When Walls Do Talk

“If walls could talk,” they say. I don’t remember the rest of the quote, but really, what would they tell us about what they hear? Good stuff from friends; bad shit from enemies. Now that’s what we’re really thinking of. The dirt, the inside scoop, the secret plans that our asshole bosses are making, because they have low self-esteem, are insensitive and narcissistic. What if it’s not that cut and dried? What if the walls chatter all the time about inane and nonsensical stuff?

My walls do talk and before you quit reading because you think I am full of shit, let me tell you what happened. I was making some fish stock from some giant carp I was given at a food shelf. (I had responded to an ad through the workforce center about free fish). As I simmered the fish, including head and bones, the steam rose up and unstuck the 3M tape I had used to tack my Depression glass plates to the soffits in my ancient basement galley kitchen apartment. Well, when the tape let loose, the one of the plates fell down, hitting the ladle in the soup pot. As it connected with the ladle handle, the force of the contact flipped the ladle out of the pot and onto the floor. Fortunately the plate landed in the stock pot and did not break.

I had been in the other room when I heard the clatter, got up and went into the kitchen to see what had happened. There was fish broth on the counter and on the floor, but the floor was quickly cleaned up by my one of my little dogs. I climbed up on the counter to see what had caused the hook to give way. It was condensation from the cooking process. I then decided to pull the 3M hooks off the soffit entirely and come up with a different way to hang my treasures.

Because of the age of the building, the surface of the soffit had many layers of paint that had over time fused together as a thick layer resembling skin or hide. As I attempted to pull the hook off the soffit, the paint pulled away like taffy, but did not release. As I continued to pulled, the paint reached the end of its tensile value and the hook let loose, taking some of the paint with it and leaving a small hole in the paint layer. At the moment that the hook and the stuck paint were freed from the soffit, I heard a hiss coming from the hole in the paint. It reminded me of someone’s sharp intake of breath.

“Creepy.” I thought, and forgot about it, my mind trying to find a different way of remounting the plate and the other treasures attached by the same method.

That night, I awoke to the sound of breathing. It was soft and rhythmic and it wasn’t coming from my cat or the two shiatsus sleeping peacefully on my bed. My windows were closed, no sirens sounded and my dogs did not seem to notice anything. I went back to sleep.

Over the next couple of weeks, the sound of breathing continued. Sometimes it came as panting, gasping and the languidness of sleep. I started a tape so when I was away from the apartment, I could listen to it to see if what I heard was really happening. I could still hear it and also had a friend listen, to which she confirmed that she could hear it too.

I don’t know why I wasn’t frightened. The animals didn’t sense any menace. Maybe that was why. It was intriguing and I thought it could be some vent that allowed sound to travel from another apartment. Some of my peace was shaken when the breathing began to change and sound like words being mouthed. Okay, I admit I was getting really creeped out, by the moaning and hissing sounds.

One evening as I sat at my computer to write, drinking wine and actually playing solitaire instead, I lost my patience with the noise and by the niggling fear.

“Will you just stop with the loud breathing? It’s getting annoying.” The room went totally silent, and then soft breathing began again. The thing is that it didn’t matter what room I was in, the sound and the presence was the same. I had looked for vents and microphones, but there was just nothing there, except “the presence.”

The presence now felt sad and…what else…frustration? Yes, sadness and frustration. I quit pretending to write. I remembered when this whole thing had started, when the hole in the soffit hissed when I pulled the hook off. I walked away from the computer and put my hand on the wall.

“Hello Wall.” The breathing became quicker and the wall under my hand quivered. “Are you alive? Are you trying to speak?” Again the breathing picked up and the wall paint quivered under my hand. We worked out the beginning communication, as I began with the same questions.

“Are you alive? Breathe and quiver.

“Are you in the wall?” Breathe and quiver.

“Can you talk?” Silence.

“Do you understand what I am saying?” Breathe and quiver.

“Do you think you could talk?” Breathe and quiver.

“Should I be afraid of you?” Silence.

“Yea, right,” I thought. “That was a stupid question. If it was evil, it wouldn’t show its hand, not that it had any hands that I knew of.”

“Do you have a name?” Silence.

“Would you like a name?” Breathe and quiver.

“How about just calling you Wall?” Breathe and quiver.

There was a peaceful silence that I understood as the wall getting a feel for its name. I got to thinking about the computer in the old movie 2001 Space Odyssey.

“How about Hal?” by now I didn’t need to keep my hand pressed to the wall to understand its pulse. First there was silence, and then there was a raucous vibration bouncing around the room.

“Are you laughing?” Breathe and quiver.
“So you understand where the name came from and you think it’s funny?” Breathe and quiver.

“Are you Hal?” Silence. Again, I thought “Yeah right.”
“Ok.” I continued. “I have a few more questions and then we can work on helping you to speak. Next question, do you live in the wall and crawl around from room to room?” Silence.

“Do you live in the ceiling?” Silence.

“So where do you live? Silence.

“Does your silence mean no or that you aren’t alive.” Silence.

“Does it mean you don’t know how to answer the question?” Breathe and quiver.

“One more question, when you are breathing and I can hear it, can the rest of the building hear you?” Silence.

“Are you sure?” Breathe and quiver.

“Ok, let me think a bit about how this could work.” I sat for a good twenty minutes before I came up with a solution.

“I got it.” I said. “I know you can control your breathing, and you can read, or however you understood the Hal thing.” Breathe and quiver.

“So let’s start with the letter ‘H’. That’s like breathing out, so if you breathe out, like ‘huh’. Try that.”

It did and eventually it learned to talk. The process was long and tedious and I don’t want to bore anyone with it. There was one issue that bears sharing that happened in the very beginning with the ‘H’ sound. We worked on Hi, ha ha, Hal and hello.

As Hal practiced, I was afraid that I had let loose a nightmare. He sounded more like a spook, saying “Ha ha ha and heh heh heh and Ha-l Ha-l Hal. Finally he-l l l l, hel l l l, hel l l l o o o o. It was just plain creepy.

Hal and I talked a lot about what it was like to be a non-human sentient being. What it was like to not be able to talk before, whether he knew of any other walls that could talk and how far he was able to be part of the building.

He said he had been aware of himself becoming awake when they began building this building; that he was only able to be part of this building, but that he could see his surroundings and the people within and around his building. If there were any other “Hals” he was unaware of them.

We’ve been getting along pretty good for the last couple of years. Because of Hal, I am quitting my day job, and retiring early as a writer. I will focus on my writing and maybe travel for pleasure a little. Today I came home, dropped my purse on the floor, flopped onto the couch, hugged my pets and said hello to Hal. This has become a daily routine.

“How was your day?” Hal begins. By the way Hal does not sound like Hal from the movie. Hal is not male or female. Hal sounds like an elf, with humor and a little mischief, and usually pretty happy.

“Okay,” I responded. “But you know the truth, it doesn’t matter how hard they try to be fair and humane, I don’t like working in the corporate world.”

“I know, and you don’t like the politics and greedy office games.”

“Oh that’s a good one, Hal,” I responded. “Greedy Office Games. I might have to use that.”

“Thank you.” Said Hal.

“Welcome,” I responded. “What about your day?”

“It was good.” Hal said. “You know Julie in Apt 202? Well she was curled up on her couch, when her cat chased a mouse up across her leg, up the back of the couch, up the wall and out through a crack in the window. The cat followed as far as it could go, scratching her Julie’s leg as it pursued the mouse. Julie freaked out, knocking her coke onto her magazine; hitting her head on the bookshelf and giving out a little squeak that sounded just like the mouse that started the whole thing. I laughed so hard I almost made her walls quiver.”

We had a comfortable friendship, but it wasn’t always this way. I keep coming back to that first year of adjustment. The damned wall never slept. It kept talking excitedly about things in the past. I could understand never having another being to talk to, to question, or to relate to, even though Hal had never known it wanted that. Hal had been perfectly content to be a wall, until I ripped open the paint and started the nightmare.

“Did I tell you about the people in 306? They were part of the mob!” This comment at two in the morning, after I repeatedly said I needed to sleep.

“Shut up!” I said.

“But it was really scary and exciting!”

“I don’t care. Shut up!” It was quiet for a while in the room and just as I was falling asleep, Hal started up again.

“Well that’s rude.” There was a pause. “Saying shut up.”
Another pause from Hal, “I would never say shut up to you. Why you might ask? It’s because I love you, Leanne. I really, really love you. You are a perfect friend, you gave me a voice. Now you don’t want me to use my voice? Well that hurts my feelings. There are years of memories that I want to share with you, my perfect friend.”

I bury my ears under the pillow to drown out another monologue and I actually fall asleep. This has been going on for months, so maybe I am becoming immune to it. I also know that I have to deal with the wall’s peevishness when I wake up.

“Good morning, my darling friend.”

“Good morning,” I mumble with toothpaste in my mouth.”

“I am glad you have the gift of sleep. Unlike me, who has to stay awake all night, watching over you and your beloved pets, while you slumber in your innocence. I listen to your snores and your farts, but do I complain? No, because I love you! You are so beautiful, to me.” Hal starts singing Joe Cocker’s rendition of the song with the same name.

I never knew I could get my morning routine done as quickly as I have learned to do. I am out in half an hour, but not before more of Hal.
“Are you leaving? Again? You just left yesterday. Why do you have to leave again today? Why do you have to leave me alone again? I’ve been alone for soooooooooo long.”
Hal starts to wail.

“Hal,” I say. “We’ve been through this so many times before. I have to work; I need to sleep at night. I am not wall, like you. This wailing isn’t going to help. You’re just trying to manipulate me. Now stop your psycho-blubbering and keep your voice down or someone will hear you in the halls.

Hal keeps on blubbering, softly now, as I lock the apartment go up the stairs and out the door, until I can’t hear it anymore. You see, I often taped Hal during the day, and as soon as I would walk out the door, Hal stops the fake crying, and sometimes actually laughs.

“Well, that didn’t work.” Hal says. “I need her attention! I need her to understand how upsetting it is to not have her here all the time. There must be a way. I must think!” Hal talks to the pets, which totally ignore it.

After a short silence, Hal says, “I do like the imagery of ‘psyco-blubbering’. Hal giggles.

Sometimes Hal tried the silent treatment, but that never lasted long. After never having a voice to having one and having someone who would listen and not run screaming out of the building, Hal couldn’t keep quiet for long.

One time Hal decided to try opening the conversation to someone else in the building. It came back to me laughing so hard, the entire apartment quivered. When it could finally talk without going into another fit of laugher, it explained what had happened.

“Well, I started out by saying hi Danny, my name is Hal, and I am your wall.”

I stopped what I was doing, trying to picture where this was going. “Which apartment? Is it the Danny that’s about forty, the security guard?” I asked. “Ok, so what happened?”

“Well, he sat there for a while looking around. I said hello again, and he asked me if it were God speaking. I told him no, that I was a sentient being that just learned to talk.”

