“Parallels”

This was posted as a page on the ‘Night Eagle Speaks’ blog on January 1st, 2012 @ 3:40 pm

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“Schnarr”!

Latzi looked up from her laptop. Her eyes focused on the dark-haired woman she was- reflected in the large CRT television screen. She was in her spot on the couch. The couch not quite on centre to divide the large wide room in half. And there she was, reflected in red and blues in the electrostatic atmosphere of a bright afternoon. She leaned forward, laptop on the low and round stone table in front of her. And then, back at the television, above the reflected world- was a small heavy gold and white clock. The clock was her reward for working too long at a job she hated, but it was also a kind of pat on the back for perseverance or not letting the bad guys think they’ve won another one.

But the clock had a face and the face depicted time. And time, though it was, and is, an odd abstraction that most people believe rules their lives, also reminded her of something.

She gasped and formed the words, “Oh Sh-“

But the bright face of an eight year old boy, loaded with issues most eight year old could never conceive of, but present in her world, son of her womb, child of a marriage that hadn’t quite failed when he was conceived, looked up in happy anticipation of catching an adult doing something the world conspired to keep him from doing….

“Shnar!” she grumbled.

In fifteen parallel dimensions, fifteen nearly identical versions of Latzi uttered fifteen nearly identical versions of “Schnarr!”

In most of them, she had a supportive spouse-partner-lover-friend named Arv, or some similarly weighted version of Arv, depending on the history of that parallel world, and believe me, we’re struggling here to figure out how to number these dimensions, or delineate them, label them or somehow find a way to keep them comfortably defined, if not ‘straight’ in our own minds… And in this world, Arv looked on and grinned, “Snar?”

Latzi pointed at the clock, “Schnarr!”

So, as the ‘Real World’ tried to hijack the attention of a highly creative woman, one wonderful euphemism was born.

And the world didn’t realize it right away, but it had been radically changed, right then and there, for the better. For the Much Better.

=====

Draelen

The tall, thin feline featured man sat cross-legged on a flat section of roof. To be sure, he sat on a thick, soft cushion of deepest indigo velvet, which colour clashed with the slightly orange-yellow of the smooth stone this house had been carved from. Thousands, perhaps millions of years ago, unknown hands belonging to craftsmen or pioneers of unknown race or races, had chopped and filed and smoothed their way into solid rock on the side of a cliff.

You couldn’t quite call it a cave. Wind, and perhaps water, had cut into a layer of softer stone between two layers of harder, slightly darker, brownish-yellow stone- During one age, the settlement, or city, carved from the softer stone may have been just above a high water mark. Perhaps the rolling land below had been under water. This could have been a port. A sea port or river port-

But now, when he opened his eyes from a deep session, exploring his inner depths with only the wind for distraction, (and this time, he’d told himself before he started, “The wind will only help me get deeper-” and intention had listened and made it true.) He opened his eyes to a driven blizzard, knowing there would only be five or six fires burning in the valley and only the two or three in the city behind him.

Pioneers? How could you call those who had left the comforts of the dumbed-down cities with their smoke and deceivers, ‘pioneers’?

The sting to the air carried tales of animals worried for their children. Worried for their nests. Worried for their lives.

As he shivered he could smile at the sparkling, near invisible points and spheres of light, beings from another type of life, another stage, another form…

As he rose to full height he bowed to east, he bowed to the lights, he bowed to their wisdom. “I am so grateful that I have mated with a like spirit who could leave the insanity behind and ‘head for the hills’.” he smiled.

There had been times when this area was desert. There had been times when life was much more harsh, temperatures much more extreme. but now he had a bundle of wood that he had gathered before he sat to meditate, and the well designed, ancient fire place would warm him and his love all day and into the night with this handful of broken dried branches.

He remembered, then, the first time he had met a human. How both of them felt shock, how the older, frail pilgrim of a man shook visibly and managed to say, “I have dreamed of you- I thought you were real, yet your form and features do shock me-“

And he, the ‘Cat-Man’ felt just as strange, face to face with a creature his ancestors had kept alive in tales of terror- to shock and scare their young ones into minding their elders. The human did not have fangs and claws, and did not leap three meters in a blood lust, tear him apart and eat him alive.

So why was he thinking of humans at this moment?

The cold wind sent dancing flakes of snow in a swirl around him. There were piles and dunes of snow, there were areas where the wind had blown it all away and places where the wind had piled it higher than he was against a wall, even buried a few single story buildings near the protective walls his ‘pioneer’ friends had built to keep their children from strolling off the edge- for wise as the young might seem at times, they still needed guidance and watchful eyes. The trick had been to build the stone walls to look like they’d always been there.

Inside his cozy, reclaimed home, Minou slept near the fire. Draelen nearly panicked for a moment, remembering how proud she’d been to present him with his meditation pillow. She’d made it herself, from hard to get materials. And sewed into it aromatic herbs that reacted to his warmth as pleasant incense.

