“I’ll pour three mugs of water, and heat one of them up in the microwave, and then shuffle them around while you’ve got your back turned. Then you look and tell us which one is hot.”
Night and Day
part 7 of 12
by Trismegistus Shandy
This story is set, with Morpheus' kind permission, in his Twisted universe. Thanks to Morpheus, epain, and Karen Lockhart for reading and commenting on earlier drafts.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
One evening toward the end of April, Mom was fretting about the budget again. The three hundred-dollar research stipends (one for Jamie, one for me, and one for Jasmine) had helped out a lot, but my new clothes and the emergency room bill had cost more than that, and we were still in the hole. I didn’t say anything then, but the next night, after I came in from the playground, I told Mom: “I’ve found out I have another superpower.”
“Last night,” I lied. “I don’t know what’s up with it, but I can make the colors of things change... I think I’m seeing in infrared, or something.” I didn’t tell them I could make other people see weird colors, because how could I have found that out if I’d been staying in the apartment all night like a good little girl?
“Cool,” Jared said.
“So,” I went on, “you could call Dr. Darrington or Dr. Ware tomorrow and tell them about it, and maybe they’ll pay us to let them scan me while I’m using this new power?”
“I’ll do that,” Mom said. “My next day off is Thursday; hopefully we can go in then. I wonder if Jamie can do the same thing?”
“Did you email him about it?” Jared asked.
“No, not yet.”
“How about — hmm.” He looked thoughtful. “I’ll pour three mugs of water, and heat one of them up in the microwave, and then shuffle them around while you’ve got your back turned. Then you look and tell us which one is hot.”
“Okay, let’s do that.”
So I waited for him to get the mugs of water ready, and then turned my back while he put them on the dining table all in a row. I turned around when Jared said: “Ready,” and was about to warn them to brace themselves when I remembered I wasn’t supposed to know that my power affected other people’s vision, too. I just said: “Here goes,” and the colors went strange. Mom and Jared’s bodies lit up red, and the cup on the left turned hot pink, but before I could say which one it was, Mom and Jared yelped, and Jared said: “I can’t see!” I turned my power off right away.
“Whew,” Jared gasped.
“What did you do?” Mom asked.
“Um, the same thing I did the last couple of times I used it... I just sort of squinch my eyes a certain way and suddenly the colors change.”
“Everything went dark,” Jared said. “Like the lights turned out, but then there would be a glow from the TV.” (Mom and Jared had been watching a movie, and they’d paused it while we were talking.)
“Huh,” I said. I didn’t have to fake surprise. “So that’s...” I cut myself off. I couldn’t say how it explained more about why those guys hadn’t chased me, why the second guy hadn’t been able to hit me very well and why he hadn’t been able to get a grip on me again after he lost it. “I’m affecting your vision too?”
“It sure looks like it,” Mom said. “Maybe Dr. Ware or Dr. Darrington can tell us more.”
They went to bed soon after that, but I was too excited to even sit down. I paced back and forth in the living room for a while, thinking about what we’d discovered. It looked like my power made people blind while it changed the colors I could see. That made it a lot more effective at defending me from predators than just surprising them with a change in the colors they saw. It made me confident enough, in fact, that I went out for a walk just an hour or so later, after I was sure Mom and Jared were sound asleep. I didn’t run into any trouble that time, though I felt safe enough to walk on some less well-lit side streets that I’d avoided before.
A few days later I woke up one evening with my face pressed to a window in an unfamiliar place, looking at the western sky out across the city. I looked around and saw Mom sitting on a cushioned bench nearby.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“On the top floor of a building at the university,” she said. “They said they didn’t need to scan you while you changed this time, so Jamie asked where was a good place to watch the sunset from, and they told us we could come up here. Come on, let’s go back to the waiting room and tell them we’re ready.”
We went down an elevator to the second floor, and then to the waiting room I’d been in a few weeks before. Fifteen minutes later, a nurse came and got me, and led me back to the restroom with the bench and shelf, where I put on a hospital gown — I’d been wearing the loose sweats and T-shirt we usually wore when changing. Then they strapped me down on the sliding table and slid me into the cylinder again, warning me to keep still or they’d have to do the test over again.
Once I was completely inside the cylinder, and the machinery I was surrounded by started humming, a woman’s voice came through a speaker. “All right, now exercise your paranormal ability.” I turned on my power and waited. The cylinder walls were dark at first but gradually started glowing a dim yellowish-orange. I heard distant muffled voices and then the speaker said: “Turn it off.” I turned off my power and the cylinder around me went dark again.
