In my life, the summer months bring anniversaries filled with memories of lessons learned, loved ones who have passed or chosen to move away. I celebrate the lessons learned by remembering a friend who taught me that you have to take a chance and savor the moment because you don’t know if or when the opportunity may come again. I celebrate my Mom, who will forever be a part of me. I send a virtual package of loving vibes to family far away in celebration of life.
This month, I’ve enjoyed getting into my fantasy fiction piece and taking a break. I’m totally appreciating the fact that it’s not an actual event or a true story. I feel it gives me a bit more license to explore other themes or enter other realms. The story that I’m working on had been floating in my head for years, and I wondered how I would bring it to life. As is true to much of my other writing, this story started with a snapshot of a memory. A seemingly insignificant incident has blossomed into a fantastic account of what could be if we were to believe in alternative truths. In our current society, we cringe at the words “alternative truths.” There is a dark side to an “alternative truth,” but I want to make this one fun, positive and thoughtful.
I have been encouraged to put extra energy into this project after a writer friend from work, reserved a small virtual cabin at CampNaNoWriMo 2019. Three of us share this cabin, which I believe, sits next to a beautiful, clear lake in the woods where there are no mosquitos or snakes, and the temperature is never above 75 degrees – even during a Florida summer. The virtual campground seems endless, and along with countless other campers, we each pick out a time and a place that best suits our creativity.
At registration, we were asked to identify our favorite camp activity. My first inclination was to respond that what I like most about cyber camping is sleeping in my own bed and not in a sleeping bag on the ground. I won’t have to worry that night critters are trying to get in my tent. I conceded, however, that I enjoy singing campy songs around the fire and walking on trails to take in all the sights and sounds of the forest. To get inspiration, I sit out on the imaginary porch with a glass of iced tea or climb into my hammock and start swinging to get into the rhythm of my story – all in my head, of course, just a warm-up.
I’ve written before that I like letting my imagination explore beyond the edge of reality. I’m looking forward to discovering where this story will take me. So far, it’s been fun, gathering unusual individuals who coincidently have some characteristics of people who have crossed my path or shared valuable lessons in different stages of my life. I’m working on telling the story in a way that has a message while still being amusing, sensational, and unpredictable.
Next installment coming soon.
Photos are my own; taken with my phone on recent walks. I find them a bit odd or surreal but inspirational for my story.
“Looking at life from a different perspective makes you realize that it’s not the deer that is crossing the road, rather it’s the road that is crossing the forest.” – Muhammad Ali (reddit)
For days Estrela Mann felt a heaviness in the air. Not as in the humidity of the tropics where she lived, but as a wave of negativity from the people around her. Each morning she would summon the light within her to fill her heart in order to illuminate the darkness around her. So it was that Stela, as her friends called her, made it through each day weary and exhausted but in good spirits.
One particular morning as the alarm rang out its cheerful tune, Stela prepared for the day ahead, resolved to make it a good one. She still had lots of errands and things to do to prepare for her trip. She allowed herself to feel good about the workshop this weekend and was looking forward to it.
Stela was eager to get going, but just before stepping outside, through the door’s glass panel, she caught sight of an unfamiliar car parked across the street with three angry faces glaring at her house. At first glance, Stella didn’t recognize them without the masks of pleasantry they always wore in public, but over the past few months, her awareness and intuition had sharpened. Stela knew exactly who they were, but what were they doing here and what did they want?
As she considered how to handle the situation, her phone rang. It was a video call from her friend Tom Aldi. This morning was getting more bizarre by the minute. What did he want this early in the day? She hadn’t spoken to him for months, but she smiled, it did make sense. They each had an uncanny sagacity of reaching out to the other in the most opportune moments. “Guess what?” he told her. “I’m almost at your back door. Open up and let’s put on a fresh pot of coffee. I’ve got great news!”
Forgetting the strangers outside for a moment, Stela went to the back of the house without hesitation. She would save her questions for later. Stela was glad to see him and was surprised at how relieved she felt to have him here right now. They had been friends since high school, and Stela often shared things with him that she felt foolish to tell others. She was sure he could help her sort out the signs to understand what was going on. Tom had a naturally keen ability for solving such puzzles.
Stela watched him casually walking out of the woods as if this morning’s visit was an everyday occurrence. She stepped out the door and was about to reach him when out of the ground in front of her, there arose a cloud of black smoke as when a small brush fire suddenly turns large and menacing. Stranger still was that someone appeared to be trapped in the smoke waving hands and screaming, “Get away, get away!” A hand making a fist shot up from out of the blackness as if to stop Stela from reaching Tom. The voice in the black cloud screamed obscenities at Stela. Amidst the confusion, Stela seemed to recognize the shrill voice. It sounded like Melana. As Stela approached the screams became louder, “Stay away! You ruined my life! No, not again! I forbid it!”
Was she dreaming? Was it Melana’s malicious nature from across the miles after all these years? This situation was all too much, too absurd! She told herself. She tried to look into the smoke. There was no flame; there was no one there! Just ear piercing sounds like a screaming Banshee. Frustrated and confused, Stela raised her hands and shouted back, “Stop it! I never ruined anything! Your own deceitfulness and manipulation achieved that! Now leave me alone, I have more important things to deal with!”
