Part II: Alvina’s Quest for Knowledge

 

Anywin Castle, home of the Elf Queen Gudrun, is a gold building. But once inside, Alvina notices that her feet are walking on a glass-like structure. Under her shoes are many levels with different rooms where elves are busy tending to various tasks: right below are elves standing up peering through a microscope, and in the next room are elves sleeping in beds as other elves in blue-white pants with matching shirts and black boots, pull blankets up around those who are resting. Are they patients? Alvina wonders to herself.

Several floors down elves rush around chopping long purple carrots and toss them into pots with bubbling water; other elves two floors up from those preparing food clink swords together; other elves are doing laundry; while other child elves are being instructed by an elf with a long white beard. On and on, elves work below Alvina’s feet, separated only by clear glass and see-through walls. None are distracted by what other elves are doing in different rooms.

All of a sudden, Alvina’s lips move together with thirst. It’s as if her saliva glands are working to produce liquid, but everything inside of her has gone dry.  Her hands that were relaxed at her side begin to open and close in fists as if she were trying to pump water from her hands up to her mouth.  Then the floor beneath her feet and the see-though rooms that were all separated, are closed in gold. Everything is shuttered from Alvina’s eyes.

“Are you alright?” A voice she knows, but can’t quite place, coos to her.

Alvina can’t speak. In answer to the question, she nods her head at the woman in the plaid shirt and blue jeans.

From her right side a hand touches her arm and says, “Here, drink this.”

When Alvina faces the voice, she sees a woman dressed in blue-white clothes, and she holds a clear liquid in a glass in front of her. Alvina takes the clear fluid, pushes it to her lips, and the zesty, sweet taste of orange-pineapple tingles on her taste buds. Some of the drink escapes from the corners of her lips and dribbles down the front of her shirt. Once done, she places the glass back on the tray the woman holds. Alvina whispers the words, “thank you.”

An eloquent and kind laugh echoes throughout the gold walls of the castle. Gudrun pulls from her jeans a white handkerchief and passes it to Alvina. When Alvina peers down at the cloth the letters: H.R.H.G.A. are embroidered on it. She takes it and wipes the corners of her mouth.

Gudrun nods at the other woman and says, “Satya, thank you. You may go now.”  The woman smiles slightly, steps backwards, bends forward, and then once she’s no longer facing the Queen and the child, she quickens her pass returning to her other duties.

Gudrun says, “I’m sorry. I should have asked them to close the floor before we arrived. I forget – some of your people are afraid of heights.”

“It’s okay. I’m alright. By the way, who are you?”

“I’m Gudrun,” the elf woman replies with a smile.  Gudrun waits a moment, testing to see if Alvina will ask a more precise question.

“Does everyone have a home like this?”

There it is. “No, I’m Queen of the Elves.”

Alvina’s face scrunches as she stares at the woman. “But you’re dressed in a plaid shirt and blue jeans?”

Gudrun’s hands rest easily at her side. She steps back and says, “What would you have me do?  Wear a silk gown and tiara on my head while tending to my duties? Also, dressed in an evening gown is hardly practical for flying.”

Alvina’s nostrils twitch as she chuckles.  Gudrun watches her guest carefully and notices Alvina’s shoulders relax more while her face returns to a pink glow. The child’s eyes focus on her, and are no longer distant as if they are lost in some other world.

Yes, the girl is no longer feeling faint. 

Recalling the statement the Queen said a second ago, Alvina finally says, “I guess I’m a little afraid of heights.” Her voice is a quiet confession.

Sympathetically, the Queen says, “We’re all afraid of something.”

Suddenly a monster appears behind Gudrun with light purple skin, red shimmering eyebrows, wide black eyes, and a glowing red mouth.  Wearing a yellow-gold shirt and pants, Alvina notices a white scintillating rope hangs on the creature’s black belt.

“Gudrun, run! There’s a monster behind you!” Alvina squeals. She reaches for the Queen’s hand and tugs at it to pull Gudrun forward.

The monster stops in his tracks. “Queen Gudrun, this is the reason why we can’t simply hand over the plant to the humans! They are narrow-minded!” The voice is an echo grumble as if the monster has a cold. The creature hisses the words at Alvina.

Alvina stops pulling the Queen’s hand.  The Queen’s fingers now tighten around Alvina’s hand as she nudges the child forward. The Queen only stops the motion when Alvina stands directly in front of her. Gudrun rests her hands on the child’s shoulders and says, “Alvina, I would like you to meet my friend, Radyalasana, who has travelled far beyond the Pinwheel Galaxy, where there’s a planet called Kysta. That is Radyalasana’s home.

Gudrun bends forward and whispers into Alvina’s ear, “don’t worry. We’ve already fed Radyalasana.”

Alvina twists her lips to the right side with annoyance at Gudrun’s joke. (By now she knows when the Queen is making fun of her.) “What does he mean, give us a plant?”

“I’m not a HE,” Radyalasana’s voice clips Alvina’s question.

“Well, she then,” Alvina corrects.

“You are wrong again, human,” Radyalasana says with annoyance. “I’m neither.”

“You have to be one or the other,” Alvina counters.

“No, I do not.”

