17 Apr The Girl the Universe Forgot
“The Girl the Universe Forgot”Written by D.D. Howard Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by Jason Hill
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⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 32 minutes
The Mandela Effect. That phrase never meant anything to me. Spooky, I guess, but it wasn’t something I thought about for more than five minutes. I mean, honestly, until college, I didn’t even know what it was. I’m not one for conspiracy theories or ghost stories or anything like that, so what would you expect? I wish I was still so ignorant.
It all began in my Life Science class. I was twenty at the time, and it was pretty close to the end of the Fall Semester at FSU. My professor, Doctor Arnault, had given us our finals early, because she had a heart and didn’t want us to be studying for everything at once. She figured doing our finals before everybody else’s gave us time to study hers without any distraction, and then gave us time to study everybody else’s with a little less stress.
I loved her for that.
But part of me wishes she never had decided to bless us that way.
On the last day of class, most people skipped. Everybody knew we weren’t really doing anything and everybody just wanted to be done for the semester. Still, some of us were bound by the attendance policies on our scholarships, and others, just out of courtesy to Doctor Arnault, showed up. I personally was present because I loved her class.
One more hour and fifteen minutes of her teaching was a win for me. And, hell, I had nothing better to do.
She began the class slightly differently than she usually did. We’d often start out with a current event from earlier in the week- something about GMO’s, the dramatically declining population of giraffes, or something else relating to life science. But today, we looked at an older article, and something far from relative to biology. It was about the Mandela Effect. I’d never heard of it before; most of us hadn’t. But she was passionate about it. The old lady was usually pretty sprightly while teaching, choleric when somebody disagreed with her- but, man, today she was ecstatic.
“All right. To those of you considerate enough to show up to my class today, I have a treat for you. I’m going to teach you all about something that you’ll probably never forget. Or maybe you’ll blow it off; I don’t know. But if this intrigues you like it did me, I’m sure you’ll be happy you arrived. Can somebody tell me when Nelson Mandela died?”
Everyone looked around confusedly. Then a girl raised her hand.
“He died a couple years ago. 2012 I think.”
She slowly nodded, studying the class like she was waiting for something. And she found that something.
“Seagrave,” she pointed at a boy in the class, “why the confused face?”
“Well, uh, I thought he died like, a while ago. The nineties or something. In prison.”
She beamed with delight.
“Well, class? Is Amanda right? Or Cole?”
Everyone seemed conflicted. Most of us were like me and honestly had no clue. But a couple people agreed with Cole, and one other person agreed with Amanda.
“Amanda,” Dr. Arnault commended, “you’re closer to correct. He died from a respiratory tract infection on December 5th, 2013. But, why did some of you think he died in prison in the early nineties, then? Several of you thought that. Badaar,” she motioned at one of the guys to explain, “where’d you come to that conclusion.”
“I could swear we learned that in seventh grade. In my world history class. It was part of black history month.”
“Yeah, same here,” one of the girls nodded. “Black history month when I was a kid. He died and then there was this thing about his wife trying to sue some company…?”
“Exemplary,” Dr. Arnault was more complacent than I’d ever seen her. “You remember all this being said. Except, strangely enough, it never was. None of this was ever said. Look it up. Go to Google and search ‘Nelson Mandela, Death.’ You’ll find nothing about the nineties or a prison. For that matter, type in ‘Nelson Mandela Prison Death.’ You won’t find a CNN article or a documentary about his funeral which was televised all over the globe. You won’t find his purported cause of death, and you’ll find nothing about the riots in South African cities afterward. Because none of it happened.”
This left me a little weirded out. Most of the class was silent now and waiting for her to make sense of it.
“It’s a phenomenon known as the Mandela Effect,” she grinned. “A complete mystery. An enigmatic anomaly on Earth with no scientific explanation.”
And from that point, the hour and fifteen minutes flew by. I thought five minutes had elapsed when it was time to be dismissed. It left me absolutely mind-boggled.
Basically, it’s this theory that Nelson Mandela did die in prison in the nineties. But then, something happened that somehow reversed this event, and he went on to live decades longer, before dying again in 2013. Though some of us don’t remember Mandela dying in the twentieth century, others do. They remember the news coverage, the papers, the heartfelt speech from his widow- but all of it vanished from the universe when this “event” took place and rewrote history. And all that’s left is this huge collective memory. These people that “know” he died like this, and all remember that same thing somehow, but it’s “wrong.” Personally, I don’t remember being told Mandela died in the nineties. But a lot of people did, and do.
There are two theories behind it. The first and less common is time travel. They say that someone went back in time and altered an event just slightly, but it created a ripple effect that resulted in something changing dramatically. Here’s a made-up example.
Bob married Sally. Bob and Sally met downtown some time back in August of 2005; Bob’s dog just got ran over and he was grieving, and when he saw Sally walking her dog, he couldn’t help but walk over and talk to her. Before long, they were in love and married. Well, then, Jake goes back in time, to the same town around the same time. Jake’s driving on the road about the same time Bob’s dog got run over, but since Jake’s driving, and he’s in front of the car that hit Bob’s dog, and since Jake is a better driver, he comes to a halt and never hits it. The dog runs back over to Bob completely fine. So, now, when Bob goes downtown, he doesn’t think twice when he sees Sally walking her dog, and they never say a word to each other. They each get married to somebody else, and now their son, who could’ve cured Cancer or something, never exists.
