Category Archives: Short Stories

Coup de Grâce

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After spending a gorgeous star-studded night in an enchanted treehouse surrounded by giant redwoods, making love one last time, they awaken to stray beams of early morning sunlight that have managed to penetrate the dark coolness of the thick forest. And a wonderful last morning it is, indeed.

Downstairs, they hear pots and pans sliding onto and off of gas stove burners, serving spoons clinking into glass bowls, and an open refrigerator exhaling frosty air and its heavy door shutting on gummy gaskets; then they remembered that they forgot to cancel the breakfast that was included in the price of their last night’s stay. With or without breakfast though, this place was a real steal of a deal, thanks to their “Living Large” coupon that they’d bought on the internet.

The irresistible smell of $12-a-pound coffee brewing wafts up the spiral staircase, but they can’t have it. Too bad. Only now do they realize that their last cup of coffee was yesterday morning, served in a Styrofoam cup on the plane coming out here.

They’d had their last supper with their son and his wife somewhere between the airport and here. They had begrudgingly learned to love their son, always an odd and ungainly child with a penchant for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Even though they’d named him a perfectly good and respectable name, he’d insisted on calling himself “Boom.” They even learned to love his wife, Jezza, if only because she loved him for the very reasons they didn’t. The young couple, presently in their mid-forties, were failed strawberry farmers, and now, courtesy of Mom and Pop, were sinking another small fortune into vermiculture, a fancy word for growing worms. In spite of sounding like a foolhardy investment, handing over all their worldly wealth to these two young people felt like the right thing to do. At least it helped to assuage the guilt they’d felt all these years about their lack of unconditional love.

Their house, their cars, all their belongings, every trace of who they were, all liquidated and transmogrified into columns of numbers on financial statements. All their final papers are in order, all signed, sealed and just about delivered. They both have their own manila envelope, all set and ready to go. The only other thing they both have in their matching backpacks is their made-to-order, custom-fitted, zip-up mushroom suits, guaranteed to decompose their wearers more efficiently than natural processes alone. They’re the latest craze in green funerals.

Showering without any of the luxury soaps and shampoos provided by the host of the treehouse was a little disappointing, but the hot water and the power shower head helped rinse away some of the malaise that naturally asserts itself during one’s last anything.

They both dressed in yesterday’s clothes and took one last, mournful look around their charming little treehouse, and negotiated their way down the spiral staircase into the kitchen. Two silver-haired women, speaking softly in Spanish, were plating cheese omelets and blueberry pancakes. There was an inviting table set just for them with a four-piece Romantica Collection silver coffee set, lace place mats and double hemstitched linen napkins. Having to refuse such a beautiful breakfast almost made them cry. The women were so disappointed that their loving efforts came to naught, but they quickly packed up the omelets and the pancakes in cardboard to-go boxes, pressing the boxes on the mildly resistant couple as they headed out the door.

Who would be the recipient of the breakfasts they did not know, but waste not, want not; and what a sin to waste the earth’s bounty—such an ungrateful gesture.

They walked along the forest trails they had already researched and planned for their final walk, only now they were carrying these cardboard boxes, an inconvenient reminder that they could not eat the food so tantalizingly tucked inside while their protesting stomachs grumbled with outrage, which did, in fact, diminish their enjoyment of the walk.

Through the trees, they became aware of a man walking parallel to them, dressed head-to-toe in Hunter’s Orange. The woman’s first thought was to give him the boxed breakfasts, but quickly decided against it since the man looked a little agitated—actually, demented. He was mumbling to himself, his stride springy and stringent, his right hand grasping a shotgun, his index finger looped through the trigger guard. He was wearing an orange Elmer Fudd hunting cap. He never looked at them, but seemed to accompany them on the whole walk, keeping a distance of a hundred feet or so. They could hear his ranting punctuated by obscenities, conversations, and laughter.

Needless to say, the couple’s last walk was not the idyllic commune with nature they had planned.

As they approached “Sunset Associates, LLC,” a building that was camouflaged as a giant redwood, the man seemed to disappear and, other than an uneasiness that seemed to settle into the very marrow of their bones, they thought no more about him.

The receptionist looked up at them. “George and Adelina Edgecraft?”

