Exit Stage Right

She sat on the hard chair on the stage squinting to see beyond the stage lights. There was a man speaking to the assemblage. Was it an audience? A tribunal? She knew it would be her turn to speak soon, but as she had just arrived in this body, she had no idea what she would say. The girl who used to live here felt like an imposter, now Janet WAS an imposter.

The old man, thankfully, droned on and on, reveling in the sound of his own monotone basso voice. He was quoting poets and entrepreneurs as if joining the two in a sentence wasn’t supposed to be jarring. She tried listening but after he butchered a quote from Keats, she tuned him right the hell out. Hearing a muffled chuckle, she realized she wasn’t alone waiting on stage. A young man sat next to her, head down, hand up to his chin, partially covering his mouth. Yes. He was laughing. She looked at him with eyebrows up. He looked back and whispered to her, “If you can keep your wits about you while all others are losing theirs, the world will be yours.” She looked at him questioningly. “That’s what he was trying to say. He said ‘friends.’ Maybe he hasn’t any.” She barely knew what he was saying, but she liked the twinkle in his eye and smiled anyway.

She wondered how much longer before she had to take center stage. The floodlights shined like interrogation lamps back at her. As if reading her thoughts, the man next to her leaned a little and said softly, “I think we’re gonna be here a long while.” While he smiled, she felt herself relax just a fraction. She looked around, hoping for a clue or a sign as to where she was. There were a lot of young faces in the crowd. A school perhaps? The room was not shaped like a typical auditorium. Maybe a theater. There were thick red curtains. If only she could run behind them and have some time to figure out She looked at her clothes and then at the man next to her. They both wore some sort of black corsets with fishnet stockings. Wait. That’s what she wore. He wore a dark suit with a red plaid bow tie. What the hell was this?

“Janet? Are you OK?” the man next to her asked.
“I don’t know,” she honestly said. “I… I’m not feeling like myself.”
“You look pale. Let’s get you some fresh air.”
“But we can’t just leave, can we?”

He took her hand and led her behind the curtain stage right. Somewhere in her cluttered memory she knew of an adage about bad luck and exiting stage right and saying something Scottish, but it was all a jumble. She tried to just focus on breathing normally when she realized he was still holding her hand. She struggled with what to say.

“Thank you. I think I’m all right now. I just need…”
What did she need? Someone to tell her who she was? Where she was? Why she was wearing a corset and was about to speak to a theater full of young people?

“It’s OK,” he said very softly. He led her to a dressing room nearby and they sat on soft chairs somewhat covered by discarded clothing and fabric. It was quieter and darker and she could breathe. Especially with him still holding her hand. She wasn’t sure what would happen if he let go.

“You’re a Warper right?”
“What?”
He smiled. “You have a small red tattoo behind your right ear that looks like lips. I can tell you’ve done the Time Warp. I have too. I’m Brad.”
Flickering images suddenly behind her eyelids. Fishnets, lipstick, stars, music. She HAD done the Time Warp. And she wanted to do it again. But not alone. Not anymore.
“Can we Warp together” she asked.
“Oh, my yes,” he said pulling her into a warm embrace. “I’ve waited a long time for you and I’m not letting you go. Let’s dance.”
And they went back out on stage, hopping and grinning.

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Will the Magic Be Gone?

They moved together restlessly
She with hesitation
He with impatience
She knew things he did not
He understood things she never would
Exploring, guiding, testing, discovering, tensing, releasing, breathing
He reached, touched
Her body smiled
He understood the where and when, cause and effect
Like a scientist mixing vital chemicals creating a reaction
She was carried on a wave
Despite herself
Despite what she knew, how it would end
He moved in ferocious tempo
Moved to unveil secrets
She stopped with
“Will the magic be gone?”
Hesitation, empty platitudes.
“When you see me, the magic will go ”
He created a new wave
She let herself be distracted
Closed her eyes.
Let go.
As he looked, she dissolved into warm light.
She was gone.
He was grasping at shadows and light
She could see, not feel
He could touch but not see
Too far apart
Dimensions to cross
She knew this world of illusion
He understood transience of flesh
They moved slowly
To find a way either back or somewhere else
She with patience
He with disbelief
Exploring, reaching, holding, tasting, hoping, being.

Hidden on the Hard Drive

He awoke to what looked like orange rinds on the inside of his eyelids. Bright sunshine was trying to squeeze through. His eyes were still closed, but his slight headache assured him he was indeed awake. Where he was was another kettle of fish. He was almost afraid to open his eyes. Every time he awoke, the locale was so jarringly different. He somewhat enjoyed waking up on the pirate ship, a half-clad wench plastered up against him on the narrow bunk. The rolling of the boat was remarkably realistic. The sights and sounds were graphically excellent too. Almost as good as the crisp scenery of the Middle East war scene he found himself in one morning. Some of the worst visuals but the best sensations upon waking had to have been the porno. He wanted to wake up with two women servicing him every day. But that was not to be. He didn’t seem to have a choice. Not since he had fallen into his computer.