But time travel is believed to be entirely fictional and improbable. The more common theory is that there are several universes, all alternate, and that sometimes they “rub shoulders,” or, essentially, cross paths. Like, two cars in a really minor accident. A fender bender. Universe A rear-ends Universe B, and almost everything is the same, except Universe A needs a new bumper. Well, in literal terms, now something between Universe A and Universe B is swapped. Nelson Mandela lived to 2013 and died of a respiratory tract infection and not in prison in the nineties, and now, everybody in Universe B thought he died from a lung infection instead of in an African jail. This one’s the commonly believed one.
After Dr. Arnault’s class, I looked more into it, and there are other examples too. Take “The Berenstain Bears,” for example. We all read those books as kids; or, at least, our parents read them to us. Well, without looking, how was their name spelled?
If you said “Berenstein,” you’re one of thousands of others that would bet their house you’re right. But you’re wrong. It was never spelled that way. And what about Curious George? Did he have a tail? What position is The Thinker making? Is his fist pressed against his head, or is his hand not even balled up, slumped into his cheek, his fingers extending all the way to his chest?
Curious George does not have a tail, and The Thinker is doing the latter position.
These things may seem silly, but if they’re wrong, why do so many people believe them to be true? Personally, I have my own theory about the Berenstain Bears and Curious George. When you read the name “Berenstain,” it looks Jewish, or German. And like many Jewish or German surnames, you think of it as ending in “stein” instead of “stain.” Take for instance “Goldstein,” “Perlstein,” hell- “Einstein!” We all know that name. “Berenstain” just doesn’t look right, and over time, our minds filled in the “a” with an “e.” Same with Curious George. He’s a monkey, for god’s sake. Of course, we think he had a tail. He’s even commonly portrayed hanging from a vine, with his head down and his butt up in the air, as if he’s hanging from his tail. These are more like the power of suggestion: through external factors, our memories of these simple things were altered.
But then you have The Thinker, King Tut’s burial mask, and Nelson Mandela, of course. If The Thinker really is posing with his hand in a relaxed, non-curled, flat motion, pressed against his cheek, which is folding over his knuckles, why do we remember his hand completely balled up and resting against his head? And not just us, but popular cartoons depict it this way as well! Why do so many people make this mistake?
And King Tut’s burial mask: what is on the top of the mask, right between his eyes? There’s a figure depicted there, an animal, to be more specific. For those of you that thought “snake, duh,” you’re like me. But, you’re wrong. At least, partly. There’s a snake. And a bird. A bird that looks so outlandish and unnatural on that mask that I can’t even look at it without shaking my head.
There couldn’t have been two animals! That looks ridiculous! Look it up on Google and see for yourself. I remember in sixth grade, I had a world history textbook with that burial mask on the cover. I looked at that thing every damn day. Hell, when I was nodding in class, that’s where my eyes fell: down onto the cover of that book which was sitting on my desk. I never saw that bird. I thought that maybe it could’ve just been the angle, but the bird sticks out so far that there’s no way you can’t see it, unless the mask was turned completely away from you, which it never is. And if it was, you wouldn’t be able to see the snake, either. I’m not the only one that remembers it looking like this. Popular cartoons draw it wrong all the time, too.
But there was always a bird on that thing, since 1323 BC.
Well, enough of my rambling. You might be wandering what all this has to do with me.
See, after Dr. Arnault’s class that day, I couldn’t get this off my mind. I was so spooked out by it, so morbidly intrigued, that it just occupied my thoughts. I felt like a victim of it. But still, it wasn’t some grand epiphany of mine, some life-changing philosophy. After all, I was too busy studying for exams to ponder it that often. But all that changed when I sat down with my friend Asher a week later for breakfast.
Asher and I had been friends since first grade. We met at Tawas City Christian Academy in Michigan, in a town with a population of less than ten-thousand. It was always freezing there, dreary and grey, and silent. You could see the whole town from a five-story building. There were miles and miles of abandoned cornfields, and the only real moneymaker in the town was its small harbor at which fishing occurred. I discovered later-on that apparently in other countries, Tawas City, Michigan, is known as the “Bird Watching Capitol of the World.” Purportedly, a vast array of bird species migrate there, and it’s great for bird-watching. I never noticed that. All I can remember is the snowy, grey skies, the silent cornfields, and the feeling that if the place was wiped off the face of the Earth, no one would notice.
Naturally, the public school was puny, but the private school- it hardly existed. In my class, there were fifteen of us. Sixteen, including the teacher.
So I thought.
“I’m starving, man,” Asher sighed, walking ahead of me into the diner.
It was early on a Saturday morning. It was the last week of the semester and we’d been studying like crazy. We figured our day would be spent doing the same thing as usual: an amalgamation of studying endlessly and resisting the urge to buy Adderall, which was pretty prominent on the campus around that time. But my day didn’t consist of that at all.
We sat down at our usual booth, Asher’s hair as red and messy as usual. He was a ginger, and a mischievous one at that. He was a prankster and barely passed his classes; he was here for the booze and the girls, and his grades reflected it. But as best friends do, I forced him to study and pass.
Still, breakfast was a school-free zone. All mention of classes and tests was off-limits at the diner. Here, we wanted to rid our minds of it all. The last time we met up, I went on and on and on about the Mandela Effect, to the point he wanted to shove scissors in his ears, so I tried not to mention it today.
“I’m telling you, man…” he sipped his coffee. “When this is over, we’re partying like crazy. Like crazy, Sean. I don’t want to remember where I am when I wake up that morning.”