As Stela put out her hands toward the screaming smoke, rays of bright light shot out from her palms. Stela watched in astonishment as the smoke turned from black to gray to white, and finally, a thin fog evaporated into the fresh, quiet morning air. Through the light mist, Stela could see Tom getting closer as she stood there trembling in disbelief.
“Did you see that?” she asked Tom as they embraced when he reached her.
“The brush fire? Yeah, that was weird. There were no brush fire warnings. Good thing it fizzled quickly. Are you cold? Why are you trembling? Let’s go inside.”
Stela stared at him. Was that all he saw? “Did you hear the screeching?” She asked.
“Oh yeah, that old car parked across the street finally got going. If I were them, I would drive it over to the nearest auto repair shop.” She suddenly remembered the car out front, but when she looked, it was no longer there.
Was it the car that produced black smoke and the screeching? That reasoning would make some sense of this wild morning. Stela tried to relax as she half listened to Tom’s stories, but she remained restless. Either she was losing her mind, or something very strange was going on around her.
She thought of the Gandalf-look-alike she had met at the coffee shop a few months ago and again began to shiver as she remembered what he told her. Stela needed to get hold of him, but because she hadn’t taken him seriously, she didn’t even remember his name. Where did she put his business card? She had missed Tom, but now was trying to find a way to get him out of her house so that she could concentrate on finding “Gandalf.” Maybe he’ll sense my distress and find me again, like in the movies. She thought. “This is not a movie.” she scolded herself.
Tom noticed she had stopped listening, and she was trembling again. “Is everything alright? What’s going on? ” Stela wasn’t ready to share her ideas with Tom. When they were kids, she felt she could tell him anything but the events of the past few months were too much for her to try to explain, even to Tom. He had always been tolerant of her beliefs and ideas, but this went beyond anything she had experienced before.
“I’m not feeling well this morning. I was going to call in sick to work and lay down for a while.” She lied.
“Ok, if you don’t mind, I’ll wait in your TV room in case you need anything. I don’t want to leave you like this. “
Stela stared at him and started to argue, but he gently pushed her into her room and closed the door. She had to admit that the events of this morning left her shaken. She was sure she had not imagined them. Again she noticed that she was glad Tom happened to be around.
In her room, she noticed a shiny business card on her nightstand. Had it been there all along? Was it glowing? Ridiculous! Stela thought as she picked it up and sure enough, the card read, “Dr. Ailfred Cleary: Light Theory.”
She rolled her eyes as she read to herself, but picked up her phone to call.
(TRYING SOMETHING DIFFERENT. A FANTASY FLASH FICTION, PART OF A PROJECT I AM WORKING ON)
Alternate title: Ugly Sweater in the eye of the beholder
Lonnie Delopas rummaged through her carry-on looking for the earbuds she threw in there at the last minute. She would listen to music instead of trying to read. She had been on edge since she woke up this morning. She felt a difference in the energy around her. The overall volume in the airport terminal wasn’t any louder than usual, but the noise was causing her nerves to frazzle, and it was irritating.
Usually, a two-hour layover didn’t bother her, but at the moment she felt uneasy as if something big was about to happen. She hoped she would arrive safely and without incident to her destination. She had experienced this feeling before as a warning or déjà vu. She rechecked the weather status and listened for any cancelations or announcements of change. She was heading to the North East for an award and book signing. It was winter, just before Christmas, weather-wise, anything could happen. It felt strange to get back to the city where she grew up. When she first got the news, she thought: “Not a bad way to end the year;” but now, with the eeriness, she was feeling, she wasn’t so sure.
Lonnie finally fished her earbuds from the bottom of her bag, and as she sat up in her chair, she noticed a man walking at a fast pace toward Gate 19. The man was tall with thick salt and pepper hair that fell just over his ears and collar; a neatly groomed beard framed his face. He wore gunmetal square-aviator style Ray-Bans and a classic leather bomber jacket. He carried a large leather bag slung over his shoulder and finally having reached the Gate, he slowed down. He walked past Lonnie with the confidence of a man comfortable in his skin until he tripped of his own accord and almost fell at her feet. Without missing a beat, he stopped, smiled and asked: “Yeah, Is anyone sitting here?”
There was something very familiar about him. Lonnie watched him from the corner of her eye as the stranger relaxed in the seat next to her. She decided that the familiarity she found was his likeness to Andrea Bocelli. He was so close, she could smell his cologne mixed with the scent of his well-worn leather jacket. His long legs stretched out almost into her personal space, and she couldn’t help but notice his stylish dress boots. Lonnie regretted her decision to travel bundled up in comfortable, bulky layers for this trip. Suddenly, she was acutely conscious that her hair was having one of its unruly moments. Note to self, next time dress comfortable but trendy to announce that a successful creative soul has arrived. She silently snickered to herself that she even had these ideas. What was happening?
