Harper's Hologram

By Niomi Christie

Magical realism, Paranormal, Religion & spirituality, Young adult, Romance, General fiction

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1864
11 mins

'Evening Escape'

“SHHHH…!”

Harper awoke to the sound of hushed giggles in the dorm. In the moonlight she could see that the older girls across the room were dressed like they were about to go dancing with boys.

They opened the door and the harsh light from the hallway flooded in. Harper squinted her eyes and looked over at Saskia’s bed. Saskia had turned away from the door with the covers pulled up over her, she was either asleep or pretending to be. Harper suspected she was pretending.

The girls let out a final “SHHH…” as they quietly pulled the door to and tiptoed off down the hallway.

Harper looked at the big clock on the wall. In the moonlight from the window, she could see both the big hand and the little hand pointing to 12. It was midnight. Where were they going?

Harper had known one or two girls from that group sneak out before, but never this late and never all four of them together.

Harper wondered what made them so excited as she found herself pulling on her sneakers and venturing over towards the door. The girls hadn’t shut it properly and the bright light was flooding in through the crack and hurting Harper’s eyes.

As she put her hand on the door to close it, Harper could hear a noise on the stairwell coming from the boys’ dorm on the second floor.

Harper looked again at Saskia who was very definitely pretending to be asleep. There was no way she hadn’t heard that racket.

Harper understood Saskia wanted to be left alone after the Director told her she couldn’t be a warden any more.

Joe said that Saskia had been demoted back down to the rank of an ‘ordinary inmate’ and she was just the same as everyone else now.

Harper knew that Joe used to be jealous of Saskia, because he wanted to be warden for his dorm and he got told he couldn’t be. Joe said he didn’t know what made Saskia so ‘special’ and told everyone that Saskia went to Matron’s office every Friday evening after lights out and that she and Matron drank whiskey together. Joe said the only thing special about Saskia was that she was the only person who could make Matron smile.

As she quietly shut the door and took soft steps down the hallway and up the stairs, Harper hoped that Joe was still asleep.

Harper’s journey to the second floor dorm was cut short after the fire exit between the first and second floor lay open, blasting Harper with warm rain every few seconds.
Harper couldn’t believe the others had found a way out without the fire alarm sounding as she inched towards the exit and looked down onto the ground below to see a large group of kids from Winters Hall whooping and running in the rain towards Main Street.

As she felt her natural curiosity rising, Harper thought about what had happened in the last 24 hours. About her trip across the boundary, her nasty skateboarding fall, the trip to Matron’s office and Saskia’s demotion.

Harper studied the rain, tugged at her thick pajamas and examined her battered sneakers.

As she stepped outside onto the slippery steps by the emergency exit, Harper knew that she didn’t know what was so exciting the others about tonight, but she wasn’t going to miss her opportunity to find out.

As she quietly followed the rowdy crowd out onto the darkened Main Street, Harper overheard Tao asking if it was true.

“Is this for real?? She will be dancing and singing and talking to us?? For real!?”

“Yep. Don’t say I don’t show you the coolest stuff.”

“Save your puff for when we see it Fixer!”

Fixer was the name everyone called Joe.

Emmeline had linked arms with Joe and was laughing at everything he said. Even though he wasn’t funny.

“ID’s!”

Joe met a shady looking guy in a doorway who was brandishing a collection of shiny-looking ID cards. Joe handed over a big wedge of credits and ID guy handed over the ID’s.

“How do we know these will work?”

Joe wasn’t called the Fixer for nothing.

“Trust me, these are top of the range chipped cards. We’ve swapped the original photo for your photos and as long as they don’t look too hard at the personal details you’ll get straight in.”

Joe held up the cards to the streetlight and assigned the right card to the right person as ID guy slipped off into the darkness.

Harper stayed close by in the shadows as she followed the excitable crowd to their destination.

She saw the sign outside the Red Orchid Bar first.

‘REAL, LIVE SHOW. MARINA ROSE PERFORMS & TALKS TO YOU’

Harper frowned at the subheading.

‘BACK FROM THE DEAD FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY!’

Luckily for the underage crowd from Winters Hall, the electronic ID checker wasn’t working that evening. The harassed looking doormen barely glanced at their fake ID’s as they waved them through and the excitable gaggle headed straight for the luxurious booth in the dark corner of the bar before enthusiastically reviewing the cocktail menus on the table.

Harper watched the group place their drink orders from the rear window.
She didn’t notice that her sneakers were squelching and her soggy pajama bottoms were getting heavy from all the puddles she had stepped in. Harper was waiting to see
Marina Rose just like everyone else.

