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Sam feels the intense heat radiating from the bright light moments before he actually sees the tunnel of light. But once he spots it he’s off to the races. Sam begins to sweat profusely as he chases down the tunnel of swirling luminescence when he hears a voice call out from some far-off marshmallow galaxy: 1200 cc’s of adrenalin.
Sam feels a stabbing pain in his chest.
No response, doctor.
Boom. Sam gets jolted by a bolt of lighting.
Boom, Sam gets whacked with a second bolt.
We’re losing him.
Don’t be ridiculous! Sam shouts out. I’m not lost … can’t you see me … I’m right here in my special place. You just don’t recognise me because I’m young and pristine and wholesome-looking in my orange lifeguard bathing suit and bronze suntan. I’m at Joyland Beach … can’t you hear Little Stevie Wonder on the jukebox … don’t you see the bumper cars and the Ferris wheel? I’m right here in the arcade playing pinball. That’s me bent over the Jet Spin. Surely you recognise Lucy hanging off my shoulder all liquid-hot and moody. Christ, there’s no mistaking Lucy … she’s a vision … the girl from Ipanema.
A loud harsh buzzer starts ringing. Sam covers his ears but the buzzing reverberates in his head.
I’m not gone! Sam screams. I’m right here. You’re making a terrible mistake. Sam waves his arms and calls out for Mister Blizzard. Save me, Mister Blizzard! Save me!
So it’s a little excitement you’re after, hey, Sam?
That’s why I’m here.
Another Caribbean cruise won’t do it?
Not even close.
Who referred you to us?
A man named Garcia from Southern California.
Oh, yes, nice man, Garcia. A musician if I recall.
He was quite enthusiastic about me participating in your programme, Sam says. Garcia tells me it’s just what I need to put a charge in my life and that I’d be a fool to pass up this opportunity. Sam taps his fingers across the desktop. But Garcia danced around all my questions, he says.
Our clients are required to sign confidentiality forms.
Sam is sitting across from Mister Blizzard in a small leather chair trimmed with brass nails at a plain pine desk in a small musty office in Marrakech, Morocco. There is a threadbare Pakistani rug on the floor and a slow-turning ceiling fan over their heads. Behind the desk a large arched window is covered with a Venetian blind, leaving the hot gloomy office streaked by narrow horizontal lines of hazy sunlight.
Can you give me any information at all, Sam asks, maybe answer a few questions?
Not just yet, Mister Blizzard says.
First we must agree on a price.
What is the cost?
What’s that mean?
We work on a sliding scale … for some people the cost is reasonable … for others …
Just tell me how much. Sam rubs the tips of his fingers with his thumb, I have money, he says.
We are aware of your finances, Sam, and for you we’ve decided on one million dollars’ worth of methadone.
It is a way of contrition … to atone for how you first made your money.
That was a long time ago, Sam says, I’ve cleaned up my act considerably since then.
The passing of time does not matter … what matters is your being righteous.
I make no bones about who I am and where I come from, Sam says.
That’s honourable, but retribution must be made.
I don’t understand where you people get off questioning how I made my money?
We are an eleemosynary organisation.
Sam holds out his hands, shrugs. I have no idea what that means.
It means that we will distribute the methadone in your name to free clinics throughout the world.
Sam lights up a cigarette. Blows out the smoke and watches it weave its way in and out of the narrow bands of sunlight streaked across the office. I must admit it sounds intriguing, Sam says.
Do we have a deal?
Excellent. I will get the contract drawn up before our next meeting.
Once I make a commitment, Sam says, I like to move on it.
That will be one week from today, Sam, in our Havana, Cuba office at 222 Grand Boulevard, when you will hand me a cashier’s cheque made out to The Marrakech Experience in the amount of one million dollars and we’ll sign the contracts and finalise the deal.
Sam asks Mister Blizzard if there is a guarantee?
You will be 100% satisfied, Mister Blizzard says. Guaranteed.
What if I get cold feet at some point and want to back out?
Once the contract is signed and the information dispensed, you’re in and there is no out and no refund. Mister Blizzard stands and cranks open the Venetian blind, blasting the small office in a rush of blazing sunlight that reduces Mister Blizzard into wispy ephemeral memory.
Sam stands and squints and holds out his hand. He feels the tender grasp of Mister Blizzard’s hand.
They shake under the lumbering ceiling fan.
Sam exits the room and pauses in the long narrow hallway for a moment, blinking his eyes, trying to make heads or tails of what just took place. He reads the faded gold letters painted on the smoked glass insert of the door: THE MARRAKECH EXPERIENCE.
