Archive for March 29th, 2007

The Bigger Picture: A Progressive Story (7th and final part added)

March 29, 2007

This is a Progressive Story…here’s how it works:Below is a short story I began writing a couple of years ago…then filed away on a back shelf of my computer.

Thanks to comments from Rowan and Mind Doc/Dr. Bob on Monday, I have pulled it back out and dusted it off in order to offer it as an experiment. (Yes, yet another Monkbot project…am I killin’ y’all with these?)

I’ve provided the basis for a story here…it was up to y’all to finish it.

Here is the list of contributors

  1. Double D
  2. Ivoryhut
  3. Bamaborntxbred
  4. Quossum
  5. Mind Doc/Dr. Bob
  6. Rowan

The Bigger Picture
Beginning by Shelley Powers
Middle and Ending by the Monkbots

I was reaching behind the bookshelf in my den, looking for some loose change that had rolled away, when I found them.

My fingertips were covered in dust, and I was patting around blindly for the stray quarters when I brushed against the metal and glass. I pulled the object from behind the bookshelf to see what I’d found and there, staring back at me, was a pair of glasses. They were wire-rimmed and the earpieces were bent into hook shapes. The lenses definitely needed dusting, but there were few scratches. Forgetting about my quarters, I took my new treasure to the sink to clean it up. A little Joy dish soap and voila! Good as new.

They weren’t mine. I had never worn glasses. Maybe they belonged to the previous homeowners. I gave them a careful inspection. Shining like new from being cleaned, they were beautiful. The wire rims looked like real gold and the glass had a mesmerizing gleam. Then as I held them up to the light, I noticed the faintest of etching along the inside of the right arm, where the metal flattened out. Written in an exacting script was “We once were lost.”

Creepy, I thought.

Then, like anyone would’ve done, without even thinking, I put the glasses on.

My view was barely changed, save the distortion from the few scratches. Then I felt my pupils contract, like when someone clicks on the overhead light in the middle of the night. A sharp pain ran from my eyeballs to the back of my head as my view of the living room expanded to twice its size. Nothing grew larger. My peripheral vision stayed the same. But somehow everything expanded to where I saw each item in the room in its entirety. Armchairs were fibers woven together with a history of passengers embedded in the work. Books were bound by aging glue and stitching with page after page covered with fingerprints and ink and words and passages and thoughts and emotions. I tried to blink but couldn’t. As if involuntary muscles, my eyes darted from object to object in the room, taking in colors I had never noticed and patterns so detailed I began to get dizzy.

Moving faster than my brain could register, my eyes continued to swirl in my head and I felt myself begin to sway. Fearing that I might faint or get sick, I reached up and snatched the glasses from my face. My pupils dilated and the room seemed to shrink back to its original state. I looked down at the spectacles and realized that these glasses allowed me to see a bigger picture, a picture that I possibly was not meant to see…but one that intrigued me nonetheless…

The following was contributed by Double D

Raggles bounded into the room with the enthusiasm of a Super Bounce ball. The 3-year-old Jack Russell/Terrier mix that I had “adopted” as a timid, 6-month-old pup had evolved into a rather giddy companion, providing hours of amusement. As I watched him playfully chase a dust bunny near the large picture window in the den that was streaming in the late afternoon sun, my mind and my eyes wandered back to the new find in my hands.

Suddenly, I realized that I still had the splitting headache that the glasses had left me with. Moving into the kitchen, I beckoned Raggles, “C’mon boy, let’s see what we can find for this headache.” Raggles responded with a deft tail-wagging and sauntered off into the kitchen ahead of me.

After popping two Extra-Strength Tylenols and pouring myself a large glass of ice cold milk, I sat on the wrought iron stools at the island in my kitchen and stared at the “magic” glasses. My mind went back to the few moments before when I had had them on and exactly what I had seen. Yes, it was definitely the window to the bigger picture. With some trepidation, I decided to try it again, but this time, slowly.

I slipped the glasses over my nose and onto my closed eyes then slowly opened them. Remembering the dizziness and pain of the previous encounter, I decided to focus on one thing. It happened to be Raggles sitting there, head cocked to one side, staring at me and waiting for our next move.

As I stared at the dog that was so similar to the RCA dog, I began to get an odd feeling… somewhere between freedom and carelessness, like sitting on the beach on a hot summer day with the wind blowing through my hair. My legs felt strong and nimble with no sign of the nagging ache constantly present in my left ankle. I have to admit, I had the strange urge to smell the surroundings around me. Resisting what felt like a basic instinct, I suddenly could see myself sitting there looking at Raggles, as if through his own eyes. It was all a bit kaliediscope-ish yet the curiosity of the experience kept the glasses firmly in place.

Then, without warning, I was overcome by a sadness wrapped in fear. I felt cold and as lonely as I ever felt. It was then that I realized that the familiar ring tone of “Takin’ it to the Streets” by Taylor Hicks was beckoning. I removed the glasses, taking a minute to re-focus with a little less tumultuousness, this time.

“Stevie. Hello?…Is this Stevie,” I heard my mother inquire, in her most agitated voice. “Mother…yes, it’s me.” After “discussing” for the umpteenth time how much she hates cell phones and can’t hear people talking on them (all the while screaming into her own speaker phone), we got to the real reason for her call. “Son, I think it’s really a shame that I never seen you anymore. I mean, I live all of four miles from you and you haven’t been by since Easter.” The usual dread of speaking to my mother swept over me and once again, I made excuses then profusely apologized and promised to stop by this weekend. As I punched the red button on my cell phone, I ran through the To Do List that I knew my mother would have ready for me when I got there.

