Wednesday, March 31, 2010
I’m starting to freak out. Am I losing it? Or is this just some kind of phase I’m going through? I’m not sure if any of it is real. Okay, Markus, get a hold of yourself. You’re not crazy . . . yet.
In school today I can’t focus at all. Class after class the only thing I can think of is my angel and all the strange experiences I’ve been having. And Val’s been asking me nonstop about what happened last night. I don’t know for how long I can fend her off. It’s weird enough that I lived, or maybe dreamed, another person’s life. But how do I explain that I felt I had lived the life of Helen, a woman! Too weird. Should I go to the school counselor? Better not. I don’t need things getting any more complicated than they already are right now. I see Val waiting at our lunch table. I can see the questions in her face before I even sit down.
“Markus,” Val started in right away, “You’ve been dancing around my questions all morning. Last night you were so excited to tell me about it. Why all of a sudden you’re avoiding it?”
“Well,” I started hesitatingly, “It’s pretty weird and, honestly, I don’t know how you’re going to react to what I experienced last night.”
“Markus, I’ve known you since middle school… since the day you moved in for Pete’s sake. Who else could you trust? Besides, I know you’re weird and I’m okay with it. So, are you going to tell me now or what?”
It’s hard to argue with someone who knows you so well. And she’s right. Val and I have shared everything these past years. I guess I can be honest with her about having been Helen in my dream.
“Ok Val,” I sighed, “But after classes meet me at Java Lava for a coffee and I’ll tell you all about it there.”
“Deal,” Val said. “But you’re buying since you’re making me wait.”
After school I head over to Java Lava which is Val’s and my favorite café and hang out spot. We go at least twice a week. Java Lava is a cool artsy place with paintings from local artists on the brightly colored walls. It has an industrial look with concrete floors but at the same time it’s so cozy too. But most of all, they have the best frappacinos in town.
Val was there waiting for me on one of the overstuffed chairs in the corner. Now I’m nervous again. How do I start this conversation? Oh heck, I’ll just jump right into it. So I sit down and spill the whole story of how I experienced a year in the life of a woman named Helen who lived in the 1940s. Val sat there listening carefully and quietly as I gave her every detail from where Helen worked to how she met Frank, got married, and was killed in a car accident with her new husband. When I finish Val is still sitting there across from me. That should be a good sign. I think.
“Well,” I say, “That’s all of it. That’s what I experienced while I was out cold on the Binyamin’s living room carpet. So, what do you think Val? Tell me.”
“Markus, that’s the most romantic story I ever heard,” she finally said. “You know I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories. Why do you think I cry like a baby every time I see Titanic? But this story of yours was so beautiful. It really was.”
“Val, whatever, but this is really freaking me out!”
“I think you’re lucky to be having these experiences Markus. I mean, it sure beats the heck out of my boring life! But, well, yeah, I can see how it is weird and kind of freaky too,” she said.
“But as nice as you find the story, Val, I’m sure it’s all just in my head. It has to be. I mean who are these people? Helen and Ruth. Their friend Alice. And Anna, Anna Van Ordt. Or Anna Hooks, actually, after she got married.”
Suddenly Val went white. She tilted her head slowly and fixed her eyes right onto mine. I can see her jaw dropping before me.
“What Val? What is it?”
“Hooks!” she says. “Anna Hooks? Markus, that’s my last name and, you’re not going to believe this, but my grandmother is Anna Hooks and, Markus,” she leans in close, “Before that she was . . . Anna Van Ordt!”
Now this just can’t be. I can’t speak. I’m stunned beyond words. Val’s face too is frozen in disbelief. I’m also starting to get a bad feeling. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like the feeling I got yesterday when I was at the principal’s office. And I felt it as Helen in the car right before she crashed. Then, something even more weird happens. I look out the window and across the street and my jaw hits the floor. That black suit. That red tie. It’s Eiden.
“Val!” I said in a screaming whisper, “Look across the street. It’s him, it’s Eiden!”
“Where,” Val asks swinging her neck around to see out the window behind her. “What, you mean that guy in the red tie?”
“Yes! Val, that’s him.”
Across the street Eiden was looking at us. Then he smiled, waved and started to walk away. The further he got down the street better I started to feel. What the heck is going on?
“So that’s Eiden?” Val asks bringing me back to the moment. “The new guy?”
“Yes,” I said. “And every time I see him I get weird feelings.”
“You’ve had a lot of weird feelings lately Markus. Anyway, just pay no attention to that creep. Now, what about my grandmother? Markus, she’s Anna Van Ordt Hooks. And this Helen you’re talking about I’ll bet was one of her friends. Markus listen, next week we’re going to drive up to see her. Why don’t you come with us?”
“Gee, I don’t know Val. It might be kind of awkward going on your family outing.”
“Are you kidding Markus? My parents have all but adopted you. You’re like family to us and so you should come meet my grandmother anyway. You can talk to her, ask if there really was a Helen and a Ruth and an Alice. Maybe you could find out what the heck’s been going on.”
“Well, maybe it would be okay,” I answered.
“Good, then it’s settled. Besides, we’ll have a fun time up by the lake where my grandma lives.”
“Yeah,” I say, “It’ll be fun I guess.” Only now I’m getting super curious about my friends from back during the war. What happened to Ruth and Alice. I hope Val’s grandmother knows something.
“Markus,” Val says leaning over the table to get closer. “I can’t stop thinking about that Shimbala legend, the one Mr. Binyamin was telling us about. Do you think there is a connection between that and what you’re going through? Today during my free period I looked that legend up. I found some articles about the basic story, but nothing as detailed as Mr. Binyamin told us.”
“Oh yeah,” I say, “The legend. I forgot about that. Well, I don’t know Val. I mean there could be some connection. We need to talk to Mr. Binyamin again and get more about that story.”
“So I’m guessing we’re going to give our new neighbors a visit tomorrow?”
“Yes, Val, we will,” I said finally being able to smile again.
“Excuse me,” the waitress said cutting into our conversation. “Anything I can get you two? We have a wonderful new caramel latte that you might like to try.”
As I looked up and listened to the waitress I find I can’t stop looking at her. She’s so cheerful and she seems familiar too. I feel a calmness coming over me like a familiar blanket. I just had to ask her . . . .