Gudrun moves to Alvina’s right side and stares down at her. “Alvina, sometimes you must open your mind to other possibilities. Everything you believe, everything you are told, may need to be corrected at some point. That is why an A is not important. If you reach perfection, where is the ambition to continue to learn?” The Queen’s eyebrows pull together and with a soft smile she adds, “Remember, history is always being written – and re-written.”

Alvina looks over at Radyalasana. She nods, and offers a smile while asking, “What plant do you want to give us?” Alvina asks boldly.

The black eyes of Radyalasana blink quickly at the child. The Kystan’s wide lips remain silent.

“Radyalasana,” the Queen’s voice breaks through the silence, “Alvina pursues knowledge, and wishes to understand things. I sense Alvina has a special purpose in this project, and will be needed when she is older. Our encounter today was no accident.” Gudrun quickly peers over at Alvina as she says this.

Alvina can’t catch her breath. She’s special. The Queen said so. Alvina’s ears perk up as she waits to hear what Radyalasana will say. She is  aware now, that whatever the Kystan says today, she must remember for when she is older.”

Radyalasana’s eyes blink rapidly at the Queen and through clenched black teeth to Gudrun these words follow: “Very well. Only because I know you can see the future, and we have known each other for several hundred years, do I trust what you say is true, and will give the information to the runt human.”

“I’m a child!” Alvina shouts.

“Hmph,” Radyalasana grunts at Alvina. “You call me a monster, and when I call you a runt, you get angry?”

“Oh,” Alvina says as her eyes shift down to the floor. Then she blinks up to Radyalasana, and says, “I’m sorry.”

Nodding at Alvina, Radyalasana says, “I’m sorry too.”  The Kystan traveller begins to pace back and forth  and says, “It’s a plant that I brought from my home, and will transport and place in the ground in Brazil. It will be found by a researcher in the Amazon Rainforest, and will be the cure for many diseases that plague your people, according to Gudrun. Assuming your species doesn’t destroy the plant before it’s found with your clear cutting of the jungle, it will mean many illnesses will be eliminated.”

“Why don’t you just give us the plant?”

Radyalasana’s face scrunches. Eyes squint tightly at the child.

“Oh,” Alvina says.

With amusement the Kystan traveller smiles at Alvina, turns towards Gudrun and acknowledges, “You are right. The child is clever. She will find it.”

Part 1: Alvina’s Quest for Knowledge

“I can’t believe I got a B!” Alvina says squeezing the pages of her test a little tighter in her hand crumpling it. The B stares at her, taunting her, with its curved letter. It’s an insulting reminder she’s not quite smart enough.

Her right foot swings out as she kicks at the ground. Surprisingly, her boot whips up a pile of dirt and it is tossed further down the trail. Alvina’s feet stomp at the ground. But because its spring, she sinks into the moist soil. If it were summer, the path would be dry and her feet pounding on the trail would be louder and would be a clear expression of her anger. Instead what she hears is muffled. The sound of slurping muck under her boots seems to suggest the springtime goo can pull her down below the surface like quicksand – never to be seen again!

Alvina’s face scrunches like twisted metal at the demolition yard when she thinks about the B versus an A; wanting to stomp loudly and only hearing the softness of earth beneath her feet; at wanting to be smart, and maybe, only being average. With this thought, anger blisters throughout her body.  It pops and explodes pulsing with fire through her veins.  Alvina kicks at the ground again, and another huge chunk of mud lifts up and spreads out across the air before it crashes into trees, ferns, and other plants that are in the way.

“What’s the matter?” Alvina hears from behind her.  It’s a curious tone mixed with concern.

Alvina glances over her shoulder. Standing on the path is a woman with long black hair, wearing a multi-coloured wool hat on top of her head, a plaid shirt, and blue jeans.  The woman’s face is punchy white against her black hair and it reminds Alvina of how white the moon looks on a clear night against the background of a black sky.

“Nothing,” Alvina mutters to the tall woman who is still standing further down the path.

“Nothing?” The woman says. “Surely, it must be something. You wouldn’t redecorate the woods for no reason.”

Alvina quietly laughs at the woman’s joke. Then Alvina huffs, glances up at the woman, before her eyes skim the woods. She doesn’t really want to answer the question. Alvina glances at green ferns, maple trees, balsam firs, and the dangerous wild parsnip that Mom warned her about when she said, Alvina, don’t get too close to the wild parsnip. That stuff will burn you.

“I got a B on a test,” Alvina blurts out to the stranger.

“You should be proud: a B is a good mark!” The woman says the words in an authoritative tone and with a nod of her head. To Alvina, it seems like the women has placed too much energy in the statement as if she’s trying to convince her it’s true.

Alvina’s eyes glare at the woman dressed as a lumberjack. She says, “I wanted an A.”

The woman folds her arms in front of her chest, tilts her head, and asks, “Why?”

“Because,” Alvina hesitates as if she were a train climbing up a monster of a hill with a heavy load. With her next words, it’s as if the train has reached the top, and now with the downhill momentum it blasts straight down and  Alvina’s words rush out of  her with the same speed when she finishes her because statement with, “I want to be smart.”

“You think a grade, an A, is a reflection of how smart you are?” The woman says folding her arms in front of her while her eyebrows pull together.

“Yes,” Alvina answers with zero hesitation in her voice.

“So, if you don’t get an A, you don’t know anything?” The woman asks the child as new lines crinkle together showing the woman’s confusion.

