I have decided to start posting my "works-in-progress" on this blog in hopes to stay motivated and hopefully see some of this stuff through.

I am always fine-tuning my writings, so feel free to leave comments, point out grammatical errors, or any other sort of feedback that you think might help.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Journey of a Thousand Miles

Maura Mayflower pulled the covers up around her just a bit more as the cold night air seeped in from the old window. The voice stirred her from a deep sleep. As she struggled to come into full consciousness, she mentally replayed what she could remember from the dream. There was a beautiful old woman with long, white hair wearing a white gown. "You need to leave, and you need to leave now, Maura," she forewarned. By this point Maura was wide awake. Such an odd dream, she thought to herself.

She pulled herself up from her bed and headed to the kitchen to put on some tea. Sometimes all she needed was a little Chamomile to relax her back to sleep. As she reached into the cupboard for a mug, the voice behind her startled her. "Maura, you must go now."

Maura turned quickly, letting the mug slip from her hands shattering against the hardwood floor. Her stomach crawled into her throat when she realized no one was there. A draft blew through the old apartment. Maura shuddered, suddenly feeling uneasy. She turned off the stove and knew that for whatever reason, she must do as directed and depart immediately.

Maura scrambled through the apartment filling two duffel bags as fast as she could with whatever she thought she might need. However, she knew that was a ludicrous concept, as she had no idea where she was going or how long she'd even be gone. Luckily when she had arrived in Las Vegas just six months before, she had only brought the two bags with her. The rest of her belongings were in a storage unit in Denver. Clothes, make-up, cell phone, laptop and cash on hand were the items she checked off her mental list, shoving them into her bags.

Maura pulled out of the parking garage and not really certain where she should go, headed north leaving the Henderson Valley. She continued checking her rear-view mirror, unable to shake the feeling she was avoiding something imminent and that whatever it was, it was big.

Maura had almost reached the turn to US-95 when she heard the explosion behind her. She pulled off to what little side of the road there was and emerged from her car. Gazing at the city lights below, a stagnant smell filled the air. It all seemed so surreal. In a mild state of shock, Maura got back into her car and continued heading north as if on auto-pilot. As she drove she tried to digest the scene she left behind.

Unable to comprehend what was happening, Maura’s thoughts turned to the events which led her to Las Vegas in the first place. She had owned a piano studio in the heart of Denver and was preparing for her students’ piano recital. She had left the house early to get down to the studio and her husband Ian was going to arrive later with Kaleb, their one-year-old son. However, Ian and Kaleb never made it to the recital. Instead, the vehicle had been struck by a drunk driver and they were killed instantly.

Maura remembered very little about the days and weeks following the accident. Everything was a blur of paperwork and phone calls; insurance companies, the funeral home, real estate agents, bank accounts, anything at all that had Ian’s name attached. People kept asking, “Is there someone we should call?” But there wasn’t. She was an only child and both of her parents had already passed. Alone at the age of thirty, Maura felt she needed to get away. She thought that somehow by leaving she could magically bury that tragic part of her life. Now, here was another tragedy on her heels and once again she was leaving.

As the sun came up Maura pulled into a fuel station in an isolated little town. She stepped from her car and the elderly gas station attendant greeted her. The name on his shirt bore the same name as on the side of the building, Gus.

“You must be the owner,” Maura smiled.

“Yes ma’am,” Gus nodded. “Fill her up?”

“Yes. Thank you,” Maura replied.

“You’re not from here,” Gus remarked. “You must be on some sort of journey.”

“Yes actually, I am,” Maura answered, impressed by his keen intuition.

“Well you’re on the right path, Kid,” Gus said with a wide smile.

Thinking that old people could sometimes be a bit eccentric, Maura simply smiled in return before heading inside to find some snacks.

Maura grabbed jerky, a few candy bars, and some drinks and headed to the counter. She noticed the breaking news on the television mounted in the corner. The newscaster called it “The Sin City Bombing”, taking down numerous buildings and killing several people. Maura’s downtown apartment was one of those buildings. She set her snacks down on the counter, still disbelieving what she just saw.

“Is that everything?” the woman behind the register asked.

“If he’s done pumping I’ll pay for my fuel too,” she replied.

The lady behind the counter looked out the window and then asked, “When who’s done pumping?”

“Gus,” Maura replied.

The cashier had a puzzled look on her face and explained, “Miss, I don’t know who was out there helping you, but Gus has been dead for nearly twenty years.”

“Oh,” Maura stammered while handing the woman her money. “My mistake.”

