Lord Of Lights.

Submitted into Contest #202 in response to: Write about two people striking up an unlikely friendship.... view prompt

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Speculative Fantasy Science Fiction

I knew it was a mistake as soon as I walked into the room. Nobody recognized me, and no wonder, I hadn’t been to a high school reunion in fifty years. Three things brought me here: Free food; free liquor; and an invitation from the bride, ‘Patty McWhatsherface. I looked at the invitation, Correction: ‘Patty Collier.’ I should probably memorize that, I thought, as I tossed it into a trash bin. The room was dark and smoky, with a dance floor, a dangling disco-ball and a makeshift flower-laden altar. The whole thing was hideous: rendered in our horrendous school colors; accented with random flashing lights. It all lent the impression that the entire room was underwater—on mars. Everything was fuzzy.

I looked around. Located the bar, and threaded my way through a thin, straggly crowd of people I didn’t recognize. Someone called my name. ‘Ken.’

There could be a dozen ‘Ken’s’ in the room, but the name was repeated, louder this time, and close. “Hey Ken. Ken.”

I hesitated, turned. A familiar face with a wide grin loomed into the present from my past. “Ain’t you Ken Cachatory?”

I recognized him. “Frank! Frank, Buzzgarment.”

He held out his hand, “Bumtumbler, but yeah, close enough. Let’s stick with Frank.” We shook hands. “How you been, Ken? You look good. Trim,” he said to my stomach. “Did I get your last name right?”

I shook my head. “No.” He didn’t care. He was still shaking my hand.

“Didn’t you go by the name of ‘Allen’ for a while? I seem to remember…”

I pulled my hand free. “Yeah, for a couple of years. In junior high, I went by my middle name. It wasn’t Allen though. Did we know each other way back then?”

“What? Are you kidding me?” He looked insulted, and turned to the pair of large, quiet gentlemen in black suits beside him, both of whom had been listening to our exchange. “Ken?” He said, “My associates. This is Hector Bird and Jack Bird. They’re brothers.” We all nodded, shook hands. He whispered to one of them, and the man left.

“I’ve known you since elementary school,” he said, turning to me again. “Sixth grade, at least. We were in a lot of classes together in junior high, not so much in high school. You don’t remember me?”

“Well, sure I remember you, Frank. I just—not that far back is all.” Hector delivered my drink with a courteous smile, “I think,” I said between sips, “that we traveled in different circles.”

“Oh sure,” he said. “No doubt about it. Still,” he said, “you were cool, and popular.”

I almost spewed my drink. “Well, I was cool, Frank, but I was not popular. Not by any stretch.”

“Mmm.” He held his drink with two fingers as he considered this. “People knew you. They knew who you were.” We both looked around the room. Now that my eyes had adjusted to the light, I still didn’t recognize anyone. I don’t think Frank did either. “At least they pretended to know you.”

We both laughed.

“You got one hell of a memory, Frank.”

“Mmm,” he said. “You want a refill?” His glass was empty, mine was still full.

“I’m good.”

“Speaking of memory,” his manner turned more intimate, touching my lapel with his index finger. “Do you remember a girl?” His gaze drifted from my face. “About your height, long, wavy brown hair?”

“Quite a few. She got a name?” I asked.

“She had a pale complexion but she was really very pretty.”

A lot of the girls in high school were pretty. “You got a name? A first name? Last?” I waited. He seemed stumped, and couldn’t come up with a name. I couldn’t either. “There were a lot of girls, Frank.”

“But this one was different. And you two were close.”

I tossed back the rest of my drink, feeling a surge of impatience. “What do you mean, ‘we were close?”

“You know. Close. Walking down the street together after school, you sheltering her from the wind. Smoking cigarettes. Does that…?”

It did ring a bell. A vague recollection, without details. She was the only girl I knew in high school, besides my sister, who smoked cigarettes. She seemed too mature to be in high school, too sophisticated to be walking home, too important to be walking alone, by herself… she didn’t even seem to know how to smoke. But we bonded instantly, our souls meshed perfectly. I’d seen her in the halls once or twice, or at a pep rally once. But had I really seen her? Had I ever really seen her face before that day? I would bet my life on it.

“Did you know her?” The question sprang unbidden from my lips.

“Who?” Frank said.

“The woman. This woman, that you’re so interested in.”

“Oh. No. No, I never met her.”

“Then, what’s with your intense interest?”

He shook his head. My second drink arrived. “It’s complicated,” he said.

There was a lull in our conversation. He seemed irritated, and glanced at his two mysterious friends, who I dubbed Heckle and Jekyll, who were no longer smiling at me. “If you didn’t know her that well, why bother to attend this ridiculous wedding, slash, reunion?”

