A Light in the Closet
I could see the narrow band of light gleaming from across the open space at the top of the hall closet door, which was slightly ajar. My childhood memories immediately conjured up a visage of something that you might see in those 1950's science fiction movies. You just knew then when you saw it, that something evil was waiting just beyond the door, waiting for you to be dumb enough to go and open it.
After an adult mind blink, I smiled at the memory. But, I also again wondered if it was me that had left the light on in the hall closet. If it wasn't me, who was it ? More importantly, was anyone waiting beyond that door? A part of me said that he would have to be sort of small and thin to fit in with all of the coats and winter things we had stored in there. Another part of me said "yeah, so mischievous imps and nasty trolls are big? " It was enough to make me do a stutter-step as I approached the closet. Just what the heck was going on here?
My hand reached out tentatively and grasped the handle of the closet door. It was warm to the touch. As soon as my hand made contact,with the warm door handle, a gentle vibration coursed up my hand and arm. Uh oh, this isn't Kansas anymore, I think. Still, Kansas or not, it was my home and I wasn't going to be scared off by childish daydreams of monsters hiding in closets. I pulled on the door handle and it came open quietly, revealing a lighted bulb, in its socket, shining down on a stairway, which led to I know not where.
For a second or two, I just looked down the stairs. We never had a stairway in the closet before. Or did we? True, we had a lower level beneath me, but the entrance to the stairway was several feet across the room. What was this all about? Feeling somewhat apprehensive, I began to descend the staircase in the closet. The walls were made of exposed brick. A single old, wooden railway stretched along the wall and headed down into the depths below.
The air was getting a little warmer as I descended. Did we have a heater installed down here? Maybe this was a maintenance shaft that I have never used before. I stepped on the rungs slowly, because the light was dim down here. The moving shadows seemed like they were everywhere. Over my shoulder, I could see the bright light of the closet now far above me. How far does this thing go down, I wondered? I was already several levels below ground and the stairs ahead of me seemed to descend forever.
Finally, I came to a landing of sorts. It looked out over a large cavern, with tunnels leading from it in several directions. Maybe the builders had excavated this area when they built our structure? But, what did they need all this room for? Tentatively, I stepped onto the cavern floor and walked towards the nearest tunnel. There weren't any lamps or torches on the walls, but something was giving off a dim, pulsing light. It gave off just enough illumination to navigate by.
The temperature was getting even warmer as I entered and walked along the nearest tunnel. There was plenty of room for me to stand erect. The walls were smooth and well worn. Whoever had built these tunnels wanted them to last. I walked and walked for what seemed like an hour, but was probably only minutes. It was then that I first began to hear that dull thumping sound, like a machine that was hitting metal on metal only very far away. I followed the sound. At this point my curiosity had overcome my childhood imagination. Besides, this was all under my home, wasn't it? How dangerous could it really be? If this were a movie, I thought, I would be sitting in the audience watching, having some idea of the awful monster that was up ahead and saying no, noooo, don't go there, turn around and run! But this wasn't the movies, and nothing was going to happen to me, or at least so I hoped. For no reason at all, I began to whistle in the dark, like I had done when I was a boy and had to walk alone down a dark, deserted alley on my way home from some school event.
It was just about then that my nosed twitched. I inhaled the feint scent of burning sulfur. Some one, or some thing, was burning up ahead. Why were they doing that under my house, I wondered? Well, noises, heat and the sulfur smell aside, I was going to find out what this was all about. I walked faster now, with a determined stride. I would soon get to the bottom of this. I didn't know how prophetic my words were to become.
The tunnel narrowed somewhat as I advanced. The air temperature became warmer and the smell of sulfur more pronounced. Moisture was sweating from the rock walls and the green slime of mold gathered here and there in patches along the walls. It was becoming decidedly tropical in here. Only several hundred feet above me, the ground was covered with the ice and snow of a January in Buffalo, New York.
