Hidden
  13. 7. C0numdrum Finally Explains
  14. 8. The Source Of All
  15. 9. Ultimatums And Endings
  16. 10. All Good Things

The Series

Alexandra Morgan, known as Alex, is a 19-year-old college student and the daughter of two prize-winning scientists. What no one knows is that in her free time Alex is a paranormal investigator who takes on a variety of mysterious cases. Together with her best friend Rusty and an online associate known only as c0nundrum, she unravels a conspiracy that will put her own life and that of her family in danger …

About the Book

Alex notices that people start behaving oddly when they look into mirrors. They become paranoid and convinced that their mirror counterparts are trying to kill them. Soon students wreak havoc at the college and run amok through the town smashing windows. They attack anyone they believe may be working with their mirror selves. Even Alex’s mother gets infected, confirming Alex’s suspicion that the Centre is involved. With c0nundrum’s help, Alex and her friends break into the Centre and discover the terrible secret at its heart …

The Author

Jay Mason is a pen name of Caroline Dunford, who lives in Scotland in a cottage by the sea with her partner and her two young sons. As all authors are required to have as much life experience as possible she has been, at various times, a drama coach, an archery instructor, a counsellor, a qualified psychotherapist, a charity worker, a journalist, a voice actor, a hypnotherapist, and a playwright. Today she writes mainly novels, the odd (often very odd) short story, theatre plays, the occasional article, teaches and mentors. She can’t remember a time when she didn’t write or tell stories and seriously doubts that she could remain sane if she stopped doing so.

1. Things Aren’t How They Used To Be

The room is white and she is not alone. The glaring intensity of the walls and the faint but sharp aroma of disinfectant make her think she is in a hospital. Her eyes are refusing to focus properly. They feel dry and gritty. Has she been in an accident? She can’t remember. As she scrambles for memories, she realises she can’t remember her name.

But she can remember his. A man is leaning over her bed. A middle-aged man with a charming smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. He is wearing a doctor’s coat. In his hand he has a syringe.

“Last time, Alex,” he says. She screams.

Alex wakes up sitting bolt upright in bed, her arms outstretched to ward off her attacker. Sweat pours down her back. Her heart is racing as if she has been running for miles and her throat is raw from the scream.

****

Alex automatically pressed her hand to her chest as if some part of her feared her heart was about to break out from her ribs. The intercostal muscles down both her sides ached. She felt as if she had been in a bad fight. She peered down inside her nightdress, but there was no sign of bruising. Gradually she became more awake and more rooted in reality. The dream remained in the edges of her mind, but it was the emotions that lingered. Even as she put her feet on the floor, the dream was dissolving like cobwebs in morning dew.

The dial on her bedside clock stood alarmingly ahead of where she wanted it to be. Throwing aside the covers, Alex raced into the shower. Her parents were giving her a lift into college today and she didn’t want to start the week off with another row.

As she stood under the hot stream of the shower she wondered exactly what more she could do to appease her parents. Or was it would do? Shampoo ran into her eyes, making them water. She brushed the foam away only to discover her hand was also covered in foam and she’d only made things worse. This seemed an apt metaphor for how her life was going.

Ten minutes later, with her hair still wet and her eyes slightly red, she presented herself in the hall. Irene and Lewis, her mother and father, were waiting. Her father jingled the car keys in his hand.

“Am I late?” asked Alex, glancing at the hall clock.

“No,” said Lewis. “We’re a little early.”

“It’s generally accepted that one should arrive slightly earlier than agreed for an arranged meeting,” said Irene. Alex bit her lip. Rise above, she thought to herself. When she didn’t respond to her mother muttered something about ‘a wet mess’ under her breath and turned to check her flawless make-up in the mirror.

Irene reached for the door, but Lewis didn’t move. He stood there, a big soppy grin spreading over his face.

“What are you waiting for?” said Irene.

Lewis held out the keys at arms length. “Surprise!” Irene went to reach for them and Lewis plucked them out of her reach. “Uh-uh,” he said. “These aren’t for you.” He smiled at his daughter. “Alex?”

“You’re giving her keys to our car?” said Irene, her voice rising.

“No,” said Lewis. “I’m giving her keys to her car.”

For a moment real happiness suffused Alex. “Really?” she asked, tentatively taking the key.

“Really,” said Lewis. Their eyes met and instantly Alex’s joy faded. This was a bribe. Her father nodded slightly, as if he knew what she was thinking. This was his way of thanking her for not telling her mother of the military style project he was running at the centre. For years he had presented the amiable, bumbling image of a mildly eccentric biologist, but now Alex knew very differently and her mother did not. Her father’s gaze held her. If she took the keys then she was agreeing to continue to keep her mother out of the picture.

