by P. I. Barrington
Part 2, Part 3|
appear in this issue.
|part 1 of 3|
It all started artlessly enough. The upper Maine cabin of a friend’s friend was a perfect place for a retreat for someone like me. Someone on the verge of a massive breakdown.
I’d transplanted myself from Los Angeles two years earlier after a promotion to Senior Producer of Reality Programming at the giant television network in Manhattan where I now worked and lived. That promotion meant making sure all of the new upcoming shows were conceived and directed effectively.
I had broken up with an abusive boyfriend of seven years and felt completely freed and happy and I’d moved into a swanky apartment on the better side of town, thanks to the large raise that came with the promotion.
The doctors surmised that all of that change all at once caused a de-compensation in my personality and that I needed, besides a bit of medicine, a temporary departure from my stressful new existence. To my amazement, my boss agreed, and suggested I contact a friend of his about using the cabin for a month or two or six.
Therefore, on the fifth day of my ‘restoration retreat’ as one psychologist called it, the unexpected turn of events strained not only my shredded personality but my future credibility as a sane person to the ones who knew and loved me best.
* * *
It rained that morning, but I decided to take a walk anyway. It was beautiful out there amongst nature. The sounds of the rain, the nearby stream, and the sight of flowers nodding their heads between the raindrops made for a kind of euphoric emotional state and I’m sure I smiled as I walked among the trees surrounding the little cabin.
A little after noon the weather changed quickly from a light rain to a full-on thunderstorm. I made my way back towards the cabin as a bolt of lightning struck a tree next to me. The flash not only blinded me but also flung me a good ten feet away.
After quite a few disoriented moments, I shook my head and gathered what few wits I would have for quite some time. My head felt as though it had collided with another head, the sharp pain from skulls knocking together. Surprisingly, this is exactly what had happened.
“Oooowww,” I moaned, rubbing my upper right lobe with anger. “What the hell hit me?”
I did not expect any answer.
“Apparently, I did.”
I focused my crossed eyes. I must be hallucinating, I thought. Either I’m not taking enough meds or I gotta stop re-reading “Bored of the Rings.” I could have sworn I was staring at one of Tolkien’s Elves. The saddest part is I really was. He was a dead ringer for Legolas. Only he had black hair. And green eyes. And was probably much taller. And not quite as pretty. He rubbed his own head.
“I think they’re giving me too much of that anti-psychotic,” I muttered to myself, getting up and walking past the hallucination. “I gotta call that doctor back.” I felt a firm grip on my arm.
“What?” I hissed. My head still hurt like a bitch. Besides, phantasms didn’t speak, did they? Well, yes sometimes. But I felt pretty sure they didn’t reach out and touch you.
“I am sorry. I don’t know what happened. There was a lightning strike...” he said looking down on me with sincerity.
“I don’t know what happened either,” I told him. “But it must have been a direct hit to my brain. That’s the only explanation for you.” I poked a finger into his chest. My jaw dropped when I felt it connect. Nevertheless I still wasn’t convinced.
I looked around. It didn’t look like a room in an insane asylum. It looked exactly like it did when I walked out of the cabin, minus the rain.
The cabin. That was it. I was asleep in the cabin having one mother of a dream. I turned away from him, still believing it was all in my head. I walked back toward the cabin, dusting the wet autumn leaves from the legs of my cords. I ignored with great determination the fact that he walked just behind me even though I could feel his breath on my hair. Elf breath, I thought, resisting the urge to laugh hysterically. That’s a new one.
I opened the cabin and stepped inside. He held the door open when I tried to shut it behind me.
“Damn! You are one obnoxious figment of my imagination!”
“I am not imagined,” he informed me in a stern voice. “I am as real as you.”
“Humph!” I snorted. “I’m beginning to doubt that, too.”
“I am wet,” he announced, passing me and kneeling in front of the fireplace. “I shall light a fire.”
“I thought you Elves dug nature,” I sneered. I don’t know why I sneered.
“We do. But we experience the same things as humans. We’re the same in many respects,” he said over his shoulder.
Again, I figured I should stop reading the fantasy stories. I know too much about these characters, I thought.
“Okay,” I said, plopping down on a hard kitchen chair. “If you’re so real, what’s your name?”
“My name,” the large Elf said, standing and looking at the perfect fire he had started, “is Thraniel.”
It sounded like ‘Daniel’. He turned and looked at me, dusting his hands against each other. Then he unslung an actual quiver with arrows and a bow.
“This is just too weird.” I stood up. “I have to call Dr. Dennison right now.” I ignored Thraniel and began searching for my cell phone. It was not in my purse, nor in the backpack I’d dragged up here along with my suitcases. I searched the kitchen.
“Where is it?” I fussed in frustration. “I know I brought it with me...” I glanced at him again. He still stood where I’d left him. I felt a panic rising up in my stomach and chest. If he didn’t disappear soon, I was going to lose it and lose it bad. I swallowed a sob of fear.
This isn’t happening. It can’t be. Oh dear God, please make him disappear. Please. I’ll never complain about my job, or my ex, or those pills I have to take. Never. I promise.
I turned again. He stood there looking at me, head cocked to one side as if he had to figure me out.
I did begin to laugh hysterically. “This can’t be happening!” I shrieked at him. “I’m going to wake up in a nice, safe mental hospital.” I told him, laughing still. “You’ll see! You damned... damned... figment!” I spun around and whacked my head into an open kitchen cabinet door.
At last. It was over. That damned nightmare of the cabin. I wondered if it would be a recurring dream. I opened my eyes in slow, sleepy happiness.
