How many times must we tell the tale?
How many times must we fall?
Living in lost memory
You just recalled
from “Pretending” written by Jerry Lynn Williams
Performed by Eric Clapton
“Janice, please stop pretending. We both know you stopped loving me a long time ago. Every time I try to talk to you, you act annoyed, as if you can barely stand to be around me.”
“It’s not like that, Harry. It’s not you. It’s me.”
“That’s what they all say when you really mean when it’s me, Harry. You’re just playing games.”
Janice and Harry had been married for 35 years. They’d raised two kids together. Ben got married and divorced in less than a year and was now on this third tour of duty with the Marines in Afghanistan. Elizabeth married Raoul two years ago and was expecting. It would be their first grandchild, but then again, they weren’t going to get that far.
“No really, Harry. It is me, actually. I mean I thought I could fit in, that getting married, settling down with you would quiet everything.”
“Oh God, you’re a lesbian. Okay, who is she?”
“No, I’m not a lesbian. It’s nothing like that.”
“Then what do you mean by fitting in?”
In a way, even though it was painful, it was also a relief for him. So many nights they’d sit together in their living room, he watching television and she reading her book. They ate dinner together, sat on the same sofa together, slept in the same bed together, but they were really light years apart. They had been that way for a long time.
“Here. I mean your world.”
“What the hell are you talking about? My world. It’s because we have an interracial marriage?”
She sighed. Her eyes were moving rapidly back and forth as if she were trying to think of something, probably a lie convincing enough for him to believe. Right now Janice could tell him that the Moon was in the sky and grass was green and he wouldn’t believe her. She’d been pretending for too long and he’d known it for almost that long.
“No, it’s not my being black and you’re being white, Harry. If it were that simple, it would be easy to explain.”
“So let it be hard, but explain. I think you owe me that much after thirty-five years.”
“You’re right but that’s not the problem. The reason I’ve been pretending isn’t because I don’t love you. It’s because I don’t belong here. I wanted to, I tried to, but it’s no good. I’ve been taking it out on you, but you’ve been nothing but good to me. I’m sorry but even after thirty-five years, this whole place, you, me, everything, still feels so alien, so bizarre.”
“If you’re going to tell me your from another planet, I’m calling the guys in the white coats right now and having you fitted for a straitjacket.”
She chuckled. Looked down at the book in her lap, toyed with the bookmark with her fingers, then looked back up.
“I’m not from another planet, but you’d better look up that number because being an alien would seem tame compared to what I’ve got to say, the truth I mean. If I stop pretending, you’re going to think you’re the crazy one.
Harry had been standing looking down at her all this time. He set his cup of tea on the coffee table and then sat next to her. “Okay, I’m listening.”
She took a deep breath. “The truth?”
“Yeah, all of it. Come on.”
“Do you remember how we met?”
“Sure. It was a Monday morning. I’d just gotten off the bus downtown headed for work. I practically bowled you over. You were walking back and forth in front of the bus stop like a lost little kid. I remember you didn’t speak English very well. You said you were born in Kenya.”
“It’s true that I didn’t speak English very well and I was lost, but I wasn’t born in Kenya or anyplace near it.”
“You came to this country illegally?”
“Only in the most basic sense. I am here illegally. Well, it’s against the rules, both yours and mine.”
“Another planet?” He winced. He didn’t want her to be crazy.
“I…well, I fell into a well. That’s what I called it anyway. It’s what he called it.”
“You want the truth, right?”
“Have you been telling it?”
“Yes, it’s all true, but it’s up to you to decide if it’s all real.”
“So who’s Thoth-Amon?”
“A Stygian, a…I guess you’d call him a wizard or magician. He was powerful, evil, a worshiper of Set, the serpent god.”
“Oh for God’s sake, Janice!” Harry stood up again. “You’ve got to be kidding. You think I’m going to buy one word of this bullshit? If you don’t love me, just say so. If you’ve got someone else, admit it. I’ll give you a divorce if that’s what you want, just don’t expect to take me for the house and everything else.”