“No, I’m not saying that,”Alvina answers with annoyance. She knows the woman is challenging her, just like her parents, when she gets mad about getting a different mark than an A. But it frustrates her. No one seems to understand the importance of it. After a few moments, Alvina gathers her thoughts and says, “It means I don’t know as much as the other kids who got A’s on that history test.”

“Oh, history!” The slender woman says excitedly. “You know, history is constantly being written, right?” Then there’s a pause in her voice as she walks past Alvina towards the largest tree Alvina has ever seen. The tree isn’t a maple, or a balsam fir – as a matter of fact, Alvina doesn’t remember the tree being there before. The woman glances up at the tree, spins around to face Alvina with her black hair twirling, and says, “And history, is also being rewritten.”

“I know,” Alvina says as her eyes shift back and forth to the woman and to the large red tree in the middle of the woods.  “But history is important,” Alvina says defensively.

“Absolutely!” The woman acknowledges without hesitation. “But it’s impossible to know everything, about everything; particularly, something like history.”  With that the dark-haired woman places her left hand on the tree, and uses her right hand to remove her hat.  As her palm touches the tree, Alvina hears a creaking sound as two pieces of bark separate. This goes on for several minutes until the tree is split in two pieces. From the opening in the tree, a light blue light pours from the doorway of the tree.

Alvina’s mouth is open. She’s so surprised! Never in her life has she seen a tree do that! Alvina cautiously takes a step back with fear. It’s not a planned move, but rather an instinctive one to get away from something that you’re not familiar with.

Just then a rainbow coloured bird bursts from the entrance of the tree fluttering, and chirping, singing his song to everyone. It’s hard to resist music no matter who, or what, is singing. Alvina finds she is no longer afraid but smiling.  The bird bounces onto Alvina’s shoulder and continues to chirp into her ear.

With hesitation, Alvina asks, “How did you do that?” Realizing she has more questions she shoots out one more with, “And where did the bird come from?”

“My name is Gudrun,” the woman smiles at the child and says, “And this is the path to my world. That bird is Patnik, and he’s a friend of mine.”  During this whole time, Gudrun keeps the palm of her hand on the tree.

Alvina hesitates. She’s not quite certain of this woman, or this opening to another world. Turning her head she stares at the bird, and when she does this, the bird places his beak against nine-year-old Alvina’s nose.  Then as quickly as Patnik flew out from the tree and landed on Alvina’s shoulder, it rushes back into the opening of the tree, and disappears into it.

“Would you like to come see my world?” Gudrun says raising her eyebrows at Alvina.

Alvina stares at the woman. Then she notices it – or rather, them.

“Your ears!” Alvina shouts at Gudrun while stretching her finger out at the woman. Realizing almost instantly that she’s being rude, she quickly drops her finger, and her eyes stare at the muddy ground.

Gudrun shouts, “Oh my! Have I lost them?” Gudrun says with surprise as she places both her hands on her ears.  When the woman’s hand is removed from the tree, there’s another creaking sound and the two piece of bark that were separated pull together, closing the door to Gudrun’s world.

The sound causes Alvina to glance up. She’s giggling at the woman and she says, “No.”

“Then – what?” Gudrun asks still holding her ears.

“Their pointy, like Spock’s from Star Trek.”

Gudrun places her hands on her hips, huffs, and says, “Or – LIKE ELVES!” She finishes the last part with exasperation in her voice. “That show. What was it called, Star Trek?”

Alvina chuckles to herself and says, “Yeah, I guess so. And yeah, it’s Star Trek. How did you know that?”

“You’re not the first child I’ve encountered that said my ears looked like Spock’s. A long time ago, kids would always say elves. Now we’re in competition with Mr. Spock.”

Alvina laughs. Then she hesitates, points at the tree, and says, “The door closed.”

“Ah yes, it has.” Gudrun says matter-of-factly. Then she places her hand on the tree again, it splits in two, the door opens, and light blue light pours from the opening again.

Slowly Alvina walks to the entrance of the tree that leads to Gudrun’s world. She peers through the doorway and holds her breath when she views the landscape before her: a mix of green and red fields. In the background are what look like crystal mountains, and they are surrounded with purple water.

From behind Alvina she turns when there’s a small breeze that hovers above her. She notices that Gudrun has poked her head around the corner. She smiles at her, stands still mostly in Alvina’s world with just her head that’s poking around the corner. Smiling, she asks Alvina, “Would you like to come for a visit? I want to show you some things that may help in your quest for knowledge.”

Alvina hesitates glancing at the view of Gudrun’s world and before she turns back to the woman in the plaid shirt she says, “I need to be home for dinner.”

“I’ll make sure you’re back,” Gudrun says with the same amount of confidence in her voice as Alvina’s teachers do when they are explaining something in class. Then Gudrun says, “Me and the other elves have lived a long time. I want to show you what we’re learning.”

Patnik whips out of the open tree door again, singing, and squeaking with happiness. When it sees Alvina it hovers in front of her, and then waves its right wing at her as if it’s a hand in a motion of, come!

Unable to resist the wing of her feathered friend as if it were an outstretched hand, Alvina touches the wing.  In that moment when her fingers touch the bird’s wing, Alvina rises up gently at first, and then as the bird spins and twirls, so does Alvina. Giggling, Alvina does somersaults in the air.

