The other side of a world

Victoria Carrington

'Why does my head always have to be so full of numbers?' thought Victoria to herself.

She was an exceptional student who was finding her final year at college smooth sailing as numbers and data were easily stored in her cerebrum therefore her chosen subject of 'numerical engineering' was a cinch.

She was a slender girl, quite tall with medium length dark hair, which was usually tied back.

Her arms seemed to be constantly wrapped around three or four books as there was never enough space in her mini backpack, she always looked in a hurry and usually had her head held slightly down.

Most of the time she wore glasses and perpetually appeared to be squinting a little as though the world could never entirely come into focus for her.

She usually passed by unnoticed and was reasonably happy to continue that way; even her good marks only pleased her teachers but never enough to warrant any special attention.

She played tennis every Saturday, which she had been doing for the past seven years, and she presumed she would continue doing for the next seven years.

The reason she had asked herself 'why her head was so full of numbers?' was because she had been asked to write a short story of 180 words for the school newspaper of whom her mothers best friend's daughter Patricia was the editor and Victoria had been obliged to say 'yes'. The difficulty was Victoria felt that she was lacking somewhat in imagination. She preferred the company of units of the mathematical system to creativity.

Little did she know however that in less than seven months time she would certainly have a story to tell, one that not many people would ever believe.

A story that would leave Victoria's world, as she knew it this day so far behind that she could never get it back.

Victoria knew that she had always been "quiet"; at least that is what most people had tended to call her.

She had never known exactly what people meant by that word but she knew that is was not meant as a compliment.

She was 18 years old, the date was the 20th of March and she was walking down the corridor of the 'Department of Engineering Science' on her way to computer studies.

Victoria's best friend was called Anna Clee and Victoria had just spotted her at the end of the corridor chatting to two boys from Social Sciences, she recognised one of them as Jim Rogers but could not place the other.

It was of little importance anyway as Victoria's classroom was less than 5 seconds away and Anna was about 20 seconds away and Victoria had little time to chat.

Anna looked up and saw Victoria and waved, Victoria smiled and waved back and headed into class.

Anna was in many ways the opposite of Victoria, decidedly assured and eternally loud. She was naturally cool with two pink streaks in her hair she wanted to be noticed, there was no hiding her light under a bushel.

Anna appeared to be considerably taller than Victoria even though they were very similar in height.

She walked with poise and real assurance; she never looked at anyone they always looked at her admiringly.

She was also cocky and brash as well as being a straight 'A' student, one quality she did share with Victoria.

She was extremely likeable however and was popular with everyone due to her cordial nature.

Victoria's first day in second grade was also the first day that she met Anna.

Victoria's good intentions of passing the day or even the year unnoticed had come unstuck by lunchtime.

They had become unstuck by the same boy that Victoria had just spotted Anna chatting to in the corridor, Jim Rogers.

"Hellooooo Victoriaaaa" he had communicated as they were waiting in line to get into the canteen.

Victoria had immediately turned a shade of red, not because she actually had any feelings towards Jim Rogers but as a result of the fact that she knew that she was potentially about to become the centre of attention.

"Would you consider yourself a nerd Victoria?"

Victoria said nothing and tried to smile politely underneath her reddening features.

"Look how red her face is!" one of Jim's cronies pointed out much to their amusement.

This comment naturally only helped to increase the colour rapidly filling out Victoria's panic-stricken face and of course, the thing she always tried to avoid was now happening as she noticed that practically everyone in the queue was now looking in her direction.

Jim knew that he was onto a winner, a victim he could easily bully, who would say nothing in her defence.

He moved his face closer to hers and raised his voice considerably as he repeated his question

"I said DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF TO BE A NERD?

Do you UNDERSTAND English or are you a bit of a RETARD?"

The word 'retard' of course caused laughter amongst the cronies.

Jim signalled to one of his henchmen that he was about to push Victoria and that his friend should make sure that when he did his leg was positioned so that she would fall over it landing on her butt.

A trick well practised by this particular gang.

He moved his face closer again, within pushing distance "DO YOU UNDERSTAND RETARD?" and on the word 'retard' he shoved Victoria hard in both shoulders and of course, she tripped over the awaiting leg and ended up sitting on the floor.

What could have happened next of course was lots of laughter from the surrounding tormenters but instead something else transpired.

Jim in fact found himself on the floor next to Victoria but it was a little bit more of a surprise for him than it was for Victoria, as he had been pushed a lot harder by a certain Anna Clee.

"What's going on here Jimbob?" Anna declared in a slightly threatening tone.

Now Anna was not particularly strapping but she had another quality. A quality that always made people like Jim Rogers back down, she was bold she almost appeared fearless and the Jim Rogers of this world only like to pick on people they can conquer.

"Victoria's saving a place for me, if I see that you have a problem with her then you and me are going to have a considerable issue, capiche?"

That was the end of that, and Jim Rogers never bothered her again. They were not in any way exactly best friends either but they never mixed in the same circles anyhow.

Victoria never knew why Anna decided to help her out that day and at no time did she ask but from that day on, she had become Anna's number one compatriot.

Anna's question

It was the 26th of March and this day Anna was going to make a proposal to Victoria that would change her life forever.

It was during lunch break when Anna approached her as Victoria was heading towards the library.

"Hey Vicky, wotcha doin?"

"Hi Anna, just heading to the library to do some last minute revision for Friday's Mathematical Concepts exam, what about you?"

"Sounds interesting! Got time for a coffee and a chat?"

"Sure, later on though if that's cool! About 5ish?"

"Perfecto, canteen at 5, coffee and cake sound good?"

"Great, see you there then!"

"Ciao for now"

"Ciao"

They both went their separate ways after their brief discourse.

Victoria was slightly intrigued but within 5 minutes of hitting the books her head was once again full of numbers.

Victoria arrived at the canteen at five sharp and was surprised to see Anna was already sitting at a table with two cups of cappuccino and two chocolate muffins waiting for them.

She liked the canteen at this time as it was usually deserted so she could feel more relaxed chatting with Anna.

"Wow! I think this is the first time you've ever been early or on time," Victoria said smiling.

"There's a first time for everything and I'm here bearing gifts of coffee and cake too"

"Very impressive, so I must say I'm a little bit curious as to what this is all about"

"Well be curious no more Vicky babe, I've got a proposition for you!"

"Ohh, I'm captivated, please continue"

"Firstly let me ask you a question!"

"Okay"

"What are your plans, for the whole of next year?"

"The complete year?"

"Yes"

"Well, when this school year ends we will have both finished our National Diplomas and I am going to apply for Uni, of course" Victoria said looking amused.

"Not me! I am going to take a year off and see the world starting in Australia, and I want you to come with me Vicky babes, waddya say?"

Victoria immediately felt torn, her initial reaction was, yes let's get the hell out of this place for a year and kick back, Victoria really appreciated Anna's company and she knew it would be of benefit to her to escape for a year and amalgamate with new people and investigate a new world and new cultures. Despite her skill at manipulating numbers, she did have a sense of adventure inside her.

However, the other voice that she heard inside her head was the other side of the coin, the voice of her mother, which she knew, was usually more forceful.

"I don't know Anna, it sounds great but I better talk with my mum first."

"Okay, sure. If you didn't have to talk to your mum about this though what would you say?" Anna questioned her grinning broadly.

"Yes, of course" replied Victoria grinning just as broadly.

"Talk to her tonight then Vicky babes, be strong and we can start planning it all out this weekend"

They finished their coffee and cake, hugged each other goodbye and Victoria started her long walk home.

She had decided to walk instead of taking the bus, as she knew she had a potentially difficult task ahead of her.

She knew that her mother would absolutely protest against something like this and she would protest until Victoria backed down, which was usually what happened.

"Not this time" Victoria thought to herself "I have always done exactly what she's wanted up to now, I am old enough and I want to go away with Anna. It could be the greatest year of our lives."

As she approached her street, a slight feeling of nervousness started to creep over her that intensified as she placed her key in the front door and began to turn it.

"Maybe I can talk about it tomorrow" Victoria rationalised to herself "After all, perhaps I need a night to sleep on it"

She walked in and was hit by the warm glow of the central heating as she hung up her coat.

"Hi mum!"

"Hello dear, how was college?"

"Fine thanks, it will be better in June when we have finished the final exams"

"Dinner in 20 minutes" her mother informed her, "It's chicken!"

"Tonight's not a good night" thought Victoria "I don't want her blood pressure to go up again"

Victoria's mum's blood pressure was forever on the up and Victoria seemed to think that she was the cause of the rising gauge.

"I saw Patricia's mother today, she was asking after you. She said that Patricia is still waiting for your story" the rising intonation at the end of the statement was to advise Victoria that the story was expected sooner rather than later.

"Okay mum!"

"I've booked you in for tennis practice too, Saturday at ten a.m., so don't forget"

"Okay mum"

Victoria had not seen her father since she was fifteen. She knew oddly enough that he paid for her tennis lessons, which was why her mother always made sure she never missed one. He sent cards and money for her birthday but apart from that never made contact. Her mother had told her that one day he just decided to leave. Her mother only had contact with him through his own parents.

Victoria heard Anna's voice in her head as she was putting her books in their proper places in her bedroom, telling her to be strong and she knew that it had better be tonight after all.

"After dinner" she thought, "after the soaps have finished, I'll tell her then."

Dinner came and went the soaps came on, Victoria went to her room under the pretence of study for an hour or so, and after she heard the familiar theme song signalling the end of the last soap of the evening she went downstairs.

Her mum was sitting in the living room drinking tea.

"Hi, can I speak to you for a couple of minutes?"

An unfamiliar look appeared on Victoria's mother's face, a look of trepidation.

"How many times have I actually asked her if I can do something? How many times have I been told what to do or what is expected of me?" and with that thought the words started to come.

"Well, erm the thing is I'm meeting Anna this weekend!"

"Okay, dear"

Yes and the thing is we're going to be having a look at possibly buying some tickets to go away on a holiday….to erm Australia for a bit"

"Oh, no"

"Oh, no, what?"

"You're not going to Australia with a girl I hardly know anything about Victoria. How long do you intend to go for?"

Victoria knew that it was now or never if she started to withdraw now it was all over.

"I am going to Australia for one year and I am going with Anna it has all been arranged, I am 18 years old and I can decide things for myself thank you very much! I intend to do this and I will go with or without your consent! I am going out now. See you later."

Victoria turned away from her mother sharply realising that her face must be purple and she felt a little dizzy. She headed straight for the front door grabbed her coat and returned into the cool March air leaving her shell-shocked mother behind.

It took Victoria a while to cool down again and get her head clear. "Well, that's it, no turning back now."

She walked the streets stopping once for a burger and coke, taking her time as she was in no rush to return home.

She finally decided to call ahead before she went back.

Her mother answered immediately.

"Victoria?"

"Yes"

"Where are you?"

"I'll be back soon, don't worry"

"I'm going to bed now; we can talk about this tomorrow"

"Okay, but really there's not much to say, really I am going"

"Goodnight Victoria"

"Goodnight"

Victoria did not see her mother that night, but she imagined she was still awake when she re-entered the house. She missed her at breakfast too as she waited for her to leave the house before she decided to venture downstairs and head to school.

It was Friday, the last day of school for the week if she saw Anna she could break the news and start the serious business of planning the trip all weekend.

"Whoa! Awesome! Vicky baby were on our way, let's get together Saturday, I'm going out tonight so, how about 2ish in town by the clock and we can go for a coffee"

"Sounds cool! Tomorrow then"

"Ciao for now"

"Ciao"

Victoria didn't 'go out' a lot, and Anna hardly ever asked her to join her as the answer was usually no, Victoria consistently had tennis practice Saturday mornings anyway so Friday night in a club was out of the question really.

At least that is what she told herself but some part of her secretly wanted to join Anna dancing until 3 p.m. but conceivably when they were in Australia, sure, no tennis practice Saturday mornings then.

Anna arrived home, the atmosphere was a little strained but everyone was very diplomatic and ate their dinner watched TV and went to bed.

Victoria's mother dropped her off at the courts in the morning.

"I just want what's best for you Victoria. If you feel that you must do this thing then of course I will let you go but I am very worried Victoria, very worried."

"Okay I am meeting Anna after tennis practice so I will see you later on, thanks for the lift"

Victoria closed the door.

The time passed a date was set for the trip and the girls had 3 months to prepare.

Victoria and Anna had many get-togethers.

They both had part time jobs; Victoria worked at the tennis club helping with ground maintenance and organisation of the junior program that she herself was once a member of when she was a junior.

Anna got work at a Bingo Hall, checking claims and serving drinks behind the bar.

They both enjoyed their jobs for opposite reasons, Victoria because she never had to be the centre of attention; her jobs were away from the spotlight.

Anna on account of her employment being extremely sociable and entertaining.

The time past very energetically for Victoria as she was constantly sorting out all the little details like planning which University to attend after taking a year away.

She filled in forms for visas and passports and bank account details for her mother as well as insurance forms.

Her mother was another concern, monotonously anguishing over every little detail.

"What will people think? None of your friends are doing anything like this! They are all going straight to University! I don't know if any Universities will accept you if you take a year away!"

Victoria was determined to steam ahead regardless of any negative pressure from her mother even if occasionally she did have her doubts, Anna's enthusiasm could always pick her up again.

Victoria did not mention it to many people at school, mainly because she preferred not to attract any extra attention to herself.

Victoria had imagined that she would be a nervous wreck or that she may not even go through with it but she felt different. It was a new sensation she had a great sense of calm yet somehow excited at the same time.

"This must be what it feels like to be released from prison," she guessed.

The day before they were due to go Victoria spent the day with Anna.

Anna was intensely animated. She was practically springing from shop to shop talking about what she may need to buy before tomorrow.

"I think they have shops in Australia too you know!" Victoria quipped.

It made Anna smile and she pushed her gently on the shoulder.

"I know, I know, aren't you nervous Vicky?"

"I thought I would be but my bags are all packed you know!" she said grinning and blushing slightly as two boys passed by and looked at them approvingly.

"Move along boys, move along" Anna called out loudly enough for a few heads to turn.

"Anna, please!" appealed Victoria as the boys moved along and Victoria's blush became more intense.

One of the things that Victoria loved about Anna was the fact that she never mentioned or seemed to notice her blushing.

Victoria knew that she reddened often and quickly and of course was consistently tormented by it during her existence.

Anna liked her just as she was and this always gave Victoria a little bit of extra confidence when they were together.

"Listen Vicky, in 24 hours from now we are going to begin the greatest year of our lives babe and we'll remember it for the rest of our lives"

They certainly would remember it but they were going to have very different experiences indeed.

Victoria's mum dropped them off at the airport, the good byes were a little awkward and for one second Victoria did not want to go she could see her mother's distraught face and she felt a pang of guilt.

"I won't see you for a year," sobbed her mother.

"It's okay, I'll phone all the time and everything will be alright, I'll be back before you know it!"

"If anything goes wrong you come straight home."

Then they were gone as Victoria and Anna passed through customs without any problems.

Victoria had the same sensation she had experienced when she first broke the news of the journey to her parents however this time it was with a sense of abandon.

Anna appeared full of spirit as they walked throughout the airport, and Victoria had noticed that she was turning quite a few heads.

As they approached their gate, they both turned to look at one another.

"Well Vicky babes, this is it! Any regrets?"

"Not yet" Victoria affirmed beaming

Once they were on the plane the actual flight was uneventful, they got lucky with the seats they had three between two, which meant that they could take turns in getting some sleep and spreading out.

Whilst Anna was, having her allocated sleep time Victoria was comfortably absent in thought.

"There are so many people on this plane and down below us, so many people. So many have passed before us and so many will go on ahead of us when we are long gone. If this plane crashed now where would we all go? Is there really another place after this one? Is there room for all of us? Maybe I can believe that we have souls but what about animals and plants they are alive too! We are all skin, bones, muscles, and blood. Our insides carry on working we don't consciously control the beating of our heart, so what does?

Are we all important?"

"Hey! Earth calling Victoria"

"Hmm, sorry I was daydreaming"

"No worries mate!"

"Hey, you've got the lingo down already"

"Thanks cobber!"

Victoria smiled "What time are we arriving in Sydney?"

"In 3hours and 29 minutes"

"Woo hoo!"

"Fancy a bit of shut eye? I think I'm all good now"

"Not now, I'm too excited!"

Australia

The first week in Sydney was sensational. Everything was a new experience for Victoria and her cerebrum absorbed it all. She even enjoyed the intimidating situations such as speaking to strangers in a hostel, sharing breakfast with about sixty people all chatting and packed in like sardines into an undersized area.

"It's a bit of a change from sitting in silence while mum reads her newspaper," pondered Victoria.

Luckily, however Anna did most of the talking, which allowed Victoria to settle into her familiar role as listener that she told herself she would do until she felt more comfortable being around so many people at once.

They went to Bondi beach (a little bit smaller than Victoria imagined), Manly and Coogee. The Blue Mountains(breath taking), the Opera House, shopping at The Rocks (very swanky), the Royal Botanical Gardens, Taronga Park Zoo, Darling Harbour, The Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Museum of Contempory Art, to name but a few.

Their days were complete but so too were the after hours. At least for Anna. Victoria usually opted to stay in but sometimes they went out together and Victoria actually occasionally enjoyed it.

They must have been guests at all the principal night spots in the city or at least that was how it felt to Victoria who had never been on holiday without her parents before now. She could never have made it a regular occurrence however; she still enjoyed going to bed early with a book or her laptop.

Still, everything was almost unbelievable for her like an incredible adventure that she could never have truly imagined; it was a long way away from Saturday morning tennis practice.

There was only one problem, money; the girls had enough saved to last them about 6 weeks. Maybe 8 weeks for Victoria but soon the carousal would have to slow down a bit and the search for employment takes its place.

In the practical reasoning of Victoria's mind, it was preferable to begin sooner rather than panic later. In Anna's mind, however it was preferable to cross that bridge when you came to it.

Job-hunting

Anyway, the next day Victoria diligently began her job search she spent a day away from Anna who had opted to go shopping instead.

She printed out multiple copies of her CV only adding her new Australian mobile number and sent some to the local tennis clubs hoping to recreate her agreeable brief stint as a ground maintenance keeper.

She also decided to visit ten coffee shops and hand her CV to the manager of each one and that would be enough for her first day.

The first one was a bit demanding of course, as she entered the coffee shop and suddenly realised that it was sufficiently busy she decided to turn around and come back later. A waiter appeared however and communicated loudly but in a friendly manner "Hi there, how can I help you?"

Victoria quickly turned red and realised that she was holding her CV in her hand. She felt aware that everyone in the shop had turned to look in her direction even if she could not know if this were true. Her face became redder as she thrust the CV into the hands of the waiter and blurted out "I'm just dropping this off!" and just as quickly turned around and walked out of the shop.

This incident would cause Victoria unnecessary mental anguish for the rest of the day, she would feel isolated in this suffering of the inferiority she sometimes felt when approaching social situations, and it bothered her greatly.

"Anna never gets nervous or goes red ever, actually nobody else seems too! Just me! Anna could get a job the first place she walked into," pondered Victoria with a touch of bitterness.

