I’m falling deeper into the abyss
Drowning out loud
I can’t swim anymore
Letting go and giving up
I’m tired of battling the current
Let the waves take me away
I’m falling deeper into the abyss
Drowning out loud
I can’t swim anymore
Letting go and giving up
I’m tired of battling the current
Let the waves take me away
The first time it happened, I was 17. It was supposed to be the best time in my life. I was in New York City, studying fashion design at a prestigious art school. I had always dreamed of becoming a costume designer and working in the world of theater or film. Finally, I was on my way.
The first time it happened, I was 17. I thought I was so grown up and sophisticated, until I arrived on that campus in Manhattan. It was immediately apparent that I was way out of my league. Girls flitted by in the latest high fashion outfits, and the boys, well, they were just as stylish. I remember suddenly feeling very small and insecure in my Macys jumpsuit, wearing one of two pairs of shoes that I owned. I always had felt confident about being able to put together an outfit, until I saw my competition.
The first time it happened, I was 17. Sure, in my small town, I had gone out on occasion. I had my first drink, when I was 14, and I continued to drink because it helped to relieve painful shyness. Even so, it was only on occasion, to get bold enough to socialize, or cut loose on the dance floor. I guess I was pretty sheltered. This became clearly apparent within a week of arriving to college. My roommate, who was 2 years older, seemed so savvy and cool, I couldn’t believe she wanted to hang out with me. She invited me to go out, and I fell under the spell of the nightlife that was NYC at the time. Swirling lights, music, drugs, and plenty of them. I was underage, but there were plenty of girls out in the clubs that were far younger than me.
The first time it happened, I was 17. I had never had a real “boyfriend” during high school. You could say I was a loner. I guess the combination of shyness, coupled with the fact that I wore thick glasses up until 11th grade didn’t help. I was still a virgin, and I secretly longed to find that special someone to share the first experience with. I wished to find that “true love”. The first month passed quickly at college. The soft summer air chilled to a crisp. It was time to break out fall fashions. Sweaters, boots, scarves, hats and gloves.
The first time it happened, I was 17. My roommate coerced me into going out to one of the last standing monster clubs of the moment in midtown Manhattan. I wore a vintage 60’s hot pink fitted dress, with a black fake fur cropped jacket, fishnet tights and pointy patent leather pumps. My friend wore a black sharkskin fitted men’s suit, with nothing under the jacket, along with red shiny booties, and her trademark black beret. She styled my hair into a sexy tousled mess, added heavy black eyeliner and hot pink lipstick. As we headed downtown in a cab, drinking vodka from a bottle, the interior filled with a cloud of Aqua Net and cigarette smoke. I was already tipsy by the time we got there. Standing in line behind the velvet rope, we were immediately selected to enter. My friend was strikingly beautiful, with her wild curly black hair, green eyes, and androgynous style. As soon as we walked in, the music took me over, and I headed to the dance floor, as she went off on her own. The place was a vibrating cavernous, multi-level extravaganza. A sensory overload. I lost myself in the music and danced for what seemed like hours. Intermittently strangers would come up and dance with me. It was a different time. People used to dance, and it was all very sexually charged, mixed up, and fun.
The first time it happened, I was 17. It was 3 am in the club. The place was still going strong, but I was ready to leave. I walked over to sit in a banquet, and moments later, a handsome stranger sat down close to me. He was well dressed, in a Wall Street sort of way, but friendly enough with his sweaty bangs falling over crystal blue eyes. He asked if I wanted to party with him, and laid out a couple of lines of coke before I even had a chance to answer. He snorted it quickly, and asked if I wanted any. I had never done drugs, but I was curious and I thought, well, why not. I took the rolled up bill, and he held my hair as I leaned over and snorted a line. As I let the cool burn slide down my throat, I could sense a shift in my body. Now tingling and alert, I told the stranger that I wanted to dance again. He slid his arm around me and told me that he wanted to take me to an after hours club where we could dance till dawn.
The first time it happened, I was 17. Riding in a cab through midtown, after midnight, with a stranger. High on cocaine, and giddy with nerves. The stranger was funny and charming. We made out in the cab. I asked him where the after hours club was. He told me we needed to go to his place to pick something up first. I was too out of it to protest. We headed over to the east side, and the cab stopped in front of a fancy brownstone. He took my hand to help me out. I followed him up the steps to the big wood entryway. Once inside the luxurious apartment, he invited me to sit down on the sofa, while he went into the kitchen to make drinks. He returned with two drinks on a tray, along with a pile of white powder. I took the drink, but declined the coke. He just laughed and said, “more for me.” I was starting to come down, and felt very tired and weak.