I chuckled. “Yeah, man, for sure. Don’t you sometimes wish we were back at Tawas Christian? I mean, not back in Tawas City. But just, the classes? We thought they were so hard…” we both laughed. “God, we were wrong.”
“Yeah, that was a whole different universe, bro. Shit was so easy compared to now. And there were only fourteen of us in total, unless you include Ms. Davis, which is fucking crazy.”
“Fourteen? I think it was fifteen, man.”
He looked confused. “Nah, bro, fourteen. Me, you, Erin Engels, Tyler Mahoney, Zach O’Toole, that quiet girl named Grayson, Elizabeth, Norman, that one kid… Uh… I don’t remember his real name but we all called him Taz.” We called him Taz because he talked so fast nobody could hear what the fuck he was saying.
I chuckled as I remembered him.
“There was Brian Reed, Amy, the twins George and Jordan Reynolds, and that one nerdy kid. Dylan. And then, Ms. Davis. That’s fifteen including her.”
He squinted his eyes.
“Eve. The shy girl. Remember? Short, blonde? Brown eyes? Didn’t talk to anybody?”
He shook his head. “That was it, man. There were fourteen of us.”
“No, dude,” I replied, “there was Eve. I’ve been waiting for you to name her the whole time.”
He just looked at me like I was telling him bread was a liquid.
“Asher, are you messing with me? Stop, dude.”
“I’m not messing with you. There just wasn’t an Eve. I distinctly remember fourteen of us. Remember? Four girls, ten guys?”
“No,” I shook my head, “five girls, ten guys. That’s how it was. Her name was Eve. She didn’t talk to anybody and we both never said anything to her. You’re messing with me and it isn’t funny,” I started to feel panicked. “I’ve been reading all that shit about the Mandela Effect and now you’re trying to freak me out. Come on, stop it, man.”
Now he looked frustrated. “Stop with that Mandela shit. There’s no Eve. You’re sleep-deprived.”
“What…?” I was getting annoyed, but also terrified. All this hysteria I’d embraced lately as I considered if the Effect could be real left me feeling hopelessly crazy as Asher argued with me. I knew there was an Eve. She went to Tawas Christian with us. Her face was easy for me to recreate in my mind.
“Sean…” he looked at me intently. “Are you fucking with me?”
“No…” I replied, trying not to sound panicked.
It was such a simple situation. Asher just forgot about her. It was over a decade ago and she wasn’t by any means a notable student. She shied away from conversation, sitting in the back of the room with nothing to say. She only talked when forced to by Ms. Davis and none of us struck up conversation with her.
“Bro, you’re just forgetting about her. She was quiet, man. Like, really quiet. First grade was a long damn time ago.”
“Maybe,” he shrugged. “Honestly, though… No, I can’t be. I can’t be. I remember that class easily. There were fourteen of us. You must be thinking about something else.”
“Don’t tell me I’m thinking about something else!” I felt hopeless.
“What the hell was that?” he glared at me.
“Man, this isn’t funny! You know that Mandela shit’s been freaking me out! Please… Asher… Stop…” I pleaded.
He looked horrified.
“Sean… I’m not fucking with you… Why you getting so worried, bro? Here,” he slid me his coffee, “just, relax, man. Relax… It’s not a big deal. You’re fine.”
“She was there with us… Asher, remember reading group? There were fifteen of us. There were five of us in each group. Eve was in my group.”
“No, man. I mean, you’re right about there being five in each group. But Ms. Davis was in a group. Remember?”
“No, she walked around and supervised,” I argued. “Asher, Eve was in my group. I know she was, because every time she was forced to read, she’d choke up and not say anything. And then the few times she did read I was always enamored to actually be hearing her voice. Because I never did. Like, no one did.”
Asher was still and silent. Both of us knew what we knew. But one of us was wrong. Right?
“Dude…” I begged. “I… Her car. Remember that at least? Her mom dressed nicely. In a dress, always. She’d come to pick Eve up in that fancy black car. I never gave a shit about cars and I still don’t. In my senior year of high school I thought that Altima was a car make. I couldn’t tell the difference between a Porsche and a Honda. But I remember her car because it was so nice looking. It was probably a Cadillac or something. Come on, man, we use to always think it looked cool when it came into the pick-up loop. Her mom was the first to arrive every day, and Eve would get up quickly from her lone corner on the bench and trudge over to the car. And her mom would come out, dressed nicely, even if it was snowing, and hug her. Every single time. And she always smelled nice because her mom hugged her every morning too and got her perfume on her.”
Now Asher actually looked worried.
“Sean…” he shook his head. “I don’t remember her. I’d say you’re thinking of someone else from another school, but we’ve gone to the same school since first grade. And I don’t remember her. Ever. Maybe it was someone you met in preschool.”
“No, no, we both talked about her. She was in my reading circle in Ms. Davis’s class.”
“What about after that? You’re only talking about first grade.”
“I don’t remember her after that. She must’ve moved. But she was in first grade. That’s probably why you forget her. She moved and you just remember all of us that graduated fifth grade there.”
“No, man… I remember first grade too. She wasn’t there. Ms. Davis was my favorite teacher. I remember that year easy. There wasn’t a girl named Eve.”
I don’t really know why, but I felt like crying. Imagine that all your life, you never believed in ghosts. Then you see this horror movie or something, and there’s a scene where the main character is looking in a mirror, and then his reflection stops following him and does its own thing, and it’s horrifying. After that, you just keep thinking about that scene because it scared you so much. But hey, it’s just a movie. It’s not real. And that’s the only thing keeping you from never looking into mirrors again.
But then you figure out the movie’s based on a true story.