“…and your name is Hal, like the 2001 Space Odyssey?”

I said, “Yes. That’s my name, but I am a wall, not a computer.” I started to tell him how I got my name and how I started talking, but he interrupted me by looking around and saying, this is bullshit and he jumped off the toilet and ran toward the door, but he tripped and fell because he hadn’t pulled up his pants. Then he ran out the door, making a funny little keening sound. If I could pee, I would have been laughing so hard I would have peed on my own doorstep.”

The walls were quivering again. “… and … and you know how he likes to go out dressed like a woman? … well when he tripped, he fell on his belly … and his wig fell off … and one of his pumps flew off and … and his skirt flipped up in the back and showed off his rather cute bum!”

I was silent, picturing Danny’s shock and predicament. The apartment was silent, and then Hal gave a great sigh of contentment. I shook my head and my smile broadened to a chuckle. Hal started to giggle and by the time we were both sated by laughter, I had tears in my eyes and Hal was quiet for the rest of the evening (with the exception of a giggle or two. It was the closest I can imagine to Hal sleeping).

There is one more incident that helped set the compatible existence that we enjoy now. It too was during that early tumultuous time. Hal, I think was afraid of being the silent being it had been since its beginning, and when I wasn’t there, I don’t think it was comfortable with solitude anymore.

Hal threatened to not let me leave the apartment. Now that made me afraid. He threatened to hurt my pets, and that made me mad.
Then he threatened to bar the doors and windows so I couldn’t get out, I didn’t know if he could actually do that. I think Hal could, but I would never tell him that. I told Hal that I would scream and scream until someone let me out. Hal said he would make the walls of my apartment so thick that no one could hear through them. I told him I would die from running out of food and that he would be all alone again. I would be dead and would rot and what good of a friend would I be then?

Hal was being stubborn and adamant that he wouldn’t let me leave. The moment of truth came when I chose to match its dare. I grabbed my pets and my bag and my laptop walked to the door. I was sweating and my hand was shaking. Hal was saying the door knob was hot and that he had connected it to a live electric wire. I grabbed the knob and turned. It opened just fine and we all walked out. The cat was yowling in my arms and definitely not happy to be in an upsetting situation. I could hear Hal say, “oops,” as I called its bluff.

Now I was really angry. I came back in, quietly closed the door, let the pets go, set my bags down and took a couple of deep breaths.

“Don’t you ever do that again!” I said. “If you ever start to threaten, you know what I am going to do? I am going to let the word spread that this place is haunted and eventually no one will ever want to live here again. You know what happens to buildings that are abandoned?”
Hal was crying and sniffing. “No, what happens?”

“They tear them down,” I said with as much drama as I could. “Then where would you be? Dead! Yes, that’s right, dead!”

Hal began to wail and I told him to keep it down or other people would know. I left to go down the street to the Spy House Coffee House on Nicollet Avenue. Before I left, I turned on the tape to see if this was another ruse. I had really scared Hal.

I sat there drinking my latte thinking about how weird all this was. I am leaving an apartment where the walls talk and going to the SPY house. I remembered a conversation I had had with this young man from Siberia, from which he had fled, telling about the new Russian spooks persecuting his people. He told us that his first day in south Minneapolis, while waiting at a bus stop, he hid as bullets were ricocheting around due to gang wars. He was already paranoid because of the culture from which he came, and then the bullets his first day.

Finally, my friend was telling a horrid story to him and me about something he had witnessed as a security guard. This young Siberian thought he was undercover CIA. I realized what was going on and tried to add a bit of humor, saying that this wasn’t the Spy House for nothing. Unless one understands a language like ones mother tongue, humor doesn’t transfer well between cultures and I made the situation worse. I still feel bad about that.

Anyway I sat there at the Spy House Coffee Shop thinking about the damned wall, Hal. I think I scared it enough, unless of course it was all bullshit in the first place. It was time to go home. Hal was contrite and didn’t talk all night.

I awoke sometime around 3:00 am listening to Hal cry softly. “Hal,” I said. “Why do you sniff your nose when you are crying?”

“Isn’t that what you do when you are crying?” Hal said.

“If you have a nose and it’s dripping.”

“Oh.”

“Are you okay, Hal?”

“I am okay and I am sorry.” He sniffed again. “Okay, I don’t have a nose, but it does feel good and right to make the sniff sound.”

“You can sniff all you want, Hal.”

“You’re not going to tell everyone that I am haunting this place?”

“No, as long as you don’t bully me or my pets, things will work out.” I replied.

“How do I know you aren’t trying to keep me to yourself? Maybe it would be better if the world new about me and you don’t want that? Maybe I am God or the Messiah but don’t know it? Maybe you are just messing with my mind?”

“Hal!” I said exasperated.

“Okay, Okay!” Hal said. “I’m just asking.”

“Hal,” I said comfortingly. “We will work this out. We will find a way to live together and both of us to be happy, okay?”

“Okay. Good Night.”

“Good Night, Hal.”

“Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do…” Hal began singing softly.

“Hal!” I couldn’t help laughing; knowing Hal was being its silly self.

Hal giggled and fell silent.

We did work it out, which is why I can write about this whole experience. We do our own thing, but we reserve a certain amount of time each day and let Hal talk. I write everything down and publish his stories. I publish under my name of course. I write about the events that have touched the lives of those that have lived in this apartment building. My writing is well acclaimed. I have paid off bills and student loans. I purchased an RV so I could be an old hippie, but instead of a Volkswagen bus, I travel in comfort, with my sweet pets.

Hal gets lonely. My friend Angie comes in and stays. I have also introduced Hal to a fledgling writer named Heather. Heather and I got to know each other at a book signing. She is my perfect replacement. She and Hal actually have a better relationship than Hal and I did, but Heather didn’t have to go through the hell either.

Tomorrow I am going to tell Hal that I am going to be leaving the apartment. I think it will be an easy transition because of Heather. I will come back and visit and I can never thank Hal enough for coming into my life. I will work on my half finished novels and am looking forward to the future, without another Hal in my life.

Leanne Lemire
2013

Leaving Planet Earth

Leaving Planet Earth

Today is my big day. I am leaving planet earth for good. I don’t know if it’s because of anticipation or fear, but my hands are shaking so badly I can hardly hold my pen. The Carina Dwarf Galaxy (CDG) Counsel wants us to keep a journal, for prosperity’s sake, because we are the first generation to make a different planet our permanent home.

We will never be coming back and I am thinking about the finality of it and not saying goodbye to anyone. We will just not exist here anymore, but I also fear the unknown “what-ifs.”

My “Big Adventure,” as I have been calling it, started about seven years ago, when my best friend Julie became very distant and aloof. We had known each other for fifteen years. I am divorced and have one grown daughter. She had two children by her first marriage but her ex is a stalker, always keeping track of what they are doing. Even with a restraining order, Julie can’t completely let her guard down.

Julie is married again and her new husband is very protective of her, but to completely disappear would be the coup de grace for her. Her ex will be using every resource available to find her and his daughters, but with all the others missing at the same time, they won’t give him the time of day.

There will be approximately a quarter of a million of us leaving in the blink of an eye. Maybe Nostradamus will have already prophesied this or maybe some will think it is the rapture. Maybe this is really the rapture and this is our Eden.

Anyway, back to the “Big Adventure.” Why was Julie being so aloof? I called her on it to which she apologized, and then she went to great lengths to prove our friendship was secure. But still, there was something wrong, so I reasoned with myself that she could have other friends besides me and maybe I was just jealous. I let it go.
One weekend, while her husband was out of town, she invited me to spend the weekend. This was no new thing and when I arrived she had the traditional cheese, crackers and margaritas waiting for me. Julie was nervous this time and said she needed to talk to me. Did her ex find a new legal way to stalk her? Was she having an affair? Was she dying?

“If you could leave this planet and start over,” she began, “on a clean planet with better technology then we have, I have two questions for you. Would you go and who would be the most important people you would want to be there with you?

“In a heartbeat,” I said. “I would want my daughter and her family to be there, and you and your family, of course. What’s this all about? I’m the science fiction buff, not you. I’m surprised that you would use this genre of fiction to begin a hypothetical question.”

Julie was serious and since I don’t want to go into the mind-bending discussion that brought me around to believing her, I will skip ahead a bit. No wonder she had been aloof for so long, she had been struggling with this same issue herself. She also wanted me to be there with her and could not tell me until I had been approved by the CDG Council.

Carina is a planet in the CDG. It was found and development began about 100 years ago. As for my small part, since I and my offspring were accepted I have spent all my thoughts and energy in helping prepare for today. This day has been years in the planning for many people.

Who was I that I should be accepted, for to be sure I was accepted long before I was approached…and so was my daughter, her hubby and her children. I guess it all started with Julie’s son-in-law and his family. Max had met Julie’s daughter in college and they both had gone on to become professors.

I guess this process is all word of mouth, since he was approached by another professor, and so on. He and his family had been accepted and then he had petitioned for Julie and the rest of his family. Once that had been done and they had accepted, then Julie could invite whom she would, and so on. Once our children were accepted, they could apply for whomever they wanted. My daughter had applied for her father, who was turned down, which was fine because he thought we were all nuts anyway.

There was a radioactive tag added to my drink the night Julie approached me, and if I had turned the proposition down, a serum would have also been added. This serum would have acted like a fire on a long fuse and would have burned away any memory or conversation regarding planet Carina. That is how the CDC ensures secrecy.

Now I have 30 minutes until I step across my private portal to Carina and I need a stiff drink. I also need to think clearly. What a dilemma. Well, I don’t have anything stronger here then water, in fact there isn’t even a glass left here in my apartment. Everything has been sold or given away. Guess if I’m really thirsty I’ll have to stick my mouth directly under the kitchen faucet. I begin watching the seconds tick by and I think I can even hear the ticking, even though there is no sound in here.

I love Carina. She is pure and virginal and we have made an oath to protect her and keep her that way. A little over a hundred years ago Adam L’Trey, a scientist, had discovered the galaxy, found her planets and discovered a way to land in quicksilver time. L’Trey utilized the most brilliant minds to explore her. She has been monitored and has been quantified so we will not change her delicate bio-balance. French will be our national language because Adam, the first man to land on her, was French. My French is very rough, but I know it will get better as time goes on.

All people groups from planet Earth have been included. We are democratic and it has been exciting to be part of the molding and merging of people and cultures on this new world. I just don’t know how to ease my gnawing doubts and fears. I have 13 minutes left and I feel like I need to throw up, or go to the bathroom. I can’t stand still or sit. This journal is getting more difficult to write.

Why am I so afraid? I have seen nothing but good things and have noticed no red flags or danger signals. But what if this was all a joke? What if we’ve been given some hallucinogenic drug, just to get us to give all our money to some evil group of people? I mean, if they can put something in our drinks that trace back and destroy specific memories, why couldn’t they do that at any time?

