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Fantasy

Strange Days

Novice reporter Larisa Saito couldn’t believe the day she’d had. To be offered an exclusive interview by one of her lifelong music idols was an opportunity beyond the twenty-year-old communications major’s wildest dreams, and things had only gotten more amazing as the afternoon progressed.

Paul Clifford might have been rock and roll royalty, but he was like a sweet, overprotective uncle. He had taken Larisa under his wing from the moment they met. There was an innocence and hopefulness in his manner despite the sadness in his unusual eyes. Larisa couldn’t decide what color Paul’s eyes were as they seemed to change from blue to green depending on the light.

In contrast to Paul’s rumpled appearance, his wife Sophia was the epitome of grace and beauty. The tall, slender, blonde Frenchwoman with her ice-blue eyes and high cheekbones could have graced the pages of fashion magazines. Despite her beauty, Sophia was refreshingly unaffected. She took it upon herself to comfort Larisa when the young woman was overcome by sorrow upon seeing the damage that Alzheimer’s disease had wreaked on the elder Clifford brother, Gerry.

At 63 years old, Gerry was only two years older than Paul but looked a good twenty years older. Gerry wanted to ensure that Larisa was included in the conversation, but he couldn’t remember her name and was confused about his connection to her. She was variably Marisa, Rose, Susan Anna, Denise, Eve, Grace, Nell, Tina, and Yvette. He must have asked ten times when Paul and Sophia had adopted her. The strangest part of the afternoon at the Candlelight Ridge Care Center came when Gerry took Larisa’s hand and led her down a hallway to a locked door.

“Where do you suspect this door leads, Connie?” Gerry inquired.

“Out to the dock, I reckon, Mr. Clifford,” Larisa responded.

“Blimey, Paulie, she has the sense!” Gerry proclaimed. “Yes, love, it leads to the dock on the moon of the Dreamlands! Now, you do your old Uncle Gerry a favor, won’t you, Darlin’?”

“Sure, Mr. Clifford, if I can.”

“You stay away from the dock unless you are with me or your father, right? You have the sense, but you haven’t the skills yet. Oh, but yer one of us, I can tell! She’s smart as a whip, Paulie! Now, I hope I don’t sound like a racist, for I am simply curious. What’s your ancestry, then?”

“She’s Japanese, Ger,” Paul explained for the third time in forty minutes. “It’s getting late. We ought to call a car so she can get back to uni.”

“Right. Well, I’ll see you lot soon. It was good to meet you, Elsa. Please take care.”

A New Connection

Larisa felt a connection with the Uber driver, a young black woman named Martha Oakley, and was sorry for the ride to come to an end. She smiled when Martha handed her a flyer for an upcoming event at the Dark Rose, an avant-garde east end club. Martha scribbled her phone number on the back.

“In case you can’t find anyone to join you, ring me and I’ll make sure you get there safe,” Martha offered. “Something tells me you’re the kind of girl who appreciates art over spectacle and enjoys experiences on the cutting edge.”

“Well, no risky stuff,” Larisa demurred. “I’m not much of a partier. But, yeah, I like to try new places and discover new things.”

“I think you’ll like Lez Jewels,” Martha said. “It’s my kid sister’s band. They’re an all-girl hard rock and reggae act. As the name implies, they’re lesbians, but you don’t have to be a lesbian to party with us. Blokes are welcome too, so long as they’re good lads. You know what I mean?”

“Cer,” Larisa agreed. “Thank you, Martha. I’ll be there for sure. If you give me a few more fliers, I can hang them up around campus.”

Larisa waved as Martha drove away, noticing the sigil on the back of her car. An eye with a flame in the center sat in the middle of a five-pointed star.

“What an interesting bird,” Larisa mused. “Don’t know if she made that item herself or if someone made it for her, but it certainly makes a statement. I’ll have to ask her about it when I see her again.”

