We All Walk the Long Road

“The Long Road” by Eddie Vedder

And I wished for so long. Cannot stay.
All the precious moments. Cannot stay.
It’s not like wings have fallen. Cannot stay.
Without you something’s missing. I cannot say.

I have wished for so long. How I wish for you today.

*****

Sam saw the lighthouse in front of her.

She looked down at her feet, and saw the foamy bubbles of crashing waves kissing her toes.

And then she saw someone walking toward her.

*****

Sam felt the butterflies dancing madly in her stomach. Could it be? Could it really be? 

The image on the beach was blurry in the light of the glowing fireball butterflies, yet it was definitely a person walking toward her. Sam wanted to run, but she was so weak, every part of her body was fighting sleep. Her face was stinging again. But she wasn’t thinking about that now. She was thinking about the man now standing in front of her.

Sam trembled, and found herself without words.

“It’s you,” Sam whispered.

“It’s me,” he said.

“I didn’t know if I would ever see you again,” Sam said.

“I told you that we’d meet again. And we have. It’s been seven hours and fifteen days. I’m glad you kept the raspberry beret I gave you,” he said.

He stroked Sam’s cheek with his hand. The stinging stopped. “Oh Sam. Sam, Sam, Sam. How I wish for you today.”

Sam smiled nervously. “So I guess Bob Marley was right. I really am dead? If this is heaven, it’s not so bad.”

“Oh Sam, my beautiful Sam. No, it’s not so bad. It’s a world of never-ending happiness, you can always see the sun, day or night. Look, Sam, look my beautiful girl,” he pointed out to the ocean. The sun was just cresting over the furthest waves. It glowed purple and shot violet and crimson jewels across the water’s surface. The world seemed a lovely fire. “It’s a huge…”

“…Ass fireball in the sky,” he and Sam said together at the same time.

Sam laughed and pushed a stray strand of hair behind her ear. She was feeling more and more at ease.

He took her hand and held it in his, studying Sam’s long fingers and then her palm. He ran his fingertips along her lifeline. “You have your mother’s hands.”

“You said that to me last time, too.”

“It’s true, look.”

Sam held her hands out in front of her, as he held his hands out beside hers. They glowed indigo, as jeweled light from the sun reflected on their nails and skin. And then his hands changed. His fingers elongated, his nails grew, his skin softened. Sam watched, bewildered. He held her hands and squeezed tightly three times, exactly the way her mother used to. Sam felt tears on her cheeks. That was one of the ways her mother said, “I. Love. You.”

Sam lifted her eyes, already knowing what she would see.

Her mother, Carol.

“Mom.” Sam said quietly. Not quite a question, not quite a statement. Just a word, a simple word that meant more to Sam than a thousand words could ever hope.

“Mom,” she said again. “Is it you? Is it really you?”

“It’s really me, Sam. My beautiful, beautiful Sam. Could U be the most beautiful girl in the world?” Carol said, smiling.

“How I’ve wished for so long,” Sam said.

“How I wish for you today,” her mom said.

“I have so many questions, how… Why Prince? Was that you in the hotel room, it was you wasn’t it? I knew it was, I felt so much love, so much. How…”

“Shhhhhh, Sam. The questions aren’t important.”

“But… is any of this real? Was Bob Marley real? Jimi? Prince? Tupac?” Sam asked.

“Oh yes, Sam, we’re all real, it’s all been real. As real as we could make it for you. We’re all your guardian spirits, and we came to you in ways we knew you would hear us, through music. We are all made of music, just like you Sam.”

“What about Bob Marley? He seemed different, special somehow, like the others revered him, is he one of my guardian spirits too?”

Sam’s mom smiled. “You could say that. Bob is many things to many people. He was drawn to you, or maybe you were drawn to him. It gets confusing. See, before you were born, you were here. We were born before the wind and we’re so much younger than the sun. You’ve been here many times. You have shared many lifetimes with the same guardian spirits. I have loved you for so many lifetimes. And so has Bob Marley. And Jimi. Especially Jimi.

“It makes us all terribly sad to see what is happening in the world today. You have come so far, and yet perhaps you’ve gone too far with all of your advances. Is the world fundamentally a better place because of science and technology? You shop at home, you surf the Web, at the same time, you feel emptier, lonelier and more cut off from each other than at any other time in human history. You spend so much time hiding in smart phone screens, and that changes you at a cellular level, Sam. It turns you into spiritual zombies. And Bob, well Bob has seen it happen in his lifetimes too,” Carol said.

“He does seem to know what’s going on,” Sam said, “but he speaks in so many riddles, half of what he said made no sense.”

“Oh yes, that’s Bob. Bob likes his riddles. The answer inside you already, he says … but he’s right. You spend enough lifetimes with him, eventually you understand.”

Carol continued, “See Bob, had this idea. It was kind of a virologist idea. He believed that you could cure racism and hate, literally cure it, by injecting music and love into people’s lives.  … He said, “The people, who are trying to make this world worse are not taking a day off. How can I? Light up the darkness.” That’s why he helps you, and others like you, Sam. You are made of music and love, you are each special, you are each the cure.”

“But Mom, I’m dead. How can I help anyone if I’m dead?” Sam said.

“Oh Sam honey. Some of the dead are less dead than others. You my sweet girl are less dead. But you were bitten, you know this right?” Carol asked.

“I didn’t know at first, I didn’t understand. But Bob Marley showed me. I saw everything… the infected girl who bit me while I slept in that old car… that’s why none of the zombies bothered me, why humans couldn’t hear or see me, why I never ate anything, why my face has been stinging. But I don’t understand why I haven’t changed or turned into one of the infected.”

“It’s complicated, Sam. But you’ve been walking in both worlds. You are here, not here.”

“You with the riddles too, Mom?” Sam said, only half-jokingly.

“I know, sorry,” Carol said. “See, the music and love in your heart have bought you time, they’ve kept you from turning into one of the full-blown infected. There are different levels of infection. We’ve been helping you stay healthy too. The dog you call Marley? He has special antibodies in his saliva, that’s why he’s been licking your face so much, to keep the infection away.”

“Marley?” Sam asked excitedly. “You know Marley? Have you seen him? Please tell me he’s real. Is he a spirit too?”

“Marley, oh Marley is exceptionally real. He’s special; Marley walks in both worlds too. But all dogs are special. They are born with a special music inside. They hear sound and emotion and color and feeling about a zillion times more than any human can. And dogs are messengers, guides. Your sweet Chocolate Lab, Bob? He chose his fate so that he could return to you later as Marley when you would most need him. You’ve been together for a very long time, Sam,” Carol explained.

“What do you mean, Mom? Is this like reincarnation? Is that why I felt so drawn to Buddhism?”

“It’s hard to say, Sam, there aren’t any words for what it is. Bob Marley was close when he said, many rooms, one house. It is like Buddhism, but Buddhism is just one room. And under the roof of the house is just one big room with many temporary walls. Now think bigger. Think of the universe. Think of an infinity of universes. Think until you can’t even fathom. It’s all one house, Sam. We’re in one room right now. But this room is in constant flux, we’re here, not here, you know? It’s a guest house, like Rumi said. And the house itself is love. Love is our religion, but we don’t condemn, we don’t convert, because it’s all one house, one love, one heart.

“Okay, Bob Marley,” Sam laughed.

“I know, I know. Bob Marley, Rumi . . . They’re one and the same, believe it or not. Just look at it this way. No good thing ever dies. And of all the good things, love is the goodest. And yes, I know that’s not a word, I made it up.”

“It’s okay, I do that all the time too.”

“I know,” Carol said with kind eyes.

“So where are we now, Mom? Is this really a beach? Mine and Dave’s beach at Borneo Runnings? Our lighthouse? The ones in my locket photo?” Sam asked.

“It’s just another room, Sam. … You still have the locket? It was my mother’s, your grandmother’s. And her mother’s before that. May I see it?”

“Of course,” Sam said, taking off her necklace and handing it to her mother. Her mom grasped it in both hands and then held it up to her head, and asked, “May I?”

“You don’t even have to ask, Mom, of course you can,” Sam said, as Carol placed the locket over her head. She smiled and held it next to her heart.

“So…am I alive or am I dead? I understand you and the others and Marley the Dog have been keeping me alive, but why can’t the others see me? Am I dead to humans? To Dave?”

“No Sam, no. Nothing ever dies, Sam. We just choose a different form. We enter another room. In Buddhism, this would be similar to the Bardos, the waiting area after your body expires, where your spirit waits for your next body or shell or form. In the Bardos, you must choose within 49 days or else your soul wanders lost. But obviously we’re not lost, Sam. We’re here, not here, but we’re never lost. Some others call this purgatory, where we wait for judgment of the lives we lived. Some think we just die and–poof!–we’re gone for good. That’s the oddest of all. Energy cannot be created or destroyed; it transfers, it changes, it’s a fire that never goes out. We are born knowing this, but most of us forget.

“But Sam, you do have to choose. And no one can choose for you. You are on Day 49. This isn’t the Bardos, not exactly, so you don’t have to choose within 49 days, but it will get harder and harder each day forward to continue in your current form.”

“Well, what are my choices, Mom? I want to stay with you, how can I do that?”

“Oh honey, you are always with me, and I am always with you. But this is not your path, this is not your fate. You could choose to stay in spirit form to guide and help others, but you must return. You have promises to keep.”

“Dave,” Sam said quietly.

“Yes, Dave. He needs you, honey. You keep his fire burning. He would carry on without you, I can see that future, but he would be an empty shell, one of the walking dead. And you need him too. He moors you, tethers you, yet never confines you…do you know how rare that is, Sam? You are like yin and yang, different, yet perfectly balancing the other. You need each other. Together, you and he, with the help of others, can save the world. Or at least your little tree house corner of it. It will be challenging, but Sam, you have never been happy without some sort of challenge, some sort of puzzle to solve, and Dave knows this about you better than anyone.

“Just remember the music, Sam, the music is life. It’s all music, and if you have the music in you, then you are music too. It’s all connected. One big symphony in the sky. You saw it–the music–when you sang…the sparks, the fireball butterflies…they’ve always been there, you just could never see them until now. Each time you listen to a song or feel the percussion of a snare drum or sing, you keep that music alive and absorb its energy, and in turn, it keeps you alive. And music never dies. We never die, not the parts that matter.

“Remember even on the darkest days, you carry the fire within. The lovely fire. Use it to light up the darkness, Sam. It will always protect you. But guard it wisely, for there are those that would seek to exploit it. We will help you as we can, but the lines get very blurry sometimes between worlds. You can usually hear us in your head … those voices you hear? Listen to them. Listen with your heart. One love, one heart.

