'Inside the last marble tear of a petrified angel'

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


'Inside the last marble tear of a petrified angel'

 

It was on the intersection of 4th and Balboa they last saw each other. That final meeting had been on Alan Vanhorn’s mind ever since. Why after all those years suddenly stirring things up?Could there be a direct link between those unfortunate events and the confusing state he was in now? Who or what was prompting him to come to Rolling Meadows? Better still, why was he there in the first place?! Crucial pieces of the puzzle were missing. Earlier that week, a summons had arrived. It came in the form of a ripped-out page from an ancient Dutch fisherman's almanac and contained a place, date and the setting time of the sun. In the left margin, someone had drawn a sprig of Acacia next to a handwritten set of coordinates.

For once Alan Vanhorn, who rarely kept appointments, showed up on time. He arrived at Rolling Meadows exactly half an hour before sunset. To his own astonishment, he found himself standing in a field surrounded by monumental Cypress trees. He had no recollection of how he got there. Oddly enough, he wasn't wearing shoes.

No birds or wildlife populated the lush expanse. The only audible sounds were the ominous whispering trees and the swooshing of grass around his bare ankles. On a hunch rather than a plan, he decided to head straight for the setting sun. According to the coordinates, the rendezvous point was a solitary Acacia tree. Its position on top of a small hill made it easy to locate. For a while, Alan stood under the fanning branches trying to retrace his steps. His memory remained barren like the plains of Nebraska in the dead of winter.

 

From where he stood, Alan could see rows of weathered tombstones predominantly belonging to Dutch dairy farmers with a Celtic cross thrown into the mix here and there.

Somebody had to spike the buttermilk, he thought.

In the South-East corner, partly overgrown by forget-me-nots, stood an ancient Masonic monument. The seven surrounding granite cubes reminded him of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. On the centerpiece, someone left three white roses in a triangle, presumably a fellow member of the Craft. The area immediately behind the acacia tree had a less glamorous feel. The grounds were boggy and reeked of sacrilege.

A perfect resting place for the excommunicated, suicides, and stillborn.

Chalked numbers on wooden slaps covered each plot as a reassurance they were neither forgotten nor forgiven. Faustian riffraff neatly categorized and filed away by scribes in black cloaks. No chance of appeal until after Judgment Day.

A freshly dug grave sat next to the Acacia tree. Alan studied the shallow dimensions. The gravedigger's spade had cut through the roots with surgical precision. Dark groundwater welled up from the bottom of the pit. “One size fits all.”He mumbled.

 

Alan, a heavy smoker, longed for a nicotine fix to steady his nerves. He reached in his pocket for his cigarettes. He was about to put one between his lips when a gust of wind made the leaves of the Acacia rustle.

At the same moment, a female voice shattered the silence.

“I wouldn't do that if I were you!” she said.

Alan almost jumped out of his skin.

“Holy shit.., who is there?” he cried, larynx bouncing like a yo-yo.

The next thing he noticed was a pair of old sneakers sticking out of the foliage.

A skinny girl with a pale complexion materialized out of thin air. In her hand, she held a sprig of Acacia.

When Alan recognized the silhouette, he shook his head in disbelief.

“Nah,” he protested. “It can't be. Hailey, Hailey, is that really you? How can this even be possible? You are supposed to be dead!”

“Sure it's me, Al-boy. Why act surprised? Who else did you expect to meet in a place like this, Betty Page? Or maybe the 'Most Beautiful Suicide' herself?”

Alan gaped.

He felt a sting of pain when he recognized the checkered winter coat. The same Hailey wore the day she drifted out of his life. It looked more tattered. Buttons were missing, and traces of mildew lined the hem. A large, rusty stain covered both lapels.

When she noticed how he scrutinized, Hailey apologized. “Sorry for my looks, Al, but I didn't exactly trip on the catwalk, as you probably well remember.”

“This is long overdue,” Alan said, “I missed you so much. I thought I would never see you again.”

He took a step forward, arms outstretched for a hug.