Okay, anybody could say that. It’s “based on a true story” like all horror movies. Just because it could be true doesn’t mean it is. Nothing’s hitting close to home.
And then it happens to you.
You get out of the shower. You’re drying off, and you happen to look into the mirror. You raise your towel to dry off your hair, but when your reflection comes into view, its arms are at its side and it’s staring at you.
You’re terrified. It’s real! It happened to you, and there’s no denying it!
That’s how I felt at that table. Maybe it wasn’t as concrete, but I knew Eve was in that class. I remembered her like the back of my hand. But Asher didn’t. Not at all.
It was just like the bird on King Tut’s burial mask, like The Thinker’s flimsy hand stretching the skin of his cheek, like the absent footage of Nelson Mandela’s huge funeral in the early nineties.
I felt like I was going to have a panic attack. For the rest of the day, I didn’t study anything. I was too overwhelmed. I tried my hardest to assimilate Eve into a preschool memory, but she was incompatible. She didn’t fit.
She didn’t fit at my old church.
She didn’t fit in my neighborhood growing up.
She didn’t fit anywhere but Ms. Davis’s first grade class.
Finally, that night, I called my mother on the phone. At this point, I wasn’t entirely convinced I was witnessing the Mandela Effect; some part of me figured Asher had just smoked too much reefer in high school and forgot about her. And I knew how to find out if I was right.
I told my mom that she wouldn’t hear much from me this week because of all the studying I’d be doing, which she totally respected. So, she was pretty surprised when I called her.
“Hey, Sean!” she sounded excited. “What’s up?”
“Hey, Mom! I wanted to ask you something. Do you remember a girl named Eve in Ms. Davis’s class? A short blonde girl with brown eyes?”
“That’s a random question,” she replied. “Um, no, it doesn’t ring a bell. On your seventh birthday, you invited over all the kids, but I don’t remember an Eve.”
“Yeah, I invited her but she didn’t come,” I remembered. “She was really shy. That’s probably why you forgot her.”
“Well, I have some pictures of you in first grade. I could send them to you and you could point her out to me if you see her in them. Why are you asking, anyway?”
“Well, Asher doesn’t remember her either. It’s just weirding me out a little bit.” I chuckled, trying to hide my nervousness. “Yeah, it’d be cool if you sent those pictures. Do you have the one of the whole class?”
“The one with all fourteen of you?”
The words left me severely uncomfortable.
“Uh, fifteen. There were fifteen of us, Mom.”
“No, fourteen, I thought.”
“What… the fuck…?” I whispered. “Mom… Yeah, just, send me the pictures, if you can.”
“Okay. Is everything okay, Sean?”
“Just feeling weird. It’s weird nobody remembers her.”
“I don’t have the class picture,” she sighed. “I wish I did. Asher’s mom might. See if Asher can get it from her. But I’ll send you the ones I have!”
“Okay, thanks, Mom.”
We talked a bit longer after that, but my mind wasn’t occupied by the conversation. All I could think about was Eve. I could remember her short body, her perfect posture, the quaint dresses she wore to class. I could remember her scent that to this day still appeared sometimes in supermarkets or in a lecture hall for a fading second, just long enough to remind me of first grade. I could remember her voice when she finally worked up the courage to read in our reading circle… I could remember everything about her. I knew I’d be able to point her out if she showed up in any of the pictures.
Still, what bothered me was this: the Mandela Effect is a smooth criminal. It’s articulate, pin-point, exact- it leaves no trace behind. Here’s what I mean.
The Thinker, for instance. A lot of people remember taking pictures with it. They know The Thinker didn’t look the way it does now when they took the picture, so they go back and find their old vacation album, brushing the dust off and reluctantly finding them posing with their ex-wife before the statue. And all the work and awkwardness of thumbing through the old album was for nothing, because in the picture, The Thinker is doing exactly what they remember it wasn’t doing.
Even weirder are the pictures that went viral of people standing right in front of the statue posing with their fist against their head. They’re in front of the damn thing. Don’t you think they’d maybe notice it wasn’t doing what they thought it was doing, and not pose incorrectly right in front of it? But maybe they’re not complete idiots, or just downright oblivious. Maybe when they took that picture there… it was pressing its fist against its skull. And then, when the Mandela Effect occurred at some untraceable, inexact moment in time, the picture changed. But only the statue. It left everything else that wasn’t the statue the same, resulting in the bizarre image of people posing incorrectly right in front of it.
I knew that if this was the Mandela Effect I was dealing with, there’d be no point at all to receiving these pictures. Whether or not Eve was standing there when the picture was taken thirteen years ago, she wouldn’t show up in them.
The only way to catch the Mandela Effect is through relative things. Like the people posing wrong in front of the statue. And this wasn’t relative. If the universe pulled Eve from existence, then she wouldn’t be present in any of the Polaroids.
But I wanted to check anyway. Maybe something would stand out.
My mom sent four pictures; the first was of me, Asher, Brian Reed, Taz, and Norman playing at aftercare one day in the mud. The second wasn’t useful either; just me and Asher sitting at a picnic table one night at open house. The third picture, however, was interesting. It was of the Christmas Concert. All fifteen of us were taught three church songs to sing at the concert and our parents came and watched. It was humiliating for all of us, except maybe Erin, who was born to be a star- but it was especially embarrassing for Eve. This photo jogged my memory immediately. And what made it so strange was the formation of the girls.
