Category Archives: Magical Realism

The God of the Wind

The God of the Wind has spent a sleepless, storm-tossed night,
Hard at work, sinking a ship or two, here and there.
Today he is as busy as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.
Not knowing where to unleash his unfocused rage,
He writhes and thrashes in spastic gyrations,
Grabbing at frantic starlings that pepper the steel-grey sky.
A tormented soul, he rattles our windows,
And shakes our walls to their very foundations.
He makes airborne those things not meant to fly.
A spoiled, angry child, hell-bent on a binge of destruction,
He rakes his giant fingers through the tree tops,
Delighting in every limb he snaps
And every tree he rips out by the roots.
He must have coughed up a lung or two
Knocking down every garbage can in town.
He blows up shirts,
Exposing hairy belly buttons and poochy love handles.
He blows up skirts,
Revealing things we’d rather keep under wraps.
He blows hats off heads,
And grit and sand into babies’ eyes.
He plasters big sheets of newspaper against chain link fences and
He snags plastic bags on trees.
All of out spite, you know?
Even the nagging crows get their comeuppance
As he dives between their little strutting black birdy legs
And puffs up their feathers in precisely the wrong way
Just to wound their false bully pride.
“There, take that,” he blusters.
A frenetic peripatetic
Bringing brass knuckles to a slugfest.
Everyone’s invited.

Illustration Credit: terraoko.com, “Stribog, God of the Wind”

 

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Filed under Magical Realism, National Poetry Month, Poems

Interview with Artist Jean Capalbo: Inside the Magic

“Jean,” by Craig Chattin

Jean Capalbo is a world-class artist who just happens to live right here in Shandon, Columbia, South Carolina, with her husband, Craig Chattin (a retired technical writer and editor, formerly of Aiken, SC), and their two dogs, Willie and Luke.

Craig and Jean are avid travelers and enjoy camping and being out in nature. Jean is a native South Carolinian, but has lived in Los Angeles, California, and most recently, in Sedona, Arizona, where she was active in the local arts community.

Primarily a painter, Jean has revealed herself as a sculptor, to the amusement and amazement of her friends and family. The top of the garden wall of her home features guardian spirits residing in Jean’s recently-created cement chickens, brilliantly captured in mid-peck-and-strut-mode.

“Big Red Rooster,” by Jean Capalbo

Not all of Jean’s artistic renderings are that “concrete,” though (pun intended!), but as with her cement chickens, there is a spirit of playfulness in so many of her paintings as well. Aesthetically, her colorful paintings are delightful flights of fancy, but a closer look often reveals a story layered with experiences and emotions that make us all who we are because of and in spite of it all.

Her work has been exhibited at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, Sedona, Arizona, and Los Angeles, California.

My thanks to Jean Capalbo for allowing me to post this interview here, and we both hope that you enjoy reading it.

The Interview

How would you describe the kind of art that you make?

I like to think it shows a celebration of life. I guess it’s mostly whimsical. I often end up weaving a story within it, so, sometimes it’s narrative. People have told me that they thought a painting was an illustration for a book, so, sometimes I guess it’s an open ended, whimsical narrative that could be called magical realism. Even when I’m doing a dog portrait, I like to think that I’m telling his/her story.

What is your favorite medium and why?

Lately, when it’s warm outside, it’s concrete. I had made some concrete chickens for my yard a while back and last summer I was inspired to increase the flock. I did a raven as well. There are so many concrete formulas, some resulting in very smooth detailed work, which mine are not. For paintings I prefer acrylics, which are the most forgiving.

How and/or why did you begin to make art?

I’ve been making art since I was a child and was always encouraged by grown-ups.

What are your favorite pieces of your own art and why?

“Beneath the Surface,” by Jean Capalbo

I have two favorite pieces that are both autobiographical. The first I painted after my first husband died in 2006. It is “Beneath the Surface,” which was done for a themed show in Sedona, “All That Has Passed Lies Not Far Below the Surface.”

The other one I painted when I moved back to South Carolina from Arizona. The house we bought here had been closed up for a couple of months before we could move into it. When we arrived, there were bugs—big roaches—living, dead, or dying all over the place. I had forgotten all about bugs since I had been living in a dry climate for so long. I was horrified! What had I done? That painting had my alter ego teetering on a tightrope above a jungle mired in buglife. It was not pleasant. Later I put an umbrella in her hand and changed the bug part to trees and foliage. What was interesting to me was, without the umbrella she seemed terrified. Adding the umbrella changed her expression to one of happy surprise and wonder without ever touching her face. That one I named, “Sometimes It’s a Tightrope.”

“Sometimes It’s a Tightrope,” by Jean Capalbo

How do you know when a piece is really finished?

I don’t. Even with the concrete I just have to stop.

What kind of reaction from people who experience your art makes you the happiest and/or the saddest?

When I’m painting someone’s pet and they tear up and say that I have captured their dog’s essence. That makes me happy. Or when someone smiles real big as they are looking at something I’ve done. I know my art is not for everyone, so I am not bothered when people pass it by now. That used to disappoint me.

Where do you get your ideas for your art?

Out of my head, for the most part. I had a professor at UCLA who had us cut out from magazines or newspapers images, colors, anything that attracted us. Then we’d make a collage and then use that total image from which to make a painting. It never ever comes out like the collage since the critical mind takes it over. Sometimes I’ll start like that.

“The Rooster,” by Jean Capalbo

Chickens and birds seem to be a recurrent theme in your work. I’m sure there’s a story there, right?

The chickens or birds are all about freedom. I often portray women in flight or women with birds. The idea of taking off, freeing oneself from constraints—self-imposed and otherwise—is appealing to me.

There was a time when some fellow artists and I did an art show fundraiser for an abused women and children’s shelter. The inspiration for my painting for this went back to my childhood when my family would visit my aunt on her farm. One summer there was a rooster who terrorized me. I let that rooster ruin my usual good time of running around the farm because I was afraid the leave the porch. He was always in the yard, ready to attack. Now I was bigger and stronger than that rooster, but I gave up all my power to it. So, in this case the bird did not represent freedom for me!

How do you deal with criticism?

I like criticism from people whose opinion I respect. I miss my wonderful critique group in Sedona which was made up of painters, photographers and sculptors.

What are your favorite tools for making your art?

I have a few favorite brushes. I mostly paint in acrylic, but still love the smell of oil. I also have some favorite things for mark making. There is a plastic filigreed placemat that I ripped up and have used for years. There’s only a little bit left that is not totally gunked up.

Who are your favorite three artists?

