Before there was the DPA, there were just four friends trying get through high school.
Arcadia High School, Arcadia, CA, 10:30am, November 1999
Brendan Carlisle opened his locker and checked his hair in the magnetic mirror. The black dye he had just applied the night before looked super dark in his eyes. He still couldn’t believe he had done it, he wasn’t sure he liked it, but it did complement the industrial/ cyberpunk look he was trying to achieve. He switched out his calculus books for physics and headed to the science center.
The science center was the center of campus, as far as he was concerned. None of the other buildings contained the potential for discovery and disaster like the chem and physics labs. Kristy felt the same to be true of the library and arts department but that was too philosophical for him. They had agreed to disagree on this matter and it was a topic never to be discussed while they were together.
As soon as he entered the cool interior of the science center he took a deep breath. The combination of the aged architecture from the fifties, purified and sometimes ionized air, along with whiffs sulfur and bleach told him he was home. Best place on campus, despite what the dissenters say.
The physics lab was about half full upon his arrival. The seats were assigned, his partner already in her seat, he made straight for her.
“Dude!” Brendan slammed his books down on the black, stone counter top. “I can’t wait to get out of here.”
He settled onto his stool next to Kristy. He was always the left and she was always on the right, to accommodate for the necessary writing space each of them needed for their dominant hands. Kristy quietly sketched in her notebook. The battered book went wherever she did, in case the moment struck her she could do a quick doodle. Brendan leaned over the edge of the pages to see what she was drawing this time.
“Him again?” He sat back, his eyes flicked for just a second at one of their classmates on the other side of the room. The object of her affection was Will Williams, yes, his parents did that to him. Kristy’s crush on Will Williams had persisted since day one of high school and he had yet to give her one minute of his time. “The heart wants, what the heart wants.” She would say wistfully with a far off look in her eyes whenever he tried to get her to move on. Girls are weird.
“Did you hear me, Kristy?”
She blew on the page and brushed away the excess graphite with the back of her hand. “Yes, of course.” She looked up at him finally. “You mean the camping trip tomorrow. For the meteor shower.”
“Slash paintball slaughter.” He mimicked firing an imaginary gun at the blackboard. “Those two won’t know what hit them.”
“We’re not supposed to be teams.”
“I know. But we’re a team.” He said with a conviction beyond doubt. Just as sure as hydrogen had one proton and one electron in perpetual orbit around each so it followed that Brendan Carlisle and Kristy Holloway would be best friends forever.
But not a couple. Ew. Never that.
The background noise of the room faded as Mr. Scott came into the front of the room. As he did every day, he opened his briefcase and started unpacking the materials he would use during the lecture.
Even though Mr. Scott was kind of a stuffed shirt, not an ounce of any sense of humor to be found, it was actually a little disturbing, but he was Brendan’s favorite teacher. Because he trusted Brendan enough to give him free reign over the chemistry and physics labs, a trust Brendan made sure not to lose.
“Quiet down everyone.” Mr. Scott spread out his notes as everyone settled into their spots. “Before we begin, congratulations are in order. Mr. Carlisle has been awarded the Dr. Lee Smith Fellows Grant for Young Scientists.”
Kristy gasped, applause and cheers bubbled around the room as Mr. Scott looked at Brendan. “Well done, young man,” just the slightest smile at the corner of his lips.
His classmates whopped and whistled their sentiments. Kristy attacked him with a hug.
“That’s awesome.” She said into his shoulder. She sat back, her face beaming with joy. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I... I didn’t know.” He looked around the room at the smiling faces and back to Mr. Scott. “Thank you, sir.”
Mr. Scott nodded and turned his attention to his notes. “Alright class, open your books to chapter thirteen.”
The grant was a significant sum and a great honor. It was awarded to only one student in the Western United States and could be used at any university as long as the winner of the grant was studying physics. Receiving the grant would definitely cinch his acceptance to UC Berkeley. Kristy squeezed his forearm. She knew it meant that too.
Both of them had taken the risk of applying to only one university each. Brendan Berkeley, Kristy the Academy of Arts College in San Francisco. They would be living in different cities but they were still close enough to spend their weekends together studying in cool cafes or any number of parks. Staying in California meant they were close enough to visit family for the obligatory holidays but not too close.
He couldn’t wait to get out of the house and on his own. No more overbearing, even if well-intentioned, supervision from his half present brother, Robert. Brendan loved his brother, but they had nothing in common other than some genetic code. Brendan was ready to be an adult. Senior year felt like a medieval ordeal that society required from him before he would be recognized as an adult by everyone else. Forget the fact that he had made his own meals, gotten himself to bed on time, and was an honor roll student for years while his never present mom sent money to his much older brother who was busy with his own higher education.
But none of none of that would matter this time next year. He and Kristy would be immersed in their respective pursuits in one of the coolest places on earth. The next eight months would be tedious but they would make the best of it and the time would pass faster than expected. He hoped.
Mr. Scott started writing on the blackboard. “Today we begin the chapter on electromagnetism. Does anyone want to hazard a guess?”
Brendan’s hand shot up.
Mr. Scott shook his head. “Anyone other than Mr. Carlisle?”
Kristy pulled his arm down. “Let the others go first. It’s not a guess for you.”
Reluctantly Brendan folded his arms to keep them down. She was right of course.
Matt Holloway slumped down into the hard vinyl chair. No matter how he sat it was uncomfortable. These chairs had to have been designed for just such a purpose, punishment. As he shivered in his soaking clothes, his best friend, Derek, on the other hand chatted up anyone within arm’s length as if they were having a picnic in the park.
Derek’s victims would take one look at the pools of water gathering under their seats and the wet clothing clinging to them, roll their eyes and ignore him. This was of no consequence to Derek, nothing ever was. All Matt could think about was the look if disappointment on his parent’s faces, again.
The door to the principal’s office opened. Principal Miller came up to them with a look of grave concern on his face. “Well. I just got off the phone with both your parents and no one is available to come retrieve you. I think your punishment today is going to the rest of your classes in wet clothes.”
“Yes, Principal Miller. “ Matt responded, eyes glued to the ends of shoes.
“Alright!” Derek nearly launched out of his seat with excitement.
Principal Miller shook his head, instantly regretting this decision. “Derek stop tinkering with things. No more ‘hacking’ the computers in the lab or ‘fixing’ the water fountains. Leave things alone. And Matt.”
Matt flinched but sat up anyways.
“Stop letting him talk you into this nonsense. Your sister is a model student. You should be too.”
There it was. Always living in the shadow of his favored sibling.
“Both of you will be at the beck and call of the janitorial staff during study period for one week.”
“Yes, Principal Miller.” Matt and Derek responded in unison.
Satisfied of their repentant attitudes, no matter how temporary, there was nothing more to be done. “Mrs. Conlon is expecting you in English class. Try not to make a scene.”
The two of them shuffled out of the office and into the near empty hallway, hands shoved into their pockets. There was only fifteen minutes of the period left. If they walked slow enough class could be avoided altogether.
Derek halted suddenly. Matt stopped too, not sure what Derek was up to.
Derek turned at the waist so his shoulders faced Matt. “Sorry.” He said quietly.
Matt nodded. He wanted to say it’s fine, like he always did, but this time he kept it to himself. Derek always got them in trouble. He understood it, school was boring, but in the end he always felt like crap for it. Any thrill of victory was too short lived to really make the trouble worth it. Kristy’s high praises and constructive feedback was beginning to wear him down.
Next year Kristy and Brendan would be out of sight. Maybe then his parents would see him for who he was and not who he wasn’t.
Derek jumped in front of him and started walking backwards. “Do you think we’ll be grounded for the weekend?”
“I hope not.” Matt started to walk again. “I really want to see that meteor shower.”
“Yeah.” Derek kicked at the ground as he walked.
“Kristy will tell our parents it’s for a school project, it won’t be an issue.”
Derek brightened up. “Of course, duh.”
“But next year we’re gonna have to get out of these messes without out those two.” Matt looked Derek in the eye.
“Pfft.” Derek waved off the very notion and put his arm around Matt’s shoulders. “This school will be ours once they’re out of here.”
He was still cold and wet but it didn’t matter in the end. “Totally.”
The bell chimed throughout the campus, time for the next thing.
Every now and then I get in the mood for some extra Lysandra and Edward time so here is today's wanderings.
This scene would be in Trespassing. SPOILERS. Before Lysandra comes out of her coma but after her and Brendan have been kidnapped.
I blame Tumblr for this.
It was the end of a long day. Entertaining foreign investors always was. Esben had walked out of the office in his jacket like he was going out for the evening. Upon entering the garage he found the alcove where no cameras could see and he took out his portal card.
Walking through the glowing disk if light he found himself in the quiet of the library at his main residence. He looked at his watch. It was later than usual and he was hungry but first to the task at hand. He went downstairs. He cut across the entertainment room in front Nolin and L'heilh as they watched a movie. He could feel their eyes following him, but he did not look at them.
He entered his access code to hidden door and disappeared into the secret hallway, the door closed behind him blocking out the movie. All he could hear now was the steady beep of a heart monitor. Esben stopped at the door to Lysandra's room and watched her sleep. She looked the same as she did this morning. His eyes searched the room. “How is she today?”
As if on command, Qur'ag came to life and started moving around the room. “I spent several hours stimulating neurons and synapses. I believe there has been progress. I think she is dreaming again.”
Esben removed his coat and came into the room. “Excellent.” He tried to say with as little emotion as possible. He slung the coat over the footboard of the bed and went to Lysandra's side. Her breaths were deep and steady, another good sign. With care he touched the top of her hand. No response. Taking it into his own he lifted her arm and sat in the groove of her hip.
“Good evening, Miss Stephens. It is good to see you are doing well.” There were few times in his life when he felt foolish and all of them were when he was around this woman. Talking to her inert body made him uncomfortable but Qur'ag insisted she could hear him. He massaged her hand mostly out of idleness, unsure of what he should say.