She recoiled. “Hey, steady on big fellow. There is a certain protocol to be followed here!” “Well damn it, Hailey, it has been 15 years since I lost you in that awful car crash.”

She threw him a puzzled look. “What are you talking about, Al? To my best of knowledge, I've only been away for a couple of minutes. Look at me dude, do I look that much older to you?”

He studied her top to toe. She certainly resembled the Hailey he had left behind at the intersection.

Hailey looked at the cigarette between his trembling fingers and smiled. “You, on the other hand, look kind of bottomed out Al-boy. Must be the heavy smoking. Tell me, what are you on these days?” She struck an academic pose, hand on chin. “No, wait. Let me guess... Forty? Fifty?”

Alan chose to ignore her. Instead, he pulled out his lighter.

She wagged a disapproving finger at him like a headmistress.

“Why are you here Hailey? I mean... Why are we both here, and why at this very moment?”

“Don’t know, Al. I could ask you that same question, couldn't I?”

He leaned against the tree. “Then why the heck did you summon me for a meeting in this godforsaken place?” he complained. “I mean, why can't we meet in a Starbucks over a latte?”

“Right, Starbucks!” Hailey scoffed. “And having our intimate conversation interrupted by a gender confused Barista or the gurgling outbursts of an Italian espresso machine? Thanks, but no thanks! Even worse, they shout out your first name in public.”

A sudden thought seemed to cross her mind. “But wait a moment dude, it certainly wasn't me who organized this depressing field trip.”

“Well if not you, then who?” Alan asked

They both fell silent.

She took a step back and examined him with suspicion. “So neither of us sent those summons. That's weird,” she said. Her eyes narrowed. “Damn Al, I already thought there was something fishy about all that cryptic fuss. And then, those messages I received. I believe one of them was even addressed to you, Alan Vanhorn.”

Alan raised his eyebrows. “A message for me? From who, about what?”

Hailey waved her hand. “Not entirely sure. I will look it up in a bit. Remind me later. Right now there are things of far greater importance to deal with.”

“You mean our current situation?”

“Yep. Here we are, two stranded Enkhuizer fishermen dangling upside down in an Acacia tree,” she said.

Alan had never fully understood Hailey’s comical responses to matters that were, in fact, rather serious.

“Can't you see Hailey?” he asked. “I’m deeply upset about what's going on here. I'm spatially disorientated, and it seems as if someone has first hacked, and then firewalled my brain. What is happening to us?”

 

Hailey sat down on the tombstone next to the open grave. She massaged her damaged neck with both hands. Hailey sighed. “Good old Al. That's so typically you, always complaining about the surprises life throws at you. Cheer up, buddy. You've only been around the block once, now dare to give it that extra go!”

She playfully poked him in the ribs. It almost made her tip over.

Alan danced away from the teasing fingers.

“You've clearly not lost your taste for dark puns,” he grunted.

When she realized his anxieties were real, she immediately got serious again. A frown appeared on her pale forehead. “You can't even begin to imagine what it took for me to be here. I had to jump through hoops of burning gasoline just to have this conversation with you.”

Al looked perplexed. “But Hailey, it's more than fifteen years since you gave me the slip! One moment you were there, the next you were gone. Puff.” He gestured instantaneous evaporation.

“Poor Al,” she said sadly. “Time is only relative if it comes to a matter of life and death.”

Then on a lighter note, “But let me look at you, Alan Vanhorn. Really, is the fearless creator of daily doldrums crying like a baby? Gosh, I've only been away for a couple of minutes, and a major drama is already unfolding. Tell me Al-boy, why are men such cry-babies if it comes to managing relationships?”

Al scoffed. “Sure Hailey, it's always us men. But please, explain this to me, why is it that women can sever longstanding relationships of unlimited intimacy in a heartbeat?”

She looked at him slightly amused. “Because men are sentimental.”