And yes, he had put it back in his knapsack and no, he hadn’t forgotten the knapsack out in the storm. And wow, he thought, Imagine if the people who built this city had been humans and saw him, specter of a seven foot tall cat man upright, wearing a deep midnight blue cape and cowel, and worse, the black fur and green eyes within. Would they have died of fright on the spot?

=====

Xyrean

The campus below was in turmoil. There were security police and regular police and gangs of rabid vigilantes running around with guns and batons and baseball bats, looking for university students to beat senseless.

He had managed to escape his dorm as one gang of vigilantes broke through the front door and began screaming like angry police men, swinging their bats and, trying to kill students? He saw this from the hill. Young men and women falling to the ground, covering their heads and beefy, over muscular maniacs taking advantage of their situation by stepping up and swinging those metal bats as hard as they could.

Fight or flight? He’d gazed in pure disbelief and then heard something coming toward him.

“Who the hell are those guys?”

“I’ve never seen them before.”

“Somebody said they came in a bus from the army base.”

“Unloaded behind the Police Station-“

“What started this?”

“This evening news said something about a protest march.”

“A protest march?”

“Network news said students were protesting the new regulations put in place last month by the new chancellor.”

“You mean the loyalty oath nonsense?”

“Exactly-“

“So who was protesting?”

“Nobody that I know. Anybody who spoke out against that disappeared, I mean, disappeared.”

Xyrean was not a weakling.Neither was he a weight lifter or a physical education major. He was just over ‘medium’ height and had a ‘wiry’ build. He didn’t have the greatest stamina, but he was quick and agile, in short bursts-

The voices he heard coming toward him preceded a group of shadows that emerged from deeper shadows below, heading for the paths up onto the hills behind the dorms. Cross country runners and fitness fanatics ran those trails regularly. These guys jogged together almost in formation, like maybe they were members of the cross country team.

Xyrean looked around and felt a pang of anxiety. He moved behind a tree and stayed there while nearly a dozen young men ran up the trail and continued on up the hill.

Racked with sudden chills, Xyrean followed, but moved from tree to tree and nervously scanned the darkness ahead and behind, an all around…

A nearly full moon came out from behind clouds he hadn’t noticed. In the light he dashed a bit farther than he might have in full darkness.

And then he heard it. Heard several sickening sounds. The hollow sound of metal baseball bats against bone, the crack and crunch of breaking bones. The thud of something hard hitting something softer.

“What did we ever do to you?”

“Nothin personal kid-” Thonk!

“Orders are to keep your mouth shut, soldier. They’re supposed to believe we’re a bunch of townies who spontaneously decided to react to their riots.”

“Sir, Yes Sir!”

“And none of that either. Just keep your mouth shut and follow orders.”

Xyrean held his breath as he looked around. There was a steep rocky slope and a dense copse of trees to his left. Adrenaline. He moved. He later wondered how he had made it up the slope and into those trees so quickly. But he made it. And then, afraid to breath, he watched as the guys with the bloodied baseball bats moved into sight, methodically moving along both sides of the trail, pushing low bushes away with the bats, scrutinizing every square inch on their way.

He spun around, looking away from them, back against the largest tree in the copse, staring at the sky, senses all strained- brain racing through levels of incomprehension. Echoes of a weird, once popular song vibrated almost audibly through the night. This couldn’t be the country he’d grown up in. What in hell or on earth was happening?

An owl flew down beside him. Didn’t land, hovered, looked at him and flew back up into the trees. Owls don’t hover….

“Oh I wish I had wings-” Xyrean whispered nearly soundlessly.

The moon sent a hint of light his way again. Steep hill, with little cover. But no one below had been shining flashlights into the forest. At least, not yet. This is insane.

So he’d picked and plodded his way up the hill in spurts and slow, quiet motions. Several times he’d felt weird anxieties and almost every time he felt that, another gang of baseball bat wielding ‘vigilantes’ had appeared, almost out of nowhere and moved their methodic way down the trails.

Maybe an hour had passed, maybe longer. He finally felt safe. A ledge near the top of a cliff. Trees for cover behind him, no way for anybody to sneak up on him. He sat in the shadows and gazed down at fires burning on the campus.

“Shantivarta-” someone called him by his last name. A feminine voice. Still, it shocked him, he spun with his hands in an odd readiness.

She laughed, possibly a nervous laughter, at his pose, “I didn’t take you for a martial arts guy-“

He relaxed a bit, could suddenly feel several other people behind her, in deeper shadows, “Uh- I’m not- not in this life-“

She nodded. He recognized her, Melinda Ryan, one of the fringy students, sort of bohemian, sort of goth, sort of way too smart for her own good. Asked all the questions nobody else had the nerve to ask. There were rumours that she was part of the group that irregularly put out the ‘underground’ newspaper. On line issues appeared in everyone’s email. Hard copy versions showed up in unpredictable places at unpredictable times. The only thing you could actually count on was a front page photo of some unrecognizable student giving the photographer, or the world, ‘the finger’.

