By Jeff Oakes
This was the first short story I ever wrote. I should probably edit it some more, but it is a fun tale so I wanted to get it out here. It is by far the longest “short” story in my collection, so forgive me if it is a bit too long. In any case, I hope you enjoy.
BEYOND THE QUAD
Stationed within the confines of every University across America
can be found an area of tradition known as the Quad. This term, quad, refers to
the division into four equal sections divided by an equilateral cross encircled
so that, if viewed from above, one could distinctly make out the shape of the
Celtic, or Solar Cross. This symbol, steeped in mystic Pagan legends and
Christian folklore, dates back to earliest civilizations. Among the many legends:
Constantine, who claimed that he was ordered to conquer in this sign and
Medieval Druidic Priests, who established Stonehenge for unknown reasons, but
likely were forming the sign of the Solar Cross for its magical properties.
However, most today do not give a second thought to these stories as they meet
friends at the numerous Quads around this land. They use the Quad simply as a
cross road between class, a landmark from which to provide directions to the
various buildings dotting the campuses, or a nice place to study or seek
creative inspiration. Few know the true power of this significant symbol, the
Solar Cross, the Quad. But Rebecca Franklin found out.
A sophomore at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Becca, as
she preferred to be known, enjoyed using the quad as a place to paint during
breaks between and after class. She was enrolled in the Visual Arts Program so
that she might pursue a career in Advertising Design, but her dream was to
become known as the Puccini of Paint. She was born in Lake Charles, but had grown up between Paris and London because of the kind of
work her father did and having lost her mother at birth, she was left in the
care of her Aunt, who was a devotee of fine art. As a result, she was virtually
reared at the Louver where daily she would enter the worlds of Gaugin, Dali,
and thousands of unknown artists from prehistoric periods. She had often
wondered of they were somehow magically inspired by the Muses of old, for their
works seemed strangely alive, tough not of this world. Dali, with his strange
metamorphoses from inanimate to living, female to male, human to animal, all
twisting and turning as if all were perfectly normal and as they should be.
Could he have somehow stumbled upon some strange world that the rest of
humanity overlooks for being either too busy or too skeptical to seek? Was
Gaugin awash with visions of the same world, though his interpretation was
starkly different? Could she somehow find the lands they were inspired to paint
and if so, could she create visions of sound, tasty sights, and visions fit
only for the truly sublime? In all the world, could she stumble upon the
inspiration to travel beyond human imagination into new levels of creativity?
She hoped that someday she could.
In fact, it
was during one of these trips to the Louver that Becca happened on an event
that would have profound effects on her later. She had just turned twelve and
had begun to experience the full impact of womanhood. It was her birthday and
when she began to blow out her candles, she immediately felt the first trickles
of blood run down her leg, signaling her entrance into the world of womanhood.
She frantically whispered to her Aunt, who tactfully whisked her away, and
refused to return to her party, the guests of which, were sent along home. Her
Aunt, seeking to calm her, taught her the things she needed to know about this
aspect of being female, helped her clean up, then took her to the Louver in an
attempt to lift the young lady’s spirits.
only just entered when someone attempted to pull one of the paintings from the
wall around the corner from where they were viewing a fine Ming Dynasty statue,
a rearing horse carved from pure Jade. As he made his attempt to remove the
priceless treasure, an alarm went off, three husky guards rushed at him, and he
began to flee. As the guard nearest to him managed to get a hold on his shirt,
the would-be robber was knocked off balance and fell into the Jade Horse,
sending it sprawling towards Becca. She was hit and both she and the horse were
knocked to the floor, she receiving a large bump on the head, and the horse
losing a hoof. One of the other guards and her Aunt rushed to her and helped
her get to her feet and as she did so, the hoof, which had landed in the folds
of her dress, slipped neatly into a pocket sewn onto the front. It was not
until much later that she discovered the hoof and considering all she had gone
through on her birthday, of all days, she decided that she was entitled to keep
later, she still kept the hoof in her purse, partly as a good luck piece,
partly for inspiration, and partly as a remembrance of her Aunt, who died
suddenly less than a week later. She couldn’t have known how that one little
piece of Jade would create a drastic shift in her world that spring day when
she was painting a vision of that same horse, alive and galloping across the
lawn beside the Quad.