“Sam, the door is closing. You need to choose. I will always be with you. Shine, Sam, shine, my crazy diamond,” Carol said. “Oh! Tell Rosa that her sun shines eternally on the Arch waiting for its moon. That it shines on Diego too. Tell her to be troubled no more.”

Sam wiped the tears away from her cheeks. “I will, mom. Oh mom. How I’ve wished for so long. Come with me, please.”

“We all walk the long road, Sam, I cannot stay. There’s no need to say goodbye. We’ll meet again, baby girl. I. Love. You. So much,” Carol said while squeezing Sam’s hands three times.

“I love you Mom, so much, thank you for everything. If I have to choose, I choose Dave,” Sam whispered between tears.

“Good girl,” Carol said. “We are all so very proud of you. When you feel alone, look at the stars, that’s us with you. And don’t forget to sing. Music is life, Sam, music is life.”

And then Carol was gone. In her place was a door, and it was open, but the door was slowly closing.

Sam took one long look around her, at the purple sun and the jeweled beach, at the stars in the sky, at each floating fireball butterfly that still lingered, in this one room of many rooms.

It occurred to Sam that everything we love, everything that matters, is a world unto itself. It’s like an infinite string of pearls that wears us, so that when the darkness comes calling, we got the music to see us through. She smiled with the rising sun and knew every little thing was gonna be alright.

As Sam reached to step through the door, she couldn’t help but sing.

Don’t you ever feel sad
Lean on me when times are bad
When the day comes and you’re down
In a river of trouble and about to drown

Just hold on, I’m coming
Hold on, I’m coming
Hold on, Dave, I’m coming

“Hold on Dave, I’m coming.”

And then Sam, having made her choice, stepped through the door.

And then she was gone.

*****

“Hold On, I’m Comin'” by Sam & Dave

*****

Music from and inspired by “We All Walk the Long Road”

 

 

Across the Universe

I run to the door and swing it open, intent on catching the group’s attention. But as I rush through the door, I don’t see the group anymore. I don’t see Marley. Or Jimi Hendrix.

As a matter of fact, I don’t see anything at all except for a blanket of darkness.

“Hello? Is anyone there?”

But no one can hear me.

“Not yet! I made my choice, Bob Marley! I chose life, I chose Dave. We’ve been through that, and this is not our fate. We are one, we carry on! We carry on . . .”

But I can’t even hear myself. Not a word was spoken. The church bells all were broken.

And they were singing bye, bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey ‘n rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

***

Do you believe in rock and roll?
Can music save your mortal soul?
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?

***

“Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore,” Sam said to herself. “Unless Kansas is as dark and vast and silent as a black hole.”

“Bob?! Marley?! Jimi?! Hello???!!! Anyone?!”

No answer.

“Well, fuck. This isn’t good. This isn’t good at all,” Sam sighed. “I’m not dead. I’m not. I can’t be. … Can I? Is this what Tupac meant when he said I’d see some stuff that would make it hard to smile? Well he was right. I’m not smiling at all. I don’t want to be dead. I can’t be.”

Sam touched her arm and felt her skin. She felt very much alive. Her skin felt warm. Hot even. She moved her right hand up and down her left arm and felt it tingle, like pins and needles, like the feeling you get in your feet when they go to sleep after you’ve sat for too long. Sam could even feel the hair on her arm standing up after she rubbed it.

“Static electricity?” Sam said. “Okaaaay, so it’s dry here? Dark and quiet and static-y. Lovely, just lovely.”

The thought gave her a chill and she wrapped her arms around herself protectively and proceeded to shock herself, literally, the static electricity creating a snapping glow.

“It’s like a firecracker,” Sam said to herself. “No … like a small fireball. No, that’s not right either.” Sam searched through her memories, like rifling through a file cabinet searching for a tiny slip of paper in a packed-full drawer.

And she found it.

It was a sunny day at the dog park. She and Dave were hanging out with Bob, and Sam was telling Dave about a dream she had where everything around her was dark and silent and she was scared that she wouldn’t be able to see anything, not even him. He said something to her–she only remembered it because she thought he was calling her ass huge–“Use your inner huge-ass fireball my Queen and . . . wait for it . . . light up de darkness!”

Could she really? Sam wondered.

Hmmm, well it’s worth a shot, she thought. Sam took her hands and ran them crazily through her hair. She could hear the crackle of electricity coursing through her hair like each caramel strand was a live-wire. Then she rubbed both of her arms rapidly, and as she did so, sparks flew off her arms like fireflies. The sparks lingered in the air around her, they hovered above her and slowly traveled outward. They were like tiny little flashlights suspended in air.

Sam took a step forward. Her toes tingled. She took another step, then another, shuffling her feet along the ground. More sparks flew and illuminated the path ahead of her feet like a red carpet made of Christmas lights. She wasn’t sure, but it looked like glowing sand, like sunlight reflecting in the mica at the beach.

Sam turned in a circle. She could only see a few feet in any direction.

Where am I supposed to go?

As if in answer, Sam remembered an Alice in Wonderland poster hanging on the wall at her dentist’s office: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Some help that Chesire Cat was.

Sam stood there and thought.

She decided to leave her direction to fate. Since she didn’t have a coin to flip, she began to turn in a circle. Then Sam began to sing, “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, catch a tiger by the toe. If he hollers, let him go, Eeny, meeny, miny, moe. My momma told me to pick the very best one, and YOU are …” Sparks were flying from her mouth. What the fu?

“What is this?” Sam said.

No sparks.

“Hello?” Sam said again.

Still no sparks.

She remembered that sappy Lionel Richie song with the creepy video and she sang, “Hello, is it me you’re looking for?” And sparks flew from her mouth.

“I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello. Hello, hello!” More sparks, not just fireflies, but butterflies … like huge-ass fireball Monarch butterflies! She thought about Jimi and Marley the Dog and Bob Marley, how they all seemed to know something she didn’t…how they would just smile and turn away … about the sign in the record store Do you believe in rock n roll? Can music save your mortal soul?

What was it Bob Marley said? Sam asked herself.

“The answer always the music. Music is life. … The music keeps you alive, until you choose. … Music is love. Love is the drug you looking for.”

And then Sam understood. Music is life. Music is love. Music was keeping her alive.

She opened her mouth to sing. Words and butterflies flowed out:

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup,
They slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe.
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my opened mind,
Possessing and caressing me.

The fireflies and Christmas lights and huge-ass fireball monarchs wrapped themselves around Sam like an electric blanket.

Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes,
They call me on and on across the universe.
Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box,
They tumble blindly as they make their way across the universe.

She felt herself pulled forward, like a magnet. Like a homing pigeon. She allowed herself to be pulled, herded blindly along by the butterflies, and she continued to sing.

Sounds of laughter, shades of earth are ringing
Through my open ears inciting and inviting me.
Limitless, undying love, which shines around me like a million suns,
And calls me on and on across the universe.

It was as if she was floating on the wings of a million suns. The butterflies were carrying her somewhere.

Nothing’s gonna change my world,
Nothing’s gonna change my world.
Nothing’s gonna change my world,
Nothing’s gonna change my world.

They set her down gently and flew off, a million suns in a million directions, limitless undying love, images of broken light shining and shining and shining. Sam’s skin glowed. She stood there illuminated, just like a lighthouse. She could see for miles and miles.

Jai Guru Deva, om
Jai Guru Deva, om
Jai Guru Deva, om…*

Sam saw the lighthouse in front of her.

She looked down at her feet, and saw the foamy bubbles of crashing waves kissing her toes.

And then she saw someone walking toward her.

“Across the Universe” cover by Fiona Apple

*Jai Guru Deva, om: Literally it approximates as “glory to the shining remover of darkness.”

Revisiting Sam … With an Audible Twist

It’s been a while since we’ve caught up with Sam. If you’re like me, you may need a little refresher before we meet up with her again. So to refresh, I did something a little different.

As I went back to read Sam’s stories, I decided to read them aloud … and I recorded them. Sometimes we don’t always have time to sit and read, sometimes we’d rather listen, sometimes we like to listen and read along. If you fall into any of those categories, or if you’re just curious to hear my voice reading to you, you are more than welcome to click on any or all of the below sound files.

I recorded Sam’s three most recent stories, but if you like the idea, I may record her future stories too and/or go back to read more of her past stories.

As I listened back to my recordings, I had a good laugh over my Bob Marley voice (in “Here Not Here”). He sounds Mexican-Jamaican … like Cheech & Chong meet Bob Marley. It’s okay to laugh; it won’t hurt my feelings.

If you want to read the stories along with me, just click on the titles. You’ll go to the original posting where I have added the sound-file to the very top of each post.

So pleeeeeeeease let me know what you think of the idea. Did you listen? Would you listen? Would you be interested in past recordings, or only future recordings? Maybe I can even enlist my co-writers to join in too!

Enjoy, everyone. I hope to be back with a new Sam story soon. xo, Christy

***

Bathing in the Purple Rain (published May 10, 2016)

 

Here Not Here (published June 2, 2016)

 

Light up the Darkness (July 6, 2016)

 

 

The Nine Lives of Declan Beckett

Declan Beckett was quite familiar with the end of the world. He had been introduced to the prospect many times in his forty nine years on earth. He had lived many lives, and he had cheated many more deaths than that. So this latest man-made catastrophe didn’t frighten him so much as it pissed him off.

He missed convenience.

He missed being waited on, he missed cold beer delivered from a tap and freshly rolled Cuban cigars. He missed the feeling of a warmly swept hotel room carpet on his bare feet, the scent of a high priced whore and the taste of a thick, prime dry-aged loin. Kung-Fu movies, the white noise of a television set blaring away in the background, ice cream. Of course, these were the profits of the spoiled. A thing to which he had become accustomed since coming to America as an impetuous teenage boy with hell in his bones and a history of war in his soul.

Declan Beckett’s life story was something out of Dickens, thrown to the adventurous Northwest for the the sake of sport and irony. It was from the blueprint of an underdog that he was made. He knew abject poverty from the crib and he learned to fight for his bread in the most literal of terms from the time he was old enough to walk. His father had been a factory worker who spent his paychecks on ferment and ill gotten female courtships. His mother was a devout Catholic who pounded the fear of the Almighty into him last thing at night and first thing in the morning before sending him off to school with the implicit threat of strangulation if he missed a lesson.

