This is the day, I thought. Today, I’ll stop the medication. I got up, and looked around at the shabby wallpaper, the stained sofa, and the cracked wooden coffee table. I’ll get back to paradise.
I dressed, fixed myself some coffee, and rushed downstairs. From the front door, I ran over to the corner deli and bought a sandwich. The cashier was a plump young woman, with fair, rosy cheeks. I had long since told her my name, but she made a point of not remembering it. I already had the ingredients for the sandwich in my refrigerator, but I still came down every morning. I paid slowly, holding onto every dollar.
When she leaned over to hand me my change, I inclined my head to whisper tiredly in her ear, “Valerie, the name’s James.” I stuffed the change in my pocket, walked out the door, and went back to my building. I unchained my bike from the wrought iron bars over the first floor windows. My bike was an old Schwinn, and I was proud of it. Even though I picked it up from a dumpster and it still smelled of eggs and soda. I pedaled reluctantly, detesting every second of exercise. As Chloe, I wouldn’t take a second of this. I looked at my watch, only 11 more hours!
Soon after, I rode up to the local bank, locked up my bike, and went indoors. I pulled my blazer over my button down as I walked through the door. “Mr. Clemens, you’re late! Again. One more time…” My boss, a squat little man, waved his pudgy finger at me, scowled, and went back to his desk, hobbling on prosthetic legs. I went on to my desk to arrange my papers. My first client came in at about noon, and held me through my lunch break. Chloe would have her under secretaries dealing with this slapstick old fool! Tonight, I won’t take these pills, and I’ll be home! I gingerly fingered the pills in my pocket, under the table. “Yes, of course you can get a loan for your shoe leather repair shop!” Even though your profits are so low you might as well be operating out of a shoe box. I grinned, and patted the man on the shoulder, while rising to shake his hand and give him a contract to sign.
Stomach growling the whole way home, I didn’t even think to stop at the deli. I arrived at my building, ran up the five flights to my door, and shook off my leather shoes, old donations from dad. I got a glass from the cabinet, and filled it with water. I scanned the room again, smiling. Soon, I would be back to the life of luxury, and leave that dreaded fleur de lis wallpaper behind. My eyes scanned over the shoes, now worn from years of use, left at odd angles from the door. Then I remembered, Dad had wanted to talk to me tonight. I scowled at my watch, 8:12. If I call him now, and keep it brief, I’ll still have plenty of time for Chloe tonight. I got out my cell phone from my jacket, strewn across the old sofa bed in a precarious manner, hanging over the floor. I dialed my dad’s number, and sat down, expecting him to wait till the last possible moment to pick up. He didn’t dissapoint. Finally, he “made time for me in the strictest of schedules”, just managing to squeeze me in between the in house doctor’s evaluation, and “wild time with your mom”. He’s seventy years old, the thought! “How are things?” he asked, just bursting to explain his latest home run in the stock market.
“Great! Work is great, my girl is great. How are you?” I said, irritated.
“It’s been so long since you gave me the latest on your girlfriend, how is Valerie? Has she gotten that promotion, yet?”
“Almost. How is your lovely lady? I thought I remembered mom sounding a little anxious when I spoke to her last.” I smiled at my own cleverness.
“Your mother is great!” He said casually.
“We both know I wasn’t talking about mom.” I smiled again, easing the uncertainty out of him, word for word. This was the only part of our discussions I enjoyed, hence the long respite between each.
“Did you see what happened with Apple? I bought that around $400. What a winner!”
“That lady, what was her name again? The relaxed one.”
“Here we go again! She’s done. That was a long time ago, twenty years, and still you won’t let me forget a drunk night abroad! Grow up.” He sounded exasperated.
“If it was just one drunk night, than I wouldn’t have caught you texting her those pictures.” I countered, still silently smirking. I cringed on the word pictures. Some things just have to be put to words.
“Anyway…that’s done. You haven’t had any of those fantasy seizures lately, have you? You’re still taking those meds?” Right to the point. Every since I was a baby, I’d had epilepsy, with seizures often coming on up to twice a month. During these violent seizures, only lasting up to a couple minutes each, I would experience a whole day, of another world, as a different person. That world, Havenica, was paradise. Then, years later, my doctor put me on medications, that stopped me from have the seizures completely. Tonight, I’d stop the medication, and some time this weekend I’d go back to paradise, if only for a day.
“No, none at all. The medication works great.”
“Good, good. Now you can actually make some progress on your real life, eh?” He hung up. I didn’t need a phone connection to hear him laughing back in his study. Though his life on Earth may have been more successful than mine, Chloe trumped us both. Her wealth far exceeded his, and her success, my success, followed suit.