When Alvina stops, she notices she is now past the tree and below her feet are the red-green fields. Gudrun is now beside her and the tree-door has closed to Alvina’s world.  Gudrun’s feet slowly rise up and she hovers beside Alvina, still holding her hat in her right hand. Then she stretches out horizontally, turns back briefly to face Alvina, and says, “Come, let’s follow Patnik! He’ll lead us to my castle!”

As if Patnik understood everything that was said, he beats his wings quickly, and flies happily towards a yellow-gold castle nestled in front of the mountains.  Not far behind Patnik, are Alvina and Gudrun. They hold hands as the air rushes across their eyelashes, nose, mouth and the breeze pushes their hair this way and that way, and their shirts and pants flutter from the speed their travelling across the white pillow clouds around them.

Their destination is Gudrun’s castle: for she is the Queen of the Elves.

Part II: If You Asked Me To…

“Hello, Beth,” a familiar voice says from behind me. After the last few days of many encounters, I know who it is, before I turn around.

“Hello,” I answer swiveling around confirming my suspicions.

“Did you have breakfast there?” He asks as his nose crinkles. His eyes squint together from either the sun or the sub-zero temperatures. I’m surprised he’s not wearing a hat and notice his ears are glowing red most likely stinging from the brisk wind.  Despite the arctic temperatures his arms are crossed in front of him, and his hands are clasped together in a relaxed manner as if he could stand there all day.

“Yes,” I answer facing Evan.  “It’s a nice place. The breakfast was wonderful. But I wasn’t adventurous enough to try anything really different, just the regular eggs benedict. A friend of mine suggested the place.” I can’t help myself as my lips curl upwards. I glance up to Evan who stands a good foot above me.

Briefly, his gaze shifts and he watches the rush of cars criss-cross the streets.  When he faces me again, there’s a gentle nod of his head and a knowing grin.

Evan’s wearing a long wool winter coat, leather gloves, and a plaid brown scarf that’s bundled around his neck to protect him from the unusual cold weather this time of year.  White wisps of air swirl around in front of him as he says in a gentle river of a voice, “I’m headed to the hotel.  Starting my shift.”

“Oh, I’m headed in that direction too,” I say dropping my eyes to the pavement.

Is that me leading him on? I don’t know. Should I have drawn a line by now?

I push the thought aside. Nice guy like him, I’m sure he has a girlfriend. I didn’t notice a ring. He’s probably being extra kind to me, pities me really, because I’m alone in this big beautiful city. I shouldn’t read too much into his words, mannerisms, and gestures. He probably acts the same way when he meets anyone.

“If you asked me to…”

My mouth opens and then closes. Lines shape my mouth to form the well-known friendly greeting of a smile.  This is our dance. Mine and Evan’s. I’ve been in this spinning, whirl of a city that holds a flood of shops, markets, and tickets for all the big Broadway shows, and through it all Evan disappears and reappears when I need him; and whenever we see each other he will find an opportunity to say at the beginning of the encounter, or at some point later, if you asked me to….

Evan said it when I stood blankly at the front entrance to the hotel swinging my head from right to left, while simultaneously spinning my phone in all directions, trying to figure out what street to take to get to Times Square. I figured it wouldn’t be that hard – look for the brightly lit neon sign! But oh, tall buildings are everywhere and conceal that which should be obvious! And the shadows from the skyscrapers hide everything else.

It was only when Evan appeared, glimpsed over my shoulder at my phone, and then pointed and said, over, yonder! – I had a clue in which direction I might find that amazing place I’d seen only on TV. Then he said with a wink, Dorothy, just follow the blue dotted trail….

Playing along I nodded, and while holding my phone in front of me, stepped one foot in front of the other and began skipping down the pavement as if I were Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

Then a couple of days ago, I was returning to my hotel with feet and calves that burned.  I had spent the day exploring some of the boroughs of NY, and my body punished me for it. Prior to my trip, I spent most nights binge-watching Netflex while eating ice cream; and then asked the same body to run a marathon (of sorts) in Miu Miu boots with no training. That’s the reason I didn’t notice the man who lunged at me and reached for my handbag a few meters from the hotel. As I had the strap of the purse looped through my shoulder it escalated into a tug of war between me and the thief, with me refusing to let go of my Coach baby as if it were something precious and irreplaceable like a child. The man out of frustration raised his hand to me, and I was certain his intention was to hit me. But before he made contact, Evan appeared in front of me and with a left hook punched the thug to the ground. The assaulted thief quickly recovered, and sprang to his feet. Evan chased him until I yelled, Evan don’t! Leave it!

Once we were inside the hotel we called the police. Evan said, we have to tell them because the man may try it again. I used the opportunity to give Evan a scolding for risking his life for a handbag. Facing me he said, it wasn’t the handbag, it was the person. Then he said, if you asked me to, I wouldn’t mind getting you a coffee while we wait for the police to come. 

“I wouldn’t mind walking with you to the hotel. You can protect me, in case someone tries to steal my scarf.” He says with a thin smile while clapping his hands together again.

I nod and say, “I would like that.” I can’t face Evan. I enjoy this man’s quietness, his calmness, and his energy all rolled into one.  My eyes are fixed on the pavement as my hands grip the small wallet I carry tighter.  The wind clips my cheeks and forehead. It causes tears to gather in my eyes because of the brisk slap from Mother Earth.

