Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I have a friend who is a well known, successful author. A lot younger than me, and yet he treats me with respect and kindness. I'm not going to tell you his name, or even hint at who he is. I don't trade on friendships. Never have, never will...probably to my detriment, according to some. Anyway, he is the motivation for this blog, and the others that will follow it in a similar vein. So, to my friend, I say thank you.

I didn't tell my birth Father about my heart attack until Fathers Day. He is eighty, and has had numerous heart attacks of his own, starting about 25 years ago when he was 55. I didn't want the potential stress of my own problems having a negative impact on him. I spoke with his wife when I called on Fathers Day, trying to get a feel for whether or not I should tell him about it. She is lovingly protective of him, as she should be, and I felt she would warn me if it wasn't a good time to tell him. She gave no indication that I shouldn't, so I told him about it when he got on the phone.

Come to find out, he had another heart attack...in January...almost at the same time that I had mine. I wrote about that to my author friend, and this was the first part of his reply:
Unreal story. And clearly meant to be.

He finished his response, as he always does, with kind remarks for me. He is, as I said, a very respectful young man. His remarks, however, got me to thinking. The first thing that popped into my head was the similar comment of a young woman who worked as a reader for one of my agents. This young woman had just finished reading one of my screenplays that happens to be based on a true story. She didn't know that; she also didn't know that her boss, the agent, had already read the screenplay a number of years before and declared it to be the best thing that she had ever read. The young woman's comment was as follows:

It strains credulity to think that this many bad things could happen to one man in the course of only one lifetime.
The comment made me laugh at the time. I had intentionally left a lot out of the screenplay just to tone it down: not only that, but it covered only a three year window in my life. I thought about all of the unreal stories that I had lived through prior to that one, and the many I have lived through since. When she called to give me her "notes", I asked her how old she was:Nineteen, she replied with all of the misplaced authority of her youth. I told her she needed to get out more, and politely said my goodbyes. She didn't know that after her boss read the screenplay for the first time, she tried to steal me away from my first agent instead of being a co-agent with her. She didn't know that her boss had gotten the screenplay to the top executives at Columbia Pictures, and that it was about to be given the green light when...

The Rodney King verdict was announced, and riots ripped Los Angeles apart. Suddenly, no one wanted to have anything to do with a story where the not so clean, undercover, half-breed cop, used black gang bangers to kill dirty, racist white cops for revenge...
Go figure, huh?

That screenplay became toxic for the next few years, and the agent was told, by the executives at Columbia, to drop me like a hot potato...which she did.

But, that is not the unreal story that I want to tell you today. I could start at the beginning; my unreal stories, I have been told, start before my birth, but I have my reasons for saving those for a while. There are many that occurred before the one I'll tell you today, but this is the one that seems to resonate in me at the moment. So, without further foreplay, we begin...

My senior year of high school was eventful, to say the least. Many of the things that occurred would make unreal stories on their own. Some of them will be mentioned briefly in the course of this narrative. Perhaps I will come back to some of them in the future, perhaps not. The story I have chosen merits being told first, I believe, because it has legs. It continues on for many years, sporadically rearing its disturbing mane and howling at the moon to remind me that things aren't always over when you think that they are.

The first incident of note my senior year, was that my brother ran off with the niece of the Pastor of our Church. He was 21 and she was sixteen, but that was only part of the reason their actions had such impact. She and her brother, who was my age, were living with the Pastor and his wife, their Aunt and Uncle, due to the extremist of circumstances. They had witnessed their Father murder their Mother in ways too graphic to describe here. He was captured, tried and convicted. At his sentencing hearing, he pointed at his two children and swore that he would break out of prison, hunt them down, and kill them. A few years later, he succeeded in escaping, and the two were shipped off from their home in the Midwest to hopeful safety in Southern California.
I was the only one who knew where she and my brother had gone, and everyone knew that I knew. I was pulled out of school at least twice a week by the police and questioned. Never told them anything, but I understood that they were just doing their job. I was already a pariah at my Church; I had been labeled a "sexual predator" at the age of fourteen, over a year before I had my first girlfriend, or even my first kiss. That is another of the unreal stories. This new development earned me the title of "Anti Christ" to go along with the other...and no, I'm not joking. There is a reason why many people feel driven from Church. Gossip and salacious innuendo rank highly on that list.

