by A. M. Townsend
Part 1 appears in this issue.
The house was old but had been well cared for. The wood floors were polished; there were plants on the tables and small trees in the corners. The sweet smell of various spices from something cooking filled the air.
“Please, let’s sit down.” Frisco motioned for us to come into the living room. “Was your drive pleasant?”
While Farley talked about the drive, I looked over the large painting above the couch of a man wearing a silver stocking hat with two antennae sticking out of the top. They reminded me of the old-style metal rabbit ears that used to sit on my grandmother’s TV set. The man, middle-aged, had a puckish smile, playful green eyes and otherwise looked like Frisco. A fishing pole stood in the background, and in his hands, he held a license plate, the kind you get at tourist attractions or at the county fair, that said: “Good Ole Gus.”
I settled in next to Farley on the couch. Detecting nervousness, I caressed his hand with my thumb.
“Dad, how’ve you been?” He let out a breath.
Frisco crossed his legs. “Nicki just got over a cold. Your sister Henri has been working on a new aging cream. She’s been trying to get us all to try it.”
A slender woman with brownish blonde hair descended the stairs. As soon as she spotted me, she smiled kindly. With sparkling blue eyes and high cheekbones, she was beautiful for her age. She graciously held out her arms.
Farley jumped up. “Mom” — he hugged his mother warmly — “this is Meredith.”
“Meredith, what a lovely name.”
We hugged, and she looked me square in the eyes. “I’m so glad to meet you. You’re different from what I expected.”
“I hope that’s good,” I said.
Nicki sat down next to Frisco. “How is law school?” she asked.
“Hard, but interesting,” replied Farley.
“Indeed. Meredith, Farley tells me you are an assistant editor at a newspaper or magazine?” asked Nicki.
“Yes, Madame G magazine.”
“Oh, really?” Frisco said eagerly. “If you are in the magazine business, then you must have heard about Gus Anderson.”
“Dad, can we wait to get into all of Uncle Gus’s stuff?” urged Farley. “I mean, Meredith just got here.”
“You’re right, son,” replied Frisco. “There’ll be plenty of time for family history.”
“Dinner is almost ready. Meredith, would you like to come into the kitchen and help me get the table ready? It’ll give us girls a chance to get to know each other.”
“Sure.” I felt I was being accepted into the family.
“That sounds nice, Mom,” said Farley.
The dining room table looked to be an antique with carved wood legs and ornately carved chairs. The Persian rug had golds, blues, and greens that harmonized with the curtains. Three bright windows framed the view of the lavish greenery outside.
“We’re having non-GMO, organically grown, basted carrots with onions and noodles in papaya juice. It’s a recipe that Frisco and I brought back with us when we traveled through Asia. Homemade cider and apple pie for dessert.” Nicki turned to me. “Have you been overseas?”
“Yes, several times. When I was in high school, I went to France and Spain with my parents and brother. In college, my friend Janice and I spent a couple of months in Greece. Then after graduation, some friends and I spent a few weeks in China.”
“Oh my, you have done some traveling. That’s marvelous!”
Henri wandered into the kitchen still wearing the blue cream mask of anti-aging cream.
“Mom, can I eat upstairs in my room? I have a chemical reaction going in my bathroom.”
“You what?” Nicki dropped the dishrag on the table.
I went over to stir the noodles.
“I told you not to do those upstairs. Save them for the chem lab at school.”
“I can hardly do explos— I mean, they won’t let me do this one at school,” replied Henri.
“Henri, you go up there and stop the experiment. I don’t want another fire in your room!”
“Mom, I took precautions this time,” whined Henri.
“Oh, all right.” Henri stomped off.
I strained the water from the noodles. Nicki took the roasted carrots out of the oven.
“Farley and Frisco, set the table,” yelled Nicki.
We put the food in dishes, and Nicki put some freshly cut bread in a basket.
“Meredith, I want to hear all about your family this weekend. You and I can get away tomorrow and do some errands together in Cold Springs. Would you like that?”
