They told me how lucky I was that my daughter Beeja wasn’t killed. They didn’t know I wanted to kill myself every day. I was sure that was how I could find her.
Then I remembered Beeja’s map.
President King’s Project Assistant showed me to my cubicle. “I’m so sorry. But they tell me people wake up from comas all the time.”
Where’s her map?
“We even built in generous daily time for you to visit your daughter.” They don’t like to say Beeja. King’s people hated me standing in front of my daughter’s school, smeared with her blood, screaming into the cameras at the President. They thought I was lucky compared to other parents whose children had been killed. They thought giving me a PSA job would appease President King who’d tweeted “Thoughts and Prayers” before he saw my hideous breakdown. The terrible thing is not your loss. It’s you’re lost.
“Can I get you anything?” the project assistant asked.
I want the map Beeja made me. Just give me her map. I can’t find her without it.
President King had taken it as a compliment that nearly all my daughter’s classmates had worn masks of his own face that day at school holding a surprise protest against his pro-gun zealotry. King even tweeted that if law enforcement found a kid who hadn’t worn a mask, that kid would be the one who’d shot up the school. Beeja had been taking courses in emergency negotiations, de-escalation, and risk assessment. She believed they were of value. She hadn’t been wearing a mask.
The assistant handed me a smartphone. “Here’s a list of problems President King hates. Pick one. Solve it. Keep moving—these’re zero day issues. No reports. When you’re done just make a simple map, you know the kind—like at a mall—and put YOU ARE HERE on it for him.”
I scrolled through the list. “Crows? Crows are a ‘problem’?”
The assistant shrugged. “Would you like a Benefit? Makes it easier.”
“A Benefit?” I frowned.
The assistant held out a tray of medications: pills, liquids, injections, all the candy colors of a rainbow. “Don’t worry. None of it’s addictive.”
My daughter is lost in the dark of pain and no medicine has showed her the way back. I looked at the assistant. I just want to get Beeja’s map and find her. “No, thank you,” I replied carefully. “What do I do once I pick something?”
“Problem. Zero day. Act. Don’t forget why you’re here.”
“You’re so extreme, Mums.”
Beeja gazed at the urn I kept on the windowsill in my home office. Grubby duct tape bandaged it like a mummy. The urn belonged to one of my homeless students, and held the ashes of her three month old baby who’d died of SIDS while they were staying at a shelter. Britney carried her baby’s ashes with her until one day she asked if I could keep them until she reached a safe place. I promised her I would and invited her to dinner so she could choose a spot in our house. Britney arranged the baby’s zoo animal pjs on the window sill and put the urn on top of them. Beeja, who’d followed us into the room, said, “You should put her pjs on her.” She helped Britney pull the baby’s animal pjs up over the urn and slide the little pink and blue striped hospital newborn hat over the lid. Britney asked Beeja if she would take a picture of her baby every day and send it to her. My daughter smiled and entered Britney’s number, Instagram, and MeWe, into her phone.
Shortly after that, Britney was a passenger in a terrible car accident and ended up in intensive care. Beeja found out because the photos she took for Britney every day of the baby’s urn were no longer being posted to Britney’s Instagram. She followed the trail of digital breadcrumbs and found Britney in ICU. Britney didn’t wake up so they turned off her life support.
Beeja was distraught. “She was lost. Somebody needed to go look for her. Why didn’t we do that?”
I had tried so hard with Britney, drew her maps of how to get across town, how to apply for services, how to enroll in GED classes, how to get pre-natal care. But she was always getting lost. I’d joked to her at dinner that night she came over she should take a cartography class. But Beeja took it seriously and told Britney how she was taking a class at the high school in cartology and that it was taught by IT, science, and math instructors and blended cartography as a visual map for accessing, and understanding heterogenous shared information. She said that it aided in future projections by observing intricate geometrical figures on a reasonably accurate topographical map. I was surprised and ready to question cartology as being in the same camp as patchouli, but Beeja stage whispered that she was working on a special map for me in case we lost sight of each other. The girls laughed and became engrossed in sharing images on their phones.