When Aiden Beckett was shot down outside their Belfast home by a British special agent during what was later deemed ‘an unofficial interrogation’, his fourteen year old son swore vengeance and the streets were more than happy to abide. He began running with the “Provisionals”- a group of Irish loyalists whose goal was to break from British rule. A string of petty crimes convinced his mother to send the boy off to live with his Uncle Conor in Brooklyn, New York

Marcia Quinn pulled strings, borrowed money and called in favors to send her son across the Atlantic, to the little brother she adored. Conor had made it big in the States by playing the markets and scoring big on real estate investment deals. And while the former was true, the chronology of his success was purposely skewed for legality sake. The truth of the matter was that Conor Quinn was a button man for John Gotti, and he had shattered tax brackets without waking up a single cricket in the doing. Which is how crime gets to be called ‘organized’. 

As far as his sister from Belfast was concerned, little brother was a sanitation worker who’d worked his way into a cushy office job. After which he parlayed his bachelor money into stocks and two family houses in blue collar neighborhoods. He was a donor to Archbishop Molloy and a darling to the neighbors at holiday time for his elaborate Christmas lights displays. He was the great American success story, to which big sister attached every single hope and dream for her only son’s future.

That’s how men worked. They lied first, second and for thirds, they figured out a way to explain the first two experiments. Conor was diligent in making certain the boy graduated high school- a year early, in fact. But he also recognized the kid was a quick read with a knack for picking winners; not to mention, he wasn’t awed by his uncle’s gangster pals. By the time Declan was seventeen, he was running poker games and paying house visits to degenerate gamblers. He took part in his first hit at nineteen, and he was so skillfully efficient and stone silent about it that he caught the attention of none other than John Gotti. Before long, Declan was working for the most ruthless crime family in the country.

When Conor was gunned down outside a nightclub in the winter of 1986, it was payback for his role in the assassination of Gambino crime boss, Paul Castellano. Declan asked for permission to avenge his uncle’s death but was bypassed by a political hierarchy within the crime family that infuriated him.

Lonely and filled with a rage only a mother could salve, he made a call to the other side of the Atlantic and he told Marcia Quinn he needed her there, with him. By the end of their phone conversation, he had talked her into coming to live with him in the two family home he owned in Queens.

For the first couple months of her time in America, she tried to convince her son that with his smarts and good looks, he could win at anything he set out to do- legally. But she soon grew tired of preaching ideals she didn’t wholly believe herself. She resigned herself to the fact her boy had been born on the dark side of the moon, and the tides weren’t giving him back.

In the fall of 1996, Ma would pass from cancer. Declan had done everything in his power to keep her from leaving the earth but the fates do not ask for permission when they have their minds made up. For the next five years he threw himself into his work and became a legend in the rapidly changing business of hired assassins. His only excursions into frivolity consisted of high priced hookers, New York Yankees baseball and hating Rudolph Giuliani.

His life would change forever on December 31st, 2000. He’d ventured into the city to ring in the new year with a few close friends at their pad in Chelsea. And that’s where he met the rest of his life- a fact to which he was well aware the minute they looked into each other’s eyes.

Marie Anthony was a receptionist for Cantor Fitzgerald by day, an artist by night and a dreamer the likes of which Runyon wrote books on. He asked her to dinner before the ball dropped and they were eating Chinese takeout on a rooftop before the first sunrise of the new year. They fell in love deep within the cold and aching arms of a hard winter, and by the spring they were living together. By the summer of 2001, Declan realized that sleeping with one eye open wasn’t the best way to go about the rest of his life. Marie was as much danger as he was ever going to need.

In August he traveled to Fort Lauderdale to close up shop on an investment banker who’d screwed the wrong people out of a lot of money. Rather than head back home, he decided to meet with his primary employer- a Fortune 500 executive who ordered hits as if martinis, so he paid a visit to Miami with the express purpose of quitting the life he had known since he was old enough to vote.

Joseph Greco had taken on Declan Beckett after the Gotti empire crumbled in the early nineties. The son of a former crime boss, Greco had fulfilled the promise of his parents by making his millions legitimately. He left out the part as to how he held onto his millions. Greco had one condition for Declan and there was no refusing the offer. He could leave, disappear . . but there would be one last job and this one was personal.

Declan called Marie from his Ocean Drive hotel room and asked her to join him.

“When?”

“Now.”

“Deke . . . it’s two am and I work in the morning . . .I work in a few hours!”

“It’s Friday for fuck’s sake, call in sick. Meet me.”

“You are a crazy man, Declan Beckett.”

“You made me this way,”

At lunch, Declan told her what tomorrow was going to look like, and then he asked her to marry him. Marie Anthony replied with yes and maybe and curse words woven into the loveliest sound he’d ever known. And then the chef came out to congratulate the couple when he heard the news. His name was Dave.

A few weeks later, Declan awoke before dawn and readied himself for his last job. He drove Marie to work that morning and then he made his way uptown. He had a special delivery for Stanton Hughes- a high priced political consultant who was busy gaming the political system after having done so in the corporate world. He had fucked over Greco’s business partner and lifelong friend, and so it was understandable that he requested that Declan interrupt his breakfast meeting at Windows on the World when the job was done.

A caravan of emergency vehicles blazed past Declan as he navigated his Dodge Charger towards FDR Drive to make his way uptown. And that’s when he saw the sickening plume of black smoke hanging above the caverns of the city. He made a u-turn and headed back toward the Trade Center. He tried Marie but it went straight to voicemail.

“Fuck is happening!” He screamed, not a question so much as a threat to God Himself.

So it was that the apocalypse came to Declan Beckett long before the dead made the scene. His final job as a legendary hired assassin never got done, and he left the city of ghosts he had grown up inside of for the Keys- where he lived for a couple years before returning to the life he once knew. And then came Harris Muntz and then came killing and then came the only forever he’d ever been good at holding onto.

And then a funny thing happened while he was busy playing out the string, and it came to him in a photograph of a couple posing in front of a lighthouse. When envy gave way to realization, his brain got to working on how the ends might fit. Those fucking smiles . . unrelenting. It was as if they’d been kidnapped from the stars and every Frank Sinatra song that had anything to do with the friendly side of destiny.

They were beautiful. Made for each other. Sometimes, the thousand words of a picture went long and spoke simply. That picture was music without need for lyrics, it was a sermon without need for preach. Muntzy be damned, he wasn’t going to allow for that kind of poetry to die. Not on his watch.

His name was Dave. He’d been the chef in that Miami joint who had come out to congratulate him and Marie. Of all the joints in all the world, and back again. He wasn’t choosing this fool’s errand for Ma or Da, and he wasn’t doing it because of those really fucking strange Bob Marley dreams and he sure as hell wasn’t doing it because it was the right thing to do. He was doing it because that photograph took him all the way back to a black and white photograph of him and Marie on the Brooklyn Bridge, with the Twin Towers holding court behind them.

There was a forever after in the smiles of those two places and times and love affairs, and Declan Beckett was going to find it.

Or die trying.

 

Light Up the Darkness

Listen as Christy reads:

***

***

“What do you think happens to us when we die?”

“Hmmmm, baby? What was that, Sam?”

Sam stretched her long legs and arms and rolled from her side to her back. She was laying on a park bench, her head in Dave’s lap. It was a warm sunny day. Sam was wearing her favorite Jimi Hendrix t-shirt, a pair of cut-off blue-jean shorts, and gold sandals; Dave wore a Coltrane tee and soft jeans. They were at the dog park with their chocolate lab, Bob. They came here often. While Bob would explore and play with other dogs, Sam and Dave would often camp out on the bench to watch; sometimes Sam would nap in the sun on Dave’s lap, while he would read. Sometimes he would read to her, while she closed her eyes and drifted away into the blue sky, his voice both comforting and exciting her, the only voice ever able to do both at the same time.

She shifted around on Dave’s lap so that she could look straight up to him and into his chocolate eyes.

“I asked, what do you think happens when we die? Where do we go? Or do we?”

“I hope when we die we go to a place just like this,” Dave answered. “Anywhere you are is where I want to be. And dogs. They have to allow dogs. If they have a no-pet policy, I ain’t stayin’.”

“Never fear, baby. If they have a no-pets or a no-Dave policy, then I’m telling them exactly where they can put their no-vacancy sign,” Sam said. “But I’m serious though. I just had a weird dream where everything was completely dark. Darker than when we went to Montana and stayed at that B&B in the country. Remember how black it was at night without any city lights or urban sprawl? Remember how vast it seemed? Those wide open spaces? And quiet. We could hear each other’s hearts beating. Like we were the only two people in the universe, and we couldn’t even see each other.”

“Mmmmm…but I could sure feel you,” Dave said in a low sultry voice as he ran his hands up and down Sam’s torso. “This shirt feels AMAZING on you. So soft and smooth and the brown looks like melted milk-chocolate on your skin.”

“Don’t even try it, mister, you’re not getting the shirt back. You gave it to me. I claimed it. Just like I claimed you.”

“Are you crazy? This shirt was made to be yours. Somewhere Jimi is saying thank-you brother, thank-you. Jimi would return from the dead if I tried to take the shirt back,” Dave said.

“Ha ha,” Sam laughed. “I’d actually kinda like to see that. Risen-Jimi would probably make some pretty cool music, though I doubt he would talk much. Baby, can you see Bob anywhere?”

Dave nodded, “Yep. He’s over there getting cozy with some bitch.” Dave pointed off in Bob’s direction, where Bob was napping in the sun beside a pretty blue-merle Australian Shepherd.

“Oh my god, Dave!” Sam exclaimed. “Watch it, or else I’ll show you a real bitch! Besides how do you know it’s a girl dog? Maybe they identify as a boy? Or maybe they just like dressing like a girl dog?”

“Just pushing your buttons, baby. Just pushing your buttons. I like when you get all riled up.”

Sam laughed and said, “Shut up and kiss me already.”

Dave lifted up his RayBans and looked down at Sam. She raised her head, and Dave lowered his. He gently cupped the back of her head with one hand, and her chin with the other. Then he pulled her into a soft sweet kiss that made Sam think of soft-serve vanilla ice cream melting on her tongue.

“Mmmmmmm, that’s better,” Sam purred.

“Jimi would be so jealous right now,” Dave said.

“Anyone would be jealous right now,” Sam said. “Hmmm . . . I wonder if Jimi will be there.”

“Where, honey?”

“Where ever it is we go when we die.”

“Baby, I have no doubt that Jimi will be wherever YOU go when you die. Just like I will be. If I’m not there first, hold on, I’m coming. I’ll follow you, Sam, I’ll follow you into the dark,” Dave said, and stroked Sam’s neck lightly with his fingertips.