I started on my preparations, pulling out the old sofa bed, getting some food to eat before I went to sleep, and a clean rag to stuff in my mouth. I undressed, downed the food and water, Put the rag in my mouth, and jumped into bed, smiling.
I was lucky, my seizure started before I woke up on Earth. In Havenica, I was sweetly awakened to the sound of Magi chirping in his cage. I smiled, grateful not to hear the alarm clock buzzing in my ear, grateful for the seductive softness of my silk sheets, and most importantly, grateful for the pleasing warmth beside me. “Chloe, wake up. Chloe, wake up!” I arose, my feet automatically sliding into the padded slippers on the floor, an ease born out of infinite repetitions, most of which I wasn’t in Havenica to experience. Like I don’t remember anything from James’ seizures, I don’t remember what happens to Chloe while on Earth. That’s Magi’s job. After twice emerging into Havenica unused to my body, and disoriented by the progress of my surroundings, I charged him to report each morning. Transference of gender was never awkward to me. As my mind transferred, I changed as well. Including hormones, I recalled noticing before, as I stared at my husband, Pierre, who was soundly asleep. I released Magi, and followed him into my study where I always took my briefing. I reclined in my leather armchair, and Magi perched on the bar by my ear. He went with me always as an advisor, but for this especially, I didn’t want to be overheard. No one in Havenica knows of my other life. “Chloe, there are several important things I must discuss with you, mainly about the borderlands to the South.” Politics! James’ most coveted field. We both always loved having others’ fates in our hands. For him, a wounded animal found on the side of the road. For me, a world superpower. “The Oruks, the invaders who recently took over the Southlands, are inciting a rebellion against the human control. Those tail spikes on the Oruks are difficult for our free fighting soldiers to get around. We need to make a shield formation, and stop their projectiles.” I had learned from Magi long ago not to mix Earth technology, with Havenica’s. “Don’t worry, general Shon came up with that idea, not you. The soldiers all support it, but I restrained them to hear your verdict.” He looked bashful. With Magi though, you never know.
“Well then of course, who am I to refuse the will of the people?”
“Their elected autocratic leader.” He smiled, as much as a bird could smile. His dull purple feathers angled forward, in reverence. Magi was sent as a gift from the Avers when I was formally elected. They said he was the best they had ever found.
“As my first act, Majority Rules.” I inwardly cringed at the words, expecting Magi’s response.
“I told you not to mix the worlds, if you had complied, the Oruks would still be part of our federation!”
“Enough, back to business. Was there more?” I was tired of his paternal tone. “Your charge was not a casual invitation to my private study.” I regained my composure, sat back in my chair, and trained a practiced stare on Magi, recalling the etiquette instruction I never truly sat through.
“The Avers request men for the resurgence of Balbor troops on their borders, yours are now notorious for their martial prowess. After that little Hypoton incident in the Western Delta, all of our allies have need of our soldiers,” he said, returning to the formal etiquette he had taught me.
“Do we have surplus?” I asked, guessing the answer. Although my work was a big part of my conscious time on Havenica, I hated to experience anything strenuous.
“No,” he looked ruffled, “that’s the other problem. The Freedom Movement have shown their hand in the rebellions.”
“What are the Oruks calling for? The Freedom Movement must want something; they’ve been docile for generations. If we win them over, who in turn pacify the Oruks, we can call on the soldiers sent to deal with the Oruks for aid with the Balbors. Once we’ve gathered the necessary army, we can not only repress the Balbors, but conquer them and take hold of their tin deposits. Then, we shall combine that with our copper, and rival the Freedom regime in bronze output!” This whole time, I had been merely thinking aloud, but now I let it all out in a great rush, and fall into place.
“Good…good. The Freedom simply want extra land at the edge of the Delta for their herds to graze on. We’ve land to spare.” There was a tentative knock at the door.
“Will your Highness take lunch soon? Miss, Chef Mansur has created your favorite, repas du jour!”
A quick glance at Magi confirmed my inclination. From his vantage point on the sill, he stared out over the city intently focused on the comparatively uneventful lives of the passerby. “Surprises, surprises! Now would be excellent.”
“Where would you like it?” The servant girl asked, her voice slightly quivering.
“How about the dining hall? Tonight is a special night. Wake Pierre and have him meet me on the dais. There we shall take our food.” I turned to Magi and inclined my shoulder. He hopped up on it and together we swept out of the room, startling the quivering young attendant huddled behind it. She smiled and dipped her head as we passed.
We continued on with a sweep of my hand that encouraged the young girl to action. She promptly left just as we did.
