Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Mandala

Mandala Fractals by Hosse7

“...it’s the greatest thing, truly.”
“Well, sure it is, if you believe it. It’s a placebo.”
“Stop saying that. It’s not.”
“Anything works if you believe it enough.”
“I’m telling you, it’s not a placebo. It’s about belief. But it’s more than that.”
“What? You’re saying you can stare at a design and it changes you...”
“They’re fractals”
“Whatever they are, it’s just like attending those laser shows we went to in high school. It’s just entertainment, it’s all mumbo jumbo.”
“It’s hardly that, Jake. Try it.”
“What did you call it again?”

It was just a Youtube link. It wasn’t some bizarre underground website where one had to create a fake username and password, give five different types of ID, and then wonder why SPAM was filling their inbox.

It was just a simple link. Youtube; rife with all the cat videos, Manvs goofiness, and lip-syncing babies and grandmas.

Gretchen was adamant that this had worked for her when she broke up with Tony. She believed, no – not just believed, she was sure it had changed her life.

Looking at what she said, how she said, how her eyes were clear and direct, how she didn’t shake, she didn’t stumble with ‘ums’ and ‘aahs,’ Jake was more inclined to agree with her. She had changed. But anyone who goes through a messy breakup, they generally experience some type of new release – whether it’s new sense of self, or coming to a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ conclusion.

Jake had learned that any relationship requires the two parties to blend into one, and in doing so, become a third person who inhabits them both.

That’s why friends disappeared when you suddenly became a ‘third.’ They either got the new you or they didn’t. And for those who did not, well – they wouldn’t understand the natural process of evolution anyway.

But it is during the breakup of that third person – that the two occupants either come out of their shell entirely or wither away into dust.

Jake had been withering for months, while the other previous occupant was now zooming out of her shell.

Rochelle had cut her hair, jumped into a new wardrobe and moved halfway across the country. It was as if she were running as fast she could away from him – and in a way, she was.
Jake couldn’t blame her.

Life had become monotonous, unintentional, and boring. Rochelle could never fit that mold. At first she had welcomed their domesticity – especially when they had both been working. But when the company downsized, and she was suddenly adrift at home – it was the same day – everyday - while Jake left in the morning for his job in graphic design. Rochelle – well, she was stuck inside that third person, as if she were an additional soul crammed into the mechanism.

“It’s purgatory,” she told him. And, though he didn’t want to - he agreed with her.

Jake urged her to get a job at the coffee shop – it was well below what she had been making just weeks before – but it was something. He even encouraged her to put the coffee shop earnings into a savings account – to help build a future of her own.

“Just for you,” he had said.

It was at that moment that the clock started ticking. As if a cancer had now infected the third – and like any kind of cancer, it was a silent killer.

Rochelle got the job, and started covering more shifts. She came home later and later every night – she was now laughing at inside jokes, and seemed disinterested when leaving on their long-planned weeklong jaunt to Yosemite. Rochelle had grown irritated, she wanted to stay and work. The excuses soon started – and before Jake even knew the third person was ill, suddenly, it was on life support.

At least the death of it came quick.

Jake come home from work and found Rochelle sitting on the porch, tears staining the eye make up that she had begun wearing thicker with a punk rock ring around the eyes.

These were crocodile tears, he had thought, and though they were fairly genuine, it was more from her relief that it was over than from the anguish of losing him.

Rochelle packed her belongings into a car he had never seen. A car she had bought with the earnings from the coffee shop and from the bank account that he suggested she open – a car she had never discussed with him, a car that was hers, not theirs.

“Where are you going?” he asked. He was furious, confused, terrified.  He hadn’t known or suspected any of this, though he should have. And he was scared, suddenly horrified beyond his wits that he would now have to live alone. To live alone with a feeling of something he had never experienced, never dreamt he would know.

True heartbreak – to know what it is like to be smashed to smithereens.

“Rochelle, tell me, where are you going?”

 “Omaha,” she had said.

And that was the last he saw of her – she kissed him on the side of his head, and her lip gloss lingered – wet and electric – the feeling of the ‘O’ of her mouth stayed present on that spot for days.