“I’m sorry, but have you always worked here?”
“Oh no,” she said breaking into a smile. “I’m new. In fact this is my first day.”
Then I must not have seen her before. But there was something so familiar about her and, like most of the things happening to me lately, I can’t put my finger on it. I’m starting to get really frustrated.
“We’ll try two of your new caramel lattes,” Val chimes in.
“Coming right up,” the waitress says. She then turns to walk away. I keep thinking that I saw her when I was younger maybe. Not sure and more than likely it’s just my imagination again.
“So, what would you like to do now?” Val asks.
“Well, I’ve got some reading to do Val. I’ll do that now and when we finish our lattes then I need to get home and start that book report on “Tale of Two Cities” that’s due next week for English Class.”
“Yeah, you better catch up on that cause Mrs. Schneider takes no prisoners when it comes to her book reports. And you seemed really zoned out in class today. Here, take my notes home with you and copy them.”
“Val, you’re the best,” I said with relief. “Great, here come our drinks.” I don’t see the new waitress.
I was just getting off the factory floor and walking outside to go home when I noticed the stars shining up in the sky. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them so bright. It looks like they’re almost smiling down at me. It’s been five months now since the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the war effort is gathering steam. It was a long day at the factory, making army tank engines. I am covered with metal dust by the time the day is done. On the bus home I notice the driver glancing at me from time to time. He looks sad, worried, but when our eyes meet he manages a closed-lipped smile. You see that look a lot these days; like we’ve lost our innocence, or we surely will soon. I’m certain he’s wondering what the future will bring, how long this war will last, how bad it will be, and whether we’ll survive. I know because I think these things all the time. But no matter. It’s Friday and I have to get home. I’m meeting the girls at our favorite place, Harry’s. Some Jitterbug dancing will lift our spirits.
I’m all dolled up now and ready to go. I hear my friend Ruth letting herself into my apartment. She’s one of the three girls I pal around with. Alice and Anna, my best friend, are also coming here first so we can head over to Harry’s together. Anna and I are the two singles of the group. Ruth and Alice are married and their husbands are already overseas. Ruth’s man was shipped off just last month. They both act so brave. But, I can see it in their eyes. The longing and the worry of seeing your heart’s love go off to face the dangers of war. It must be unbearable. That’s why I promised myself I wouldn’t do it. I’m not going to fall for a man just to lose him somewhere in the Pacific or in Europe. Anyway, Ruth is calling and I’m in the mood to go dancing!
“Hi Helen,” Ruth coos as I emerge from my room. “Don’t you look sweet. Are you ready for some fun tonight?”
“Am I ever!” I reply. “Oh look, I see Anna and Alice coming up the walk. Let’s go.”
We get to Harry’s and our favorite table is free. Harry’s has the best big band sound in the neighborhood. Glenn Miller and the Jitterbug are our favorites. Me and the girls can boogie woogie until late into the night. It’s the only thing that makes us forget the war.
“Are you gals ready for some Chattanooga Choochoo?” Anna asked as we grabbed our table. Anna is such a dear best friend to me. What a gal. And boy does she like a party!
“Anna,” Alice chided with a smile, “It’s blues night tonight... jug head!”
“Oh yes, so it is. I forgot. No matter,” Anna shot back, “Just so long as there are some cuties and a Whiskey Sour then I’m happy." Classic Anna.
We are lucky to get our table tonight. The club is more full than usual. I see several soldiers and a few sailors already dancing with their girls. Harry, the owner, is an old man now, but he sure knows what the kids like. I see Harry behind the bar serving. The band is playing one of my favorite Billy Holiday songs, “I’ll be seeing you.” I just love this song and it . . . wait a minute. I see eyes staring at me. Two baby blue eyes. What is this? My heart is racing. Why is this happening? There’s a soldier. And a fine man he is. He’s with a friend who’s making his way over toward our table.
“Hi there Mrs.” one of the soldiers says. "Would you give a soldier a dance?”
Anna, her cheeks flush but surely thrilled, replies, “It’s Miss Anna actually and, while it’s very nice of you, I don’t think I should.” She’s like a cat playing sadistically with the live mouse it just caught.
“Well Miss. Anna, me and my buddy here will be shipping out overseas in a few days and it would make me so happy to take with me the memory of a dance with a beautiful lady like yourself. My name is Earl, Earl Hooks,” he said holding out his hand.
Anna smiled coyly to us like a Cheshire cat as she put her hand in his and rose up to head to the dance floor.
Hours later I noticed Anna again. “She seems to be having a good time!” I said. Anna and her new man were still cutting up the dance floor.
“She sure is,” Ruth said. “Helen, it’s getting late and I think Alice and I are going to start walking home. Besides, all these soldiers aren’t good for our lonely hearts.”
“Okay, doll. Will you two be all right? I’m going to stay a bit and wait for Anna.”
“Sure honey. Enjoy now and don’t stay too late,” they said getting their coats to leave.
“Sure will girls. Night Ruth, Night Alice,” I said.
Just before she turned to go, Alice leaned in to say, “Good night sweetie. And be careful in here with your heart. I see that soldier still has his eye on you. If you fancy him make him sweep you off your feet.”
“Oh Alice,” I said with a blush, “I don’t think he has much of a chance tonight or any other night,” I laughed it off as they left the club with a wave. But I felt something stir in my heart and stomach. Those eyes have been following me all evening. Then, no sooner had I put my hand down on the table when those baby blues found me again. I could feel them on me and was mesmerized by them.
I turned around to look at them again and . . . but wait . . . where did they go?
“Hi there!” a deep and handsome voice said from behind me. “Did I scare you?” he asked? I was caught totally off guard.
“Well, you did give me a bit of a scare,” I said smiling in relief. I’m not sure if I’m relieved that the startle was just a voice, or that I found those baby blues again. “You shouldn’t sneak up on someone like that,” I mildly admonished him.
“I’m sorry Miss. But I was just wondering . . . would you care to dance?”
“You can call me Helen,” I said, “and, yes, I’d love to dance.”
“Helen… what a beautiful name for a beautiful angel.”
