"Under the Dust"
Beta: A load of thanks go to the betariffic lone_pyramid. In addition to many corrections and suggestions, she was willing to be confused, and to tell me that it was all my fault. It was. Any additional faults in the story are mine and mine alone.
Warnings: Spoilers for Seasons 1 and 2. Passing reference to abuse.
Summary: Everything's covered in dust.
Everything's covered in dust.
It's her first thought as the three of them enter the dilapidated building, and for a moment she's not sure if she means the contents of the building or the entire world, hiding under a blurry surface like a placid lake with unfathomable depths. She hears the rhythmic patter of a gentle rainfall begin outside as the woman behind her closes the door they just came through. Surprisingly, they'd found it unlocked.
"Awww, man, it's a museum. I thought the sign said it was a police station," the gangly teenager in front of her complains. He'd introduced himself as Johnny when they first met, all of five minutes ago.
It's a ... police station drifts through her mind briefly, but the thought flutters away.
"Wherever you came from, it wasn't here," Eliza, the third member of their group, observes as a leaf that followed them in from outside skips to a stop some two feet inside the door. "The dust on these floors doesn't look like it's been disturbed in ages. You sure you don't remember what you're doing here?"
"The Troubles are back." It's a statement, confident, unquestioning, that comes instinctively to her lips.
"You said that before. But what does it mean?" Eliza asks, but she only receives a shrug in response. "Really wish you could tell us what you were doing standing in the middle of a street in front of a museum in Haven, Maine. Or at least, what used to be Haven, Maine. Nobody's lived in Haven for years."
"I really wish I knew," the woman replies. There are a lot of things she wishes she knew, starting first and foremost with her name. "What were you two doing in Haven, other than finding me?"
"I'm a historian. An archaeologist of sorts. I wanted to see if I could find out what happened here," Eliza responds.
The nameless woman almost echoes "What happened here?" but thinks the better of it.
"And Johnny, here, is my Sherpa."
"Pack mule," Johnny agrees with a ready grin, setting down the oversized backpack he's been toting around.
The museum almost gives the impression that it just shut its doors one night and never reopened. Daylight filters in through grimy windows, all remarkably still intact. Just inside the door, an old-fashioned mailbox bears a sign proclaiming Donations Gratefully Accepted! Several of the museum exhibits are wall displays, a combination of text and photos or drawings illustrating some noteworthy aspect of the history of the town; the evolution of the street layout or the devastation caused by particularly fierce Atlantic storms. Display cases litter the floor at apparently random intervals, showcasing antique knick-knacks explained by tiny placards. There's an upright piano against one wall. Rooms to the side, presumably once offices, are now decorated to resemble historical rooms or shops: one resembles a blacksmith, another's a kitchen, and another still a newspaper office. Signs direct visitors upstairs to fishing and Native American exhibits featuring a real canoe. Between the gray light coming in from outside and thick layer of dust, everything seems strangely out of focus.
The first thing to draw her attention is a small exhibit on a bare brick wall near the entrance, titled "Why a Museum in a Police Station?" Only a scattering of the words on the placard explaining the exhibit can still be read, the rest having faded to illegibility over time. Just a few large bolded words have survived, the reasons apparently having something to do with "refuge", "massacred", and "Troubles." The 'T' is capitalized, making it seem much more disturbing than had Haven's Troubles been lower-case. There are photographs on the wall, too, some of individuals in uniform, while others appear to be like class photos of the entire police department at varying points in the town's long history.
One of the pictures is of a gray-haired man frowning at the camera. The caption identifies him as Police Chief Garland Wuornos, but the years he held the job are erased by a crack running diagonally along the wall, right behind his picture. She thinks that the fissure somehow belongs to the man in the photo. She touches it for a moment, as though there's something, some memory behind it, but it's just a crack.
Her stomach lurches when she looks at the photo next to Wuornos'. It's a younger man, lanky and serious. She knows him. The caption is illegible, but this memory's not like the one behind the crack. "Nathan." She breathes the name, knowing it's right. She can see him in her mind's eye, like snippets from old home movies. He smiles at her from the driver's seat of a pickup truck; concentrates on paperwork spread across a desk; stands on an old dock, facing the ocean. She takes the photograph out of the frame and folds it carefully into her pocket.
