Visions of Paradise
by John J. McNally
Samuel Traumen was a man in turmoil. Every morning he woke from the same maddening dream, not a nightmare, but a dream of bliss and perfection. It was Sam’s life that was the nightmare, somewhere along the yellow brick road he had made a wrong turn, his once happy life had become dismal.
The dream, the damned dream was haunting! Every night he was with Joanie, his wife, they were in a different place, a house! The place was clean, no beer bottles, no roaches, and no trash lying around. Joanie looked ten years younger then she does right now. There was no sign of the depression that haunted her or the alcoholism that accompanied it. The feeling of happiness was the worst part, he woke up every morning with that feeling still strong in his chest, only to come back to the crashing reality of his waking life, talk about contrast!
Up until three months ago, Sam and Joanie had a fairytale romance. Both were reality creators, believing in their ability to manifest anything simply by maintaining their focus on it. Both of them had been incredibly successful at their creations, except in one area: love.
Sam had spent years in search of the perfect partner. He always knew she existed, and had defined clearly in his own mind exactly what traits he wanted in that partner. Well meaning friends had tried to detract him, telling him that what he sought didn’t really exist and that he was using this quest of his as an excuse for not getting involved in a relationship.
For a short time, Sam considered this point of view. After all, he was in his thirties and didn’t have a real, serious relationship under his belt. Some of his friends were already on their second wives or husbands, he compromised with himself and allowed his friends to set him up with a few people.
The results of this process were an unmitigated disaster. Apparently the only criteria Sam’s friends had for pairing two people up was that they were both single, and for the most part living. One of Sam’s dates tried to move in with him the first night they met, then tried to steal his car a week after he broke up with her. The others were less dramatic, but no more a match. Sam came to the conclusion that he was better off by himself, and decided to stop waiting for someone and just do everything he wanted to by himself.
He went almost a year this way, learning to enjoy his own company more and more. He traveled to Europe for several weeks, hopping around from hostel to hostel with only a backpack. He didn’t deny that he was hoping to meet someone along the way, but he didn’t sweat about it either. After he returned home, he took flying lessons and began going to concerts by himself, he felt silly for not having done this sooner, the imagined judgement he used to feel for not having a date on his arm just melted away like last years snow.
It was on the subway of all places where he met Joanie. He had just come from a concert at Lincoln Center and noticed Joanie’s violin case on her lap. “Were you at the concert?” he asked her, admiring her blue eyes and perfect skin. Her face had a pretty, intelligent look that was only highlighted by her close cropped blonde hair.
“Yes, I was fourth chair.” she replied.
“It was an excellent performance tonight, I think Roth is a fantastic conductor.”
“Yes, he is.” She replied. “He takes a very holistic view of a piece, envisioning it perfectly, and then follows his intuition on how to bring that into being. He says it’s a lot like channeling.”
The subject of channeling led to talk of metaphysics, and comparisons of very similar belief systems. Both of them were uncompromising in their views on reality creation. Both of them believed that each person created their own reality, every space and nuance of it. They had taken different but similar paths to arrive at this point. Joanie had read Seth, Elias and everything she could find on quantum theory. Sam had started with the Conversations With God books, but felt unfulfilled, he then began getting answers through his dreams from a being named Darius.
“Like the guy in the TV show ‘Highlander?'” Joanie asked.
“Yeah, I think he fit my ideal of what a Speaker would look like in society. It’s kind of embarrassing, I keep thinking of Homer Simpson’s guide appearing as Colonel Klink.”
She laughed, “I love that episode! I’ve got most of them on tape.”
The conversation continued, until they reached her stop and Sam had to confess that he should have gotten off three stops back. They exchanged numbers and continued talking. They met once for dinner and knew for sure that they had chosen to be with each other.
They hit their first bump in the road when they decided to move in together. Sam had a condo on E 82nd st, but Joanie had a cat and the building was no pets. Joanie hated her current apartment, it was a basement along W 8th St., which had a hole in the bathroom ceiling from a leaky pipe above, and a landlord who ignored complaints. She had only taken it because housing was so hard to find in the city, especially with a pet. She pretended to slap Sam when he chided her about that being “just a belief.”
“Together, we can create paradise!” Sam promised, “a castle of our very own right in the middle of Manhattan.”
“With modern plumbing and heating of course.” added Joanie.
“But of course, the idea here is to move forward, not back.”
Joanie eased back into the old recliner she had picked up in a garage sale. Stormy, her cat leaped into her lap, reminding Sam of the bad guy from those James Bond films.
“I see two places,” she said. Her eyes fluttered backward as she went into a light trance. The first looks like an apartment, another rental. It feels temporary…”
“I get the image of a lauching pad,” Sam added. “I feel like we’ll be there for a little while and then just rocket off to somewhere better.”
Stormy began purring extremely heavily, as had become the routine when Sam and Joanie visualized. They took it as a sign of their own vibrations raising.
“The second is, something big,” Joanie continued, “a house maybe. Oh, eww, that was weird!”
“I felt blocked for a second, like there was actually another presence interfering with me.”
“Huh, I don’t feel anything around us.”
“No, it wasn’t like that, more like a past self or a counterpart or something. It felt like a woman who was calling out to me, but not in a good way though. It was eerie.”
“Weird. Maybe we could try a hypnotic regression to find out the source.”
Joanie waved her hand in dismissal. “Been there, tried that. I just can’t do it, I’m not good at letting myself get hypnotized. There’s something in me that just won’t surrender my control.”
They gave up for the night, Sam gave Joanie a light massage before falling into a deep sleep.
Weeks passed, and they continued to remain positive even when no prospective apartments emerged. They laughed at their beliefs about finding an apartment in Manhattan, while seriously wondering if it was really only their beliefs which prevented them, or was their some rockbed reality of physical limitations that they were forced to adhere to.
“Nahhhh, ” said Sam one night when things seemed hopeless. “If we open the door for physical limitations on apartment space, then we have to assign similar limitations to everything. That means no more magic parking spaces, only statistical probablilities…” he faked a deep shudder, ” and no magical perfect relationships. Only two strangers meeting at random who have enough things in common to keep from killing each other. You can have your random universe if you want it, but keep me out!”
“Oh, you are soooo naïve!” Joanie was imitating the rhetoric that friends, colleagues and particularly other people in the New Age community often said to them. “You think you can just live your perfect life with these airy fairy notions of magical reality creations without ever dealing with physical reality? Well, I’ve got news for you Bucko! Wake up and smell the coffee, because there’s only one physical world and it’s overpopulated and we’re all dying so get your head out of the sand and stop using your God given gifts for some selfish yuppie gains like the perfect apartment, and start living your life in service to others!”
“That was beautiful,” said Sam. “But you left out vegetarianism.”
“What! You eat meat too!” She flung her hands up in mock hopelessness. “I’m sorry, you’ve just got too much karma to deal with, maybe I can help you in your next life.”
Sam was thoroughly enjoying her theatrics, it was true that he and Joanie had both embraced a very literal form of reality creation. Neither of them accepted the idea of a co-created world in which you created part of the physical reality, and others created it for you. Such a view didn’t add up with all the channelings they had read, nor did it feel right. Reality itself, was not the comfortable physical marvel that it appeared to be, but instead a lovely ballet of energy forming into a cohesive illusion of physicality held together only by the fabric of each person’s beliefs and telepathic agreements.
To Sam, the theory was beautiful in it’s simplicity. “You get what you focus on” was the primary rule. It was only with frustrating situations like their apartment hunting that sometimes made him shake his head and wonder.
“I know,” said Joanie. “I’m going to open up these classifieds, close my eyes, and be guided to the perfect place for us.”
“Cool.” Sam knew she was semi-kidding, but these methods often worked for them.
Joanie spread out the newspaper so that several pages were visible in front of her. Her fingers glided lightly over the pages like a planchette on a ouija board. Finally, her finger came to rest on one spot.
“Here!” she exclaimed, only to discover that she had put her finger on an ad for a restaurant.
“Well, at least we’ll eat well.” said Sam.
“But wait, this restaurant is in Queens, maybe that’s what it meant.”
“Leave Manhattan? Surely you jest woman!”
“I know, it’s icky. It’s so, un-Seinfeldish. But maybe we’re being too restrictive.”
“Queens?” said Sam, feeling a sense of certainty inside him.
“Queens.” said Joanie. “But only until we build our castle.”
* * *
Within a week they found an apartment in Astoria, Queens. The apartment had almost as much space as Sam’s condo, didn’t mind cats, and cost less then half of what either of them had been paying before. The real estate agent told them that the residents were mainly professional people, and as long as Joanie practiced her violin during the day, there would be no problems.
The apartment had a few glitches which the landlord promised to fix. Joanie’s lease was running out though in her Village apartment, so they moved in anyway. Some how the place felt right, but still like a comprimise. Neither one of them was particularly happy with the choice, but they were happy to be officially together.
The problems began almost immediately: Joanie learned quickly that whenever she tried to practice her violin, she was subject to constant phone calls, floor banging, ceiling banging, and pounding on the door. They began searching for a new place, visualizing what they wanted, laughing about what beliefs had brought them here, and fully expecting their combined powers to manifest a mansion in the heart of Manhattan. Instead, Joanie’s cat had been playing with a hole in the window screen trying to swat at one of the many pigeons flying from ledge to ledge. Joanie wasn’t sure what had happened, the screen didn’t look ripped enough for the cat to actually fit through, but some how he had fallen to his death on the sidewalk below.
Joan blamed herself for what happened. For days she would repeat “what the hell good was reality creation if this was the price she had to pay!” Stormy had been her buddy and her defender. Her Village apartment was prone to rats, and Stormy had proven an excellent rat hunter. He also screened all of Joanie’s potential suitors, only Sam had passed under Stormy’s scrutiny.
Sam did his best to console her, and give her time to work out her grief. Joan grew only darker though, she spitefully told Sam that they could get his precious uptown apartment back now. Sam assured her that he would rather have Stormy’s company (which was true, he really liked that cat) then his old apartment. Besides, there was no going back; his apartment was gone.
Time passed, and Sam tried to remain focused on their new place alone. He also tried giving Joan healing energy while she slept, she didn’t want anything while she was awake. Finally, she decided to go to a doctor, a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with depression.
Sam was stunned to learn that psychiatrists rarely practice any sort of therapy anymore. They primarily see a patient, write out a prescription and move on, only psychologists and therapists actually work with people’s problems anymore. Joan didn’t care, she created just what she wanted, an easy out.
The pills did nothing for her spirits, although she was more active. She wrote for hours every day. Watched TV, and listened to AM radio talk shows. She frequently called them to harass some host whose views she disagreed with. At night, the anti-depressants made her restless, so she took to drinking beer in order to calm herself down.
Sam rolled himself out of their bed, Joan hadn’t actually made it to bed last night. She was passed out in the recliner with her head lolling back like a stroke victim’s. Sam could only hope that she was getting some help in the dream state.
A quick search of the refrigerator showed that no new food had manifested itself overnight. Sam sighed as he put on his leather jacket and headed for the door. Better off eating in McDonalds anyway, the condition of this place revolted him. He headed out the door and hopped on the F train to Manhattan, his studio was only a couple of blocks north of Lafayette street.
Even after moving to Queens, Sam had kept his studio space intact: An old storefront genuinely located in SOHO. He had found it at the time when he still believed that such things mattered to being an artist. It was a great place though and suited his needs perfectly. The windowless bathroom had easily been converted into a darkroom, there was space for him to work, ample lighting, and decent power for his computer. He had furnished the place with two draft tables, a number of chairs, a computer desk, a futon/couch and a mini refrigerator and microwave. It had crossed his mind more than once in the last few weeks that he could live here if necessary.
Sam’s studio had become his safe haven, his preferred home. He deliberately kept his phone’s ringer off and let the machine handle all calls. This space was for him to work and he hated to be interrupted.