He took my hand and my knees went weak. My heart is about to jump out of my chest. What is it about this man that’s making me feel this way? I keep feeling butterflies in the pit of my stomach. His eyes, those baby blue eyes are stealing my breath away. We are dancing, but I don’t feel the floor underneath me. It’s like we’re dancing on air.
“So, Mr. Soldier, what should I call you?”
“My name is Frank.”
“Frank . . . a very handsome name for a handsome fella.”
What are you doing to me Mr. Soldier, I wondered. I honestly feel like Cinderella the night of her ball. Are you my prince charming?
“So,” I start to say, “Your friend over there tells us you’re both being shipped out soon?”
“Yes,” he answered. “We got our orders to leave in two days.”
“Two days! So soon?”
“Well,” he starts saying, “Before I used to think the sooner the better. But now I’m regretting that decision.”
“Well, Helen, when I was first drafted I didn’t have anything or anyone here to miss or anyone to miss me. I know what I’m about to say sounds like a pick-up line, but I swear it’s true. I want us to win the war. I guess my love of country was my only love at the time. But at this moment, I think there’s another love growing in me.”
I am lost for words. I’m totally being swept off my feet. I think I’m falling in love. But this can’t be. I shouldn’t let it be! What about my promise to myself? I’ve seen Ruth and Alice both come to work with extra make-up on trying to cover their tear tracks from crying that morning and probably much of the night too. But I can’t seem to help how I feel about Frank. It’s so strong. I’ve never experienced this before. Frank is just sinking deeper and deeper into my heart. Then I heard the words of Billie Holiday echoing over the dance floor to my ears. They only confirm what I’m resisting, trying to deny.
♪ “I'll be seeing you,
In all the old familiar places,
That this heart of mine embraces,
All day through . . .” ♪
In all the old familiar places,
That this heart of mine embraces,
All day through . . .” ♪
Oh Billie! I don’t need real-life blues. My heart is already aching. But I can’t stop myself. My heart has a mind of its own and my body isn’t obeying a word from my head at all.
♪ “In that small café,
The park across the way,
The children's carousel,
The chestnut trees,
The wishing well,
The park across the way,
The children's carousel,
The chestnut trees,
The wishing well,
I'll be seeing you,
In every lovely summer's day,
In everything that's light and gay,
I'll always think of you that way.” ♪
In every lovely summer's day,
In everything that's light and gay,
I'll always think of you that way.” ♪
Oh Billie, all what you’re saying is true. I will be missing you Frank when you’re gone. But what can I do other than just say I hope I’ll be seeing you?
“Frank,” I looked up and said, “This might come out wrong, but I’m just wishing right now that you don’t go.”
“Why would that be wrong Helen? I feel the same way.”
“I think I’m falling for you,” I said looking into his eyes and drawing my arms tight around his shoulders.
He smiled down and then kissed me. My knees weren’t the only things that gave way, my whole body did. It was a kiss from heaven like I’d never known before.
“Helen,” Frank says, “Let’s go. Will you come with me?”
He took my arm and led me off the dance floor toward the door. I grabbed my purse as we swept past my table and then a new feeling suddenly came over me. It was an uncomfortable feeling and it stopped me. As we headed for the door I noticed a man sitting at the bar. I’ve seen him before. I’ve seen that red tie before. He was looking at me with a glass in his hand. He raised it up as if acknowledging me. Then Anna suddenly grabbed my arm and turned me around.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
Her question just made me look at Frank. Baby blue was looking at me and all seemed beautifully clear. I just answered, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” Anna smiled but still played the role of worried friend. “Just don’t go too far, Helen. Not too far,” she said looking me in the eye then winking.
We walked outside and strolled into the empty field across the street. Frank was leading me somewhere but I wasn’t sure where, and with all honesty I didn’t care. He walked me over to a beautiful big tree. I looked up and saw the stars I’d noticed earlier after work. They were even brighter now, almost blinding.
“Helen, I know this is fast and must seem awfully strange, but I feel like I’ve known you all my life. And I can’t stand the thought of heading overseas…”
I interrupted him and put my finger over his sweet lips. “You don’t have to explain anything to me. I have the same feeling,” I said.
Then Frank got down on one knee, and looked me straight in the eyes. “Helen,” he said, “Will you marry me?”
I can’t breathe. There was only one answer in me. Nothing else but that answer came into my mind, the words that were in me waiting for years to be uttered.
“Yes. Yes, Frank, I will marry you.”
He got up off his knee, lifted my chin toward him and kissed me warmly. These are not kisses, they are spells. Enchantments that could never be broken and I would never want them to break.
At 11:00 a.m. the next morning we were married at City Hall. Our wedding was the most amazing day I ever had. The amount of love we shared I think could have stopped the war itself. The day after, however, wasn’t as sweet. That was the day Frank had to leave. I saw him off at the bus station. My love, my husband is going to war. I can’t believe it. I promised I wouldn’t do this to myself but I did. I’ve just joined the Ruth and Alice club.
I’ll miss you more than you can know Frank. But I will see you and feel you in my heart. ♪ “I'll find you in the morning sun; and when the night is new. I'll be looking at the moon, but I'll be seeing you.” ♫ Those words from Billie expressed everything I felt. I just wish I could stop crying.
That was six months ago since the wedding and Frank’s departure. I’ve been getting his letters, almost one a week. Despite my longing for Frank, these months have also been among the happiest of my life because even though he’s not here I found my true love. Last week, Frank wrote that he’d be coming home on leave in November and that he’d be here for my birthday on the eighth. I can’t imagine a better gift for my twenty-fifth birthday then a kiss from Frank.
Just a few weeks later I’m at the bus station with Ruth and Anna. It’s a big day because all of our men are going to be here today. We’re waiting for Anna’s fiancé to arrive home from leave as well and Ruth’s husband Raymond who will also be on the same bus. So will my Frank. Only there’s a pale over our happiness. Alice didn’t come. She got the news last week that her husband Ralph was missing and presumed dead in the Pacific. Poor Alice. Despite it all, we’re trying to be excited for each other, Ruth and Anna, especially Anna, the soon-to-be Mrs. Earl Hooks. It’s so exciting to see her so happy with her fiancé Earl. They’re wedding is set for tomorrow at the church. Alice insists on going. She’s so brave. Ruth is also anxiously awaiting her Raymond. She had not seen him for nearly a year and I’m so happy for her. We all held our breaths as the bus appears from around the bend.