Ms. Rose had been her mother’s favorite singer. Harper remembered how she and her mother used to sing along with every one of Marina’s songs each time it was on the radio – and that was a lot as her mother only listened to the classics station.
Her mother was first in line for the re-runs of Marina’s old movies too. The local cinema used to run all the old films on the anniversary of her death and Harper would get dragged along to see them when the sun rose on that very day every year.

Whilst she found it strange the films were in black & white, Harper quite liked them – even though they were mostly very silly comedy films and not the murder mystery films that Harper liked to watch.

Harper’s mother insisted on referring to Marina as “Ms. Rose”, although Harper never understood why. Her mother’s friend Heather explained that it was used as a mark of respect in England and her mother respected Ms. Rose very much.

As Harper respected her mother very much, Harper called her Ms. Rose too.
As the relentless rain started to soak through her thick, fleecy pajama top, Harper started to shiver on her perch by the window.

A fancily-dressed man with a booming voice and microphone said that Ms. Rose was going to be on ‘the floor’ in five minutes.

Harper shook off the rain collecting on her sneakers and nearly fell from the crate she was standing on. She panicked and clung onto the windowsill tightly as the crate rocked under her feet. Suddenly it righted itself and as her heart slowed back down to a normal rate, the lights went down inside the bar and the music stopped.

Harper looked over her shoulder to see where Ms. Rose was going to enter from. She wasn’t certain that a woman as respected as Ms. Rose was going to walk through the back area with the bins and glass bottles for her grand entrance, yet Harper hadn’t seen her near the front entrance either.

Harper joined in the hushed silence as she watched the floor.
Music started playing. Harper recognized it, it was the opening bars of ‘The Stage’ – her mother’s favorite song!

Harper glanced over at the Winters Hall kids in the corner booth – she had never seen them so quiet. They all had their eyes fixed on the main floor.

Harper’s eyes darted back to the darkened, empty floor area as a beam of green light slowly lit up a small podium in the center that Harper didn’t see before. Green laser beams seemed to be coming from all sides of the room to light up the podium and a machine on the side of the floor sprang into life and let out a huge jet of fog-like substance.

Harper watched with fascination as the green laser beams turned into a sheet of light when they hit the fog. The instrumental opening bars of the song were coming to a close and Harper’s heart started racing again as she knew Ms. Rose would have to make an appearance any second now…

Suddenly the green laser beams switched off before switching on again as low level lighting under the podium and Harper’s eyes widened as a new light beam switched on, this time a pure white light that seemed to blend with the fog perfectly.

The white light wasn’t like the green beam, it kept shifting shape and getting heavier and heavier until suddenly the fog dissipated and the watchers in the room gasped as the full form of Marina Rose appeared as if she had been there the whole time.
She didn’t wait for applause as she smiled and launched into an emotional rendition of her signature song.

“As I stand on the stage…overwhelmed by the praise…”

“I should feel like a star…I have travelled so far…”

“I tell them I’m only human…but they don’t see…”

She waved lightly to her crowd before touching her wavy midnight hair.

“I see the reality…they see the dream….”

Marina’s perfect smile threw a spell across the whole room, her charisma radiating outwards towards Harper, who was completely mesmerized by the performance.
Harper always thought it was strange that Ms. Rose smiled at the saddest parts of her songs. Harper could tell that she was sad when she sang them. She wondered if perhaps Ms. Rose didn’t want people to know that, and that’s why she smiled.

After her performance Marina walked to each table in turn, laughing and joking as they asked her questions, the special light and fog following her all the way. Harper nearly fell off her crate again as she strained to hear the conversations.
How could this be? How was Ms. Rose alive? How did Fixer know about this?
Harper had to wait in vain until Ms. Rose neared the Winters Hall table which was closest to the window where Harper was perched.

Harper felt a puff of chilled moist air blow in her face as Ms. Rose approached the table. Harper knew that Ms. Rose wasn’t the same as everybody else. She knew that the air and the water were needed to keep Ms. Rose alive and the lights helped people to see her clearly, but yet…Harper guessed she had to be real or else she wouldn’t be able to talk to people.

Harper’s eyes were struggling to keep up with the visual spectacle before them and her ears were straining so hard she worried they might pop, but she had to hear this conversation, she had to know if it was true – was Ms. Rose real…
Marina turned and gave a final wave and shake of the hips to the delighted men on the previous table before turning her full attention to the kids from Winters Hall.