In the picture, you can see all of us on stage. There is a one riser on the stage, and some of us were standing on it, while the others were standing in front on the stage itself. On the left side are the boys, five in front, and five on the riser. On the right are the girls: three in front, and one on the riser, between two of the girls. It looks like somebody’s missing in the picture.
You have Erin on the left, then Amy next to her, then Elizabeth next to her, and then Grayson is standing on the riser between Erin and Amy. Eve would fit perfectly between Amy and Elizabeth.
Why the hell would they put three girls on the stage and one girl alone on the riser, asymmetrically? Especially when the boys are lined up perfectly? It made no damn sense.
And I remember Eve there that night, how scared she was. I remember her white dress and thinking that for once, we were all dressed like her, and she didn’t stand out. And I remember her crying backstage and being scared to death to go out, and not singing the entire time but just freezing up.
I’d bet my soul that all that happened.
The final picture was also useless: just me and Brian Reed in a kickball game that we played on the last day of school. Brain Reed was trying to peg me out and I’m running like a madman for first base.
I saved that picture of the Christmas Concert onto my phone. It was just the proof I needed to show Asher.
The next day, when I ran into Asher, I showed him the picture. To my surprise, this actually affected him. He seemed nervous when he started to consider how weird the picture looked. He told me that if I had mentioned Eve now, after he’d seen the picture, he would’ve just thought it was a coincidence. But since I mentioned Eve before either of us had seen it, that made it a lot stranger. Still, he wasn’t ready to believe in the Mandela Effect. Not like I was.
But he was curious enough to ask his mother if she had our class picture.
Both of us waited anxiously for her to send it. I couldn’t remember anything about the picture. Still, I wanted to see if there was a strange placement of students like the Christmas Concert, and so did Asher. When he got the message, both of us were shaking with anxiousness. The moment I saw it, I gasped.
“Remember!” I jumped. “The bee-sting!”
“Huh?!” Asher flinched, startled by my screaming.
“Asher!” I grabbed him. “See how we’re standing like that?! It was because of Eve!”
Ms. Davis stood in the middle of us, seven of us on her left, and seven of us on her right. Those on her left were turned slightly to face her, thus the left sides of their faces were showing and the right sides were blocked. And those on her right were turned leftward, so their right was facing the photographer. What stood out was the ample negative space in the picture. When groups pose in this fashion, it’s a way to shrink the size of the group. Usually, the cameraman has trouble fitting all the people in the shot, and thus they form this way so they can all scrunch up and fit, but still look natural. But in this picture, it’s easy to see that we had more than enough room to stand correctly and still fit.
That wasn’t the reason we stood that way.
“Asher!” I felt as if I’d stricken gold. “We’re all posed like that ‘cause Eve got stung by a bee! Dude, tell me you remember! We were going in to take the picture and she got stung right underneath her right eye. Her face got all swollen and she was crying because she didn’t want to look like that in the picture, so the photographer said to pose like this, and Eve could turn the left side of her face to the camera!”
“Dude…” Asher scratched his head. “We just posed like this so we could save room…”
“No, we didn’t. There’s no reason to do that. There’s so much room on the left and right side, it’s unnatural, even. We wouldn’t’ve done it for that reason.”
“I don’t remember anything like that happening, man… Honestly, this is starting to weird me out. I think we should just forget about it.”
“I… I can’t forget about it…” I replied. “She was real… I can’t believe nobody can remember her.”
There was only one option left for me to do. I had to have a reunion with them. If we all met up and others of us remembered Eve, I’d know I wasn’t crazy. Most of us hadn’t spoken in years. Still, I had Erin as my friend on Facebook. She talked all the time about having a reunion now that we were all in our twenties, and I knew if I mentioned it, she’d ruthlessly try to put it together.
I contacted her that night and she was completely on board. All of us were about to be free from college for Winter Break, and I suggested we meet back in Tawas City. I was going down there anyway to see my family for Christmas. My mom had long suggested I throw a reunion at the house; she said she’d be honored to host and cater it. When I told Erin about it, she couldn’t be more compliant. She assured me she’d contact the others. All fifteen, she said.
My heart raced. I asked, “All fifteen?”
“Yeah,” she responded, “all fifteen, us and Ms. Davis.”
And at that moment, I felt another sense of dread. Erin always tried to keep the group together. Her forgetting Eve meant something was seriously wrong.
When December 18th arrived, I was shocked to pull into my old driveway. I hadn’t been there in years. Usually on Christmas, they came down to Tallahassee to visit me. It wasn’t anything against them; I just hated Tawas City. Around Christmas time it was freezing cold, and most of its residents went south for the winter if they could afford it. It was a ghost town, and a frigid one at that.
My parents had picked me up from the airport and driven me here. The entire way, I reminisced. As we passed through the frozen-over cornfields, under the bleak white sky, I felt like I’d been here yesterday. Nothing was different. It was all completely recognizable. Perhaps the only difference was some of the old buildings looked somehow even older, even more decrepit and abandoned.
Throughout the drive, and especially when I got back to my house before anyone else arrived, really all I could think about was Eve. I felt closer to her here in this ominous, forgotten town. Back entrenched in the snow, something I hadn’t felt in years, I sensed that she was in arm’s reach of me. I knew that if I were to ever find closure, it’d be at this reunion. If just one other person remembered her, then I wasn’t crazy. Then the Mandela Effect was real, and Eve was real, and Asher was wrong.
God, I prayed for that closure.