Larisa hung one of the fliers on the bulletin board in the commons area of her dorm. She was just about to enter the stairwell when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned to see a tall, slender Caucasian girl who couldn’t decide if she wanted to be Morticia Addams, Twiggy, or Amy Winehouse. Helen Antoinette was dressed in black from head to toe with dyed black hair and Cleopatra makeup to complete her look.

“Crikey, Helen, don’t do that!” the Larisa admonished. “One of these days you’re gonna get your arse kicked sneaking up on people like that!”

“Because you will chop me down like the Kung Fu master you are?” Helen giggled.

“It’s Aikido, and when you’re five foot two and have arseholes with an Asian fetish creeping on you, learning a martial art is rather a must-do. You ought to sign up too. Sensei Lucien Rheta makes things ever so much fun. We’ll speak more about it later. Must dash. I’ve photos to upload and a post to write.”

“Very well, Miss Busy Bee. I’ll see you ‘morra. Kiss kiss!”

Oba-San

Larisa wanted to complete her post before going to bed but kept dozing off at the keyboard. Rather than relying on stimulants, she set an early alarm so she could finish her work before breakfast. She turned off the lights, leaving the curtains open so she could enjoy the ambient light.

“I wish I could truly believe in gods and goddesses and wondrous magical creatures,” Larisa sighed wistfully. “I don’t really, but it’s a lovely thought that Ame-no-Uzume could be my helpful friend. Just in case you are real, I will pray to you now, dear goddess of dawn. Please wake me early so I might finish my post before I get about the day’s business. And please, bless and protect poor, sweet Gerry Clifford and give comfort to Paul. I’ve had the most amazing day, and I do feel quite blessed although rather sad as well.”

As Larisa drifted off, the room was bathed in bright white light and a lovely mature Asian woman wearing a red silk scarf and clad in silk robes of red and gold drifted through the window.

Larisa felt someone shaking her and rubbed her eyes.

“Is it morning, Oba-san?” Larisa murmured in Japanese, believing for a moment that she was sleeping at her aunt’s home in Yatomi. “I briefly saw the sun, but now all is dark again. Is it raining?”

Larisa was startled but not frightened as she beheld the kindly goddess surrounded in glowing light who extended a hand to her.

“Have I died, Oba-san?” Larisa inquired.

The goddess laughed gently.

“No, dear child, you are very much alive,” she responded. “You are alive, and magic is real. You felt it when you were riding home with the lively young lady, but you felt the shift in your perception before the moment you got into the car with her. Can you recall when?”

“I felt something very strong when Gerry Clifford took me to that door and warned me against going out to the dock alone,” Larisa recalled. “But, honestly, I think the shift happened when Paul Clifford touched my arm. I thought it was just the excitement of meeting someone who previously seemed so high above me as to not even be real, but there was something more.”

Ame-no-Uzume nodded, smiling.

“Paul sensed your energy,” she explained. “He sensed that you were kind, that you have special gifts, and that you are willing to help.”

“Well, I am willing to help, but what special gifts could I possibly have?”

Through the Gate

“I’ll tell you more as we travel,” Ame-no-Uzume offered. “Come, walk through the gate with me.”

Ame-no-Uzume waved her hand and an archway appeared on the wall near the window. Larisa took the goddess’ hand and followed her through the gate. Together they walked down a pathway through a springtime meadow. The surrounding light was so bright that Larisa could barely see beyond the path, but it didn’t hurt her eyes.

“Where are we going?” Larisa asked.

“Back to Candlelight Ridge. I have a new friend to introduce you to.”

“Oba-san, I don’t wish to argue with a goddess, but are you sure you have the right Saito girl? My sisters are ever so much more talented and cleverer than I am, and certainly far more organized. I’m always thinking and thinking and thinking, but I think myself in circles.”

“Dearest Larisa, you are more special than you could possibly know. You always have the choice to shut the door and return to an ordinary life, but you have incredible talents that lay dormant until you met others who possessed them. Now you will find that magical people are drawn to you.”