Our labor and finances have funded this undertaking and we have absolutely nothing left here on earth. Sometimes I feel like I belong to a cult. What if they, the CDG council just wanted what they could get from us and now we are dispensable? I can just imagine having my memory erased and not having anything of my own, being homeless and begging for aid.

I had a dream last night. Other people were leaving planet earth for some other off-planet destination. They didn’t have the portal like we have to Carina, but there was a long escalator that took them beyond our atmosphere. At that point their “car” would take off, shooting off like a rocket to their ultimate dedtination. Entire families and all their belongings would leave with them. One man changed his mind at the last minute and got out before they were fully secure. He watched his family leave, but not in the way he had expected. It was all a sham and the people were catapulted into space without protection, but the car and all its belongings went down a long elevator, where the merchandise was offloaded for sale and the car was then ready for the next family.

I know it was just a dream, but shit! What if this is all a sham? When I quit smoking cigarettes (I really could use one about now) my strength of commitment was due to the fact that I could smoke at any time if I wanted to. I had a choice there. In this case, there is no turning back. Once I leave here, I can’t come back.

What if I decide not to go, what serum will I unknowingly ingest to erase my memory. They told us that once we leave earth, all portals will be permanently sealed. If that is true, how are they going to stop those of us who stayed behind from talking; that is, if there are a bunch of us who changed our minds at the last minute. How many of us could gather together on this planet and talk about what we know and they couldn’t shut us up?
Does this mean that maybe some of the portals are not closed and they will sneak up and put the serum in something of mine without me knowing it? Would they kill me? Would those of us who remained behind be just another bunch of UFO freaks you read about in some rag? And really, maybe there really are UFO’s, now that I know what I know.

So maybe it’s really an alien group made up of the CDG Council and we will all be enslaved, and how are they going to explain such a large disappearance of people from Earth?

Nine minutes left. My hands are sweating and I’m trying to think of anyone else, besides my best friends (who are actually leaving Earth too), that I would start to miss after a couple of years. For example, what about Corkie Fry in my high school senior bookkeeping class. He let me copy from his test so I could pass the class with a D-. What if I decided he was the love of my life and I had made a mistake by not inviting him (not that I’ve seen him since or even know where he is) and I will be living with that tragedy the rest of my life?

Five minutes left. I feel as though I have tunnel vision, watching the blink blink blink of the second hand. Which place will be a lie to me? Life on another planet or go back to my job as an accounting peon and work for that lousy two-faced supervisor?

Two minutes left and I have to pee.

One minute left. I am standing in front of my teleporter and I will step in when the door opens.

Maybe.

The Snow Globes

The Snow Globes

Sandy looked out the second floor window of her school room at the play of light and wind across the ice coated bare spring branches. First the branches would sway gently with the weight of the ice, then the clouds would disburse for a moment and the entire scene changed from a soft pastel to a bright dancing glittering wonderland. There was still snow on the ground, so the entire scene sparkled and came to light as only fresh morning sun and wind can do.

Her social studies teacher was droning on and on about what? “Wah wah wah wah,” like the voices of authority in a Peanuts cartoon. She should be paying attention, but then she would have to face the problem of how far behind she was in her class, and in fact all her classes. So once again, instead of trying to read her book, her eyes strayed off to the excitement and beauty happening just outside her window.

She discretely looked around at her classmates to see if any of them were watching the magic movements, but they weren’t. They were actually listening to what the teacher was saying. They were writing notes down and were dialoguing with him. Sandy tried again to focus on what he was saying. Nothing had changed; it was the same blah, blah, blah. Her mind was once again on the site outside.

Since snow had fallen after the ice storm, great fluffy clumps came loose and were strewn through the air, creating a snow globe effect. Sandy could imagine herself in the snow globe. She could feel the fresh air and the snow clumps smacking her face and making her laugh. What would happen if she just left the room and went out there to dance and play? Well she knew she would get suspended from school, her dad would use his fists and her mom would use the belt. That wouldn’t be the worst of it, they would start talking again about sending her to a catholic school away from family, with her auntie who herself was a nun. Their hope would be that she would love her new life so much that she would become a nun.

Sandy was smack dab in the middle of a very large family. Money was very tight, and for her parent’s generation, they would “farm” out some of the children to relatives who could afford to care for them. The other option was to prod them toward being a priest or nun. The problem with the spacey middle child and the cost of feeding her would be solved if she went to a catholic school, one that would give her free room and board because she had her auntie there.

They had taken her to her aunt once before, to tour and see if she liked it. It must have been something in her face that had given her away. They just brought her home without saying anything or asking any questions.

Sandy remembered her feelings of claustrophobic (or cloisterphobic, in this case), panic, rejection and loneliness that weighed down upon her as they wandered the lawns and gardens of the place. Sandy smiled at her own humor about the “cloisterphobia” and took a peek at the teacher to see if he had noticed her mind wandering. He wasn’t but he was asking this boy a question. The boy was one of the poorest in the school, and he just kept his head down so he wouldn’t see the laughter on the faces of the other students. Sandy heard the laughter and what the question was that had been directed at David.

“David,” the teacher asked. “Who was buried in Grant’s tomb?”

Silence and snickering followed. Sandy kept my head down too. She didn’t know the answer and was terrified that the teacher would also ask her. She stared at the wart on her thumb instead. The humiliation passed and the episode was behind her. Sandy escaped out the window again, imagining that now there were deer frolicking in the snow globe. Finally the classroom hour was over.

The end of the school year came with a class field trip to the capitol city. On the trip, Sandy stayed staring out the bus window, not knowing how to engage in laughter and conversation with the other kids. They went to a ball game, the capitol, a famous park and finally a souvenir shop before they were to board the busses for home. She wandered around looking at all the little pencils and rocks and little stuffed toys, all in the price range for a child on a field trip. She didn’t want any of them.

Then she spied the snow globes. Most of them were of the capitol in winter, but there was one that caught her attention so completely that she did not hear how much time they had left before having to re-board the busses. This snow globe was her snow globe, with the snow and the icy branches, the deer and a person dancing in the snow.

She knew this was her souvenir, and as she looked up to find a clerk, she saw more globes. Each one was different with a different scene. She wandered down the shelves. They were all so different, each with a different person inside. As she continued, she noticed that some of them were becoming dull and gray. Others were dark and dead looking. One of them had a young child pounding on the inside of the glass as though he was begging to be let out.

She looked back at her own snow globe. It was beautiful with no hint of menace or fear. She turned again with the intent of finding a clerk, when a man stepped into her path. He looked shining and bright, but in him she could only sense darkness.

“So you found your own snow globe,” he said sweetly.

“How much does it cost?” Sandy held the globe tightly to her chest as if to protect it from this man. He didn’t look like a bad man but she was nonetheless afraid of him.

“How much do your hopes and dreams cost?” He replied.

“I don’t know.” She said, concerned that it would cost so much that she wouldn’t be able to buy it.

“I know you don’t have enough money right now, and I do know your hopes and dreams in that snow globe are priceless, but this is what I will do for you. Now don’t tell anyone else because I don’t make this deal with everyone.” He explained. “When you find out what your life and passion is and you start using it, there are two things I would want you to do.”

Sandy nodded hopefully.

“First,” He began. “When you become famous, and you will some day, you will tell people who helped you get started. Is that understood?”

Sandy nodded again. That wouldn’t be too difficult, and it was true, he did give her the globe.

“Second,” The man continued. “I will want one piece of whatever it is you do.”

Sandy was confused.

“Say you become a famous painter, I would simply want you to paint one picture of my choice, and give it to me free. If you become a famous mathematician, I would want you to do one job for me.” He paused for a moment, watching her face. “Does this make sense to you?”

Sandy nodded happily, as this didn’t seem to be too difficult.

“Now I want to be honest with you, those globes that are darker belong to people who didn’t follow through on their bargain with me and they are not very happy anymore.”

Sandy pointed to the darker globes.

“Yes, those.” He said. “They didn’t do what they promised, so I made it difficult for them to take care of their snow globes. You do know how magic these snow globes are?”

Sandy looked back at hers, which once again filled her with joy and wonder. She nodded at him. Yes she knew.

“…and if their globe starts turning dark, they come back to me, since they were mine in the first place.”

“What do you do with them?” she asked.

“I keep them.” He said a bit more darkly. “And I do whatever I want with them.”

“Like what?”

“Here let me show you,” he said as he picked up one of the darker gray ones. “Look at that boy in there. He thought he was so wonderful. Did he thank me for it? Oh no. So you know what I do when he is just putting his globe right?”

Sandy shook her head.

“I shake it up again. You see him in there? He is tired and about to give up.”

Sandy looked at him in shock.

“He never gave me credit for giving him his dream or gave me the one thing that I asked of him, so I am punishing him.”

“He looks like he is dying.” She said with concern. The sweet face of the man turned ugly and Sandy began looking for the exit. “What do you do with them when they are dead?”

“Well, that’s even more fun.” He said as he began backing her further from the exit. “But you would never let that happen to you would you? You would pay me for the gift of the globe wouldn’t you?”

She shook her head, then she nodded, she didn’t know what was happening, but she felt she was falling into a dark place and felt she was going to faint from being near this man.. She did not know why she thought the man was nice before. He was ugly and she was truly afraid.

Just at the point of blackness, a hand came and grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the man’s reach. The man seemed surprised and backed off.

The hand was the hand of an elderly woman who had come on the bus as a chaperone. She pulled Sandy behind her.

“So you thought you could trick another soft soul, didn’t you.” She said sternly. Her voice and stance were so strong that Sandy leaned her face into the woman’s back and clung tightly to her jacket. “What does she owe you for her snow globe?”

“Just leave here, she doesn’t owe me anything.” The bad man backed off, but with a sly look at Sandy, who again hid her face in the woman’s jacket. “She’ll never be any good to me anyway, she is stupid and useless.”

“Oh no, you made an agreement with her didn’t you? You said she owed you for the globe and to give you credit, but you didn’t tell her how much she owed and what credit she had to give you, right?”

The man stared ugly at her, then again looking at Sandy as a hungry animal would look at a cornered rabbit. He didn’t answer.

The woman turned to Sandy, “Is that what he said?” Sandy nodded. “It’s your soul he wants now and when you are dead.”

The precious globe became hot in Sandy’s hands and she went to throw it away from her, but the woman grabbed it before it would drop and shatter. “The gift is a good gift, but the man who tries to own it and you is not good. We will speak more of this later. Protect it.”

“What does she owe you for this?” the woman demanded.

Whatever it was that Sandy owed, it was uncomprehending and very expensive. The woman paid with everything she had in her bag and Sandy could see that she had paid dearly. Tears began as Sandy was lead protectively out of the Souvenir shop. She sat next to the woman as the entourage of busses moved away.

Sandy could tell that the other kids were making comments and that the other teachers and bus drivers were angry. She had no idea how long they had waited for her. She kept her eyes focused on the globe that was hidden in the little souvenir shop bag.

The buses moved on and Sandy fell asleep on the woman who put her arms around her protectively.

