“Tier One achieved,” sent via text recurred on his Facebook Messenger and every other account like a fun-house echo.
“No!” Tito shrieked, slipping his hand from beneath his iPhone OS 32. Clattering to the floor, the screen cracked.
“You have twenty-four hours to select a sense to give up,” a clinical voice soothed from the undamaged phone speaker.
“F-you!” With balled fists and his face turning fire-engine red, Tito stamped on the offensive device as if there were a Goliath bird-eating tarantula clinging to his pant leg.
Racing through the dorm hallway, Tito shouted at the sightless to clear the way. He shoved past the deaf and knocked down a damn Humanoid Life Form, AI’s with newly installed senses. They are as clumsy as first-time ice skaters. Slamming through the door to the outside, Tito ran. “If you do not reply to this message within the next twenty-three hours and fifty-eight minutes,” the voice came from his wristband.
With wild eyes and a triple-time heartbeat, Tito clawed at it, “a selection will be made for you according to the Articles of Pact 571.” Tearing the band away, he flung it.
At his car, Tito leaned on his knees while catching his breath. He considered making a run for Mexico. He’d heard they had distant relatives there. As soon as the thought hatched, Tito extinguished it. Mexico had installed vaporizing shields along its border, eliminating the illegal American problem in plumes of acerbic steam.
He’d done OK with the Tiers till now. By using antiquated devices, he maintained below average web connect times. If students weren’t diligent, their implant chips automatically connected, skyrocketing their plug-in times, putting them in danger of Tier violations.
Tito’s pestering of Abby in Chem class accrued no cost. But to transition her from gal pal to girlfriend, he needed to use message flirting.
Online communications from his siblings increased when their mother’s bone cancer condition progressed from stage three to four. They had smartphones but refused to use the phone feature, even after reminders that they were adding to his Tier count.
Carmila: Remember your visit with Mama this week.
Vasola: She’s hanging on to watch you walk, Toto! You’re making us all proud.
Dean: Me and the girls have you covered till you graduate, Teets. Don’t worry about the loan on mom’s house. You’ll pay us back once you have a good job.
Paula: I know it’s hard to see her this way, Tito. You’ll have regrets if you keep avoiding her.
Unlike his siblings, Mama had Tito fitted with a paper-thin implant chip when he was four; it would be the family’s entrance ticket to the world of affluence.
“I’ve got this!” Tito assured himself. “Tier One is minor; no one has to know.”
When a Tier status was claimed, nine out of ten times smell was the first to go. Classmates fearless enough to admit it claimed its absence was a simple way to trim tonnage.
Three years had passed since Pact 571 went into effect: it became a formula for societal success. Mother-borns were to focus on cultural interactions while AI’s would concentrate on data analysis and efficient system-wide management. Last year, Mother-born gray areas of gaming and messaging had been resolved. Because AI’s monitored and controlled the net, overuse of web services was deemed a trespass.
AI’s insatiable curiosity of all things Mother-born was to be curbed too. They were banned from making copulation simulations and restricted from hacking communications. Tiered trespass consequences were installed for encroachments on both sides.
If AI’s broke it, Mother-borns would gain disassembly or programming rights. Depending on the AI model, this could equate to several year’s salaries. If Mother-borns broke the Pact, AI’s were entitled to harvest senses.
Tito had seen a set of six-foot-tall robot dogs marching onto campus with a course set for Randy Packard. Students scattered like cockroaches exposed to light at their approach. Already bereft of taste, smell, and sight, Randy’s terrified screams filled the quad when the dogs collected Tier Four.
Tito had yet to meet Mother-born with benefits from a Pact trespass.
Tito arrived at Mama’s empty house; its silence pressed upon him like a bloodless Reaper hand seeking his heart. When he imagined his mother’s cinnamon rolls tasting like egg cartons, Tito made a face. A text message from Paula appeared on the refrigerator, ‘At Dr.s’. Hm. Soon. She can’t wait to see you.’
Tito rummaged through the ample selection of casserole dishes in cold storage. Mounding a plate with various forms of neighborly support, Tito binged. He was finishing his last morsel when Paula arrived, pushing Mama in a wheelchair. This was new. Tito’s stomach clenched around the food glob, threatening to flip it like an omelet.
Mama’s over bright, medicated gaze locked onto her youngest. A gaping mouth was now her smile, spittle glistening at the corners. Tito noticed another missing tooth. He had difficulty reconciling the strong mother of his youth with this fragile remnant of a woman, reaching for a hug. Holding his breath, Tito stepped into her embrace. His touch was as gentle as if she were spun of glass filaments.
She’d done everything for him, but in this, Mama failed. As her resistance to the forces eating her insides gave way, Mama’s attention collapsed upon itself. A fleeting hug was all she could manage.
Tito’s problems lay squarely upon his own shoulders, he’d already lost his sounding board and most empathetic supporter.
Tito lay on his bed watching Abby’s texts roll up the wall.
Hey Tit, where U been?
Y so quiet?
Starting to worry.
Want to play Forza 2nite?
Don’t make me wait too long. 😉
“Stop,” Tito responded. His word bubble appeared below hers. A dull ache settled over him as he calculated how long it would take to reach Tier Two. “On my way,” he said.
The common room in Abby’s dorm was decorated in cheerful blues and oranges. Plush carpet resembled grass and real pine trees in planter boxes lent the space a fresh, outdoorsy fragrance. Tito’s chest expanded as Abby approached. She flashed a forty-kilowatt smile and held her arms wide, “Tito!”
Crushing her against him, Tito lifted her off her feet, spinning them around. Setting her down, their eyes locked. Tito’s need to kiss her was tangible. He was a boulder, falling from a cliff, about to explode on impact. He resisted the urge.
“I made popcorn,” Abby covered his blunder with a peck on his cheek.
Tito followed her to the kitchen, he was a satellite caught in her magnetic orbit. While Abby’s back was to him, he tugged at a piece of her loose, shoulder-length hair. This was how they first met. When she didn’t respond, he tugged again, using more force. Tito frowned. “Abby?”
Abby’s hair remained twined in his fingers. Her eyes darted to his hand, then back to his face. Her skin drained of color. Being in the Tiers was tantamount to social leprosy. “I gave up touch,” her strained whisper confirmed.
Tito gulped. Reaching around Abby, he plucked a popcorn kernel from the bowl. Placing it in his mouth, he closed his eyes, savoring the buttery, salty flavors as it melted. When it disappeared, he leaned in to kiss the luscious lips that would never know the texture of his.
Pulling away, Tito addressed a cabinet. “Pact 571,” a text box appeared, typing as he spoke, “Tier One selection; taste.”
Tito wondered if the dogs would show up exactly at the 24th hour and if the Humanoid Life Form receiving his Tier One would develop cravings for cinnamon rolls.
Zelda and I stood together on the canal bank watching as they dragged for bodies. We cried when they placed the one red shoe into her trembling hands.
We consoled each other after the investigative interviews.
We bonded when we cleaned out Elisa’s apartment. The princess didn’t own many valuable possessions. I kept her egg timer, and Zelda wasn’t parting with that shoe.
Elisa had some money saved. She left a note saying to split it between us.
Our conversations were stilted as we trundled through grief-stricken tasks.
“I think he healed her and took her away with him,” I’d say.
Zelda’s expression was melancholic, “If she were still alive, she would have let us know.”
“How could she? Too many people are still looking for him….for them.”
Our prospects for work dwindled. Zelda was spending nights on the sofa sleeper in my apartment. Though I enjoyed her company and her cooking, sharing a bathroom with her was nearly intolerable.
“Yolanda, from work, cleaned Colonel Strickland’s office.” Zelda offered as she turned hash browns one morning. “She overheard him talking about where he found it. She knew the place; she has cousins near there.”
“Did Yolanda say if her cousins ever heard of a River God?”
“She didn’t.” Zelda compressed her lips. Those words dropped off into a moment that was as deep and broad as the Grand Canyon. Zelda’s stern brown eyes bored into mine. My scalp tingled. I ran my fingers through the hair that hadn’t been there before Aqua Man.
A postcard arrived one day. Not in the mailbox but slipped under my door. There were only two things on it. My street address and a stamp from Peru.
Zelda and I became unencumbered adventurers. No strings kept us tied to any one place. We headed south making discrete inquiries. We were lucky Zelda speaks Spanish. She started teaching me too. A year, to the day, after we left, we stumbled on a lead. Iquitos is a hole-in-the-wall-town with a few services. Zelda found a job almost right away teaching English to school children in the afternoons. She dragged me along sometimes.
One of her students, Jhady, is a disfigured girl, the daughter of a local businessman who owns an ‘art gallery’ in the back of his grocery store. Zelda kept nagging me to show my portfolio to her father.
When I did it, he was only expressing lukewarm interest in my work when he came across a piece titled, Elisa and her Monster. Raimee’s eyes went buggy; he began talking so fast that I couldn’t track a single word. He seemed in danger of stroking out, so I rushed to bring Zelda in to translate.
We learned that Raimee had seen the River God, he said his name is Iglootoo. The River God receives pilgrims during harvest moons. Raimee pointed to my sketch, speaking two words I understood, “White Queen.”
“We found her!” Zelda screeched, her eyes filling with tears.
Listening to Raimee and nodding, she repeated, “A small pilgrimage is preparing to leave next week. He says he’ll arrange for us to join them if you will speak to the River God on behalf of his daughter.”
She pointed to my sketch.
Waving his arm, Raimee encouraged Jhady to come out from behind the curtain where she’d been hiding. She hung her head, letting her long dark hair form a barrier. I could see enough of her face to observe tight, contorted skin around her nose and mouth.
As the date for departure approached, our nerves grew taught. We took it out on each other.
“What if it’s not them?” Zelda worried.
“It has to be! Raimee recognized Elisa in my sketch.”
“It doesn’t look that much like her! If it is her, what are we going to say after all this time?”
“Hello? I’ve missed you?” I suggested in a sarcastic, biting tone.
“Should we take something as an offering?”
“If we don’t, they might not let us go—” I smiled slowly. I knew what I was going to bring.
It would be a four-day trek into the unfathomable jungle. We bought burros to haul our gear. Neither one of us believed that the other could hike that distance, I hoped those burros could carry people.
We headed out at dawn with guides at the front wielding long, thick blades, doing battling plant life. Zelda and I were the last stragglers in a group of twelve.
We stood at the edge of a small lake. Thick tropical foliage obscured the opposite shore.
An elaborate calling ceremony began with pounding drums and song. Zelda stood to my left. Raimee to my right, his daughter, pressed against his side like melted cheese on beans. Flower petals were cast over the glassy surface.
When bubbles appeared moving in our direction, all grew silent, even the birds and monkeys stopped chattering.
Zelda’s breath caught when a blue-grey be-gilled head rose from the water like a bioluminescent Atlantean prince.
Following the locals, we dropped to our knees, sinking into warm, soft mud. Supplicants displayed their offerings before them.
We could tell he recognized us when his purposeful footsteps halted; his head swiveled in our direction.
The party leader stood, calling the creature’s attention.
“He knows you!” Raimee stated clearly in English.
“Where’s Elisa?” Zelda whispered vehemently.
I didn’t know, but like her, I was searching. In my peripheral vision, I watched our scaly friend picking his way through the line, accepting gifts and laying his webbed hands on heads, feet, and other places the petitioners extended for inspection.
The expressions of those he skipped turned to masks of disappointment. I wondered at his choices, did he not care for their gifts?
As he got closer, he seemed distracted.
Jhady was next in line. The River God dismissed her. Raimee’s face crumbled, “Not again!” he cried.
“Wait!” I called, even though Zelda pounded on my arm.
I held out my basket. Mewling sounds came from inside.
Aqua Man’s gills flared. I think that’s as close as he gets to smirking.
“I remembered,” I said looking him full in the face. “I was going to ask for more hair, but I’d rather you heal this little girl.”