“Like Martha?”

“Yes, like Martha. And like Paul, Gerry, Sophia, and the man that we’re about to meet.”

The skies over the horizon grew dark. Larisa and Ame-no-Uzume walked into the night and fell through a pitch-black void. They emerged in the wooded area behind the delivery dock at Candlelight Ridge. A dark-haired Caucasian man with tattooed arms wearing a white t-shirt and tight blue jeans stood by the dock door. He smiled and bowed when the women approached.

“Mother Ame-no-Uzume, always a pleasure,” the man said, his accent identifying him as Irish. He kissed the back of Ame-no-Uzume’s hand.

“A pleasure to see you as well…” the goddess started.

“Odinn Lacey!” Larisa gasped as she beheld the late frontman for Paul and Gerry’s band, Mainline. “Oh, blimey, I’m surely dead! I don’t really mind, I suppose, everything’s been right nice so far if a bit strange. But would one of you mind telling me how it happened, just to satisfy my curiosity and all?”

“You're not dead, me ud flower,” Odinn soothed, gently gripping Larisa’s hand. “Yer pure alive an' well. De only dead wan 'ere is me, 'eadin' on t'airty years nigh, as it 'appens.”

“But this all feels so real,” Larisa countered. “Real but different. I can feel the wind blowing, but no cold. I can feel the touch of your hand. You can’t tell me that this is just a dream.”

 Odinn

“’Tis not a dream in de ordinary sense,” Odinn concurred. “Yer body is back in yer dorm room asleep, perfectly well an' 'ealthy. Yer astral projectin', love. You 'av quesshuns, an' Oi'm more than 'appy ter answer dem. Fire away!”

“All right, I will. When I was here earlier today, Gerry told me to stay away from the dock unless I was with him or my father. I assume he meant Paul because he believed that Paul and Sophia had adopted me. While it’s not exactly pleasant out here, I don’t see anything that…”

“Don’t see, my dear, sense,” Ame-no-Uzume corrected. “You know you are safe with Odinn and me. But you sense something disturbing. Can you describe it to us?”

“It has neither form nor personality. It’s energy. Wait—there are more than one of these energies. Blimey, this place is filthy with gates! Have I got it?”

“Yer right as rain, Lass,” Odinn praised. “But nigh Oi want yer ter take it wan step further. You've sensed de energies av de gates. D’yer sense anythin' else?”

“Presences,” Larisa revealed. “Some benevolent, some unpleasant, and some that are purely evil. There are the two of you, and you’re the best of good things. Ame-no-Uzume, you are here with me, but you are also projecting your energy to protect all your children. Odinn, you are so good and kind, and your smile is as bright as the sun, but you are terribly sad. You feel like you let everyone down when you died.”

Tears filled Odinn’s great dark eyes, and Larisa reached to caress his cheek. Odinn gently gripped her hand.

“Sweetheart, Oi want ter stop dis before it goes too far,” he said. “Oi can sense de sympathy yer fale for me, an' Oi appreciate dat, but de desire yer fale is misplaced. Yer a gran', wonderful lassy, an' Oi'd not want yer ter waste a moment av yer bright future by pourin' yer energies into bein' in love wi' sum undead langer who can gie yer nathin' in return. Oi’m yer mucker an' yer guardian. Please don't allow yerself ter believe dat dare cud be a romantic bond between us, right?”

“If you say,” a nonplussed Larisa agreed, her voice going cold. “But it’s not like you’re thinking. I don’t fall for every bloke for whom I feel sympathy. If that were true, I’d have been swooning over Paul and Gerry, and I didn’t, although they are both lovely gentlemen and every bit as handsome as you are.”

“Oi'm afraid me bluntness 'as scundered yer, an' Oi'm terribly sorry aboyt dat,” Odinn apologized. “Yer must understan' dat Oi say dis for yer own good. Bein' romantically bonded wi' a spirit is murder for a livin' soul, an' it usually doesn't end well. D’yer see now, Larisa?”