“Yes,” they answered in unison. They had yet another coupon, also from “Living Large,” that they’d bought on the internet for “Assisted…,” well, they didn’t like to say the word, but yes, this was the best end they could possibly come up with. It was such a good deal that they couldn’t really pass it up. Plus, the timing was right, or so it seemed. Taking advantage of a free screening opportunity at their local Mall, George, 70, had just been diagnosed after a urological exam with some suspicious pre-cancerous cells, and Adelina, 69, had just been diagnosed with what could be a degenerative neuro-muscular disease. At the moment, both were asymptomatic, but they were told that could change with time. Both were advised to opt for aggressive treatment to “get out ahead” of any possible progression of their respective maladies. They both agreed that they were not prepared to witness each other’s nor their own decline, much less wind up at the mercy of Boom and Jezza and their damned worms!

“And you have both fasted for at least 12 hours and neither one of you is wearing any perfumes or deodorants nor have you used any soaps or shampoos in the bath or shower that you took this morning?”

They are ushered into a waiting room. Within a minute, a nurse comes first for George.

“We thought we’d be doing this together!” protests Adelina.

“No, we don’t have a double option. It’s only one at a time,” explains the nurse.

Oh.

They kiss and hug and tell each other what a good life they’ve had and how they love each other, and off goes George.

Adelina, sitting by herself, all alone in the sterile waiting room, starts to hyperventilate and shake, hoping it’s just nerves and not the degenerative neuro-muscular disease kicking in big time.

Half an hour later, the same nurse returns.

“How did my husband do?” asks Adelina.

“Oh, he passed out so we’re trying to revive him. State law says that you can’t euthanize someone who is not conscious.”

Oh.

She follows the nurse down a narrow hallway into a small room with a hospital gurney, and is given an adult diaper and a paper gown.

“Here you go! Take off everything and put your shoes and clothes in this bag and put these on, and I’ll be back in a jiffy!”

Adelina peels off her clothes and quickly puts on the paper gown just in case the nurse comes back too soon. The adult diaper is surprisingly thin and fits very comfortably. Hmmm…they probably don’t look too bad under jeans. Maybe if you’re not too heavy to begin with…? And if you are already fat? Well, who the heck would notice anyway?

She puts her backpack, the plastic drawstring bag with her clothes and shoes, and the two breakfast boxes on the floor under the chair in the corner.

An alarm cuts through the air and a mechanical voice drones, “Armed Intruder, Armed Intruder! Lock all doors, shut off all lights and shelter in place.”

The nurse barges into the room, deadbolts the door, and shuts off the lights. Side by side, they crouch on the tile floor and huddle, shudder and hyperventilate together. Both the nurse and Adelina are wimpering in fear.

An orange Elmer Fudd hunting cap and a scowling face appear in the little window of the door, and both women, paralyzed with fear, shake soundlessly.

Adelina’s paper gown has already ripped in a few places but she’s grateful for the adult diaper. It’s bad enough that her feet are already numb and she’s covered in goosebumps, but at least she’s not sitting bare-assed on that cold, tile floor.

The Elmer Fudd gunman kicks the door but it doesn’t budge. With the butt of his rifle, he smashes the little window, and fires into the room several times, miraculously not hitting them. A string of expletives and some hysterical laughter ensue. Newly enraged, he fires blindly into the room just once more, and the bullet ricochets off several surfaces in the room before lodging itself directly into his forehead.

George stumbles out into the hallway dressed in his paper gown and his adult diaper and almost trips over the dead hunter. He alternately screams like a little girl and bellows like a jackass, and in the end, is grateful to have been wearing that adult diaper.

Back in their own clothes, George and Adelina say goodbye to the receptionist on their way of out “Sunset Associates, LLC.” She reminds them that their coupons will expire in three days and that they are non-refundable. They gladly acknowledge that the coupon will expire long before they will, and they are delighted not to have extracted the value due to them.

Back out in the pristine forest once again, George and Adelina take their mushroom suits out of their backpacks, and stuff them into a bear-proof recycling bin. At a picnic table along the path, they sit down and eat their beautiful luke-warm breakfast from the cardboard to-go boxes. Never before, have cold cheese omelets and cold blueberry pancakes tasted so good!

After forcing themselves to finish it all, they head back to the treehouse where they’d spent what they thought was their last night.