Raggles’ barking brought me back to the glasses. I tried to link my experience back to the subject that I was looking at through the spectacles. Then, illumination!….I was experiencing the bigger picture of Raggles. I remembered how I had found him at the shelter, a shy and tired-looking older puppy. The attendant at the shelter had told me that Raggles had been found down by the docks and had evidently been on his own for a while, scavenging through dumpsters and relying on the kindness of the dock workers sharing their lunches.” I have to admit, I had the strange urge to smell the surroundings around me. Resisting what felt like a basic instinct, I suddenly could see myself sitting there looking at Raggles, as if through his own eyes. It was all a bit kaliediscope-ish yet the curiosity of the experience kept the glasses firmly in place.Then, without warning, I was overcome by a sadness wrapped in fear. I felt cold and as lonely as I ever felt. It was then that I realized that the familiar ring tone of “Takin’ it to the Streets” by Taylor Hicks was beckoning. I removed the glasses, taking a minute to re-focus with a little less tumultuousness, this time.

“Stevie. Hello?…Is this Stevie?” I heard my mother inquire, in her most agitated voice.“Mother…yes, it’s me.”

After “discussing” for the umpteenth time how much she hates cell phones and can’t hear people talking on them (all the while screaming into her own speaker phone), we got to the real reason for her call. “Son, I think it’s really a shame that I never see you anymore. I mean, I live all of four miles from you and you haven’t been by since Easter.”

The usual dread of speaking to my mother swept over me and once again, I made excuses then profusely apologized and promised to stop by this weekend. As I punched the red button on my cell phone, I ran through the To Do List that I knew my mother would have ready for me when I got there.

Raggles’ barking brought me back to the glasses. I tried to link my experience back to the subject that I was looking at through the spectacles. Then, illumination! I was experiencing the bigger picture of Raggles. I remembered how I had found him at the shelter, a shy and tired-looking older puppy. The attendant at the shelter had told me that Raggles had been found down by the docks and had evidently been on his own for a while, scavenging through dumpsters and relying on the kindness of the dock workers sharing their lunches. The sensations that I had while staring at Raggles through the glasses were, in fact, the essence of Raggles.

My mother’s voice played back in my head. Now, for the real test. I had long struggled to understand the causes of my mother’s bitterness and lack of attachment to anything, particularly her children. Could these help me “know” her? See her bigger picture?

I decided that it was worth a try. I went to the Rite-Aid around the corner and bought a $4 case to put the glasses in to prevent any further scratching. Then I placed the case on the bookshelf in the den to wait for my visit to my mother’s on Saturday. For once, in a very long time, I was actually excited about seeing my mother….

The following was contributed by Ivoryhut

The week went by in a blur. They had been painting the office over the weekend, and I walked in at eight in the morning to the wonderful stench of stale paint. Having gotten used to the smell, it wasn’t until the ten o’clock coffee break that we noticed something was amiss. Maybe it was the slight hint of turpentine flavor in the uncovered breakfast muffins that gave it away, but after some coaxing, we finally got the office manager to look into it. So it turns out that a dying furnace smells like cheap polyurethane.

They closed the office for the day, but with project reports fast approaching, I headed to the local library to get some work done while repairs were underway. The musty odor of forgotten books was a welcome one, and called to mind many happy rainy afternoons spent lost in a mystery book, or imagining the alien sounds and textures of a faraway culture brought to life by the fiction writers I idolized. I was hit by a sudden surge of nostalgia. When was the last time I lost myself in a book like that? Before I could even begin thinking back, the library assistant returned with a foot-high stack of old periodicals that I had requested. By the time I finally looked up, neck stiff and fingers gray with old ink, it was already dark outside.

The rest of the days were spent catching up on work I should have finished the month before. I can never develop the kind of discipline that gets things ahead of time. I’m always doing the mad rush to meet deadlines. Oh well. Now’s not the time to start hearing my mother’s voice in my head. It was Thursday night, and I had exactly 10 hours to put together a 20-page report on the securities industry. Just thinking about it was boring enough.

Raggles sat by me as I typed away at the keyboard. Poor boy. I hadn’t played with him all week, and even missed giving him the usual special Wednesday dinner treat because I was held up at the office. I made a mental note to spend some extra time with him at the park tomorrow after work. I could use the break myself.

I dragged myself out of bed Friday morning, thinking only about handing in the report and killing time until a decent hour to leave the office and start my weekend. Raggles seemed to have sensed it too, because he stood by the kitchen entrance as I gave him a goodbye scratch on the head, and as I turned back one more time before shutting the door, I saw his old tennis ball by his paws, all ready for the afternoon of playtime.

The day crawled its way to five o’clock, and wouldn’t you know it, I got a call at 4:30 p.m. to make “just a few minor revisions” to the report. Of course, it had to be done right away. So the 5 p.m. exit turned into an 8 p.m. exit, and their offer of dinner charged to the company had me thinking of 10-pound lobsters and porterhouse steaks just for spite. As I was shutting off my monitor with thoughts of gastronomical revenge, the phone rang. What now, I thought. This better not more last-minute revision requests on the report, or I’m throwing in two soufflés in the mix. “Steve Barraud,” I answered in a slightly irritated voice, impatient to head home.

“Stevie? It’s you mother. I called you at home but there was no answer. I just wanted to remind you to please bring your tool box with you when you come over this weekend. You’re still coming, right? Or did you forget?”

“No, mother, I didn’t forget,” I lied. Darn. There goes my plan to spend the weekend with Raggles doing nothing. And I already missed our afternoon at the park today. “I’ll be there with my tools. Call me at home if you remember anything else, I’m heading out the door now.”