He leaned closer to her and brushed wisps of hair out of her face. Her skin had regained a healthy hue. Admiring the lines of her face he noticed her eyelids moving as her eyes moved beneath them. “Are her brain waves cycling normally?”
After few moments, Qur'ag answered from across the room. “Yes. All her vitals are within normal parameters.”
Esben sat up. “Then why is she still unconscious?”
Qur'ag shook his head. “I can only surmise that her mind is still healing.”
Esben nodded secretly hoping there was no permanent damage. It had never been his intention to hurt her. Based on their few interactions, he suspected he would enjoy her company. Under different circumstances they could have been allies. He mused on how things would have turned out if she had been at that campsite the day the meteor crashed.
The beeping of the heart monitor quickened. Esben looked at Lysandra, her eyes fluttered. Gripping her hand tighter he leaned close to her, his cheek almost touching hers. “I’m here, Lysandra. You’re not alone Miss Carlisle. Come back to us.” He pulled away enough to see her eyes. Her hand tightened around his but she did not wake. He gently stroked her cheek. “Miss Carlisle, I know you can hear me. I’d love to have you upstairs for dinner. I’ll have the cook make your favorite food if you’ll just tell me what it is.”
“Mangos.” Qur’ag said from across the room.
“Really?” Esben looked at the robot.
“Mangos and Lipton noodle soup.”
Esben looked back at Lysandra, “What an odd combination.”
“Disgusting.” Qur’ag muttered. It was the only positive adjective he applied to any human.
Esben drew close to her again. “All the mangos and noodle soup you want, but you have to wake up.”
Lysandra’s grip on him relaxed and the heart monitor slowed. He knew Qur’ag had been right about her hearing him, but now he had proof and that made him feel a little less foolish than before. If only they had the means to see what the sleeping person saw, but the realm of dreams was cut off from them. As soon as an Elbie entered the mind all dreams ceased. At best they could only recall fragments.
Lysandra’s heart rate returned to normal. The fact that she was having any reactions at all meant recovery. Relieved, Esben got up from the bed, rested her hand where he had found it. Bending forward he kissed her on the forehead before grabbing his coat. “If anything changes you know where I’ll be.”
He left the robot to its work and walked out. The door opened to the entertainment room. The movie still played. “Everything alright, gov’ner?” Nolin called at him as he crossed in front of the screen.
“Things are progressing well.” Esben responded without stopping.
“Glad to hear it, chief.” Nolin yelled after him as he ascended the stairs.
One of the hardest parts about writing is cutting a really great scene or moment. There are a lot of reasons, most of them probably really good ones, to get rid of something but it can be a bummer. So as I work through some things with book three this is where I will park some these lost fragments from time to time.
Below is a scene that isn't cut, but has been significantly changed in the current version so I don't think I will be coming back to this. I had originally written this scene as a stand alone moment. If the novels and short stories were written in chronological order this would be the first time we get to see an Elbie.
We are back in 1999 just a few days after first contact. There is no DPA, just the FBI. And Brendan is the tender age of eighteen. Enjoy.
Brendan followed behind the two agents, arms crossed as he walked. They tried to get him to walk between them but he refused. He didn’t need to have parents or guardians so far in his life and he wasn’t going to start now, even if they were government appointed.
The federal building they were keeping him in was an elaborate maze of doors and hallways that all required access codes. Even so, he could feel they were moving toward the center of the compound.
When they came to an elevator he was not surprised. Their next move would be to go down, below ground. The three of them got into the small car. There was no panel of buttons or even a screen for indicating the floor. Instead Miranda used a set of specialized keys to activate the controls. She turned the key clockwise. Brendan waited to feel the shift of inertia but he felt no change. After a few more minutes of strained silence she turned the key back to its original position and the doors opened to what looked like the exact same hallway.
There were three possibilities. One, they hadn’t moved at all and this was their way of screwing with him even more. Two, the mechanics of the elevator were so flawless and slow that inertia was undetectable, but that also meant given the short time they were in the box they could not have moved more than one or two floors. Or three, the building moved around them. This last option would be the coolest but it was also the least likely. Most likely one is what was happening here. It was what he had come to expect from government agents who hold teenagers hostage.
Assuming this was same hallway as before they continued down the stark white corridor and stopped at a door of no significant markings. It looked exactly the same as every door they had passed by. The two agents turned to him simultaneously.
“Brendan.” Miranda started in her most diplomatic tone. “We have been granted special permission to let you see what is beyond this door. What you have to understand is that this is a matter of national security. You will be among only a handful of people who know about this room. So before we open this door you have to agree, in writing, to never reveal what you see in here. If you tell anyone what is in here it will be considered an act of treason. Because of the classified nature you will not get a trial by jury.”
Brendan looked at the door. While it looked like every other door he had seen so far he guessed it was reinforced steel. The fluorescent lights buzzed overhead.
Eriksson took out his phone. After few quick motions on the touch screen he held it out to Brendan. “If you agree to these terms, press your left thumb firmly inside the box.”
Trial without a jury. How is it that by now they hadn’t figured out that scare tactics had the opposite effect on him. He wasn’t sure if that was a teenager thing or a Carlisle thing, but the more they tried to intimidate him the more he wanted to test them.
Brendan stared at the device and shrugged his shoulders. “Sure.” He pressed his thumb within the confines of the virtual box. He wouldn’t mind seeing more of their gadgets. The box flashed and Eriksson returned the device to his pocket.
Again, Miranda had all the keys and passcodes to these places. He couldn’t help wonder if this was a specific precaution against Eriksson or if it was a standard practice to have only one agent know this information. Perhaps it changed on a regular basis and the information was passed back and forth to different agents so no one held the information for too long at any given time.
The door opened inward to a grey room. The walls were covered in plates of metal, two feet square, the rivets around each panel at even intervals. At the center of the room was a pillar of the same material and nothing else. The lighting in the room was low, like an art installation in a museum. The air smelled purified, ionized even.
Eriksson moved to stand by the pillar as Miranda closed and sealed the door behind them. Brendan heard the locks snap into place. Eriksson pulled back his sleeve. On his right wrist was a metal band with a row blue LED lights. “Sync.”
“Sync.” Miranda responded. She had a matching wrist band.
“Do I need one of those? Feels like I should have one too. I am the victimized civilian here.”
Eriksson pulled his hands behind his back. “A victim? Is that how you would prefer we refer to you?”
Brendan had definitely pushed a button. “I’m just saying.”
There were some high pitched beeps of a key pad behind him. Miranda had her back to them now as she entered a long string of beeps into the control panel next to the door. As soon as the last beep echoed into the room there was a muffled groan of metal. A vibration in the floor tickled his feet through the soles of his shoes. He looked down expecting the floor to break a part.
When he looked up to see if it was the walls instead he noticed it was the pillar that was moving. The outer layer of metal plating sank into the floor revealing a glass case behind it. A blinding white light streamed out from behind the glass. Brendan covered his eyes with his arm and groped for the welding goggles in his coat pocket. Even with the extra dark lenses on the light still hurt his eyes.
The floor stopped vibrating and the room went silent. After a few minutes his eyes adjusted and he could see better detail. A vertical glass cylinder surrounded by the glass box. At the center of the cylinder was a single free floating point of light. Brighter than any LEDs he had ever worked with. No wires, tubes, filament, or conductor of any kind.
“How are you doing that?”
He did lots of wiring for his sculptures. To make light appear out of nowhere was akin to magic. He leaned closer to the glass, his eyes began to water from the extreme luminosity. Each end of the glass tube he could see heavy, shale colored caps on each end.
Miranda came and stood next to him, facing the object with him. Eriksson had stationed himself to the side of the pillar with his back to it. He had not moved a muscle since the door locked.
“Yes.” Miranda confirmed with a smile.
Brendan walked around the display, looking under and over the pin point of light. It would appear the same no matter what angle he looked at it from. “Makes an artificial gravity well.”
The light did not shimmer or dim at all. “What is it?”
“That is what you and your friends encountered in the forest.”
Brendan straightened. “What?” He looked at her for the first time since they had let him out of his room for breakfast. “That’s really it? That was in my head?” He pressed his palm to the glass, his eyes never leaving it. It looked familiar. Not that it looked like anything per se but somehow it was exactly how imagined it should look. Tiny little suns all of them, eating at his brain, taking over his thoughts. How could such a small thing rule over him?
“Not this specific one. But one like it.” Miranda clarified.
“But if this is not the one I’ve had contact with where did it come from?”
“As far as we can tell, they all come from space one way or another. This one here has been in our possession for some time.”
“How did the FBI come by it?”
Miranda’s eyes flicked to Eriksson. “That is classified and not relevant to our current situation.”
Brendan glanced at Eriksson, who still had not so much as shuffled his feet, in fact he looked more rigid than usual.
Miranda cleared her throat. “We wanted you to know what we’re dealing with. So that you understand the severity of the situation.”
“Understand? Know what? You haven’t told me anything. What are these things?”
“To be precise, it is actually a type of energy. It has properties similar to light, but also electricity. It is technically un-classifiable but our current definitions.”
“Energy?” It was thoroughly fascinating. The possibilities of new frontiers in physics was right in front of him. A whole new level of understanding the universe probably. And the feds had it in a secret room all by itself. “And what? You think that somehow seeing it will help me suddenly understand what happened to me and my friends? It that thing is like them, the only way for that to happen is to let it take over my head and you should know that there is nothing on this planet to convince me of that plan of action.”
“Not at all, Brendan. The US government would never agree to that even if you volunteered. This entity is considered extremely dangerous.”
“Entity? Dangerous? So you’re telling me this little bugger has been a real trouble maker.” Brendan had a new found respect for it, whatever it was.
“We are telling you no such thing. But we need you to understand that if the public finds out about these things it will create a panic.”
Brendan crossed his arms again. “So before, it was all, ‘ever want to live a normal life again you’ll cooperate’ speech and now I’m your pal, I’ll be the big hero if I help you out. Am I understanding you correctly? Am I a threat or an asset?”