“You better not hurry though! I plan to come back to haunt you, mister. To make sure you’re not getting into trouble without me,” Sam said. “But when you do follow me into the great wide open? Wear something that glows in the dark, so that I can see you, okay? Just in case it is really dark.”

“If you’re so worried about it being dark, why don’t you just take a flashlight with you?”

“Ha ha, very funny. We should book you on Late Night With Seth Rogen.”

“Seriously, Sam, you’re the brightest light I know. 100% premium sunshine. And what is the sun, Sam? ‘It’s a huge-ass fireball in the sky that lights up (and incinerates) everything in its reach.’ Aren’t those your words exactly? So don’t worry for a nanosecond that you’ll be cloaked in darkness. Use your inner huge-ass fireball my Queen and . . . wait for it . . . light up de darkness!”

“First of all, I’m going to forget you called my ass huge. Second of all, I love it when you quote Bob Marley and Will Smith, baby. You nailed his accent too! Hey, we should watch I Am Legend again tonight, you know, before we decide to Stir It Up, little darlin’, Stir It Up . . .

“First of all, I love you. Second of all, I love you more. Third of all, deal. And fourth of all, I love it when you sing Bob Marley to me.”

“Ha, yeah right! Somewhere Bob Marley is shaking his head at my doing his song like that.”

“No way. Bob would never shake his head at anyone who loves music as much as you love music. Music is in you, just as much as sunshine is in you. Just as much as I’m going to, well, you know,” Dave smiled.

“Hmmmmm. Now THAT is music to my ears, baby, you know exactly how to light up my darkness,” Sam said as she sat up and kissed Dave’s neck. “Why don’t you go get Bob so we can get out of here. I’m in the mood for ice cream.”

Sam watched Dave stride toward Bob, and then she laughed at how beautiful the world was with Dave in it. She stood and stretched her legs. The sun behind her glowed and illuminated her limbs as if Sam herself was made of fire. She smiled, warmed by the sun and warmed by Dave’s crushed velvet voice. She was a million miles away, and didn’t notice how everyone in the dog park–Dave and Bob included–watched her standing there shining like the sun. The huge-ass fireball in the sky lit up Sam’s caramel hair, and when she moved, sparks danced around her. The sound didn’t register with most, but Bob and all the other dogs could hear the hum of electricity that radiated from Sam’s sparkling skin. They knew what the others did not; she really was made of fire.

Somewhere Jimi looked on and smiled.

 

 

The World of Unknown Places- Part 2

Dave gathered himself before asking Jimmy the question that was going to change everything for him. Again. Every time he thought he was catching up with the world, it went and changed the rules on him. Dave remembered back to what Rosa used to tell him all the time.

Mijo,  God never gives you more than you can handle. 

He wondered if Rosa was still with them. He hoped and prayed to a God he wasn’t altogether sold on that she was still alive, but he couldn’t be certain. Not like with Sam, where he knew she was still alive because, really, there was no other way to feel.

“What? Jimmy . . . what?!” Dave’s hands crunched together in a fist and he wanted to scream at the world, at God, at every single fucking event that had led him to right here. He closed his eyes and found Sam’s face, and then she was speaking the words that brought him back whenever his mind raced too hard and too fast. Breathe baby, take some ‘you’ time . . . it’s alright. Remember to breathe. Remember I love you. Breathe baby . . . breathe. 

He opened his eyes to find Jimmy tugging on the losing end of his cigarette before tossing it in the toilet and flushing it away. Dave’s eyes focused on the chinkapin trees and loblolly pines that swayed in a muted breeze from the other side of the window.

“What? . . .” Dave repeated.

“Vera came down with something last year. It was a cold. Then it was the flu and it wasn’t long before I realized it was something else entirely. The fever wouldn’t relent. When she started hallucinating, I rushed her into the ER. They ran some tests, and then my whole world went black. The CDC was called in, she was removed to a private facility. I still remember when the official diagnosis came . . . I felt like I was standing on the moon.”

“What? What was it Jimmy?”

“Smallpox.”

“That’s impossible, smallpox . . .”

” . . . was eradicated in ’79, yeah, I know . . . I know.” Jimmy said hopelessly. His eyes were back inside those horrible days once again and Dave felt the room go cold as Jimmy arrived on the precipice of a savage ghost story. “The medical community couldn’t reach a consensus so in the interests of science, stores of smallpox remained. So it came down to us and the Soviets, playing political chess with the end of times because they could.”

“So . . . how? What?”

“The US confined the virus to the CDC in Atlanta and made it virtually impenetrable to anyone with designs on playing God. You’d have an easier time breaking into Fort Knox with a water gun than you would of getting into that place. And so it became the mandate on both ends of the Atlantic, to prevent compromise through trust and verification until a decision could be reached. As with any governmental bedtime story, things went longer and the story didn’t end tidily.”

“So what you’re saying is, what are you saying?”

“The Soviets weaponized the stuff and then the Iron Curtain collapsed and somewhere inside the Wild West scenario that ensued . . .”

“They lost it?”

“Lost, sold, moved . . . all of the above.”

“How does this connect to your wife?”

“Vera was a campaign manager back in the day. She was a buzzsaw in heels, tell you what. When she achieved hired gun status, she became more popular than a Prom Queen hopped up on muscle relaxants. Senator Cuthbert of Virginia called her in to work his campaign last year. He was a George W proselytizer who made enemies in all the worst places for a very long time and he was getting pummeled in early polling, so he called in the campaign equivalent of the Navy Seals. Because Vera, she was just that.”

“I don’t understand.” Dave whispered.

“Do you remember the anthrax letters back in 2001?”

Dave commanded his brain to retrieve the data, after which he was able to pledge a healthy nod as his mind caught up with the rest of this new age horror story.

“Well, Daschle was only the first Anthrax love letter. Then it was Brokaw and then Uncle Sam decided it was best if they went low key, the fear being that the public would be overcome on the heels of 9/11.”

“There were more anthrax letters?”

“A shitload of ’em. Oprah got one, Madonna, Prince, Angelina Jolie, Trump too, even the New York fucking Yankees got one.”

“I had no idea.”

“Neither did anyone else, and as quickly as it started . . . it was over. What we didn’t know, what no one could have imagined, is that the worst of it was to come. And so there was Cuthbert, busy calling in favors and friends in what was quickly becoming a dumpster fire of a re-election campaign. Vera was working as a consultant when she took his call. And then one day she was working in her D.C. office when some campaign staffer opened a letter and . . .” Jimmy couldn’t move another word into being, reaching for his pack of smokes to steady himself.

“Anthrax.” Dave finished.

“That’s what everyone thought, but no. See . . . the devil of all those fucking details was busy getting born inside the years of our new normal existence. We turned our worst day and the days that followed into satire and slogans and songs. We went numb to the idea that something worse was not only possible, but that it was coming for us. Until it got here, tucked inside a letter to Senator Cuthbert that was thought to be anthrax, but which contained spores of smallpox. The ultimate Trojan Horse, and Vera was one of the first victims, stateside. And not a single Goddamn person outside of the platinum clearance membership club knows that.”

“Oh . . . my God. It was a delivery system.”

“She was the only person in that office who contracted the virus. Smallpox is a voracious fucking beast but it is a patient and talented thing. And like any hungry animal, it is remorseless in its taste for blood . . . relentless in its pursuit.”

“I don’t know much about this virus, but I do know it moves quickly. But how were they able to cover up her death?”

Jimmy laughed at the query. “They didn’t have to! By the time she was infected, it was mission accomplished for the bad guys. Smallpox moves faster than lightning on a Texas plain, it takes to the air like a sparrow on speed and multiplies. 1 becomes 100 . . . 100 becomes 10,000, and before you know it? This.”

“Zombies? It made zombies?”

“Not all by its lonesome it didn’t. Nope, these zombies are the property of our federal government and all of its infinite fucking wisdom.”

“Sam, she mentioned something about a vaccine. A shit cocktail of West Nile . . Ebola . . Bird Flu . . . I don’t know what else. She said the rollout was late, it was fucked from the get, that the only thing they knew was that they didn’t know.

“Yeah, that. Is why we’re living in the age of the Addams Family Squared. It was a Hail Mary soup of best intentions and it only made matters worse. Your girl was a government employee, so she got the vaccine.”

“What the fuck are you saying!”

“I’m not saying anything, and it doesn’t mean she’s one of the walking dead. If you spoke with her on that plane, there’s a better than excellent chance that she’s not one of  . . . them. The vaccine performed a metabolic miracle as it was getting busy importing the worst into an already shit for situation. It was almost like a musical arrangement, the complexity of its effect on certain people. Mind you, I’m working on a relatively small sample size but the smallpox outbreak went a few ways. You either died of this new strain of smallpox inside of a very short and painful period of time.”

“Sorry.”

“Or you lived on. And if you lived on, you became one of these man eating fuckers inside of the time it takes to make a pancake, so you really didn’t live on, so much as you became a Rob Zombie flick. And then there’s the rest.”

“Rest? What rest?!”

“Their immune system can fight this beast, and it can win. You, uh . . . you ever listen to Marley?”

“Bob? Well shit, yeah. Dude may as well have had his name on the deed to our house, cause he was always there.” Dave said.

“I’ve been having these dreams, like, all the fucking time. It’s Bob Marley and I’m walking down this long hallway . . .”

“Cashmere plums.”

“Yeah. That. And he tells me to look beyond, to the somewhere else that I’ve never in a million years thought was possible.”

“How do you know this?”

“I don’t man. I don’t know anything. But he tells me that music is a cure. He tells me that all the math I was saving up for a rainy day has a musical note attached to it, and that I have to find it. And Dave, I know it’s supposed to be a dream but . . .”

“It doesn’t feel that way.” Dave said.

“No.”

“How does this . . . thing, how do we beat it then?”

“You’re a newbie to the Marley dreams,” Jimmy laughed. “You’re still living this whole thing as if there’s a boxscore.”

“Spoken by a man with a pocket protector.” Dave replied.

“Being anal retentive doesn’t mean you have no soul, thank you very much.”

“You mentioned stateside . . . what did you mean by that? Were there outbreaks in other parts of the world? How bad was this exactly?”

“Yeah, there were outbreaks everywhere. The first recorded case was in the Cayman Islands and it was dismissed as an anomaly by anyone who was allowed to know. Before long, this anomaly was eating its way across the world. This new strain didn’t move with the speed of smallpox, but it was every bit as possessive in the getting.”

“How do I get out of here?” Dave asked.

“I’m working on it.”

“Well work faster.”