The familiar dread of an uncomfortable weekend washed over me as I prepared to leave, and by reflex, I started going through possible excuses to postpone it for the following week. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see her, just not this weekend. Not after the week I just had. Reaching into my pocket for my car keys, I felt a crumpled piece of paper and pulled it out. It was a Rite-Aid receipt for $4, and I suddenly remembered the glasses! Suddenly the dread was no more, and the excitement returned.

I walked out to an empty parking lot and spotted my lonely car in the distance, the section where late arrivers are banished to so they can suffer the trek to the building entrance and clock in even later. Thoughts of what it would be like to see my mother through the glasses occupied my mind, and it wasn’t until I was halfway to my car that I noticed the sound.

I turned back, but saw nothing. I continued walking, and there it was again. Faint, and, deliberately now, in step with mine. Before I could turn back, I heard it. Stop. A whispered word that floated through the night air to reach my ears. Turning around, the glare of a lamp post suddenly coming to life caught me off guard. At once the light was gone again, and in its place stood a woman. Instinctively, I raised my hand to greet her, like a long-lost friend. Puzzling, this instant recognition that came out of nowhere. Piercing sad eyes and a velvet voice were all I could seize of her, and then she was gone. I looked around once more, and saw nothing.

Morning found me slumped in my bed, half-dreaming of my strange parking lot sighting. There was something strangely familiar about her. Or was it the voice? The sun was streaming through the blinds, and I pulled the blanket closer. Was it real, or did I dream it all? That’s it, no more going a whole week on three nights of rest every night. I must have crashed as soon as I got home. Must remember I’m not a college kid anymore. I bet all this stress and lack of sleep is causing my mind to play tricks on me.

Flinging the sheets from the bed, I remembered Raggles. As excited as I was to see my mother through the magic glasses, I knew I had to spend the morning with my buddy. Careful not to trip over the books and coffee cups charted across the fleecy gray carpet that stank of a week’s worth of takeout food, I stepped into the bathroom to get ready for the day…

The following was contributed by Bamaborntxbred

It is funny how one, seemingly insignificant decision, can change your life forever. This morning I woke to an overloaded schedule at a dead end job, an overbearing mother, and a grim outlook on my future. I couldn’t have imagined how much everything would change in the course of a few hours.

I was 3 years old the day my father and 12-year old brother died. They were on the family’s private jet as it went down during a winter storm. During my childhood, I overheard nannies and other servant’s gossip about what happened that day. My mother and father had fought over her controlling nature and she refused to go on the planned holiday vacation. My brother elected to go with my father while she kept me home with her. After their deaths she became even more controlling and reclusive, refusing even to go their funerals. I became the center of her universe. My childhood was spent inside the bounds of our estate in New Hampshire. The only other people I ever knew were the servants and the endless succession of nannies and teachers.

When I turned 18, I left the walls of our estate to enter Stanford. I had hoped that crossing the country to go to college would give me opportunities to meet new people…and the space I desired from my mother. I never really knew how attached she was until she announced that she would be moving into a home near the university. Still, I counted it something of a victory to be living in the dorms, amongst my peers.

Now, years later, we still live in California, with only a few miles between us.

Lately, I‘ve felt that the walls of my life were closing in on me. I’m 34 years old and I have never seen anything remarkable, been anywhere inspiring. I still jump at every beck and call of my mother. I am consumed with a job I took only because I never dared to dream of anything bigger. I didn’t hurt for material things, but I had long ago tired of amusing myself with shallow pursuits.

It was these thoughts, spinning in my head, which caused me to make the decision I made that fateful day. The stress of being overworked, the fear of living the rest of my days as a drone, and quite frankly, a desire to spend some time with the curious glasses I had found, drove me to pick up the phone this morning and call a local handyman service. Once I arranged to have them help my mother with her demands, I called her and told her that I would not be coming to her house this weekend. I explained to her that I was tired of being her little boy and that she shouldn’t “count on me” any longer. We both needed a separation. She cried, and wheedled, but I stood my ground and eventually, I hung up. “Goodbye, Mother,” I said to myself. We’d had this conversation many times before, but somehow I knew this time was different. On this day, I would make a change.

“So, now what?” I asked Raggles. He cocked his head to the left and looked at me curiously. “Well, boy, I think we should start with a game of fetch!” After playing with Raggles for a few hours, I couldn’t put off the lure of the glasses any longer. “I’ll be back in a little while, boy!” Raggles was worn out and didn’t seem to mind my leaving. I knew exactly where I was headed; the library.

An idea was forming in my mind, and I had to know if what I suspected was right. I was a little fearful, but feeling so hopeless about life and so starved for adventure, I decided the risk was worth finding out.

I entered the library and headed straight for the section where my favorite author’s books were housed in. Marcus Noble wasn’t a conventional author, but his fiction seemed to be written for me alone. Although he didn’t write serial novels, the same character was featured in every book. A boy named Voyager. A boy that had endless adventures and a carefree, daring attitude about life. As a child I imagined I was Voyager, fighting dragons and walking with giants to find the edge of the world.

I picked up the first novel written by Noble, “Traverse the Horizon.” I found a deserted area on the third floor of the library, opened the book to the first page, and put the glasses on.

Swoosh! A massive bird flew within inches of my face. “What,” I cried, “was that?” Swoosh! The bird flew past me again. Suddenly, I felt myself being lifted off the ground. The huge bird had me in its talons and was swiftly rising up toward the clouds. Normally, I would’ve reacted to a situation like this, as most people would, with utter fear and confusion. But, somehow I knew the bird was a friend rather than a foe and I was filled with exhilaration. “Woohoo!” I yelled at the top of my lungs.