The second incident that is relevant to this story is that my Granny was diagnosed with terminal leukemia. She agreed to move in with us so that we could take care of her. Now, my Granny was my counselor, my advisor, and my best friend. She was the one person that I had always been able to talk to about everything; especially the difficulties that my parents and I were going through about my being adopted. My Mother was, at that time, going to college to get her teaching credentials. She had been going for thirteen years: it was a long, slow, and painful process for her. She volunteered to drop out, but my Granny wouldn't let her. You see, my Granny and I had already worked out an agreement. I would go to school for my first class of the day, and then I would walk home and stay with her until about a half hour before my Mom got home from college. Then I would walk back up to the school, turn around, and walk home. That way, if my Mom happened to swing by the school on her way home, she'd see me where I was supposed to be. My first class was actually at another school close by. I taught foreign students English. It was easy to go from there back to my house, and I didn't have to actually attend any classes at my high school my senior year to graduate. On days when my Mom had limited classes, I would stay at school for part of the day.

The story of why I didn't have to go to high school my senior year; the reasons why the school was just as glad when I didn't show up, and why I could have graduated much earlier, are another of the unreal stories best left for down the road. It made it easy for me to take care of my Granny, at any rate, and we were able to keep the secret until almost the end of her life a few months later. She told me that she was trying to hang on for only two reasons: she wanted to see my brother be able to return and get married, and she wanted to see me graduate. No one from our family had ever graduated with honors, and she made no secret of the fact that she was very proud of me. Her love and support saw me through many dark and difficult days...I miss her still. She hung on just long enough to see my brother return and get married...but she passed a few months before my graduation.

It was during all of this that our story for today took place. I was walking out to the parking lot of our Church one Sunday morning when I saw a beautiful girl walking my way. She had long, auburn hair that hung almost to her waist and translucent eyes. She looked up at me as we passed each other, and I inexplicably said,

Hi, TeeDee.

She smiled, a curious little Mona Lisa smile, and said hi back. We both continued in opposite directions, and it took me a full minute to realize that, not only had I never met her before, I had never even seen a picture of her. Anywhere. At anytime. I looked back over my shoulder, and caught her looking back at me. She was clearly puzzled, but not half as much as I was. I shook my head to clear the webs, went out to the family car, and went home.

My Father had been sleeping in my room since my Granny moved in. My Mom wanted to be next to her at night to be able to care for her, and my Dad, who was the most selfless man I've ever known, moved his clothes and gear into my room. He was the Head Stillman at an oil refinery, and because of that he worked rotating shifts each week: days, followed by swing-shift, and then grave yards. He went to bed after dinner when he worked grave yards, and then got up at eleven to go to work. There was no point in my even trying to go to bed before he left, so on those nights I was always up until after midnight. That Sunday was one of those nights, so I didn't even go into my room until almost one in the morning.

I have always been nocturnal as well, and falling asleep on the best of nights was, and is, problematic. That particular night my mind was racing about a million things, not the least of which was my meeting with the mysterious TeeDee, if that was even her name. I tossed and turned for a while, trying to put things to rest in my mind. The last time I remember looking at the clock, it was 1:53. I fell asleep at some point after that, and had the most incredible dream of my life...
The dream started in a wind tossed night some time close to the end of the Dark Ages. A castle, somewhere in what would now be northern France. The Lady of the Castle in childbirth, her husband pacing downstairs before the fire. The Lady is attended by a wizened old crow of a woman; part midwife, part faithful servant...and part witch. She gives the Lady a potion to drink for pain as the birth nears, and the Lady swoons into unconsciousness. The baby is born: cold, still and silent as the grave he will soon lie in. This is a disaster for the old witch. The Lady has had a number of still born children already, and the old woman has promised the Lord a healthy child. Not only healthy, but a son as well. It well mean her death if she fails again. She is racked with fear when she remembers something that might save her: the village whore had given birth the day before to a healthy baby boy. No one could be certain who the father was, but it was probably one of the Lord's soldiers. The babies were similar enough in appearance, and the witch was desperate. She barred the door and gathered the dead heir in her arms.