Miranda pursed her lips. “That is up to you to decide.”
“The free will card, eh?”
“Actually.” Eriksson cleared his throat. “We estimate you had at least ten of them in your body. Do you have any idea how many you were carrying?”
Brendan shook his head. How could he tell, he didn’t even know what was happening to him until several hours later. By the time he had gained any conscious awareness of what was happening they had already distributed most of these... these things. “What do they want?”
Eriksson and Miranda exchanged glances, which they did a lot. Miranda walked up to stand next to him. “We were hoping you could tell us.”
Brendan looked at her. His eyes shifted to Eriksson but the agent had his gaze fixed on the door. “Why the heck would I know? I was basically just a cockroach to the parasitic wasp of whatever that thing is.”
He backed away from the glass.
Miranda sighed. “Interesting... metaphor. However the parasitic wasp does what it does to the cockroach for reproduction purposes. Is that what is going on here?”
“Haven’t you studied this thing, dissected it or something?”
Neither agent answered. “So that’s a ‘no’. How come you guys don’t know anything more about these things than I do? I don’t know how they multiply. If they do at all. They talk don’t they, just ask it.”
“From what we can tell they do not have language. What you have interpreted as language is just them borrowing your preferred form of communication.”
“All I know is that I was not in control. It was like an out of body experience. I could see it all happening. I felt it on my body but I couldn’t change or influence anything that was happening. And while we sit here asking stupid questions my friends are out there going through the same living nightmare.”
Eriksson pivoted on his foot to face them. “We should go.”
Miranda nodded. “Brendan, we are doing everything we can to get your friends back.”
Brendan pushed the welding googles to the top of his head. "Is that so?"
Book Three is coming along really well. I am excited about where it's going and can't wait to share it. In the meantime here is a teaser for you.
Downtown Los Angeles, 3:00pm
Lysandra watched the steam from her coffee swirl in the afternoon sunlight. Her mind turned over all the possible explanations for the consistent smell of boiled cabbage that permeated the tiny cafe.
“So...” Matt sat down across from her with his usual glass of whole milk and a warmed chocolate chip cookie.
The Formica table they sat at looked like it had been stolen from a fifties drive- in dinner. The small mom and pop type shop was directly across the street from the Department of Planetary Affairs building. When the DPA had fist moved into the neighborhood people were alarmed by their presence. The imposing uniforms with classified weapons and an association with the government intelligence and the mystique of dealing with aliens unnerved people.
Lysandra imagined this must be what it’s like to be a cop, a strangely contradictory position for her. The nervous looks and the way people moved out of the way for them wherever they went. She had never liked giving the authorities deference and she certainly did not like receiving it.
But now after months, the area workers and residents had gotten used to them and the interactions with public were usually positive. Putting names and faces with mysterious members of the DPA really helped people feel more comfortable with their presence. Most officers had gotten used to the impromptu question and answer sessions citizens asked them. Commander Draegg had been very pleased with this turn of events.
Matt cleared his throat.
“Sorry,” Lysandra shook herself and took a sip from her coffee. “What were we talking about?”
“We weren’t. You’ve been suspiciously quiet all day.”
“What’s suspicious about it? You’re the one who usually does all of the talking anyway.”
“Not all of it. And yes, I have always been more talkative than you, but today it’s like you’re not even here.”
“Sorry, I’m distracted.”
“Uh, I wouldn’t call staying out all night nothing.”
Lysandra could feel the heat in her cheeks. She was not going to be discussing her sex life Matt of all people. The thought made her cringe. How many people knew she had been off the premises all night? Did it matter? She had never cared what people thought about her before, but it could make for awkward working relationships.
“Edward Drake asked me to marry him.”
Matt gagged on his milk and started coughing violently. Lysandra jumped up from her chair and got him a cup of water. She patted him on the back until he regained his composure. “Are you being serious?”
Lysandra nodded solemnly.
“What did you say?”
“What any sane person would say, ‘we’re not going to talk about this.’”
“Uh- huh.” Matt turned in his chair to sit square with the table and held his milk at arm’s length, silent and unmoving.
“Speaking of which, how was your date?”
“Not yet, no changing the subject on me.” He relaxed again and looked at her. “So what are you going to do?”
“Do? There’s nothing to do.”
“Well you have to give him an answer.”
“No I don’t. Where’s the rule on that?”
“Lysandra. Come one. The guy is—“
“Is what, Matt? Being vulnerable with me? Going out on limb? Exposing his soul? What are you going for here, buddy?”
“Okay, sarcasm is your defense mechanism. So for whatever reason, this is hitting a raw nerve. But yeah, all those things. This is some serious stuff.”
“Okay. Now you and me are not going to talk about it.”
“Hey, woman, you’re the one who brought it up with me.”
“True. But only because you’re supposed to agree with me. You’re my friend, on my side, partner.”
“Friends don’t let friends act stupid unless it will be hysterical.”
“I. Am not Derek.” Lysandra tapped the table with each word. “So you do not get to make jokes at my expense.”
“I’m just being honest. I don’t like the guy but I think he’s good for you.”
“Why don’t you like him?”
“For all the same reasons you shouldn’t like him either.”
Esben was the Elbie, not the man. Esben had been the worst of them all and caused all of them the most suffering. Edward, as a host, had not come onto the scene until well after the damage had been done. Being allied with the worst Elbie of them all did not help his case in the eyes of Matt and his friends.
“You mean you don’t like his Elbie.”
“I don’t like either of them, but as a host Edward has really tamed that Elbie and I’m sure the world is a better place for it, even though he refuses to register or cooperate directly with us.”
Lysandra drew doodles in her cup sleeve with her thumb nail. Edward and Esben were very distinct entities that happened to work really well together.
Lysandra looked up. “What?”
“I said, you are smiling.”
“Shut up.” She sat up in her chair and took another sip of coffee. Matt broke off pieces of his cookie, looking at her. “Fine, Matthew. I’ll think about it.”
“There ya go.” He gulped down his milk in triumph.
Iteration - Coming 2017
This story will most likely be the first in a series of short stories I will call the Classified DPA Files. It has gone through a couple of iterations and title changes but I think I am very close now. You tell me.
Angeles National Forest, California, April 18th, 2011
Special Agent Justin Meyers is a good man. Well-liked by his co-workers and supervisors. A career as an analyst with the FBI isn’t exciting in the Hollywood way but it is satisfying, knowing that the work he does saves lives and protects a nation. This change will be something entirely new for him.
Justin took a deep breath, the smell of fresh cut pine permeated everything. Sunbeams cut through the trees burning off the morning dew, it was going to be a hot day. He looked over at Alexander Eriksson as he held his wife’s hand. Alex nodded his head slightly. Justin turned to the small group gathered directly in front of him. “Ladies and gentlemen of the press corps. You have been invited here today for a very special announcement. We apologize for the short notice but the necessity for this will become clear shortly.
“Congress has approved the creation of a new government agency appointed to deal with this new era that we, the human race, finds ourselves in. Since the arrival of a new type of life on Earth, there are many things to consider for both individuals as well as communities. This is a balance we will attempt to maintain.”
Despite their best efforts the government had lost control of the information about what had happened to people that came in contact with the sentient energy form. Many of the identities of those affected had been locked down but then there were others not so-- fortunate. Lucky? Why are there two words for this?
At the back, past the group of reporters, were four teenagers locked arm in arm with each other. All of them dressed in formal clothes and looking uncomfortable at it. Brendan with his arms crossed tightly in front of him and a perpetual scowl every time he made an appearance. Pangs of regret niggled at Justin’s mind. There had to be more the agency could do for the young man, but what? Justin had not been there from the start, he was a late comer to these things. Everything that could be offered to Brendan had been, most of it he refused, until now.
These young people had made first contact and as such were the ones most profoundly impacted. So far. There are others, we haven’t found yet. It would be some time before their neural pathways would be normalized again, if ever.
The runt of the litter, Derek, is how Justin thinks of him, shuffles from foot to foot as he does when he’s nervous. Kristy and Matt are the least influenced by everything the group has been through. Maybe that is because they have each other. Or perhaps a genetic predisposition of some kind. Only time will tell if it is a nature or nurture induced trait. It will be interesting to see if close sibling relationships have any long term or varying effects on how the mind interplays with the different energy signatures.
They tried to move on with their lives as if history had not been changed, but being hounded by alien hunters, conspiracy theorists, and want-to-be hosts constantly prevented this. Matt and Derek had to finish high school from home on independent study. Brendan and Kristy withdrew from their colleges and quit their jobs to avoid the harassment. Working for and living at the Department will give them the protection and peace that has been robbed from them. As public endorsers and participants with this new program, the public will no longer view them as victims of government negligence.
“The name of this new agency is: The Department of Planetary Affairs. It will be supervised by the Department of Defense. Our main objectives will be to monitor the behavior and activity of these energy forms. We will be resource for those who finds themselves a paired with one, as well anyone interested in knowing more about them. Our goal and hope is that by working with this new energy form we open up a whole new era in the fields of neuroscience and biochemical engineering as well as particle physics. Not long from now the human race will be venturing into the vastness of space, going into the very void where this energy originates. Anything we can learn now will surely benefit those future explorers.
“As a demonstration of our collaboration I, along with Special Agent Eriksson, have agreed to leave our positions with the FBI to lead this organization.” Eriksson moved away from his wife to stand next to Justin. “We will be co-commanders. Equal in our decision making with equal responsibility for the lives under our charge.” He glanced at the four in the back again, none of them would meet his gaze.
Eriksson stands next to him facing the visitors, his feet shoulder length apart and his hands behind his back. The FBI had recruited him from Air Force Special Ops before any of this had happened. The order and efficiency of his military training are built into everything he does. Eriksson could be the perfect host except that he has rejected the notion entirely.