As the bus stops and the door swings open it was Raymond who was the first one off. Ruth jumped and ran to him, her eyes sparkling. Then Earl emerged and Anna threw herself on him. Then the rest of the passengers starting streaming off. I stretched my neck to look for Frank. But he’s not there. Then, two baby blues walk off the bus. I can hardly believe it. My heart stopped, I’ve died and gone to heaven. This is the best birthday a woman could ever have.
“Hello baby blue,” I said cradling my hands around his face.
“Baby, before you say anything else, can I kiss you?” Frank asked.
“You sure can soldier,” I replied just before being lost in his wonderful kiss. I am in heaven. I can’t describe it any other way.
When we got home Frank said he had a surprise for me. There was a knock at the door and Frank insisted on answering it alone. He spoke to someone and I heard something jingle. Then the visitor left. Frank returned to the living room. He asked me to come with him outside and he put his hands over my eyes. He is so gentle, guiding me slowly, step by step through the door and outside. Then he removed his hands from my eyes and told me to look straight ahead. It was a 1940 Chevrolet Clipper! It was burgundy red with shiny silver trim and whitewall tires. As I ran to look at it I noticed that it also had an exclusive vacuum power shift, silent valve-in-head engine, synchromesh transmission, and new sealed beam headlights. Working in a tank factory, a girl can pick up a thing or two about engines! What an amazing gift! Even with the war in full swing, at this moment my life couldn’t be any better.
We took the car out for a spin. This will be a special night. The sky couldn’t be any clearer. The moon is smiling away. And I’m driving with my beautiful baby blues. We’re cruising down a quiet country lane surrounded by nothing but trees, the star-filled sky and us. Then in a flash I see him again – the man with the red tie. He’s waving at me, quietly yet knowingly, from the side of the road as I pass by. It’s as if he’s waving good-bye. Then just as suddenly a huge thud. An animal, a deer darted in front of us and hit the car. I lost control in a flash. Everything went blank.
“Frank?” I’m coming to. What happened? I’m wet. It’s blood. Frank? Where is Frank? Good heavens, I see him. He’s laying close to me but not moving. I’m in pain but somehow I crawl toward him. I touch him.
“Helen,” he barely mumbles. “I love you kitten . . . with all my heart,” he said in the quietest whisper.
“I love you too Frank with all my heart.” Things are fading. I’m holding my Frank, and I feel both of us going. What a night though. I can hear Billie singing my favorite song.
♪ “I'll be seeing you,
In all the old familiar places,
That this heart of mine embraces,
All day through.” ♪
In all the old familiar places,
That this heart of mine embraces,
All day through.” ♪
My quiet thoughts of my Frank, me and Billie are shattered suddenly by someone else’s voice. A mysterious but sweet voice. “There. The deed is done and Hicious is balanced. You shall not get your deal with them,” it said. Who is he talking to? Not me. What is he talking about? Who is he?
Then I hear a second mystery voice. This a scary menacing one. “You don’t know the hearts of Hicioulites like I do. One day I will get my deal!” the horrible voice screamed. Then only silence.
“Markus! Markus wake up!”
I opened my eyes. It was Val sitting next to me on my bed. My mom was also there with me and dad is standing at the door. Even Jonathan and Nathan are here.
“Glad you’re okay dweeb,” Nathan said. “Yeah, you gave us a heck of a scare,” Jonathan chimed in. What’s this? Jonathan being nice to me?
“Yeah, dork, don’t do it again,” Nathan snarled but with obvious concern in his voice. Wow.
“Okay, who are you two and what have you done with my brothers?” I asked sarcastically.
Jonathan and Nathan left and so did dad. My mom kissed me on my forehead and told me not to over do it as she left too and went downstairs. It was just me and Val.
I turned to her. “You won’t believe the dream I just had Val! It was so real… so …”
“It’s okay Markus. I’ll see you tomorrow and you can tell me all about it. I’m glad you’re okay.”
“Yeah, that makes two of us. Sorry for the scare Val.”
“It’s ok buddy. What are friends for?” she smiled and headed out. It was getting late.
This dream was so weird. I can’t believe it. I can’t get my head around it. But wait. Frank looked familiar. Those baby blue eyes. Even the kisses seemed familiar. And what was Earl’s last name again, the finacé of Anna. I forget. Why am I wondering this? I don’t’ know. Anyway, I think I should take mom’s advice and get some rest. I can think about all this tomorrow with Val.
A wise man once said that if talk were made of silver then silence is surely gold. Whatever he was talking about he obviously never lived in my house. I wasn’t even back in my room for ten minutes getting dressed for the new neighbor’s party when my golden silence degenerated into silver. And fake silver at that!
“Markus!” my annoying brother Jonathan was shouting. “Dad says get a move on!”
“Yeah, you dweeb. Get a move on!” my other brother Jonathan chimed in with his two cents. Now isn’t this just great? Not only are mom and dad on my case but so are Jonathan and Nathan, my wonderful older twin brothers or Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb as I prefer to call them. I’ll just answer something back and hope they’ll go away.
“Ok, whatever guys. You two go ahead. I’ll be right behind you,” I shouted from behind my door.
Just because they’re older they think they can boss me around. It’s hard being the youngest, always getting picked on. For most people it’s bad enough dealing with just one older sibling, but lucky me who has two copies to contend with. Those two are into nothing but mischief and are more trouble than they’re worth, which would be about a buck and a quarter if I could find some sucker to buy them on the black market. Since they’re twins they look alike, but that’s where the similarities end. Jonathan is comfortable being the brains while Nathan is the muscle. So all in all I can say that they do make one big menace to society.
Ok, I’m dressed and ready. Finally! We’re heading to the Binyamin’s house. They’re the new family that recently moved to the neighborhood. Mom says they’re from Israel and that Mr. Binyamin took a job here. He’s some kind of archeologist or historian or something. Anyway, it has to do with ancient history. So at least they might be interesting. Nevertheless, neighborhood parties are usually – correction, always – boring, and I mean the mind-numbing kind of boring. Oh boy, dad’s yelling for us. Ok, time to head out. Let the fun not! begin.
