Siobhan is an Irish name that is pronounced Shivahn.
Sea lion woman, dressed in green Wears silk stockings with golden seams Sea lion woman
Sea lion woman, dressed in red Make a man lose his head Sea lion woman
Sea Lion Woman, Nina Simone
Cynthia Kallas sat in her Mercedes, scanning the sand and beach-grass ahead of her. It had been a long night and her thermos was almost empty. The horizon started to lighten when the incandescent electric blue line suddenly appeared, vibrant in the nascent dawn. It lay suspended roughly ten feet in the air and grew thicker, then split while the ends remained intact, like a neon gaping maw. She stared from almost two-hundred yards away, fascinated, but not surprised as the light grew and morphed into an irregular circle, almost fifteen feet across.
As the pulsating lines of flickering light dissipated, she saw the confused young woman who appeared in its wake. Grabbing her binoculars, Cynthia looked at the woman before scanning the water. She stood there clutching her side, panic and fear evident, nervously brushing down the folds of her green miniskirt.
Cynthia didn’t remember being that beautiful. Holding the binoculars in one hand, she subconsciously ran her fingertips over her jawline, searching for scars that weren’t there. She had the wealth to pay for the best surgeons possible. It was money well spent. She looked nothing like the woman she used to be.
C’mon, Finn. Where are you? She couldn’t keep herself from worrying, needless as it was. Fate was a bitch with a cast-iron will. Finn would be there, just as he always was on this day, at this hour. He would have awakened ninety minutes ago, drank some water, walked down the pier to check the water readings for the oyster farms and taken his huge mutt for their morning run. Some things were immutable.
Oh, thank God. Cynthia relaxed as he came into view with that stupid, stupid mutt they both loved. She saw him pause, look closer at the young woman and jog her way. Cynthia shivered, her heart leapt as she saw him and fifty years of waiting were erased in an instant.
She pulled her cell phone from her purse. “Call George.”
He picked up on the third ring, phlegmy voice annoyed. “Cynthia, the sun is barely up. What do you need, and more importantly, can I do it later?”
“Sorry, George, I need your help now. There’s a dead dog in a cage by the south entrance to Camp Hero. I need you to scoop them up, the dog and the cage he’s in, and put them in cold storage.”
He sounded more awake as he replied. “You seriously are the strangest woman I know. Both the dog and the cage? Okay, I’ll follow contamination protocols. I’ll head over there now.”
“Thank you, George.”
Everything was proceeding as expected. She wiped away a stray tear as she glanced back at Finn, put the car in gear and slowly drove back to Route 27. As physically tired as she was, Cynthia’s mind was alert and sharp. She had five decades of planning to put into action and all the minutiae was running through her mind at the same time.
April 7, 1968
Regardless of my other faults, I was at least self-aware. We were privileged suburban kids who played at being hippies. We believed in free love, but with reasonable constraints. We dreamed of communes and lived with our parents. We hated Nixon but kept our opinions to ourselves at the family dinner.
Childhood memories of the Book of Revelation came to mind. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. It wasn’t lost on me that it took the slaying of a man of the cloth to push us from the comfortable middle.
Three days had passed since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We were a nation of us and them. Every night on the TV dour newscasters talked about the tragedy in solemn and reverent tones, and yet we all knew of people who thought Dr. King ‘had it coming’. Drugstore racist gossips talking about the communist trouble-maker. Those people weren’t of us. They were other, and they were despised. That gunshot was the death knell of their ilk. The corpse was still kicking, but they were dead.
Even in our sheltered bubblegum lives, we knew that revolution was on the horizon.
Annabelle heard that Nina Simone was going to be performing on Long Island in honor of Dr. King. We packed the van with friends, weed, wine and bedrolls and headed out on our sojourn from Connecticut to the Westbury Music Fair. We had hoped that the concert would be cathartic, but there was an undercurrent of anger that marginalized everything else. Ms. Simone was powerful, stirring and outraged. She debuted “Why?”, her ode to Dr. King, her sad, plaintive vibrato ending the song and effectively, the evening.
