Startled by fits of forest animation, I struggled to rustle my bricks from blanketed boughs of cotton down and slumber. Dazed in a dreaming stupor, it was a human change of seasons to locate a left slipper with one foot, while arousing a napping feline with the other. Begging the purring rug’s pardon in silent apologies, my foot blindly found its rightful covering, my substance slowly coming to character. As I sat on bed’s edge, looking into life with consciousness still wrapt in The Sandman’s shackles, ominous forms played devious tricks with imagination, nature’s vast hands finger-painting my bedroom window with crawling figures. Silhouettes of willows weeping wrestled with dogwoods determined to dominate this pulsating pantomime. Clearer still with furtive fists stretching eye coverings, I could see adolescent conifers defying late November’s frosty grasp, waltzing wildly while shedding final vestiges of clothing, the tatters carried into oblivion as these naked arms of earth conducted the howling nor’easter’s symphony.
With shiver expressed and sturdy robe donned, my half alert carcass navigated slowly a winding trek towards the shutters. Should a neighbor spy my unseemly gait at such a godless hour, what rumors would flood the market place! One can but imagine the creative guesswork which would undertake finely woven quilts of plot to be bought and sold concerning that crazy coot who lives without companionship, hibernating as if a hermit. Oh, would they blush to the bone upon discovering how far off they were!
Holding aloft a kerosene powered lantern, my curiosity demanded to be settled. Creaking floorboards greeted my steps, damnable unwilling alarms that work at cross purposes to one endeavoring to come upon hapless thieves by way of surprise’s elements! I cursed them as surely as our Lord cursed that tree into barren existence. (I must admit here that our Lord had infinitely more control over his tongue than ever I did.)
From my position, not wholly down the flight of stairs embracing main floor to upper story, yet neither fully up, a song arose, calling to memory Quasimodo’s tower bells. The mantel clock perched over the parlor’s hearth, with its commonplace mechanical heartbeat, assured me that it was wound as tightly as my own inner spring. My impression was this time piece, no more vibrant than my own mortal coil had been within this past quarter hour, had risen somehow of its own accord, thus multiplying and stationing its selves in every corner of my dwelling. Its normally undetectable machinations now drummed in my ears like tribal drums of advancing savage warriors. I was indeed, if not fully awake, at the height of my senses. I dare say my antennae were even more attuned than ever possible, if such could be.
I had no fear that could be reasoned, for was this not my own habitation, that very same abode which underwent scrupulous procedures of securing habits on a nightly basis? Had I not memorized every precaution, ritualized the checking and triple-checking behind my own self, in assurance that nothing was left to chance or, God forbid, mistake? My tongue clucked at such folly. I should wear the dunce’s cap and be a public ridicule for entertaining such thoughts as these!
I should think myself a comical sight to be so taken hold of by such dreadful fantasies. Nothing to fear, my inner voice demanded, than irritable disturbance caused by weather, a mouse upon the pantry, or one cup too many of brew before bed. This, and nothing more. Thinking these words to my own shaken self, the tremulous interpretation subsided. Convinced that arrested dreams, married to overactive whimsies, had been the offspring of irrational fears, onward and emboldened I continued.
Within three paces, a tune swelled from within, a light, airy melody, a goodly tune heard on high at the Vicar’s assemblages, just before his sermon. The selfsame piety clothed this most recent invocation, altering minutely upon every step, until reaching ground level, my voice imitated a carnival’s calliope.
What now would the old maids at market have to offer concerning the fool on the hill, this cantankerous man of bitter mood and brittle outlook who shunned all social activities outside of church and cemetery? What damnable fool is he that offers no public smile, yet sings gaily in his lonesome company like a sewer dwelling sot on Beggars Day? Am I to be perceived a clown? No, I must not take leave of my senses. I cannot, in one moment be so sane as to preside over the fortunes scratched from this world for eight generations, and in the following, behave in manner befitting a drunken fool! I shall not waver between extremes and wallow in delusions. Clamping my piping organ shut, I determine with steeled spine that proper assignation of blame for this night’s interruption should come to knowledge in short order. Not by a giddy schoolboy’s sleuthing nor by a sleepwalker could this come to pass. My appearance straightened, I set forth in mind to face the empty surroundings, and assure all was good and properly aligned. Why, it may turn out that Percival, my trusted Persian companion, cornered a mouse, and having done his duty, eliminated the pest only to return with a satisfied belch to my quarters. Of course, nothing more sinister than this!