Quad, the Solar Cross is a symbol of convergence, signifying the merging of the
sun, and the light it provides, with the sign of fertility, the cross. In order
for convergence to occur, several elements are required to all be present at
the same time, in just the right location, the exact center of the Celtic
Cross. The ancient Greeks first identified these elements as Earth, Wind, Fire,
and Water and if all are present during a solstice as it aligns itself with the
symbol, a doorway to a lush world of magic is opened.
carefully, intentionally made precise markings on her canvas on this particular
day, all the elements came into alignment. She just happened to be standing in
just the right spot; She had the element earth, symbolized by the cross; She
had the element water, symbolized by the piece of Jade; And she was creating
the wind by her brush strokes of the majestic beast flying through her vision.
The final element, fire, was provided by the perfect alignment of the sun over
the circle of the Quad, during this spring solstice at precisely noon. This day, which had began like every
other, was to be very different.
final element approached its alignment, the convergence began. Becca, fully
absorbed in her work, was oblivious to the shifts in color all around her. The
sky was turning green, then red, then back to blue; The trees were growing
backwards, eventually becoming nothing more than seeds and grass of the lawn
came to be replaced by a dense forest. The buildings, which had stood for half
a century, slowly disintegrated into nothingness. By the time she began to
notice the change, there was no escape for her. Becca was lost to time and
She stood looking around at the world she
had entered, noticing the strange differences, but not fearfully. Rather, Becca
wondered if perhaps she had become so fully absorbed in her painting that she
was simply delusional. This could be a good thing, she thought, for this was
the kind of world she longed to capture on her canvas. As she stared about at
the many plants and colors swirling through this world, she imagined great
painters of the past enjoying such visions as they created the great works we
now gaze on in awe and wonderment. This was a world of silver buttercups, green
skies, pink barked trees topped by purple foliage, birds of every pastel flew
in a nearby pond, while fish wearing polka dot ties and pin stripped suits swam
across the sky. The water in the pond was black, but clear. She watched a shiny
green lion snuggle alongside a sheep wearing bright orange fluff. A dog
approached, walking upon his hind legs, wearing a tuxedo and smoking a pipe. On
seeing the young woman, the dog spoke. Becca listened, but the speech was a
tongue she did not recognize. When she explained this to the animal, he calmly
nodded, turned away, and beckoned for her to follow. She did.
As the duo
walked along a path of golden bricks, interspersed by ornamental jade, ruby,
emerald stones, she noticed a bright light rising before her and darkness
settling in behind. As she turned, the light followed her gaze returning the
darkness to her rear. This, Becca tried many times with the same result, the
light always remained before her and darkness behind.
A short while later, the dog began
to speak again but this time, he was pointing to something far off in the
distance. Becca looked, but she could not see what it was, for whatever he was
pointing to was too far for her simple, human vision to accommodate. So she
followed, keenly watching in the forward distance, for whatever it was that the
dog was pointing out to her. About this time, she remembered that she had
forgotten her easel and palate and she mentioned this to the dog. He simply
pointed to her side and when she looked, she noticed the easel walking on its
three tripod legs, dragging the palate in tow. Her four paintbrushes bobbed
behind like children straining to keep up with older siblings. Cute, she
thought, and began to again scan the distance for their destination.
Before long, Becca caught sight of
what appeared to be a city. She had recalled seeing the movie Superman and the
city of crystal that he had made after throwing the green Krypton crystal into
the ice of the Arctic.
The city coming into view looked exactly like that one, except, as they
drew near, she could make out clearly that all of the crystals driving into the
sky were all of different colors: There were bright reds, greens, blues,
yellows, and pastel colors of every shade, along with the odd dots and stripes.
