“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.
I was never what anyone would have called creative by any stretch of the imagination but my parents, my loving mother and father taught me how to appreciate creativity when I encountered it especially when we gazed up at the night sky.
They schooled me on using my imagination, on connecting the dots to form pictures and manipulating those images in my mind to construct the most beautiful art imaginable. I was alive with a raw energy that I could not brush onto canvas or mold in clay. Nor was I able to express in song, speech or written word the joy I felt standing with those whom I loved most dearly beneath a canopy of loveliness brought to life by divine hands.
But that was then.
Now I serenaded the twilight every night, luring stars close enough to be plucked from the sky, one by one, and I saved their beauty in my clutch bag for the day my mother and father, who grew bored with me and succumbed to wanderlust, decided to finally return home.
“Why do you continue doing this thing, Enny?” my neighbor, the Spinster Wainwright, once asked in a tone that was more condemnation than curiosity.
“Because my mother once told me that stars used to inspire wishes,” I replied. “And I will continue to do this thing until my wish has been granted.”
To this, the old woman had no response. She simply stood at my side, watching the night sky grow darker as one by one the stars were plucked from the heavens and placed into my purse, causing galaxies to shudder.
Eventually, our star, our sun would join the others and this lonely existence would be eaten by the dark motes that share my name.
They darken our doorstep, these weak men of authority do, issuing proclamations and threats in hopes of frightening us into submission. How poorly they know myself or my wife.
Were they more observant, able to peer beneath the surface of our supposed marital hatred, if one of these men, made strong only because of their sheer number, were truly bold enough to gaze into my betrothed’s eyes or even mine, they would perchance see into our souls and spot a chemistry that is more than mere butterflies churning in our bellies for our butterflies are bloodthirsty ravens forcing us into an entanglement, a battle for conquest, a contest of champions in which there can only be one victor but when the coupling is concluded, both emerge victorious.
But no, instead they bring their rules and laws, trying to persuade us into accepting that our way of thinking is not right, telling us our mating ritual will eventually end in disaster and in order to safeguard both my wife and myself, we must not only separate from one another but be sent into exile and walk the earth until we see the errors of our ways and are prepared to repent for our sins.
They think our ways foolish and perhaps I am the fool for thinking we could live among these strangers and benefit from sharing our respective cultures, acknowledging our common traits and if not embracing them at least accepting the rituals which divide us.
I state that no one will ever dictate how we live our lives for we are happy and even if their armed horde by some miracle manages to separate me from my wife, they will never succeed in tearing us apart because our hearts are knotted in the unbreakable bond of life union.
I explain that our marriage is built upon a foundation of fighting, for warrior blood courses through our veins and sometimes fighting is right. Necessary. Each dawn, as sunshine glints off our slashing blades in springtime, there exists between us a strange, violent harmony that we call love. But they are not one with understanding in this matter.
So, as they draw their weapons in an attempt to separate us, my wife smiles at me and we brace for battle, accepting their challenge.
It was a dark and stormy night, the type of night I had grown all too familiar with of late—when all my estranged family and distant friends slept but I couldn’t because all the regrets of my life raged in my mind with an unbearable intensity along with the enduring question—
Why am I alone?
Religion had given me assurances that I was never truly alone and family swore up and down that someone would always be there for me, yet despite all this, one dreary day I slipped on a patch of sadness and plunged into a depression so deep, so far out of human reach that not one single person, a collective of people, or even an all-powerful, all-knowing deity was able to catch my fall.
There was a saying along the lines of “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” which was true I suppose but it wasn’t always in a positive way. I adapted to my loneliness and was now quite capable of being alone in a crowded room. I could not find camaraderie or companionship with the people around me, and as a writer, not even with the people in my mind, the ones that I had breathed life into.
Even my own reflection couldn’t be bothered to be in my company. Instead, it turned its back on me, facing the mirror-image room behind itself and whispered, “You have been lonely your entire life and now you will be all alone until the day you eventually die.”
And with this simple truth, slick sheets of tears poured from the storm clouds of azure eyes, streaking black and violet lightning across the alabaster plain of the loneliest face on the planet.
They gather at my wake, my family and friends do, and I am surprised to find they are not alone. For in the crowd of mournful faces I spy the many acquaintances I have made along the way, long lost playmates from my childhood, as well as the beautiful women who I recognize immediately as the pretty girls I loved in my youth, each with children not much younger than we were when we courted.
Each of the assembled grievers tell a story, most of which I remember fondly and some I have forgotten with age, stories that make me laugh at how foolish I had been when I was at my most serious and some touching enough to make the eye water at the perceived kindnesses I bestowed upon others without even being aware.
And when the time for remembrances both affectionate and painful has past, my loved ones—and yes, even the acquaintances are loved now—raise a parting glass to wish me safe passage on my unearthly travels to where I do not know and as I feel myself being gently pulled away from this realm, I swim against the current of my final destiny and pass through each body gathered in this place to leave a personalized vivid memory in an effort to ensure I am not forgotten.
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.
It was there, hidden in plain sight amongst the stars, the cipher that contained the answer to the meaning of all existence, and after Nialla decoded it, she climbed to the roof of her house and breathed the solution to the riddle into the night air. Creation made itself visible to mortal eyes for the first time since the invention of vision and reached out with a stardust arm to greet her.
The touch of the cosmic hand tumbled the locks set in place to limit human perception and knowledge, and she was instantly gravid with omniscience. She stepped off the roof and sailed up past the troposphere, stratosphere, and mesosphere, past the thermosphere, ionosphere, exosphere, and finally into space, where the tiny particles that made up solar wind swarmed around her now naked form.
“Welcome home,” the Voice of All Voices whispered into her ever-expanding mind, which caused her heart to open like a flower.
Although air and breathing were no longer a necessity, she sighed a lifetime of relief and drifted peacefully into the arms of eternity.
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.
The Universe was a machine constructed by the Vetus Mundi Tinkerers, a race of cosmic free-thinkers and craftsbeings who, though long-lived, were not immortal, and eventually succumbed to the end fate that awaits us all, while waiting for their successors to arrive to remove the heavy burden from their weary shoulders and carry on in their stead.
But the changing of the guard never occurred. Somewhere down the line, the sacred knowledge meant to be handed down the generations until the various races sufficiently evolved to the point when they were ready to transition into tinkerers, had been mistold, mangled and eventually forgotten.
Now The Universe was winding down, beginning to fail because a piece was missing. Some small, yet vital part had somehow come loose during millennia of daily operation and was set adrift on the spaceways, with no one to find it, no one who even knew what to look for.