Everyone was peaceful as they flowed from the exits, but there was a sense of foreboding. This wasn’t as much an ending as a beginning birthed in the death of our most beloved leader. An unspoken gestalt was spreading. Placing flowers in barrels of a rifle was yesterday; Bobby Seale and Huey Newton were tomorrow. The bullet shattered the very heart of the Summer of Love.
The end of the concert was anti-climactic. There were no organizers signing people up, no impromptu speeches. We sat in the van, smoked some pot and chatted with some suburban white kids from Hofstra University who claimed to be allied with the Black Panthers. Thankfully, no one was high enough to fall for their bullshit. Annabelle had Billy drive a couple of miles north to Jericho Turnpike and we stopped at an IHOP.
We pulled out the little brochures that were in the metal stand with the menus and read them as we ate. Fishing excursions out of Captree Park, ferry tours out of Oyster Bay, the Montauk Lighthouse at the very eastern tip of Long Island. Billy and Annabelle wanted to wait until morning and protest outside of Grumman. The war profiteers were less than five miles from where we were eating. Others wanted to head back home.
I wanted to go to Montauk. Out east on Long Island they promoted the town as ‘The End’. I wanted endings today. I wanted culminations, something firm and strong that I could grab onto, a fitting final stop on our sojourn.
I won them over by volunteering to pay for both gas and their IHOP bill. Daddy had given me money before we left, and I took it without any grasp of the irony of a hippie wannabe taking money from her conservative father to listen to Nina Simone mourn Dr. King. Off we went. We made good time until we hit the end of the Southern State Parkway and had to take the more rural Sunrise Highway the rest of the way. There were more farms than we would have thought possible so close to New York City.
We finally arrived a little after four in the morning. The others slept on the beach while I wandered, still enjoying the afterglow of the grass. I had been walking for over a mile when I came across a fence that stretched as far as I could see, both east and west. Following it, I found an opening a fallen tree had created and stepped through.
Always staying within the trees, I felt their protection as I spied sporadic concrete buildings and olive, drab structures. Like a dryad, I slipped from tree to tree as I moved forward into this strange land. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that my mystical traipsing would be a lot more mundane if I weren’t so high.
After twenty minutes of meandering, I heard a pitiful whining and headed towards the sound. A good-sized dog was in a cage that sat on a twenty by twenty cement square. The dog was terrified, and the whining grew louder when the poor thing spotted me. His tail started thumping and the cage shook. Still high and partially drunk, I immediately fell in love with that dog. I ran towards it and reached down to open the cage when the loudspeakers crackled, and the voice started yelling.
The static and echo-laden voice blared from the speakers. “Get out of there! Run! You need to—”
The voice dissolved into continuous static and my hair rose, fell and rose again, finally standing on end. I felt the ionization of the air as an electrical blue nimbus, fifteen feet in diameter, rose from the ground, surrounding me and the dog. There was a sharp, wrenching feeling in my stomach as everything gained a blue tint and began to have a strobing effect. On, on, on, off. On, on, on, off.
As I looked towards the dog, it seemed to be shaking its head back and forth in slow motion. The dog disappeared for a fraction of a second and reappeared, slightly different. The fur changed color. Again, the dog seemed to phase out of existence before my eyes. Then it reappeared, but as a different breed this time, larger, barely fitting inside the cage.
Looking down at myself, I saw my clothes remained the same. Still the green miniskirt, still the black leggings with gold accent, still the tie-dye sweatshirt. I stared at my hands as I seemed to step in and out of phases. They were my hands, then they were a crone’s, they returned to how they were, and then shifted again to where I was missing an index finger and the hand was scarred.
For the briefest of moments, I could see all of eternity. Every reality lay bare to me. I concentrated on the two constants, myself and the dog. We shifted through every possibility of who and what we could be.
Although the dog and I stood there alone, I could sense... others. A malevolence with an implacable hunger. Unintelligible whispers forced their way into my mind, pushing and marginalizing the essence of me, filling the dark corners of who I was. The whispers emanated from these creatures like sound from a radio.