There was a knock at the door and Jimmy moved to answer it. Dave inhaled, he closed his eyes and he brought Sam into him for a few blissful moments before coming face to face with the person who was currently standing between them.

The mysteries of this new world rage on as the masters of the post apocalyptic events will look to possess the ultimate time bomb, as if Dante Alighieri had penned the eulogy of the human race in red velvet scripture.

The battle of good vs evil has never been more accessible than in this world. The men whose invective natures will die for the newly forged thrones and those men who will fight them for the ideals that have become more important than ever.

To this battle, Dave Delaporte finds himself coming of age. With nary a clue as to how this ship sails, but with a charted course whose destination is forever. To the songs they share, he will steer. To the memories that built them he will seek. To the hope of setting his eyes on that beautiful face one more time, he will move.

Nothing, and everything, are all that’s left to lose.

The World of Unknown Places- Part 1 of 2

Dave found himself in a hotel room delivered straight out of a time when maids were still smiling up the big tippers and mints dressed up pillows come the evening rounds. It was a hollow transparency, to which his mind bled memories and his heart went sick with the disease of wanting it all back again.

Two queen sized beds bookended the faux leather banquet chair his hands and feet had been ratcheted to by an unforgiving cord of nylon rope. Off to his right he found an economy sized sectional littered with brightly colored pillows- some festooned with tassels, some adorned with button punches. A two piece, antiseptic looking coffee table sat in front of the sectional. An LED floor lamp with a stark white drum shade stood sentinel to the left of it. It was burning an efficient, cold transfusion of light across the far side of the room and into his space; working as if the world was still worth saving from this shit proposition of a place.

At fifty degrees to his right there sat a dark hollow. This was the bathroom area- to the right of which was a panoramic mirror that began at four foot high and extended to the ceiling. A white hairdryer was stashed inside one of the two open shelves under the sink.

An abstract watercolor print hung in latent disposition behind him, positioned in symmetrical accordance with the night table that had been tucked in between the two queen sized beds, both of them fat with fluffed pillows and neatly folded linens. He imagined the night table behind him held a King James bible within its belly. Maybe even a Book of Mormon with which to keep it company.

The curtains to his left had been drawn, and he could see a parking lot, no cars to speak of. He was first floor, this was good. He tipped his chair forward as far as his legs could muster without falling into himself, and still, he couldn’t find a vehicle, a person, a sign of life. And then he checked the thermostat. Set at 70. Whoever was paying for this room had sufficient bank to keep the place well preserved. As much as he wanted to know everything he could know about his captors, he was cognizant of the fact that the truth was going to be more frightening than anything the dead had thrown his way. The living were a scary bunch of cats, proof positive that the more things changed the more they stayed the same damn way.

And then his brain wrapped itself around a better place, as if to keep its mechanisms sharp; and it didn’t hurt one bit to feed his soul something it could prosper on. Dave remembered back to the first time he and Sam had gone away together. They had stayed in a room very much like this one. He remembered the room number. 105. And he remembered the room number right across from them. 111. And he remembered how the two of them had laughed at the oddly placed neighbors before dressing the door with a Do Not Disturb sign and trading in the world for the company of two. They treated the hours as if they were the final moments of that 1999 song, with Prince tapping at his watch as he bid them to make it count for everything.

After which, they just kept going. Over the course of four days, Sam and Dave became the talk of the first floor guests. Not a single complaint was made official. The airing of grievances took place mostly during the free breakfast hours inside the hotel lobby; where fathers with bloodshot eyes and mothers with busily fixed hair spoke in code to strangers about all those many things that had gone bump de bump in the night.

And then Dave’s memory was flickering back to the hallway of their hotel, and to Sam’s purple dress and to how she trembled at his touch and to how he slowed her heartbeat into a certain truth. And then . . . she wasn’t there.

“Sam?”

“Nah mon.” 

The hallway had transformed into a clench of translucent plums and purple marigolds, with piano music bleeding from the walls in a forever kind of melody. Dave turned around to find the voice he had listened to a million times before this moment.

“Bob? Marley?” 

The great man smiled and nodded. His eyes studied Dave in much the same way a teacher inspects a problem student- looking past the obstacles and gleaning the promise that lies within.

“Is this . . . what IS this?” 

“Your life! The one you waking up to!” 

“No.” 

“Nah.” Marley laughed, warming the space between them. “You too smart for this kind of believing. Sam was right about you.”

“What?” 

“She say you stubborn to what you don’t see. You see the world flat, you see the answers black and white.”

“All due respect but I have no fucking idea what you’re talking about.” 

“You don’t know? Or you don’t see? Difference mon, worlds of difference.”

“Where’s Sam?”

“She near . . not near.” 

“I want to know . . . I want to understand.” Dave pleaded.

“Aw mon, life answers all questions when you quiet your mind and open your heart. It’s the listening that brings you everything.”

“How? How do I get there? Please explain it to me.” 

“You there, son. The signs, they spoke to you once and they speak to you always. It’s the eyes that keep you from seeing.”

And then Dave’s heartbeat found a tread mark, back to a place of not so long ago and a West Pine Toyota billboard sign that had been screaming at him to listen up.

life is one big road with lots of signs

It had come after he loosed himself from the group that had saved his life. The group he left, after Rebecca.

“How do I know what I’m looking at!” Dave screamed. 

Bob Marley shook his head and gave him a wink, as if these simple gestures were axis to the spin of a world gone mad. And then he spoke, his words a shower of new beginnings inside the end of times.

“We. Are all witness.” 

Jimmy entered the room and separated Dave from the plush embrace of his fever dream. He wore a look on his face that was equal parts a Cheshire Cat and a B-list movie actor being asked to make Casablanca out of a script best served up at the bottom of a birdcage.

“Okay, there’s good news. And . .  there’s some not so good news.” He sat on the corner of the bed and faced Dave as he spoke quietly and with genuine concern greasing his vocal chords.

“You managed to pull some good news out of this shit for situation? That’s amazing Jimmy! Because from where I’m sitting? It’s all really, very shitty news.”

“You have to trust me on this, Dave.”

“Of course . . . because sticking a gun to my head and handing me over to these assholes is ALL about trust.”

“Will you please just shut the fuck up for a second and let me explain?”

“You’re right . . . ” Dave said forlornly. “I tend to fly off the handle sometimes. That’s what happens when you’ve been running kitchens for almost half your life, you deviate to four lettered conclusions because you don’t have time for excuses.”

“It’s cool, Dave.”

“Oh no, I’m explaining myself . . I’m not apologizing, so chill with the bouquet exchange. It’s like this Jimmy. I can deal with a sous chef who ruins an entree, a waitress who gives a pain in the ass customer what they’ve got coming, a Maitre D who screws up a reservation slot. But liars? Not so much.”

“I didn’t lie about anything, and do me a favor Dave? Give me a break with your fairy tale indignancy, alright?”

“Sure, I’m a big boy. What’s in it for you Jimmy?! Because there’s always something in it for you . . .”

“You don’t know shit about me.”

“That’s right, you’re absolutely right . . . I don’t. One minute you’re an actuary and the next you’re a community college professor. If I would’ve hung with you another day, you could have shared your experiences as a Dallas Cowboys quarterback. ”

“That was all true!”

“So what’d you leave out Jimmy? What?”

“I was an analyst for Homeland Security the last couple years. I interpreted chatter, I did projections and worked up threat levels. Vera asked me to lend my skill set to a specific threat that was busy eating away at the man hours of state and local agencies up and down the Eastern seaboard. Before long, the brushfire was running away from us.”

“Yanno, when it comes to leaving pretty important shit out, you don’t cheat. When were you planning on telling me about this?”

“Never.”

“Because you didn’t figure I would need to.” Dave said bitterly.

“Until right now.”

“And me being here  . . ”

“Is the good news. It means you’re not dead. And it means Sam has a chance . . .”

“Don’t you fucking say her name!”

“Anyone ever tell you what a stubborn sonofabitch you are?”

“Lots of people told me that. But I only listened to one of them.”

Jimmy let the thought cling to the air in a resilient grip of providence, out of respect for Sam and the impossible chances these two were waging war on in their walk to each other.

“Dave. Listen. These guys would shrink the balls of the four horsemen. They’re a radical group of rich kid Saudis who started liquidating before the old way of doing things exploded in our face. They had intel in the lead up to the outbreaks.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Dave said.

“They knew. It was like they were buying gold in Bedford Falls while everybody else was borrowing thank you notes from George Bailey.”

“Terrorists.”

“Worse.”

“What the FUCK does that even mean?”

“What that means, Dave . . . is these kids grew up on Osama as if he was Dick Fucking Clark. Their daddies were the inner circle of Presidential administrations. Ours. This apocalyptic shithole? Is a business opportunity for these little fuckers. Because they have the currency exchange for any language, any situation. They have money, they have weapons, they have fucking soldiers who are fighting enemies that have been dead forever. And they have Ph fucking D’s on how to make a shit place even shittier because their end game is to make this new world? Theirs.”

“If what you’re saying is true . . . if these assholes are satan on a stick, then why did you hand me over to them? What? You thought I needed more interesting friends?”

“I didn’t WANT to come with you, I had to.”

“Because?”

“If they would have caught up with you before you got to the lighthouse, they would have had questions you couldn’t answer neatly. And they do business with Harris Muntz.”

“Who’s Harris Muntz?”

“You wouldn’t know him, but he knows you, seeing as how you killed his brother Zed and took his Stingray.”

“Okay first of all, it wasn’t his Corvette. And technically I didn’t kill him.”

“Yeah well, from what I know of Harris Muntz he’s not given to semantics.”

“How do you know all this?”

“Ham radio baby, it’s the new old fashioned way. There was lots of pissed off chatter happening over the last couple days. About Zed, the Stingray . . which oh by way tends to stand out like a zit on a fashion model.”

“Fuck you. I’ll deal with these people. I don’t need your help.”

“You have no fucking idea.” Jimmy said, shaking his head and lighting up a Marlboro as he lay back on the queen sized bed and blew rings toward the ceiling.

“What is it you’re not telling me Jimmy? I mean, what else aren’t you telling me?”

“Vera didn’t die of cancer. What happened to her is what’s happening all around us now . .  she was one of the first. We had no idea at the time, I mean, how could we have known? This? . . .”

The preamble to Jimmy’s dissertation left Dave with no witty comebacks, no pithy rebuttals. He had the distinct impression he was about to receive a first hand introduction to hell on earth.

“What?”

It was the only thing Dave could muster, and all things considered? It felt pretty damned wordy.