The first time it happened, I was 17. I was falling asleep on the sofa, and I told him I needed to go home. He had been yammering on and on about some deal he had made on Wall Street, and how much he was going to make during the next year. He reached over and grabbed me as I started to get up to leave. I told him I had class the next day. No, no, he said. I’ll send you home in a cab in the morning. Stay. Stay. I told him I couldn’t. He kept persisting, his stringy hair dangling over wild looking, bloodshot eyes. As he tugged on my dress, he tried to slide his hand up my thigh. I firmly gripped his hand to stop him. I told him I couldn’t sleep with him because I was still a virgin. I told him I was saving it for that special someone. I told him I wanted to leave. He grabbed me, and kept kissing me, even though at this point, I was not reciprocating. He was in a coked up frenzy by now, and suddenly I was very sober. I pushed him away and told him to stop it. He pushed me back down on the sofa. Tears welled up in my eyes. He was so much stronger than me, as he pushed me down, I heard him unzipping his pants. Tearing at my stockings, he told me to lie still, and urgently forced himself upon me, heaving and breathing like an animal. Hot tears flowed down my cheeks, pooling at the side of my face, as it was crushed deeper and deeper into the velour pillow. Physical pain was dwarfed by my emotional agony. Then, suddenly, I felt myself floating upward and watching this event from above. I disconnected and became numb. Nothing could touch me now. I became smaller and smaller, fading away into the distance, until I finally disappeared completely.
The first time it happened, I was 17.
Carefully pushing antique wire framed eyeglasses up the narrow bridge of his nose, Leonard scoured the online estate sale listings. Selecting only the most upscale of neighborhoods, he perused photos of items until he found gold. Not just any gold, but liquid gold. Vintage liquor cabinets, bar carts, or wine cellars. Any of these would do. Making notes in a well-worn leather binder, he beamed with excitement at the possibilities that lay before him.
It was a peculiarly cool weekend in April that brought, to his delight, the advent of two simultaneous sales. Conveniently, they were happening within a mile from one another, and both offered magnificent potential.
He took his time as he dressed in his lucky shirt. A burgundy silk button down with small gold buttons. It had been a well-received gift years ago from an older wealthy woman in Vegas, with whom he’d had a sordid affair. That was a lifetime ago, but he still associated the shirt with good fortune. Looking into the mirror, he combed back his silver hair with a bit of Brylcreem. He smiled with pride, admiring his pompadour. At least he still had a full head of hair, unlike most men of his age. He had taken good care of himself, considering the set backs life had thrown his way.
The walk-up apartment was small, but tidy, and dimly lit. Leonard prefered low lighting, as it camouflaged the ever evolving lines on his face. He had been quite a handsome man in his prime. He liked to believe that his striking good looks had only gotten more “intense” with time. He picked up a bottle of his best French cologne, and dabbed a bit along his neck and wrists. Inhaling the rich fragrance, Leonard sighed with delight. The scent always took him back to his days in Paris. Picking up the leather binder, along with his keys, he headed out. Locking the door with a deep breath, he turned on his pointy leather boots, and quickly walked down the stairs. Along the avenue, a crisp breeze lifted his already tall pompadour to new heights. He liked the attention it attracted from the ladies passing by. He moved swiftly towards his destination, filled with sweet anticipation.
2799 Willow Avenue was the first stop. It was a delapidated old mansion. Apparently, the family had lived there for generations. However, a sudden tragedy had forced them to give up the property. Leonard entered the foyer, barely acknowledging the woman who greeted him. Making a beeline for the dining room, he headed straight for the majestic bar against the far wall. Dark mahogany carved wooden shelves stood fully stocked with various bottles and glassware. Leonard rudely pushed past a few fellow shoppers who were admiring a set of club chairs. He rushed behind the bar, with a cardboard box in hand, laid it on the bar counter, and started filling it with bottles. He did so methodically, shelf by shelf. When the box was full, he shouted out to whoever was listening, “box, box I need another box!” A couple of boxes were tossed in his direction, and he rapidly filled them with all of the remaining bottles on the shelves. Leaving it barren, only glassware and a few sundry items remained. At checkout he tried his best to be charming, and after some bargaining, got it all for a steal. Since he wanted to go on to the next sale, he asked if he could store the purchased items there until his return. The saleswoman noticeably rolled her eyes, mumbling, “of course Leonard, of course.” He smirked with satisfaction.
56 Hummingbird Drive turned out to be a much smaller home, but still very fine, and just waiting for his entrance. Again, Leonard rushed in, took a hard right, and went straight to the small bar by the fireplace. Not as grand as the first location, he still found about 14 bottles of alcohol, ranging from gin to a fine cognac, albeit slightly cloudy looking. He boxed these up, and took them to the check out. Again, he sweet talked the ladies, and paid a nominal price for the stash. He took the goods out the door, and headed back to the first location. At this point it was far too much to carry, so he called a cab, and waited outside with the 3 boxes of bottles.
Finally home, he lugged the boxes one by one up the stairs, and dragged them into his humble abode. Taking out the bottles, Leonard lined them up one by one, on the narrow kitchen counter, organizing them by types of liquor. He smiled with delight as he examined some of the rarer items he had scored. When he was finished, he picked up an old fashioned rotary phone and dialed. His hand trembled as he stuttered into the mouthpiece, “Hello, hello, Lucia? It’s me, Leonard. I’ve got a haul for you.” He paused, listening intently to the voice on the other end of the line. He ran his fingers thru his thick silver hair, smiling and closing his eyes. “Yes, yes, I got the white chartreuse you’ve been searching for.” He held is breath for her reaction, which was better than he had anticipated. He laughed out loud with excitement. “Yes, I’ll bring it downtown, along with the gins, some good ones, I think, as well as a fine bourbon. I did you proud, ma’am. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.” He hung up the phone and started whistling aloud as he sorted through the bottles, selecting 7 particular, and after a pause, adding an 8th. He placed them carefully into one of the smaller boxes, and headed out once again. Leonard rode in the cab down towards the avenues, the box of bottles next to him, secured by the seatbelt. It was getting dark by now, and the rain had started to fall. The streets shone black and slick ahead. As they reached the run down warehouse district, he yelled at the cabby to pull over in front of a dimly lit façade. On the dark wall, a tiny window appeared, lit with a soft red light. He paid the driver, got out, and carried the box up a few steps. At the window a woman’s face peered at him. She told him to come in, and suddenly a door opened.