Somehow, I was distanced from the paralyzing fear a part of me was experiencing. I was compartmentalized, segmented. Observing and noting but frozen in mind numbing terror.
The bricks and mortar of my being, my sense of self that makes me who I am, lay strewn about me. I was convinced there were some things I was not meant to see. Somehow, I knew that if I turned my attention elsewhere, I would lose my mind. Unlike Dorothy peeking behind the curtain, I wouldn’t survive seeing the Face of God.
The blue nimbus contracted, and the edges slowly started rolling in towards me, like a cloud falling in on itself. The pain in my stomach grew, and I doubled over, clenching my eyes closed. When I was able to open my eyes and straighten, the cement under my feet was gone, the cage was on its side and the dog appeared to be dead, its muzzle covered in blood.
I stood there, heart thudding in my chest, but too stunned to be frightened yet. The sun was much higher than it had been a few minutes earlier and the area around me was idyllic, with a small roadway ahead and trees everywhere. Turning, I saw a small building with the words Camp Hero State Park stenciled on its walls. There was no sign of the fence.
The air still smelled of the ocean and the only noise was the cawing of the gulls.
The pain was receding, but I still clutched my side. Turning a full circle, taking in the landscape’s physical changes, I saw a young man jogging in my direction. He wore an odd, almost plastic-like shirt that matched his shorts and strange tennis-shoes. His large, panting dog by his side, he slowed to a walk as he looked me over.
His voice was light and the tone friendly. “Miss, are you all right?”
I looked at his unkempt, sandy blond hair, hazel green eyes and gentle lopsided smile. He was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. I was about to reply when I vomited pancakes, wine and blood. Falling to my knees, I looked up at him, hand outstretched, and slipped into darkness.
I tried sitting in my home office but got up to pace after a few minutes. Back to the chair, I checked my cell again. No missed calls. Of course, there were no missed calls. I’d been checking it every two minutes. Why hadn’t he called?
The Persian rug was pulled from the wall and tossed to the side. Behind it lay the calendar, bold, huge, painted in red and black. One-hundred and eighty days. April eighth to October fifth. Taking a thick black Sharpie, I put an X through the first day. The entire image was a paean to the vanity of an old woman. I could trust that nothing was ever as secure as you’d like it to be and I didn’t want anyone knowing my business but having a graphic representation of the transience of time would help me focus.
Whatever the female equivalent of avuncular was, I spent two decades making sure that was my relationship with Finn. I was friends with his parents before he was born. His Little League teams and Cub Scout troops were sponsored by my companies. The amount of Girl Scout cookies I bought from his sister could feed a small nation. My influence got Siobhan her carry permit. I became a silent partner when he bought his first clamming boat. Everything deliberate, always a motive, but done with love and joy.
Finn and I had some difficulties after the incident with that Steading girl. I had played that all wrong, but we were good again. It took a lot of planning and effort to make damn sure that I would be the person that he would call in an emergency. Not that I didn’t enjoy every minute of it. I just had to be patient.
I had just stood to start pacing again when the phone rang. I grabbed it and had to force myself to wait until the second ring to answer.
“Good morning, Finn. Is everything alright?”
“Yeah, I mean, no, not really. Aunt Cynthia, I need some help. There was a woman, in the park. Dink and I found her when we were running.” He was nervous, speaking quickly. Pausing, he took a deep breath. “She sort of puked up blood and collapsed. I didn’t have my car, no-one was here. We’re in an Uber now. When does the clinic open?”
“Finn, calm down. Everything will be fine. I’ll call Doctor Khalil and she’ll meet you at the clinic. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
I heard him talking to the driver for a moment.
“Okay, we’re heading there now. Thanks, I just didn’t ... Oh, crap. It’s not even six. Did I wake you?”
“No, I’ve been up for a while. I’m glad you called, honey. You take care of this girl and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Shifting. Faster and faster. Scene to scene. I was old. Young. Mutilated. Whole. Brilliant. Stunted. Back to the me I knew.
The dog. That poor dog. In and out of realities. Large. Small. One breed. Another. Injured. Healed. But always the eyes. The eyes were always the same.