Sandy dreamed that she was in her magic globe. It was summer and beautiful, when the older woman entered. She was dressed in stars and pale moon and mist. She sat next to Sandy.

“Hello, my child.” She began. “Now we will talk about your magic globe.”

Sandy nodded, not knowing what else to say or do.

“You have a gift, my loved one. That is what the globe is showing you. It is who you are and what your gift is. Part of your gift is to laugh, love, give hope and laughter. How that looks like as the years go by, even I do not know.”

“Who are you?”

“I work for the Good One.” She said sweetly. “I am not the important one right now, it’s you. Did you know that everyone in this world has been given wonderful gifts from the Good One?

Sandy shook her head.

The woman looked sad. “There is so much sadness in this world and so many that would rob you. The Bad One has many working for him. If you feel you are being forced, threatened or frightened into doing something, it is probably from The Bad One.

But there are many of us who work for the Good One. So you just call the Good One for help and we will be there to help you make the right decision.

Sandy nodded, thinking how beautiful she was and not frail at all. “What about those others that the bad man had in their globes?”

“There are those who belong to the Good One who are working to free them, so don’t you worry about. You need to take care of yourself and your gift. Okay?”

“Okay,” Sandy said, as she knew the lady was about to leave.

“One more thing,” The lady said. “You need to pay more attention in class and learn as much as you can.”

Sandy frowned at this.

“Honey, how will you ever know what your gift is unless you explore all the things that make up this world and this life? Child and remember what I have told you. Remember to ask for help, ask if you don’t understand, ask the Good One to send someone to you, ask for protection and guidance. Good bye sweetness.” And the lady was gone.

Sandy was now half awake and half asleep as she looked at her surroundings. She knew she was still on the bus, the older woman that she had leaned on was gone and her neck hurt from slumping over.

Did that woman really exist? Was it all a dream? She had the snow globe in her hand and could see the shy deer watching from the edge of the forest. What she hadn’t seen before was a girl dancing in the snow. The girl’s coat and hat were the same color as the ones she had worn this past winter. She thought of the bad man and when the fear of him came, she called out to the Good One. Peace came to her and Sandy fell asleep again.

Leanne Lemire 2012

PS This story is dedicated to a beautiful young girl with whom I played with as a child. I met her years later. She was a prostitute. I believe someone had stolen her Snow Globe.

Pushing the Edge of Twilight

Tory could not control his shaking body as he hid in his closet. He could not stop his tears or his running nose. Crying was not manly, and god knew he was coming close to being a man.  The palm of his hand hurt terribly, so he wrapped it in the comforting softness of his blanket. Bringing his blanket into the closet was another non-manly thing to do, but this incident scared him more than he had ever been scared before.

“Breathe deep,” he thought. “Get control of yourself.  You’re safe here.” He was safe here, and he knew it, and as much as he loved being out of doors, this was the first time he blessed the safety of the farm compound. Yet even here he could hear the incessant chirpings of those creatures outside his tempered glass window. This was the first time he had stayed outside at dusk too long and had seen a Kurut without a barrier of protection between him and it. It wasn’t even an entire Kurut that he saw. It was just an eye, but that was enough to send him running to safety.

Kuruts arrived on the North American continent thirty years prior. They were approximately three feet in height and looked like half-cockroach half-praying mantis creatures. They attacked their prey in packs and were ugly, vicious and voracious. They sang as twilight arrived, came out at night and were gone by the first hint of dawn.  No one had been able to rid the North and South American continent of them.

“Koo-Root, Koo-Root, Koo-Root.” As twilight began, the Kuruts sang faint and sweet. Then as the evening darkened, their song turned into a raucous cacophony of sound. Finally, came the hush, where all went silent, until a sudden sound of screams broke the false peace. Some unlucky animal or human would meet their death by being devoured by a murder of Kuruts.

Tory refused to stay cowered in his closet, but as he entered his darkened room, he saw one of the Kuruts pecking at his window. Disgusted, he pulled the shades, snapped an additional night lock on the window, then ran to the bathroom and vomited. He needed fresh air, but that wasn’t going to happen right now. Donning his running clothes, he took off toward the gym to run off his adrenaline and fear. That wasn’t going to work either, because his hand hurt so badly. He thought of showering, but instead he took a strip of gauze and wrapped his injured hand and headed for the dining hall.

“What am I doing here?” he thought, as his eyes scanned the dining hall. “I can’t face people tonight.”

There were at least 30 family units in different stages of dining. Some were just sitting down and others were busing their tables. There were no real rules about where you dined or with whom, and children were running around everywhere. He recalled his own youth and how much fun he had had with his peer group. Most of them were still here and still laughing and hanging out together. They haled them over but he just waved his good hand and continued on to the buffet.

Nothing was appetizing, in fact it was making his stomach feel queasy again, but to put on the appearance of normalcy he grabbed an entree and a salad. On his way out, his mother spied him and called him over to sit with them. He made his excuses and was about to leave, when she noticed the bandage on his right hand.

“You hurt yourself,” she said with concern in her voice. “Let me take a look at it.”

“It’s okay mom, and I can’t stay.” He hesitated at the lie he was going to tell. “I have a lot of homework to finish up.”

“You have homework?” She chuckled. “You’re the brightest kid in your class, and you never have homework. Now come here and let me see your hand.”

“Mom, I’m fine and I need to go.” He looked at the startled hurt that showed on her face. “Sorry mom, I really do need to go. I’ll let the doctor take a look at it, okay?”

When he arrived in his room, he locked the door, hung the ‘do not disturb sign on the door knob, dumped the contents of the tray in the garbage, and turned off his cell phone.

Farming had changed after the arrival of the Kuruts. Instead of individual farmsteads, compounds had been erected for the many the families who had been displaced from their unprotected farm houses.  They merged all the farms and farmland together and now were run cooperatively by the members of the community. They by twilight, everyone was inside the compound, safe from the Kuruts.

No more sitting on the porch in a rocking chair to watch the night arrive. It was hardest on environmentalists and those who remembered what it was like to embrace the night.  It devastated the parks and outdoor economic markets. Yet through it all, there were always those who managed to take advantage of a disaster.

Tory turned on the television, but nothing silenced the insistent nagging of the Kurut issue that had become very personal. Flipping channels he realized that this was a way of life for his generation and frankly, they were fine with it, not knowing what they were missing. Now it was the America’s that were on the rest of the world’s banned list due to this unforeseen contamination.

Staring at his flat screen mounted to the wall, he switched from television to video games. Killing imaginary enemies kept him thinking about Kuruts. It didn’t work to shoot them or blow them up or throw napalm on them. They reproduced on the cell level and created a greater problem when they were blown into pieces. Each piece became another, fully whole, Kurut. If you left them alone, their population did not grow greater than their food source.

Speaking of food source, protecting the food source for humans and for our domesticated animals became the Americas’ utmost priority. Tory couldn’t even begin to grasp the enormity of the damage to the wildlife population, and no one really wanted to talk about it anyway. Restless, he switched to the internet and typed in the word, ‘Kurut’.

He clickedon the Wikipedia link and read the history of the Kurut. He knew most of it by heart, just as every living person knew. What they did not know was where they came from, except that they arrived at the same time a comet came relatively close to the North American continent. He read about the initial devastation to people and how some politicians had said that the Kuruts had at least taken care of the homeless population, as they were the first ones eaten by the Kuruts.

In the beginning everyone was at risk, because the Kuruts could get into any building that had a crack open to the outside. Eventually all windows were replaced with jet glass or Plexiglas. This change came first to the wealthy and then trickled down. Of course those same self-serving politicians claimed that our poverty level was extremely low compared to other countries.

“How crass and insensitive and…” Tory sighed. He thought about the Mafia. “No more cement boots. Got a problem with someone? Just leave them outdoors for a night and the problem was solved.”

He continued to read about the different attempts made to eradicate the Kuruts. Nothing had worked, except protecting ourselves and figuring out how to survive the international trade embargos. Now, the Americas were doing well, in spite of and because of the Kuruts. We were not as reliant on international imports and exports and our borders with Canada and Mexico had softened. Few terrorists wanted to infiltrate either. We were isolated, except through the internet.

He pulled up his “One Notes” software and copied everything he could from the internet. He copied the experiences from emergency vehicles as they were attacked trying to bring people to hospitals or to put out fires. The emergency vehicles were now like armored tanks with extension corridors to allow safe entrance into buildings. The Americas could not even receive aid from other countries because of the potential of these Kuruts hitchhiking on returning ships. Through it all, Tory could not find anything coming close to what he had experienced earlier that evening.

The greatest gnawing question scientists continued to work on is where did the Kuruts go during the day? Tory knew he had an inkling that he was on to something. He pushed his mind to go into whatever that inkling was and knew his first step was to continue pushing that edge of twilight when the Kuruts came out to feed.

He propped the pillows up on his bed as he stared at a picture of a Kurut. Then he chose to go back and relive the day’s twilight experience. In his ecology class he had learned about riparian zones, those small gullies with rich vegetation, where there is a more diverse species population. Water was the operative word. Everything needed water. Tory had been wandering along the edge of a field that had poor cultivation potential. It had been set aside as a riparian zone, but later identified as a place frequented by Kuruts. There were a few noticeable tracks in the snow, but mostly hawk prints as they caught mice from under the snow.

Tory loved being outdoors, but this day he stayed beyond the PTA, the Pending Twilight Alarm. Why? He was a romantic and wanted to know what the poets experienced in the dusk before the arrival of the Kuruts. A small just of wind had picked up, skittering a dried Sumac leaf across the frozen ground. He smelled the night air as it prepared for the cold night to come. He watched how the sky was hazed by the loss of light. It was beautiful and he didn’t realize how late it was until he heard the Kurut sound. He stood for just a moment longer trying to identify the place in the riparian zone that he heard the first faint “KooRoot.” There was the sound again, not three feet away in the young maple tree. By this time his heart was thudding loudly in his ears. He knew he should run, and just as he was about to turn, something glistened in the waning sun.

Tory stooped down so as to be eye level with a large water droplet that was hanging off one of the tree’s lower branches. Not only had it caught his visual attention, but the wrongness of a water droplet in winter had also halted him. It was a little more than three feet off the ground and growing larger.

“Larger?” He question. “What about physics. It should have dropped to the ground.”

Soon the droplet was the size of a ping pong ball. Using the palm of his hand, he gently lifted it and the branch for a closer look, and noticed something dark inside. Tory carefully rolled it in the palm of his hand, squeezing it slightly to get a better look. He was surprised to see an eye bulge out.  It reminded him of the toy eyeball he played with as a kid, where he would squish it just hard enough to see the blood vessels and to make the eye pop out. He wondered how this toy had gotten so far out in the middle of nowhere and stayed stuck to the branch.

He gave it one more squish before turning to run for shelter, but this time he was jolted with fright upon seeing its menacing look. He stopped as though held in a trance, and then his knees began to shake.  The eye was not fake or a toy. It was the eye of a Kurut, and he could feel its vibrancy and energy as it stared back at him. He had never seen something that emitted such foul intent and evil presence. He knew if he didn’t leave now, he was the next meal for the murder of Kuruts that inhabited this riparian zone.