“Do you have any idea what’s going on down there?” Xyrean asked.

“Looks like the government goons are out of the closet. Seeing how far they can go and get away with it.”

“I came up through that- There are guys in the woods along the trails, using baseball bars and killing students who are trying to get away from the-“

“Yeah, we’re lucky. We were having a meeting off campus when the buses came in. Army buses- we got video. But they shut down the internet.”

“How did they do that?”

“War powers act? Homeland Security? They did it. With a bit of luck we’ll be able to hide out until we can get somebody to anywhere where we can upload and post this stuff.”

“I saw what I think were guys from the cross country team, running up the trails behind Morgan and Highfield dorms. They were ambushed and one of them cried out, “What did we ever do to you?” And one guy said, “Nothin personal kid” and it sounded like he bashed the kid’s brains in- then somebody barked at him that he was supposed to keep quiet, eveybody’s supposed to believe that they’re a bunch of good citizens who are fed up with spoiled kids complaining about their handouts. The guy responded like, “Sir, Yes Sir!” and the authority figure yelled at him again, this time to shut up and follow his orders.

“Can you repeat that? with the same shock and conviction?” Melinda held up a small video camera.

Xyrean swallowed and sighed.

“In this light, no one will be able to recognize you. We can put your voice through electronic disguising software so nobody will be able to know who said it.”

Xyrean gasped, “I want to make sure I say it exactly as it happened,” he coughed a short, nervous laugh- “Man this is so weird-“

Melinda leaned back against a tree, steadied her elbows, held the camera rock steady, “Let me know when you’re ready-“

Xyrean blew a slow, thoughtful breath through pursed lips, then nodded, “Okay-“

“Okay,” she said, “We’re rolling-“

Ne nodded again and gazed down at the spreading flames, “I heard the noise and went out on the balcony on the west side of Highfield dorm- A gang of tough looking guys charged up the sidewalk and smashed into the front doors, on the south side. I jumped into a tree and climbed down, ran through the garden and up into the parking lot. That one light that is always burnt out was blinking, I sat down in the shadow of somebody’s van and watched through the picture windows as the tough guys first screamed, get down on the floor and then started wacking both guys and women in the heads with their bats.

“The blinking light went out and I panicked and ran away from the parking lot and up to where the cross country trails were.

“I heard a group of students coming, one of them said he’d been told that somebody saw buses full of of men from the army base, dressed in jeans and sweatshirts unloading behind the police station. These students were apparently members of the cross country team because they were running up the hill and talking casually, as if they were used to jogging and talking in normal voices. I followed them up the path, nowhere near as quickly as they moved, and then heard grunts and groans and cries of pain, and what sounded distinctly like metallic baseball bats hitting unprotected skulls and knocking the wind out of people. I jumped as far from the trail as I could get and hid there while this battle was going on, One student cried out, “What did we ever do to you?” and somebody answered, “Nothing personal, kid-” and then there was that sound of the metal bat against bone, a slight groan and a crunch. and then another voice said, “Your orders are to keep your mouth shut, soldier! Nobody is supposed to know who we really are.” The first guy answered, “Sir, Yes Sir!” in that stupid shouting mindless military way and the second guy yelled back, “None of that, either, keep your mouth shut and follow orders.”

Xyrean gasped, sighed, breathed slowly through pursed lips again.

“Got it- Thanks-” Melinda moved her camera, “Although- I’d feel a lot better if I was sure we were EMP burst protected.”

“What?”

“High Tech weapons- the bad guys can send off an electro magnetic charge to erase most hard drives and memory cards… But I’m thinking they’d rather confiscate everybody’s computers and see if they can find anything stored in there that they can use against us.”

Xyrean glanced toward the people he knew were still quietly hiding out in the shadows behind her. Then he turned and watched the fires for a short time.

“We can’t go back down there. You know that?” Melinda asked

He nodded.

“Maybe never.”

He nodded again and sighed.

“Just like that, your whole life is changed.”

He sighed.

“What are you going to do?”

“My mother lives in Canada, I’m a dual citizen.”

“Good luck getting through the border.”

He felt waves of anxiety clouding his imagined vision of going home.

“There are some drug runners tunnels under the border at quite a few places.” She offered.

He sighed again, “Yeah, and mountain trails in places where they can’t watch every square inch-“

“They’ve got satellites and drones to do that.”

He scowled. In the dark it might have been pointless, but he scowled, “What are you going to do?”

She shrugged, “I’m working on that- but you’re not at all stupid, I thought I’d see what your ideas were and go from there.”