“Instead of heading for open waters, men prefer swimming in circles. They choose to bask within their own private pool of anger and self-pity. The true secret is women know how to cut umbilical cords with their teeth. They instinctively know when the package is delivered. That's why they can bury a husband in their heart without skipping a single beat. It's called survival. You should try it once in a while.”

All shook his head. He knew all reasoning was in vain when Hailey took to surfing the second wave of Feminism. She could transform his safe and shallow pool into a treacherous tsunami just by snapping her fingers.

“Please be serious Hailey, what made you come to Rolling Meadows on this mournful night?”

Her face took on a vacant expression. “I don't really know, she muttered, something forced me into this. I have no other recollection then of those messages I received. Maybe all this is just a snag in the fabric of space-time. I guess things have gotten awfully messy higher up in the tree of life.” To underscore her words, a gust of wind rustled the leaves of the Acacia.

They both looked up. It was as if something in the far reaches of the cosmos had shrugged.

“Hailey, are you sure it wasn't you who accidentally crossed some wires?”

“Maybe, maybe not,” she said. “If only I could remember what that message for you was about.” She sighed. “I believe it came directly from the CPCED and was post-stamped Enkhuizen.”

“The CP-what?” Alan asked.

“The Committee for the Propagation of Closer Entanglement inside the Dodecahedron.”

“Never heard of them,” he remarked dryly.

“They use it as their logo. One of the Platonic solids representing the Cosmos. The CPCED has a rep-office in Enkhuizen, the Netherlands. Never mind!”

Alan thought it wiser not to press for finer details.

Hailey on her behalf didn't further elaborate on the matter.

 

From a CPCED perspective, their meeting on Rolling Meadows simply boiled down to a matter of locality. Here they were, briefly reunited as summoned, young Dr. Hailey Heisenberg Ph.D. in Physics, and the not so young Mr. Alan Vanhorn, temporarily in between jobs as well as worlds. Different spin but forever tied together in Space and Time.

Alan had no idea that Hailey was sent by the CPCED to save him from self-destruction. Hailey, on her part, had no recollection of the fact that she did so on her own request.

For a moment they both seemed lost and distracted.

“Tell me, Al, do you think we're slowly losing our minds?” she asked.

“Seems like it.” He looked into her pale grey eyes. Flashes from the past shot by like a meteor shower of pain. Strong images ready to carve up another thousand sleepless nights.

For a brief second, they were both back at the intersection. Hailey catapulted out of a wrecked car, seatbelt and all. Same winter coat and trainers. She looked even more fragile in death than she did in life. The clarity of the vision sent a shiver down Alan’s spine. So much hurt lingered inside. Better not raking it up, he thought.

To take his mind off things, he asked her how she had been all those years. How she had managed without him since the untimely departure?

She scoffed. “Well, how did I...? Curious question coming from you, Al. To be honest, I can't really put a label on it. In retrospect, the whole process of dying felt like running a marathon on high-heels. Every time I expected to cross the finish line an extra lap was added. After I eventually managed to leave that damn intersection, life finally loosened its grip. Then there was that unnerving memorial service, followed by the whole shebang of chemical separation. The first couple of years were the toughest. The vaults of time nearly made my walls crumble. I adopted a 'never again forever attitude' and did away with the concept of past, present, and future altogether. That's what eventually snapped me out of it. You might say, Time and I reached a mutual understanding.”

They stood in silence breathing the crisp night air. Behind the Acacia, the sun sank below the horizon. Its last faint rays framed the leaves with tiny slivers of copper. Nightfall came with a soft breeze. It carried the ghostly hum of rush-hour traffic on a distant intersection.

Alan cleared his throat. “How is it to be a Time and Space traveler?”

She shrugged. “Do you really want to know?”

Her grey eyes seemed transfixed by the setting sun.

He nodded.

“Not fun. The whole thing sounds better than it is. Imagine yourself crossing a busy 4D intersection in thick fog. An Impenetrable wall surrounds you. Your instincts tell you to run for cover as quickly as possible. The problem is, you haven't got a clue which way to go. Most of the time you don't even know whether you're stumbling in a straight line or staggering in circles. No directional signs to guide you across the intersection. Then there are the shadows, some the size of a three-story building. They come at you from all sides. At first, you try to avoid head-on collisions at all costs by dodging them. Soon you are drained of your last energy. Eventually, you find yourself stretched out on the pavement, crushed and broken.”