Having thoroughly convinced myself of what I now know to be most supreme lunacy, bold and careless strides carried me to thorough investigation of all shutters and locks. Beginning with pantry and dining hall, all was as should be. Dear Percy had not upset the balance of any article in these spaces, as well he shouldn’t have. By custom, only once had he ever me cause to fear, which was many months ago. A virulent rodent gave Percy the devil of a time in chase, all in vain. Percy forged his honor as a noble victor, leaving barely two chairs overturned in the wake. What remained of the vanquished struck all animosity form me, as the remnants stitched together could easily have manufactured a formidable dog. But, rat it was, and well compensated remained its tormentor.
Leaving the dining hall, my route to the library passed through a tunneled alcove, a hall of sorts, decorated by portraits commissioned to commemorate grandiose accomplishments of generations long past. When my feet had crossed before the central most painting, a faint howl sprung from an area within my house, though where it precisely originated, even Sherlock would have difficulties deducing. Again my inner voice entertained the solution that restless trees were dancing upon the wind’s inscrutable rhythms, starting a scratch upon outside walls. Inclination to agree with this theory was dashed when the wailing voice slipped in to hearing as steam rises from a simmering tea kettle. At first, low and unassuming, it was of no consequence. Not one step had been taken when it was clearer than the crystal, louder than an explosion, terrifying me to my core.
What is heard, of course, cannot be seen, so by naming it clear, I mean to imply the clarity with which it was heard and my purity of reasoning. Loudness was not measured by volume, but similar to clarity, in that no voice, however amplified, could ever hope to capture attention of any being so fully. This voice I recognized entirely, however, although it was an impossibility. She had long since been put to ground.
And this is what terrifies me, duplicates my qualms, building of my delirium a bridge continually erected and shattered, over and again for eternity, all in one heartbeat. I know my once betrothed has passed into that Greater Service since before Percival’s was less than a twitch in his father’s tail. Sobering, clawing, demanding audience, that spectral shout repeated in addressing me.
Able to reason no further the measure of insanity possessing me, I determined to consult with this impostor. Shuddering as a leaf refusing gravity’s insistence to be free of its sustenance though its guardian thrashes in violent gusts, so too did my voice strain to enjoy safe harbor in my throat. Nowhere did my feline guardian appear in form of rescue, and so sure I was that his heroics would discern this phantasmal utterance as hoax. My certainty redoubled in that, assured this was not wind whistling through window frame holes, nor pussy or opossum caught unaware by stray dog, I squeaked rather than shouted.
“Come out,” stammered the childish fear of my aged larynx. “Show yourself and be taken to account your vile trespass!” No doubt my foolhardy challenge struck no fear in its heart, but resounded as mice fighting for blots of cheese. Struggling to clear the reptilian blockage of icy fear from my tongue, I ventured to swagger ahead two steps, and reissue. “Out, damn you! Out from wherever you hide!” At this, my tenor equaled, no, surpassed my fright. I had emboldened my spirit with simply the youthful vibrato that resounded from this chamber.
Gleeful celebration of heart at reconstituted youth was not to be allowed, nor was tranquility of heart. When the faintest return of my statement found me, it was married to a sight that surely was borne of imagination of something more base than human, more vile than that saint of sinners, Beelzebub. Had I the fortune to will myself away from Life, in a fleeting second it should be so. Surely my words are inadequately failing to suffice characterizing what was before me, yet I will rein my passions into an objective enough manner. Forgive me should I fail, and blame my age for lack of tenderness, and my solitary hermetic years for poverty of skilled verbiage or politeness. Do not insist my elderly eyes to be deceived by time’s rigors. I guarantee any qualified doctor would find ease in declaring the vision in these peepers to be quite above the average, and in no wise needing of artificial aids such as spectacles to see any distance other than my papers and effects. For to be certain, I can find easy footing about my house in darkness as well as any residence without assist of lit wicks of kerosene or wax. The device carried on this night was to benefit advance warning to any hoodlum lying in wait, to allow ample opportunity should he desire flight from my wrath and increase his chances of departure minus thrashing blows courtesy of a solid ivory cane. I wished also my kind and loyal Percy be alerted to my presence, that he not mistake it for a vengeful visit of relatives to last summer’s intruder. And in so speaking, forming these statements within alert mental frame, I knew, as much as felt, that Death itself conspired with all unholy forces to condemn this night to my memory.
