She parked her car and slowly made her way through the glass door. Plastering the wall were travel posters of various vacation destinations and glorious expeditions. A petite woman with a toothy smile as big as her face appeared. “Hi. I’m Tina, can I help you?”
“Yes. I’m looking to book a trip,” Nicky replied, truly not believing the words were coming from her mouth.
“You’re in the right place. Right this way.” She guided Nicky to a small, cluttered office with photographs and trinkets from travel. “Have a seat. Would you like some tea or coffee?”
Nicky slumped into a cushioned chair. “Tea, no coffee.”
Tina poured coffee into a ceramic mug and handed it to Nicky. “Now, where would your spirit like to take you?”
Nicky choked on her coffee. “Huh? My spirit?”
Tina laughed. “It’s kind of my joke, tag line as they say. We all have this desire, this pull to travel somewhere. Somewhere, where our soul longs to be. Where does your soul, your spirit, want to go?”
“Sumkino, Siberia,” Nicky asserted.
Tina release a dull laugh. “Okay, not one of our most popular destination.” She rounded her desk to sit before her computer.
“It’s where my spirit wants to take me,” Nicky replied.
“Ah. O-kay. Do you have family, or friends there?” Tina asked.
Tina raised her eyes in curiosity as she searched for information on Sumkino. Her face soured.
“What’s the matter?” Nicky asked.
“Nothing. Very industrial. You know, it’s on the outskirts of Tobolsk which is beautiful. It is the place of the Eastern Kremlin. How long would you like to stay?”
Nicky snickered. “Hold on while I confer with my spirit.”
Tina watched Nicky shut her eyes and sit in quiet meditation for a minute.
She opened her eyes and grinned at Tina. “A week should do it,” Nicky replied with surprising confidence.
“It seems your spirit sure knows what she wants,” Tina replied and typed information into her computer.
“Would your spirit be interested in riding the Trans Siberian Railroad? I hear it is quite stunning.”
“No. Not really. Would it be possible to hire a guide, an interpreter?” Noticing Tina’s curious expression, she continued. “I will be going to do some research.” She sat forward, tempting to give Tina her crazy truth. “You see, I’m possessed by an immigrant painter who I believe wants to see her homeland before she passes to the next realm.” She sighed relieved to get it out. “I’ll need someone to help me get around. I don’t know any Russian. Da. Nyet. That’s about it.”
Tina stared at her stunned. “Oh-kaaaay. Um. Let me see what I can do for you.” She typed onto her keypad and studied her monitor. Best flights are going through Tyumen and then a short drive up to Tobolsk. What kind of guide are you looking for?”
“Che-. Inexpensive. Someone personable and has good English,” Nicky replied.
“Let me put together a package for you and I’ll email it to you. I can probably send you something by tomorrow morning.” She looked over Nicky carefully. “Is that good with your… spirit?”
“Perfect,” Nicky rose from her seat and setting the cup on the table. “My spirit thanks you.”
“No problem,” Tina replied with an uneasy grin.
A burden had been lifted off her shoulders as she headed back to her car. She checked her appearance in the window, relieved to see her own face and not Kira Karimov’s. “Still Nicky Schaeffer,” she said grasping the steering well.
Tuesdays Frieda took the later bus with no desire to see her fantasy man Wilhelm. Tonight, it was gym night and her bus took her straight to the corner of her neighborhood gym, Fawkes’ Fitness. It wasn’t the typical singles pick-up gym where women wore makeup and men flexed their muscles before mirrors hoping to attract a mate. No. Fawkes was for those serious about fitness.
After changing in the locker room, Frieda entered the main floor. Darn it. An elderly man was on her elliptical machine. She walked before him and smiled prettily beckoning his attention. When he removed his earbuds she said, “Excuse me, sir, this is my machine.”
He gazed at her in disbelief. “I don’t see your name on it.”
“It’s reserved for me. Every Tuesday and Thursday at 6:00.”
“I didn’t see a reserve sign.”
Frieda leaned forward laying her hand on his. “Please. There are other machines available.”
“I’m in the middle of my workout,” he argued.
She gave a doe-eyed stare he couldn’t resist. “Pleeeaaase.”
“Alright,” he said giving in, yet letting his disgust be known.
Frieda didn’t care. All she cared about what was going to happen in three…two…one… She sighed heavily as he strode across the gym and onto the mat where several boxing pummel bags hung from the ceiling. Her spot was the best in the gym to watch him lead that evening’s kickboxing class, as she admired every inch of the 6’2” slender muscular dreamboat with long dark hair pulled back in a loose manbun and his light-colored eyes highlighted by the black muscle shirt he wore. She plugged earbuds into her ears and played, Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need a Hero,” as she peddled furiously the elliptical..
She knew little about him, only that his name was Sergei Masing and he was Estonia’s middleweight boxing champion, which she read in the gym’s teacher guide. That was enough for her. She didn’t need to know more to cement Sergei as a fantasy icon and twice a week she sought her favorite elliptical machine to watch him bark commands and demonstrate moves to those taking his class. Actually, taking his class, she never dared. She had herself on a self-administered restraining order. She wasn’t allowed within twenty feet of him because she was sure she would make an absolute fool of herself.
