It’s after 21:30, it’s been a long day, it’s been a long week, I’m just a bit stressed and drained, it’s going to be a long week to ten days coming up — and I just realized, as I was trying to figure out if I could take the easy way out on today’s blog entry and just post a picture and some whining, that today’s Thursday, which means that it’s the day that I normally post my entry for the Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig. I haven’t even looked to see what it is yet. (*looks*) “Twisted love?” (“Danger! Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!”)
When in doubt — give the muse the reins, close your eyes, hang on, and GO FOR IT! (This should be…interesting.) As always, comments and constructive criticisms are appreciated.
Wandering through the residential neighborhood she was quite sure that she was lost. After visiting Old Ironsides Tanya had been sure that she could find her way to Bunker Hill on her own, despite the years it had been since she had visited the area. But she must have taken a wrong turn by going through that park instead of following the sidewalk markers around it. She didn’t know if he was walking away from her goal, towards it, or around it. All she knew is that if she got to the ocean she was going the wrong way.
If she could find someplace to ask directions she would, but there were nothing but row homes and townhouses as far as the eye could see. No gas stations, no convenience stores, not even a Dunkin’ Donuts. There were supposed to be Dunkin’ Donuts stores on every other block, with Starbucks on the alternating ones. If she ever got back to her hotel she intended to file a complaint with the zoning board.
Rounding the next corner and peeking to her right where it should be, she saw nothing but more townhouses and tightly parked cars (or “paaakd caaaas” in the vernacular) for blocks. She started into the crosswalk to go on another block when some noise made her look to her left. There it was, tall and phallic on the grassy green knob of a hill. She had no idea how she had gotten so turned around, but at least she had finally found it.
Trudging up the knoll toward the base of the tower, she was painfully aware of how sore her feet were. It was depressing to see how out of shape and moribund she had become. As a kid in grade school and high school she had walked the Freedom Trail at least once or twice a year and never thought twice about it. Forty years later the trail was still only two and a half miles long, but she was going to need to get a cab to make it back to her hotel.
Once inside the monument, Tanya got the spiel from the park ranger about how tall the tower was and how many steps there were and how she should make sure she was up for the climb so she didn’t have a heart attack and die blah blah blah. She didn’t remember that speech from when she was a kid, but she couldn’t tell if they only gave it middle aged and older folks or if there had just been fewer lawyers back in the 60’s and 70’s. Sounding more confident than she felt, she assured the ranger that she would be fine and started climbing.
The touch of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in her genes had started her counting at the bottom. Spiraling around and around, twisting constantly upward through the granite monument, she counted, climbed, and began to have serious doubts about the wisdom of her course.
By step eighty, Tanya’s legs were really starting to ache. By step one hundred twenty, she absolutely had to stop for a rest, despite the fact she pretty much blocked half of the very narrow, winding stairway. When she started again, by step one hundred twenty-five she knew that stopping had been a very bad idea. Starting up again was even worse after the rest. No more stops — she was going all the way to the top or she was going to wake up in an ambulance.
By step two hundred twenty-five she had developed a true hatred for the rotten teenagers and grade school kids that went scampering by her like mountain goats. She really wished she had made a note of how many steps there were to the top. If she was 90% of the way up, she could soldier on. If she was a third of the way up, that ambulance was sounding pretty good. The only things keeping her going were the letter in her pocket and the smug look that that snot-nosed ranger would give her if she had to be carried out.
At step two hundred seventy-five, close to the absolute end of her endurance, Tanya was stopped by a young woman who was on her way down. From the look on the stranger’s face, Tanya realized just how bad she must appear. Ignoring the questions asking if she was okay, it was all she could do to stay upright and pull together enough breath to pant, “How much further to the top?” The concerned stranger told her it was twenty steps or so, not far, but wasn’t convinced that she shouldn’t just turn around and go down with her. Tanya thanked the stranger and started staggering upward again.
Finally reaching the summit, she was disappointed to find that there was nowhere to sit down in the small observation room. There were only a few other tourists there, so she was able to take her time going from window to window, ostensibly taking in the views of Charleston and Boston, but in fact just leaning on the walls until her heart stopped pounding.