Is it the cold that causes me to tear up? Or is it emotional pain? My lower lip begins to pull towards the pavement. If it is emotional pain, is it because of what happened over a month ago? Or is it guilt that’s sweeping across my body like a virus making me feel a little worse each day; I ignore the signs and push aside the dizziness, nausea, and headaches  and explain to others I’m sure it’s just because I’m tired. Until in a final moment of outrage by my body for not noticing the subtle signals, it burns up from the inside. A fever takes hold of me signalling a virus was plaguing me. It leaves me so weak I can’t even get out of bed to get a glass of water.

As we begin walking Evan says, “how many days do you have left here?”

“I leave tomorrow,” I announce while shrugging my shoulders. It shouldn’t matter to either of us. I’m an insignificant tourist who booked a room at the hotel that Evan just happens to work at in the heart of this bustling city. Millions of people travel here every year.

“Oh well…” his voice disappears and is carried off by the wind.

I tug at my red hat and pull it down a little further to block out the cold. Once that’s done, I place my hand over my scarf to protect my chest. The frigid air is punching me in the throat.  For a moment, I can’t breathe.

Gone is Evan’s smile. “If you asked me to, I wouldn’t mind taking you out for dinner?” He says with hurried words.

My husband loves to watch boxing. I think of the man who tried to steal my purse and wanted to strike me. With the question Evan asked me, I see myself hit. Blindsided and surprised, my arms and legs stretch out in all directions as I am tossed to the ground.

Small convulsions begin to erupt throughout me. My hands shake, eyes twitch, knees rattle together as I realize my mistake.  The only words I begin to mumble are, “shit, shit, shit…”

“It’s ok,” Evan says somewhat defensively. “I just thought we had a connection.”

“I’m married!” I blurt out as I begin to whimper.

“Oh!” Evan says. “Oh Christ! You must think I’m the worst kind of man? Asking out a married woman? Geez, I didn’t know.” He says touching my arm gently and at the same time backing away.

So many emotions. “I didn’t know you thought of me like that. It’s been so long. Even when I was younger, I never saw myself as attractive. And now, even less so.”

“What?” He asks as his mouth opens in awe. “You’re lovely.” He quickly releases my arm and says, “Oh no, sorry. Should I say that? Can I say that? What are the rules?”

I’m still crying, but then I begin giggling at the incredible level of awkwardness. Throwing my hands up in the air I say, “Don’t ask me, I don’t know!”

“Well,” Evan says, “if your husband doesn’t say it to you, someone else should. Just this once.”

“My husband’s a good guy. He tells me all the time, but I never believe him – ” I pause and add, “he paid for this trip for me. Spencer thought I needed a break from everything.”

“Oh,” is Evan’s first response. Then he asks, “did something bad happen?” As if to give me some space, he takes a step backwards.

My tummy tightens. It’s the barren spot, where no fetus will ever grow. “I can’t have children. We just found out.” I say adding, “after we found out, I wanted to go away and he wanted to come too, but Spencer couldn’t get the time off.  I opted to come by myself. Give me a chance to clear my head. He thought it was a good idea too. ”

“Well, that’s shitty.” Evan says.

I laugh so hard at his bluntness. And I can’t stop myself.  Tears flow from my eyes and I quickly brush them away. I stutter, “yu-up” while blowing bubbles of mucus at him.

Evan pulls out a handkerchief, hands it to me, and says, “I don’t expect anything from you. But would you have dinner with me? Just as friends. I don’t think there’s anything taboo about me buying you a Big Mac in Times Square on your last night here.”

“That would be nice. Or maybe a hot dog in Central Park,” I offer as a second option. “And maybe I could pay, for all your kindness.”

“Okay,” he says. “It’s a meal together at one of them high end places,” he says pulling his scarf tighter. He shivers and adds, “we should keep walking. I’m going to lose my ears soon.”

We turn and walk down the street together. I blow my nose one more time into the handkerchief. I glance up to him and say, “I’m sorry for leading you on.”

“You never lead me on,” he says. Then a few seconds later he adds, “you know what I just realized – I never saw you without your gloves.”

“Oh no!” I say throwing my hands up. I pull the gloves off revealing my diamond engagement ring and wedding band.

Evan laughs, gently touches my ungloved hand, and gives it one quick kiss and says, “Don’t be sorry. I never minded.”

Part III: Love is losing…

Love is when you’ve lost someone such as a parent, sibling, grandmother, grandfather, uncle or aunt, or a friend, and you cry and cry, until the well of tears has been emptied. After a few hours of wandering dark hallways staring endlessly into nothingness, the well has had time to fill up again, and the tears flow rapidly again down your cheeks.

Whether the passing of a loved one was expected, or unexpected, it really doesn’t matter. Even if you can’t summon any tears in the first few days, rest assured they will come days, weeks, or sometimes months later.

But everyone is different. So maybe you don’t shed a tear. You just wander aimlessly among other people in the world.

Because when you love someone like that, they are completely irreplaceable. You will never share a coffee, a joke, or have the chance to argue with them again. Your time with them is over. You miss everything about them: their non-stop yodeling, their endless talking, or the way they practiced tap dancing while doing the dishes. Or perhaps, it was the fact that they were the best at charades and kicked your butt on so many occasions you’ve lost track.