After swooning and drooling from her water bottle for an hour, she didn’t bother showering or changing in the gym. She grabbed her bag containing her work clothes and laptop and headed outside, carelessly strutting her sweaty self.
Outside, a light rain fell and it suited her just fine. A quick stop at Tesco’s grocery store and then home. However, week nights at the grocery story often came with its own kind of stress – people not paying attention and having little consideration for others.
Frieda picked up her basket, took a deep breath and went into her shopping zone.
He followed her into the store, providing her necessary back up. Nearing the bin of tomatoes, Frieda grew annoyed by two gossiping ladies. Sergei stepped up and knocked the ladies’ heads together and smashed their faces into the heirloom tomatoes.
When they fell to the floor, Frieda stepped up to pick her produce. “Roma’s or Heirloom?” she asked Sergei.
“Are you making sauce or salads?”
“Salad,” she responded.
“Then you’re going to have to go with heirloom. They are delicious with just a touch of oil, vinegar and a touch of salt. That’s how my mother used to make it in the old country. Anyone else I need to rough up?” he asked in a deep, sexy Eastern European accent.
Freida surveyed the produce section. “I’m going to need some mushrooms.”
“On it!” He removed the AK-12 Russian assault rifle47 he had strapped to his back and used the butt of the rifle to knock people down who got in his way. Once he cleared the aisle, he reached for a package of mushrooms. “Button or cremini!” he shouted to Frieda.
“Button!” she yelled across the produce section.
Once they conquered the produce section, they headed down the other aisles. Sergei shoving people into shelves when their carts who got in Frieda’s way. She was making record time when she reached the register.
Behind her, a customer shoved his purchase on the conveyor, causing hers to collapse before the belt. “That’s it!”
Sergei replied and beat the crap out of the customer until he bled on the floor.
The store clerk looked over the conveyor belt and then at Sergei. She snapped her gum and rolled her eyes. “Now
I’m going to have to call someone to clean that up. If you’re going to beat people up, do it outside.”
Frieda shrugged, admiring Sergei’s machismo. “He can’t help it. It’s what he does.” She grabbed her grocery bags and headed out of the store followed by Sergei. With him behind her, she felt empowered and she could take on any foe.
When she walked up to her door to her flat, Sergei rushed ahead. Once inside, he removed his Makarov pistol from a holster, checking the dark hallway. Slowly, he stalked up the steps with his gun ready to take down any intruder. When he neared her door, he called out, “Clear!”
Frieda followed behind, carrying the groceries. She fumbled with the bags as she let herself and Sergei inside. Setting down her groceries, she wiped perspiration from her brow and admired sweat glistening from his muscular biceps. She jumped in to his arms. He carried her to the shower. There was no better way to come clean than with a dirty, dangerous man.
It was around forty years ago when Earl first stumbled into Georgina’s store and her heart. He was what looked like, for lack of a better word, a burned-out hippie with long brown hair and beard. At first, she thought him a derelict. Armed with her broom she was ready to sweep him outside with any slight indiscretion. “Can I help you?” she asked strongly.
Earl stared at her without looking at her. “Food.”
“Well, it’s a grocery store. I got plenty,” she replied.
Earl nodded and shifted his gaze around picking up various products—SPAM, stew, sardines, and a couple of cans of beans. Georgina stepped back and studied him carefully. Despite looking ragged, Earl was very clean and smelled of sage, which only mystified her more.
“I’m also gonna need some pots and pans, dishes and utensils,” he said.
“Sugar, this isn’t the Woolworth, I sell groceries.” She eyed him carefully and imagined he would be attractive cleaned up. “What do you need all that stuff for anyway?”
“I moved in down the road,” he said.
“Down the road? There ain’t nothing down the road.”
“Old silver mine, ‘bout a mile east,” he said.
Georgina stared at Earl knowing the old mine had been deserted over a hundred years ago.
Earl grinned noting her confused expression. “Bought it from the state. They gave me a great deal.”
“I’m sure they did,” she replied and did not ask any more questions although there were loads on her mind. She knew there were many things that brought a person to the outskirts of society. She too was an outcast. “Well look, I go into the city once a week. I can pick some stuff up for you if you’d like.”
“That would be much appreciated.” Earl pulled out a wad of cash to pay for his purchase of can meats and milk. “How much do you need?”
Georgina eyed his money. Her imagination reeled at how such a derelict looking man came into so much cash. Again, she questioned his intentions. Is he a thief or even worse a killer? Did he win his money in the casino? Was it life savings? “I’ll pick it up and you can pay me back.” She gazed up into his eyes which she found quite sultry. They expressed fatigue and sadness. “Should I drop it off at your new place?”
“No,” he replied abruptly. “I’ll be back to pick it up.” He looked down at his purchase on the counter. “How much do I owe you?”
“Twenty dollars and five cents,” she said. Earl handed her two twenties and waited patiently for his change. “Where are you from originally?” she asked.
Earl looked at her as if it was an odd question. He laughed. “Originally?”
“People come from all over you know. Just yesterday I had a couple from Minnesota, and the other day two young lovers from Kansas, who was off to get married. They come from everywhere,” she explained.