As he entered, it was so dark, he could barely see. Soft music drifted from afar. As his vision adjusted, he saw the woman motion to him to follow her down a long corridor. They entered into a lounge with a long bar, lined with empty stools. A tall thin woman with a platinum bob, wearing a shimmering white velvet gown approached Leonard. As she got nearer, it was clear that she was much older than he had first thought. She reached out a well-manicured hand, “I’m Lucia. Finally we meet face to face. Let’s see what you’ve brought for me.” She peered into the box, and motioned him over to the bar. Reaching inside, she carefully unpacked the various bottles, and lined them up along the spotless counter. They sat side by side on the black leather barstools, and he waited patiently, as Lucia examined each bottle with a keen eye. As she traced a long fingenail over labels, it was evident that she was pleased. She gasped at the last bottle, the coveted white chartreuse. He smiled, “I told you, didn’t I?” “Yes, you did well, my friend. You will be compensated generously, and I will await your next delivery with eager anticipation.”
With that, she reached down into a small purse slung low around her slender hips, and pulled out a roll of cash. She discreetly counted out two thousand dollars, in hundred’s twice, then once again for good measure. She placed the rolled up bills in his outreached hand. He curled his fingers around the warm money, and tried to remain cool and collected, even though he was trembling with excitement. She took his arm and offered him a drink. “Perhaps a glass of champagne to celebrate the occasion?” Why not, he thought. After a pause, her eyes lit up as she caressed the rare liquor sitting in front of them, “perhaps we should share a thimble of the white chartreuse instead!” He agreed, and she called over to the barmaid to bring her a shot glass. She cautiously opened the beautiful vintage bottle and gingerly poured a minuscule amount of the pale yellow liquor. She lifted the glass towards Leonard’s lips, and he took a tiny sip, savoring the heady herbal flavors. She followed his lead, closing her eyes as she took a delicate taste, her full pink lips barely touching the glass. Suddenly, Leonard’s breath got caught in his throat, and she too began to gasp for air. Her eyes grew large with fright, and he stared back at her unable to speak.. Simultaneously, he slumped forward onto the bar face first, and Lucia slid elegantly down to the floor, a pile of velvet surrounding her body. The barmaid and another girl ran over, but it was too late. Both of the bodies lay there motionless and pale in the dim light. The barmaid picked up the bottle of white chartreuse, took a calculated whiff from the opening and gasped. A toxic fume caused her to choke. Apparently, it had been refilled with poison. In fact, shortly after this tragic happening, there was a report that the Willow Avenue estate owner had indeed poisoned his wife, shortly before killing himself. Although the source of the poison was never determined, it was strongly suspected that he had given her a toxic cocktail, moments before her sudden death.
A sudden screeching of tires caught him off guard, as he headed out to his car. Glancing across the street, he saw the shiny black Maserati crushed up against a lamp-post. Smoke drifted upwards from the smoldering scene. He watched as the door opened and a single shiny red high-heeled pump emerged, soon followed by a long flawless leg, and then the other. As the woman stood up, he was breathless seeing her beauty. A tall platinum blonde, she towered over the wreckage beneath her. Reaching in, she swiftly pulling a small glossy red handbag out of the vehicle, and turned on her heel to stare straight at him. She didn’t appear to have been injured in the incident, in fact, she seemed quite nonchalant about the entire thing. As she crossed the street towards him, it seemed almost like a dream. He was speechless at this fantasy approaching him. Click, click, click went the heels as they tacked along the pavement. A cool breeze was in the air, and as she neared him, a gust picked up, lifting her shiny tresses like a halo.
“Are you ok?”, he asked, nervously. She pushed her sunglasses up, revealing steely crystal blue eyes, and glared at him, answering with a curt “Obviously.” Followed by “What are you just standing there for? I need a fucking ride!” His car was sitting behind him in the driveway. He walked over to his older model silver Mercedes, opened the passenger door, and motioned her into the vehicle. She sniffed the air with disdain. He got into the driver’s seat and pulled on his seatbelt. She lit up a cigarette, inhaled dramatically, and blew a stream of smoke out through a crack in the window. “Where can I take you Miss?” he asked as he started the ignition. Classical music came on. She immediately switched the station to a techno beat. Reaching down, she slipped of her shiny red pumps and tossed them onto his lap, one at a time. He could feel the sharp heel and the weight of the shoes pressing through his lightweight trousers. Now, he became aware that she knew exactly what she was doing. She threw her head back, and laughed, “Honey, I don’t have anywhere to go now. I wrecked my car. What do you think? I need a god damned drink and I want to go relax. Let’s go get some wine and come back to your place.”
He was extremely nervous, but excited at the same time. “Okay, sounds good.” He was supposed to have been on his way to a networking event, but this was a once in a lifetime situation, and he had to seize the opportunity. Unmarried, with no real options, he was desperate for something to happen in his life. This was it!