Why did the nurse have those funny green eyes? And, hey! That’s not a white lab coat! My eyes flew open. I shook my head as it lay against the pillow. “No. No. No no no noooo!” I wailed. I never wailed before. It sounded whiny.
There he sat on the same kitchen chair I’d sat on right before I whacked my noggin. He folded his arms over his chest and assumed an expression of slight exasperation.
“Get away from me!” I snapped, tossing the blanket away and rising. The floor was moving slightly. “Every time you come near me I lose brain cells!”
“What?” Thraniel asked. He looked both surprised and hurt. Now I just felt pissed.
“Oh, don’t sit there looking all forlorn,” I bitched at him. “You’re worse than my ex!” Ooops. Sorry, God.
Now he looked mournful, as if I had just killed his favorite Flower friend.
“What have I done, woman?” Thraniel asked spreading his huge hands out in question. “I’ve done nothing except perhaps save you from death. You struck a particularly tender part of your head.”
“What did you do? Sprinkle Fairy Dust on me?” Sarcasm dripped from my lips.
Then I felt sorry for treating him so badly. This guy hadn’t done anything to me, except maybe, like he said, saved my life. I walked to the small square mirror on the wall and examined the ugly bruise on my temple. I caved.
“Look, I’m sorry.” I said between tears and sniffs. “It’s just... that... you’re so... not of my world. I’m already nuts. Having you here kind of certifies that.”
He looked as perplexed as I felt. I reached out and plucked at his sleeve. He stretched out his arm for further examination.
“You feel real,” I told him and myself.
“I am real.”
“But... how did this happen?” I asked him even though I already knew the answer.
“I do not know.”
I expected that. “So,” I said. “How are we going to undo this? You have to go back to wherever Elves come from and I have to get back to Manhattan eventually. I can’t take you with me.”
Thraniel looked stumped. Neither of us said anything for a while.
“I’m hungry.” I said.
“I think there’s some canned ravioli in the cupboard.” I took it from the shelf. I stopped and held it up to show him. “Can you eat this?”
He shrugged and raised his eyebrows.
“It shouldn’t kill you. What do you normally eat?” I tried not to smirk, remembering a line from Bored of the Rings about Elves eating bird nests.
“Meat. Things grown in a garden. Water.”
“No Lembas?” I chuckled.
“What?” It was lost on him, damn it.
“Nothing. A joke.” I picked up a manual can opener and went to work. As the soggy ravioli began to boil, I leaned against the sink and evaluated him.
“You know,” I began. “We have to think of a way to send you back. Have you ever heard of this happening in... your... world?”
“No. Never have I heard of such a thing.” He sniffed the air. “That smells good whatever it is.”
“If it smells good to you, then you should be able to digest it.” I hoped I was right about that. I did not want to be an Elf-killer. Besides, how in hell would I dispose of his body? It would take an awful long time to dig a hole that big.
“I think it is ready,” Thraniel told me.
“Oh, yeah! It is. I almost burned it.” I came back to the cabin’s kitchen and got two bowls, dividing the food between them. I handed him a fork.
“You know what this is, right?” I asked.
He gave me a patronizing smile.
“Just wanted to make sure,” I smiled back, genuinely this time. He was very nice to look at, now that I had a moment to notice. He wore the full Elf-dude regalia right down to the Elf-dude boots. He smelled woodsy in a really good way, like the fragrance candle I once bought for my ex called “Deep Forest.” Too bad I liked it more than my ex did. It smelled clean woodsy, like Thraniel did.
Around 8 pm, I finally decided that Thraniel would not die of indigestible food poisoning. We talked mainly about his world, which seemed from all indications to be about the time of what would be the Dark Ages in my timeline.
There was no Elf-woman waiting for him at home, which for some silly reason delighted me. You are such a jealous type, I told myself. How would you feel if there was a woman back home?
He was a warrior, Thraniel told me, like most of the male Elves. He was not of the royalty however. I pushed down the surrealism of that statement. It’s like talking to one of the books of the trilogy, I noted. I shrugged my shoulders to hide the odd shiver that ran down the back of my neck. I changed the subject.
“What do you do to entertain yourselves?” I asked. “Do you have music?”
“No. Only the very young do that.”
I narrowed my eyes suspiciously. “To entertain you?”
“No. They do it to amuse themselves. It is an expression of youthful freedom and happiness.”
“Ah. Like American Bandstand.” I nodded sagely.
“What is that?”
“Nothing. You wouldn’t understand.”
“Another joke?” he asked.
“Not if you’re youthful and free. And in need of a demo reel for auditions,” I added.
Thraniel waited for me to explain further. I did not.
“What kind of music do you have?” I pressed on.
“Singing, mostly. We have instruments that make music as well.”
“Do you sing?” I asked hopefully. Nothing turned me on faster than a gorgeous male with a great singing voice.
Thraniel shrugged. “I try.”
If I only had a Karaoke machine, I mourned.
“What do you do?” he asked me.
“Well, I kind of... make a form of entertainment. If it can be called that.” I replied.
“Is it music?”
“Not really. I used to work making music. But then I got a better job.”
“Do you sing?”
“I try,” I answered him. We both laughed.
I opened my eyes and saw the interior of the cabin again, the early morning sun making the autumn leaves glow from within, both earthly and unearthly. I stretched. And then I saw him.
“Speaking of unearthly,” I growled, getting up and yawning widely, “I think I’m getting used to this.”
Thraniel turned from the window, one hand under his chin, arm resting on elbow as if he’d been deep in thought.
Copyright © 2007 by P. I. Barrington