Yeah, it’s crazy what you’ll miss.

And it’s the blackness of it that will sometimes send those who loved them spiraling into darkness themselves. Friends and family rally around the sad wanderer from the sidelines, but the wanderer don’t see them.

Then someone says to the wanderer, maybe you need to talk to someone?

After months, or sometimes years of not getting past the death of a loved one, the wanderer begins to think, maybe their right?  

So, the wanderer visits a counsellor and she gives them the language of grief. What it means, what’s normal, and what should be cause for concern. Now that the wanderer has the grief dialogue they know they’re not alone, and it’s not so bad. And the wanderer knows someday, they’ll get past it.

The wanderer begins slowly at first to notice other things. They notice their friends who babble on about work and their relationships, and who bring an extra spring in their step about life. And the wanderer knows these people have been their hidden cheerleaders.

And the wanderer is grateful. Grateful for those that are still around: mothers and fathers, sisters or brothers, uncles and aunts, husbands and wives, daughters and sons, and friends. These people were the selfless ones that dragged them to movies, shopping, coffee, or for a drink at the local pub. They were the ones quietly pointing out: look, there’s still so much to do.

While you still miss the other person who left, the wanderer loves these other people and knows they’re lucky to have them in his/her life. Not wishing to waste time with those who remain, the wanderer keeps the memories of those who are gone alive, while slowly stepping back from the darkness, and turning towards the light.

Love is….

Part II: Love is…

Love is when a foul egg scent emits from your body either in quiet stealth mode or explosively loud and this is typically followed by either people denying there is anything wrong as they continue to make casual conversation; or if they are family or close friends, there will be an acknowledgement of what just happened with groans and snort-filled laughter.

But no one really cares, because we all do it, and you’re loved anyway.

Even if you do smell – just a little.

Love is…

Part I

Love is when you’ve been particularly neglectful in trimming your eyebrows and plucking them and the gap between the two eyebrows have unified and become one. Wayward hairs arch forward here and there, as if they are reaching to shake a passerby’s hand.

And somehow, your husband or wife, never seems to notice.

***

Love is when you get an unrelenting flu bug that knocks you flat into you bed and you stay there for hours without the ability to so much as raise your head. (In an annoying deal of a bad hand of the cards of fate, you got the one strain that was not contained in the flu shot you got months earlier.)

When the moment arises when you MUST use the washroom you push the pause button and hold it a little longer because it seems the effort will deplete what remains of your energy. Eventually though you rise, and stammer your way into the bathroom and do your business as quickly as possible as your bed is beckoning you to return to it.  In a swirling world of dizziness, you stumble back towards in the direction of your soft duvet, when your husband bursts into the room carrying in one hand a glass of water, and in the other one a bottle of Gatorade. You hear in rushed words that sound that they are said far away, even though he is close by, that he’s going out to get soup for you and crackers.

Back in your bed finally, he hands you the water and you take a few sips of it, and pops the Gatorade open as well. Once you’re safely snuggled in your bed, he rushes out of the room, turning the light off behind him with his cape flying behind him in his quest to locate soup and crackers.

You roll over on your side and mumble, my hero…

Part II: The Ghost Of Cybill

Part II

“Mom, where do you want me to put this?” Logan asks his mother as he wipes the warm water from the serving plate that he pulled from the dishwasher.

“Ju-just, put it-it on the shelf.” She says from the couch in the living room. Her head nods to Logan in a spastic twitch. It’s involuntary. It’s a tremor of sorts.

Amanda’s hand rattles as she reaches for the brown coffee cup in front of her. The cup sits on a pine coffee table they purchased from a garage sale some years ago.

“Hello, Amanda.” Jocklyn has arrived and sits beside her. He smirks at the fragile woman on the couch and watches as the cup she holds swings out and a black tar substance that resembles coffee rushes out of it. With a swoop! The dark black liquid splashes onto her pants.

Amanda bolts up from the couch, pulls at her pants because of the scolding liquid, and mumbles, “Goddammit!”

“Mom, are you ok?” Logan runs into the living room in terror as he watches his mother.

“Better be careful Amanda. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to you. After all, you have a boy to take care of.” Jocklyn taunts her.

Amanda gives a sideways glare to Jocklyn. Then she raises her eyes to her son and says, “No-no, honey. I’m alright-right.” She gently touches her son’s face. Logan’s wide eyes stare back at her with droplets of tears that have gathered in them. His face is longer than usual and he’s pasty white.

When Logan was a child his eyes were always wide with wonderment at something new: a new bike, a new sport, or a new instrument to play. Amanda doesn’t recall when she last saw him passionately amazed by something.

His gaze now is only one of bewilderment for his mother’s ever-increasing anxiety levels. From his perspective, it must seem like she’s falling to pieces for no good reason. The home they just purchased is big and spacious, requires a little work, but it was a great find for them as they had very little money.

They didn’t hear the stories about the house until after they purchased it.

Every penny she has is wrapped up in this house.

There’s no way out.

“Ammmmanda….” She flicks her head in the direction of the sound. “How old is your son?” His words seethe with slippery darkness.

“What?” She whispers to Jocklyn.