And there were ... others. Things. Beings. They didn’t belong here. With us. They were desperate. Hungry. Without form. Immense but without size. Shadow creatures battering noiselessly at the walls of our reality. In the instant inside that electric blue light I could feel them. Sense them. Their hunger.
And worse, they could sense me.
I awoke and bolted upright in a bed, screaming as the final image of that poor dog, his sightless eyes fixed on me, tore me from sleep.
It wasn’t a nightmare, I wasn’t tripping, and I wasn’t going crazy. My certainty was frightening, but deep in my bones I knew it was true.
My screaming called them to the room. Medical professionals. I took a ragged breath and tried to settle myself. A hospital. I was in a hospital.
The resistance I felt on my arms was due to the equipment to which I was attached. Why are they monitoring me? What is this equipment? What the hell just happened on that base? This had to be some sort of top secret military hospital. I didn’t recognize any of the machinery and it all looked like something out of an Isaac Asimov novel. What was going on?
“I ... I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell.”
Wearing glasses, little makeup and with her hair in a bun, a tall thin ascetic looking woman offered a smile that I got the feeling was rare. “It’s quite all right, miss. I’m Dr. Khalil. And you are... ?”
“Jennifer. Jennifer Cowell. How long have I been here? My friends are down by the lighthouse. Can someone let them know I’m here? I should call my parents. Is there a phone I can use?”
“Absolutely, Jennifer. We’ll get in touch with your friends and you can call your parents. Can we figure out how you’re doing first? You were brought here when you collapsed.”
She was polite and trying to be kind, but I couldn’t stay here. Mom could take me to a doctor when I got home. A real doctor, not one of these army doctors. Did they let women be doctors in the army?
My voice quavered as I spoke. “Listen, I didn’t know what this place was last night. I was a little ... out of it. I didn’t realize this was a military camp or base or whatever. Maybe you could just let me go? I won’t say anything to anybody, I’ll just meet up with my friends and we will head home.”
The woman lost her smile, and her eyes narrowed. She seemed puzzled. “Jennifer, where do you think you are?”
As much as I love the life I’ve led, I haven’t felt this energized in decades. This was my chance to correct our life. We had one-hundred and seventy-eight days to get this right.
Dr. Khalil looked at me from across her desk. Leaning back and twiddling a pen in her fingers like a metronome, she stared at the ceiling as she spoke. “Physically, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with her. There was, indeed, some blood in her, well, vomit. That cleared up quickly. No internal bleeding or blood in her sputum. She’s alert, responsive and pain free.”
“Alright, Doctor. Physically she seems to be fine. What about mentally or emotionally?”
Smiling across the desk, she gently corrected me. “How long have we been friends? Unless you want me calling you Ms. Kallas, my name is Barbara. Emotionally, she is nervous and scared, but fairly stable. Mentally? That’s a whole other ball of wax.”
“What do you mean?”
“Okay, this isn’t like the movies where people who are mentally ill believe that they are Napoleon or Cleopatra. Delusions on that scale are not as common as people think, but she believes that this is 1968.”
I had practiced my reaction. I sat back in my seat and paused, staring at her with eyebrows raised. “The year 1968?”
“Yes. This obviously isn’t my field. As you requested, I’m bringing in some experts. I’m guessing it’s some form of dissociative personality disorder, but again, not my field. It’s just ... odd. It’s odd.”
“She seems too good. She knows everything, not just the big things, but the little stuff as well. Things that she would have to study to know. When speaking with her, we mentioned items that happened or became popular in 1969 or 1970. She had no clue what we were talking about. Back it up a year, and she was right on the money. Johnson not running for re-election? Hugely detailed memories. Charles Manson? Nothing.”
I again feigned surprise. “That is strange. Poor girl. I’d like everything billed to me. Call in whoever you have to. I’m sure she has to feel alone and without friends. Finn and I would like to bring her dinner this evening. Would that be okay?”