It was truly a kaleidoscope of color and form with no distinct order; It looked
like nothing she had ever seen and she felt an intense excitement rise in her
heart. Was this the world her heroes had visited? Was this why their work
seemed so alive, though so unreal? She was certain that this must be the case
and that she had somehow found the same level of concentration that inspired
But as they were nearing the city,
Becca noticed something odd. She was becoming hungry. If this was a vision, she
thought, how could she feel hunger? She dismissed the thought and continued to
focus on the marvelous vision before her that the tuxedo-clad dog was leading
Then the dog, sensing her thoughts
stopped and plucked a green rose from a long pink stem. He placed the flower
into his mouth and motioned for Becca to do the same. She did and was delighted
by the taste of Chess Pie, exactly as her Aunt used to make for her. She
plucked a few more and ate until she was satisfied, the dog smiling gently,
patiently waiting all the while. When she was done, the Tux-Dog, as she was now
addressing him in her mind, abruptly turned and began again down the path.
When they had neared the city, the
Tux-Dog motioned for her to sit. She turned around and there, where she had
just walked, was a fine lounge chair. She sat, and as she did so, the city
expanded to meet her. Above her head, a crystal grew. As she watched, it formed
all around her, going in color from white, to red, then to green, the same
exact color as the jade hoof she carried in her purse. Watching this
transformation, she was reminded of the hoof and she quickly opened her purse; it
was there, safe. She looked all around her at the crystal and then at her
immediate surroundings and noticed that the Tux-Dog was gone. She noticed that she could now see into the
city, for her crystal had merged with the rest and formed a gigantic dome above
her. In fact, all she could see above was the underside of thousands of
crystals forming a majestic, translucent ice dome. She thought of Samuel Taylor
Coleridge’s poem, Kubla Khan, with its pleasure dome and caves of ice. A smile
crossed her thin lips; could I be in Xanadu, she wondered? Then a frightful
thought struck her; could I be dead?
As she sat for time unworthy of
counting, wondering at the marvels and fearing the possibility of her own end,
a golden, Preying Mantis approached. She hardly noticed it at first, but when
she did, she was struck dumb by the sight. It wore a jester costume like the
ones people do when celebrating Mardi Gras and stood over nine feet in height.
Coming straight at her, the insect, with its bright yellow, purple, and green
outfit, made her think of Dennis Rodman meets the Fly, on Acid. She just stared
and stared, never once thinking of running or fearing this strange, yet
compelling creature approaching her.
Reaching to within ten feet of
Becca, the Mantis spoke. “Howdy Rebecca!” it blurted out in a loud, Texas
accent. She was taken aback by this and simply stared, dumbfounded and
stupefied. Noting the expression, the creature spoke again, as it reached her
in only one more step. “Is the costume too much? I can change it if you’d
like,” and instantly, the Mardi Gras jester was transformed into Howdy Doody
meets the Lone Ranger, complete with white cowboy hat.
Becca felt her jaw drop as she
attempted to form something sensible to say. With all she’d seen so far, she thought
she would not have been surprised at this insect reject from TV reruns. Yet,
the appearance, in combination with hearing her name, though she had not
introduced herself, set her aback. Finally, she muttered, “I’m Becca.”
“Not Rebecca?” the Lone Mantis
said, feigning surprise. “I thought for sure you’re name was RE-becca,” he
stated, overemphasizing the “Re,” as if to remind her of her real name.
“Well, that IS my real name, but
all my friends call me Becca.”
“Hooo Doggy. We just met and
already you count me as your friend. Well, Becca it is little lady” and he
yanked off his cowboy hat which he slapped to his knee. He replaced the hat and
said quite seriously, “I bet you have a lot of questions.”
huh,” was all Becca managed to utter.
on, ask away. That’s what I’m here for.”
here…for me?” she asked.
correctamundo. I’m sort of a…” he thought for a moment, turning his head this
way and that, then added, “tour guide.”
looked at the Lone Mantis, squinting as if trying to see what he was up to,
best way to describe my job. I wouldn’t want to bore you with the official
title. So, I just like to call myself a tour guide for folks from your time.”
Becca asked, curious and a bit nervous.
you see, here we have no concept of time and we get visitors from every time,
place, and culture. So I’ll try to put everything in terms that you will
understand. You do have tour guides in America,
circa 2002, right?” He pulled a small device resembling a palm computer from a
pocket on his white Lone Ranger trousers and punched in a few keys. Before
Becca could respond, he quickly stated, “Yup, that’s what it says here, Tour
looking around her at the city come alive. Where earlier there had only been
colors merging and blending, moving like clear water full of food coloring,
there were now people milling around, some painting, some writing on tablets,
some chipping away at stone and wood, and others just strolling, looking at
whatever feature of this strange world fancied them. She looked back at the
spoke in a chipper voice, “and just so you know, Lone Mantis is just fine by
me. I’ve been called much worse.”
read my mind?” Becca asked, indignant.
course,” stated Lone Mantis, in a matter of fact manner, “All citizens of Here
can do so.”