The rhythmic thumping noise was also growing louder. It was more of a harsh grating noise as metal struck upon metal. My curiosity was leading me on, ever forward, down this path. I hadn't really noticed that the path beneath my feet was sloping at a gentle angle as i walked. It must have descended another several hundred feet, during the last hour of walking, without my even noticing it. Who had built these tunnels and what were they used for? As I rounded a curve in the rock, the illumination much increased. A light was shining brightly from not too far up ahead. I walked more briskly, determined to solve this mystery before I walked down to China.
And then, I came upon a large outcropping of rock at the end of the tunnel. I stepped out onto the ledge and was momentarily stunned by what lay before me. As far as my eye could see, a large body of water stretched out before me. It was a deep, indigo blue of rolling water that lapped gently at the shore area some 30 feet beneath me. A line of sand dunes, about 20 feet across, stretched for several hundred yards on either side of where I now stood. And just below me, on the beach, lay a small sailing craft of some sort. The boom sprit was slamming into the main mast rhythmically, with the stiffening wind. Here was the thumping sound I had heard. I wondered quite literally "where in the world am I? I gazed out across the rippling sea for a bit longer, and then made my way down the craggy, rock-face to the beach below.
I walked over to the boat and inspected the craft like it was a "ufo from an alien planet. It wasn't though. She was an 18 foot sloop, made entirely of a dark hardwood and rigged with newly braided hemp sheets that held her sail and boom in place. A fire pit nearby smelled of tar and sulfur. The mix had been used to recaulk the seams of this sturdy, little, wooden craft. Someone had spent a lot of time caring for her. So this was what I had smelled in the tunnel? It wasn't the fetid breath of some imagined , infernal regions far below me. I laughed to my self at the wild reaches that my imagination had carried me to during my descent. Indecision plagued me as I stood there. Should I get in the boat and set off on this unknown sea? Where would I end up and how long would it take me to get home? What the heck, I said aloud, in for a penny , in for a pound. I shoved the small boat into the gentle surf and jumped in, at the aft end of the boat, to manipulate the tiller. As if by request, a goodly breeze sprang up and the sail, filled with wind, carried me rapidly away from shore.
I sailed before the wind for several hours, the sea rolling beneath me in a series of mild swells. I had long since lost sight of the beach area and the tunnel opening from which I had come. The open sea left me no landmarks to tell which way I had come from or how I would get back. I guess I will just have to trust to luck and worry about that at a later time, I thought, as I reefed the sail a bit to accommodate a stiffening wind. The small craft was making very good headway, but to where I knew not. I sat, tiller under my arm, and gazed out upon the gentle sea for hour after hour until i nodded off in sleep, to the gentle roll of the sea beneath me.
Much later, I was startled awake by the violent rocking of the boat. Momentarily at a loss as to where I was, I could only stare out at the roughening sea and the many white caps cresting angrily on the horizon. A storm was coming. I had better get ready for it. I lowered the main sail and lashed everything down to make ready for the coming gale. The craft was sturdy enough and should be able to weather anything that comes along, I thought, as I gripped the tiller more firmly. Then, the rains hit. They came in great pelting sheets of moisture that splattered me and the boat and soaked me to the bone. Luckily for me, the air temperature was still very warm. Flashes of lightning exploded on the far horizon and noisy claps of thunder accompanied the jagged flashes, mingling sight and sound like a finely tuned symphony. I could but grasp the tiller, point the boat into the wind and let the storm take me where it would. Several hours later, after the storm had abated, I nodded off again, tired from the effort of manning the helm. I slept an uneasy sleep, one filled with odd visions of places and things I had never seen before.
Many hours must have passed before my eyes opened. I awakened to a brightening sky, washing over a calm sea before me. And there, just off the starboard bow, loomed a small speck on the horizon. It looked like land of some kind. I raised sail, tacked into the wind and headed for the dark blot on the far horizon, hopeful now of discovering where i might be. It seemed so very long ago since I had first walked into the closet, in my home now far away, and looked down that long flight of stairs. I wondered now what lay ahead of me and more importantly, how and if I would ever get back home.
As the wind carried me landward, I caught a fragrant smell in the air. It was pleasant and aromatic, like the scent you enjoy when you are around a lot of flowers and ripe fruit. The "dot was getting larger now. I could see a sandy line of beach, with the white froth of rollers crashing upon it. The trees and foliage appeared as a dark green, with swaying green palm fronds leaning away from the wind. The visage was tropical in the extreme. And all this lies just under my basement in Buffalo?