After turning the corner onto a tall colonnade over my private garden, I turned down into a wide stairwell that led straight into a little prep room. The large double doors across the room led directly into the banquet hall, and served as my private entrance. This time I proceeded through the doors without a glance at the softly shining dressing table. I paused after softly knocking on the door and waited for the attendant to open it from the other side.
The first gilt heads bowed in admiration as I appeared from behind my raised chair and exclusive dining table. As per custom, I raised my glass in mock salute and they returned in kind. Several minutes in, Pierre arrived and sat on my right. In company, we always presented a stately couple; we saved our passions for night. Word had spread that tonight was worth celebrating, though no one knew why. I wasn’t nearly as surprised as my chef surely hoped, when I saw my three favorite dishes emerge from the staff door: roast duck, creamy squash soup, and an entire leg of mutton- brought with a shaver with which the server cut thin slices to present on my plate. Magi got his typical steel bowl of pickled fish on dark bread. I stood and proposed a toast to Pierre and “the charming men and women of my court”. We all dug in ravenously, forgetting the time. As customary, Magi cut in a minute prior to midnight and whispered in my ear, “It’s almost time.” “What a shame I didn’t retire to bed earlier. For next time,” I said to myself, smiling. “Surely I’ll finish up with Pierre afterwards, if only I would remember it in the morning!” Magi turned to me and looked at me quizzically. “Quiet,” he said. “That last item we didn’t cover, it was another prophecy.” “Can’t it wait?” He tutted at me and shook his head. “Fine, what is it?” “I believe there is a way you could consciously stay in Havenica eternally.” “How?” I butted in loudly. Several heads turned but I didn’t pay them any attention. “I don’t know. I sense it is not of this land, but of your other. Consult a wise one there.” My head was abuzz with excitement, stay in Havenica forever? What I’ve dreamt of since my first visit? I got a slight tap on my arm from Pierre, but I trained my gaze on Magi. “Tel…” I implored, as I felt myself stir from within, and entertain the realization that my body wasn’t upright in a chair-but lying in James’ bed with my head propped up on a musty pillow.
A fierce headache greeted my arrival into the land of the sentient. I groaned and rolled over. My head was on fire, but I couldn’t feel a thing. To stay in Havenica permanently, I would do anything. I took the rag out of my mouth, threw back the sheets, stood up, then walked to the window. Of course, it was still night. As I walked around and quenched my thirst with a cool glass of water, my throbbing head gradually eased back to normal. How could I do it? Magi advised to consult a wise one, but who have I got? I fixed myself another glass of water, this time with ice. It refreshed me and again lessened the pain in my head to a dull drumming. Think! It is not of Havenica, its something more advanced. My eyes scanned the room. TV? No. Phone? No. Microwave? Definitely no. I scanned the room twice before I found it: the pills? I briskly walked over to the little orange pillbox, and took it up in my hand. I then poured some out in my palm and carefully inspected them. Doubtful. I replaced the lid and began to read the label-leaving the extra pills on my dresser. Levia! For your worst Epilepsy symptoms. Do not take with other prescription medications. Only use LEVIA if recommended by your healthcare professional. LEVIA is not for children under the age of 12. Do not use LEVIA if you: are pregnant, suffer from depression, or are under the influence. Warning: Overdosage will lead to a coma. There! A coma would be just like a never ending seizure. Before the box hit the floor, I had bustled over to the sink and begun to fill a glass. I rushed over to the pills and grabbed them up in my other hand, then stopped myself. What would my father think of me, escaping life like a shamed malefactor. It’s wrong. Like a stimulant, short trips to Havenica are just like sessions of a game, to live there is like suicide. Would Magi approve? “Consult a wise one”, I can’t exactly consult him now. Who do I know? Again my eyes scanned the room, and fell on the worn leather shoes. Dad! Slowly I picked up the phone. Slowly I dialed the number. Even if dad doesn’t approve, I’d still have plenty of time to take the pills, and be in Havenica before anyone gets here. “Hello? Who is it?” He picked up on the first ring. “James,” I said quietly. “But we just talked! What could you possibly have to tell me now that you couldn’t have told me earlier?” He moaned. “I have to ask you something. I have…new information.” “Okay, I’m listening.” I could tell he was serious; whenever he was serious, he tried to sound it. “Well,” I stuttered, “I’m considering a long term investment in something, something that would give me great enjoyment in the doing, but would require a long term absence. Very long term, in fact, possibly without communications. What do you think?” “What’ve you got to stick around for? I’ve always known you were lying, about you girlfriend, and your fancy job. Know what I say? Life is a vehicle for the senses, stimulate yourself!” For the first time in my life, I hung up on him. I filled my mouth with water and popped the pills in after it. I swallowed. I smiled.
Grant Gordon, Age 13, Grade 7, The Dalton School, Silver Key