Suddenly, the sky went blindingly bright. Larisa reached to cover her eyes. She felt someone shaking her shoulder and heard her name being called.

A New Day

“Larisa! Larisa! Larisa!”

Larisa woke with a start to see Helen standing beside her bed and an amused Martha standing behind Helen with a young black woman with long, bleached dreadlocks.

“Well, good morning all,” the bemused Larisa greeted. “I can’t say I’m surprised to see Helen, as this is a fairly regular occurrence. I must say, I wasn’t expecting to see you, Martha, or…”

“Larisa, this is my little sister, Jules,” Martha introduced.

“Right, from the band. It’s lovely to meet you, though I didn’t imagine it would be so soon or in my bedroom. Wh…”

“Love, I had a sense about you,” Martha explained. “I don’t normally show up at ladies’ dorms and ask their mates to let me in, but I thought you might be able to help us out with publicity for the band, have some fun, and maybe earn a spot of dosh in the process. What do you say?”

“That does sound lovely, but how did you know to ask…”

“While Martha does have a sixth sense about people, mostly she’s simply bold as brass,” Jules explained. “We were going ask the chap at the desk to look you up, but then Martha saw Helen looking at the notices on the bulletin board, and she said she bet that Helen would know you. Sure enough, we’d happened on your best mate, and Bob’s your uncle.”

“Right. Well, now I must drink a liter of coffee and make sure I’m not dreaming this whole thing. I just had the most wonderfully peculiar experience. I was with Ame-no-Uzume, the Japanese goddess of dawn, and with Odinn Lacey on the dock at the Candlelight Ridge care home in Crouch End, and it seemed every bit as real as this moment. Oh, crikey! I need to proofread my post and send it off for Paul to approve.”

“Paul?” Helen inquired.

“Yeah, Paul Clifford. He gave me an interview yesterday and took me to meet Gerry.”

“You met Paul and Gerry Clifford and you didn’t tell me?” Helen demanded, punching Larisa in the arm. Larisa retaliated by bopping Helen with her pillow.

“Well, I didn’t have a chance, did I?” she demanded. “I wanted to get the post written while everything was still fresh in my mind.

“How is Gerry doing?” Jules asked. “Bloody shocked we were to learn how sick he was.”

“Well, he gets along all right, I suppose,” Larisa revealed. “He’s up and about, and he can feed himself and take himself for a wee and all, but the poor chap forgets things moments after he’s been told. He’s a sweet little bloke, and it absolutely gutted me to see him in such rough shape. Paul is just as lovely as you could imagine, and he simply adores Gerry. Paul’s wife looks like a feckin’ supermodel, but she’s a right sweetheart. I’m still not sure I didn’t dream that whole bit.”

“I’ve brought a gift for you,” Martha revealed, opening a box with a pendant depicting a silver star with a flaming eye in the center.

“It’s like that symbol on the back of your car,” Larisa noted. “I was admiring that and intended to ask you about it.”

“It’s an elder sign, and I’d advise hanging one just near the window,” Jules suggested. “It’ll keep the bad stuff out while letting the good stuff in.”

“Helen, pinch me, I’m pretty bloody sure I’m still dreaming,” Larisa ordered. “Nothing interesting ever happens to me, but in the past day I’ve had amazing things flying at me from all directions.”

“You’re not dreaming, but you need to hurry and get dressed,” Helen whispered. “Jules showed me a picture of her brothers, and you want to talk about dreamy. You and I could have ourselves some Jamaican spice if we play our cards right tonight.”

“This is no longer a dream, it’s a nightmare,” Larisa groaned. “Right, get your man-crazy arse out of my room so I can get myself dressed. Jules, I’ll take you up on that elder sign thing for my wall I’m still not sure if any of this is real or if I’m completely off my trolley, but I’m taking no chances.”


February 27, 2020 17:06

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