This story sounds absurd, I know, but I assure you every word is true. My boyfriend is lost to a computer, and not metaphorically like he spends too much time working or playing, but he actually physically disappeared. I know roughly where he is because somehow we are able to communicate via messaging. He sounds rather confused and not at all like himself anymore. I can’t say I blame him after living virtually for over a month.

The way this transpired is really beside the point. With much typing and figuring between us, the best we can guess is that whatever happened can be traced back to the freak electrical storm we had shortly after that asteroid came close to the earth’s atmosphere recently. (I know, such a cliché, but what can you do?)

Since that night when he never came to bed and I woke up alone, he has had some unsettling and interesting adventures! His first foray on our laptop was to find himself in the midst of a racing game. He woke up in an idling racecar, ready to go at the starting line. At the signal, the cars on either side of him took off. He sat a moment, decided it must be a dream, and hit the accelerator. With the first hard turn, his body slammed into the car’s side and he thought it odd to have any feeling in a dream. He somehow finished the race, somewhere in the second heat. Getting out of the car, he felt wetness on his cheek. He swiped and saw blood. Blood? And it hurt! He walked over to another driver, tried to formulate a clear question in his mind but really, what could he say? “Is this a dream?” sounded lame in his head. And even though what he could see and hear looked real, something was missing. Someone handed him a cloth to wipe his face. Someone else handed him a bottle of something to drink. He brought it to his nose to determine what it was. There was brown liquid with bubbles in the bottle but there was no smell. He gingerly took a sip. No taste.

Over the next couple of days he toggled back and forth from the races to the pirate ship. He found some way to communicate with me, which I still don’t understand. He messaged me that he had played a relaxing game of solitaire and a terrifying game of pinball (he said he felt like Indiana Jones running from giant metal balls in the game). We could not figure out how to predict where he would land next. He tried thinking of where he’d like to be and hope to wake up there in the morning. That did not work. I was afraid to mess with any of the laptop’s settings so I just kept it plugged in and let it go to sleep mode when I wasn’t sitting in front of it until my eyes were dry and my head hurt. Sometimes I could make him out in the game, sometimes not. I had an easier time picking him out when he was in a game I knew well. I got nervous with the racing game, as I didn’t know the different possible outcomes.

After a couple of weeks of standing by and feeling helpless, we decided I should start experimenting with the laptop. I started slowly, carefully, by waiting until he was in a game I knew well: the hidden object game. I selected him as my avatar and watched as he got through the first levels of the game. When it came to the first mini-game, I slowly moved and clicked the mouse. It worked. I had picked him up and moved him where I wanted. I clicked and rolled and maneuvered him through the rest of the game. I sat for hours, feeling closer to him than I had in a long time. I wondered at how he felt. Relieved? Angry? Hungry? Tired? Confused? What was next? I had to wait until he could get to wherever he went to message me.

That happened two days later. He was glad I could move him around because that meant there was some control but it was unsettling too for the same reason. He was not hurt or hungry. He said it still felt like a dream most of the time. Except for when we chatted. That was the only time he felt real. We were closer than we had ever been but we couldn’t touch or even really see each other.

He suggested I start trying to open specific programs to see if he would land in the ones I chose. So I decided to try solitaire, as that seemed harmless and he had been in that game already. He joked that I could just as well choose the porno. I tried to look at the bright side that he still maintained a good sense of humor.

So I opened solitaire. I clicked on settings. I looked at the card backing choices. There he was. I selected him and began to play. We got through the game, satisfied that we had a little more control. But how did he get from place to place on his own? The answer came to me when I was in the shower.

I was thinking of the order of the games he had turned up in from the beginning. I realized he was being placed in programs in the order that they had been downloaded by date. This was interesting, to be sure, but what was the next step? How did we get him home? Was he to be stuck in this Quantum Leap/Tron universe forever? Did he still want to come home? I had been angry and worried at his disappearance and now felt bewildered at our situation. It had been over a month, but with little sleep and not much food, and the stress of the unknown, I felt I was going to crack and soon. Something had to be done.