Oh, I love art museums and can be brought to tears looking at some paintings in person because I have stared at their reproductions in books all my life. Chagall is one. Bonnard is another favorite. I love the Fauvists/Post Impressionists like Matisse. I also love a lot of Latin American art, again for the bold expression of color, i.e., passion. For altogether different reasons I am drawn to Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning, Remedios Varo, who were all women born early in the 20th century who are considered surrealists and lived storied lives.

Which three artists would you like to be compared with?

“The Birthday,” by Marc Chagall

I guess it would be most of the ones I mentioned before. People have said that what I do reminds them of Chagall, but I think it’s the lack of gravity there. You know, people fly.

What is your favorite art movement (realism, hyper-realism, surrealism, impressionism, post-modern, funk-pop, etc.)?

While I really admire modern movements like Super Realism and Photo Realism for their labor intensive dedication to detail (for example, Richard Estes, who is considered a founder of Photo Realism), my favorite movements are the old breakthroughs, in particular Post-Impressionism and Fauvism. They removed the limitations imposed on color and line, and in the process, liberated emotion and subjectivity. Artistic expression is about freedom, and that’s why these two movements are so relevant to my work.

When are you most creatively productive?

I don’t know if there is a particular time of day. If I get excited about an idea or something I’m working on, I don’t really think about anything else. I have not been known, however, to keep at something all night. I don’t like to lose sleep.

What do you think of the difference between what you want to express and the viewer’s interpretation?

I don’t care. Sometimes it can be very interesting!

Do you collect anything? If so, what and why?

My studio is filled with art materials, so I guess that is what I collect. Most anytime I hear about some new kind of paint or medium, etc. I want to try it. I even bought a kiln and potter’s wheel one time at a garage sale and played with that for a few months. Same with a rock saw, but with that I was afraid I’d saw off a finger, so it didn’t stay around long.

What is your favorite book and why?

I like crime mysteries that keep me up reading at night. I read a lot of non-fiction about social issues. Picking a favorite book is hard to do, but I can narrow it down to three: The Sound and the Fury, Moby Dick, and Anna Karenina are my favorites because they have rich, psychologically-complicated characters.

What’s the one piece of art from any other artist from any time period whatsoever that you could look at forever?

Detail of “Garden of Earthly Delights,” by Hieronymous Bosch

Nature I can look at forever. A piece of artwork…I don’t know, maybe “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” by Bosch. There’s a lot of stuff going on in there.

What is your pet peeve with the art world?

A lot of the art world is a lot of bull.

What’s the one art show you saw that really surprised you?

I was young and living in Germany teaching at a Department of Defense school and I took a bus to London over Thanksgiving and there at the Tate was a Post Impressionism Exhibition. It went on and on and on and I saw so many paintings I knew. It was the biggest and best art viewing experience I have ever had.

Where do you see your art going? Is it evolving, changing directions, becoming more eclectic, etc.?

“Jean & Craig, Willie & Luke,” by Gloria Talcove-Woodward

I have not painted in a while. In fact, this interview has inspired me. I have a good space full of art materials with which to play. I recently married again and married life is wonderful and very settling, so now I have the peace, if I can call it that, to let my mind wander and shut myself off up there. Craig understands. What I want to do is play with color. I had gotten stuck with a palette that didn’t change much and I want to change that. As for content, I don’t know. I have always painted my pets and I have not done my 9 year old, Willie, nor my newly adopted dog, Luke, who came with Craig. That would be an easy start, so, perhaps they will be my first project. When the season for mixing concrete ends, it might be time for a change.

 

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The Our Little Secret Travel Agency – Chapter 22: You Dropped a Bomb on Me

madonna

Phew! That was close! By the time Rosie the nurse comes back into the room, Morgana has finished wicking the Boney Stalker Scotch out of Jack’s right ear with the red and white checkered cloth napkin that she’d pulled out of her purse, still stained with her Boney Stalker Scotch Witch’s Brew BBQ Sauce from her lunch with Percival.

“What’s that, Rosie?” asks Morgana to distract Rosie from Jack, just in case the smell of the scotch has lingered in the air.

Rosie looks over to the blank screen. “Oh,” she says, “I don’t know too much about that, but I did hear the doctors and the techs talking today about the new computational software they’re trying out which is digitizing Jack’s brain signals—1,000 times a second! Can you believe that?”

“So Jack has been opening his eyes?” Morgana asks.

Rosie shakes her head. “No, he hasn’t opened his eyes once since he’s been here. That’s why they’ve been playing music instead of showing him images.”

“Really?” Morgana walks over to the monitor, and sees a little green blinking light. “What’s this little light all about?”

“That’s the indicator light—that means the program is still up. Wanna see what’s on there?”

“Yeah, sure….Why not?”

Rosie pushes one button on the side of the monitor, and a retro, feel-good dance song issues forth from a small speaker at the head of Jack’s hospital bed, which Morgana instantly recognizes as one of Jack’s favorites.

This was Jewel’s favorite song, too! How could she forget?

Jewel, one of Morgana’s three older “beautiful” sisters, was her favorite for such a long time.

Listening to the song, Morgana recalls the first time she had ever set eyes on Jack.

Morgana’s 16 years old. She’s bundled up on the couch, half lying down, eating a bowl of greasy popcorn she has made herself, burning the pot and filling their big, barny, Brooklyn kitchen with black smoke. Good thing she likes burnt things. It’s snowing outside and everyone else in the house is asleep. Jewel is out on a date with God knows who. Morgana savors the black, oily, cinder-coated popcorn, happily watching re-runs of The Twilight Zone.

The door’s lock springs open and there’s Jewel, tiptoeing and whispering, leading Jack through the narrow hallway past the kitchen and into the front room.

They don’t expect to see anyone in the front room, and neither does Morgana. All three hold their breath for just an instant. Morgana understands that Jewel would like to be alone with that guy, whoever he is, but Morgana doesn’t budge since she’s too embarrassed to be seen by a stranger, or anyone else for that matter, given how she’s dressed—as a ragamuffin, a refugee, an escapee from the Goodwill box. The clothes were not meant to be seen—they were just a means to an end—mean articles of clothing to put an end to her shivering response to the freezing apartment. The heat was always turned off at night, orders of the building’s owner who employs her father as a handyman. Bed was the only place you’d be safe from the deep freeze of those cold winter nights. They had electric blankets but the apartment’s wiring was so tentative that using them meant blown fuses, so the electric blankets were left on the beds unplugged.

The guy is looking at Jewel as if he could just eat her up. Clearly, he’s lovesick. Morgana thinks he’s a pretty good-looking guy. He barely looks at Morgana when Jewel introduces him to her.