Justin’s heartrate jumps suddenly as he rehearses his next line repeatedly. Now it is about to get uncomfortable. He is hyperaware of the temperature even though the atmospheric level has only changed two degrees since he started speaking.
“In order to fully embrace our mission statement of mutual understanding I have made the choice to become a host.”
Choice. A construct. One worth dying for, as evidenced by thousands of years of civilization. The belief in this construct is a hardwired need even if the concept itself is not.
Justin’s last declaration causes people to stare at each other. Sharp tones amongst the mumbling make it clear that this is a surprise and perhaps shock to everyone, as had been the intention. The reporters had been informed only a few hours before and forced to sign gag orders to prevent fanatics and radicals from finding out about the event. Even now, military personnel patrolled the forest and watched all roads and paths within a ten mile radius creating a protective perimeter to ensure there are no unexpected interruptions.
“With myself as a host and Special Agent Eriksson as a non-host, together we will represent both sides of this issue. And thus the purpose of our dual leadership.”
Two men from the DoD carry a large a silver case up to him. The material of the silver case is of no significance to the contents except that the perception of a silver case in government matters means whatever is inside is extremely valuable and/or classified. It gives weight to the importance of the thing inside but otherwise it is irrelevant.
“In an effort to demonstrate to the American public that there is a future and a hope when we open ourselves up to things we may not understand in the present. I will now become a host. Right here, on site of our future facility.
This moment will be recorded in the history books and so is the most critical. The hysteria around being “contaminated” had reached epic proportions at one point. This public display will show people that they have nothing to fear. That working together has benefits that far outweigh the dangers.
After entering a code only he knows, Justin opens the case. Cradled inside between chunks of black foam is a glass cylinder. Powerful electromagnets on each end create an artificial gravity well.
With both hands he lifts the container up for everyone to see. At the center of the glass column is a single point of light. A blinding white light that makes spots swim in front of most people’s eyes if looked at directly even for just a moment.
“This is the specific energy signature that helped Agents Miranda Grant and Alexander Eriksson apprehend the rogue hosts. Miranda had been the host until her untimely death. Since Miranda is no longer with us, I am honored to take up this charge in her place. She would have been a better leader, but since a part of her resides with this entity she is still with us, after a fashion.”
He smiled bitterly. Sometimes he heard her voice in his head like a guardian angel when talking to people. They had not worked together but her reputation as a person of compassion, integrity, and loyalty was well known.
For the greater good.
A few camera shutters click, he gripped the canister tighter. Justin lowers the glass cylinder, turning it in his hands, aware of the cool glass against his palms. He places his thumb over the power switch, a brief image passes through his mind of the cylinder dropping to the ground and the sharp sound of the glass breaking. Usually they would feel the pull of the electromagnets at each end but not today.
The audience is silent. He presses the power switch. The bright pin point of light inside the glass disappeared instantaneously.
Close eyes, drop chin drop into chest. He hates this. As an analyst he never had to be a keep up any kind of public façade. Tense shoulders. Breathe steady. For the greater good.
“Justin?” He heard Eriksson’s voice nearby.
“Draegg.” Justin gives a sigh of relief. “As co-commander of the DPA I will be known by the name Draegg.”
No applause. Just clicking of camera shutters and avid note taking, video had been prohibited. Dead and dry pine needles crunch underfoot as people shift in discomfort. The reporters do not know how to react. Their faces are hard to interpret. Fear and uncertainty. Concern maybe for how he is feeling. It does seem that they have all moved back from him, but he had not noted the distance between them before so there is no way to know for sure.
Justin shook himself. “This ground here today will be the site our future facility. This new facility will be a place of tolerance,” he looked at the four in the back; still no eye contact, “scientific inquiry, and mutual understanding.
“As a government agency our highest value will be transparency. We, the leadership of the DoD and DPA, know that we have lost the public trust in regards to the events surrounding this phenomenon. It is our promise to the people of the United States that we will disclose any information we can that will benefit the community at large while protecting the individuals involved.”
Justin lifted his hand in the air, waving someone forward. Two men carrying a large, round disc under black cloth came around and waited next to him. To an onlooker it must have looked similar to a kitchen table without the legs.
“At this time we would like to present to you the seal of this new department.”
The two men hoisted the object so that it was perpendicular to the ground. Gravity did the rest with cloth as it slid from the edge and floated to the ground revealing a blue and green emblem with a double headed bird. At the dead center, an image of Earth.
Eriksson stepped forward, hands behind his back, his voice rang out clearly. “The double headed eagle represents the dual nature of being a host. You see in its talons an olive branch to symbolize peace. Around the edge are eighty-nine white dots to represent all the energy signatures in a complete grouping. And finally, the dominant colors of blue and green. Green for Earth and blue for the sky and by proxy, space.” He stepped back to indicate he was finished.
Scattered, polite clapping is swallowed up into the open air. The men carry the seal off to the side where a stand has been brought for it. After securing it into position they move to the back again so the audience will forget they are there.
Draegg looks past the crowd to the four teenagers at the back staring straight back at him. “Together we will understand.”
Special Agent Justin Meyers is a good man so he is uncomfortable with this orchestrated display. The first word that came to his mind, their mind, was fabricated. But he also realizes its importance and changed the way he thought about it. Even after several weeks they are still adjusting to each other.
Commander Draegg examines the empty glass canister in his hand, careful to make sure that his thumb does not hit the power switch. If that were to happen, the faux light would reappear and the whole ruse would be a PR disaster. It had been a fair simulation of what they look like. There has never been a public display of their kind before. The DPA would see to it that there would not be another so it did not matter what it looks like as long as the public believes it.
For the greater good.
In order to keep my sanity and keep this page short you can read the rest of the story on Wattpad. Click HERE to get the whole story.
There were lots of mountain meadows like this one. Hidden by banks of trees or on the edges of riverbanks. Only the initiated knew where to find them. This one was the biggest. In the spring the ground is saturated with melted snow and you can’t do anything with it for months except look at it and admire it from the road. Now that Fall was on its way the grass had grown thick and long, and the ground dry enough to sleep on.
The three of them lay out in the grass in a pinwheel of friendship with their heads creating the hub of the wheel, their legs as the spokes, shooting off into different directions from each other. If one of them got animated they would bump heads with the person next to them. They stared up into the sky waiting for falling stars. Bobby was the best at spotting satellites. As they watched one careen across the sky in its unnatural path Bobby would try to imagine the device itself speeding through space, running into things. Well it never did that of course ‘cause then it would crash, but maybe one day if they watched long enough they would get the chance to see and then they could be only ones in town to say they saw it happen. Sort of.
“Just think, a few days from now and this whole place will be transformed.” Rebecca waved her hand over the plain of grass.
“Why do you always have to do that?” Bobby rolled his head back to see the top of hers.
“Always do what?”
“I don’t know what you call it… keep time. You make an anniversary out of everything.”
“Whatta you talkin’ about?”
“’Remember two weeks ago at this time we were doing such and such. When I was five this exact thing was happening on the other side of the world, three years from now we’ll look back on this day in history’ blah, blah, blah.”
“Hey! Just because I like to think about things and how they’re connected doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk about it.” She reached back, her hand smacking him in the eye.
“Hey!” Bobby sat up. “Watch it,” he put his hand over the injured eye and squinted at her with the good one. Rebecca had folded her hands over her stomach again and was smiling contently.
He looked over at Amanda, she had not said anything in a while and her breathing was slow and deep. Still holding his hand over the assaulted eye Bobby leaned over Rebecca and whispered. “Hey, I think Mandy’s asleep.”
“No.” Amanda declared. “Just waiting for you to do something stupid.”
“Well you’ll be waiting a long time,” he laid back and rejoined the circle.
“So as I was saying,” Rebecca resumed. “It just always amazes me that this place goes from this, total wilderness to total weirdness in just a matter of minutes.”
“Minutes!” Bobby snorted. “Try hours.”
“Hours are made of minutes, Bobby.”
“I take it you’re on the set up crew,” Amanda asked.
“Yeah, my mom signed me up. Makes her look good when a council member’s family is participating.”
“What a load of crap, we all help.” Amanda snickered.
“I know that. I’m just saying that’s just the way she thinks.”
“How ‘bout you Mands, whatta you doin’?”
Amanda shrugged her shoulders. “Same as every year, ticket taker.”
“I’m hoping to get the Kentucky Derby booth this year. I think I have a real shot at it.” Bobby waited. “’Shot.’ Get it?”
Rebecca raspberried, “Yeah, Bobby we got, it just wasn’t funny.”
Amanda tapped Rebecca with her arm, “Better than being a carni,” both the girls giggled.
“Oh yeah well what do you get to do?”
Rebecca giggled again. “I get to assist all those cute forest service guys. You know get them water, show where stuff is?”
“A roadie for the forest service,” Bobby said incredulously. “Those guys aren’t cute, they’re old.”
Rebecca shrugged, “Some of them older maybe. But they always bring along the interns that clean up the trails all summer.” The smile in her voice was evident.
“You really think you’re gonna meet your true love that way, huh?” Bobby pulled on a hand full of grass.”
“Maybe,” she shrugged her shoulders again.
“Jealous,” Amanda threw a clod of dirt at him.
Bobby sat up again. “I don’t need to take this kind of abuse from you guys. I got all kinds of people waiting to abuse me.”
“Oh calm down,” Amanda grabbed his sleeve. “We do it out of love, those other people do it for sport.”
Bobby huffed and collapsed into the grass again.
The rumble of the river echoed across the canyon. An occasional car drove by, but otherwise the three of them listened to the silence.
“What’s your favorite part of the fair,” Rebecca asked. “I like seeing all the people.”
“You mean all the boys,” Bobby corrected her.
“Like you don’t go because of the girls.”
“I like the rides,” Amanda said, “The ones that go really high or really fast. But not in a circle. Those make me sick.”
“But that’s the best part,” Bobby laughed.
“Ulck.” Rebecca frowned. “Besides the girls, what are you looking forward to, Bobby.”