Barbara looked surprised. It’s not often that I get involved with the patients here. I just paid the bills, get monthly reports and pop in once in a while. I do pay the bills though, and that gives me some leeway. “I’ll talk to the specialists that are coming in, but I don’t anticipate a problem. Heck, if she wanted to get up and leave right now, she could. She’s not on a forty-eight hour hold and she doesn’t seem to be a threat to herself or anyone else. We’re just going to make her comfortable and not give her any reason to want to leave. What will you bring? I’ll see if she has any allergies.”
“Meatloaf, new carrots and pearl onions. I have a hunch she’ll like it.”
As I left, I checked my phone and saw another text from Finn. Over the past two days he had been here to the clinic at least four times and had called me at least five times. If he wasn’t smitten, he was on his way. His knight-rescuing-the-damsel complex was in full effect. I called him back instead of texting.
“Hello, Finn. Want to join me for some grocery shopping? We’re making meatloaf.” He was his own boss. He could take the afternoon off. We’d even bring that big smelly mutt of his.
The two men were standing on my porch when we pulled in. They could have been twins. Same close shorn hair, same black sunglasses, same build, same nondescript black suits. Their black Crown Vic was parked on my gravel driveway.
Finn looked at me. “Were you expecting anyone?”
“Sooner or later. Keep Dink outside and grab the groceries. I’ll get the door.”
He put his hand on my arm. “No, this doesn’t ... Something is off. Stay here, Aunt Cynthia. I’m going to talk to them. Keep your phone out.”
Oh, my sweet brave Finn. I’d been dealing with threats worse than this for forty years.
“It’ll be fine, Finn. Keep Dink away from them.”
“Who are they?”
“Just some assholes who’ve messed with the wrong old lady. C’mon.”
Unconcerned with our visitors, Dink spent time spot-watering anyplace he thought another dog may have been. Finn grabbed the grocery bags and I led the way up the steps, to the door, talking over my shoulder as I inserted the key.
“This will be our first and last meeting and you can drop the theatrics. I’m not some hick who saw his cow get sucked into a flying saucer.”
They followed me as I entered, no explicit invitation offered. Assholes. Finn entered last and closed the door behind him. I pointed to a couch and they sat. They were good. They didn’t let on how annoyed they must be that their dramatics had no discernible effect. I took a seat opposite them.
“Finn, you can put the bags in the kitchen. These men are here to try to frighten me. Nothing more. They aren’t a threat.”
He stood there and glared at them before moving on to the kitchen. Finn was a passionate young man. If he thought I was in danger he would have done anything to stop them. And he would have failed.
Looking at the men, I held up my index finger as I dug my phone out of my pocket. “Give me one minute before we get into it.”
I started the texts that got the balls rolling. I then slipped a second phone on the coffee table in front of me. Looking across the room, I smiled at my guests as I spoke.
“Aren’t you supposed to ask me for some water in a croaking voice? Or did you drop that hokey melodrama in the seventies? I assume that you’re here to give me vague warnings about,” I used fingers to make air quotes as I continued. “talking too much about things that could only frighten the general public? Maybe toss out an oblique threat here and there? Do I have that...”
The phone I had tossed on the table rang. “Oh, that was quick. It’s for you, John. Pick it up.”
The guest sitting to the left lost a bit of his stoicism upon hearing his name.
“Seriously, pick it up. It’s just a phone. It’s not going to bite.”
He stood, took a step forward and tentatively reached for the phone. Picking it up, he answered. “Hello?”
Eyes grown wide, he looked as if he were about to drop the phone.
Smile in place, I looked at him as he looked back. He stared like I was a viper when he had expected a grandma. “Answer her, John.”
He spoke into the phone, eyes never moving from me. “Hi, Mom.” Listening. “Yes, it was a very kind offer, but we’re not going to be here long.” Again, he paused to listen. “Of course. I’ll let Ms. Kallas know. I’ll call soon.” He hung up and placed the phone on the table.
Rigid posture gone, he slumped back on the couch. He looked up at me sheepishly before speaking. “She wanted me to thank you for the invitation. She’d love to stop by the next time they are in New York.”
“Well, your mother seemed like a very sweet lady. She’s always welcome.” I turned to his partner. “Yours, as well, William.”