“Please sit down, Harry. I know this is a lot to take in.”
“A lot to take in? You think? I was right about the straightjacket if you really believe this stuff.”
“I’m not pretending anymore, Harry. This is who I am. I’m a Cushite Princess, kidnapped by minions of Thoth-Amon to be a sacrifice to Set. I escaped. Ran blindly through his stronghold. I stumbled upon the room where he had discovered…something. He called it a well. When he found me, I only had a moment to act. I could be captured and die by the knife as a sacrifice to the serpent god, or jump into the well and let it take me where it led.
“I jumped. I landed here, well…a few yards from the bus stop.”
“Dressed like the rest of us and speaking our language for the most part? Crap, Janice. You even had a driver’s license.”
“Please, Harry. Sit down.”
He sat, not because he wanted to but because he had no idea what else to do.
“Something happened to me when I fell. It took a long time, minutes, maybe hours. I don’t know. I saw visions, heard voices, I changed, my clothes changed. When I finally arrived I was more or less…prepared. It was like the well prepared me to live where it sent me.”
“So why didn’t this Thoth-Amon come after you and take you back to…what…Stygia?”
“I don’t know that he could. Maybe where you go when you fall into the well is different for each person. Like I said, he was studying it, experimenting. I don’t think he was anywhere near ready to send anything through or to take anything back.”
“Over the well, he had a…structure. He had a rope tied to a big bucket, bigger than I am. I think he was going to send it down into the well and try to pick up what was on the other side.”
“Maybe that’s what happened to Amelia Earhart.”
“You joke Harry, but there are many unexplained disappearances across your history. Who is to say that Thoth-Amon isn’t responsible for at least a few.”
“If that were true, they’d have to have happened in the last thirty-five years or so.”
“Maybe not, Harry. I’ve been doing a lot of reading. In this case, time and space may be discontinuous. If he lowered the bucket into the well, even if it ended up in your world, your Earth, it could be at any point in history, past or future. I could have jumped down and an hour later, he could have lowered the bucket and taken back something from your last ice age.”
Harry had his face in both hands. He felt sick to his stomach. He had no idea what was going on. Janice sounded like she was sane. She sounded like the same woman he’d been living with for the past thirty-five years, but her story was straight out of the old pulp fiction novels.
“I don’t suppose you can prove any of this.”
“I can only think of one way. I could go back.”
“How? I thought you said the well, this side of it, could appear at any place and any time, if it appeared on Earth at all.”
“I also told you that there were certain disappearances, and frankly appearances, that could be attributed to Thoth-Amon. I know I sound crazy but I’m not an idiot. I think there’s a pattern whenever the well is used. I’ve spent decades studying everything from legends to quantum physics.”
“Yes, I’ve seen the titles of the books you read. They’re way beyond me.”
“Why do you think I’ve been so restive lately?”
“I’ve already put forth my best theories on the matter.”
“It’s because I can predict the next appearance of the well in your world. It will be in a little over six weeks.”
“Wait. Even if I pretend to believe you for a few minutes, are you saying you want to go back? You left because some moldy old magician wanted to serve you up as a sacrifice to a snake god.”
“After thirty-five years and two children, I don’t think I’m suitable for that role anymore. Set only takes virgins.”
“Well, you’ve got me there. I know you’re not a virgin. So, where and when?”
“Near the southern shore of Lake Rotoroa in Nelson Lakes National Park, New Zealand. I have the exact longitude and latitude worked out.”
“Again, for the sake of argument, lets say I believe you. We go to New Zealand, find the right place and right time. Then what?”
“If I’m right, all we have to do is wait. Thoth-Amon wasn’t correct about needing a bucket or other container to retrieve an object from another world. All you have to do is stand at the correct location and wait for the well to manifest.”
“Kind of like a wormhole.”
“More or less.”
“What happens then?”
“I stand at the correct coordinates, wait for the well, and take my chances.”
“Don’t you mean we?”
“Harry, you can’t be serious. If you go with me, you go all the way. There’s no coming back. Think of Ben and Elizabeth. Liz is having her first baby in six months.”