“I like the haunted house, the fun house, and midway. Oh, and the food.”
They agreed with a collective “mmm.” Between the chili cook off, the, baking competitions, funnel cake and fried Twinkies, popcorn, cotton candy, white corn on the cob cooked in the husk nobody ate for a week after the festival.
All the towns in the area came to work together to put this event on. It had become quite important for drawing in tourists to the area to show off their cooking skill, classic cars, or artwork. It was also that last of the season for any outdoor activities. Once the snow started the road would be closed and no one would be back until the spring melt.
This was Amanda’s favorite time of year. It was a time between times. Up here the seasons were different than in a lot of places. There was snow and no snow. That was one way of looking at it, the snow stayed around for so long usually. But there was the color of the leaves near the streams, the number of Birch trees was minimal compared to Pine, but they were so beautiful with their yellow leaves wading in the sea of green. Summer was over, the tourists would stop coming after the festival and a pleasant calm would descend over the town. It would snow just in time to give everyone something to complain about.
This year seemed different. She thought maybe it was because she would be twenty soon. No longer being a teenager meant new responsibilities. Or so it seemed. One day you are excused and the next now you have to somehow answer for and explain every action. No more goofing off. She liked the idea of not having to answer for her thoughts or actions. They were her own and if she didn’t want to explain them it was her choice, the choice of an adult. At the same time intimidating, so many choices and decisions to make for herself. Chances were she would still be at the café living in her parent’s house until something better came along. How likely was that going to be?
“She’s asleep for sure, this time,” Bobby whispered.
“No.” Amanda corrected him again. “What are hoping to do, put my hand in warm water so I’ll pee my pants?”
“Na, we’ll have to do that one when we get back to my house to watch a movie. But first—”
“Go Grizzlys!” Amanda and Rebecca shouted in unison.
There was not much to do so the high school sports events were the one thing everyone in town did, besides the festival that is, that was only once a year. The football and basketball teams gave them something to write about in the paper. This game was the official start of the week of festivities that meant everyone would be there.
Rebecca shivered. “You brought the hot chocolate, right?”
“Of course.” Bobby stood up. “What am I, a barbarian of some kind?”
He helped both of them to their feet and they tromped back to the car. When no longer in school every night felt like a weekend. There was still plenty of time left in the evening.
The football field was a large patch of dull green grass with brown spots and faded chalk lines, surrounded by wood bleachers that had weathered to a hideous brown, gray color and sank in the middle. Nobody cared, rather, everyone cared. This was the community meeting grounds where everyone came together for that one all meaningful touch down and game. Amanda, Rebecca, and Bobby had their usual spot on the very top level, closest to the snack stand. The cheering, the stomping, and the really bright lights. For them it was something to do. The high school almost never made it to the state championships, but that was okay, they were still the home town heroes every fall rescuing the towns folk from summer tourism and ushering in the change of seasons. Amanda, Rebecca, and Bobby were no longer any stake to which team won the game since they were had been out of high school a few years. It was just nice to be out of the house and away from the parental units.
Amanda got up to get a refill of her soda, leaving Bobby and Rebecca on their own. Waiting in line she noticed a man standing next to the snack shack. He wore dark blue jeans and a brown sports jacket. He had a micro recorder and a pocket notebook. His eyes jumped around before speaking into the recorder. His eyes landed on Amanda. Quickly she turned away, she had been caught. She had never seen the guy before and probably never would see him again. He was definitely an outsider. She got her refill and a box of Red Hots and turned around to start back to her seat.
Crunch! With a rattle of red candy and the cracking of plastic she found herself covered in soda, staring at the man’s shirt.
“Hey!” The stranger jumped back and glared at her. “If you wanted to say hi, just do it.”
Amanda blinked up at him. Cold soda soaking into all her clothes, she shivered slightly.
“You know, like Nike, ‘Just Do It.’” He smiled down at her.
She frowned. He was much older than her. She didn’t really know, it’s not like he was wearing a badge or anything that stated his age, he just seemed like a thirty- something or at the very least not twenty or under.
“I’m Brian,” he held out his dripping hand. “I’m just visiting, thought I would check out the game.”
Amanda reluctantly took what was offered with no effort to impress him, she made contact and quickly retracted her hand. “Welcome to our town,” she said looking around for Rebecca or Bobby to rescue her. The two them sat with their back to her, leaning against each other taking turns to talk in each other’s ear. They suck, she thought.
“Yeah it’s been great,” he reached over and grabbed a hand full of napkins, he took her hand suddenly, patting it dry. “You are?”
Amanda yanked her hand back like it had been burned and held to her chest. She looked at him with shock and bewilderment.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—“
She stepped back, “It’s fine,” she reached for her own napkins. “I, uh, I’m Amanda.”
“Amanda,” he repeated with a playful tone.
“I really have to get back to—“
“How you like the game so far, Mandy? It’s pretty cool—“
“Don’t call me that. Where did you hear that?” She looked around again this time for someone from the police station, Charlie, William, Henry, any of them, where the hell were they? She backed away and quickly turned away at a halfhearted around.
“Okay, well nice meeting you Amanda,” Brian shouted after her. “See you around.”
Amanda heard him call after her but she had already decided to put him in her mental Pandora’s box, let’s not go there again. She went down several sections and then weaved her way back across. Looking up and back she could see Rebecca and Bobby watching the game. She could see the snack shack too, the weirdo was gone. She checked the bleachers in case he had decided to follow her, but she could not see him anywhere. Stomping her way back to the top she dumped a few Red Hots into her hands and chucked the tiny hard candies violently at the both of them upon her arrival.
The two of them looked up at her, “What gives,” Bobby picked the sweet from his chest and tossed it back at her.
“What happened,” Rebecca asked noticing her browned hoodie.
“Thanks a lot Musketeers, I am practically molested by some tourist and you two sit her laughing it up.” She pushed her way past them and sat down.
“Molested?” Rebecca grabbed her arm.
“Forget it,” Amanda stared at the players on the field running back and forth. “Who’s winning?”
Pure darkness receded and light returned. It took some time for him to focus. Something moved above him, far in the distance. The green and yellow light swayed above him with gentle a rustling, swish, swish, swish, like his breathing. He was out of breath. Why? The dappled sunlight on his face was warm, but cool all at once. He was surrounded by the green and yellow. The air smelled like… dirt and moisture, clean and unpolluted. Unpolluted by what? Who?
And silence. Not silence exactly, just the absence of something else. But there was something unnatural about the lack of noise around him.
He sat up and took a look around. The sun was still high in the sky, the silhouettes of leaves moved back and forth across his hands and face. He felt his face, it was damp with sweat. He could feel it all over his body, his clothes sticking to his back. He looked at his hands. They were dry, cracked and calloused in the palms with scars on most of the fingers and across the backs, a band-aid around his index finger.
The chatter of the forest was muffled, like it had been shut up in a box. The scurry of squirrels on bark and the flapping of birds wings had been stilled by something, someone. Him? But that wasn’t all. His ears rang with residual sound like after being at a rock concert and your hearing is muffled for hours afterwards.
Looking over his shoulder there was a steep slope going up for about fifty yards full of trees and covered in under growth, rotting leaves, and rocks. A clean path of fresh dirt streaked down the last part and ended right where he found himself sitting in a mound of dead leaves and fresh dirt. Would falling down a steep slope have these results? He wasn’t sure. It wasn’t the fall itself, but what preceded the fall. Whatever had happened before was important but he could not say why.
He tried to remember the thing that had happened before he found himself staring up into the trees. Black. Not blank. Black. Like when you first turn the lights off and it seems as if it is pitch black until your eyes adjust. You know everything is still there. You can sense it around you and you have a pretty good idea where everything it is. All your furniture doesn’t disappear just ‘cause you can’t see it any more. The memory of the event, of everything seemed to be waiting in the wings to appear on stage but they were waiting for their cue. If only he knew what it was.
He had a general sense of who he was: hard worker, reliable, well liked, and a few lifelong friends to boot. He looked at his left hand. No ring. That was disappointing, but expected. He wore heavy khaki trousers, covered in dirt and leaves; some of the stains seemed worn in. Tan leather boots, scuffed at the toes, the treads on the soles were worn down some. Finally a dark blue, button down, flannel shirt, torn on the shoulder in one place, fresh blood darkening in the gap.
On instinct he reached back and felt a familiar lump in his back right pocket. What came out was a brown leather wallet, broken in and worn on the corners. Flipping it open he was confronted by a rectangular badge.
“Well, I’ll be damned.” He stared at the small piece of plastic:
Name: Andrew James.
Eyes: Blue eyes
Height: 6’ 1”
It was his picture all right. He didn’t have a mirror of course to make sure but it felt right. He was sure that if he had a mirror he would see the same face as the one in the photo. Brown hair. He wasn’t sure about that but close enough.
“Andrew James,” he said aloud. “The man with two first names.” He chuckled to himself, he’d heard that one before. Maybe he only thought it to himself whenever someone said his name. Who knows. He liked the name. He was glad it was his.
He looked back up the slope. Something waited up there. His truck? He searched his other pockets; a Swiss Amy knife in one and a set of keys. It was a modest set of keys. A Chevy key, a few normal size ones to the house maybe, and some smaller odd-looking ones, most likely to various kinds of equipment. In the other pocket he discovered some loose change and a receipt from Save Mart Gas for eighteen plus gallons of gas, a deli sandwich and a fountain drink. The receipt address and driver’s license were from different states. So he was away from home, but he wasn’t even sure by how far.
The hushed quite of the trees prevailed. There was a tension, a penned up expectancy. It was unnatural, but as far as he could tell he was the only unnatural thing around. He did not belong here. He did not feel he was alone. He fell down that slope for some reason. Was he pushed? Chased? Was it a desperate, last ditch effort to put distance between himself and whatever was still huddled in the shadows waiting for him? Why was he in this forest and where is this forest? His innate sense of danger simply was not there. The danger had passed perhaps but there was still an apprehension. These sorts of things should concern him but it just didn’t seem to think there was anything to worry about. Things would work themselves out. He was alive and that was saying something.