"There is not a chance that first place I tried will hire me!" Victoria continued, she knew from experience that these mental attacks would leave her weary by the end of the day.

Sure enough by the time, she returned to the Hostel she was beat, however Anna who was waiting in their room looked extremely energised and excited.

"Hey Vicky babes! How'd the job hunting go hun?"

"Well I handed out all my CV's for the day!"

"Fantastic, well done! You'll have a job by the end of the week. I can feel it. Guess what happened to me today by the way?"

Victoria already knew that it was good news judging by Anna's animated facial expressions.

"Tell me everything" Victoria smiled.

"Okay, I was sunbathing today on the beach, just relaxing and listening to some tunes and two cute guys came up to me and started chatting"

"Nothing unusual there" concluded Victoria

"So we were chatting for about twenty minutes or so and they both work at 'Daisies' nightclub just a bit further up from Manly beach!"

"I think I've heard of it"

"Anyway they offered me a job there as a rep"

"As a rep! What type of rep?"

"Well, handing out a few flyers, getting people into the club, then looking after the V.I.P guests inside the club. That type of thing."

"Sounds good!"

"Three months work, five hundred dollars a week plus half price accommodation at their hostel. The club owners own a hostel too. One week in four I will be working at their office helping out with paper work and stuff like that. What do you think Vicky babes? Not bad going for a day on the beach?"

Anna was obviously in good spirits and Victoria was happy for her. She knew deals like that would never be handed to her but that is the way the cards were dealt.

"It's fantastic Anna, congratulations!"

"Thanks babe, I'm gonna put a word in for you too! We could work together"

Victoria knew that she would get no enjoyment from approaching strangers in the street and entertaining V.I.P.'s in a bar but she was grateful for her friend's sentiments.

"Well I think I'm gonna stay here Anna, I'm kinda holding out for a coffee shop job, ha, ha"

"Vicky baby, you could do this job you know! Who the hell ever put all of these thoughts in your head in the first place?" Anna seemed to have calculated what Victoria was thinking.

"Tonight I'm gonna meet those guys for a couple of drinks and then we're gonna head out to 'Daisies'. You can join us, come on it'll be fun you can wear one of my new outfits, I went on a quick shopping trip before the beach."

"Typical" concluded Victoria "I'm shattered through mentally exhausting myself from handing out ten CV's and she went shopping and to the beach and found her dream job"

Part of Victoria wanted to go but the other part of her wanted to stay reading in bed or glued to her laptop by herself catching up on the virtual realities that she had been missing slightly, however it appeared that Anna was in a persuasive mood.

"Come on Vicky, please, I need your support and who knows you may even like one of them!"

Victoria blushed slightly, and made a decision to stay in.

"Anna, I'm really sorry but I'm just so tired and I want to get up early tomorrow. I mean thanks a million for thinking of me and I don't want to be a killjoy but I should do something productive … "

"Hey, hey chillax okay! It's all right Vicky babes stay in! I understand I know it's not your scene anyway, I've gotta go you know career prospects and all that"

"I know, I hope you have a good time, I'm sorry but … "

"No apologies necessary, you enjoy your evening too okay"

"Okay"

Victoria felt relieved and guilty at the same time, slightly more relieved than guilty though and she was looking forward to a night by herself, she felt like she needed it.

A part of her fancied going out but the other part wished to protect her from any possible rejection she believed would come her way.

She felt a little bit of regret at having let Anna down but she knew Anna understood her and that she would soon get over it.

Anna left the hostel at around 9 p.m. and Victoria was in dreamland approximately ten minutes later. She briefly awoke to hear Anna shuffling in at 5:20 a.m. she noticed the time on her alarm clock. Anna was trying unsuccessfully to be quiet.

The next morning Victoria got out of bed early just a few hours after Anna had returned and decided to treat herself to a full English breakfast while her flatmate slept off the night's festivities.

She had a shower; the hostel was practically noiseless on account of the early hour Victoria presumed.

She contemplated taking a book with her but realised she only had 'Live and Let Die' that she had picked up from somewhere and she was not really in a James Bond frame of mind.

She went for a stroll around the early morning streets of Sydney and spotted a 'Backpackers Special' sign, which was advertising 'Full English' for five dollars.

"Perfect"

Breakfast was served in a production line of backpackers with hangovers, it looked like something out of a prison movie but the food looked fine and that was enough for this morning.

Victoria received her food and managed to find a small table to sit at, a little bit small for two but admirable for one.

It consisted of two eggs, one sausage a spoonful of baked beans and two slices of toast, orange juice and coffee.

It would prepare her for the day ahead that was going Victoria had decided to consist of …

"Hey there, mind if I join you?"

Victoria looked up to detect an Italian looking boy about her age smiling and looking towards the table's remaining seat with a look of optimism in his eye.

"Go ahead" encouraged Victoria.

"Thanks, my names Joseph Murphy" he said affably

"Victoria Carrington" she replied finding it a little formal to include surnames in an introduction and realising the boy may not be Italian after all.

She had observed that a few people mainly girls had looked there way and Victoria herself had noticed that Joseph was certainly attractive.

Now as a rule, a situation like this one would cause her face to turn a certain shade of red and she would somehow try to hide by facing down or sitting in silence hoping that nobody would notice her, but today she felt different for some unknown reason.

She felt similar to how she imagined 'normal' people felt, "maybe I have changed" she did not know if that were true but at least for the moment she actually felt comfortable in a social situation.

"Where are you from?" questioned Joseph

"Norwich"

"What about you?" she already knew he was from England by his accent and she was guessing Manchester.

"Manchester"

"Good accent detecting skills Vicky babes" Victoria congratulated herself internally using Anna's voice.

She noticed that Joseph was quite tall with an abundant amount of hair on his head shaped into a semi quaff. He was slender but looked slightly athletic as though at one time he had done a lot of running.

"So, what are you doing in Australia Joseph?"

"Well firstly I'm not a backpacker" he communicated to her "I'm actually here on a university scholarship; I'm working with a research team from Manchester university we're working on a project in conjunction with the university here in Sydney."

"Wow, sounds interesting, is it top secret? Or can you tell me about it?"

"It's not top secret," Joseph advised her in such a serious tone that Victoria thought she may laugh "However not many people are using their subconscious minds correctly."

"What do you mean?"

"Why do you think Victoria that one person is sad and another person happy? Why is one person full of fear and self-doubt while another is full of faith and confidence in themselves and their abilities?"

"I don't know."

"The way they use their subconscious mind is the only difference between them."

She noticed that Joseph was still managing to consume most of his breakfast whilst she had barely touched hers.

"Anyway that's what my colleagues and I are involved in; I should be here for 12 months or more."

"It sounds engrossing"

"It's very interesting" Joseph answered, just as he was completing his breakfast.

He looked at her and smiled, "Well I have to be heading off now Victoria, will you be in Sydney for long?"

"Hopefully a little while anyway, I'm looking for work."

"Well good luck with it, it was nice to meet you."

"Likewise"

"I'll leave you my card," he added handing her the pocket sized object in question.

"It's got all my details there mobile, email, etc."

"Thanks"

"Have an eventful day Victoria" and with those parting words he took his tray and left Victoria to finish her breakfast in peace.

Once she had consumed her breakfast, she decided to spend the day wandering around Sydney to see what she could find.

Intelligence test

It was a pleasant day with an occasional light wind and the streets were unusually silent, she turned right after leaving the café and walked along the pedestrian mall on Pitt Street.

She continued past the shopping mall and through Circular Quay and took a left into a deserted looking side street in the hope of finding an off the beaten track, hidden bohemian boutique where she could buy something unique.

This street was practically barren no sign of any boutiques, she persevered nevertheless.

She saw what looked like a timeworn gothic style church two blocks ahead of her and she decided to head in that direction.

There was nobody else around, as far as her eyes could see. This was something she enjoyed immensely the feeling that she was at least temporarily the only person left on the earth. She could not even hear any traffic only the sound of a pigeon trotting along the pavement ahead of her.

As she approached the church, she noticed there was a big white sign hanging above what appeared to be the entrance doors but she could not quite make out what it said.

As she slowly came close to the church the sign began to focalise "FREE IQ TESTS HERE TODAY" it read.

"Is this a joke?" speculated Victoria, but her curiosity had been aroused.

She marched over to the oversized wooden doors and looked up at the sign gently thumping against the church walls in the breeze.

"Why not?" she rationalised and in she went.

She pushed the door and it grated against the floor as she walked inside. There was an entrance hall with a notice board advertising a fete and a picnic that would have taken place two months ago, Victoria noticed.

In the middle of the entrance to the main part of the church was a wooden table with a chair next to it. On top of the table was a green cup with five blue pencils inside, next to the cup were two modest piles of paper, which Victoria assumed, were the IQ tests.

She heard footsteps approaching from the corridor next to the main entrance.

The door opened to reveal a youthful looking man probably about her age she imagined. He had surfer blond mid-length hair with blue eyes. He was wearing a turquoise t-shirt with blue jeans. He looked like a surfer.

He held out his hand and with an enthusiastic smile and introduced himself.

"Hi, my names Daniel" they shook hands.

"Hi, I'm Victoria" she replied aware that she was blushing slightly.

"Damn! So much for thinking I was cured, I wasn't expecting a handshake I suppose."

"Are you here for the IQ test Victoria or maybe to visit the church"

"A bit of both" she smiled

"Well I can help you with the IQ test, I don't know much about the church however apart from the fact that it's old"

Victoria observed that Daniel had turned a little pink himself for a second.

He held his wholehearted smile in place however.

"I am a bit curious about something Daniel" Victoria felt a little more confident now.

"What's that Victoria?"

"Do you actually get any people coming in here to take IQ tests?"

Daniel smiled "More than you think Victoria. This time of day is quiet that's all" Daniel picked up two pencils and four papers from the pile.

"Where are you from?" Daniel seemed to be watching her with great interest but not in a way that made Victoria feel uncomfortable.

"Norwich in England, do you know it?"

"I've heard of it, never been to England yet! Never left OZ, never wanted to but maybe one day for a holiday"

"Why not go? You might like it!" Victoria felt relaxed now and in control of her emotions, she actually felt very comfortable around Daniel.

Daniel did not reply so Victoria changed the subject "Are you from Sydney?"

"Actually I'm from Cairns which is a bit further along the east Coast"

"I've heard of it but haven't made it up there yet"

"Do you want a coffee or something before we start the test?"

"Sure"

"Okay, follow me"

Daniel gathered the papers from the table and Victoria followed him down the corridor until he stopped next to a rather tired looking coffee machine.

"White with sugar for me thanks!"

Daniel pressed the appropriate button and the machine whirred into life.

"What are these tests for anyway?"

"Well, I'm actually working with a bunch of other guys from Sydney University, and they're compiling statistics I guess you could say. The main thing for you is you get to find out how intelligent you are."

Victoria immediately thought of Joseph from breakfast "Do you know Joseph Murphy?"

Daniel paused for a second "No, don't think so, why?"

"Oh he is just somebody I have met and he works for the University too"

"Oh, maybe some of the other guys have heard of him, I can ask if you want."

"It's okay, thanks anyway."

"Anyway this is part one of the test Victoria, you've got 25 minutes to complete it and this part is mostly based around your personality" Daniel handed her the first part and a pencil.

"Okay then"

"So you'll go into that room over there," announced Daniel pointing to a small room opposite the coffee machine which reminded her of the video booth room at her old College where she sometimes went to after lessons to unwind and watch a film undisturbed.

"Before you start please fill in your name, age etc at the top of the form, for your address just put the name of your hostel if you've got nothing permanent yet."

"Okay"

"Answer each question as you feel right now. It will help to get a more accurate score and I'll come and see you in twenty! Sound cool?"

"Sure, but this doesn't sound like the MENSA IQ test to me!"

"No, it's adapted from different types of intelligence tests, this is more of an all round intelligence test, I think you'll find out some pretty interesting stuff about yourself today Victoria"

"Sounds like fun" she agreed and entered the cubicle.

The first test was relatively simple.

If she agreed with a statement she had to tick the box marked + if it was a maybe ? and if she disagreed –

She found the questions entertaining and had fun answering them, ones such as:

Do you like to watch fellow passengers when you are on the bus/subway?

Or

If you had to work as a school road crosser for the rest of your life, which skill would you bring to the job?

Made her giggle although she was aware that many people could have a serious opinion concerning such issues.

Other questions,

What disturbs you the most?

Were a little bizarre, and some,

Are you rarely happy, unless you have a special reason?

Were a little bit deep.

Victoria finished the test and waited for Daniel to return, which he did.

"All done?"

"Yep!"

"Okay, great. I'll take that off you, actually I forgot to mention the test is in three parts and that was part one."

"Oh!"

"We could do it all today if you've got time or…"

"I'm free all day!" Victoria exclaimed, she was actually in her element and was rather enjoying herself.

This was a very nearly perfect time filler for her. Sitting alone answering questions and working out little puzzles for a couple of hours would be highly enjoyable.

"Perfect, well this is part two! It's very similar to a traditional test, it's basically multiple choice lots of maths quizzes and puzzles to solve. You have one hour 15 minutes. If you want to take a break first have a look round the church or something…"

"It's okay Daniel, I feel like I'm on a mental roll. So let's keep going"

"Okay Victoria well, see you in one hour 15 then!"

The test was divided into seven parts

1. Verbal
2. Mathematical
3. Spatial
4. Visualisation
5. Classification
6. Logic
7. Pattern recognition

This was more Victoria's cup of tea:

Rearrange the following letters to make a word and choose the category in which it fits.

RAPETEK

A. city B. fruit C. bird D. vegetable

Which number should come next in this series?

25, 24,22,19,15

A. 4 B. 5 C. 10 D. 14

These questions Victoria approved of and now she felt satisfied and could have spent her entire day doing this and she was determined to finish the entire test today.

Which diagram results from folding the diagram on the left?

It was just perfectly suitable for her! Maybe a little bit easy!

Pick the piece that is missing from the diagram below

A

B

C

D

At the end of a banquet, 10 people shake hands with each other. How many handshakes will there be in total?

A. 100 B. 20 C. 45 D. 50 E. 90

Victoria completed the test in fifty minutes, convinced that every answer was correct.

Daniel returned at the allocated time and collected her papers.

"Good work, ready for part three?"

"Sure but maybe I'll stretch my legs first and see the rest of the church"

"Go for it! I'm just over there."

He pointed to a little room with a light blue door practically opposite from where Victoria had done her tests.

"Just knock when you're ready!"

"Okey dokey! See you in a little while."

"See ya!"

Victoria liked churches, the peace and serenity seemed to calm her. She did not come from a religious family but whenever she walked around a church or a cathedral, she felt a connection to something larger than herself.

She began at the main entrance next to the oversized wooden doors.

It was very similar to any other church she had been inside; she enjoyed the darkness, which was only illuminated by the light of the stained glass windows.

She felt slightly inspired, "maybe I am in sacred space" she momentarily pondered.

The stained glass windows all showed images of saints, she was standing directly below a window displaying a saint that she recognised. It was Saint Michael the Archangel. She recognised the image because she remembered studying an Italian painting in art class a few years ago. She recalled that he was an angel but also a commander of an army. She knew that he was a protector and for some reason this thought and the image of him above her gave her great comfort.

She decided to get one more coffee and then go back to the testing station.

Five minutes later, she was knocking on Daniel's door with a coffee in hand.

"Come in"

She entered, Daniel was sitting at a small desk with a laptop in front of him and he had her test papers in front of him on the desk.

"Hi Victoria, how's the church?"

"Ancient" she answered smiling.

"Are you ready for part three?"

"Okay, well this segment of the analysis is a bit different"

"Intriguing"

"Ye, I don't do this part, actually it's done by my colleague Louise"

"What's involved?"

"It's similar to part one but there's a device which measures your reactions, it's all very straightforward."

"Okay."

"Well, I'll introduce you to Louise then!"

"Okay then!"

Louise's office was in fact next door to the testing room, Daniel knocked on the office's small green wooden door.

"Come in!"

Victoria could instantly tell that Louise was a happy soul.

"Hi Daniel, haven't seen you all day"

"Ye, been busy with paper work and testing Victoria here"

"Hey there Victoria, I'm Louise"

"Hey"

"You're from England? I love the accent! Whereabouts?"

"Norwich"

"Wow! Fantastic, so what are you doing here today?"

She reminded Victoria of Anna the way that she appeared full of activity and decidedly animated.

"Well, I was actually supposed to be job hunting but then I passed by the church and saw your sign…"

"And curiosity got the better of you! You say you're looking for a job. We might have something here for you, hey Daniel?"

"Maybe, yes"

"Oh, really?"

"Well let's talk about that after the test I guess you have done parts one and two and are ready for part three or else you wouldn't be here."

"That's right"

"Did Daniel tell you what's involved?"

"Well, not exactly"

"Daniel" exclaimed Louise with a look of amused disappointment on her face.

Daniel shrugged his shoulders and cracked a smile back at her.

"Okay well, I'm gonna head off and count up Victoria's marks if you don't need me."

"No, thanks Daniel you go ahead mate"

The "mate" amused Victoria, "so Australian"

Louise seemed to be in her late twenties. She too looked like a surfer; she was tall with an athletic body.

She was wearing a bright orange t-shirt and had blond tied back hair.

"Take a seat please Victoria"

"Thanks" she sat down in front of Louise's desk while Louise sat behind Louise's desk.

Louise produced a tiny gadget from the draw in her desk and placed it in front of her. The gadget had the appearance of an electrical meter with what appeared to be a clock hand in the middle to measure wattage. It was a box shape and attached to the box was a strap, where the strap began there was a switch. At the end of the strap was a smaller strap very similar to a watchstrap.

"Okay well part three is basically me asking you a bunch of questions."

"Okay"

"What we do is measure your stress response based on your answers then we can complete your IQ measurements"

"How do you do that?"

"We measure your overall intelligence based around your learning type and your personality type. Things like Kinaesthetic, Auditory and Visual intelligence. It will be easier for me to explain it to you once we have your scores all presented nicely on a graph for you to have a look at."

"Oh"

"Yes, once we have finished everything is organised and presented to you as a series of certificates outlining each intelligence."

This engaged Victoria, as she was an earnest accumulator of certificates and qualifications.

"I'm ready," she announced.

"Right, well if you can just put this strap onto your wrist like a watch"

Victoria carried out this task, Louise switched on the machine and the little needle jumped slightly.

"Okay, Victoria first question"

"Fire away"

"What are you most afraid of?"

The needle shot up all the way to the top of the scale.

Victoria's face immediately turned scarlet.

Louise did not react and seemed uninterested in Victoria's colour change and appeared to be waiting patiently for an answer.

"Being alone maybe, well I'm not sure" blurted out Victoria.

"Okay, that's good, just relax and have fun. I'm not here to judge you in any way Victoria"

"Okay"

"Okay, next question; assuming you could draw do you think you would make a good artist?"

This question calmed Victoria a little, as she knew she was a moderately accomplished doodler so she could answer without problems. The next few followed suit.

"Do you ever write poetry?"

"If you and your friends had to make a movie, which would you be most likely to do? Write, direct, act or produce?"

The questions gradually became more individual however.