“Hello there. You must be the Baylocks. Welcome to the Binyamin house,” the man at the door said with a heavy but friendly accent. That must be Mr. Binyamin. He’s a big guy alright, right around the belly and with a big mustache too. I wonder what Mrs. Binyamin looks like.
“Oh Avi, don’t hog the guests,” a lively voice from behind him said. “Aaah welcome… welcome to our home… I’m Erma Binyamin. Do come in, there’s lots of food inside and many of the other neighbors are already here… feel free, our home is your home,” she said.
Mrs. Binyamin had dark red hair and was wearing a green sleeveless dress. Whereas Mr. Binyamin could stop a bus, his wife was a tiny thing – short and wafer thin but with boundless energy. But in an odd way Mr. and Mrs. Binyamin seemed a perfect fit like they were made for each other. It was sweet. But no sooner were we in the door when Jonathan and Nathan pushed me out of the way to head inside. They probably smelled the scent of a girl or a buffet. Mr. Binyamin took dad inside and mom got busy chatting with Mrs. Binyamin and the rest of the lady neighbors. Their house sure was different. There were lots of trinkets and knick knacks all over, things you could tell that they had collected over the years. It was like being in a museum or an art gallery or something. There were colorful paintings on the walls, old statues, pottery, and boxes, and what even looked like an ancient scroll. They must be things from Mr. Binyamin’s work. While looking at the cool stuff I could hear the chatter of the rest of the party around me; the voices of different neighbors coming from different rooms of the house and the backyard. But one voice stood out among them all. It was Val.
“Hey Markus, glad you made it!” She said with her usual cheery voice.
“Well it’s not like I had a choice, is it?” I said.
“Oh just chill, it’s not that bad. And just look at all this stuff! I wonder where the Binyamins got it all?” Val was reading my mind, as usual. It really was like being in a museum.
“Yeah, they must have lived all over, or at least visited lots of places from the looks of all this stuff,” I said. “Those paintings over there look Asian. And those statues next to the stairs are African. And that painting there…” I stopped dead in my tracks. I was frozen. What I saw totally stripped me of my thought and speech.
“….And? … What, Markus?” Val asked while nudging me with her elbow.
I started to snap out of it. “Val, look at that painting on the wall over there where the twin knuckle heads are hitting on the Fischer girls. That face. I’ve seen that face before. It’s . . . Val, it’s my angel!” I started walking toward it and Val instinctively followed.
“GET OUT!” Val said from behind. We both stopped side-by-side right in front of the painting, staring. “Oh my god,” Val said in a low voice, “Look at the boy sitting in front of the angel. It’s you! Markus, it looks just like you,” she said in a frantic whisper. We both just stood there as in a trance.
That was my angel and me in the painting on the Binyamin’s wall! A weird sensation started going through my entire body from my head to my feet. The painting was old, very old, and yet that was definitely my face in it. In the painting I was sitting on a patch of grass holding my angel’s hands. The sky was covered in dark clouds and in one corner there was a hooded figure in black. It seemed like a man. His face was hidden in the shadow of the hood, but two eyes pierced through from underneath. They were dark and bright at the same time and with a menacing look to them. In the painting’s other corner was another hooded figure, this one in white. It was a woman. Her face too was hidden in a shadow, but it was a shadow of light not dark. Like the other figure, her eyes pierced though the bright shadow. They were light pink, gentle and graceful. At the center of the picture, behind the images of me and my angel, was an ancient stone temple that dominated the surrounding forest in the background.
“Oh. I’m assuming that you’re Markus and you’re Valery,” Mr. Binyamin said bringing us back to the moment as we turned toward his voice. “Your parents were just telling me about you two and what inseparable friends you are.” He noticed what we were looking at. “Ah, I see you’re admiring the Shimbala painting,” he said.
Shimbala? What’s a Shimbala? What is this painting and where did it come from? Who is that angel in it? I realized at that moment that only Val and I saw the similarity between me and the painting. Mr. Binyamin didn’t notice anything.
“Mr. Binyamin,” I asked, “Where is this paining from? And what’s a Shimbala?”
“Well Markus and Valery, I purchased that in Jerusalem when I was just starting out teaching history and mythology. It was my first find really. You see at the time I’d been studying ancient Somara mythology when I stumbled upon this in a small antique shop in the old Arab Quarter. It’s a depiction of an ancient Somara legend called ‘Shimbala’”
“What’s this legend about?” Val asked, again reading my mind.
Mr. Binyamin broke into a wide smile and put down his glass. He came a step closer to us. “It’s a beautiful story, stoked in mystery and rooted in the ancient religious beliefs of the Somara people and civilization. You see, they believed that the world and, indeed, life itself was divided into three realms: Gaia, Hilious and Hicious.” “Gaia,” he said gesturing upward, “translates into heaven.” “Hilious,” motioning downward, “is Hell.” “And Hicious,” spreading his big hands to either side, “is Earth.”
He continued, “These realms were believed to be inhabited by different kinds of beings. In addition to the people of the Earth, or the Hicioulites as the Somara people called themselves, there were other magnificent beings from Gaia, above, and Hilious, below. Each being had different powers and a specific role to play in the universe. Today, we would think of these beings as angels or devils. The legend of Shimbala is a tale of defiance centered on the absolute core of all beings – love. True love. It’s a simple story about a boy who falls in love with a girl. And it is the most beautiful tale in the universe.”
“You see, a long time ago, when the world was in its infancy, Hicious, or Earth, lived in harmony with both the heaven Gaia and the hell Hilious. In Hicious there was a kingdom of the most devoted people, the Somara. They believed, like many modern people today, that there are two balancing sides to the world – Gaia and Hilious. In order to maintain the balance and keep the favor of the both of these realms, a sacrifice had to be made: a Somara sacrifice. Those destined to be sacrificed were called ‘Limas’ and they were revealed from birth to fulfill this important role. Through them the Somara retained the innocence and purity of life by keeping the universe in balance. Limas were considered the purest of creatures. They weren’t human, but they took the form of Hicioulites. In this regard, they could be from any class – a slave or a nobleman.
