May 23 2013 2:30pm
In Lazellari’s debut fantasy, Awakenings, New York City cop Cal MacDonnell and photographer Seth Raincrest found themselves stalked by otherworldly beings intent on killing them. The two had to accept the aid of a mysterious woman to unlock their hidden pasts, and what they discovered changed their lives.
Everything they knew about their lives was an illusion. They had in fact travelled to our dimension from the medieval reality of Aandor to hide their infant prince from assassins, but upon arriving, a freak mishap wiped their memories. Cal, Seth, and the rest of their party were incapacitated, and the infant prince was lost.
Thirteen years later, that prince, Daniel Hauer, is unaware of his origins—or that he has become the prize in a race between two powerful opposing factions. Cal and Seth’s group want to keep Daniel safe. The other wants Daniel dead—by any means necessary.
ONE FATEFUL NIGHT
Malcolm sped his Porsche through the downpour in the dead of night, obsessed like a zealot in the midst of sacrilege. The sky was black. Drops of hard cold rain battered the windshield and the wipers couldn’t keep up with the deluge. Every few seconds, the car hydroplaned, sliding along a kinetic sheen of water before it found asphalt again. The herky-jerky gusts buffeted the tiny roadster, threatening to slap it from the road. That Malcolm’s window was cracked slightly open, letting the storm in, only added to Scott’s anxiety.
Mal pushed the car to 120 miles per hour at times, far from its maximum, but wholly unjustified for these conditions. The Long Island Expressway was not made for this kind of driving even on the best of days. Scott had never seen him like this: Was he hurrying toward something . . . or running away? A hard gust and a slide would jerk them back to eighty miles per hour, a virtual slow crawl, and then Mal would push it up all over again. Scott was certain he’d be sick all over the leather before they made it to their destination— assuming they didn’t crack up in a fiery jumble first.
“Want to slow it down?” Scott asked. Malcolm ignored him just as he had since they left the mansion.
The craziness began earlier that night. They were reading reports in their East Hampton home, dogs napping by a lit hearth against the backdrop of a dark ocean breaking on the shore. It was the type of moment they both cherished, private, peaceful, the type of serenity purchased by power and wealth. Scott was going over the coming week’s schedule—meetings with congressmen, senators, generals, parts suppliers, and anyone else who could expand Malcolm’s vast industrial empire. Then the seizure hit.
Mal fell to his knees, clutching at his skull. His eyes rolled back and he collapsed. Scott grabbed a riding crop and jammed it in Malcolm’s mouth to keep him from swallowing his tongue. Their live-in maid, Rosita, rushed into the room to check—Scott told her to call an ambulance, then asked her to go back to her room . . . he didn’t want anyone to see Mal this way. The spasm subsided as quickly as it came on. Scott stroked his partner’s face. He removed the crop once he deemed it safe. White froth dotted Mal’s copper-hued beard like drops of cream; he feverishly mumbled the same phrase over and over.
“And or what?” Scott asked him.
Malcolm recovered quickly, brushed himself off, and took stock of the damage. He had a slight nosebleed and he rubbed the elbow that had taken the brunt of his fall.
“Good thing you’re so close to the ground already,” Scott said, to lighten the mood. “Might have injured yourself, otherwise.”
Malcolm stared at him as though seeing Scott for the first time. He walked away from his partner and locked himself in the study. Scott regretted his joke. The humor was more for his frazzled nerves than his partner, but that was no excuse for callousness. Here the man had nearly died and he cracked smart about his diminutive stature. But Mal had never been sensitive about his height; seldom had Scott met a person as comfortable in his or her own skin. Scott himself had only two inches on Mal, and their height had always been a good source of humor between them. Through the door, he heard his partner canceling the paramedics. Scott tried repeatedly to gain entrance to the study, but the door was solid mahogany, with solid brass knobs. That didn’t stop him from shouting that Mal should see a doctor and that he wouldn’t be able to help from this side of the door if Mal had another attack. The muffled tapping on the computer keyboard implied that Mal was on one of his obsessive streaks, tackling some new idea that had come to his brilliant mind . . . like the ideas that had made Malcolm Robbe America’s greatest weapons builder.