Maura walked out of the gas station contemplating the oddity of the last six hours. Who was the woman who came to her in her sleep telling her to leave, thereby saving her life? And just now-- if Gus didn’t pump her gas, who did? Certainly someone did, Maura thought. Maybe I am still in shock from the explosion, she considered while turning back onto the highway.

Maura reached Klamath Falls by early afternoon and figured she should find a place to eat lunch and stretch her legs for a bit. Parking her car outside of a little sandwich shop on Main Street, she noticed a dog chained to a park bench. The dog whimpered as she walked past.

“What’s the matter, Boy?” Maura leaned down patting his head. Then looking around she asked, “Where’s your owner, huh Boy?” The dog whimpered some more, and lay his head against her. Once inside, Maura was seated in a booth next to the window and asked the waitress about the dog.

“I’m new in town so I’m not sure,” the waitress began in her thick Bostonian accent. “But I heard one of the other customers say he belongs to Mrs. Hatchwoods from the building next door,” she continued, smacking her gum a bit. “Apparently she’s like really old, so she probably forgot about him or something.”

After her lunch, Maura noticed the dog was still whimpering. Feeling sorry for the pup, she fed him a piece of jerky from her pocket. He scarfed it down as if it had been a while since his last meal. Rubbing him behind the ears, Maura decided to see if Mrs. Hatchwoods was home. She led the dog into the old red brick building next door. Searching the names on the mailboxes in the lobby she determined Mrs. Hatchwoods was in 3A. She went to the door and rang the bell, but there was no answer. After another minute she started to knock. The door across the hall opened and an elderly man appeared.

“She’s probably at the library,” the neighbor from 2A explained. “She goes there every day about this time.”

“Oh,” answered Maura not quite sure what she should do now. “I think she may have forgotten about her dog.”

The little man smirked while replying, “I’m not surprised. She’s been doing that a lot lately.” He called for the dog by name and Harpo seemed all too happy to push his way through the door. “I’ll keep him until she returns,” he offered.

“If you’re sure,” Maura stated.

“Absolutely,” the gentleman replied, waving her off. “Harpo is used to keeping me company until Mrs. Hatchwoods comes looking for him.” The twinkle in his eye let Maura know that the dog was in good hands.

As Maura left the building, she still felt like she should try to find Mrs. Hatchwoods and explain about the dog. She felt responsible for untying Harpo and didn’t want Mrs. Hatchwoods to worry if she returned to find him gone. Pulling out her phone, she used the internet feature to search the address of the library downtown and began to walk in that direction. Maura wandered through the library a bit before spotting an elderly woman hunched over one of the microfiche machines.

“Mrs. Hatchwoods?” she asked.

The lovely lady turned around and smiled before replying, “Who wants to know?”

Maura chuckled slightly, caught off guard by her teasing response. As the two began to talk, she couldn’t help but feel that Mrs. Hatchwoods was lonely. No matter how many questions Maura answered about herself the old woman seemed to have yet another.

“Oh yes, I heard about that explosion,” Mrs. Hatchwoods remarked. “It’s been the only thing on the news all day. I’m sorry to hear about your apartment.”

“It’s okay,” Maura replied. “It’s a good time for me to move on. I was in Las Vegas much longer than I had intended anyway,” Maura explained.

“So, where are you headed now?” the old woman asked.

“Well, I’ve always wanted to drive up the Oregon Coast. My mother used to vacation there when she was a little girl and always spoke fondly of it.”

Mrs. Hatchwoods became excited. “Yes,” she exclaimed. “That’s perfect!”

“Perfect?” Maura questioned. “Why is that perfect?”

“My grandson lives on the Oregon Coast,” she replied, matter of factly.

“I don’t understand,” Maura stated, unsure about the old woman’s reasoning.

“Oh, you’ll do me a favor, won’t you dear?” Mrs. Hatchwoods begged.

“Um, sure,” Maura stammered. “I suppose I could. I mean, it depends on-”

“Wonderful!” Mrs. Hatchwoods unfastened the clasp to her purse and pulled out an envelope. “He lives in or near Two Harbors and I need to get this letter to him; it’s very important. Do you think you could do that for me dear?”

Maura knew that Mrs. Hatchwoods probably had no idea the magnitude her request held. She didn’t know if she’d be able to locate this woman’s grandson. What if he didn’t even live in Two Harbors anymore? After all, Mrs. Hatchwoods forgot about her own dog hadn’t she? Nevertheless, Maura agreed and left for Two Harbors the next morning with the sealed envelope bearing only the name, “Collier Sullivan”.