She hesitated. Then she heard her mother begin to object. Alex tried to block her voice out, but the words ‘irresponsible’, ‘childish’ and ‘undeserving’ came through all too clearly. She took the keys. Her father’s grin widened, so much that she thought for a moment his entire head might flip back like a pedal bin.

“It’s in the drive,” he said. “You’ll need to move before we can get out. It’s an automatic,” he added referring to the British custom of not driving stick-shifts. “Easier to drive than a dodgem car.”

Alex nodded back at him. She didn’t smile. She hoped he understood that she wasn’t happy about the situation.

“Not even a bloody thank you,” said her mother.

Alex swept past her and opened the door. Before it closed behind her she heard her mother scream at her father “What were you thinking?” Irene screamed so loudly her voice cracked. Alex pulled the door shut and fled down the path.

The car smelt of fresh leather with an overlaid sharp scent of cleaning fluid. Alex barely registered that it had four doors and was coloured red. Inside it seemed enormous, and despite her long legs, she had to draw the seat forward to reach the pedals. With the echoes of her parents’ argument in her ears, she pressed the start button and drove away.

****

“Wow, a first generation Prius,” said Rusty as he stood next to her, admiring the car. “Old now, but I hear they just keep going and going.” He opened the door and climbed into the driver’s seat. “So how does it feel? Is it as smooth a ride as they say? Can you see when it shifts to electric and goes all ninja silent?”

“The panel there.” Alex pointed. “It lights up.”

Rusty cocked his head to one side. “You don’t seem very excited. I’d be over the moon if someone bought me a car — and a car like this.” He stroked his hands lovingly down the sides of the steering wheel.

“You can drive it if you want,” said Alex.

Rusty’s mouth hung open. “Really? You’d let me drive her?”

“It’s a him,” said Alex. “I’m not that good with females.”

“Did your mother do something to take the shine off the occasion?” asked Rusty.

“More than the usual. She actually screamed at my father. I mean they’ve argued before, but she yelled so hard her voice cracked. It was nuts.”

“Does she have a birthday coming up?” asked Rusty. “Only Mum and Cat always get a bit angsty if they see me spending money on myself when I should be saving to buy a present for them.”

Alex looked pointedly around the inside of the car. “I don’t think my parents have any money worries,” she said, blushing.

“Yeah, suppose not. Lucky them,” said Rusty. He got out of the car. “Thanks for the offer of a drive, but I doubt your insurance would cover me. Your mother would explode if you let some uninsured driver put a dent in it.”

“Mum exploding is not an unwelcome thought,” muttered Alex to herself. Then she said out loud, “You’re too good a driver, but I guess you’re right.”

“Thanks.” Rusty leant against the side of the car. “So have you thought any more about what happened in the field? I still can’t put it together in my head.”

“You mean our Howardsfield Monster?” said Alex. “I told you. We’d been spending too much time with the movie crowd. We totally suspended our belief of this reality.” She shrugged. “Group hysteria. I’m not proud of the fact, but it happens.”

Rusty took three steps towards her, so he could look down into her face. “You know it’s more than that,” he said, his voice throbbing with intensity.

Alex averted her eyes and shrugged. “What can I say? I’m sorry if Cat’s still upset, but it was nothing.”

“And what happened to Joe?”

“Come on, no one ever said Joe was the most grounded of people,” said Alex. “He’s an actor, for crying out loud.”

Rusty stepped away from her. “I can’t believe you,” he said. “After all we’ve been through. After all we’ve seen. Suddenly you’re Miss Mundane.”

“I haven’t given up investigating,” said Alex. “I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s nothing paranormal about this case. Case closed. We can move on. Who knows what we’ll find next. That’s the exciting part.” She tried to inject her voice with enthusiasm.

“Next you’ll be telling me the Centre is only a research site for genetic diseases.”

“Maybe it is,” said Alex. “Or mainly that.”

“And C0numdrum and Straker?”

Alex shrugged.

“You’ve changed, Alex, and not for the better. You might have given up, but I haven’t. I’ve got someone coming who’s a real friend. Someone who’s going to change everything.” He turned his back on her and stormed off up the path. The shabby porch shuddered as he slammed the door.

Alex waited, hopeful he would return. Cat’s face appeared at the window. Alex waved. Cat didn’t smile and the next moment she was gone from the window. Alex put her hands on the roof of her new car and took a few shaky breaths. When it became clear neither of them were coming out, she got in and drove off.

Suddenly aimless, she found herself driving home. She parked neatly. It came as some surprise to realise she had been driving automatically on the other side of the road than she had been taught. Maybe it had been all the trips she had shared in Rusty’s heap of a car.