Here,” Becca asked.
where we are.”
is this place called?” she pressed.
called Here. We’ve never really had reason to name it, for there is nowhere
else, but There.”
where is There?” she queried, almost afraid of the answer.
where you are from,” came the reply.
It was not
the reply she was expecting, for she thought this was some form of odd riddle
that she was to unravel, but clearly Lone Mantis really did not know of any
other places. Perhaps, she though, there were other places here, other cities.
Perhaps she could find a creature who would not talk in circles.
“I do not
talk in circles,” Lone Mantis stated emphatically. “You just don’t ask the
right questions, nor do you like the answers you receive.” He stood, glaring
down at her, arms crossed like her Aunt had many times in the past.
Becca looked up at the creature
with a blend of contempt and shame. She did not like being in the mercy of
someone else and this place looked too grand to spend all of her time chatting
with this Village People reject.
“They’re all here,” the Lone Mantis
“The Village People.”
“How…I wish you’d stop doing that.
What good is it to talk if all you’re going to do is read my mind?”
“Fine, fine. I’ll stop. But I must
warn you. While here, watch what you think of others, most can hear you,” Lone
“Most?” Becca asked, “Not ALL?”
“No. There are three kinds of folks
here, as you will see. Citizens, who for the most part are very from people
where you are from, I believe you refer to them as animals, and people from
There,” came the reply.
“I though you said there were three
kinds. You only mentioned two.”
“Oh, yes, right. Well, there are
two kinds from There. Past and future.”
“I don’t understand,” Becca stated.
“You will. Shall we begin your
tour?” he asked.
“Um, sure,” Becca hesitated, “but
tell me please, just what is this TOUR. What is you official title?”
Lone Mantis looked down at her and
smiled, “The tour is pretty much a way of familiarizing you with our world, to
make the duration of your stay as pleasant for you, and our citizens as
possible. As for my proper title, well, since you asked, I am required to tell
you. Please remain seated for the duration of our flight, things tend to get
Lone Mantis sat beside her on the
bench, which actually grew in width as he did so to accommodate him. As he
began to speak, “My title is…” the dome above opened up and the bench rose
above the ground. Becca noticed that a seat belt had taken the initiative to
form around her and she was securely fastened to the bench alongside the
insect. As the bench rose above the crystalline structure, she could see that
each resembled an apartment complex, teeming with life. Rising higher, she
looked up to see the sky resembled earth as seen from outer space, but not
rounded away on the sides, but rather inward, to form, not a sphere, but rather,
a bowl. She could clearly make out Africa, Europe,
and the Middle East above and turning her head to look
to the edges, she could barely make out the Atlantic seaboard of America.
It was the earth turned inside out.
Becca decided to look down and all
she could see was black, like the night sky, twinkling with stars and planets
and astral gasses. In the distance, she could see the sun, its red corona
clearly visible, but fading as the bench rose higher and higher. Or was it
falling? She still had the earth, rounded out as an inverted bowl above her,
but she was not getting any closer to it. But the scene below was expanding in
distance away until even the sun itself was a mere twinkle. Then, just as the
sun became too distant to even judge from among the other celestial bodies,
Becca blurted, “Am I dead?”
Lone Mantis shook his head no and
pointed above. This time, the earth was gone and she could see the crystal city
coming again into view. As they drew closer, she could see that the city was
surrounded on all sides by nothing. Everything was white and there was not a
shrub, a tree, a creature, or even the path she had arrived on to be seen. It
was simply nothing, or, nowhere. She thought of the Beatles song, Nowhere Man,
as she looked up at the great expanse of white nothing surrounding the city.