At four o’clock, all of us that could make it arrived. Ms. Davis was unfortunately busy with her family, as her father was dying and they didn’t know how much time he had left, and Norman was completely untraceable. The last of us to hear from him was Brian Reed, who remembered Norman getting into trouble some time around eighth grade and going to Juvenile Detention. After that, he pretty much vanished.
Not like Eve, though. He was still in the pictures. They still remembered his name.
When the other twelve showed up at the house, I forgot about Eve for just a moment. Seeing Erin again was awesome. She was as beautiful and energetic as always, her long brown hair now styled maturely and her vibrant green eyes now only wiser. Tyler Mahoney was also just as handsome as he’d always been. The stud was still dressed to kill, even in the freezing weather. Brian Reed had joined the Navy and was on Liberty. He was even bigger now than he was then, and was engaged to his girlfriend since high school.
Grayson, on the other hand, was not favored by time. She looked older than she was, remained far shorter than most of us, and her face was covered with acne. Still, she was a lot more outgoing than any of us could remember. Zach looked a lot like how I remembered; tan, skinny. The only difference was now, he had a moustache. He’d worked at Home Depot ever since high school and was still living with his parents that moved to Minnesota. Amy was unrecognizable; she had bright blue hair now, which wasn’t necessarily a surprise considering how rebellious she was growing up, but the piercings were unprecedented.
Elizabeth was much like she always was; generally quiet and sweet, with her alluring amber eyes that nobody could forget. Dylan didn’t look the way any of us thought he would. He was now ravishing, tall, and wore rich stubble along his grand face. He still wore glasses, and I’m glad; contacts on Dylan would’ve just been staggering. He had a higher GPA than even Erin, and all of us were proud of him.
George and Jordan both looked a lot different now; George was a construction worker and was wiry and stout. Jordan, on the other hand, was more reserved, and amusingly taller than his twin brother George. Jordan’s hair was neat and short; George’s hair was a thick mess of black curls. They didn’t even speak the same anymore. George spoke profanely and Jordan seemed to be a stranger to vulgarities. It was intriguing to see them so different.
Taz was just as goofy as ever. To our surprise, he’d been going to college and was working on a Business Degree. But when he talked about something he was passionate about, you couldn’t understand a word he was saying. The moment he stepped inside, he blabbered on and on and on, and all we could do was laugh. He was just as crazy as ever.
Asher and I were generally believed to look the same. Asher’s hair was still red, mine still brown. His eyes were still green, mine blue. His face was still freckly, mine smooth. He was still a prankster, and I was still quiet most of the time. The only difference was both of us were more in shape, since we started running together.
But the complacent joy of seeing all my friends again only distracted me for a short while. Before long, my thoughts were back on Eve. I waited for her to come in the door, but I knew she never would. I waited for somebody to mention her, but I knew it would never happen. With Ms. Davis and Norman accounted for, “everyone was here.”
It disheartened me to say the least.
Maybe I was crazy. Maybe I read too much about the Mandela Effect, and that bee-sting thing was just the power of suggestion, and that Christmas Concert picture was just weird. Maybe I dreamed of Eve once or she was in my preschool and I just screwed it all up in my head. There was no way to be sure.
After dinner, we all went into the living room and talked. I tried to enjoy myself but something just felt wrong. Eve should have been there. It bothered me so much that no one had asked about her, and I knew I had to bring her up.
But I didn’t want to look crazy. Asher had asked me not to mention her, and I didn’t want to annoy him. I also wasn’t prepared to hear them tell me they remembered her. What would I do, then? I wouldn’t be delusional… but then what? The horror of trying to accept what became of her… that would be close to impossible. I wanted so badly to hear from someone that she was real, but I didn’t know how I’d ever forget her if I had to really imagine the universe forgetting her, “bumping shoulders” with some alternate dimension and ripping her from the snowstorms of Tawas City to some other place light years away, most of it looking the same, with the exception of a few things that were just eerily different.
I wanted to stay quiet. I wanted to just forget about her. But I knew that wasn’t an option. I didn’t know what was more disturbing to me: The Mandela Effect happening so close to home in my life, or me being this delusional. Either way, I had to know. I could hold it in no longer.
“Hey, guys…” I spoke up nervously. “I… I need to ask you all a question.”
Asher looked disappointed.
“What’s up, Sean?” Brian Reed asked.
“Look… this might sound, uh… weird… but… where’s Eve?”
“I was thinking that the whole time!” Tyler Mahoney spoke up, and my heart stopped.
I wasn’t crazy. I WASN’T crazy. Somebody else remembered her!
And no one else did.
There was confused silence devouring the room now. Asher looked as if he’d seen a ghost. I myself was horrified and at the same time, overwhelmed with relief.
“Eve?” Erin asked. “Eve who?”
“I don’t remember her last name,” Tyler replied. “Quiet. Short blonde chick. Wore a dress all the time.”
“Holy shit…” Asher muttered, bewildered. “Holy… shit…”
“Am I missing something?” Amy asked.
“There was a girl named Eve in our first-grade class…” I spoke up. “But… nobody remembers her. At least, I thought nobody did,” I chuckled nervously. “But, Tyler, you do. Man, I thought I lost my fucking mind. She’s not in any of the pictures. Not a damn one. There’s no sign of her ever existing except for my memories, and I swear to god I thought I’d gone off the deep end. But, Tyler… You remember her too. That brings me so much closure.”
“There was no Eve…” Dylan responded. “I don’t recall an Eve. I remember each of you distinctly. I can’t imagine how I would have forgotten one of you completely, and yet vividly remembered the rest of you.”
“I agree,” Jordan chimed in. “There were four girls. I remember that easily. There wasn’t a fifth.”