Stripping them of their anonymity was fun, as was the implied threat. I noticed Finn leaning against the kitchen doorway, alert and ready to take action, regardless of how futile it would be.
“I’m going to be brief, because you’ll be leaving in a moment. Tell your superiors to never try this crap again. I know who you are. I know who they are. I know who funds you. I’ve been playing this game for almost fifty years. You think I didn’t see you coming a mile away? You’re talented amateurs. At best. You believe you’re the masters of all the secret passages in the hallways of power? I created half the shadows you hide in. This was a gentle comfortable meeting. If I meet again with you or your associates, I won’t be as polite.”
William stood, straightened his tie and buttoned his jacket. “Thank you for your hospitality ma’am. We’ll be taking our leave now.”
As their car pulled out of the driveway, Finn came in and sat down. He shook his head and looked at me. “Sometimes you’re Mary Poppins and other times you’re the Terminator. Who the heck were they?”
“A toothless urban myth with an inflated sense of self.” I turned and couldn’t help smiling at my handsome young man. “So, what shall we make for dessert?”
From what I could determine, we had gone through this at least twenty times. The plan’s strength was in its simplicity. My younger self would memorize the contents of the small journal I would give her a week before she returned to nineteen-sixty-eight. It wasn’t difficult to commit its contents to memory. We purposefully kept it minimalistic and just hit the highlights.
The journal contained a list of companies to invest in as well as sports upsets on which to bet. More importantly, it listed all of the methods we had tried in our attempt to circumvent our return to the past. We had tried removing the young Jennifer Cowell from the vicinity. It didn’t work. We moved her to the other side of the earth. Severe distances didn’t help either. We tried keeping her in a lead cell. That didn’t help. Neither did the Farraday Cage. Temperature fluctuations had no impact. Sub-arctic weather and Death Valley heat weren’t helpful.
We explored other, more esoteric options. Being in religious edifices was ineffective. Ley lines seemed unimportant. We tried consulting shamans, mystics, channelers, psychics and charlatans of every shape. She had been anointed, blessed, been the center of rituals, had taken peyote, held onto supposed holy items and clutched relics of saints.
Losing the love of her life, Jennifer always returned to her past, six months after appearing.
I wasn’t restricted in any way. I didn’t know what they would do if I tried to escape, but as long as I stayed in the building, they were very kind. Maybe it was community outreach, but all of the patients and families I saw come and go appeared to be civilian.
They had a rec center, and that’s where I spent most of my time when I wasn’t speaking to the doctors. There were a few pool tables and some sort of advanced television where they let me watch movies. It was crazy. They must have had hundreds available that you could watch whenever you wanted. When I finished one, I would ask someone from the staff for help and we would choose another. They were very patient, but I could see how they looked at me. It was as if I were an infant.
I kept trying to remember exactly what I’d seen when I snuck behind that fence. No one said I was a prisoner, but they kept trying to scare the beejeebers out of me. When I asked to be taken to a phone, they handed me a plastic doohicky with buttons that wasn’t attached to anything. They said I could dial by pressing the numbers. Hands shaking, I called home. Some man with what seemed like a German accent answered and had no idea what I was talking about. I called Daddy’s office and it turned out to be a bakery. When no one answered at Annabelle’s house, I stopped trying.
Those little walkie-talkie phone things were so convincing, and everyone there just seemed to accept them. I didn’t know what the hell they wanted with me. I’d sign whatever they’d liked; I’d never tell anyone what I saw. I just wanted to go home.
I was watching The Graduate when they walked in. It was a strange mix of disquieting and comfortable. Embarrassing myself, I launched out of my seat thinking the older woman was Grandma. I immediately realized my mistake and sat back down. The young man carrying the bags looked familiar but somehow left the impression that something was missing or incomplete.
She was a kind-looking woman, but there was something achingly familiar about her. The way she walked, the way she leaned to her left as she stood there, the way she tilted her head. And then she spoke. “Hello, Jennifer. I’m Cynthia and this is Finn. Dr. Khalil thought it would be okay if you have some company and Finn and I thought you might like some dinner.” Even her voice reminded me of something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
I turned my attention to the man with the bags. “You were there. You found me, you and ... where’s your dog?”