Sam considered himself a photo-artist: He took photographs of whatever caught his fancy, a person, a car, a reflection, then he enhanced and transformed it into something unique on his computer. There were a number of people doing this these days, but most didn’t take or develop their own photographs. Being one with the whole process gave the photographs more meaning for him. They were taken by his inspiration, and brought through the entire process by his own loving attention. He was often impressed with his own work, his style varied from the subtle to the surreal, but there was always a theme to his work, one that he hoped an observant mind could easily grasp.
Sam looked through several works in progress, not feeling particularly attracted to any of them. He decided instead to load up his camera and search the warm September afternoon for some sort of inspiration.
He wandered aimlessly, allowing his vision to become as encompassing as possible. He sensed the occasional annoyance of a hurried passer-by as he dallied in front of an interesting window, or the reflection off a car window. He snapped a few shots, though none were particularly grabbing to him. It wasn’t until he reached Astor Place that he was stopped cold.
Fluttering across Broadway was a bright streak of blue. A blue jay! In Manhattan? And in September? Magic, thought Sam to himself as his camera tried to catch the fleeting form. There’s something magical in this for me. As the bird disappeared toward Washington Square Park, Sam noticed the bright blue of a police truck moving slowly toward the park as well. He didn’t know if he could coordinate the two somehow, but he snapped the pictures anyway.
Sam walked into the park, hoping to spot the jay again. He hoped it was nesting here, so that hanging around would reveal it. As he looked around he kept noticing little bits of bright blue. One man’s tie, the wheels on a baby stroller, more cop cars, and finally the jay. It flew into the middle of some pigeons that were feeding on some invisible treat. The jay fought his way in and flew off quickly while delivering some harsh reprimands. Sam got some great shots, and was inspired for a new project. A collage of scenes from the park with everything blue accentuated to surreal dimensions. As if on cue, a man removed his jacket revealing a royal blue polo shirt. There was also the blue and yellow umbrella of the hotdog stand. Before Sam realized it, he had gone through 3 rolls of film.
“Hey. What’s all the pictures for?” The kid looked about fifteen, his hair was long and thin, it looked unwashed. His clothes were faded and frayed, his green army jacket had tears in the sleeve.
“I’m a photographer.” said Sam in a non-committal voice. “I’m working on a project.” This was Sam’s way of politely dismissing people. His tone wasn’t conversational so most people took the hint. Of course these days, most people took showers too.
“Looks kinda boring. You should get pictures of crimes and suicides and stuff.” The kid’s eyes were glassy, one of the last druggies of a now yuppie controlled park. Those eyes were also, Sam realized, bright blue.
“Not my style.” Sam said a little more amicably. ” I’m an artist; today I’m tying together everything in the park that’s blue. You could be part of the project if you want, I’d like to get a close up of one of your eyes.”
“Uh, sure.” Becoming the center of attention, the kid suddenly felt nervous. (Another great trick for blowing off people, but Sam really did want this shot.
“Great! Just stand right there and give me a second…” Sam fished through his bag for the right lens, checked the lighting and snapped away.
“Am I going to be in a magazine or something?” The kid was starting to look a little less disgusting to Sam.
“Maybe. My work has been featured a couple of times. If you give me your address and telephone number I’ll send you a free copy of my finished work.”
“Cool!” He quickly scribbled down an uptown Bronx address. “This is my parents house. I’m not there too much but they’ll keep my mail for me.” With that he gave Sam the slip of paper and moved off quickly to some friends that were waiting for him. Sam glanced at the name, James Havelar, there might be a connection here, he thought to himself. But as the kid disappeared the thought did as well.
* * *
The apartment reeked of vomit as he came in. A pang of fear shot through him, what if she had overdone it and killed herself? His gut told him “no” that she was fine. Tentatively he called out her name: “Joanie?”
“In the kitchen hon,” her voice was hoarse. “I’m making some tea to settle my stomach.”
Sam walked into the bathroom and saw the remains of vomit on the floor by the toilet bowl. Dutifully, he grabbed the paper towels from under the sink and cleaned up the mess.
“I would have taken care of it.” Joan said, walking in. Her hair was matted and greasy from not having been washed, she wore an old robe over a stained nightshirt that made her look like an escaped mental patient.
“It’s not important.” said Sam, “What is important is that you need some kind of help.”
“Oh, not this again honey.” she said “Look, I know things are kind of fucked up right now, but they’ll get better; I promise. It’s just I can’t get past what happened to Stormy. Either I feel like I did it by what we were doing, or it was an accident and all this reality creation stuff is a load of shit.”
“I think you’ve got to deal with your drug problem first.” Sam looked at her, mentally grimacing. “You’re hooked on these pills, and the beer too. You need to get yourself some help.”
“Oh god! Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees! I do not have a problem with drugs, or alcohol. I have a problem dealing with the death of my cat! I don’t expect you to understand that but I would hope that you could at least give me some time to work it out! I’m not hooked on the drugs, but they do help me from getting lost in the pain, without them…. I think I might get suicidal.”
“I’m sorry honey. But I don’t want to continue like this. Something has to change, you have to change! I can’t do it for you and we’ll never realize our dreams while you are like this.”
“Our dreams! Did you forget that Stormy was part of that dream! Or part of mine anyway! I know your not the animal lover, your not the cat person, you can just brush it off. Oh, he’s dead and we killed him, big deal! At least now we can get any apartment we want! Right? Isn’t that it?! I may be going through a difficult time with this, but at least I’m in touch with my feelings. At least I’m not a discompassionate cold hearted bastard like YOU!!!
On that she stormed into the bedroom and slammed the door. Sam settled into the couch and wondered what to do next. Perhaps Darius could help him. Darius was the name of his oversoul. He often appeared to Sam in dreams especially when Sam was in need. Lately though, when Sam had put out a mental call for Darius, his dreams were disjointed and incomplete. He just wasn’t getting whatever message Darius was sending. Still, it was his best chance to make some sort of sense out of the situation.
“Darius, Darius, Darius….” he repeated the name over and over as he let himself relax. This had always been his favorite method for contact although most authors he read didn’t endorse it.
Sam found himself in a dojo. To be more exact it was the dojo from the movie “The Matrix” only Darius was facing him instead of Morphius. Darius was also dressed in armor, and had a sword and shield in his hands. Behind him was a large trophy, or perhaps the Holy Grail. It was a large golden cup, which glowed with energy.
Darius’ dark eyes met Sam’s earnestly. “Your goal is to get the cup, begin.”
Sam noticed that there was a sword lying on the bench to his right. On it’s blade was inscribed the word “Truth” in red. Sam lifted the blade and moved towards Darius. “Armed with truth, how can I fail?” he joked.
Darius met every one of Sam’s attacks with ease though, constantly pushing him back off the mat and landing him hard on his ass. After the ninth or tenth time Sam grew frustrated and threw himself at Darius, only to find himself thrown back even harder with Darius smiling gleefully all the while.
“Had enough yet?” Darius asked while offering his hand to Sam. Sam pondered trying to flip Darius but remembered telepathy and decided against it.
“Yeah, I guess so.” he said taking Darius’ hand.
“So what am I doing wrong?”
“Wrong? What do you mean, I think you fought beautifully.”
“But I didn’t win. I never reached the goal.”
“What was your goal?”
Frustrated Sam exclaimed: “To get the bloody golden cup of course!”
“Oh, in that case the answer is, because you never tried.”
Grinning, he continued, “You never once actually tried to pick up the cup did you? You never tried stepping around me or even teleporting the cup to you. Instead you allowed yourself to be distracted from your goal by the prospect of a fight.”
“Okay, I can accept that, but how do I apply that to my situation with Joan. I mean how can I live that dream I see every night, if she’s not in it with me.”
“I won’t solve everything for you,” said Darius “you know that already. But, I will ask you this: Do you believe that Joan is going to change?”
The question was simple, and I knew exactly where it was going, the answer welled up in me catching in my throat. “No, I don’t.”
“Then how can she? If you don’t allow for the possibility of her changing, then you won’t choose the probable future where she does. It would be far better for you to release her then and pursue a new relationship, rather than hang on to this little merry go round you’ve created. ”
The dream changed, and suddenly Sam found himself standing exactly where he was when he came in.
“I want you to do this right this time, you need the practice.”
Sam felt silly at first, but he walked across the room toward the golden cup. As he passed Darius he was wary of that sword, it’s sharp edge still pointed toward him, as he reached the cup, he felt as if Darius might dive on him at any moment driving the sword deep into his exposed back.
“You do not trust yourself.” said Darius calmly. “It’s easy for you to let fear call the shots and pull you off course. Now drink from the cup.”
Sam lifted the cup, and sipped the clear liquid. It tasted rich and sweet and his heart felt a thousand times lighter for drinking it. The feeling was so strong that it pulled him out of his sleep, and he found himself stretched out on the couch.
* * *
Sam spent the night on the couch, again. He laid awake for a good portion of it, thinking about the lesson he had gotten from Darius. How could he not fight? He wondered; it seemed impossible to achieve anything without fighting or struggle here, unless he pulled back his energy completely.
YES! That was it. Sam almost jumped off the couch in realization. He thought for a minute that his movement would scare Stormy, but then remembered that Stormy wasn’t there anymore. Back to the point: He had to withdraw his energy from the situation in order not to fight. He had done this before in other types of situations and with great success. He spent the rest of the night deliberately drawing in his energy, letting go of his attachments to the drama of the last few months until he finally fell into a deep sleep.
He woke in the morning to hear Joan moving around. She was cleaning the kitchen, and by the sound of it she wasn’t exactly enjoying the task. Dishes were being banged rather harshly into the dishwasher. Sam started to get angry, but then remembered to pull back his energy. Dishes weren’t important, moving beyond this situation was.
Sam rolled off the couch and went into the bathroom first. He had to laugh at his reflection in the mirror, his hair was pushed to the left side of his head like some weird cartoon character. He laughed and wet it down, trying to give it a sane appearance.
He walked into the kitchen, said good morning to Joan, and fished around for something to eat. He pulled a package of Pop Tarts out of the cupboard and popped them into the toaster.
“The least you could do is help me clean up first!” She snapped.
Sam felt the familiar patterns of anger well up inside him, but mentally stepped back. “I don’t want to. ” he answered calmly. “I’m going to eat breakfast and go to my studio. I’m working on a new project.”
“Fine! Fuck it then, the place can stay dirty.” She glared at Sam, and for a second he could swear that someone else was looking back through Joanie’s eyes. There was a look of insanity there, for just a second Sam had a mental flash of a twisted, hate-filled old crone. Joan slammed the dishwasher closed and stalked out of the room. She entered the bathroom and slammed the door. Sam breathed a sigh of relief when he heard the shower running.
He enjoyed a blissful breakfast while Joan showered. He looked around the apartment, discouraged at the mess and at the roaches. When he lived alone he had always been fairly neat, but that was mainly because he rarely cooked for himself. No cooking meant no dishes and no mess, however he did like it that Joan had enjoyed cooking. And he did like eating with her, at least in the past, now he was happier when he was alone.
Joan finished her shower as Sam was gathering his stuff to leave. She came out wearing only a towel, and Sam’s heart jumped back to better times for a moment. She was so beautiful, both inside and out. It killed him to see what she was becoming.
“You know,” he said, feeling inspired to speak plainly. “You need to come to terms with the fact that you did not kill Stormy.”
“Oh I know that.” She answered coldly. “I didn’t kill him, you did. I asked you to get the Super to fix that screen weeks before he fell. I can forgive me, I just can’t forgive you.”
This was a new twist, but Sam realized he wasn’t interested in fighting anymore.
“I’m sorry you feel that way. I’m going to stay at the studio for a few days, I need some time to think.”
“That’s probably better. Make sure you take anything you consider valuable, I can’t guarantee it will be here when you come back.”
Sam bristled momentarily, but realized it was just another tactic to get a fight going. Without saying a word he grabbed his camera bag and headed off to the city.
Once on the train he felt the emotions sink in. He felt horrible, he didn’t want to cry in public but it was almost impossible not to. Pulling back his energy, letting go of everything, meant letting go of the chance the two of them had for a great future together. He bit his lip to fight the tears, and sent a mental call out to Darius.