I had seen enough movies – Back to the Future, Peggy Sue Got Married, Star Trek, Wizard of Oz – to know that there were lots of possibilities we could try. But waiting for another freak electrical storm or some supernatural event was probably not the most practical approach. So I researched. Googled. Primarily virtual technology and electricity. Some of the information I found was beyond my understanding but I found many tidbits (bytes?) very interesting. To make a possibly long and boring story shorter and possibly nonsensical, after hitting up Google and Amazon and PayPal, I had at my fingertips several apparatuses (apparati?) that I could use to generate electrical pulses, record information, and copy and save the data. I can’t explain what actually occurred that night it all came together. You could picture a sort of Frankenstein’s laboratory, replete with sights and sounds that were impressive, but you’d be pretty far off. It was actually me in a tee shirt and underwear, sitting on the floor with a sort-of generator, laptop, black data recorder thingy and some other stuff that lit up and hummed. After much button pushing and pacing and waiting for downloads… somehow, honest to Pete, it worked. We were together again!

I found myself looking into his familiar warm eyes and we grabbed each other and kissed long and hard. It had worked! He spun me around in a hug and we laughed and kissed again. I could still hear a hum and I could see lights flashing. But something was missing. I stepped back from him for a moment. I looked around and realized I was not looking at our apartment. I quickly kissed him again. We realized at the same time what was missing: there was no taste to our kiss. As we looked around together, I asked him where we were. He sighed, smiled shakily and said that it looked like we were in a space ship. And we should buckle up. We were about to be called upon to shoot at some asteroids hurtling towards the Earth.

Eternal Shine of a Haunted Mind

car

Like setting up shop in a haunted house. That’s what he said he felt when he was plugged in to my thoughts. Well, it was his own fault for choosing the Eternal Shine of the Mind option rather than the Eternal Shine of the Ass option. He could have had squeaky clean rear instead of a mind cluttered with disturbing ideas.

The problem wasn’t the technology. As usual, the man just couldn’t leave well enough alone and follow directions. He had to follow his own way. And that led him to my cobwebbed-brain. Scientists found you couldn’t completely erase memories or ideas (trying to ease the pain of trauma victims unfortunately turned them into Cuckoo’s Nest zombies). But you could “scrub them clean” and alter their content. The tricky part was inserting ideas that wouldn’t further upset the patient. Scientists found that scientists weren’t very good at coming up with soothing thoughts. Long story short, after researching, they began tapping into storytellers for ideas that could soothe or inspire.

That’s where I came in. I had the unfortunate talent of being able to write treacle for greeting card companies. I could churn out that crap like there was no tomorrow. Need a pick-me-up for when you’re sick? Missing a deceased pet? Got a new job? Having a baby? Proud of letting another driver pull ahead of you in traffic? I had the perfect words to put in a card for the occasion. So eventually I was tapped by the Eternal Shining Bodies scientists.

I supplied the teams with ideas of picnics and clouds and carousels. Then I met him. He was a charmer. (Like a snake charmer, now that I think about it). He was on the R & D team, looking into the possibility or inserting edgier ideas into willing subjects, the hopes being high for future filmmakers and authors to cut away from the mediocre offerings of Hollywood. But before long, edgier ideas became harder to come by. He found from our late night excursions my predilection for the dark, disturbed, deranged. (Don’t ask. This is not that kind of story.) He wanted to know first-hand what it was like to have that kind of mental edge. So we hooked up over some wires and some electrodes and some other stuff that’s not that important here and we opened a link between us. I saw mental images that would have been right at home in 1950’s Levittown. He saw things that could have existed on Elm Street (as in Nightmare, get it?).

There was a snafu with the electrodes and when we logged off, we found we were still connected. And not in a loving, mushy way of feeling joined with another soul but in a spooky, annoying way. I didn’t want to know how often he wanted to grab himself or how he wanted to know the number of marshmallows he could fit in his mouth at once. He didn’t want to know… well, do I really have to share my dark thoughts here? Can’t you just imagine a few? Remember, this story started with his comment about my brain being like a musty attic. Or something like that.

So my ideas sold, movies grew more textured and there were novels that read like literary snuff films. My deranged thoughts were in high demand with an ever-growing segment of the patient population. Not just creative bohemians but white collar workers who wanted a glimpse at danger without putting themselves at risk. What started as an elite group who could afford the high test thoughts (and coincidentally they were the same people with the largest space for rent mentally) became an addiction for those who dabbled. They wanted dark. Odd. Scary. Otherwordly. Little romances about vampires and adventures about wizards weren’t enough of an escape for many.

So I toiled and wallowed a bit on the dark side. Funny how keeping myself in a dark place mentally was so easy and how it actually helped me lighten up in my real life, recall my dormant sense of humor. But that was hard for him to take. He really liked his version of Pleasantville. Being connected to me brought him success yes but also to a place he felt left him adrift. He once told me that he couldn’t get the image out of his head of walking through a never-ending corridor with flames at his back preventing turning around but with rushing water coming straight for him, threatening to drown him. He said he got that feeling every time he was near me. Not exactly roses and endearments a woman waits to hear.