“And or” had become Mal’s new mantra as he drove. It was something from his partner’s past, and they were hurtling toward it at breakneck speed.
Two-thirds of Malcolm’s life was a complete mystery to him. He’d seen neurologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and every other quack between Washington, DC, and Boston. He’d even resorted to the arcane, much to Scott’s disapproval. One charlatan explained that he was a former Christian missionary whose sins among native peoples were so heinous, he had blocked them from his memory. A gypsy woman claimed that he was not of this world, and that the memories he sought were from another plane of existence. The wealthier Malcolm had become, the more those con artists charged, but neither doctors or hacks had cracked his amnesia. The wall around his mind was as thick as the armor Malcolm built for America’s tanks.
Scott had been sleeping on the leather couch outside the study when Mal finally emerged hours later.
“I’m going into the city,” Malcolm said.
“In this weather? Can’t it wait until morning?”
“I’ll be at our suite at the Waldorf.”
“What about tomorrow’s appointments?”
“Cancel everything for the next few days. Tell them I’m not feeling well.”
“You’re not well,” Scott stressed. “You just had a grand mal seizure. Pun intended.”
A smile cracked the industrialist’s dour veneer, and dissipated just as quickly. He put a hand on Scott’s shoulder indicating his thanks for Scott’s solidarity.
Mal grabbed the car keys and his coat.
“You’re not going alone,” Scott said, grabbing his jacket as well.
The billionaire considered it a moment, and just when Scott thought he would argue the point, Mal said, “Suit yourself. But you’ve no idea what you’re getting into.”
“Malcolm, what’s going on?”
Leading toward the Porsche in the driveway, he said, “The gypsy was right.” It was the last thing Mal had said to Scott that night.
Ahead loomed the Midtown Tunnel. Beyond it, the diffused lights of Manhattan eked through the dark, rainy mist.
Michelle calculated the tithes in the back office as her husband pounded the pulpit out front with fervent oratory. The office’s hollow pine door was no match for the reverend’s passionate deep tenor. His voice commanded attention—he was, after all, God’s proxy on earth. Allyn worked his special appeal late into the night to help find two children who had gone missing from their community.
Michelle clicked away at the adding machine under the watchful portrait of Jesus on the wall; the strip of paper snaked across the table and off the edge to the floor. She breathed a sigh of relief because the First Community Baptist Church of Raleigh, which was technically located in Garner, would be able to keep the heat and power on for another month. Not so certain were roof repairs, new tires for the church van, or the monthly donation to the regional NAACP chapter. Her husband had promised her a new computer and accounting program, but money was tight, with more parishioners unemployed each week and asking for help instead of donating funds. There was always someone in the community in desperate need.
Michelle worried about their daughter, Rosemarie. Her college savings were underfunded relative to her scholastic aptitude. She knew the reverend loved his daughter, but it often seemed as though her needs came second to starving families or those who’d lost their homes. The Lord will provide, the reverend told his wife. Allyn Grey was as confident of that as he was that gravity would not let him fly off the earth.
The reverend’s passion swept all before him into his fold. He had a resounding conviction that there was more to this universe than what they could see, such as his uncanny ability to heal people by laying on hands and praying. He succeeded often enough that many came from miles just for the chance at curing their diabetes, gout, or cancer. Allyn took his failures hard, blaming himself when he could not cure an ailment.
“We are all connected,” Allyn’s voice boomed through the office walls. He told the story of old Agatha Crowe from their former congregation, who awoke in the middle of the night at the exact moment her son had been shot dead in Afghanistan. Her son came to her in a dream and said he was in a place surrounded by their ancestors. “A link that binds us all,” the reverend drove on. And it was in the spirit of that connectivity that he worked so hard on his parishioners’ behalf. Two of them, the Taylors, were in the midst of a tragedy—despondent over their children.
The family had been carjacked that morning by robbers at the Piggly Wiggly, and the thieves took the children as insurance. The police retrieved the car at the edge of the Uwharrie National Forest and captured one of the men, but the children, a six-year-old boy and his younger sister, had run into the largest and most secluded part of the forest trying to escape. One of the thieves went after them, no doubt to retrieve his bargaining chip with the authorities. They were still lost in those woods. The reverend said that if the Taylor kids had been white, the media would be all over the story and the amount of help overwhelming.