My face grew warm and a blush started at the base of my neck. I felt like an idiot. They’re not going to let a dog into a military hospital. I stood there staring at him. He was tall and thin, but seemed ... outdoorsy. I don’t know why, but I got the impression that he was strong and worked with his hands. I vaguely remembered him picking me up and then something about a car. That lopsided smile was back, and my pulse started racing.
“Dink? He’s at home, probably sleeping on the porch or hunting butterflies.”
Thinking about his dog reminded me of the poor beast in that cage. Looking at me, almost pleading. I was a human, maybe his human. I could make sense of this. I could help him. Oh God, that poor dog. Whenever I fall asleep I see his eyes, his confusion, his need.
The woman, Cynthia, stepped forward. “Jennifer? Are you all right?”
“Yes I ... Just remembering. I’m fine. Are you with the hospital?”
“Well, sort of. I’m not on staff and I don’t have a title, but I guess if I wanted one I could have it.” She spoke with a smile, but there was something underneath it. A sense of authority.
Oddly, although they were together, that sense of authority was at odds with the vibe I was picking up from Finn. She gave me the impression that she could bend someone to her will, while he seemed like one of those people that were always calm and unassuming. She stepped back, close to him, almost protectively. Are they related?
He looked at her fondly, almost teasingly. “She’s not going to say it, but Aunt Cynthia pays the bills here. She’s sorta the boss.” Okay, I guess they are related.
Finn stepped forward and handed me one of the bags. He continued talking as he grabbed a nearby folding table and carried it over to the couch. “We brought you some clothes. Aunt Cynthia picked them out, blame her.” He lifted the bag that was still in his hand. “We brought some dinner and even picked up some fresh bread. Blue Duck Bakery. They’re fantastic.”
I looked in the bag and saw pajamas, panties, bras, a skirt, and some other clothes. We ate dinner together, talking but not saying much. I got the feeling that they were trying not to upset me. I tried just as hard to please her. Was he lying? Was she really in charge? How did this woman get to be in a position to run a facility like this? The food was excellent, even the bread of which he seemed so proud. Sitting back after eating, I almost cried. It felt like Sunday dinner. It felt like home.
“Finn, I need to speak to some of the staff. Why don’t you show Jennifer around the grounds? Take her down to the water. I’ll need about an hour.”
“Sure. Jennifer, you feel like taking a walk?”
We were both quiet as we headed out towards the parking lot and the beach beyond. He coughed and seemed nervous as he began to speak “Uhhh, sorry if those were old lady clothes. I’ll talk to my sister, Siobhan, tomorrow and see if she can pick some stuff up.”
I ignored the strange looking cars and trucks and concentrated on Finn. Was he nervous talking to me? I smiled for the first time I could remember since arriving here. “They’re fine. Thanks. Right size and everything. So, who names their dog Dink?”
My heart lurched as he laughed. Finn had a good laugh, warm and full. He couldn’t be one of them, working for the military. He just couldn’t.
“When we were very young, just kids, Siobhan would chase me around the house yelling Humperdink, Humperdink, Humperdink! I’d pretend to be Miracle Max and run away in fear. She must have been about four or five. Three years ago, when I got Dink, he was a ball of energy. He’d run up to Siobhan and then bound away. One day, as he started running from her, she started laughing and yelling Humperdink, Humperdink, Humperdink! It was like we were kids again. He became Humperdink and that became Dink.”
I laughed, but was confused. “That’s cute, but I don’t get it. Who’s Humperdink and who’s Miracle Max?”
Eyes wide, he stared at me. “Who is ... Oh. My. God! You’ve never seen The Princess Bride? Inconceivable! It’s the greatest movie ever made.”
I laughed again. “Okay, I’ll try to watch it the next time it’s on TV.”
He seemed aghast. “That is completely unacceptable. I have the 30th anniversary blue ray. We’ve got to watch it. It’s amazing.”