When he pointed to my basket, signing the word for, ‘funny,’ Zelda and I glanced at each other, grinning.
Aqua Man returned his attention to Raimee’s girl.
Peeling her away, Raimee thrust her forward, admonishing, “Sé quieto!”
Clawed, webbed hands cradled the girl’s face. The River God remained in that position longer than he had with any other pilgrim. The girl’s frightened utterings sounded like the kitten cries. When he pulled away, he dropped to his knees, hanging his head.
‘Leave us,’ Aqua Man signed.
In the awkward moment when no one but Zelda and me knew what he wanted, Zelda took care of business. “He said you should all go now. Va! Va!” she shooed.
Before the pilgrims departed, Raimee approached us. He grabbed Zelda’s hand kissing it. “My Jhady is beautiful again!” Tears coursed down his faces. He grabbed Zelda’s hand kissing it. Thanking me profusely, bowing to the River God, he backed away.
When he could stand, Aqua Man led us to a vine-choked path. The going was slow. He grunted as he pulled at the stalks, making room for our burros to pass. I tried helping, but he waved me away. I had a waking nightmare that the jungle was a many-pointed sea star grasping and suffocating everything in its path.
My friend was breathing hard, stooped, and unsteady by the time we reached a clearing. Zelda was steadying him when we heard a, ‘Whoop!’
And there she was! The White Queen, our own dear Elisa. I stared in shock – her eyes and smile were the same, but the rest of her was drastically changed. She was a combination of Jane of the Jungle, a heavily endowed fertility goddess, and an Aqua Woman.
Lumbering toward us, tears streamed down her face, “You found me!”
Another jolt – her voice!
Overjoyed, the three of us cried and hugged.
After a moment, Elisa pulled away. “Iggy,” she said, “Thank you. Please go now.”
He nodded, turning away. We watched him walk into the water. At thigh height, he dove.
Returning to one another, we replayed a muted version of our happy reunion.
“Let me look at you,” Zelda said while swiping a hand along her cheeks.
Elisa’s hair was hanging in a thick braid down her back. Across the top of her cheeks, along her collarbones and arms, were glittering, overlapping scales.
“How–?” I began, not knowing what else to say. I reached for her free hand. “I saw you shot.”
“It’s a long story,” Elisa replied, her voice lyrical and butter-soft.
Zelda erupted in tears again. “Your voice—it’s just like I always imagined.”
“Me too,” Elisa smiled, “Though I don’t use it as often as I’d like.” Shaking herself, she continued,” Come inside, out of the heat. You’re staying,” It was a statement rather than a question.
Zelda and I hadn’t talked about it, but we’d packed everything.
I situated our burros before following the women into the house. It was a single room building. Two double beds were pushed up against the walls. A small kitchen counter took up another wall. A table surrounded by four stools stood in the middle.
“Zelda will share with me, and Giles will take the other bed.”
“But what about—?” Zelda asked.
“That’s his name?” I wanted to know.
“His name is Iglootoo. He told me that after I taught him how to spell in our language.”
Zelda nodded. “I never thought about him having a name, but I guess you’ve got to call him something.”
“Iggy fits him,” I responded. “Did someone give it to him or did he choose it for himself?”
Chuckling, Elisa patted my shoulder. Leaning in to plant a kiss, she said, “I’ve missed you, Giles. We’ll have plenty of time for stories. Did you bring your art supplies?”
“I never leave home without them.”
Zelda joined Elisa in her small garden picking vegetables for our meal. I sat inside, observing. Sketchpad in hand, I let my pencil capture the scene.
Long shadows, two women wearing large straw hats, their heads together. I couldn’t draw the feminine laughter but wished I could capture it artistically. Their voices carried.
“How long till Iggy comes back?”
Elisa straightened, raising a hand to her brow, looking out over the water. “He’ll be gone for a while. Those ceremonies take a lot out of him. He needs to go down deep to feel restored. He’s worried about the baby and me,” she rubbed the base of her spine, “so he hasn’t gone as far as he should. With you here, he can take as long as he needs.”
“Honey,” Zelda came to stand beside her, “are you worried about—” she nodded at Elisa’s middle.
Elisa faced away from me, but I could see Zelda’s expression. In all honesty, I’m glad it wasn’t me out there voicing the questions that were on our minds.
They moved into the shade, sitting close. Zelda’s arm wrapped protectively around her dearest friend.
“My child— if it lives. If we both live, won’t have any friends,” Elisa cried.
“If it lives?” Of course, it’s going to live, and so are you! As for friends—that baby already has four people who love it.”
“It,” Elisa repeated, letting the word hang in the air.
Elisa leaned into Zelda; they huddled together. “I’m so glad you are here, Zeldy.”
“Me too baby girl!”
Our days became predictable; meals, naps, tending the burros and the garden. For the first time, in possibly decades, I was relaxed and at peace. I noticed, with pleasure, that I’d lost track of the days of the week.
One afternoon, Elisa and I were sitting at the table sipping tea. I’d just finished telling her about the inquiries, the search for bodies, and apologizing for getting rid of all her things. She patted my arm.
“Thank you for taking care of everything. That phase of my life is dead, you did the right thing.”
When Elisa noticed my eyes rapidly blinking, her mouth turned down. She used to read me like a book. I think her skills in that department had deteriorated.
“Take a good look at me, Giles.” She stretched out a leg. Hiking up her skirt, revealing a creamy thigh, and areas covered with translucent scales.
Across the room, Zelda stirred from a siesta, yawning. Swinging her feet to the floor, she hurried over.
Elisa slipped off her shoes spreading her toes. Holding up her hands, she held her fingers wide. Webbing filled all the spaces.
We couldn’t contain our surprise.
Elisa bit her lip; she looked as if she was holding back a smile. Making sure we were looking at her face, she blinked with a set of inner eyelids. They moved vertically from the corners of her eyes toward the bridge of her nose.
“Mary, Mother of Jesus!” Zelda exclaimed, placing a hand over her heart. She puffed up, “I get that gilly thing,” she waved a finger at Elisa’s neck. He had to give you those when he took you in the water and healed your gunshot wound. But he dragged you all the way out here to the middle of the jungle, and he knocked you up,” Zelda’s voice was gaining volume, her gestures taking up more air space. “Then he leaves you all alone when you’re about ready to drop that kid—” Zelda paused when Elisa started repeating her tirade in sign language. Like a statue, Zelda rotated ninety degrees on her toes.
Iglootoo stood in the doorway, dripping, a puddle forming at his feet. ‘I did not change her or heal her,’ he said in the silent language spoken with his flipper hands.
One of the kittens scampered in around his ankles. Lightning fast, he pounced. Zelda and I jumped. Striding across the room, handing the cat to me, he kneeled at my side, bowing his head. I patted him, remembering the first time he’d encountered a house cat.
That evening as the three of us ate our meal; Iggy reclined on one of the beds playing with the kittens.
‘Iggy’ eats while he’s in the water,’ Elisa explained.
“I like that,” Zelda commented, “a man that don’t need no cooking’s alright by me.”
When the dishes were cleared, Iggy stood, coming to the head of the table. ‘Elisa asked me to tell our story,’ he signed.
He waited for her signal to start. She nodded.
‘Elisa is a lost cousin.’ Going to her side, he lifted her hair, touching her chin gently with a claw, he turned her face left and then to the right.
Her gill slits flared, displaying crimson filaments inside.
Zelda shivered, “I could have gone all day without seeing that!”
Iggy looked to me, I rolled my eyes, shaking my head.
He continued, ‘I was sent to find her, to bring her home. Elisa was designed to be my mate.’
I wasn’t sure if the word he’d used was ‘designed’ or ‘destined,’ but I was too engrossed to interrupt.
‘I was setting out on my journey when I was captured. I did not recognize Elisa when I first encountered her. My sense of smell is not good in the open air and my thoughts were muddled. When our kind enters courtship, we remain in constant companionship. I did not understand how Elisa could come and go. Her unusual behavior was a curiosity that I studied. When we traveled back here, in our liquid environment, we completed the bonding rituals.’ He paused, looking down at her, running a knuckle along her jaw.
Elisa covered his hand, smiling up at him.
‘I’m in you,’ he signed solemnly to her.
‘As I am in you,’ she replied, ‘and we are everywhere.’
Their moment of intense communication drew out.
I could see Zelda bursting with questions; she must have decided to keep quiet too.
As if reminding himself that he had an audience, Iggy continued, ‘When we arrived, we expected to be greeted by the family, but they were gone. All my people are gone. While we wait for the offspring, I tend to the city and search for the others.’
“City?” I questioned, glancing around.
Elisa sighed, “It’s underwater, and it’s beautiful, Giles! I wish you could see it—draw it.”
Just as my imagination was taking root, Iggy bent over, placing a hand on Elisa’s belly. ‘It is time,’ he signed. ‘We will return in three days.’ Scooping her up, he marched outside.
“Wait!” Zelda cried chasing after them, her voice on the edge of panic. I followed too watching Elisa’s crooked smile as she kept an eye on us over Iggy’s shoulder. She waved before they submerged.
While Zelda was unsettled with the latest changes in her friend’s life, I was revitalized. I would bear witness to a new, possibly one-of-a-kind, life form. I wished for gills and webs so I could join Elisa and Iggy in the sea.
And then there were three.
They arrived in the night when the temperature was low and the humidity high. Elisa cried a little when she described Gemmalyn’s struggle to take her first breath of air. “If we didn’t make her use her lungs right away, they might never develop,” Elisa’s voice shook. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
The nipper is a delight. ‘Darling’ and ‘adorable’ are words Zelda uses when she holds her. ‘Little Monster’ are others she says when she’s sporting a wounded finger that got too close to baby’s sharp teeth.
On a sweltering afternoon when Zelda was in town, and Iggy was away fishing, I sketched Elisa with her baby. It would be another contribution to the baby book Elisa was making. Gemma, still attached to her mother’s breast, had a full belly and was resisting sleep. Elisa rocked, in no hurry to put her daughter down.
“He took me to the city for Gemmalyn’s birth,” Elisa began. “I’ve never had the stamina to make it without help. When we’ve gone in the past, he holds me around the waist; I help kick. This time he carried me, just like when we left. That position creates a lot more drag,” she laughed softly. “It was an effort, but he got us there. It was the first time I felt sad about the place being deserted.”
“He took me to the women’s hall, then, in his language, he gave me the sights and sounds of the city as he’d known it. In that way, I saw his female relatives, and the traditional birthing circle,” Elisa raised glassy eyes gleaming with unshed tears. “It’s indescribable, Giles, understanding how it was and watching Iggy trying to make it right.”
Behind the mother and child scene, I began filling in the background with structures. A bustling, underwater metropolis with lots of Iggies.
“He did the work of the women, helping me bring his daughter into the world. It hurt, there was blood, and sharks circled above, just like buzzards, waiting for a chance.”
“Iggy kept us safe. We stayed in the royal’s suite in the grand palace. While I recovered, Iggy made sure Gemmalyn didn’t swim out of his sight.”
“And then we came home, to you and Zelda,” Elisa sighed, her eyelids growing too heavy to stay open.”
For a moment, I wondered how this mud brick structure compared to a royal suite, what held such attraction to keep them coming back here?
I put the baby in her bassinet, covered Elisa, then went to cool my feet at the river bank. My mind was churning with things only aquatic life can experience.
Iggy emerged with fish on a kelp stringer. Wrapping it securely around a branch, he let our lunch enjoy a reprieve. ‘What is on your mind, Giles?’ he signed as he sat next to me.
“I’m tired of sitting around,” I said, no longer bothering to sign back. Though he could not speak, he understood our language perfectly well. “I want to go with you, to help search.”
We started my endurance swimming and free diving lessons that afternoon.
I enjoyed my new quest, searching with Iggy sometimes, and other times alone.