Days later, in the throes of anguish, he rubbed at the spot, and then scratched at it. Before long there was a welt, and then a deep cut – not unlike the face of someone on meth who feels compelled to pick and pinch.

It was the start of his downfall. And it was the beginning of the walk through the Valley of the Low.

People at work began to notice, and soon HR was on him as if he were drinking and drugging at his desk. He was wearing the same clothes throughout the week, he wasn’t showering – there were complaints about his appearance and body odor. Plus, he had that nasty infection on his head.

The spot was getting worse each day. His eyes were red-rimmed and rheumy. He now had a constant nervous cough – though it was really an attempt to block a sudden crying jag that would force him to dash into the bathroom.

When finding an empty stall, he would cry into his shirt, hard and fast, screaming in the quiet that would leave his voice raw and with a resonate gargle.

His work suffered, the projects piled up – and when completed, there were so many errors that they would have to be completed by someone else on the team.

He was a dead man walking – but that’s why companies have HR departments – and if they are worth the dollar they’re paid, they can be perceptive. Within the first five minutes of meeting with his supervisor and Donna from HR – who smiled with the practiced air of a Stepford Wife – both concerned co-workers learned how very far Jake had fallen.

He was given twelve weeks medical leave. He’d been at the company for over five years, and until the recent activity – had been well liked and thought of as a good employee. But more importantly, his supervisor had experienced a rather traumatic divorce just a few years before – Jake was lucky that he wasn’t fired, but given freedom to get his shit together.

Medical leave was granted without penalty and with the right diagnosis, Jake was able to receive disability.

He met with a psychologist, and a psychiatrist and severe depression was diagnosed. Medication was prescribed, and group therapy was suggested – and Jake did it all.

But nothing – absolutely nothing could take away the pain.

When he met Gretchen – he was contemplating just tying a belt around his neck and calling it a day.

And that’s where the true trouble started – but before all that, when it was just in the beginning stages – it was new.

Gretchen was the one who taught him about the danger of trying to continue to occupy the third body alone, that with Rochelle gone; Jake would have to burn the third down to the ground. It was also Gretchen who woke up the true Jake; the one who had been asleep since Rochelle entered is life – and got him out of the daze that was somewhere between Omaha and the Ninth Circle of Hell.

Jake attending group therapy, which specialized in divorce and breakups, and it was the only activity he looked forward to since he had gone on medical leave three weeks before.

The group was small, maybe five or six people on any given day. On the weekends it ballooned to eleven or twelve, but during the weekday sessions – it was just the usual suspects.

There was Arlene - a woman who put the term ‘grossly obese,’ to shame. Shaped like the character Grimace from McDonald’s lore, she would casually unscrew the lid off a brand new jar of Skippy Peanut Butter, and dig into it with a spoon. By the time group was over, she had inhaled over half of the jar.

There was Mike - a once promising corporate lawyer who had suffered a nervous breakdown when he discovered his wife was cheating on him. He was fired from the firm when he jumped on a conference table and defecated on a particular contract. They had called the police, but a sympathetic judge had ordered him to group therapy after a voluntary commitment to inpatient rehab.

Mike wouldn’t shave, but he couldn’t grow a beard. He rubbed his long, uncut fingernails on his jeans, adding an unmistakable “wssk, wssk” sound whenever he spoke.

There was Colleen - a sixty-something grandmother, who had been divorced for over twenty years. Fairly well adjusted, and an especially good listener, she didn’t seem to have any issues; except that she was always crocheting the same pattern in a blanket that would never be finished.

There was Anmari - a pleasant looking, deaf woman in her early forties, who had recently had surgery for cochlear implants, and lost her husband in a bizarre suicide in the Grand Canyon. She couldn’t speak from all of her years being deaf, but her doctor had asked her to join the group to know that she was not alone. Even if it wasn’t a divorce – suicide, in a way, still is.