Tory looked at his surroundings as though he had never seen it before. The zone felt alien to him. He could hear the sound of the other Kuruts. There was a chirp here and one closer to the little creek that ran through the brush. As far as he could tell, there were four separate ones and he spied another of the eyes clinging to a branch.

“Now,” He thought, as he threw the eye to the ground. “Go now!” As he turned to run, he gasped at the sudden pain in the palm of his hand. Where the pain was, so was the Kurut. He tried to shake off the Kurut ball and he tried wiping it on his pant leg, but neither action worked. The Kurut ball, now the size of a softball was also stuck to the tree branch.

Tory realized that he had been captured and as far as he knew, there was nothing he could do to get away. His hand felt like acid was eating it away, layer after layer, getting down to the muscles. He saw stars and felt as though he were going to faint. Yet Tory was more afraid of dying by them then he was weakened by the pain.

So Tory made a decision to cut it out of his hand. If he lost the entire hand, it was better than his life. He had heard of people that had done these kinds of sacrifices in the past and he too would do that, if he had the nerve. He took out his pocketknife and began scraping away at the portion connected to his hand. It hurt, but not as bad as the Kurut pain. Then suddenly the Kurut ball let loose. It had eaten through his skin layer so there was little resistance past the edge of the ball. Tory was free and he ran, urged onward by the sounds behind him. He was good in track, but this would have broken all of his best times.

As Tory continued to pump his arms and legs to run faster, the Kurut sound changed from the gentle chirping to the cacophony, which was normal just before the calm and the screams. They knew the race was on. He saw another Kurut sac; it was the size of a basketball. He could clearly see some of the legs and the entire head now as the weight of it bent the branch lower to the ground.

He sprinted the last few feet to the door, which was now sealed against the night. “What’s my pass code!” he muttered as he started punching in numbers. He turned to look back and saw a Kurut running in his direction. “Come on, open up!” he said, dancing from one foot to the other. He heard the click of the lock, jumped inside and slammed the door behind. He put his forehead on the door and caught his breathe. A moment later, he heard the screech of the Kurut as it slammed its body against the impervious door. He could hear the thing scream. Tory had cheated death.

Tory felt sick as he sprinted up the steps to his own room. Once again he punched in his security code and thought about the fact that he had punched this code in daily for years, yet in his panic, he had forgotten it. Restlessly, he paced his room, wrapped himself in his blanket to ward off the shock and the chill. Without thinking, he had jammed himself in his closet and closed the door behind him.

Now back in his room, still sitting on his bed after replaying the whole scenario in his head, he felt the throb of his hand. His blanket was bloodied where he had wrapped it while hiding in the closet. He wondered if he had left a blood trail up the fire stairs when he had fled the entrance. Tory unwrapped the protective gauze and stared at the bloody pulp of his palm.

“This is a nightmare,” He said to himself, as he squeezed his eyes shut, trying not to yell because of the pain.

The edges of the wound were a sickly gray and he wondered if it were dead skin or part of the Kurut. If this was part of a Kurut, then he and the entire compound were in danger, knowing that they could reproduce at the cellular level. He couldn’t keep this hidden so he went down to the medical clinic.

Tonight there wasn’t anyone in the waiting room and the receptionist sent him back to see the doctor. When the doctor examined the wound, she grimaced.

“Oh that’s bad.” She said gravely. “How did you do this?”

He told her everything, including his concern about the gray skin around the edges. The doctor nodded, continued examining the wound, and kept silent for a while.

“Okay,” she said, breaking the silence. “This is what we will do. First, I am going to have to deaden your hand so I can clean and examine it further. I want you to come back here tonight before you go to bed because I want to check it to see if there is any abnormal growth on the edges. Next, this wound is too deep for it to heal properly on its own. We will have to do a skin graft and we should do this soon. So tomorrow morning at 8:00, I want you back here. Since you are underage, you will have to get your parent’s consent.”

“Dr. Bradley, I don’t want to tell anyone how I did this.”

“Right,” She said. “I will bandage it well and I don’t want you to take the bindings off until I see you tonight. What you tell your family is your business and I will respect that. But what has happened here is very important to all of us in the Americas. We need to do more research. In safety of course,” she said quickly. “Let’s use this calamity to everyone’s best advantage.”

Tory nodded in agreement.

“But first,” she continued, “let’s get this taken care of and make sure it heals well, without a hitchhiker.”

Tory went back to his room. He felt weak, and even though he had no appetite, he knew he should eat something. He grabbed some beef jerky, drank some milk and laid down to rest until his next appointment. His hand was numb, so it did not keep him from the sleep he needed.

He awoke later that evening and went down to see Dr. Bradley. There was no identifiable change in the wound so she gave him pain medicine to take home and he slept through the night.

Morning dawned blissfully beautiful. He grabbed breakfast, got an approval slip from his parents and headed back to see the doctor. After removing the bandaging and checking the wound, they sat together in her office to discuss the incident from the previous day.

“I have also been doing research on line, including checking a number of journals. As far as I can tell, there are no records of eye witness reports.”

“Of course not,” Tory interjected. “The eyewitness didn’t live long enough to tell.”

Her eyes twinkled at Tory’s attempt at humor. Then she continued. “There have been analyses on Kurut scat and I have submitted your skin tissue to a friend at the University of Minnesota. I will let you know what the results are as soon as I find out.”

“I will tell you,” she continued. “Your experience has brought some fresh light on where they go during the day and how they devour their prey.”

“It’s almost as though they absorb their victims,” Tory said.

“Yes, and that kind of explains why we don’t even find bones left behind.”

“Everything is absorbed, right?” Tory asked.

She nodded.

“Wow! I would hate to have had a murder of Kuruts eating me cell by cell.” Tory shuddered.

“You are one lucky kid.” She sat for a while, and then she said, “Which brings us to the next event; the large droplets on the branches. There has to be some connection between the Kuruts slowly excreting themselves from the branches and the way they absorb their prey.”

“I wish there was a way to watch them come out.” Tory said.

“And there is the rub; they won’t come out if there is any kind of light.  Even infrared failed.”

“What about going out in your emergency ATV? That’s been Kurut protected.”

“All we would be doing is chasing after the sound of screams, and if we got too close, they would move.” Dr. Bradley continued.

“What if we brought the ATV, stayed inside with the twilight behind them and videoed them coming out?”

“That’s a great idea.” She said. “Are you up for a little excitement and danger this evening?”

A look of panic crossed Tory’s face before he said, “Your sure the ATV is safe?”

“Yes, but it will be a little rocky. I’ve been out in it at night before and they slam their bodies against it, trying to find an entrance. They tipped it over once and I had to stay lying on my side until the sun was up and I could get out and set it upright and head for home. It was a long night and I still get the jitters, thinking that there may have been the tiniest crack or hole somewhere and I would be their next dinner. But the technicians have been out recently and said it was 100% secure, and I haven’t been out in it since, so I know I haven’t made any cracks.”

That night and for many nights after that, Tory and Dr. Bradley sat near the riparian or Kurut Zone and videotaped every action and activity. Although they were attacked by an entire murder of Kuruts, the added weight of Tory’s body kept the ATV from tipping.

During Tory’s recovery period after Dr. Bradley did the skin graft surgery on his hand, the two of them spent many hours reviewing the videos.

In some of their experiments, they cut off the eye droplet to watch the effect it had. True to known experience, the eye reproduced itself into a whole new Kurut. The Kurut that had been hanging on the branch rebuilt its missing eye. They had just added another of those foul creatures to the riparian zone.

“You know,” Tory began. “We now know three things about them.”

“What is that?”

“Well,” he continued. “One, they absorb their prey cell by cell. Two, they can move through tiny cracks, which indicates they can seep into places until their collective cells make them whole again. Three, somehow they do the same thing to hide themselves. They must find cracks in trees to hide during the day.”

They had finally found the connection. After a few unsuccessful experiments and unfortunately adding a few more Kuruts to the murder, they came up with a plan that worked. Just at the moment when the Kurut was almost free of the branch, they cut the branch off of the tree. The branch was place in a sealed Plexiglas box. They watched as the Kurut tried to escape. In the morning, the Kurut had liquefied into a brownish puddle on the bottom of the box. They left the box open the following night but the Kurut did not revive.

At this point, they began harvesting Kuruts from the riparian zone. The box was half full of the gooey mess, which they sealed and brought to the University of Minnesota. They attached the box to the roof of Dr. Bradley’s car. The last thing they needed was to put it in the trunk and somehow the Kuruts came alive again. When they arrived at the University, an entire cluster of emergency vehicles met them led them to a building, where the research would be done. The box was placed in a sealed contamination room, where robotic arms could open the box and analyze the contents.

Dr. Bradley brought their copious notes and their videos, which were reviewed by the scientists. At night, they were guests at a local hotel and during the day, they side by side with the staff. The small pockets of forests on campus were the first place they tested. They were successful and began ridding all three campuses of the Kuruts.  What to do with the waste would be researched and dealt with at a later time.

The world watched their progress and discussions were under way about opening borders if this was the real thing and the danger was being eliminated.  It would take some time, but the Americas seemed to be feeling lighter as hope began to stir in the air. Dr. Bradley and Tory became world renown and both had received grants for further education and study. Tory was offered full scholarships at every notable college in the Americas.

Things had begun to wind down. The media was finally leaving them alone and the kids at Tory’s compound stopped looking at him like he was some super hero. His hand had healed well and even the scars from the skin grafts were beginning to fade. He breathed a sigh of relief, as he turned on his TV to watch an action movie. Compared to the excitement and danger he had experienced in real life, the movie was boring him. So he fell asleep.

Sometime during the night, Tory awoke from a nightmare. He had seen a Kurut eye, just as he had that first time in the riparian zone. He sat up in bed and waited until his breathing was normal. His scarred hand was itching so he turned on the lamp to examine it. The scar edges had begun to turn a sickly gray.

Prozac Moments

We all had them, those days when as a child, you would be whining and blubbering with a tear-stained face, exasperating your mother. But now you’re an adult and somehow you’re supposed to cope better with frustration. You’re supposed to “take it all in stride,” to “not sweat the small stuff.” I don’t know about you, but I was never given any guidebook or tools to instruct or assist me through difficult times.

I am not referring to the days when we experience real tragedy, such as a death or a major illness or a catastrophe. It’s the days when the wicked witch of the west would moan, “Oh, the world!” It would be a day when my little French grandmother would sigh and say, “Ohhhhhh, but I!” (The words don’t mean much, but the sentiment does.) It would be the day you drop the twenty dollar bill and never find it, and then you go home and your child drops the pitcher of milk that shatters and splatters all over the dining room table and then drips down onto the carpet. Or it would be the day that you mistakenly put fingernail glue in your eye instead of eye drops, and when you go home, the late mortgage payment that you finally put in the mail has been returned to you because you forgot to put a stamp on the envelope.