Here Not Here

Listen as Christy reads:

***

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery,
None but our self can free our minds.
– Bob Marley, “Redemption Song”

I back out of the roomful of mirrors, back into the violet hallway, back into the cashmere plums, back into the purple rain. The butterflies dance madly on. …

Now what?

I’m tired.

I never should have answered that phone. I should have stayed asleep. Maybe I can sleep right here. Curl up on the floor, rest my head on the soft cashmere carpet, and just … fall … aslee…..

I feel myself sinking, I’m so tired. The carpet is like quicksand, it pulls me under, it feels like a nighttime sky, the clouds roll in and everything gets darker and darker and so so tired…

I close my eyes and feel the soft licking of a tongue on my face. Go away, Marley, let me sleep. But he keeps licking, focusing on my right cheek. My face stings, I feel it burning, but Marley’s tongue feels like a salve of honey, it’s soft and cool and … Marley? You’re here?

I open my eyes and see Marley’s own amber eyes staring intently into mine. He looks worried.

“What? What’s wrong? Where have you been?”

He leans into me and continues to lick the right side of my face. This time faster, more intensely. I remember the time Bob the Dog walked over a fire ant mound. He nursed his front right paw the entire night, licking intently, the pain and sting of the ant bites evident in his eyes. Dave and I did the best we could to comfort him–applied ice, wrapped his paw in gauze–but nothing helped. Eventually the Benadryl we gave him eased him into a fitful sleep, but his paw would still shiver reflexively as if he were tending to his bites in his sleep.

Marley the Dog had that same look of pain in his eyes now, only he was licking me.

“I’ve been looking for you, baby, and here you are. You found me. I’m so glad you …” but my eyes close again.

Marley licks faster.

I open my eyes and say sleepily, “So glad you found me. Come…curl up with me…”

But instead Marley growls softly at me. I’m not sure how I know this, but I hear him singing, Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight… He takes my hand in his mouth and carefully pulls me up. I’m groggy, but I manage to stand. He circles my legs, and gently noses the backs of my calves, as if he were herding me, prodding me forward.

“Okay, okay, I understand.” I step forward. Marley stays behind me, pushing me onward. I stop for a moment, but Marley nips at my heels. “Ow! Mother Fu! That hurts!”

Anger burns through my body, and I spin around to give Marley a piece of my mind. But Marley is too fast. I spin, and he spins too. We are caught in a tiger-tail chase, spinning around and around as he keeps nipping my ankles, and I keep getting more and more pissed off. I’ve never hit an animal, but, I swear to St. Francis Assisi, I am going to bite the hell out of Marley’s own ankles if he doesn’t stop.

Through it all, through our little Tasmanian Devil tornado dance, Marley has been nudging me forward, herding me down the hallway. He finally stops nipping me and dashes forward several feet. He stares at me, daring me to try to catch him.

“You little punk. What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

He woofs at me in return, and swings his head off to the left, using his snout as a directional arrow. It’s like he’s saying, Who’s the punk? Come on you daft woman. You’re not exactly the brightest candle in the room, are you?

He woofs again, turns, and walks a few feet down to the end of the hallway. And then he turns left, and is gone from my sight.

Now I’m angry, pissed, confused, AND curious. But I’m no longer tired. And my face no longer stings. I decide to follow Marley and turn left at the end of the purple hallway. And when I do, the entire scene changes.

***

I’m no longer in a hallway. And Marley is nowhere in sight.

Instead, I’m on a beach. I can see the ocean far off in the distance. In front of me stands a mailbox. 999 is painted on its side.

A small wooden shack, more of a shanty, is off to the right. A single candle burns in the window. I feel drawn to it, like a moth to a flame, and I walk toward it.

I approach the door, and reach out tentatively. Locked. But then I remember the key Tupac/Buddy gave me, the one Prince handed to me after I had dropped it. I take it out of my pocket and look at the numbers again.

Not 666.

If 6 was 9, I don’t mind, I don’t mind…

I turn the key around.

999.

I insert the key into the door, and it swings open on its own.

“Marley?” I call, expecting him to come bounding out of the shadows.

“Sam?” Someone calls out in reply.

“Who’s there? I’m looking for my dog, I’m looking for Marley.”

“Looking, looking, looking, you will find, find you will be fine. Come in, Sam, come in.”

I stand in the doorway and consider my options. I was thinking to myself this could be heaven or this could be hell.

“Relax, child. Stop all that thinking. Satisfy your soul, not your head. Open your eyes and look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?”

“I think I …”

“No, Sam, no thinking. Just feeling. Feel it. It burns in you like a fire. You feel it, I know you do.”

“It burns.”

“Yes, yes it do. It burns, burns, burns. This ring o fire. This fire is all you have. Remember, Sam. Remember, the fire, the light, it has a power. It speaks to you. You hear the voices, Sam, don’t you? Some of them sing, some of them scream. All you have is your fire … and the place you need to reach.”

I step out of the door frame and into the shanty, and as soon as I do, I see a fire glowing in the corner. It’s from a small wood stove and there is a pot on top, something sweet cooking within. It smells like cinnamon and vanilla mixed with patchouli.

“It’s cornmeal porridge. Would you like some? I’ll share with you,” a soft voice offers.

I look toward the sound of the quiet voice, and I see Bob Marley, the man, sitting in a rocking chair beside the stove. In his hands is a small silver bowl. He extends both of his arms in a ceremonial gesture and offers me his food. I know it would be a great insult to him to turn down his offer, so I say, “Yes, please, thank you.”

I step to him and accept the steaming bowl of porridge. It is full and inviting. I can’t remember the last time I have eaten solid-food. I can’t remember the last time I have eaten ANY food.

“It’s because you have not.”

“What?”

“You have not eaten, Sam.”

“You heard me? I only thought that to myself,” I say. And then I think to myself, Where is my dog? Where am I?

“I hear everything, Sam. I don’t answer everything. But I hear it. And you are right here.”

“What?”

“You asked where you are. You are right here.”

“But where is here? And who are you? Bob Marley? Where is my dog?”

“So many questions. Eat. Eat. You hungry, but you no want to eat. You different, Sam. So different. Most people? Them belly full, but they hungry. You? You hungry but you no eat. Listen to me now. In this great future, you can’t forget your past. You have questions, but you no eat the answers. Daft, daft girl. Did you see your signs, Sam? Or were you sleeping in da ruts of your own life and complicating your own mind?”

“The signs? I’m not sure what you mean, Bob Marley. Where’s Marley? Where are we?” I ask, and I’m not daft! You’re just confusing! I think to myself, for good measure.

“We’re here, not here.”

“Here or not here? Which one?”

“No matter. They the same. Here’s not here. But people don’t see. They have eyes but they have no sight. Wake up, Sam. Wake up and see, Sam. Wake up and live.”

“I’m awake! Where’s my dog? I followed him here right to this room.”

“One room many houses … Many rooms one house … You choose, they all the same room same house anyway.”

“You are speaking in riddles, Bob Marley. I don’t have time for this. You’re the one who told me to wake up and live.”

“Ah yes, I did. But did you?” Bob Marley asks.

“Wake up? Yes, yes I did.”

“Oh I know that, but did you live Sam, did you live?”

“Wait, what are you trying to say? Bob Marley? Of course I lived.”

“How you know? I thought you said you saw the signs? Sounds like you missed the signs to me, stumbling through life with your eyes closed, sleeping in your sleepless slumber.”

“Okay. Back up. What signs are you talking about? What did I miss? I haven’t eaten, I’m tired, I’m scared and I miss my husband. Lay it out for me Bob Marley, what am I missing here?”

“You know, Sam. I can’t be the one to tell you. You have to look within and see for yourself. You hungry, you just don’t want to see. Walking around like regular people. They don’t see each other. They only see what they want to see.

And then I saw images flash across my mind … my entire life … it was all there. It was all shining before me. All the signs I didn’t see. I saw them now. And I wanted to cry. But they were all overpowered by one image and one image alone.

Dave.

“I don’t know what you are talking about, Bob Marley. All I see is Dave. But if you like riddles, fine. I like them too. We can speak in riddles, in rhymes. Through this world I’ve stumbled so many times betrayed, Trying to find an honest word, to find the truth enslaved…

“Yes, yes, better, child. The answer always the music. Music is life.”

“So if music is life, then what is the opposite, Bob? What are these zombies, these lifeless dead beings that roam the earth? What are they and how can we stop them? Is there a drug? A cure? Help me, please.”

“The zombies not dead the way you think,” Bob says. Then he looks pointedly at me, his eyes reflecting the soft amber fire. “Some of the dead are less dead than others, Sam.”

His words linger in the still room. I feel them vibrate in my bones. I have to look away from his poignant gaze before I begin to cry. A moment of silence passes between us before Bob continues, his voice low and gravely and hypnotic.

“You think some drug did this? Some vaccine? No. No drug did this. They changed all on them own. They changed in their blood a long time ago. How you say … the gene was already in them, they just flipped the switch. … You don’t have that same gene, Sam. Not yet, but maybe soon. You different. You have music in your blood, girl.”

“I can’t even sing.”

“You right,” Bob Marley smiled. “But no matter. Music is what you feel….no pain just music…music is love. Love is the drug you looking for.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Yes you do. You were born understanding. The music saves you. You still have choice to free yourself. No one can free us but ourselves. But the music keeps you alive … until you choose. But you no choose, you no eat, then you no more choice.”

“But how did this happen, Bob Marley? And what can we do?”

“They are slaves, Sam. Don’t forget. Slaves to themselves, to them minds. Mental slavery, Sam, you know this? It goes back, waaaaay back, back to the beginning. Back to the days in Haiti when the people were tired of being slaves—they checked out, they closed their eyes, anything to escape their chains and horrors of their days … but there always a price to pay for checking out, always a price. They gave up their soul, then they just a body. They wanted escape, but what they got was stuck in a lifeless soul-less shell, and the pity is that they did it to themselves, Sam. These zombies you call them today, they different, but they the same too. They closed dem eyes, they checked out … dem screens not so smart … and then they changed … One house, many rooms; many houses, one room. All the same room. All the same house. … All the same, Sam. All the same.”

“So what do we do, Bob Marley? Is there a place for the hopeless sinner, who has hurt all mankind?”

“A place? Oh I know a place; we all got a place. But is it the place we want? Not for me to answer. Only we can choose. Not up to me. Have pity on those who lost their way. They sad, lonely, lost. But they not hopeless.”

“It’s hard to feel pity for someone who wants to eat you like a Twinkie, Bob Marley.”

“True. But not so hard when you see what they really hungry for.”