That being said, sitting here was not going to accomplish anything. Tucking his legs up under himself he stood. Everything tilted suddenly and spun. With a hard thud he found himself looking up at the trees again. He blinked a moment trying to figure out what had just happened. The sound of his heart thumped in his ears. This was not going to be easy.
He took a moment to catch his breath and gave it the ol’ college try again. This time the trees and ground pitched and rolled but somehow he managed to remain standing. Mustering all his power of concentration he turned toward the slope and looked up to ledge. He considered the possibility of maybe an easier way up, a less strenuous path had to be somewhere but for now he figured the direct way would be the fastest. That was where he had come from and that was where he needed to go. He lunged forward and pushed himself up. Shadows crowded the edge of his vision. Everything grew bright white, overexposing his retinas and a stabbing pain into his head. Brown leaves and overturned soil rushed up on him. He reached out for the nearest bush but fell short, face down where he had stood.
* * *
The drilling sound of a woodpecker on a nearby tree drew Andrew out of his stupor. He felt as if he may have been awake for a while but was only just now aware of it. Again he was staring up into a tangle of tree limbs that framed a steel colored sky. All color had drained out of the world. It was cold, a slight breeze blew across him, he shivered. Birds called in the distance, and he could hear the scratching of tiny claws on bark.
“Young man?” A man’s voice asked.
Andrew turned his head toward the sound. A man crouched nearby, his forehead damp with perspiration. “Young? I’ll have you know that I’m forty- seven.”
“True,” the man’s expression neutral. He had short hair was a dark gray with flecks of black mixed in. While he seemed to have aged well he was aged. It was easy to see that his experience exceeded his years. “I’m Gregory.” He held his hand out.
Propping up on his elbow Andrew regarded the stranger. He wore outdoor clothing, but they looked new. His demeanor was of total calm, reserve. No, control. Andrew had the idea that there was nothing that could shock this man. Emergencies are what happened to other people. No event that would shake him off balance. With nothing to lose Andrew shook his hand. Gregory’s grip was powerful but not chauvinistic.
Andrew looked around. This was not where he had been before. They were on a plateau, wait, it was a road, a dirt road. Deep grooves worn through the grass and cutting through the foliage. The edge was formed by a steep drop off, the one he had gone done. There was a green jeep a few yards away. Next to it he could see there were fresh tire tracks, maybe where his car had been.
Looking back at Gregory, “Did you…carry me out of that gorge?”
Gregory smiled grimly. “I did.” He stood up. “Now that I know you are okay we can get you to some medical attention.”
“How did you find me, how did you know I was here?”
The astonishment drained out of him. There was no danger, he was sure of that, but this was not dumb luck, he was too practical for that. “Now how is that you know who I am when I don’t even know that myself.”
“Your injury is unfortunate. It will be dark very soon we should get you out of here before we can no longer see our way out.” Gregory bent down supporting Andrew’s arm and back. “You ready?”
Andrew nodded his head and braced himself. Standing was still a challenge. He felt dizzy. Gregory waited for him to recover. Once ready they hobbled to the car. Gregory opened the door for him.
Climbing into the driver’s side Gregory started the engine. “Mr. Moore’s personal physician will make sure you are okay.”
“Much obliged.” Andrew rolled down the window and put his arm out. “Should I know ‘im?”
Gregory turned the wheel and started down the road. “Mr. Moore has been expecting you.”
“Is that a fact?” The jeep jumped and jerked as they drove over fallen rocks and potholes left by rain. “And he would be?”
“Really? What’s with the reunion then?”
Gregory kept his eyes on the road. “What Mr. Moore does is his business.”
“Blind obedience, is what you do?”
“As you can see, Mr. James, my eyes are wide open.”
“So I can,” he smiled and watched the road. There was nothing around that he recognized. “Can’t wait to meet ‘im, again.”
“He feels the same.”
They drove in silence. As they progressed the road became smoother and widened. Eventually it dumped them out onto a main road, by the width of the road and the total absence of businesses he would have to say it was a highway. The jeep pulled out onto the road.
The cool smell of a pine trees at the close of day was a welcome scent to Andrew. He took a deep breath and instantly felt at peace. Gregory only drove, leaning back into the seat, this was a familiar route for him. It was as if he had forgotten all about his passenger, he was on autopilot. Like his clothes the car conveyed a message of belonging to the area. There were no personal effects in the car. No fast food containers, travel mugs, or printed off sheets of unneeded directions. But it was top of the line everything. Leather seats, wood paneling, Bose stereo, electric everything. All weather tires, four-wheel drive, rope wench on the front and yet the leather seats looked as if they had never been sat in. It almost had that new car smell.
Rising above the tops of the trees was the white peak of a mountain. It was snowed covered and even in the fading light Andrew could see that it was steep and jagged in places, deep canyons and sudden drop offs. The road appeared to be heading straight for it. The took a steady climb into the trees, no other signs of civilization except for an occasional road sign indicating they were in National Park land. The road curved and wiggled higher and higher. One side of the road was a deadly drop off and on the other a wall of rock, with each new turn these switched sides. The car slowed slightly as the came around a sharp bend and shooting off to the right was a road, barely visible. If you did not know it was there you would miss it. It was such a subtle separation that it blended into the landscape. Turning off of the highway onto the road with a severe turn and up a sudden incline.
Feeling his back press into the seat Andrew could see that there was something on the road ahead. The car chugged confidently forward. As they neared, he realized it was a gate that spanned across the entire expanse of the roadway but was in the process of opening inward. Gregory had not made any motions; both his hands were on the steering wheel and his eyes focused on the road. How did the gate open? Did someone see them coming? Andrew could not see anything that would indicate like a lookout or guardhouse, then again, there was just the thinnest bit of light left. The gate had somehow recognized the vehicles that belonged there, some sort of GPS or homing signal. He thought about any car that might take the turn by mistake, the way down would be treacherous, but the road was only one car wide, whoever came up here would have to back their way down.
Once through the gate they continued up the winding incline. The trees were thinning out and the road became lined with natural stone and well- placed shrubs. The road widened in to a large flat plain and suddenly bare rock jutted out, teetering on the precipice of black granite was a house. Built right up against the mountain. All he could make of it in this light was wood and glass. The wood looked almost black, like the rock or trees, maybe even the same dark hue as the trees around them. A pinnacle of wood and glass jutted up into the sky. The huge panes of glass looked out over the valley behind them. It was a paradox of an unnatural thing looking like it belonged there.
Gregory took the car around the side where house came out over the path. Again a door was already in the process of opening right up out of the rock. They drove into the side of the mountain and into a lit garage. There was one car width of space. There they stopped. The garage went further in. There was one car in from of them, a larger, heavier vehicle with large tires. Next to it was an oversized snow blower. On the side where Gregory got out was a black sedan, Bentley.
Andrew followed his lead and stepped out of the vehicle. The floor of the garage was polished concrete. It felt like a clean room in an electronics factory. Except where they had just driven in there was no indication of dirt. He doubted there were oil stains on the floor. There were shining red Craftsman cabinets and hooks on the wall holding all kinds maintenance tools. It was warm too, a pleasant kind of warm but a little stuffy.
“Guess you have to be self-sufficient up here. Would cost a fortune to have someone come out.” He looked around the immaculate, well stocked and organized space. “Not that cost is factor for someone like your Mr. Moore.”
“If you will come with me.” Gregory started to walk to the back of the garage. In the concrete wall beyond the SUV was a pair of stainless steel doors. Using a key the doors opened up to an elevator. Gregory waited for Andrew to go in.
Andrew felt his pockets and looked back at the car before getting in the elevator. “Feel like I’m forgetting something.” He looked at his host and chuckled.
Gregory used the same key to activate the elevator. It was smooth ride. Slow and gentle.
“No stairs, huh?”
“There are, but with your injury this is the best option.”
“Yeah, that,” he felt the back of his head. He could feel there was a bump back there, it throbbed like hell. His hair was matted with dirt and he guessed blood. Don’t take a hit like that without some blood. “I appreciate all of this, but are we even friends?”
Gregory turned to him. “No.” He went back to looking at the doors.
“How about this Moore fella?”
The doors opened. Gregory stepped out first and waited for Andrew. He stepped into a hallway. The cream colored carpet was thick under his feet, so much cushion gave a little bounce to his step as he followed Gregory to the end of the hall. Warm track lighting illuminated an oil painting of the mountain as well as the corridor. Everything was hushed and enclosed. It smelled like pine. A Wainscot of polished wood slats that glowed under the lighting ran down the full length of the hall on both sides. Opening a heavy wood door they came into another hall, this one a little more traveled than the last, wider too. There were other doors. The smell of burning wood and a tinge of smoke hit him.
A memory fluttered on the edge of his consciousness. A fire pit. There was a dog. Black lab. Was it his? He felt he was a dog person. Other than the familiar sense of the trees around him, there was nothing more specific. Was that because he was hurt or because he had done it so many times his brain had generalized all the times into one stock memory? Whoever has his truck has his dog and if he finds out something happened to either there will be hell to pay.
The room opened up suddenly into a steeple of glass. Had to be the room he had seen from the car. Wood rafters came together maybe twenty-five feet above his head. There was a simple glass chandelier hanging from the center. The world outside was dark now. To the right a fire flickered in a free standing pit. There was no chimney, had to be gas then. The pit was at the center of a hole. There were steps down creating a circular bench all around. Pillows were scattered about for comfort.
If this fire was from gas source, where was smoke coming from?
“Dinner is almost ready.” Gregory announced. “Pork roast. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Well frankly, I don’t know.”
“Get yourself a drink.” His eyes flicked to the far end of the room. A free standing wet bar was stationed near the glass overlook. A sliding glass door close by. “Make yourself at home.” He waved his hand to whole room. In addition to the fire pit there was another sitting area of oversized couches. The cushions plump full of filling to bursting. The material slightly shagged, with throw blankets of natural wool.