Jack doesn’t say much, but he sure does an awful lot of sighing. Then, as he excuses himself to go to the bathroom, Jewel tells Morgana to take her damned popcorn and get her sorry ass gone to bed already. Grateful for the opportunity to escape from her bad-fashion hideout cocoon on the couch, Morgana skedaddles off to bed, leaving the still-warm couch to Jewel and Jack and their amorous wrestling that she can only imagine will soon take place.

“OK,” says Rosie, her words punctuated by her shoes squeaking on the shiny floors, “this song is what they played for Jack today.”

Morgana walks back over to the side of Jack’s bed and sees his lip curl slightly exposing his incisors.

Morgana’s blood curdles.

Forgetting that she is standing safely at the side of Jack’s bed, she feels the chain link fence digging into her back. She has plastered herself into the fence in order to give a wide berth to the man who has just let his giant beast of a white Husky loose inside the park. It’s just about a block’s distance to the dog run which is also inside the park, so the man really shouldn’t have unleashed his dog just yet.

“Hi,” she says feebly, her knees almost knocking together. “Your dog looks like he’s going to attack me.”

The dog’s orbital ice-blue eyes are riveted to hers. His black lips are trembling and jerkily tugging upwards into a sneer as if pulled by some palsied demon puppeteer, ever-so-slightly exposing the beast’s long incisors, anticipatory saliva dripping onto the path.

Moving nary a muscle, the dog seems poised as if on a hair trigger, ready to spring into action. Holding her breath, she shifts her eyes to the man, wordlessly beseeching him to put the damned dog back on the damned leash already.

The man regards her with a cocky tilt of his head, and says, “Yeah, he sees you as a threat,” as if she had been charging at them, wielding a machine gun.

He snaps his fingers, and the dog is released from his “sic” stance. The dog trots away, turning his head back to make sure that Morgana is still plastered to the chain link fence.

“Hey,” calls Rosie, “are you OK?”

Yanked back to reality, Morgana finds herself gripping the side rails of Jack’s hospital bed. She can only imagine what her face must look like.

“Uh, yeah, I’m fine, thanks.”

“You had me a little scared for a minute—you’re face looked like you’d seen a ghost!”

“Well, actually, I had a really scary encounter with a mad dog in the park yesterday, and that’s what I was thinking about. I’m okay now. Thanks for asking.”

“OK, well, here’s the feed. Are you ready to see it?”

Morgana nods her a “yes,” and Rosie pulls a chair closer to the screen for Morgana so she can sit down a watch the reconstructed images from the day’s scans.

“Here, sit down—you’ll be more comfortable, just in case you’re feeling a little wobbly. And, drink this!”

Rosie has filled a small paper cup with water from the sink which she hands to Morgana.

She starts the feed while Morgana sips the water and watches intently. The music plays as the video reveals a very slow scan of a woman’s naked torso. Huh, there’s the navel, the waist, the ribs, the breasts, the neck, the lips, the hair, and then the face comes into view.

“What? No, it can’t be! No, dear God, it can’t be!” Morgana covers her face with her hands.

Rosie stops the feed, and says, “What’s wrong?”

Morgana takes a few deep breaths, and downs the rest of the water before continuing.

“Before my husband and I first got together, he and my older sister, Jewel, were going together. Then, my sister broke up with him, started seeing this other guy, got pregnant, and then ran away with the guy and eloped. We were all shocked, but not as shocked as Jack. He started coming around to see me when my parents weren’t home, and one thing led to another, and well…let’s just say that I was madly in love with him just because he was the first guy who ever paid any attention to me, and he was pretty cute, too. Plus, I felt really bad about what Jewel did to him.”

“So what does this video have to do with your sister?”

“That’s Jewel’s face in the video!”

“Well, this is Jack’s memory of her from all those many years ago, so what’s the big deal? I mean, it’s not like you didn’t know that they were a couple once.”

“The big deal is that’s Jewel’s face—not from 31 years ago, but exactly what she looks like RIGHT NOW!”

Morgana can barely stand up, but somehow she makes it to her feet.

Not really caring that Rosie is still staring at her in disbelief, she turns to Jack and makes a fist as if to punch him in the face.

She stops herself, and slowly uncurling her right hand, she looks at him and says, “You piece of shit!”

She looks at Rosie, who is still at a loss for words, and says, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that. I really meant to say…,” and turning back to Jack, she says, just a little bit louder:

“You WORTHLESS piece of shit!”

Illustration Credit: http://www.edvardmunch.org (Madonna, 1894 by Edvard Munch)

Music Credit: Music video by The Gap Band performing “You Dropped A Bomb On Me,” (c) 1982 The Island Def Jam Music Group

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The Our Little Secret Travel Agency – Chapter 7: Waiting for Rain

18411a66fa0008f413920d244c05b3d3

The robot continues smoking his cigarette, not missing a single drag, even as Morgana emerges from behind a closed door. She is naked and cold, and, considering the circumstances, understandably confused.

“Can I ask you a question, please?” she inquires in a plaintive squeak.

“I…don’t…know…Sir!” replies the smoking robot in a metallic monotone. “Can…you?”

“Well, I guess I can! I’m looking for Rain. Do you know where I can find her? She’s new here.”

As Morgana begins to feel a little more at ease with the smoking robot, she is suddenly aware of her bare feet, numbed by the frigid, gritty floor. In a mere nanosecond, the cold wends its way into her spine as if it had been wicked up through the soles of her feet. She begins to shiver. She can only imagine what all her jiggly pooches of bare flesh must look like, but she doesn’t think the robot can see anything beyond the tip of his cigarette, if even that much.

“Let…me…check…for…you…Sir,” he drones, while he lights another cigarette and sticks it into a hole at the top of his head. The hole chokes and sputters as the lit cigarette is ejected in a sudden belch of blue smoke amidst the cacophonous accompaniment of electronic thwonks and boings. The cigarette rolls to an unceremonious stop onto the counter between them and is now burning a smoldering, black hole into the counter’s dingy grey surface.

“Well…there…is…your…answer…Sir!” replies the robot in his curt electronic voice.

“What does that mean?” demands Morgana, forgetting all about her Rubenesque jigglescape.

“It…means…what…it…means…Sir!”

The robot picks up the ejected cigarette and smokes it along with his other cigarette, which is now so short it is burning his hand. Unperturbed, he fumbles with his left hand, searching for more cigarettes, as the thwonking and boinging crescendo to a deafening din.

Morgana wakes up in a cold sweat.