The town was just as picturesque as she imagined. Winding roads lined with a forest of tall Spruce on one side and flanked on the other by the ocean. Maura could see a lighthouse in the distance. She spotted the post office, which looked like a mere fishing cottage. She figured if anyone would know where Collier Sullivan lived, it would be the postmaster.

“Yes, I know Sullivan,” the man at the window nodded. “2433 Old Cape Road,” he continued. “Just follow Main Street north to the edge of town, making a left at Old Cape. He’s at the very end, out by the lighthouse.

Following those directions Maura couldn’t believe the simplicity with which this was coming together. She found herself talking to Mrs. Hatchwoods as if she were right there. “You’re a lucky woman,” Maura said out loud.

Maura followed the road to an old, wooden clad, beach bungalow bearing the numbers 2433. She made her way to the door and knocked for what seemed like several minutes. Walking back towards her car a young woman, possibly in her early twenties, rode up on an old bicycle. The girl came to a stop when she reached Maura.

“My Pa and I live down by the lighthouse and I saw your car drive up the road,” the wiry girl said. “Are you looking for Doc? I figure you’re here about the cottages.”

“Um, I was told Collier Sullivan lives here,” explained Maura.

“Yep, that’s Doc. Doctor Sullivan,” the girl said with a gapped-toothed grin. “But he won’t be back for a few weeks. You must be a tourist, because I know everyone in this town and I ain’t never seen you before. But if you want to rent a cottage, I can help you.”

“Cottage?” Maura inquired.

“Doc owns the cottages down the lane,” the girl explained pointing to a dirt road that went back past the main house. “He rents them out to vacationers. I mean it’s sort of late in the season for tourists, so of course you’ll get the discounted rate.”

Maura chuckled at the rapid rate of speed with which the girl spoke. “I really just need to speak to him,” she explained.

“Well, as long as you’ll be waiting for a few weeks, you might as well rent one of the cottages,” the girl responded a little too eagerly.

Maura laughed again. “Why are you so anxious to rent me a cottage?”

The girl blushed, realizing she may have been a bit presumptuous. “Well, you see,” she began just as quickly as she had before. “On account Doc’s retiring from the University, he’s staying in the city until the semester is over ‘cause he’s got a lot of what he calls ‘loose ends’ to tie up. But he done told me if I rent cottages while he’s away he’ll pay me for my troubles. And I can really use the money, see. My name’s Neptune by the way,” the girl said extending a hand to Maura.

“You know, I think I will take you up on the rental,” Maura replied, shaking hands with the peculiar girl.

Over the next few days Maura unpacked and started to settle in a bit. She loved taking long walks on the beach and could understand now why her mother was so fond of the area. In Two Harbors, Maura somehow felt closer to her mother.

Approximately two Saturdays after her arrival Maura headed into town for some groceries. She noticed a few signs regarding an estate sale and went to check it out. Many items throughout the home were marked with a set price, while out in the yard was a section of more valuable items up for silent bid. Maura made her way towards an antique upright piano; an original Steinway. Maura ran her fingers lightly over the hand-carved upper panel.

“Do you play?” a voice behind her asked.

Maura turned to face a dark-haired man, approximately her own age. She immediately noticed his silver-blue eyes and cute dimples as he smiled. “I used to,” Maura answered suddenly needing to clear her dry throat. “I mean, I do. I just haven’t played lately,” she further explained.

“Mrs. Kaczynski was the only piano player in this town for years,” he explained. “Maybe you should take her place. After all, someone has to play at all of the town festivals, not to mention the Mayor’s inauguration,” the man added with a wink.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Maura giggled a bit shyly. “But this sure is a beautiful piece,” she said drawing her attention back to the piano.

“Well, it’s got good bones,” the man remarked. “But it needs restoring. Did you see the carved initials back here in the lower right corner?”

Maura gasped and immediately walked around, crouching down to get a better look at the initials, S.V. “Do you believe in ghosts?” she blurted.

“I’m sorry?” the man asked, letting out a laugh.

Maura blushed slightly before explaining. “It’s just that my grandmother used to tell me stories about my great-great grandfather. He was a great pianist and his very first piano was a Steinway that as a boy he carved his initials into. His name was Stefan Vanvalkenburg.” Pausing for a brief moment she looked at the man before wondering out loud, “Could it be? I mean, do you think?”

The man smiled, enamored by Maura’s embrace of such a possibility. “By the way, my name’s Collier Sullivan,” the man said extending his hand. “I’m told you’re the woman renting my cottage which makes you Maura Mayflower.”