“When will I be meeting my host?”
There was no response, only the fire on fake logs with its continuous sigh.
Andrew looked around, Gregory had disappeared like that.
Make myself at home. Home. He thought about the word as he walked over to the bar. There were a couple small refrigerators. Of all the liquids on offer the larger seemed the most appealing. Popping the cap off, he took a swig. Good stuff. Hopefully it went with pork. Putting his forearm against the glass he rested his forehead against it and looked out. The dark line of the forest against the navy blue sky. A few stars twinkled in the sky washed out by the light behind him. He knew there was a city down there. A couple. Small communities surviving on the edge of wilderness.
He sighed. His breath fogging the glass. Home. He’d only been an amnesiac a few hours and he felt he was doing pretty good so far. All he had to do was find the light switch and then he would know. A square of reflected light hit the glass. He turned around to see a woman coming toward him with a tray of food. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a bun. “Where would you like to eat, sir?”
Andrew blinked dumbfounded. The door opened again and another girl came out with a platter of condiments. A1 Sauce, salt and pepper, a variety of salad dressings. She could not have been much more than ten or eleven. Her small chin and slender hands resembled those of the woman holding his dinner.
“Sir?” The older woman waited.
“Anywhere is fine with me.”
The woman’s brow knitted together. Her eyes blinked faster. “Can I recommend the fire then?”
“Sure, recommend away.”
She carried the food over to the edge of the pit. Cautiously she stepped down onto the bench and then another until she was at the bottom. All the way around the fire pit was a black marble ledge. The woman placed the food on it and beckoned for the girl, taking the tray of condiments from her she placed it next to his food. Crawling out of the pit she looked at him. “Will you be needing anything else?”
“Some answers would be nice.”
Her eyebrows bunched up again, she pursed her lips, and folded her hands in front of her. “I… I—“
“Don’t worry about it darlin’.” He smiled.
She smiled and the two of them quickly scurried back through the door they had come.
Andrew chuckled to himself. He felt bad for her. He didn’t mean to embarrass her. He really did want to know. Everyone seems so serious and/ or mysterious around here. It had been unfair to ask her.
The smell of the flame broiled meat and the white wine sauce on the vegetables made his stomach grumble. Who knew the last he had eaten. Had to have been hours. Lowering himself into the pit he seated himself on the bench with some pillows in the small of his back. He stuffed the silk napkin provided into the top of his shirt and balanced the tray of food across his knees. All signs indicated this would be a class act meal. He doubted that he ate this lavishly at home, wherever that was.
* * *
Gregory took the main stairs. They were the showcase of the entry way if anyone ever used the front door. Hand carved railings and a painstaking cross patterns imbedded into each step from the bottom step to the top step. Wide enough for a production number, the broad steps swept upwards parting in the middle for a large mirror and diverging in opposite directions. Taking the right fork to the library he passed the game room, the movie theater, and cocktail room. When he thought about this estate the word that dominated was peace. So far removed from human activity. The surrounding towns were relatively close together but because of the tracks of forest separating them you would never know it. No buildings were more than two stories high. From the right elevation you could see the highway cutting through the trees but otherwise all humanity was invisible.
The main room, where he had left Andrew, faced west and when the sun hit the glass it would shine back, he had people in town comment on it every now and then. This house was not the only one above the valley, but it was the biggest. And of course the most important since it was so intimately tied to the history of the area.
More than any other room in the house, the library was the most secluded. It was practically at the center of the house. In place of natural light false windows and a pair of French Doors were lighted in a way that mimicked natural light even to the point of dimming and brightening corresponding with the real time outside light. To add to the light of the rooms the bulk of the walls were painted a sunny yellow with the ceiling and beveled panels in white. It was an almost round room, double height, with two levels of built in book cases from floor to ceiling, which only served to further insulate it from all noise. Several speakers were imbedded all around the room so that if you sat in the middle on the strategically placed couches, sound literally surrounded you. It was a compact room with different kinds of seating, high backed Louis XV style arm- chairs surrounding small pine tables to accommodate tea or water. If you wanted something less formal there was plumb couch with matching armchairs on each side. Along the back of the couch was a long table with a chair and everything one would need for writing a letter.
Climbing the nearest of the two tight spiral staircases to the second tier of shelves he crossed over to the middle and paused. On this level the shelves had been alternated with beveled panels. This center one was different from the others. Leaning on the right side with his weight he heard a slight click and stepped to the side. The panel swung inward without a nefarious creaking. He slipped in through into the next room, pushing the door shut behind him. There was no chance of anyone else coming in behind him since only Mr. Moore used the library but habits should remain regardless of who was around.
This room was called the observatory for many reasons. It had a reinforced glass roof. It was heated so that there was never any snow build up. It had an automated feature that after some much weight had accumulated the heating would kick in. It was a rare occasion it snowed so much that Mr. Moore had not already turned the mechanism on. Mr. Moore ended most of his evenings here where he could contemplate the night sky while music floated all around him.
There was a steep stairway that led to a deck higher up (the highest point of the house) that put you within a few feet of the glass dome. You could see most of the rest of the exterior of the house from this vantage including the road leading up to the house. There was also an adjunct security suite where you could monitor the array of camera angles.
Gregory looked around. A tray with Mr. Moore’s Earl Grey tea sat untouched, still steaming. He could see the silhouette of Mr. Moore against the skylight on the top level. The standing order was he was not to be disturbed if he did not give you his immediate attention. Gregory turned to leave, Mr. Moore would know where to find him. He pulled on the handle of the false panel.
Gregory closed the panel and turned around, looking up. “Yes, Mr. Moore.”
Mr. Moore was leaning on the safety rail with his elbows, the night sky hovering over his head. “Did you manage to get to Mr. James in time?”
“I did, he was injured, but not fatally.”
“Is he secure?”
“Yes, Mr. Moore.”
“And his injuries?”
“Hard to say, Sir. He seems to have amnesia. The doctor should get in tonight to examine him.”
There was no immediate response. Mr. Moore continued to lean over the side but made no movement. The slightest move of head was barely visible in the near darkness of the room. “When she arrives tell her to join me for breakfast on the veranda.”
“Any sign of who may have done it?”
“Just some fresh tire tracks.”
“Damn,” he cursed under his breath and banged his fist on the rail. Mr. Moore stood straight and walked away from the rail. Gregory knew that was the official conclusion of this conversation. He slipped back into the library. Dinner was foremost in his mind, but he still had to get Andrew settled in. It had been a successful day and he was looking forward to the reward of a nice meal paired with a red wine.
The main reception area was packed with all of Customer Service, IT, Client Services, and Marketing departments. When Diane had been hired as chief financial officer they had thirty employees and counting. Only a hard and fast eighteen months later they had reached almost three hundred workers with full medical benefits and with stock options available. All the remaining departments had been assembled in the main reception of the adjacent building as well. People stood around in their department cliques waiting for this “spontaneous” meeting to start. It hadn’t been much of a surprise to Diane or the other officers. There had been some titter on the news about the end of a golden era for tech companies like theirs but she found that when you worked for a young upstart company like theirs you felt invincible. Those other guys, the competition, didn’t have the talent, ideas and innovation, and synergy they did. Unstoppable, unsinkable.
She looked out over the group. So much amazing talent. Brilliant and funny. The company had always prided itself on getting the best out of each of them and giving them what they deserved. The last employee fun day included horseback riding, paint ball, and mini golf. Those days would not happen again anytime soon. As it would turn out, ever again.
The Vice President got everyone’s attention. She stood beside him, back straight, shoulders back. A slight smile on her lips, not the happy kind of smile, more like determined, armed with optimism. It’s what they all would need to ride this storm out. As the VP announced the down turn in their sector and its effects industry wide, you could feel the tension ratcheting up. People shifted back and forth on their feet, crossed their arms, and murmured to themselves or the person nearest to them. Eyes shifted from confidantes to supervisors. As he transitioned with “as a result” all extraneous noise ceased. Restructuring is needed in times like these. It’s well known now that “to restructure” in corporate speak means, “to lay off.”
Each department will meet with a corporate officer to discuss the changes specific to that division. As people filed out to the elevators she could hear raised voices while others were unusually quiet. With the exception of the department heads no one know who would be staying and who would be going. Each department would have two meetings, one for those the company would be asking to stay, increased pay for the undeserved stress that would inevitably come starting tomorrow morning. The other meeting was for those that would be given generous severance packages, two months pay, extended insurance for that time, and recommendations of course. Extra security guards had been hired for each floor in case there were any incidents.
That day was one of the darkest in her personal history. She had been the chief financial officer. The CFO is the first line of defense. As soon as saw the numbers start slipping and the corporate antics that were need to keep up momentum she should have sent up the red flag. But instead, she had taken part in maintaining the delusion, believing it would turn around, this was temporary, every industry hits a lull, that’s how she talked herself through each breach of proper financial protocol. There was so much anger mixed with sadness. She was angry with herself as much as with the other officers. These people were good people. These employees had families, car payments, and rent to pay. They did their jobs well and they were being punished for the corporation’s gluttonous ambitions. They had over extended themselves on the euphoria of this hot new market and as a result the wave crashed down on them all. The drowning, suffocating aftermath would stay with her.
The whole ordeal had made her examine every decision she had made. The mistakes made and how they could be avoided next time, should next time come around. She had practically dedicated every waking breath to see the company thrive and to what end? To shatter the lives of good men and women to save themselves. It wasn’t long after that for her to realize she needed a change. She voluntarily left with a healthy severance package for all her “good woks.” She sold her modern upscale apartment and relocated her life, her center. Her friends and family thought she had gone off the deep end. In a way she had, but in the midst of her search she was reminded, to gain your life you must first lose it.