And then there was Gretchen – funny, caustic, and never quite fitting in. Gretchen spoke about her relationship, but never identified whether she was with a woman or a man. She kept it vague, even when Alan, the group therapist, would push her gently to explain what had happened.

Finally one day, Alan in the most polite way imaginable, exploded with, “How can we help you, Gretchen, when we don’t even know who or what you were dating? Is this person even real?”

“Of course,” Gretchen said, eyes bulging, with her fingers now splayed out in front of her, “I feel it’s a disservice to them.”


Everyone in the group looked at one another, eyes rolling, head shaking.

Jake was the one who finally stepped in, “Why do you keep saying them? Is it a he, or a she?”

Gretchen sighed, “It’s a he.”

Everyone made a noise – as if suddenly realizing that the box they had been opening was upside down.

“She just makes me so angry...” Gretchen continued.

And the groans started again.

Alan didn’t ask her to specify further. She wasn’t forced by the courts to join the group – she was there voluntary, so he would have to voluntarily decide whether or not he would ask her back to the group again.

Jake didn’t care for her wishy-washy behavior, or the bullshit she sputtered in her genderless neutral way.

This was a great turning point for Jake, because it was the first time in weeks that he didn’t feel like he wanted to cry. No, this was that new step of the grieving process that Alan talked about.
 Jake was pissed.
“You really drive me nuts, you know that?” Jake shook his finger at Gretchen in the parking lot outside of group. “Sometimes when you speak, I just want to wring your goddamn neck.”

Gretchen smiled at Jake – she observed his reddened face and bulging veins with a look of pleasure.

“I get that from some people,” Gretchen said. “But no, continue...”

 “You say him, then her, and then him and her. Again and again... Let me ask you something. Are you in a threesome?”

And that my friends, was the day that Jake and Gretchen became friends – “You know about that?” She had asked and laughed.

She hugged Jake, held him tight, and kept laughing.

“Oh, thank you for saying that,” She said – and the anger Jake felt, pretty much disappeared.  
Jake thought he understood her now – it was a relationship with two people, and the other two had decided to carry on without her.

But she shook her head and explained, “It’s with one person, and that one person and I became a third. And we occupied the body of this third person. We were both sexes. I was him, he was me...”

Jake regretted stopping her in the parking lot.

“Hey, I’m sorry I riled you up. I get it. I shouldn’t be so cryptic. Look, you want to get a drink?” She asked, changing the subject, and suddenly looking for...fun.

She was mischievous. Dangerous.

“Sure, I guess...”

Jake didn’t know why he said yes, but he had nothing else planned. He’d been binge watching Sons of Anarchy, and it wasn’t doing his mood any good.

“Why not?” He asked himself again, and soon he was in Gretchen’s car on the way out of town.
“Where are we going?” He asked her as she turned up the music; indie rock, straight from the bottom of the two dollar basket at Amoeba Records.

“Topanga Canyon,” she replied, and shot him another one of those looks. “We’re going to hang out at a dive.”

‘The Lost and Found’ was the greatest Dive Bar that Jake had ever ventured to in the ten years he became legally obliged to drink alcohol. There were peanut shells and sawdust covering the floor, old wooden chairs surrounded by low tables with red bottle candles that glowed beneath the plastic yellow nets that held them.

There was a popcorn machine with stale, five-day old kernels, and a gaggle of geezers who sat at the bar and nursed Cutty Sark, or some other god awful liquor.

“Hello temptress,” the bartender said, as Gretchen bounced through the swinging saloon style doors.

“Hello yourself, Pat!” She chimed and immediately motioned to Jake. “This is my friend, Jacob. He’s from my Lonely Hearts Club.”

Pat tipped a wink to Jake, and at first glance, the bartender seemed to be in his late twenties, but as he walked closer – the man aged fifty years in a matter of steps.

Pat may have been handsome in his day, but those days were yellowing calendars in the backroom now, but his eyes still sparkled – much like Gretchen – they were mischievous. But also like Gretchen, the eyes were hardly dangerous – or so Jake had thought at the time, of course.

They both drank rum and cokes, and talked about losing their loved ones.