“And you want to leave her, leave me, leave everything, Janice?”
“I thought you didn’t believe me.”
“I don’t, but you obviously believe it.”
“Try to understand, Harry. I don’t belong here. My world, my everything is astonishingly different. My Father is a King. I was kidnapped out of a life you couldn’t possibly imagine. I don’t know if the well will take me back to the exact moment I left or to some future or past point, but the only way I’ll find out if I have anything left of my life is to go back and look.”
She moved over closer to him on the sofa. “You’ve been a wonderful husband and father, but you are nothing like the man I would have married if I haven’t fallen down the well. You found me, you were kind, you helped me when I was lost and alone. Of course I fell in love with you, but I’ve also grown up. I’ve been searching for a way back for over thirty years and this is the first time I’ve found one. Our children have grown and yet, it’s killing me to leave them and to leave you. But my life is calling to me, Harry.”
He looked at her but more than that, he remembered her. He remembered the past thirty-five years, their life and love together. She had grown from a little lost girl to a terrific woman, wife, and mother. She was beautiful and absolutely brilliant. Her pose and grace made it easy to believe she was a Princess, royal blood flowing through her veins.
There were holes in her story he could drive a truck through, but being semi-retired, he had time and money enough to take a vacation.
“I’ve always wanted to visit New Zealand.”
Six weeks, four days, and an odd number of hours later. Harry and Janice Parsons were standing 220 meters south-south east of the southern shore of Lake Rotoroa. They’d actually arrived two weeks ago and spent some time sightseeing. It was a strange second honeymoon, but it was also the adventure of a lifetime. Harry still didn’t know what to believe. If they stood at the exact right place at the exact right time and nothing happened, they’d have to deal with it then, but it still wouldn’t be a wasted experience.
They updated their wills before leaving. If they died or disappeared and were declared legally dead after a suitable period, their estate would be disposed off among their two children. If Janice were right, then it would seem as if an older couple had gone on vacation in New Zealand and gotten lost in the Nelson Lakes National Park. There’d be a search but no bodies would ever be found.
That is if Janice was right about all this, if she weren’t insane or playing some sort of elaborate game.
They stood on the exact spot she had designated. The well or whatever it was should manifest in the next sixty seconds if it was going to at all. They held hands tightly, expectantly. She obviously believed every word she had told him and he wanted to believe in her. If she were right, he was about to enter an incredibly alien world, one beyond his ability to imagine, one of sorcerers and sword-wielding barbarians. A land he was totally unprepared to live in.
But then again, for the past thirty-five years, she had lived with him in his alien world, a stranger who tried to fit in but never really could. Even in the face of all that, she had stayed by his side for all that time. Was it too much to ask that he face the same thing for her sake?
“It’s coming my love.”
“I’m ready, Janice. Take me to your home.”
I wrote this for Helen Vahdati’s Song Lyric Sunday Theme for 17 December 2017 which is presented in partnership with Simply Marquessa. The idea is to take a specific word or concept, find song lyrics that map to it, and then write a piece of fiction or other creative work based on those lyrics.
For last Sunday’s challenge, I wrote Demon in the Mask, which used a strong magical, horror, religious, and fantasy theme. In keeping with that, I set this week’s tale within the fantasy realm and specifically used characters derived from Robert E. Howard’s pulp fiction hero Conan the Barbarian. This included Thoth-Amon, the serpent god Set, and nations such as Stygia and Cush.
What if you were a Princess born and raised in an antediluvian world where the rules of reality were different from those we experience today, where magic and sorcery were as valid as physics and chemistry are in the modern world? Suddenly transferred from that reality to this one, what would you experience? Trapped here for decades, would you ever truly get used to it? Would you ever long for the home that had been taken from you?
That’s the story of Harry and Janice. I purposely ended their saga at the point of uncertainty, since it’s less important to know whether or not Janice is indeed a Cushite Princess and more important to know that she has stopped pretending about how she feels for her husband and herself.
To read other tales based on the prompt, visit Helen’s blog This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time.