The bird, spoke: “That was too close. Next time I might not be around to pluck you out of one of your scrapes.”

“Atmos, you don’t know what you’re saying!” I cried. “That Cyclops didn’t know what hit him! I had to test my new slingshot on something you know!”

“Yes, well, if I hadn’t gotten there when I did,” said Atmos, “the Cyclops behind you would be picking his teeth with your bones right about now.”

“Oh! Um, well, I uh, knew that he was behind me. I had it all under control. But, you know, thanks anyway.” I managed to mumble.

“Humph!” groused Atmos.

It was a peculiar feeling. Not to be flying through the air in the talons of a giant bird, but to be aware of both worlds at once. I knew I was still me, Stephen Newman…and yet I was beginning to realize that what I hoped for was actually true; the glasses had transported me into the world of Voyager. More than that, I was Voyager….

We quickly arrived at our destination; The Breathing Forest and Atmos’ nest. “You can sleep here tonight. Tomorrow you must begin the journey that Empress Sarai has commissioned you for,” said Atmos.

“I do need a rest. I’ve never been to the horizon before and I’m afraid it’s going to be quite an adventure,” I yawned. I was tired and the nest was lined with warm down and soft grasses from the floor of the forest. I snuggled next to Atmos and began drifting off to sleep.

I opened my eyes to find that I was back in the little corner of the library. I quickly removed the glasses feeling stunned and exhilarated by what I had discovered. Glancing at my watch I realized that only seconds had passed from when I put the glasses on. From when I began my fantastic journey as Voyager.

The enormity of what could be experienced through theses magical glasses was beginning to dawn on me. I could be Voyager. I could be anyone! My mind was whirling. Should I take all the Noble books home? Should I take history books, too? I had always been a student of history and felt compelled to use the glasses to experience history first hand. However, as I was to learn, it is one thing to enter a fictional world, quite another to enter the past. I trembled with excitement and fear.

How could I know that my life would be changing forever?

You see, I met the love of my life today. And it is the epitome of misfortune that she no longer exists. In fact, she died many years ago…as an old woman in the winter of 1908….

to be continued….

The following was contributed by Quossum

I hastily gathered the next three Voyager books and then made my way to the 900 section, almost running into one of the staff who was directing workers hanging quilts throughout the library for a special display. Perusing the stacks, I was struck with dismay by the sheer number of books detailing wars, often battle by battle. It occurred to me that human history consisted mainly of bloodshed. Though the travails of the past did interest me, a sobering thought struck me: Did I dare use the glasses to witness the past?

They caused one to see the inner sense of something, its bigger picture, so to speak. In the Voyager books, the glasses had acted as a virtual reality device and let me experience things that had not and could not actually happen. If I read a history book…would I actually travel in time? Would I be there, at the time and place described? If the glasses allowed me to travel in time…I shuddered. A diet of science fiction stories decrying the insidious nature of the paradoxes and destruction that time travel could wreck gave me serious pause.

There were nicer aspects of the past, too, I reflected, glancing at an antique blue and white quilt hung on the wall near me, times when human beings had shown endurance and nobility in the face of difficulty…but did I want to take a chance that I could screw things up?

Shaking my head resolutely, I took the three books in my arms to the checkout desk and headed home.

Raggles greeted me with typical Jack Russel enthusiasm, bounding against my legs and almost managing to bop me on the chin with his highest leaps. Laughing, I couldn’t deny him a few more tosses of the ol’ tennis ball before finally settling down and fixing us some supper: a sandwich and Coke for me, a chicken leg quarter for him. We ate in companionable silence, though my mind was churning with anticipation.

I had been touched by something otherworldly, something that shouldn’t even exist. Something straight from the Voyager novels I enjoyed so much. I was ready to enter that world again. No history, no deep thoughts, no moral dilemmas, just simple escapism.

At least, that’s what I thought.

Settling comfortably in my chair, the book on my lap, I opened it and, taking a deep breath, put the glasses on.

Again I was immersed into Voyager’s world…again I was Voyager.

Atmos and I swooped through the sky in pursuit of the chimeras who had stolen Queen Sarai’s Jewel of Office.

“Here we go again!” said Atmos. “Couldn’t we have been a little less successful at defeating that Trogledale last year?”

“Oh, Atmos!” I cried, the wind stinging my eyes, my hands buried in his warm, light feathers. “You know you love this!”

Atmos squawked something unintelligible but possibly rude in response, and I laughed. “Maybe this time…“

And suddenly, with an abruptness that completely stole my breath, I was elsewhere.

I stood in a small bedroom lit only by the yellow glow of a bedside oil lamp and the soft light radiating from a small fireplace in one wall. The rush of wind was gone, replaced by a thick and heavy silence; the only sound was an intermittent pop from the fire, which lent only a little warmth to the chilly room, and the sound of ragged breathing from the figure in the bed.

Blinking, shaking my head, I stumbled, almost falling to the wooden planks of the floor. The person on the bed stirred.

It was a woman, very old, face wreathed in lines, surrounded by deep layers of quilts and dwarfed by the huge pillows supporting her in a half-sitting position. On her lap lay an open journal, a fountain pen on the quilt beside her apparently having fallen from her fingers.

Her eyes met mine. “Stephen!” she breathed.

I stepped back. Everything about her reverberated within me, as if her voice had plucked a single chord deep within me. I couldn’t breathe. “How…how…“ was all I could manage, my voice sounding rough in the quiet room.

The woman didn’t rise, but her eyes were alight with more than the gleam from the lamplight, golden on her unbound silver hair. “Oh, Stephen,” she said. “It is true. Your first, my last. It’s true.”