"Hey, I found something you should see," Johnny calls out to her from another wall display. She makes a new path through the dust over to where he's standing. The display doesn't seem to have a title, the wooden placard once bearing an explanation apparently having fallen prey to hungry mice. There's a spiral of photographs, each preserved behind glass, showing several women from different points in history who all look very much alike save for changes in hair and fashion. Even a few sketches from years before cameras were commonplace are intact. She catches a glimpse of movement at the center of the spiral, and goes to examine it more carefully. For a moment she thinks it's a film, the woman captured in a digital recording, but that's not what it is at all. It's a mirror.
As the spiral of photos circles out from the mirror, the most recent photo has the caption "Audrey Parker, 2010". The next photo out in the spiral is titled "Lucy Ripley, 1983". The rest of the captions have been lost to time, if they ever existed.
"That's really creepy," Johnny observes, looking from the pictures to her and back to the pictures again.
"I'm not going to argue that one," she concedes, comparing the image in the mirror to the others. She could be sisters with any of the women on the wall, but the woman from 2010 isn't just a sister, she's a twin. Same hairstyle and everything.
"If you don't have a name of your own, I'm giving you hers," Johnny decides, pointing at the picture of Audrey Parker, 2010.
The newly anointed Audrey nods in agreement. "Sounds good." It does sound good. She feels like an Audrey, not really much of a Lucy.
Eliza's standing near a window, staring out into the rain. It's started raining more heavily now, the steady downpour obscuring the buildings across the street. The street itself has become a stream running at a leisurely pace in the direction of the ocean, whose quiet rhythms can be heard in the distance. "Look at it rain," Eliza observes, as they watch the rainfall. "My grandmother used to say that it only rains like this when God is sad, but I like it. It makes everything clean and new and washes your troubles away."
Audrey cocks her head at the other woman, giving her a curious glance.
"Sorry." Eliza grins. "Figure of speech. It's something of a professional hazard. I see people's entire lives, laid out from beginning to end, so long after they lived. Ashes to ashes ..."
"… dust to dust?" Audrey asks, running a finger along the dust caking the windowsill.
"And sometimes I forget that they had bad hair days or lost their favorite shoes … what?" she asks as Audrey laughs. "I can't be the only person that happens to."
"You lose your shoes, I lose my memory … " Audrey replies, still smiling.
"We'll find out who you are, don't you worry. My shoes are another matter."
"Hey, Eliza, are there any kind of salvage rules for museums?" Johnny calls out. He's examining the contents of a small glass case on a stand. Curious, Audrey approaches the subject of his scrutiny. Johnny's wiped some dust from a glass case with his shirt sleeve, revealing a pair of gold wedding rings sitting side by side. There's no label indicating why they might be considered museum-worthy.
"Aren't you a little young to be getting married? " Audrey wonders, and Johnny blushes.
"I'll be seventeen in a few months," he informs her, "and Margie's only three months younger than I am."
"You keep fooling around with that girl behind her father's back, and he is going to beat you to a bloody pulp," Eliza interjects from across the room.
"That's why I want to ... she needs to get away from him. I can't imagine what it must be like living with him, having to put up with his mean streak every day. Margie's good and kind, but she's not strong, and it's starting to wear on her soul." The worry is clear in Johnny's voice.
He lifts the case and scoops up the rings, carefully wrapping them in a crumpled tissue before cramming it into the depths of a front pocket.
"You should put those on a necklace," Audrey suggests, wondering why that idea seems so vivid in her mind. Johnny nods absently and continues examining the exhibits.
Eliza's moved over to an exhibit boldly titled "Heroes and Villains." Although Audrey's half-expecting four-color characters in Spandex, instead she gets an educational display where museum patrons are expected to match a column of photos to the names in a second column to heroic or villainous acts in a third column. An imperceptible trickle of water originating where the wall joins the ceiling has, over time, obscured the contents of the third column, leaving dramatically tantalizing snippets like "…ed the Troubled, ending their …" or "… repercussions of his death resulted in widespr…"
Audrey glances at the photos, hoping one of them will again spark a memory. She pauses at the picture of a man wearing a clerical collar. He seems to be staring at her, his eyes alive and burning with hatred. She shakes her head and looks again, but now it's just an old photograph of a priest she doesn't know.