Earl leaned in toward Georgina. “The question is where do they belong? That is the question we must all ask.” He lifted his purchase in his arms. “Thanks. See ya ‘round, and thanks for getting the stuff.” He left with a gentle swinging of the screen door and a ringing of the bell.
A few days later, Georgina was more than pleased Earl liked his new kitchen supplies. She was taken aback when Earl reacted awkwardly to her other gifts—a couple of t-shirts, a pair of sweatpants and some toiletries. She even had the inspiration to buy him some décor to spruce up the old dump. “You don’t like it.”
There is a danger for a man when a woman starts buying him presents; she is buying herself into his life. How do I break it to the sweet woman? A life as a hermit does not work when I have a woman looking after me. “No. I do. Thank you. I will need these things.”
“Good,” Georgina sighed. She was lonely and having a man to shop for gave her purpose. “Anything you need just let me know.”
After Earl had stopped in a couple of more times at her store Georgina worked up the nerve to ask him to stay for a visit after she closed. All Earl wanted to talk about was the sky; he was obsessed with the stars. He outlined constellations with his finger, spoke of gods and goddesses and even recited poetry convincing Georgina at times that he did actually fall from the heavens. He was a gentle soul—an angel.
Time passed with many holidays and occasions. Christmases, Easters and the 4th of Julys came and went with similar fashion—Georgina decorating her patio for the season. Earl never disappointed, never left her hanging and never once did she have to celebrate alone, but as much as Georgina pressed, their relationship never progressed past the stars. It was a love she could never break through.
“What’s her name?” she asked.
“Andromeda,” Earl replied without hesitance. “You can see here up there shining so brightly. Isn’t she beautiful?”
Georgina tried to make out the constellation but even after all her conversations with Earl she could not make out Venus from a star. She was much more interested in Earl than the conversation or the constellations.
Earl raised his arm toward the sky and traced the stars with his finger and spoke with sweet devotion:
I left her there among the stars
She’s waiting for my return
With patience that chills her yearn
For a man who’s lost his way
On Earth’s dusty haze
I left her there supported by the stars
They huddle to her aid
When her mind often weighed
With thoughts of my demise
Through many suffocated cries.
I left her there, surrounded by the stars
It was for her own protection
But walking alone, I felt her connection
I know my heart, she cannot replace
And the love she has for my race.
Georgina swung on her love seat sadly admiring a man she could never have. “Can a man have more than one true love?”
“No,” he said.
His abrupt answer shook Georgina. If a man only has one true love what does it mean for a lonely woman with little contact with the world? She knew then Earl would never be the lover she dreamed of, just a sweet companion to grow old with. She should be grateful many people don’t even have that.
Edge of Civilization
A freshly painted sign that hung on an old western-style porch read, “Rays of Sun Groceries”. Flowering cacti in pottery decorated the stoop. It was a welcome for the few travelers that stopped by.
Georgina, a tanned leather-skinned woman, exited the front door with a broom in her hand. She swept clean the little dust that accumulated from an hour ago. With the broom handle resting against her shoulder, she lit a cigarette and puffed thoughtfully as she looked straight ahead at the endless desert. The blooming cacti sporadically dotted the landscape, but it did little to beautify the horizon.
Years of sun and smoking made it difficult to distinguish Georgina’s real age, but her mind and spirit were as spry as that of a teenager. Unlike Earl, Georgina knew exactly what brought her to this place—a man.
Nothing hardened a woman faster than a man who had nothing good to offer but Georgina was young, eager and not so naïve. Years ago, when her beauty opened doors, she entered every single one never fearing what was behind them. The one thing Georgina never anticipated was a man getting the better of her and her beauty.
It was the promise of love, money and a large ranch on the outskirts of the city that seduced Georgina. A big talking man with grand dreams was her downfall. The dreams of these men often changed as they yearned for greater opportunities. Georgina’s great detriment was other women often came with a man’s new opportunities. After giving her all for the man, he left her behind.
Georgina dragged heavily on the cigarette bringing it to ashes in almost one inhale. She peered up and down the highway anticipating traffic, but when she saw no one she tossed the butt of her cigarette into a pottery ashtray and stepped back inside with a quiet banging of the screen door.
Inside a ceiling fan kept the store cool—a welcome from the heat. With a pink feather duster and another cigarette dangling from her lips, Georgina dusted away cobwebs gathering on boxes, cans and bottles.
The screen door swung open with the ringing of a bell. “Georgina!”
She loved to hear her name shouted with such passion and exclamation. It made her feel young and desired. Turning around, she beamed a crooked smile and once again she was a twenty-year-old beauty.
“Heya Earl.” Georgina admired his coveralls and aviator cap. “What’s with the getup, Earl? You look like you’re about to fly away.”
Earl swaggered to the counter. “It’s time, Georgina. I’m leaving town.” His eyes shifted around the shelves of dusty cans and tattered boxes. “I’m going to need a few things for the journey.”
Georgina came around the counter and followed his eyes picking out his purchases—can of stew, SPAM, and sardines—before he had a chance to choose. “What do you mean you’re leaving? Where are you going?”
“Home,” he said.
“Where’s home Earl? You’ve been living in that abandoned mine since I knew ya,” replied Georgina. “How can you go back to nowhere?”