In the still, grey light of dawn, she remembers her three-day wait until the Initialization, and is filled with a sense of dread and excitement. The two emotions cancel each other out, which is good because she’s got other things to deal with.

Grateful that her feet and legs are still toasty warm, she plods from her bedroom down the hallway, digging her toes into the still-new, soft, shaggy Berber carpeting. Now that was one good investment, she thinks, which is exactly what comes to mind each time her bare feet make contact with it.

Without looking in the mirror, she already knows that she looks like a chubby lumberjack in her shapeless, plaid, flannel nightgown, which is why she avoids the mirror on the way to Jack’s room to check on him. He’s still sleeping, his breathing steady and rhythmic. Her heart just aches for him. She wonders what he must be thinking, what he must be feeling, or rather if he can think or feel at all. She tiptoes out of the room, closing the door silently behind her.

The hot shower feels good as it washes away both her tears and the coldness that had seeped into her consciousness from the smoking robot dream.

She looks through all the clothes in her closet, finding nothing that would make her look more attractive. She finally settles on a pair of freshly-laundered, though still stained, magenta sweat pants with a bell-shaped pink pullover sweater that’s long and wide enough to cover the lumpy terrain between her waist and the lower part of her upper thigh bulge. Hmmm…it doesn’t look that bad! The snarky killjoy inside her head, always quick to disabuse her of any comforting illusions she may be entertaining, assures her that it does look that bad. Not that it’s a big deal or anything, but she thinks her daughter, a very cutting-edge and fashion-savvy young woman, secretly pities her poor mother’s total lack of taste.

How Morgana managed to raise such a fashion-conscious daughter is totally beyond her, but in a way it makes sense since Gerri was always hyper-aware of colors, textures, patterns, lines, and balance. And true to her aesthetic sensibilities, she is a successful buyer for a cautiously-expanding chain of upscale clothing boutiques for “the discriminating woman,” called “Glamorphous” with a retro shoe subsidiary called “Shoetiquity.”

Puttering around the kitchen, Morgana peers out the window and sees dark storm clouds gathering. She is seized by a sudden sense of joy, hoping that rain is coming their way to pry loose the dead fingers of drought strangling their parched, desperate state. She remembers that “Rain” is the name she chose for her other self and that in three days, she will experience life as that other person, the one she was always meant to be. Oh, how she wishes she could share this with Gerri!

The doorbell rings. She dries her hands on the red checkered dishtowel and walks briskly to the door.

“Gerri! How’s my baby girl?” She throws her arms around her red-haired daughter, who is always cheered by her mother’s effusive show of affection.

“Hi, Ma! If you let me go for a second, I can give you these great bagels I just bought.” She wriggles free, and puts the bag on the table.

“Now it’s my turn!” she says as she turns around and gives Morgana a huge bear hug. She looks into her mother’s eyes welling with tears. The coffee maker wheezes and gurgles in the background. The warm, roasted aroma of the coffee fills the kitchen with the promise of a cozy chat tucked into a pocket of stopped time.

“How’s Pop-Poo doing?”

“The same, but Rocky seems to think there’s more hope than the doctors are letting on. I sure hope he’s right! Well, no matter! I think Daddy would love to see you, whatever the case may be!”

Gerri scrambles down the hallway into her father’s room, and Morgana hears her greet her father. Like all people who believe that even the most absurd hope is better than no hope at all, Gerri assumes that her Dad is awake because his eyes are open, but Morgana already knows that he is staring into that same, distant dimension that never admits present company. She listens to the one-sided conversation, gaily prattled by the always-sweet Gerri.

“Pop-Poo-Poo-Poo-Poo-Poo-Poo-Poo!!!” she says in her silliest voice.

The two had begun this silly ritual when Gerri was just a baby. She would sit on his lap and call him “Pop-Poo,” and he would laugh and tap the tip of her cute little nose for each syllable she uttered. Then she would laugh and try to tap him on the nose and just as she would almost tap his nose, he’d snap his head back and catch her little baby finger with his lips. Each time, she would squeal and laugh with utter surprise and delight. Gerri was always the love of his life. She never stopped calling him “Pop-Poo.”

Five minutes later, Gerri saunters back into the kitchen and slides into her favorite chair at the side of the window as Morgana is putting their toasted bagels on green glass plates on the table.

“So, Ma, I have some good news about Mitzi, but unfortunately, it’s nothing that can help you locate Jerinda.”

Morgana looks up from pouring the coffee. “Really?”

“Yeah, I finally got ahold of her boyfriend, Atif, who told me that they broke up a couple of weeks ago—nothing awful, thank goodness! It’s just that their educational plans were driving them in different directions.”

“Oh, that’s too bad—Jerinda really liked him. Sorry to interrupt! Go on…”

“So, anyway, Atif told me that in order to complete her master’s degree in less time, she made a commitment to do a six-month independent study project in some remote place in the Central African Republic—ever hear of that?”

“No, I can’t say I have, but Africa’s never really been on my radar anyway. What do you know about it?”

“Not much, except that I looked it up and found out that it’s one of the least-developed nations in the whole world. It got its independence from France in 1960, and since then, things have gone from bad to worse. There are child soldiers, militias throwing young men to the crocodiles, burning down villages, you name it.”

“Oh my God, that’s awful!”

“Well, luckily, she’s far away from that kind of danger. She’s in a place called…wait!” She pulls her cellphone out of her back pocket, types with her thumb, and says, “…the Dzanga-Sangha Reserve, which is a rain forest reserve frequented by hard-core adventure seekers, of which, as you can probably imagine, there aren’t many. She is with a team of researchers who track gorillas, who live at an extremely isolated base camp called ‘Bai Hokou.’ There’s no mail service, no phone service, no internet, no nothing. So…that’s where she is!”

“Mitzi has always had a knack for doing everything the hard way, hasn’t she? Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it dangerous to track gorillas?”

“Well, yeah! Not everyone has the gorilla-whispering skills of Dian Fossey.”

Morgana picks up her bagel and pauses, momentarily scanning her memory. “Come to think of it, I do remember Jerinda saying that Mitzi was getting antsy in the graduate program, because it was too theoretical and that Mitzi really wanted something more ‘hands-on.’ But I wonder why Mitzi didn’t tell Jerinda where she was going.”

“Atif told me that she had shared the information with her mother, but she didn’t know exactly when she would leave, only that when she did leave, she wouldn’t have time to do much besides pack and get herself to the airport. The American Embassy there knows where she is, but other than that, there’s no contact possible.”

“So there’s no way that Mitzi knows what happened to Jerinda, right?”