Walking through the front door she felt the silence like a blanket around her. Out of habit, she locked the bedroom door and sat down at her desk.

Hi C0numdrum

It seems ages since we’ve exchanged emails. I do hope that’s not a sign of things going sideways at your end. Has your mum taken your laptop?

Alex leaned back in her seat. The old joke had grown increasingly thin. For all she knew C0numdrum was a respectable middle-aged scientist. Although she did cling to the idea that he could be the young man in the next bed when she dreamed about her time in the hospital. He’d promised to tell her more, but she’d never held him to it.

My dad gave me a car today.

Alex’s fingers stopped. Was she this sad that C0numdrum was the only other person she had to tell? Why would he care?

It means I’m a lot more mobile. You know how I had to rely on Rusty for lifts to faraway places? Well that’s all over. I’m an independent woman now. Just as well, as R hasn’t forgiven me for not going further with the Howardsfield Horror investigation. But how could I? I don’t mean the secrecy agreement Dad made me sign. I mean what I saw — an organic cybernetic hybrid. Dad told me it would have use for search and rescue activities, but even before you told me what it really was, I knew it was a military project. The thing is terrifying. There is no way you’d send a design like that to rescue anyone. They’d die of fright.

Anyway, all this leaves me a bit out of everything. College is fine. I could get the average grades I achieve with my eyes shut, but this is the first time I find myself looking to investigate the Centre and Straker on my own. I don’t feel motivated. I can’t tell if I don’t know where to start or if I’m worrying about what else I will uncover about my dad. Or even my mum. Goodness knows what she’s up to. The only part that is clear is that they do not communicate about their projects to each other — much the same as they have never seen eye-to-eye over me. No idea why they are still together. Unless it’s to punish me.

Sorry to sound so self-pitying. I hate being the person who doesn’t tell all for the protection of others and is effectively abandoned by everyone. I could do with some direction — any leads your end?

A

Alex pressed send before she could change her mind. Then she opened up another window and started researching the recent development of ‘time crystals’ and the possibility of perpetual motion they offered that could lead to a clean energy source. One day, she told herself, I will be at a university where I can ask serious questions of people who are at the leading edge of science.

The icon on her email spouted a ‘1’ in the corner. Alex clicked on it and was surprised to find a reply from C0numdrum so quickly.

Alex,

Perhaps you should give your friends the choice of what they want to know. It’s not your job or your right to protect them.

Besides, how often in your experience, has ignorance proved a good defence when, as you put it, things ‘go sideways’?

The terseness of his email and possible implication that things were about to ‘go sideways’ kept Alex awake that night. She hadn’t decided what she would do when on her way into school she drove past Rusty walking down the road. She stopped and reversed. When they were level, she wound down the window feeling extremely guilty about having working electric windows on her car, when one of the doors on his was only held on by string. String that might well have broken this morning.

“Want a lift?” she asked.

Rusty bent down and looked through the open window. “Do I know you, Miss Snazzy-car driver?” he said.

“We’ve met,” said Alex with a smile. She reached over and opened the door. Rusty climbed in. Alex drove off before he could change his mind.

“I’m still annoyed with you,” he said. “But it occurred to me yesterday you might think I was jealous of your car.”

“I did wonder,” said Alex.

“I’m not that pathetic,” said Rusty. “I am quite capable of enjoying a friend’s good fortune, simply because it has made them happy.”

The tightness around Alex’s chest eased. “We’re still friends?”

“Of course we’re friends,” said Rusty. “You’re being stupid and obstinate, but we’re friends.”

“Good,” said Alex. Neither of them spoke again until they drew up at school. “When is it normal to start engaging with a friend you find stupid and obstinate?” She shrugged. “Asking for a friend, of course.”

“I would have said longer than this, if she doesn’t come to her senses,” said Rusty, “but something happened.”

“What?”

Rusty frowned. “I don’t know. Things aren’t right. I can feel it.” Then he chuckled. “A year ago I couldn’t have imagined myself saying something like that. You’re such a bad influence.”

Alex glanced at her watch. “Meet later?” she asked. “Lunchtime?”

“Sure,” said Rusty, reaching for the car door. “By the way what do you call him?”

Alex gave him a blank look.

“The car,” said Rusty. “What do you call the car?”

“I thought … Fox.

“That figures,” he said and got out. He bent down and leaned in through the open door. “Don’t give up looking for the truth, Alex. It’s out there.” Then he walked off.

“Cheesy!” she called after him.

Alex tripped up the steps to school. On the way to class she passed the Ladies restroom. She could hear someone shouting. Alex opened the door carefully. Unlike at British universities she knew it was possible that students were armed. “Everything okay?” she called.

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