Earl grunted. “I don’t know. I just know it’s time to go.” He focused on the whiskey bottles behind the counter. “And a couple of those.”
“Well, hold on a second.” Georgina stepped into a small neatly organized office and retrieved a dusty bottle of fine Scotch from the shelf. She returned and presented it to him accompanied with two glasses. “Let’s drink to your journey and for old time sakes.”
Earl released a boyish grin that Georgina always had difficulty resisting. “Georgina, you are a woman who knows the way to my heart.”
“If only I could get you drunk I might be able to bring you to your senses.”
She opened the back door to her garden oasis of native rocks, several potted plants and a faded awning to keep cool, a beautiful garden tilled by a hardened woman. Earl was a mystery to her. She wondered what brought him to the outskirts of civilization. Did he share a story similar to hers of disappointment and lost love or was it something different entirely? As often as she had tried she was never able to get an answer to Earl’s past.
Forty years later Georgina swung on the same old love seat. She patted the wooden bench as an invitation to Earl. “I always thought you and I would grow gray together.” She glanced at him seated alongside noting both were already gray.
Mindlessly rocking the seat back and forth, Earl sipped his drink. He had always enjoyed Georgina’s company and occasional conversation, but now he found himself uncomfortable and imprisoned. He wanted to leave and embark on his journey, but Georgina was too good a woman to make an abrupt escape.
He shifted his gaze out from under the awning. “Look there. You can see the moon. People think the moon can only be seen at night. But it’s always there, just outshone by the sun’s light.”
Georgina pulled back from Earl and studied his face. “Light’s a light regardless if you can always see it.” She lit a cigarette and puffed. “Why are you leaving? What’s out there for you?”
Earl stared straight forward sipping at his Scotch. “I dunno exactly. I just know I don’t belong here.”
“Earl, no one belongs out here. The only things that belong here are the rattlers and the coyotes.”
He looked down at his boots; everything in his life was a puzzle—clues of what he once was. “It’s time for me to go back. They’re not coming for me, so I must find my own way.”
“Who’s not coming for you and where are you going?”
“The place I belong.”
“There aren’t too many places left for old codgers like you—like us,” replied Georgina.
Earl rocked back and forth staring at the Scotch swirling in his shot glass. He could lose himself just looking at his drink, so he set down the glass. He had enough doubts about leaving; he did not appreciate Georgina’s reluctance to cheer him and his journey onward. “They came by last night and left without me,” he explained soberly.
“Who did?” asked Georgina. “The star people you’re always talking about.”
“Don’t talk to me like I’m crazy. I reached out to them. I called to them and they rejected me,” Earl stated and slumped soberly in his seat.
Georgina looked over his khaki coveralls, boots and leather cap. “You’re right Earl. What was I thinking?”
The bell inside the store rang indicating customers. Georgina extinguished her cigarette in a pottery ashtray. “Wait here will you?” She started toward the door. How do I talk sense into a man who’s lost his senses?
The God State
The three stood before the exit door, waiting for someone to answer, and when no one did, Anna opened the door and shouted inside. “Hello! Is anyone home?” No answer, only resounding silence came from the darkness. “Hello!” she called, stepping inside.
“I don’t think that’s smart,” Sandeep said.
“What? Do you think I’m stupid?” she questioned.
“Anna, come back,” Bruce pleaded, and when she didn’t listen he followed her inside.
“Hello!” she shouted, her voice echoed against metal walls.
“Shush,” a voice called out from the darkness. A flashlight shined on his face. “We are just about to start taping.”
“Lars?” Bruce said, recognizing his face.
Lars smiled and swung his arms open to give Bruce a hug. “Mr. Bruce, Ms. Anna and Mr. Sandeep, it’s you. Yes, you’re just in time.”
“What’s going on here?” Bruce asked.
“This is Infinity! Goddorah’s favorite game show!” Lars exclaimed gleefully, and you three are our next competitors.”
“I think there is some mistake,” Anna said, “We’re just looking for the exit.”
“Brilliant! Great answer. I know you’ll be great. Follow me,” Lars said, escorting them down an aisle with the audience of darkened, blank faces seated on either side, up the steps to a stage with three sets of podiums, and in the front was a big black screen. “Now just stand here behind these three podiums,” he said, gesturing to the stands on the left.
“Really, we are not prepared to play a game. We just arrived,” Bruce said.
“You arrived! Good one. I know you’re going to do great.”
Bruce stood at his podium and looked across the stage at a man and two women, all wearing motif sweaters, and glowing, inspired expressions.
“What are we doing?” Anna asked, whispering aside to Bruce.
“Apparently, they want us to play a game,” he replied.
Sandeep stood at the last podium next to Bruce and Anna eager to play. “I love games!” He waved to the audience. “This should be fun.”
A laser cut a bright light through the back of the stage. George emerged wearing a star motif sweater, and a microphone in his hand. “Hello, and welcome to This is Infinity!” he yelled into the mic, as the enthusiastic audience chanted in unison. “Let me introduce our Goddorah family, the Schmitt’s: Edgar, Delores, and Mitsi.” The crowd applauded. “And on our left, new to Goddorah our friends: Bruce, Anna, and Sandeep!” Another round of cheers from the audience. He walked toward Bruce’s podium. “Let’s meet our guests.” He glanced at an index card. “Bruce, it says here, you are self-help author and speaker. So tell the audience, how you help the self.”