Allyn was trying to get the community to put pressure on the governor and the local stations to increase resources for the search. The sheriff and the state police were good men, but money and people were stretched tight all over. A hint of racism was still the best way to stir politicians to action—and it would be for as long as those who remembered segregation still lived. Rosemarie’s generation would know a different, better South. Michelle had just finished her calculations when Rosemarie rushed into the office.
“Something’s wrong with dad,” she said frantically.
“Wrong . . . What do you mean?” Michelle asked. She hadn’t realized that the reverend had stopped speaking.
“He jus’ standin’ behind the pulpit with a blank expression.”
“He’s just standing,” Michelle corrected. She hated the local dialect’s influence on Rosemarie. She rose from her desk, ignoring the pit of fear that planted itself in her stomach. “People with our skin don’t get into Duke talking that way,” she told her daughter, in a somewhat absent tone. The word “stroke” pushed other conscious thoughts to the rear of Michelle’s mind.
“Whatever . . . you coming?” urged her daughter.
A small crowd had gathered around the pulpit. Her husband was sitting on the floor looking older than his forty-one years; his yellow coloring took more of a beating in the southern sun than Michelle’s dusky russet tone. Gray strands that had woven their way into his short, tightly cropped head these past few years shone brighter beside the blank stare that had descended on him.
“Allyn?” Michelle said, pushing through the crowd. “Everyone back. Please give him air.”
Someone in the assembly shouted, “His eyes rolled back.”
“We thought he havin’ a heart attack,” a blue-haired old lady said.
Blood and drool pooled at the corner of Allyn’s lip and trickled down his chin. He had bit his tongue. His large brown eyes were moist and stared blankly ahead. His breath came quickly, short, and shallow.
“Allyn, say something?” Michelle asked. She turned his head to face her. He looked at her with accusing eyes. He shook ever so slightly as though someone were walking on his grave. Rosemarie handed Michelle a paper towel to wipe the blood from his chin.
“I’m okay,” Allyn responded in a coarse whisper. “It hurt for a moment, but I’m okay.”
“What hurt? Why are you sitting here like this?” she asked. “We need to get you to the emergency room.”
“No,” he said, grabbing her wrist. “No doctors. Doctors won’t know what to do.”
Michelle was confused. She was at a loss as to what to do next.
Allyn started to weep, which scared Michelle more. She wanted all the eyes in the church to go away.
“Everyone, please go home,” Michelle ordered. “Thank you for coming out tonight. Remember to call the governor’s office and the TV and radio stations to help find the Taylor kids tomorrow morning. We need help now. The forecast said a cold front is coming day after tomorrow . . . we don’t have long.”
She beckoned to the janitor to help. “Randy, please . . .”
Randy began herding the congregation. They looked back over their shoulders with concern as he shuffled them out. Allyn was the church’s rock. They drew strength from their minister. They had never seen him cry . . . never seen him afraid.
“Let’s get you to the hospital,” Michelle said.
“I am not ill,” Allyn insisted.
“Well, then what are you? You are certainly not well.”
“No. I am not well,” he acquiesced. “I am overwhelmed. I am . . . sad.”
“Why?” Michelle asked. Her first thought was about the Taylor children. “Allyn, did—did you get news about . . . Did someone die?”
Allyn thought about it a moment, and upon reaching a conclusion said, “Yes.”
“Who?” Michelle asked.
“Daddy, you’re not making sense,” Rosemarie interjected. Her tone was anxious.
“My darling Rose, it’s very hard to explain,” he said. Michelle recognized Allyn’s teaching tone. The man believed that every moment of life was a learning moment. “When we are happy we forget God’s grace because we are living in the pleasure He has bestowed on us. Sorrow, however, brings us closer to Him.” He took the paper towel from his wife and patted his mouth. “In grief we seek out God,” he continued. “We need Him to lighten our burdens.” Allyn stopped. He made a fist and clenched his teeth, fighting the urge to weep. “But I have found a new thing in my soul,” he told them both.