Nearly a year later, our little clan is still intact. We’ve added rooms onto to Elisa’s house. The Iglootoo family, as I now think of them, is in residence less and less.
Gemmalyn, the most beautiful creature on the face of the Earth, is the best of both her parents. She is graceful in the water and out. She’s as curious as our cats and rambunctious as a monkey.
Though there’s been no sign of Iglootoo’s people, he remains hopeful. He is a devoted mate and father, and he’s a first-rate best friend. He’s accepted us as part of his tribe. Our association with him has elevated us as human beings.
Zelda helps Elisa chase after Gemma when she’s on land. She’s also become my art representative with Raimee, who’s been selling my Iglootoo sketches. (Elisa and Iggy have sworn us to secrecy about Gemmalyn!)
I suspect Raimee’s daughter has been playing matchmaker between Zelda and her father. Zelda nearly glows every time she returns from town.
Elisa has been pushing Zelda into talks with the National Parks system. Her goal is to make sure their home remains protected and safe, that people like Colonel Strickland can never repeat what happened to Iggy.
Iggy restored nearly all my hair and gave me back the body of a forty-year-old.
I’d be remiss in ending our story without mentioning my fresh start with love…
Iggy believes the merfolk are fairytales, he’s wrong.
Did you enjoy the Shape of Water Continued? Did you feel that the story stayed true to the personalities of the characters in the movie? If you were to write a Continued story, what would be similar or different in yours? Leave comments below.
“Weeeee,” squealed diminutive Porglets slipping over bright red curves, bouncing onto the fresh-turned soil.
“Protected nesting benches…with padding,” females cooed, already squabbling over territory.
Gazing into a curved, black surface, males admired their stout feathered bodies and luminous eyes as they fluttered wings. “We can preen before mating,” they commented while relaxing their bowls on the squishy white perch.
An aggressive Porg chomped at five small twigs on the opposite branch. “Tastes like chicken,” he declared.
Three more crowded beneath the see-through wall warming webbed feet on the tight shelf.
It is said that many people joining in focused thought, meditation, or prayer can affect outcomes.
The folks at XPRIZE believe that imagination crowdsourcing could generate solutions for some of the planets most pressing problems.
Examples of their competitions include; a 10 million dollar prize for a palm-sized health monitoring device, a $1 million award for leveraging technology to ensure women’s safety, and a $1.75 million prize for harvesting fresh water from thin air.
The XPRIZE group recently demonstrated that they have no shortage of imagination within their ranks. In preparation for a writing competition, they set a stage;
an international flight from Tokyo to San Francisco gently bumps through a time wrinkle, landing passengers twenty years in the future.
XPRIZE released an Origin Story video and asked thirty-two well-known authors including Margaret Atwood, Hugh Howey, and Kevin J. Anderson to contribute short stories for individual passengers on the plane.
From June – August 2017, one seat was open for a writing competition, Seat 14C. Aidan J.S. Menuge, a musician, composer, and writer, claimed that seat from the 1,400 entries (see links below).
As I was crafting my story, it was powerful knowing that other writers were working with the same ideas at the same time. Even more powerful is reading their stories!
The future I imagined involves a world health care system that supports people from the inside out. In this system, it is common knowledge that if someone feels balanced, loved, and connected they become positive contributors to their communities.
I’m glad that the competition brought my attention to the XPRIZE organization. I will be cheering on their progress and sharing the solutions they’re inspiring.
The Seat 14C contest criteria included;
A unique vision of the future
First person point-of-view
Optimistic tone that demonstrates exponential technology positively impacting the future
and the tale from when the passengers disembark at San Francisco International Airport in the year 2037.
Below is my entry, Renewal.
2,550 words. [*re-edited since entry]
Charlotte’s life was dead-ending. Surrounded by grieving passengers who’d lost twenty years, Sal, a Change Counselor, attempts to help Charlotte start over.
Clutching carry-on bags in white-knuckled fists, some passengers were openly crying. I was silent, my face, a stony mask of indifference.
A row of people dressed in white robes stood inside a blue, pulsating ‘environment’ receiving the occupants of ANA’s Boeing 777. One by one, the ‘waiters’ broke formation to pair up with traumatized time travelers.
Some hugged, some held hands. Most were led a distance away so conversations could be private. Big Bubba, my close companion for the last two days stepped ahead of me. Having grown used to him being as close as pea pod neighbors, it felt strange to see the distance between us growing. I heard the robed person say, “Michael, I am very sorry for your loss.”
Shoulders shaking, Bubba blubbered, “Twenty years! My kids won’t know me anymore!”
We’d been sharing jewelry, matching carbon steel bracelets. This was the first I’d heard about him having kids.
“It’s going to be alright, Michael,” his greeter crooned in a soft voice, taking his hand. “Your sons are doing well. They can’t wait to see you.”
I could tell when my greeter spotted me. Direct eye contact, a slight nod and a bee-line gait. “Hello, Charlotte, my name is Sal. I will be your Change Counselor.”
What? I stepped back, staying out of touching range. Sal was completely bald. Broad cheekbones and olive skin didn’t fit with the vivid blue eyes and white eyebrows punctured by rows of tiny gold beads. One eye had long, enviable lashes, the other had almost none. Sal’s voice was soothing, it’s timber fell somewhere in the medium octaves. My insides twisted, making me feel off-kilter like I’d entered the Firefly galaxy.
“What is this place?” I asked, glancing around. The room was at least four times larger than the plane. It pulsed with a delicate blue ambiance. The junctions at the railings and floors glowed, but I couldn’t see fixtures or bulbs. Small groupings of puffy furniture were everywhere. Change Counselors sat with their charges, including the pilots and flight attendants. Large iconic images of San Francisco hovered at the outer edges; The Golden Gate Bridge, Alamo Square’s Painted Ladies, the Transamerica Building and Fisherman’s Wharf. I wondered if those recognizable settings were put there to soothe us.
“It’s a Red Cross Trauma Unit,” Sal said.
“Are we prisoners?”
“No,” came the sympathetic reply. Sal noticed my inability to make eye contact. “Is my appearance distressing you?”
“Well — “ my eyes dropped to the floor. “I don’t know if I should call you a he or a she.”
Smiling, Sal’s demeanor reminded me of my kindergarten teacher. “I am gender neutral. The pronoun to use is, ‘zie.’”
“Ahhh,” I nodded, studying my fingernails.
Sal held out a hand, palm up.
After a few uncertain moments, I bridged the gap. The warmth, strength, and kindness of Sal’s touch sent a shockwave through my system. I would have jerked away if zie had not had a firm grip. Sal noticed the raw skin on my wrist.
“This must be painful,” Sal said. “With your permission, we have a cream that will heal dermal abrasions.”
“No one here is in trouble, including you, Charlotte. Your activities in 2017 are not illegal now.” Sal winked.
Closing my eyes, I inhaled deeply. For most of my flight home, I’d been worrying about my mother’s reaction when she saw me handcuffed to Big Bubba —
“Can I show you something?” Sal interrupted. Leading me to a set of stairs, we started up. To no one I could see, Sal spoke. “One ounce of tissue repair and a tricorder to the observation deck.”
“Who are you talking to?”
“The walls have sensors.”
Waiting for us at the top of the steps was an insect-like creature hovering at eye level. It carried a clear square topped with a dollop of cream.
“Hold out your hand, Charlotte, so the medi-drone can deliver your ointment.”
Doing as instructed, I waited as the drone delivered its payload. It buzzed away.
“Apply the entire amount,” Sal said.
It melted into my skin like whipped cream on hot chocolate giving off a pleasing floral, citrus smell. The soreness and red marks disappeared instantly. The clear square that held the cream dissolved, making a crackling sound.
Stepping farther into the room, I saw that we were inside a dome. Catching myself before making an exclamation out loud, I walked to the wall placing my hand on the seamless glass. “It’s beautiful,” I whispered.
Stars twinkled above. A Robert D. Brown version of San Francisco spread out below. Layers of vehicles in flight circulated around towering, clean-lined skyscrapers like veins and arteries. The air was crystal clear, plant life on platforms and terraces made the city look like a living jungle. The landscape below receded as we gained altitude.
“I thought we were still on the tarmac,” I turned to Sal. “Where are we going?”
“This transport has been programmed to take us to the Barry Healing Center in Monterey Canyon.”
“Monterey Canyon! Are we going under water?”
The curves of Sal’s mouth uplifted at the edges. “It is the premier trauma center on the west coast. As soon as your plane appeared on the radar, ANA began negotiations to secure the facility.
A buzzing distracted me from the conversation. Another medi-drone approached. This one was twice as large as the first. About the size of a box turtle, it delivered something that looked like a TV remote control to Sal. “Thank you,” zie said accepting the device. “It is a tricorder,” Sal turned to face me, “It will give us your baseline state of health.”
Shaking my head, I held up a hand, “Whatever it is, I can’t afford it.”
“There’s no cost, Charlotte, maintaining optimal health is a universal right as decreed by the Global Living Counsel.” Raising eyebrows, Sal held up the device.
Reluctantly, I nodded. Zie waved it in my direction then glanced down at the screen. Sal frowned.
“What is it?”
“Nothing,” Sal replied quickly, smiling, “You are a perfectly healthy, twenty-eight-year-old woman.”
“Who should be forty-eight,” I quipped.
Other passengers and counselors began arriving on the observation deck.
“We’ll begin our descent soon,” Sal stated as zie returned the tricorder to the flying turtle. “When we transition from terrestrial to aquatic, it’s a lovely sight.”
“What happens when we get where we are going?”
“Individual healing plans are manifested.”
I noticed Bubba and his counselor not far away. I could hear snatches of their conversation. He was still talking about his kids.
Facing Sal, I asked, “What if we don’t want to contact family?”
“That would be included in your healing plan. Your wishes will be honored.”
A weight the size of the moon, lifted. My shoulders slumped, I wobbled unsteadily.
Ever observant of my reactions, Sal hurried to bring a chair that I gratefully collapsed into. I could have easily closed my eyes and let the world fade but we were approaching the water.
Without a pause, we dropped below the surface. Tiny air bubbles passed the windows like spinning pearls. I sat up straighter, gazing at the pristine surroundings. Streaks of sunlight beamed through kelp flowing in the currents. A stunning variety of fish scattered. Off in the distance, I made out a multi-storied structure, clear like our dome. People moving around inside. Several crab-like robots, arms, and legs plodding slowly, looked like they were harvesting crops along the seafloor.
My suite at the Barry Healing Center was lavish. The amenities were like a high-end resort. It was difficult to accept that my time here was a freebie granted by a society that valued the well-being of its citizens. Sal showed me a button to push if I needed him.
Eight days went by before I pushed it.
I slept, finished the novels that I packed, and became acquainted with the helper bots that came out of the closet whenever I voiced a need to the listening walls. They brought my meals, cleared the dishes, changed my linens, and provided instructions on how to use the COMM consul, a connection to the outside world and the source of all human knowledge. Located in the sitting room, the History channel filled me in on what I missed while I was wrinkled in time.
My period was late. Was it because of stress or the result of a hot and steamy Tokyo connection? Wondering if it could be the latter, my thoughts returned to Mom. During the flight, I wasn’t worried about going to jail, but about what she’d say when she saw me with Big Bubba. “What kind of mess have you gotten yourself into, you worthless piece of crap? You’ve been a pain in my ass since the day you were born,” was a common theme. Attempting to win her approval was idiotic, yet I never stopped trying.
I knew about her diagnosis before I left. The sand in the hourglass of her life was responding to gravity. Tokyo was going to be my best, and last shot at pleasing her.
My chest constricted when I imagined having a child. I couldn’t remember a time when my mother didn’t mow me down with poison words. Picturing an innocent, cringing from me made my lips tremble. I couldn’t catch my breath. I pushed the button.
Sal was there without delay. Like before, Sal’s touch soothed, but it didn’t stop the flow of emotions. Zie confirmed the tricorder confirmation of a pregnancy.