He cast here a doubtful look. In the dark, but doubtful.

There were noises behind Melinda. Somebody stepped up beside her to whisper in her ear.

“They found a cave- you don’t have a good flashlight, do you?”

“No-” he shook his head, “Not with me.”

The night filled with sirens and echoes. Sounded like someone below was using some kind of public address system on steroids.

Gradually, a deceptively bright morning crept up on them.

Smoke and flashing lights below- they moved back into the trees.

“I found it,” one guy called, just above a whisper.

Everybody followed, hushed, nervous, grateful for trees above and around them.

“My grandmother said this was a part of the underground railroad that not many people knew about-“

“Underground Railroad, on the west coast?”

“Yup- The East got all the glory, but they did some dangerous work out here, too.”

The ‘cave’ looked like a vertical crack in the rock face. One foot wide at the ground, maybe three feet wide higher up and then it gradually narrowed in on itself again. But the crack continued below ground level, one foot wide and, for the most part, closing in on itself farther down.

“That’s the cave?”

Somebody did have s flashlight, and shined it into the  crack. Several yards in, away from the normal light of day, there was a pole, or a tree trunk, Wedged into the crack, looking like it had either been cut or worn flat on the top.

“Be careful, that could have rotted a bit in a couple hundred years….” somebody said sardonically.

“We sent Gary in to test that. Haven’t heard any screams yet.”

There was a bit of nervous laughter. Then a flashlight beam came back toward them from inside- “Gets a bit dicey in spots, but it gets better inside.

Maybe six other students went in ahead of Melinda and Xyrean.

Then she turned to him, “I wondered why you had a weird Hindu name and you look so white.”

Dark hair? Brown eyes? “I look white?”

She shrugged, “Caucasion.”

“I think the Canadian side were Metis May-tee.” he said, grandparents were dedicated hippies. Shantivarta means, ‘House of Peace’.”

She nodded, “Ryan means ‘Crazy Irish drunks’.”

He sighed, ‘Were they?”

“For the most part.” she raised the flashlight somebody had handed her, “Okay, we’re a team. Stay close. I’m not good with tight spaces.”

The pieces of tree trunk were short, none of them more than four feet long, or high, or whatever they would have been standing up. And they were not evenly spaced, at the same height or the same age. One or two had rotted and fallen to pieces, probably long ago. There were stretches where they inched along, leaning back against one side while bracing themselves against the other. Melinda trembled visibly, would have dropped the flashlight a couple times if it wasn’t tied to her wrist. They stopped often.

“Are you okay?”

“You can’t do this for me-“

“I didn’t suggest that I could.”

“Ya know- it helps to know you’re there? God, if I dropped the camera, I’d want to kill myself.”

“Don’t talk like that.”

“Just a figure of speech-“

“I hoped it was, but don’t talk like that.”

And then suddenly, half a dozen other flashlights shone on them and on the real, almost flat floor of this section of the cave.

“Kids have been here- There is graffiti on the one wall, nothing new since 1999, at least nobody wrote a new date in spray paint.”

Melinda gasped and fell to her knees, pretended to kiss the flat ground.

“There’s some dry old firewood- and signs of cooking fires.”

“I don’t suppose anybody brought any food?”

======

The Neighbourhood

(Dreamed this one, December 4, 2012)

Len.

New Job. New City. Blond woman in heels from the real estate office. She screwed her mouth to one side and tipped her head as she glanced at her client over the folder she was reading, maybe for the first time.

“Should I call you Mr. Mostyn?”

“Call me ‘Len’.”

“Len-“

He nodded.

She made a face, “So your company is paying for the move and they’ve given me these guidelines….” she walked away.

He scanned photos on the wall for a while, then the blond (short hair, in a style like something that Marilyn Monroe had popularized.) clomped back out of her inner office, her mouth again screwed into something that was trying not to look like a frown. He was sure she was making more recognizably negative faces when she was facing away from him.

“Okay, I’ll tell you the truth. We only have one home in the price range that they’re holding me to that I would bother showing to anyone who was obviously not a drug addict or the like-” She sized him up, gave him a look that could easily have dismissed his entire life as a complete waste of anything worth considering- “You don’t have a nest egg hidden away to add to this figure, do you?” She showed him the form in her hand with a low end six figure number circled twice in blue ink.

He hoped he didn’t scowl as he shook his head, “They told me this could be a temporary position, but to treat it as a permanent, and as they’ve had me sign a contract where they will take over ownership and payments for whatever housing I choose… I should stick with their limits.”

She frowned, “You’ve got the rental.” she pointed to the car he drove to her agency in.

He nodded.

“We’ll take my vehicle-” she pursed her lips, “I’ll just be a moment-” She clomped back through her door and probably down a hall he caught a short glimpse of.