The two silver-haired women are still there, the smell of coffee still lazing in the warm air of the kitchen.

“Hi, it’s us again! Two questions: Do you still have that coffee we didn’t want, and can we get another night here?”

Sitting at their little table with the lace place mats, they drink a whole pot of coffee between the two of them from the four-piece Romantica Collection silver coffee set.

George looks at Adelina and they smile at each other with new eyes.

“What the hell were we thinking, George? I can’t believe that we almost just did what we almost just did.”

“I can’t either, but I’m so glad we didn’t do it. Thank God for that crazy guy who almost killed us!”

Adelina gazes thoughtfully into her third cup of steaming coffee. “I’ll bet Boom and Jezza wouldn’t mind having us around for a few months. Maybe we could help them with their vermiculture business.”

“Why not?” says George amiably. “At this point, we really don’t have any other place to go.”

“Well, then,” laughs Adelina, “looks like we’re going up to the country!”

“The best part is,” says George, “we have absolutely nothing to lose! I never knew that could feel so good!”

Illustration Credit: http://www.pinterest.com (Oregon Treehouse)

Music Credit: Canned Heat, “Going Up To the Country,” youtube.com

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The Our Little Secret Travel Agency – Chapter 14: Five Dollars for Sister Jane

P45-Creature-Lagoon-Both

Ah, the Lake! It’s always there, waiting for her. The hike and bike trail that surrounds this shimmering expanse of liquid sky is a 3½ mile loop of kaleidoscopic experiences.

Morgana navigates her way through the ebb and flow of people surging around and past each other. In addition to being the nicest place to walk anywhere around here, it’s also the hub of so many different neighborhoods, each with its own flavors, smells, sounds, illusions, and regrets.

She exits the path and dodges the street traffic on her way to Bucky’s Supermarket. Passing the donut shop, she inhales that buttery essence wafting from the cozy cottage kitchen of the loving grandmother she never had. She ignores the urge to go in and buy herself a crispy buttermilk donut; instead, as she enters Bucky’s, she remembers to pull her stomach in, stand up straight and square her shoulders. Practicing a regal countenance with her head held high, she locates the lemon juice and selects a giant bottle of the store brand, which is on sale for a just a little more than the cost of a small bottle of the name brand.

She avoids the shortest checkout line because of the screaming toddler in the clutches of a melt-down cycle whose oblivious mother is rifling through a folder of coupons. She assesses the wait time in the other four lines and gravitates towards the one that just might have the longest wait. Her mind never stops imagining scenarios. Yes, if she had to be trapped in an elevator with random individuals, she’d choose the people in this line instead of all the others. If she were to analyze her decision, she herself wouldn’t be all that surprised that she always chooses the line based on the absence of scowls, agitation, anger or sadness on the faces of those in the queue.

In the check-out line, still in regal countenance mode, she finds herself flirting with the guy in front of her, a handsome, distinguished-looking man wearing a suit and tie. Pictures of muscled men in thongs on a beach do nothing for her, but a nice, pleasant-looking guy in a nice suit? Fuhgeddaboutit!

He smiles at her when she puts her lemon juice on the conveyor belt.

“Making lemonade, by any chance?”

“Ha! No, actually, I’m getting this for my boss! I’m on a medical emergency mission—he needs it for a skin rash. It stops the itching instantly.”

“Is that so? I had no idea!” he says, as they both do their best to cast an inconspicuous eye on the other.

“Uh huh!” she says, “It’s true! In fact, my next article will be on the benefits of lemon juice—it’s good for everything, and if it’s not, at least it does no harm—just don’t squirt it in your eyes!”

“So you write for a newspaper or a magazine?”

“Yes—I write ‘The Advice Lady’ column for The Pregonero—you know, that free weekly newspaper that winds up all over the streets?” she says with a little giggle.

“Well, I’m intrigued….I promise you that I will start picking up The Pregonero for the express purpose of reading ‘The Advice Lady.’ I can’t wait to unlock the mysteries of lemon juice. By the way, my name is Percival Evander.” He extends his hand to Morgana. Her eyes sparkling, she modulates her voice as she replies, “It’s so nice to make your acquaintance, Percival. My name is Morgana Traczyk.”