Again those distant muffled voices. A few minutes later the man said to turn my power on again, and I did, and then to turn it off... Finally they pulled me out of the cylinder and unstrapped me, let me get dressed in the girl clothes Mom had brought for me, and escorted me back to the waiting room.
I’d barely had time to read a little from the book Jamie had brought with him when someone came and got me again, and led me to another room full of equipment where several people were standing around doing things. A woman about Mom’s age came up to me and said:
“Hello, Diana. I’m Dr. Lise Darrington. You’ve got a very interesting paranormal ability; it’s affecting our scanner so we can’t get an image of your brain while you are using it. We’re going to try to test it in some other ways. Just give us another couple of minutes to set this up.”
They did incomprehensible things to various pieces of equipment that were sitting around on tables, and then Dr. Darrington told me to turn on my power — several people gasped, but not Dr. Darrington — and a few second later to turn it off again. Then they huddled around computer monitors and over panels of dials and LEDs, and talked excitedly. I recognized a few words from the stuff I’d reading about astronomy — words for different frequencies of radiation, ultraviolet and infrared and microwaves, but I didn’t understand enough of the other words to know what was going on. Twice more they had me turn on my power for a few seconds, and then they had me go out in the hall and stand in different places while turning on my power, counting to ten, and turning it off again. They had me look at different things while using my power and tell them what color they were when I had my power turned on. Finally Dr. Darrington led me to her office, and a couple of minutes later someone escorted Mom into the room.
“We’ve figured out part of how your paranormal ability works,” Dr. Darrington said, sounding excited. “We can’t get any images of your brain or eyes, and see how they are letting you see these different colors you described, but we can see the effects on your surroundings. Among other things, you’re shifting the frequencies of the light around you downward — that means you turn ultraviolet and visible light into near infrared, and near infrared into far infrared.”
I understood a little of that because of doing Jamie’s science homework and studying astronomy on my own, but Mom was baffled. “What does that mean?”
“It means that to ordinary people’s eyes, the room appears to go completely dark. The light is still there, it’s just invisible to normal eyes. But you must somehow be temporarily altering your eyes, and maybe the visual processing center of your brain, so you can see the infrared spectrum, including both normal infrared light emitted by human bodies and other warm things, and the down-shifted ultraviolet and visible light that is no longer visible to people around you.”
“Yes, it is, isn’t it? It’s not the strangest paranormal ability I’ve seen yet, but it’s probably in the top ten. That shifting of light means that the wavelengths the brain scanner uses get shifted as well, so they can’t be detected by the equipment that’s supposed to pick them up and see how they’ve been altered by passing through your body. I think we can adjust the scanner to pick up the altered wavelengths, however, and then we’ll be able to get good imaging. We’d like you to come back again in a few weeks, when your mother has a day off work, and do some more tests.”
“Sure,” I said, glancing at Mom. We were both happy at the prospect of more research stipends.
“Of course,” she said, turning to Mom, “if — ah, Jamie — learns to use this paranormal ability, then we could do the research in the daytime. We’d prefer that, actually, but if it’s necessary for us to come in at night again, we can do.”
“Of course. Let me know when you have the scanner ready,” Mom said.
It took Jamie several weeks after that to figure out how to use his “paranormal ability,” as Dr. Darrington was calling it, or “trick,” as Nia Clarence would call them in a famous public service announcement that had various photogenic young Twisted showing off the silliest, most harmless superpowers ever. His power was different from mine in its manifestations, though Dr. Darrington and Dr. Ware eventually decided that the physics and brain-physiology of them were almost the same. My ability shifted light frequencies downward, so visible and ultraviolet light became infrared. His shifted frequencies inward, squeezing ultraviolet and infrared into the blue and red parts of the visible spectrum and all the visible light into different shades of green. In effect, it seemed to got a lot brighter to people around him, as well as making things look weird because of the colors. He could blind people with the sudden increase in brightness, but it didn’t bother him because his eyes adjusted to it instantly.
By then, it was late May, and I finally had my first period. The emergency room doctor had told us back on the equinox that I’d probably have my first period in a little under a month, and he wasn’t totally wrong — it was about a month later in terms of the total hours I’d lived since then, not counting Jamie’s increasingly large share of each day. Mom had gotten worried when April passed without a drop of blood, and wished aloud she could take me to a doctor, but we couldn’t afford it, not when we still hadn’t paid off the emergency room bill. So I was as relieved as I was disgusted when it finally started, ruining a pair of panties. It wound up lasting longer than other girls', too, if you measure by the calendar; about ten days on average. And I was awake for every minute of it, unlike other girls who get to sleep through a third of theirs.