The Lord and Lady were relative new-comers to the castle, receiving it as part of an inheritance fifteen years before. The old woman, however, had been a servant to the owners of the castle since childhood many, many years before, as had her mother, and generations of her family before. She knew things about the castle that the current royals didn't, and that knowledge was about to come into play. She hurried to the fireplace, carrying the limp, small form next to her. Her gnarled fingers felt along the rough stones next to the dying fire, and turns and pushes of stones, practiced countless times over the years, caused a section of the wall to move. She reached inside the slowly widening space into the darkness and pulled a long wooden stick from within. Rushing back to the fire she lit it, and, torch in hand, began her descent down the winding stairs that the moving wall had revealed. A turn of an ancient wall sconce brought the wall closed silently behind her, hiding her retreat.

She had made this journey so many times over the long course of her life that she barely looked at the treacherous steps as she bounded down them. The paving stones were as worn and weathered as the old woman's feet, and the winding twists and turns of the secret passage were as familiar to her as the pulsing veins on the backs of her hands that throbbed now from her efforts. She came to the bottom at last, where three tunnels opened up before her. One led to other parts of the castle, one much farther out into the nearby woods, and the last to a small cave just outside of the village. She didn't hesitate for a moment as she darted into the last one, and minutes later found herself past the walls of the castle and hurrying through the musty dankness of the cavern. A waterfall covered the opening to the cave, but she knew a hidden path around it and soon she was flitting through the village, an old crow floating unseen through the moonless night with a package of death swaddled under her wings.

She hesitated before the whore's cottage, not daring to breath. She had already seen the whore in the village tavern plying her trade.There were things she could do to earn, even this soon after giving birth, and besides, she wasn't about to let a baby keep her locked away from the world. No, the old woman's only concern was that the whore might have left someone to watch over the baby. She needn't have worried. The cottage was empty save for the lone, small figure laying in the straw before the fire. Quickly the witch darted into the cottage, a plan formulating in her desperate mind. She picked up the healthy boy and lay the dead heir in his place in the straw. The whore had left her baby directly in front of the fire, and sparks popped out from the logs. She drew some of the fire into the straw and watched as it burst into flame. The baby was dead...he would feel nothing, and the fire would disguise any doubts the whore might have. It was unlikely that she would even mourn the child; her freedom was far more valuable to her. The old woman drew the bar down across the door and slid silently out the window, the now breathing bundle tucked in the crook of her weathered arm. She paused at the edge of the village and watched the cottage burn. People streamed from the tavern and the surrounding cottages, but the whore's hovel was built far enough away from the rest that none were endangered. Satisfied that her secret was safe, the old woman scurried back towards the falls and the entrance to the cave.

Her mind raced faster than her feet as she glided up the hidden stone stairs toward the Lady's room. She needed to disguise the fact that this child was already a full day old. She turned the sconce and hesitated as the secret wall pivoted. If the Lord had broken down the door in a panic while she was gone...but no, the room was as still as when she left it. She lay the boy on the bed and smeared the after birth all over him, then wrapped him in a small blanket. She pinched the child, hard, until he cried out. Then, unbarring the massive door, she rushed out and down the stairs to the waiting Lord.

She had been right; his eyes went immediately to the baby's genitals. He cared about nothing else than that he had a son. A living, breathing son. The excess blood was enough to dis way him from looking any closer, and she quickly swept the boy back into her arms and up to the Lady's room. Here was where her deception might not carry. The Lady had been present at many births: she might recognise that something was amiss. So, when the Lady began to awaken, the old woman gave her more of the potion to drink. It was enough to keep her asleep for at least another twelve hours. By that time, the ruse would be complete. She rocked the baby gently as she watched the Lady drift away into the land of Morpheus.