He drove like a banshee to the local liquor store. She didn’t want to put her shoes back on, so he went in and picked up a few bottles of wine and a bottle of champagne, as well as a pack of cigarettes per her request. As he made his way back to the car, he could see her smoking again. Tiny smoke rings billowed out of the window. She tipped her head up watching the miniature clouds dissipate into the wind. They drove back in silence, and he looked over to see her rubbing one nylon clad foot and then reaching down to massage the other. “Uh, um, I can do that for you.” He stated awkwardly. “Oh, yeah, well, you can do a lot for me.” She countered. He remained quiet until they pulled into the driveway. His hand trembled with nerves as he unlocked the door. She stood so close to him that he could smell her fragrance, a delicate balance of expensive perfume, mixed with shampoo and smoke. Intoxicating.
As they entered, he took the bag into the kitchen, and opened a bottle of wine. She flopped on his sofa in her stocking feet, her tight white dress riding up to reveal the long satin nylon encased legs. He carried two glasses over, handing her one and taking a sip of his. As he began to sit across from her, she motioned him over. “Come here., you told me you would massage my feet.” He obliged. Sitting next to her, she placed her perfect legs and feet over his thighs, and he reached down to begin gently rubbing the impeccable arches, toes, heels, calves. Slowly moving upward, to test her response, she leaned back softly moaning, her glossy pink lips slightly parted…
Behind a crumbling façade, the grand old hotel still retained a regal quality. Gilded details glimmered through the faded layers of peeling paint, providing a glimpse into the glamorous past of this faded beauty. Precariously positioned on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the vast Atlantic Ocean, the structure stood strong. A relic, with a once glorious past. The grounds around the massive property now overgrown and wild, had at one time been well-manicured gardens, thick with flora and fauna. An enormous empty swimming pool full of dried leaves, revealed patches of intricate mosaic tile work. Mossy cracked statues of cherubs stood guard. Long ago, this oasis had sparkled, surrounded by alabaster Italian fountains spouting arched streams into the crystal blue water. Remnants of a small stage stood at the far end of the pool. This was where bands would play and guests would dance, often late into the night.
Built in the late 1800s, in its early years, the Delray had been a mecca for the rich and famous. It hosted brokers, movie stars, as well as royalty from around the world. Of course, entourages and wannabes soon followed, looking to piggyback on the excesses of the times. The hotel was notorious for its glamorous and wild parties. Rumors were kept quiet, but it was common knowledge that people of a certain caliber were allowed to get away with everything and anything. The liquor ran freely during prohibition, and alongside gambling, there were plenty of beautiful girls brought in for the single men, and practically anything else imaginable could be requested for a price. It was said that if you could dream it, you could have it at the Delmar. The heady mix of money, alcohol and cocaine, alongside an “anything goes” attitude, allowed for many scenarios to unfold. Countless payoffs and favors had been done to keep most of the stories hushed, however quite a few scandals of debauchery and bad behaviour frequently slipped out into the city papers, which the masses ate up like cake.
The golden years came to a screeching halt with the crash of the stock market in 1929. Party time was over, and the guests stopped coming. The hotel, like so many of its breed, chose to accommodate long-term tenants in order to maintain the expenses of running the place. Initially, quite a few units were rented, and the hotel managed to maintain a skeleton staff along with groundskeepers. The tenants enjoyed a comfortable life at the Delray, with full service at their disposal. Gradually, as the economy worsened, most of the staff was let go, other than some maintenance workers who lived on the premises. The gardens were left unkempt and the pool drained. Finally, most of the tenants moved out, leaving only a handful of very elderly ladies and a few eccentrics.
As the years passed, the hotel continued to become more dilapidated. A series of severe storms wrecked the façade, and the gardens became unrecognizable. Ivy grew over some of the shuttered windows, and the place was rumored to be haunted. Finally, of the 200 rooms, only 4 were rented. One to a wealthy TB patient on her deathbed, quarantined to the far quarters with her 24 hour nurses, and three other suites, which belonged to a tenant named Lena, who resided at the opposite end of the property. Twice a month, an order of basic food and supplies was delivered. Other than that, the residents were left in isolation. The maintenance staff had long gone, and if anything was broken, it stayed that way.
At night, from afar, the place stood desolate, appearing vacant, except for the occasional glow of light on one end or the other.The darkened halls of the hotel creaked. Floorboards had absorbed years of humidity from the ocean air. The atmosphere was stagnant and musty, carpets mildewed and dank. The TB patient never left her room, and the only activity on that end of the hotel property was that of nurses trading shifts.
On the other end of the hotel, however, it was another story. The Cabana suites consisted of the entire southwest corner of the hotel, which was cliff side with ocean views. Back in the day, this had been the most luxurious section, and was reserved for only the most elite of guests. It had a private entrance, windows facing the Atlantic, and a courtyard view from the bedroom. Albeit, now the view was of defunct fountains, overgrown weeds, and debris.
The interior of the suite, however was immaculate. The only light which ever seemed to be on was a peach tinted lantern in the bedroom. This was where Lena spent most of her time, other than the delivery days, when she would meet the truck at the door and allow them to bring her orders into the kitchen.
In her room, she had a giant pink lace canopy bed, with silk satin sheets and scalloped shams. A white mink fur throw finished the look.