“That would be fabulous.”
“Dinner is ready,” called out Nicki.
Henri came into the dining room, looking glum as ever. She had wiped the cream off her face, but a light blue residue remained.
“I never get to do what I want in this house,” she mumbled to herself.
During dinner, the conversation shifted from details about Farley’s school to my job as an assistant editor. I could tell the discussion was polite but flat. That is, until a spark lit up Frisco.
“As I was about to ask you earlier, Meredith, have you heard about Cold Springs and the famous Gus Anderson?”
“Dad, with all due respect, Madame G is a women’s magazine. Not a magazine about the paranormal or aliens,” said Farley.
“I understand,” said Frisco.
“Who is Gus Anderson?” I asked while taking a bite.
“His picture is in the living room. Over the couch,” said Farley.
“The guy with the antennae?” I asked.
“That’s right. He had those on whenever he wanted to communicate with aliens.”
I almost spit out my carrots in laughter, but I managed to hold it in. “Aliens. That’s interesting.” I tried my best to play it straight. All of them were dead serious.
Frisco took a drink of cider. “You see in the 1970s, Farley’s great-uncle Gus went fishing at Liberty Creek, up on the mountain. Right when he dropped his hook in the water, some lights appeared above him. He dropped his pole and headed for cover under a bush. A few moments later, Gus said, an energy vortex opened, and Gus disappeared. A few weeks later, Aunt Emmy found him lying in the backyard, asleep.”
Nicki chimed in. “That’s just how Gus told the story. Aunt Emmy told me that he was a changed man after that.”
“After he woke up, he was calm and, over time, became a charismatic sage,” continued Frisco. “All of the sayings in his book are brilliant.” Frisco picked up a book that was sitting on the dining room table. “They helped so many people with their problems. Gus said that people used to come from miles away to ask his advice on all kinds of subjects. I can read some so that you’ll see. What is, is. Tomorrow is a new day. What can be, is possible. What can’t be, is impossible. To help others, you need first to help yourself. To be, is to be with those who love you. Gus could answer any question with profound wisdom.”
“It’s like the aliens wanted him to know,” added Nicki.
“Really, Mom, those phrases don’t sound so wise to me,” said Henri.
“You’re too young to understand,” said Nicki.
“No, I am not. Those sound like lame phrases,” said Henri.
I wanted to agree with Henri aloud, but I didn’t say anything. Frisco and Nicki acted like they were baring their souls to me. They would be insulted if I said all of Gus’s story sounded like hokum. I kept a serious and interested manner. “Whatever happened to Gus? I mean, I assume he’s not around anymore,” I asked.
“Sadly, Gus died long ago,” added Nicki.
“Fell right off his horse,” inserted Henri, who chuckled slightly.
“He lived long enough to tell us all of his stories and to leave this wonderful book,” said Nicki.
We finished dinner talking about Cold Springs and New York.
“The pie was wonderful,” said Farley.
“Meredith, it’s a custom in this house to take a walk after dinner. Helps with the digestion,” said Nicki.
“That’s true,” said Farley.
“I knew this was going to happen. We always go up Space Mountain,” said Henri glumly.
“Henri, you love it up there,” said Nicki with a smirk.
Henri smiled back.
Before I had a chance to ask why, they started getting ready to go for a walk. Farley whispered to me, “This is how they show they like you.”
We exited the house to join a winding path that led upward at a gradual incline. Nicki and I led the group, with Farley and Frisco and Henri behind.
Farley and Frisco caught up on law school happenings and gossip about Cold Springs. Henri listened to her iPod. For a moment, I flashed on Uncle Gus’s book of empty phrases. I couldn’t believe anyone found any wisdom in those clichés.
Nicki grabbed my arm and started talking about Farley as a baby. She asked me about where I grew up, and if I had any other siblings than a brother. As we walked, I lost all track of time. Sounds of crickets and the sweet smell of the forest livened me.