One of my days was during finals week and my apartment was a mess. I was down to my last set of clean clothes – the ones I hated because I felt like such a geek in them. My hair needed cutting, I was out of money and I was behind on my bills. I looked around where my daughter and I lived while I attended the University of Minnesota, and wondered why my life never looked like those advertisements for Kodak. You could never take a picture of my life, put a frame around it and use it as a successful ad campaign for that company.

It was 10:00 a.m., my daughter was off to school, where I too should have been, except I had stayed up doing calculus until 3:00 a.m., and then overslept. I didn’t have a chance to take a shower, and on my way out the door, I slipped on a yellow jellybean. With my backpack full of heavy books, I desperately tried to find a way to fall to the floor so as not to break my back. I got to my feet, took a deep breath and opened the door.

The phone rang and I knew I shouldn’t answer it, but I did. The woman on the other end was from a collection agency. She told me I owed $200.00 to this particular optometrist and that it was her business to see that he got paid.

I was confused and tried to explain the arrangements I had made with him. I listened to her on the phone telling me to pay up, or else. It seemed at that moment that she was saying, “if you think your life is bad now, just try fighting against me!” “Mwwahh ha ha ha ha ha!” I stood looking at the calamity around me, only able to interject into her tirade, the same word over again, “…but…but…but…”

Through my shock, it dawned on me that she thought she had me pegged. To her, I was lazy and selfish. I was stupid but thought I was being crafty by not paying my bills. She was thinking that everything I told her was going to be a lie and that she had heard it all before. She was thinking that all she had to do was bully me and treat me like a very spoilt child to make me pay my bill.

She was wrong and she didn’t know me very well. It was a grave tactical error on her part. I don’t do well with bullying and coercion. I never have, call it a knee jerk reaction. I was instantly alert and all sense of weakness dissipated. I may fall apart after this was over, but not now. If my daughter had seen the expression on my face, she would have called it the “stoneface.” Since being rational and professional did not seem to be the way she handled her business, I was going to beat her at her own bullying game.

I became very calm and started explaining the situation. She interrupted. I interrupted her. She raised her voice and interrupted me. I increased the decibel level and interrupted her. Soon we were shouting at each other. It didn’t really matter what we said to each other as long as we kept it clean, free of insults and could outtalk the other. I knew I was winning.

She said, “If you keep yelling at me, I’ll hang up!”

I said, “That’s the point!”

She hung up.

The silence in the room was palpable. The fight or flight adrenaline rush I experienced in the heat of the argument was draining away, now leaving room for doubt and bleak frustration. Eventually I would find out that the whole thing was a complete misunderstanding and the doctor would call the collection agency to cancel the claim.

Standing with my hand still resting on the phone, I looked around at the still dreary conditions and now I wasn’t sure whether I had made the right decision. I thought of the Kodak picture again.

“No,” I thought, “You wouldn’t want a picture of this.”

It would be quite a sight though. Maybe you could freeze frame this moment in time. Yes, it was a difficult time and at this particular moment I was not very happy, but I knew I had learned some very valuable lessons about trusting one’s instincts and not allowing people to walk over me. I also learned that even though this was another pithy qliche “this too shall pass, ” had some truth to it.

Maybe, whenever I had another day or another event like this, I could put a mental picture frame around it again. It could help me to put the situation into a different perspective, to emotionally separate enough from the event to allow me the opportunity to better analyze it and to keep myself from going totally nuts. Prozac would help too.

Better yet, maybe I could start my own company. You know, take pictures of moments in a person’s life that aren’t perfect or when they felt they were on the edge of going crazy. Maybe I could sell them as motivational cards to encourage people to get through those times or at least embrace their insanity. “Hello insanity, I love you!”

Now it was my turn to sound like a mad scientist as I started to laugh. I could see it all now. I could pay for my student loans with all the money I made, or pay for a shrink who would teach me how to cope. People would call me and thank me for my wisdom and my insight. They would write me letters and tell me they kept one of my cards at their desk because it reminded them of a certain situation that they went through.

I smiled as I closed the door behind me. I was going to be fine, but maybe a little Prozac would help too.

The Ed Sullivan Smile

It was the first time I witnessed this form of mental illness.  He seemed to be pretty harmless, just out of
touch with everyone around him.  In his delusional fantasies, I meant nothing to him, yet his smile changed my perspective on reality.

I saw him sitting at a café table at the bottom of the escalator in the mall.  He placed a chrome napkin holder in the middle of the table and smiled, waiting for his imaginary audience to quiet down.  Then, slowly and deliberately, he circled the salt and peppershakers around the napkin holder, then placed them on the top.  He smiled again and waited for the suspense to build.  Next, he circled with an ashtray and balanced it on top of the shakers.  Finally, he placed a butter knife on the ashtray.  It was clear from the expression on his face that he was confident that his Houdini-like talent had wowed the crowd.

Like a moth to a flame, I was drawn to him.  I don’t know how many times I went up and down the escalators just so I could watch.  It was a grand performance. My 18 year old self from the country was deeply affected.  I wanted to giggle, and yet I felt sorrow for this poor man with his psychological problems. I never realized how out of touch with reality a person could be.  Some time later, I saw him again in a convenience store.  Like a stand-up comedian, he told his stories and waited for our laughter to subside, while he smiled his Ed Sullivan smile.

Ed Sullivan is generally known for pursing his lips and saying he had a “really big shew.”  When he smiled, he would break into a brilliant grin that began and ended at each ear, showing a full mouth of gleaming white teeth.

The man in the store strung numerous words together, but made absolutely no sense.  Most of those who entered were only slightly unnerved by his behavior and the clerk didn’t pay any attention at all to him.  I, on the other hand, lurked around the racks of potato chips and motor oil just to watch this amazing man.  I left feeling vulnerable.

What makes one person hold onto reality, while another lets go, if indeed they had any control in the first place?  I have spent many hours living in a fantasy world because reality can sometimes be boring or difficult.  If I don’t have a lover – or chocolate, I conjure up a great sex plot that can amuse me for days.  If I don’t have money, I win the lottery or Publisher’s Clearing House knocks at my door.  I keep it up until my need passes or I get bored or it’s too difficult to maintain a dual reality.

I have derided myself for not being able to stay in the real world and then quit fantasizing for a while.  But, like an addict, I come back.  I have wondered if a person could get stuck in their fantasy and never be able to return to reality when they chose to.  Is that what happened to the man by the escalator?

I have always yearned to be able to sing or play a piano.  In imagination, I pretend I am a world-renowned pianist and I sit down to play a beautiful sonata in a room full of people.  My fingers deftly move across the keyboard and people are amazed and blessed by my talent.  If I confused my fantasy with reality and acted out my scenario, would I see adoration in the faces of the crowd, or would I see horror, disgust, humor  and vulnerability?  Quite frankly, if I came back to reality in the middle of my act, I think I would permanently go back to my fantasy world. It would probably be the only hole big enough or deep enough for me to crawl into and stay hidden!

The man with the smile was my fulcrum.  He was my balancing point.  I trained myself to pull back before I went too far over the edge. It was then that I decided to become a writer. All my plots and grand schemes could be available for all to share.  There is also a bit of sadistic joy in having others read my stories, for if they enjoy and relate to them, they might be just as crazy as I am.

I love science fantasy, because I don’t do well with real world problems, so I travel to a galaxy far away.  In that world, I hash out the problems, and take it home when I am good and ready.

I also love watching other people to see if I can tell if they are in the middle of a good fantasy.  Sometimes, I think I can catch a glimmer in someone’s eyes or a hint of a smile, like the Mona Lisa.  What did Mona see anyway?  Was it real or imagined.  Was she sane?

There was a lady I watched on a bus who looked tired and worn out. She was hard to read, yet she had a look that showed her personal and private life may have been very rich with experience. My hope for her was that,
at least in her imagination, she had found her Don Juan or could walk the alpine trail in Switzerland.

I truly dislike phony smiles.  If you don’t feel like smiling, why bother?  The other day at work, a friend of mine and I shared an elevator with one of the managers.  We had been chuckling about something, and out of courtesy, included her in on the humor.  In a flash, this woman smiled her own version of the Ed Sullivan smile, and as quickly it disappeared.  It was not genuine and she must have assumed that we would not have discerned the truth.

I wondered if she were just responding to some polite social cue or if at that precise moment in  her fantasy she heard the expected laughter and applause from her unseen audience.  I wondered too, if she saw the play of horror, disgust, humor and vulnerability cross our faces.

Glue

After so many years of wearing glasses, I found a pair of soft contact lenses that worked. So, with a new dress, a haircut, contacts, and acrylic nails, I flew off to San Diego for my sister’s wedding. I was looking forward to this weekend and seeing family. My mother and her husband would be there, three of my sisters, their spouses, nieces and nephews, and of course Stan, the fiancé.

It was a great weekend, but far too short. On the way back to Minneapolis, we encountered some terrible thunderstorms. I got stuck in Denver and almost missed my connecting flight. Instead of arriving in Minneapolis at 11:30 p.m., we landed at 2:30 a.m. When I got home, my daughter was sick with the flu and my basement had flooded.

Discouraged, I sat on a stool in my basement and watched the water continue to rise. There was a waterfall coming out of the concrete wall and a spring welling up from the floor. Having a Bachelor of Science degree in water resources, I thought maybe I could turn this disaster to my advantage. I could turn loose a few frogs and fish and have my own wetland. The storm passed, but I didn’t get to bed until 4:30 a.m.

Later that day, I went grocery shopping and bought a pump to pull the remaining water out of the basement. I also purchased some fingernail glue, because a couple of my fake nails had come loose the night before while wringing out the mop. I don’t get professional manicures that often, because it is somewhat pricey for my budget and I wasn’t going to let them fall off so quickly.

Later that week, I called my optometrist because my new contacts made my eyes dry. He gave me a bottle of eye drops. One or two cool drops in each eye and I was good to go for another couple of hours.

I was at work and I think it was about 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon that day, when I was ready to put in a couple more drops in my eyes. I can’t look up at the bottle and watch the drops hit my eye. I blink and they land on my eyelid, so I have to take out a mirror and aim the drops on the outer corner of my eye, not on the pupil or iris.

I took the little bottle out, aimed it at the designated place and put slight pressure on the bottle. A drop gently formed at the tip of the nozzle, and then dangled there. It would not release. I was impatient because I had work to do, so I gave it a slight squeeze. When the liquid finally made contact with my eye, instead of feeling cool, it burned. Puzzled by this, I looked at the label on the bottle, and to my shock, it said “Fingernail Glue.” The glue bottle and the eye drop bottle were almost identical in size and shape, and since I wasn’t used to carrying either of them with me, I grabbed the wrong bottle with which to wet my eyes.