What I heard was my one love in life, my beloved Lillian, stretched upon a scaffold, her feet touching the Underworld, her spirit in Heaven, and the noose of Earthly pain constricting about her soul. Intense in reality, gnashing in its severe cruelty, the wailing invocation of my name was bonded to the sight of what remained of sweet Percival. Had I endured one hundred years imprisonment in the bowels of Turkish sewers, I could never have wished this sight upon even the most sadistic of captors. Since the loss of Lillian, no coin was spared in offering this stealthy prowler every protection and comfort possible. Yet, here he was, in the bosom of my castle, every ounce of life drained.
I cannot say here that he fought valiantly against whatever attacked, nor can I say how it escaped my detection. By all appearances, a powerfully imposing and relentless force gripped him into silence. How else would this punishing exit from life have been so quick, so total, and so excruciatingly brutal?
As far as this breezeway’s ending, deep gorges striped its paint, both sides bearing witness to the attack’s savagery. Whether these basically horizontal grooves were chiseled by the assailant or Percy, I could not begin to guess. With aid of shaking lamp glow, I followed closely where the marks did first appear, to my immediate right. Unabated, these striations continued travel at shoulder height, staggering first a foot’s distance on this wall, then a foot or less against and into its opposing wall, at points marring the cloister’s framed portraits with sprays of fleshy fur and splashed gristle.
My step faltered, as did my heart, unsure if I could contain what might be waiting to display itself before me. However I wished it not to be, my heart continued to beat. Presently, tears traveled unfamiliar territory, as I proceeded headlong into finding tiny evidences scattered recklessly of my former friend’s fate. “Poor Percy!” I heard myself cry, and the groaning voice of graves mocked it. Too late to imagine a dream was taken hold of me, some loss of sanity, and far too late to surrender to cowardice. More than for my safe passage to another hour of breath, I was resolute in knowing the nature of this catastrophe. How was it my carefree comrade earned such slovenly dispatch? To whom was he ever so cruel? Blindly I muttered, how could it be that church bells did not herald the passing of such a noble creature?
Again, that strange song of mourning replied to my unspoken query. “Do not ask for whom the bells are mute. ‘Tis for thee, my love. Reap now what you have sown.”
“Lillian!”, entered my lungs with no permission from my thoughts.
“Deceive whosoever you feel fit. You shall never deceive me. I yearn for the taste of your soul!”
You who see these words know your own station in life, can recite your name with impunity. You are certain where you stand at this hour. As for myself and welfare, I felt likewise assured that Death, or perhaps the Devil himself, had come to call wearing my deceased wife’s voice, and strode nakedly transparent before me. If stone would have assumed my form, my fate would have been a happy one. Alas, I am cursed to live.
Walking in fear of having to witness the persecution bestowed upon Percy, my eyes labored to squint, though a whisper of hope breathed the chance my departed mate would yet be in attendance. Light of foot, heavy in heart, steps challenged my lack of courage by moving ahead. God in Heaven be praised, no recreations of recent mutilations played before me, yet his final span of life was made manifest, coloring a thin filmy sheen about every last title resting among my studying cabinet. Swift, thoughtless and maddening, this assassin had painted the length and breadth of my library with a shade these eyes wish never to have seen. The pigment was that essence previously coursing through my cat’s veins.
Nauseated, appalled and grieved, my heart’s fabric wrung dry, words bereft of thought flowed like hateful lava, blasphemous invectives hurled like a tempest from my sorrow. Among the lesser offensive language I woke this sleeping slaughterhouse with were these innocuous triflings; “How dare you?”