Another picture seems so familiar that she almost expects the subject to start moving. A man with a goatee, wearing a thick sweater and jeans, on the deck of a boat. Somehow she knows more than what the photo shows – just port of the area the camera captured, there's a ladder going up to the bridge, and the door behind the man leads to a cluttered office area. Audrey quickly skims the list of names until she stops at one that feels right. She dutifully presses the buttons next to the scruffy man's image and the name, but the red and green lights indicating right and wrong answers remain complacently dormant. Still, he looks like a Duke Crocker.
Eliza's been trying to make out the placard on a very old jigsaw puzzle in a display from which she's removed the case. A wooden form has places for pieces shaped like old buildings, circling the board in the display. "I really wish they'd made their labels out of something more durable," she complains, squinting at the text. "The only thing I can tell you about this is that it's dangerous. How, exactly, can a puzzle be dangerous to anyone over two? Splinters?" She moves to put one of the pieces in its corresponding slot, but Audrey reaches out to stop her.
"Just … don't. To, uh, be on the safe side." The reason sounds weak even to Audrey, but Eliza concedes. Audrey can't explain why she had the sudden feeling that completing even part of the puzzle would be, for want of a better word, dangerous.
A sudden crash in one of the side rooms draws the attention of both women, and Eliza follows Audrey to the room resembling a newspaper office.
"I'm all right! Don't worry about me! Nothing to see here!" Johnny's voice sounds from behind a table displaying an old Colonial-era edition of the Haven Herald next to a facsimile of the press that printed it. Several metal letters are scattered across the display.
Audrey rounds the display first, Eliza right behind her. Johnny's sitting up on the floor, holding his hand up to his freely bleeding nose. He's surrounded by dozens more metal letters.
"Don't worry, I'm fine. I was just trying to get a 'Q'," he explains, pointing up at the bank of drawers that the metal letters came from. A drawer labeled 'Q' dangles precariously from its slot near the ceiling.
"You don't look fine to me," Eliza disagrees, pointing at his ankle. Audrey immediately sees that the angle between Johnny's foot and leg is all wrong. Johnny frowns at the sight.
"It doesn't hurt. Huh. Weird." Johnny doesn't seem too upset, and is scrounging through his pockets for tissues to plug his nose with. But Audrey is suddenly struck by another memory, and pulls the photo of Nathan out of her own pocket.
"I think," Audrey informs Johnny, pulling Nathan's photo out of her pocket, "that he's your family." She hands him the photo, not sure why the certainty that the two are related should fill her with such profound sorrow.
Johnny examines the photo, curious. She can't really see a resemblance, but it doesn't always work that way.
Audrey and Eliza manage to fashion a makeshift splint out of two spatulas from the replica kitchen and a long, colorful scarf hanging off a mannequin for no apparent reason. Eliza ends up doing most of the first aid work after Johnny complains that his ankle only hurts when Audrey touches it.
Audrey leaves the two, squabbling good-naturedly about how they're going to get home, to do more exploring. A counter marked INFORMATION protects a caged room with a locked door. She decides that it must have been an evidence storage room, back when the building was a police station. She boosts herself up to sit on the counter and swings her legs around, dropping back down to the floor behind the counter. Better not get caught!
She searches the information desk, snagging a brochure with a map of the museum from a stack. Still have to check out that second floor. A first aid kit is well stocked with old band-aids and aspirin, but nothing that seems like it will help Johnny. On impulse, Audrey decides to rummage through a cardboard box labeled "Lost and Found."
There's not much in the box. A pair of sunglasses, a police-style whistle hanging from a black cord, a folded-up newspaper and a wallet. Audrey glances automatically at the newspaper's ancient headline asking 'Who Killed the Colorado Kid?' and almost ignores the rest of it, but a familiar face jumps out at her from the photo. Her face.
It feels like someone's trying to tell her something, but it's tantalizingly just out of reach. She picks up the wallet and opens it. It's actually an identification holder, with an identification card, photo and badge for an FBI agent, a woman named ... Audrey Parker.
That's strange. Audrey examines the identification card again. It definitely says 'Audrey Parker', but this Audrey Parker looks nothing like the woman in the spiral display on the other side of the room, the one Johnny named her after. She's got dark hair and eyes and a more angular face.