“Follow your joy.” was the only answer he got. Simple enough, but where was his joy in this situation? It was not, he surmised, in the apartment with Joan. At least once he was in the studio he could think clearly for himself. He was definitely happier pulling away from the situation then he was staying in it. Happy to be sad he mused with a smirk and felt better for the rest of the train ride.
Once in his studio he began developing the pictures he had taken the day before. Bringing out the blue was an easy enough task, but the picture he was holding in his mind would not be. It took two hours to develop everything and begin reviewing what he wanted to keep.
There was an excellent shot of the blue jay as it was rising up from the flock of pigeons. This shot framed with in the circle of that kid’s eye would create the center of the picture. He would need more images though.
He liked what he had so far, the cops and the people would parallel the pigeons nicely. Sam wanted something more though, something to parallel the bird’s soaring. Something that could be placed at the top of the picture, some sort of goal or destination. He flipped through old photographs he had taken hoping for some inspiration.
Sam came across some photos he had taken of him and Joanie, just a few months ago. He promised himself he wouldn’t distract himself by looking, but he did anyway. He flipped through them, crying at how happy and loving they were. There was one photo in particular. The three of them together, Joanie holding Stormy, while Sam had his arm around her. The picture was so touching, and to top it off, they were both wearing blue shirts.
“Damn.” he said. It wouldn’t have commercial value, but it did fit where his heart was right now. He left the picture out and flopped on the futon. Perhaps some new inspiration would come to him.
The studio had neither radio nor TV since Sam didn’t like to distract himself while he was working. He did have Internet access though, and while he rarely used it, he needed something to pass the time since he wasn’t going home tonight.
He thought about scanning for new apartments, but he wasn’t ready for that step yet. He paused to order some Chinese food, and was surprised to find that it was only 3pm. He thought it was much later and dreaded the long night ahead of him.
* * *
Joan breathed a long sigh of relief after Sam had left the apartment. Life had gotten so impossible with him. Either he was trying to be this slobbering do-gooder trying to make everything better, or he was ragging on her for something. It wasn’t that she knew he was right about some of it, it just wasn’t helpful to hear him constantly bitching about it.
She didn’t dare tell him that the reason she was in such a foul mood this morning was because she was determined to not take the anti-depressants for a few days. Their was a surge of emotions building up in her, anger, despair, it was like a tidal wave and the last thing she wanted was Sam fawning over her telling her that things were going to be all right.
She continued doing the dishes just to have some focus. Her hands were trembling, so she stayed away from the knives and the glasses. She slammed a roach that was boogying around the counter top, and felt a little surge of joy as she heard its body crack.
She turned off the sink and decided to go hunting. She grabbed an old newspaper only to discover they had infested it. Leaping back, she grabbed the whole stack (thankfully she was still wearing dish gloves) and shoved them into the garbage can. Then she tied it off while hundreds of them were scrambling around the paper in a panic.
Next, looking quite insane she began stomping on the dozens that had spilled onto the floor. It was disgusting and exciting at the same time. She hunted them as they disappeared into the corners and under furniture. She banged one of the kitchen chairs that caused several more to appear scurrying.
Wait a second? She stopped herself and looked around. Was this some form of the DT’s? There were roach bodies everywhere, and some real monsters walking on the walls as well. “Well there goes that theory,” she smirked, surprised at the sound of her own voice. Tentatively she banged the chair again, sure enough more roaches fell out, including a few babies, were they breeding in the chairs?
She flipped the chair over, and sure enough, the pressboard that served as the bottom to the cushion seemed to be rotted and became home to god knows how many families of roaches! Fortunately, Joanie and Sam had an old box of giant garbage bags from when they had donated a bunch of old clothes to good will.
The bags just covered the chair and Joanie needed masking tape in order to close it, but it was sufficient to trap the roaches.
Joanie tested the next chair with the same results. She wrapped all four in the same manner, and took some paper and marker with her as she carried them one by one to the elevator. She stacked them by the outgoing garbage and then labeled each one “ROACHES! DO NOT OPEN!” So that one of her neighbors wouldn’t bring them back up into the apartments.
On her way back up to the apartment, Joan realized for the first time that she felt great! She was excited, at least until entering the apartment and realizing what a dump they had been living in. Under the influence of the pills she had been sort of lethargic. Housework didn’t matter, nothing seemed to matter at all. There were no real highs or lows, just an apathetic numbness that made everything feel like a waste of time.
She filled garbage bag after garbage bag of trash. Old mail, cat food cans, beer cans, and more beer cans. Jeez, no wonder Sam thought I was an alcoholic! Some of this garbage was supposed to be recycled, which is how it had built up in the first place. Considering the roach situation though, recycling wasn’t even a consideration. The garbage was going, and that was that. She would rather pay the damn fine then spend hours sorting through all this shit.
It took about an hour to get all the garbage gathered and down to the basement. The apartment looked better already, despite its noticeable lack of kitchen chairs. Next, she would have to go out to the store. This scared her and she didn’t know why. She hadn’t said anything to Sam, but over the last couple of months going out in the public had gotten more and more difficult.
The fear in the pit of her stomach made her need the bathroom. Her cleaning frenzy had the roaches on the run, and they were on the walls in there just as everywhere else. Bombs were what she needed. Four of them at least. There was a brand she had used for fleas years ago that worked well, and she remembered it had listed roaches on the label as well.
There was a pet store just a few blocks away. It felt good to be outside again, but creepy every time someone passed near her, especially men. The sun felt overly bright, and Joanie felt a great sense of relief when she opened the door to the pet shop.
A salesman asked if he could help her, but she brushed him off quickly. She couldn’t handle anymore people right now. There was a headache building in her temples and she just wanted to get this over with. She found the flea and tick section easily enough (it had everything but a neon sign) and spotted the bright blue cans that she had used so many years ago.
She opted for six of them instead of four, wanting lots of overkill- pun completely intended. She brought them up to the counter where the same salesman rang them up.
“Remember to remove all your animals from the house.” he said, “Plants too. If they’re in the couch, turn up the cushions.”
Joanie smiled, “Actually I’m using them to kill roaches, my apartments infested.”
“Oh. Well, same rules apply I guess, the more surface areas you get, the more bugs you’ll kill.”
“Thanks.” Joanie paid him and headed back home. She had to admit she was feeling a lot better. Something about this chance conversation had done wonders for her ego.
Upon entering the apartment, she thought that things didn’t look all that different. The roaches had found new hiding spots. Things looked a little cleaner, which was a nice change, but she wouldn’t be satisfied until she could eat off the floor.
Joanie sat down in the recliner for a second and felt all the energy rush out of her with a whoosh! She felt suddenly weak and shaky again, but determined to finish her task. She picked up the phone and got the number for the Sheraton in Manhattan. If she was going to spend a night outside of this place, she was going to do it in style.
Next she called a car service and asked them to meet her outside the building in a half-hour. Finally, she called Sam’s studio and left a message for him about the bug bombs and told him she would call him soon. She didn’t want to mention where she was going, time alone was a lot better.
She grabbed some clothes and headed for the lobby. She wondered if the car driver was going to be another friendly person helping to pull her out of this funk. He turned out to be a Middle Eastern man who spoke almost no English; as Joan settled into her seat she realized that was exactly what she really wanted.
The ride was blissfully quiet, only the buzz of the dispatch radio made any noise. As they entered the midtown tunnel, even that faded away. The darkness of the tunnel was blissful and Joanie felt the muscles around her eyes and scalp relax. When they emerged however, the contrast gave her a searing headache.
Joan automatically reached for the pills, only to find them not in her purse. DAMN! She had left them on the table, in an apartment that was now clouding up with toxic fumes. She laughed to herself, she knew damn well why she created this: This little trip was going to free her from her dependency on the pills so she could start living again.
Despite the pain in her head she was feeling rather light hearted. The concierge at the hotel took her bag and helped her from the car. She was led through the immense lobby with its beautiful glass fountains up to her suite on the 12th floor. Once in her room, Joanie tried to decide between taking a nap or a nice hot bath, the nap won out as she lay on the bed and promptly passed out.
* * *
Sam found himself falling asleep around 7pm. He was more bored then tired, trying not to focus on the negative aspects of the current moment, while wondering what the future was going to bring.
He found himself awake, naked with Joanie wrapped in a sheet next to him.
There was rain beating on the windowpane and a cozy sense to the scene. Sam got up and walked to the bathroom, the thick shag carpet was warm against his feet. The bathroom looked new, and exquisitely designed. He took note of all the little details in the room as if it was the first time he had seen them.
Returning to the bedroom, Joanie stirred, her hair was cropped close to her head just as when they had met. “Everything okay.” she asked.
“I’m not sure.” Sam replied, “I feel out of it, like I’m only partly here.”
“You’ve had this experience before,” she said. “You left yourself a message in the computer, it’s in an email marked “To my sleeping self.”
“Why didn’t I just tell you the message?”
“I don’t know, you said it was better this way.”
Sam shrugged and walked down the hallway to his computer in the study. Turning on the lights he looked at some of his prints on the wall. He still admired his “Visions of Blue,” there was so much magic weaved into it. He turned on the computer wondering why he didn’t remember writing this email before. He grinned as he realized that Joanie was having fun with him. How long had she been planning this little stunt?
He found the message quickly enough and opened it: “Open the back door” was all it said. Okay, I’ll bite he thought walking downstairs. He noticed the large Bay window in the front of the house as if it were the first time he had seen it. There was a light paneling on the lower part of the wall that fascinated him for a moment. He felt as if his consciousness was being pulled into the wood grain.
Sam found himself standing in their apartment in Queens. Something was wrong, there was something missing but he couldn’t place what. In the center of the room was some sort of energy vortex. A white funnel cloud of energy that seemed to be tearing apart the fabric of the room itself.
Sam sat up in bed gasping! What the hell was going on! He had dreamt of the house almost every night for two months, but never about their apartment. He began scribbling down the details of the dream. A white tornado, he mused, just like the commercial when he was a kid.
He wondered if Joan was cleaning him out? If so, he realized, then she was no longer the person he knew. Sam could let go of her if this was the case, but his intuition told him that this was not so.
Looking at the clock, it was only 10:30, Sam went outside to get something for dinner. Perhaps he’d work a bit more on the project tonight.
* * *
Joanie slipped into a deep sleep almost instantly, and found herself standing on a city block in front of a row of semi-attached houses. She felt drawn toward one, it seemed familiar somehow although she didn’t know why. There was a noise from the backyard so she headed that way.
There was a boy, about ten years old on his knees in the grass. He was making an odd noise with his mouth, calling to something. Joanie watched the scene calmly, as the boy continued to call patiently. Finally, a small gray tabby kitten peeked out from under a large snowball bush. It stared at the boy with wide, untrusting eyes.
“It’s okay.” he said softly, his voice was barely a whisper. “His gaze focused just below the kitten’s eyes and he continued to make the soft calling sound. Joanie maneuvered around him, worried that she might disturb the scene. Neither one of them seemed to know that she was there. As she got closer to the boy she could see he had a bowl with scraps of meat in it. She worked her way around him so that she could get a better look at his face.
Joanie froze stunned. It was Sam, she was certain of it. His features were so much younger, but it was definitely he. She watched as the little tabby kitten finally crept up to him, taking a little scrap of chicken or turkey from his fingers, and then ever so carefully coming to eat from the bowl.
What was stranger still she realized was that between her and the kitten ran an almost invisible filament. The more she focused on it, the clearer it became. Joanie felt her consciousness being pulled into it, suddenly it was huge, like a gray tunnel, and there at the end was the boy Sam’s face staring at her!
Joanie awoke in a cold sweat. What a dream! It was so real, I’m sure it was real! Her revelation was cut short by her sudden need to vomit. She ran, toward the window at first, feeling disoriented from being in the hotel room. Realizing where she was she bolted into the bathroom, as the taste of vomit filled her mouth.
What the hell was wrong? She thought as she continued to retch. Her head was screaming, and her body was now flushed and hot. She finally stumbled out of the bathroom like a zombie, heading back to the bed.