Morgana instantly reflects on how formal she sounds, and then feels stupid using his first name in the same breath! Oh, why not mix the formal and the familiar? The dissonance seems to create a happy little tension which just might be keeping their conversation going.

Percival’s deli sandwich and bottle of sparkling water make rocking, jerky motions on the moving conveyor belt.

“That’s an unusual last name! Is it Eastern European?”

“It’s Polish! It means ‘sawyer,’ you know, someone who saws wood.”

Morgana knows that it also means a fallen tree that is underneath the surface of a river—a hidden menace that has sunk many a boat. She decides not to mention this to Percival, who at this moment seems to be floating HER boat!

Percival’s order is being rung up by a non-verbal, large, pasty-skinned person with rainbow-dyed haired and a few face piercings. He stops talking to Morgana while swiping his credit card. As the bagger packs up his deli sandwich and bottle of Perrier, Percival turns back to Morgana and says, “Morgana, I have a feeling I will be seeing you again!” Before she can respond, he thanks the checker and the bagger. Oh, a man in a suit, who’s good-looking and courteous! The smiling elderly gentleman with the twinkling eyes whose name tag reads “Ping,” bows while he hands him his bag. Once again, Percival turns to Morgana, and says as he is walking away, “And sooner, rather than later—I hope!” He gives her an unexpected but friendly, non-lecherous wink, and is gone.

Her regal countenance seems to flag just a bit as she concludes her business at Bucky’s. She picks up her bagged bottle of lemon juice and sticks the change in her back pocket.

She pictures Percival sitting somewhere pleasant, eating his deli sandwich in a non-horse-like fashion, with his pinkies in the air, not talking with his mouth full, nor dripping greasy sauce onto his impeccable suit and tie, as he takes silent, non-gulping sips of sparking water. And although sparkling water does contain the very smallest of gas bubbles, she cannot, for the life of her, imagine Percival ever emitting anything as base as a belch.

Today is turning out to the very best day! And, thanks to Charlie’s generous insistence, she walks out of the store seven bucks and change to the good.

Back at the Lake, she consciously avoids the skateboarders, bicyclists, and sketchy-looking dogs on long leashes, keeping to the extreme right of the path.

“Oh, sweet Jesus! There’s that old battle axe, Sister Jane!” thinks Morgana. She throws a quick glance around her, just to convince herself that she didn’t say that out loud. But why worry? Everyone’s still in their own bubble of self-absorption. Besides, even if she were talking to herself, people would assume either that she’s just one more person in the throes of a delusional disorder or that she’s using a wireless earpiece—and those would be only the very few who would even notice or care. Sometimes she thinks she’s the only one paying attention. The good thing is that no one heard her…probably; the bad thing is that it’s definitely too late to avoid Sister Jane.

“Hello, I’m Sister Jane, your Sister in Christ!” she says in her sweetest voice. “Would you happen to have 75 cents?” she asks in the same lilting, gracious tone as one might say, for instance, “Would you care for a canapé or perhaps a vol‑au‑vent?”

Morgana pulls a dollar from her back pocket, only to realize that it’s a five dollar bill! Before she can substitute the “Abe” for a “George,” Sister Jane’s eyes light up as if a good Las Vegas yank on the crank of a one-armed bandit had produced three (“chakunk, chakunk, chakunk”) big, beautiful, golden Liberty Bells. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding…

Foiled again! Morgana reaches the reluctant conclusion that she and her five dollar bill must part company—either that or Sister Jane will surely raise holy hell—but first, she decides to extract some value from her generous donation before it leaves her possession. It quickly occurs to her to ask Sister Jane about another denizen of the Lake shore she probably knows.

“Do you know who the Rubber Man is, Sister Jane?”

“No, but I do know that I sure could use that five dollars!”

Calling her bluff, Morgana answers, “Sorry, but I’m looking to give this to someone who can tell me something about the Rubber Man. So, bye! Have a nice day!”

You never know what’s going to work with Sister Jane, but if anything does, it would definitely be a five dollar bill. Morgana sticks the bill back into her pocket, just to up the emotional ante. Even though, in her mind, she’s already given the five dollars to Sister Jane, she recalls Will Rogers’ famous quote: “The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your wallet.” Ha!