Gretchen stopped being cagey and finally confessed that she had been in love with a guy named Doug. They had lived together for three years, and they were giving it a go, even thinking about starting a family – when suddenly he had a heart attack and died on their kitchen floor.

Jake was flabbergasted – “Why are you in our...”

“I know, I know,” Gretchen confessed, sipping the last of her drink and motioning to Pat to make another.

“I guess I’m a bit like Anmari, you know, the deaf one?” Jake nodded about Anmari - her story seemed pretty raw, or at least, the interpreter who accompanied her that day seemed to confirm to the group.

“The grieving groups were so depressing.” Gretchen said, “It was just, all is lost, I don’t want to live. I couldn’t handle that. I stumbled upon our Lonely Hearts Club, and I suddenly saw all these people with potential. They were broken, yes, like we all are. But just like when you break a toy, you can FIX it!”

Gretchen stuck her old straw into her new drink and took a sip.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Jake said.

“I am too,” Gretchen responded, as she flashed her eyes at him, and maybe it was the low lighting and more than likely, the alcohol – but Jake found her attractive for the very first time.

He wanted her.

He hadn’t wanted anyone since Rochelle up and left for Omaha.

Gretchen caught the flare in his nostrils, the increase in his posture, and the deepening tone of his voice. She leaned in and kissed him. Full on the mouth, darting a bit of her tongue here and there.

Pat whistled.

“I think our temptress just clocked in,” he said. And Gretchen laughed a husky, rum-induced snort into Jake’s mouth.

“Come with me,” Gretchen said. And she lead him back outside through the saloon doors.
In a drunken jog, they ran across the busy Topanga Canyon Road, and Jake followed her up a hill.

There, at the top, within the tall grass and valley brambles – Gretchen kissed Jake again, and they sank to their knees.

He made his way inside of her in a matter of seconds. It was an explosion of sorts – the two of them, crumpled on the side of the hill, as cars drove past, obscured by the trees. As he thrust inside of her, his knees dug into the hard ground, as the dried grass poked his shins.

Jake looked into her eyes – and all he could see were...squiggles – geometric patterns and flashing colors.

She gripped the back of his neck and screamed.

When finished, they lay back on the biting grass hill and held hands. They had dressed, but were still too drunk to make their way down.

“Do you feel cured?” She asked.

“No, I feel worse.”

Gretchen responded with a laugh.

“It’s not you." Jake said, "It’s her.”

“Why do you still care?” she asked him, and turned on her side to look him in the face. Jake felt a measure of guilt and regret, but at the moment, he could tell Gretchen anything. He owed her that.

“I don’t know how to get out of that third body you described.” Jake understood what she meant now. He understood that though Rochelle had bolted, he was still living as if she were waiting at home for him.

He shouldn’t feel guilty – he was no longer bound to anyone.

“I know how to get you out,” Gretchen said, as she grabbed his hand and lead him down the hill.

Jake knew that this was only a rebound. He knew that Gretchen genuinely liked him, but after the fog of alcohol and lust and lifted, she was just another woman. There was nothing about her that he gravitated towards. Sure, she was funny, but he couldn’t see them going anywhere past being friends.

The following day, when he called her and said he regretted their time on the hill, Gretchen remained silent.

“Can we just be friends? I can handle making a friend.” Jake said. And he waited.

The silence was louder now – then Gretchen let out a deep breath.

“Fine.” She said.

And that was that.

Jake knew that his call had disappointed her – but she swallowed it – just like she swallowed anything that was emotional. And Gretchen didn’t give up on him; she made sure that they really did remain friends.

And since Jake had no friends, he was obliged to answer her calls, get drinks after group and be up for the adventures she planned on days before.

And before he knew it, Jake was hanging out with Gretchen on a daily basis.
They would often head down to the Galleria to people watch.

“What about her?” Gretchen asked, “She seems pretty.” Gretchen pointed to the exotic looking gazelle that walked with careful steps in high-heel shoes.

“She’s a child, Gretchen!” Jake said, shaking his head.

“She’s at least twenty-five,” Gretchen responded, surprised, but yet, still egging him on.