Mister Blizzard waits until he hears Sam move down the hall and after hearing the clank of the iron-gated elevator close he heats up some couscous on a hotplate. He sits at the desk, rips off a hunk of French bread, stretches out his neck and starts in on the warm couscous.
Outside Sam walks right past Lucy who is waiting for him at a window seat in the Butterfly Bistro.
She taps on the plate glass and calls out his name.
Sam is oblivious and disappears into the crowded Djemaa-el-Fna Square.
Lucy pays her tab and chases Sam down, catching up with him in front of a silk merchant’s stand. Sam is fondling a bolt of cobalt blue silk from the south of China while the silk peddler negotiates a yardage price.
Lucy taps Sam on the shoulder.
Sam turns, gives Lucy a wry look
Are you all right?
Sam shrugs. Cups his hand behind his ear.
What happened up there? Lucy shouts over the din of the crowded market place.
I agreed on a deal that I know nothing about.
Doesn’t sound like you, Sam.
Tell me something I don’t already know.
In one week Sam leaves Lucy alone in a back booth of the Café Royal in Havana, Cuba and crosses the Grand Boulevard, dodging a two-tone Desoto before climbing the stairs and knocking on door #222.
Mister Blizzard is all smiles as he invites Sam in. There is a tall lovely Cuban woman slinked on a black and white herringbone sofa wearing a red cotton skirt, with her mocha-coloured legs wrapped around each other twice. She has a pad on her lap and a chewed-up pencil resting between her lips. Mister Blizzard introduces the woman as Orlando.
I’m interrupting? Sam says.
You’re right on time, Mister Blizzard tells him.
Orlando stands, smiles, turns and snakes out of the office.
Sam and Mister Blizzard quietly consider her exit.
Mister Blizzard gestures Sam to a wicker front chair at a rattan desk.
Mister Blizzard takes a seat behind the desk and leans towards Sam and waits.
Sam slides an envelope across the smoked-glass top.
Mister Blizzard glances at the cashier’s cheque and smiles. We are genuinely thrilled to have you in our fold, he says.
I’m excited, Sam says, and a little nervous.
When was the last time you were nervous, Sam?
You see? The Marrakech Experience is already working its magic.
When can I find out just what this is all about?
I will explain everything you need to know and answer all your questions momentarily, but first … Mister Blizzard presses a button under the desk; a loud buzzer rings in the outer office.
Orlando steps back in the room and under close scrutiny cruises across the floor.
Mister Blizzard hands Orlando the cheque.
This will only take a moment, Mister Blizzard says. We have to verify the deposit into our account before we proceed.
I understand, Sam says.
Orlando steps back out with the cheque.
Sam takes a nervous breath and studies Mister Blizzard closely. You remind me of someone, he says. I can’t put my finger on who … maybe from television or the movies?
Some people say I look a little like Mister Rogers.
Yes … yes! That’s it. You look exactly like Mister Rogers and you have his delicate mannerisms too. Can you say, “welcome to my neighbourhood” for me?
I’m not comfortable with that, Sam.
The phone rings.
Mister Blizzard puts the receiver to his ear, smiles and gestures a thumbs up to Sam and returns the receiver to its cradle. All we need now is signatures, Mister Blizzard says, and we have a done deal.
Sam peruses the contract and signs and dates it in three places.
Mister Blizzard does the same.
They each take a copy.
Mister Blizzard stands. Time for lunch, he says. I’m buying.
I’d rather just get right to it, Sam says.
I have low blood sugar, Sam. Mister Blizzard places one hand on his chin and the other on his head and twists his neck. If I don’t eat I get light-headed.
Down on the esplanade, Mister Blizzard orders two Cuban sandwiches and two fresh-squeezed orange juices from a street vendor. The vendor wraps the sandwiches in white butcher’s paper.
They take their sandwiches and walk a short way down the Grand Esplanade, passing along the continuous run of two story coral-coloured stucco buildings with clean bright cotton shirts flapping in the ocean breezes on the rails of the second floor verandas. The paint is faded and the stucco is dropping off the walls and pillars and being crushed under their shoes into a fine coral dust on the walkway. They pass the Café Royal. Sam slows and peeks in. Lucy is sitting in the booth with a young Mariachi dancer no older than Bart, their son. Sam shakes his head and smiles at the wonderment that is Lucy. They cross the Boulevard and walk along a concrete storm wall and take a seat at a long run of empty picnic tables overlooking the Gulf. They sit at the middle table and peel back the thick white paper on their sandwiches.
A feather-worn seagull lands not far from their feet and rocks back and forth patiently as wild beasts will do after a long painful life.
Sam moans with his first hit off the Cuban.