“Am I…is this real?” I said, even as I spoke feeling my self in this room. Not as Voyager. As me. “I’m really here? You can see me?”

A dry chuckle. “See you, Stephen. Hear you. Feel you.” She stretched out a hand.

Cautiously I stepped forward. My fingers trembled as they moved toward hers, though my gaze did not leave her face, her eyes.

Our fingers touched. My hand enveloped hers…her soft, smooth skin, the bones like a bird’s bones in her frail hand. Her eyes closed, and when they opened again, they were bright with tears. “Oh, Stephen,” she said, and with her words I knew that she knew me, deeply.

I moved forward and sat on the edge of the bed, still holding her hand. “Who are you?” I whispered, searching her face for some feature I would recognize.

“Oh, love,” she said, her voice colored with despair, “you yourself told me it would be this way. That I would see you one more time, and that you wouldn’t know me. But Stephen…oh I know you. I know you. I’ve missed you. My heart.”

I shook my head, unable to speak. She blinked, one tear escaping and running down her soft, lined cheek. “I didn’t realize how much this would hurt.”

Instinctively I lifted my hand to brush the tear from that silky cheek, and she caught my hand with her free hand. “I am Lily Jordan, Stephen. Lily Jordan. You told me to tell you to look for me. You told me to tell you that this time. This last time.”

“I will,” I said, speaking through a dry throat. “But where should I look?”

She shook her head. “That I can’t tell you, love. You have magics in your world. Magics I can’t begin to comprehend.” With one finger she touched the earpiece of the glasses.

“Can’t you give me a…a starting point?” I asked, already desperate with desire for what I had to do, what I knew I must do.

“Your starting point,” she said, “is the knowledge that you were successful. Oh, Stephen!” she cried, clutching my hand in both of hers. “I tried for all those years to reach your world, to reach you. There was once, when I thought I had pierced the veil between us. I thought I saw you. I told…“ she stopped. “But I mustn’t. It’s too late for me. That time is gone now. My time is gone. But yours for us, love, is only beginning.” Her eyes were on my face, eager and bittersweet, absorbing my every feature.

I didn’t know what to say. I could only look at her. I didn’t know her, I was sure of that, and yet…everything about her called to me, to an inner part of me that I hadn’t known existed. “Lily,” I said, tasting her name, savoring it.

She closed her eyes again. Her breathing was labored. “That’s what I wanted,” she said, “to hear my name from your mouth one more time. Just once more.” She pulled a deep, shuddering breath that seemed to rattle to the core of her. “And now,” she said, “I must finish this, so that you’ll find me.” She gestured to the journal on the quilt over her lap and picked up the fountain pen. It had leaked dark ink onto the blue and white quilt, but Lily didn’t seem to notice. “You…you can leave now, Stephen. I don’t want you to see this…this ending.”

“No, Lily,” I said. “Please…tell me a little more, give me some more hints…a clue! I can’t find you if I don’t know where to look!”

“You will find me,” she said. “You did.” Her smile was unbelievably tender. Then she reached up and took the glasses from my face.


I was back in my living room, the glasses lying on the open book before me. Raggles stood looking at me quizzically.

Desperately, my eyes flew to the open book. There, in between the pages of the novel, was a loose sheet, obviously torn from a bound journal. It was yellowed with age and the words on it had been written in fountain pen, in a neat though shaky script. I had turned the page in the Voyager book and my eyes had fallen on this! Without the glasses on, I read the page:

This the last words from the pen and trembling hand of Lily Jordan, on the day of my dying at 90 years old in the year of our Lord 1908.

The day we met, me at the age of 30, my love and my heart, Stephen Newman, did tell me that he would return to me on the day of my death, and that he would not then know me. The testimony of these pages declares the many efforts I made to bring us together before that could occur.

Now his words have come to fulfillment, and I can die in peace, though God knows I would that there could be a different end to our story for me. I know what I must do now, and what I must ask of Marcus, though he will little understand. So in my ending I set in motion the forces that will bring you to me, Stephen, my love, my heart. I hope that you will find our time together worthwhile…as I did, Stephen.

Forevermore Yours

It was signed with a stylized drawing of a lily.

I stood, the paper clutched in my trembling fingers, my head pounding with the accustomed headache brought on by the use of the glasses. I had to find Lily Jordan. I didn’t care what she’d said…once I was with her, I would never leave. I had to find the journal from which this page had been torn, read it with the glasses on, and reach her. I had to get that journal into my hands.

But how?

The following was contributed by Mind Doc/Dr. Bob

The trembling in my fingers escalated to full-body shudders, and the pain in my head became blinding. I lost my grasp on the torn page, and staggered to the bathroom, hoping to make it there before I became sick. Moments later, I flushed the toilet and eased slowly to my feet. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I rinsed my mouth. An unassuming face, pleasant enough, but still slightly green around the gills. I looked more like a cubicle-rat than a time traveler. I splashed cold water onto my face and dried it off with my sleeve. Blessedly, the pain was receding, and the thoughts that had been held at bay by the pain surged to my mind.

Am I going crazy? If I am, would I even know? Do crazy people wonder if they are going crazy? Time travel – that is totally nuts. Virtual reality glasses? Time traveling glasses?

Shaken and shaking, I sat down on the bed with a thump, as I remembered the old woman who had spoken to me with such tenderness. I wondered if I was having hallucinations – but her cheek had felt real, and the quilt that she had been laying on had depth and texture that seemed very real.