That day in the middle of the same intersection, life itself slapped Alan Vanhorn in the face. It was a sneaky sucker punch that kept him reeling on his feet the rest of his life. He kept asking himself, Why did this happen to me, and why her? What have I done wrong to deserve this?

From that day onward, the search for a deeper meaning behind ordinary things became his full-time obsession.

Over the last fifteen years, the same slideshow kept reoccurring, featuring Hailey on the hard shoulder. It was brought to him in vivid Technicolor. He kept returning to the intersection for answers. Lately more often than usual.

It was this anomaly that attracted the attention of the CPCED. Alan Vanhorn was about to reach breaking point. That's why the summons went out.

 

Hailey looked at his pale face. “Dude are you OK?”

Alan rubbed his clammy cheeks with the back of his hand. “It's nothing,” he said. “Please continue.”

“After a while, you come to realize that it's better to give in,” Hailey said. “You learn to trust your primordial senses and allow your lizard-brain to take over. From that moment on you go with the flow. You join-in with the other limp bodies, rubbing yourself against the looming objects as they do. Every so often, you bump into someone you vaguely recognize but can't really place. It's only after you let the fog fill your head that you become a part of the intersection. That's the true message here, Al. To become a shadow among shadows. Eventually, you'll find your way out. When that happens, it feels as if the intersection has rearranged itself, but this time around you. In my case, I safely ended up on the far side of the tarmac. Only then did I find out I had crash-landed on the same spot I'd been all along. The skid marks and the wet sand covered stain gave it away.

“That's where I found you, Al, adrift among those shadows. At first, I thought you were someone I knew from my new life. But then I recognized that little scar on your soul. You should have given it more time to heal.”

Hailey exhaled. She gazed at the branches of the Acacia tree. Darkness had settled in on the Meadows. Along the paths and lanes, wrought-iron lanterns spread a bluish light.

“My advice to you, Al: Don't let gravity pull you down! Remember, our cosmos is expanding not shrinking. The trick is to always move on with whatever you are doing. The arrow of time is meant to shoot forward.

She suddenly lifted her head and listened intently. The distant hum had turned into a faint shuffling sound. It came from the direction of the administrative building behind the trees.

“Come on Al,” she said. “It's getting late.”

When she took his hand, Alan felt a soft current run through his fingertips.

After being a fleeting shadow for so long, it felt good to touch something that radiated energy.

They turned onto a dusty lane surrounded by fields of forget-me-nots.

Rising above the treetops, they could see a twisted chimney.

“What's happening there?” Alan asked, pointing at the structure.

“That's the Meadow's administrative center,” she whispered. “That's where the paper dead are buried.”

The lane lead through a necropolis for the rich and famous. Monument after monument lamented time and space. From deep within one granite mausoleum a continuous recording could be heard: Dear Customer, be informed that your credit has almost run out. Please recharge in time.

Everywhere, petrified angels turned away in grief, their faces hidden in moss covered hands. Marble tears never to be absorbed by time. Alan wondered whether those tears were meant for the departed or for the survivors.

Hinting at the winged creatures, he said, “Not quite an encouraging way of coping with the loss of a dearly departed, is it? I mean, given all that angelic insight, joy and ecstasy should be the more appropriate expression, wouldn't you say?”

Hailey looked at him pleasantly surprised.

Further down the path, they passed a Pieta displaying the Virgin Mary holding the body of her broken Son.

Hailey sighed, “13.7 Billion years of unprecedented creation and the flock still worships a Middle Eastern man who died under Roman torture. From a cosmological point of view, all this took place not even a fraction of a nanosecond ago.”

They both chuckled. It made Alan realize how much he had missed her and that warped sense of humor.