“I can’t have a kid!” I wailed, “I don’t have a job; I’ll mess it up. It will hate me.”
Smiling, Sal rubbed my back, “Charlotte, you won’t have to do it alone. Like this trauma center, on-going life coaching, and basic living wages are universal rights. When you leave here, you and your little boy will have a home and plenty of support to make your lives healthy.”
“A boy!” I put my hands on my belly. “You can tell that already?”
“I don’t know if I want to be a mother.”
Sal assured me that my restless and bored feelings were signs that I was growing strong enough to begin living on the outside. I still wasn’t sure that I wanted a tag-along, but the idea of keeping the baby wasn’t as horrific as it was weeks before.
From the COMM center, I learned that ocean cleanup efforts were still ongoing, that we’d rolled back pollution levels to 1970’s estimates. CO2 emissions were almost nothing and international borders were relaxing as a global government was proving itself capable and trustworthy.
The rock inside that kept me encapsulated in a shell of fear was beginning to soften. Hope, given enough space to grow, will emerge, making room for new ideas. I’d chosen Albuquerque for my home. One helper bot would be assigned to me. If I wanted more, I’d have to earn it.
A week before I was scheduled to leave, Sal called me into the medi-unit to meet with a doctor. “There is something we need to discuss,” zie said. “Your tricorder scan found a genetic problem with your baby’s heart.”
My glass house was crumbling into wicked shards. Feelings of hope were evaporating like steam, I didn’t deserve them anyway, I was still the same messed up girl that my mother cursed.
“Charlotte!” Sal was gripping my hands, “You’ve stopped listening.”
Zie was right. When they said that something was wrong with my baby, I knew, suddenly, that I wanted him!
“The procedure to repair it is minor,” the doctor was saying over Sal’s shoulder. “CRISPR will eradicate it within twenty-four hours.”
In the last five minutes, I’d taken a roller coaster ride back into my dark place — one I’d hoped I’d left behind — and become frozen in a sticky soup of something much bigger. “CRISPR?” my eyes were as wide as saucers. “Isn’t that….??”
Sal squeezed my hands, He nodded sadly. “Everyone alive today lost someone in the tragedy. That harsh lesson taught us to be much more careful. Its use is highly regulated. There are multiple levels of oversight. For something like this, Charlotte, CRISPR is a miracle.”
Ryo was born, without a heart defect. He takes after his father with stiff dark hair that stands on end. Four years into our journey together, I’ve stopped stressing about repeating my mother’s mistakes. We’re good, but I’m still working on it, and me, every day. I have a small, precious community of friends, a life coach I enjoy, and meaningful work.
As settled as my life had become, I worried about Ryo’s father. I knew as much as social media told me.
Returning from a hole in time is big news. As far as I know, every ANA passenger had to deal with some form of celebrity. I had declined all interviews and had no social media accounts in my real name. I had hoped to stay out of his radar.
“Overseas communication, private discourse requested,” announce LeeLu, my house bot. “Caller ID: Haru Ito.”
I’d been painting a still life. At the mention of that name, my brush dropped to the floor, splattering yellow paint over my canvas shoes.
“Where’s Ryo?” I inquired. Did my voice sound shrill?
“He’s at the park with Nanny Ron,” Leelu informed.
I rushed to a mirror.
“Shall I decline the connection?”
“No! I’ll be right there,” I said, raking a brush through my hair. I pinched my cheeks, a ridiculous habit. Employing calming techniques, I took deep breaths while turning off all the listening devices, bots, and tools in the house. Stepping in front of the COMM screen, I gazed into eyes that matched my son’s.
A veneer of maturity was superimposed over my memory of a youthful boy. Ito was still trim and handsome, but a no-nonsense, self-confidence had replaced shy enthusiasm.
“Charlotte, you look just the same,” he said, smiling warmly, sounding surprised.
The hard irony of his statement settled between us like an elephant attempting to sit on a footstool.
After a long silence, he said, “I know about the child. I wish you’d come to me as soon as you returned —“
And then he said the words I’d been dreading, “I’d like to meet him.”
I was familiar with his family and career. He was working on international negotiations on behalf of the global governance. He had a teenage daughter who was an accomplished musician and writer. His wife was on a team expedition to Jupiter. She’d been gone for three years; it was unlikely she’d ever return.
I could feel my old insecurities clamoring below the surface like cage-crazed chimpanzees. It was difficult to trust that someone I’d crossed paths with in my old life could have turned out to be someone I’d want to know in my new one — let alone give access to my son.
I remembered something Sal said at the healing center, “Don’t let fear rule you, Charlotte. Life gives more gifts to those with open hearts.”
The private transport reminded me of the one I’d been on when I got off ANA flight #008. To Ryo, it was no big deal, a playroom to explore while he waited to meet his father.
“My entire life has been lies,” thought JJ as his boots tapped out a rapid tattoo. “It’s a sham, a false reality that everyone has purchased a slice of. There is no path to success. It’s just consumption, power mongering, and environmental destruction.”
JJ had left a monument in the center of his neatly made bed. His diploma from Wharton University, crumbled into a ball, and his wallet. Inside it was $250 in cash, his credit cards, and his driver’s license. JJ’s vehicle registration and passport completed the assembly. On top of everything, he’d left a cryptic note, Mom, you won’t be able to find me where I am going.
At the time that JJ had written it, he’d been seething with anger, wanting to lash out. Even in that highly charged state, he realized that it sounded like a suicide note. He didn’t want anyone to assume that he’d taken the easy way out. JJ added, When I find what I am looking for, I’ll be in touch.
His backpack was light. It contained a Swiss Army knife, a flashlight, a set of magnets his father had given him on his sixth birthday and the tiny ceramic jar (containing his baby teeth) that his mother had saved.
On the deserted road, a car’s approach could be heard from a long way off. Confidently, JJ made a fist with his thumb pointing up, holding it out.
A wind kicked up in all directions. The air buzzed and crackled. But JJ didn’t look around, he kept striding. A bright light appeared in front of him.
That made him stop. A large bubble, about fifteen feet in diameter, emerged. It undulated as if it were alive, growing increasingly fatter, straining at its surface.
With a pop, it burst. In its place, stood JJ’s dream car.
It made no sound as it crept forward, stopping at his side. The driver’s side door opened. When JJ leaned down to peer inside, he only saw darkness. For a moment, he thought about his note, maybe it was a suicide note…maybe not.
JJ got in.
Vistual Writing Prompt: WritetoDone website – in 350 words or less, write about what happened next – November 2016
*Fan fiction. A continuation of The Age of Adaline (movie) story.
New Year’s Eve 2015
“Wow!” Ellis beams as Adaline strides into the room draped in a floor-length golden gown.
“I just need a zip,” she says, presenting her back to Ellis. “Are you sure you don’t want to come with us?” Adaline turns to her daughter.
“I’m positive,” Flemming says, “I’ve got my date right here.” She bends down to pick up the tiny King Charles puppy near her feet.
Adaline leans in to place a kiss on Flemming’s weathered cheek, “Love you,” while she gives the puppy an affectionate pat.
“Love you too,” Flemming replies.
“I forgot my clutch…and my camera,” Adaline calls over her shoulder. She heads back down the hallway. Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror, she does a double-take. Adaline reaches up near her temple to pluck at a single gray hair.
Holding the strand between her fingers, she marvels at its significance. Adaline doesn’t look a day over twenty-nine. She’s been that way since 1937.
“Adaline, you OK?” Ellis calls.
Smiling thoughtfully, she whispers, “Yes…perfect.”
Ellis holds out Adaline’s cloak and helps to settle it in place. He grins at Flemming, “Don’t wait up.” Flemming holds out a hand. He grasps it and gives it a brief squeeze.
He ushers Adaline toward the door.
“What are you two up to?” Adaline wants to know.
“Nothing! Have a wonderful evening, Mama.”
In the taxi, Ellis pulls Adaline close to his side. He kisses the top of her head then inhales her scent, “Mmm… you always smell so good.”
Adaline purrs a response, “I think that you are the most handsome man that I’ve ever known.”
He chuckles, “That’s because you’ve got love colored glasses on.”
“Maybe,” she reaches for him. It’s something she likes to do whenever they are alone in the dark.
Ellis captures her roaming hand, holding it still. He doesn’t want her to discover the surprise he’s got hidden. They arrange themselves comfortably for the forty-minute ride to the Fairmont.
He focuses on appearing relaxed, though his toes are tapping inside his dress shoes. He leans his head back against the neck rest and closes his eyes, leaving them open in thin slits. The city lights become rainbow-colored starbursts moving through his vision.
He is sure of her, now…mostly. It’s funny how familiarity numbs astonishment. His lips curve when he remembers this time last year. He was newly in love and adapting to all of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Adaline. Her true age, her seventy-eight-year-old daughter, and her name.
It was his dad who first figured out her mystery. He called her Adaline the moment he laid eyes on ‘Jenny.’
Ellis had brought Jenny home for the weekend to celebrate his parent’s fortieth wedding anniversary. His father, William, couldn’t stop staring.
“Adaline was my mother,” she’d explained, flustered.
“The resemblance is extraordinary. We were very close.” William kept repeating as he recounted the details of his first meeting with Adaline near London in the 1960s.
The following day, William noticed a scar on Jenny’s hand. Jenny failed to recognize the state of panic that his observation triggered.
“I’m going out for a walk,” she told him.
Once she was gone, William tore into the garage to frantically search through dusty boxes. Standing there like a statue, he held a faded photograph of the two of them. A bandage on her hand concealed seven stitches that he’s sewn over fifty years ago.
Jumping in his suburban, William raced after her. He found Jenny, alone, on the dirt road a few miles from the house. “Adaline!” he yelled as he got out of the car.
She halted, regarding him with concern. ” William, are you alright?”
“No! I’m not alright ─ I know.”
“What? ─” her face turned ashen. She started to shake.
He grabbed her hand, pointing at the scar. “It is you. I couldn’t forget that!” he ground out through labored breaths.
“Oh, William,” she cried softly.
His hard expression softened. He stepped closer, tipping her chin so that he could examine her face, “How? How is this possible?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is this why you left me?” His unruly eyebrows steepled.
She nodded, her brow furrowed. “I can’t tell you how painful that was.” Adaline’s voice sounded distraught.
“Oh, I know something about that,” he replied gruffly, “I was on the verge of proposing.” William looked puzzled as he continued to lightly trace the contours of her face.
Adaline closed her eyes. He could tell that she was holding back tears. “I wanted to stay with you, William, but I… just… couldn’t.”
He pulled her against him, cradling her in his arms. “I would have protected you if you had trusted me.”
She nodded, crying harder, “I know…”
William pulled away. Digging in his pocket, he brought out a handkerchief. Handing it to her he said, “Here, sop it up, Della.” His weak smile didn’t reach his eyes. “I take it that you make a habit of running?”
She nodded, still dabbing at her face. “It’s the only way to stay safe. I don’t usually get involved with people or put down roots. You were the first man I loved after my husband died. That was in 1937. Ellis is the second.”
“That’s a long time. Do you have anyone that you confide in?”
Adaline pressed the cloth to her eyes as a fresh wave of grief washed over her. William reached out to steady her.
“My daughter. She is the only one who knows.”
“You have a kid?” he was surprised.
Adaline chuckled, “She’s older than you are, Will.”
Blinking rapidly, he took a step back, “Ellis,” he sighed.
Her eyes widened. William could see that a flight reflex had been engaged. Clutching at her arms he pleaded, “Adaline, don’t go! Don’t do that to my son!”
Wrenching away, Adaline darted into the woods. She ran like rabid wolves were nipping at her heels. Maybe they were.
Ellis Holds On
Right now, in the prime of their lives, they are perfectly matched. They are well educated, cultured and confident. Will we stay that way? Ellis wonders.
He thinks about Flemming and her troubled story of the time when she and her mother switched relationship roles in public. Will I do that with Adaline?