“I dare let you waste the oxygen more deserving mortals could make better use of,” resumed the subterranean satyr, hissing about as if swimming within the very filament of my flesh.
Fear escaped in words, “For the love of God, show yourself!”
Call me mad you may, for I swear my house’s foundation boiled and rattled beneath me. Rafters shook loose dust that no servant, however acrobatically gifted, could have eliminated. Chandeliers were shaken, and books leapt from shelved repose, playing trampoline upon the generous divan. From my grasp the kerosene lamp fell, to hop impishly about the wooden floor. My entire environment had risen from an unbreathing sleep with vicious excitement bordering on vengeance. Cheering on this melee was the bitter, fuming entity, bellowing a chthonic chorus of sins known to me in private, expressed now in what I had inflicted. Illuminated against every surface visible were those wronged as a result of my willful misconduct, passive indifferences, and shallow deeds of good, their disguised ulterior purposes clamoring in my stricken conscience. Closing my eyes, covering them with balled fists, an image of the Vicar greeted me from its projected position on the shutters of their lids. Obscenely laughing, the clergyman cackled my name, scoffing as his face distorted to that of Lillian, at which time all vestments fell away, revealing what now squirmed within her coffin. In horror, I prayed that I should be struck blind, but hope would elude me there, for these uprising specters would no doubt haunt me until my last breath.
That is when I truly went insane, wishing for death over life. I had achieved wealth beyond measure or calculation, property and withholdings amassed as far as my vision fancied, yet I wished for none of it. A sick form of mental paralysis overcame me, preventing a plausible argument for continued existence. While petitioning with reason to accept this, the barbaric cacophony increased to a degree I could easily have sworn deafening. Without risking thought being intercepted, I rushed towards the great stained glass window on the library’s east wall, sure that the fall would be my end. Sooner than this inspiration formed, I realized it as being doomed. Should its connecting welds prove too stout, impeding a complete escape through, the result might find me crippled, disfigured or otherwise tortured for endless time. In like manner, entertainment of untold schemes by which my appointment with Mister Grim might be hastened were abandoned, for lack of certain outcome. I wanted no more of this life; only wishing desperately to divest myself of fortune, eliminate the need to feed, clothe and maintain this shell of humanity. I did not require Jacob Marley or three ghosts to inform me of my corruption. Living alone in an atmosphere contrived of all imaginable sensory satisfaction did not take years to spoil. Lillian knew my vainglorious nature, the incurable need to need, that insatiable quest for more, (which by very nature of the word is endless), and she saw her romantic suitor for the vile deceiver that lived within his soul. She recognized within a fortnight of our nuptials that she was a trophy, albeit one with a pulse. I, on the other hand, had a pulse, but no discernable heart. And here I sit, pondering a vacuous dilemma purchased without spending, earned without work, and saved for with denial, always aware that my soul had long since been put to sleep. Hope all but impaled with truth, I shuddered with the totality of emptiness built on shifting sands of greed.
Ruminating on such matters, it almost escaped my notice – the vibrating and voicings ceased, the resulting disarray all about demanded sanity had not completely parted company as yet. Few rotations of my head were required to estimate the totality of violence incurred. Structural damage was obvious in the slanted horizon yawning through windows in the gaping scar of adjoining spaces. Nothing within sight was where it had been moments before. A cyclone, compact and personified, had played upon this domicile with the ferocity and ease of a grown lion presented with a shoebox of mice, and I must be the foul smelling cheese left uneaten. Without wondering purpose or logic, I walked among the ruins, a wasteland where once great economic scholars discussed worldly issues at length. Stonehenge in comparison would seem a destination for holiday.
To my favorite chair, a leathered high back imported from Bavaria, my frame wearily slumped. I began contemplating repair costs, timetables, financing, when my chair yanked itself from under me, flying through the glass mosaic portal like a meteor streaking through clouds. No cloud could ever produce this amount of racket, however, and no furniture should have been propelled so fast. My body, in relation to the floor, had not changed one iota until after chair met window. Slammed to reclining posture by gravity, I was as quickly righted, then tossed like a snowball into an unadorned wall, where, unaided by visible support, my frame was held more steady than a portrait, several feet from ground.