“What thing?” Michelle asked.
“It pollutes me, like the fruit Eve gave Adam—it separates me from His grace.”
Allyn shivered. Michelle put her arm around him.
“Allyn, it’s okay. You’ve been pushing yourself so hard to help the community . . .”
“I am in the depths of a sorrow from which I know not how to ascend,” he said. “From which none of the gods can save me.”
Michelle’s fear escalated. Did the seizure cause damage to his brain? He wasn’t making sense. “Allyn, there is only one God,” she said, struggling to remain calm.
Allyn held her gaze like a lifeline on a stormy sea.
“In this universe,” he said.
Babies Ate My Dingo performed their hit on the main stage at Madison Square Garden. They were the opening act for Bon Jovi, a huge break that had catapulted their song “Karma to Burn” to the iTunes Top 10. The logo that Clarisse had designed, happy vampire infants chomping on the remains of a dog, was prominently centered behind the drummer on a huge banner in dual-toned red and black. Clarisse was in awe of how far the band had come in a few short months. Sales on the song had already paid for the home in La Jolla she shared with lead guitarist Timothy Mann, and the tour would set them up for a good long time. Tim’s stage presence was magical— almost unworldly—as he rocked lead guitar in front of twenty-five thousand fans. Life was great.
She snapped away with her Nikon, collecting her favorite shots, the ones from behind the band with the crowds in front of them. That composition would throw a light halo around the band members and give them an angelic vibe. The band had finished the second chorus and was about to start the bridge when the song fell flat. She put down the camera and searched for the cause. At first she thought the power had gone out, but it soon became clear that Tim had completely blanked. The band recovered well, revving up the lead-in to the bridge a second time, but Tim missed his solo again. He stared out blankly at the audience who, knowing the song intimately, could tell something was wrong. One of the stagehands whispered, “Drugs,” but Clarisse knew better. They only smoked the occasional grass.
The band stopped. The lead singer, Rick Fiore, approached Tim. His eyes had rolled to their whites. Rick braced the back of Tim’s head as the guitarist fell backward onto the stage. The audience’s collective gasp echoed through the arena. Moments later, some in the audience shouted about not taking the brown acid and snickered. Other fans told those people to go back to Jersey, and a fight broke out. Clarisse grabbed a bottle of water and a towel and ran onto the stage.
Rick turned off their microphones and asked his guitarist, “What’s up, dude? You dying?”
“Here, sweetie, have a sip,” Clarisse said. She pulled his shoulderlength brown hair away from his face and put the bottle to his lips.
Tim took a large swig and shortly caught his breath. “Just had my mind blown,” he said, shaking his head.
“You dropping acid, Mann?”
“No.” He took the towel from Clarisse and patted the sweat from his forehead and neck. “It’s just . . . I just remembered I’m a lute player from an alternate universe on a mission to raise a prince that some dudes in another kingdom are trying to kill. I swore an oath and everything.”
Clarisse laughed. Rick was not as amused.
The sound of the crowd’s impatience rose steadily in the background.
“Mann, we’re on the verge of being the biggest band since U2, and you’re pulling shit like this during our big number?” he asked.
Clarisse seldom found Rick Fiore’s talent for hyperbole and drama amusing. That, and his bottle-blond David Lee Roth coiffure, was why she dumped him for Tim, who was as cool as a mountain lake. Tim would never mess around with their success, and if he was cracking jokes, it was his way of saying he’d be okay. “Lighten up, Flowers,” she said. It was the nickname she created for him just before they broke up.
Rick pursed his lips and ground his teeth. “You dumped me for a dude that falls on his ass in the middle of gig?” he said. “You can get his ass off the stage without me.” Rick stormed off to brood in the wings.
Clarisse turned to her significant other. “Seriously, Manly-Mann, you okay?”
“I wasn’t joking. That amnesia about my early life . . . all of a sudden, it was like a wall of memories hit me out of nowhere. I came here years ago with other people to protect a baby prince. I don’t know happened after that.”