“Right! I totally doubt that she knew or suspected anything about it. She never would have gone, knowing that her mother was at death’s door. And listen to this: Atif told me that Mitzi left two weeks ago, Monday before last! Does that ring a bell?”

“Huh! That’s the same day Jerinda was attacked!”

“Yep!” Gerri stirs some sugar into her coffee and puts a dab of cream cheese on her bagel. “I’m thinking that, at the very least, she must have texted her mother a quick message or sent an e-mail on her way to the airport. Who knows? But given the fact that the two talk to each other a few times a week, it’s more likely that Mitzi called Jerinda to tell her the exciting news.”

“It’s curious that she didn’t mention Mitzi’s last-minute trip to Africa to me!”

“Probably because she didn’t know about it yet! Mitzi might have spoken with Jerinda at just about the same time she was walking alone around the lake, during that fifteen-minutes from the moment you left her to go to the dentist until a few minutes before her ‘accident.’ What do you think?”

Morgana takes a deep breath and exhales. “I think you’re right about the sequence of events. I’m so glad to know, or at least think I know, that Mitzi hasn’t just vanished off the face of the earth! I was starting to worry that something had happened to her. Did you contact the American Embassy?”

“No, because I wanted to talk to you first about that. What do you think Jerinda would want you to do?”

She would want me to be logical and practical. Since Mitzi can’t do anything to help Jerinda anyway, she might as well stay where she is and complete her project. Mitzi would be a nervous wreck if she were to find out and, as a mother myself, the last thing I would want to do would be to torment my children with a problem that has no solution.”

“I was thinking the same thing. I just hope Mitzi doesn’t hold this against us one day.”

“I hope not either, but look at it this way—we don’t know much, ourselves—do we? If and when we should find out more, then we might try to contact her through the Embassy, which is iffy at best, if what you told me about the place is true.”

“Oh, it’s true, alright!” Gerri reaches for some more cream cheese, and looks up suddenly. “Look, Ma! It’s raining! At last!”

Morgana stares into the rain, reflecting on her first California drought when she and Jack had first moved here. It didn’t rain and it didn’t rain. Morgana was feeling more desperate as each passing month evaporated, leaving the dust to swirl itself into madness. She felt as if the world were dying. One night, she was roused from a deep sleep by the tantalizing sound of a steady, driving rain, that beautiful, triumphant, wet applause of billions of big, fat, heavy drops of water slapping the ground. Overwhelmed by relief and gratitude, she opened her eyes, only to realize that she was listening to the neighbor’s shower through her open window.

“By the way, Gerri—Who the hell is Dian Fossey?”

To Be Continued in Chapter 8: The Advice Lady

Photo Credit: “Cyberman Smoke Break”
“This is from the filming of Revenge of the Cybermen, December 1974. The actor here might be a guy named Melville Jones. Or it could be any number of other stunt performers. Revenge of the Cybermen mostly sucks, but it does have this classic Tom Baker moment.” (www.reddit.com/r/OldSchoolCool/comments)

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The Our Little Secret Travel Agency – Chapter 2: The Design Room

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Luckily, the Design Room is not far from the pink laboratory, so Morgana only has to shuffle 15 or 20 tentative steps to get there.

Calliope escorts Morgana through another whooshed door opening in the wall. Morgana is still woozy from the sedative. They both sit down on the same side of the console where Calliope manipulates a small touch screen which is projected onto the wall in front of them.

This time, an unexpected “whoosh,” which is actually starting to sound almost normal to Morgana, ushers in a handsome young man with an engaging smile who sets a gleaming, vintage silver tea service for two between them.

“Excuse me, Ladies! I have some jasmine tea and blueberry scones for you!”

“Morgana, meet Armando—he’s our new intern, and he’ll be with us for the next six months.” Morgana takes his hand and mumbles an awkward, “Hi ya.” Embarrassed, she reflects that she never, ever says “Hi ya.” Where did that come from?

“Well, I’ll leave you to it—Enjoy the tea. Nice to meet you, Morgana.”

Morgana manages a more confident, “Thank you for the tea, Armando—and good luck to you!” She presses her back into the soft chair and inhales the intoxicating fragrance of the steaming tea.

In between delicate bites of a blueberry scone, Calliope begins with, “Alright, then, Morgana! It is here, in the Design Room that we plot out what you’d like to look like. The new body we create for you will be referred to as your ‘Tenum.’ That’s an acronym from the phrase, ‘The New Me.’ Your Tenum will be more you than you’ve ever been before. It will fit you like a glove and will be the ‘you’ that you were always meant to be. The contours of your face, your complexion, and your basic bone structure and musculature will guide our creation but within those confines, there is a lot of room for variation, and here’s where the magic happens: You get to make some very important decisions, so here are our options.”

Morgana’s hands are wrapped around the hot cup of tea. The warmth delights her, as does this delicious news that she, a person who has spent so many years
feeling powerless, can help create her new self. That deserves another blueberry scone!

On the screen, there are computer-generated face and body composites. There are faces with dimples, low or high hairlines, widows’ peaks, cleft chins, long, aquiline, upturned, pointed or snub noses, high or low cheekbones, prominent or moderate chins, sharp or softened jaws, deep set eyes, thick or thin eyebrows, full lips, thin lips, rose petal lips, all shapes and sizes of ears. Then there’s teeth—long, short, straight, spaced. A slight overbite can be kind of cute, but maybe not. Hmmm…So many decisions! What kind of hair? Long, short, thick, thin, curly, straight, wavy, frizzy, out-of-control, restrained, blond, red, chestnut brown, ebony black. Any styles you’re partial to? Oh, and then there’s the body! Breasts—what size, shape, amount of bounce, pert and perky? Waist? How small? Hips? How large? Derriere—round or flat? Ample or not enough to jiggle? And what about the thighs? Legs in general? Thin, thick, muscular, shapely, soft, sinewy with bony ankles?

“Well, for me, the choice is simple! Right off the bat, let’s go with thin ankles and thick hair! That’s the exact opposite of what I’ve always had! I’ve always hated the mousy-brown, fine hair that runs in my family. I used to imagine myself with thick, rich, long, dark brown hair, until I realized that hair dye, shampoo or conditioner could only do so much—But is that a real choice for me, even though I’m 47 and have mostly grey hair now?”

“Oh, yes! We can take 15 years off your chronological age, so you will be a beautiful young woman of 32, which is really the perfect age for any kind of hair.”

“At 32, I wasn’t all that gorgeous, but, I looked a lot better than I do now,” she says sheepishly, eyeing Calliope’s flawless face.