After Jamie and I made our truce, he’d checked several books out of the school library for me, about Greek mythology and astronomy and several other things, and I’d done my share of the homework and household chores. But we had another altercation when my period came on. I didn’t want to transform into him while wearing panties; I knew his junk would be painfully compressed by them. But I couldn’t just put on the sweat pants with no underwear like I’d been doing, or I’d get bloody spots on the crotch while I was watching the sun rise. I snuck into Jared’s room, trying not to wake him, put on a pair of Jamie’s jockey shorts, and — after experimenting with a maxi pad and finding it wouldn’t reliably stay in place — stuffed the loose crotch with crumpled toilet paper. Jamie wasn’t happy about that, and complained vociferously in his next email, but I pointed out he’d be even less happy with panties and a pad. And asked him to stuff his underwear with toilet paper or something before he transformed back into me that night.
All during this time, Mom was trying to get the school district to do something for my education, and they kept dragging their feet, and I kept learning on my own — reading the remainder of Jamie’s textbooks, and doing a share of his homework, and learning about other stuff from books I got him to check out of the library and from online sources. First, the school district refused to believe that Jamie and I were separate people. Then when they got that through their thick heads, they thought our kind of multiple personality disorder justified putting both of us in a mental institution instead of a regular school. We dodged a bullet when Dr. Ware intervened for us and said there was no reason for that. Then when Mom asked again for them to send a teacher out to our apartment every weeknight, or at least a couple of times a week, the first teacher they assigned to do it balked at going into our neighborhood at sunset and staying till a couple of hours after dark. They couldn’t pay her enough to do that, she said. Finally, with barely two weeks left in the school year, they found a male teacher who wasn’t afraid of being in our neighborhood after dark, and he came out one night in May, just a couple of days after my period started.
I was over at Bobby’s apartment, hanging out in his room and playing games, when his mom poked her head in the door and said, “Diana, there’s someone here to see you.” I went out in the living room and saw a big guy, a good six or seven inches taller than me, dressed in a casual suit with a briefcase.
“Diana Sullivan?” he asked, and I nodded. “Hi, I’m Mr. Martin, your homebound teacher. Your mother said I’d find you here.”
“Finally,” I said. “I guess we can go back over to my apartment.” I turned to Bobby and said, “See you tomorrow night.”
“See you then.”
I followed Mr. Martin over to our apartment and we sat down at the dining table. Mom was watching a movie, but she turned off the sound and turned on closed captioning. Mr. Martin looked around and said: “Go get your tablet.”
“I’ll see if Jared’s using it for his homework.”
I went to Jared’s room (I no longer thought of it as mine, even though I still kept a lot of my stuff there) and asked him what he was using the tablet for. He looked up from it and said: “Watching a movie... I guess you need it for school? Here you go.”
Mr. Martin and I talked for a while first, about what I’d been doing to learn on my own since my transformation. He was pleased with my efforts, but less pleased with my progress, at least in algebra and Spanish. And he wasn’t at all pleased to hear that Jamie and I had been splitting up the homework between us. “I’m not surprised that you aren’t making more progress in algebra if you’re only doing half of the problems — apparently the more difficult half, skipping over the easier problems that are supposed to let you work up to them. As for Spanish, I can’t expect you to make much progress when you can’t have conversations in Spanish with your classmates. And I can’t help much; my own Spanish is pretty rusty. But I’ll see about getting you into an online conversation group with some kids in another time zone.”
“Since the school wouldn’t admit that Jamie and I were separate people until a little while ago, they can’t accuse us of cheating by splitting up the homework. Besides, Jamie usually doesn’t have time to do all his homework before turning into me, not when he has to take care of Jasmine. We used to do most of our homework after she went to bed, but now he can’t do that because he turns into me just a few minutes later.”
“Hmm, that is a problem. I’ll talk to Jamie’s teachers about that and see if we can accommodate him, but for now, you aren’t to do any more of his homework. I’ll assign all your homework, except where we get you into online classes and you have another teacher — probably in Spanish, at least, and maybe in other areas if I think you need more help than I can give you in six hours or so a week.”
“Are you going to keep teaching me in the summer?” I asked.
“Yes. I’m sorry the school district took so long to send someone out here. I only heard about part of it, and it sounds like a real mess.”
So we settled down and started teaching and studying, mostly focusing on algebra since that was what I’d fallen behind in most. After that, he came out to see me three times a week, even into the summer. Occasionally he’d get there early and come out to the playground with Jamie to watch him change into me. I joined an online Spanish conversation group with some kids on the west coast, and eventually caught up on that too.
Mom never went to bed until after Mr. Martin left, although she sometimes fell asleep on the sofa while we were still working through algebra problems.
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