She took a deep breath, the cool mountain air grounded her in the present. Sometimes the mediation brought up memories or emotions she was not prepared to contemplate. She would write it down in her journal and see if it returned again later. Another breath. She opened her eyes. Beyond the sprawling gulf of tress for twenty miles a jagged white mound rose above the landscape, cutting into the sky, shoving it’s way through the clouds and towering over every living thing.
Her life as a CFO felt like a lifetime ago, another life. One that she had only watched and not actually lived. The time wasted was regretful. No matter. What was important was to value the time she had left and more importantly to learn from her mistakes. The here and now was something she could change. There was no point in ruminating over the past. She had learned from it and that was what counted. She unfolded her legs and stretched. It wasn’t long now until the festival and she still needed to frame her pieces for Artist Alley. She did landscapes like most people in the area. When surrounded by such astonishing beauty you couldn’t help but try to capture some small part of it for yourself.
The mountain was a favorite subject among her fellow artists in the community. It sold well to the tourists, but Diane liked to try other angles whenever possible. There were lavender farms nearby. She preferred to drive a little ways to get a view of the fields and foothills. It was hard to escape the mountain, and it was awe inspiring, but there were so many beautiful things in the world and so little time to paint them all.
Standing to her feet she pulled her arms overhead for a long stretch and let her arms down with a big sigh. She loved this porch with its picture perfect view. Going over to the rail she spun a Tibetan prayer wheel that had been bolted to the railing and smiled to herself, it was going to be a great day.
“Mr. Moore?” She giggled nervously, smoothing the sleeves of her navy blue suit jacket. Everything was perfectly pressed; the knee length skirt, white pinstriped blouse, and goldenrod ascot— perfectly poofed. “Oh, he is a nice man. So well mannered. He was my first sale ever. And my biggest sale you know. Ever. Of course it is the biggest property in the area so that isn’t much of a surprise.” Her desk was adorned with pictures of cats doing cute things. It was personal, the personal touch without over doing it. It was a functional desk, with matching accessories, the jubilee of pens in the burgundy holder, her business cards leaning at just the right angle from the burgundy dispenser.
“Yes, it’s true.” As if to dispel any disbelief. “That house had been in the Rochester family ever since people have settled in this area. That’s a couple hundred years, you know.” She straightened the nameplate on her desk, Beverly Banks, in black on faux copper. It was a large replica of the mini one pinned on her left shoulder above an embroidered logo, 21st Century Realty, also in goldenrod.
“Such a fascinating place. It started off small, you know, just a place to keep the snow off ya really. Terrible. Can you imagine, no central heating? In these mountains. Those pioneers, real troopers I tell ya. It’s a wonder any of them lived through that first winter. In the spring, that’s when the first loggers started coming in, ready to work. It wasn’t just about the trees you know, they were put to good use of course, but what it was really about was getting the tracks laid to finish the first railway across the country.
“Oh! I’m so sorry,” she lifts her hand in the air and wiggling her understated, but tastefully groomed fingernails in a dark pink color, not scandalous like red would be, but not the cotton candy pink of a tween. Lifting slightly from her seat she looks across the top of the cubicles, “Marie!” She waits until she has the girl’s attention and then beckons her over. “Can we get some more coffee over here for our guest? Thank you.” She sits down again folding her hands in front of her. “Now, Mr. Moore—“
Marie quickly appears, she is young, just out of high school most likely. Her shoes made of shiny black patent leather, like a dolls, her office casual clothes fit her awkwardly, too restrictive maybe. She holds a plastic tray, fake wood grain on both sides, and sets it down on the edge of Beverly’s desk, a silver carafe, a coffee mug of milk, and three kinds of sweetener in white, blue, and yellow packets.
“Aren’t you thoughtful,” Beverly squeezes Marie's elbow. “She’s my best pupil,” she smiles at the girl. Marie smiles apologetically, blushing, embarrassed and leaves. “Someday, when I have to leave God’s green earth I know, that while I may not have children, my legacy will go on in people like her.” She watches as Marie goes back to whatever it was she was doing before. “She is such a wonderful girl.” Beverly’s gaze goes into the distance.
So many nice people and nice things fill her life. Her cats, the Monday night quilting circle, and of course her job and all of it in a place like this, one of America’s most pristine Alpine forests. The freshest air on earth, the cleanest water anywhere. Surrounded by pines every day smelled like Christmas to her. Christmas and sunshine. Sometimes, when it’s been snowing like crazy for a few hours and she has just spent two hours shoveling out a path for her car and she looks back to see she has to do it again, with trembling arms and her back on fire in excruciating pain, she thinks maybe she should finally get out of this place. Afterward, sitting in front of the fireplace, wool blankets piled on her legs and a cup of homemade hot chocolate in her favorite mug, a photo of Mit Mit and Choo Choo in Santa hats, she watches the snow fall and with a deep breath of satisfaction. All the frustration of the previous few hours melts away like snow on your tongue. What a blessed life this is.
She blinks suddenly. “I don’t know what is wrong with me today.” She reaches up, patting her dark auburn curls. The precisely sculpted chunks of hair are held in perfectly unnatural places and add a few inches to her height. She clears her throat, “Where were we? Yes, the Rochester Estate.” Folding her hands again, she takes a deep breath.
“Logging became a big business up here, well still is, and of course once the trains were running that brought in all kinds of people looking to start new lives and more people means more business. Mr. Rochester was an excellent business man and his house grew right along with the town and his… assets.
“He’s a very important man around here, Mr. Rochester, he was our first mayor. Have you driven around much? Rochester High School. The middle school was named after his wife, Margaret Winslow- Rochester. If it wasn’t for him, this town wouldn’t be nearly as nice as it is. Many of the streets are named after his heirs.” She nods her head assuredly, as if to say that’s a fact, everyone knows it.
“The house, the house, the house.” She poured herself a fresh cup of steaming coffee, without putting any sugar or cream in she stirred her spoon absently. Clink, clink, clink. “Each addition was always a new undertaking. It meant clearing more trees and moving more dirt, it’s on the side of a hill you know. Sometimes it involved blasting right through all that rock. From certain angles it looks like the house has grown right out of the side of the mountain. Some of that was intentional. Mr. Rochester loved nature and it was important to him that nature was not interrupted just because he was there.
“Here’s a fun fact.” She leaned forward across her desk as if she was about to reveal a great secret. “Did you know there is a room, right in the middle of the house, made of the original walls and a ceiling that Mr. Rochester had cut down himself all those years ago? Completely made of pine tree trunks. Makes it look like a giant Lincoln Logs cabin.” She leaned back in her seat. “So it’s said, anyways. It’s supposed to be the wood from the original structure; it’s possible, I guess. They could carbon date it or something, I’m sure, to check if it’s the original cabin, but what does it matter really, it’s the thought that counts, right?” She looks wide-eyed for a nod of mutual agreement.
“Through the years rooms were added onto other rooms, hallways extended. On occasion there had been a collapse due to heavy snow. Because of that the roof has several tiers where the owner at the time decided to add high ceilings, or a new level, that kind of thing. In a way I think each Rochester has left his or her mark on the house.
“Because of all the changes and reconstructions, there is nothing symmetrical or reasonable about the place. But my, it is a beautiful house, don’t get me wrong. In the entry is this gorgeous wood staircase, and beautiful slate stone work everywhere. Majestic fireplaces in most of the rooms, including bathrooms. I have never seen anything so beautiful in all my life.
“So tastefully decorated but it is a bear getting through it. I literally needed a map to find my way around the place. The county clerk had so many blueprints on file I finally had to call in an architect to make whole new ones just to update the county records. It had to be surveyed so we could list it properly and makes sure that all those changes hadn’t created some unforeseen damage.”
Her eyes dropped and her lips were pressed together in a tight frown. “Poor Mr. Rochester, Richard. He was the last of them, no children, even the grandchildren were up in years.” She shook her head sadly. “So many of their beautiful things sent to auction. There was some mix up at the lawyers about his will, I don’t remember, it was so long ago now, but they needed a realtor and by default really, the account was given to me.
“The grounds are extensive, massive, most of it rock, and dirt, just pure forest, not really any gardens to speak of. And the private road, it’s quite long when you consider the cost of up keep and plowing in the winter.
“Mr. Moore, he pays to maintain the road at his own expense, no tax dollars are used for it.” She chuckles softly to herself. “You know, he even pays to make sure there is plenty of avalanche control. I suppose he would lose a lot if anything happened to the house. I’m sure he must have other homes. A man in his position usually does. But I don’t really know, I’ve only sold him the one.”
She leans in, this time much closer, her voice dropping below the chatter of the other agents on the phone or at the water cooler. “I can’t tell you anything personal of course, I respect my client’s privacy, and the law. But, I did Google his name once, he’s quite a prolific man. It’s the perfect house for him really. As diverse and interesting as he is.” She winks.
A shadow fell across the desk. Without moving, her eyes shifted up, “Marie!” She forced an impatient smile, “what can I do for ya?”
Marie leans in and smiles plaintively, “Your three o’clock appointment is ready.”
With surprise and ting of irritation at Marie, Beverly checks her watch. “Oh my. I love it when I’m busy, just makes the day fly by. It feels so productive too.” She waves Marie away and stands to her feet. Leaning over she straightens a photo of her with a man, they are young, the gold bands on their fingers gleam. Beverly is still wearing hers.
“It has been so nice talking with you today.” She tugs on the hem of her jacket. “If you have any other questions please don’t hesitate to give me a call. You have my card…” She looks over, “Good.”
“Mr. Moore, he is very nice, so lovely to talk to, I sure hope you get the chance to meet him. It is a unique experience. Now remember, if you are thinking about relocation, it’s not a bad place to be, give me a call if you want to look at some properties.” She winks.
Beverly squinches her eyes shut. “What a ninny.” She shakes her head and puts her hands on her hips. “Honestly, I do not know what has come over me. I have never done something like this before; you must think me so rude. I never asked your name.” She held out her hand, her smile bigger than ever.