“No,” Bruce said, “I’m a self-help expert. I teach others to help themselves.”
“About the self?” George asked.
“Maybe. Sometimes. I help others get in touch with themselves,” Bruce muttered.
“How do you do that?”
Bruce tapped his fingers on the podium. “I don’t really know.”
George positioned the microphone before Bruce’s lips. “And you make a good living doing what you don’t know what you’re doing?”
“Ah yes,” Bruce uttered.
“Fantastic!” George exclaimed, striding toward Anna’s podium. “You are a homemaker correct?” When she nodded, he continued, “How exactly do you make homes? Are you a carpenter like Jesus?”
She laughed. “No. I’m a mother. I take care of the home, cook and clean.”
“So, you’re not actually making anything then?” he asked.
Anna glared at him. “I am raising two boys!”
“Excellent,” George replied, stepping to Sandeep. “You work for a computer help desk. How do you help desks?”
Sandeep chuckled. “I don’t actually help desks.”
“Pity,” George said, “I know plenty of desks that can use help.” The audience laughed.
Sandeep exchanged glances with Bruce and Anna, as if George was completely whacked.
George walked away from their platforms to the large screen. He swung his arm dramatically to the screen, which lit up as he spoke, “And now, it’s time to look at our categories - Collected Consciousness, I Am, Beyond Belief, Space Odyssey, and the last category, Juice.” He turned toward Bruce. “We’ll start with our new visitors. You can choose the first category.”
Bruce felt his pride surge. He had been studying philosophy his entire life, this is a game he felt sure he could succeed at. “I’ll take Collected Consciousness for two hundred.”
George read aloud the question from the card, “A Phenomenon that occurs when particles interact in ways where each particle cannot be described independently, but must be described as a whole.”
With his hand on the buzzer, Bruce paused, giving time for his competitor to buzz in.
Edgar from the opposite podium rang his buzzer. “What is the quantum theory of entanglement?”
“That is correct!” George exclaimed. “You get to pick the next category.”
“I’ll take Beyond Belief for two hundred!” Edgar replied.
“Okay, and the next question is, what is the universal language?” George asked.
Anna rang in quickly. “What is French?”
“Ooh, I’m sorry that is incorrect,” George responded.
“No, it’s right. French is the universal language,” Anna asserted. “I answered correctly.”
“Very sorry, you are wrong,” George said.
Anna placed her hands on her hips. “No, I’m right.”
Delores, from the other team buzzed in. “I believe the correct answer is frequency.”
“That is correct! The universal language is frequency! Well done, Delores,” George said, “The next question is yours.”
“I think this game is rigged!” Anna declared.
“Shush,” Bruce said softly.
“But I’m right, Bruce. This game is fixed for the Goddorah team to win,” Anna protested.
George ignored Anna’s griping. “Delores, please pick the next question.”
“I Am for two hundred, George,” Delores responded.
“Alright and here’s the question, an apprehension of lying tacitly in the back of our minds, which we cannot easily admit, even to ourselves. The Germans call this?” George asked.
Mitsi jumped up and down and squealed in a little girl voice, “Hintergedanke!” The audience erupted in a rousing cheer.
“Hintergedanke! That is correct!” George exclaimed, as Bruce and Anna rolled their eyes.
“Game is fixed. They made that up. There is no such word,” Anna muttered.
“Mitsi, you get to choose the next category,” George said.
Mitsi bounced on her toes and she nervously looked over the categories. “George, I’ll take juice for two hundred.”
I like juice, Sandeep thought, as he placed his hand just above the buzzer.
George read the question, “This juice refers to the divine seer of universal truth.”
Sandeep pounded the buzzer. “Soma juice!’ he yelled out and then breathlessly repeated, “The answer is soma juice.”
“That is correct! Two hundred points for our new visitors!” George yelled.
Bruce and Anna watched as Sandeep raised his hands in victory with the bright lights shining on him, and when the drama was over, and the game ended, the three were shown the back door, where Anna hoped was the exit to the parking lot, but just led to yet another path.
They walked along the path, engaging with the Goddorah locals. Beatrice noticed how they looked at her with distrust and disapproval, and Alexei, Brian and Sandeep were greeted with smiles. It didn’t make sense. They were trolls, bullies and womanizers. She was a trusted, educated, respected journalist.
Ahead on the path, the towering fern trees grew sparse, until only naked land was visible on either side of the deep canyon, and where the bottom was not visible. It wasn’t a spectacular view like Grand Canyon, in fact it was bleak, barren and truly uninspiring.
“This is what we came to see?” Melody asked. “There’s nothing here.”
Bruce checked the God State tourist brochure. A red dot illuminated on the page, and then the words “You are here,” spelled out, and as soon as he read it the words disappeared. “This is it,” he said, folding the brochure and putting it in his pocket. He stepped in circles, studying the tan-colored rocks, and high cliff. Better say something quick, or the others will think you don’t know anything, he thought the words echoing in his ear. “We’re definitely here,” he said.