Calliope pats her hand reassuringly. “Well, don’t you worry about it because all that will be behind you in just a short while.”

“Speaking of ‘behind me,’ the new me must have slim hips, and a nice, tight derriere! Since I’ve always been flat-chested, I don’t think I’d like big breasts—smallish breasts would be just fine, but I’d love to have some cleavage—not a lot, just a little!”

“That can all be arranged,” smiles Calliope as she swipes different body parts onto a grid-like armature that rotates on the screen to reveal all the contours in 3D.

An exquisite, lithesome body begins to take shape, so sleek and sexy that it takes Morgana’s breath away. For the face, she chooses large, limpid, green eyes set wide apart, veiled by thick eyelashes. The eyebrows are so beautiful—almost aerodynamically shaped. The nose is not some cute, little pixie thing, though—it’s a little less than prominent, and on the long side, but it’s the perfect nose to offset those thick, pouty lips. The mouth is wide—good for smiling, she figures. And good for talking, too! She’d kept her mouth shut for so long, maybe now she’d find her voice, and maybe she’d discover that it would be as sensual as those lips!

Calliope tells Morgana to pick out a hat as she is presented with a serendipitous array of all kinds of outlandishly cute hats that she would never, ever consider wearing. Morgana chooses a very loud, black and white striped sun hat with a wide brim, something you’d see a Vargas Girl sporting on an old pin-up calendar hanging in a 1950s gas station. After a couple of clicks, Calliope announces, “And now…the new you!”

The rotating armature disappears and in its place is a rather intense brunette beauty with large, hypnotic eyes regarding them with a lazy, somewhat piqued interest. Her red, painted mouth is just barely open as if to entertain an incipient orgasm. Her skin glows with a limited palette ranging from dusty rose to toasted peach, backlit by a high-wattage celestial gold. Almost as an afterthought, there are a good four inches of cleavage lurking in the shaded area of the photo where her left shoulder intercepts the sun.

Morgana presses her finger tips to her closed eyes, hoping to stanch the tears that sting her eyelids, but only succeeds in rubbing some greasy cookie crumbs into the hot tears that spill over her cheeks.

“I’m sorry!” She blubbers. “I don’t know what’s come over me…it’s all so overwhelming. I’m feeling so many emotions right now that I’ve just never felt before.”

Calliope turns towards her, takes her hands and holds them tightly between her own.

“I know what a challenge this is for you. All our clients have very similar reactions. It’s totally normal and actually quite healthy. The decision you have made to commit to the Adaptation is huge. This is a life-changing event, and not one to be taken lightly.

Calliope lets go of Morgana’s hands and rummages through the console’s desk drawers until she finds a tissue. She hands it to Morgana and smiles.

“OK, Morgana, there’s a left-over scone on that plate, and since we’re not taking any hostages today, you and I have to finish it off! What do you say?” If there’s anything that can get Morgana to stop crying, it’s a blueberry scone! She happily agrees and they laugh as the scone disappears between the two of them.

Behind them, a door whooshes, and another beautiful person (of whom, around here, anyway, there seems to be no lack), Dr. Hosanna Valenzuela, strides towards them. Her face and head are almost Betty Boopish. Her thick, black, shiny hair is short and clings to her head in a cap of wavy curls that caress her face. Her big, jet black eyes sparkle mischievously as her pretty lips scrunch up to repress a silly smile.

“Call-i-o-pe!” she sings in a pleasant, airy, girlish voice. “I’ve come to steal our new client away from you!”

“And, hello, Morgana, I’m Dr. Valenzuela. I feel as though I already know you—I am the person who has reviewed your psychological profile and I will be working with you to get you started with the Adaptation.”

Momentarily dazzled by Dr. Valenzuela, Morgana manages a vacant smile as she wonders if Dr. Valenzuela can feel the greasy crumbs from their soft handshake.

“Nice to meet you, Doctor,” and she adds, “If you had only come two minutes earlier, we would have had a nice scone for you, instead of a crumby, greasy handshake.”

“I lose out on more scones that way,” jokes Dr. Valenzuela. “If I were to arrive on time and talk less, I’d weigh twenty pounds more than I do.”

Not that Dr. Valenzuela can avoid it, but Calliope points to the projected image in front of them. “So Dr. V, what do you think of “the new Morgana?”

Dr. Valenzuela is clearly hamming it up to put Morgana at ease as she does a little double-take, wide-eyed wowing. “What a work of art!” she exclaims, carefully adding that the same is true of the old Morgana. Inwardly, Morgana chuckles at the absurdity of telling aging, dowdy, frumpy fat people that they are beautiful works of art. On the other hand, what is Dr. V supposed to do? Plus, it’s a whole lot better than being publicly—or even privately—humiliated. Even if it can be a bit patronizing, political correctness at least errs on the side of being kind.

“But,” wraps up Dr. Valenzuela, “This is the conversation we’ll have in my office. So if you and Calliope have finished up here in the Design Room, you and I can adjourn to my office.”

Calliope says, “I’d say we covered everything! Wouldn’t you, Morgana?”

Dr. Valenzuela’s office is a cozy little hobbit hole of a refuge. It is so out of character with the rest of “The Our Little Secret Travel Agency,” that it’s hard to believe that they haven’t left the premises—low, rounded ceilings and round openings to different rooms coming off the small office, low, yellowish soft lighting coming from little wall lamps with tiny shades made from old fashioned, Laura Ashley prints and end tables covered with pretty Provence motif fabrics–very cozy, very safe, very comforting.

They settle down comfortably into the soft, overstuffed, low sofas and armchairs, ready to talk.

“So, Dr. Valenzuela. I’m just curious as to why I wasn’t interviewed before the Design Room.”

Dr. Valenzuela, picking up on that little edge of challenge in Morgana’s question, proceeds gingerly. “That’s an easy question to answer. We wanted to see how you would react to the new you—your Tenum. The fact that you recovered quickly is a good sign. It shows that you will easily adapt to your “rediscovered” youth and beauty. If a client has a problem at this point, and there are some who do, the client will be given the option of breaking the contract with only a $1,000 penalty. By the way, should you have any doubts, you will have the same option right up until we actually begin the Adaptation.”

“No,” says Morgana, “No matter what, I want to do this. I cried before because I didn’t think I would ever experience what it’s like to be young again. And to be so beautiful! I really don’t know what I’m looking for. Maybe it’s just to rekindle a sense of hope that I’ve lost all these years. I’ve never been a very vain person, but my reaction makes me wonder.”