When her breath stopped laboring and her eyes stopped watering, she was finally able to take out the letter. She once again read the message printed on the outside, “Read this only at the top of the Bunker Hill Monument, please. For me. Love, Peter.” She slit open the envelope and pulled out the single sheet of paper and photograph it held.
The picture was one that she hadn’t seen in decades. It showed a gawky, awkward, very young teenage Peter with his arms around a very young, much more physically fit version of herself. She had her head tilted onto his shoulder, her right arm behind his back, and her left hand raised to the camera in a single-digit salute. They were standing in this very spot, at the top of the Bunker Hill tower, dressed in clothes that had gone out of style eight presidents ago. On the back of the card was written the date, “May, 1974.”
Opening the letter, she began to read.
“Dear Tanya, do you remember this photo and when it was taken? It was the spring field trip in our American Studies class, senior year. I was the shy and scared outsider, the Navy brat who got dumped into Thoreau High at Thanksgiving and was just expected to excel. You were a cheerleader, one of the most beautiful girls I had ever seen. You were also one of the only kids in class who didn’t torment me, who gave me any chance to fit in or be a friend. I’ll never forget this place or that day and I hope you haven’t either. I’m sure that it wasn’t your first kiss, but it was mine.
“We never had time to figure out what might have been, even for a brief time before college. A week later I was off to a base in Italy, my parents as always being deaf, dumb, and blind to what I wanted and needed. You were sweet enough to send me a handful of letters over the next few months, but we never saw each other again. Within a year we had totally lost touch. But I never forgot that kiss, or that day, or you.
“After I got my physics and math degrees from Berkeley, I went to Cal Tech for my masters and doctorate. I often wished that it could have been BU and MIT so that I could have come back to be near you, but that wasn’t in the cards.
“In the last forty years I’ve gotten into some pretty bizarre research. Quantum mechanics, spooky action at a distance, multi-dimensional brane theories, stuff out there on the cutting edge of describing reality. Then we got to the point where we were threatening to go beyond that. Defense department stuff, projects that would be too unbelievable to be an ‘Outer Limits’ episode. Dangerous stuff.
“I knew that my last project might take me someplace difficult to get back from. You wouldn’t believe the details if I told you, but I set up an emergency return mechanism just in case. A one-in-a-billion-trillion shot in the dark, but it was all that I had.
“The fact that you got this letter means that I haven’t come back and need your help to try. If you’re reading this someplace other than the top of Bunker Hill, well, remember me fondly,thank you, and good bye.
“But if you’re there, that tower and that location will act as an antenna. I need you to be my anchor, the pinprick of light in the eternal dark that can guide me home. That place, your arms around me, that day, that kiss. Picture them all in your mind, envision them, hold them tight, let yourself be filled again with the too-brief but passionate love that we shared.
“When you have yourself centered and engulfed in that memory, call me to you. Wish with all your heart for me to return, pray for me to be there with you again. Picture us together again, walking down the steps hand in hand, insanely happy for that brief moment.
“Then start to walk slowly down the stairs, holding all of those feelings and memories and desires in your soul. When you get to the bottom, look for me. I don’t know that I’ll able to be there, I don’t know if there’s any way for this to work. But it’s my only hope.
“Thank you for being my personal Tinkerbell and believing. Maybe with a little help from the powers that be, I’ll be able to beat the odds and come back to you. If not, thank you, and always remember that the few days we had together as kids stayed with me for the rest of my life.
“Love always, Peter.”
Tanya re-read the letter, but there was no doubt in her mind what she needed to do. Examining the photo, willing herself into the image, remembering how she had met Peter and found him to be unlike anyone she had met before, remembering his shy and awkward attempts to get her attention, remembering holding his hand that first time they climbed these steps together, remembering that first kiss. She had never forgotten, nor had she ever stopped wishing that it could have ended differently. The requests in Peter’s letter were bizarre, but not difficult.
When she was ready, Tanya started slowly and methodically down the two hundred ninety-four steps, straining her ears for the sounds of ghostly footsteps growing beside her.