“My guts and brains.”

“No, no, they don’t even know what they doing. What they hungry for is who they used to be. What we all hungry for: memories … music … love …”

“Yeah right. You should hear yourself Bob Marley. You been smoking some good stuff. So the next time a zombie comes in close to eat my brains, I’ll just lean in and give them a big hug and a kiss, maybe sing them a song, right? Yeah, that’ll be the day. That’ll be the day … that I die.”

Bob Marley looked like he wanted to cry, but he just smiled and turned away. “Not my choice, Sam, your choice. But no choice IS a choice.”

“Hey, I’m sorry Bob Marley. I’m just tired. And hungry. I miss my husband. I miss him so much, Bob, I, I just don’t know what to do, I… I…. I’m not ready to die. I’m not ready. I have promises to keep.”

I begin to cry, and he says, “No woman, no cry. Everything gonna be alright. Dry your tears, I say. No woman, no cry. You can’t beat death, Sam. There ain’t no hiding place from the Father of Creation. Not my choice.”

“But, I’m not ready. Not yet, Bob Marley. I have promises to keep! I have to get to Dave, I have to. … FINE! LOOK! I’M EATING!”

I lift the bowl of porridge to my mouth and pour it in, taking it in hungry gulps, letting it nourish me, swallowing the cinnamon vanilla mixture until the bowl is empty and my belly is full.

“SEE?” I say to Bob. “Music is life, you said. Love is the drug, you said. Eat, you said. Choose, you said. I CHOOSE! I CHOOSE LIFE. I CHOOSE DAVE. I CHOOSE LIFE. I CHOOSE DAVE. I CHOOSE DAVE. I CHOOSE DAVE. I CHOOSE DAVE. I CHOOSE DAVE. I CHOOSE DAVE…..”

***

I open my eyes and Marley is licking my face. Holy shit, that dream felt so real. A hotel? Prince? Jimi Hendrix? Bob Marley? The day that I die? Wow. I must be the one smoking some strong stuff. “How long was I asleep Marley? Why didn’t you wake me sooner? We’ve wasted too much time!”

Marley turned away from the sound of my voice. He looked sad, like I hurt his feelings.

“Oh, Marley, I’m sorry sweet boy. I didn’t mean to snap at you. It’s okay. Let’s head out again. It looks like the sun is coming up. Let’s go find you something to eat, okay?”

Marley walks slowly toward the door, still upset with me. I take a quick look around the record store and wish the times were different. Dave and I could spend an eternity in here looking around and listening to all the music. As I spin back around, I see that same group of travelers out the window—Hat Guy, Crossbow Boy, and Sword Girl. Something about them looks familiar, they look friendly, trustworthy. Safe.

I run to the window and knock on the glass as they walk by. Safer that way, they can see I’m human. Just a girl with her dog. The glass must be thick, because they’re not looking. I pound harder on the glass.

“Hey! Hey guys! Can you hear me?! Hello!”

Sword Girl turns and looks my way. I wave and smile and point at Marley. She just stares. She’s looking right through me.

She doesn’t see me. That’s so weird.

They begin to walk on, so I turn to Marley to say, “Come on, let’s go catch up with them.”

But Marley isn’t there anymore. Instead, Jimi Hendrix is in the aisle behind me, and he is flipping through the albums. He holds one up. On the front cover, a single word: HERE. Then he points to the group that just passed the store. Jimi puts that album down and picks up another one: NOT HERE. And Jimi points at me.

“No. You’re wrong, Jimi. That’s not what I chose. I chose life. I chose Dave,” I say. “There must be some kind of way outta here.”

I run to the door and swing it open, intent on catching the group’s attention. But as I rush through the door, I don’t see the group anymore. I don’t see Marley. Or Jimi Hendrix.

As a matter of fact, I don’t see anything at all except for a blanket of darkness.

“Hello? Is anyone there?”

But no one can hear me.

“Not yet! I made my choice, Bob Marley! I chose life, I chose Dave. We’ve been through that, and this is not our fate. We are one, we carry on! We carry on . . .”

But I can’t even hear myself. Not a word was spoken. The church bells all were broken.

 

And they were singing bye, bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey ‘n rye
Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die

 

***

Well the people have a voice inside of them that talk to them. That is the voice they must listen to, because in everything you going do, there is a wrong way and a right way, and if you listen good,  you will know the right way, ya know? Because there is a voice inside, talking to everyone. Sien? … Sien.

***

Spotify Playlist:

Miles To Go

“A last fire will rise behind those eyes
Black house will rock, blind boys don’t lie”

I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar when I first met him, which was ironic since we shared a few classes at university. I suppose slinky dresses and makeup are better eye catchers than that “just rolled out of bed, I don’t even know if I brushed my hair, let alone my teeth yet” look I’d work so hard on in the mornings.

Or maybe, more honestly, it was the jackass who had just gotten an earful of my attitude and was a step away from getting my strappy high-­heeled sandal square up his ass if he made a grab at me just one­-more-­time, that got Dave’s attention.

He had me at, “Hey, little sister, I just got to say, you could give Bukowski a run for his money in the poetic use of the word fuck.”

He walked me back to the dorm that night; we discovered we both had dreams of a treehouse future, we loved the same music, and food, and words, and … really he was my guy version of Sam. I found a sister in Sam when I was shipped to Atlanta to live with my Grandparents when I was ten, and I found a brother in Dave when I wound up at The U (the University of Miami).

Between Sam and Dave, I had family. Real family, the kind that loves you through thick and thin, through every dumb mistake and idiotic choice. The kind that doesn’t decide you’re too weird or too much work and ships you off to live with strangers.

Of course they both knew about each other; Sam knew about Dave ten minutes after he left me at my door. Like, who wouldn’t call their bestie at three a.m. on a Wednesday night?

“You woke me up at 3 am to tell me you made a new FRIEND? Are you insane??? 3 am phone calls about a guy should involve stories of heavy breathing, not ‘and he’s like the brother I never had!’. You bitch about how you’d love to find a guy who loves your brain instead of how lovely your ass looks in jeans, and as soon as you find one, you slam dunk him to the friend zone? Only you, Jennie, only you…”

And now the world is full of guys who’d love a bit of my brain and nary a one that even cares about how my ass looks in jeans. Funny how that works.

A shuffling in the brush beside me jerks me back from my reverie. I check to make sure my gun is cocked and ready, lean back into the rough bark of the tree I’m sitting under, and send a prayer out to whoever is listening…please just one night of peace. Just one…

… and a raccoon sashays his way from the brush, crossing the small clearing I’ve set up for the night.

A pent-up breath releases and my muscles uncoil. But it’s too much, it’s all too freaking much. I can’t do this by myself. Why I ever thought I should go back east to prove to said same family that sent me away that I was good enough for them when most everything I loved was in Atlanta, I just don’t know. Dave flat-out told me it wasn’t worth the fight; to which he was right. And Sam, well, Sam understood part of the why of it. She knew I needed to throw metaphorical stones or I’d never be over it.

Neither of them had any idea the second part of the reason I took off back east, well, Sam may have, she always knew what was going on in my head no matter how illogical and odd my thought process. I thought I could find that kind of love, their kind of fire, if I went looking. I hadn’t found it in Atlanta, not even a glimpse of it in Florida, maybe­­–just maybe–I had to go back to the beginning to find that type of cosmic “wow”.

The moment I finally got the three of us together is forever in my memory. Dig if you will the picture of two women laughing at a table, near enough the live band to feel a part of it, but distanced enough to not blend into the bodies jiving on the floor between them and the entrance. Dream if you can a man throwing open the door, the rain back-dropping him in a hazy purple hue brought to glow through the club district’s blaring neon. I stand up, pulling Sam with me, “Dave’s here!” I jump up and down waving my arms so he can spot us. Sam’s laughing saying I think he could find us without you flagging him to land like a plane. I look at Sam with the smart-assed retort already forming on my lips, but suck it back with a shocked inhale when I see the look in Sam’s eyes as she watches Dave make his way across the room. I look towards Dave and he smiles in greeting. When he turns his eyes to Sam next to me, his eyes widen, and his step falters, and the night, and the noise, and the bar, and the entire world narrows down to just Sam and Dave.

It never occurred to me before then, it just never occurred to me.

I pulled Sam aside at one point in the evening and pointed out she’d be damn insane to keep ignoring sparks like that…

“It’s complicated, Jennie and you know it!”

“How complicated could it be? You like him, and he obviously likes you.­ Hell even I felt the Universe pause in awe when you looked at each other. When the Universe pauses in awe, Sam, you run with it. That doesn’t happen to everybody and it won’t happen a second time. Screw complicated, what’s complicated?”

“You, you’re one complication, for me anyhow. What if it blew up? Where would you be, how would that work out for you? The only thing worse than taking your bestie’s ex is taking her other best friend, and you damn well know it.”

“Are you daft? Years, Sam. Years I’ve known him, years more I’ve known you, and this is the first time you’ve been in the same state let alone room. Don’t let’s turn this into a Shakespearian tragedy before it’s even begun, for one.  For two, the Universe, Sam, if you guys fuck up a universally approved moment, that ain’t my fault and y’all are just destined to be crazy old cat people. That ain’t a thang on me girlfriend. Don’t walk away from a gift you only get one moment in a whole lifetime, Sam.”

Tears start to slip, and I swipe them away with the heel of my hand, the cold steel of the gun pressing against my cheek.

Cry little sister

This is what I have to cling to now. Just this, this one moment of stillness surrounding me.

Come, come to your brother

While I can still hear Dave laughing with Sam.

Unchain me sister

While I can still believe Sam is singing Marley tunes to the sky.

The dawn slowly starts to break through the trees, burning leaves in an amber fire. I reach over and lightly rub the back of the shape curled tight against my legs.

“Come on baby girl, time to roll.”

“Will we make it to Aunt Sam and Uncle Dave’s lighthouse today, Momma?”

And I do what all good Mommies do when the world’s gone to hell and those few that don’t want to eat us would kill us for a single M&M … I enfold her in a hug and give a non­answer.

“We’ve got miles to go, Samantha.”

I will not lie, little sister (thou shall not fall)…

 

***

“Cry Little Sister” – by Rickets

Bathing in the Purple Rain

Listen as Christy reads:

***

Purple haze, all in my brain
Lately things they don’t seem the same
Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why
Excuse me while I kiss the sky

“Purple Haze” performed live by Jimi Hendrix

***

Bathing in the Purple Rain

As if on cue, the elevator dings and opens. I step in, take a deep breath and push the button for the sixth floor.