You’re Collier?” Maura asked in disbelief, shaking his hand.

Collier chuckled. “I can’t tell if you’re surprised or disappointed.”

“Oh, um,” Maura stuttered. “It’s just that Neptune mentioned you were retiring and I thought you’d be older,” she continued while rifling through her purse for the note.

“Well, I received an inheritance, so it’s sort of an early--.” Realizing he had lost her attention, Collier stopped talking and waited instead for Maura to say something.

“Here it is,” she proclaimed, handing the letter to him.

“What’s this?” Collier asked.

“It’s a letter from your grandmother,” Maura answered, pleased with herself that she was finally making good on her promise to Mrs. Hatchwoods.

“From my grandmother?” Collier asked in disbelief as he carefully tore open the envelope. He had barely begun reading when he looked up inquisitively. “Where did you get this?”

“Like I said, from your Grandmother,” Maura replied. “I met her a few weeks ago. Actually it’s a very long story, but she asked me to find you and give this to you.”

“Is this a joke? Do you think this is funny?” Collier asked a bit harshly.

Maura was confused by his reaction. She thought he would be pleased. “Look,” she said defensively. “All I know is I was supposed to give it to you.”

Collier took Maura by the elbow and led her near the front of the lawn, away from the other buyers. He took a deep breath, calming himself down and explained that two years earlier his grandmother had been asleep when a fire started in the basement. The whole building was considered a loss, and all of the residents on the first floor died.

“But, I saw her. And the dog...the red brick building...the old man next door...” Maura’s voice trailed off and the tears began to flow, suddenly overwhelmed by all of her recent unexplained encounters. Collier apologized for snapping and Maura told him of the string of events that had occurred up to that point, setting in motion her journey of a thousand miles. Collier listened without interruption and sat for a few minutes pondering over what Maura had just shared.

“I think you should buy that piano,” he simply stated.

“What?” Maura asked in disbelief. “What does that have to do with--?”

“To answer your question from before, I do believe in spirits,” he explained. “I believe that sometimes when we need it most those from the other side - who have gone before us, come to our aid and help us. I think you were guided here because this is where you’re supposed to be.”

“You seem so certain,” Maura replied, considering the words he spoke.

“This makes it so,” he said handing her the letter. Maura took the letter from his hands and began to read aloud.

How heavy do I journey on the way, when what I seek, my weary travel’s end, Doth teach that ease and that repose to say ‘Thus far the miles are measured from thy friend… What exactly is this?” Maura asked.

“Shakespeare’s Sonnet,” he explained. “It was my grandmother’s favorite. She had it posted over the dining table to welcome guests.” Then after a brief pause he added sincerely, “It seems to me you’ve had a heavy journey Maura. You’re at your weary travel’s end. Besides, you know what they say,” he added smiling. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Not sure if she was just worn out from the recent events or just desperately wanted to believe in something, Maura liked Collier’s explanation. She folded the letter and handing it back to him, started to walk away.

“Wait. Where are you going?” Collier asked.

Maura turned and smiled before answering, “To put a bid on an old piano.

COPYRIGHT 2011. Emma C Miller. Any reproduction of this story may not be made without express written consent of the author.

1 comment:

  1. love it! and the name neptune doesn't quite seem so out of place now that i know they're by the sea. why didn't you tell me that detail. okay, so when she met gus i felt like she was stepping into the twilight zone. of course i have been watching a lot of twilight zone lately and it must be playing with my mind. i love this story. i want more of this story. i want to know who the old lady in the dream is. i want to know if the piano was really her ancestor's. anyway, i can see this story going on. like maybe now she's some sort of carrier of ghostly goods. helping people by giving them messages from there dearly departed and all that. not "sixth sense"ish. she doesn't know they are dead. i don't know. i just know i want to read more. is she gonna stay in the town? end up with the doctor? maybe she could help the tourists that come there to rent cottages. sort of like "field of dreams" people will just come because they feel compelled. i don't know. i'm just rambling at this point. i thought it started well, gave just a bit of background and then dived in. the rest of the background came at later times when it was relevant. the ending left me with hope. like, maybe there'll be a message for her in the piano. maybe one day she'll play the piano and suddenly her great great grandfather will suddenly be there beside her, playing along with her. too twilight zone? i said it was messing with my head. okay, i'm still not quite over the name neptune, but at least i get it now. maybe thetis, or naiad, or nymphe, or echo instead. sorry, i just can't get past the gender confusion.


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