This guy is full of shit, Melody thought of Bruce. We should be demanding to be taken to the shuttle. I know that George guy is hiding something from us. He’s holding back the truth.
I don’t understand any of this, Anna thought. She looked at the others and smiled. “Not very picturesque. This place is boring.”
“Nothing is boring, only boring people,” Brian said and thoughts suddenly filled his head, Can’t I ever be nice?
“And I suppose you consider yourself interesting,” Melody sniped. God, what a bitch I am. She snapped her head to the sound of the thoughts ringing in her ear.
Beatrice stepped to the edge and gazed over the precipice seeing nothing but darkness below. She felt a hollow in her heart and it hurt. Just don’t say anything. Everyone is so judgmental, and they’ll judge me, just like they judge the others. She glanced at Alexei. I wonder what he’s thinking. Is he attracted to me or not? Damn it, why can’t I stop thinking of him? What’s the matter with me?
Alexei smiled unsure at Beatrice. What’s her deal? She’s fucking Beatrice Suffolk, a famous journalist, and I’m just an anonymous troll, well, three, no four anonymous trolls. He reached for her arm and pulled her back from the edge. He wanted to say something, but the words didn’t come forth, only the thoughts of insecurity bouncing around in his mind.
Sandeep walked off by himself, feeling separated from the group, and he couldn’t understand why. I’m a nice guy, friendly. Why won’t any girl love me? Why is love so untrue? Pretty girls are always taken with men who treat them badly. He looked at Alexei and Brian who appeared to have secured attention from women. I treat woman nice, but they never like me. What’s wrong with me?
Anna clenched her heart. I miss my babies, my husband. Why did I take this stupid trip? She looked around. There’s got to be a door out of this studio. She traced her hands along the side of the cliff, feeling the dusty rock. “I bet there’s a trapped door in this cliff that leads to the studio parking lot.”
God that girl is dim. Don’t be a bitch, Mel. God, you’re always so mean. It’s your nastiness that got you in this mess. You made that poor girl kill herself and those dogs. Shit. God, Melody thought, covering her ears with her palms and falling to her knees.
“Melody, are you alright? What’s the matter?” Brian said, rushing to her side. What the fuck am I doing? I’m such dumb ass? Why would she want my help after I called her nasty names? I’m such an asshole. He sat down beside her, burying his face in his hands.
“What’s going on here? Why is everyone sitting down? I’m sure there’s a place out of here? It’s all a hoax,” Anna said, her voice straining with anxiety. Why doesn’t anyone ever listen to me? I’m smart. I really am. Sure I don’t have a fancy education like Beatrice, or Bruce. But I know things. I know when we’re being fooled. I miss my husband. He understands.
“Anna, sweetheart, this is no hoax. This isn’t a Hollywood studio,” Bruce said. Damn that girl is stupid. This is my fault. My pompous experiment at the expense of these poor kids. I killed these young people with my pride and my ego.
An aging Goddorah couple walked up to greet them. A long-haired, bearded man wearing an intarsia sweater, strolled along with the aid of a wooden cane in one hand and his wife’s hand in the other. “Good day,” he said to the group. “Enjoying Echo Canyon?”
“It’s lovely,” Beatrice lied.
“It’s a great place to get in touch with yourself,” the aged woman, in a red ski sweater said. She gave her husband a loving gaze. “And each other.”
The elder man saluted them as they passed. “Well enjoy, and don’t throw yourself into the canyon. We’ve had several people do so, but not in a long time.”
“What happens if you do?” Beatrice asked.
The older woman shook her head. “My dear, the echoes never die. They just get louder.”
“I see.” Beatrice replied. “I see. How long does it take?”
The aged man gave her a kind smile. “A lifetime.”
They all watched the elderly couple pass and stroll onward, disappearing around the corner of a large rock.
“Man, this is harsh,” Melody said rising to her feet. “I can’t stand my own thoughts.”
“You’re not alone,” Brian replied, standing alongside her.
“None of us are alone,” Bruce said. He opened his arms to gather his group and encourage him them to follow. “Let’s move on. The Water Walkway should be just up the path.”
The God State
Bruce Merrick rose from his seat and followed her through the hallway, entering a small backstage, and waiting for the overhead announcer to introduce him. “Ladies and gentlemen, our next speaker at the Shifting into the New Age Conference, is the author of several books, including Socializing on Social Media, The Psychology of the Critic, and his new release, Interpersonal Space. Please give a warm welcome to psychologist and philosopher, Bruce Merrick.”
A warm applause from a small audience of about one hundred people greeted Bruce as he walked onto the stage. “Thank you,” he said in a soft, slightly effeminate voice. The delicate man spoke in a tender tone. He adjusted the microphone on his lapel, and then smiled once more for the audience. “I was invited to talk to you all about my book, and the topic of interpersonal space. You may be thinking to yourself what is interpersonal space?”
The well-mannered audience offered a mild, yet enthusiastic applause. All in attendance were there for one reason – raising their level of consciousness, and they believed Bruce Merrick was one of the few in the world with the answers. Once silence overcame the room and the lights dimmed to complete darkness, they waited quietly for Bruce to begin.