As the surge of body heat passed, she started to feel cold again. Even piled under all the blankets with her clothes still on she was shivering. She wondered if she should call an ambulance, but her gut feeling screamed NO!
Her system was purging itself, she realized. Joanie had never been one for drugs, not even aspirin unless it was dire necessity. Stormy’s death had come as such a shock that she was thrown way off base. There was a part of her that screamed in protest every time she had taken one of those damned pills, but for a while at least, they had kept her from dealing with the pain.
She felt incredibly weak. If the pills were in the room with her, she’d have taken them by now. She grinned at the masterful way she had cut herself off from them. By the time tomorrow came, she would be stronger and ready to deal with them.
The night passed slowly, with bouts of running back and forth to the bathroom and huddling under the covers. Sleep finally came out of exhaustion, it wasn’t until the phone ringing the next day that she woke up.
“Sam?” she said picking up the receiver.
“No ma’am, this is the main desk. It’s almost check out time and we wanted to know if you planned to stay for another day.
“Uh, yeah sure. That would be great.”
“Can we send you any breakfast?”
“Uh, no thanks, I’m fine.”
Joanie hung up the phone and looked out the window. Sunlight seemed to scald her vision. She stumbled from the bed and pulled closed the curtains, she wanted as much dark as possible. Despite being completely empty, she had no appetite at all. As she pulled the curtains she realized that her hands were shaking. I’m fine! She asserted. I’m getting better.
She drew a hot bath and hoped that it would help restore some of her fading strength. She felt as if she were dying, and realized that perhaps part of her was. She was letting go of the drug dependent Joan, the Joan who couldn’t deal with her problems, she sent that part of herself a mental hug and shivered in response.
She felt antsy and nervous in the bath, she tried to relax and enjoy it, but there seemed to be no way in which she could get comfortable. She got out and got herself a drink of water. It didn’t help at all, she found herself pacing between the tub and the sink as if trying to decide what to do.
You could go home, she thought, take one of those damned pills and get some relief. Nobody ever said you had to quit cold turkey. “Cold Turkey,” she laughed. What a perfect term, she felt very much like a frozen turkey forgotten on the shelf of a supermarket freezer.
She dried off and wrapped herself in the thick hotel bathrobe. She put on the TV, hoping the distraction would help. It did a little bit, having something to focus on took the edge off of the hell she was going through.
* * *
Sam woke up that morning still tasting the pizza he had the night before. The left side of his neck was stiff all the way down to his arm. The punishment of sleeping on a futon with no pillow, he mused. He winced as he tried to stretch his left arm; better to just nurse it then, I’ll take it easy today.
He was surprised that he hadn’t heard anything from Joanie, but then realized that he forgot to check the answering machine. Sure enough there was a message: “Sam, I’m setting off some bug bombs in the apartment, so don’t come over until tomorrow. I’ll be staying in a hotel in the city, I’ll give you a call later.”
A bug bomb! He laughed, that’s what his dream had been about! He must have been there out of body and interpreted the bug bomb as a white tornado. Feeling elated he went out to McDonalds to get some breakfast.
As he crossed the street in front of his studio, he had to step over the body of a cat someone had moved out of the road. A car had hit the poor thing, and it looked like a mother too. Sam tried to console himself that the cat had chosen this manner of dying, but it didn’t help much. The cat reminded him of Stormy, and he still felt bad for that loss.
Back in the studio, he decided to download his email, and saw the message Joanie had sent him there as well. “The message…” he said aloud feeling a strong sense of déjà vu, but from where. The dream of course! The one before the white tornado dream, he had been in that house again!
There was something about an email message in that dream, a message that Joanie had left for him? No, she was in the bed talking to him. She said there was a message for him on the computer. He thought she was playing a joke, the message had said “check the back door” or “go to the back door” something like that. He remembered going down the stairs, but that was where the dream had ended.
Sam got a weird butterfly feeling in his stomach as it suddenly occurred to him. What if the dream had meant the back door of his studio? He tried to shake it off; that was a bit of a stretch even for him. He had never gotten that sort of direct information in a dream, nor could he imagine anything of value in the airshaft that passed for an alley in the back of his studio. It had both aluminum blinds and iron gates to discourage visitors. Sam had opened it only once before and decided it was best left alone.
Still, the thought nagged at him, so he got the keys out from the cupboard, and unlocked the door and gates. He heard the mewling before he had even risen the aluminum blind up. Kittens! No doubt the orphans of that dead cat out in the street. The world fell silent as he opened the gate, he realized the noise must have scared them.
Well, here’s a chance to see how much I believe in a safe universe. He thought as he stepped back inside leaving the gates unlocked. He would need food to tempt them, unless they weren’t old enough to walk yet, but somehow he knew they were.
As a child, cats had fascinated Sam. There was a family of strays that lived in the garage behind his families. He watched and studied them for hours, and ultimately learned how to befriend some of them. One tabby in particular had become one of his companions, and he convinced his mother to let him keep her as a pet.
There was an all night deli on the corner from the studio. Sam went over and bought some canned cat food, and some milk. He knew the milk would give the kittens’ diarrhea, but they also might not be eating solid food yet so milk would be a good introduction.
When he returned to the studio (intact of course) he could hear the kittens mewling again from the alley. He couldn’t be sure where they were. Garbage bags and old boxes were piled up outside the door opposite his. He wasn’t about to start hunting through that mess. Besides, he learned as a kid that one doesn’t hunt cats, one engages their curiosity.
Sam filled a small plastic bowl with milk, and another with a can of food. He made himself as comfortable as possible on the ground and began making soft noises to get the kittens’ attention.
Instantly the mewling stopped. Sam knew that at this point they were probably retreating into each other as much as possible. His eyes scanned the piles of refuse for some movement, but there was none. He was pretty sure they were behind the pile of old smashed cartons, probably bound for recycling eventually. The cartons had several entry points, and made an excellent hideout for a couple of kittens.
It didn’t take long for Sam to realize that the cement of the alley was much less comfortable then the grass in his backyard. He also had a lot more mass resting on his legs then he did as a child. He got up a couple of times, and even brought a chair out for when the ground got too hard. He knew this might scare the kittens even more, but there were limits to even his near infinite patience.
Finally, during a break in which he was just sitting quietly, he saw a tiny nose poke out from under one of the box flaps. The move was ever so slight, and pulled back almost immediately. Sam tried to send telepathic messages of love to the little creature, knowing the kitten could pick up on the vibe if not the thought.
The little nose poked out again, and a gray and white face like the mother’s appeared. Sam projected warm, motherly feelings toward them, speaking softly and coaxing them toward the food in front of him. The process took several hours, but finally the gray and white one came over to where he was sitting.
The kitten sniffed at the milk, and promptly stuck its whole face in. After it sneezed the milk out of it’s nose, and jumping back afraid of its own noise, the kitten crept forward again. Finally, it sampled the milk with its tongue, all the while waiting for so much as a flicker of movement from Sam. Sam’s eyes however were elsewhere, for curiosity had finally gotten to the brother or sister as well.
The second kitten was almost pure black, with just a hint of white below the neck. It paced around at first, not willing to get near the strange creature. Sneezy (as Sam had temporarily named her) was drinking milk steadily now. Sam watched patiently and hummed a little melody to himself. Hoping the sound would make her feel safer.
The black one moved like a thief, flanking Sam and then suddenly running right over his legs. If his butt hadn’t been totally numb from sitting too long he might have jumped up in surprise. Feral cats, even kittens, were usually very reluctant to actually touch humans.
Sneezy jumped back in fear, not realizing that it was her brother’s movement at first. Blackie twisted around and pounced on Sneezy, obviously pleased with his surprise attack. After a moment the two of them came back to the milk bowl and Blackie learned how to drink from it as well. Sam estimated them at about 4 weeks of age, and hoped they would follow him back into the studio.
When they finally were finished, Sam said softly: “Well you guys, how about sleeping indoors tonight?” They backed off at first, sensing the shift in his energy. He stood up ever-so-slowly feeling achy now in his legs as well as his neck. He picked up the two food dishes and brought them inside the doorway. Then he filled the milk bowl again. The two kittens had vanished, but he knew they were close by.
He sat on the chair, now well inside the studio, watching the back door patiently. After a few minutes the black one had poked its head out again. It sneaked back over to the doorway looking very suspicious, Sneezy hung back by the boxes.
Once again Blackie charged in, running through the doorway and then ducking behind the garbage can. Sam chuckled at his behavior, and hoped that Sneezy would follow soon so that he could lock the back door again. At first he thought he was lost, Blackie ran back outside to rejoin Sneezy. But the two of them seemed to be feeling frisky now, and Sneezy chased Blackie back in through the door again.
Swiftly Sam got up and pulled down the aluminum blind. He secured the locks and closed the back door, triple checking that neither kitten had tried to sneak out and gotten stuck between.
Next, he walked around making the studio as kitten proof as possible. He closed the door to his darkroom and removed everything breakable to cupboards. The kittens watched him in horror at first, he had just cut them off from the only home they had ever known. They hid in fear behind the kitchen garbage pail, no doubt wondering what they had gotten themselves into.
“I’m going to leave you two alone for a little while.” Sam announced. “I’m going to get you some more food and a some cat litter. This may come as a shock but you two are going to need to learn manners if you want to be civilized kittens.” Blackie poked his head out momentarily watching Sam with curious eyes.
“Blackie’s not a suitable name for such a brave kitten, how about Nova? That star on your chest reminds me of one of my favorite superheros.” With that, Sam left the studio and paused to look at the dead mother cat in the street. “Well little mama, I’ve got your two kids. I didn’t see anymore back there so I’m guessing that’s all there was. I’ll do my best for them although right now I’m not sure where any of us will end up.”
It was funny how things worked. When he and Joan were together, the idea of bringing home a new kitten had crossed his mind more than once. But it never felt like the right time, it always felt forced. Now that they were apart two of them fell right into his lap and she couldn’t even be there to appreciate it. Ah, irony!
* * *
If there was any truth to be found in reality creation, it was in the sadistic sense of humor that the universe had, thought Joanie. In order to get through her physical discomfort she had watched TV for the last four hours. Every program seemed to revolve around cats or animals somehow. One station was playing: “All Dogs Go to Heaven” another had the episode of the Simpsons where the dog needed an operation and has an NDE on the operating table. There was a special on big cats on the Nature channel, etc… Even the vapid movie she had settled on on USA network ended up having some philosophical commentary on life after death.
“Life after death.” She said out loud, noting how harsh and raw her voice sounded. Of course she had considered that Stormy still existed in some afterlife before, but what she hadn’t realized was how much she still really believed in the concept of death.
“Death, it still seems so final.” Joanie had read lots of books that talked about life beyond death, and as an intellectual idea she was very comfortable with it. Stormy however, was the first real loss in her life. There were relatives, who had died that she knew only passingly, but Stormy was a deep and intimate friend, this was the first time she had ever come face to face with the finality of death.
“Or lack there of…” she muttered. Stormy’s physical form was gone, that she believed. His spirit might remain, or reincarnate into something new, but what good would that be really? It still wouldn’t be Stormy! Joanie might have a wonderful new relationship with this new cat, but it could never replace that special moment in time the two of them shared.
Maybe she could channel Stormy – the idea was so absurd she snorted as she laughed. She imagined herself in a deep trance repeating “meow, meow, meow” over and over again with Sam dutifully taking notes. She found herself giggling for the first time in ages.
His physical form was gone, but where was his energy? She wondered. Was he here now, an out of body cat trying to rub against her and curl up on her lap? She tried to open her inner perception, but she was still to out of it for any sort of real concentration. She sighed and went back to flipping channels. She realized that her body was feeling a little better and that maybe she could eat something soon.
She stumbled upon an old episode of “Quantum Leap” in which, the main character’s name was Sam. This got her thinking about her Sam, and about what she wanted. The last thing she wanted right now was to be with him again. She felt repulsed by the idea although she didn’t know why. There was something in his manner, his actions of the last few months, which just made her want to scream. Perhaps it was the passive aggressive way in which he had expressed himself for so long. She couldn’t take that shit, Joan was a very direct person, either say what was on your mind or fuck off!