"At a party you see someone standing alone. You decide to start a conversation, how would you do it?"

"Erm, I'm not sure I would, ha, ha. Maybe smile and make eye contact and hope for the best, ha, ha."

"Do you turn down an invitation even though you really want to go?"

"She knows I am going to say yes" Victoria Imagined to herself.

"Are you comfortable in groups?"

"No, most of the time I would say I do not feel comfortable in groups"

Victoria had an idea that her personality results may show that she is lacking in confidence.

The questions continued and concluded with "How often do you think about the meaning of life?"

"A lot, more than once a week anyway, I don't know how often everyone else thinks about it though!"

Victoria had answered the questions as truthfully as she could.

She had a genuine interest to know the results and now was actually looking forward to receiving her little diploma for her morning's efforts.

"That's us finished then Victoria, I hope it wasn't too painful," declared Louise as she removed the strap from Victoria's wrist.

"No, I've enjoyed it actually. It was interesting"

"Good, well it will take us the rest of the day to process your results and put them onto a certificate for you. In the meantime, I'll take you back into Daniel's office and we can have a chat about that job opportunity we mentioned earlier. Sound commendable?"

"Great"

Louise accompanied Victoria across the corridor back to the light blue door and held out her hand.

"Nice meeting you Victoria. Hope to see you soon."

"Likewise" she replied and they shook hands then parted company.

"Hi, Victoria come on in, have a seat. Would you like a coffee?" Daniel appeared concerned about something.

"Probably my results indicate I'm a mental psychopath and should be locked up immediately"

Daniel immediately put on a happy expression as though he had deciphered her thoughts.

"Did Louise tell you we'll have your results ready in a couple of days?"

"Yes, she did"

"Good, now then onto the job offer. It involves working here with me and Louise and some of our other colleagues."

"Oh, okay that sounds fine to me"

"That's a positive start, okay let me try and explain to you what's involved and then if you're still interested we can make an appointment for a further interview. What do you think?"

"Perfect"

"Well we won't know what the best option for you is until we have your results completed"

"Okay"

"It is going to be a short term contract but the money will be considerably acceptable. Your role will be..." Daniel hesitated "You will be assisting us with the work we're doing here. I will be able to tell you exactly what it involves when you come back Victoria"

"It sounds really secretive"

"Sorry it sounds that way, but it's not really. Listen, why don't you come in after the weekend? And I can make everything clear then."

"Monday?"

"Sure"

"What time?"

"Between 10 and 10.30, you can meet the other people I work with and the other candidates like yourself who are all going to be working with you if you accept of course"

"I will do that, is that us done for the day then?"

"Yes, I'll walk you to the front entrance"

"Thanks"

They both wandered the short distance to the entrance; Daniel dragged the oversized wooden doors open as they grated against the stone floor.

"Daylight and freedom awaits you Victoria"

"Free at last"

"Any plans for the rest of the day"

"Well as it is about lunch time I think I will get some lunch!"

"Great idea"

"I think so too"

"Well, I look forward to seeing you Monday then Victoria"

"Likewise Daniel"

Victoria headed back towards the direction of Pitt Street; Daniel waved her off and returned into the almost abandoned church.

Victoria suddenly realised that she was ravenous it seemed like breakfast had been eaten in another lifetime even though it was only just after one.

She glanced back and clearly saw the image of Saint Michael peering out from the stained glass keeping a vigil over her as she went on her way.

She took a lunch break at a bedraggled looking burger bar called 'Oasis' not far from the church, it was void of people and secretive as if nobody else could have known the place existed.

She continued her circuit of Sydney city centre and spotted a signpost for the 'Museum of Sydney'

"Perfect" She suddenly knew how she was going to spend the rest of her day.

It did not take her long to discover the museum, it was on the corner of Phillip and Bridge Street the distance was manageable.

The building itself looked chic enough and ten dollars entrance fee was easy on the pocket provided the job with Daniel came through.

Victoria really could spend an entire day in any museum; she appreciated history and never became bored studying old photographs and memorabilia.

She decided to commence with 'Aboriginal Sydney' she found it thought provoking, there were many things she did had not been informed about regarding the British colonisation of Australia.

She had no idea that Aborigines had been in Australia since at least 1606 when the first Europeans arrived.

The British settlement certainly did not make life easy for the Aborigines to put it mildly. It seemed that the exact numbers of Aborigines massacred by the British was unclear. What was clear that they had very nearly become an extinct race.

There were many photographs, Victoria took a great interest in the aged black and white images especially when she could see the eyes of the people, from the eyes a lot could be seen.

One photograph engrossed her for a long time. The picture showed two aboriginal men with locks around their necks and standing next to them was their 'owner' a white man holding a chain.

The eyes of the three men conveyed more than the image in this instance.

The vast room containing the photographs was very low lit. Victoria liked it, she enjoyed the darkness and peace, and it reminded her of the church.

There were also mini cinema shows depicting the life from the different eras.

Victoria was a great observer of people and she easily imagined living in these times.

It called to mind her thoughts on the plane "many years have passed, but has anything changed? The situation has changed somewhat for the Aborigines but what about other nations who treat their people badly? Things will always be the same. Most of the people in the photos are now dead taking whatever life they had built with them and who knows about it now? Nobody, that's who, and if nobody knows about your life why do you live it? Each and every person involved, even the people who made the chains, the person who took the photograph. The museum patronage, the entire population of Sydney only an exceptional few were remembered.

And me? I am always worrying about what other people think but in a hundred years nobody will even know that I existed.

How many people all over the world have died in the last four hundred years? Can they really end up in the same place?"

There was a truth to this that she felt should have made a larger impact on her than it did.

Victoria had a sensation that something significant was happening to her but she did not know what it was.

She had memories of reading an article once about how the human race had evolved from a steam cloud, which produced the bacteria necessary to produce the DNA, which created Homo sapiens nearly 200,000 years ago in east Africa. She could not recall the exact science of how it all worked according to the article but she remembered the account was certainly different from the biblical one.

"Can this be true? There are now more than 6 billion of us on this planet. We are the dominant form of life. We are the only species that can build fires, cook food, and clothe ourselves. We can produce works of art. Artistic works have existed as long as humankind has. No other species can do these things. Why are we the 'rulers' of this planet?"

Victoria suddenly felt insignificant after all over 6 billion does not really register and sometimes it does. She knew maybe one hundred people who could say that they knew her; this she imagined would not change much throughout her lifetime. 6 billion minus 100 still leaves many people who will never have known that she existed. If she has children, maybe her children and their grandchildren will remember her but after that. Could she remember the name of her great grandmother? No.

Arriving in a different country had given her a glimpse into how many people go through the trials and tribulations of life unaware of what the other 6 billion apart from them may be doing.

She knew of course that the world was only part of the universe and the universe is a big place.

She reminisced about a particular science class from her school days, Mrs Lighthouse explaining to the class that there were eight planets in our solar system all orbiting a star we know as the sun that is our star in our galaxy, one galaxy out of five hundred thousand million in the Milky Way. "Big numbers are difficult to visualise". She remembered looking at a picture of a galaxy called the 'Pinwheel Galaxy', which was supposed to be very similar to our own and shaped like a spiral full of little white dots. Every little white dot turned out to be a star like our sun, with lots of them having planets orbiting around them like Earth. It seemed likely to Victoria that there were many more planets like ours. When we look, up to the sky usually we can see about three thousand stars on a clear night but this is a small percentage of what is actually out there and can be very misleading, her teacher had informed the class.

"Why don't we spend time contemplating these ideas?"

Victoria decided to look at another part of the museum, when suddenly she felt her phone vibrating in her pocket.

It was a message from Anna "HEY THERE VICKY BABES! HOW'S UR DAY? GOT SOME NEWS 4 U! WHEN U BACK AT THE MANSION?"

Victoria grinned she could imagine what Anna's news might be and she elected to return to the hostel to exchange news stories with her friend.

When she returned, Anna appeared slightly apprehensive about the best way to break bad news.

Victoria however had already figured out what Anna was about to declare and resolved to help her out.

"Guess what? You're moving out and going to live in the half price hostel in Manly"

Anna appeared temporarily astonished.

"It's okay Anna really it is, there's a good chance I will be earning my keep very shortly as well."

"You always were very good at working stuff out before anyone else Vicky, are you sure it's cool? We've paid up for this place until the end of the week so we don't have to move out until Tuesday morning"

That worked in Victoria's favour as she had the interview Monday morning.

"The thing is I'll need to move out tomorrow so I can be ready for my first shift on Saturday"

"It's okay Anna; I totally am cool about it"

They both felt a little heartbroken.

"Why don't we go out tonight and you can tell me all about your job?"

"Sounds like a plan"

"Then tomorrow you can come with me to Manly and we can spend the day shopping and you can check out my new digs! Whatcha think?"

"Perfect"

"Everything's gonna be okay Vicky babes, you get a job here, me over there we'll see each other all the time"

"Of course we will"

They both put their arms around each other and hugged, everything was going to be okay.

The two of them headed to the hostels customary backpacker bar for happy hour and shared a jug of beer for five dollars.

Victoria was slowly becoming accustomed to the occasional night out and drunken nights were still a scarce occurrence in fact she had never been completely intoxicated to the point where she was no longer in control of herself. After two beers, however she began to feel a little tipsy and spilt the beans to Anna about her new career prospects.

"Oh my god Vicky! It sounds like a cult. If anyone starts mentioning Aliens or the end of the world you run out of there and phone me straight away."

Victoria giggled, "It seems okay really! I promise if I open the church door on Monday and E.T is standing there you'll be the first person I call."

They both cracked up and opted for a game of pool and another jug of budget beer.

The night finished up a conservative one as Anna wanted to get up early the next morning for her move.

Victoria awoke the next day feeling unfamiliar, earthly and ethereal.

She helped Anna with her bags and they went for breakfast.

Victoria felt very calm; her thoughts seemed to pass through her mind like car headlights at night without affecting her.

The two of them caught the bus from Sydney to Manly and abandoned Anna's luggage at her new place of abode. A classy little place Victoria noted, she was moderately impressed.

Victoria did not get to meet Anna's employers, they left the suitcases with the girl at reception who informed Anna that her room would be ready at 5 p.m. and she would have the bags taken to her room. 'Greg' would be there at six to run Anna through her induction. Anna thanked the receptionist and turned to face Victoria.

"Let's go shopping!"

Victoria was not a label shopper like Anna, but Manly shopping has something for everyone.

The main Manly shopping strip is called "The Corso"and it is brimming with markets, stores, restaurants, surf schools and diving centres.

Victoria appreciated the shopping in the sun experience. Anna too seemed entertained.

The two of them had an excellent day together with a lot of laughter.

Victoria caught the half past four bus back to Sydney, saying good-bye she suddenly thought she might cry.

"You know we could see each other every day if we wanted"

"I know, I'll be up to visit as often as possible and I'll phone you every day"

"What will you do on Tuesday?"

"I'll find a cheap place, no worries"

"I'll come over Monday and we can look together, okay?"
"Okay"

The bus journey home was very lonely, Victoria realised she had never really been alone before. Of course, she had felt solitary many times but this time was different.

When she returned to their room, she experienced a feeling of melancholy and missed Anna.

She made a decision to go to the cinema and choose a film to watch then give Anna a quick telephone call later on.

She took pleasure in going to the cinema on her own occasionally. She could disconnect more, even if some people may consider a trip to the cinema alone abnormal.

Victoria phoned Anna when she was back in the hostel getting ready to go to sleep.

Anna was in a bar with her new workmates and seemed excited about starting her new job. Victoria was satisfied to hear her voice and drifted off into sleep not long after deciding that they would both meet up on Monday for lunch.

Sunday was a lazy day for Victoria she went for a stroll, read some newspapers, surfed the net and spent a lot of time contemplating the next day's job opportunity.

The Interview

Victoria awoke at 7.30 a.m. and noticed that Anna had sent her a message "GOOD LUCK VICKY BABES! IF U C ANY GREEN MEN RUN AWAY. LOL XX"

She smiled and went for a shower she elected to adorn smart casual for the interview or whatever it was, with black jeans and a white v-neck.

She opted for a croissant and orange juice for breakfast from the café below the hostel. She took a break close to the church at the burger bar called "Oasis" for a coffee this time instead of a burger at about 9.30, to assemble herself mentally.

As she advanced towards the church, she could again see clearly the image of Saint Michael looking out for her. She could not recall noticing him on her very first trip.

At 10.15 on the dot, she opened the oversized wooden doors once more.

She was curious to see that the place looked busy in comparison to her last visit.

There were two people in the entrance sitting behind the wooden table, Louise who instantly recognised her, "Hi Victoria, how you doin? This is Esther she's my colleague"

Esther looked to be in her late twenties with short brown hair, she was wearing a grey polo neck and brown corduroy trousers. "Hi Victoria" "Hi Esther" they shook hands.

"How's your weekend?" Louise enquired "Good thanks! Kind of quiet, and yours?"

"Busy hon, we've been organising everything for today. Why don't you take a seat in the corridor if you like Victoria, Daniel's through there and he'll tell you what's happening"

"Okay, see you later then Louise"

"See you later hon"

Louise and Esther both had a lot of paperwork on their desk; therefore, Victoria presumed they were engaged at work so she continued into the corridor.

She opened the door to reveal a scene, which reminded her of a doctor's waiting room. There were six people all around her age sitting down reading magazines.

Daniel was standing at the other end of the short corridor chatting to another boy who was seated.

Daniel spotted her, muttered something to the other boy and immediately came over. He looked to be in high spirits.

"Hi Victoria"

"Hi"

"How you doin?"

"Good, thanks"

"Today's induction day so I'm a bit busy but there's gonna be a short presentation in ten minutes or so, and you guys can watch a video and find out a bit more about us."

Victoria summoned Anna's comments about extra terrestrial cults to mind and smiled.

"Anyway, if you fancy a coffee or something help yourself; you know where the machine is. I think the magazines have all been taken but the wait shouldn't be long"

"I'll grab a coffee"

"Okay, see you in a bit then" Daniel made his way towards the entrance presumably to speak to Louise and Esther.

Victoria did not necessarily need another coffee but she had begun to feel a little self-conscious and anxious, sitting with six other people, she thought a short walk to the tired looking coffee machine and another peek at the image of Saint Michael would calm her down.

She put her change in the machine as it once again whirred into life. It seemed strange to her that the other six had not spoken yet, but they appeared friendly enough.

"Maybe we are all socially introverted and bashful, we probably all scored the same on the tests and we are perfect candidates for this particular line of work" Victoria mused "perhaps there is a sudden demand for shrinking violets"

She recalled the way to the stain glassed windows section of the church but was surprised to see that the entrance was empty on her way through.

"Where could Daniel, Louise and Esther have gone?"

She did not give it much thought and was happy to spend a few minutes in the peaceful atmosphere of the church gazing at Saint Michael whilst sipping her coffee.

She found her sudden fascination with Saint Michael a little odd but she felt stronger and returned to the waiting room.

She entered and a couple of other people were standing up now and drinking coffee.

"I'm a trend setter"

A blond girl made her way over and introduced herself.

"Hi, my names Susan"

"I'm Victoria"

Susan it turned out was from Florida, she was tired of 'corporate America' and had decided to go backpacking indefinitely.

Victoria noticed that another girl was also heading in their direction with a look of 'I'm going to introduce myself' in her eyes.

"Hi, I'm Karen"

Karen was also American; she had remarkable eyes Victoria noticed, almost silver in appearance.

Karen appeared to be very easygoing. She was from California whereas Susan was from New York; Victoria's English accent entertained them both.

Daniel, Louise and Esther unexpectedly appeared from the main entrance into the waiting room cutting off the girls' conversation.

"Hi everybody" Daniel announced, "I'm Daniel and I'm sure most of you know Louise and this is Esther who nearly all of you will have been introduced to this morning. If you'd like to follow Esther she's going to show you a short introductory DVD and then we can all assemble back here for a Q and A session."

Everyone went with Esther through the main entrance and into another corridor and then into an ancient looking chalky room. Which Victoria presumed, was an unused vestry, even if she was not entirely sure what a vestry was.

There were wooden seats displayed in a semi circle and everyone sat down with the big screen TV in front of them.

Esther silently turned down the lights and pressed play from a remote control.

The DVD showed an unnamed university in the north of England, which again reminded Victoria of her one time breakfast, companion Joseph Murphy.

An unseen narrator was talking about experiments that induced a similar sensation that someone may have as they die.

There then followed an interview with a young man called Raymond, Raymond was talking about taking small amounts of a drug called Ketamine.

"Within a half hour's time, you will achieve what is called the "K Hole." K hole is the most incredible experience that I have had in my life.

Your body is separated from your mind. You have no ordinary functions. Hearing is impaired, sight is gone with eyes open, everything begins to bend and warp. You begin to travel, very fast through either dark or light tunnels, warping into another dimension.

A new reality that takes precedent to our normal reality of life, as we know it. Time is lost. The whole effect of the "K" experience is usually between 30 and 45 minutes. In one of my experiences, I was completely able to communicate with someone. I knew that I was talking, but whole thoughts were very difficult to keep intact without confusion. I remember asking how long I was "in" and I was told 5 minutes. It felt like I had been there for years.

The only thing that I could make sense of, sort of, was that it was the definition of what IS is. That might not make sense, but I was reduced to the most basic aspects of being. Breathing was my focus point. Once it wears off, you can see yourself coming closer and closer to the "line" of our true reality.

I wanted to try this because I have had a strong fear of death for as long as I can remember. I believe that if I reach the K hole a few more times, that I will have a better understanding that there is definitely much more to life than our bodies and our minds. There is a much bigger connection to something much larger than life as we know it."

Raymond looked perfectly well adjusted in Victoria's opinion and seemed to have good spoken eloquence, not what you may consider a 'druggy'.

The film continued explaining how there had been government funding for the unnamed university to further research the drug.

The DVD was all for the funding and the experimenting and Victoria was developing an idea of where this might be heading.

The film finished and the lights were dimmed brighter but still reasonably dim by Esther who Victoria presumed was controlling everything through the same remote control, as she had not moved from her spot.

Daniel entered the room at this point accompanied by Louise, the three of them made their way to the front of the group next to the TV; they pulled up three more wooden seats and sat down.

"Okay, we know it may all seem a bit abstract at the moment but does anyone have any questions on what they've seen?"

Two girls giggled quietly, and then Karen from California spoke.

"Dude, I don't know what we are supposed to be here for. I thought this was a job offer!"

There were a few murmurs of agreement.

"It is a job offer" Daniel explained, "The government funding mentioned in the video is real. We are part of the team who are carrying out the research for the project."

"Why? What's the purpose?" questioned Karen.

"The purpose Karen is to enable researches to reach a better understanding of our human brains and the powers we have contained within them. I am sure you have all heard the fact that very few of us ever mange to use more than ten percent of the capabilities that exist within us. This research is a step towards helping all of us realise that potential."

"How?"

"'How' is a complicated question that needs some explaining from my part; however the main goal of today is for me to explain to you that we need volunteers."

"To do what?"