“Wait!” cries Sister Jane, upset but not upset enough to get on her feet. “I know the Rubber Man! Come back and give me that five dollars! Right now!”

Morgana turns around and faces Sister Jane. “OK, so what do you know?”

“He’s a crazy bum…bum…bum…Bumble bee? Did YOU say ‘bumble bee?’” She laughs, knowing that she sounds a little nutty.

“No, YOU said ‘bumble bee,’” says Morgana, feeling like this five dollar deal isn’t going to work out anytime soon.

“Oh, that’s right! YOU said ‘bumble bee,’” says Sister Jane, indulging Morgana with a crazy but sweet smile.

“OK, so the Rubber Man is a crazy bum—I already know that. I can’t give you five dollars for what I already know! What else?”

“Well, he’s a creep, is what he is! He swims in the Lake in the middle of the night like he’s a whale or an octopus, pus…pus…pus…Pussy? ? Did YOU say ‘pussy?’” Now she’s becoming agitated, and so is Morgana.

“No, YOU said ‘pussy,’” says Morgana.

“Oh, that’s right! YOU said ‘pussy,’” says Sister Jane, indulging Morgana with another crazy but sweet smile.

Morgana remembers the best advice she ever got from a fortune cookie: “Never stand and argue with a fool because a passerby will not know who’s who.”

“OK, Sister Jane! If you want that five dollars, tell me right now why you said that the Rubber Man is creepy!”

Sister Jane’s face contorts through several tics, and when it smooths out again, she continues explaining.

“When we good folk are sleeping in the middle of the night, he crawls on up outta the lake and scares the hell out of us. I wish he’d just steal from us good folk instead of scaring the hell out of us AND stealing from us! Sometimes I wake up and he’s standing over me in that black rubber suit of his, dripping that nasty shit lake water all over me, laughing like he’s happy to be let out of hell, laughing like it’s funny that I’m scared shitless, laughing at me because I’m crazy, too!”

Sister Jane is good and worked up now. Morgana thinks she’s even forgotten about the five dollars.

“Does he ever hurt anyone?”

“No, he but he steals everything—our food, our shoes, our money, our drinks, our medicine. He even stole a dead dog once! And did I mention that he’s so creepy?”

“When’s the last time you saw him?”

“Just this morning!”

“Really???” Morgana is amazed that this guy has eluded the police for all this time, but yet Sister Jane saw him just this morning! Huh! Imagine that!

If gullibility were a tangible asset, Morgana would be a rich woman. Remembering not to believe everything she thinks, Morgana checks her own sanity, reminding herself that Sister Jane is probably not the most credible informant in the world.

All of a sudden, Morgana remembers that she’s still on the clock at The Pregonero and feels guilty for getting paid to waste their time talking with Sister Jane. She digs the five dollar bill back out of her pocket and hands it over to Sister Jane, who grabs the bill in shocked delight, presses it to her lips, throws her hands up in the air, and laughing dementedly, she scrambles up the hill on all fours to the edge of the park. Morgana loses sight of her as Sister Jane stands erect on her two feet, darts out into traffic and runs down the street, narrowly missing cars and colliding with pedestrians.

“Damn!” thinks Morgana. For a skinny minute there, she thought she was onto something. To think that she was actually going to call the police to tell them that the Rubber Man had returned to his old haunts! Jerinda’s case was still open and any lead would be given consideration, but as soon as the police would learn that Sister Jane was the source of this information, they’d think Morgana was as batty as she is.

“Well, I’m five bucks to the bad but at least I’ve still got Charlie’s lemon juice,” muses Morgana, while she strides briskly along the walking path back to The Pregonero.

Back in regal countenance mode, she struts past a thicket of trees choked with vines, bushes and small clutches of Styrofoam, cellophane, and other fast-food refuse.

Inside the thicket, sitting cross-legged on the urine-soaked dirt, a skinny, blond, barefoot man wearing a black rubber wet suit looks up from the raw, stinking fish he’s been gnawing on and watches a chubby woman all dressed in blue with a jiggling ass bounce on by.

Oh, yeah! He’s interested!