“Yeah, there was,” Tyler replied, which gave me so much peace. “I had a crush on her. Remember? Not to sound like a douchebag but all you girls liked me,” he faced them, and none could deny it. “But then I had a crush on Eve. And-”
“The note!” I burst into uproarious laughter, recalling it instantly.
“Yeah!” Tyler laughed.
The room was portentously silent.
“I liked Eve,” Tyler chuckled. “Nobody knew why I liked her because she was all silent and standoffish, but I just fell for her. So, I wrote her this super corny embarrassing note, and I went to hand it to her.”
“And you got caught,” I finished, just wanting to see it all line up again. “And Ms. Davis confiscated it. And everybody wanted to know what it said because when she read it, she started laughing her head off.”
“And it was the most embarrassing day of my life,” he grinned. “You guys don’t remember?”
Most of them looked uncomfortable.
“I… I don’t remember an Eve,” Elizabeth spoke with certainty. “Never do I remember that name. I don’t remember the day you’re talking about… and, we all certainly did used to snicker about you,” she smiled, but looked troubled. “All of us girls. I think we’d remember that.”
“It happened,” Tyler shrugged. “How would Sean and I remember the same thing? Exactly the same thing? And it not really happen?”
And how would everyone remember The Thinker’s fingers balled in a confident fist, when they were in fact flaccidly poking his chest? And how would everyone remember King Tutankhamen’s burial mask with its lone snake as its crowning feature, when all along, there was a lucid, brightly-constructed bird immediately beside it? And how would everyone remember Nelson Mandela’s untimely fate in a downtrodden South African prison, resulting in monstrous civil unrest, vividly recorded footage of his ubiquitously aired funeral, and the tear-jerking lamentation delivered by his widow in his passing? When all of it never fucking happened?
It’s because something disturbing and unthinkable occurred. Something that none of us will ever explain happened, emasculating The Thinker’s resolute stoicism to a pose of deep uncertainty, producing the unnatural bird like a blackhead on King Tut’s burial mask, and turning Nelson Mandela into a zombie who lived unnoticed until he passed away again in 2013, leaving those of us remembering differently absolutely baffled.
“Well… that’s just really weird.”
Erin’s words were the catharsis the room looked for. No matter what Eve’s existence- or lack thereof- meant, none could disagree that it was, in fact, just really weird.
We changed the subject afterward, and most of us seemed to move on rather quickly from the enigma. But I didn’t. It bothered me the entire time, gnawing at me. I wanted to sit and talk with Tyler about Eve all night. I wanted to hear all the stories about her that he remembered. I was dying to ask him if he recollected the bee-sting story.
But it just never came up. I couldn’t ask it. I didn’t want to visit it anymore. It did something to me that I can’t explain to imagine that little girl being stung in the eye, crying before picture day in our snowy, empty town. The memory alone was enough to make me tremble. That poor little girl… showing the left side of her chubby face to the camera… Where was she now? Why couldn’t anyone remember?
I did my best to…
But Eve was stuck in my head. I knew I’d never forget about her. The Mandela Effect was real. She really did exist once. And now she didn’t. What the hell happened to her, then? I mean, really? It was just too terrifying to think about, and I couldn’t forget it, no matter how desperately I tried. Asher seemed to be in my boat.
Most of them stayed the night at my house, since there wasn’t a motel in the entire town, and the majority of our parents had moved. The next day, everyone was out of town except me, having flown out back to the land of the living.
Only I stayed behind in the snow-scoured wasteland of Tawas City, Michigan. Only I remained in this hotspot of the universe, this place where two realities collided.
I didn’t receive the closure I’d wanted from the reunion. We all exchanged numbers and were staying in touch now, which was great, but more than anything, I was constantly bombarded by thoughts of Eve. I just wanted something to make sense. I stayed awake late at night thinking about her voice that I could so simply recall, reading to us There is a Bird on your Head! and Max’s Words. I remembered her so scared at social events and huddling through the snow, still wearing a dress, though adorned with mittens and a scarf, toward her loving mother, where they’d hug outside her fancy black car. I remembered Eve’s crying when the bee stung her eye.
That memory for some reason bothered me more than the others. It just… It just affected me. Something about it really cut deep. She was so innocent, and I felt so bad for her, and now she wasn’t the victim of a simple bee sting, but of some horrible cosmic event, leaving her nonexistent.
My parents wanted me to stick around until Christmas, but the thought of that killed me. I didn’t want to stay in this wasteland for a week. I hated it and now, I was scared to death here. Would I get ripped from my reality into the cosmos? It happened here once already. This mystery just consumed the town to me, drenching it and leaving me constantly reminded of Eve.
The girl that stopped existing.
Days passed and all I did was sit in the living room and watch TV. I enjoyed seeing my parents when they were around, but both worked, and this meant I spent a lot of time alone at the house, which I abhorred. Eventually, I dug through my old closet to find something that might be from first grade. I didn’t find anything.
I did, however, hold in my hands, the picture that Eve was yanked from. The one where she should be between Elizabeth and Amy, but she isn’t. She’s not there, and there’s just that unnatural space in between. Bastard universe. It’s so smug, so omnipotent, that it can leave clues as gaping as this, and yet still, there’s just no way to prove she’s real.
But then, on Christmas Eve, it happened. I got a text from Tyler.