I felt a cold nose nudging me and looked down to see Raggles. He whined anxiously and poked his muzzle more insistently into my hand. Somewhat relieved, I stroked his ears while considering my dilemma. Taking a deep breath, I tried to order my thoughts.
How had my vaguely dissatisfying life turned into such a maze? I had glasses that allowed me to see things that I did not know were possible, even things that had never been experienced. I set the glasses on the bedside table and eased back onto the pillows, overwhelmed with exhaustion.

I awoke with a start. Raggles was asking politely to go out, and by the shadows falling across the kitchen table, I had been sleeping for a while. I wandered into the kitchen and let the dog out. As I shut the door, I looked at the glasses. They were where I had dropped them. I looked again. The glasses looked different than they had … mysterious and compelling. How had I not noticed how beautiful they were? Tearing my gaze away, I checked the clock. The library would still be open – I needed another look at that quilt. The torn journal page had provided no new information, no matter how many times I had read it. I had Googled some of the phrases on the page and “Lily Jordan, 1908.” The only relevant search results had been the census data that she had died. No new information there.

Looking at the torn journal page, I wondered what to do next. The words did not seem to provide any new clues, and I wondered anew how I was going to ever find the journal. I picked up the glasses and examined them more closely. The urge to put them on was almost irresistible. Who had created them? Why? What purpose did they serve? Why did I have them? I ran my fingertip over the etched letters.

We once were lost.

I was lost. Maybe that was the problem.
I needed the glasses to help me see the bigger picture. I remembered how Lily had touched the earpiece of the glasses when she had told me how to find her. Maybe that had been more than an idle gesture. I carefully formulated the questions that I had and slipped the glasses on, keeping my eyes closed. I touched the earpiece and concentrated.

Who are you? What am I supposed to do? What is the bigger picture that I cannot see? How am I supposed to find Lily?

The faintest of breaths seemed to whisper to me. I strained to make the words out. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I heard the word “Lily.” A sense of frustration built in me.

What are you saying? What am I supposed to do? What do you want from me? How do I see the bigger picture? Just tell me!

As if I had found the key that opened a lock, my perceptions shifted, and the whisper became a murmur. The incipient headache died and I ventured to open my eyes. As before, I could see layers of reality, but it was no longer disorienting. I was able to sort through what I was seeing. I could feel a presence, and I knew with certainty that it was coming from the glasses. I did not now who or what it was, but I knew that I was not alone. Just as I had been able to link an experience to the glasses in Voyager, and had been able to link them to a person when I traveled to see Lily, I was now able to link the glasses to whoever or whatever had created them. I tested the new presence – different, but not alien. Unfamiliar, but not uncomfortable. There was purpose here and a curious sense of belonging.

I took the glasses off and slipped them into my pocket. I was off to the library to research the quilt and look for clues regarding Lily’s identity. I checked to make sure that I had my wallet, keys and cell-phone and headed off. As I locked the front door behind me, I could hear the phone ringing. I gritted my teeth at the insistent sound. “Yes, Mother, I will get your prescriptions, just like I have every month for the last six years.” At least I had not had to talk to her this time. Easing into the driver’s seat, I pulled down the visor to get my sunglasses out. The afternoon sunlight glinted off of the edge of the frames in my front pocket and a gentle insistence tugged at me. I put the glasses and looked at my self in the mirrored visor. I looked different, somehow. Adventurous. The captain of my own ship. A man of destiny. With a grin, I exchanged the glasses for sunglasses and set off. First Rite-Aid and then to the library.

It was dark when I got back home. It took two trips to get everything out of the car. I put the prescriptions on the counter and surveyed the results of my shopping trip with satisfaction. A Swiss-Army knife, fishing line, aspirin, cloth bandages, duct tape, matches, antibiotic cream, chocolate, a notebook, pen, and a flashlight. I had an old leather satchel with a strap that would easily hold the items. It always bothered me that people in books time-traveled without any preparation. If I was going back in time, I was not going back ill-prepared. On impulse, I rummaged through the contents of my Boy Scout locker in the garage. I found a piece of oiled canvas that might prove useful and my old jack knife. Despite its lethal look and five-inch blade, it had mostly been used to play mumbly-peg.

When I had been walking though the library, I had worn the glasses. It seemed that if I kept my mind focused on the task at hand, there were less disorienting reality shifts. The pain that they caused became a useful prod, nudging me away from fruitless searching. Had I not been wearing them, I would have missed the blue and white quilt altogether – it had been on display in a little-used part of the library. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was Lily’s quilt – the stain from the leaking fountain pen was not necessary to identify it. I had surveyed the quilt through the glasses, but did not see anything helpful. However, the glasses had not let me down, but had led me to three different books. One was on historic southern homes, one was on quilts, and one was a reprint of the Farmer’s Almanac from 1835. I wasn’t sure of how all of this fit together, but it was a little late to worry about it.

Putting the glasses on, I began looking at the book on quilts. It seemed that different quilt patterns had different meanings. Absorbed in what I was reading, I jumped when the phone rang. As I started to close the book, I felt the presence from the glasses that had made itself known earlier. All of a sudden, I knew that my mother was on the phone. Not in the usual I-bet-that-is-my-mom-on-the-phone sense, but with utter certainty, I knew it was her. Reluctantly, I picked up the phone, grimacing. “Hello.”

Her agitated voice hit my head like a blow, tightening the muscles at the base of my skull. Had her voice always had that quality? It was like a broken bone, piercing and grating at the same time. She was upset about the handyman that I had recommended – he did not fix the water-heater brace properly, he looked shifty, he was overcharging her and was probably casing the house. I let the litany of complaints wash over me. She did not like the handyman, and I could feel her dependency tightening around me in a stranglehold.

When was I going to bring over the prescriptions and did I get her groceries? I promised her that I would shop for her and that I had already gotten her new heart medication. She had been complaining of chest pains, and the physician had newly prescribed Digoxin.