To Be Continued in Chapter 15: Tangled Up in Tango

Art Credit: http://fakemillion.com/shop/creature-from-the-black-lagoon-million-dollar-bill/
Music Credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GD-m2zSKmWo
“Creep,” by Radio Head (Subtitulado en Español)

 

 

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The Our Little Secret Travel Agency – Chapter 9: The Initialization

transhuman

Morgana’s eyeballs feel like they are being sucked into an electro-magnetic vortex as her consciousness corkscrews through some other dimension. The Brain-Computer Interface has been activated and fully initialized.

Her inert body, now covered head-to-toe with a lightweight insulation blanket, lies cadaver-like on the gurney in the pink lab. Her body’s functions have slowed almost to a standstill and her skin takes on a greyish pallor. Its flame of sentience reduced to a flickering pilot light, her old body is a mere flabby bag of bones, an empty house: lights off, nobody’s home.

She slowly wakes up in her new body, hot off the 3D press.

How strangely different is this new body! Relaxed just short of the seductive tranquility of death, she subliminally perceives the undulating sensation that she is floating in a warm, blue sea of peace.

Her tenem opens its eyes, their gaze fixed on sylph-like hands as they show themselves off to her newly-dawned and utterly-amazed awareness, each of their long, tapered, young, flawlessly-manicured fingers moving gracefully. The hands seem to be on a reconnaissance mission as they reach for the top of her head, the fingers burrowing into the soft tangle of long curls. They trace their way over her high cheek boned, dewy face, the smooth contours of her long, willowy neck, over her satiny shoulders and trim, toned arms, the smallish breasts, soft yet so firm, the tiny waist, the slim hips, and the flat abdomen with just the slightest hint of roundness. Her “delta of Venus” is already pulsing with new life. She wiggles her new toes, flexes and stretches her feet and ankles, stiffens her legs and then bends her knees and hugs them up to her chest. The hands massage her left foot, and then her right, caressing the curves of both legs as she draws them gently upwards, exploring their cool perfection. This new body, so deliciously alive!

“Rain? Can you hear me?”

She now realizes that not only is she naked, but that she is not alone. Instantly, she is embarrassed that the sensual delight she has just experienced has been observed.

Rain turns her new head and sees an attractive older woman in a white lab coat sitting next to the bed, making notes on a clipboard.

Disoriented, Rain tries to remember her “real” name, and cannot. So powerful is this urge to remember who she really is that she almost cannot think of anything else.

“Rain,” says the woman, “My name is Veronica. I know your mind is racing, trying to reconnect to your real, physical self, but please focus on me, right here, right now.”

“Who am I?” demands Rain. As the words come out of her mouth, she is surprised not only because she uttered them, but even more so that she doesn’t recognize her own voice.

“Your name is ‘Rain’—the name that you chose for yourself and your ‘tenem,’ your new body. Your real name is not accessible to you while you are in tenem mode.”

Veronica checks Rain’s facial expressions to see if she understands.

Rain nods her head. “Yes, it’s coming back to me now.” She likes this new voice of hers, and thinks it’s an improvement over her old voice. The pitch is just a tad higher and has a mellower, more pleasant quality—not at all nasal—not that she ever thought about it before. Even though she’s not quite sure how to classify the accent, she does know that it sounds rather refined.

Veronica continues slowly, careful to enunciate clearly and evenly. “Good, very good. Your memories are somewhat accessible, but you will not be able to recall the city or state that you live in, the names of your family and friends, employers, etc. You will recall enough general information so that who you are as a person remains intact, but not enough to enable you or anyone else to encroach upon your present, real-world life.”

Rain’s focus sharpens as Veronica’s silver curls and soft features fill the frame of her vision.

“Yes, I remember now…The Our Little Secret Travel Agency…I’m finally here—in Switzerland…”

Veronica smiles. “Good! We’re on the right track! Let’s work the kinks out of your tenem and see if there’s anything that needs our attention. Before we do anything, though, let’s make sure that you can see properly—it just wouldn’t do to have you stumble around and ruin that beautiful face the first day you’re using it, right?”

As soon as Veronica props Rain up in bed with two fluffy pillows and tucks the sheet modestly high across her chest and under her arms, she produces a stack of large cards with random pictures of shoes, a truck, vegetables, a computer, and other items. Rain’s task is only to name what she sees and does so with no hesitation. A quick examination using an eye chart confirms that she has 20-20 vision. Veronica’s check list of mini-tests shows that Rain is able to track motion with no delays, and has the peripheral vision, depth perception and hand-eye coordination of a teenager.