Her son hasn’t seen the ghost yet. Jocklyn has spent his time only terrifying her, but now the spirit’s question worries her.  Amanda’s shoulders push back defensively. The fragile woman who was there a few minutes ago has left. Her eyes flicker at the ghost in anger. Her jaw locks. Protectively, she stands in front of her son.

“How old is your son?” He roars at her while he pokes at a coffee table lamp with a wooden base and a beige shade. The lamp teeters, but it doesn’t fall.

“I have a rule, you know. I don’t hurt kids that are less than sixteen years old. But once he turns sixteen -” He scowls at Amanda without finishing the sentence.

Amanda grabs her son’s arm and pushes him backwards towards the kitchen.

“Mom! Mom! What are you doing?” Logan shouts at her.

“Honey, get behind me!” She says with a growl in her voice. She slowly backs up to the kitchen. Carefully, she watches Jocklyn who’s in front of her and tightly holds her son’s hand from behind her. Her position ensures that if Jocklyn intends to harm Logan, he’ll have to go through her first.

“Is he sixteen?” Jocklyn whispers to Amanda from across the room. He grabs a ceramic coaster from the table and throws it up in the air.

From behind Amanda, Logan screams, “Mom! Oh my god, Mom! What the hell is that?”

“At least in the end, your son will know you weren’t crazy.” Jocklyn’s words drip with venomous disgust at them.

He rotates his right arm back as if he’s a pitcher in a baseball game and hurls the coaster at Amanda and Logan.

“Mom! Mom!” Logan screams from behind her as he sinks down to the floor and covers his face.

A white outline of a spirit’s hand grabs the coaster just before it hits Amanda’s face. A woman’s voice sweetly says, “Honey, I’m home.”

“You!” Jocklyn screams at her. “I killed you!”

“Yup!” Cybill’s eyes stare down at her enemy. Her chin is punched out at him, challenging him.

“I can take you again!” He screams at her as he runs towards Cybill.

Cybill turns to face Amanda and says, “Get back!”

Amanda grabs Logan by the elbow and drags him to his feet forcing him further into the kitchen.

“Mom, Mom!” Logan whimpers at his mother. “We have two ghosts in our house!”

“Yes! The man has been tormenting me since we moved in! But that one,” Amanda says peering around the doorway of the kitchen while pointing at Cybill adds, “I’ve never seen her before!”

“This is my house!” Cybill’s voice thunders at Jocklyn. “GET OUT!”

Undeterred, Jocklyn continues charging at her.

But before he reaches Cybill, Amanda sees the outline of a baseball bat that swings up and it strikes Jocklyn across the right side of his face. The power behind the swing sends Jocklyn spinning and he plunges to the floor.

Jocklyn glances behind him and stares at Cybill. He huffs in disgust and says, “Oh, yes. The bat…”

Jocklyn jumps to his feet and in very slow deliberate strides, stares down at Cybill like a panther might do when they approach their prey. Once he’s in front of her, Jocklyn reaches for the bat.

His hands slip through it.  

Jocklyn’s mouth gapes at Cybill as he mumbles, “What the hell?”

“I told you already. This is my house.” Then she spins around, points at Amanda and Logan and finishes, “And those people, are under my protection!”

Jocklyn reaches over at a familiar item he’s threatened the mother with before – the lamp – and lifts it into the air.

Cybill stands before Jocklyn and without moving a muscle, forces the lamp back down with her mind.

“Oh,” she says to no one. Her lower lip slips down as her eyebrows raise and she continues, “I didn’t know I could do that.”

Jocklyn grabs the coffee table.

It won’t move.

Then he reaches for books and magazines.

Nothing shifts even an inch.

Cybill quietly says, “It’s time to go. Let these people live their lives.” She says half-turning to the two terrified people that stand behind her.  “It’s time to go home, Jocklyn.”

Just then a small hand slips into Jocklyn’s and a quiet, angelic voice says, “Daddy, let’s go home.”

Jocklyn’s eyes peer down at the child. His head bows forward as he begins to sob.

The child clasps Jocklyn’s hand tighter, pulls at his shirt with the other hand, and says, “Daddy, don’t cry. It will be alright. We’re together again.”

Jocklyn uncontrollably sobs as his shoulders shake back and forth. After a few seconds, he scoops the child up into his arms, and buries his face into her shoulder.

Cybill gently touches Jocklyn’s arm and says, “Grace will show you the way.”

Jocklyn nods at his one-time enemy and places his daughter down. With big eyes, and a huge smile, she leads her father through a wall and they disappear.

Cybill turns to face the new homeowners whose heads glance over at her with consternation from the kitchen.

“Don’t be afraid,” she says. “I won’t harm you.”

Suddenly aware that she’s holding her ghost-baseball bat she adds, “I can only fight ghosts with this. Not people.”

Amanda and Logan slowly slink towards Cybill. Amanda says, “I have so many questions.”

Cybill smiles and says, “There’s nothing you need to know – except the house is yours now. But, could I ask a favor?”

“Anything.” Amanda says with new found determination in her voice. There’s still an unintentional nod of her head. But slightly relieved Jocklyn is gone, it’s lessened.

“Get rid of the wallpaper in the kitchen. That stuff’s terrible!” Cybill says as she picks up her baseball bat and heads to the wall that Grace and Jocklyn disappeared through.

“Ok.” Amanda answers with a quiet laugh.