“I’m not here for the festivities, Ken. That’s for sure.”

That’s when I wondered what I was doing there myself, at a wedding reception supposedly attended by many of my old classmates. None of whom I have seen in decades, and none that I recognize, except for Frank. At least he looks like Frank. He’s friendly, but obsessed with one vague girl’s identity from a long time ago. Were they an item at some point? Is he pissed off about it? If she’s so important to him, why can’t he remember her name?

As if on cue, Frank informed me of a change of plans. He had to leave. Been called to deal with some serious business. Said, ‘I have to leave you with these two knuckleheads for a while. Hope that’s okay.”

“Really?” I countered. Remember, I hadn’t seen him for forty-something years. “You’re not staying for the wedding-reunion?”

“Hardly,” he said. “It’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard of. What could be worse than a wedding? If you get my meaning.” My mouth was open and my index finger pointed skyward in protest as I watched his skinny ass slide through the crowd and vanish into the gloom. That left me alone with Heckle and Jekyll, and my finger up in the air.

“So, Ken,” Heckle said, “now that we remember the girl in question, do you think you could fill us in on some of the details? A name, or a face. For me and my old pal Jack here?”

I looked at my drink and said, “How do you know I remember her now?”

“You told us, just before Frank left, remember?”

“No I didn’t. I didn’t say a word to anyone. (I pointed at Jekyll,) he was off getting drinks.

Jekyll emitted a churlish cluck. “Look, Ken, we don’t read minds, you’re having a lucid dream. You know what that is?”

“I do, I think. That’s when you dream, and you know you’re dreaming.”

“But we’re the reason.” Heckle interjected.

“Right,” Jekyll went on, “we’re the reason you’re having a lucid dream. It’s the only way we could…”

“It’s the safest.” Heckle interjected again.

“Right, it’s the safest way to uh…”

“To what?” I asked. "What are we doing?”

“We’re conducting an interview—with you.”

“A kind of debriefing, you might say.” Heckle added.

The great thing about lucid dreams is that you’re not just in the dream, but above it. You’re aware of your own real life and the fact that the dream is imaginary. You can snap yourself awake any time you want. And you remember it. Usually, everyone else in the dream is imaginary, but in this case, Heckle and Jekyll were as real as I was.

“Can we do away with all of these other people then?” I suggested.

“All of them?” They said simultaneously, but the noise abated at once. We strolled to a set of plastic tables and chairs that had not been there before. I sat down first and said, “I don’t, I really don’t remember anything else about this ‘girl’ from 40 years ago.”

“Try.” They both said.

I sensed that they were actively (without artifice,) making copies of the visions I tried to conjure in my head, and my inability to produce anything useful was reflected by the disappointment in their eyes. “Surely, Ken, a name, an image?”

But I could remember nothing. And it frustrated me.

“Who are you two, and why is this woman so important to you?”

“She’s a time-traveler, Ken. She’s done a lot of travelling.”

“So. So what?” I said. “Is that good, or bad?”

“We really can’t tell you anything more than that.”

“Well,” I felt peevish. “Then I can’t really help you either.” As soon as I said that, I remembered the intimacy she and I shared in the simple act of lighting a cigarette. It was windy and cool. We stood so close together, we had our heads on each other’s shoulders, trying to protect the flame from the wind. We started with half a pack and were left with only two matches when we finally got one of the damned cigarettes lit. She brushed away a bit of singed hair with a shrug, and leaned into me again to light my cigarette off of hers. We examined the mangled matchbook and she jokingly called me her ‘Lord of Lights.’ She leaned into me again when we walked and when she laughed.

“And?” The Bird brothers said.

“Who are you two, and who is this woman, and why are you trying to track her?”

The two brothers appeared to consider the question. Heckle said, “Might as well show him the whole picture now, get it over with? He’ll forget it anyway, eventually.” Without waiting for agreement, he turned to me and said, “this is a fishing expedition. We don’t know squat about this woman, Frank is just curious. That’s all.”

“He’s not curious, he’s obsessed.” Jekyll growled. “I think he’s in love.”

“But what is her importance?” I said. “What-is-she-doing?”

“We don’t know.” They exchanged an uncertain look. “Probably nothing.” Heckle said. “When it comes to time-travel, the opportunity for mischief is rife, but why bother when you can travel through time?”

“Do you all use a machine?” I asked.

“Oh no, lord no. I would never want to use a machine.”

“They break down,” Heckle said. “And then where are ya?”

“The last place you wanna be. Usually,” Jekyll replied.

“So, you all just have this natural ability,” I said.

“Yes.”

“To travel in time, at will?”

“Yes.” After a pause. “Tens of thousands of people can do it. It’s an immense organization. They spotted us. Recruited us.”