“Uh, that’s great,” she said, not really sure how to react. Clarisse wondered if Tim was on something after all. They swore never to go down that road. She could put up with the occasional groupie, but not hard drugs. Cocaine had torn her parents apart; that was her deal breaker. The audience started to hiss.
Rick and the drummer were talking in the corner, shooting dirty glances at them. The paramedics finally showed up and were heading toward them with a stretcher. “Can you finish the show?” she asked him.
“Heck yeah,” Tim said. “I’ll do five encores. It’s been thirteen years. One more day won’t make a difference. I can get back to that other stuff tomorrow. As he stood, he pumped his fist into the air and yelled, “ROCK ’N’ ROLL!”
The audience cheered.
“What can be said of Lear’s fool?” Balzac Cruz threw the question out to his Elizabethan literature class. He wore a triangular red, yellow, and green jester’s cap with three protruding appendages that ended in small bells and jingled as he moved. Tufts of his gray hair stuck out the sides of the cap. Under a dark brown sports jacket, he wore a cream-colored rayon knit turtleneck that protruded subtly at the waist, green and brown plaid trousers, and oxblood leather loafers.
Balzac performed as he taught because an entertained mind was the most receptive mind. At least that was what he told the department faculty. But actually, he relished the attention. He received high marks as one of the department’s most favored professors. This was the first year he had taught Elizabethan lit as a night class, though, and he was sure it would be the last. It cut into his nightlife, which for a single man of fifty was generously rich at the university.
“Lear’s fool saw things clearly,” a female student answered. It was only their second class and Balzac had already pegged her as the overachiever. He suspected her name was Rachel.
“Clearly?” Balzac asked. “As in he did not need glasses?” Jingle, jingle.
“He saw things Lear couldn’t or refused to see,” an eager young man wearing the school’s lacrosse jersey said. The boy’s hair was a curly brown tussle as though he’d just rolled out of bed. Balzac licked his lips at the image of him sweaty and hot at the end of a game. Perhaps the night class isn’t a total loss, he thought. Balzac’s hat jingled vigorously.
“And . . . ?” Balzac prodded.
“He was loyal,” the overachiever cut back in, annoyed at having her moment usurped by a pretty-boy jock. “The most loyal of Lear’s servants.”
“True,” Balzac agreed. “But also . . .”
A white haze descended upon Balzac’s view of the room, as though everything were behind a sheet of gauze. He was aware that he had stopped talking—couldn’t move his hands or feet. His students, on the other side of the gauze wore worried expressions. The last thing of the room he saw before everything turned solid white was the handsome lacrosse player rushing toward him. Another world took its place before him; a beautiful gleaming city made of marble, brick, and oak. His mother, his father, his teachers, lovers, masters—all came back to him. His mind was the pool at the end of a waterfall as memories of Aandor rushed into his head.
Slowly the gauze lifted. He was on his back, his students hovering around him, concerned. The strong arms of the lacrosse player cradled him—his hand supported the back of Balzac’s head.
This lad has earned his A, Balzac thought.
“Are you okay, Professor Cruz?” the overachiever asked.
Balzac stood up and brushed himself off. He wiped the sweat from the top of his balding head with a kerchief. “I think we might cancel the rest of tonight’s class,” Balzac said. “I’m not feeling quite myself.”
His students returned to their seats to gather their belongings. “Someone should see you home,” the overachiever—probably Rachel—said.
“Perhaps you’re right, my dear.” Balzac turned to the Lacrosse player. “Would you mind terribly seeing me to my flat, uh . . .”
“Rodney,” the young man said.
“Yes, Rodney.” Balzac threw him a grateful smile. The overachiever practically stomped the treads on her shoes flat as she returned to her seat.
Balzac spied his fool’s cap on the floor. He picked it up. It jingled as he brushed off some dust.
“The fool . . . ,” he said to the entire room . . . stopping everyone in their tracks—books half packed.
Balzac gazed at the cap, seeing more in it than anyone in the room could ever imagine. He looked up at his students and smiled a devilish grin.
“. . . as is often the case in Shakespeare, is a commoner with tremendous clarity—and usually the wisest man in the world.”
The Lost Prince © Edward Lazellari 2013