Can’t get a sandwich like that in Newark, Mister Blizzard says.
Sam nods and takes a second bite.
Where did you leave Lucy this time? Mister Blizzard asks.
Sam looks up. How do you know about Lucy?
Sam and Lucy … everyone knows you can’t have one without the other.
She’s waiting in the Café Royal.
You understand that you will have to be discreet … even with Lucy.
Sam nods and takes a big swallow of warm pulpy orange juice and loses himself in the vast ocean vistas and passing clouds. He follows the long curved ribbon of the white sandy beach along the bay until he spots a Ferris wheel shimmering way off in the distance. This is a beautiful place, he says.
“Welcome to my neighbourhood,” Mister Blizzard smirks.
Sam points at Mister Blizzard. That was very good, he says. You could be Mister Rogers’ twin brother.
I sometimes practice in the mirror.
Sam glances back out across the bay. This spot reminds me of Joyland Beach, he says. I was the junior lifeguard at Joyland in my freshman year at URI, he says. We had a Ferris wheel too, and bumper cars that ran on electricity, and we had a roller skating rink called the Rialto; it had a parquet floor.
Sounds like a terrific job.
The Jr. lifeguard was a glorified position. I was a gofer. I kept the senior guards in Cokes, smokes, popsicles and pot and I opened up the beach every morning at seven a.m. and raked the seaweed into mounds and set up the lifeguard stands and fired up the grills in the food bus. You ever been in a food bus up on cinder blocks?
Best cheeseburger and fries I ever ate came out of a food bus, Mister Blizzard says.
I met Lucy at Joyland, Sam says. She was working the snack bar serving up fresh Italian lemon ice. The whole place is gone now, flattened by the hurricane of ’72.
Mister Blizzard leans in and says, what if I told you I might be able to send you back to Joyland Beach?
I would say that you were out of your mind … and then I would want to know how.
Actually, you send yourself.
I pay you one million dollars to send myself back to Joyland?
Unfortunately, we have no control of destination.
Everything happens in your head.
Sounds like existentialism.
This is as real as real gets.
Back in the office you mentioned magic, Sam says, you’re not talking some trick or illusion here?
Are drugs or hypnotism involved?
What are your credentials? Sam asks.
I have a PhD in mathematics. I was the head actuary at Travelers Insurance Company in Hartford, Connecticut for many years where I developed this process.
A Hartford insurance company?
So you pull this phenomenon off with math?
To a certain extent.
Mister Blizzard stands. Let’s walk for a while, he says.
They stroll along a storm wall listening to the breakers roll in.
Are you trying to tell me that calculus sends me back through time and space?
Obviously it takes more than math, Sam.
Tell me how?
By fooling death.
You do what?
Fake a death.
A large breaker slams into the storm wall, sprinkling them with warm salty water.
We trick your brain into thinking you have died.
You’ve heard of people experiencing bright lights after near-death experiences or when they awake from a coma?
We found out that the bright lights lead these people to a brief but defining moment in their lives when they are completely at ease with their reality and as content and carefree as they will ever be in life.
Sounds like Joyland.
Subconsciously, your brain delivers you to your personal paradise and that pinnacle moment just before innocence goes bust and everything changes forever.
So could I actually end up at Joyland?
Can’t be ruled out.
Another breaker slams into the storm wall.
Sam pokes his fingers on his temples. Tell me, how do you trick the brain into thinking the body has died?
It is a very complex procedure, involving mathematics, electricity, nuclear fusion, neutrons, protons, Einstein’s theory of relativity, wormholes, voodoo …
Just kidding about the voodoo.
Has anyone ever really died?
And it works?
Like a clockwork orange.
How long do I get to stay in this idyllic paradise of mine?
It will seem like a long time.
Will I be aware that I’m just visiting?
Sometimes in a subliminal way you feel like you are being watched, as if you were on a vast cosmic stage.
I know that feeling, Sam says.
I’m not surprised.
Will I be afraid?
At first some people panic a little but it’s always temporary.
Can I intervene in my past … change things?
Sam considers, pauses, nods.
Tonight at ten at the Holiday Inn in Santa Lucia, says Mister Blizzard.
Why a motel room in the Holiday Inn?
You are going on a trip, my friend.
OK. I’m ready, Sam says. Let’s go for it.[/private]
Robert Caporale lives in Massachusetts. He has over thirty published stories to his credit: some in print journals like Confrontation, Going Down Swinging, Zahir, and Hardboiled, and others in electronic journals such as Cafe Irreal, Flashquack, Lacuna, and Tattoo Highway. Please e-mail any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his website: www.robertcaporale.com