“Excuse me, Miss?” Jake called to her, “I have a quick question, Miss?”

Gretchen covered her eyes with embarrassment.

The girl walked over to them, more afraid than amused, and asked with a timid, “Yes,” as her lips revealed teeth in silver braces.

“Has someone asked you to the prom?” Jake asked, looking at Gretchen.

The girl’s posture grew dark and defensive, “I’m not telling you, weirdo...” She stomped away, still keeping a careful eye on each step with her shoes.

“See,” Jake said to her in triumph.

But it wasn’t a true feeling of triumph, everything still hurt. For Jake, the moments came in waves, Rochelle would recede with a low tide, and he could see the rocky shore on his horizon, but then it would come raging back – as if tsunami of memories, and still feel that lingering kiss that she left on his head.

Jake rubbed the spot, which had finally healed, but still looked chafed and raw.

“Why do you touch your head like that?” Gretchen asked.

“Because I’m fucked up,” Jake shot back. He was drowning again, swallowing the dank, deep seawater. Jake coughed.

“You remember how I said I could get you out of that,” Gretchen recalled, “I’ve been meaning to share it with you, but...”

Gretchen’s hesitation only annoyed Jake further.

He rubbed the side of his head, and felt the urge to dig into the scalp and just pull that kiss right out of his brain.

“I’ll do anything, Gretchen. Just get it to stop.”

“Okay. Follow me.”

They left the Galleria, and Jake followed her in his car to an apartment near the mouth of Mulholland Drive.

She pointed to a visitor parking space, and headed into the underground parking lot, while Jake sat in his car and obsessed over those same old thoughts, that same old song. Out, damn spot, out.

The medication, the meditation, the music, the group therapy, even Gretchen – even having her on the side of that hill – nothing was killing the grip that Rochelle had on him from across the country.

He had received a postcard from her that said, “I made it.” And she had left no return address.

Rochelle knew he would worry, Jake had mused then later glowered, as he crumpled the postcard and threw it into the trash. Then pulled it out, smoothed it over, and then crumpled it again. Finally he tore the postcard it into bits – and later that night, he stumbled out of his bed, thinking maybe she had written something else beside, “I made it.”

Jake spent the rest of that night and until the very first hours of daylight taping the pieces back together with a painstaking perfection.

There was no message.

“I made it.” 

And she had. She certainly had made it, but Jake hadn’t. He wouldn’t. He might never make again.

The knock on the car window startled him as Gretchen motioned for him to get out.

He was sleepwalking now. He had long since drowned at the Galleria, and was now nothing but a brain-dead zombie.

He was halfway up the steps when he remembered he hadn’t eaten since the day before.

As if on cue, and as if once again, Gretchen had read his mind, as if he were neon sign she read on the side of the road, she said, “I’ll whip something up for us.”

Gretchen’s apartment was messy-neat. At least the piles on the floor corresponded with the rooms – or ‘cubicles’ as she called them as they walked throughout her ‘space.’

There was a cubicle/space for listening to records, which in front of a large stereo and turntable were stacks of vinyl and discs.

The reading space was a couch surrounded by a pyramid of books.

The kitchen space – where Jake did his best to ignore the floor – a floor that a dead man had been residing sometime before – was peppered with cereal boxes, and stacks of unopened cans of diced tomatoes. “For Chili” Gretchen said, but she hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

There was a halfway closed door, and a bedroom resplendent in piles of clothes.

There were no records in the kitchen, and no books in the bed. Messy-neat was what it was – everything was in its cubicle – everything was in the right space.

And then there was the computer – and a monitor the size of a small television set.

Gretchen motioned to the office chair.

“Sit here,” she said. And he did.

Gretchen hovered over him, one hand on the mouse and the other on her keyboard. She brought up Youtube, and typed in a few words.

“Doctor” “Sharif” “Electromagnetic Fractal” “Mandala.”

“Mandala,” Jake said, as if the word had pulled him from somewhere deep within his memory.
“You know about the mandala?” Gretchen asked.