I had no idea what he was talking about, but if he wanted to watch a movie with me, I had no problems with that. We walked past the parking lot, and down to the water. I kicked off my sandals and walked forward, letting the waves surround my feet and ankles before they slowly receded. With the exception of the excitable seagulls, we were alone on this stretch of beach.
Finn and I spoke about nothing. I kept sneaking furtive glances his way, trying to get another glimpse of that smile. He told me about fishing and his small oyster farm and I discussed friends back home and how I was trying to learn how to play guitar. I don’t think either one of us was paying attention to the words as much as we were to each other.
When he said we should probably head back, I noticed he wasn’t wearing a watch. We didn’t dawdle, but we also didn’t rush as we made our way back to the building. It didn’t strike me until we were halfway there that I should probably be trying to see if there were guards posted anywhere. It didn’t appear so, but I wouldn’t make any assumptions.
Finn and his aunt left after he assured me again that his sister would be by tomorrow with some clothes.
Twice that night I awoke screaming with vague impressions of something alien stirring in the depths of my memories. It was dark and shadowy and didn’t belong. Someone from the staff would arrive quickly and sit with me, as I tried to rid myself of the only concrete impressions I had from the dreams, the eyes of that poor dog.
I was back in the rec room the next afternoon with two young kids. The same TV that got me whatever movies I wanted was able to show them Bugs Bunny cartoons. Their Spanish was better than their English, so I taught them to sing ‘kill the wabbit’ phonetically. They may have been too distracted by the silly Elmer Fudd to give it their all. Selfishly, I hoped that their parents would be slow in coming to retrieve them.
I drank in their innocent joy and let it push back the despair that was settling in my soul. I couldn’t reach my friends or family, I was tormented by nightmares, I had no money, no car, no ID and no plan.
I met with the doctors for more than an hour numerous times a day. They were friendly and certainly polite, but I felt like they were hiding something from me. They kept asking me about the same things. Simple, everyday questions about where I grew up, where I went to school, movies, television shows and every mundane thing you could imagine. I kept getting the feeling that they wanted to tell me something but were holding back.
As the children and I sang along with Elmer, a woman walked in, nodded to Henry, the staff member, and headed my way. It was obvious who she was. The resemblance was uncanny.
Her pretty, broad face broke into a smile as she spoke. “So, you must be the siren that’s captured my brother!” She extended her right hand, her left remained by her side holding a bag. “I’m Siobhan, nice to meet you.”
Her smile was infectious. For some reason I felt like hugging her, but I settled for shaking her hand. “Hi, I’m Jennifer. Look, I didn’t think this through yesterday when Finn spoke about you, and I feel really bad,” I pointed at her bag, “but I don’t have any money to give you.”
“Oh, no problem. Finn or Aunt Cynthia will cover it. You have to take the stuff though, or Finn will cut me off. He’s the only one in our family that cooks, and if I go back to my dorm empty handed, I’ll starve.”
“He’s a good cook?”
“There’s two things that boy is good at, fishing and cooking. Okay, and his oyster farm. I guess that’s three things. Now that I’m thinking about it, if you include wrapping Aunt Cynthia around your finger, he’s good at four things.”
“Did he learn to cook from her?”
Siobhan let loose a short, loud laugh. “No, absolutely not. She’s terrible. Let me guess, you thought she could cook because she made her meatloaf and carrots?”
“How did you know?”
“That’s all she knows how to make. She said she learned it from her mom. She trots it out when she wants to impress people. I guess you’re important.”
I laughed. “I’m in the same boat. That’s all my mom taught me as well.”
“Listen, I have to get back to campus. It was great to meet you. Finn said he’s going to stop by later and bring dinner. There’s a bunch of stuff in the bag, give me a call if you need anything else. Do you have your phone?”
“You mean at home?”
“No, with you. I’ll give you my number.”
Is she talking about one of those walkie-talkie things? “No, sorry.”
“Okay, no big deal. Let Finn know if you need anything, and he’ll give me a call. I’ll be at the gun range with my dad, so I’ll be by the outlets. I can stop in and pick stuff up if you need it.”