The Bocelli-look-alike was on the phone. His voice sounded familiar too, but Lonnie rationalized that she was, after all, headed to LaGuardia Airport and the familiarity she found in histone was nothing more than a strong Brooklyn accent. She had left many years ago; it seemed like another lifetime. She was a little sad that after all these years, it was no longer “home.” It was as if she were traveling to any other strange city around the country. Like herself, most of her close friends had moved away and lost touch over the years. Sadly some of her dearest friends had passed. Lonnie finally attributed her energy imbalance to nerves and nostalgia with thoughts of the “good old days.”
Lonnie couldn’t help overhearing that the stranger was back in town to see his parents for the holidays but arrived a few days early to meet colleagues at a new job “in the City.” It sounded like he was pressuring someone to make plans to meet up before he had to leave again. He’d be back the beginning of the year, but he needed to pack up and close on his house first. The person on the other line must have said something to make him burst out laughing, and with a mocking voice, he said“Tony, it’s not that easy… I love you, man!” With that, the sophisticated, fine-looking man sitting next to Lonnie couldn’t finish his sentence as he folded over in a fit of laughter. His arms were flailing, and his classy boots stomped the floor repeatedly.
Lonnie couldn’t help but turn to face him, and with his RayBans off, she noticed the big scar next to his left eye. It still looked as terrible as it did decades ago. “Tony?” she asked. “Tony Petronelli?” He stared at her, not recognizing her at first. “It’s me, Lonnie? Alondra Delopas.” She smiled. It was then that Anthony Laurence Petronelli recognized her. He remembered the warm smile that at once upon a time made him feel mushy and gooey inside. A mop of short, wild gray hair had replaced the long brown hair that smelled of lavender and roses when ran his fingers through it; but the lively brown eyes and smile were still the same. “Oh my GAWD!” he said as they hugged long and hard as old friends do.
They spent the two-hour layover catching up. Tony told her that stayed in New England after college, but his parents were still in the city. He kept up with friends each time he came to visit his family. He married had children, but once the kids were out of the house and on their own, he and his wife found they didn’t want to stay married. It was as simple as that. Since college, he worked for the same a tech-company with contracts all over the world. Tony recently took a position in the corporate office back home to be closer to his aging parents. Lonnie had also married with children. Her first husband died tragically at a young age and her second husband was a mistake. She had been teaching and writing for some time and was pleased to have a best seller in her hands finally.
Tony made plans to attend the book signing. Lonnie said it would be nice to have an old friend there for support. Her book was a Christmas story she told him, inspired in part by one of her favorite Christmas stories, O.Henry’s “Gift of the Magi,” and without warning, there in the middle of the busy airport terminal, the unthinkable happened! Tony brought up “The Sweater.”
One winter Lonnie bought a cranberry colored, 100% wool, alpine sweater at a specialty shop in the small city near her college. Her new best friend Bertie, Roberta Borkson, had taken her there. Bertie was an avid skier, and she was going to get a sweater for her boyfriend to wear on their ski trip over Christmas vacation. Lonnie went along and started having her own ideas about the beautiful sweaters she saw.
Lonnie and Tony met at a lodge in the Poconos Mountains two years earlier during a winter camp sponsored by a local youth organization. She noticed him on the first morning when she and her friends came in from a walk just as the snow started to get heavy. Tony was sitting quietly by the fireplace, with a mug of hot chocolate as he listened to a couple of friends getting agitated about football teams. The girls went straight to the fire to warm up which caused a distraction for the boys and their sports.
By dinner time, they were all old friends. They had been laughing, telling stories and playing table tennis as the time slipped away. Lonnie and Tony somehow always managed to end at the same table for meals, and on the bus ride home, he shyly asked if he could call her. The group was heading back to the Poconos during the Christmas break. Lonnie pictured Tony in his new alpine sweater by the fireplace and her in a beautiful knitted cream colored hat and scarf she had seen downtown.
Tony and Lonnie exchanged gifts as soon as she got home from school that year. Lonnie was pleased to find the beautiful soft cream-colored hat and scarf set. Tony started to open his with a great big smile, but as he parted the thin sheets of tissue paper, his smile appeared frozen. “Reindeer?” He asked. He could not hide his shock. There were indeed, gray reindeer parading in between oversized snowflakes across the top of the sweater from one shoulder to the other. It was apparent that he disliked the sweater. Lonnieoffered to return it, but Tony regained his composure and being the sweet young man that he was, nobly put it on to go out with friends that evening so as not to hurt Lonnie’s feelings.
The sweater was a hit among their friends, but not it a good way. One did not see many alpine sweaters with reindeer around the Bay Ridge neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. There is a reason there are no scenes with Tony Manero dancing his Saturday Night Fever in a cranberry red alpine sweater with gray reindeer and snowflakes. It didn’t fit the character.
On that cold winter night in the early 1970s and during the trip to the mountains, their friends warned Lonnie that she would never live that one down. And so it was that fifty years later when fate serendipitously crossed the paths of these two senior citizens with teenage grandchildren of their own; Anthony Laurence Petronelli brought up the cranberry red alpine sweater with the gray reindeer. All they could do was try to stifle the laughter until their bellies hurt and the years seemed to melt away.
The photos used here are not my own; they were found online and “no copyright infringement is intended.”