Arriving at their destination, they hurry up the steps to avoid the evening drizzle. They wait among other party goers for an elevator, “The entire world celebrates your birthday,” Ellis grins down at her.
“Don’t remind me,” Adaline says with sarcasm.
They step into the small square space. Adaline moves to the back to make room for the others who will follow. Surprised to see that they are the only passengers to load, she catches Ellis’s movement as he passes a bill to the attendant. They hear complaints as the double doors glide shut.
Adaline looks at Ellis suspiciously, “You’ve been acting funny all day, what are you hiding?”
Taking both of her hands he says, “I wanted this birthday to be more memorable than most.” He reaches into his pocket, pulling out a small black velvet covered box. He hears Adaline suck in a breath.
Ellis’s hands shake, uncertainty suddenly grips him, but he forges ahead. Going down on a knee, he says, “Adaline Bowman, will you marry me?” The lid makes a cracking sound as he opens the tiny package. Resting on a pillow of white satin twinkles a large square cut emerald framed by rows of tiny diamonds.
Adaline remains silent, but stands there alternately looking at him and then down at the ring.
“Well?” Ellis says.
“Aren’t you going to answer?”
She leans down placing a hand alongside his face, “Sweetheart, you are magnificent.”
“And?” he squeaks.
“That,” she indicates the ring, “is magnificent.”
“Adaline! Are you going to say, ‘no?’” Ellis can’t keep the tinge of desperation out of his voice.
“No,” she shakes her head, eyes sparkling.
His forehead wrinkles and he stands, “No as in ‘no’ you don’t want to get married, or ‘no’ as in yes you will?”
The doors of the elevator open to reveal the couple still locked in a passionate embrace.
“Aw, common, get a room!” someone comments. Adaline thrusts out her left hand, flashing her ring and wiggles her fingers. “Oh! They must have just gotten engaged,” a female voice says.
Ellis and Adaline exit to a small round of applause.
They spend the evening lost in a bubble of contentment broken only by intermittent congratulations and well wishes from people they know.
They are swaying to the music of a slow dance when Adaline says, “Ellis, there’s something that I need to ask.”
“Uh oh, I can tell by your tone that it’s something serious.”
“You do know me,” she demurs. “This is going to sound strange.”
“Now you’ve got me worried.”
“Would you…” Adaline bites her lower lip and glances away.
“Come on, it can’t be that bad,” Ellis encourages.
“Would you adopt Flemming?”
“What?” Ellis barks out laughing. Seeing Adaline’s hurt look, he reigns in his mirth as quickly as it escaped.
“I don’t want her to feel left out when we tell her the news.”
“I love you, Adaline,” Ellis says tenderly. “We can do whatever you want. Whatever Flemming wants.”
Adaline Chips at the Ice
Ellis mentions that his dad is going to an astronomy conference in Greece, so Adaline makes a trip out to their place to see if she can negotiate a truce.
The smile on Kathy’s face dies the instant she sees its Adaline. “Go away!” she snarls while retreating to close the door. Adaline plants a hand in the center, leaning on it with most of her weight.
“You have to deal with me if you don’t want to lose your son.”
“First my husband! And now my son! What kind of a monster are you and why are you stalking my family?”
“I had no idea they were related. Both were chance meetings. But I’m in love with Ellis now, and I’m not going away.”
“What are you?” Kathy’s asks rigidly.
Adaline’s tone quiets, “Honestly, I don’t know ─ I’m just a woman for whom time has stopped.”
They stand staring at one another. Adaline is the first to speak, “I can see that you have questions. I’ve spent lifetimes running from those, but no more. I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”
Kathy sighs, stepping back, “Come in,” she says reluctantly. “I’m sure you can understand that I don’t want my son to be hurt.”
“I’m not planning to hurt Ellis.”
“You did a number on William…”
“That was a different time ─ a different me. The only option I could see, then, was to leave.”
“I can’t wrap my head around the idea that you’ve stopped aging,” Kathy frowns.
“It doesn’t matter if you believe it or not, it’s true. William accepts it as fact.”
“Well ─ I consider William’s viewpoints, but I form my own opinions.”
Adaline looks down, hiding a smile. “I can see why he fell for you.”
Kathy opens her mouth to say something, then changes her mind. After a few moments of silence, she says, “You know, Adaline, if what you say is true….and I still think that’s a big ‘if’…. there are a lot of people who’d like to get what you’ve got.”
“I suspect you’re right,” Adaline replies, picking nervously at pills on her sweater. “But it’s not as glamorous as it seems. Youth and beauty are meaningless if everyone you love moves on without you. I’ve lived decades wishing that I could grow old like everyone else.”
It was very late by the time Adaline drove back to the city. She’d stopped along the way to phone Ellis so he wouldn’t worry. They’d had a terse conversation about the last time she’d been on this route at night. He suggested that she find a hotel and finish the trip in the morning.
“No, I promise I’ll be careful. I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”
Her key was barely in the first lock when the door opens under her hand. Ellis pulls her to him. She strokes his back reassuringly. When Adaline can get a word in, she says, “See? I told you that I’d be alright.” She winks. “It’s extremely rare for lightning to strike twice.”
Ellis growls, leading her toward the bedroom. Once inside, he kisses her, hard. Lips, teeth, tongues, and facial hair mash in a ravenous welcome. Between words of love, they peel off clothes. Moaning with arrested desire, they stoke the fire that readily ignites. They move in an arousing dance as old as time.
When the storm of intensity is expended, the lovers remain entwined, gently caressing and kissing. Ellis asks about the meeting with his mother.
“She’s a tough nut,” says Adaline. “We spent a long time talking, but I couldn’t guess what she was thinking.”
“She’s always been that way. When she’s bent-out-of-shape, it takes a long time for her to work her way out of it. It sounds like you made it past the front door…” he comments dryly.
“At first, she didn’t want to talk at all, but I told her that if she didn’t want to lose you, we had better make peace.”
“I’m a mother too, I know how to aim punches.”
“You are such a bad ass,” Ellis says before leaning down to capture her lips. A leisurely love-making session sparks to life.
Later, they get up for a snack of crispy red grapes and a variety of Sonoma County cheeses. Chilled glasses of wine, cultivated in the same region, accompany the simple fare. Adaline continues her recap, “Eventually, her curiosity outweighed her annoyance when we started discussing the changing roles of women in society since the 1920s.”
“Not surprising. She’s Dean of Women’s Studies at Stanford. I’m sure she’s the reason that I am interested in history.”
“Having a career like that and raising two children ─ that’s impressive.”
“That’s my mom,” he states proudly. “Do you think she was thawing by the time you left?”
Adaline shakes her head, “I don’t know. She was quiet…thoughtful.”
Ellis sighs. “I’ll call her in few days to see if anything’s changed.”
Kathy hadn’t been speaking to her son. Ellis knew that she’d been frosty and cross with his dad too.
He is understandably nervous as he waits for his parents to arrive. He’s finished construction on his apartment, but since the engagement, they’d been adding on a connecting unit for Flemming, complete with every geriatric safety accouterment available.
When the doorbell rings, he plasters on a smile and goes to greet them. “Mom! Dad! Thanks for coming! Please, some in.”
“Hi, son,” his father grabs him in a bear hug. “It’s good to see you!”
His mom stands on the threshold looking like she isn’t sure if she will cross. “Hey, Mom,” Ellis says quietly, waiting.
She reaches out to cradle his face between her hands. “My baby,” she whispers.
“I’ve missed you,” his voice cracks.
She gives him a dubious smile. A single tear falls.
Once he’d given them a tour and explained everything that has been remodeled, they arrive at Flemming’s space. “What’s this?” his mom asks when she notices the handle grips near the commode. “It’s kind of you to be planning for us, but I don’t think we’ll be needing anything like this for a while.”
“Ahhh….” Ellis raises a hand up to scratch the back of his neck. “It’s not for you. It’s for Flemming.”
“What?” his mom looks confused. “Who is Flemming?”
Ushering them out and back toward the kitchen, Ellis attempts to salvage the situation, “Let me get you something to drink. You guys go relax in the living room while I take your bags to my room.”
Ellis returns to find his parents standing near the breakfast bar in the middle of an intense, but hushed exchange. “Hey, guys,” he calls with false cheer. He pours himself a cup of whiskey, then joins them. “So, I have some big news…”
“Oh, God, no!” Kathy cries.
Ellis compresses his lips, goes to his mom, puts an arm around her shoulders, and walks her to the couch. “Mom,” he begins once they are seated, “nothing you say or do will change the fact that I am in love with Adaline.”
He looks to his dad for help. William shakes his head. Ellis stands and approaches his father, “Dad, do you share Mom’s feelings about my relationship?”
William seems perplexed, “No ─ I completely understand. I loved her once, hell, a part of me will always be fond of Adaline. But what she and I had is long gone.” He pulls a footrest over so that he can sit directly in front of his wife. He says, “Remember our favorite Robert Browning quote? ‘Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be. It’s the last of life, for which the first was made’… Kathy, you and I are written in permanent ink. We’re unshakable, babe. You don’t have to protect me or Ellis from Adaline. She’s not dangerous, she’s just lost.”
“Oh, William,” Kathy sighs. She leans forward to press her lips against his.
Ellis takes a long sip of his whiskey as he lets the dust settle. A knock sounds at the door, followed by, “Hellooooo!”
Fleming comes in. She has a shopping bag in one hand and Deer’s leash in the other. The little Prince Charles prances delicately in front of her. “Ellis! I found a few more things that I wanted to drop by for the apartment.” She stops when she spots his guests, “I’m so sorry to interrupt, I didn’t realize…”
“That’s alright!” Ellis exclaims taking the bag and leading her toward his parents. “Guys, this is Flemming. Flemming, I’d like you to meet my parents, William, and Kathy.”
Thick silence fills the space as everyone stares. William is the first to close the gap. He stands and offers his hand, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, mam.”
“Oh…” she mutters, “I’ve heard so much about you.” Flemming’s concerned gaze travels over William and comes to rest on Kathy. “I can’t tell you how much I think of your son.”
The two women shake hands, “Thank you,” Kathy replies, “How do you know Ellis?”
Flemming looks to Ellis. “Do they know?”
Ellis shakes his head. He’s starting to expire.
Catching the exchange, his mom says, “Know what?”
Ellis sets his cup down, rolls his shoulders and extends to his full height. Taking a deep breath, like he is stepping in front of a firing squad he states, “I’ve asked Adaline to marry me. She’s agreed. Flemming is Adaline’s daughter…”
“Oh dear! I’ve spoiled everything,” Flemming exclaims. She presses a trembling hand to her mouth. Ellis catches her as she starts to sway. His parents help get her to the couch. She is having trouble breathing.
Kathy loosens the neckline of her blouse while William scoops up the dog to keep it out of the commotion.
Kathy feels for a pulse and asks questions, “Can you speak? Are you feeling light headed?” Over her shoulder, she directs Ellis to call 911.
Ellis and Kathy go in the ambulance with Flemming. William brings Deer and follows in the car.
Flemming is still on oxygen but resting comfortably when Adaline comes rushing in. “Darling! Are you alright?” Mother and daughter hug, hold onto each other, and cry. Adaline pulls back, “I was so worried.”
Kathy moves forward when Flemming removes her face mask, “No,” Flemming shakes her head eyeing Ellis’s mother, “I don’t need it, take it away.”
“But…” Adaline looks confused.
“Mama,” Flemming rests a hand on Adaline’s shoulder, “we both know that sooner or later my time is going to come.” Adaline squeezes her eyes closed and shakes her head. Flemming grabs her mother’s chin to still her movements, “Listen, young lady,” she says in a commanding tone.
Adaline frowns, “Hey…”
“But I don’t see you that way! I only see my little girl,” Adaline’s eyes glisten.