The vanity was well stocked and she would sit there for hours, carefully applying her makeup, eyelashes, and lastly selecting a wig for the occasion. There was a calendar on the table, with a special event inked in for each day. Obvious holidays and a lot of invented ones. In fact for Lena, each day was a holiday. Today was the special “Cruiseship Day”, and she dressed in an all white ruffled top with flared high-waisted pants. As she stood in front of the full-length mirror, Lena squinted to see her reflection. She scowled at herself and tied a scarf over her long blonde wig. Quickly, she picked up a pair of sunglasses and put them on as well. Reapplying her bright red lipstick, she smiled. Smiling revealed her missing tooth, so she pursed her lips together in a pout.
Smoothing the hair down, she turned in the mirror, and began a conversation with an invisible man. “Darling, I do think we should have brought more champagne. Don’t you?” “What is it?” “Oh, my love, you shouldn’t have.” Lena reached down to pick up a diamond bracelet off of the dresser, and gently put it on over her white glove on the left arm. “It’s absolutely spectacular, my darling! How did you know?”
“I shall wear it to my performance this evening! But I must change because the bracelet deserves my sequins gown! Tonite is our night my love!”
With this, Lena walked to the massive walnut armoire, opening the double doors to reveal a cache of gowns, sparkling in the low light. It looked as though every color of the rainbow was inside. She extended her white-gloved hand, selecting a white crystal encrusted gown, which weighed so much, she needed to use both arms to carry it. Laying it on the shiny pink bed, she smiled. “Ah yes, this is the one. The most exquisite of all. It is our special occasion, isn’t it!” With that, she removed her gloves, laying them on the bed next to the gown. Unbuttoning the sailor pants, she let them slide to the floor, carefully stepping out of them onto the Persian carpet. She unbuttoned the blouse and threw it over a slipper chair in the corner. Now naked, she covered her breasts, with a coy smile “please my love, you must not look.”, as she leaned towards the heavy gown, lifting it to maneuver the heavy beaded fabric over her head. Catching the armhole, she slipped into it quite gracefully, and managed to zip it up along the side. It fit like a glove. She turned to look in the mirror, smiling. Adjusting the wig, she looked around the room. “Oh, there it is, my love.” She walked over and picked up a long veil from a small table. Back at the full-length mirror, she placed the veil on her head, smoothing the blonde waves down to one side. She put the long white gloves back on and smiled. “I’m ready, my pet, you can look now.” She shyly looked down at the ground. As she raised her head, she caught another glimpse of herself in the mirror under a brighter beam of light. She gasped at the sight. The delusion momentarily broken, she shrieked in horror. What she saw was an old woman, missing a tooth, bony and weathered. Her heart beat faster, and her breathing got heavier. Panic set in. She needed air. Fresh air. Lena headed for the door, and pushed it open against the powerful wind. Hurling herself outside, she fell on the ground. The rain pelted her face and her dampened veil clung to her skin. She crawled towards the cliffside. The violence of the ocean below called her name. She ripped the veil from her eyes and threw it over the ledge. Somehow, Lena gathered the strength to sit up. She unzipped the gown, pulling it over her head. It fell over in a heap next to her shivering body. She pushed the dress away from her towards the Atlantic. A sudden gust took it away. The white wedding gown flew up into the misty night air, momentarily pausing as if begging for a second chance, before vanishing into the abyss below.
Lena lay there naked, yet she felt reborn. She managed to get up and make her way back to the bedroom. Gathering the huge mink throw about her, she used a tissue to wipe the lipstick away. She put on a long cashmere robe and ran herself a bath. As the tub filled with warm water, Lena laid out her clothes for the next day. A modest skirt and sweater, along with a hat, gloves, and a wool coat. It was time. Time to move on.
Joey had been living his life as a kept man, and a gigolo on the side. It’s not something he planned on. It just sort of happened. Well, it happened the day he met Delores. She was a bawdy customer at the bar where he worked the closing shift. One night, like so many others, Delores had had one too many martinis, and, while pressing her sweating breasts over the edge of the wooden bar, she beckoned Joey over with a long red laquered talon. “Hey hon, ya think you wanna give me a ride tonite?” Joey, being the consummate professional, assumed she meant that she was too drunk to drive home the few blocks across the flat industrial town. He asked her to wait 10 minutes until the end of his shift.
Exiting the buiding, she held his strong arm, teetering on her stilettos through into the parking lot. She placed the keys in his hand, and he opened the door to her dilapidtated Cadillac. The scent of stale perfume and cigarettes permeated the interior. She told him to get into the drivers seat and take her home. As he fastened his seatbelt, she reached over and grabbed at his crotch. Joey was only 23, and Delores, well, she was definitely older than his mom, and perhaps even his gran.
The first time, it happened in that Cadi, they just leant the seats back. Her excitement, triggered his ego, and he was addicted immediately. The scent of well-worn whole grain leather, White Diamonds, Benson & Hedges and Aquanet intoxicated him. This moment would remain with him for life.