“No,” Jake said. “But I’ve heard of it.”

Gretchen nodded and hit enter on the keyboard. Youtube displayed a series of different videos, as she scrolled with the mouse.

“Sometimes it’s hard to find.”

“What is this?’

“It’s what fixed me. But it always keeps changing places. I’ve tried to bookmark it, but it never stays up. Someone keeps pulling it down. It’s amazing - it’ll change your life. You’ll leave here good as new.”

“But I thought it was the group that fixed you.”

“No, the group is my maintenance. This is what gave me a new engine.”

“A Youtube video?”


“Is it funny?”

“Not like stomping grape lady, funny. No, it’s not a comedy, just trust me...it’s the greatest thing ever.”

“Well, sure it is. It’s a placebo.”

Gretchen plugged in the puffy headphones, and placed them over Jake’s ears.

“I’m going to turn out the lights,” Gretchen said, her voice muffled, as the apartment plunged into near darkness.

Jake had finished his second bowl of Cinnamon Toast Cereal. It wasn’t the gourmet meal Gretchen would lead him to believe she always cooked for herself – but it was marvelous in that it contained calories, sugar and enough milk to satiate his hunger for a time.

The light of the computer glowed throughout the room as Gretchen opened the door to her bedroom.

Mandala by Rasta Robert
“The mandala takes twenty minutes.” Gretchen said. “I’ll just be in here,” she motioned to her messy bedroom. 

“Take three deep breaths and hit play.”

“Gretchen, are you just screwing with me?” Jake asked, and he wanted an answer. This day was going south fast, he wasn’t sleep walking anymore - he was hyperventilating.

He was beginning to feel the first wave of a panic attack of that week.

Maybe Rochelle had written something on the other side of the post card, his racing thoughts sang to him, maybe he hadn’t looked at the postcard long enough?

Rochelle had always liked mysteries, maybe there were more clues. Maybe she used a different color pen or...

“Just hit play when I close my door. We’ll talk about it afterward.”

Gretchen stepped into her bedroom and shut the door. Jake took off the headphones and could hear the sound of a drawer opening and shutting, a closet door swinging open and hangers rattling.

She was cleaning up.

Just like he needed to clean up.

Just like he needed to be clean and clear of Rochelle.

To stop these racing thoughts, there were no secret messages; there was no different color pen. There was nothing but silence. The third person he had occupied was dead. He was occupying a corpse.

It was time to take off the costume and be Jake again.

Jake took three deep breaths – what the hell, he thought, why not?

He hit play.

A man’s voice boomed through the headphone speakers – while the screen displayed darkness, “Relax your mind. Open up. Open up and absorb the ritual of the light.”

A small point of light grew in the middle of the screen. Yes, just like the laser shows with Pink Floyd, Jake thought – just like those times where marijuana was king.

At first it was just that – the animation of light patterns emerging on the screen, drawing outward as a large circle – and then the circle grew no further, as it filled the screen, and the fractal images and the pattern of lights pulsed with the soft, droning new age music that now pumped underneath the man’s voice.

“All of time, all of time stops, it ceases to exist, as you feel yourself falling...”

Jake grew dizzy, the sensation of the chair underneath him, his feet touching the carpeted floor, the arm rests he sunk into; they all spun away, Jake felt like he was falling. Falling into the fractal patterns that emerged through the screen.

Electricity surged through his body – as the thoughts of Rochelle; her deep eyes, her lovely figure, the way her voice grew higher when she was excited – how she smelled, how she would rub his hand with her thumb – these memories grew stretched and filled with static. The thought patterns were attaching themselves into little squares, enclosing them, shrinking them.

He saw Rochelle waving goodbye and getting into her call – as it closed and buzzed out – like an old TV set that’s finally turned off.

The day they met – off.

How they kissed – off.

It was working – it was really working. Jake felt his inner sanctum open and release all that was heavy, all that was wrong, all that was hurting for so long. It was pouring out now, and being eaten away by the spinning, cascading colors of the patterns that spun in a round throughout the mandala.