Swearing softly under my breath, I used the ring finger on my right hand and quickly swiped over my eye to remove as much glue as I could. I had no idea what kind of damage I would sustain. My finger stuck to my lower eyelid and when I frantically pulled it loose, a line of lashes was now glued to the pad of my finger. The office kitchen was a short distance away so I went over and began washing my eye with water.

“I’m going to lose my eye,” I thought to myself. “What a stupid mistake to make.” Someone came and asked me if I was okay. I explained the situation and asked her to call my doctor. My doctor said I should come right over to his office, which fortunately was within walking distance.

News of my accident spread quickly and my coworkers were very sympathetic. One woman said, “Leanne, if you had wanted to take time off of work, why didn’t you just put your hand in the paper shredder?”

How do you explain something like putting glue in your eye? I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, especially when even I didn’t know how bad the situation really was. I understood how my co-workers felt. In respect for my situation, however, no one snickered behind their hands. Nope, they just laughed outright.

Finally, while I was being led to the elevator (I couldn’t see well enough to go by myself), I heard someone shout, “Hey, Leanne! Keep your eyes peeled!” I thought that was going a little too far, but as my guide pushed the elevator button, I heard someone sing a song to the tune of “Louie Louie.” The words were changed to, “Oh Gluey Glue-Eye, Oh Baby, You Gotta Go.”

As the doctor examined my eye, he told me that he had looked in the medical books to see if there were any records available from other patients who had experienced the same kind of accident. There were. As I had noticed earlier, the glue bottles are very similar in size and shape to eye drop bottles, the only difference being that the glue bottles have a red cap. Well now, how was I supposed to know that the red cap was a sign of danger and not just another advertising gimmick?

Eye drops and fingernail glue aren’t the only mistakes like this that have been made. The shapes of super glue and sewing machine oil bottles are similar, again the only difference is the red cap on the super glue bottle. One woman told me she used super glue to oil her sewing machine. I also heard of one person who used superglue as eardrops!

I sat in the doctor’s office crying like a baby, telling him about all the tragedies that had hit my family that year, and that maybe someday I could laugh about this, but that it sure wasn’t funny at the moment. He looked at me kindly, but I know he thought I was deranged. He said that because superglue didn’t react with water, it wouldn’t damage my eye and I would not lose my sight.

I am amazed at how a crisis can bond coworkers together. I am even more amazed at how a soft contact lens can bond to one’s eyelid with the aid of a couple of drops of fingernail glue. To prevent scratching the cornea, the doctor had to remove the fused contact, along with any remaining eyelashes that didn’t happen to fuse to my finger. This part was even more painful then the original accident and I went home looking like I had a severe case of pinkeye.

I hear about people who have had near death experiences and how their life flashes before their eyes. My life only flashed before one eye……(maybe it did flash before both, but I could see out of only one).

Well I survived that incident. But sometimes the only thing that helps to make meaning out of a senseless accident is to try to learn something from it. Take this experience for an example. Your coworkers can be very kind and sensitive? Right! Something has to be done about better warning labels on glue bottles? That’s true! While that sounds like a good moral to a story, but after this incident, I’ve become a bit too jaded. All I can say is just don’t ever put glue in your eye.

I am Flying

The fact that Mighty Mouse could fly was why he became my favorite cartoon character. It was during the days of black and white television and he was a super hero that flew over buildings, through the clouds and over the oceans. His adventures and good deeds were fun to watch, but in my opinion, the real joy was in the flying.

One day I tied a towel around my neck and jumped off the top bunk of our bunk bed. I fell and I cried. When I went out to the family room where the rest of the family was occupied and told them what had happened, they just gave me this look that clearly showed how stupid they thought I was. I was pretty young then.

A few years later my siblings and I figured out how to get up on the roof of the house. We would first climb up on the bottle gas tank, onto the top of the clothesline frame and then jump onto the rooftop. I got the brilliant idea that if I held the four corners of a blanket, I could parachute off of the house. I fell, I knocked the wind out of myself, and I cried. My siblings looked at me in a way that clearly showed how stupid they thought I was.

I wanted to fly. I dreamed of flying, not in planes or rockets, but flying, like my cartoon hero. My arms would be outstretched and I would soar through the air!

I have friends who say at night they used to put themselves to sleep by counting their fingers or remembering the events of their day. Some of them still do it. When I was young, I imagined I flew until I would fall asleep. When I flew, I could feel the wind and the mist on my face. I could see the rolling hills and the sun come up at dawn. Sometimes I had wings, long beautiful white ones that couldn’t be hidden. Then I could fly only in the wild and lonely places where I was safe from prying eyes and profiteers. I had few friends, but they were loyal.

A few years after the parachuting event, I climbed up into a maple tree. It was a perfect autumn day, with a nip in the air, yet the sun was still warm enough that I could go barefoot and wear shorts. Like a still-life photograph, I sat in the tree in the country solitude. I couldn’t hear traffic or any human sound, but I could hear the small birds and the wind gusts rustle through the dry grass. As I sat there, I observed the small details close to me. The sun glowed through the leaves like red Christmas lights. The air had a distinctfully delightful autumn smell, and the brown satin bark of the young branches had small leaf scars from the previous year’s growth.

My body rocked with the swaying of the tree, my toes clung to small branches for support, and my eyes drank in the colors around me. I was confident in my solitude and free in my safe unfettered world.

Then, just inches from my face, I saw something that I had never seen before. Years later, I learned that the insect I saw was a praying mantis. I did not know that at the time. In fact, I never even knew they existed. What I did see was an insect that looked like a small green leaf, except now I could see its spidery legs. It also had two front legs that looked like arms, with hands. It had a face, with bulging green eyes. Its head could swivel around and look at me, and it was looking right at me, rubbing its “hands” together.

Hackles. Do you know what hackles are? That’s the hair on the back of an animal’s neck that rises up when they are scared or upset about something. It’s usually a good time to leave them alone. I felt the hackles rise up on the back of my neck, and on my arms and nose and shins and even on my butt.

Never in all my imagination had I seen anything like it. Here in my face, was the most hideous creature trying to disguise itself as a leaf. I wondered if it was deadly and how many more there were lurking around me in the tree I was sitting in.

I don’t really know how I got out of that tree, over the barbed-wired fence and onto the road. This time, I really think I flew. When I told my siblings about the praying mantis, they didn’t look at me as though I was stupid. No, they looked at me in a way that I came to recognize over the years. If they had known then about ingesting mushrooms and getting high, they would have thought I had eaten way too many of them. I would never tell them how I got out of that tree.

I don’t remember when I stopped pretending to fly or when the dream flying quit. One day many years later, I realized I had forgotten how and I grieved the loss, but I was an adult now and burdened with an adult’s responsibilities.

One day, my daughter and I rented the movie, Hook by Steven Spielberg. It’s the story of a grown up Peter Pan who forgot his flying days. He was lucky because at the end of the movie, he found his youth again, yet he didn’t compromise his adulthood and maturity. The authors of Peter Pan and Hook understood about flying and about losing our ability to fly as adults and I think there is a more profound issue here then a child’s vivid imagination. It is about our ability to create, to dream, to dare, to trust and to hope for a perfect future. These are gifts that we seem to lose as we mature, and there is a price to pay for that loss.

I have seen people going through a midlife crises do things that they would never have thought of doing before, but they perceived that they had lost something of their youth and were desperately trying to get it back. I have seen other people who refuse to even consider their loss, so they focus only on the stark reality of their present day. They put blinders on and focus straight ahead. As for myself, I can’t go either way too far, because in my Peter Pan pursuit, I do not want to do anything that would harm my family or me.

My mother always said I had a mercurial personality. It bothered her because she could never tell what I was thinking of, or in what direction my train of thought would go. I really think it was a sophisticated way of saying that she also thought I ate too many mushrooms during the 60’s and 70’s. The truth was I was earthbound and I needed to fly — and to not fall and knock the wind out of myself.

I have a science degree, I have a decent job and I raised a very gifted and responsible young woman. I made many sacrifices and have the battle scars to prove it. I do not have an excess amount of money or free time. This does not change the deep yearning to feel free, passionate, and alive with possibilities.

I finally found my way of flying, mostly alone in those wild places. I write. Sometimes I write on my coffee break, away from the laughter and camaraderie of my coworkers, sometimes on the bus, and sometimes I write in the evening before I fall asleep. Everyday, my pen flies across the pages and my fingers across the keyboard. My hope soars, my soul has wings and my imagination has no bounds. I am flying!

Cheated in the End by a Very Long Joke

I wrote a paper for a college writing class, which was titled, “Hide! Hide! The Cows’ Outside!” I got an ‘A’ on it and the professor attached an entire typewritten sheet praising my work and giving me suggestions for making it better. The one thing he said was that he felt cheated in the end as though he had just read a very long joke. It was a long joke, but also a true story.

So, this is what happened…

We lived in an area in northern Minnesota called Frog Alley. In the mornings, Cousin John would let the cows out to pasture. They would meander the worn path along the river and up to the little field next to our house. When my mother saw them, she would say in an alarmed voice, “Hide! Hide! The Cows’ Outside!”

Now why would you hide because the cows are outside? Every God-fearing and cow-fearing country kid knew that those cud-chewing bovines were the most docile of creatures. The only exception was the bull, which for unknown reasons, John left in with the rest of the herd at certain times of the year. Why, these animals were so tame, we used to ride them. Our skinny butts bouncing against a bony swaybacked milking cow. Now, that was heaven!

Still, every day my mother would say the same thing, and every day I would ask her again why we needed to hide, and every day she would laugh. Either mom was joking with me or she was nuts. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference.

I began to watch the cows to see if there was anything suspicious or irrational flitting behind their big brown eyes. Then one time, when I was six, my brother, my two sisters and I headed up the hill to climb the lone pine tree in the little field next to our house. Halfway up, I noticed that there was one cow that seemed bigger and stood a little apart from the rest of the herd. It looked belligerent. I turned and headed full tilt back down the hill, yelling, “It’s the Bull!” This created a stampede amongst my siblings. Greg, who was a year older than I and who could run faster, ran right over the top of me, causing us both to tumble to the ground. Patty and Paula, our two eldest sisters, couldn’t avoid the pile up so they wound up on top of the heap. As one of us tried to get up, someone else was falling down on top.

It was a pretty messy game of leapfrog, but we finally scrambled to safety on the other side of the fence. We caught our breath, shook off the grass and the specter of the steam from the bull’s nostrils and the gore of its horns, and turned around to see just how close we had come to death. That bull never even attempted to chase us and was still standing, disinterestedly in the same place she had been when first I had seen her. I also noticed that she had udders.

Six years after this incident, two things occurred. First, the one room schoolhouse that I had attended was closing. Mrs. Gustafson would no longer teach the local children, as we were all going to be bussed into town for the rest of our years of education. Second, my father sold our house and built a larger one to accommodate our growing family. Before we moved, I stood in the little field in the spring grass and said goodbye to the cows, the pine tree and to the only home I had known.