Dr. Valenzuela, trying to reframe her earlier comments, says, “Before, I told you that the old Morgana is also beautiful, but, I know that you’ll have none of that, because, of course, here you are, “escaping” to another body. Someone who can accept that they are still beautiful probably wouldn’t be doing such a thing.”

Morgana fidgets and concurs, “I’ve never felt beautiful. In fact, most of the time, I feel downright ugly. When I was fairly young, I gave up on being pretty. My goal was just to look normal, less ugly than I felt. I had two older sisters, each ‘just as pretty as a picture,’ as my mother would say.”

“Well, Morgana, even the most gorgeous women share our sense of unattractiveness. I, personally, have always envied women who project a complete lack of self-consciousness about their looks. But here’s what I’m getting at: having read your background, I believe that the experience of perceiving yourself as beautiful will exceed your expectations in so many ways. You will be able to see yourself in a whole new light.”

“I guess that’s also a bit of what made me cry. I know I’m putting the cart before the horse, but I was also grieving in advance for what it will be like during my 31 visits to know that each visit will be one less occasion that I am able to hang onto this new me. I’ll just be getting accustomed to being attractive, and then I’d have to give it all up, and I’ll be right back where I started.”

“Well, Morgana, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. The new Morgana will teach you how to be more confident and how to be who you truly are. Each person is different, of course, and so much depends on the individual, but there is every reason to believe that during and after your experience being the new Morgana, the old Morgana will find herself renewed and invigorated, but at the end of the experience, you will find that your negative emotions can be severed from your self-perception, replaced by a new confidence that will transcend the physical realities and limitations of time of nature.”
Morgana considers this new insight and feels more at ease.

“You know, Dr. Valenzuela, there’s something I didn’t divulge in the paperwork. My husband is at home, just about comatose. He had a stroke two months ago, and it’s not looking very good. I feel so guilty about spending this money on something so frivolous and self-indulgent. On the other hand, I really need an escape, some kind of distraction, even if that distraction is me. Aside from feeling behind the eight ball, I’ve never thought about myself very much. This might not be a good time to start, but it’s probably as good a time as any.”

“Oh, Morgana! I’m so sorry to hear about your poor husband. This must be so hard on you!”

“Believe it or not, it was harder before he had the stroke. My life had become so unhappy with him. But I still feel an awful lot of loyalty towards him, but to be honest, I don’t love him anymore. I feel trapped, and am still trying to figure out what needs to be done. So far, all anyone tells me is just to wait and to be patient. I’m so sick of that! This “indulgence” is perfect because my “visits” will take place when he’s sleeping and when I’m sleeping. I don’t leave the house, he won’t be alone, and whatever happens during my “visits,” will be “our little secret.”

Dr. Valenzuela smiles and nods her head in an empathetic, well-practiced gesture of active listening. “So tell me, Morgana—Is there anyone in your circle of family and friends who knows about your venture with The Our Little Secret Travel Agency?”

“Only my best friend, Jerinda.” It is at this juncture that Morgana breaks down into an almost convulsive fit of breathless sobbing which lasts almost five minutes. She avails herself of a big box of tissues on the coffee table in front of her, blows her nose several times, wipes her face, and sighs in utter exhaustion. Her face is splotchy and her eyes are glassy.

“We need to talk about Jerinda,” suggests Dr. Valenzuela. “Are you up to that right now?”

To be continued in Chapter 3: Jerinda

Photo Credit: Charissa du Plessis in “The Perfect 10” by Kass Dea for Gaschette Magazine, June 2013

Music Credit: Gotye – Easy Way Out – Official Video (youtube.com)

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The Our Little Secret Travel Agency – Chapter 1: Our Little Secret

The ad almost has her name on it:

Dissatisfied with your life? Sneak out now!
And nobody has to know—It will be our little secret!
Don’t delay—Call today
The Our Little Secret Travel Agency
(O-U-R-L-S-E-C-R-E-T)
theourlittlesecrettravelagency.com

On her way out the door, she contemplates her puffy, wrinkled face in the mirror that also holds the house keys—not too bad, really—but for 47? No, she’s looks a good ten or even fifteen years older. She gets tired just thinking of the work it would take to make herself look just a little less haggard and dowdy.

Like most women, she always put herself last, only because her greatest need was to be sure that her children were fed, clothed, warm and happy. She never considered it a sacrifice. She had been a great mother, and she took pride in having done such a stellar job.

And she was a good wife, too, if by “good” you mean keeping a clean and orderly home, serving appetizing, nutritious meals inspired by Ladies’ Day or Family Fun magazines, on time, every night, come hell or high water, keeping the major focus of her husband’s attention—a giant TV screen—free from smudges and dust, always having at least five different crisply-ironed dress shirts hanging neatly in his closet, and making good and sure that her husband never had to root around in his sock and underwear drawers, bellowing and braying like a wounded jackass, for “just one goddamned pair of clean whitey goddamned tighties. Is THAT too goddamned much to ask, godDAMNit?” No, a good wife certainly would not want to provoke such drama so early in the morning. It could ruin your whole day. Or maybe even your whole marriage.

Her husband was a good father and in most respects, a decent man, too. But the one thing that unhinged her was his rage. She just never knew what would set him off. As if wending her way through a minefield, she would try to anticipate, and then eliminate, possible sources of frustration for him that would trigger these explosive episodes. But at the end of the day, he knew what he was doing because he was careful to never lose control in front of the kids—those rages were performed just for her.

He was a hard-working man which meant he was entitled to a hard-working man’s reward. Every night, after the kids went to bed, she’d hear him retrieve his good friend Boney Stalker Scotch from his hiding place in the shadows behind the red fire extinguisher under the kitchen sink, pitching ice cubes into his special glass, followed by the clink of the Boney Stalker Scotch bottle against the glass’s lip. Boney Stalker Scotch on the rocks. Down the hatch! She could almost feel the ice freezing his upper lip as the last drops of Boney trickled into his throat. Aaahhh! And that was just to warm up the ice cubes. The second, third, and fourth doses of Boney were sipped appreciatively in front of the gleaming giant TV. How she hated the stench of that rotgut sewer swill! She could smell it two rooms away.

And how would you like that marriage served, Sir? Hot? No, on the rocks, please.

It would have taken so little to keep him happy. It would have taken even less to keep her happy. So what’s the problem? Oh, did I say there was a problem? Oh, that’s right! Relationship discussions angered him, so rather than ignite his short, alcohol-drenched fuse, she avoided him and Boney Stalker Scotch altogether, retiring to the kitchen to whip up some fat and sugar-laden confection for the following day’s dessert.