A man suddenly ran out of the shadows with an electronic unit of some kind.

“Here, make sure you talk into this.”

He motioned to the kids from Winters Hall and placed the unit down by their table, quickly scuttling backwards out of view to the side of the floor, far away from Harper who never saw him.

“Well, hello there…!”

Marina purred before smiling and pulling one of her famous poses.
The teenagers screamed in excitement.

“It’s so nice to see you tonight – did you like my show?”

Marina smiled and waited for an answer. Fixer Joe looked nervous as he piped up.

“Yes, we loved it – how old are you?”

The boys groaned and placed their hands over their eyes and the girls shook their heads in horror as they cringed at Joe’s question.

Harper’s breath caught in her mouth as she anxiously waited for the answer.
After a few seconds, Marina laughed a hearty laugh before responding with her famous velvety voice.

“Well now… don’t you know it’s rude to ask a lady her age!”

“Sorry...I….sorry.”

Fixer Joe muttered his apology before he fixed his gaze to the floor and kept it there until the next question.

Marina held her elegant pose as she spoke again.

“Do you have another question?”

A wave of silence took hold of the group.

“Are you shy? Okay, well why don’t you tell me where you’re from?”

Marina cocked her head, waiting for an answer.

“New Detroit”

Sarah spoke boldly before giggling and hiding in her seat.
Marina looked in Sarah’s direction and waited a few seconds.

“This is New Detroit right?”

Marina waited a few seconds before continuing.

“I like it here, but I’ve only just got here and I’m afraid I’m not able to stay long. I guess I won’t get to see the sights!”

“There’s no sights here anyway.”

Sarah replied dryly.

Marina seemed not to hear the response.

“Would you like to ask me one more question?”

Marina adopted another pose and smiled.

Harper scraped her hand as she tried to climb in through the window.
She had a question she had to ask Ms. Rose and she got her head and shoulders through the window before her heart broke as she heard Danyo ask the last question.

“Have you got a boyfriend?”

Marina smiled and laughed her famous laugh before she wriggled a light, foggy finger at Danyo and replied.

“I call lots of boys my friends, don’t you?”

The Winters Hall boys teased Danyo about his ‘boyfriends’ whilst Fixer Joe kept unusually silent, transfixed by the dazzling star before him.
Harper felt the puff of cool air and water on her face once more as Ms. Rose walked by. As Harper reached out to touch her, Ms. Rose suddenly stopped, before she turned and looked Harper straight in the eye.

“See ya’ later suga…”

Marina blew Harper a kiss and waved as she faded off into the distance.
No-one else had noticed Harper in the window and Harper’s heart sang at the recognition from her mother’s idol before she suddenly felt a sharp tug as something pulled her back outside the window.

Harper didn’t look back as she kicked out behind her and caught the elderly man with dark skin and a huge black cowboy hat straight in the chest, sinking him to one knee winded.

“Hey kid, you didn’t have to do that, I was…just...trying to help you back down, it looked like you were struggling…there.”

The old man wheezed.

“I wasn’t trying to get out the window I was trying to get in to see Ms. Rose.”
Harper had pulled herself back through the window and was standing on the crate looking at the old man with the cowboy hat, irritated at having missed her chance to ask the question and confused as to why he was talking to her. Harper examined the stooping figure on the wet ground in front of her. She hoped he wasn’t ill, he looked ill.

“Ms. Who?”

The man wondered if now his hearing was failing him, along with everything else.

“Ms…Marina Rose… the singer.”

“Marina Rose!?...She’s been dead one-hundred years!! You don’t believe all that hologram crap do you kid? You seem smarter than that.”

The old man slowly rose to his feet.

Harper bit her lip. She knew that Ms. Rose was some sort of hologram, but she also knew she was more than that. She was real. Harper did believe it. She had seen her with her own eyes and now she believed everything.

“She’s not just a hologram, I’ve seen her she’s REAL.”

Harper clenched her fists and glared at the man.

“Okay, okay kid, no problem at all. I believe you. I wasn’t sure, but if you say you’ve seen her and she’s real I believe you, you seem like a smart kid and I’m happy to take your word for it.”

Harper stared at the man from her crate.

“Now, why don’t you let me help you down from there? It’s awful wet and slippery out here and I don’t want you falling on one of these broken bottles.”
Harper looked down at the strewn rubbish and broken glass surrounding the crate, which was now glistening from all the rain.

“Okay.”

She held out both her hands and the man wheezed as he lifted her tiny frame off the crate and placed her gently on the ground, clumsily kicking rubbish out of the way as he did so.