He clicked a button on a hand-held device and a screen behind him portrayed a photo of the universe. “This is a passion of mine – space. I even have my reservation secured with Rick Marsden’s tourist shuttle service, which takes passengers on a voyage around our Mother Earth to see the planet in her truest form.” He gazed into the blackness of the audience. He could see no faces and hear no reaction. Although he couldn’t see a soul, he posed the question to engage his audience. “How many have imagined space travel?” A muted rustling of raised arms gave Bruce the awareness they were all still with him.
Turning back to his presentation, he flipped through a series of photos of Earth from space, he continued, “She, like all people, needs to be appreciated as a whole, not for her individual parts. Surely, we love her beaches and forests, but what about her deserts, frozen tundra? What about the lava, which floats underneath her surface? In order to truly love her, we need to appreciate all of her.”
He switched to a picture of arteries in the human body. “This too is space, the space inside us. We contain within us different worlds and galaxies, each cell contains its own life, reacting to stimuli within our bodies, and our cells react to what we experience.” Bruce clicked to a photograph of people crammed on a subway. “Personal space, we all know how it feels to have it invaded by another’s presence, but is it close physical proximity that bothers us, or something different? Why do we let some people in close and others we repel? The truth about interpersonal space is here,” he said, demonstrating an illuminating photo of a human head, with rays extending in every direction. “Interpersonal space is our consciousness. Our subtle energy body decides who we let in and who we reject. Call it a feeling, a vibe, or intuition, our consciousness dictates those who we allow into our interpersonal space.”
India was flooded by the melted ice of the mountains. There was no way of knowing what city or town lurked beneath them. They sailed across the lake, seeing flowered garlands floating in the water and decorative temple spires poking through the water’s surface, while the smell of curry lofted in the air.
“Yes, we must be in India,” said Sullie. “I always loved Indian food.”
They continued as far as they could until the sleigh hit mud and could go no further. With wobbly knees they fell out of the sleigh and onto soggy land. Once again, not a soul was in sight.
“They must have escaped to higher land,” said Captain Namouth.
“If they made it to higher land,” replied Father Seppi. “God save their souls.”
The group walked through a small village, even daring to enter homes looking for human life, or at least proof that human life once existed. Jimmy entered a house and ran outside screaming. “It’s Merlin! I found Merlin! Merlin is here!”
“Merlin?” Sullie questioned, running to the house.
All rushed to meet this magical Merlin, only to find an aged yogi levitating in the lotus position.
“What in the world is he doing?” asked Captain Namouth.
“Levitating, meditating,” said Sullie with wide-eyed fascination. “I never knew it was possible.”
“It’s not,” said Poindexter. “It’s scientifically impossible.”
“Yes, but with our minds we were able to make plants bloom?” retorted Sullie. “Explain that, Doctor.”
“Look lady, I am tired of you challenging everything I say and do. You’re just some crazy witch who believes that concocting some spell or rubbing beads and crystals will save the world. You, lady, are a hack.”
Sullie put her hands on her hips. “I’m a hack? I’m not the laughing stock of the entire scientific community.”
Captain Namouth lit his pipe and puffed. “If you ask me, you’re all on the wrong side of loony.” He nodded at Father Seppi. “Except you father, you travel with the good word of the Lord.”
Father Seppi clenched his drenched Bible. “Thank you, Sir.”
“Oh please!” argued Sullie. “That’s his problem; he uses it as a shield, too afraid to truly face the problems of the world. That’s what Anzor has been trying to tell you, but you’re too scared.”
“I’m here on this ill-conceived journey. I did believe in you people, but you are reaching in so many directions, like that of a jagged old tree,” Father Seppi replied.
Captain Namouth approached the yogi. “I wonder what this old codger’s secret is?” He felt around the yogi’s body. “There are no strings, no ropes. There is nothing keeping him up.”
“Devilish tricks, I suspect,” said Father Seppi. “What defies nature, defies God. Must be the work of the Devil. This is all the world of the Devil.”
Venetia turned to them all. “We have no idea who he is, or how he is doing it. Open minds, good hearts and best intentions got us this far. We cannot lose our minds over something we cannot understand.”
“For God’s sake, shut up!” echoed a voice through the room.
The group silenced themselves, glanced around the room and then at the motionless yogi.
Venetia turned toward the man and smiled prettily. “Hello.”
The yogi did not respond.
“Excuse me, Sir,” continued Venetia. “I am supermodel Venetia De Mille. These are my friends Poindexter, Captain Namouth, Jimmy, Sullie and Father Seppi. We have traveled around the world in search of answers to save the world.”
The yogi did not flinch.
“Good wise Sir, we have tried science, magic, prayer and meditation. We have after all this time made a connection to the Earth and believe we have the ability to start healing, but we must get home to tell the others…if the others are still alive,” explained Venetia.
The voice radiated through the room, “Yet the Earth still does not move.”
“Sorcery!” replied Father Seppi.
“I bet this is just a hologram and there is some wise one lurking behind one of these walls. It’s like that movie Oz. Somewhere behind these walls is an old man with a sense of humor,” said Captain Namouth.
Venetia gestured for Captain Namouth to remain quiet as she too looked around to see where the voice was coming from. “You’re right. The Earth is not spinning.”
“What do you expect us to do—the whole world jog in one direction to get it jump started?” joked Captain Namouth.