“Sean. I read up on the Mandela Effect. That shit’s got me fucked up. I think that is what happened. But I remember something now and this might really prove Eve existed for sure. The note I wrote her. You stole it. You took it off Ms. Davis’s desk and gave it back to me, but then I told you to keep it and throw it away. You told me later on that you never threw it away but took it home and showed your parents and laughed your ass off every time you read it. Where is it? If you still have it, it’ll be proof.”
“Holy shit!” I gasped when I read the text.
“Holy shit! You’re completely right, Tyler! I’m going to find that note! I swear to god I will and when I do, I’ll send you pictures! Then we can prove she’s real for sure!”
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. Wouldn’t the note not exist now, too? Well, no. See, when the Mandela Effect occurs, only things directly relating to what was changed are altered. That’s why the people posing in front of The Thinker are still posing wrong. That’s why the cartoons in which King Tut’s mask has one snake on it, and no bird, still look like that. The only thing changed is the real deal. So, the actual pictures of Eve: they’re gone. She’s been pulled from them, and there’s not a trace of her remaining. But the note, if I found it, would be just the proof I needed. It would mention her by name.
My dad told me that I could feel free to check the storage unit for the note. Apparently, there he’d placed a lot of the crap I didn’t clean in my closet growing up, and if it was anywhere, it’d be there. I even faintly remembered stealing it now like the rotten kid I was and reading it from time to time for a good laugh.
Some part of me wanted to wait until my dad got off work to check the storage unit with him, but I knew, somehow, that I’d never find the note if he was there. I felt like I had to do it alone.
I drove there through the snow on a day just as bleak and silent as any other in Tawas. I passed the lonely cornfields, the ominous, tower-like silos, the seemingly empty fish shops, and the frozen harbor. It was all just how it always was.
When I got to the storage unit, I was strangely horrified. I felt like I was about to walk into a haunted house. As a kid, the storage unit always scared me. In all my life, I know as a fact, I’ve never seen another soul in that building other than my father. It was always dark and empty, and now, without him by my side, searching for this letter about a ghost… I was mortified.
But I continued on.
I entered the frigid, voluminous metal halls, journeying through them and turning on the lights as I stepped into each corridor. Finally, I arrived at our unit. I dreaded lifting the door. It made a frighteningly loud creak. It unsettled me to hear it, even though I was the one making the noise.
I lifted the door as quietly as possible, which wasn’t quiet at all, then began my hunt. I looked for over an hour. I could barely reach the boxes in the back, and each one was filled to the brim with junk, usually sporting a silverfish or two.
But then I found it: my baseball cards. These were from first grade. They were in a plastic container barely visible under the pile of junk in which it resided, but I grabbed the box, sliding it out of its tomb and into my arms.
I opened the container.
Inside were the baseball cards, a Berenstain Bears book- fucking creepy. And spelled with an “a,” of course. Some doodles and old notebooks… and a folded-up letter. I recognized it instantly.
I held it in my hands. Now, in the lonely, cold, silent, eerie storage unit, I caressed the piece of evidence the universe forgot. I slid open the old paper, hardly able to breathe as I searched for the name.
I unfolded it.
That was all I had to read. Dear… Eve. Dear, Eve. Dear, Eve.
I folded it up. I slid it in my pocket. I took a long, deep breath, leaning against a pile of dusty boxes. Eve was real. The girl that stopped existing was really here once in this graveyard of a town, and I wasn’t crazy. And somehow, someway, two universes collided, and Eve was ripped into oblivion by the silver fingers of the cosmos, vacuumed from existence without a single trace, except my memories, Tyler’s memories, and the note in my hand.
What happened to her?
Where was she now?
Was she alive?
Where was that sweet, quiet, sobbing girl… and would I ever know?
She’s in a place where Curious George has a tail, and where children grew up reading The Berenstein Bears. She was taught that Nelson Mandela died in a South African prison, and when she pretends to be The Thinker, she isn’t posing wrong.
Or maybe, she’s nothing, now. Maybe the universe made a tragic mistake, and that harmless girl will never trudge into her mother’s loving arms again, but instead spend eternity scared to death, trapped in the swirling grey snow.
I have no idea. But as I sat there, all I could do was imagine the ghost of her sitting there with me. I felt so close to her in that place that time forgot, in that meaningless metal room, trapped in a town in which the universe made a mistake.
When I finally flew back to Tallahassee, I couldn’t be more relieved. I vowed that I would never return to Tawas City, Michigan, no matter what the reason. As far as I was concerned, it was better left behind, like Eve was.
But like usual, I just couldn’t escape her.
I texted pictures of the note to Asher and Tyler. Both were equally as messed up.
We all just tried to put it behind us, though. And then Ms. Davis updated her Facebook.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t make the reunion!” she posted. “But, I just want to say that I’ll make the next one for sure! To my favorite class ever!”
She also published a picture, a drawing, from Elizabeth. It was a drawing of the class. It was clearly drawn by a child; amateurish, simple, messy, in colored pencil.
But simple as it was… there was nothing normal about it.
It was a drawing of ten little boys.
And a drawing of five little girls.
A drawing of a short blonde girl with brown eyes, in what could only be distinguished as a dress.
I don’t know how anybody else reacted to that, but I know I’ll never un-see that image.
Even now, all these years later, sometimes, she comes to mind. I can’t help it. I’ve seen horrible and unexplainable things in my life: two towers destroyed by hijacked planes for no reason at all other than sheer hatred, leaving thousands dead. A preschool invaded by an active shooter that employed military tactics, killing little children, and entirely unprovoked by anything. But none of it… none of it… affects me more… than Eve. The girl the universe forgot.
D.D. Howard Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by Jason Hill
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