For a part of the walk, I dropped back to walk with Farley, and Frisco joined Nicki. Henri seemed happy in her own world, where she could ignore the rest of us. Some deer scampered across the path in front of us. Nicki insisted that we soak our feet in a cold-water spring. We took off our shoes and stepped into the shallow pool. The fresh water soothed my feet. Henri perked up, managing to laugh when Farley splashed her.
We walked barefoot through some brush to the summit. We came upon a formation of tall carved rocks placed in a circle. To the side was an awning with some lounge chairs and a barbecue. What was early evening had become late night as far as I could tell. I had lost all track of time.
Frisco pointed to the famous Liberty creek running through the shrine. “And that’s where the vortex opened up. Gus stepped into the next dimension right there!”
“Can you feel the energy, Meredith?” asked Nicki.
I couldn’t feel anything, but the shrine was kind of cool.
“I can feel vibrations from above and below,” said Nicki. “This is definitely the spot. I’m shaking.”
“What about you Farley? Can you feel it?” asked Frisco.
“Most definitely,” he said with a smile.
“The mountain has forces in it,” said Frisco. “Forces that change the magnetic field. Gus stepped through the portal and later came to believe, after he got back and did some research, that he had traveled to the faraway galaxy, EGS8p7. It’s a galaxy that is 13 billion light years away. Time changes when you are near the vortex. It collapses.”
“That’s cool that the aliens came and that the vortex opened up. I didn’t know you could travel that far.” I was trying to sound as sincere as I could.
“I know, right? It’s amazing. Our Uncle Gus did it,” said Nicki. “But it wasn’t all excitement. There was a dark time, too.”
Frisco continued. “The local news got hold of his story after his abduction. Naturally, the United States Air Force sent a team of experts. They had their equipment set up here and there. The CIA got involved in a smear campaign against the Anderson family. People started calling Uncle Gus and Aunt Emmy charlatans. That’s when Gus and Emmeline changed their name to Mudito. All of us followed suit; it was easier that way.”
“Say, I want to walk around and feel the vibes of this place,” I told Nicki and Frisco. I grabbed Farley and took him behind a rock.
I whispered to Farley. “Do you believe all of this?”
Farley shrugged. “No, but it’s my family. This is a big part of their life.”
I looked at his eyes. “I guess,” I replied.
We walked around the tall rocks until we joined Nicki, Frisco, and Henri. All of us were still barefoot from soaking our feet in the pond.
Nicki stepped toward us. “Let’s get these lounge chairs all lined up faced out toward the valley.”
Frisco walked over to a comfortable-looking chaise lounge with large, padded pillows. “Henri, grab one and put it next to these.”
Farley and I grabbed a couple of chairs until five of them faced the valley. The valley looked quite beautiful in the early morning. Far off on the horizon, the beams of first light shone just above the tree line of the horizon. I dropped my shoes and lay down and wrapped my arm across Farley’s chest. I looked over and saw the others in a neat row, ready to watch the sunrise. Nicki tickled Henri, who let out a giggle. Frisco glanced at Farley and gave him a wink.
The sun’s gilded forehead rose against the golden background of light. White, yellow, and orange rays glossed across the sky.
“Look above the sun,” said Frisco. “Don’t look directly at it.”
“We know, Dad,” said Henri.
The surprise spectacle of a cloud coming out of nowhere created a rainbow of soft glowing blues, greens, and violets.
“Do you feel it now?” asked Nicki. “It’s the power of the cosmos. How about you, Meredith?”
I was about to say no. A distant smile, probably from the galaxy EGS8p7, seeped through me. This must be the “energy” Nicki, and Frisco referred to. A pliable belonging, a coloratura of innocent delight, a deliciously wrapped essence saturating my body. I kept thinking of the last phrase that Frisco had read from Gus’s famous book: To be is to be with the ones who love you. As I looked over at the row of ten dirty feet above which glistened a sweeping psychedelic sunrise, Gus Anderson’s one phrase soaked through my soul. I wrapped my arm around Farley a little tighter.
He sighed and seemed content.
Copyright © 2019 by A. M. Townsend