When she returned, she had a clipboard with an MLS Printout and two sets of keys on conveniently flat key fobs clipped to it, “The company van is in use, we’ll have to take my car-“

He followed her out the front door and around to the side lot where several vehicles were parked in spots bearing signs “Reserved for-” she led him to the spot reserved for ‘Trainee’.

“Oh, just a sec…” She opened the front seat passenger door and grabbed a hefty armload of books and papers and foil wrappers he assumed were empty- then began to struggle with the back door.

“Here,” he said, “Let me help you-” and moved toward the door.

“Oh, that’s all right- well- maybe-” She had one moment of vulnerability as she stepped backward and glanced toward the building like she was hoping nobody in there was watching.

Door open; she stepped in front of him and deposited her armload in as neat a pile as possible.

Her car was a ‘compact’ station wagon. She rolled her eyes at the length of her skirt as she climbed in and arranged herself with as much of her legs covered as she could manage.

He thought she appreciated the fact that he was at least pretending not to notice.

But as they were rolling, he got a chance to take in the scenery. He’d never been to this part of the country before. Very high mountains in the distance. Steep hills and valleys closer, rolling hills in this area. He guessed this valley had been scooped out by a glacier, thousands of years ago? Pine forests- oddly with not much undergrowth in most areas. Newer developments all had that artificially ‘landscaped’ look. (She might have purposefully driven through the newer developments.) The ‘old town’ section (he’d researched on line) didn’t look bad. The photos he’d seen showed older buildings that had been well kept up-  They drove past the big older factory complex. Buildings from forty or fifty years ago. They’d also been ‘landscaped’ lately and were now called a ‘Corporate Complex’.

She then drove around a hill. One of those rounded hills that was dumped by a retreating glacier and skirted the edge of a collection of multi story brick buildings. Then she drove up another one of those rounded hills, around a tight corner and into an older development. “This used to be a small private university- It went bankrupt in the nineties, a couple large corporations bought it as a tax write off-” She cleared her throat, “Then sold it to another corporation… Finally- a community organization bought it and, so, if you like this townhouse- you’ll have to fill out application forms and let them approve of you. If I was you, I wouldn’t mention the corporation’s buy back clause in your contract-“

They rode past several large brick buildings, a couple artsy examples of avant garde architecture and then into a short dead end street with several groups of connected townhouses,   arranged asymmetrically on each side. There was a circle at the end of the road and the real estate agent headed for that. Headed for the extreme left end of the circle, “These units were upgraded about three years ago… We’ll be looking at the end unit here, The one with the blue shutters- It’s a three bedroom unit, are you expecting your family to join you here?”

He scowled, My, um, ‘Significant Other’ has to make sure her ex is okay with her taking the kids out of state, shared custody and all that.”

He saw the real estate agent frown as she parked her car, “Are you actually married? or-“

“I’m having trouble calling her my ‘wife’, I don’t know, my aunt was a dyed in the wool feminist and she spared no opportunity to try to indoctrinate me-“

She nodded, “They’re not really sticklers for propriety and all that, but there are a couple ministers on the board of directors…” She tried to discretely read something with a pair of glasses she was trying to keep hidden…

He climbed out of the car. This section had 4 townhouses between sections of un landscaped trees where there actually was undergrowth. All four units had blue shutters, all the same shade. They were slightly offset, so each one was a slightly different distance from the curb. The left end unit was about six feet farther back than the second unit, the third was more like ten feet back from the front of the second and the fourth was probably about six feet forward again. There was a short section of four foot tall fence beyond the edge of the second unit. And, yes, there was a similar section of fence between the third and fourth units. Each unit had a small garden in front of a porch. Each garden was different. The third one was red and yellow roses in straight lines. The fourth unit had blue and yellow exotic flowers on plants he’d never seen before. The second unit had a garden full of ever green shrubs. The unit for sale had a huge spreading jade plant in a huge stoneware pot on wheels, surrounded by weird pots of long grasses and a bunch of flats straight from a nursery full of low plants with small blue white and yellow flowers.

The real estate woman stepped out of her car, wearing her glasses, straining at the paper she’d been trying to read, She noticed that he was inspecting the garden, read something, looked up, “The jade plant was left here by the previous owner- it was too big to travel, if you want to keep it, it has to come inside in the winter.”

He must have looked confused.

She put on a smile, “Well, lets have a look around, shall we?”

It was a two floor set up, with a ‘mud room’ and a coat closet billed as the foyer.  There was a two piece ‘half bath’ with its door facing the foyer, and a fairly large pantry with its door facing the ‘open concept’ kitchen-dining room and an arch separating the dining area from the living room. There was an eight by twenty foot deck with a high privacy fence off the living room. Upstairs, there were two good sized bedrooms (one with an ensuite ‘3 piece’ bathroom with a fairly large shower, a normal sized sink and a run of the mill toilet.) and one smaller bedroom beside the full sized 4 piece bathroom up there.