“I know, and I love you for that, Mama, but take a good, hard, look at me ─ I have age spots everywhere. My memory is going, my eyes aren’t what they used to be, and neither is my hearing.”
“We can get your hearing aids checked.”
“You’re missing the point. I’ve lived a full life. I don’t’ think I am going anywhere today, but when it’s time, I want you to let go.”
Adaline cries, “Never. Never.”
“You will,” Flemming states firmly, “and our new family is going to help.” She looks at Ellis and his parents. “You don’t know how happy it makes me to know that you will be there for her.”
Adaline buries her face in Flemming’s lap. Flemming strokes her hair while making soothing noises.
Ellis watches different emotions play across his mother’s face. There is a softening in her expression when she meets Flemming’s gaze.
Kathy inclines her head in answer to the older woman’s unspoken plea.
After they’ve all gotten settled and buckled in William’s car; Flemming and Deer in the front seat, and Ellis, Adaline, and Kathy in the back, Flemming asks, “Has Deer been out to tinkle lately?”
Blank looks pass between them. Ellis groans and unbuckles his belt, “I’ve got it.”
They watch in silence as he patiently follows the little dog while she chooses the perfect bush.
“I apologize for being so bitchy lately,” Kathy speaks up.
“I understand, Kath. I thought I was losing it until I figured it out,” William says.
“How did you?”
William looks into the rearview mirror. He makes eye contact with Adaline, “Dell?”
Adaline gives a stiff nod.
“Dell? As in Della?” Kathy screeches, “William! Did you name that comet after her?”
“Sheath the claws, Kathy cat.” William turns in the seat so he can look back at her, “It’s not as if I haven’t been naming heavenly bodies after you and the kids all these years ─”
Kathy crosses her arms, uttering, “Huh!”
“Back in the day,” William continues, “Adaline cut her hand. I sutured the wound. When she and Ellis were up for the weekend, I saw the scar…” He looks pointedly at his wife, “Are you going to give me grief over that too, woman?”
“Nope,” Kathy glowers back at him.
“You better watch out,” William’s voice lowers several octaves. He points a finger at her.
Adaline can’t help but notice that the edges of Kathy’s mouth turn up slightly.
“Oh no!” Flemming blurts. Everyone follows her gaze to see Ellis rolling his eyes and slapping his thigh. She digs in her purse. Flemming rolls down the passenger window and waves a blue poop bag.
San Francisco repays its residents with occasional, spectacular, days of sun ─ enough to keep her population increasing but never enough to put coats and sweaters in permanent storage.
The Chronicle of San Francisco: Church bells rang on the afternoon of June 6th, 2016 when Adaline Bowman married Ellis Jones. The ceremony was held at St. John’s church. The bride wore a stunning trumpet style gown with a sweetheart neckline. A chapel length train completed her attire. The groom looked dashing in a traditional black tuxedo with burgundy trimmings.
The groom’s father, William Jones, escorted the bride down the aisle. Kikki, the groom’s sister, was the best woman. She wore a sleeveless black three-quarter-length dress accessorized with a burgundy bow tie choker and bracelets that mimicked shirt cuffs.
The bride was attended by two matron’s of honor; the groom’s mother and the bride’s grandmother. Both of their gowns were made of jersey fabric that matched the burgundy theme.
One-hundred-and-fifty guests were in attendance. A reception was held at the Cliff House were traditional San Francisco fare was served.
When asked about honeymoon travel plans, the couple only said, “We’ll be going someplace we’ve never been before.”
The groom’s parents, however, were happy to share their second honeymoon itinerary; they will be spending two weeks in the Maldives, a week in Sri Lanka and a week in Madagascar.
One Year Later
Adaline clenches her jaw in an attempt to stifle a yawn. She leans her head against Ellis’s shoulder. He pats her thigh to encourage her to hold on just a little while longer.
He returns his attention to the speaker. “The Candace was a whaling ship that sailed into San Francisco in the 1850s. It was dismantled and used for parts in foundries and for other ships. Her story tells about the whaling industry and the development of commercial enterprise in the city. It also provides information about the Chinese workforce. Fisherman who were excluded from other jobs were employed on Spear Street….”
Adaline puts a hand on her rounded belly and whispers in Ellis’s ear, “Maybe we should name her Candace?”
“…or we could call him, Spear,” Ellis rejoins, teasing. Adaline swats his arm.
That night as they are getting ready for bed, Adaline plays a game she’s become enamored with. “I’ve gained another pound and my waist has grown by three percent.” She records this information in her pregnancy diary. “I’ve found another gray hair today. And look, Ellis! I’m starting to get crow’s feet!” she laughs in delight.
There can’t be another woman on the planet who is happier than Adaline about showing her age.
I enjoyed The Age of Adaline movie so much that I wanted to dive in deeper, crawl around inside the character’s heads. I went searching for the book. Unfortunately, this movie was not based on a book, so I satisfied my desire by writing a continuation of the story.
As I write, it’s like I am watching a movie, except that it involves all the senses. I see everything from each characters’ point of view. I hear, touch, smell and taste the surroundings. I feel all the feelings.
The characters seem very real as they are doing what they are doing. But having one of them interact with YOU is a very different experience!
In this writing exercise, it was the first time that I ‘talked’ to my main character. Her responses came instantly and naturally – just as if we were really having a conversation with one another.
Give it a try, it will add another level of dimensionality to your peeps.
Wake up Haylee.
“Go away Joey, I am trying to sleep.” Haylee flung a warm pillow out from under the covers. With no specific direction in mind, the soft projectile was meant to disrupt the cat’s plan to get her out of bed.
I thought we could talk for a few moments.
“Joey! Come on!” Haylee complained.
This isn’t Joey.
“Huh?” Haylee responded. She cracked her eyes into thin slits and scanned the room. Accustomed to hearing voices in her head, she took a moment to assess the quality of this particular one. It was not totally foreign; she’d heard it before…
Now that she was focusing on it, she understood that it was not Joey or any other animal. Animals didn’t form words and complete sentences. They sent a series of flowing visual images with emotions attached.
It wasn’t a thought from any of her victims either. After being absorbed into her mind during Haylee’s unusual feeding process, they were mere memories. When she was finished with them, they didn’t make new ones.
Re-asserting her tight clamp-down on those, Haylee was suddenly wide awake. She threw back the blankets and scrambled out of bed. Already wearing sweats, she threw on a jacket, slipped into a pair of shoes, and ran a comb quickly through her dark, curly mass of hair.
She was out of the apartment in less than ten minutes. The streets of Berkeley, California were not as busy as they usually were at this time of day, but there were enough people around to make Haylee feel part of something larger. Thinking that the voice was a dream remnant, she let relief trickle down her spine.
You are going to Josh’s office aren’t you?
Haylee stopped in mid stride. A forty-something, dark skinned man carrying a to-go coffee grumbled, “Watch where you are going, Miss!” He extended his hot cup away from his body while barely avoiding a collision.
“Sorry,” she muttered.
“Who are you?” Haylee asked, looking up and all around. The coffee man, glanced over his shoulder, frowned, and picked up his pace.
I can’t tell you that, but I want you to know that I am someone who cares.
“Are you my mom?”
“Alright, whoever you are, what do you want and why are you talking to me?”
A pair of female students, seeing the young woman gesturing and speaking out loud, crossed to the other side of the street.
I want you to know that when I kill you, you won’t suffer and that your time here has had a much bigger purpose.
“You are going to kill me? I don’t think so. I’m dying because all of the women in my family have some weird inherited thing that happens after they give birth. “
A husky blonde came out of a store with her son. They emerged near where Haylee was standing. The precocious boy pointed. “Mommy, that lady is talking to a ghost.”
The mother shushed him and hurried them toward their car.
That’s right. Why do you think that is?
A suspicious look crossed Haylee’s face. “I don’t know…. Do YOU?”
People are staring Haylee; you should keep walking. Yes, I am the only one who does.
Instead of walking, Haylee began to jog.
“Are you saying that it was your idea that I die at the age of twenty-three?”
You could have lived for a few years more if you hadn’t returned the souls that you stole. But it was the right thing to do.
“Not that I believe you, but did you also have something to do with my time jump to 1849 and…Reece?” her voice broke a little on the last word.
Of course. That is part of the story arc for the women of your lineage and the crystal fragments that you possess.
“Then you know about the Travelers and why they do what they do?”
Yes, and you will too before too much longer.
Haylee, who had started running at top speed, stopped to rest when she felt the energy of the voice begin to pull away.
“Wait! Are you saying that I’m not real? That my dad, Gori, Josh and Serena aren’t real either?
You’re real to me and I love you all. You are like my children.
“I don’t accept this.”
“If this is true, why do I have to die? I don’t want to die! There’s so much more that I want to do!”
“Josh needs to know about this! He thinks he can help. He’s started a research project.”
That is exactly what he needs to be doing. His work is going to be an important part of what happens next. But you won’t be able to tell him about this conversation because I have to wipe it out of your mind.
Most of the girls Haylee’s age started getting their periods at thirteen. Haylee was well aware of this because those who were, “on the rag” didn’t have to shower in gym class. It was almost an honor, and a sign that a girl had moved into womanhood.
When Haylee turned fourteen and was practically the last girl not to have gotten her period, her schoolmates started talking about it.
At fifteen, still periodless, and showing no signs of physical maturation, the gym teacher called Haylee into her office and started asking embarrassing questions. Mortified, Haylee quietly informed the teacher that the women in her family had always been very late bloomers — she was grasping at straws — and that she was sure that it would happen any day.
The teacher, who was quite fond of the quiet, intelligent girl, looked doubtful. She empathized with Haylee’s discomfort, and she knew that with Haylee’s mother gone, the girl probably had no one to confide in. “Haylee, I’m not trying to embarrass you. It may be true that you are a late bloomer, but it could also be that something’s wrong, like a hormone imbalance. I’ve discussed it with the school nurse and —”
“How could you talk about this with someone else? It’s none of your business!” Haylee shouted. She felt as if she had been kicked in the stomach. Tears welled up in her eyes.
“It is my business, Haylee,” the teacher replied sadly. “Teachers have a responsibility to look after the welfare of their students. If it appears that a parent is neglecting —”
“What? You’re saying my father is doing something wrong because I’m not…” her brow furrowed. Haylee searched for the right words,“…growing up?”
“This is important, Haylee. You are not progressing normally; I have to call your father to make sure you see a doctor.”
“No! Just leave me alone and stay away from my father!” Haylee yelled as she practically jumped for the door. She felt trapped and needed air.
~ ~ ~ ~
Even before her talk with her gym teacher, Haylee had wondered if there was something wrong. At first, she was convinced that she had cancer eating away her insides, keeping her from growing. As she got older, she worried that she had a congenital disorder that stunted her growth.
Not long after what Haylee thought of as “The Big Period Incident,” she ordered herself a bra through a catalog and started stuffing herself. She also became an expert at avoiding gym class.
Despite her worries, Haylee stayed balanced. She enjoyed learning and took pleasure in her classes, easily outshining the other students.
When all of her chores on the farm were done for the day and she’d fixed her father dinner, Haylee would go outside and climb up on the old tractor. It sat rusting behind the barn. From there, she’d watch the sun set.
The cool, evening air, as it caressed her face, had her smiling. She thought about how much she loved caring for their pigs, chickens and horses. The pictures and thoughts that they shared with her made her feel accepted as part of them. They saw her…really saw her. This was something that Haylee desperately needed.
~ ~ ~ ~
Seventeen-year-old Haylee was sure that she had a migraine, even though she’d never had one before. The excruciating pain started at her temples and radiated out like pinpoint pricks of burning sparks that crackled through her bloodstream. With eyes squinted into slits, Haylee, had to draw in deep breaths to keep her stomach contents where they belonged. Haylee gently managed the half-mile walk from the bus stop to her house.
The cool interior darkness that enveloped her as she crossed the threshold offered a fleeting sense of relief. Within moments, she was clammy and trembling again.