Days unfolded into years as I watched the boy grow, until one day, I finally realized that the boy was...me. The perspective of the dream changed from that moment on, and I watched events transpire as though I was living them. I grew into my teens, being taught by my adoptive father all of the skills necessary to one day become Lord of the Provence. I could ride, hunt, and fight as well as anyone, and my skill with a sword was unmatched. I was also trained by the monks in literature and the arts, as well as religion. My favorite tutor, however was the old woman. She taught me about nature, about life, but most of all, she taught me about people.

I had discovered the secret passages as a small boy when I was hiding in my mother's room and saw the old woman go out through the hidden doorway in the wall. She swore me to secrecy, and from that time on, I was able to come and go from the castle as I pleased. It was during one of these outings into the woods that I met a lovely young girl from the village. I felt an immediate attraction to her, even though I knew that our romance would be forbidden because she was a commoner. She felt the same for me, and our love grew over the ensuing years. By the time I was in my early twenties I had decided that I wanted to marry her, irregardless of our different stations in life. We met near our favorite little stream where I professed my love and intentions. She was overjoyed, and I left her with the promise that when I returned, it would be to make her my wife.

 It was the last time I saw her alive.

The old woman was waiting for me at the entrance to the cavern by the waterfall. She had been watching from the  bushes just upstream, and demanded to know what I was doing with the village girl. She flew into a rage when I told her of my plans. Her face contorted and she paced back and forth by the water's edge, her angry mutterings occasionally broken by a high pitched , nervous squeal. She begged me not to go through with it. I refused, and told her my parents would understand. We argued about it for a long time, until she finally asked me if I knew who the girl's mother was. I knew of her mother's reputation, but since she had been dead now for over three years, I told her I didn't see why it mattered. That's when the old woman sent my world into the abyss.

She told me the girl that I loved...that I wanted to marry...was my half sister. I, of course, didn't believe her. I raged against her lies and threatened to have her put to death for her treachery. Then she told me the story of my birth; of the desperate decision she had made, and the consequences to her if it were ever discovered. I thought, at first, that she might be lying to protect my parents from my marriage to a commoner, especially one who was the daughter of the late town whore. But the truth was there in her eyes...and in my heart. As much as I had loved the girl, I had always wondered why the desire to have sex with her had never really overwhelmed me. We had been alone all of the times we met, and she had offered herself to me on many occasions, but I have never gone ahead with her offer. I had told myself that it was my love for her that kept things pure, but I was certainly no virgin, and had sex frequently with the choicest of young ladies in the neighboring villages. I didn't know what to do. The old witch and I returned through the cave to the passages within the castle. I told her to go on ahead and waited alone in the darkness pondering my own fate. I couldn't go back now and pretend to be something I wasn't. I couldn't stay. So, I took the passage that led to the stables, saddled my favorite horse, and left.

I rode listlessly for a few days with no direction, either for the road or my life, in mind. One day I could smell the salt air of the sea nearby, and suddenly decided to take a boat across to the Isles of Britannia. I waited for a boat that could ferry me and my horse, and then made the trip across the straights of Dover. I wandered purposefully for weeks, taking in the new lands and people at my leisure. They weren't as advanced as my countrymen, but seemed to enjoy their lot in life much more so. This changed, however, as I traveled farther north. There , the people seemed more distrustful, more afraid. I was told by an inn keeper that the Earl of that area was a foul, evil man, who kept his subjects in line through intimidation and torture. No one ever felt safe, and even the King's men hesitated to come through without having great numbers. The Earl's men took pretty much what they wanted, whether in money, goods, or women's virtue.  Oppression hung in the air like an ocean fog; thick, heavy, and chilling. I should have turned back to the south, but something inside drove me onward.

Two days journey farther, and I knew why...