Then, just as she was thinking this thought, the crystals of the city split, or
rather, pulled apart to make an opening for their bench chariot. Gliding into
the city, upside down, or topside up inverted, the bench came to a stop within
four feet of the ground. The seatbelt, that had held Becca firmly, released its
grasp, and she felt herself fall. However, rather than falling directly on her
face, which, according to Newton’s
Law is shat should have happened, she felt the ground instantly under her feet.
When she looked down, there was the golden path she had come here by; on
looking up, everything was as it had been before the flight. She shook her head
to clear her senses and looked at her surroundings again. All was as it had
been before. There were people busy everywhere with arts of all sorts. She
looked at her guide, who was now dressed in a long gray cloak that made him
resemble a tall, skinny Yoda. “I liked the Lone Ranger getup better.”
“Really? Was it me?” Master Mantis
asked, genuinely flattered.
“I’d never seen you more you,”
Becca stated in an attempt to tease.
Instantly, Master Mantis was
transformed into the Lone Mantis again. Becca just smiled at him and nodded her
“Now can we begin your tour,” Lone
“Sure, but I have one question,”
Becca began, “Are you God?”
“Oh, heavens no,” he feigned
disbelief at the question. “But I know him. Great guy, galaxy of laughs. Don’t
worry. You’ll meet him some day.”
“Am I dead?”
“I’ve already answered that, don’t
you listen?” He put his hands on his hips as if imitating offence.
“Yes, you did.” She thought for a
moment, the continued, “Then is this heaven?”
“NooO. You have to die to go THERE.
This is HERE, remember?”
“I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand.”
“You will. Come along,” Lone Mantis
stated reassuringly and, taking her hand, began to pull her along the path
toward the heart of the city.
As they made their way along into
the city, she began to notice a striking similarity among two groups of people.
There were the citizens, all “animals” in her world, busy moving around the
complex network of crystalline “buildings.” Yet none of them resembled anything
from her former reality: All of them wore garments of some sort and their
colors were not the shade she was accustomed to seeing on such creatures. The
others she saw were all-human and were intensely occupied with some form of
artwork. But their clothing styles were old, from times past, like the
paintings she had viewed in the Louver. There were styles from the Victorian
age, various oriental styles, and people wearing nothing but loincloths, even
some wearing nothing at all. The only common feature was their art.
As she began to focus on this
aspect of similarity, she also began to notice another striking feature: She
was already familiar with many of these works. It was then that the duo came
upon a goateed man painting on canvas, the scene before him. There was a
reddish, brown stone upon which a clock was sliding off, as I melting. Becca
stared in amazement; the man was none other that Salvadore Dali! She left the
path in a rush and went to him, attempting to get his attention. But it was no
use. Dali continued to paint as if he did not even see her, but he did turn his
attention to her paint brushes as they danced at her side, her canvas and
tripod still merrily following. Quickly, Dali retrieved another canvas and
sketched out the brush-dance, set it aside, and returned to his clock. Becca
attempted again to get his attention, but he utterly ignored her.
“Why can’t he hear me?” she cried
to Lone Mantis.
“He’s in his own world. You know
how artists are,” came the reply.
“He can’t be that out of tune to
us,” Becca insisted.
“He’s not,” explained her guide,
“he’s literally in his own world.”
“Please, feel free to over
explain,” she told the bug that was beginning to again bug her.
“Ok. Here’s how it works. He is not
from your time, but rather, from your past. He can only see those who have
lived before him and the things they do, but because they exist before him,
they cannot see him, only the tools of his craft. See the clock before him?”
“That clock seems to be melting,
but in actually, it is being transformed into a cultural sculpture by an artist
from beyond Mr. Dali’s time. You cannot see the sculptor because he, pardon me,
SHE, lives beyond your time. She can see you and he, as well as me, and I can
see and converse with her, but neither you, nor Mr. Dali can see her or
communicate with her in any way other than through your art.”
Becca looked again at the scene.
Dali was furiously painting, the clock was melting, and her brushes were
dancing. She simply shook her head in awe.
“Come,” Lone Mantis beckoned as he
led the way further into the city.