I could not leave her as things were, with no one to care for her. What was I going to do with my mother? A sense of approval whispered over me, as if I had asked a particularly clever question. The vise gripping the back of my head loosened. Intrigued, I waited to see if there was a bigger picture here that the glasses would help me see. Concentrating on the sound of my mother’s voice, petulant and querulous, I waited for what the glasses would reveal …

Egg Beaters, Dexatrim, Sweet-N-Low, fat-free cookies … it looked like she was going to start dieting again. I found myself writing grapefruit juice, even though she had not asked for it. Through the glasses, it looked as if it belonged on the list. All of a sudden, I was impatient to drop off the medication and groceries and get back to Lily. I would take Raggles – he loved car rides. The weather was cool and he would be fine, waiting in the car, especially if I hurried.

It was dark when I got back home. When I drove up to my mother’s house, I waited for a moment, parked in the driveway. Mother had not liked the glasses – she said that they made me look too serious. I had said that I did not have time for a cup of coffee, and put away the groceries as fast as I could. I took the medication out of the bottles, putting the proper doses in her reminder pill-box. I left a glass of grapefruit juice and two Snack-Well cookies on a flowered plate, setting the Digoxin dose out. I grabbed the trash from the table, including the prescription bag, and hurried out. I could hear her angry tones, ringing in my ears, as I left.

It was time to go. I was ready to leave. In the preceding days, I had tied up loose ends at work, turned in the last of my reports, and paid my bills. I had packed and unpacked my satchel numerous times. I had read the books that the glasses had prompted me to check out from the library. I wore the glasses most of the time now. Sometimes, if I listened carefully, I could almost make out what was being said. Almost. The glasses had given me a sense of purpose and I felt like a new man. A new man. Newman. It fit. Stevie Barraud, cubicle rat, writer of securities reports had been replaced with Lily’s Stephen. Stephen Newman.

Emptying my pockets of the receipts and list of chores that my mother had pressed on me, I glanced at the crumpled Digoxin warning sheet – my attention caught by the words “grapefruit juice.” Curious, I smoothed out the paper and started to read it.

Pain exploded from behind my eyes. Blinded, I fell to the floor. I could hear my own cries of pain and then the sound of the phone ringing. It was my mother. And then nothing.

When I carefully opened my eyes, an eternity had passed. My cheek felt like it had been welded to the floor. Slowly, hesitantly, I lifted my head. As my vision cleared, I could see Raggles, with something between his front paws. It wasn’t his tennis ball, for once. It was the glasses, terrible and beautiful at the same time. I felt my grasp on reality slipping – and wondered.

It was sad that I wasn’t able to answer the phone when mother called. It seemed that her medication was not working. I guess you could say that her pathological dependence on me was her undoing. She should have read the medicine insert herself, rather than nagging at me. She would have seen the warning that one should never drink grapefruit juice if taking Digoxin – something about it reducing the effect of the medication. If she had just called the ambulance – instead of calling me – when she was having chest pains, maybe things would have turned out differently. I am a time-traveler, not a physician, after all. Anyway, it would have been wrong to leave her all alone, wouldn’t it? I probably would not have gone at all, if it meant abandoning my mother like that. I have never been strong enough to leave her.

It’s funny. The feeling of being lost that has plagued me all of my life is fading. I am a new man, and Lily is waiting for me. Or maybe it isn’t me that she is waiting for.

We once were lost

The following was contributed by Rowan

Contradictions. I find them energising – the possibilities they offer. The alternatives. I like to think around corners, see the future as a broad map, splayed out in creased folds: places of interest – high points, spots to plummet from, depths to drown in: all of the above. I survey my room for the last time. All is neat; there are no curled up papers, odd socks, abandoned cardboard boxes. I am leaving this life as I have left the others – clean, clinical, unbesmirched. Stephen Barraud is gone. I like Stephen Newman. He is kind of cool. No ties. His cell phone has no contacts now, and it only had one rather persistent one before. Like I said, possibilities. A tabula rasa. A blank sheet.

I look at the small dog, sniffing in the corners of the room, alerted to long lost smells, half-hidden by the absent furniture. I’ve made enough from the sale to travel where the wind blows me. I like that idea….from cubicle rat to shape shifter. From formless drone to radical reformer – re-forming the formless, making the fractured whole.

Raggles is looking up at me from the corner of the room. His eyes are watchful. He pads over to my haversack and noses in one of the side pockets, gently pushing back the flap and drawing forth a slim navy packet. It takes a few seconds to register what it is that he has filched. The glasses! Raggles is a rascal! “Here boy, give me the case,” I call, reaching out playfully to snatch it back. He stops, and backs away slightly, growling playfully, hoping I will pull the other end and start one of his favourite games.

“Just give me the glasses, that’s a good lad.”

The small white head with the toffee coloured ears twitches to the side, and gives me a long appraising stare. He drops the glasses case at his feet, and lies down. Ever so gently, and nonchalantly, I reach for them, and he has them, leaping up with a twitch of his powerful little legs, careening out of the open front door. He stops at the kerb, tongue lolling, smiling up at me mischievously.

“You’re bored, boy. I know. I’m sorry. She stopped me. She scuppered our weekends. She’s gone now. There will be time to range over mountains and leap ravines. We’ve things to do. Well…I have things to do…you’ll be better off – really…”

I kneel down close to him, feeling the cool wet earth seep into the knees of my chinos.

“Come boy. Give Steve the glasses. Give.”