Joey continued seeing Delores, initially in exchange for food, and meager trinkets. Later on he was given a watch, numerous shirts, socks, underwear, and once, an incredible pair of alligator boots. She lavished him with her attention and occasionally, he would find a 100 dollar bill tucked into his wallet. He had a key to her house ,and he came and went as he pleased. Delores was always available, except Wednesday nights, for those were her service nights. He had noticed certain odd items around her home. There was an alter at the entryway, filled with embers and small metallic bones. In addition, she had a few strands of ancient looking beads, and unusual amulets strewn about on doorways and hanging in corners. Now and then, she would burn something, which left a sour note lingering in the air.
One night, as they shared the giant bathtub, full of bubbles and red rose petals, she closed her eyes, leaned her head back. Slowly she opened her eyes to meet his. Staring for a few moments, she said “ It’s time.”…”Time for what?” Joey was confused. “You’re ready. “ Delores mesmerized him with her stare, as she caressed his strong arms. He really didn’t think much of it, because he always went along with her whims. She told him to keep next Wednesday open, and have an all black outfit ready. In fact, she said, she would get him something to wear.
A few days later, he got to her house to find a pair of black pants and black tee laid out on the bed, along with shoes to match. He dressed in the outfit, and walked downstairs to the living room where Delores sat in an extravagant black velvet gown. She smiled with approval. “Come here, come baby.” He sat next to her, inhaling the scent of her potent fragrance. She stubbed out her cigarette in the overflowing ashtray. After offering him a drink, she took his hand in hers. Delores had beautiful hands. Long fingers, decorated with cocktail rings, which sparkled in the low light. She looked him in the eyes, “listen baby, this means everything to me, and I want you to know I’m doing it for you.” He smiled a weak smile, not sure what to make of her cryptic message.
The clock in the hallway struck 7 pm, and Delores startled. “Let’s go!” she told him. “We need to be there by 7:30.” He dutifully followed, feeling a bit numb from the drink she had given him.
Somehow they arrived at the service. As they shuffled in behind a line of people all dressed in black. Upon closer observation, all of the people were women! He turned to ask Delores why, but she only stared straight ahead, expressionless. He thought he heard music playing. Either it was muffled, or he was drunk. As they reached the alter, he saw a cloaked priest or priestess, holding up a flask containing a deep red liquid. Further in the distance, he noticed a platform, with a sort of ditch around it, in which there appeared to be dark water flowing. Delores pressed him forward as his body resisted. He felt all eyes on him, and the humming began ever so subtly…a soft hum which gradually became an unbearable crecendo…hands were now touching his body, and massaging his arms and back, he was being pushed forward to the alter. The women swarmed and pressed inward….
The seasons were all cold, with one far colder than all the rest. Just as the ice finally turned to water, there was only a short period of time before it began to freeze over once more. It was a cruel cycle, but the people had acclimated. They relocated here following the last attack. The pain of losing loved ones through battle and separation was unspeakable. Each new settlement became a place to heal, regroup, and rebuild. Seasons brought cycles, and cycles brought children. The circle of life continued. Occasionally, something, or someone extraordinary happened.
It was during a particularly brutal winter, that a very special boy was born. A beautiful baby, whose dark brown eyes glittered from within. He was extremely alert, with a stare so intense, that anyone who met him felt the presence of something greater. He had been here before. They called him Achak, meaning “spirit”. As soon as he was able to walk, he began to run. Swift and stealth, it was said that he could reach destinations before any messages sent on smoke, or sound. He was only 8 years old when the elders called on him to become a messenger.
Achak had the innate ability to effortlessly navigate all sorts of terrain. He began by taking simple short treks to give messages to relatives and loved ones. Nobody this young had ever been entrusted with such a responsibility, but Achak was extraordinarily lithe, and wise beyond his years. Even at such a young age, he was given respect typically reserved for those many years his senior. Achak loved his people, and felt honored to be their protector. He would return to the camp exhausted, but after a good meal and rest, he always awoke invigorated and eager for whatever duty was requested of him next. It wasn’t long before he was sent on more serious journeys to warn of pending attacks.
By the time he was 10, he had done countless treks, traversed many hundreds of miles, and knew details of the lands that not many could claim to understand. Achak could meld with nature, blend into the forest, glide through the underbrush, and slip through streams and rivers undetected.
During the very coldest of months, he was sent out less frequently, as threats were fewer during the frigid chills. However, there arrived from the east, an urgent warning, and Achak was summoned to carry this message to the next encampment. This time, he had to prepare for the journey with extra layers of warmth. The women prepared food in small parcels, which was tied close to his waist so that it wouldn’t interfere with his movement and speed. The snow would provide his drinking water. As he fastened the fur hood snugly over his head, his mother came over to him. Although he was growing quickly, Achak was still a boy, slender and sinewy. She held him by his shoulders in front of her. Staring into his eyes, she said nothing, while saying everything. A tear made it’s way through her thick lashes, and rolled slowly down her soft cheek. She pulled him close, hugging him tight to her. He could feel her tremble as she tried not to cry.
It was early morning, but he needed to move fast in order to arrive before sundown. He knelt down, adjusting the snowshoe straps over his thick suede and fur boots. Standing and closing his eyes for a moment, he inhaled. As he pushed aside the heavy leather tarp, a blast of arctic air assaulted is face. He pulled up the thick buckskin collar, covering his mouth and nose. His mother watched in silence through the opening, as he headed out, a figure silhouetted against the blinding snowscape. She watched through a tiny gap, as he got smaller and smaller, finally becoming a speck in the distance. Sighing aloud, her breath leaked a stream of condensation into the frigid air outside. Stepping back, she disappeared behind the resealed tarp.