She followed, sheepishly and excitedly
at the same time, glancing all about as the various artists, both seen and
unseen, past and future, carried out their craft. Over the course of the next
several hours, she passed artisans from every era. She watched Greek craftsmen
sculpting Venus and Hades and the Thinker; She witnessed Egyptian writers
carefully inscribing stone tablets with myths and legends of Ra and Amon while
others carved burial chambers of gold and silver, creating the many curious
beasts that had come to represent the ancients beliefs; and she even saw
Byzantine artists creating breathtaking icons and iconoclasts.
At one point, she managed to get
Lone Mantis to pose for her while she added him to the back of the Jade Horse
she had been painting. Alongside that, she included the Tux-Dog as a sort of
Tonto figure. Satisfied that the piece was complete, she agreed to continue the
After some time, they passed
through the heart of the city, where a river, black as the pond she had earlier
seen, yet just as clear, meandered into an endless cavern of crystalline
buildings. Lining the river, she could see trees that grew marshmallows, yellow
and green flowers that appeared to be formed from some kind of plastic or
cellophane, and pink and purple weeping willows that had a fruit of some
unknown variety. She went to the nearest willow and, looking at her guide for
some sign that she should not pluck one of the delicate fruits, received a nod
to go ahead. She picked the fruit, which had the shape of an apple, but the
texture of an orange and was deep pink in color, several shades darker than the
leaves of the tree. Taking a bite, Becca tasted Love, matchless passion. She
could think of no other words to describe the flavor, for it was unlike any she
had ever tasted. Indeed, the sensation was like that of passion and love and
lust and desire all rolled into a flavor. She smelled the fruit. The scent was
like that of every man she had ever known, but sweet; it was their smell, but
not foul and funky like just after a hard run, but rather delicate and gentle
and pleasant. She thought of all the times poets had written about tasting love
and she understood that they too must have partaken of this fruit. Eating just
the one, all of it, for it contained no pit, nor seeds, she wandered to the
edge of the river to rinse off her hands.
As she stooped to wash, she noticed
that the fish in the river all seemed to fly as the ones she had seen earlier
in the pond had. The fish were all colors and shapes and sizes, just as unique
as all the other creatures in this strange and wonderful place had been, but
they did not seem to be attending to anything pressing as the land animals did.
Instead, they seemed to simply glide through the liquid, for it did not seem
sensible to refer to it as water, meandering about with no special purpose
other that their own enjoyment and for the pleasure of those on the shore. She
rinsed her hands in the cool liquid and as she did so, she could feel an energy
flow into and through her entire body. It began at her hands, where they
touched the stuff and traveled in a wave up her arms, across her chest, down
her abdomen, into her legs, and back to her chest again. The wave washed over
her slowly at first, but gaining momentum as it did so until, by the time it
had reversed itself at her toes, she felt as if she were experiencing the
greatest orgasm she had ever felt. She quickly dipped her hand again and again
felt the wave wash over her, though this time, the experience was even more
intense. She stood, gasping, almost embarrassed and looked to see Lone Mantis
smiling at her. Feeling somewhat ashamed, as if he had just watched her have
sex, she instinctively straightened her garments. Lone Mantis laughed.
“It’s not funny,” she blurted,
embarrassed, but refreshed.
“Sure it is,” he stated directly,
“You’re getting embarrassed about a perfectly natural sensation. Everybody
enjoys the water.”
“Not in public they don’t.”
“Maybe not in your world, but Here,
they do,” he noted matter-of-factly. “Your problem is, you think cultural standards
are morals, they are not. The two can be the same, but seldom are they. No
matter. Would you care for a boat ride?”
“Is it anything like washing your
hands in the river?”
“No, no. It’s just a boat ride,”
and he pointed to a small craft awaiting them on the shore, right where she had
stooped to clean her hands.
Entering the boat, she noticed it
pulled away from the shore of its own accord. There was no sail and no motor;
nothing to indicate that the thing could move, yet it did. Crossing out into the
middle of the river, she noticed that other people were on the river and
appeared to merely “walk” above the water without the aid of such a craft. They
all looked to be hovering in the sky, though clearly traversing the river.
“Can I do that?” Becca asked her
“You are. To them, at least,” Lone
Mantis stated. “They cannot see your boat, just as you cannot see theirs. It is
another of our illusions Here. I’m sure you’ve noticed, we’ve left no aspect of
our society to chance. It is all designed to inspire and awe persons such as
“And what sort of person would that
be?” she asked.