The basement had been billed as fully finished, was a large open area with two area rugs side windows above a washer and dryer with a big deep sink off to the side. There was a seven foot wide, two foot deep, thirty inch high credenza that had seen better days that was now acting as a room divider. The outside wall was all glass, a patio door and a floor to ceiling window beside it. The odd thing is, the deck off the main floor above covered both the window and patio door over and kept them in deep shadows. There was a high privacy fence between this back yard and number two’s.

He shrugged, part of the contract stated that the company took care of the housing. If he quit, was laid off, got himself fired, or died, they retained ownership. He had to pass inspection by the community board of directors. He wasn’t supposed to tell them about the contract. He was supposed to tell the real estate agent. He couldn’t see living there for the rest of his life, but, “Looks good enough to me.”

The real estate agent looked mildly surprised, looked like maybe earning her first real commission was slowly sinking in…

“Okay then, back to the office, and we have some papers to fill out…”

*****

The meeting with the board of directors for the community group wasn’t the most comfortable thing he’d ever been through, but they smiled and shook his hand. There was a company lawyer with him at the closing, he could have slept through that.

His ‘significant other’ didn’t look happy when he showed her the flyer or the on line photos of the place and seemed a little distant while he packed and had his stuff packed and loaded by ‘professionals’.

And then he was moving in, standing there alone with just his stuff, telling the movers where each box, each piece of furniture went… Tried to phone his ‘not really even engaged yet’ spouse and got no answer, shrugged, flopped in his nearly new couch and heard the doorbell ring.

No one at the front door? The bell rang again. He went to the back door.

There they were, a forty something couple, two teenaged girls, a thirty something couple, and a twenty something young woman. Everybody carrying something. Champagne, looked like a roast in a pan surrounded by veggies in gravy, a cake. More champagne bottles. Twenty questions each?

“It’s a shame not to enjoy this beautiful evening— ” The forty something guy said, and snapped his fingers. Four young guys in blue coveralls carried a set of patio furniture up the stairs and set it up while the women invaded his kitchen and discovered the box with the glasses, tore into them, rinsed each glass in hot water and poured the bubbly.

“Will anybody be upset if I don’t drink their champagne?’ he asked the mirror in the half bath.

The twenty something young woman poked her head in the open doorway, “The bottle in the blue blanket, I brought it, it’s non alcoholic. I’ll switch your glass with some of that and after the first drink no on will notice.”

“Where did the patio set come from?”

“Uh, you didn’t hear this from me, but it’s been in a storeroom for so long, no one remembers who ordered or paid for it. Happy House Warming.”

He spent the evening in shock, mostly, trying to keep names straight, tried to pay attention to everything anybody told him, failed miserably- Sat down in a chaise lounge on the patio with a glass of non alcoholic champagne in his hand and woke up with an empty glass, a puddle on the floor and somebody snoring on the other chaise lounge. … The forty something guy’s wife?

The twenty something young woman emerged from the living room, “Oh good, you’re awake. I put stuff away, best I could, uhm- want me to wake her up and walk her home?”

He smiled, nodded, “Thank you- that would be nice…”

She shrugged, nodded, smiled, “Okay- you go get some rest. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He must have looked confused.

“Oh, if it’s okay with you, I’ll come over around noon and make sure all the plates and pots that everybody wants back go to the right people.”

He nodded, “Thanks, again.”

She smiled, almost awkwardly, “You’re welcome-” and sparkled a genuine smile at him.”

She motioned him into the house and moved toward his snoring neighbour.

He scooted inside and quietly closed the door, stepped back into the shadows and watched the young neighbour help the older neighbour get to her feet and wobble toward the stairs.

The younger woman smiled at the door and waved discretely behind the older woman’s back.

He made sure the back door was locked, checked the front door, yup, locked, tried his cell phone one more time… again, no answer, he sighed and climbed the stairs. The bed had been put together, but the sheets and blankets and stuff were still in boxes. He opened a couple boxes, found a suitable blanket, threw it around his shoulders and wore it like a cape down to the living room.

There was the clock that somebody had set for him. 10:35 pm. He sighed, fell into the couch and wrapped himself in the blanket. He woke up at 1:25 and went looking for a pillow, brought the pillow back with him, rolled himself in the blanket again and flopped back into sleep.

Some time around ten in the morning (he forgot to look for the clock) he woke up, guessed the time and carried the blanket and pillow upstairs, tested the shower and found most of his bathroom stuff. It was around 10:45 when he noticed the clock in the kitchen, just before he opened the refrigerator and realized that the only food in the house was leftovers from last night. He sighed and decided that pot roast with carrots and potatoes in gravy wasn’t the worst breakfast he’d ever had.