That wasn’t quite it either though, there was still something bugging her. There was something that Sam was reflecting back to her that she just couldn’t put her finger on. She felt like Sam in Quantum leap with his “swiss cheese memory” always trying to put these little bits and pieces together.
Thirst finally motivated her off of the bed and into the bathroom, the sink water tasted funny, but it didn’t matter right now. She was parched. Joanie glanced into the bathroom mirror, and saw her reflection as if for the first time. The person looking back was not her!
The eyes were the same, that was for sure, but the skin around them was bloated and pinched, and her hair had grown out a lot, looking like a limp mop hanging over her ears and neck. Her face was palid, and angry looking, as if someone had carved a permanent scowl into her features. The more she stared the angrier the reflection seemed to become, when she thought for sure it would strike her, she ran out of the bedroom buried her face in a pillow and screamed.
That Thing! That animal! That utter picture of self loathing! That’s what she had become! And THAT, she realized was what she had been so repulsed by. It wasn’t Sam, but the reflection of herself that was in his eyes. Waves of self hatred went ripping through her, judgements about her life, about the pills, about being a bad mother to Stormy, about being a bad lover to Sam, everything she could imagine came up with that horrid accusing face she saw in the mirror.
She was shaking again, although she knew it wasn’t the drugs this time. It was the THING! The Thing that she had become, that was waiting for her to let down her guard again. The drugs had kept the Thing at bay, they had buried the sound of its judgements under a peaceful sea of gray indifference. It was no wonder people stayed on antidepressants their entire lives, who could stand to face down such a beast?
“You could.” a voice said softly. Joanie sprang up and looked around. That voice had sounded real, could someone physically be in the room. She checked the entire room twice, carefully not looking into the bathroom mirror before giving up.
“You could face the beast. In fact you must.” The voice was male.
“Go away Sam, I’m not ready to deal with you yet.”
“This isn’t Sam, I am the one Sam calls Darius.”
“Yeah, so what are you talking to me for? Don’t I rate my own oversoul?”
“Yes. I could introduce you if you like.”
“Really? Yes!” Joanie felt a small thrill run through her.
“Close your eyes.” he said softly. and wait until you can see the pathway.”
Joanie did so, half expecting not to see anything, she had tried visualization exercises before with no results, she couldn’t be hypnotized either, she just couldn’t allow herself to let go.
There was, to her surprise, a path lay out before her. It was made of stone and continued straight as far as the eye can see. She began walking it with Darius coaxing her verbally. “Look down at your feet, you will get there faster.”
She did this, noting to herself that she was wearing the comfortable leather shoes she usually wore out in the city. She glanced up to see a door in front of her, she recognized it immediately as the door to her old apartment.
As Joanie entered the apartment, she heard the phone ringing. She rushed over to the phone, taking a mental note of all the familiar details of her old home.
“Hi, Joanie. Do you know who this is?”
“Yes, sort of. I was hoping to meet you in person.”
“And so you shall,” the voice said. The surroundings changed and Joanie was standing in a field during early evening, low hanging clouds and flashes of lightning were filling the skies. In front of her was a woman that could be her sister. She resembled Joanie closely, yet seemed a little bigger, as if more life surged through her veins. Her hair was longer too, over the shoulders and flipped back. The wind was blowing it around crazily. Perhaps the oddest thing of all though was that the woman was flying a kite.
“Isn’t that dangerous?”
“This is a dream,” the woman laughed. “Nothing here is dangerous.”
“What should I call you?”
“How about Treyanna? That’s what you called me as a child.”
“Treyanna? I don’t remember that.”
“You were young, 3 years old to be exact. You and I spoke freely then, and interacted often. However you had chosen a framework in which you would experience being alone, so your mother dutifully told you that I didn’t exist until you finally believed her.”
“It’s part of the great game silly! We all enjoy these little vacations away from ourselves, even when they turn out tragic. It makes the part of us that knows itself as Joanie more distinctive.” Turning to Joanie with a momentarily serious face she said, “there are more important matters to discuss however.”
“I screwed things up, didn’t I?” Joanie looked downcast.
A huge thunderclap made Joanie jump, and Treyanna laughed at her. “Oh yes, that’s it, you screwed up so make nice and everything will be all better. Is that what you want to hear? Do you want a cosmic mommy to run to every time you skin you knee? Well forget it sister! You made choices. You are making choices now, and you will continue to make choices. Right and wrong are your own demons to play with, not mine. I’m here to help you face the beast.”
Just the mention of it made Joanie’s heart quell with fear. “What is that thing? she asked. “That’s more then just me when I look in that mirror, and I don’t think it’s a side effect of the drugs either.”
“Your right, it’s not the drugs. Now tell me what it is.”
“It’s hateful. No, it’s even more than that its pure hatred, it’s self loathing. It feels like the sum total of every negative thought I’ve ever had about myself.”
“That’s fairly close to the mark. What you have been afraid to face is your own inner judge, the critical voice that nagged at your every mistake through the years. For a long time, you had put her in the closet. You weren’t listening to her anymore, but you hadn’t actually dealt with her either. Stormy’s death allowed her full reign making in necessary for you to deal with her once and for all.”
“I blame myself for Stormy’s death. If I can move past that, will she go away again.” Joanie felt weak and shaky as she spoke.
“Stormy’s death was merely the doorway of opportunity for dealing with her. You might drive her back into submission, but I rather doubt it. You summoned her because you are finally ready to deal with her. No matter how scary she seems.”
“I – I summoned her?” Joanie pondered this a moment until it sunk in. She, Joanie had chosen this particular reality where Stormy had died. Stormy made his own choice, for his own reasons, and she had accepted this path for hers. Treyanna was only pointing out what she really knew all along.
“So, how do I get rid of her?” Joanie felt her courage rising a little. The world was starting to make sense again.
“That’s easy. Do not reflect what she radiates. Your bond is formed by the acceptance of similar beliefs. Change the beliefs, break the connection.”
“What beliefs though?”
Treayanna smiled. “You don’t really think I could answer that for you do you? Here, hold the kite for a second.”
Joanie took the wooden handle that held the kite string. “What’s the purpose of this kite anyway.”
“You need a fresh burst of energy.” And with that the sky lit up as a huge lightning bolt arced across it in 5 separate directions. One of the tendrils touched upon the kite, sending a huge surge of energy down the string. Joanie felt the blast lift her up off her feet, travelling through every atom and molecule in her body.
Suddenly she was sitting up in bed, her heart pounding, her skin flushed. The only difference she realized was that she felt wonderful. Better than she had in ages. She put her feet to the floor, wobbled a bit as she tried to stand and then headed for the bathroom. Showdown, she thought to herself, and then promptly stopped in her tracks. To deliberatly face the thing was scary as hell. It felt so much more powerful than her.
Still, she pressed on, forcing each foot to lift from the plush carpet and step toward the bathroom door. She knew that It was there, waiting for her in the miror. The grotesque mockery of her own visage. She rounded the corner to the bathroom and held her breath. “You are not me.” she said aloud.
There was no verbal response. This gave Joanie enough confidence to look into the mirror. The visage she saw there was a frightening mockery of her own. The face was bloated, with pinched eyes and an angry scornful mouth. There was a madness about her, and the longer Joanie looked the more she felt wave after wave of pure hate directed at her.
“I can’t say I love you. Not yet at least, but I do accept you with my heart.” Joanie tried to open herself, but the feelings emenating from her reflection seemed only to increase in their anger. “What can I do to make it better? How can I ask for your forgiveness?”
The resulting blast of fury almost knocked Joanie down. “You can’t forgive me can you? Only I can do that, I forgive you.” Joanie’s voice was wistful as she spoke. “And what’s more important, I forgive ME. For everything, whether it was real or imagined. I love and accept me and let go the blame for what I thought were my mistakes. And what’s more, I forgive me, for Stormy’s death. For letting it happen, for choosing this reality, I forgive and accept and even love myself for the choices I’ve made.”
Was there a scream? Joanie wasn’t sure, inside she felt as if she were glowing with energy. The reflection in the mirror had changed, the face looking back was Joanie’s, with the only similarity being the serious need for a bath and a haircut.
“First things first, she thought. Picking up the phone she dialed the operator.
“This is room 402, could I get some room service please?
“Yes ma’am. What would you like?”
“A swiss cheese and mushroom omelet, and a large orange juice please. Oh yes, and some white toast on the side, buttered while it’s still hot please.”
“Very good, ma’am, it should be delivered in about 15 minutes.”
Ah, first class hotels, you had to love the service. Even in whatever god awful hour it was. She glanced over at the little digital clock on the desk 7:00! AM? She glanced at the curtains to see the daylight hiding behind them. God awful! she laughed, I must have hit breakfast primetime!
Her sense of missing time freaked her out a little, but she wasn’t too worried about it. She was here and she was happy and she was totally famished. Food would be a wonderful thing, followed by a long, hot shower. Then back to Queens and…
Shit. If there was one thing she didn’t want to do it was go back to that rat hole. And what about Sam? She still wasn’t sure what she wanted there. She loved him, that she knew but did she really want to be with him anymore? The question hung in her mind until the room service arrived.
* * *
The afternoon was down right hot! Sam complained to himself as he went back to the studio with the cat supplies. The kittens would be petrified for a while, but he hoped they would at least check out the litter box. He knew some cats were smarter than others when it came to burying their waste. These two might be used to using cardboard, so he grabbed some free newspaper to mix in with the litter.
It felt really good to be moving around, and Sam realized he had spent over six hours in the studio alternating between the chair and the floor. After setting up the litter box and food and water dishes, Sam grabbed his camera and went out to search for inspiration.
His project needed something more. It was good, but not great. He had this nagging feeling that he had seen something else in the picture but couldn’t place where. Best to return to the scene of the crime, he thought and walked northward towards Washington Square Park.
As he reached the park, Sam realized there was a shift in the weather. Clouds had gathered overhead and the air had become almost oppressive. He decided to cut through the park and take refuge in a pizza place until the storm passed. He was about halfway through when he recognized a figure sprawled out on one of the benches. It was James, the kid whose eye he had photographed the day before.
Sam looked James over, fearing for a moment that he was dead. He was lying on his side, with one arm covering his head. His skin looked beyond pale, and it didn’t look like he was breathing. Sam leaned in close and he could hear a slight wheeze coming from James’ nose. He was alive anyway, Sam decided that it was probably better to just leave him alone.
The voice didn’t come from James, but from inside Sam. It wasn’t Darius, at least it didn’t sound like Darius. Still, Sam had an almost overwhelming compulsion to sit down next to the sleeping figure. “If it starts raining, I’m outta here.” he smirked. James only continued sleeping in reply.
Above, the clouds had become ominous, and rolling thunder was growing closer with every moment. It was almost as dark as night and Sam realized that it would be a great opportunity to get some lightning shots. He fished through his bag and began setting up his camera. Lightning was a hit or miss sort of operation, and he would probably wind up with lots of cloud shots for his troubles, but the opportunity was too good to resist.
Despite the rather odd circumstances Sam realized that he was having a wonderful time, the best time he had had in months. He thought of Joanie, did he want to try and make things work with her? Even if she straightened out, there was so much crap there, so much extra garbage that he didn’t really need. Maybe he really was better off on his own.
The lightning was getting closer now, and the first real bolts were visible over the sky scrapers. Sam considered how cool it would be if he photographed lightning actually hitting one of the buildings. It was too bad the Empire State building wasn’t in view.
Next to him, James began stirring. Possibly sensing the energy of someone sitting next to him, he opened his eyes and looked around. “Oh, photographer dude. You scared me man, I thought I was being robbed or something.”
“Sorry, I saw you sleeping here and had the impulse to sit down.”
“That’s some thunder, are you trying to get pictures of the lightning?” James voice had a heavy nasal quality to it.
“Yeah, I thought that would be cool.”
“Definitely. It beats getting pictures of all this earthbound shit.”
“You sound congested,” remarked Sam. “Do you have a cold?”