Becca nodded for she did know.
Artists. This was a land for artists. Abruptly, she asked, “How did I get
“You came through the door.”
“The door between Here and There.”
More circles. Becca simply stared
at him in disgust.
Finally, after a long silence, he
added, “There is a door that connects our worlds. I understand it has many
pathways, but they all connect to the same entrance, which is where you came
in. I am now taking you to the exit.”
Becca, on hearing this, exclaimed,
“But I’m not ready to leave. Can’t I stay longer?”
“Of course. You may stay as long as
you desire, dear. I am simply going to show you the exit so that when you are
ready, you can go. After you know the way out, you are free to do as you like
Here and I will go to my next assignment.”
“What if I need you after you
leave?” she asked.
“Simply call my name.”
“And that is?”
Becca hesitated on hearing his name
then asked, “Mind if I call you Mr. Mantis, instead?”
He chuckled, stated in a Cary Grant
voice, “That will be acceptable, my dear,” and pointed. There, before them, was
a door on the shore. It was simple in design, like every other door she had
ever seen. In fact, it was so ordinary that it looked out of place Here. “Do
you wish to go ashore?”
“No, just tell me how to go through
“You’ve never used a door before?”
“Of…of course I have…it’s just
that…everything Here is just so…different.”
“Not that. You simply turn the knob
and walk through. You will find yourself in exactly the same time and place as
“Exactly? The same TIME?” she
“Remember how I told you, time does
not exist Here? When you return, it will be as if you had never left.”
“Then how will I know I did?”
“You’ll know. And besides, you can
come back any time you like.”
“The same way you came before, I’d
“I don’t know how I came before,”
was her reply.
The Lone Mantis looked at her
solemnly, then said, “I wish I could tell you more, but the fact is, I simply
do not know. I’ve never been There.”
She looked at him a long time, then
at the door. “Is there any way I can find out before I leave or else I’ll have
to live the rest of my life Here. I couldn’t stand to leave if I couldn’t come
He thought for a moment, pulled out
his palm computer, and hit a few buttons. Finally, he arrived on a solution.
“There is a way, but it’s risky.”
“Tell me,” she pleaded.
“Ok. First, there is a provision
whereby you can speak directly to one person from the past, but that person had
to have lived during some portion of your own time. In other words, your life
spans must have some overlap,” he explained.
“Is there such a person Here?”
“Not many. Yours is a time of
disbelief and very few have managed to learn the old secrets or, as in your
case, stumble into the passage by accident,” he explained. “But I’ll see what I
can come up with” and he punched a few more keys on his little device.
“So what’s the risk?” Becca
Lone Mantis looked at her directly
and seriously. “In order to keep with the nature of our job here, you must be
transformed in appearance somewhat, so that whoever you speak to will not know
you are from their future. That could cause a time and dimension conflux which
could cause…” He trailed off then added, “Well, problems.”
“And the risk?” she pressed.
“The change could become permanent,
even in your world. So it’s important that we select something different enough
to fit our image but not so intrusive that it causes problems when you return.”
Still hitting keys on his computer, he added, “and,” then paused again.
“And?” Becca chimed in.
“And you can only ask one question.
If the answer you receive is too cryptic for you to understand, you may never
find the way back.”
Becca looked at him incredulously
for a moment. She thought about how strange it was that a place as
happy-go-lucky and free as this could have such strict rules and regulations
regarding re-entry. “Do go on, please.”
“On receiving the information, you
must leave at once. If you find your way back, you are free to come and go as
you desire. Do you wish to try? I’ve found someone.”
Becca looked around at the place.
It was so incredible she wanted to stay forever, but she knew she could not.
She should find the way to come and go, then she would be free to travel at her
whim. Of course, she thought, she could just stay a long time then leave, never
to return, or try to find the answer later.
As she was considering these
choices, Becca heard Lone Mantis exclaim, “Oh, my!”
“What now,” she asked.
“I must apologize to you, dear
Becca. My accessing this information has alerted command to your situation.” He
looked at the computer in his hand. “They have commanded that you seek the
information you desire and leave immediately. If you are successful, you are
welcome back, should you find your way. And you can have any alteration to your
appearance you wish.” He pressed a key on the device, then added, “think
carefully, then speak aloud the desired alteration.”