We thought physical distance would help sever our bond. We parted briefly but were brought back together by forces stronger than any fiction. Our senses dulled by distance, we could still read each other’s thoughts from across the state. I no longer knew his every thought but I knew when he felt anger or fear or arousal. He knew when I felt joy or despair. There ultimately came a day when our wayward thoughts led us rushing back to each other, speeding on the highways in the blustery early spring. It may sound completely absurd, but our cars barreled toward each other. I could see through his eyes the landscape rushing by. He could see my view of his oncoming car. We smashed into each other and melded and fused in as many metal, grisly pieces as you can imagine. But our conjoined thoughts… they’re still there, in the ether. You may pick up on them sometimes when you have an odd thought or get scared on a sunny day.

Vintage Glasses

 

(Part II in the Vintage Series)

The shopkeeper finished dusting the shelf (and by dusting, that meant he carefully added a thin layer of dust, thereby making a customer feel as though he had discovered a long-lost treasure). As he walked through the shop, his eye fell to the two newly vacant spaces on the center display. He thought a moment before deciding what was needed and headed to the back storage room.

How did Clarence know what items needed to be found in the antique shop? He wasn’t quite sure himself. It was as though a voice whispered right into his mind and a picture would form of a person wearing something from his shop. He knew he could make the connection between the person and the item. He never doubted that; he only had doubts that the people would choose to keep their new accoutrements.

Behind a neat row of shelves containing books and beside a rack of clothes, he stopped in front of a cupboard. He opened the doors, lifted a small case and carefully opened it. Nestled amidst some bunched felt lay a pair of wire-rimmed glasses. The frames were thin yet strong and the glasses within looked almost as though they had recently been polished.

As he returned to the empty display space, he heard the bell as the door opened. He smiled, already picturing the woman walking in.

She surveyed the shelves and began walking the perimeter of the shop. She wasn’t sure what had brought her into the dusty little place to begin with, but she enjoyed looking at old things. Especially books. She saw a shelf stuffed with old tomes and made a beeline toward it. Looking through the faded titles, she paused and picked up an old Primer, a study guide used in teaching many years ago. The text was a bit faded but the illustrations were clear.

Having decided to buy the Primer, she walked to the register. On her way, she saw the clerk placing a pair of glasses on a mannequin. She blinked a few times and then stared. Was it her imagination or did the mannequin look a bit like her? She certainly had a feeling of familiarity when looking at the figure, or was it the glasses? Now she felt unsettled.

She reached out and took the glasses, slid them on her face. Everything instantly seemed to snap into place and into sharper focus. She smiles and looked at the clerk who only nodded and asked if she would like them wrapped or would just wear them home. She said she’d just wear them and paid for the glasses and the book.
The clerk looked at her a moment and said “Try them for three days. That’s our policy. You’ve got three days to find if they feel right or all can be returned.”

She instinctively felt he was talking about more than just the glasses but brushed away that thought. She glanced around the shop once more, amazed at the clarity and all the details she had missed upon first entering the store.

As she walked through the door, tucking the Primer in her canvas tote bag, she stepped onto a wooden pallet that creaked and bounced slightly. Startled, she glanced down and just ahead and saw the whole sidewalk had disappeared and in its place was a long wooden porch-like structure. The city street was also gone, replaced by a dusty road being traversed by horses and a wagon and… was that a saloon? A general store? A telegraph pole? This looked like a scene from an old western. Maybe someone was filming a movie? She didn’t see any cameras or lights or anyone in modern clothing.

She quickly turned back to look for the shop she had just exited. There was the clerk, standing in the doorway. She raised her eyebrows, not knowing what to say. She was afraid she’d sound delusional if she asked the questions that were popping up in her head.

“Three days,” he said. “If you decide you want to go back, just bring back the glasses. All can be returned.”

She nodded, sort of understanding but not really believing what he was saying or even what she was seeing. She turned back and walked to the end of the porch and made a left onto a smaller street. Somehow she knew just where to go and what she would find. Just ahead was the newly painted building. The schoolhouse out of her recurring dreams. She paused only a moment and then went inside. A man was hammering some nails into a board that was being fashioned into a bench with some desks.

“Hi, there, Ma’am,” he drawled. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
“You have?” she asked lamely, not thinking of anything better to say and feeling some disappointment that he most likely had been waiting for someone else.
“Yup. Clarence from the shop down the street told me the new school teacher would be here today. You are Maggie, aren’t you?”
“Y..y..yes,” she stammered.

A big grin crossed his face. It grew so broad that it spread right to her face.
“Yeah,” he said softly. “I’ve been waiting for you a long time.”
She nodded, reached into her bag, removed the Primer. Looking sweetly at him, she knew she was home.