Most of President King’s problem solvers took Benefits that made them take care of lots of problems. The real problem was more about figuring out where President King’s head was at the moment. I pitched it as “Eating Crow: Community Service is for the Birds.” Since everything people ate, drank, wanted was safety packaged and/or put together with PLA, nylon, glass filled nylon, epoxy resins, silver, titanium, steel, photopolymers polycarbonate, and other junk—AND since bio-based resins from corn and soybean were nixed as King hated anything that contained the prefix “bio”—AND since whatever problem I took on had to be solved immediately—photo opp and then on to the next—trash was a no win—and therefore, no lose—place to start.
I Zoomed a guy who trained birds as part of his YouTube income. Any Zero Day challenge should begin with YouTube as there’s always someone who’s Einsteining a problem and has an answer. I’d had this old school idea that if you were creating a cure for cancer or finding the Higgs Boson particle, you had to be a traditional scientist with a state of the art lab, and a crapload of money, and only the drug companies had access to you. Was I wrong. This guy was incredible. And a teenager.
In this national park area chosen by President King’s staff, my teen genius Merlin and I “convinced” (his word) crows to pick up cigarette butts, discarded shopping bags, fast food wrappers, and deposit them in special trash receptacles. President King saves skillions of dollars on trash collecting and gets bragging rights. Meanwhile the birds get stale bread crumb substitute. Crow brings a butt, drops it in the receptacle, gets a crumb.
Crummy job. Crummy reward. The crows figured that one out. They weighed their options, literally, and decided why struggle with poisonous garbage when sticks and stones that weighed the same as jewel pods and condom wrappers would produce the same reward?
Merlin and I tried to convince them to just shill for the photo op. But crows go in for masks. President King and his entourage came to observe the crows picking up a ridiculous amount of trucked in trash. Instead the crows, who’d last minute flown in their own pile of sticks and stones tricked the trash machines and got their crumbs anyway. The photo op was hijacked when the crows set up a huge squawking that President King remarked angrily was addressed at him. The assessment of my solution to the problem came online in the comments section, and in the bars where King’s base condemned crows as ugly garbage eaters who cheated at their jobs just like King’s opponents, and likely were spying for them. Videos of crow killings went viral with one showing a dead crow beside the road, wrapped in the non-biodegradable curly ribbon of a star shaped silver and glitter balloon that read Get Well Soon! After that, dead crows appeared everywhere with patriotic red, white, and blue balloons wrapped tight around their necks.
I made my crows project map with the required YOU ARE HERE and color coded dotted lines against a Google Maps real time image, and submitted it to King’s assistant who frowned. “This is too specific—President King needs a map that can apply to anything he wants or needs it to—remember, mall map analogy?”
When I heard the shots, I was looking at a list of Beeja’s first words that she’d written out when she was three as a spelling test. I’d driven her to pre-school, and she asked me for words to spell while she was at school. Randomly, I chose and wrote cat, car, dog, tree, human. She’d carefully copied them in capital letters next to my words in small letters, and had cried as she handed her work to me when I picked her up because some boy had teased her for spelling words, then scrawled over them in blue marker. I still had them on my bedroom door 17 years later.
When I heard the shots, I ran to the school. The ugly old school had too many adjacent pods for classrooms, and outdated cameras only in a few places. Broken. Because teenagers aren’t worth any kind of upgrade in this world. The lockdown started too late. I ran past the school security police hiding behind corners. She was going to come home with me now and we would leave this nightmare and find the beautiful real world.
“Mums, listen to this. One who is trained in the divination of future events through maps and charts based on geographical features of the real world is called a Cartologist. How great is that? I want to do that.”
I smiled as I tried to choose my words carefully, but it was hard with her. I was always blurting things out that I tried to hide from other people. “Divination? Come on, bunzie, that’s hocus pocus stuff, like…like the way your age group always wants to get tattoos.”