He got fat from the waist up and she got fat from the waist down. And they both got old. There wasn’t much romance between the two of them anymore, but they managed to present themselves as your average American couple. Good solid family people.

Had she been the type of person to ruminate, she might have been truly miserable, but she considered rumination to be an indulgence she didn’t have time for. For her, happiness was not that messy a proposition, and had she figured out what she really wanted to do or what she really wanted to be, she would have done it. All she really ever wanted was a happy life, and other than a distant husband with a rage problem who thought she was “frigid,” she was fairly happy, or at least, that’s what she told herself.

But then the kids grew up and left home, and the Boney Stalker Scotch and her husband’s rages were liberated from the closet. Things made less and less sense to her. She began to visualize the years disappearing into the wake of dead, half-baked dreams flowing away from her, to lament the lack of warmth and passion in her life, to notice how ungainly she’d become as her weight spiraled out of control. Her heart had broken long ago, but it must have healed when she wasn’t looking because it was starting to break all over again. Her options narrowed down to a couple of easy fixes: Don’t think in the dark; and in the light, don’t look in the mirror.

By the time she starts to imagine that her aching soul is decaying, she’s already figured out that she really blew it.

She goes back inside just for a quick check on her sleeping husband. She barely remembers that she loved him once. Too bad that it hadn’t occurred to her to leave him when they were younger—when they each would have had yet another stab at happiness, long before a stroke left him almost completely paralyzed. Now it was too late. The kids would never forgive her for such a heartless, selfish decision. She couldn’t even justify it were she to tell them about the many times he’d been unfaithful or his drunken rages that left her cowering in the locked bathroom. They’d call her a liar! And she was a liar! All those years, she never let on to anyone, not even to herself, just how miserable she really was. Oh, why hadn’t she put her foot down, and straightened him out? Why hadn’t she suggested counseling, or called the police on him, or sought the advice of someone stronger than she was? Instead, she had prayed to God to give her the strength to bear her cross. Only now does it occur to her that if she’d only had faith in herself, she would have had the strength to do something much more constructive than carry a cross that was never even hers to carry!

She kisses her husband softly on his smooth, worry-free brow, and is confident that the pain meds will keep him safely sedated for a good five hours.

On the roof of her apartment building, a small, one-passenger, unmanned drone, the exact color of the sky and the clouds, lands in a silent glide just a few feet in front of her. Completely unobserved, she enters the tiny craft through a sudden “whooshed” opening in the little fuselage.

“Good Morning, Morgana,” chirps a neutered, disembodied voice. “Please take your seat, and relax, while we transport you to The Our Little Secret Travel Agency. Thank you for traveling with us today.”

She settles into a lightweight, plush, armchair. As the door closes with a slight “whoosh,” she feels the pressure change in the cozy, herbal-scented cabin. Two flexible, padded arms automatically extend from the sides of the chair and encircle her torso in a soft, warm embrace.

The real world stays on the ground as she is spirited away in the noiseless drone to her destination. Reluctant to leave the armchair’s embrace, she disembarks from the drone into a soft blue light. It’s an interior space, but it’s impossible to tell where the ceiling and the walls are.

“Ah…Morgana! There you are! So nice to meet you. My name is Calliope.”

An angular, bronze-skinned woman with a shiny mane of copper ringlets is seated at a shimmering, pearlescent desk, the top of which is a computer screen. Invited by Calliope’s open-handed gesture and welcoming smile, Morgana slides into a shimmering, pearlescent seat opposite Calliope. Swiping her manicured finger across the screen, Calliope narrates for Morgana that, as already agreed, the non-refundable sum of $30,000 has been transferred from her account to The Our Little Secret Travel Agency. Morgana nods in agreement.

Calliope further intones, “In consideration for this payment, Morgana, you will now have access to a new life in a new body, for 30 eight-hour visits, which you can freely access at your convenience, and because of our special offer, there is one bonus visit, for a total of thirty-one. And, as you are already aware, this is a whole other realm way beyond virtual reality, since you are in real-time in another body that is genetically and neurologically your very own, with complete sensory and emotional interfacing. After the Adaptation, all you need to do is sleep, and once you are asleep you will resume your new life where you last left it. There is no further cost to you, no risk involved, and you are assured of complete discretion on the part of The Our Little Secret Travel Agency. You have also agreed to indemnify and hold harmless this Agency and any and all of its owners, agents or employees from any claims of liability, harm or wrongdoing whatsoever. Any questions?”

Morgana shifts uncomfortably—she’s got millions of questions but she can ask them later. “No,” she says, “Let’s just get on with the Adaptation—I can ask questions at any time, right?” Calliope assents with a reasonable nod, “Yes, absolutely! Remember, we are always here to assure your comfort, pleasure, and fulfillment—we are at your beck and call twenty-four/seven.”

Calliope opens a drawer, plucks out a little glass jar, and unscrews the lid. Inside, there’s a prickly pad. “Here,” she says, “Press your index finger on this—it’s a painless way to extract a drop of your blood so we can get your DNA sequencing started.”

From the same drawer, she selects a small bottle filled with amber liquid, from which she twists free a rubber stopper. “Before we begin, please drink this—it’s peach nectar combined with a light sedative and silver halides to facilitate the body scanning process.”

Morgana raises the bottle to her lips, and savors the perfumed taste of what could only be a magic elixir.

Calliope rises from her pearlescent perch and guides Morgana just a few steps into another opening that whooshes through the ethereal blue atmosphere.

Although the sparse, pinkish décor is soft and warm, they are clearly in a laboratory. Calliope has Morgana undress and lie down on a narrow, plastic mesh table. Normally, Morgana would be way too self-conscious—and chilly—to undress in front of anyone, but right now she is uncharacteristically loose, warm and compliant. Small goggles are adjusted and secured to cover her eyes, and she is told to remain as still as possible for the next 60 seconds. Magnetic boings and whirring currents carbonate their way lightly over, around and through her body. As promised, the noise and the not-unpleasant sensations end all too soon. Calliope removes the goggles, and helps Morgana get dressed.

Calliope finishes buttoning Morgana’s frumpy, ill-fitting blouse. “There! That wasn’t too bad, was it?”

Morgana smiles a crooked, goofy smile and slurs, “No, it was actually quite pleasant!”

“Good!” says Calliope. “If you liked that, you’re really going to love this!—Now we’re off to the Design Room.”

To be continued in Chapter 2: The Design Room

Photo Credit: Rubberball/Getty Images

Music Credit: Gotye – Thanks For Your Time – Official Video (Youtube.com)

 

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