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Fallen Moon Lake
Movieland - Chapter 22
I’m a stranger here myself.
Fallen Moon Lake
Dante woke to the sound of breathless giggling.
As the room settled, he realized it wasn’t giggling at all but the winds rattling the windowpanes. He glanced over at the lace-curtained window and, seeing that it was still snowy night outside, imagined he had taken just a short nap. How long he had actually slept, though, would be impossible to measure in the eternal present. It would only be correct to say that Dante had slept and woke in the same instant. Everything that was happening or would happen was moving around in that one stalled instant.
Dante sat up on the cabbage-rose couch and saw, by the flickering firelight, that he was alone in the dark living room. Where was the blonde? What was her name? Oh, right, Marti, “short for Martina.” He remembered her talking to him when he stood warming up by the fire.
With a start, he remembered something else, something much more powerful. Pauline! He was supposed to meet Pauline tonight at the recording studio on Gower!
He went for his jacket, lying on the rocking chair, took out his phone. Stone cold dead. This was a disaster! She’d be waiting for him at the studio, with the session singers and that high-maintenance producer. He knew how she’d get: Stormy — well-named— would be storming about, while the producer checked his Rolex, thumbed through his messages, emanating a sort of imperial boredom that came with the certainty that he would be paid, in any case, for his very expensive time, if not for his work.
How — Dante wanted to know — had he gotten here! By car, it had to be by car, and he remembered now his silver Porsche. His shiny Boxster must be sitting somewhere out there in the blizzard, all smashed up. He had heard the crash, hadn’t he? A big, cracking boom in the air. He felt for bumps on his head; none were found. Maybe he hadn’t crashed, after all. He needed to find the Porsche ASAP and scram the hell back to L.A.
Perplexed, he slipped into his slim leather jacket and looked for the sloppy out-of-shape sweater he had left on the rocker, but it was nowhere to be found. No problem, he had seen better, heavier woolen clothes hanging in the vestibule on the way in. He thought there had also been a clunky black dial-phone in the hallway, on a table by the stairs.
But when he went into the hall, what he saw in the lace-patterned rectangle of light that fell across the stairs was the blonde woman, that Marti chick, midway up the stairs, in a sort of trance.
“I’m going to use the phone,” he called, but she took no notice. The phone line was dead, more than dead, for when Dante picked up the receiver, and then the equally lightweight body of the phone, turning it over in his hand, it was no more than a plastic prop!
“I’m leaving now,” he called out. But she seemed to be beyond hearing, staring into the darkness of the second landing with glazed eyes.
The vestibule was no more than a narrow passageway between the house and the outside porch. Moonlight from a small oval window illuminated the clothes hanging off the hooks.
Dante grabbed a big wooly mackinaw, roomy enough to slip over his trim jacket, and picked the goofy fur-lined cap with earflaps that went with it. Both jacket and cap had a woodsy checkerboard pattern, with gray standing in for red. Beneath the hooks, rubber boots waited conveniently at attention. He slipped them on. There was even a heavyweight silver flashlight — that would come in handy — lying on a modest table under a tarnished mirror. Always vain, Dante examined himself. Yeah, he looked but totally Elmer Fudd. Still, who was there of any consequence to see him? Besides, he’d be as warm as fuck.
So out into the blizzard he went, battered by blowing winds. He pulled on the thick fur-lined gloves he found in the pockets of the mackinaw and trudged toward the road, head lowered. He soon came upon the stranded Ford, as big as a boat, rocking with every winter blast as it hung one tire over the edge. He left it behind and continued down the quickening decline.
Snowflakes were being tossed about in front of him, but the moonlight from such a large, brilliant moon made the way intermittently clear, and he could see at times all the way to where the mountain road leveled out and met the main road. It wasn’t until he had plodded halfway down the sloping highway that Dante finally gave up. No silver sports car anywhere, however much he wished to find it skidded up against a snow bank, still intact, slim and sexy and winking in the moonlight, waiting to take him home.
Man up, he berated himself. Figure it out! He should return to the first place he remembered — that lake! As unlikely as it seemed, he might have swerved off the road and driven into the trees. His Boxster might be there, in some woodsy clearing.