He stiffens slightly, in spite of my unctuous tone, which surprises me. “We’ve been friends for a long time…you have to understand…”

Again, he looks at me, muzzle tense, ears flattening. A quick glance along the street shows no pedestrians, only a row of parked cars, and the busy thoroughfare beyond. Carefully, oh so carefully, I reach into the newly-packed canvas bag slung over my shoulder and feel for the cold touch of the requisite implement. My little pal is too quick for me, alas. He snatches up the glasses case and heads into the traffic, neatly jinking past the screeching tyres, oblivious to the tooting horns. And then I see him, anointing a lamppost at the other side of the street, sniffing amongst the candy wrappers stirring in the warm breeze. And my heart freezes over and my breath stops.

Everything is in slow-motion now. In my peripheral vision, Raggles is cantering purposefully down the street. The lights are red – I can pick my way across, but I don’t dare to. I have to. I can see the case, dusty grey and battered, caught in a drain cover at the opposite side of the road. Sprinting across, but running through glue and feeling nauseous, I reach between the iron spars.

There they lie, like an ugly caricature in the palm of my hand. The circular orbits twisted into malevolent, ill-matched ovals, the legs at impossible, sickening angles. I feel dizzy and somehow far away from myself, like the time when concussed playing football as a child. The rushing voices somewhere outside, the spinning sensation…

The sense of loss vibrates in every cell. My portal to other worlds – my escape – the answer to ever question I might care to ask of life, and of my quest, lies crumpled and disjointed. Several shards still cling to the frames. I notice, with a panic-surge of joy, that the lenses are not too badly smashed – each one broken into no more than three large pieces, which could perhaps be mended. Mended. They can be mended…I suddenly feel very heavy, flooded with relief, searching out the joints on the twisted frames and folding them gently back into the dirty case.

I hadn’t planned it to be this way, our next meeting, but fate has clearly intervened. Opening the door of the small but fashionably furnished optometrist’s shop, I clutch my broken offering in sweating palms.

The shop is fairly busy, and she doesn’t notice me at first, advising a mother with a small, wispy-haired girl wearing an-eye patch, who is wheedling for “Barbie” frames. The old couple next in the queue are smiling indulgently. She isn’t looking, but she knows I’m here…my New-ness is flooding this predictable space, echoing loudly, unsettling these rimy old timers. She waves goodbye to the mother and child, and finally catches my eye, eyebrow raised, questioning. I can just make out Raggles, curled contentedly under the desk.

“Do you have an appointment?”

I have to say that I had expected more than irony. Yes, she has changed: hair a little blonder, figure rounder, clothes brighter. The pocket of her red blouse sports her name badge, “Lily Jordan.”

“I’ll just see to these folks,” she murmurs quietly, voice devoid of emotion.

I settle back into a chair and watch her choose a pair of frames for the old man from the range on show. I’d hoped for better. Hoped for champagne; an Aston Martin; a high-status post. All the things I’d visualised, that the glasses had promised me – and that I’d promised her, as featured in my agency profile. Steven Barraud is now James Bond. I needn’t have oversold myself – she’d told me I’d be successful before I’d even started my search, wrapped in her blue quilt, her fragile time -altered hands tracing the message on the leg of the glasses. And I had been successful, once I’d figured out where to look. How my heart leaped when my hunch proved right, and the phrase which had so puzzled me sat squarely in the middle of my monitor screen.

Http:// And the listing, resonating softly for me alone: Lily Jordan. Age 30. Optometrist. One small dog…

I watch her attending to the old couple, standing very stiffly, aware of my presence as she fits the frames across the old gentleman’s nose, appraising and adjusting. There are high points of colour in her cheeks, but her face is pale. Smiling weakly, I remember my opening gambit, this time last year, “I’ve seen you at ninety, and you’re still beautiful.” Helping the elderly couple out of the shop, she turns her ashen face toward me. Her voice is shaky and barely audible.

“Look, since he’s okay, I’ll overlook the dog-napping. I heard about your mom, and I’m sorry. It must have been a huge shock for you, Stevie. Dr Rimbaud from the clinic called me. Where you staying? He hasn’t seen you in a while…he’s very concerned…” I watch her tense fingers reach out for the telephone, and the other hand distractedly circling the familiar clinic number penned on her blotter.

I was once lost, but, alas, I am now found. The walls are closing in. Steven Barraud is gone now, but they will fight to bring him back, though I’ve shed him like an old skin. I want to be lost again, push back the frontiers, open like a rare white flower on a moonlit desert night. I want to live a hundred lives, a thousand, flitting from one to the next in a vexed dance on ice-floes. I’ve seen the world through a fly’s eye lens – a myriad of mirrors – I can’t go back to being blind. And that’s how life shall be, with them. My soul dessicates at the very thought.

There is only one thing left to do. Sinking back into one of the chrome and tweed chairs, I unclasp the case, and gently prise forth the mangled contents once again. One last trip… I place the cold contorted metal against my face. The presence is solidifying now, the smoky essence of the glasses themselves, solidifying, clarifying, making sense. I’d sensed his approach on my last ‘sighting’: my term for my supra-rational visions. I can hear the voice now, calling to me, firmly, from the crushed golden orbits – persistent, conspiratorial, understanding. I was once lost, and will be so again, a New man, gone where they will never find me, and where, if I am still sentient, I will not even recognise who I once claimed to be.

Ignoring the questioning glance of my dear one, deep in clipped conversation, I pull the frames close over my eyes and tuck the torn legs carefully behind my ears for the very last time. All at once, the shop recedes into a pinpoint of light, one amongst many: a myriad now, zillions of points of light, whooshing past at impossible speeds, yet greeting me, spurring me on into the beckoning void of luminous darkness, alternatives, possibilities and contradictions.

The End