“One day, the Somara Kingdom was blessed with a long-awaited Lima that took the form of a Somara girl. Her name was Ariana. At birth she was recognized as the Lima by the high priests and as prophesized by Gaia and Hilious. She was the beautiful only daughter of a great king. When Ariana was about 21 she came into the time of her ascension. This meant that the Age of Light would soon be upon Somara, when the sacrifice would be made, the balance of the universe maintained, and the Lima returned to Gaia and Hilious.
“But just then the winds of fate began to blow in Somara. And they grew stronger and stronger. The Somara believed the winds to be an instrument of the gods that brought dramatic change to life and fate. At that time, Ariana’s time, the winds guided to her kingdom a young traveler named Amir. He had been crisscrossing the land seeking knowledge and adventure. When Amir and Ariana met, their fates were forever changed. They first set eyes upon each other at the temple which Ariana frequented while prepare for her duty as Lima. Upon meeting, the two fell deeply in love. It was an intense passionate love that became the center of their being.
“But with the Age of Light approaching Ariana was destined to be sacrificed. According to the scholars, this was usually around when the Lima turned 25. The priests of the temple were furious when they found out about Ariana and Amir. And for good reason. Gaia and Hilious were ruled by powerful beings called guardians. They were promised a sacrifice and would demand it. If they didn’t get it then Hicious would surely suffer dire consequences.
“But the lovers couldn’t bear to part. Desperate for help, they invoked the spirit of Shimbala. Shimbala was the god of birth and death who transported souls to their lives on Hicious and who also guided them to their next existence after death. When the being Shimbala appeared, Amir and Ariana pleaded for a way to keep their love alive and to stop Ariana’s eventual sacrifice. The Shimbala listened intently to them. He could see the love that they shared and saw fit to preserve it. To do this, he had to hide the souls of Amir and Ariana from the guardians of Gaia and Hilious so that they would never find them. He did this by granting the lovers eternal life through reincarnation. They would be reborn and meet again in different lives for eternity. This would allow their love to live on and also keep them hidden from the guardians who would pursue them relentlessly over the eons. And so ever since, according to the legend, Ariana and Amir find each other again in new lives. And this, Valery and Markus, is the legend of Shimbala. Except for one additional bit – the foretelling of a prophecy. But we’ll leave that for another time. Now, who wants a kosher hotdog? ”
Mr. Benyamin’s story was amazing and struck something in me. It filled me with awe but also made me uneasy. I think Val felt it too. She put her hand on my shoulder to comfort me, but inside my head it was chaos. I wanted these bad feelings to go away. That’s when my angel’s face came into my mind. I can see the beautiful face so clearly, with all its majesty. It immediately made me feel good. I also want to call out my angel’s name. In my thoughts I slowly started saying, “Ari-a . . .” But something is wrong, I can sense it. My angel is crying. I can feel the pain emanating from her. A strange feeling is coming over me. My angel’s face is disappearing from my thoughts and in its place are two black menacing eyes. Then a song starts to fill me ears, “♫ I’ll be seeing you… ♪ In all the old familiar places . . . ♫” Suddenly, I feel weak and out of breathe. The room is getting darker. I can’t breath.
“Valery!!” I managed to say before things go blank.
“Markus? Markus. Are you ok?” Val said with panic her voice. “Help!” she yelled out. “Markus just fainted!”
As I step into my shower and turn on the water I can’t help but think about that dream. The water droplets start to hit my skin one by one just before the stream begins. The sensation is soft and warm. As they burst onto my skin they feel like bubbles of dreams, each one a lifespan from beginning to end. That’s how real the dream was. I felt every touch of my angel on my skin. I felt every moment pass in real time as I died in front of my mom and her heart shattered. But it was just a dream or at least I think it was. I finish getting dressed and am ready for school. I just can’t seem to focus much though. Last night seemed so real and it’s kind of freaking me out. I have to say seeing myself die was the most disturbing part of all. But no matter. I need to get some food in my belly and get to school. I grab my wristwatch and put it on. Oh gosh, I see I’m late.
But wait a second. My alarm clock stopped. The alarm clock next to my bed, it . . . stopped. Weird. I changed those batteries only a week ago. It says seven o’clock. That’s when I woke up and that’s just when the clock stopped. Anyway, I need to get going. Gotta run. I head downstairs.
“Hi mom… thanks mom… bye mom . . . love you mom,” I say darting through the kitchen grabbing the sandwich from her hand and sprinting out the door.
“Markus!” my mom says. “Don’t forget we’re going to the new neighbors’ party tonight . . . the Binyamins. So be home early. Markus! Did you hear me?!”
“Yes, mom, I heard you!”
My mom, she’s always making me go to these parties. Always getting to know the neighbors and the people who live around us. I just don’t get it. There’s only one neighbor that matters to me – Valery Hooks, my best friend. Val lives two doors down. We’ve been friends ever since the day I moved into this neighborhood. We can talk for hours on end about just anything. I just love her quirky fuzzy personality.
“Hmmm,” I wondered, what would Val think about my dream last night. “Boy, I get the weirdest dreams!” I said aloud.
“What weird dreams? Markus? Are you breathing?” It was Val.
Jeez, she just came up out of nowhere and startled me.
“Yes, Val, I’m breathing. You scared me out of my skin! Don’t sneak up on me like that,” I said as my soul returned to my body. Val scared me so bad that I had an out-of-body experience or something. Huh, like I’ve got a shortage of those lately!
“I didn’t sneak up on you. You zoned out. So what’s all this about a dream?”
I didn’t think it was the right time for me to start this conversation. We were both late for school and we’ve got biology first period. Mr. Cerny’s class. He is a hard ass about being late or absent. So I just had to shrug off Val’s curiosity for the time being. “Val, I’ll tell you later. Come on, we’re late!” I said.
We ran most of the rest of the way to school. I’m not usually a good runner. I get short of breath pretty fast. But today I have so much energy in me. The whole way to school one thing was running through my head – that beautiful face, my angel. Every time that face graced my thoughts I’d get a burst of energy. I wonder who that angel is. I wonder how that angel knows me. I wonder why Mr. Cerny is looking at me like that!
“Mr. Baylock,” he boomed with his heavy Polish accent. “What are you doodling there? Hand it over!”