She boosts herself back over the counter and strides back to the spiral photo display. The photos somehow, impossibly, are different. The mirror's still there, but the first photograph out in the spiral, the one labeled 'Audrey Parker, 2010' is the same woman on the FBI identification. 'Lucy Ripley, 1983' is different again, about the same age as both Audreys but that's where the resemblance ends. Even the sketches are different.
"Do you remember anything else?" Eliza asks from the doorway, Johnny standing next to her, leaning on Eliza's shoulder. There's a breeze stirring through the room, as though an ancient air conditioner has just been turned on.
She does remember more. She remembers the feeling of great sadness she had when the picture in the newspaper was taken, how she hadn't been able to stop the tears streaming down her face minutes later.
"The more you remember now, the more we can save before you go. And we've saved so much. So much history, so many memories," Eliza tells her.
"I don't understand." Audrey frowns. It's almost true, but it's starting to make sense. As the dust stirs in the breeze, more and more of her memories are becoming clear.
"Every time you come to Haven, you have someone else's name and memories." Eliza gestures towards the pictures in the spiral on the wall. "And then when you leave again, all your memories are erased. But we've found a way to keep some of those memories, here, safe, where they won't be washed away after you're gone."
"Where do I go when I leave?"
"Into the rain." Eliza shrugs, her expression sympathetic. "That's the last thing I remember when I was you."
"Eliza." Audrey stares at the other woman, concentrating hard. Remembering. "You're Elizabeth King. The first time I came to Haven, I had your memories. You were a schoolteacher from Boston, and your parents had died." She remembers young faces huddled around a tiny fireplace, trying desperately to stay warm during the bitter cold of winter while learning to read.
"And then your family solicitor sent you to Haven to find your grandfather's family, whom you'd never met," Eliza finishes, nodding. "You even taught here for a while."
Audrey remembers Eliza, remembers being Eliza as the breeze starts to pick up, chasing dust bunnies out of the corners and clearing trails between the displays, every moment revealing new memories of her life as Audrey Parker and the friendships she's forged in Haven, preserved in glass cases. She wonders if she tries again to examine the text in the exhibits if it will be easier to read now.
Johnny hands her Nathan's photo. "I'm not one of the usual crowd of memory-keepers. I leave that to Eliza and Sarah and the rest. But I had to know about him," Johnny explains. His nose has started bleeding again. The image is unpleasantly familiar, and the memory of who Johnny was comes back in a sudden rush.
"You and Margie were my friends. You'd both try to impress me by knowing all the best local stories. And then," Audrey pauses, her tears flowing freely as her memories return, "Margie's father found out about the two of you and he beat you to death. You died, Johnny, in Margie's arms, while I was holding your hand."
"I did," Johnny agrees, "I was going to propose, you know. As soon as I had enough saved up to buy those two old rings in the antique shop. I was going to have an announcement put in the Herald and everything. Margrethe Hansen and John Miller, right there in black and white, for all the world to see. I guess things didn't quite work out that way."
Audrey looks at the photograph, and back at Johnny."You still made a difference. He's a lot like you. He tries to protect people that can't protect themselves, and he's kind to others."
There's a sudden silence. It takes Audrey a moment, but she figures out what it is. "It's stopped raining." Almost as one, the three of them turn to look outside the nearest window. The rain has completely stopped, the sun shining brightly in the oddly cloudless sky.
"That's never happened before," Eliza tells Audrey. From somewhere in the direction of the entrance, there are new sounds. A distant calling. It doesn't take long before Audrey can make out a single word, being repeated over and over by two different voices getting closer. It's her name. Audrey.
"That's Nathan. And Duke. They're looking for me," she informs Eliza and Johnny.
"Well, hurry, then! Go! We'll keep your memories safe. We all will," Eliza responds efficiently, shooing Audrey in the direction of the museum's entrance, and Audrey knows that she's talking about all the women Audrey used to be.
Audrey hurries towards the door, but stops just before she reaches it, turning back to contemplate her two companions. "Thank you. So much."
"Thanks for keeping us alive," Eliza counters, and she's grinning.
"Thanks for looking out for my family," Johnny responds, his grin matching Eliza's.
Audrey smiles and turns, looking at the world beyond the door, and walks out into the sunlight.
** The End **