The microwave was in place, but it hadn’t been plugged in. He pulled the appliance out and saw that the cord had been wrapped neatly as was probably two inches too short in its wrapped state to reach the receptacle in the back of the cube over the counter that had obviously been put there for a microwave oven. He looked around and half expected to see a dog looking up at him, shrugged, “Yeah, I know, it’ll take me a while to find everything.” His imagined dog wagged an imagined tail. When he got the microwave plugged in and working he took time to try to call his ‘significant other’ again and discovered that his cell phone had spent so much time and energy searching through its network options that it now blinked, “Low Battery” and blinked off as soon as he dialed. He looked for the imaginary dog again, couldn’t find him, shrugged, “Remind me I better talk to my cell phone provider real soon-” he gazed at the stacks of boxes behind the couch and sighed, “It might take me all day to find the charger…”

The microwave dinged and his warmed over roast was ready to eat, “Where did they say the coffee shop was?”

He opened the dishwasher, discovered that it was three quarters full of dishes and serving trays, glasses and stuff. The soap dispenser was full, everything was ready to go- he closed the door, locked it shut and turned the dial, heard the water begin to run, shrugged, “Looks like that’s no problem-“, scratched his head, turned around, gazed through to couch at the boxes he knew were back there and wondered what to do next. At about 11:45 he stepped back and realized he had quite a mess of piles on the couch and every flat surface in the open concept main floor. He sighed and heard the back door “ding dong”, this time went right for it.

He could see his twenty something neighbour through the door as he approached, waved as she waved at him, as if they both had the same impulse at the same time.

Last night she’d been wearing ‘casual’ office dress, brown light weight pants, a cream coloured cotton blouse with a collar and buttons, and a vest that matched the pants. Today she was dressed in dark blue cargo shorts (that covered her knees) and a modest white cotton tee shirt with small blue and red flowers in a pattern that he thought would be called a ‘print’. Her hair was still a slightly darker than ‘medium’ brown with reddish highlights. As she stood in the open doorway he got a chance to notice her clear, slightly on the pale side, skin with its hint of freckles that would probably become more than a hint if she spent any time at all in the sun. Her eyes were a striking green.

“Are you going to invite me in or what?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m trying to remember your name… ‘Shelley?’?

She smiled, “Sherri-” she spelled it out for him, “My mother had very definite opinions about letters of the alphabet and didn’t mind lecturing about that, anywhere any time-“

He laughed, “Your mother and mine would either love or hate each other immediately-” He looked at the mess behind him, “Oh, yeah, come in. I washed the dishes… I think- I think it’s finished.”

She grinned the grin of someone who was baffled by household appliances and recognized the same symptoms in him. She held up a cardboard tray with two large paper coffee cups and a bag of something, “I took the liberty of getting you a coffee, you didn’t look like you totally understood the directions anybody gave you last night.”

“Ahh- Thanks…” he gazed toward the kitchen table, thought there might be room for two people and their coffee to sit there if he moved the piles of dishes and bowls to one side. “I’m lucky I understood anything last night-” he laughed, “Wasn’t expecting a welcome wagon at all.”

She smiled toward the back deck, “They called me at work and recruited me to pick up a cake at the last minute. Nobody knew anything about allergies or anything, so they thought that anybody would prefer chocolate over anything else.”

He nodded, furrowed his brow, “Allergies?”

She looked slightly confused, “Oh, they gave us all a personality report on you and we had to respond yes or no, last month when you were being considered?” She frowned, “There’s a spot where they would have listed any allergies, like especially peanut allergies or that sort of thing, where one little taste of peanut butter can kill some people? Anyway, that box on the report had a question mark in it.”

“You had to vote on whether you wanted somebody you never met as a neighbour?”

She made a face as she nodded, “It’s overkill- but at least we don’t have to live next door to any of the real sticklers for that sort of policy stuff.”

He realized he’d cleared an area on the kitchen table as he pulled two of the wooden chairs into place.

“I should bring you a copy of the report they gave us. We get to know you’re a computer wiz specializing in security issues- you get to know nothing at all about who you’re moving next to.”

He guessed he looked slightly lost as he let that sink in, then thought of something, “Oh- I was going to describe my mother for you- My name is actually Lenen Edrick Morgan McLaughlin Mostyn, they ran out of room on the birth certificate. My mother was way more into genealogy than my father. She’s got this story she tells everybody about the Scottish side of my heritage. Apparently, somebody back a century or two ago appointed themselves as language police and wanted to tell people how they should spell their children’s names and stuff like that. Somebody in her family’s history resisted and spelled things the way they wanted to. Mom found the name ‘Lenen’ several times in birth and death records.”

“So- not that it matters that much, but you’re Scottish on your mother’s side and Welsh on your father’s side?”