And then he just ripped the paper right out from under me. I always thought that Europeans were polite cultured people. But Mr. Cerny proved that that assumption was false. “Polite” and “Cerny” are two contradictory terms. His idea of polite is to chew students up, spit them out, but always wipe his mouth with a napkin afterwards. And today, I guess it’s my time to be chewed.
“Mr. Baylock, what is this? Am I boring your creative mind? Blah blah blah . . .” After listening to a few of his words chosen carefully to inflict maximum humiliation and the deepest sense of failure in his students, I just choose to change the channel and zone out. I’m already well acquainted with his unending verbal bashings. He just goes on and on and on . . .
“MR. BAYLOCK!!” he bellowed. “Are you listening?!!”
“Yeeees, Mr. Cerny, I’m listing.”
“Well, what are you waiting for? To the principal’s office … NOW!” he barked with his thick polish finger hovering over my head and pointing to the door.
If teachers got reward points for sending students to the principal’s office then Mr. Cerny would have a fully punched card good for a free coffee and muffin every day. I’m pretty sure he’s the all-time high-scoring king! So there’s no point in trying to change his mind. I’ll just go and add another point to the king’s pathetic scorecard.
Five minutes later I’m now parked on the wooden bench outside the principal’s door. This bench and I are well familiar with one another. Today, in addition to me, there is another guy here. I don’t think I’ve seen him here before. I wonder if he’s a new kid. He is certainly well dressed for public school – a black suite with a red striped tie. Impressive. There’s something odd about him though. I can’t put my finger on it, but he seems familiar. Not a good kind of familiar, but a familiar something else.
“Hi,” he said snapping me out of my inner focus. “I’m Eiden. I’m new here. And who might you be?”
“Oh, sure, hi. I’m Markus. Nice to meet you. Eiden was it?”
“Yes, Eiden. So, what brings you to the principal’s office?”
“Not really sure. Mr. Cerny needs more point for a free new personality I guess. Oh, sorry, I don’t think you know him yet and his charming self. He didn’t like something I drew in class so I guess that’s why I’m here”
“I see,” Eiden said breaking into a closed-lipped smile. “From what I hear, he has real fangs and he likes to sharpen them on students.”
“You’re someone who does his homework Eiden. Already educating yourself about the fiends of Conackamack High, huh?”
“I always prepare before heading into battle, and Conackamack appears to have a whiff of gunpowder in the air.”
“Yeah . . . I guess,” I replied. This guy is weird. He talks like a British lord or something, so upper crust.
“So, Markus, if you’d be so kind as to help me familiarize myself with this establishment seeing as you’ve been here for so long. Tell me, what kinds of people attend this school? ”
“Well, it’s a typical high school I guess. You’ve got your generic cliques like the jocks and the cheerleaders, the nerds and geeks. There’s a Goth crowd and some Emos. We’re just a rainbow of different colors I guess,” I said with an uncomfortable giggle.
“Interesting. And tell me, Markus, to which clique do you belong?”
“Well, I would fall under the ‘other’ category. I don’t really fit the criteria of any clique.”
“Even more interesting. Say, Markus, do you play RPGs – role playing games?”
“Do I ever!” Finally, something normal about this guy. “I play all the time with my best friend. Why?”
“You seem like the type who would enjoy them. Markus, I’m feeling a bit bored. Would you like to play a short scenario with me? Sort of like a little RPG but without the computer.”
“Well, I guess it’ll be a while before I have to go in. Sure. Why not? Go ahead!”
“Delightful. Now then, the scenario is this: I’m a powerful mystic being whose only interest is in getting you to make a deal with me.”
“Ok, cool. What kind of deal?”
“Well, Markus, I grant you absolute happiness, renowned success, enormous wealth and fame. In addition, all of this would pass onto your loved ones as well. In return for all of this, you cede to me two things. One: your true love. You shall never meet or be with your true love ever. And two: your life on your twenty-fifth birthday.”
“What kind of deal is that? My love and my life? Why would I take a deal like that?”
“But why wouldn’t you Markus? Life is not forever you know. You’ll die eventually anyway. So why not take a deal that would not only make you happy for the time that you have, but also benefit your loved ones? Would you be selfish and deny them that? What’s the purpose of our existence in this short life if not to help those whom we love? I’m just taking care of all that for you Markus.”
Something at this moment just doesn’t feel right. Eiden is being way too series with this game. His voice is intense and his eyes are burning with conviction. And for a second it really does feel like I am talking to some mystic being whose powers reach across existence itself! I’m feeling intimidated by him.
What am I talking about?! He’s just a high school kid like me. All right, he’s a weirdo, but he’s still just another guy. I guess he just takes his RPGing way seriously. I’ll humor him to make him go away.
“Well, when you put it that way, Eiden, it does sound convincing. Ok, sure. I’ll take it.”
Eiden then took my hand and shook it as if we were closing a business deal. Suddenly a feeling of weakness came over me. For a brief second I felt so alone, so empty. I felt like the world didn’t want me anymore. Then a flash. My angel’s face, eyes filled with tears. What did my angel look like? I can’t remember now. Then the principal’s voice calling me into his office brought me back to the moment.
“Until we meet again Markus. Enjoy your paradise!” Eiden said with a satisfied grin on his face. He gave a slow wave goodbye while I stood up to go see the principal.
This Eiden guy is sure strange. I’m feeling so weird after talking to him. I’m sure it’s nothing though. At any rate, I’ve got more important things to worry about like making sure my mom doesn’t get a call about this the third visit to the principal’s office this week.
When I eventually got out of the office, I’m totally shocked. There was no call to my mother. He just shrugged off the Mr. Cerny incident and sent me back on my way. That’s sure a first. I wonder . . . is this Eiden guy some sort of magical being for real? Did he make this happen? If so, I should have struck this deal years ago! It would have gotten me out of many a sticky situation. But that Eiden is definitely a strange character. Anyway, it’s lunch time. I need to catch up with Val at the cafeteria.
I found Val sitting at our usual table. I plopped down next to her and told her all about my dream. She was fascinated by it, but said she needed more time to mull it over. I’m pretty sure that’s code for, “I’ll look it up in my dream book.” I also told her about Eiden. She didn’t seem to know him. The rest of the day went on with nothing out of the ordinary happening. Just the usual classes with me and Val goofing off and making the most of it.