“No, it’s my damned asthma. My body sucks, that’s why I try to spend so much time getting away from it. I was born with both asthma and diabetes, making me weak and sickly most of the time. ”
Sam was listening with half an ear as he began snapping pictures of the sky. The lightning was almost directly overhead now, and jumping back and forth in wild zigzag patterns.
“That is what I want to be,” said James. “That is the ultimate freedom right up there, to be pure energy and travel anywhere instantaneously. No matter to slow you down, just energy pure and simple. I thought I was going to make it last night, I’m kind of surprised I even woke up again.”
“You know,” replied Sam. “It’s believed by some that all matter is really just concentrated energy, and that everything you perceive around you is just a manifestation of what your mind believes.”
“Not that new age shit, I’ve heard that stuff before.”
Sam smiled, “Well you’ve told me you have both asthma and diabetes, both of which have to do with the management of energy in the body. You appear to spend most of your energy getting as far away from your body as possible, which I’m sure is only causing it to get weaker.”
“Yeah, that makes some sense I guess. But so what? When I tried to take care of it, I was still weak, my body sucks and that’s the end of it.”
“What if your body only sucks because you believe it does?”
“That’s stupid, you can change little things, but not major stuff, even I know that.”
Sam grinned, “it’s what you think you know that can hurt you. You believe these things without ever having a shred of proof to back them up. I’m willing to bet that if you looked into it, you would find a path that would lead you to the physical body of your dreams.”
“I don’t know – HOLY SHIT!” James cry was due to a huge 5 armed arc of lightning that flashed overhead. It was blinding, Sam saw a huge green after image right in the center of his vision, his camera had been snapping the whole time, so he hoped that he caught it.
The rain exploded with a vengeance, riding in on the surging winds and covering the sidewalk in sheets. Sam buried his camera into its bag and shouted to James that he would buy him lunch. The two of them ran across the park to the pizza place.
Sam had to slow down in order for James to keep up with him. They made it into the entrance already soaked to the skin. “Wow! Did you see that lightning!” exclaimed James. “It was so powerful, so completely free, man it was paradise!”
After ordering some pizza for the two of them, Sam joined James in one of the booths. The place was typical and a bit touristy, but the food was good. On the table were a napkin dispenser, grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, and hot pepper flakes. There was also a small candle, which Sam imagined they used at night to give the place more atmosphere.
James was still excited about the size of the lightning they had witnessed, he said that he felt as if the bolt had blasted him with new energy. “Earlier, when we were talking about your body,” began Sam between bites of pizza, “you said that people could change small stuff but nothing really major. What did you mean by that?”
James almost scowled behind his face full of cheese and crust. “Like, you can psyche yourself into thinking that something is healthy, even when its not. And you might actually get some real results temporarily, but it can’t last, and then your even more messed up then before. Like an Olympic athlete for example:
They injure themselves while going for the medal, but ignore that injury so that they don’t lose the prize. Afterward they have to deal with an injury that has only gotten worse. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.”
“What about people who walk on coals then?” asked Sam.
“I think you can step on something hot for a second or two without getting burned by it. Let’s see somebody stand on hot coals, then I’ll be impressed.”
“Do you have a match?”
James laughed thinking Sam was joking, “uh, yeah sure.” He passed a lighter to Sam. Sam lit the small votive candle on the table and let the wick get comfortable. Then, very casually he put his hand about 6 inches above the flame.
“Now, according to your theory,” said Sam. “I can keep my hand here a short time without being hurt, but not for very long. Even if I were to ignore the pain, I should still get burned correct?”
“Yeah.” James seemed to relax visibly when Sam removed his hand.
“I want you to put your hand where I was for a second, just so you can judge how hot it is there.” While he said this, Sam removed his watch and held it in his hand.
James tentatively put his hand about 6 inches over the flame and held it for about 30 seconds. “It’s getting hot now.” he said, and at the 44 second mark he pulled it off. “Ouch! It’s definitely hot now!”
“Did you burn yourself?”
“No, not really anyway. It wasn’t that bad at first but then suddenly was really hot.”
Sam passed his watch over to James. “Your time was 44 seconds. I want you to start the stopwatch by pushing the lower right hand button. James did and Sam replaced his own hand to the position over the flame.
“Why are you doing this?” asked James.
“I had the impulse to share this with you. I’m not really sure why, you could say that I was motivated by God, or Spirit or maybe just an uncontrollable urge to show off.”
James was visibly worried as he stared at Sam’s hand. “Dude, you just hit the one minute mark, you can stop now.”
“Thanks but I’m not uncomfortable.” Sam replied. “I think its important for you to see this while I tell you that there is nothing that happens in your life, or in the world that is not created by your own beliefs. You can blame others, the government, or your body… or even your girlfriend” he said softly, as the reality of what he was saying dawned on him. “But the truth is, reality is only a game, a game in which we create the rules while we play, and if we don’t like the game, we can change the rules.
“Dude. It’s been over two minutes.”
“Oh, yeah.” Sam had gotten momentarily lost in thought and forgot about his little demonstration. “See,” he showed his undamaged hand to James. “It’s not even hot, touch it.”
James put his finger to it and while it felt warmer then his own, it definitely wasn’t hot, or burnt for that matter. “How did you do that?”
“I saw it on a TV show years ago and I just knew I could do it myself. At first I would be able to hold it a while and pull back the way you did, but one day there was just no pain, and I could hold it continually with no damage.”
“You should go on Guinness World Records or something.”
“Nah, monks do this kind of stuff all the time. It’s really just an empowerment exercise, not to mention a great party trick.”
“So, you believe it’s possible for me to heal my body and be like, a weightlifter?”
“Is that your goal? Some how you don’t strike me as the weightlifting type.”
“Nah, I guess not. I want to be an adventurer, like Indiana Jones or something. I want to go rock climbing and snowboarding and shit like that.”
“Then be it. I’m not saying it will be easy for you. At first it will probably seem like the hardest thing in the world, but I guarantee you’ll get there.”
“Thanks. Man, I should get home, the old folks always freak when I’m out all night. I think you helped me a lot.”
“Actually, you helped me too. I just remembered a lot of stuff I need to deal with.”
They left the pizza place, the rain had gone almost as quickly as it had come. The once cool air was starting to heat up again. Sam barely noticed this as he walked, his head was wrapped up in what he caught himself saying earlier.
All along, thought Sam furiously, I’ve been blaming Joanie and the pills for what was going on. But I should know better damn it! I’m the creator here, she is only a reflection. It always feels more complex in relationships, like there are two people steering the same boat. But that’s the illusion, I’m still choosing the probable reality I experience, and the probable version of Joanie that I interact with. All along this has been my creation- MINE!
“So what do I want to create, that’s the million dollar question.” Sam said aloud, not caring who overheard him. The question bugged him, did he create this situation so that he could break up with Joanie easily? After all he was virtually guilt free by “normal” standards. He hadn’t done anything “wrong,” he was actually the victim of her nasty attitude over the last few weeks especially.
“But that’s all crap” he spoke again, grinning a little out of embarrassment. He might get away with that stuff to his friends, but he could never convince himself of it. There would always be the question of why? What motivated him to choose this reality and end this relationship in such a manner?
Did he want to continue? His gut reaction was “no” but that was also based on the way things had been recently. The better question was, did he want a new relationship with Joanie? Ambivalence, he just didn’t know, he sighed and hoped that clarity would come in time.
He entered the studio and heard the sounds of mad scampering for cover.
“Helloooo!” he called. “What are you two little buggers into?” He was really enjoying having the kittens around. He would love to tell Joanie about the dream, and about how he found them, but… Then again maybe he could.
He found the two of them cowering in the corner of the litter box. Sneezy actually let out a little hiss as he looked down at them. “It’s okay,” he cooed softly, “it’s just me.”
He picked up the phone and dialed the apartment. He go the answering machine on two rings, so he knew there were messages ahead of his. He thought about checking them remotely, but decided against it, let Joanie deal with them.
After the beep he said: “Hi Joanie, I just wanted to let you know that I’m doing alright. I’ve had some amazing things going on here, and I’ve just got the finishing touch to that project I started the other day. I’m assuming your still in the city, give me a call when you get in, I’m turning the ringer on.”
With that out of the way for the moment, Sam set about developing the photos he had taken. He felt like a madman, there was so much energy running through him that he could barely stand it. The photos were awesome. He had some spectacular displays, but that final bolt had them all beat.
At its center, the lightning resembled a five pointed star. It’s tendrils spreading out perfectly at first before choosing new random directions. Sam scanned the picture into his computer and opened the “Visions of Blue” folder. For the heck of it he scanned in the picture of he and Joanie with Stormy as well.
He took the bird image out of the center of James’ eye, and replaced it with the lightning bolt instead. Then he scanned in several of the other interesting bolts, and lightly weaved them like a mosaic in the background. Next, he took the picture of Joanie, Stormy and himself and faded it into the bottom corner, so that it was barely visible. He knew it was there, and that was all he really wanted.
Then he rearranged the other images, the blue jay was now just left of the center, balanced by the small child over to the right. The other members seemed to gravitate toward these images, as if they were being guided there.
Sam saved the new piece as “Visions of Paradise” which was completely inspired by James. He sent a copy to the printer to see how it would look on paper. Not surprisingly, the fist print wasn’t what he wanted. It was also just an 8×11 print out, and not his 24×36-inch layout that he used for finished (or nearly finished) projects.
Saving a second copy of the file, Sam began the process of making the printed version match the power of the screen image. The work was tedious, multilayered images tended to blend badly when forced into a two dimensional format, but Sam knew his equipment well, and with a little magic he could make this picture dance.
Music, he thought, and went over to turn on the stereo. Classical, was definitely the theme for this event. That would also play down the more obnoxious commercials. He tinkered with the colors of each image, knowing just how to blend certain areas in order to contrast others. With printed material, it was the proper contrast that helped the eye define what it was viewing, otherwise things dissolved into an almost abstract quality.
The work took hours, and while he worked two little visitors were becoming curious about this strange being. Sneezy was watching from the distance, ever the more practical one it seemed. Nova however, had noticed Sam’s shoelaces, and the way one of them was dragging every time Sam moved his foot. The temptation became too much for the little kitten, and he dived at Sam’s feet trying to capture the lace.
“Well hello there.”
Nova jumped back immediately, but then launched himself at the shoe again. Sam deliberately baited him, sliding his foot gently back and forth. This process continued for hours while Sam worked on his picture. Finally, exhaustion got the better of them, the kitten first and then Sam. Sam turned off the light, kicked off his shoes and flopped onto the futon. It never felt so comfortable he thought as sleep captured him.
He awoke as usual in the warm bed pressed against Joanie’s back. He decided to stay for a moment, just to enjoy the sensation. Part of him felt guilty, as if he was a voyeur in his own life.
“What’s wrong?” Joanie asked. Sam silently cursed himself, she always knew when something was going on.
“I don’t belong here.” he said. “In my world, you and I are separated.”
Joanie pressed even closer to him and said: “That’s okay, I still love you anyway. There’s another message for you on the computer.”
Message? Sam blanked for a second, then his waking memory of the kittens came streaming in. He found himself completely lucid in this other probable world. He jumped out of bed as if he were trying to escape his skin.
“I – I’m sorry, but I really shouldn’t be here! I have to get back to where I belong.”
Joanie sat up and turned on a light. “Shh, its alright. I know who you are, you’ve been visiting us for months. This Sam knows you two, although he puts himself to sleep while you come in. Go check the computer, there’s another message for you on his email.”
“Why doesn’t he just tell you the messages?”
“He said something about remembering things better when you read them, if your still here just lie down and go to sleep, you’ll find your way home.”
“Thanks.” Sam said, feeling a little reassured. He walked across the hall and noticed that there was the sound of rain outside. Where is this place? he wondered. He flicked the light switch to the den and let his eyes adjust. He noticed that “Visions of Blue” was there on the wall, it was much closer to his original picture then the “Visions of Paradise” one he was working on.