She held onto the walls to make her way to the bathroom. Once there, she let her book bag drop and crawled like a suffering supplicant toward the porcelain deity. After twenty minutes of dry heaves, she thankfully welcomed its cool countenance along the side of her face as she crouched there, embracing it for another ten minutes.
When it appeared that her world had ceased its sickening gyrations, Haylee gingerly moved a few inches to test her theory. I think it’s getting better, she thought. Although the agony persisted, the nausea had lessened.
Stooping carefully to retrieve her bag, Haylee didn’t bother to glance in the mirror as she shuffled toward her bedroom. Returning shortly in her bathrobe, she reached into the shower to turn on the hot water. If she had not been so preoccupied, she would have been shocked by what the mirror revealed. Dark hair hung limply around an ashen face. Her lips were gray. Her straight, angular body had become more rounded.
Shakily, she stepped over the edge of the tub. The cascading water soothed her, but only temporarily. Lost in a dull haze, but not knowing what else to do, Haylee stood there, eyes closed, remaining as still as possible.
At some point, her father started knocking on the bathroom door. Feebly, she responded. She was relieved when he finally left. Long after the water had turned cold and the house had become silent, she stepped out of the shower.
Laboriously, she slipped on her robe. The mirror reflected even more startling changes. Her hands and arms had begun to take on pronounced lines. Her neck, shoulders, hips, and legs had developed a graceful quality. The hurt she experienced blinded her to all else, but somewhere in the back of her mind, it registered that her robe was too small.
Without turning on the lights, Haylee went to her room. Feeling for the electric blanket controls, she cranked the heat up to high. Crawling under the covers, she curled into a ball.
~ ~ ~ ~
Frequently, with only the hum of appliances and the ticking of the clock for company, Haylee wished that her dad would linger for breakfast ─ but not today. She was grateful that he had left at first light. Rushing to put on baggy sweats, she raced to the kitchen driven by fierce cravings. She was ravenous!
Barely able to contain her desires, she opened the refrigerator and grabbed the first thing her hand landed on — milk. After a half dozen lusty swallows, the empty carton landed with a dull thud in the middle of the kitchen floor. Empty cheese wrappers followed by cold cut wrappers, mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup bottles, an empty pickle jar, Tupperware containers that had held Tuna Helper leftovers, a tray from what was left of a pineapple upside-down cake and an empty egg carton were added to the pile.
Haylee paused to survey the bare refrigerator shelves for anything else of interest. A deep burp, that tasted like mustard and tuna, bubbled up her throat. Not a bad combination… Haylee rejected the horseradish and jalapeno condiments. Resting one hand on her stomach while wiping goo from her face with the back of the other, Haylee thought. I don’t feel like puking after eating all of that! Another belch erupted, followed by more hungry gurgles.
Haylee began riffling through the cupboards next. Soon the plinking of empty tin cans sounded as they hit the floor. With a glassy look in her eyes, she licked food remnants from the dirty dishes in the sink. Consciously, she had stopped herself from tossing the Corel plates and bowls into her heap. Although the advertisements claimed that they were unbreakable, Haylee knew this was not true. Everything even remotely edible that could be gleaned from the trashcan was added to the increasing refuse pile in the middle of the room.
Haylee took a deep breath and sighed. She wandered over to the couch. What a relief not to feel starved! Her head barely landed on the cushion before she fell fast asleep.
~ ~ ~ ~
Something roused her from her nap shortly before her dad was due to come in for lunch. Yawning, Haylee sat up, arched her back and stretched. She opened and closed her mouth, testing it’s parched, cottony texture. Cupping a hand over it, she expelled hot breath while taking a whiff to see if it smelled. The scent of fish, sour milk and onions made her frown. Thinking that she needed to brush her teeth, Haylee stood up. It was then that she noticed the state of the kitchen. “Did I do ALL that?”
It looked like a cyclone had gone through and pulled everything out of the shelves except for the plates, glasses, and silverware. A tingling underneath her skin had Haylee absently scratching her extremities. Something else felt funny. Reaching up to her chest, Haylee found sensitive mounds that filled her hands. She pulled the neckline of her sweatshirt away so she could look inside, “Holy!….” Her heart pounded as she explored that rest of her new contours. With a sense of wonder and delight, Haylee let out a sigh. So I was right!
Her eyes darted back to the mess in the kitchen. Dad’s going to be here soon! Leaping into action, she pulled out a roll of garbage bags. Haylee began shoving loose items into them. In under thirty minutes, she’d filled five! After hauling the trash bags outside, she returned to mop and wipe down the counters. At least, it smells fresh, Haylee thought as she surveyed her handy-work.
~ ~ ~ ~
The slam of the screen door announced her father’s arrival. He was greasy from crawling around under the walnut shaker. Not saying ‘hello,’ he paused at her side, took a quick sniff, raised his eyebrows, then continued striding toward the kitchen. Hesitating, he turned back, “Aren’t you supposed to be in school today?”
Knotting her fists in the fabric of her sweatshirt, Haylee hid most of the stains from her recent activity ─ as well as a few other developments ─ “Ahhh….. I wasn’t feeling good, so I stayed home.”
“Huh,” Eugene muttered before turning around to continue. Haylee held her breath as he reached for the refrigerator door.
“Aw, crap!” his voice sounded hollow coming from inside the appliance. “I don’t have time to go shopping today.” He straightened and looked at Haylee. “How can we be completely out of food?”
She smiled sheepishly, “A couple of friends from school stopped by to bring my missed assignments. They were hungry, so I told them that they could raid the kitchen.”
Nodding, he sighed. “They did. Going to have to wait till tonight before I can run into town. Make a shopping list?”
“Sure.” Haylee wondered how he could so easily accept her made-up story.
“I’ve got some beef jerky in the truck. Want me to bring you some?” he asked as he breezed past. The screen door slammed again before she had a chance to reply.
“I’m feeling better, Dad. Thank you so much for asking.”
~ ~ ~ ~
That night, Haylee slept fitfully. A headache had started again. By midnight, she was curled into a ball, feeling nauseous and dizzy. What’s wrong with me? her mind screamed.
After spending more than three hours in agony and terror, Haylee’s body suddenly jerked as a piercing, sharp pain ripped through her abdominal area. With swelling eyes, she opened her mouth to scream and found that she couldn’t breathe. Her heart was pounding so hard and fast, she thought it would burst. She panicked and clawed at her throat, leaving angry red marks. Her eyes rolled back in her head.
Some time later, she roused. The pain was still with her, but she was able to move. She noticed that her legs felt warm and slippery. She reached over to turn on her bedside lamp. Looking down, she was horrified to find that she was lying in a pool of blood. Inhaling a shaky, ragged breath, her throat constricted. Daddy, …please help me, I’m so scared.
After a struggle, Haylee managed to get herself onto her feet. She could see thick ribbons of dark red snaking their way down her legs. “Daddy,” she croaked, starting to weep. Holding onto the furniture and swaying, Haylee slowly inched her way to the bathroom. Once there, she collapsed unceremoniously into the bathtub. Sinking into a blessed darkness where the pain didn’t follow, Haylee felt sure that she would never wake up.
~ ~ ~ ~
Usually a heavy sleeper, Eugene woke with a start. A glance at the clock on his nightstand told him the time was 4:00 a.m. Fuzzily, he wondered what roused him. A strong smell of gardenias brought him fully awake. He wondered if it was left over from a dream he’d been having about his late wife, Doris.
He fumbled for the switch on his bedside lamp. Temporarily blinded by the illumination, Gene’s eyes squeezed shut. He scrambled to put on his clothes.
Flipping on the hallway light, he immediately spotted the dark pools of liquid and what looked like dragging footprints on the floor. When it dawned on him what he was seeing, Gene’s heart thudded. “Jesus in Heaven!” he muttered as he ran down the hall. Bursting into Haylee’s bathroom, Gene took in the scene.
His daughter lay in a heap in the tub, looking as white as a corpse. The bottom half of her nightshirt was soaked with blood, and her legs were smeared with it. “Haylee!” he cried. A fresh, steady stream was pooling and dripping down the drain.
Falling to his knees, he grabbed her shoulders. “Haylee! Haylee! Can you hear me?”
She was limp. He felt for a pulse. It was there, but it was fast and weak. Reaching for a towel, he stuffed it tightly between her thighs to stanch the flow. Gently gathering her up in his arms, Eugene ran to his truck, saying all the way, “Dear God, I beg you, please don’t take my girl away from me too!”
Stretching Haylee out on the bench seat, Gene cradled her head in his lap. With unsteady hands, he struggled to put his key in the ignition. He looked at them and saw them covered with blood. It was almost his undoing. Closing his eyes, he told himself that he had to stay calm.
Arriving at the hospital, he raced around the truck to scoop her up. The towel he had used to staunch her bleeding was soaked through. “Argh!” he exclaimed. Hastily, he ripped off his shirt to replace the sodden towel. When they burst through the emergency room door, Gene’s eyes were wild.
Immediately, Haylee was whisked away. Gene made a move to follow, but a nurse blocked his way. He would have fought to get past her but stopped when she told him that if he wanted to help, he would have to stay out of the doctor’s way.
Looking down, he saw a petite, redhead with intense blue eyes regarding him. In a firm but hushed tone, she said, “She’s in good hands.”
He nodded, “She has to be alright.” His voice was strained.
The nurse directed him into a quiet, empty treatment room where she had him sit on a table. Coming back from closing the door, she brought tissues, rubber gloves, and moist towels to clean him up. As she reached out to hand him a tissue, she found herself caught in his grasp. He pulled her close and laid his head on her chest. His large body shook with deep soul-shattering sobs.
Gene realized his tears were more than just fear of the danger that Haylee was in. They were self-loathing for ignoring Haylee after her mother’s death, and dread that he would never have a chance to tell her he was sorry.
~ ~ ~ ~
Feeling euphoric, Haylee noticed a light, floating sensation. Hearing muted voices, she struggled to become fully conscious.
Her dad’s face came into view. She wondered why he looked so tired. There were deep lines on his forehead and around his eyes.
He reached out to brush the hair off of her forehead. Seeing her eyes focus on him, he turned to speak to someone. “I think she’s coming around.”
A woman’s face appeared. A bright light was directed in one eye and then the other. The woman spoke to Gene. “She’s stronger.”
Haylee could hear muted voices from a distance. Then her father was back. His hand felt warm and strong when held hers. “Haylee, do you know where you are?”
Frowning, she moved her head slightly. “You’re in the hospital. I brought you in early this morning.”
Closing her eyes, Haylee nodded.
“You are going to be just fine.” He rubbed her hand. “You need to rest. Go back to sleep. I’ll be right here.”
~ ~ ~ ~
Sitting in a chair next to her, Gene watched his daughter. For the first time, he noticed that she was looking a lot like her mother. Now, instead of cringing, that thought brought on a resigned smile.
Gene could tell that the doctor felt uncomfortable informing him that, “The only thing we can determine at this point in time is that she was having an unusually heavy menses.”
Dr. Lester was a tall, dark-haired woman in her fifties. “Her bleeding has stopped on its own. She appears to be out of danger, but I’d like to keep her for observation.”
Gene pushed the doctor for answers. With a few short, icy words, she told him that they would do everything they could.
Feeling unsettled but relieved to have made it through the crisis, Gene returned to Haylee’s bedside.
~ ~ ~ ~
When Haylee woke the next morning, that insatiable hunger had returned. Confined in a situation where she wouldn’t be able to satisfy it, she began to panic. She had to get out of there!
Between nursing shifts, Haylee asked her dad to go buy her a magazine. As soon as he was out the door, Haylee was out of bed and buttoning his jacket up over her hospital gown. Peeking into the corridor, she waited until it was clear. Spotting a laundry cart, she grabbed it and wheeled it away while searching for a sign that would direct her to the staff locker room.