Vacillating between mists, pipe smoke and thick plumes of pyre, an image carved in flowing steam, latticed to bones, addressed me. The skeletal form, standing on a platform of air, regarded me with curious displeasure, a sour plate of fish that irritated its gizzards. At once sniffing, grimacing and evaluating my worth, it casually pointed one skin starved finger of cadaver ash in my direction, beckoning me closer, to which my sack of flesh complied. As I floated closer, decay’s repugnant stench burned my thoughts. Calmly speaking as father to mischievous child, it reprimanded my intellectual debate.
“Your choice is forfeit.” One chalky metronome digit wagged in concert with a nodding skull. “Do not suppose you can cheat me, of all beings.”
Mockery of concern is pitiful to experience, so much the more when displayed by one who scoffs at your very essence. No power stirred within me to resist, only deepest aspiration that my sentence be dealt swiftly. Before voice could express, this despicable illusion spewed more garbage, words drenched in vile odor beyond compare. Breath was not it’s to give, its function seeming solely of tormenting body, soul and senses.
“You are a novelty, sir,” the shifting faces raspily snickered. “Too late your repentance, too few sentiments. Yours will be as well a fate of novelty.” A brief pause was allowed me to lower into seated comfort. “Your pet destroyed a familiar, a spy in my employ. No matter, this, as recompense is not to be delayed. An inferior beast to be sure, as I neglected training it sufficiently, thus my newest familiar completed the duty.” A snap of fingers, to which legions of house servants are accustomed to answering with no hesitancy, called forth even the most minute particle of untoward debris from this room. All marks, indentations, gouges and scrapes healed in that instant. Furniture was righted, and all seemed as it once was, prior to this night’s calling, excepting for Percy’s earthly substance and my unwanted visitor, who hovered, grinning in those revolving faces of torment. A second snapping of fingers signaled Percival’s eviscerated shell to spring upon a swirling fog outline, a gargantuan Cerberus whose features were but thread and smoke until bits of feline matter magnetically attracted to it, adhering in a hodgepodge of mismatched quilt. Where fur clung, panting muscle tissue heaved with life; where space perforated this incomplete pelt, it had no substance. This monstrosity took semblance of shape, yet was shapeless; a creation breathing, yet an abomination to Creation. As its oxygen exchange decreased in rapidity, individual spots of material covering congealed, drawing together and minimizing this corporeal entity, until at last my companion stared at me directly. (Poor Percy!) Its mewl, however, issued as a carnivorous growling sneer, above which were set two blazing eyes of ember.
This marionette of Hades dared to nuzzle at my feet, purring, then gazed upward at me. Frost certainly filled my arteries when next I heard it produce a taunting human laugh. Looking again to the puppeteer, I wondered long enough for my thought to gain reply.
“My familiar has now replaced yours. My gift to you, in return for the gift you bestowed upon me.” At that, the image of Lillian reappeared at its side, looking upon it with lustful pride. There she was, resplendent in glorious wedding attire, more alluring than in those days when . . .
Boiled past endurance, words won the race against my thought. “Curse you, damn you to the lowest pits of Hell! How dare you defile that memory!”
At once solid, his radiant face mirrored my earthly bride, smiling too handsomely for glamour; spite and scorn reflected form those bleached grave pebbles. Fluid meanness filled currents of evil on which his vocal craft sailed towards me. “High praise, gratefully accepted from such a noble human. Should it come to pass, I’d gladly accept that higher station. To return the compliment, I offer you a blessing.”
“Leave me to my own. Enough of this torture. I’ve had my fill of your parlor games. Leave me be, let me die, quit my sight!”
“Tut, tut.” His head bowed, mimicking disappointment, he neared so that my hands were within easy reach to throttle if the effect would not prove futile. Closer, too, was the embodiment of memories known as my soul mate. “Too many requests from such a limited mortal.” She yet beamed at this thing more devotedly than ever it was my fortune to receive. Seeing his movement and inventory of me occurred peripherally, my attention helplessly drawn to this feminine goddess who had shared my bed, my life and my dreams. Age does not diminish emotion, and, scattered as their pieces may be, memory is mostly intact, made sharper only by regretful longing. Her kiss, her tender embrace, seeped into me, my soul imbibed on its flavor, praying for miracles.