Gliding effortlessly across the top layer of the sparkling blanket of snow, Achak used economy of motion to conserve energy. Lean and limber, he raced in the direction of the encampment. There was no time to waste. As he moved across the vast plain, the sun rose higher and higher. The moment when it shone the brightest was the optimal time to take a short rest. Pausing near a riverbed, he heard running water beneath the ice. It had to be fast, because removing a glove would expose his hand to the arctic air. He quickly unfastened a small leather bag from his waist belt, carefully unfolding it. From inside, he took a couple of pieces of jerky, putting them in his mouth. Leaning down to reach a crack in the ice, he gathered a bit of water and snow with the small sac. Carefully taking small sips of the icy water, he chewed slowly, savoring the salty meat. This would give him the strength necessary to reach his destination. Putting the glove back on, Achak fastened the leather pouch around his waist once more. Just then, he paused, hearing a sound. It was distant. Or, was it near? Across the stream, thick brush obscured his vision. He heard another sound from the darkest place in that wooded area. Pinpointing the noise, he focused his vision, and saw the faint outline of a group of men. He breathed. Should he pretend not to see them, confront them, or simply run. Instinctively, he ran. The snowshoes moved his body, a whooshing sound with the impact of each step so loud, but his heartbeat even louder. Just as he had momentum going, a huge sound obliterated everything else, and the pain that came with it knocked Achak off of his feet. He felt the cold snow rise to meet his face, but the rest of his body felt warm, his back drenched with sweat. He couldn’t move, and the light turned to dark.
Hours passed. Achak was woken by something relentlessly pushing on the back of his neck. Groaning, he opened one eye. His face was numb, and he realized he was lying on his side in the snow. It was nighttime now, and the waning moon hid behind a cloud. Hearing a low growl right behind him, his heart began to race again. It was the deep slow growl of a wolf. Terrified at the sound, he realized that it was the wolf nudging his neck. At that moment, he could feel the heat of the animal’s hot breath against his collar. The pungent scent of the beast hung in the air around him.
Laying still, he listened to his own heart beating so fast, feeling as though it would spring out of his chest. He felt the sensation of the animal literally breathing down his neck. As his eyes adjusted to the dark night, Achak rolled his body over, ever so slowly to see the outline of a massive grey wolf standing next to him, staring intently with amber eyes. He gasped with alarm. The majestic creature had snow crystals encrusted along its dark grey and black fur, and its breath came out in white puffs against the darkness. At this moment, just when Achak thought his life was over, something unexpected happened. The giant grey wolf knelt down next to him, with a soft whimper. Instinctively, the boy slowly reached out a shaky gloved hand to touch the majestic creature’s soft grey mane of fur. Brushing away some of the small pieces of crusty snow, the wolf closed its eyes, and moved closer to Achak, leaning it’s body onto his. The weight was heavy, as the wolf was huge. He was bigger than Achek and easily weighed over 150 pounds, nearly double the boy’s weight.
The wolf nudged him some more, but as Achek tried to get up, a searing pain radiated across his back and down his leg. He cried out in agony, piercing the silence of the desolate night. The wolf nudged him again and leaned closer. Achak realized the wolf was offering him to climb onto its back. He reached up with both arms and grasped the dense fur collar, hoisting his weak body upwards. As the wolf rose up, it maneuvered so that the boy’s body was lifted, and it slowly stood up on all fours. Achek wrapped his arms tightly around the thick fur collar, and positioned his legs so that he wouldn’t fall off. His snowshoes still on, he let his legs hang on each side of the enormous wolf. Leaning his head down, he felt himself sinking into the dense, warm coat. He buried his face in the fur, relishing the musky odor and damp warmth rising from beneath. Just at the moment he was securely attached, the wolf began to run. He ran with a grace, unfamiliar to Achak. The motion was steady and powerful, yet safe and secure. Too exhausted and pained to wonder, Achak entrusted the wolf to take him wherever he was going. His eyes had adjusted to the night and as he lifted his head to look around, he saw the glowing plain stretching out in all directions. In the far distance he noticed a tiny glowing light. Too exhausted to keep his head up, Achak buried his head in the fur once again, and prayed that they would be safe. The motion of the wolf’s gait lulled him into a trance, and he forgot the pain, and even the very reason for his very being. Time passed, the heat of the body beneath him, radiated to thaw his aching limbs. The rhythmic breathing of the wolf kept time with the pace, and Achak felt one with all of nature. Time passed and he strained to lift his head once more. This time there were more lights, and he could make out the settlement outline under the starry sky. A blanket of fresh snow surrounded the encampment, and the pristine white was untouched by even a footprint. He smelled the scent of pine and burning wood. As they got closer, he heard faint voices carried on the wind. The pace of the wolf slowed, his panting louder now. Gradually they came to a gentle walk, and finally halted outside of the entryway. The wolf stood at attention and slowly sat, allowing Achak to slide down his back onto the soft snowy ground. He turned his majestic head to look at Achak with the glowing golden eyes. The boy reached his hand to touch the wolf’s nose and thick mane once more. The wolf closed its eyes. The boy slowly stood, although in great pain. As he walked toward the entry of the encampment, he called out to announce himself in a low voice. There was a rustle, and a tarp was pulled back. A tall man dressed in many layers of leathers and fur, stepped outside onto the snow. He stared at Achak and a smile crossed his lips. Achak turned around and the wolf was gone. The footprints in the pristine snow trailed away into the invisible distance. The man came forward and put his arm around the boy, ushering him inside. The warmth of the home enveloped the child. He was seated and given food and water. Women came in and tended to his wounds. They gave him fresh warm layers to wear, and made him lie down by the fire. He soon realized he was at his destination. He shared the warning message with the people. They thanked him for being so fast. There was plenty of time for them to relocate before the footmen arrived. They gave him a gift of a protective feather amulet, signifying flight and swiftness. The cluster of feathers, wrapped in suede strips, was strung with intricately detailed clay beads. He told them that the amulet really belonged to the wolf that had rescued him and carried him to the camp. They listened to his tale in disbelief, thinking he might just be delirious or exhausted. They told him to get rest before heading back at dawn. He insisted that his story was true, and he got up, heading to the doorway, asking them to come outside to see the tracks of the wolf as proof. When he pulled back the heavy leather drape, they looked out and saw nothing but a velvety coating of fresh snow. No wolf in sight. Achak felt deflated. Maybe he really did imagine the entire thing. Exhausted, he lay down on the soft bedding and fell into a dreamless sleep.