He noticed the computer was new too. Apparently, the two of them were doing even better financially then he and his Joanie were. He opened the email program and saw the message marked: “Letter to myself #2,” clicking on it, he read: The past and the future are fictions, you know this. Don’t let a fictitious past keep you from experiencing a happy future. Go back home at 3:00.
Sam stared at the message for a long time, expecting to find himself being carried back to his world. Instead he only felt more awake. He was completely physically HERE! And he was afraid that he didn’t know how to get back.
Movement caught his eye and he saw Joanie standing in the doorway. “Are you alright? I was starting to miss you.”
“Yes, but I’m still here, and I’m wide awake.” Sam almost blushed as he looked at Joanie she was wearing a thin nightshirt with nothing under it. Normally he wouldn’t feel embarrassed seeing his lover this way, but this wasn’t his Joanie!
“I think you’re supposed to kiss Me.” she said.
“Huh? I can’t.”
“Don’t worry, Sam will forgive us.” She grinned mischievously. “C’mon, all the probable selves are doing it.”
Sam wanted to kiss her, he wanted to take her in his arms and lose himself in her beauty, to connect with her as a lover again. It had been so long for him, and this Joanie was so much like the Joanie he remembered.
He stood up and walked over to her, he hoped that his pants would cover his erection until he realized that he wasn’t wearing any. He stayed a good six inches back and leaned in to kiss her. Just one polite kiss, he thought.
Joanie closed the distance though and wrapped her arms tightly around him. Sam thought he would explode, their lips crushed together and tongues intertwined, he felt her body sliding against his and pulling him to the floor. He entered her, he felt like there was no control at this point, she wanted him every bit as much as he wanted her. Finally, after what seemed both an eternity and an instant, they orgasmed, her body arching up hard against his, he almost falling on top of her with exhaustion. He tried to speak as his body came to rest, but he found his consciousness slipping. He sank almost immediately into a deep sleep.
* * *
After breakfast, Joanie had intended on taking a shower, but she found herself drifting off again. Apparently, she was still a little weak.
Once again she found herself standing outside of her apartment, only this time she was carrying her violin case (how wonderfully familiar that felt) and was dressed in her winter coat. She unlocked the door and realized that the keys were cold in her hand, it must be winter she thought.
She entered the apartment, and was immediately greeted by a hungry Stormy.
“Yeah, yeah let me get my coat off will ya. OH MY GOD! STORMY!!!”
She picked the cat up and hugged him close, she felt his soft coat and rubbed her face against his hard jaw. She could even smell his cat food breath!
She cried, while Stormy purred, she was so thrilled to see him again, she didn’t want to ever let him go, but after a few minutes he squirmed to get down.
He ran over to the back door, Joanie followed him, wondering what was up. He stood on his hind legs, pawing at the door a little. The back door was different, she realized, it was the only thing in her apartment that wasn’t exactly right, it was actually her front door and it was backward, as if Joanie was on the outside again.
She turned the knob, and stepped inside, Stormy had disappeared somewhere.
She was entering her apartment again only the scene was different. She could smell dinner cooking, she was making chicken cutlet parmesan, on the couch in front of her sat Sam, it was the first time she had invited him over.
She watched as Stormy came out of his cat condo, sizing Sam up carefully. Until Sam had come along, Stormy had always reacted harshly to men, she remembered being in the kitchen at this point preparing their dinner. She had warned Sam about Stormy’s attitude but he promised her that it would be alright.
She watched as Sam called Stormy softly to him, the same way he had called that kitten so many years ago. Stormy’s ears perked up as if he was hypnotized. He cocked his head at the sound, and then leaped down from the little condo and pranced over to Sam.
Sam put his open hand down palm out, fingers flat. Stormy nuzzled his head against it and promptly leaped into Sam’s lap. He meowed once at Sam and curled up into a ball on his lap. At this point, Joanie saw herself come into the room to check on them, and stopped in shock.
“I think he approves” was all Sam said.
Joanie watched the scene warmly, feeling nostalgic for the newness of their relationship. She walked over to Sam, intent on giving him a little peck, when something caught her eye.
It was a filament, the thinest of strands, resembling more a spider’s web than anything else. It was exactly like the one she had seen between herself and the tabby kitten earlier, only this one ran directly from Sam to Stormy!
Joanie almost flew out of bed, the memory of the dream still sharp in her mind. Sam- Stormy, is was, however the hell you would say it! They are connected, they were the same entity/being/whatever. She always hated the typical terms for connections that were so much more. She sat in shock, realizing how perfectly it all fit together, feeling better and lighter then she had before. She glanced at the clock, barely a half hour had passed. She decided to take her shower and head back to the apartment.
After she got dressed, Joanie gathered her belongings and went down to the lobby to pay the bill. “How was your stay?” the manager asked as he ran her Visa card through the machine.
“Enlightening.” She answered with a grin. The manager looked at her curiously, but didn’t press the issue. Then she requested a private car service be called rather then a taxi. She wanted a comfortable ride home. It was only about five minutes before the doorman signaled to her that the car had arrived. It was perfect, a black Lincoln town car with tinted rear windows.
She gave the driver the address and sunk into the deep leather seat. It was so comfortable that she found herself drifting off again, as they entered the darkness of the tunnel she lost track of the physical world.
She found herself in a room, with Sam bending down to kiss her, as if he was an uncle or something. Her heart was pounding in her chest, and he was looking really hot. She pulled him in close wanting to taste his tongue again. She loved how he kissed, he had a playful tongue that could stay busy for hours. Her nipples were hard as rocks, the skin around them was pulled taught. She pulled him down to the floor, feeling the comfortable weight of his chest against hers.
She ran her nails lightly down his back as he positioned himself to enter her. She was wet with anticipation, wanting him in her. As he entered her, she shivered having a mini orgasm. Paradise, she thought to herself as they came together. He looked as if he wanted to say something to her, but her vision started to fade.
Joanie jumped up suddenly awake in the car, they were in Queens already, she saw the driver glance back at her through the mirror. He asked her for directions once they were off the highway. She gave them to him, and forced herself to look out the window. She wondered if she had put on a show for him while she was asleep. She wasn’t wet at least, that was a good sign. Oh, the hell with it, she thought, if he did know what was going on then I won’t have to tip him. She smiled at herself and relaxed a little more.
She paid him in cash, and saw no sign from him that he knew anything of her experience. She felt invigorated, and wondered if that was the sign she was looking for about whether or not to try and work things out with Sam.
“No.” she muttered aloud. It was just her hormones catching up to 3 months of repression by drugs and alcohol. Her body’s natural balance was reasserting itself, and that was all. She wasn’t going to base her decision on one sexual fantasy, no matter how good it was!
As she rode the rickety elevator to the 4th floor, Joanie promised herself one thing. No matter what she decided, she was not going to live in this dump anymore. She was moving, as soon as possible! She got off the elevator and reached her front door, there was a brown envelope taped to it.
She opened it and almost screamed with laughter. It was a letter from the owner of the building. Apparently setting off bug bombs was against the rules of their lease. The super had received numerous complaints from other tenants whose homes had been inundated with fleeing roaches. The owner promised that eviction proceedings would begin immediately.
“YES!” she cried, and did a little dance, still standing out in her hallway. Her next door neighbor heard her and came outside. She was a 50’ish frumpy old hag who always pounded on the walls when Joanie played her violin, no matter what time of the day it was.
“You!” She pointed her finger like some stereotypical witch. “What the hell did you do in there? I have roaches coming into my house for three days! I complain to the super, you ruined my dinner, I had roaches everywhere.”
“Oh really,” said Joanie looking concerned. “Well since you’ve always been so nice to us, especially when I try to practice my violin, FUCK YOU!!!!” Then she opened her door and slammed it behind her.
God that felt good! She looked at the letter and laughed again! What a perfect revenge for these son’s of bitches! After all the grief they gave her, she felt like dancing again.
Then she noticed the floor, “holy shit.” she giggled again. The scene was disgusting, there were dead roach bodies everywhere she looked. There was an average of 6 per floor tile, and she didn’t even want to start guessing how many tiles there were.
The phone rang, she tried to pick her way carefully, but there was just no way.
The machine picked it up before she could reach there. “Hello. This is the super, I know you are home!”
“Hello.” Joanie sounded as sweet as possible.
“You, are you crazy setting off so many bug bombs there? Why didn’t you tell me you had a problem I would have sprayed for free, now I have tenants calling up, screaming at me.”
“I’m sorry, but it doesn’t matter, I’ll be out of here before the end of the week.”
He continued to rant so she put the phone down and went to go recover the broom. The kitchen was worse if anything, there were hundreds upon hundreds of bodies on the floors and counters, they made a disgusting crunchy sound as she walked, and even that she found deliciously funny.
“When Sam calls, I’ll ask him what he wants to keep, but that’s it. I’m trashing the rest of it. I don’t want any of this crap.” She took the broom and began by sweeping the bodies off of the counter tops and the wall moldings. Then she moved on to the floors, the pile she accumulated was disgusting, but amazing at the same time. No wonder Sam had complained so much, how the hell could she not have seen that things were this bad.
She paused momentarily to hang up the phone, at some point the super had given up and the warning tone was beeping. The whole sweep job went much faster then she expected. There weren’t many in the bedroom, the ones she did find were probably trying to escape the bombs. She almost wanted to kiss the empty little cans, but thought better of it. The thought of all those roaches running amok through the walls still made her laugh.
After the sweep up, she checked all the cupboards and began cleaning them out as well. Ironically, there weren’t many clean dishes to pull out, Joanie was amazed to find how much better the place looked within the space of an hour. She thought about taking a shower, but the tub was one place she forgot to check, and sure enough, there were bodies there as well. So she washed her hands and face and decided to head out for lunch.
It was only after she got downstairs that she remembered the answering machine. Whatever was on it could wait she thought, probably just hate messages from irate tenants. If so, I’m going to save that tape and play it at parties, she smirked.
* * *
Sam awoke to discover two fuzzy forms asleep on his stomach. He reached down calmly and petted Sneezy, she tensed at first but then relaxed, apparently Sam hadn’t lost his touch as a cat charmer. He got up slowly, easing them onto the futon. He only hoped that they remembered where the litter box was.
He felt good, exceptionally good, in fact he felt like he had been completely revitalized. The dream! The memory of it was so strong that it made him stop in his tracks. Had it just been a wet dream, brought on by feeling lonely and hard up. It didn’t seem like that, it had started out like all his other dreams, in that house with Joanie. He had talked to her this time and she had known who he was! What amazed him more was what had happened next. Did she really have sex with him on the floor of the den, or was that just a fantasy on his part?
What’s more is, what did it mean in the cosmic scheme of things? Not much, except for maybe the email message. What was it? The past was an illusion… No, the past was a fiction! And I shouldn’t let that fiction stop me from experiencing the future I wanted.
What was that though? Sam knew now though, he wanted the Joanie that he made love to last night back in his life. He wanted the creative, fun loving person who played incredible music and greeted life with fire in her eyes. That was the future he wanted, and that was where he would put his energy.
Sam hopped into the shower, he would head straight to the apartment after breakfast. If Joanie wasn’t there he would start cleaning it up, if she was there, he would talk to her and decide for himself from that point. It was only when he was washing his hair that the 3:00 part of the message hit him.
Now what? Should he wait it out? It wouldn’t be that long, he might actually finish his project before that time. He didn’t usually take dreams literally, but this hadn’t been any other dream, this was one hell of an experience. He had to admit, the one person who he wanted to talk about this with, was Joanie.
“Okay universe, I’ll wait until three. I do hope you meant PM!” The only answer he got was from Nova, who was looking for some fresh food.
* * *
Lunch consisted of a pizza-burger deluxe with extra marinara sauce for dipping the fries in. Joanie loved diner food (who didn’t) and it was one of the few good things about living in Queens. She tried to take her time eating, but two days without food had taken its toll. She scarfed down the meal and even had pie for dessert.
It was about 1:00 when Joanie returned to the apartment. She continued to clean, scrubbing old dishes, cleaning out the tub, mopping the floors, and even flipping the mattress. It was while she was working in the bedroom that she noticed her violin case sitting on the floor under the desk.