After school Val and I start off for home together. “Markus,” she said, “Do you think that angel really was your true love? The person you’re meant to be with?”
“I’m not sure Val. No. It was just a dream. Vivid, definitely, but still just a dream. That angel, though, is going to stay with me for a while,” I said.
“I think it would be nice to have that feeling Markus. To feel so right with somebody, like you were made for each other. Anyway, here we are. So, see you later at the Binyamin’s?”
The party at the newest neighbor’s tonight. I forgot. “Well,” I said, “Do I have a choice? My mom will see to it that I’m there.”
Val ran inside her house. And it’s my turn to do the same. I hear mom shouting from the porch. I was late getting home, and I have a feeling she has a lecture ready for me. Oh god, give me strength to get through another boring neighbor’s party. No use delaying my sentence though. Let me get ready and get it over with.
I run into the house dodging my mom’s verbal grenades and run up the stairs past the clock that still said 7:00 a.m.
Nothing. I sense only darkness and nothing. It’s as if I don’t exist anymore. What’s happening? Am I losing my mind? Or maybe I’m just lost in my mind. So what is it? Am I awake? Is this a dream?
I don’t think I am dreaming because in dreams you don’t have all your sensations, and I can feel things. My senses are still with me. But I’m still not sure what’s happening. I feel like I’m lying on a cloud – a soft warm cloud. A strange sensation is coming over me. It’s an amazing sense of belonging like I’ve never felt before. Well, I might have felt it before, but I lost it a long time ago. I sense something else too, something physical. It’s big and it’s warm, very warm. It’s a hand on my stomach and it’s starting to move up toward my chest. I’m a wake, but I think my eyes are closed. I can’t see a thing, just a pitch-black void. For a moment I panic. Then I hear a soft soothing whisper in my ear.
Voice: “Open your eyes, beautiful. No need to be afraid. You are safe.”
Such gentle words from such a warm sweet voice. My moment of panic quickly fades. Slowly my eyelids lift, but when they are open I still can’t see anything. Instead of blackness, now there is just pure bright white – blinding white. Then an image starts to form in front of me. The first thing to enchant me about it was a pair of sparkling blue diamonds, so incredibly blue that the waters of the Atlantic under a summer sun would pale in comparison. Then I saw two cherries, one on top of the other, so serene, inviting me for a kiss. I saw dark brown hair draped over fair creamy skin. It’s an angel.
Angel: “Markus. Are you awake now?”
That face! That beautiful face! It was more a beautiful enchantment that instantly had me in complete submission. I was mesmerized. I couldn’t utter a single word.
Angel: “My love. My heart. My soul. Promise me. Promise me that we shall never part again. Promise!”
It took a second to muster enough strength to answer. “Yes, I promise… I will never leave again!”
Then a door in my mind began to open. I could actually see it. And as I entered floods of memories engulfed me. Some I recognized, but most were completely bizarre. Places that felt like home, but that I know I had never been to. And faces of friends I’d never met. Faces of enemies I’d never even imagined. I felt conflicting senses of happiness and sadness, anger and calm, complete ecstasy and an overwhelming sense of loss. But one thing provided constant reassurance. It was that face. That face by my side through all of the memories. It was the face of the angel next to me right now.
Then, through the other side of the door in my mind I saw my mom. She was sitting next to a bed. It looked like a hospital bed. She was crying. I want to go to her.
Angel: “Markus, go. Go, but remember your promise… never forget your promise to me!”
A sudden flutter of movement and then a kiss. I’m lost. I’m completely lost in my angel’s arms. Our lips fit perfectly as if by design. For a brief moment I completely forget my mother. My mother, she’s crying I remembered. I must go to her. But how? How can I break free of this enchantment, this spell cast by this wonderful angel? I’m nothing but a slave to this sublime kiss. The only way for me to go is if my angel wills it.
Then our lips part. But my body is screaming to hold my angel again. But I have to go. My mother is there and she needs me. I got up from the soft cloud and headed to the door, to my mom on the other side. I entered and paused on the threshold to look back to the beautiful angel. What thoughts I had! Will my angel still be there? Is this just a dream? Our eyes locked for a moment, and I knew that this was no dream.
Angel: “Don’t forget your promise, my love. Don’t forget your promise!”
I turned away and went through the door to my mom. She was in a state I’d never seen before.
Markus: “Mom! What’s the matter? Why are you crying? Mom? Mom?!”
As if my voice were less than a whisper, she couldn’t hear me. And as if I were a shadow surrounded by light, she couldn’t see me. The doctors were rushing to the bed. They had equipment with them. A nurse, grim with concern, come to my mother.
Nurse: “Mrs. Baylack, you have to come with us. We’ll take care of your son.”
Your son? Who are they talking about? Did one my brothers get hurt? I looked all around, then I looked at the bed. I just couldn’t believe it.
Mrs. Baylock: “Please! You just have to save him! You have to save my son, my Markus!”
Markus? They’re talking about me. The doctors, the nurse and mom are talking about me! I was the one in the bed. As I see it, I still can’t believe that it’s happening.
A machine next to the bed was beeping. First a series of frantic beeps. Then it just stopped. The doctors scrambled to shock me back. The machine would start again with faint the beeps. Then it would stop again. Once more, they shocked me. But this time no beep.
One of the doctors turned to my mom.
Doctor: “I’m sorry Mrs. Baylock. We did everything we could. He’s gone.”
My gut opened as I saw my mom fall to her knees and let out a deep wail. I was gone and my mom was in agony.
No! This isn’t happening! This can’t be happening! I’m right here!
Markus: “MOM! MOM! I’m here!” I screamed. “MOM! Can’t you hear me? MOM? Can’t you see me? Can’t you feel me? I’m here! I’m HERE!”
Then a light suddenly blinded me. It overtook me and completely engulfed me.
“NOOOOO!” I screamed. I could hardly breathe.
Suddenly, I jolted awake. I was in my own bed at home, covered in a cold sweat. But one good thing about that – I was alive! So it was a dream – nothing more than a dream. But it was so real. I felt it. I smelled it. I experienced it. But it must have just been a dream – the most vivid and real dream I’ve ever had.
Ok. Enough with this. I need to get up. I need to get ready for school. Val will be waiting for me.