Everest

November, 2016 — Chicago, Illinois

“So, let me get this straight,” Mark says. He leans back in the chair and sips from his after-dinner bourbon. “You want me to manage your commune. But first I have to help make it? Somewhere in Noplace, Wisconsin?”

Felicia smiles and sips her drink to compose her confused thoughts for a moment, looking out the restaurant window over Lake Michigan to the east.

It’s a clear night and a few bright stars are visible even through the omnipresent skyglow of Chicago. They reflect in the unusually calm water of the Lake, clearly visible from Everest’s 40th-floor vantage. So much water. Fresh water. Is that why she has always been around the Great Lakes? Because on some level she has always known that plentiful fresh water would be crucial to her people? Her people. She smiles, realizing that she has already started to think of them that way, although she knows perfectly well that she will never see any of them again.

Never? Where are such thoughts coming from? Felicia sips her wine again in an attempt to hide her distress. Ever since the dream, or whatever it was, three weeks ago, she has felt increasingly as though a kind of alien mind is intruding into her thoughts. But, just as strangely, she feels such a reluctance around this bizarre problem that she has not even been able to force herself to think about it!

“Oh, Mark, I wish I could explain it better!” she says, and he has known her long enough to see that there is nothing feigned about her distress.

“Felicia,” Mark says, concern touching his handsome features, “is everything all right? If you’re having any—health problems of any kind, you would let me know wouldn’t you?”

“Oh, it’s not that. I mean—not exactly.”

“What the hell does ‘not exactly’ mean? Felicia, if you’re having health problems, if that’s why you’re in a rush to do this commune, you’ve got to tell me.”

“It’s not a commune!” Her laugh, if a bit brittle, does put him at least marginally more at ease. “And, honestly Mark, there are some things going on that just—that I just don’t understand myself.”

She moves her wine glass in a circle on the white table cloth so that the blood-red fluid reflects Everest’s soft track-lighting. They have come here often enough, and Mark’s tips are so shamelessly lavish, that they always get the best seats available. The soft sounds of the restaurant, late-night music and the murmur of conversations, are a balm upon her soul.

“But I do understand one thing. The co-op. I really want to put that together, Mark. And I want you to be on the board for that. You know I’ve never been a real business manager. I can match the properties with the clients, and I think I’ve done that here—but you’re the one who can get it moving. You’re the one who can organize it so that it really happens.

Mark makes his patented mildly-wry face in response to her little evasion.

“Look,” he says, “how much land are we talking about in Nowhere, Wisconsin, anyway?”

“It isn’t nowhere!” She frowns and smiles again. Mark has always been able to make her laugh, no matter what’s happening. “It’s a beautiful piece of land called the Buckhorn Barrens—a peninsula in Castle Rock Lake, which is pretty close to the middle of the state. It’s less than two hundred miles from here.”

“Castle Rock Lake,” he says, grinning. “Fabulous. So you’re proposing to invite a hundred children to go live in this—location for a Stephen King movie. What happens next? The monsters show up?”

“No,” Felicia becomes serious. “They’re going there to get away from the monsters.”

Mark waves this off as he reaches for his glass again. He is already well aware of her long-time belief that something is coming. Something large, and something not good. Only the fact that she has never seemed to do anything to actively prepare for this vague threat has allowed Mark to accept her ‘feelings’ as a kind of harmless hobby. The obvious connection of her co-op idea with these ideas has, thus far, been politely ignored. Mark, after all, knows many wealthy people who have squandered their resources in far worse ways.

“And they’re not children, Mark. They’re all in their mid-twenties at least, and a lot of them in their thirties.

“Ah, they say the cutest things at that age,” he smiles.

“And I know them all.”

That gets his attention.

Know them?” he raises his eyebrows. “Honestly? Are you sure half of them aren’t just gold-diggers?”

“Well, I’ve met all of them at least once, and exchanged lots of emails and phone calls. Mark, they’re the right people. I’d bet—well, I’d bet everything on it. And no, they’re not gold-diggers. I didn’t even start talking to them about the Dance until—until a few weeks ago.” Felicia hopes he doesn’t ask what motivated her to tell them her plans at that particular time.

“Mark, they’re going to love the Dance, and they’re going to make it work. With your help.”

“You’re calling it the ‘Dance’?”

“Ah, my little name for it. Actually I’m using an Indian name—Wanagi Wacipi. It means ‘Ghost Dance’.”

“So. Your warrior woman’s blood finally shows itself, eh? Squaw woman make big wampum, go shopping! Me thinkum, today is a good day to buy!

“Oh, yes, absolutely,” she replies sarcastically. “My one-sixteenth Indian DNA. I’m as genuine Native American as a Walt Disney movie. No, I just—it just seemed like the right name for the place. You’ll understand when you see it.”

Felicia sips her wine, and Mark sips his bourbon.

“Will you do it?” Felicia asks her old lover.

“Yeah,” he smiles. “I’ll do it. Why not? It obviously means a lot to you, so I’m obviously in. Maybe I’ll even throw in a little something myself so your modern savages can have an extra tipi or two. Or a peace pipe.”

“Don’t you be giving them any bad habits. None of them are druggies and I want it to stay that way.” Felicia frowns. She has always felt strongly about this.

“What kind of hippies are they making nowadays?” He shakes his head sadly.

“They’re not hippies. They’re people who are trying to live a different way because the normal way isn’t working for them. You know some of those thirty-year-olds have never had a job? None of them have ever had better than a minimum wage job. Not one.”

“Mark, most of them started doing their organic gardening because they needed the food. Some of them are married. They have children. Mark, one of them, one of the young women, when I started talking to them about my plans, she said this was the first good thing—”

Felicia has never liked to become emotional in public. She looks aside at the city lights below, and the lake’s darkness beyond.

