The sun overhead was bright and warm. The broad lawn stretched in all directions as far as I could see, broken only by immense trees scattered here and there, and in the distance there was some kind of large complex of buildings.
I was playing a game with the red-haired girl, who like me was about ten years old. She turned to me and I saw a pair of huge green eyes happily observing me, but for some reason the rest of the face was Kiri's. It was my turn to catch her, but I couldn't quite touch her, as she slipped away each time I came near. I felt unbelievably happy.
Then she turned away from me for a moment, and when she turned around her hair was grey, the face was wrinkled with age, and the eyes were ordinary brown eyes. "Aunt Mickey?" I said in surprise, although somehow the face was still Kiri's. She smiled at me sadly, and then I realized that everything around us, the lawn, the trees, the sun, the distant buildings, was turning grey and fading away. "Aunt Mickey?" I cried out again as she began to recede into the distance. "Aunt Mickey!" I screamed again as she faded into the formless grey all around me. "No! Please come back! Don't leave me here!" And then I was floating in a shapeless grey nothing as terror and sadness overwhelmed me.
The grey void became drab walls with a few bookcases containing books and videotapes. It took me a few moments to realize I was back in my own apartment, as I tried to calm my pounding heart. I found my face and pillow wet with tears, and a sense of overwhelming loss filling my soul.
I'm not a believer in dream interpretations. As far as I'm concerned, dreams are the brain's way of filing and sorting all of the vast jumble of information recently acquired and not yet put into proper context. The emotional upset of the preceding evening had left my subconscious working overtime to make sense of it all, with the results that I had experienced. Or so I assured myself.
Nonetheless, for the rest of the day my surroundings seemed somehow unreal, as the sadness still shadowing my consciousness seemed to color everything in drab shades of grey. Only when I received a call from Kiri asking what I wanted for supper did the overcast seem to lift a bit, and within a few days I had almost forgotten about it.
Several evenings later the word "exercise" attained a whole new dimension. We were rehashing the entertainment of the evening, a series called El-Hazard, which the animator had described in an interview as being partly in the tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs. This led into a discussion of Burroughs' classic Mars novels, and somehow the conversation eventually found its way to the ever-present swordplay which that author had so effectively made an integral part of his writing.
"I remember," I burbled enthusiastically, "how much in college I would have loved to have tried wielding one of those broadswords he always wrote about. But our school didn't even offer fencing." Kiri lifted her eyebrows, and without a word disappeared into the garage. A moment later she returned with two long cloth-wrapped objects. Pulling off the covers she unveiled to my incredulous gaze two shining swords and handed one to me hilt first.
"Go ahead, dummy, take it," she snorted, running a finger along one edge. Gingerly I accepted it. It was about two and a half feet long, and on examining it more closely I saw that the edges were no sharper than a letter opener and the tip well rounded. "Apart from putting an eye out," she reassured me, "I don't think you could do much more than inflict bruises with these. They are well balanced, though," and after waving it around in the air a few times I agreed.
"Please," she said, stifling a laugh, "it's not a paint roller. Here, watch." And she showed me a basic move and told me to copy it. I couldn't believe how comfortable the blade felt in my hand, somehow, in spite of its obvious lack of lethality. I think it was at that point that I decided I had finally managed to outgrow adulthood, and good riddance to it.
"Let's go somewhere where we won't smash up the furniture," she giggled, and led me to the garage. I understood now why she left her vehicle parked out front: her garage had been stripped of its contents and set up as a kind of exercise room, windows covered, with a few wooden platforms of various heights scattered around. Seeing how much fun she was having, and how little concerned about appearance, I began to shed my own inhibitions and quickly found myself trying out one move after another under her evidently skilled tutelage.
When we finally finished, I realized to my astonishment that over two hours had slipped away. She ended up by ordering me to take a good swing at her, and after a weak protest and a resulting lecture I complied vigorously. A moment later my sword was flying across the room with a resounding clatter and my palm stung from the blow. "Just to make sure you don't lose your perspective," she gibed.
The next morning I expected to wake up with more aching muscles than I had reaped years ago when I had attempted water skiing for the first and only time, but instead found myself fresh and limber. What is happening to me, I wondered? And do I care? Somehow I was finding the dreary days at work passing by in a flash, a merry face full of glittering surprises always before me.
As if swordplay wasn't enough, Kiri came up with yet another crazy idea a few days later. It was a measure of her spell over me that it only seemed half-crazy at the time. She started teaching me an imaginary language.
It all started after supper with a series of wisecracks about the way a character could be transported to a different country/planet/universe and still manage to learn the language within a time that would have been the envy of a trained linguist. This routine became a standard feature of most Burroughs novels and even he couldn't prevent it from eventually passing its "use before" date. Other writers tried other devices, such as alien gadgets* that would instantly teach the wearer the language. Finally, of course, the Roddenberry Star Trek television series simply dispensed with the whole rancid mess by inventing something called the "Universal Translator."
"I remember creating a special alphabet," I was saying, "so I could write my class notes and make them unintelligible to anyone else. All the letters were formed from straight lines so it ended up looking a lot like the OCR characters they use on checks. Wonder if I should have patented it?"
"Hah," she snorted, her eyes lighting up. "I've gone you one better." (One-upsmanship was definitely one of her well-developed skills.) "I once created an actual language and taught it to several of my friends. We used to use it whenever someone was around that we wanted to annoy. I still remember it after all these years." How many years was that? I thought idly. I suddenly realized I still didn't actually know her age.
The upshot was that I learned that evening to count to ten in "Deshtiran," as she called it, along with a few simple verbs and the standard pronouns. It was surprisingly easy, and a bit fun, especially after she taught me some colorful curses as well, and then we spent another hour wildly clashing swords. I had progressed to the point where we were dashing on and off the platforms scattered around the room like Errol Flynn on one of Warner Brothers' fake pirate ships, pursuing each other like demons and occasionally even inflicting real bruises with the rounded ends of our blades (at which point the curses came in very handy). It was all great fun and I found myself hoping it might never end as I headed home once again.
And that night before going to bed I happened to actually look in the mirror at myself for the first time in several weeks and realized that the face looking back at me was the face I used to see twenty years ago when I still believed in my life. What is happening to me? I wondered again. And is it real?
Vren. Bri. Doh. Gred.
I found myself sitting bolt upright in bed with the strange words still echoing in my mind, this time spoken repeatedly by an unfamiliar male voice. I couldn't remember any images at all, just the words seemingly coming from all around me. My life is getting weirder and weirder, I thought to myself. I looked at my alarm clock in disgust, saw with considerable relief that it was only a little past one, and happily rolled over and was soon once again sound asleep.
* Or, in Manabe Johji's Outlanders, a kiss. - Ed.
MIKIRIA. Copyright © 1998, 2000 Lamont Downs. All rights
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