Becca thought for a moment. She had
never liked her eyes, for they seemed too dull in her opinion. Besides, if the
change were too drastic and did become permanent, she could always wear
sunglasses. So she said, “I’d like eyes that resemble the crystal city.”
In an instant, all the colors of
the kaleidoscope city swirled around her head, coming from the crystalline
structures above and entering her eyes. Lone Mantis looked on as her eyes took
on the appearance of the city, sparkling and shining with every color
imaginable, light shining and sparkling from within to resonate through the
entire land. He smiled broadly and confidently. “Marvelous choice,” he said.
“You think?” asked Becca. “Is it
“It is the most you I’ve seen you
yet,” came his reply. “Let’s go see your answer man.”
“Who is he?” she asked.
“I cannot tell you, but I can say
that he is right here on the river with us, just a little down stream.”
As the small craft hovered its way
down the river, a lone figure, wearing small, round, wire framed glasses came
into view. He was strumming an acoustic guitar at singing lyrics. She could
hear, “Picture yourself in a boat on a river,” coming from his mouth and she
knew instantly that this was the one.
When they had just reached near to
him, her guide hit a key on his computer so that she could now converse with
the man. He leaned over and whispered, “This is it. Frame your question
carefully, for you only get one chance.”
Becca waited until the man with the
guitar saw her and remained silent.
The man with the guitar looked at
her with astonishment. He stared directly into her eyes lustfully, as if
worshiping her. “Who are you he asked?”
Becca made no reply, but waited.
“Your eyes, I’ve never seen any
like them. They are like the finest diamonds. Are you one of the goddesses
Here?” he pressed.
Again, she made no reply.
“Can I get no reply from you, my
Still, Becca made no reply.
“Please answer me or, if you
prefer, ask of me anything so that I should reply.”
At these words, Becca broke her
silence and asked simply, “How did you come to be Here?”
“May fest at Stonehenge.
1969. Fucking great. I’m still stoned. Who are you?”
“Time to go,” said her guide, the
“But I still don’t know how to get
here,” Becca pleaded.
“Yes, you do. His reply will have
to do,” and Lone Mantis hit a key on his computer.
Becca began to fade from the
musician’s sight. “Wait!” he called, “What is your name?”
She thought quickly and, just
before disappearing entirely, for her eyes still shone through to him, said in
a loud voice, “Call me Lucy.”
“Lucy?” asked Lone Mantis.
“From a song this reminded me of”
“Nice touch. Are you ready?”
“Not really, but let’s do it.”
The words were scarcely off her
lips when the tiny craft bumped the shore beside the door. Becca got out of the
boat and walked slowly to it. She turned, just before reaching the door, and
waved goodbye to her host.
He smiled and said, “You’ll be back
and I’ll have a feast waiting for you deary.”
Becca smiled in return, trying to
be as confident as he, and turned the knob on the door. Entering, she saw
colors swirling around her, watched a deep forest turn into the campus she had
been standing in some time earlier. She did not how long she’d been gone, for
indeed, she did not recall having any sense of time while she was away.
Without looking at the canvas she
had been painting, she decided that it had all been some delusion. With this
thought in mind, she decided that she’d better put the canvas and paints away
and get something to eat, but she was not hungry. No matter, she thought, she
must be hungry to have had such a strange hallucination, so she headed for the
campus snack shop.
As she walked, she noticed people
staring and pointing, but she paid them no mind. Entering the snack shop, she
put her things in a booth and went to the counter to order some food. “Lucy, In
The Sky, With Diamonds,” by the Beatles was playing over the speaker system as
she approached the counter to place her order. The clerk, singing along with
the tune, looked at her, grinned, and said, “Let me guess. Your name must be
The painting, now sitting on the table
of the booth she had selected, was already drawing a crowd. The students were
awed by the rich choice of colors, the intense reality of the Jade horse, and
especially, the Lone Mantis with Tonto Dog; all seemed so real. One fellow,
hearing the reference to her as “Lucy” yelled, “Wrong, she’s the Puccini of