"People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."
by Zvi Baranoff
As far as charm and ambiance is concerned, the No Tell Motel had absolutely none. What the Motel provided was a fairly high degree of privacy and a defensible parameter.
The place was a dump, somewhat out of the way with nothing to encourage one to stay there, so few people did. I had rented the bungalow furthest from the road so we were out of sight and as there was only one pathway in and out and a thick patch of trees beyond us, we were pretty sure we wouldn't be caught by surprise from unexpected visitors.
The bungalow was very small with two narrow beds and not much more. There was a musty odor that permeated the joint and who knows when it was last painted but the color of the walls could best be described as nondescript with some odd stains.
We filled the place from floor to ceiling with the crates of books with barely enough room for us to squeeze in the door and around the beds. Yeah. Cozy like that. We made ourselves right at home. We really needed some sleep.
We bolted the door as well as set the electronic alarms. I double checked the windows. I put my handgun by my pillow before laying myself down.
To begin with, I tossed and turned and slept fitfully. I dreamed disturbingly and was generally uncomfortable. Bob snored and slept as if he hadn't a concern in the world.
My dreaming was lucid, kaleidoscopic and jagged. The dreaming felt incredibly real and simultaneously unreal and otherworldly.
In my dream, I was in a prison that resembled a lockup where I had been for a few years in my youth. I was, however, an old, old man. I was standing in a long chow line with the other inmates, holding a tray. In front of me a disagreement between two inmates turned into a scuffle and quickly escalated.
The line of prisoners became a circle and the fighters were in the center of that circle. The floor became a sandpit and the two battling in the center wore only shorts. Their ebony skin glowed with sweat and the body blows landed with the intensity of lighting and a reverberating sound of rolling thunder.
One pounding after another occurred and blood flew in all directions. The sandpit began to fill with sweat and blood and the fight continued as if without an ending.
The blood became waves and the waves became overwhelming and all the inmates were caught up in the huge rolling oceans of sweat and blood. I was pulled under by a large rolling wave and I was alone. The wave washed me up on a beach that seemed familiar. I was near the Steel Pier, in Atlantic City and I was once again my twelve years old self.
My young friend Susie was there on that Atlantic City beach of my dream. She was gawky and a bit tomboyish. Her smile was accented by the braces on her teeth, the metal glistening in the bright summer sun. She was as I had remembered her although I had been through so much and away so long.
We walked up the beach towards the Boardwalk but as we walked the distance to the Boardwalk seemed to grow and the beach seemed to expand. The sand was hot on our bare feet. The beach was crowded with tourists on blankets and hundreds of sun umbrellas and many dozens of ice cream vendors. There was the overwhelming odors of suntan lotion and perspiration. The beach stretched on and on but eventually we made it to the steps that led to the Boardwalk.
The Boardwalk of my dream was wider than the Boardwalk of my memory. It was also far cleaner than anything I actually remembered. Everything was sparkly and was glimmering. The Boardwalk was crowded with jugglers, clowns, acrobats and mimes. We walked hand in hand as we weaved our way through those crowds towards the Steel Pier.
As we approached the Steel Pier, the crowd on the Boardwalk parted like receding waves for us. As this happened, dark clouds began to fill the sky. The amusement rides on the pier were crowded. The Tilt-A-Whirl and the Ferris Wheel and the Rollercoaster were full of screaming people.
The sky grew ominously dark. Jagged lighting etched across the sky and a cold rain began to fall. We ran to the House of Mirrors.
There was no line to enter the House of Mirrors. There was no one there at all besides us and the ticket taker at the entrance.
Sitting on a tall stool by the portal to the House of Mirrors was a man with a twisted back and a disjointed face. "Welcome to my House of Mirrors!" he said. "In my House of Mirrors I am tall and handsome," he said and he grimaced at us in a way that we understood to be an attempt at a smile.
We searched our pockets but neither of us had either tickets or money.
In my dream, my twelve year old self found my adult wallet and I offered the gatekeeper my credit card but this was the 1960s when children didn't carry credit cards and he didn't know what it was or what to do with it. We were all momentarily flustered and frustrated.
Then the ticket taker turned his head directly to me and in a hushed tone he said to me alone, "I can't let anyone in without a ticket or money but I can only stop those that I see." With that, he removed his right eyeball and held it out in his left palm before he continued to speak.
"You seem like nice children," he said, particularly emphasizing the word 'nice'. "This eye in my hand is blind. If I shut my other eye, you can sneak right in." With that, he winked at me in a most exaggerated way. I tugged on Suzie's hand and we entered the House of Mirrors.
Although we had entered the House of Mirrors hand in hand, we soon became separated from each other and were lost in that maze of mirrors.