Like a twig trampled underfoot, his voice shattered my reverie. “What do you know of pity, humility, forbearance, charity, tolerance, or,” spitting out the word, “love?” His now unified face expressed more total disgust and loathing for me perhaps than mine for him. “Do you want Biblical quotations, Apocryphal, the Quran, Talmud, Buddhist adages, Voodoo, or are you in the mood for a quaff of Brothers Grimm? Fairy tales, all. And you, you are the demon in them all. You judge me evil by my power, destruction, yes, even my appearance. Would you have taken as your bride one with imperfections, a lisp, crooked limb, misshapen face? You place everything in sordid categories, labeled as apothecary prescriptions, awaiting your need to partake. Greedy bastard that you are, selfish hypocrite, your fate was sealed long before this night dragged me to this pigsty. I am merely the garbage man, dispatched to pick up trash. My scout, my familiar, called upon you last year, to inspect progress, returning with glowing reports of progress. Your cat’s spirit was infected thoroughly with your bankruptcy of morals. Sufficient it would have been for domesticated feline to flee, hiss or claw at an intruder. Your four legged freeloader was content only when gorging itself to gluttonous capacity on the carnage. Where does a spirit inherit such traits?”
Before me, the creature assumed the guise of an archbishop, maroon vestments finely adorning his frame, its inverted crucifixes of silver weeping snowy tears that extended the trailing ribbons of fog.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,yet, you are not even dust, for even dust has substance. Of you I am going to make something, though. So much I have learned from you. I repay my debts and reward my instructors according to their lesson’s value. Your so-called savior has told you ‘On Earth as it is in Heaven’, but you, you loosed in my realm atrocities of a most astounding degree, and you did so with clear conscience, bearing no thought to consequence. Bravo!”
Applause from his limbs of clanking cartilage brought an even happier look to Lillian, her hands upon his shoulders, a smile of contentment growing past what I thought possible. My soul wracked with nausea, disgust churning my intestines, I felt transfixed to listening, though my desire for cessation surpassed suicide.
“Dear boy, good teachers are hard to find among this world, so I have come to bestow upon you a promotion. Theatrics reinforce the message. I debated harnessing you with deformity, or striking you quadriplegic, to be cared for by incompetent caretakers with sadistic tendencies, but that would be far too easy. Among other ideas, I could have let you rot where you sit. Suggestions such as these were solicited from the nightmares you produced in citizens of the neighboring village, which proved extremely creative. After devoting much consideration, it was unanimously decided upon.”
Lillian faced me, more natural than ever, her youthful curves more buoyant, her allure unbearable, and I wished for all of me to express something. It had been so long, that what I wanted could not be said. Her substantial form enveloped me in a complete rapturous farewell, encompassing love, lust, devotion, sympathy, and pity. Attempting to return the hug, my hands filled with unseen cobwebs. She was gone again, leaving behind sharp wounds of the emotions sung into me, the most piercing note being sorrow. I’d felt its tone for decades, yet never submerged in its totality. Tears burned to release.
“This-this is my fate?” stuttered my words.
Amused at my ignorance, he clapped once, and resumed. “No.” A quick snicker, then he sat. “She knows. She elected to not view your reaction. And she is such a good woman. When you finally visit, perhaps I will allow you to watch some time.”
”You son of a . . .”
“Now, now, don’t condescend with more flattery, I can’t take the good vibrations. Settle yourself and prepare.”
“Prepare? Just get it over with, let me be done with you.”
Silence overtook me with hands of unseen minions. “I tell you without qualification, this is an honor to extend reward as punishment. Your pursuits are all to be met. You will never want for money, possessions or fanciful diversions. In enterprise, you will succeed beyond what your limited imagination dreams. In this life, you will be honored, toasted, revered and sought after. In some respects, I have envy for you.”
“I’m not a stupid man. There is a catch, there must be some concealed obstacle for me to surmount . . .”