I saw a narrow cut, in the coral reef that surrounded the atoll, and made for it with tiller and sail. If I missed that cut, the coral would slice my boat open like a machete' through a ripe banana. I maneuvered into place and then a large wave carried me through the cut and into the small lagoon. It was quiet and still. Nothing stirred except for the gentle breeze and the swaying tops of the palm trees. I dropped anchor and dove overboard, swimming to the beach. That was my next t surprise. The water was fresh, not salty. A Fresh water ocean ?Where in the heck am I?
On the beach, I sat down to take off my shoes and roll up my pants. I hadn't thought about being dressed for a beach when I had entered the stairwell. I was clad for the snowy cold of a Buffalo Winter. Better than being in the Arctic, I thought. Too much ice. As I said it, I thought I imagined seeing a small ice flow on the ocean just outside the reef. "Must be the sun making me see things, I muttered.
The air on the island was fragrant with the scent of palm and pomegranate. The aromas stirred my appetite. My mouth watered involuntarily. When was the last time I had eaten anything I wondered? As if in answer to my thoughts, several small mangos rolled out from a bush in front of me. I set upon them like a starving dog around a meat wagon. The sweet juice and tasty pulp were as lip-smacking delicious as anything i had tasted in a very long time. I ate them till I was filled and then licked the sweet, sticky juice from my fingers, savoring the experience like a connoisseur in a five star restaurant. Now, I had to find some water. As I made the thought, I heard the faint trickle of a stream. I followed the noise to a rivulet running down from a hill. The water was sweet and delicious. I drank my fill. Thus refreshed, I set out along a narrow, beaten path, through the thick foliage.
The pungent smell of jungle mingled with the more fragrant smells of the flowers hanging in the trees all around me. It made me think of that time when we had traveled to Hawaii. We had sat on the beach, under a towering palm tree, enjoying "Umbrella drinks on the beach at Waikiki. As I completed the thought, I rounded a small bend and came upon two large glasses of liquid. They were blue, filled with fruit and topped off by small umbrellas. What witchery was this? Never one to look a gift-pig in the mouth, I scooped them up and drank thirstily. I savored every drop as I sipped their sweetness. They tasted of rum, pineapple and orange juice. I had never enjoyed a drink so much before. When I was done, I thought momentarily over the sequence of events that had occurred during these last several minutes. My mind could not quite grasp all of the many contradictions in so short a time. Mangoes, fresh water, "umbrella drinks? It was as if the island was reading my mind and delivering whatever I thought of. That can't be, I said. This isn't a fairy tale. I am alive, breathing and standing here on a tropical isle, in a large fresh water ocean someplace unknown to me. The temporal and physical contradictions were making me doubt what my senses told me, or at least what I thought they were telling me. I had better sit down for a bit and take things a little slower. Now, If I only had a chair. Sure enough, as soon as I completed the thought, a comfortable beach chair appeared under a palm tree. I walked over and sat down hoping to make some sense of all this.
I thought about the arrival of the mangoes, the blue,umbrella drinks and the beach chair, almost not believing what my senses told me as to the obvious cause and effect of wishing for things on this island. How could something like this happen? Well, lets really try a few thoughts and see what happens. What the heck, you don't find your own genie in a bottle all that often. I thought for a bit about an entire wardrobe of clothes that I would need for both this island and back home. It took a few seconds, but there, just of to the right of me, appeared a very neat pile of shirts, pants and every thing else I could ever imagine to wear. As an after thought, I wondered why there were no suitcases and of course, three appeared almost as I thought of them. This was getting to be fun.
Now, I thought, how about a few pizzas, a bucket of chicken wings and a case of Molson's ale? They arrived without a rustle of leaves, their steaming aroma making me salivate. I dove into the wings and the pizza with gusto, enjoying the savory food like I had never tasted it before. The ale was cold and frothy. It washed down the tasty morsels nicely. Maybe I had discovered something special here in the land of Oz.