It was then that I understood what mom had been saying all those years about the cows. “Yes, It’s true,” I thought, “Hide is the cows’ outside.” In spite of it being funny, I felt cheated. I had spent so long trying to figure it out and in the end, it turned out to be a very long joke.

Well, that was the gist of the paper I wrote in my college class, and I can see how the professor felt. But the real story continues….

Once we moved to the new house, the innocence of life in Frog Alley began to fade. It was the combination of being away from our community, a growing family, and the cost of having a larger house that put an immense strain on everyone. I don’t remember the next six years as being good ones.

In the spring of the year that I graduated from high school, we moved back to Frog Alley for three months. My grandfather died and left the property to my father. Dad didn’t want to permanently move onto grandpa’s property with old debt, so he sold the new house and took the family to Oregon and for one year, he worked for his brother.

Before we left for Oregon, I stood again in the little field in the spring grass. It seemed to me that time stood still to allow me to breathe it all in and remember. I was becoming an adult and had no idea what that meant. I did not realize that I was not only saying goodbye to those old cows, but also to my youth and to this land. I was not happy with my goodbye and thought the last six years were like that cow joke – it took too long for the punch line and it wasn’t that funny.

In the ten years that I lived in Oregon, I grew up quickly and learned to adapt. Yet there was always that part of me that could never reconcile to my new surroundings. The memories of my childhood stood out in poignant contrast to the busy chaotic life I found myself in as an adult. I guarded every memory of every songbird, of every time we made maple syrup and of every time I ran through hay stubble and poked the bottoms of my bare feet. In this adult world, when I spoke of these times, I was met with uncomprehending stares.

I felt cheated again. What was real? Was it when I was young and lived in an environment where you became keenly aware of every turning leaf and how slight temperature changes altered the mood of the lakes? What about the pure joy of country cows, or my mother’s singing, or her brilliant sense of humor? Was all this the big joke, or was living in the city and being away from every one and every thing that I had known and loved the joke?

Eventually, I came back to Minnesota, got married, adopted a child and then got divorced. I went to college in my forties, and raised my daughter as a single mom. I had to believe that what I was doing was best for both of us. Yet sometimes in the midst of the struggle, I wondered why I didn’t have a better picture of my future. I seemed to live the majority of my life in the middle of a muddle.

My dad once told us a story about his cousin, Lois, who was playing hide and seek with her brothers. She ran behind a tree and peeked her head around the trunk. Next thing she knew a large quantity of wet cow manure landed smack on her face and into her open, laughing mouth.

Now isn’t that typical? You are going about doing your life, you have a good moment, and suddenly you are smacked in the face with a fresh pile of dung. Once again, which was real and which was the joke? The laughter? or the dung?

When my own daughter graduated from high school, it was another spring day, where time once again was suspended. She would begin her adult life and I would begin mine – again. It was my turn to tell her the cow joke and her turn to not get it. I didn’t make her wait so long before I explained it to her.

One thing I knew for sure was that the quality of our relationship was never a joke. I loved being her mother, yet in a sense, we grew up together. I instilled in both of us an urgency to follow our heart’s passion, so we could become our best selves. I also had a chance to relive and reclaim my own youthful perspective. The abundance of solid and beautiful memories from my childhood and of our mother-daughter moments needed to be cherished; as I watched my own mother’s memories fade with the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Once again I was reminded of the old long-winded joke about the cows and how it seemed to mirror life. I thought about something that my mother had told us just after my grandfather passed away. She said she and my Aunt Corrine had visited him in the hospital a few days before he died. Mom said his face glowed with joy as he cheered them up. He told them that, when he looked back over his life, he could see a clearly defined path. He also said that, although he had never been aware of it before, he could see what the purpose of his life had been.

It has been many years since I lived in Frog Alley. My mother and father are gone, along with many of the folks from their generation. The cows are gone too. Recently my siblings and I built a little cabin just down the road from my grandfather’s old place and near the little yellow house where we grew up. The little field, with the lone pine tree, is still there and I have once again walked in the spring grass.

I wonder about my grandfather, who never really seemed to give much thought to such philosophic or spiritual issues, but in the end he was able to grasp the profound meaning of his life. I also wonder about my mother’s life, her young child’s hopes and fancies, who she loved and who she became, and to the end when it all vanished. I guess it is more than a wondering, it is an anguished question of why.

I cannot bear to think that at the end of my life, I will find that all my struggles and hopes were for nothing. I will not let myself believe that all of this life was just a long, and not so funny, joke. I am determined to find my unique path, to passionately pursue my true calling and to encourage others to do the same.

I Can’t see you anymore

The first thing I noticed about Frank was the size of his feet. They were very large and wide. It’s not that he looked like a clown, but if you were the type of person who wonders about the comparison between the size of a man’s feet and other parts of his anatomy, well they would have taken your breath away.

I was a single mom getting my degree, and twenty years older then most of the other college students. It was difficult to find a date, so when I met Frank at one of my summer jobs, I was elated. He was not an imaginative man, but he was steady and loyal. I wasn’t attracted to him, but I thought spending time with him would make me feel closer to him. This was our fourth date, and except for that unexpected kiss he gave me on the last one, there had been no intimacy. I let him believe I was chaste.

Frank was wearing this aftershave that seemed so familiar. He told me the name, which was an upscale somewhat pricey brand name, one that both men and women could wear. I didn’t like it.

Scents, like fingerprints are unique. A fragrance can bring back a memory as clearly as though the event had just occurred. In this case, the familiar memory remained illusive. I just couldn’t figure out why anyone would wear this aftershave, as it was so unpleasant.

We had gone out for our weekly dinner, ordered, received our drinks and settled ourselves in at the restaurant for at least a half-hour’s wait. This should have been a good time to spend with one’s date, but the truth was, Frank was utterly boring. I began asking him questions that I knew he would ramble on about. I kept just enough consciousness reserved for him so that I could interject an “oh really?” or an “I didn’t know that!” while he continue with “Blah blah and blah blah so that blah blah could blah blah.” Whatever!

The rest of my consciousness was reserved for deciding what to do about Frank, himself. Tonight he had really piled on the aftershave. What was that awful smell? Part of me knew I was going to have to break off the relationship, but then there would be no more dinner dates and I wouldn’t have a boyfriend anymore. School was starting again soon and struggling alone sometimes seemed like more then I could bear. I vacillated between keeping him as a buffer between myself and loneliness or the unfairness to him. I don’t like using people. I also knew that, although Frank would never admit it, I would be required to put out more in the way of sexual intimacy. After all, he was paying for these expensive dinner dates, wasn’t he? But then, there was the issue of those very large feet and my curiosity to be satisfied in their regard.

Then suddenly I remembered the scent, like someone who finally regains his or her memory after suffering from amnesia! I think it was the perfect alignment of events that triggered my recollection. The candleholders gave off a slight greenish glow around our table. The waiter arrived with our dinner, stirring up another waft of Frank’s scent. In anticipation of the feast, Frank’s stomach growled loudly, sounding very much like the croaking of a very large bullfrog.

Frogs! That was it! Frank’s aftershave smelled like frogs! Now frog smell is not one that most people would recognize. If they did, do you really think they would buy it? I can just hear it now; “Oh Baby, what’s that wonderful fragrance you’re wearing?” He asks. “Essence of Frog, of course.” she whispers in his ear. “Well it just drives me wild and I’d pay any price for it!” I don’t know, maybe people like it because it subconsciously reminds them of the primordial ooze from which we all started from.

I would know about frog smell, because I grew up in Frog Alley. They always said that nothing lived there except frogs and French people.

I was stunned and the more I looked at Frank with the green glow, the frog scent aftershave, the slight perspiration sheen on his forehead, well he began to look like a frog.

I loved the Frog Alley area with its wetlands, rivers, lakes and its frogs. We were a large family with not much money to spare for non-necessities. So what did you play with? Frogs, of course. We sold them to fishermen, we played mad scientist, we tried to eat frog legs and we vied to see who had the quickest hand at catching them. My younger brother threw my doll into the outdoor biffy, so I used frogs as my dolls. They were kind of cute if you held them under their little arms and danced them around with cupcake papers as tutus. If you ignored their big feet, they looked like tiny dancers, but they weren’t very graceful when they tried to hop away.

Frogs are really kind of boring, they don’t emote, and they just look at the world with glassy eyes and say, “croak croak.” I tried to stay calm and continue with my “uh hum” and “oh really,” but I felt I was sinking into a morass of confusion and panic. Frank sounded like he was saying, “croak croak.” Frank didn’t emote and he had glassy eyes. Poor Frank, maybe someone made him dance in a tutu with his big feet.

One year my older brother and I learned about how Jesus had been crucified on a cross, died and rose again. We were curious children with boundless imaginations. We thought that maybe frogs could do the same thing. My father, being a carpenter, had all the tools and scrap wood we needed. I am now sad to say we did this, and we were not being malicious, we were truly excited about witnessing the miracle of the frogs rising from the dead. We made a little hill in the driveway and put those little crucified frogs on their crosses on the hill. Early the next morning, we raced out as quickly as we could. We were crushed. Not only did those frogs not rise, but earlier that morning my father had backed his truck over them on his way to work. Thoroughly flattened, they were. Yes, I knew a lot about frogs.

Poor Frank, what made him the way he was? Did he get flattened by some well-meaning persons? Would I crush him if I left? If I stayed, then maybe I would have to kiss him. Maybe his tongue would come out of his mouth with surprising speed and I would be stuck to him like a helpless bug.

Frank left to use the restroom. It was then that I decided that it was better to be brave and true to myself then to stay with someone out of fear. Whether that fear was of loneliness, of not finding someone better, of not finding anyone at all, or just fear of the unknown.

The next decision I had to make was when and where I should tell him. I decided that after dinner at my door. The hardest part was how to tell him.

Frank returned from the restroom and I noticed that his feet didn’t seem as large as I seemed to remember. Since I had never discussed his feet with him before, it was difficult to find a way to bring the subject up. Once done, I learned that he had suffered a severe case of poison ivy on his ankles and feet. He had wrapped them in bandages and couldn’t fit his feet into his shoes, so he had purchased much larger ones so they would be comfortable. Now that the poison ivy was nearly gone, he could go back to wearing his regular shoes.

I was very silent on the way home because I had much to ponder. Frank held my hand. All I could smell was frog. “What am I going to do about Frog … I mean Frank?”

What should I say? “I can’t see you because you aren’t my type,” or “I can’t see you because I have to concentrate on school.” How about this one, “I can’t see you because you’re absolutely boring me to death.”

The car pulled up to the driveway and Frank walked me to my door. My hands shook and my heart pounded. I still didn’t know what to say. I turned to him and he took it as a signal that I wanted him to put his arms around me. I put my hands on his chest to maintain some distance and took a deep breath.

“Frank,” I said. I looked at him in the eyes. “I need to tell you something.” Frank looked back patiently at me waiting for me to finish so he could get his kiss.

“Frank,” I said again. “I can’t see you anymore because, well ….

You smell like a frog.”