He looked baffled, “Um, nobody was all that pure as far as anybody knows. I heard her admitting to friends that we had French and Swedish and Dutch and English mixed in-“

She sipped her coffee and nodded, “She sounds interesting-“

He sighed, “You’ll probably get a chance to meet her, she’ll probably want to come check out my new environment pretty soon.”

Sherri nodded.

He looked around at his piles of stuff and sighed, “What kind of details does that report have about me? Does it say I’m hopelessly disorganized?”

She shook her head, “It says your engaged to a divorced woman with two children, a ten year old girl and a seven year old boy.”

He frowned as he scanned the boxes scattered around one more time, “Still haven’t found my cell phone’s charger, I wasn’t able to get her on the phone yesterday- battery died looking for networks, I better get that ironed out real quick.”

She grimaced, “I hope you have better luck in that department than I did. My then fiance decided he wanted no part of this area or me when I moved here.”

He frowned, “Yeah, she thought her ex might have issues with his kids moving to another state…”

She sipped her coffee again and looked around, spotted the tool box with the plumber’s wrench on top of it, pointed- “Oh, do you know anything about plumbing?”

He shrugged, “I’ve convinced my share of toilets to stop flushing every ten minutes or so…”

She laughed, “I might need your help- I can’t tell a drain valve from hot and cold water input lines.”

He grinned, “You’re a techie?”

“Actually- I have twin degrees in theoretical physics and environmental science. What I do on my job is test water and air several times a day to make sure no toxic chemicals have leaked into the ground water or air from your company’s laboratories.”

“Does my company actually manufacture anything here?”

She shook her head, “Um, ‘Our’ company tests lots of things here. There are some toxic chemicals stored in hopefully leak-proof containers here until they find a deep underground decaying salt mine or something like that to hide the stuff in so it will become somebody else’s problem in ten thousand years or so.

He frowned.

“Our company’s actual manufacturing sites are in Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Lithuania, and a small, five person facility in northern France. There are testing and research sites in most of the above and Northern Italy and Munich, Germany. Headquarters in Switzerland and several dummy corporations that move money through off shore banks in places that don’t have a lot of regulations.”

“Should we worry?”

“Wait and see if you pass your six months’ probation period first.”

He almost laughed.

Coffee finished, they went to the dish washer, unlocked and opened it and discovered nicely cleaned and nearly dried dishes and stuff.

Sherri spent maybe fifteen minutes gathering and delivering dishes, trays and utensils to their respective owners and then came back and sat on the arm of the couch as he returned from moving a pile of clothing that had been in the “Living Room” box up stairs and onto the now quite cluttered bed.

“Let me know when you want a break, I’ll show you were the various stores are.”

He nodded, glanced at his tool box, “Want me to take a look at your plumbing?”

She laughed.

He blushed, “I could use the fresh air.”

She nodded, “Do me a favour? whether you need the whole tool box or not, carry it with you? and if anybody waves or peeks at us through their curtains or whatever, just kind of absently wave with the wrench in your hand? We don’t need to feed the rumour factories with more speculation than we need to.”

He frowned.

She sighed, “Especially the Atkinsons- they’re bored and snoopy.”

“The younger couple? The thirty somethings?”

She nodded.

There was a path behind the fences that defined everybody’s slightly larger than postage stamp enclosed back yards. Everybody had a deck that was almost identical. All fences were wooden, staggered uprights that let air flow through without sacrificing privacy. His fence was four feet high at the back, He had an ornamental metal gate, (curled black metal with a chain link matrix?) the only one of the four. The forty somethings had a six foot high fence with a four foot high solid wooden gate. Atkinsons had a four foot high fence with a solid wood gate. (He did carry his tool box with him and he did wave with his pipe wrench when the Atkinsons looked up from their Sunday brunch on their deck. Mr Atkinson acted like he was much more interested in his sunday newspaper than anything else.) Sherri’s fence was six feet high and her gate was solid wood and six feet high as well.

She opened her gate. A line of evergreen trees that had almost grown as high as her fence was obviously designed to form a solid wall inside the fence between her and the Atkinsons.

The one thing that was different about the back of her town house was the solid door beyond the sliding patio door of her ‘walk out’ basement.

“I was the first one to move into this section,” she said, “and for the longest time I wondered what that door was. I didn’t think I had a key. Then I found the key up there, over the door…

“Are you ready for this?” she pulled a thin gold chain he hadn’t paid any attention to around her neck, pulled it up to reveal a key that had been hiding in its modest white floral cover.

Ready for what?

“I’ll tell you, I wondered if I lost my mind the first time I opened this door… Good thing I had heard about quantum theory and all that…” She leaned forward and inserted the key into the door’s lock without raising the chain over her head or removing it from her neck.

“Ready?”

He swallowed. He had no idea what might be behind that door, but suddenly felt like almost anything he could or couldn’t imagine could be there, waiting for him.

 

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