You don't really need money on an island lie this, but my thoughts wandered to valuables, something small and portable like a mound of emerald-cut, perfect diamonds. They arrived on a black velvet cloth glistening brightly in the noon-day sun. "Hah!" I shouted, like a small boy at Christmas, as I let the shower of crystal beauty run through my fingers. This is neater than sneakers. Now what?
Thoughts of a svelte and compactly-built, former girlfriend came to mind. I wonder how she would like to share some time with me on a desert isle? The picture in my head was graphically clear, but nothing happened. A frown creased my face, a like a magician whose favorite trick had failed. I guess even this place has its limitations. Maybe just inanimate objects are able to be summoned? How about a nice Jaguar roadster I thought. Sure enough, the low-slung, metallic-gray racing machine stood there, oddly placed under the palm tree. It looked somewhat out of place in the jungle. There were no roads for it to travel upon. Let's see what we can do with that, I mused. Concentrating mightily, I envisioned a two lane roadway that traveled from here to an airport. No sooner had I completed the thought than the Jaguar was sitting, on a freshly paved two-lane highway. Its trunk was filled with my luggage and the car door stood open, waiting for me. I scooped up a pizza and a few beers, and then hopped into the luxury car, enjoying the smell and the feel of the new vehicle. Now if only I had a place to go!!
On the passenger seat lay a map, with a solid line, following the coastal area and ending in a small square on the map, marked with an airplane. Is there nothing i can't summon forth, I laughed? I started the sleek roadster up and drove onto the highway, cranking the speed up to 100 miles an hour. I enjoyed the rush of wind and the the flash of blue water along the coastal road. There were no other vehicles or structures of any kind along the roadway. It was like driving down a road in some far off twilight zone. The surf, crashing on the coastline beneath the highway, was picturesque. The wind rustled the palm trees along the shore. It was novel and fun, but the complete emptiness was somewhat unnerving. I continued driving for an hour or so, and then saw a tower in the distance. Could this be an airport of sorts? Did I summon this or was it here already ? Was this all a dream of some sort? Perhaps, like Ebeneezer Scrooge observed in Dicken's "Christmas Carol, it was "More the stuff of a bit of bad beef, than spirit.
The road ended at a small approach drive that took me right up to the tower. It stood about 40 feet high, with windows of glass all around the upper portion,like you see in many small airports around our country, wherever that was now. I parked in the space provided and walked into a one-story station, attached to the tower. Not a soul was about. At the single counter, I noticed one of those letter boards where you can arrange messages. It read "Flight # 666, Buffalo N.Y. now boarding. Now ,if you don't think your mind would be doing a mental "St. Vitus dance at what I was seeing, and just after the arrival of all that i had wished for, then you are much more stable than I am.
Shrugging my shoulders, in a complete surrender to the mist of what might be versus what is or could be, I walked back out to the Jag. I unloaded my new luggage. I gave the Jag a loving pat, on the fender, and wished that it go to some other owner who would treasure it as much as I had. In a mind blink, it was gone. To whom or where, I knew not.
In the terminal, I walked over to the entrance-way, that led out on to the landing strip. There, seemingly unmanned , sat a small, executive, Lear Jet. Hell, if you are in a magical mystery ride, you might as well go first cabin. I climbed aboard, stowed my bags forward and sat down in one of the six seats available. The door to the pilot's cabin was closed. At this point, I felt better that it remain so. I strapped my self in and sat back awaiting whatever was to come my way. The exterior door of the plane closed quietly and I heard the throaty roar of the powerful, rolls-royce engines come to life. The plane began to taxi to the end of the small strip, in preparation for take off. I said a small prayer, wished for a safe journey and closed my eyes.
I could feel the gee force, as the small plane lifted off from the island, where ever we were. I could see the islet, surrounded by water, far below us as the Lear Jet banked into a steep turn, climbed into the sky and flew on into the shining afternoon. The events of the day, the mystery of what was or was not happening to me had all taken their toll.My head nodded and I drifted into a deep and dreamless sleep. It was only the rugged bump of the arrival touchdown that startled me awake. I could see out the port hole the familiar confines of the Buffalo International Airport. Whatever witchery had come over me, it had transported me safely home to Buffalo. The plane came to a stop, at the executive terminal of Praxair. I exited the craft and walked into the small terminal. As I opened the terminal door, I looked over my shoulder and gasped audibly. The Lear Jet had vanished like it had arrived, in a noiseless mind blink. And with it, my luggage and any tangible proof that this hadn't' all been a very large and very odd day dream.