“But tell me, Hailey,” he said, pointing at the heavens, “what will it be like? I mean, if I eventually make my way up there.”

Hailey, still studying the epitaph, hesitated.

“It will be... well, like nothing you've ever experienced,” she whispered.

Something made her turn abruptly. She threw nervous glances in the direction of the Acacia tree.

“Expecting someone?” Alan asked.

“Well, you can't be too careful nowadays,” she said, shaken. “Intergalactic refugees everywhere, from Catholic Cyber Hackers to NRA sympathizers and Facebook Illuminati.”

In a low voice, she whispered, “I am not entirely sure whether I'm at liberty to tell you all this, but always remember that everything in the dodecahedron happens on a sub-atomic level. When you eventually get up there, it’s like your soul is slowly squeezed out of your body like toothpaste from a tube. All your energy ends up in an infinite vessel. Precious sparkling energy. It sizzles and buzzes in tiny energetic strings. One second of that combined power suffices to fuel a trillion suns for eons. Strangest thing though, somehow your conscience remains fully intact. All you've ever known and will know is there where you stored it.”

Alan failed to join her into the quantum leap. In his daily life, he wasn't even ready to accept the certainties of a Newtonian order, let alone those of a parallel nature.

“Please be more specific,” he demanded.

“OK, let me break it down for you. The important thing is to remember that it's all about spin and energy. Energy is the benchmark currency of the universe. It is the cosmic dollar, so to speak.”

Hailey studied the Virgin's drooping eyelids. The perpetually sad expression on her face intensified. “Maybe humanity's finest hour truly lays hidden inside those marble tears,”she whispered.

For a while, they both contemplated the fragile nature of human existence.

Hailey pointed towards the chimney above the trees. “Look, Al, the portal must be there.”

“The what?” he asked.

Hailey ignored his question and instead pulled him towards the Cypress trees. “C'mon dude, we must hurry. It's almost time.”

 

It was Alan who noticed them first. Hundreds of them. Baby-boomers, all shuffling forth in a silent parade, heading for the main building. A whole variety of types and preferences. Lots of ponytails and goatees, some had faded tattoos, others thinned out dreadlocks. They all kept their glassy eyes fixed on the dawning of Aquarius. An entire generation on its way out.

No words were spoken, just the shuffling of bare feet in gravel. It reminded Alan of a Marimba band high on methamphetamine. Next to the building, a ramp led to a basement, at the bottom of which was a brightly lit platform. It had the feel and bleakness of a New York subway station. Galvanized gondolas with sink lined seats were coming and going. Each time a gondola stopped, a fresh batch of Boomers got on. When a gondola was full, a hidden mechanism flipped it backward, and the next one took its place. When it got reeled in, blinding flashes of light shot out from the portal and puffs of white smoke escaped from the chimney.

“It's a kind of cosmic tube-mail,” Hailey explained.

Everybody waited patiently to board the cosmic peace train. A remarkable efficient operation. No pushing or vicious snarling. The business end of things could well be organized by a squad of German pre-baby boomers.

“Wow!” Alan exclaimed. “Where are they all going? To revisit Woodstock ‘69, or maybe a meditation course in Poona?”

“Shadows,” Hailey said. “They are about to become shadows. Some I’ve already met at the intersection.”

All of a sudden, Hailey let go of his hand. She listened intensely to what seemed like an incoming call through an invisible earpiece. “Quiet, Al. Something is off!” The expression on her face turned deadly serious. “It's for you,” she said. “A CPCED message just came true, and it's urgent!”

“For me?” Alan asked in a shaky voice. “What could it be about?”

“Time itself is trying to tell you something. Strangely enough, the Committee wants me to give you an alternative message. Apparently, they have decided it's not your time yet.” She bit her lower lip when she repeated the message.

It read: 'Never let yesterday use up what's left of your today.'

“That's it,” she said, almost apologetic.

Alan felt relieved and disappointed at the same time. “Huh, ye kidding right?” he said. “After a lifetime of expert timekeeping, this is all they got for me. A handful of platitudes?”

“Yep, that's all!” Hailey said. “And as the saying goes dude, don't shoot me, I'm just the messenger!”

“Hum... And this is coming from Time itself, you say?”

Hailey put a calming hand on his shoulder. “Cool down dude. The CPCED always follows such a strict one-liner policy with respect to communication.”

“And those guys, the Communist Program for Chinese Ethnic Diversity or whatever they're called, don't they have a private message for you this time?” Alan asked.

“Yeah... Well... To be honest, I received my message that day on the intersection.”

“What?” Alan cried out. “And you're only telling me this now?”

“Well come on, Al,” she said sheepishly. “After all, we were separated at the time, so?”

In his frustration, he kicked at a patch of forget-me-nots. “I missed you so much, ever since that day on the intersection, I devoted fifteen years of my life just to honor your memory!”

“Maybe you wasted those years in self-pity,” Hailey said. “OK, very well then dude let me tell you about my epiphany.”

Before she started, Hailey threw furtive glances at the Pieta. “While on that hard-shoulder this was the message. Dear Miss Hailey Heisenberg, Time is your most valuable currency, don't let others spend it for you!

Alan stared at her, dumbfounded. “What's that supposed to mean?” “Does this imply that Alan Vanhorn was and is just one of the others?”

“Stop it, Al. None of this concerns the here and now!” She grabbed his sleeve and pulled him along. “Now please, let what I just told you sink in. You'd better accept the advice coming from the CPCED.”

Their exchange was interrupted by a minor explosion from the chimney. Hailey let go of his arm. “I am so sorry Al, but I really must be going.”

“Can't I come with you?” he asked. “Let's leave together! Surely that Dutch rep-agency can book us passage and a double room somewhere.”

She watched him with infinitely sad eyes. “Alan, given your current physical state, you would immediately be spaghettified the moment you get on one of those galvanizers. But, more importantly: you're not done here yet! Your books are far from balanced.”

Alan knew that she was right. He was far from ready to move on, let alone to make a cosmic journey on a galvanized love-swing with a bunch of drug-eyed baby-boomers.

“Guess you’re right,” he admitted. “Maybe I’m not ready to make the split.”

“Okay, Alan Vanhorn, my once lifelong companion and former lover, try to figure this one out on your own.”

Without further warning, she pulled away from him. The next moment Hailey jumped into the thick of the procession heading for the Galvanizers. Above the sound of a thousand samba-shakers, the echo of her last words lingered in the night sky: “Take good care, Alan. Remember, leave the intersection!”

Before she went glassy-eyed on him, Hailey turned and blew him a kiss. For seconds it hung mid-air like a frozen coda. Alan caught a last glimpse of her checkered winter coat when she boarded a gondola. Then a bright flash pulled her away. A little puff of white smoke shot out from the chimney, and Hailey was gone forever.

 

There he stood, surrounded by trampled forget-me-nots. Abandoned, not knowing what to

do next. Alan Vanhorn, a tiny burst of high energy not yet ready to cross-over.

Purely out of spite, he lit a cigarette. The instant rush of nicotine jolted him back into a more familiar state of existence. He wondered what Hailey’s new life would be like. Would she keep some sort of memory of him? Or would she simply reduce him to a series of snapshots on a Facebook page? And, what would happen after their grief had finally worn off? Would anyone be willing to stage a vigil for him?

Nah, he thought. For him, no solemn voices would sing “Candle in the Wind.” No heart-shaped cards or grimy stuffed animals impaled on a bent guardrail. And what about those depressing angels? Would they be willing to shed a marble tear at his soggy grave behind the Acacia?

Soon he too had to move on. Time itself had told him that much. The only thing he planned to leave behind was a set of reluctant footprints in the gravel.

But of one thing, Alan Vanhorn was damn sure. Until that moment came, he would make every second count. Come what may!


Submitted: February 01, 2021

© Copyright 2021 D.J.Vanderstadt. All rights reserved.

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