It wasn’t raining when I went inside. It wasn’t cold enough for a jacket. It wasn’t the place I normally would have gone. In fact, I had never been there before, even though it’s less than two miles from my house. It was late and not many places were open and I was hoping for some half priced chocolates. Day after Valentine’s and all. Night after, to be more precise.
Normally, I would have gone to the drug store right down the road. They are open all night. I did go there, actually, but there was a very strange homeless type unbalanced guy who was asking people to help him find whatever it was he was looking for. On the shelves, I mean. He was stopping other shoppers, rather than asking one of the employees. Odd behavior. Odder energy. For some reason, he kept stopping and asking me, as if he could not recall that I had just moments before turned into a New Yorker and engaged my invisible force shield, the one that keeps odd behaving homeless types at bay. I did not move to Los Angeles to deal with nutters like this one, so I did what I always do when presented with similar situations. I simply walked away. Left the store. Got into my car. Drove off. Then did something I have not had the chance to do before. I turned on the Around Me application on my new smart phone and learned that there was another twenty-four hour drug store nearby.
This one had a much better selection of heart shaped boxes, and was mercifully free of nutters with odder energy. It was a bit tricky reading the ingredients beneath the red cellophane, but even so, it didn’t take long to choose the box that was free of high fructose corn syrup, mono diglycerides, or other poisons. Politely declining paper or plastic, I walked outside and found myself back in New York.
It was raining. Too cold for what I was wearing. The street in front of me was Hempstead Turnpike. I turned around to see the front of the building I had just been in. It was the one in New York, not the one my Around Me had found me.
How on earth? I stood still for a few moments, trying to get my bearings. There was my car, parked where I left it. If my car was there, then I had to be in Los Angeles. This was two or three steps beyond deja vu. Perhaps it will wear off if I concentrate? Thoroughly confused, I got in the car and sat with the engine off. Trying to make sense of what was happening. I began compiling a list of logical thoughts.
Years ago, I read an article in the travel section of the New York Newsday. About an island in Scotland. One of the inner Hebrides. A tiny place, lost in time. No modern conveniences. No electricity. Only one phone, in a bright red booth. Only one car, belonging to the doctor. Only sixty people lived on the entire island. It sounded like exactly the sort of place I would love, so I set off on what I imagined would be a magical adventure.
Almost immediately, a powerful force of chaos began swirling around me and my plans. Obstacle were to be thrown in my path. I was to be tested on levels I could not have predicted. The week before my plane was to depart, the airline went bankrupt. My airfare would not be refunded. Determined not to be deterred from making this journey, I was forced to buy a more expensive ticket and fly with another airline.
The flight to London was delayed, and so I missed the train I was to take up to Scotland. On the spot, I had to buy a plane ticket to Edinburgh, then hitch a ride to Glasgow. From there, the train ride to the coast was famously picturesque (later to be used in the Harry Potter films.) I was so looking forward to it, but discovered that the winter nights in Scotland begin in the afternoon, so it was pitch black outside the windows of the not yet written Hogwarts Express.
The tiny coastal town from where I was to take a boat consisted of a church, a train station, and the dock. No place to spend the night, and the boat did not leave until five am. There was music coming from the basement of the church. Apparently, it was where all the kids from even smaller towns came on a Friday night. The church dance was the place to be. Afterward, the kids slept on the train which sat all night at the station. Doors unlocked. I did what the locals do, although it was far too cold to sleep for more than a few minutes together and since I had travelled with no clock to this place with no time, I kept waking with a start at every noise. Hoping not to miss my boat.
The boat in question was the postal boat. You got on with the mail and got off at whichever island you wished to visit. Then stayed until the next delivery. After I reached my misty grey Scottish island in the misty grey Scottish sea, the boat broke down and I was stranded. For days. My efforts to build a fire for the fireplace were unproductive, and it was ten degrees colder in my stone cottage than it was outside. The only hot water was heated on the gas stove. The only lamps were lit with a match. My clothes were wet and muddy and nothing was going to dry anytime soon. My car was parked in the long term lot at the airport in New York, and each day I spent on that island meant I would need more money to get home. I was out of food and out of funds had never felt more trapped. Jumping in the ocean and swimming for the mainland began to seem like not such a crazy idea as each day passed.
My voice was hoarse from shouting in frustration. The people in the nearby cottages must have thought I was possessed by demons. Which was not far from the truth, as I had some pretty disturbing experiences of the paranormal variety during my unintended extended stay.
Then there was the point of this story. Not disturbing. Just difficult to explain. I awoke back home. In New York. It turns out I had never rescheduled that last minute flight after all, but had decided to stay home and not tell anyone at work. Let them think I was in Scotland. That way, they wouldn’t call to see if I could cover someone’s shift. The weather was bright and sunny, everything around me was peaceful and calm. I was so relieved to be right where I was. I heard a voice tell me that if I wanted to, I could continue from here. That I would never have had the difficult journey, would never have been stranded on that island, would never have had to endure that ordeal. I would simply have stayed home. The catch was that I would have no memory of what would then not have happened.
This was real. It was not a dream. I was fully conscious, and as hard as I tried, I could not picture myself in Scotland. I knew I had gone there, and since I could not recall the journey home, knew I must still be there. Even so, with all of my will, I could not shift my awareness back to that frozen cottage on the misty grey Scottish island. I had to decide. One or the other.
As difficult as the experience had been, I resolved that it would be better to have made the journey than not. I opened my eyes and had a hard time believing that the little stone cottage with the empty fireplace was real. The sun had broken through, the boat had been repaired, and as I made my way down to the dock, a crane flew by. Low to the ground, along the shore. The locals who had gathered to send me off (I had been the talk of the island, the strange young man dressed all in black who came from New York by himself) now exclaimed in wonder at the sight of the unusual apparition. They told me it was a good omen. That my journey home would be smooth.
I turned the key in the ignition, and my car made it’s familiar sounds. I opened the box of chocolates. Back in Los Angeles. A momentary overlapping of simultaneous realities. The one I chose was the one I had started off in that night. Might as well continue from there.