The counter clerk looked up at me curiously. Is there something I can help you with sir? she asked. "Hah! Try explaining the last few days to her, or any one else, and not end up in the psychiatric ward of the nearest funny farm. I thought but for a minute and replied, No, I am waiting for someone to come and meet me here. She smiled at me and returned to her duties. I quietly walked outside. I noticed a phone on the outside wall and called for an airport taxi. Then, I sat quietly against the wall of the building and tried to make sense of all that i had seen and done during the last few days.
The taxi arrived shortly. I asked to be driven home to Amherst, my starting point of what seemed like so long ago. The cabbie was pleasant enough. We chatted, as you always do with cabbies, of the weather, sports and other meaningless chit chat. I wasn't going to say a word to any one, about my adventures, until I had time to think this whole thing through.
At our condo, I paid the cabbie. I found a key, to the place, in one of those small plastic rocks that I had hidden near a fence post. All burglars know immediately that these things contain house keys, but none had been by recently, so I was in. I unlocked the door and walked gratefully into the entranceway, glad to be home. No lights were on. I had not a clue as to how long I had been gone. I turned on a light and walked immediately over to the hall closet where my journey had begun, I think. I opened it quickly, expecting to see the long dim stairway, descending into the earth far below. What I saw was a rack of coats, hangers and assorted boots on the floor. Anxiously, I spread aside the coats hoping to discover more, but only a blank, white wall faced back me. What the hell, I said, almost more shocked than I had been at all the other points in my journey. Did this really happen to me or didn't it?
I poured out a liberal potion, of Gray Goose Vodka, into a glass with ice and sat down to ponder upon what side of the looking glass I now found myself. Had I just awakened from some sort of dream ? Or did I experience a deliusional episode of some sort? The ride home, from Buffalo airport in the cab, had been real or at least I think it was anyways. But, as to all the rest, I don't know for sure and was beginning to wonder. I reached in my pocket for my glasses and my hand felt something smooth and velvety. Slowly, I drew from my pocket a small, black velvet pouch. I undid the drawstring and tipped the contents into my hand. A small river of sparkling crystals poured into my hand, astounding me. Each shiny pebble was an emerald-cut, perfect diamond, worth many thousands of dollars. There must have been close to a million dollars sitting there, glistening against the black velvet cloth.
I sat there stunned, unaware of any conscious thoughts, other than a whirlwind of remembrances. I thought of a small sailing craft, a fresh water ocean, a desert island and a whole magic show of Aladdin-style wishes that danced in my head. It was some time before I arose and put the diamonds away in a safe place. I don't know now what was for real and what had occurred in my head. I do know that the diamonds are for real and mine now forever. It was too confusing for me to sort all of this out right now. I finished the numbing liquid in a gulp and retired to bed , enjoying the familiar and comfortable feel of home. I slept well and good that night, in a dreamless sleep that soothed a troubled mind and a tired body. I awoke refreshed and ready for the new day, forgetting for a few minutes what had or had not happened to me these last few days. And then, I remembered the diamonds. I opened my small safe gingerly, half expecting them to be gone. But no, they were there in all their shining glory. Now I don't know what to think.
After that, any time I see a light shining in the closet, I leave the door closed and move onto something else. Just one of those adventures, whatever it had been, was enough for me. And whenever I look at the ground beneath me, my mind wonders now always, at what really lies so far below us and what really might be going on down there. And when I do that, I then look up at the blue sky, with a warm, shining sun and the wind ruffling my hair and I murmur like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, There's 's no place like home, there no place like home. Then, I smile and get into the sleek, Jaguar roadster, that the diamonds had bought for me. I drive off into the afternoon, a changed and happier person for what may or may not have happened to me. Dreams are what you make of them, now and forever.