It was late afternoon when I heard the sounds of a disturbance off of the path I was on to my left. A brisk trot brought my horse and I to the edge of a small glen. There, not one hundred feet in front of me, four soldiers were attacking a young woman. They had cornered her against a large rock and were tearing her clothes from her despite her valiant attempts to fight them off. I reined my horse to the left, and then took off straight at them at the gallop. They looked up just in time to move off of her, and I slammed two of them backward with my steed's shoulder. I dismounted quickly, unsheathed my sword, and began a fight to the death.

The two soldiers who had evaded my horse's charge were on me as soon as I dismounted. Though they had the advantage of numbers, their skill with the blade was lacking. It was a matter of only moments before I had killed them both. I turned my attention to the other two just as one of them came at my back. The other was still on the ground, entangled in the brush by his chain mail. This new opponent was more of a challenge, but it it wasn't long before I had him on the defensive, his blows becoming weaker with each swing. I had just run him through with my sword when I felt a deep burning pain in my back. The fourth and final soldier had crept up behind me and plunged his dagger into my flesh. I wasn't wearing chain mail, or armor of any kind, and the blade did its evil work well. I went to one knee as he pulled his steel from me, my head bowed in pain. He came in to finish me, but he had waited a split second too long. I brought my sword up to parry his thrust, and drove my own weapon into him all the way to the hilt. He fell at my feet, and his flat, glassy eyes were the last thing I saw before I too crumpled to the ground, the darkness enveloping me.

I awoke to the feathery touch of cool fingers stroking my face. The young woman whom I had saved in the small clearing had brought me back to her small cottage and nursed me back to health. I saw, as soon as my eyes regained their focus, that she was...TeeDee. It was one of those moments, even in a dream, when you just stop...I knew I was dreaming. I knew that everything was also real. How, I would never venture to guess...

We lived together for a few years, and fell in love. There is too much of that time to tell; including her being taken by the evil Earl, and my fight to reclaim her which ended with his death. We were eventually to be married by a nearby priest when someone from my past found me.

The old woman knocked at the door to our cottage one day and, as soon as I saw her, my emotions were torn between confusion, anger, and regret. She told me that my parents had been taken captive by a neighboring Duke, and were being held for execution. I was the only hope that they had. TeeDee begged me not to go. I was torn, but the obligation I felt for the parents who raised me overwhelmed all else. I removed the cross I wore around my neck, and with the edge of my dagger inscribed the words, " pas même la mort" on the back...not even death. I swore to her that not even death would keep me from finding her again...and with that, I put the cross around her neck, mounted my horse, and rode off with the old woman.

I won't bore you with the story of how I stole back into the castle through the hidden passageways and killed the evil Duke, nor the joyful reunion with the people who raised, and still loved me. I told them of TeeDee, and they begged me to bring her back with me to resume my rightful place. We shared one last drink together, and I left to retrieve my bride to be. Everything should have turned out fine, except...

No one had told my half sister anything. Not that we were related, and that that was the reason why I left. All she heard was that I was going to bring back my new bride, and she went into a rage. She slipped a slow acting poison into the goblet which had held my drink...and then killed herself. No one knew what she had done...but its effects would soon appear.

I began to feel sick upon my return to Britannia. The illness progressed as I rode northward toward TeeDee. I became weak...dizzy. I clung to my horse's mane just to stay on. I passed in and out of consciousness. I don't know how long I rode that way. I finally regained consciousness. It was late afternoon, and I realized that I was back in the same glen where I had met and saved TeeDee many years before. My strength was ebbing. I fell from my horse. I gazed up through the canopy of trees at the slowly dimming light. I struggled vainly to hold onto life. My last breaths whispered the words, no, no, no...as the darkness of death enveloped me...

I awoke in my bed, screaming. My mother was standing at the doorway, fear etched into her face. I was drenched in sweat, and every muscle in my body was taut. I reassured her that I was OK, and she turned slowly back down the hall to my Granny. I looked over at the clock radio by my bed. It read 2:08. I had just dreamed an entire lifetime in less than fifteen minutes.

Part 2 to follow soon...

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Christopher Blake is a loving husband...devoted father...minister...crippled ex-cop...screenwriter...novelist...actor...and more than a little rough around the edges...