Soon – he was free – he was clear. No more hurtful memories were attaching themselves to the wires of light – it was just the color wheel, spinning and spinning.

“And now you are ready for the good, the great, behold...” The man’s voice boomed in Jake’s ears – louder and louder – as he continued to fall through the mandala and beyond.

The patterns shifted now – they turned to the color of gold and silver – with a higher clarity than a Youtube video could ever produce. Not even the latest advances in filming technology – 4k, 8k, whatever it was – nothing could produce the high-resolution imagery that Jake was spinning within.

There were small blocks now, resembling windows as they spun connected to each part of the mandala.

The windows grew in size, and opened with light.

Jake saw Gretchen in one, a look of happiness on her face, tears streaming down her eyes, as she said a single word: “Yes.”

Gretchen again, this time in bed – naked, blinking out the window, tired but satisfied. A hand reached out and brushed back her hair.

A hand that looked very familiar. A hand that was his...

This window spun out of view, as another came into view – Gretchen in a wedding dress...
And faster now...

Gretchen in labor, and hands holding her shoulders – pleading with her to push, and a child – in the doctors arms is a child that...

Another window – oh it was going faster now...

A child he didn’t recognize, but did, a child of about eight or nine, wearing a Halloween costume, saying a word over and over again: “Daddy.”

The horror struck Jake, and he threw out his hands in the vast darkness that surrounded him – and grabbed hold of one of the spinning circles of light.

It burned him, and yet he held on – gritting his teeth through the pain and the terrible energy that ran up his arms. Using all of his strength, he twisted the band of light, wrapping it around his wrists, and pulling – pulling...

Until he heard a pop!

Jake was no longer sitting at Gretchen’s desk, nor was he in her apartment. But standing in the middle of a sparse room, with two unmade beds. Beds without sheets, without blankets – basically a mattress on a metal box spring.

The walls were bare – concrete. At first, Jake thought he must have gone bananas over the fractal, and Gretchen called the cops.

Looking closer, there were two desks, two chairs, a couple of closet doors – he was in a...

“Dad? Daddy? Are you okay?”

Jake spun around to the open door behind him. A young woman in her late teens was staring back at him. She looked so familiar, as if he had seen her – and he had. She looked just like his sister, Melissa.

“Melissa?” He said.

The girl rolled her eyes, “Always the jokester."

"But you're Melissa," Jake said. "But younger. How?"

"Ha ha, Dad. Whatever." The girl said,  " You know that Aunt Melissa and Uncle Chris live in Carmel, remember? Just because you’re turning 50 doesn’t mean you’re turning senile, does it? Can you help Mom and I with the dresser?”

Jake was silent, but underneath his breathing, something inside him was screaming. He felt dizzy, lightheaded, and unable to breath.

The girl saw something was wrong.

“Dad? Dad? What’s the matter? I was just kidding.”

Jake sat down on the bare mattress and felt the air rush out of his lungs.

The girl ran down the hall, yelling for her mother.

Yes, go and get your mother, he thought. She has some serious explaining to do.

While alone on the bed, Jake could hear people carrying in furniture, along with the directions from other people in other rooms.

“Dad, put the computer there. No, there Dad! Geez, don’t you ever listen?”

It didn’t take much detective work to figure out that Jake was sitting in a dorm room.

“What? What is it?” A woman’s voice said, as he heard rushing from up the hall. The quick patter of sneakers running along the thin, flimsy dormitory carpets motivated Jake to sit up, and he observed the overflowing belly that had now grown around his midsection.

The girl and a woman he recognized entered the room. It was Gretchen – aged by twenty years.
“What did you do to me?” Jake said. It was the only thing that was able to come out of his mouth with any coherence.

“One second, I’m sitting in your apartment watching that goofy mandala video on Youtube...”

The girl snorted, “Youtube? Wow, that’s going back in time, Daddy.”

Gretchen placed her hands on her pronounced hips, “Enough with the jokes, Jake!”

Jake got to his feet; his knees ached, so did his back. He observed gray arm hairs, good lord, what would he find when he looked in the mirror?