Without thinking, Dante took out his phone to get map bearings on his location and found only a lifeless black screen. Right, the battery was depleted —but how could that be? He had charged the cell only this morning, and all at once he remembered his bedroom, the sliding glass door that opened up on the deck that jutted over the canyon, the infinity-edge pool where the turquoise waters seemed to fall off into the yellow morning sky. It was a ritual, walking around the level pool in the fine dawn air, clad in his hooded bathrobe, a coffee mug in hand, planning out his day — but he hadn’t planned this. How the hell had he landed in this black-and-white tundra with its thousand shades of gray!
The lake? He must have passed it already, so he turned around. As he climbed back up the hill, he shone his flashlight into the black trees, looking for the snowy path that led to the fisherman’s jetty. The diffused circle of light eventually showed up a Route 76 sign, listing the miles to Los Angeles, and then a bit further on, a distressed wooden sign, swinging in the wind. “Fallen Moon Lake, “ it said, “Fishing and Camping Area. No Lifeguard.” There, finally, was the break in the trees he was looking for.
When he reached the creaking jetty on the ice-covered lake, he looked for footprints in the snow but he seemed to have left none. He followed the shoreline, as he had before…
Then he saw it — then he didn’t.
A glimmer dancing briefly in the air. He swung the flashlight from left to right — there it was again, but only for a second.
He headed toward the spot and noticed that at certain angles, the fleeting glimmer looked more like a scratch on a lens. He automatically went to adjust his glasses, remembered he no longer had or needed them. Coming upon the spot, carefully arranging his angle, he slowly shone the flashlight up and down, causing the glimmer to shine. It looked very much like a wound in the air, as if the space had ripped open and then healed itself, leaving behind a raised scab of coarse, gelatinous air. The bumpy seam ran easily seven feet from bottom to top, large enough for a man to pass through, yet so subtle that it slipped in and out of sight if he leaned too much to one side.
Dante pressed his hand against the scab and was met with an elastic, but definite, resistance. He pressed harder, the glimmer deforming, but the seam unyielding. He balled up his gloved fist and punched it, then again, with the same odd result, that he was punching on air, and the air, in its own taut way, was bouncing back. He went around to the other side, looked at it from behind. All traces of scarring disappeared. He tried to find it, pushing on empty air, feeling no resistance. It was only when he faced the gelatinous scab head-on and pressed on it that it made its stubborn presence felt.
Dante frowned over the seamed anomaly as the air turned colder, and an eerie sensation came over him, a sense of how things were. His search was in vain. No silver sports car would be found. He had arrived here by other means.
And as he thought these things, a golden fragment fell into place, a memory, but such a bizarre memory that he feared he had indeed hit his head, and this was the aberrant aftereffect.
What he remembered was a little naked boy with curly hair in a glowing circle of light, all golden, and when the boy spoke it was less like language than tinkling wind chimes, with several voices speaking slightly out of unison: “We’ve been looking for thee,” the child said gayly. “So many wrong ones. Merely passengers. Thou art the perfect one.”
The disparate tinkling voices came into sync: “Behold the traveler!”
By the time Dante reached the motel sign flickering in the treetops, he was all conjectured out. The hows, whys, and wheres didn’t add up. He rounded into the driveway and stopped to consider the dark house that looked down on him.
Stiff of spine, a tall, splintery spinster with gingerbread predilections, the house stood sternly on its commanding hill, rising, in its narrow way, to an attic that had a bit of a tower. No light shone from within, only warped reflections in the black windows, mirroring the neon letters flittering feebly like a failing heartbeat.
The motel sign, Dante realized, must be double-sided, its flickering logs facing the cars climbing up the hill toward Los Angeles as well as the cars descending to what he assumed was a town below. Could such a narrow road fit two cars coming from opposite directions at the same time? With that sheer drop at its edge? He’d hate to find out.
As he looked about, he noticed the motel office was still lit, and now something strange… something very strange. He had to go closer to make sure he was seeing what he was seeing.
The office window was whole! It was virgin! The glass pane had never been broken! He frowned down at the snow, searching for telltale slivers of the large puzzle pieces that had smashed to the ground. The snow was smooth, untrammeled.
An eerie chill came over him as he looked through the window. Inside the office, so bright, so clear, was the wooly sweater he had taken, that he had worn! Yet somehow it hung at the same exact lopsided angle as when he first saw it. It was as if it were never touched!
A slow fear drained him of breath. His heart pounded. This was as wild as the seam hanging in the air by the lake. He was in a strange land, and it had its own laws. And by the reckoning of those laws, it was not the world that was strange, but he, the stranger.
Preview: Meanwhile, back in the… real world?