The scent of cooking woke him. He heard the elders talking in low voices. As he approached them, they stood up to thank him once more for his bravery. He was offered a meal, and given another layer of warmth to wear on the journey back. He adjusted the snowshoes, and wrapped the coating closely around his body. Stepping outside, a glaring sun met his eyes. Blinded by the snowscape, Achak set out to make his way back home. He searched again for footprints, but the night storm had erased any evidence of the previous evening. He began to move as fast as he could, but his injuries made it difficult to maintain his speed. He managed to get a good head start, but needed to pause and rest more frequently than usual. As he sat for a moment, taking a bite of the food, he heard the sound of footsteps. Turning around swiftly, he saw the beautiful grey wolf approaching across the plain. As it got closer, it slowed its steps, and sat next to Achak. They sat in silence together for a few moments. Then the wolf leaned down and Achak climbed onto the grey wolf’s back once more. Achak was home before dusk. The wolf instinctively left him off at the edge of the camp. Achak wrapped his arms around the heavy fur collar, inhaling the scent. With eyes squeezed tight in concentration, he spoke of his appreciation. Standing up once again, he walked towards the entrance to his home. Pausing, he turned around for a moment, only to see the trace of a powdery snow cloud drifting into the black sky. Tears formed in his eyes, as he called out signaling his arrival. His mother peeked out from behind the leather tarp, beaming as she saw her son. Opening the doorway, she reached out to brush snow and fur off of his coat as she welcomed him home.
Inhaling the briny air, Sylvia extended her tan sinewy arms toward the balmy tropical skies above. As the waves crashed below, a thick mist of sea spray drifted upward, momentarily obscuring from vision the figures huddled together. The air cleared, and a small circle of silhouettes appeared, holding up long white chiffon scarves, which billowed through the air. In the center stood guru Sylvia. She chanted loudly against the wind “Lokah samastha sukhino bhavanthu”……others followed her lead. Their voices carried over the cliffs, onto the sea, fading far away into the distance.
Turning to the group, she bowed gently. Her fluffy blonde hair, a swirling halo around her head. They bowed in return. The circle of ten individuals all wore white gauze ensembles, and a simple band of blue tied around their foreheads. At the end of the final prayer, she looked up, and slowly turned to meet each one, eye to eye, praising them for their attendance. First there was Gregory, a young man from Minnesota, who had left his life as a ranch hand to become a yogi. Next, Maxwell, a recovering sex addict from Toronto, who just wanted a fresh start. Then Nadine, sufferer of anger issues, looking for management with a spiritual angle. And, so it went. Lastly, she locked eyes with a shrewd looking red-head. She knew those aqua-green eyes immediately. It was Betty. Betty, her old friend. A reformed alcoholic. Betty was here to do a “life cleanse”, and was ready to reach the next level in her yogic training. She was, in fact, looking for her master. Sylvia offered up a weak smile of recognition, and moved on to the next person, Harvey, an ex-marine, looking for peace in his life. She breathed heavily, the group automatically followed her lead with a collective sigh.
The cliff side session was over. As the group dispersed, they wandered off in a daze to go to the hostel for lunch. Betty, however, waited for Sylvia. After everyone had departed, the two remained on the cliff’s edge. Betty stepped gingerly towards Sylvia, forcing an awkward smile. Sylvia laughed, breaking the ice, and Betty did too. As they hugged in the sea spray, Betty stood back staring into Sylvia’s crystal blue eyes. She apologized for her bad behaviour. She explained that she had gone through major rehab, and was now a completely different person. Sylvia was very calm, took a deep breath and smiled. Betty looked out over the vast sea, and softly said, “You see, now, that the infidelity I had with your husband was nothing. In the infinity of life, it was just a blip on the screen.” Sylvia let out a hearty laugh, and pulled Betty to hug her once more. As they embraced, she took a step forward towards the cliff’s edge, and with a gently push, Betty was falling down into the foamy surf far, far below.