“What did you make me watch, Gretchen?” Jake asked, stepping to her, finding a source of power in his voice.

And it was no longer a joke to Gretchen, who looked down at the floor, and right then and there – she copped to something she never thought she would.

 “It changed your life,” she said. “It changed my life.”

Gretchen reached for the girl, who looked confused. She took the girls hands in her own, and took a gentle hand with Jake. She connected the three of them together.

“It changed all of our lives.” She said with finality.

“But it’s not fair,” Jake said. “I didn’t have a say.”

“Mommy, what’s gotten into, Dad?” The girl said, gripping her father’s hand tighter.

“How can this be fair, Gretchen?” Jake asked again.

“Your father is stressed, honey.” Gretchen said to her daughter, “He and I are going to miss you very much. You’re the only child we have...”

Gretchen said this last line, as if to indicate – there will be more surprises, but not that type of surprise.

“It’s normal for him and for me to feel a bit...troubled...”

And there was nothing more to say, because the other family arrived, with another young woman, obviously the daughter’s roommate. And all was forgotten in an instance.

Jake felt it best to shake hands and agree with what Gretchen had said. They were all under a bit of stress at the moment.

Jake hugged the stranger goodbye. The stranger cried when he kissed her on the cheek, “Oh Daddy,” she said. “You are the best.”

Jake nodded and said nothing in return. The stranger hugged Gretchen, and she ran off with her new roommate, as they entered the most exciting time in their lives.

Gretchen turned to Jake, “I’ll explain in the car.”

“You’re driving, because I sure as hell don’t know which car is ours, let alone where we live, or what we do...”

It was all very out of body for Jake, and he kept thinking back to the fractal patterns, to that man’s voice, to the boxes that became windows, and to the snapshots of the life that he had missed.

The future had arrived, as the alien yet familiar landscape of a college campus, showed they were still living in the late summer, that he could see the trees were beginning to change...maybe it was closer to fall?  And then there was the parking lot filled with cars he had never seen. He recognized the names; Honda, Toyota, Tesla...but there were others, Howard, PrimeX, CycleSoma. A good majority of the cars were smaller and instead of gas caps, there were portals for plugs.

“Everything is electric now?” Jake asked in wonder.

“Not just electric, but solar...” Gretchen replied – her face grimaced underneath the sunglasses, as the fabric of her dress billowed in the wind.

“Is she a good kid?” Jake asked – the anger, frustration bubbling underneath, but at least he was trying - really trying to remain...somewhat cordial.

“She is marvelous. We have raised a wonderful daughter.” Gretchen said.

“I never caught her name, and I didn’t hear it when she introduced herself to me, it sounded garbled...” Jake stopped, he was feeling very overwhelmed. How could she have done this to him? How could he have done this to himself? There must be a part of him that wanted this - that part of him that was ready to be rid of the third. 

And here is the third rising to the top - alive again, the body has returned - and he is but residing within the rotten corpse.

It was all too much.

“It’s Christine. The same as your mother.” Gretchen pulled a key-fob out of her purse and hit the button.

A silver vehicle lit up, and the doors unlocked.

“This is us,” Gretchen said. “I’ll try and explain everything.”

When Jake sat in the car, the passenger seat moved him into a comfortable position without the push of a button. All of the sudden, he felt very tired, drained. Somewhere deep inside of him, he was mourning the loss of a daughter he never knew – and  mourning the empty nest that they would return.

“Why did this happen?” Jake asked, as tear rolled down his cheeks.

“Because you were in pain, because you were never ever going to forget that girl, that...what was her name?” Gretchen asked.

“Rochelle,” Jake said.

The name shuddered through Gretchen’s body; she obviously had not heard that name in a very long time.

“You were never going to give up on her.” Gretchen said, as she pressed various buttons along the dash. 

Jake noticed there wasn’t a steering wheel.

“How in the hell are you going to drive?” He asked.

“Don’t worry, it’ll get us home.”

And the car backed out of the parking space and did just that.

Written By Trevor Boelter
Sun Cross by DrSnowCrash