Harper was happy to be on the ground and off the wobbly crate.

She and the man looked at each other curiously.

The man looked at Harper’s drenched pajamas and noticed the label on her wrist. He knew to say nothing about it at this point or else the kid might run away. He couldn’t tell for sure if the kid was a boy or a girl. At first, he thought the kid was a girl as she was so tiny, but now he just wasn’t sure. He thought it best not to ask about that either.

“So, what did you want to see Marina Rose for? I would have thought she was a bit before your time.”

Harper piped up, happy to answer.

“My mother liked her very much and I wanted to ask her a question!”

“Okay…and what question did you want to ask her?”

The rain bounced off his Stetson.

“I wanted to ask Ms. Rose if she remembered my mother – we went up to her grave every year on her birthday and laid down fresh flowers.”

The old man paused and thought carefully about his answer.

“I see…so you thought Ms. Rose might have been watching your mother when she visited her grave?”

He monitored the girl closely for her response.

“YES! YES! That’s right!!”

Harper shouted, excited that the man understood what she was saying.

“Okay kid I see. So…why isn’t your mother here to see Ms. Rose tonight if she liked her so much? I thought she would have been here with you?”

The old man braced himself for the response.

“She can’t be here tonight…she doesn’t live here anymore.”

“Oh dear…I’m sorry to hear that. Where she does she live now?”

“Up in the clouds like Ms. Rose…”

“And how long has your mother been up in the clouds for?”

The old man knew to keep his distance during the conversation.

“Nearly a year.”

“Mmmm…I see. And was your mother British too?”

“Yes! She’s from England and my stepdad is American, that’s why we moved here.”

Harper was very matter of fact about this.

“And does your stepdad know you have come to see Ms. Rose tonight?”

“No, he doesn’t live here anymore. He went to South Africa.”

“I see…and what about your father? Is he British too?”

“Yes, but I don’t know where he lives now…”

As the man debated what question to ask next, Harper continued.

“Ms. Rose brought the clouds down from the sky with her, that’s how she was real. She walked through the clouds and spoke to people – and she talked to me!”

Harper started to get very excited and danced around the back yard recounting the experience word for word to her new friend.

“…that means my mother can be real too! She can come down from the sky on the clouds and talk to me too!”

Harper started hopping up and down in excitement as an angry broken bottle which had been rolling around restlessly in the rain spotted a new target, rolled slickly under her airborne figure and waited for the landing.

Harper landed hard and let out a large yelp as she felt something sharp tear through her battered sneaker. The old man found a new lease of energy as he leapt forward to help her, just as Harper’s fellow residents from Winters Hall appeared in the street by the entrance to the yard.

They recognized Harper in an instant.

“HEY”

Fixer Joe shouted before roughly shoving the old man so hard his treasured Stetson was knocked into a puddle on the wet, dirty floor.

“What ya’ doing with Harper? What ya’ hanging around here for?”

Emmeline rushed over to pick up Harper off the floor, screaming when she saw a giant piece of broken bottle sticking out from the sole of Harper’s sneaker.

Harper’s cries of pain fell silent as Tao picked her up and carried her on his athletic shoulder in a fireman’s lift. Harper heard Tao tell Joe to leave the old man alone and help him take Harper to the hospital.

The rest of the group looked confused as they realized the consequences of the night’s events. A debate ensued as to who was going back to Winters Hall and who was going with Tao and Harper to the hospital.

Eventually, Emmeline, Jade, Danyo and Sarah pooled their remaining credits to help organize a taxi for Harper, whilst Tao and Joe agreed to ride with her for the journey to the hospital.

Joe spoke first.

“What were you doing there? Were you following us? Why do you have to ruin EVERYTHING.”

Joe shook his head at Harper and punched the ceiling of the taxi in frustration.
The taxi driver eyed him in the rear view mirror and said nothing.

“Leave it bro’, she’s obviously had a hard night.”

Tao spoke diplomatically.

Harper was squeezed in the back seat between the two of them and stayed mute, looking at the dark, wet road ahead as she tried to minimize Joe’s frustration and the pain in her foot.

She failed at both.

When Tao put his arm around her shoulder and gave it a friendly squeeze, it blocked out some of the pain and Harper lightly rested her head on his hard shoulder whilst trying not to balk at the fact that boys always smelt different to girls.

Suddenly realizing she was cold, wet, in excruciating pain and that her pajamas were so heavy with rainwater she could barely move, Harper slowly passed out in the back of the taxi as she wondered what Saskia would make of all this.



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