“Then you found out about her.” I said.

“Then Frank found out about her,” Jekyll clarified.

“Who do you guys work for?”

Heckle started to say something, but Jekyll cut him off. “A large lumbering bureaucracy. And that’s the truth. We’re like janitors. You want something analogous? We work on the first floor of the World Trade Center. We don’t do much except stay out of trouble ourselves.”

“So you have no authority then, to track this woman, to pursue her?”

“None,” Jekyll deadpanned. “We have no legal right to do anything to this woman, no matter what crimes she might commit.”

“Crimes? What harm could she possibly cause? What-does-she-DO?”

“Well, she…

Then I remembered what she does.

After several blocks we came to a corner and she said, “Well, this is my street. It’s been lovely meeting you and walking with you, Ken. I suppose, I suppose I’ll see you around.” She took a drag off the cigarette and exhaled. “Thanks for the light.”

“I stopped and watched her walk away, in spite of my manners. She glanced over her shoulder once and waved. I was smitten, to the core of my nascent being. Smitten for life.”

“And?” Jekyll said.

“I never saw her again.”

“And was that feasible, Ken?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because it was a short street, just four houses on each side, a block-and-a-half from my street. I went past that street for two and a half years, and up it, down it, around it: On foot, by bike, on motorcycle and car. I knew that whole neighborhood like it was my own back yard. It was right on the way to school. I kept assuming I would see her again.”

“But you never did.”

“No. Not even once.”

“You never saw her in school again, either, did you?”

“No.”

“She wasn’t there. Those two years you spent looking for her? She was in another time, another dimension. She was gone, Ken. That’s the woman Frank wants to meet.”

“I hope he’s prepared to meet an older woman. Now that I think about it, it was closer to fifty years ago.”

Heckle cleared his throat. “Not necessarily. Jekyll and I were born in 1622. We age very slowly, and the process slows as we get older.”

“So that’s not some dream image of Frank I saw?”

“No.” They shook their heads.

“He’s barely aged since high school.”

They both nodded.

The Bird brothers were all business again. “We’re almost finished, Ken. Did she give you anything, or say anything extraordinary?”

“No.”

“You didn’t exchange anything?”

“No.” I said.

“You didn’t even kiss, did you?”

“No,” I said. We never even kissed.

“You won’t remember any of this when you wake up, you know.”

“Yes I will.”

From behind Heckle’s back, I saw Jekyll mouth the words, (with his beak, mind you), ‘Our work is done here.’ Then he winked at me. Plain as day.

“No, no,” Hector was saying to me at the same time. “No, no. No, you won’t. Dreams are transitory. You’ll forget all about it. Just give it time.”

“I don’t think so,” I said, tangled in sheets. “And I hope he never finds her,” I added, now fully awake. “I hope he never finds her,” I screamed at the ceiling.

*****

A week later I received a bent and mangled envelop, unstamped and undated in my letterbox. Inside, written in a crisp, elegant script, were the words: ‘Thank you, ‘Lord of lights.’ I haven’t quite forgotten you either.’

June 16, 2023 01:40

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7 comments

Mary Bendickson
15:02 Jun 16, 2023

Transported away through Dreamland. A charming fantasy. Hopes he meets her again. Don't think it was too long. It started rambling like a dream would when one thread leads to another that doesn't make much sense. Then the letter suggested was truth in the dream.

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Ken Cartisano
06:07 Jun 18, 2023

I think he knows he never will. (It was too long, wasn't it.)

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Amanda Rye
13:12 Jun 16, 2023

I LOVE this story! Very clever!

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Ken Cartisano
05:59 Jun 18, 2023

Thank you Amanda. Thank you very much. I was hoping it was.

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Kevin Logue
07:12 Jun 25, 2023

Thoroughly enjoyed this Ken, very immersive and mysterious from the get go, a few laughs to. Look forward to reading the rest of your works.

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Michał Przywara
22:30 Jun 18, 2023

An interesting take on the prompt! There was definitely something off about the opening, especially when the narrator began questioning his own motives for even attending the reunion, but that all made sense when we found out it was a dream. It's curious that he would be so loyal to a person he only met once, over fifty years ago. Especially considering he didn't remember her at all until someone else pointed her out. Then again, maybe he was defending her out of spite, since the idea of people invading his dream to interrogate him probably...

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Ken Cartisano
08:20 Jun 20, 2023

Your last remark hit the nail on the head, (a much bigger world here,) but so did the question of his loyalty to a person he only met once, over fifty years ago. But why would he be more loyal to a former 'jock' that he hasn't seen or heard from in 47 years? Still, there are a lot of 'points' in the story that could stand refinement and rewriting. Thanks for reading it though, and for the feedback. I appreciate it.

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