She was sketching something on her leg with one eye on her phone and one on what she was drawing. “Tattoos are the map of a true cartologist.”
“Don’t you mean cartographer?”
He was holding her, his mask and Kevlar vest still in place. I saw him lean over her, look at her leg, look at her face, listening. By the time I reached her side, he’d taken off. “You are here,” she whispered, blood running out of her like a summer stream. “Cat… Car… I made you a map. But you are here.” Then she disappeared into the dark and we lost each other.
I followed my murder of crows by choosing “zoos” from King’s list. He hated zoos because they cost too much and they made people feel sorry for wild animals. Merlin facetimed me, and sent me a video of a guy sneaking into an enclosure and hitting a baby hippo on the bottom as she and her mother dozed. He wore a President King mask.
I told Merlin the problem being solved here was escalating violence from animals to people.
“Why’re you bullshitting me? This guy shot your daughter into a coma!” His face fisheyed in the iphone’s lens.
I responded carefully. “He wore a mask.”
“You saw him. What’re you waiting for?”
We stared at each other through the distance of facetime. He’s got her map. She’s lost. I need the map to find her. To bring her back. He nodded.
I removed the hippos’ low barrier walls to let him have access. The mother and baby hippo munched on crummy GMO leaf substitute. The teenager who I was lucky hadn’t killed my daughter only made her comatose, hopped down the rock wall, masked, and wearing Kevlar. Where’s he got her map? He drew on the back of the baby hippo. With a scalpel. Merlin wanted to kill him, but I forced him to control himself.
We watched him return for two more nights.
On YouTube, I discovered how to make a chemical marker a bit like Luminol and a bit like Luciferin out of natural substances. Merlin gave me a crash course in quantum entanglement. If you look at something long enough, it changes the nature of that thing. I was going to finally trace the shooter to her.
We set it up and watched the hippo. Long after dark, he showed up and we could see him take a tiny scalpel. He was tattooing her, but what was he drawing? Then he tore off his shirt. On his back, blood ran out of letters, lines, and figures. He flipped himself around, and as he did, I jumped on him. He put his arms out straight beside him and fell back onto the baby hippo’s back, me on top of him. Blood slid under us; luminescence splashed up around us. Merlin had painted her back with our YouTube Zero Day mixture and all the figures and lines stood out everywhich way. We rolled to the ground and I pinned him, the mother hippo snarling. “Look at his back!” Merlin yelled.
I yanked him up and forced him around.
Beeja’s map was tattooed on his back. And now on the baby hippo’s back. The blood shone in the dark and its luminescent particles reflected it back in the air. And now I saw the crows, the hippos, Merlin, and Beeja and glowing everywhere YOU ARE HERE.
All drawings are maps. Like quantum entanglement, they are always the same, and always different every time you look at them. This piece of Beeja’s map showed this: Sall I caper thye to a summers day? Then a grid with No on the left side and Yes on the right. Underneath the No was a zero. Underneath the Yes were 34 tic marks and under that a heart and under that a smiley face with a single curled baby hair on top of the face followed by a From: and an arrow pointing at the face. That last day before Beeja got lost, she’d come in to borrow some makeup and said, “Oh Mom, why do you keep this? Look how I couldn’t even spell anything!”
Now we looked at it together and my daughter who’d been lost, but had become found said, “What is this? Why do you keep it?”
“You made it for me so we’d never get lost.”
She picked up the urn in its baby pajamas on the windowsill. “I don’t remember it.”
I looked at her there, then, here, now. “That’s why we have a map.” Dog… Tree…
“Human,” Beeja whispered to the urn and hugged it.
Phoebe Reeves writes about children, nature, animals, and matter. Magic realism is her favorite pair of eyes. Her stories have been published in The Airgonaut, Corvus Review, Literally Stories, and other online and print magazines. Her Twitter is @phoeberm.