I was alone and frightened. Everywhere I turned I ran into glass and my own twelve year old image. While I confronted the maze my ears filled with the squawking and squealing of seagulls and the insistent buzzing of flies. Time lost relevance and the maze of mirrors appeared to be infinite. I trudged onward with no obvious success or sense of accomplishment.
I ran from mirror to mirror and the buzzing and squealing of the flies and the seagulls was all I could hear. And then, a pathway opened for me and Suzie and I were once again together and we had found our way through the mirror maze and we were looking at the Steel Pier.
The rain had turned to snow while we had been in the House of Mirrors. Everything within our sight was snow-covered and there was not a person anywhere we looked. We ran from there, seeking shelter from the weather. The Boardwalk was icey and windy. We headed to the beach. There were snow drifts there. We found a narrow opening in the snow and we crawled through to a spot under the Boardwalk.
It was warm under the Boardwalk. We laid in the sand and held each other. We made adolescent promises of perpetual loyalty and love.
Around us, the winter weather evaporated and Atlantic City all around us was once again summer. The Boardwalk above us was full of tourists. We laid in the sand under the Boardwalk and watched through the slats at the people walking above us.
In my dream, I closed my eyes and when I reopened them I was alone under the Boardwalk.
I came out from under the Boardwalk and I was no longer in Atlantic City at all but in some large metropolis full of buildings of an Art Nouveau style. It was a city that seemed vaguely familiar but still I didn't recognize it. I was no longer a child. I wandered through the alleyways of that city looking for landmarks that would provide clues as to where I was. I tried to get my bearings.
The city was frightful and dangerous. Gargoyles seemed to stare at me from all the buildings. I was chased by sinister but unseen forces. I was trying to run but my legs failed me. I crawled and barely stayed ahead of whatever was chasing me.
I came to a dock. There was a raft and I climbed onto it and it flowed downriver and out into the ocean. Helicopters criss-crossed above me shooting at the raft. In the dream, I somehow survived this and the raft washed up on a rocky coast.
The next thing I remember, I was in a prison on the day of my release. Under the watchful eye of a prison guard, I exchanged the prison uniform and work boots for some ill fitting civilian clothes and a pair of cheap sneakers that I changed into.
The guard handed me a subway token and waved me out through electronic sliding doors. I was outside. The air was brisk. The subway station was across the street. I walked down the stairs, inserted the token in the turnstile and boarded a waiting train.
The train was crowded but at each stop people would depart and the crowd began to thin. I rode that train to the final stop.
When the automatic doors opened and I got off that train I was on a tropical beach. Palm trees swayed in a light breeze and the sun was shining brightly. The air was warm and balmy. The ocean was the turquoise of the Caribbean. I walked alone by the water's edge.
From a distance, I saw a thatched hut a long way off. As I got closer, I saw a figure in a flowing robe dancing on the strand between the cottage and the gently rolling surf. I continued walking towards the cottage, the rhythmic splashes of the waves were to my left and the white sand stretched outwards with no end.
Then, in front of me on that smooth white sand I saw what appeared to be writing made of sea shells and pebbles and seaweed. I squinted in the bright sun, trying to make out the script. The letters seemed to squiggle but eventually my eyes caught on and I could read what was there in front of me. It read "Suzanne" as clear as can be.
I looked up from there and the thatched cottage stood in front of me. By the doorway in front of the cottage was a tall stool and on that stool sat the twisted blind man that had been guarding the House of Mirrors on the Steel Pier. He sat there with his glass eye in the palm of his hand.
A curtain moved in the cottage window and a moment later the beautiful dancer darted out the door and grabbed me by the hand and pulled me into the cottage. I simply knew that her name was Suzanne and that she was my childhood friend Susie from many years past and far distant shores.
The cottage was lit by candles and the sunlight that filtered through sheer curtains. Her eyes were familiar and the smile, absent braces, was reminiscent of the girl I once knew. The woman in front of me, however, was no one I had ever met. Her robe dropped to the floor and she led me to her bed.
When I felt the kiss on the top of my head, I just smiled without opening my eyes. I had momentarily forgotten where I was and what circumstances had brought me there. Then I remembered and reached for the handgun. It was not where I left it.
"Hello, Sleeping Beauty," said the gravelly voice inches from my head. "You really should be more careful with your pea shooter."
My eyes came into focus to see Spider smiling at me. He held my handgun, looking askance at it from various angles. Locks never meant a thing to Spider and they still didn't. I was actually very glad that he had moved my gun before waking me because I would have regretted shooting him. I wiped the sleep from my eyes.
Spider was sitting by my bed. Frank was busy sorting through the hoard of books, taking notes, doing a rough inventory and making calculations. The muscle had stationed themselves outside, providing security. Bob continued to snore conspicuously. It was time for me to get to work.
Links to Parts 1 - 16