Next, Veronica offers a hand mirror to Rain. She sees herself for a delighted instant and her image is immediately blurred. She blinks away the first few tears of emotion, and her vision is even sharper than anything she has ever experienced before.

She takes a deep breath and exhales a very contented, peaceful sigh.

Veronica gets up from the bedside and opens the closet behind her. A rack of beautiful, brand new clothing is illuminated by soft interior lighting.

“Any special requests? We’ll be taking a tour of the Spa facilities! Anything you choose will be appropriate. For today, we will not be going outside since this visit is just to get you accustomed to your tenem and to acquaint you with the Spa and some of what it has to offer.”

And just because she can, Rain chooses a slinky, strapless, orange tube mini-dress that fits like a glove with high platform shoes.

“The shoes are great, Rain, but I’d go with something lower until you get your bearings. Walking shouldn’t be a problem but your equilibrium has to refine itself. Those platforms will still be waiting for you next time.”

Rain considers the wisdom of practicality and quickly agrees.

Veronica locates the perfect alternative and holds them out for Rain’s approval.

“Meanwhile, how about these cute little cork-wedge sandals with these sparkley orange and turquoise gemstones?”

Rain slides her feet into the sandals which fit perfectly!

“I would never wear something like this in my real life. The old me would look incredibly ridiculous in this whole get-up,” she laughs.

Veronica guides the sheet-draped Rain from the bed to the dresser, where she chooses a pair of black, lacy bikini panties and a matching strapless push-up brassiere. Her modesty gone, she quickly dons the sexy underthings and wriggles into her orange tube dress. Veronica hovers nearby to make sure she doesn’t fall.

Looking this good, feeling this toned, this sexy, this attractive, is a new experience, almost spiritual if it weren’t so carnally exhilarating! This could never get boring, she thinks, as she remembers not her name but her real body, the one lying inert on the gurney in the pink lab. Oh, how she hates to be so wrapped up in her physical being, but how delectable it is to have a physical being such as this to be wrapped up in!

“What are you thinking, Rain?”

Rain twirls and sashays in front of the mirror, totally smitten with her reflection.

“I can’t believe this is me! I’ve got to be dreaming.”

“You will be happy to know that you will always be delighted by your tenem because the contrast of going back and forth between your real body and your tenem will keep this thrill alive for the duration of your ‘travels’ with The Our Little Secret Travel Agency.”

Rain tries not to think of the day when her tenem will no longer be hers.

“Are you ready to see the Spa?”

Rain does a final twirl in front of the mirror. “Absolutely!”

Veronica puts her chart on the dresser, takes off her lab coat, folds it and places it on top of the chart. She is dressed to the nines. Suddenly, she doesn’t look that old. Old people just don’t have faces and bodies like that, right?

Offering Rain her arm, she says, “Shall we go?”

Rain takes Veronica’s arm as the door closes behind them.

“Oh, how lovely! It looks like I’ve got a heart-shaped birthmark on my hand!”

“Oh, my!” says Veronica, examining the back of her right hand. “Indeed you do! I’d take that as a lucky sign!”

They walk slowly down a plushly-carpeted hallway with glass walls to keep the blue-cast, glacier-covered mountains at bay. Gaining momentum and fluidity, Rain’s first tentative steps turn into a confident, graceful stride.

“The first stop is The Lounge. You can come here anytime you like. We have twenty-four hour a day live music, if you’re in the mood—and around here, it seems like most people are! And there’s always a good crowd of people in there. Do you like to dance?”

“Oh, yes! How I love to dance! I just haven’t done it in years!”

“Well, good thing you’re here now. I have the feeling you will make up for lost time!”

As they approach the lounge, a small crowd of gaily chatting and laughing people exit through the smoky-glassed doors, bringing with them the driving, deafening music that would wake up the deadest of the dead for one last dance:

Music Credit: Embedded Youtube Video, ‘Ca plane pour moi’ version 2010, by Lou Deprijck

Illustration Credit: www.gnosticmedia.com

To Be Continued in Chapter 10: A Rainy Day with the Spabots

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Filed under Proto-Novela, Science Fiction, Short Stories, Short Story Series