“I will,” Mark says, covering her hand with his. “I’ll work on it with you, Feelie. But—you’ve really talked to a hundred of these kids? How big a place did you get?”

“A little over four sections,” she say quietly, looking back at him shyly.

“Sections? Sections of what?”

“Sections of land, as you know perfectly well.” She allows herself a tiny smile at Mark’s pretended ignorance of anything related to land, or real estate in any of its forms. He can manage a high tech start-up from a garage shop to a two hundred million dollar company, but he can’t find a building to put it in to save his life.

“The Dance is about four and a third square miles,” she says. “Twenty-eight hundred acres.”

“Felicia—how the hell much are you putting into this?”

“Everything.” She looks into his eyes. “Everything I have.”

Mark leans back in his chair, his face getting the set look it gets when he isn’t fooling anymore.

“OK,” he says quietly, “listen. “If you want my help, you’re going to have to tell me what’s going on with you.”

Felicia nods, both because it’s a reasonable request and because she knew before she came here to meet him this evening that there would probably be no way to avoid it. A half-mile outside the restaurant’s windows, in the darkness beyond the edge of Chicago, Lake Michigan protects the secrets that it has kept for twelve thousand years.

“You know,” she begins, looking out the tall windows, “I think I might be getting religion.”

When she looks back at him, Mark has the funniest expression she’s ever seen on his face.

“Oh, don’t worry!” she laughs. “I’m not gong to start attending mass at Our Lady of Convenient Conversions. I just mean—I don’t believe any more, if I ever did, that our lives don’t happen for a reason.” She frowns down at the red wine. She has never tried before to express these feelings aloud.

“I guess I feel like—when you come to this life, you come for a reason. I think you come for whatever your soul needs. What you need to do, or be, or whatever. You come to the time and place that you need to be at, and you get the challenges you need to have. And if you’re lucky—and if you’re not afraid—you live up to them.”

“Mark, this is what I need to do. This is what I came to this life to do. Why did I make all this money? I don’t have children to give it to.” She says it with a little laugh.

“You could have had them,” Mark says quietly, and that statement clears a silence around itself.

She should have known that this topic, too, would be unavoidable tonight.

“I guess,” she replies at last, “that’s the other thing about coming to life for a reason. It means that life isn’t an accident, and what happens to us in life isn’t an accident either. There are things you can do, and some things you can’t. Maybe sometimes it’s like—” Felicia frowns, trying to understand what she’s feeling. “Sometimes it’s like a trade. If you get some kind of special help, you might have to—give up something. I don’t really know, Mark. I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I’m just having so many strange feelings lately.”

“But, you know,” she looks at him, “I kind of feel like—these people will be my children, in a way. All of them. They’ll be our children, Mark.”

For once he doesn’t have anything amusing to say.

“Mark,” Felicia fills the silence, “I want to come to your place tonight. May I?”

He had just started to pick up his bourbon again, but that question stops his hand.

“Um, yes!” he says. “Absolutely! That’s perfect. We’ll see if those little blue M&Ms work. I’ve been buying them in bulk. You know, if they work for more than four hours I’m supposed to call my doctor and thank him.”

“Mark,” Felicia smiles wickedly, “are you nervous?

“Not at all,” he smiles. “Hell yes. This has turned out to be quite a date. You know, I am kind of an old man, Feelie. In spite of my shockingly youthful appearance.”

“And I’m kind of an old woman, Mark. I just want to be with you tonight. If that’s all right.”

“Of course it is.”

Then she reaches out for his hand, reassuring him that she doesn’t need him to be forty again, as he was when they first met. She doesn’t need him to be witty, or amusing, or debonair. She only needs him to be her friend, and to be with her tonight.

One more time, the new mind inside her thinks.

~

Felicia wakes up at three in the morning, at exactly the minute when, three weeks ago, the shining man first appeared to her. In the darkness of Mark’s uptown apartment, she knows that the time she has been given has run out at last.

She rises from Mark’s bed with no fear of waking him. There is a feeling of inevitability around her, such as she has felt a few times before in her life. She feels certain that if she were to shake him right now, if she were to shout his name, he would still not wake.

As she dresses in the bathroom, Felicia also considers the notion of calling to Mark for help. But even aside from the fact that he will not be allowed to wake until well after she has gone, she knows that she would not be able to shout now even if she desired it.

And she does not desire to stop what is happening. The process that began three weeks ago has been completed. If she felt earlier that her mind was being invaded by an alien presence, she now recognizes that presence for what it truly is. This ‘new’ mind is not alien, it is herself: the larger person of whom Felicia is only a projection. Large-Felicia now sees the smaller version of herself, what she would have only yesterday considered the ‘normal’ version, as an artifice. A mask, deliberately created to facilitate life on Earth.

Now the real Felicia leaves the bathroom of little-Felicia’s friend Mark. His agreement to manage the creation of the cooperative was the last step in the disentanglement from little-Felicia’s life. He will feel bound to that agreement by—that which is coming.

Even now the full truth is hidden from her, but only, she senses dimly through the wall of censorship, out of mercy. The end is not likely to be pleasant. But no matter. She does know that, somehow, she has enjoyed an astonishing opportunity in this life, and that this opportunity entails an obligation, which she goes now to repay. It is sufficient.

She pauses to write a note to Mark that he will find upon waking. Simple lies, reinforcing his suspicion of an undisclosed medical condition, that will prevent him from trying to follow her and will help bind him to what he will see as his friend’s last wishes.

Finally, out of respect for the life she has led these last fifty-eight years, large-Felicia stands for a few moments regarding her sleeping friend.

Then leaves the apartment to begin her final journey.

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