Picking it up, she almost wanted to cry. She couldn’t believe that she had allowed dust to accumulate on it. In her whole adult life she had never gone more then a few days without playing. How the hell had she let herself go for months?
She opened the case, feverently hoping the roaches hadn’t gotten inside. Fortunately, they had not, she plucked one of the strings to test the tuning, it had lost tension, which was only to be expected after such a long time. She made a few adjustments, and then began to play.
The rush of energy she felt was almost like the orgasm she had experienced in the car. She had started with one of the simpler sonatas but was building up at a feverish pace. BANG! BANG! BANG! Her wonderful neighbor already began pounding the walls in protest.
Joanie laughed almost maniacally and played even faster, running through every piece of music she could remember, and improvising in between. She played furiously, tuning out the neighbors complaints, even using the steadier poundings as a beat for her playing.
Tears of joy and frustration streamed down her face as she played. She was home, not in this shit-hole apartment that they had rented, but here in her music. This was her core self, her true being, being separated from this had probably been far more damaging to her then Stormy’s death had ever been.
She played a lament for Stormy, starting out with Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend” and following it with an improv of her own. She cried as she played, slowing her pace to a sweet ode, sending him love and energy as he went on to other incarnations. Then she moved back into a dance of joy, using a melody she had invented as a child and playing it with all her heart. When she finally finished, she bowed with a flourish to her imaginary audience. Joanie jumped however to the sound of real applause coming from the other room.
It was Sam, he stepped quietly into the doorway looking better then ever. He seemed to be glowing with power, very much like the Sam in her dream this morning.
“That was incredible.” He said.
“Thanks, I didn’t know you were even here.” Joanie felt flushed, a little embarrassed to have found out that she wasn’t alone.
“I got here about 15 minutes ago, right at the stroke of three.” He paused momentarily to see if that meant anything. “It’s great to hear you playing again, how did you get the neighbors to quiet down?”
“I flooded them with roaches!” Joanie chortled. “There’s a letter on the counter from the landlord, we’re being evicted!” She said it with glee and danced a little jig.
“You know, I should be worried about this, but I’m not.” said Sam. “We should have left this dump behind us a long time ago.”
Joanie looked at him, “it’s good to see you.” Was all she could think to say. She didn’t dare tell him about the dream last night, but she wanted to so badly. She also wanted to relive it right now.
“You too. Let’s talk, he motioned toward the living room.
He had an open can of Coke on the coffee table, and another one sitting there for her.” I’ve had a lot of time to think, and a lot of wild stuff happen over the last few days, and I’ve finally been able to become clear about what I want.”
“A friend reminded me that the past is a fiction, and that I shouldn’t hold myself hostage to it, that makes a lot of sense to me. What I want, is for us to have a new relationship, one very much like the old one was before we moved here.”
“I’ve had a lot of time to think as well.” Joanie said. “I do want to apologize for my behavior over the last few months. I didn’t realize what a hold those pills had on me, I give you credit for putting up with it as long as you did, although it may have been better all around if you gave up sooner.”
She looked into his eyes, strong, level and steady. “I agree with you. I want to create a new relationship as well, one that is very much like our prior one, but I can’t do it here. I don’t think I can stay in this place another night.”
“I wouldn’t want you to. You should be free to play your music, we should have broke the lease the minute the neighbors started to whine. I don’t care if we have to squeeze in my studio for a few weeks, we’re not staying here anymore!”
Getting up from her chair, Joanie took his hands, “let’s do a Power Focus for money!”
“I’m way ahead of you.” Sam held out two lottery scratch-off tickets. “Grand prize is one hundred thousand dollars.”
They stood in front of each other, his left hand in a fist, her right hand covering it, and reversed the pattern on the other side. Each of them opened themselves to the power of the universe, feeling the energy flow between them, rotating faster and faster until it shot off into the universe carrying their intentions along with it.
Joanie had a penny in her pocket and began scratching hers first, Sam had to scrounge around a little before he found a nickel, and started as well.
“Nothing on this one.” announced Joanie, crumpling it. She remembered the answering machine as Sam scratched his.
“Hey! We won ten bucks!”
“Cool,” Joanie’s lackluster response was due to the first message on the tape. It was from a realtor from Joanie’s old neighborhood.
“Sorry Sam, I was just trying to hear this message. Apparently someone is finally interested in that lot my dad wanted.”
Years ago, when Joanie first became proficient at reality creation, she decided to go to Atlantic City with one thousand dollars. Her plan was to create enough money for herself so that she would never have to struggle again. She would invest her winnings wisely and live off the interest when she needed to.
The first few hours at the slot machines were pretty discouraging. Joanie had gone through two hundred dollars already and that was only on the quarter machines. On top of that she found gambling to be so damn boring! She decided to upgrade to the ten dollar machines, get this crap over with and have a nice dinner.
She got twenty of the ten dollar tokens and planned to use the rest of the money for dinner and shopping. She picked three machines in a row and played them all at once for fun. Nothing happened, but she got a laugh out of all the motion anyway. She chose the center one and named it Bob. She promised Bob that if he let her win big, she would give him a kiss. Apparently Bob wasn’t really into humans, because he didn’t so much as spit out a single token.
Mabel, the machine right next to Bob turned out to be very friendly though, Joanie won a hundred dollars with her second token. She continued to win small steady amounts for quite a while, recovering all the money she had spent since she got there. Joanie’s winnings hovered around the break even point for another half hour, and then the machine just went nuts.
Joanie thought she had broken it at first. Lights flashed, the bells went off, and then the money just came pouring out of it. Attendents were over in moments helping her gather the tokens. She never thought they would stop flowing, apparently Mabel had been storing them up for a very long time.
When Joanie left Atlantic City, she vowed never to return. She liked the idea of walking away a winner, and wanted to keep it that way. She also kept her promise about investing the money, except for the chunk her father asked for.
Her dad was a great guy, and had died of a stroke just two years ago, but when he was alive he always thought he was God’s gift to money making. When he heard about Joanie’s winnings he pleaded for her to lend him some so that he might buy a piece of property that was being auctioned. Joanie thought the idea sounded good and lent him the money, not thinking to look at the property he was bidding on first.
Joanie figured it was a house, or at least some sort of storefront, instead it was a lot, and a small lot at that. A piece of useless dirt, surrounded by other pieces of useless dirt. When her dad died, he left her the lot in his will, and she promptly put it up for sale. The inheritance tax along with the property tax was a drain that she didn’t particularly care for.
Now, it seemed that somebody wanted to buy it. She would try to remain professional, and not just take the first offer, but in truth she would trade it for food stamps if she could.
She called her agent, who explained to her the situation. Sam had been walking around the house with a paper towel, picking out the dead bugs that had been in odd places.
“We should just burn all the furniture.” he said, but she waved for him to be quiet, she was having trouble hearing.
“Uh, huh. Well that does sound fair, tell them I’m definitely interested”
She hung up the phone carefully and then turned very slowly to face Sam.
“They’re offering a half a million dollars for that useless lot my dad bought!”
“Wow! COOL! exclaimed Sam
“Yeah! Some developer is buying up that whole section.”
“Damn we are good! That took us what,” Sam glanced at his watch, “about 5 minutes to create. I think that’s a new record!”
“I have an idea, lets blow this dump and spend the night in a nice hotel!”
“That sounds great, but I’ll need to stop at the studio.” Sam said “I have some guests staying there and I think you should meet them.”
“Guests? In your studio? What have you been up to?” Joanie was truly puzzled, Sam rarely let anyone into his sanctum sanctorum.
As much as she bugged him, he kept his mouth shut the entire way into the city.
As they entered the studio, Joanie saw a black flash run off of the drafting table and scurry into the kitchen. Sneezy remained sitting on the table as if trying to look innocent.
“These two were orphaned behind the back door. I named the black one Nova, after the super hero I liked as a kid. See the star shaped white mark on his chest. This one I’ve been calling Sneezy, but I don’t think that’s her name.”
“It’s Hope.” said Joanie as she picked the kitten up. She looked it over and said, “she’s a female, that confirms it, her name is definitely Hope.” She let Hope rub against the underside of her chin. “And together they are “New Hope” how appropriate is that!”
Sam had retrieved Nova from the kitchen and the two kittens got into tumbling again. “It’s perfect.” he said. “Some how it always is.”
* * *
Epilogue 1 (In the probable reality down the street)
Sam woke up feeling Joanie pressed against him. He pulled himself up and stepped quietly to the floor.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
“Fine.” he answered. “I just remembered that I left the cat out, and its starting to rain.” Sam walked down the carpeted stairs, feeling an odd déjà vu as he noticed the woodgrain in the paneled wall. He made his way to the back door, hearing the irate meows of an unhappy cat in the yard.
“Do come in James, the kitchen is a mess. I do hope you waxed the car while you were out there.”
James looked up and meowed once, demanding some food to compensate for being left out in the rain.
James had turned up on their porch shortly after Stormy had died of feline lukemia. Both of them had been heartbroken, but James had helped fill the void nicely. James was given his name because he looked like he was wearing a tux. He had a white triangle on his chest and four white paws. He was fussy about staying clean, even by cat standards, and loved to work in the garden. Well, actually he loved to hunt in the garden.
After providing him with some apology food, Sam went back up the stairs and re-joined his wife in bed.
Epilogue 2 (In the Forest Hills Psychiatric Hospital)
Florence Jacobi was considered a hopeless case. She had been taken off the streets four months ago and placed inside a safe room. She was extremely violent, lashing out at both herself and others. She would spend nights screaming in rage until she fell hoarse, then she would wait impatiently for her throat to heal so that she could do it again.
She was a tall woman, thin and anemic from poor eating. Her face though always looked bloated, the skin pinched around her eyes. Her gray hair still had streaks of blonde running through it. It had been long when she arrived, but cut shorter so that the staff could comb it, it stuck out from her head in odd angles.
Recently though, there had been a change, one night, she had just stopped screaming. And while the doctors were extremely cautious, they found her to be much more manageable. She began talking for the first time since she had arrived there. When she was asked about the dramatic change in her behavior, she would only reply that she had nobody to hate with anymore and that the face in the mirror was gone.
Epilogue 3 (Somewhere in the Bronx)
James stood on one foot, wobbling a bit but learning to maintain his balance. He heard his mother coming up the stairs and walking down the hall to his room. Even as she knocked on his door, he held his focus, feeling the energy burning into his thighs. He never thought of himself as a martial arts person, but the concept of Tai Chi Chuan as “meditation through movement” seemed the perfect match for him.
Marcy Havelar opened the door to see her son balancing on one foot. “A package came for you.” She placed the large tube on his dresser and closed the door quickly, she was so glad to have her son home and taking care of himself that she was afraid of doing something to ruin it.
“Oh Wow! Mom, you’ve got to see this!”
James had unrolled the picture inside the tube and was holding it on the bed.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. And it was, there was a large eye in the middle of the picture with various scenes all around it. In the center of the eye was some sort of explosion.
“That’s my eye.” said James. “I met the guy who made this one day in the city, and he asked me if he could use my eye in his photograph. That’s a lightning bolt in the center too, it exploded right over us while he was photographing the sky. Amazing isn’t it?”
“It’s incredible. I had no idea, I always worried about you when you were in the city.”
“Well, to be honest you had every right to be, I was pretty messed up, but that’s over, I’m a different person now.” James face felt hot as he spoke, but it felt good saying it. He had avoided his mother until now, partly out of fear of retribution for his wild behavior, and partly out of fear of his own feelings.
Marcy Havelar looked at her son, fighting her tears of relief and joy back. “It’s good to have you home.” She hugged her son and cried, James hugged her back, overwhelmed with the sense of relief that his mother still accepted him, that even at his worst he hadn’t alienated her forever.
(c)2000, John J. McNally. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy or distribute without the author’s permission.
About the author: John J. McNally ( email ) enjoys writing from the perspective that everything is possible, and very likely to happen. He owns the Mind Altering Fiction website and is co-owner of the Conscious Creation website with his partner Kristen.