In street clothes, it was easy to exit the building. Once free, Haylee ran, and ran, and ran. She made one stop, in a dumpster behind a grocery store. Hunger satisfied, for now, she burped forcefully. Her hands hurt ─ they ached deep down in the joints and had begun to feel hot. Making the decision not to worry over, yet, more weirdness, Haylee resumed her run.
In her front yard, Haylee stretched, feeling abundantly strong and powerful. There was another sensation there also, something strange and different. She couldn’t put her finger on what it was. Just then, a bug landed on her arm. When she moved to swipe it away, she heard a —thwap. She stared in astonishment. There was webbing between her fingers! She wiggled them noticing the increased resistance. She flicked the other hand—thwap! Now this hand had the webs too! They glistened and sparkled. When the webs were out, she felt a potent energy humming just below the surface of her skin, as if it were waiting to burst forth.
She flicked both hands at the same time—thwap! The webs were gone! She practiced making them appear and disappear until her fingers grew sore.
~ ~ ~ ~
Her dad had let her wear some of her mother’s clothes since none of her own fit anymore. Wearing a halter dress and sandals instead of jeans, cowboy boots, and snap-up shirts, Haylee’s classmates didn’t recognize her when she returned to school.
Speaking to no one in the corridor, Haylee shyly met many of the eyes trained on her. She saw interest in the boys’ faces and looks of scorn on the girls.
When she answered, “Here,” to roll call in homeroom, silence fell as everyone turned in her direction. Scrunching down as far as she could, Haylee shut her eyes and willed everyone to stop gawking.
Regaining his own composure, the teacher cleared his throat, “Well, Haylee…you are looking well. I mean…did you have one of those glamor make-overs?”
The highlight of Haylee’s day had been Curtis ─ a boy she’d loved since fifth grade. He’d never looked twice at her. Recently broken up with his latest in a long list of girlfriends, he’d sought her out. “I heard that you suddenly turned ‘hot.’ I had to come to see for myself.”
Thirty minutes later, he’d asked Haylee out for her first date.
~ ~ ~ ~
The night was clear and the stars twinkled brightly as Curtis drove his Ford pick-up. Haylee sat close to him on the bench seat. She willed herself to relax. When he turned the truck onto a deserted levee and parked about a quarter mile off of the main road, Haylee’s heart began to beat quickly. She could feel herself starting to perspire.
“This is my ‘get away’ place. I’ve never brought a girl here before,” he said as he hopped out of his door.
“Oh,” Haylee responded, feeling pleased.
Holding hands, they walked a little way. Turning a corner, they came upon a train track that went out over a trestle with the river flowing below. Helping her onto the railroad ties, they sat down on a rail. Curtis fished a couple of pennies out of his pocket showing her that the two coins had the current year. “I thought we could put them on the tracks to have the train fuse them together so we could remember our first date,” he explained as he put them in place.
Haylee was touched. “How nice!”
He leaned toward her to plant a soft kiss on her lips. It was over before she realized what he had done.
“We’ll have that memento before too long,” he whispered. He returned to kiss her again. This time lingering and gently coaxed a response.
Small rumbles began then, in Haylee’s core and the ones on the tracks.
Haylee was so absorbed, that it was a few moments before she realized that Curtis’s hand was on her breast. Shocked, she moved so she could push him away. Tearing his mouth from hers, Curtis whispered, “Don’t!”
Wedging her arms between them, Haylee complained, “Let go!”
Curtis held her tightly, “Relax. I won’t hurt you.”
Haylee could hear annoyance and frustration in his tone.
“I said stop!” she yelled. On its heels, another wave of quivering radiated through her middle, stronger this time.
“What the….?” Curtis said.
The train lights appeared a few miles out. Curtis jumped to his feet, pulling Haylee with him as he started walking quickly toward the river.
“Where are you going?” Haylee asked. Her voice was several octaves higher than before.
“Kick off your shoes,” he directed as he kept tugging her onward. The ground beneath them dropped away as they started across the trestle.
Bending over to grab a shoe in each hand, Haylee could feel herself trembling. Glints of moonlight undulated on the surface of the water.
Jumping from railroad tie to tie, they jogged between the iron tracks. Curtis urged her to hurry. Looking behind them, she saw the train approaching ─ fast!
“Curtis!” she shrieked.
Run!” He clutched her wrist and squeezed. He smiled with a wicked gleam in his eye.
Haylee’s heart hammered wildly. The tracks shook. She pulled her arm away from him, so she could focus on running.
The sound of the high, plaintive whistle was ear shattering. Curtis laughed, but Haylee couldn’t hear it.
They were about twenty yards from the far edge of the bridge when the train rolled onto the trestle. Running for her life, Haylee screamed. Adrenalin effectively masked the tremors that had her quaking from the inside out. The heavy rumble from the massive amount of iron and steel breathing down their necks had Haylee thinking about how her dad would feel when he found out how she had been killed. Haylee was preparing for the impact when she was roughly yanked at a right angle. She went flying, before tumbling down a grassy embankment.
It took a few moments to realize that she was still alive, that she had stopped moving, and that the engine and its cars were rolling past them. Nothing appeared to be broken. A white-hot anger flared up. Locating Curtis, she crawled toward him. He was laying on his back, laughing and shouting about how great that was!
Cursing, Haylee hit him with balled fists.
While holding her hands, he dragged her over to him and began kissing her. She struggled. He rolled on top of her. Between wet kisses, he kept repeating, “You are so awesome!” Curtis held her in place while grinding his hips into her pelvis. Haylee could feel his excitement.
The vibrations within Haylee intensified. Something shifted in her mind.
She ceased to be afraid. A foreign desire had taken over. It was something that didn’t care about boys with busy hands and dangerous senses of humor. It didn’t care about the physical act of intimacy. It wanted something much deeper than that.
Haylee lay beneath him, unnaturally still.
Curtis noticed that the fight had gone out of her and paused to look. Alarmed at what he saw, he rolled off her.
She sat up abruptly, considering him with a steely gaze.
Unnerved, Curtis scrambled to back away, he looked all around as if searching for an escape route.
Haylee stood up, still holding his eyes with hers. She unfastened her belt, letting it drop. In one simple movement, she removed her dress. Clad only in her underwear, Haylee wasn’t shy or embarrassed. “Is this what you want?” she asked in a slow, sultry tone.
Curtis couldn’t take his eyes off her now. He inhaled deeply, nodding. His breath caught in his throat, he reached out, bringing her to a kneeling position. He began kissing her again. Haylee did not resist. She made encouraging sounds. She did not want to frighten him again.
His hands roamed in places that would have had her fighting against him if she’d still been in her right mind. Greedily, Curtis clawed at her clothing. When Haylee felt the hooks of her bra let loose, she violently flipped him over.
An ‘oof’ escaped him as he slammed against the ground with a thud. With a detached point of view, like she was watching someone else, Haylee observed as her fingers, the webbing, in particular, molded themselves perfectly around the contours of his face.
Struggling furiously, Curtis tried to peel it away. His eyes bulged as he battled using every ounce of strength to save his life. The more he thrashed the tighter the webs adhered.
Witnessing the gruesome process was fascinating. As was the fact that it barely took any effort to hold him down. At the moment that Curtis accepted his fate, Haylee closed her eyes.
A feeling of indescribably sweet euphoria filled her. Infused with a glowing liquid light, all tension dissipated. With sparkling eyes, Haylee raised her weightless gaze to the stars. The webbed hand that had been bonded to Curtis’s mouth and nose released. Slowly and delicately, she lifted it away. She took a deep breath and stood—stretching languidly. In a daze, Haylee stood up and walked around to get used to this new sensation. Her lungs filled and expanded with breaths that drew in more air than she ever thought possible. Her thoughts came as swift as lightning. This is what all the strange things were leading up to!
After a while, Haylee wandered back to where Curtis lay, pale and trembling. Her eyes grew wide as she realized that she now knew a lot of things about him.
A surprise — since he always seemed so cool and confident — were the many nights he’d spent alone and afraid in an empty house when he was too young to fend for himself. His parents drank too much and fought too viciously. A distasteful look crossed her face when she learned that he planned to have sex with her and then describe it in graphic detail to his buddies at school.
Haylee dressed slowly. When she finished, she stood over him, watching. His pink skin glowed against the dark grass. He squirmed weakly reminding her of a maggot removed from its food source. How did I ever think that I loved him? she wondered. Haylee picked up his clothes and threw them in a heap near his feet. “Get dressed!” she demanded. When there was no response, she squatted next to him, shaking his shoulder. “Put your clothes on!”
He turned toward her. Haylee was startled to see the look on his face — or rather, the lack of a look on his face. It was as if he were asleep with his eyes open. In that instant, she understood that he was a shell emptied of its contents. Those…were now inside of her.
Haylee realized that he was not capable of putting his clothes on without help. Muddling through that awkward task, Haylee got him to his feet and tugged on his hand. His mechanical actions smoothed out and began to look almost normal once they got going. She led him back across the trestle.
On the other side, Haylee relived those awful moments running across the bridge and the shock of what she’d done to him.
Reaching the spot where he’d placed the pennies, her eyes scanned the area. Not far away, they lay on the track, blended together into one. Haylee picked up the fused metal. Her first thought was to put it in his pocket, but then she changed her mind.
“I think I see it!” Chelsea ran ahead keeping a watchful eye on her smartphone compass. Seti, the families Irish Setter, sprinted beside the young woman barking with unrestrained joy.
Lexi and Ed paused to tighten drawstrings on their windbreakers. A brisk, grit-filled wind scoured their exposed skin. “You’ve got everything?” she asked.
“I do,” Ed nodded. Reaching into his pocket, he removed three small silver objects. He dropped two of them into the palm of her hand. Lexi thought that the high bluffs of Dover were an ideal location for today’s activities.
“This is it!” Chelsea squealed as her parents gathered around. From a small box that had been hidden in the rocks, Chelsea removed a strange oblong object. It was identical to the ones concealed in Lexi and Ed’s pockets. She read the paper it came wrapped in. “It says that if I, Chelsea, hold this and step over the edge of the cliff, I will be transported to another place.” Her eyes sparkled. When she turned her gaze to take in the open expanse, the challenge morphed into to uncertainty.
Her father stood behind Lexi gripping her shoulders. “Are you entirely certain about this, Chelsea?”
She bit her lip. Chelsea almost changed her mind. But the hard look on her mother’s face wiped that away. They’d had many arguments over Chelsea’s obsession to prove the existence of Time Travelers. In fact, she was sure that she was on the trail of one such person now. For years, she’d been getting personalized clues in every single geocache she’d located.
Chelsea approached the edge of the precipice. Without even a look back, she firmly gripped the thing in her hand and took that step.
The man, woman, and dog watched Chelsea wink out of sight. Holding their breath, they leaned over the edge of the cliff and peered down at the sharp rocks below. Not seeing a twisted and broken figure, they relaxed.
Reveling in a feeling of completion, Lexi thought of her partner. She yearned for his skin instead of his fur. Twenty-three years of parenting and observation had taken a considerable toll. She turned to Ed. Placing a hand on his shoulder; she lifted up onto her toes so that their eyes were level. Winking, she gave him a salute. Squatting down, she opened her arms to Seti. Burying her face in his coat, she whispered, “I’ve missed you!”
His immediate, silent response, And I you, Mistress, appeared in her mind.
Before she rose, Lexi slipped one of the silver ovals into the dog’s mouth. The three of them stood together, taking a moment to regard France across the English Channel. At Lexi’s nod, they winked out of sight and stepped onto the Constellation.
Lexi felt a large warm hand slip into hers and squeeze, before releasing. A voice she had not heard spoken aloud in twenty-three years inquired, “Shall I set the coordinates for home?”
Story Prompt: WriteOn weekend challenge – Bluff
Inspiration: Preliminary research for a ‘someday’ travel possibility.
United Kingdom – Dover Cliff’s Travel Information: