“Of course it hurt that we could never love each other in a physical way. We would have been far more happy if we had. But that was like the tides, the change of seasons–something immutable, an immovable destiny we could never alter. No matter how cleverly we might shelter it, our delicate friendship wasn’t going to last forever. We were bound to reach a dead end. That was painfully clear.” ― Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart
They say you meet friends in the damnedest places when you aren’t looking for them and I thought this was utter nonsense until the day I found a friend in the reflection of a mirror. I know what you’re thinking and no, this isn’t a story about finally finding and befriending myself or coming into contact with the Supreme Intelligence that exists within me, because it wasn’t my reflection. This person, this woman who has no name as far as you’re concerned, that I will call Alice, stood beside the mirror version of myself, to the left. Always left of center. I should have taken that as a sign, but you never see the glaringly obvious without the benefit of hindsight, do you?
Before you mistake Alice for an imaginary friend, know that were I in a mirrorless room, I wouldn’t be able to communicate with her because she simply wouldn’t be there.
How she came to be trapped within mirrors is anyone’s guess and I doubt she truly knew herself, though whenever asked, she would always blame her fractured memory, splintered like the shards of glass of a shattered mirror that held incomplete images of her past.
She was fascinating in her way, Alice was. A brain filled with dark matter. Insecure to a fault. A high maintenance friend if ever there was one. Not only was she needy, self-absorbed to the exclusion of all else, devoid of a funny bone—despite the fact she claimed to have an excellent sense of humor—but she was also passive-aggressive and more than slightly obtuse when it came to the rules of the world that existed outside her own head. But as I said, fascinating in her own right.
It’s a shame that fascination wasn’t enough to carry through. I was determined in the beginning to plant our relationship in the soil of time, water it with patience and let it bask in the rays of understanding.
What sprang from the dirt wasn’t the flower of friendship, but the weeds of unwanted advice. It’s what broken people do, you see, they have an undying need to give others advice on how to fix themselves. I am by no stretch of the imagination a Bible scholar, but I am familiar with the passage:
“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”
But I endured it. You ask me why? I couldn’t tell you. That’s what friends are for, I reckon. But then I started to notice that her reflection was dwarfing my own. She began taking up the majority space in the mirror, and I, trying to keep the peace had ignored the signs and allowed it to happen. My own fault, I plainly admit it.
But no more.
As I grow older, reluctantly wiser, and I reevaluate my life choices and take stock of my friends, I see with regard to the Alice matter that I will never get a decent return on my investment. Some people are a bad fit within their own skin as well as with other people.
Not long after, I noticed she wasn’t simply trapped within a mirror. Alice was actually trapped in a glass box of her own construction, caught within a mirror pocket dimension. And to add insult to injury, she was attempting to trap my reflection, and thereby me, inside one as well.
In the end, I did the only thing I could do, for she gave me no other choice. I placed her reflection in the only fitting place I could think of — my rearview mirror. The very last time I ever laid eyes on Alice, she was shrinking in the distance until she was little more than a dot on the horizon.
My sincerest wishes for her are to find her way out of her glass cage and strive to be more than a visual echo in the reflectors of others. But that first step begins with her. She has to want to be a real person, and I’m not sure she knows how.
In any event, adieu, Looking Glass Girl. Here’s not looking at you, kiddo. To the rest of you lot, go forth, make friends, and be mindful of mirror-lurkers.
They come from miles around, my characters do, traveling the great distance from the fringes of my mind’s eye, some even making the long and arduous haul from my childhood, just to sit and talk. They do this whenever I’m alone.
As they gather ’round, I cast an eye upon their many and various faces and can’t help but feel the slightest twinge of remorse. Being in my company, locked within the confines of my imagination, is not wholly unlike a purgatory for them. A holding pattern, a waiting room, where they converse amongst themselves in voices audible only to myself, trying to catch my attention in the slimmest hope of being set free. Birthed into a story.
Some are fresh meat, the rest lifers, each easily spotted by the differences in their appearance and the strength of their voices. Fresh meats are gossamers—newly formed characters, little more than a stack of traits—who shout in whispers. Lifers, on the other hand, are as fleshed out as you or I, perhaps even more so, who have acquired the proper pitch and turn of phrase to catch me unawares during the times when my mind idles.
Before the talks begin–serious conversation, not the normal natterings they engage in–a flying thing the size of a butterfly, jewel-toned blue stripes, greenish-gold spots, with flecks of silver on the wings, lands in the palm of my outstretched hand.
“What is that then?” a childlike voice asks from somewhere deep in the crowd, low to the ground. I recognize it instantly.
“It’s an anecdote, Duchess. Come see for yourself.” I reply as the creature’s wings beat softly on my palm.
The throng–my personal rogue’s gallery whose roster includes reputables and reprobates alike–part like the Red Sea, making way for the noblest of all serval cats, The Duchess.
“An antidote? Have you been poisoned?” The Duchess queries as she saunters into the open space, a dollop of concern gleaming in her vivid blue eyes.
I try to not laugh, partly out of respect, but mostly due to the fact that though she is the eldest of my unused characters, she is technically still but a kitten. “No, Duchess, it’s an anecdote, as in a short, amusing, or interesting story about a person or an incident.“
“I know full well what an anecdote is, thank you kindly. I was merely attempting to lighten the dreadfully somber mood with a bit of levity.” Not her best faux pas cover, but it was swift, which should count for something. As casually as she could manage, the kitten turned to see if anyone found amusement at her expense. No one did. They knew better. “May I hold it?”
I hesitate and stare at the leapling. Created on February 29th all those many years ago, it was my rationale–on paper–for keeping her a kitten, seeing as she had fewer birthdays, she would naturally age at a decelerated rate. The actuality is I have an affinity for kittens. For full-grown cats? Not so much. And now the dilemma is if her kittenish nature should come into play, and without meaning to, cause injury to the anecdote, then all this would be for naught.
Her eyes plead with all the promise of being good and I have no choice but to relent. “It’s fragile, so be gentle. Take care not to crush it.” I gently place the anecdote in her cupped paws.
“Why does one need an anecdote?” The Duchess of Albion asked, her nose twitching whenever the creature moves its wings.
“To tell a proper story,” I answer. “More than just a sequence of actions, anecdotes are the purest form of the story itself.“
“But I thought characters are at the heart of every great story?“
“They are and anecdotes connect the hearts and minds of those characters to a story.” I try to feign calm but I can see the kitten’s body tensing up. Her eyes, those glorious baby blues, are studying the creature closely. Was I wrong in my decision to trust that she rules her instincts and not the other way around?
“They also add suspense to your story, giving the audience a sense that something is about to happen. If you use them right, you can start raising questions right at the beginning of your story—something that urges your audience to stay with you. By raising a question, you imply that you will provide your audience with the answers. And you can keep doing this as long as you remember to answer all the questions you raise.“
The kitten’s breath becomes rapid and her paws close in around the anecdote and I want to cry out, urge her to stop, but it’s far beyond that point now. She is in control of her own fate. Canines bare themselves, paws pulling the creature closer to her mouth.
“No!” she shakes her head violently. Her ears relax and her mouth closes as her breathing returns to normal. Then, the oddest thing happens…
The Duchess begins to vanish. All the characters look on in dazed silence, uncertain how to react.
“What is happening to me?” she shoots me a panicked glance as cohesion abandons her form.
“Haven’t you sussed it out yet?“
“No… I’m scared!“
“Don’t be,” I smile. “Look around you. You’re at the heart of a story. You’re free.“
“Truly?” she is suddenly overwhelmed with delight, her expression priceless. “But — but what do I do with the anecdote now?”
“Open your paws, let it fly off.”
She unfolds her paws. Tiny wings beat their path to freedom. Then someone from the back of the crowd gives The Duchess a slow clap. Soon, others join in, building into a tidal wave of applause.
The now translucent Duchess waves a tearful thank you to the crowd, before turning back to me with a request, “Say my name.“
“Because you always simply address me as Duchess and I want to hear you call me by my full name one last time before I g– —“
And just like that, she was gone.
I bid you a fond farewell, Your Grace the Duchess of Albion Gwenore del Septima Calvina Hilaria Urbana Felicitus-Jayne Verina y de Fannia. Enjoy your journey. You will be missed.
I am of two minds. On the one hand, I want to make a good impression, to reveal glimpses of the parts of myself that will make you think favorably of me. On the other hand, I do not wish to mislead you by pretending to be wholly one thing, when I am an amalgamation of paradoxes that should not be able to function in one body, one personality, let alone society, yet somehow does.
Then you offer me a smile that is polite and mild, and my mind is made up, for I do not wish to hide my light beneath a bushel. It is my desire that you see all of me and I see all of you, because in that act there is such a freedom of either acceptance or rejection, that transcends the simple mediocrity of belonging.
So, as I push my whimsy forward, unfolding politeness and decorum to display the complexities that live and thrive at the very core of my being, I offer you the opportunity to follow suit in order to form an unbreakable bond and temper a love forged in the flames of two pure hearts.
There will never be a better time, a more perfect moment than this, so I muster up all the courage I possess and move in, angling my head for a kiss. The expression on her face is beatific. Wisps of hair fall loose from her ponytail and dance across her features and the morning light seems to make her glow. And hidden within her lips is the promise of sweetness and passion that I have been searching for my entire life.
This is the fantasy I’m in love with, of a woman I absolutely despise in real life.
“Do you even have the faintest idea why you’re still single?” my mother asks. Questioning me out of the blue is the way she offers her unsolicited and always unwanted opinions.
“I don’t know, Mom, because I just watched The Exorcist and cried through the entire thing?” And this is the way I try to dodge the conversation. “I mean, I know how it’s going to end and I feel terrible for Pazuzu. When it’s all over, Chris has Regan, Father Karras and Father Merrin ascend to heaven but what does Pazuzu get? Bupkis. Nada. Nothing.”
“You’re an odd duck.”
“A sentimental odd duck, let’s not overlook my ability to empathize and emote.”
Mom doesn’t take the bait. “I just want you to find someone so badly. You’re such a wonderful, albeit weird person and you deserve to meet someone really special,” she says.
And then, on cue, Dad pokes his head into the living room and in true man-fashion, tries to fix the problem.
“You attract more bees with honey than vinegar, pun’kin. Maybe if you spruced yourself up a bit,” he says. “Not that there’s anything wrong with the way you look–“
“Shut up, George!” Mom punches Dad in the arm.
“What? I’m just saying some fellas need to see the car polished before taking it out on a test drive, that’s all.”
“You want strangers test driving your daughter?”
“No! Of course not!” Dad waves the notion away as if it was a wasp. “What I mean to say is would it kill you to maybe wear a dress and some makeup once in a while and socialize with actual people in the real world in a social setting instead of throwing your youth away on the internet in chat rooms?”
“Dad, I know you mean well but you’re old–“
“And that’s ancient, so is your way of thinking. Women shouldn’t have to gussy themselves up–“
“I never used the word gussy.”
“–in order to attract a mate.”
“We’re not talking about mating we’re talking about dating.”
“Same difference, Dad. If I met someone and we were into each other we might just hook up. It’s only sex.”
“Not in my house, it’s not! There’ll be no it’s only sex happening under my roof, young lady!”
“Which answers your question, Mom, as to why I’m still single.”
“What?” Mom looks confused. “How did this come back on me?”
“Not that it’s any of your business but I still have my V card.”
“She’s still a virgin, George.”
“Well, thank Christ for small miracles, I suppose,” Dad breathes a sigh of relief.
“And if and when I hand in my card, I want it to be with someone who gets me, someone on my level and I want it to happen in a place where I feel safe and that’s here, with you guys.”
“You’re not asking us to watch, are you?”
Mom punches Dad in the arm again. “George!”
“Ewww, Dad, don’t be gross!” I decide to make one last attempt at explaining my reasoning. “This place isn’t the fanciest but it’s lived in and it’s filled with love—your love for each other and for me and my love for you. I want my first-time love to exist in the same place.”
“Seeing as it will be your first time, it might not be filled with as much love as you think,” Mom says under her breath and it’s Dad’s turn to punch her lightly on the arm.
“Hey,” he says. “Don’t spoil her fantasy.”
“So,” my voice turns sheepish. “Do I have your blessing?”
They stare at each other for a long contemplative moment and to my surprise, Dad is the one who breaks the ice. “Yeah, kiddo. It’s okay.” And Mom nods in agreement.
“Great!” I snatch my laptop up as I bound off the sofa and race past them and upstairs to my room.
“Where are you off to?” Mom asks.
“To get ready! Tommy’ll be over in a little while and we’re totally going to do it tonight! You guys are the best!”
Mom turns to Dad, “Who’s Tommy?”
“Dead meat if he knocks on this door,” Dad says cracking his knuckles.
Kymmie Blanchette, now Kymberly Marshall had a life plan instilled in her by her parents which she followed to a T. She was a good kid, did well in school, had a core group of parent-approved friends, and enjoyed spending time with her parents even as a teenager. She grew to be an outstanding adult, a high functioning, informed citizen who contributed positively to society and her parents’ careful planning led her down the predictable path of a solid career and a faithful marriage. She was a devoted mother to two children who also grew up to be successful in their respective fields.
But as her body became tender to the touch and the constant pain once relegated to the background stepped to the forefront and her body cooled and the pattern of her breathing began changing frequently and spontaneously—a delirium clouded her mind and she slipped down the corridor of her youth, back to her only bout of rebelliousness, back to the randomness of being 16.
A few days after her birthday, Kymmie made a friend all on her own, secret from her parents and other friends, secret from everyone. Insomnia—birth name Ines—was everything Kymmie never had the courage or confidence to be. She was what her grandfather would have called a spitfire, who always spoke her mind to teachers, her parents, everyone. She constantly went toe to toe with the abusive jocks and snarky queen bees without ever flinching or backing down and couldn’t care less about people’s opinions of her.
Why they became such close friends was anybody’s guess but they first met when Kymmie caught Insomnia secretly watching hentai in AV Club. Somni—her nickname of choice—cool as a cucumber said, “You got me dead to rights. Ball’s in your court so what’s it gonna be? Narc me out or become otaku?” Kymmie had no idea what otaku meant and she really wasn’t into animated tentacle pornography but this raven-haired edgy girl had given her something no one else had up to this point: a choice.
Kymmie became Somni’s sidekick, her partner in crime and together they tried all the challenges—the cinnamon challenge, the choking challenge, the salt and ice cube challenge, the fire challenge—they even hotwired a very large Oldsmobile in a Walmart parking lot and took it for a joyride with nary a driver’s license between the pair of them. And down by the abandoned factory they took turns surfing on the hood, roof and bumper of the car while the other drove. Kymmie did more driving than surfing but Somni gave her props for making an attempt.
One day they even raided Somni’s parents’ medicine cabinet for unused prescription pills, created a drug cocktail and washed it down with cooking wine and cough medicine in the basement.
When they were properly buzzed, they began to talk, about themselves, about their feelings, about how lonely life can be sometimes, how hard it was to bridge gaps between the people you liked most in the world. People who weren’t blood related but were closer than family. And Somni, usually tight-lipped when it came to expressing emotions, opened up a little and shared her secret wish to be a vampire so she could exchange blood with another being and become one with that person.
Was it the drugs or the cooking wine that made Kymmie brush the hair away from her neck as she told Insomnia, “Ball’s in your court so what’s it gonna be? Whine about your loneliness or become one with me?”
“You’ve got no clue what you’re doing,” Somni said.
“Neither do you, which is why you had to get high in order to tell me how you feel about me.”
“Who said this is about you?”
“It’s not about me? Then why are we in your basement, Ines?”
“Don’t call me that!” Insomnia snapped.
“Why not, it’s your name, isn’t it?”
“It’s my mother’s name!”
“No it’s not, your mom’s name is Brenda.”
“That’s my stepmother, bitch! My mother left to be with some asshat and his family because we weren’t enough! Because I wasn’t enough!”
“I-I’m sorry, I had no idea,” Kymmie said. “But you not being enough…that’s just crazy thinking. I don’t know her but if she abandoned you like that then your mom is the real asshat here.”
“No, and you can’t make me.”
“What are you going to do…hit me…beat me up? Go ahead, if that’s what it takes to get it out of your system. I’m not afraid of you.”
“Really? Why are you shaking, then?”
“Because you terrify me, not because I think you’ll beat me up because I don’t think you will, at least I hope you won’t. You’ve terrified me from the moment I first saw you.”
“Hey, I’m straight.”
“So am I, I think, but does that mean I can’t be in love with you? I mean, something’s there and I know you feel it, too,” Kymmie said. “Even if this doesn’t end well, we have to air it out before one or the both of us hurts ourselves by keeping it in.”
“What part of I’m straight don’t you get?”
“This isn’t about sexual preference. Somni, so stop freaking out about labels, I mean you of all people, you should know better than that.”
“I just don’t want you getting any wrong impressions. You’re cool to hang out with and all but, you know, as a friend.”
“Oh my god, why are you so guarded right now? A minute ago you were spilling your guts to me…”
“Yeah, well, a minute ago I wasn’t under a lesbian microscope.”
“I’m not calling you a lesbian, we’re not doing labels, okay? I just want you to admit you feel a certain way so that I don’t feel like an absolute loser for feeling the same way.”
“What way do you feel?” Somni asked.
“Really? Are we doing the whole ‘No, you go first’ thing?”
“You started this.”
“No, you got all vampiry and wanted to suck my blood so you could feel closer to me!”
“I’m the psycho? How about the person who doesn’t like to be touched always being so affectionate with me? You let me lay my head in your lap and stroke my hair when I need a nap. You sit on my lap and whisper secrets in my ear.”
“That was one time.”
“Okay, but you still did it!”
“Why don’t you just woman up and tell me how you feel, you drunk lesbian.”
“I’m not a…okay, so maybe I’m a little drunk, can you get drunk off of cooking wine? or high off the pills, what did we take again? anyway, I don’t know what I am because i i haven’t been with anybody yet but I’m not attracted to girls. It’s just you. Whenever you’re around, I just want you to notice me.”
“Of course, I notice you, doofus, we hang out all the time.”
“I think you’re my soulmate.”
“Okay. That wasn’t awkward.”
“Can you be soulmates with a same sex person? Does being a soulmate mean you have to be a sexmate, too?”
“Okay, we need to sober you up because it’s time for you to leave and I can’t send you home like this and risk you narcing on me.”
“I’d never narc you out.”
“Not intentionally, maybe.”
“And why aren’t you as fucked up as me?”
“Not my first time at the rodeo,” Insomnia draped an arm across her shoulder and helped Kymmie to her feet. “Coffee time. Let’s go.”
“No,” Kymmie resisted.
“I’m not going anywhere until you kiss me.”
“You heard me. On the mouth. Right now. Let’s go. Take the leap. I dare you. What are you, chicken? Bwak! Bwark! I double dog dare you!” Kymmie continued to squawk like a drunken chicken.
“Keep this up and I’ll street you and let you find your own way home.”
The taunts came to a halt and for a moment Kymmie seemed to sober up, “Please. Somni, please. I have to know. It hurts so much. Show me you care. Make me feel wanted.”
What went on in Insomnia’s mind, Kymmie would never know but her friend relented and the two girls kissed. It lasted only a few seconds before Kymmie broke the wet kiss and wiped her mouth, saying, “Uh-uh. No, no.”
“That’s what I’m been trying to tell you, asshat!”
“I’m not an asshat, your mom’s an asshat!” and what could have been an uncomfortable and awkward moment was broken by the two girls bursting into a fit of uncontrollable, uproarious laughter that was only interrupted by Kymmie throwing up the entire contents of her stomach.
“You are such a fucking mess,” Insomnia said as she pulled Kymmie’s hair back and led her to a small rusted metal trash pail. “But I love you.” The words were said in a soft voice that was hard to make out over the din of her own retching but Kymmie heard them clear as day.
They remained friends after that, never discussing the basement conversation again and continued doing stupid random teenage things that should have led to one or both of their deaths several times over but sometimes God watched over idiotic teenagers so they managed to pull through unscathed. Then, near the end of the year, Insomnia’s parents were forced to move because of the scarcity of job opportunities and the girls tried keeping in touch but long distance relationships required an attention that adult life seldomly permitted.
Kymberly chuckled at the memory which appeared more as a rasping cough to those sitting bedside and as the end approached, she whispered “Goodbye” and her family thought it was meant for them but she was actually saying farewell to her old friend.
By the time you read this, this version of me will be dead, but your version will just have been born, but before you become dismayed, know that I have lived a long and prosperous life, just as you had. I realize how unbelievable this will seem to you in your present, but in my past and your future, time travel has/will become a reality. I wish I could tell you more, but although time has opened for humankind greatly, my own time is extremely limited.
There are many blessings to being a member of The Time Guild, but the most important to me has to be the ability to tell you the things I never had the opportunity to say while you were alive. I admire your ability to be both mother and father to me, as well as my best friend, and so I wanted to let you know a few things.
Encouraging me to be an outspoken independent thinker was the best thing you could have done for me. Thank you very much for that. The money that you hide in that ratty old sock in your sock drawer, take a portion of it and invest in a startup company called ReTempus. I know this will put a financial burden on us in the short run, but it will pay off when we need it most. Not to mention ReTempus will eventually become the Time Guild. Please be discreet in your investments as feeding you this information is a strict violation of the Guild’s bylaws, but it should be fine if you fly under the radar.
My final gift to you, embedded in this chronal parchment, is a holographic image. These are your grandchildren, born after you passed away. My daughter is named after you. I am sure I do not have to warn you to keep the letter and its contents hidden from everyone, including me. Just raise me to the best of your ability and time will sort out the rest.
My father died when I was young and I was the last person in the family to find out. Everyone thought they were protecting me, shielding me from the bad news and the sorrow and pain that would follow, but I knew something was wrong, even though I didn’t know what had happened. It’s like Nana Bettie used to say, I felt it in my waters.
When my mother finally broke the news to me, I didn’t cry, trying to prove that I was a big girl. I just shut down, and I think that scared my family more than if I had gone into hysterics. I didn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, refused to go to school, and ignored every therapist that came to see me. The brilliance I had once appreciated in life began to fade, colors running together like a painting left out in the rain.
I was wasting away, and not just physically. My soul had begun to atrophy to the point where no one or no thing held interest for me anymore. And that was when my body finally gave out and I collapsed, finding myself falling, falling through stages of grief, which was actually like falling back through time, back to when my father initially sparked the kindling that would ignite the flame that would eventually become my passion.
I landed on a white beach with sand soft as clouds and an endless aquamarine ocean, and standing at the very edge of the shoreline was my father. The entire universe lay open before me.
“Is this heaven?” I asked.
My father laughed and said, “No, sweetheart. Paradise is much cooler than this.”
“Is that where you live?”
“Can I stay there with you? I promise I’ll be good.”
“You will one day, but not until you’re older, much older.”
“It’s not fair!”
“Life isn’t fair sometimes,” he shrugged. “But what if I make you a promise?”
“What kind of promise?”
My father held up his right hand. “Do you see this? It may not look like much to you, but I promise this hand is strong enough to protect you all the days of your life. So, while you may not be able to see me, you can trust that I’ll always be with you.”
And before I could plead my case to stay with him again, he leaned down and gently kissed my forehead, and I woke up in my bed, eyes filled with tears and surrounded by my family. I never told them what I saw because I didn’t want them to try to explain it away.
And whether you believe me or not, there have been times in my life where I survived circumstances that were impossible to bear because I felt I was in the grip of the protective hand of love.
The Universe expanded just wide enough to allow worlds to form. And those worlds were meant to spawn beings. And those beings were meant to learn the ways of the Apparatus Universi in order to keep the universe running, for The Universe was not a living thing, as most intelligent races postulated.
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Disclaimer: Our organization accepts absolutely no liability for damages, injuries or death resulting from the improper usage of any of the secret techniques taught in any of our courses. As individual results will vary based on your level of commitment, we operate on a strict NO REFUND policy. In other words, succeed or fail, it’s all on you and none on us. Don’t come crying or bitching to us because you lack the intestinal fortitude to better yourself even when the secrets are gift-wrapped and handed to you on a platter. Should we live your life for you, too?
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