“No obstacle, nary a one. Well, except for this.”
His words were pronounced while indicating I should direct my gaze upon the floor, his head turning to follow. My spirit found a basement underneath what previously was considered the ground floor. Positioned to indicate sleep, my body lay flattened by a fallen ceiling beam. Reeling at the sight, I asked, “This is how I am honored? You defy logic!”
“Ah, but logic.” The intruder gleamed. “Still thinking as befits your station. Transcend your limits; think outside this frame of reference, this confining body, overtaken by infirmities of time. You are now given a second chance, while this carcass sleeps. Close your eyes and you’ll remember this for a long, long time. You will never forget any of this, and you will be unable to speak of it ever. Your promised success is guaranteed, and I will be with you, watching, reminding, learning, and sharing all the while.” Two of his tendons touched my eyelids; all I could think of was my dearest Lillian. Tired, so tired . . . Fingers pressed inward, closing my windows. “Sleep . . .”
Drifting through a passage that floated, a canvas beyond my understanding, faces and events were its painting. The presented conundrum was insignificant in relation to the blissful weightlessness sweeping care to the ether, emotion washing all frailties away. Invigorated, my spirit soared to rejoin the fight, take on this adversary, and emerge victorious.
I heard the voice like coffee percolating in an abandoned cavern, its resonating quality inviting me to ignore it and resume the dream. It would not relent, growing tendrils that clutched my shoulder, shaking me.
“Wake up, sir, or we’ll be late for the meeting.”
It’s humorous in a way how you leave a dream behind, but continue trying to communicate with it from the other side. As my body resumed a seated posture, she studied my face, apparently sensing something was amiss. With a moist towelette, she fussed with my brow, softly erasing something.
“Sir, I know we’ve worked in close quarters lately, but if others hear you call my middle name, why, they might get the wrong impression.” Finished with adjusting my appearance, she tossed the moist napkin into a miniature garbage receptacle at the base of a desk nearby.
Still shaking off the damp tremors of my last encounter, I began gesticulating, pointing to where she had touched, and the desk top. “What, where, I was just . . .”
Pulling a seat closer to me, she tried to calm my fears. “Sir, coffee breaks are not a problem, but when you sleep on the keyboard, you could disfigure that fine face.” A trace of inhibited desire underscored her coquettishness. She held out a compact mirror, presenting it to me, indicating her intent that I should observe proof of her statement.
Using this handheld reflector, the retreating indentations on my temple bore evaporating reminders of where she had blotted. Before further questioning her, I questioned this image staring at me. My silver hair was now jet, shining pate covered with thick locks, my wrinkled brow again smooth. Spectacles no longer straddled my nose, and I looked, in a word, fetchingly handsome. Rotating my head to drink in the bouquet of this welcome revitalization, I forgot what I was intending to say. Endeavoring to refresh my awareness of urgent quickness, I was prodded again.
“Sir, we’ve got precious little time to conduct the presentation.” Her concern seemed genuine and intriguingly personal.
Handing back the mirror, I spoke with new energy. “Go on ahead. I’ll join you shortly.”
She departed, allowing the elevator door to close on barely discernable after currents imbued with fragrance. The last sliver of vertical light vanished about her nervously clutching a wristwatch, then holding up four fingers and mouthing, “Four minutes.”
Papers were gathered, the computer switched off, and a pleading bark kept me from chasing her scent without man’s best friend. “Good dog, Percy.” I congratulated his behavior, patting his luxurious ebony coat. Collecting one leash end in hand, I joked, “Let’s go slay some dragons.”
Any up and coming executive would be taken aback, at least momentarily, hearing his retriever say, “Sure thing, boss.” What almost didn’t register, for the span of one gasp, was the eerie, human flash of teeth, and the way in which Percy’s eyes illuminated with fired embers that twinkled in rhythm with my now audible heartbeat. Walking into the elevator, Percy added, “This time around, you must remember to share.”
Carried to the thirtieth floor for the pivotal encounter minutes away, my associate enthralled me with verbose memories, some of which I have heretofore disseminated. Knowing it will not happen, I hope against hope, waiting for this nightmare to end, and permit my awakening.