"To be monitored, the experiments are totally safe; no side effects have ever been reported. What happens is you receive a very small amount of natural Ketamin, and we watch and observe you for two hours. After that time, the effects begin to disappear and after three hours, you will feel exactly like you did three hours previously. We will pay each of you five hundred dollars for each session. You can participate in a maximum of ten sessions."

Karen temporarily had no questions, a brief spell of silence passed through the room as everyone did their calculations.

Victoria was also pondering the monetary gains but another thought seemed to be at the forefront of her mind. She was contemplating her recent visit to the museum and the cogitating she had done there. The appreciation of people's lives and their place in the universe and how few human beings existences really will be remembered by future generations.

"I'll do it" she blurted out and immediately turned red as everyone in the room looked at her and laughed.

Daniel ignored her blushes and continued. "If anyone is interested stick around and we'll organise some times and places for you. So, let's say everyone who's staying can meet back in here in five minutes. I'd like to thank you all for coming and hopefully see you all in five."

With those words Daniel and Louise left the room, Esther ejected her DVD put it in a case and said, "Thanks for coming" then she also left the room.

"God, those are some seriously weird people" a boy that Victoria had not spoken to exclaimed, "let's get out of here" he got up and also departed followed by two other unknown individuals.

"I think I'm gonna leave too" announced a short thin girl with dark hair and glasses as she shuffled out.

That left Susan, Karen, Victoria and a peculiar gothic looking girl sitting at the other side of the room from them who was yet to speak or look up from the floor.

The three girls who had previously spoken all looked at one another.

"Well, we know where you stand" said Susan smiling at Victoria "I think I'm gonna bail too, I don't need the money bad enough to pump mind altering chemicals into my body just yet. Hey, it was nice to meet you though Victoria and seriously, good luck. What about you?" she asked Karen.

"I don't know I think I'm gonna stick around with Vicky here and see what they offer."

Vicktoria felt slightly embarrassed without knowing why. She smiled and kept quiet.

Susan suggested the three of them swapped mobile numbers, which they did, and then it was Susan's turn to leave the building.

During the interaction the peculiar looking gothic girl remained like a statue, Victoria was yet to see her face.

Karen decided to introduce herself and breach the silence, "hi there, my names Karen and this is Victoria. What's your name?"

Just as Karen finished her question, the three Ketamin musketeers re-entered the room.

"Hi guys, well, just Mary, Karen and Victoria left," exclaimed Daniel.

"At least we know what her name is now."

"Okay, let's see. Karen if you come with me, Mary you go with Esther and Victoria you go with Daniel we can run you through your results from the IQ tests and give you your certificates", Louise sounded eternally good humoured.

Everyone dutifully obeyed and Victoria followed Daniel into the little room with the light blue door that she presumed was Daniel's office.

Daniel sat down behind his laptop and Victoria sat opposite him on the other side of the desk.

Daniel let out a sigh "I'm glad that's over, I get a bit nervous speaking in front of a group" he smiled supportively at Victoria "right then, your results!" he opened an A4 envelope which was next to his laptop and removed some papers which he proceeded to hand over to Victoria.

The first sheet of paper displayed a line graph representing the different parts of Victoria's personality.

The sheet was laid out horizontally and divided into seven sections and the line fluctuated throughout the seven sections looking like a plan for an extremely dangerous rollercoaster ride.

Daniel gave her a rundown of what each section signified; three parts represented her learning styles, which were visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. She had already discovered this at college but she was pleased to see that both results showed that she was predominantly a visual learner.

"A visual learner learns best by taking notes and making lists to read later.." began the description, "I'll read that later" Victoria amused herself with her thought.

Her personality type was predominantly ISTP, which apparently meant that she was quiet and reserved, interested in how and why things work..." again, she opted to read the detailed descriptions later.

She was Idealist mixed with traditionalist and her ideal job was Computer Engineer.

"I'm certainly happy to hear that Daniel because I just finished a diploma in numerical engineering before I came to Australia"

"You chose the right field then; so that's about all I can tell you about yourself at the moment Victoria."

"You're not going to offer me a magic cure then that can improve my personality?"

Daniel grinned, "Your personality is fine as it is Victoria"

"Thanks" she grinned back aware that she was feeling a bit pink, "So what about this job then?"

"Well, the job consists of two sessions per week the sessions won't be held here at the church obviously. We hold the sessions at the University. Like I said before it's totally safe and you get paid your five hundred dollars in cash directly after each session has ended."

"Why in cash? And how can you afford it?"

"We can pay it into a bank account if you prefer but usually most people haven't set one up when they are travelling or a lot of people simply prefer cash. I can't personally afford it of course but the grant we receive is pretty big Victoria."

"Am I alone or will I be watched?"

"The sessions are recorded and monitored to make sure everything goes smoothly and to record your experiences for our research. I'll be able to explain everything in more detail on the first day for you."

"When's the first day?"
"Next Monday"

"Okay, where do I need to go?"

"I'll give you an introductory pack that you can read and that will tell you where you need to be and when."

"Sounds good"

Daniel handed Victoria another envelope from next to his laptop that she presumed contained the introductory pack.

"Is that everything I need then?"

"Yes, it is. Have a look at all your info and we'll see you next Monday Victoria."

"Thanks Daniel, see you then."

They both stood up Victoria was unsure about the protocol but Daniel led the way and held out his hand, they shook.

"Enjoy the rest of your day then Victoria. Any plans?"

"To study my certificates and read my introductory pack"

"Have fun."

"I will"

Victoria did not see the others as she left the church, Daniel stayed in his office instead of seeing her to the door this time. She had hoped to spot Karen or even gothic Mary to ask them how their interview went.

Then she remembered that they had each other's mobile numbers so Victoria decided to send her a text later.

She also resolved to find a new place to stay or pay for the room for another week as she was going to be sufficiently wealthy to do so.

Two more things on her to do list for the day were to phone Anna so that they could meet, maybe not for lunch now, but dinner tonight at Manly Beach could be pleasant. In addition, she had to phone her mother and tell her the good news about her job.

"Better tell her it's in a café though" she rationalised or else her mother would have been on the first plane to Sydney to take her back to Norwich.

She chose to call her mother first from a phone-box as she had an international calling card.

It was actually a relatively painless operation, she reassured her that everything was safe as houses and there was absolutely nothing to worry about here. Her mother informed her that she did not have to concern herself anymore about Patricia's story for the newspaper as the deadline had now passed.

"Thanks for letting me know," replied Victoria.

And that was that, Victoria had a pleasant feeling inside, she opted to text Anna to see if a night out could be on the cards, "Why not, this could the start of a new me."

"HEY ANNA! GOT THE JOB! GOOD MONEY AND NO ALIENS! LOL! FANCY MEETING UP FOR A FEW DRINKS L8R IF U CAN?"

She made up her mind to head back to the Hostel and book the room for another week and take a nap until she heard from Anna.

She did indeed take a nap, a twelve -hour one.

She looked at the clock to discover that it was in fact one thirty in the morning.

She had been dreaming that she was on a boat with Anna. She felt very peaceful in the dream the boat had stopped near the shore, Anna and herself had opted to go for a swim, the landscape looked magical.

It felt wonderful it was difficult to find her bearings on awakening her mood was so upbeat she did not even feel the slightest bit disappointed that she had slept for so long.

She noticed that she had three missed calls and a text message from Anna.

"SEE U 2NIGHT THEN! 1O O CLOCK OUTSIDE MY HOSTEL IF U CAN! ANY PROBS CALL ME! ANNA X"

The missed calls were all after ten so she presumed Anna had gone out anyway. She replied to the text message with an apology.

"REALLY SORRY! FELL ASLEEP AND HAVE JUST WOKEN UP! SORRY! R U OK? X"

She did not expect an immediate reply as she presumed Anna would be in a club and probably not see the message until tomorrow.

She lay in bed with the pleasant feeling still absorbing her and within fifteen minutes was back asleep.

She woke up again at seven feeling clear and focused she checked her phone and Anna had suggested lunch at two in Manly "SEE U AT MY PLACE AT 2! MANLY BACKPACK! WHERE U DROPPED MY BAGS OFF! X"

It was an exceptional plan and Victoria felt like an improved person, she was looking forward to telling Anna her great news, she also felt slightly smug for once as she was going to be far richer than Anna for doing far less. It was the first time she ever felt as if she had come out as a winner.

She opted to get up, head directly to Manly, and spend the day there anyway. It was splendid weather and a few hours relaxing on the beach with a book would not hurt.

She grabbed her James Bond book, threw some beach stuff into an over the shoulder bag and headed towards the bus stop.

The day was charming enough, time to relax on the beach and stroll around the shops.

It was fantastic to see Anna again, Victoria did miss her, she was comfortable with her own company of course but it is always enjoyable to see someone you can rely on.

They went to a sushi bar for lunch, it was Victoria's first time and she loved it. The restaurant had a train track in the centre, a little train full of sushi would pass by, and you could help yourself to whatever you fancied.

Anna had a hangover but she was still very chatty, Victoria told her all about the new job opportunity and Anna seemed thrilled and supportive.

"It's fantastic Vicky babes! You will be able to fly the two of us first class to wherever we go next. All I'm gonna say is be careful, if anything seems a bit off don't do it. Okay?"

"Don't worry. It all seems above board."

Anna was working that night and her boss had asked her to start working at the other hostel next week but for two weeks instead of the one week, as he had originally stated.

"Are you okay with that?"

"Yes, it's going to be good something different, paper work. Like office stuff, I guess. Something to put on my CV anyway. The only snag is the offices are in Melbourne. They pay for flights and accommodation which is cool."

"Wow! That is excellent. It just means we won't see each other for two weeks."

"I know but two weeks, and with your new job, the time will soon pass."

"You're right"

They spent the rest of the day relaxing on the beach and chatting about home, what they imagined everyone else would be doing in Norwich right now.

Anna was starting work at seven that night. "Why don't you come to the club later? You haven't seen it yet. I might be able to get you a V.I.P pass."

Victoria wanted to see 'Daises', Anna's club, but walking in on her own as a V.I.P did not appeal to her.

"I haven't even checked out your hostel yet, I don't know. Can I text you later?"

"Sure Vicky. We have to go for a night out before I head to Melbourne though."

"Definitely! When do you go?"

"Monday, the same day as you start your Frankenstein experiments" Anna said jokingly.

"Well, you may not recognise me when you get back then." Victoria replied with a grin on her face.

Anna walked with Victoria to the bus stop and waved her off.

Victoria returned to Sydney and opted to catch a film.

"I'll see what I feel like doing after the movie"

She watched an independent New Zealand film about a Maori tribe and a young girl's journey into adulthood; she appreciated the film and made a mental note to buy it on DVD when she returned to England.

She felt too mellow after the film to go out and finished off her day in an internet café.

She met Anna twice more that week each time for shopping and lunch. Anna was extremely busy and Victoria was extremely bored but it was pleasant to relax and take things slowly for a while.

Victoria met Anna for the last lunch on Thursday; she did not know it was going to be the last lunch before Anna left for Melbourne. She had hoped to see her at the weekend but finally Anna was just too engaged at work.

Before Victoria knew it, Sunday evening was upon her and she had not even opened her introductory pack or examined her certificates, which was very unlike her.

"Better start now then."

The introductory pack went over the information from the gathering. It contained an address for the University and where to meet 'room B21 on the second floor' and when 'ten a.m.' she couldn't believe that she hadn't checked what time it started.

Her in depth analysis showed that she was an 'Intuitive Introverted Thinking Judging' person 'IITJ' for short.

This was followed by a lengthy description, many aspects of which she enjoyed.

"IITJs are perfectionists, with a seemingly endless capacity for improving upon anything that takes their interest. IITJs are idea people. Anything is possible; everything is negotiable."

Some parts she could recognise in herself.

"Personal relationships, particularly romantic ones, can be the IITJ's Achilles heel. While they are capable of caring deeply for others (usually a select few), and are willing to spend a great deal of time and effort on a relationship, the knowledge and self-confidence that make them so successful in other areas can suddenly abandon or mislead them in interpersonal situations."

She was not so sure that she had self-confidence in any areas but she was beginning to think that maybe she could acquire it.

She set the alarm for eight in the morning, got into bed, and continued reading about herself until she fell asleep.

Day one

She awoke early at five thirty a.m., she felt energised, alive and urgent. She was sure today was going to be significant in some way for her.

She jumped in the shower, (en-suite) brushed her teeth, acquired all that she needed and left the hostel.

It amused her to see many backpackers returning to the comfort of their beds after intoxicating nights out. Some of them shouted drunken 'hellos' in her general direction.

She wanted to see the city wake up; she was experiencing the sensation of déjà vu however, this day felt as if it had been lived before.

The perception was similar to her bus trip to college some mornings, she remembered leaving the house and arriving at college but not the journey in-between.

"I am in a trance; well it is early maybe I haven't woken up yet"

She had an awareness that at some stage she had lived this day many times before just like her bus journey to college.

She embarked on an early morning stroll and observed the sun gradually illuminating the city streets and bringing them back to life from their night spent in darkness. She opted again for a croissant and orange juice for breakfast from the café below the hostel. She made a decision to have her coffee at 'Oasis' as she still had plenty of time, and it was kind of on the way to the University anyway.

The café was without people; Victoria noticed the girl who served her coffee was the same girl who always served her. The girl seemed to be about nineteen years old. Victoria thought about starting a conversation with her because the girl seemed to be sad, then she changed her mind.

"She doesn't really seem to be in the mood for a chat."

Victoria contemplated briefly that everything in here was as good as or better than McDonalds for example so why is McDonalds always full.

She took a stroll past the church and said a silent hello to Saint Michael.

She was actually beginning to feel a little weary but she pressed on towards the University.

She arrived at the University at nine thirty and was surprised to see Mary, the Gothic looking girl sitting on a chair next to a water cooler.

Mary did not look up and Victoria was not feeling confident enough to approach her so she opted to have another coffee in the University cafeteria before she went up to room B21 on the second floor.

She suddenly realised that she had forgot to text Karen "How could I do that?"

She sent her a quick text hoping that Karen was nearby.

"HEY KAREN IT'S ME VICTORIA! R U AT THE UNIVERSITY 2 TODAY? I'M IN THE CAF HAVING A COFFEE! C U SOON!"

At nine fifty, there was no reply so Victoria took the lift to the second floor.

As the lift door opened she heard excited chatter, she recognised the voices. Daniel, Esther and Louise were in the lift.

"Hi, Victoria" all three of them were smiling at her.

"You found the place okay then?"

Victoria was aware that her face was red but nobody commented on it, she felt anxious. She supposed it was because there was no escape from the lift and the lights inside the lift were bright. She appeared to be extremely embarrassed.

"Yes, thanks" she managed to say.

She looked at the floor hoping the remainder of the lift's journey would be in silence so that she had an opportunity to calm down.

Finally, the doors 'pinged' open and everyone got out.

"Would you like to follow us Victoria? We can run through the plan if you like"

"Sure" she was beginning to relax again.

The second floor looked exactly as Victoria imagined a second floor of a University would look like. Many classrooms with students inside them listening to their lecturers. She was starting to take the place to heart. There were medical diagrams on the walls showing analytical studies of the brain accompanied with percentages.

"You can come with me if you like Victoria. Esther and Louise will wait for Karen and Mary."

"Okay! I just saw Mary downstairs actually and I sent Karen a text so she should be along in a minute."

"Thanks Victoria" replied Louise, "We can all have a coffee together later on and chat about how you guys are gonna spend your money" she said smiling at Victoria. Esther smiled at her too as she followed Daniel into room B21.

The room looked like a Doctor's waiting room. It had a desk in the centre close to the wall, with a comfortable looking chair behind it.

There was a bed opposite the desk but against the wall. The walls were painted a shade of blue and purple combined. There was relaxing music coming from somewhere although at a very low volume. Victoria felt comfortable.

"Okay Victoria, so this is where it's all going to happen. Remember the dose is very low you are one hundred percent safe. Two of my colleagues will be here with us as well. If at any time, you feel or look even slightly uncomfortable we can administer a strong dose of vitamin C, which will counteract the effects of the natural Ketamin within a matter of minutes."

"So, the Ketamin is a natural herb"

"The stuff we are using is all natural ingredients Victoria. I'm gonna give you some papers to sign anyway which explains what you are taking. Actually we may as well do that now, while I go and get my colleagues."

Victoria read the papers while Daniel fetched his workmates. She did not know all the terminology however she recognised the description of Ketamin, it contained natural ingredients including vitamin K. It mentioned the dosage compared to body weight. The papers promised no after effects and a complete recovery after two hours of the experience. It described the effects she may experience and the duration. If she agreed to all of the above, she should please sign below before commencing and receiving her moneys. She signed on the dotted line.

Daniel returned shortly afterwards with his two colleagues. They both looked like medical students, about Victoria's age. The two of them were wearing white coats and holding papers.

"Victoria this is Norman and this is Anthony"

Anthony was tall and smiling, he sounded American when he said "Hi" and seemed to be a person who goes for a run in the morning before his day starts.

Norman was considerably shorter and sounded Australian when he said "Hello" he was wearing glasses and seemed to be a person who would be studying before he went to work.

Both seemed friendly in Victoria's opinion and she felt at ease in their presence.

"All the paperwork's signed," she informed Daniel. "Oh, great, well I'll take that off your hands then. Norman and Anthony will explain exactly the procedure for today." Daniel turned towards the two of them and Norman stepped forward.

"Well Victoria, just to reiterate what you have already heard. The experience today will be totally secure. The three of us will be watching you the whole time and you will be aware of your surroundings. The dose will be administered orally in a drink. It can take between five to 20 minutes to take effect. The duration of the effects will last between one and two hours after which time we will give you a vitamin cocktail to drink which will bring you fully back into reality within five minutes."

"Okay"

"Okay, Victoria I'll prepare the drink, if you want to make yourself comfortable" It was Anthony speaking this time and he gestured towards the bed.

At this point Louise entered the room.

"Hey Vick. How you doing?"

"Hey Louise, good thanks. I guess"

"I'm gonna swap places with Daniel for half an hour or so if you don't mind while he checks on Karen and Mary."

"Okay" Victoria actually felt a little relieved but she was not sure why.

"Oh, so they've both made it then? Good. Take it easy then Victoria and I'll see you later on."

"Bye Daniel" She smiled at him as he left.

"Your cocktail's ready." Anthony handed Victoria what looked like a glass of milk but she was sure it would not taste like one.

"Down the hatch then." Victoria said as she drank her drink.

It did not taste of anything particular but it did have a mild aftertaste of mint.

Victoria lay back on the bed and chilled out with the relaxing music.

"If you don't mind we are just going to attach some little pulse-meters to your wrists and frontal lobes Victoria," Anthony stated. "To help us monitor your anxiety levels."

"No, that's fine. Go ahead."

Norman opened a cupboard that was situated opposite the bed, inside was what appeared to be a heart rate monitor like the one you typically see in hospitals but a smaller version and a portable camera fixed onto a tripod.

They removed the monitor, placed it onto a desk next to the bed, attached the wires to Victoria, and plugged the machine in.

Victoria was happy to see a little beeping red light, which indicated her heartbeat.

"If it is okay with you Victoria we would also like to video your experience" asked Norman.

"Sure"

The digital camera recorder was then removed from the cupboard and set up in front of the bed.

Victoria was actually having a good time, which was odd, as she usually did not enjoy being the centre of attention.

She smiled at Louise and Louise smiled back, she felt like laughing aloud but she managed to hold it in.

She lay back and began to feel dozy. She thought she may like something to read, like a magazine but decided against it.

She felt a little light-headed, she thought that she was grinning but was not sure.

She decided to concentrate on the ceiling; she could see minute details, little cracks in the paintwork and brush strokes where it had been painted. It consumed her for a period. She giggled because it was funny. She glanced at Norman and Anthony, they were chatting amongst themselves. She looked at Louise who smiled again and asked her if she was all right. "Fine, thank you" she replied.

Anthony and Norman started watching her at this point and checking the camera, she felt dandy considering she was being closely observed over a long duration.

Her thoughts drifted randomly in and out, from one thing to another. She could be thinking about Anna or something Anna had said then she could be remembering a tennis lesson she had had four years ago. All the thoughts became one.

She closed her eyes and with her eyes closed, she was reminded of something she had seen as a child called a kaleidoscope.

Looking into a kaleidoscope functions the same way as looking into a pair of binoculars. You hold it up to your eyes and look inside. When you look inside you can see an assortment of different shapes and sizes constantly moving and changing dimensions and colours when you turn the spheres attached to the eyepieces. It is a tube of mirrors containing coloured objects. The viewer looks in one end and light enters the other end, reflecting off the mirrors.

What she was experiencing now was very similar. Only the colours and shapes were moving towards and away from her. She found that she could control the speed and direction of the movement, almost like a kaleidoscopic rollercoaster.

It felt like a great adventure, she opened her eyes just to be sure that she was still on planet earth. It took a little while for the shapes and colours to disappear.

She could see Louise's face starting to come into focus.

"Lots of colours" she thought she said to her.

"That's great, just relax" she replied softly, the words seemed to float into her head almost as if she could see them.

She acknowledged her deep calmness and closed her eyes again.

The rollercoaster ride continued. She felt almost blissful as she controlled the never-ending rollercoaster in her head. The background was blurry but the foreground was becoming sharper. The colours started to glisten and the trance like music she could here was orchestrating her journey, she imagined that she was gliding above water and everything seemed so serene. She tried to turn and make the background come into focus as she did so she suddenly caught a glimpse of something quite unexpected.

It looked like a figure, an old man sitting watching her. She immediately tried to open her eyes but found she could not. "Hello Victoria" declared the man. His voice sounded very small as though it was coming from little speakers. She could no longer see him, she tried to speak but nothing happened. The ride continued but it suddenly felt like someone else may be controlling it. She attempted to turn her head again and this time the man was a little clearer. He was skinny and appeared not to be wearing clothes, he was bald and his skin looked grey, maybe younger than Victoria thought, he seemed to be smiling. He was no longer sitting but was walking towards her. Then she lost sight of him again. This was quickly becoming a nightmare. She made an effort to shout but nothing happened, she was hoping that the others had noticed her distress and at this moment were injecting high doses of vitamin C into her to wake her up.

What seemed like a few minutes passed, without the little grey man. She slowly began to feel calm again and warmness passed over her, she could see something now at the end of the rollercoaster. It appeared to be a small ball of light, like the sun, it felt warm. She could see something up ahead it looked like a figure sitting on a park bench. This figure however was different he had hair, and he appeared to have wings which covered the length of the bench. She knew who it was, she recognised him from the stained glass windows of the church. He looked directly at her and smiled. He said something but she was not sure what he said, it sounded like "Way".

Her state of blissfulness had returned and she was once more enjoying this never-ending rollercoaster adventure.

The colours began to blend into patterns and objects, it immediately transported her back to the sensation she had had as a child when she first picked up a kaleidoscope. She was at her grandmother's house looking through boxes of old photos when she had found it and asked her grandmother what it was.

She looked above her and could see Saint Michael flying, silhouetted against the sun.

She looked ahead again and noticed that now there appeared to be an intersection before the end of the rollercoaster with a sign, she could not quite read it but as she got closer, she suddenly realised it said 'Reflection Symmetry.'

"VICTORIA! LISTEN TO ME YOU RETARD!" a voice barked, she screamed or at least she thought she did, she turned her head. The grey man was closer now staring directly at her, with his lips turned back in a snarl. He appeared to be shouting something but she could not understand. "It's not a man; it's a creature, some sort of monster"

"VICTORIA" the voice echoed in her head, her heart was beating incredibly fast. "VICTORIA", the voice was changing it sounded like Daniel.

Her heartbeat began to slow down as the rollercoaster ride slowly began to dissolve around her.

"Hey Victoria, I need you to open your eyes" she did, the voice was soothing. Things were a little out of focus but she could feel her heartbeat returning to normal.

She could sense that everyone was looking at her. "It's okay Victoria. Have a sip of this and relax."

Daniel held out a drink that she presumed was the vitamin shake. She sat up and drank it all. Things were back in focus but she felt a little dizzy.

"I think I had a nightmare," she stated. "Yes, your heart rate and blood pressure went up a fraction and we woke you."

"How long was I out?"

"Just over an hour, pretty much the normal time"

"An hour! It seemed like 5 minutes"

"Yes, that's quite normal. Anyway we can discuss your experience in a few minutes; you take it easy for five minutes while I review what happened with Norman, Anthony and Louise"

"Okay, can I see the video too?"

"Sure thing Victoria"

Victoria lay back, her nightmare was starting to seem vague and distant.

Louise brought her a tray with orange juice, coffee and biscuits. "Tuck into these when you're ready Vick" she suggested. The orange juice Louise explained was actually the vitamin cocktail that would bring her out of her drowsy state.

Victoria decided that she was ready and started to help herself to everything on the tray.

Daniel returned to her bedside with Norman and Anthony.

"Well, all the results seem fine, just the slight increase in heart rate and blood pressure towards the end" explained Norman "This sometimes happens when the calming effect of the herbal extracts begin to wear off and as the body is not accustomed to being in such a relaxed state it can react quickly to try and wake up."

Victoria was beginning to feel a little silly about her dream now as the nightmare part started to fade into the background and the pleasant experiences rose to the front.

She had imagined that everyone had panicked and Daniel had come running in to save her from her nightmare, but it seemed that he was only here to get the results.

"How was everything for you Victoria?" Daniel asked.

It was already starting to seem like a distant memory to Victoria, the way nightmares could after the sun starts to shine and the birds begin to sing.

She found however that she could explain the sensation of the roller coaster ride very coherently. She surprised herself with how well she articulated her trip and how sharp and clear her mind felt. She was awakening now but it was as is she had participated in the best night's sleep of her life.

She was enjoying the way that people were hanging on every word that she spoke; it was a reason for her to begin to understand herself, she was sure that she was becoming a more confident person.

"Did you have some type of negative experience towards the end when you were in a dream like trance Victoria? That's when your signs increased, and that's when we woke you. You mentioned a nightmare."

"Yes, there was something. It was a grey figure who shouted at me during the ride. It frightened me a little."

"Do you remember what it said?"

"It called my name and told me to listen to what it had to say. Then it kind of disappeared I think."

The feeling of déjà vu returned strongly, Victoria was beginning to remember something, something from her school days but she could not visualise what it was yet.

"It didn't say anything else?"

"I'm not sure, I don't think so"

"Interesting"

Victoria was aware that everyone was listening to her with such enthusiasm she thought she might burst out laughing.

The experience now seemed like a distant dream and she would have been struggling at this point to explain everything in full detail.

After she helped herself to some more orange juice and coffee Daniel, Louise and herself went into another office to sort out payments and paperwork.

Norman and Anthony said their goodbyes and hoped to see her again.

They also left the video recording with Louise in case Victoria wanted to watch it after she had been paid.

"Thanks guys" Victoria replied. She liked their enthusiastic natures.

Victoria received her payment of five hundred dollars all in cash, no taxes paid she presumed. "Not bad work for having a little nap." She also signed some paperwork to ensure everything was in order and then she was finished.

"Okay Victoria, I'm going to give you Louise's and my mobile numbers and the email address for the company, we can all read the emails that come through to this address." Daniel wrote everything down for her. "If you feel slightly strange or uncomfortable as if you may be experiencing side effects please contact us at once."

"Sure thing, when's the next session by the way?"

"Same time next week, if you can make it Victoria"

"That should give me enough time to spend all this then" she joked, Victoria was a careful spender and she had already estimated that it would be possible to save half and if she could find other work she could comfortably be on her way in six or seven weeks.

"What will you be doing?" she boldly quizzed Daniel.

"Well, I will be here, typing up our findings from your first experiment and other research related stuff."

"Am I an experiment?" Victoria asked grinning

Daniel looked slightly flustered "No, of course not. Well you know what I mean Victoria."

"Okey dokey, see you next week then."

"Yes, take care Victoria and remember if there is anything you need just ask."

"Okay, bye Daniel, bye Louise."

Louise had wandered to the other side of the office and appeared distracted with paperwork. "Oh, bye Victoria. Take care hun."

"You too"

Victoria left the building. She walked outside and immediately noticed that things looked a little different. Not much but a little sharper as though the focus had been adjusted and things were playing in high definition.

She enjoyed the sensation and seeing all the people she had the idea that she could go up and talk to anyone. For the first time since she was a child, she felt like a member of the human race.

She suddenly felt a pang for Anna and wished that she was not in Melbourne today. There was no sign of mysterious Mary but she could give Karen a ring and see how she got on.

There was no answer just the beep to leave a message.

She remembered that Louise mentioned them all getting together after the session but it had never happened. "Maybe she forgot" but some thing felt a little odd.

Victoria decided against leaving a message and opted to phone her later on tonight.

As she was missing Anna, the logical choice was to give her a bell. Which she did with the same result, no answer please leave a message after the beep. This time she did leave a message "G'day mate hope you're not working to hard give me a ring when you're free. Ciaoooo, by the way this is me Vicky just in case you were fooled by my ozzie impression at the beginning."

"Damn, well what now?" It was a good question; she had a restless energy and certainly felt like doing something. "Maybe wait for Karen or Mary to come out, or go back inside and find them." Something inside of her abruptly decided against it as she had an impulsive urge to go swimming. She remembered that she had seen a Victorian style swimming baths close to Bondi beach. It seemed the perfect thing to do at this moment and she turned in the direction of her hostel and briskly walked back, strangely excited about the prospect of visiting a Victorian swimming pool.

She got back into her room and almost immediately her energy seemed to depart her, a nap seemed like a good idea as her bed began to appear very inviting all of a sudden. "Well I was up at five thirty, half an hour then swimming" she knew before her head hit the pillow that she was being optimistic.

She was dreaming, in her dream she was in her bedroom at home she was sitting at her desk looking out of her bedroom window up above the sky was distinctly grey and English but she could see Saint Michael sitting on Mrs Farrell's roof opposite. He was looking at her, he smiled and spoke to her, "you must pray Victoria, bad things are coming." He continued to smile. Victoria heard something behind her the bed was being moved she turned around and saw the creature moving her bed. He stopped what he was doing and looked at her as if he did not know she was there. He growled a low guttural sound and ran towards her.

Victoria woke up with her heart pounding so hard she imagined it would explode. She bolted out of bed and headed for the light switch. She turned it on and scanned the room in a state of panic. She stayed where she was waiting for her thoughts to organise themselves. It was still light outside and this calmed her somewhat, she could hear laughing from the corridor of her hostel and this brought her back into reality a bit more.

"Okay, okay. Just a dream Vicky babes "her heart rate slowed down and she took her first steps back towards her alarm clock so she could check the time. It was just after six pm. "Right time to get moving Vicky. Shower and then out of here" and that is what she did.

As soon as she was outside everything returned to normal. The seagulls were making seagull noises. The seaside breeze was wonderful. She felt hungry and was ready for some seafood with orange juice followed by coffee and cake. She knew that was what she wanted and she knew that she could get it.

She was done by eight and figured that a movie could be on the cards tonight, as she did not fancy spending the night in her room.

She walked towards the cinema to see what was on, she felt inexplicably sad she could not really understand why but it was there. She felt it in her heart like somebody had gone from her life, somebody that she thought would never leave her but she did not know whom it was.

She went through the motions and watched a film; it was a silly film about vampires, cashing in on the current vampire fad.

She walked home still feeling the weight of her emotions; she crawled into bed and went to sleep, feeling lonely.

The next day she awoke feeling a little better she had slept well and thankfully nightmare free but something was not right and she did not know what.

She thought a trip to the beach might give her time to get her thoughts in order.

She grabbed the James Bond book, a towel, some water, and other useful beach objects and made her way to Bondi.

In just thirty minutes, Victoria was laying on the beach reading her book. She felt calm and at ease yet somehow excited at the same time. She checked her phone, no messages or missed calls.

She put her book down, lay back, and immediately began to feel dreamy. She closed her eyes. She could hear the sounds of people's laughter, the waves softly rolling against the shore and the seagulls crying out to each other from above which reminded her of the film 'Finding Nemo.'

She started to drift off, she briefly looked up at the blue skies and the silhouettes of palm trees as her eyes closed she could picture again the kaleidoscopic rollercoaster which had captured her dreams earlier in the morning.

"VICTORIA" a voice yapped it was the voice of the creature; she sat upright as though she had received a shock from an electrical current.

As she got up ready to prop her hands against the sand to manoeuvre herself, she caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of her eye.

Her heart was beating faster and she looked around at the beach hoping to relax and not see any little grey monsters running towards her. Everything was the same as it had been.

The waves were crashing against the shore; the children were laughing and running on the sand. The sun was shining and all was good. Her heart rate began to subside just as though she had awoken from a bad dream, but less intensive than her actual nightmare of the monster had been.

She decided to have a little walk around and remembered a fruit smoothie place she had spotted on the way, just on the edge of the beach as she was approaching the steps.

It was a good time to take a break from the sun anyway, she confirmed there's nothing more embarrassing than a lobster coloured Brit who can't take the sun.

When she stood up, she got a momentary sensation of being dizzy as people sometimes do when they stand up after sitting for a while. She looked up to see if there was anything to use as support. In the same instance, she saw the monster standing directly in front of her.

She could not be sure not all the details were there but she knew it was him. It was only for a second, like the flicker you can sometimes see whilst watching a film at the cinema then it was gone.

Victoria remained in the same position for what seemed like a very long time.

When enough time had passed, she remembered about herself.

Oh my god! Everyone on the beach must be staring at me; she had a quick check in all directions feeling her cheeks turning red as she was expecting a crowd of onlookers. Nobody was watching.

She picked up her things and walked away from the beach her heart and head were both pounding.

Obviously, she was the only person who had seen anything. She began to question the experience; probably it was just an after effect of the whole day, I am tired after all.

She arrived at the smoothie bar, ordered a strawberry smoothie with a coffee to follow and sat down.

A bit of caffeine may help clear my head. Daniel of course, phone Daniel and tell him what has happened the thought was sudden and strong so she did not hesitate and dialled his number from her mobile. It rang twice. 'Hello Daniel Kramer speaking' Victoria smiled a little despite herself at the formal telephone voice

'Hi Daniel it's me Victoria'

'Hey Victoria, how you doin?' that sounded better

'Well in general okay, good thanks.' She suddenly had an idea that she was going to sound very silly but she pressed on anyway.

'The thing is I just experienced a kind of flashback episode whilst I was lying on the beach.'

'Are you near Bondi?'

'Yes, I'm near 'JuicyLucy' smoothie bar, just about to head in, do you know it?'

'I do actually; I'm not too far away. I think it would be good for me to come and meet you.'

'Okay then' Victoria found this a little odd, as she had not explained exactly what had happened yet. She also felt relieved. She would prefer to explain the incident face to face.

'Well order me a mango smoothie, I'll be there in about five minutes. I really am close by.'

'Will do, see you in five.'

'Bye,'

She spotted Daniel approaching; he must have been at the beach also. He was wearing flip-flops, shorts, a baggy t-shirt and a floppy hat. He was carrying a satchel that looked as if it contained notes.

'Hey Victoria'

'Hey Daniel'

Daniel sat himself down opposite Victoria just as his mango smoothie arrived.

'Good timing'

'Yes, and a good coincidence too, I sometimes come to the beach to study and get a bit of fresh air. You know, out of the office. Anyway, let's hear about the 'flashback'.

'It's difficult to explain really, it could have just been nothing but it was very similar to my experience in the lab when I saw the grey figure.'

'Well, listen would you like to come into the lab and talk about it with me and the other guys? Might help you feel better'

'Okay, that would be nice. I've no plans'.

'Me neither, actually today is my day off but what the hell, we have to give you a check up and make sure you're okay. I'll phone and tell them we're on our way. My car's parked a couple of blocks down from here.'

Daniel's car was actually a mini jeep with customary surfboard and beach gear in the back.

They arrived back at the University. Louise, Esther, Norman and Anthony were there sitting together in what Victoria assumed was the staff room. She felt it comforting to see them all and felt a lot better after talking it out.

"We've completed 53 of these trials now Vick." Louise informed her with her usual cheery disposition. "It's happened before. Sometimes subjects have a flashback a day or two after the first go. Think of it like staring at the sun closing your eyes then looking away. You can see little red smudges but you know their not there. It's the same with the voice I guess, although I've never heard of that before. It could be because you were in a dream like state just before it happened.

"That's what I actually thought too" interrupted Daniel "I figured I would get a second opinion just to make Victoria feel at ease".

"We're glad you got in touch with us Vick. Remember if you want to stop at any point that's fine. If there is anything, you want to check with us at any time please do it. Okay?"

"Okay, well I think I'm gonna give it another go."

"That's fine. Anything you want to drink? Coffee? Juice?"

"No thanks. I've just had one of each on the beach," she said smiling at Daniel.

"Well, the following session is next Monday at the same time at 10 am if you're up for it Vick' explained Louise 'but truly if you want to bail we understand'

'Thanks Louise, I think I'll be here though.'

'Okay, but listen if anything happens you phone one of us or even if you fancy a chat, get on that phone honey. We're always available.' They both smiled; in fact, everyone was smiling at her. It would have been creepy normally but Victoria could tell that they had been concerned for her welfare.

'By the way, how did Karen and Mary get on? I didn't see them after the session and I thought that we might all get together' Victoria enquired.

"Oh, yes well actually we forgot," explained Louise "I don't think that Mary is to keen to meet up for social activities anyway but Karen did ask about you but you'd already gone."

"Oh really, because I've sent her a text and tried to ring her but she never replies"

"Can't help you there hun, maybe she's low on credit. Anyhow next Monday remind me and I'll make sure you guys get together."

"Okay thanks Louise"

"No worries, enjoy the rest of your week Vicky"

"You too"

Victoria said her goodbyes, left her compatriots behind, and headed back out into the sun.

She checked her phone hoping from some word from Anna but still nothing, if I hadn't got through to Daniel I'd swear my phone was kaput

She had an urge for a cup of tea. She was not a big drinker of tea but she was after all English. Cake too, chocolate, why not?

She thought about 'Oasis' but realised that it was not really the place for tea and cake and the only place nearby was a 'Starbucks' which she chose as her next destination.

She ordered her tea and cake and sat down, she realised that she was the only person in the place who was sitting by herself. This would normally make her feel self conscious and solitary but she had a different sensation. Instead she found herself contemplating all of the people who had come together to make her cup of tea. She thought of the workers in a tea plantation somewhere in Asia who had first picked the tea. The people who had imported the tea from Asia. The people who had put the tea into little bags in a factory somewhere. The people who had delivered it to 'Starbucks'. The girl who had served her. The more she thought about it the more she realised that hundreds of people from all over the world had worked together to bring her a cup of tea. She was determined not to feel lonely.

The tea was psychologically soothing and went down well with a slice of cake. She still had all her beach gear with her and figured it would be a good idea to head back to the hostel for a shower.

All at once had a sensation that someone was watching her and she looked up. Across the road, she saw Mary, the Goth girl. She was staring directly at her. It was difficult to judge her facial expression but she looked pissed off, seriously pissed off. Victoria's heart skipped a beat. This was strange, how long had she been there? Victoria could see that Mary now knew she had been spotted but she continued standing adjacent to the shop window separated by an asphalt road and passing traffic looking into each other's eyes. Victoria opted to wave at her hoping that there was a logical explanation for Mary's behaviour. The wave garnered no response just the continuing focused gaze. Victoria's curiosity was turning to annoyance so she gathered herself up and made a decision to step outside and confront this gothic gazer.

As soon as she approached the shop entrance, a hand placed itself on her shoulder. "Excuse me miss, I think you need to pay." Victoria had forgotten and immediately her face became a nice shade of crimson. "I'm so sorry" She walked to the till with the shop assistant hoping that no one could see her glowing face. She knew that the redness only made her appear more guilty and the shop assistant's silence as she handed over her money didn't help either.

Once she had paid and finally made her way out of the shop Mary was nowhere to be seen.

That was an extremely abnormal situation concluded Victoria.

It should have disturbed her more than it did, she knew that, but she felt angry with herself. Annoyed that she had turned red, she felt cursed and alone. Why does it happen? She knew that this was not a constructive thing to ask herself. She knew that the world was full of people with problems, alcoholism, drug addiction, people who have been to war and seen and experienced things she never would. She knew that these people suffered. There were times however when she was sure she suffered as much because of her social anxieties. She remembered reading an article once about a woman who was sacred of going outside, it was in New York, she was so afraid of seeing other people that she could not even go to the shops. She finally died of starvation but really, she died of social embarrassment and fear of others. At least that is how it seemed to Victoria. It's easy to sympathise with an alcoholic or a drug addict because you can see their problem. Who could make a movie of someone's anxieties and fears? It's a disease that sufferers live with alone and out of reach, a hidden problem. It's real though, it's real to me. So many people are normal and love life and can approach every day with really nothing to worry about. As soon as I get near to people I am anxious every second of every hour I am waiting for embarrassment.

She played the Starbucks situation over in her head as she walked back to her hostel. Will I be this way for the rest of my life? Can I get better? She did not know. She remembered times at school and college when she had blushing episodes. People would always comment which made things worse; she could not speak at times. She was sure people regarded her as odd or a stupid little shy girl who deserved sympathy. It had been impossible for her to have a boyfriend. She tried not to think about it too much but knew that a normal relationship would be difficult because she would spend most of it nervous with a red face and who would be interested in somebody like that?

The only person she felt more or less at ease with was Anna.

Maybe there's a problem with Anna's phone. I can try emailing her or maybe she's online and we can chat

Victoria headed to the nearest internet café.

She checked her emails with a sense of urgency and was surprised to see that she had none. NOTHING! When was the last time she had checked her emails? She was not sure. She had brought her laptop with her but had never had the opportunity to use it. The hostels she stayed in never had WI FI.

She signed in to messenger, and there it was the green icon representing Anna was available. She started to type a greeting when unexpectedly Anna turned to grey and went offline.

What the …? Victoria knew that she was generally a little paranoid but she could not understand this. Surely, Anna had seen her come online, so why switch off. She rationalised the best thing to do was immediately phone her because she must be near her mobile and she certainly was awake.

She did and Anna answered on the second ring.

"Vicky babes hi. I'm so sorry I haven't got back to you. It's my Granddad, Granddad David, he's died."

"Oh my god Anna, I'm so sorry. Are you okay?"

"Yes Vick, thanks. We expected it you know. It's just the funeral is next week and my mum wants me to go back."

"What'll you do?"

"Well she's gonna pay for a return ticket for me so I'll be back for two weeks then I'll come back again. Work have been great and are gonna keep my job here. I'm really sorry about all this."

"It's okay of course Anna, I had no idea. I'm so sorry."

"Listen I've gotta go my mum is calling me back in 5. I leave tomorrow; I'll have to see you when I get back. I'm sorry Vick really but it's all been a bit mad."

"Look it's okay you just get back and sort everything out. Give my condolences to everyone okay. I'm so sorry. We can get together in two weeks, no worries."

"Thanks Vicky. I love you"

"I love you too."

Anna hung up.

Poor Anna, maybe I could have gone to see her, no she must be busy, stressed out. Anna remembered meeting Granddad David. She had met him twice. Once when she was eleven and once when she was fifteen. She remembered that he had had quite a long chat with her. He was concerned about her. He thought that she was heading into trouble. She could not remember all the details but she remembered she was grateful for the time he spent with her. She knew that year had been difficult in her life but the exact reasons why escaped her.

She left the internet café and figured she would head back to the hostel have a lie down and get her head together. It had been an untypical day although as her strange new life was unfolding perhaps she could describe it as a typical day after all.

She contemplated phoning Daniel to tell him about what had happened today with Mary. She played the situation over again in her mind; the more she thought about the less strange it appeared. She probably just saw me from across the street and was too nervous to come and say hello. I can relate to that. She was probably embarrassed when she realised I'd spotted her and didn't know what to do. That must be it. Phoning Daniel was not a good idea yet; better to think things through first.

She returned to her hostel and began tidying her things it always helped her to think when everything was well organised. All of her paperwork related to her job and her experiments at Sydney University were neatly filed away in a drawer.

She emptied the contents of her purse and lying face up was a business card. Victoria recognised it as the business card that was given to her by Joseph Murphy the Italian looking psychologist from Manchester.

I could ring him, why not? It's perfect because I'm working at the University too.

Victoria felt desperate in a way and alone, she had to speak with someone, someone she did not know very well perhaps fitted the bill. She dialled the number and immediately thought about hanging up but it was too late. He would see the number and call back, what excuse could she give? The phone began ringing and Victoria's heart rate began increasing. What am I doing?

"Hello"

"Hi, Joseph?"

"Yep"

"Oh, hi" Victoria's face had certainly changed colour but at least nobody could see it "I don't know if you remember me, erm, my name's Victoria"

"The girl from the backpacker's breakfast place?"

"Yes, wow! You remember" Victoria's heart was beating rather quickly and she felt anxious

"Yep, how you doin?"

"Good, thanks, good. What about you?"

"Fine, still enjoying Sydney?"

"Sure, sure. How's your research going?"

"It's going good Victoria, it's going good."

"Good"

"Anything I can do for you?"

"No, actually no" Victoria gave a nervous chuckle "I just found your card and phoned your number." Oh great, hang up, hang up!

"Oh, well I don't want to cut you off but I was just in the middle of something you see and ….."

"No, no it's okay I have to go too, sorry to disturb you, bye"

She hung up.

Arghhhhhhhh, stupid. What was that all about? Why did you phone?

Victoria had offended herself and she was annoyed. She was mainly embarrassed and felt rejected. All familiar feelings for her but every time they revisited they did so with a little more aggressiveness and with a little bit more pain. Over the years, she was slowly teaching herself that it was all a waste of time. She would play this situation repeatedly in her head and add to it of course, similar situations of which there were many that would reinforce her feelings of worthlessness.

She got in to bed and read James Bond until she fell asleep.

The days passed without incident not even a phone call or word from Anna, Victoria hoped all was well with her. The week passed and just as the previous Sunday evening had arrived, so did this one. She was ready for day two of her Australian working life.

Day two

She awoke feeling stressed. She hated feeling this way. She had a sensation of anxiety that she knew from experience would only escalate as the day escalated. She wanted to do something but she did not know what. She was only aware that not all was good in her world. It was going to be a day when things went wrong. She had an urge to go on the computer and just do nothing but surf for the whole day, or to switch off and watch mindless TV. She had a shower and decided to make her own breakfast, which would consist of two muesli bars, and some juice that she had. She was not if the right frame of mind for a sit down breakfast in a café. A coffee, yes but a big breakfast was out of the question. Something was definitely missing her mind seemed to be screaming out to her to realise it but she could not. It was the sensation of searching for lost keys; you knew that they were here somewhere, but where? Now however Victoria did not know what she had lost. She ate breakfast but her mind was running in circles and getting nowhere, she had a shower but was distracted by her anguished mind. She checked her bag, which had her purse and keys; she guessed it was all she needed. She left the hostel hoping that she had not forgotten anything and headed towards the Starbucks close to the University where she had the strange encounter with Mary not so long ago.

God, I'm not in the mood for seeing her today. It would be cool to see Karen and have a chat.

This helped her focus a bit more; this was a part of the puzzle that her mind was trying to solve. What is it?

She could not focus and when she arrived at Starbucks, she ordered a coffee this time instead of a tea. She sat at the same table and stared outside the window hoping to catch a glimpse of someone she may recognise. She finished her coffee and saw no one she knew. Emptiness was settling over her now. She suddenly felt alone.

She realised that she had already paid for her coffee at the till and this struck her as odd. Earlier in the week, she did not pay for her coffee at the till and the girl had stopped her as she went to confront Mary. A feeling of unreality washed over her. Could it be?

She observed the queue and realised that everyone was paying at the till as each person ordered. She scanned the staff hoping to recognise the girl who had stopped her but there was no sign. If she had not been so distracted, earlier she probably would not have returned here due to the embarrassment factor but here she was realising that something had happened in her life that in all probability could not have happened.

She got up from her seat and walked out of Starbucks in a semi daze, she felt like crying.

She wondered if this was some kind of side effect of the experiment and decided to check with the guys, she made her way directly to the university.

There was no sign of Mary at the water cooler this time just an empty chair next to it. The sight of the empty chair somehow made Victoria feel melancholic. She took the lift alone this time so no chance of embarrassment. The doors again 'pinged' open on the second floor but this time the journey seemed a lot shorter. She spotted Norman and Anthony chatting to each other standing next to a drinks machine. Anthony saw her and smiled 'Hey Vick' he enthusiastically walked towards her and gave her an equally enthusiastic handshake. Norman headed over too but in a less enthusiastic way 'Hi Victoria'

'Hi guys, am I the first one here?'

'Well actually we've got a bit of news for you Vick' stated Anthony

'Would you like to follow us through to the office?'

'Sure'

Victoria followed them into room B21 where the first session had taken place to listen to their news.

She noticed that the classrooms, which were occupied with students during her first visit, were now empty.

The room was empty, they all sat down, Victoria sat on the bed Norman sat behind the desk and Anthony took a seat next to the desk.

'Well', started Norman "It appears that today will be our last session for five weeks Victoria'

'What do you mean?'

'We have to take time off to analyse our findings we'll still be here at the university but we have to take a break from the practical side of the research.'

'Oh'

'Yes, but we still want you to be a part of the team Victoria. It is simply a question of whether you can come back in five weeks.'

'I see, well, I guess I can travel around for a bit and return if that's what you mean'

'That would be great of course'

'Where's Daniel?'

'Well, strangely both Karen and Mary cancelled for today and we didn't know if you would be here. Strictly speaking we were going to cancel today so Daniel and Louise wont be here but Esther will be along soon with your money for today if you still want to go ahead that is.'

As if she had been waiting in the wings, Esther opened the door.

'Hi guys! How we doin?'

Victoria returned her greeting but she had a feeling of unease.

'So, what's the plan?' asked Esther 'Victoria honey you must be feeling a little freaked out left alone with these two' she said gesturing with her thumb in the direction of Anthony and Norman.

Victoria noticed that Esther was wearing a grey polo neck and brown corduroy trousers just like the first day they had met.

Victoria smiled, she was suddenly feeling a little better and she glanced at Anthony and Norman who seemed to have immediately forgotten that she was there and were now looking at video equipment together at the other side of the room. It was as if Esther's arrival had relieved them of their social duties.

'It must be weird without Daniel here' Esther noted.

Victoria blushed slightly but she knew that Esther was just trying to help her feel at ease.

'Well I know that you guys are taking some time off'

'Yes, admin stuff, a lot of paperwork.' Esther let out a sigh

Victoria had never really taken notice of Esther before but she thought she had a kind face.

'Anyway what we're gonna offer you is a double payment if you want to do today's session Vick. Honestly, it's kind of stuffed things up with Karen and Mary cancelling and we'd be happy to give you a thousand bucks for today!'

'Why did they cancel?'

'I don't know yet, they spoke to Louise'

Victoria felt, as if she could trust Esther and she had decided to do the session, a thousand dollars was too good to turn down and she did not feel concerned about her own welfare too much. Something was strange however, but she thought she could find out later when she had a pocketful of money.

'Okay let's do it'

'Okay Vick, that's really gonna help us out. Is it okay if you pop back in say thirty minutes? I'll give Daniel and Louise a ring. They'll come round with the cash and materials. Or you can hang around here and watch us sort out papers and set up the video equipment.'

'I'll go for a stroll thanks, I could do with some fresh air and a bit of exercise.'

'Okay, well see you in a little while'

'Okay bye guys'

Anthony and Norman both turned in her direction and bid her farewell.

She left them behind wondering if in fact Anthony and Norman were even aware that she was coming back in half an hour.

She realised as she made her way to the lift that she had forgotten to mention her encounter with Mary and made a mental note to do so on her return.

Once she was out on the street, she made up her mind to phone Karen for the final time just to see if she could find the underlying cause of the mystery as to why Karen never phoned her back.

The phone rang twice and there was an answer

'Hi'

'Hi, is that Karen? This is Vicky'

The phone went dead.

What the …? Victoria was perplexed but she opted against phoning again. Somehow, she knew that there would be no answer. She could not understand why Karen was ignoring her but she decided to drop it for now and carry on with her stroll around the University.

She felt a bit unreal, like the beginning stages of a cold, her eyes felt that the sun was a little too bright. Her forehead seemed slightly warmer than usual but the feelings were only slight. She sat on a bench and decided to wait for the half an hour to pass or perhaps she may see Daniel and Louise heading her way and she could meet them as they approached.

She sat not far from the main entrance of the University, she watched the people pass by oblivious of her presence.

She became lost in her own world; watching people had this effect on her. It was a never-ending source of wonderment that people could seem so unaware of the world around them. That people got old and were replaced by new people and nothing really ever changed but nobody ever particularly thought about it.

'Vicky?'

She looked up from her daydream to see Karen standing in front of her.

Her face felt immediately hot as though Karen would find her behaviour strange somehow.

'They told me you weren't coming today?'

'Today? What do you mean?'

'For the experiments'

'Oh right no I'm leaving Sydney actually, I sent them an email last week.'

'I tried phoning you'

'Ye, sorry my phone was stolen'

'Oh, well that explains everything'

'How are you?'

'I'm good I've got a new experiment today.'

'You'll be a rich girl, what are you going to spend all that money on?'

'I'm gonna save, save, save' Victoria grinned and Karen grinned back

'Listen I'm on my way to the bus station but how about we change emails this time that way at least my email account shouldn't get stolen'

Victoria agreed and they wrote the addresses down luckily Victoria always had pen and paper somewhere in her mini backpack.

'Where are you going?'

'Towards Cairns via the east coast, I may be going back to California sooner than I hoped so I wanna make the most of it.'

'Sure' Victoria suddenly noticed that Karen was wearing a necklace with a pendant displaying Saint Michael.

It's a sign because that is more than a little weird.

'Well listen Vicky you have fun but take care okay, too many drugs can do funny things to you'

Victoria could not tell if Karen was serious or not, it was an American habit, Victoria had noticed.

'You too Karen, have fun, keep in touch'

They hugged each other, Karen walked away, and Victoria sat back down. Things seemed more peculiar now and somehow she felt very alone. She wanted something like an aspirin to make herself feel better but decided instead to walk back to room B21.

She got into the lift in a way she was relieved to have seen Karen and at least the mystery was explained away. Something was odd though and she knew it. There were more people around now, the classrooms had students again and everything was how it should be but she had a feeling that things were different; she had had the same feeling in Starbucks earlier.

Perhaps it's my cold, I'm a bit bunged up mentally at least

She approached room B21 and knocked on the door. Louise opened it.

'Hey Vicky, glad to have you back. Enjoy your walk?'

'Hey Louise' Victoria scanned the room to see who else was there. There was no Daniel yet.

"We're happy you decided to go ahead today" exclaimed Louise

Anthony and Norman were setting everything up just like the first time and Esther was writing something down onto a piece of paper.

"So everything will be the same drill as last time, Daniel should be here soon too."

Everything seemed the same to Victoria. The walls were the same colour. The relaxing music was playing.

"We're gonna give you a lower dose today Vick as you had a slight reaction last time and we'll be close by. If there is the slightest change we'll wake you up with the Vitamin C. remember like I said before it's absolutely one hundred percent safe so just relax and think of all that cash."

"Do I need to sign anything?"

"That's okay hun, you did all that last time, regarding safety precautions. You just sign for your money when were done. Do you wanna read through the paperwork again before we start?"

"No, that's okay thanks." Victoria felt suddenly weary and she was not in the mood to explain the situation with Mary or even that she had just seen Karen outside. She decided just to get on with it and if she felt like it ask some questions later.

Norman spoke up "well Victoria, just to repeat what you heard last time. The experience today will be totally secure. We will all be watching you the whole time and you will be aware of your surroundings. The dose will be administered orally in a drink. It can take between five to 20 minutes to take effect. The duration of the effects will last between one and two hours after which time we will give you a vitamin cocktail to drink which will bring you fully back into reality within five minutes."

"Okay"

"Okay, Victoria I'll prepare the drink, if you want to make yourself comfortable" It was Anthony speaking this time just like before. It seemed to be a rehearsed routine between them. He gestured towards the bed.

Victoria lay down, she thought about her life up until this point and wondered what made people happy. She was good with numbers, an exceptional student; she remembered reading it on a school report once. She knew that she had more than a lot of people but there was something. Some kind of question that made her feel inadequate. Something was nagging away at the back of her mind. She would never feel content she knew it. She was not a happy person.

At this point Daniel entered the room.

Victoria's mood seemed to lift, it was like seeing an old friend but she was unsure why exactly.

"Hey Victoria, glad you could make it."

"Glad you could make it, just in time aren't you?"

"Yes" Daniel looked a little flustered, which amused Victoria, as she felt calm and relaxed for once.

"The drinks ready when you are Victoria" Anthony announced

"I'm ready," Victoria stated and she took the drink from Anthony and swallowed it.

She lay her head back down and listened to the background music.

"If you don't mind we are just going to attach the little pulse-meters to your wrists and frontal lobes Victoria," Anthony stated. "To help us monitor your anxiety levels, like last time."

"No, that's fine. Go ahead."

Norman opened a cupboard that was situated opposite the bed, inside the mini heart rate monitor and the portable camera fixed onto a tripod.

They removed the monitor, placed it onto a desk next to the bed, attached the wires to Victoria, and plugged the machine in.

Victoria was again happy to see the little beeping red light, which indicated her heartbeat.

"If it is okay with you Victoria we would also like to video your experience, just like before," asked Norman.

"Sure"

The digital camera recorder was taken from the cupboard and set up in front of the bed.

It whirred into life and Victoria was unafraid, she felt that all of this was going to make her a different person, more in tune with herself and who she was.

Esther smiled at her, "Is there anything you need?"

"I'm fine thank you Esther" she was drifting. She could feel it.

Daniel settled himself into a seat close to the bed, "We're all here for you Victoria, so just relax and take it easy."

Victoria smiled and closed her eyes, she felt safe five people plus two machines were observing her, she would indeed take it easy.

She felt lightheaded again but this time she knew that she was not grinning. A feeling of déjà vu again washed over her. She felt serious as if this was her destiny and there was no way out of it. She waited to see where the rollercoaster would take her.

It started the same way as before, the kaleidoscope effect. Colours and shapes began to move and form around like a slow moving twister. The experience was certainly less intense and she opened her eyes to look around. Her eyelids felt heavy but she could see everyone, everyone was watching her closely this time there was nobody chatting to their partners. They were all smiling at her she felt extremely at ease and closed her eyes again. She did not know how long her eyes had been open, maybe a second maybe a minute, the thought made her smile, she was glad of that.

The colours and shapes began to speed up ever so slightly and she felt as if she were moving towards something. It seemed a shade darker this time. She tried to open her eyes again but she was too tired, she could taste mint in her mouth, she knew it was from the drink but she wanted to get rid of it. She decided to focus on her other sense and when the taste started to vanish she felt stronger and in control of her experience.

It was different this time as she could remember the sensations form the previous 'trip'. She did not feel as exhilarated, it was still pleasant to be zooming around in a kaleidoscopic rollercoaster but she had a feeling of apprehension somewhere inside of her.

The thoughts came and went as before, one second she would feel like laughing at something she remembered Anna saying, the next she would feel panic rising because she couldn't open her eyes. She supposed that she was asleep but was unsure if she had been able to open her eyes last time. She knew there was no sense in thinking this way and it would be more productive to focus on the ride.

She mentally told herself to relax and focus on the shapes and colours that surrounded her. She did but the shading was different, things seemed a little duller as she focused on a shape it seemed to disappear and move on just as she was beginning to see it fully. She had the idea that she was lying down, she could turn her head from side to side but she could not see behind herself. She could hear the background music again and it helped to visualise the speed and movement of the rollercoaster.

It was certainly getting darker and way up ahead of her it appeared that she could see the end of the rollercoaster represented by a pinprick of bright light.

She felt as though she was grinding her teeth and the tension was returning.

She heard a voice calling her name it sounded friendly and she realised that she could turn the direction of the rollercoaster towards the voice. It was growing darker and the sound of the voice escalated to two or maybe it was three voices. Victoria could hardly see anything now and as she approached the voices, a sense of dread began to rise inside of her and she doubted the friendliness of the voices and thought instead that they may well be malevolent.

The rollercoaster stopped suddenly and she was in darkness, absolute darkness. The voices had stopped Victoria tried to shout out but she could not. She hoped against hope that someone was waking her up right now in the University but a part of her thought that they just could not tell what her internal state was like.

She felt something strike her hard in the centre of her back. Then in the side and again in the back, the shoulder, her legs and stomach. She was being beaten. It was the voices. They were friends of the grey man. She knew it. The beating continued paunches and kicks were hitting her head and body in rapid succession. She thought she might die. She felt something or someone biting into her arm. She could here laughter. She could not speak, not even internally. It seemed to her like an initiation, as though she would be able to join the gang that were beating her if she survived. Something flashed in her mind some image from her youth but it disappeared just as quickly. She felt something tear, it was her flesh, I AM GOING TO BE TORN TO PIECES the pain was more than severe. She found strength and pushed the creatures away. It was dark but she found that she could run, it was a nightmare but she knew that it was also real. It seemed to her that she was in a tunnel of some sort and she could see only the light ahead of her. The friends of the grey man were on her again and they pushed her to the ground. She felt her arms being pinned behind her back, her shoulders felt hot. She did not know how many of them there were at this point. She felt hands pushing her body into the floor below her. She could make out figures moving; above the figures, she could see a shadow. The shadow was reflecting on something, as she understood that she was in fact in a tunnel and the shadow was a figure looking into the tunnel.

She could make out the figures face and knew instantly whom it was. He spoke to her, 'pray Victoria, you must pray now.'

'GOD HELP ME' she screamed, she had found her voice at least, she did not know if it was a prayer or not but it was good enough as light suddenly filled the tunnel.

Everything disappeared, the grey man's friends the tunnel and Saint Michael were all gone in an instant. She was sitting down on the floor, the floor was white it was part of a room which was also white.

She felt like laughing now, she was calm again, she was not religious but who not what was happening. Certainly, the people monitoring her had not detected any oddness as she was obviously still under the influence. She wanted to stay sitting, there was a door in the room next to the door was a mirror. Victoria looked at herself in the mirror from her seated position. She noticed that she was wearing the same clothes she had had on this morning. T-shirt, shorts, jeans and trainers, it felt as though this morning was a whole world away. She remembered eating two muesli bars for breakfast and drinking some juice. She observed her reflection closely; it was reassuring to see her own face looking back at her. She looked unmarked and felt no pain from the earlier attack. She knew that the door would open eventually and she opted to sit and wait for it to happen. As soon as she had decided to wait, the door opened.

The truth

A man walked into the room, it was difficult for Victoria to see him, there was a light surrounding him, he was illuminated. Victoria supposed it was Jesus. Why not? Things couldn't be more crazy if they tried, talking to Jesus just about makes sense at this point.

The man sat down in front of the mirror and crossed his legs; he was sitting opposite Victoria blocking her view of her reflection. He looked at her; to Victoria he looked kind and calm. He spoke to her. "Hi Victoria"

"Hi" the voice was soothing

"We are going to do something Victoria. I am going to give you a life review. Do you know what it is?"

"Not exactly" Victoria was calm

"Well, it is like it says a review of your life" Jesus smiled kindly "some parts may be unpleasant for you but I hope that it will also be equally pleasant. There will be things that you have forgotten about and things that you would never have dreamed that you had done. You will see the effects positive and negative that you have had on the lives of others. Some people call it The Bardo Thordul."

"How long will it last?"

"Everything will be displayed in chronological sequence. The amount of time the experience will last is subjective, it may seem instantaneous or perhaps a few seconds or half a minute at the most. However, you will find the experience transformative Victoria."

"Okay Jesus I am ready"

The man smiled again but this time it was out of amusement "I am not Jesus Victoria. Please look at yourself in the mirror then close your eyes"

Jesus moved his position and Victoria made eye contact with herself in the mirror and did as Jesus had requested. She closed her eyes and could still make out the frame of the mirror behind her eyelids. The frame slowly morphed into a door, it looked Egyptian to Victoria but she could not quite make it out clearly enough. She instinctively tried to open her eyes but they stayed closed. They are already closed of course but now they are closed again so I can see more. The door opened and she stepped through it, or at least her mind did.

It was a review just as promised; she saw the first ten years of her life pass before her it was quick, like a flash as they say. It was also slow of course she could pause and speed things up and thing were paused for her and sped up. It was like a DVD with special commentary. She was not alone in the review, she had two commentators stopping and asking questions all the time. They told her she could ask them questions too but she thought she would wait until the end. The commentators of her life were only interested in her relationships with other people. She remembered at school when she was eight winning the outstanding pupil certificate for that year and walking up to, the stage to receive it and everyone had clapped. She was sure she was embarrassed but she remembered the occasion with pride. She had assumed it was an important stepping-stone in her life but it was fast-forwarded. There were things she did not remember like laughing at a boy called James Allen he had been very short with ginger hair she knew he was getting picked on by the other kids but she joined in anyway because it was him not her. The commentators were very interested in this, it made her feel selfish, and she could feel the pain of James Allen. It continued like this into her teenage years she knew that it was a miserable time but the creatures only highlighted things that she had done to cause pain to others not the pain that she had suffered.

She approached her teenage years with dread but she was unsure why. She had been kind to an old Indian man. She had forgotten it was her mother's idea to help in the community. She had been volunteered by her mother and had only gone round the old man's house twice with another girl to help with some gardening. The experience had helped the old man a lot he had was lonely and the girls' help touched him. The commentators seemed to ask her endless questions about situations like this. What made her do it? What did she feel like before and after? They seemed fascinated, as though it was enhancing some big project they were working on and this was important data for them. Victoria knew something traumatic was approaching, something had happened with her when she was fifteen. She had an idea now what it was she just hoped that she could forget again, when she woke up from all of this. She felt a deep despair as she saw Mary the Goth. Mary was looking at her in exactly the same way she had been that day in Starbucks. The commentators had gone temporarily quite. Mary was dead or dying, she had been burnt quite badly. She was younger about fifteen and so was Victoria, there were other people with Mary all the same age she recognised them all of course but her mind could not compute all of them. They had all been burnt and many like Mary were dying. Mary walked closer to Victoria and started questioning her the same way the creatures had. What made you do it Victoria? What did you feel like before and after?

She had no answers and could only wait for this part to be over.

The review appeared to have stopped as if there was dust on the DVD. Victoria knew it could not continue yet. She was unafraid and decided to wait and see what would happen.

What happened was she woke up.

She woke up in bed, but it was not the same place that she had fallen asleep. She was in a room not unlike the room where she had spoken with Jesus or whoever it was.

The room was also white her bed was white and next to her bed was a bedside table which was also white. There was a book on the bedside table, she recognised it, it was a diary, her diary. She picked it up, it was old she knew when it was from. She remembered writing it when she was fifteen years old.

She picked it up, opened the diary at the first page, and felt a connection to her fifteen-year-old self as she recognised her handwriting.

"Bloody hell. Look at the size of it, it's from some internet company I don't now how she can afford to order all this junk. She gets it from you always buying rubbish every time you go shopping"

"What a surprise my fault again, VICTORIA, THERES A PACKAGE ARRIVED FOR YOU"

My name is Victoria and this is where this story begins, my parents were arguing again, I could here it all from my room as usual.

I went downstairs to pick up my package. It was raining. I returned to my room. My room was dark. I had the curtains closed. I saw a moth trying to escape from my lampshade banging its wings against its self-imposed barrier repeatedly. I knew how it felt.

I felt small too like the moth as if nobody wanted to notice me but I was hoping the contents of the package were about to change all that.

Maybe I just wasn't worth noticing. I turned my music up to try to drown out the noise of my parents arguing. Sometimes the songs that I listened to seemed to be written especially for me.

"VICTORIA, CAN YOU TURN THAT MUSIC DOWN? YOUR DAD AND I ARE TRYING TO … TALK"

Last week at school, I remember writing in big letters in my maths book 'I HATE EVERYTHING ABOUT MY LIFE'. I remember it well because there was a dead fly next to the window in the classroom. I watched the fly struggle and die; it was close to freedom at one point. I could have saved it but I was too worried about what everyone would think. The fly had died I suppose the same way the moth in my room was going to, unless I saved it.

Mr Robbins my English lit teacher, he was from America once read us a poem in class. I listened to the words. "Sing to the heart, worlds apart, white foam…Blue horizons…Untamed Sunsets… All hold that song…Careless words, once, twice, tattered souls, Chipped walls and …Faded yellow roses…They somehow mark the years of silence…"

Many of the kids did not really understand what it meant but I think I did.

Everyone at school used to laugh at me or think I was slow but I knew what it was, I could see more than they could even if I felt less imporatnt. I knew all of them but they didn't know me.

There was one girl in particular called Karen, I found her on facebook, she had two profiles using the same email address. She called herself 'Roxy'. Her profile said she was a 25-year-old Brazilian girl.

We emailed each other all the time to talk about music. She thought I was someone older too.

I had a dozen different facebook accounts and I enjoyed imaging false identities for myself.

I tracked Daniel down on a movies board. I used to post back to him as another boy who wanted to be a film director.

Then there was Mary, I found Mary in a religious chat room after seeing her pray before lunch one day. I saw her facebook profile and it pinpointed me to the websites she visited.

She thought I was an older man with lots of money who had lost faith in god and was contemplating suicide.

She was a dark soul and I didn't want to cause her any pain.

One day I came across a website called "The Genie in the Bottle can make your wish come true."

I sat there staring at the screen, for some reason I felt funny inside, it was like my destiny and I knew that it was calling out for me.

Victoria suddenly felt very overwhelmed and tired, was it really her diary? What would it show her? She knew that it contained a secret but she was too exhausted to remember it now. She did not really know where she was but she did not care and had to sleep. She pulled the white sheet and white blanket up to her head and closed her eyes.

She was awoken by a voice calling her name, it was Daniel. She opened her eyes but felt very groggy. She looked around the room she was in and she was back at the university. Everyone was there to greet her, Esther, Anthony, Norman, Louise and Daniel. They all looked supportive and calm as if nothing had occurred.

"Hey Vick, how you doing?" enquired Louise.

Victoria was too preoccupied with remembering all that had happened, just like a dream it was starting to fade away.

"Do you have a pen and paper?"

"Sure Vick, one sec"

Victoria wrote down as much as she could remember but it was becoming a fragmented blur and only some images and ideas were formed in her mind. The review of her life was quite clear but she had to stop to think it through. She knew it had not been completed. She was angry about it and realised that she had missed an excellent opportunity to ask them questions. She could have asked them anything she supposed. They seemed to know so much. She looked down at the University stationery paper and the notes she had written. It did not make any sense. She stopped and looked up at the others. "Some strange things happened"

"Was it like before?" Anthony seemed keen to know "there were no signs of any trauma or disturbances whatsoever from you. In fact, there were less signs of disturbance than your previous visit. It seemed that you were extremely relaxed Victoria."

"Well it was actually worse than before, I'll tell you guys what I remember." She propped herself up on her elbows and drank some juice. Louise had prepared a tray with orange juice or vitamin cocktail, coffee and biscuits.

Within 5 minutes, she was coming round and feeling good.

She told them about the roller coaster ride, the attack, and the review, she knew she was missing a lot out but everyone was again hanging on her every word like the first time.

Victoria remembered Karen's pendant and mentioned the Saint Michael incident.

This caused Esther, Anthony, Norman, Louise and Daniel to glance at each other. It was not very subtle and Victoria knew something had happened but she kept quiet.

It was then that she remembered her encounter with Mary at Starbucks. However, suddenly the incident did not seem important to her. There was some confusion with it also, some confusion with the layout of the shop but she did not want to think about it yet.

Victoria felt a little sluggish as if she could shake her head vigorously and she would feel alert again.

"How long was I out?"

"Just over an hour, pretty much like last time"

"An hour, it seemed more like it this time I suppose"

"Yes"

"Okay, can I see the video?"

"Sure thing Victoria, you forgot last time. I can burn them onto a DVD and you can take them with you," offered Norman. Daniel left with Anthony and Norman, presumably to check the results as they had done the first time and perhaps to burn her DVD.

Victoria lay back, it was all again starting to seem vague and distant.

"Did you see the same creature as before Victoria?" enquired Esther.

"No, there were creatures, the ones who attacked me but I didn't see them. At least I don't think so."

"Did these creatures call your name?"

"No, I don't think so anyway."

Esther looked concerned and glanced at Louise. Louise appeared deep in thought she caught Esther's glance and she looked towards Victoria.

"What you're telling us is very unique Vick. Really, nothing so intense should be happening. It's a bit of a concern to tell you the truth. Only because we have never heard of this reaction before but you can relax anyway it is only a concern to us."

"Oh good"

"We will probably need one more session with you Vick. You'll be awake though and the dose will be mild. We want to try to clear your mind. We want to undo the effects of what you've experienced so far. It's a simple thing we have a list of twelve questions and when you answer them your subconscious will delete the negative messages you have sent to it when you were under the influence so to speak."

"Sounds good to me. Will it work?"

"Sure we usually do it after someone has completed nine sessions and this is session number ten. "We've done this experiment eighty seven times Vick."

Eighty seven times! I'm sure someone told me it was fifty three times

"And I'm the first person to experience such an intense trip?"

"Yes, but like I said you can relax about it. Now the earliest we can do this is in forty-eight hours. So I'm gonna recommend we do it. Same time and place in two days sound okay to you Vick?"

"Sure yes."

"We'll pay you of course; in fact we'll even things out and pay you for five sessions. How's that sound?"

"Sounds great"

Daniel returned to her bedside with Norman and Anthony.

"Well, all the results seem fine, exactly as before but there is no change whatsoever in any of the signs. Heartbeat remained constant throughout, also pulse and stress levels," explained Norman.

"Here's the DVD if you want it."

"Thanks"

"No problem"

Victoria sat up and put her legs over the edge of the bed.

"Well, what more can we do today?" she asked

"I guess not a lot until Wednesday, we can pay you though. How does that sound?"

"Great"

"Wait here Vick and I'll get all the stuff, be back in a tick" Louise informed her.

"Okay"

Louise was back in a tick.

Victoria received her payment of one thousand dollars all in cash, just like before but double the money.

Victoria felt fine and asked everyone if she could go for a stroll for five minutes and clear her head and come back and meet them later on. They said that they would all be here for at least three hours more and she should go ahead.

Victoria knew something did not feel good about this whole situation but she herself felt fine. She walked to the lift and took it to the top floor just in case there was a good view she thought to herself. The top floor was number 32, she got out and immediately spotted a coffee machine which she made her way towards and put the correct change in for a cappuccino.

As she was waiting for the machine to regurgitate the powdered ingredients into a cup of cappuccino, she heard a voice from behind her.

"Hey Victoria, isn't it?"

She turned around to see Joseph Murphy the Italian looking psychologist from Manchester standing behind her. He was standing with another girl who looked as if she was a work colleague of his.

"Of course, he's working here on some kind of project" Victoria could feel her anxiety levels racing up towards her head. She blushed hard "Why? Why does this happen to me? God he must think I'm an idiot or some kind of freak. What will his colleague be thinking? Oh god." Victoria knew how red her face must look she was thankful she could not see it herself as it would only be worse. Her heart was beating fast and her head was racing but in an anxious uncomfortable, panicky way that she hated. She could feel beads of sweat forming on her forehead and knew that she would be sweating soon to add to her ridiculousness.

"Hi" she managed to stammer, and took her coffee from the machine. She wanted to run away but where to?

It was obvious there was something wrong with her at least from her point of view and she could not look either of them in the eye.

Joseph's companion made her way to the coffee machine and put in some money.

Victoria was full of anxiety and had to get away, "I'll be back in a minute" she blurted and walked away.

The problem was she did not really know where she was going and she was starting to panic about what would happen if there were a dead end or nowhere to go. She saw a sign for a toilet just ahead, breathed an internal sigh of relief, and headed inside. When inside she looked at herself in the mirror and was unsurprised to see that her face was in fact a horrible shade of sunburn, the shock made her face go even redder.

"Now what do I do? I can't go back out there it will look too strange and I will certainly be red again."

She examined her face another time, she could see blotches of dark red on each of her cheeks and her neck appeared to be inflamed. The anxiety was still there and she was praying that no one else would enter the room. She splashed cold water on her face but it just seemed to make her redder.

She sat down in a cubicle and waited for ten minutes, she went and checked in the mirror one more time she had calmed down and nobody else had entered the bathroom. She had to leave at some stage so she did. She walked slowly out of the room and peered around it seemed deserted and she could see the lift door. She also saw a door for the stairs next to the lift and made up her mind that this would be the less awkward option and she went for it.

The coffee machine was on its own with no one asking it for a drink. She opened the door and ran down the stairs until her heart rate slowed. It had shot up again as she neared the coffee machine.

After five floors, she felt relatively safe and walked out of the stairwell and onto the twenty seventh floor.

She still had two and a half hours to get back to the second floor so she figured she could do it. She did not feel like talking to another person now however and just wanted to hide in her room but she had said she would be back and it would seem strange if she did not turn up.

"Maybe I could go home and have a sleep. I could tell them I felt dizzy and sick and went home. What do I have to see them again today for anyway? Only to check the time for Wednesday right? Ye, well I'll go home and phone Daniel on the way."

She had everything, she double checked all her keys, purse, and the DVD, it was all in her bag.

She decided to go home. She made her way to the lift and travelled all the way to the ground floor easy as ABC.

She had her money and she should be feeling good but she was not feeling good and she knew why.

She took out her phone and texted Daniel with the excuse that she had thought of earlier and headed back to her hostel.

When she arrived in her room, she felt extremely relieved to be alone with practically no danger of anyone bothering her. Daniel had not replied to her text but she put it out of her mind for now. She had a feeling there were many internal questions that she must answer, but she had no idea how to start. What to do Victoria? What to do?

She had some type of an idea that an operation could save her but it did not make a lot of sense to her.

She was tired again, very tired if she lay down in her bed she would be asleep in minutes and that seemed like the best option.

She was dreaming, dreaming of a fire. She could see the fire in front of her. There were figures in the fire. They were calling her name, they were in danger but she was not. She had a terrible feeling, she turned in her dream, and fire was all around her. She saw the grey creature. He was looking at her. He started to run towards her. He was smiling.

She felt deep despair and called out "Jesus, please save me!"

She was taken from the fire and found herself back in the white room from earlier in the day. It was filled with light.

She was filled again with despair; there was an answer to something she did not want to hear.

The man was in the white room again, but this time the man was not Jesus but Saint Michael, he was sitting opposite her. His wings seemed incredibly large and took a lot of room space.

He smiled at her and spoke, his voice was calm just like Jesus, "You had the chance to ask your life commentators any questions Victoria but you didn't. What happened?"

"I forgot. The review wasn't completed. I was waiting"

"Exactly Victoria, what makes you think the review wasn't completed?" Saint Michael closed his wings. He looked very relaxed.

Victoria too was relaxed; she was sitting like before, in the same room. With the wings closed, she could see herself in the mirror.

"Something was missing"

"I am here to protect you Victoria, not only you but we must work together to solve this problem."

"Sure, I know but I'm not ready, can I ask you some questions first?"

"Yes Victoria, of course"

"Okay, so what's the future for England? I mean the near future in my lifetime" Victoria knew this was a bizarre question but she was trying to put something off and think.

"Well, the simple answer Victoria is that England will lose its prosperity. This is a natural consequence of the times. The people must also make a 'shift' in their way of thinking and try to be in line with the consciousness of the world."

Victoria was not reminded of England but of Iran, she remembered watching a video of a girl being killed on a protest. The video had made a deep impact on her. The footage showed the girl being shot and dying. Victoria did not know what made her think about this but it was very clear. In the footage, the girl is at a protest against the presidential elections when she collapses apparently still conscious; there was a large bloodstain at her feet. As the seconds pass, she loses consciousness and turns to the camera. Blood begins to pour from her mouth and nose and people start screaming.

Victoria remembered reading about the girl after the incident. Her name was Neda. She was innocent, she had a life ahead of her and she dreamed of freedom, she wanted to work in Turkey as a tour guide. She dreamed of travel just like Victoria. She was imprisoned just like Victoria felt. The man who shot her was identified by the crowd of protesters but never arrested as he worked for the government.

She felt a sadness descending over her again. She wondered why her father had not contacted her since she was fifteen. She did not want to ask this question to Saint Michael.

She remembered the incident with Joseph at the University.

"Why do I blush and hate myself for it? What causes it how can I stop it?" Victoria felt hot but did not look at herself in the mirror.

"Blushing is an emotional response Victoria. It has a mental source. In your case, it is closely linked to idiopathic craniofacial erythema, which is related to a social phobia, and it means you blush with little provocation. At this moment, you have a fear of going red that has turned you into a pathological blusher. You hate yourself as you say because it is the reaction you do not want, as you fear it because you fear it, you make it appear. This triggers the feelings of anger and self hate which follow the episode. It is a habit you have developed Victoria. To stop it you must break the habit. There are many ways you can do this, but I can tell you when you are ready you will find the way for you."

"Can you give me any advice?"

"Yes you cannot resist so accept it and let it go. That is the first step."

Victoria was sure she could think of a deep question to ask, something that could influence the world.

"What is the most important piece of advice you could give me that I can pass on to others?"

"General advice?"

"Yes"

"What I would say to you Victoria is that it is important for people to unite in love and peace. All human beings are loved regardless of their chosen religious beliefs. It is vital to care for others and to seek a spiritual truth in your lifetime. The correct religion if it is a religion in your sense of the word is the one that brings you closest to your higher self."

Victoria felt as though she would collapse, she saw Saint Michael in front of her. She knew he was smiling but she could not see clearly, she felt very heavy her muscles ached and she lay down.

She knew that she was already asleep but she began to drift of in her dream. She was focused on Saint Michael in the moment that she closed her eyes she spotted a figure in the mirror, it was running towards her and she could smell a fire burning.

She awoke with a start and sat up straight. She was in her room in the hostel, she was certainly awake and in the real world but feeling a little disorientated. She had to sit for a few minutes and replay who she was, where she was and what she had done since arriving in Australia. She felt as though she did not really know who she was. Something had changed inside her.

She got out of bed and looked at her alarm clock; it was 11pm and still Monday. She had lots of time until her next appointment. There was silence in the hostel. It seemed strange to wake up and hear total silence at 11pm. Victoria was reminded of an article she had read which stated that we never actually hear total silence if we did we would be able to here our own blood moving in our heads and the sound would be unbearable. She went to the bathroom and looked at her face in the mirror. There was something reassuring about seeing herself looking back from the reflection.

It may not be the most beautiful face in the world but at least it's mine.

She stared at herself for a long time hoping that she may seek more reassurance from the reflection on the wall.

She thought she heard a noise from the other room, it sounded like a rat running across the floor. She heard magazines on the floor being rustled and immediately her heart rate shot up until she could feel it thumping away in her chest and up to her temples. She had to run into the other room and switch on the light. She imagined if she saw anything or felt anything touch her she would turn insane. The light went on but she could see no sign of any creatures in her room. It reminded her of course of the monster in the hiding under the bed when she was little and this was just as scary.

"What now?" she was frozen in place next to the light switch, which was conveniently located next to the door of the two-room hostel apartment. If she saw anything, she would bolt down to reception and let them remove the rodent. She knew that if there was anything else in there with her it was probably frozen in its spot just like her and she would have to look for it to find it. "I could just go down to reception and tell them …. What? That I heard a noise … sure"

She remembered suddenly an article she had read once discussing giant rats. She recalled vividly a photograph of one of these rats after it had been captured and it appeared to be half the size of the man who was holding it up. She made up her mind, grabbed her key, and ran out of the room. Once she shut the door behind her she relaxed a little but was feeling an urge to escape somewhere but she was not sure where.

There really was silence in the hostel and Victoria suddenly wished she were staying in a dorm room, even if she felt socially uncomfortable, it was still better than sharing a room with a giant rat.

There was a person on reception; he looked to be of Asian origin.

"Hi"

"Hi, are you okay?" he could obviously tell that something was amiss in Victoria's facial expression.

"I think there is a rat in my room"

"Oh, what room are you staying in?"

"145"

"Oh, yes. I see that you have paid for another month"

"Well, not as far as I know. I'm paid up until the end of the week I think" Victoria thought it an odd statement given the circumstances.

"Okay, would you like me to get somebody to take the rat out of your room?"

"I only heard something, I'm not sure it is a rat"

"Okay I will ask someone to have a look, take a seat please"

Victoria sat down in a small room with sofas inside just opposite reception. She could see the receptionist speaking to someone on the phone but could not really hear from where she was sitting. She noticed again that the hostel was quiet. She made a mental note to ask the receptionist about it when he got back to her about the creature in her room. She sat back in the sofa and started to feel sleepy again, she closed her eyes her head felt very heavy. She changed her position and lay down on the sofa. She slipped into a light sleep and a light dream in the dream she was sitting on top of a mountain. Saint Michael was sitting next to her; she could see a landscape of mountains. The colours were incredibly clear like nothing she had seen before. Saint Michael was speaking to her telling her that she could see things this clearly anytime if she opened her eyes and wanted to see.

"Hello, miss, hello"

She awoke; the receptionist was standing in front of her with another man who appeared Australian. The man looked a little grumpy, "there's never been any reports of rodents in this hospital" said the man. "Don't you mean hostel?" asked Victoria. The two men glanced at each other and then turned back towards Victoria.

"Let's go and have a look then," exclaimed the Australian man. The receptionist stayed at reception while the two of them walked up to Victoria's room.

"So you didn't see a rat?"

"No, it just sounded like one" Victoria felt embarrassed but was extremely tired almost too tired to check herself in the mirror on the stairwell to see if her face was red. They passed to quickly for her to notice.

They both entered her room, the man checked everywhere and thoroughly. Victoria could not complain. The room certainly appeared rat free. "Well, it seems okay" the nameless Australian man explained. "Thanks for your help" Victoria wondered if she was also nameless to him.

She was left alone again in her room, she suddenly no longer felt like sleeping but what else could she do? She could go for a walk but she had a better idea, she could watch the DVD of her trip on her laptop.

Are you sure, that's a good idea? It's late, might make you nervous. Isn't ther something else you need to think about? Maybe you can move out of here tomorrow, you've got enough money now. Stay in a hotel until Wednesday or even the weekend, relax until it's all finished with. Then move on. Phone Anna, why haven't you phoned Anna? Think about that. Have you really given any thought to the Starbucks incident? You should think about these things.

She had other thoughts in her head, things from her childhood. She remembered something about her father. He used to keep rabbits, she remembered when she was a child watching her father kill and skin rabbits and then turning to her and telling her she had to kill one of the rabbits. It disturbed her; she had happy memories of feeding the rabbits.

She got up and had another look at herself in the mirror, she remembered something her mother had said to her, she had been looking in the mirror when she was perhaps twelve or thirteen she had some facial hair, really nothing. Her mother had noticed her looking at herself. "Why don't you do something about that hair Victoria? It makes me feel physically sick looking at it."

You have to be careful how you treat a young person that's for sure. She was becoming agitated now; too much was going on in her mind. She abandoned the idea of watching the DVD, at least temporarily, changed her mind again, and set off on a walk. She left the hostel, still it was quite but in the streets, there were people. With other people close by she started to feel better, the fresh air and the atmosphere of the street calmed her mind somewhat.

She wanted to feel a connection with people maybe she had been lonely since Anna had left. She felt mentally stimulated by the lights and the slight breeze against her face. She opted to take a walk to Darling Harbour, sit down, and watch the lights. As she walked along, she observed the people in groups or couples chatting and desperately wanted to be a part of it and belong with them. She knew of course that if she were in a group probably she would be a silent member but it would not matter. She wanted to phone someone to see if anyone was out but the options were limited. Anna was in England; at least she should be back now, I'll phone her. When I get to the Harbour, I'll phone her from there. She'll be back soon anyway. Karen was probably in Cairns and she did not feel like phoning any of her work colleagues tonight.

The Harbour was calm, the smell of the water made her feel that she was actually away from her self and she felt happy. She tried Anna's mobile and home number but there was no answer, no idea what the time is in England right now.

"Victoria?" a voice called her name, she was sitting on a bench close to the water, and the voice came from behind her. She felt her heart tightening in panic, which was a normal reaction for her when she heard someone calling her name. She turned around and was surprised to see Joseph Murphy walking towards the bench. Oh god. Thank goodness it's dark, he won't know if I blush. This thought calmed her fears somewhat. What's he going to think? I hope he isn't with the same girl. What about the phone call? Should I mention it? She still remembered that phone call with embarrassment. Maybe that's why I went so red when we met.

"Hey, how are you doing? I recognised you; I was just on my way home."

"Oh really? Have you been out?"

"No, it's a weeknight. I've just been down the gym."

"Isn't it a little late?"

"No, it's a 24 hour gym."

"What about you?"

"I just came out for a walk" Victoria was feeling relaxed and really quite surprised by her cool responses. Joseph was standing next to the bench. It seemed like he wanted to sit down but was unsure of how to proceed.

"You never returned when I saw you at the university yesterday. You said you'd be back in a minute. I mean technically it was yesterday now 'cos it's gone midnight but, well you know what I mean."

"Yes" Victoria could not think of an excuse so she sat where she was in a comfortable silence.

"Anyway I'm glad I've seen you again. I felt a bit awkward about our phone call. I was actually just going into a meeting when you phoned me. Do you remember the phone call?"

"Oh, yes. I remember"

"Yes, well that was it that's why I had to go but you hung up before I could explain myself. I wanted to phone you back but couldn't see the number on my phone."

"Oh, that's okay forgotten about it. I think I hung up rather quickly anyway." She chuckled but felt a massive feeling of relief."

"Anyway if you wanted I could take your number now so at least I've got it."

"Okay, sure. I can never remember my number so I'll give you a missed call; I've still got your number."

"Okay, great." She did and he gave her a missed call back and stored her number. Victoria felt absurdly happy.

"Well, I'm gonna head off now but I'll definitely send you a text or give you a call soon."

"Okay, good night"

"Good night"

He walked back in the direction he came from giving a little wave and Victoria waved back.

She sat where she was for a while, lost in a trance, not really focusing on any of her thoughts and undisrupted by the people walking through the Harbour. Finally, a group people shouting suddenly then laughing loudly snapped her out of the trance. When they had passed by her bench, she opted to walk back to the hostel. She felt much better and was sure she would sleep well.

Things seemed normal again back at the hostel. There were many people for one thing, most of them apparently drunk and having fun. Victoria felt the feeling of being an outsider, a silent observer but it was only fleeting. She knew that being drunk and in a crowd was not something she wanted right at this moment. She felt as if she had achieved something today but was unsure exactly what it was.

She got back to her room and climbed into bed. She switched off the light and immediately felt anxious.

It's just the dark, what else can you do? Sleep in the day and go out at night?

She thought again about her diary and the secret it contained. The diary seemed almost too familiar as if someone else had written it or she read it some place else. She thought about her weekly tennis lessons and tried to remember where the lessons were held and one person she had played against.

You worked there remember, to pay for this trip. My mother, when did I last speak with her?

Had she emailed or heard from her? Victoria had an otherworldly sensation of not knowing who she was. It was slightly unnerving.

She felt an empty feeling again, it was when she was alone and she supposed that being alone a lot was a bad way for a person to be.

She remembered the last time she had spoken with Anna; it was when she told her about her granddad. She really missed her she knew that. It was an ongoing thing but she hoped or presumed that Anna would return. Many of the conversations she had in her head involved Anna's voice. She wanted to talk to her very badly. She supposed that Anna was just too involved in things back home. She decided to send her a text.

"ANNA HOPE UR DOING OKAY! REALLY MISS U LET ME KNOW HOW UR DOING! I LOVE U LOTS XX"

She looked at her phone; she had some credit so she chose to phone her mum.

When did I last make contact? I'll just give her a quick ring so she has this number at least.

She guessed that she must have sent her an email at least but she could not remember.

She had a sense of nervousness but she dialled her home number, it rang twice the voice of her mother answered.

"Hello"

"Hi."
"Victoria; oh, dear I've been so worried why haven't you rang? I didn't have a number to call you on, I've had to get in contact with Anna's parents, and I'd heard that Anna was back. Why haven't you phoned me?"
"I thought I'd emailed you"

"How could you have done that you know I don't have a computer. Are you all right Victoria?"

"Yes, mum fine. Anyway, I've only just got a phone today. Didn't Anna tell you?" She knew that this was not exactly the truth but better than having the same question repeated continually.

"I haven't spoken to Anna. Why haven't you returned with Anna?"

"Anna should be back soon. She's only gone because her granddad died and she's going to the funeral I suppose. I've got a job so I've had to stay for that."
"What job is it?"

"I'm working in a coffee shop." She knew that this too was a white lie but far better than telling the truth.

"Are you safe? Where are you living?"

"I'm in a hostel at the moment but it's totally safe here. Don't worry."

"DON'T WORRY, Victoria I haven't heard from you for nearly a month."

"I'm sorry mum, but …. "

"Anyway, I've spoken to Patricia's mother and she informed you never bothered to give a story for the school newspaper after you'd promised."

"Yes, sorry but I was a bit busy with everything."

"Honestly Victoria you're absolutely hopeless."

"Well, I haven't got a lot of credit left mum" another exaggeration of the truth Victoria thought but this one felt necessary "the call will probably cut out soon but if you dial 1471 you will have my number."

"Fine, Victoria I've been very worried, I need your address and you must phone more regularly."

"Yes mum, I promise I will phone at least once a week now I have my phone. I'm staying in Sydney …" the line went dead. Victoria checked her phone and it actually was out of credit. I was telling the truth after all.

She knew her mother would not be able to return her call if she had no credit, she decided to buy some in the morning.

She checked the time it was 3am. She was already lying on her bed so she took off her jeans and climbed into bed. She was too tired now for teeth brushing and putting on pyjamas. She had a brief idea to watch the DVD of her last session but she was asleep before she could begin to think about it.

Saint Michael was sitting in front of her again, behind him was a fire she could hear people in the background. It was difficult to tell if the people were screaming or cheering. Saint Michael was looking at her with an intense expression on his face.

"Hello Victoria" his voice sounded calm. "I suppose you know what this is all about?"

"Not really but some part of me does, it's all a little confusing"

CONCENTRATION

PEACE

POISE

HARMONY

GOOD-WILL

NON-RESISTANCE

JUSTICE

FREEDOM

GUIDANCE

WISDOM

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UNDERSTANDING

INSPIRATION

INTELLIGENCE

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MEMORY

LAW AND ORDER

FAITH

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CONFIDENCE

SPIRIT

HEALTH

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STRENGTH

ENERGY

ACTIVITY

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VITALITY

POWER

LIFE

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YOUTH

SUCCESS

HAPPINESS

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ALERTNESS

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RESOURCEFULNESS

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PERSISTENCE

PURPOSE

ACHIEVEMENT

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MASTERY

DOMINION

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