I lift my head up and smile as the elevator rises. A defiant rose, rising from a dead world.

Hold on Dave. I’m coming.  (Catch up more at “Morrison Hotel.”)

***

I am rising from a dead world, into the unknown. I may be lifting, but my stomach is in free fall. What did Tupac mean when he said I was going to see some stuff that would make it hard to smile? My stomach clenches. Did something happen to Dave? Is he alright? Usually I can feel him in my chest, right under my breastbone. A fluttery feeling. I always told him he gave me butterflies. But now? The butterflies are all tied up. I can’t feel him. I’m scared. But still I rise. Absently, I finger the chain and locket that dangles around my neck. The lighthouse. Find the lighthouse, find Dave.

And then the elevator dings, and the doors open.

I step through.

The hallway is painted violet and the floor is carpeted with plush cashmere plums. Every four feet a chandelier hangs on a long crystal line. The fixtures do not cast much light. Just a soft glow that hits upon the dangling crystals and casts reflections of light in dancing circles around me. I feel as if I am being bathed by lavender amethysts that sparkle like purple rain against the violet walls. I can’t help but laugh.

I only wanted to see you laughing in the purple rain.

Because whenever I am caught in the rain … any rain … my heart and mind race back to that night eight years ago. The night of our third date when Dave and I got caught in the rain after we went walking after midnight. I was wearing that indigo dress, the one that drove him crazy and stole his words before he could form them, the one that left him panting like a puppy dog. In the rain, the dress clung to my curves like bath water, and I had hiked it up around my thighs so that I could run faster.

Last one there has to cook breakfast! I shouted to Dave, expecting him to be right behind me, as he always was. But when he didn’t answer, I turned around, only to find him standing transfixed in the middle of the street.

He was wearing a purple t-shirt that clung to his chest and showed off every muscular angle of his shoulders and biceps, every striation of his chiseled chest. The streetlights cast a glow against his saturated purple tee, and he stood there, bathing in purple rain, smiling at me. In that moment, the rest of the world faded away to nothing. There was only me and him and the purple rain falling around us as far as we could see and feel and smell.

It came to me then that this is what eternity would feel like. Limitless undying love which shines around us like a million violet suns, a million purple purifying rain drops, inciting and inviting us, on and on across the universe. Then and there I knew I was destined to love him the rest of our forevers. And seeing him standing there, love pooling in purple puddles at his feet, I knew he knew it too.

I moved to him through the water pouring from the heavens, with strong steady steps, moved to him through the oceans of past longing and past regret and past emptiness, moved to him through the cleansing rain shedding every past layer of skin that clung to me that wasn’t him. And he opened his arms and I stepped into them, home. In his arms I was reborn.

I kissed him, our lips uniting and melding all of our pasts and presents and futures together. Inside that moment, he introduced me to what forever was going to look like, what it had always looked like. Inside that moment, I saw it all, and all I could see was him, and me, kissing in the purple rain.

He lost the race, by the way. Though he tells everyone that he actually won, because he was in it for the long game, because he took the over. Because that next morning, after he served me breakfast in bed in the form of pancakes and coffee and honey-drizzled fruit, he served up dessert in the form of Gladys Knight and a marriage proposal.

We’d been listening to Prince until the dawn, so I gave him one of my Mona Lisa smiles, and sang, maybe I’ll marry you, maybe I won’t…even though he and I both knew my answer already.

“Oh it’s like that, huh? I see,” Dave said.

“Yeah … Like that. You. Just. Wait,” I said, slowly kissing each finger on his left hand.

“Oh I will, Sam,” Dave said with an intensity that gave each small word the weight a million words could never hope to achieve.

I smiled at him and then reached for my coffee.

“Look at me, Sam. I’m serious. I’m not going anywhere. I will always be in your hair. Always. I want you to fly, but I will always be here, tethered to you, holding the other line. I’m not letting go,” he said, turning my chin toward him and looking deep into my eyes, seeing me the way no man had ever seen me.

“I know,” I whispered, the coffee beside me long forgotten.

Could U be the most beautiful girl in the world? It’s plain 2 see U’re the reason that God made a girl. When the day turns into the last day of all time, I can say I hope U are in these arms of mine . . . I love you, Samantha,” Dave said, stroking and lifting my caramel hair in his hands before letting it fall in sleepy curls around my shoulders.

“I love you more, Dave,” I said.

“Oh I don’t know. I think we’re going to have to debate that,” Dave said, tangling his fingers with mine.

“Silly man, debate me? You know nothing, Dave Delaporte,” I giggled, kissing him on the nose. “Care to make a little wager?”

“Oh I know plenty. You’re on, baby girl,” Dave said quickly, sticking his tongue out at me. “Over or under?”

“Ummmm … both. Definitely both,” I said, before pulling him into a kiss that tasted of coffee and pancakes and forever.

And in that moment, in the sparkling violet hallway with the plush plum carpet and purple chandelier rain, I knew every little thing would be alright. I could feel the butterflies again, dancing in my chest, and I knew Dave was okay. I knew he was out there, waiting for me. And I stepped forward, down the hallway toward Dave, toward whatever else was waiting for me.

A purple breeze wafted through the purple hallway. It felt like a vivid sunset, the purple and amber hues swirling around my head, filling my senses with sweet smoky plum scents. I felt myself grow dizzy, as if I’d been spinning round and round and round, floating through clouds of iridescent indigo moonbeams. I flashback to when I was child, riding the carousel at the carnival, the smell of cotton candy and farm animals and popcorn spinning alongside me on my flying zebra, as I ride, ride, ride with the wind. It’s intoxicating, this purple breeze, this purple haze, this dizzy dancing way that I feel. I feel as if I walk in both worlds, the real, the surreal … like I’ve looked at life from both sides now. I feel as if there’s something else, the afterworld … a world of never-ending happiness. Is it tomorrow, or just the end of time?

I close my eyes, and Dave is there, standing in the purple rain. His arms open, beckoning, inciting and inviting. I blink and I am surrounded by him. He is all that I feel. I feel him kissing me and he is in my hair, in my eyes, in my face and mouth, and in my ears he whispers, Wake up, Sam, wake up and live

I open my eyes and I’m still in this purple hallway, this purple haze, and before me a single door. It is marked 666. I look for a place to use the key, but there is none. Instead I push the door open with my toes, and step in to a room full of purple clouds.

Purple clouds … and mirrors.

I’ve entered a roomful of mirrors, each one reflecting my confused face. There’s music playing. Is it live? Am I alive? Is this heaven or is this hell? I can’t tell if I’m coming up or down, if I’m happy or in misery.

“Sam…”

My skin warms like melted honey to the sound of a soft voice behind me. It sounds like … it sounds like an angel … it sounds like … like … like Dave. How is THAT possible?

“Sam… you walked in through the out door, baby.”

I look around, seeing only mirrors, seeing myself reflected in purple haze. But then the haze lifts and the mirrors begin to glow like a sun shines behind them, tinting their edges silver, silver lined mirrors, ice cream castles in the air … I reach out to touch them, but as soon as my fingertips touch glass, the mirrors crash around me and the glass falls through the air sparkling like a million crystal drops of purifying purple rain. Each drop dances around me, and I glisten in a purple flame.

The song changes, shifts into a driving guitar riff, and I hear a sultry voice sing…

If the sun refused to shine, I don’t mind, I don’t mind … Now if 6 turned out to be 9, I don’t mind, I don’t mind …

I look around me and see Jimi Hendrix wailing on a plum guitar, but he’s not the one singing. It’s the figure beside him, dressed in robes of purple and indigo, glowing like a million violet suns and looking like royalty, like a prince, like Prince … I open my mouth to speak, but no words form.

“Don’t be scared, Sam, we’re not going to do you any harm. You know this.”

It’s Dave’s voice, but it’s not Dave. Like Dave is here, but not here.

This purple god walks toward me, and I begin to tremble. I am in the presence of something, some limitless undying love, and I don’t understand. My hands shake and I drop the key, it lands upside down by my feet.

“Listen to the words, Sam. Think. Remember,” the creature in purple speaks softly to me.

I look down, unable to maintain eye contact. And I see the key. The upside down key at my feet. The answer reveals itself to me.

The purple prince sees the recognition in my eyes. His features come into focus. He IS a purple prince. He is Prince. The god of my childhood.

“’Atta girl, love, yes, yes, you see within. We are so proud of you.” His voice has shifted, lower, quieter, wispier…like a purple feather floatin’ round and round.

I still can’t speak in his presence, I feel humbled, I feel like kneeling. But before I can, he tangles my hands in his, and he smiles at me. “You have your mother’s hands. You feel so cut off, so alone. But you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other. Small moves, Sam, small moves.”

I gaze at Prince, and he wraps his arms around me. I feel the light of love burn within me, I feel clean, I feel free.

He kisses me on the forehead and then, in Dave’s voice, he begins to softly sing:

Could U be the most beautiful girl in the world?
It’s plain 2 see U’re the reason that God made a girl
When the day turns into the last day of all time
I can say I hope U are in these arms of mine

How did he? How could he know?

“Don’t you see, don’t you see? You’re just the torch to put the flame to all our guilt and shame, Sam. Love can rise, Sam, rise just like embers.”

I’m confused, and a thousand questions float in my head like clouds, but then they float away, because the questions don’t matter. The questions don’t matter when the answers are already in your heart. I look closer at Prince, at his eyes, and I see Dave’s eyes reflected back at me.

He kisses me again on the forehead between my eyes, and then he places a beret on my head, tenderly holding my caramel hair in his hands before letting it fall in curls around my shoulders.

“Something about the clouds and you mix, Sam. Like a lighthouse shining in the purple rain,” Prince says.

He reaches down to pick up the key at my feet, and hands it to me. “Love come quick, love come in a hurry, there are thieves in the temple tonight. He’s waiting for you, and you have promises to keep.”

I look over at Jimi who nods without words and begins to play another tune, one that whispers butterflies and zebras, and fairy tales and a thousand smiles.

“Fly little wing, I want you to fly… I’m only here for this moment, but we’ll meet again, baby girl. Fly, fly, fly… Fly, fly, fly…”

I back out of the roomful of mirrors, back into the violet hallway, back into the cashmere plums, back into the purple rain. The butterflies dance madly on.

 

 

“Always In My Hair” by Prince

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As Prince songs AND Jimi songs are hard to find on YouTube, I uploaded sound files from my audio collection. I’ve found the sound files do not always play as soon as you click them, so give them a few seconds to load. Or maybe it’s my slow as molasses internet. Enjoy! More Sam to come soon. -christy

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