“You know, your remarks are not just disrespectful, they’re stupid,” said Sullie.
“Too bad there was never a man to put you in your place,” Captain Namouth retorted.
Sullie scoffed. “No woman would have you on land, so you took a plastic doll with you out to sea.”
“Enough!” scolded the voice. “Is this the best humanity has to offer? If so, then we are all doomed.
Sullie and Captain Namouth lowered their heads.
“And you, Doctor and Father, separating yourselves with theories and ideologies and stealing from one another for self-gratification. What is this?”
Father Sappi and Poindexter bowed ashamed.
“Sir, we apologize, it’s been a long, exhausting trip. They are good people,” said Venetia.
“And you,” echoed the voice.
“Me?” asked Venetia.
“Your heart is bitter with distaste. You spread love around with the creatures of the world, but you have chosen a life of isolation, away from those you fear and judge.”
Venetia jerked her head to the side. The yogi’s magical words struck her core, seemingly knowing the distance at which she positioned herself from the nuns at the convent, the girls at the home, her fellow models and even, at times, her own group. Why do I do this? How does the yogi know?
“We are one. With universal consciousness the impossible becomes possible,” the voice echoed. “If you cannot reach a state of utter oneness with each other, how do you expect to solve anything? Separated the world will crumble; together the world will thrive.”
“So, we’re to meditate on the universe, like we did with the plants?” asked Sullie. “We brought plants back to life; we can bring the universe to order.”
“No,” bellowed the voice. “What brought you to me? What brought you together?”
Venetia and her group looked dumbfounded. It was the riddle of all riddles; the riddle that would save mankind. Venetia walked outside the house, followed by the others. She looked up at the setting sun and reflected on her journey. It began at sunrise on the other side of the Earth and here she was with the sun about to set. Is this the end, or is it just beginning?
“Now what?” asked Jimmy.
Venetia closed her eyes tightly, trying desperately to meditate. A tingling sensation suddenly came over her body and she found herself enveloped in a warm white veil of peace. She opened her eyes. She couldn’t believe it; it was a vulture circling in the sky.
Daringly, Venetia raised her arm to the sky. The vulture soared downward and landed firmly on her wrist. She looked into the vulture’s eyes. “Consciousness is the core of humanity. It can be a curse or it can be a cure,” said the vulture in the voice of the yogi. “Only humanity can decide how to break the curse and be the cure.
“But how?” asked Venetia.
“It only takes one to break the spell.” The bird soared away into the sky, disappearing from sight.
With a towel wrapped around his waist, seventeen-year-old Deni exited the high school shower and headed to his locker where his friends T-Bone, Devon, and Hector were getting dressed after practice. He toweled off and then slid into his underwear.
“Hey Daudov!” called the team’s offense tackle, Brad Dietrich. “I saw your mom wearing one of those scarfy things. Don’t tell me you’re a Muslim or is your mother just plain ugly.”
Deni laughed and didn’t say anything, but T-Bone spoke up in Deni’s defense. “Hey don’t be an ignorant ass; our brother here is Muslim just like Muhammad Ali.” He threw air punches at Deni. ‘“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”’
“No way. Muhammad Ali is black,” said Brad.
T-Bone was just about to speak when Deni held him back. “I got this.” Deni turned to Brad and spoke
as if talking to a child. “Bradley, what’s your religion?”
“Methodist,” replied Brad with a shrug.
“That’s funny. I thought you were American,” replied Deni.
T-Bone, Devon, and Hector laughed and continued getting dressed.
“You guys are a bunch of pricks,” said Brad.
“No. I’m not a prick; I’m Santeria,” replied T-Bone.
Deni turned to T-Bone shocked. “And all this time I thought you was black.”
T-Bone laughed wildly.
Hector stepped in the conversation. “No Santeria is Cuban, isn’t it?”
“No, Cuban is Spanish,” replied Devon.
“I thought Spanish was Catholic,” said Deni.
“No, that’s Italian,” said T-Bone.
“Hey, don’t knock Italians!” shouted one of their teammates from a different row of lockers.
“Don’t worry bro!” shouted Hector. “Italians make good sandwiches!”
Deni zipped up his bag and slung it over his shoulder. “You know what I can go for - Chinese.” He rubbed his belly. “I could go for some scallion pancakes.”
“Nah, that’s white man’s food,” said T-Bone. He put his arm around Deni. “Let’s go get some ribs.”
“I’m not white?” Deni muttered, mocking confusion.
“Nope, you’re a brother,” said T-Bone.
Deni walked out with T-Bone, Devon, and Hector. It struck Deni as odd that he found more camaraderie with America’s so-called minorities, regardless of the rising population of different races and ethnic groups. The Great Melting Pot worked only if it blended into a bland, white stew, with just a spattering of different races and cultures for taste, Deni thought.
Being a Russian immigrant was a novelty for many in his circle. Occasionally he could entertain the crowds by teaching everyone Russian swear words, or being the butt of Cold War jokes. But when his family’s religion leaked into the portals of his surroundings, it was often filled with traces of distrust and hate. Although he did his best to laugh it off, that nerve ran deep. His only other choice was to deny everything he was and just be a white boy to suit everyone’s comfort.