Cybill twirls around one last time. Her eyes sweep across the room as she takes in every moment she had: happy moments in childhood, struggles through her teenage years, losses of loved ones, every wish she had for the future in the house, and at the end of her life – the overwhelming pain that ended her.

With a final nod to life, and a shrug of her shoulders, Cybill smiles, and vanishes through the wall.

Part I: The House of Cybill Langlert

Leaves swayed against the ebony sky. The front door rattled and creaked with the wind. The front light to the house pulsed with a white glow before it descended back into darkness.  At some point that night, the light would never return again.

Untrimmed hedges surrounded the house. It provided the perfect cover for an intruder. Except the intruder wasn’t outside now – he lived within it. This was his home. The new owner, Cybill Langlert – was the intruder!

Cybill fidgeted in her bed.  She was annoyed the light never stayed on. Her decision to purchase the house a few months ago seemed like a good idea in the daylight; it was a steal with a rock-faced exterior, four big bedrooms, three bathrooms, real hardwood floors, and with dark cherry wood kitchen cabinets that were beginning to peel. The house for sure, was a fixer upper. But most of the hardwood could be restored with a little hard work. But the outdated wallpaper would definitely have to go.

Thud!

Creak.

Cybill raised her shoulders up from the mattress. A stabbing pain ricocheted through her neck by the jarring motion at which she had raised it. She took one moment to rub it and then…

Creak…

Cybill leaped out of bed! She grabbed her baseball bat that she kept in the corner of her room and slowly opened the door. One eye peered around the corner into the darkness. Very slowly, she swung her whole head out to determine where the sound was coming from.

This house, since she purchased it, had done nothing but terrify her.  Originally, Cybill believed the house may need some work but it wouldn’t be that costly. She was handy with tools and had some knowledge of how to complete the renovations, thanks to her father and her ex-husband, who were both in construction.

But she soon realized it was a bargain for a reason. There were stories in town about the house. According to the town rumor mill a man once lived there by the name of Jocklyn Raydon who had committed some crimes: theft, robbery and murder.  But it wasn’t actually his house; he had simply moved in to the abandoned building and took up residence there. However, the police caught up with him on this land and Jocklyn refused to surrender.  A shoot-out in the house made a quick end to the miscreant.

The original building that stood here after Jocklyn’s death was torn down. The house Cybill lived in now, replaced it. But the new building was on the same land.  The home changed hands multiple times and there were rumors Jocklyn’s ghost, unwilling to surrender the home to the new owners, haunted it.

Stories told by the residents in town recounted common ghostly acts: a tossed dish across the room in the middle of the night, a doorknob that turned with no one on the other side of it, and lights that commonly flickered.

But it was the bigger things that he did. One man while on a ladder replacing a light bulb described how he felt it pushed. Some said it was just the wind. But others said it was Jocklyn’s ghost. The man suffered a broken leg. Hastily, he put the house on the market for sale after being tormented for months by other paranormal occurrences. The last owner who Cybill purchased the home from fell through a glass window. (Some in town said it was the ghost again.) The woman required multiple stitches to her face.

Oddly enough, if there were children in the house the ghost never harmed them. The ghost went to great lengths to ensure he never caused them distress. One child recalled how he woke one morning with earplugs in his ears. His mother deeply shaken by a night when windows were slammed every few hours, and framed photos along the staircase were knocked to the floor, didn’t understand how her son slept through it. That is – until the morning.

A compassionate ghost to children, he cared nothing for adults.

Cybill never believed the stories. An educated woman in law she belonged in the realm of reality, versus that of paranoid fantasy.

There was an explanation for everything.

Her feet wobbled along the uneven floorboards on the second level of her home. Just then, she glanced over. A window slowly was raised upwards. In front of the open window she made out the white outline of a figure with a malevolent grin who wore 1970’s bell bottom pants and a long-sleeved plaid shirt.

Cybill tightly clasped her baseball bat as sweat gathered on her temples. With it raised, she stood there, motionless.

The ghost’s eyebrows were bent downwards. His face twisted with rage. With a rush, he slammed the window down and shattered it. He screamed at Cybill, “Get out of my house!”

Glass sprayed everywhere across the hardwood floor! The wind blew the larger pieces and a clinking sound of it being dragged across the floorboards was heard.

Cybill stood there with her baseball bat raised and said, “No! This is my house! You leave!”

“Ahhhhhh!!!!” Jocklyn shouted as he charged at Cybill.

Cybill always stood her ground. She didn’t move. Some said it was because maybe she believed a ghost couldn’t harm her. Or, perhaps she believed mistakenly, Jocklyn couldn’t move her.

Cybill felt a rush of coldness. All of a sudden she was pushed backwards. She rolled at first easily down the steps of her home with bumps on her head and arm. But once on the bottom of the stairs, she lay there for a moment trying to make sense of what just happened.

A few seconds later, above her stood the white outline of a man in bell bottom pants and a plaid shirt. The baseball bat that she planned to use for protection, he raised it ever so slowly above her.

A cracking sound made her teeth grind together from the blow. Cybill’s eyes widened. She took long gasping breaths of air but it was never enough. Jocklyn’s ghost stood above her, smiling.

Like the light on her front porch that no longer flickered, Cybill descended into darkness.

But darkness does not remain forever.

And after some time, a light came on again.