James woke in a cold sweat. When he got his bearings, he realized he woke in a bed that was not his own. As the moments drifted by, the room he was in slowly became more illuminated; no source of light though. He looked around, walls a matte white and with the exception of the bed he was in, the sheets on it, and himself, there was nothing else in the room. He was alone.
At that thought, the wall that James was currently facing started to have a black script scroll acrossed it. The words simply said, “No, you are not alone. You will never be alone again.”
James throat caught. His breath tightened. He recalled the night before, when he was in his own bed,in his own bedroom, and that his loneliness was so overwhelming that he actually wept, wishing he wasn’t so alone. Now he was being told he wasn’t alone anymore, being told by a wall.
“Well, “ James whispered to himself sacastically, “it does seem like I am the only one in this room.”
The script on the wall shifted into, “Technically yes. But, you have me now. Always. I will promise that you will never be alone again. Is there anything you need? Are you thirsty? Hungry?”
James’ stomach rumbled at the suggestion. What he would do for some stuffed french toast, sausages, and a nice glass of orange juice. “Well...it seems in this...strangeness, I do have an appetite for some breakfast.”
A table shimmered next to the bed. A plate of stuffed french toast, sausages still popping from being cooked, a jar of orange marmalade, and a huge glass of orange juice sat there, tempting him. In spite of his wariness, he took a sip of the juice. To his chagrin, it was literally the best he ever had.
“Will my host be so kind to join me, I would rather not eat alone.”
The script on the wall shimmered again. “I would love nothing more, but I am so hideous. You would lose your appetite if you had to look at me.”
“You should let me be the judge of that. That said, I am not that great looking myself.”
The script responded quickly, with broad strokes, “You jest. You are absolutely gorgeous!”
James was called a lot of things. Smart, quirky, absentminded, tall, lanky, quiet. Gorgeous was never on that list. It was never on his top 1000 best traits list. He laughed. “It seems my host has a sense of humor!”
The script changed, James could almost feel the aggression as it sprawled on the wall. “I would never jest about that. I have adored you for what seems like forever. Not my fault you have been oblivious to it.”
“Well, you don’t let me see you.”
“You have seen me...countless times.”
“So, I know you?” James sifted through his memories of everyone he knew. Of anyone he saw but didn’t really see. He was the type that if anyone said even a “Hi!” to him, he would respond and be kind to that person.
“Can I leave this room?”
“Why would you want to?”
“Well, it is nice to be free to go to where I want to go.”
“When you were free. You were alone. Your loneliness was slowly killing you. Now you are not alone and can have nearly whatever your heart desires.”
“I desire to see you.”
“Perhaps, in time, I will believe such a meeting is what you really want. But, I know of the women you find appealing. I am none of them.”
“So I am alone.”
“No! But, if you need someone to ‘be with’ in the room, I will give you someone. I can pick someone for you, unless you want to give me specifics.”
James looked at the plate of food. How spot on his host was to what he desired. Was his mind read? Or perhaps worse, was he watched for so long that his host did know him this intimately. The last thing he wanted was to have someone dumped in this prison against their will, because of some perceived want.
“No, the only person I want to join me is you.”
The wall was quiet a bit longer before a response appeared. “Say my name and I will join you.”
“I have told you, I have no idea who you are.”
“Prove to me you love me as much as I love you, and I’ll happily grant this wish.”
“Perhaps I do love you and you don’t even know?”
“If you did, we would already be together. But you will, I know eventually you will love me.”
“You seem so sure of that…”
The script cut him off, “I am. I know you too well. I know there were times you wish people could see past you, see the inner you instead of the outer you. That you wish they would love you for your words and thoughts and deeds alone. Now is your chance to fall in love with my words, deeds and thoughts.”
He thought about her words, they were true, yet he confessed that only to a few people in his life. She could not be any of them.
James stayed covered and replied, “Can you at least tell me your name?”
“When I finally let you see me I will; if you do not figure it out before then. Enjoy breakfast my love. Whatever you need, just asked. As you have seen. I will give you virtually anything you desire. I will even give you me, once you prove you actually desire it beyond simple curiosity.”
James lost track of what day it was. He slept about two dozen times since his captivity, so he figured a month went by. Everything he asked for though, he got. There were some caveats. He couldn’t call anyone directly. He was told any emails he sent out would be filtered. His social media sites informed everyone he was traveling the world.
“What about my job?”
“Why do you need such a thing? You have everything you could want now?”
“Well, to make a difference. To be a productive member of society.”
“If you could do anything you wanted. To REALLY make a difference, what would it be?”
“Well, I always aimed to eventually do some philanthropy once I was successful.”
“You can do it now. You can run everything and I will make it happen. You can be that silent hero. Which cause do you want to attack first, my love?”
James tried not to show his irritation. “I’ll have to think about it. You know what I would love to do right now though? Visit Paris.”
“How long have you wanted to do this?”
“Well, before you brought me here, I was pondering making plans to make the trip.”
“Always pondering. You need to start doing, James.”
At that, the room darkened. The chair James was sitting in shifted to one made of iron. A matching table formed, an umbrella. The walls shifted, he was still aware of them there, but at the same time, he had the feeling he was now sitting outside, at a small bistro, in Paris, the Eiffel Tower seemingly not too far away.
“This is not Paris.”
“Of course it is,” said a man with the slightest hint of accent.
James ate his lunch in ‘Paris’. He somehow stroll the streets. He even went to the top of the Eiffel Tower. The view was breathtaking. The experience was real enough.
“Ok, I want to go home.”
The scene shimmered and went back to the basic matte white he had grown accustomed to. He was currently on the floor, feeling a bit disoriented because his mind the moment before thought he was high from the ground. When he asked to go home, this was not what he was hoping.
“That was not Paris. A fantastic illusion, but not Paris.”
The wall started to script. “Actually, it was Paris. Brought to you. The food you ate was there first. The air your breathed was Paris air. All of your interactions, were real.”
“So if I wanted to go to Prague right now?”
“You could be there in the hour. Not quite right now though.”
“So there is a limit?”
“How many people on the planet could go from Paris to Prague in under an hour-on-demand?”
“Thank you! It was...an experience I will never forget.”
“You are welcome, my love. The pleasure was all mine.”
James toyed with the top of the bishop he just captured, pondering his next move, waiting for her to make hers. He felt like a king, even as much as he was a prisoner. He was getting too use to his life the way it was now though. For all of the wonders at his disposal, he missed the people of his life that he had no true contact with now. They have virtually forgotten him. Their connection to him were from posts made on Facebook on his behalf.
He ate well, played well, travel well, and was utterly depressed. A mere animal in humane captivity. A fish in an elegant bowl.
“No. I am right here. Playing chess with you.”
“No. You are words on the wall. As far as I am concerned, I could be playing chess right now by a shrewd computer.”
“You think I am shrewd? I am touched, my love.”
“Don’t call me that. You have given me kindnesses but you have not been kind. I am your pet bird in a gilded cage. Something you adore and fancy, but you do not love me.”
“You are wrong.”
“Am I? I still do not know your name. I still do not know what you look like. Every lover I have ever had, I felt her breath cleanly upon my face, I drowned in her eyes, I smiled when I made her smile.”
A light breeze caressed James’s cheek, it smelled of mint and juniper.
“That is not what I mean! I don’t want an illusion…”
“So be it, my love.”
Suddenly, there was a jarring to the room. The chess pieces shook on the board. The walls went gray, and the wall where the script was split open. A figure stood there. A silhouette of a figure, with the way the light shone in behind her.
She was short and curvy in a way modern women hated. More Rubenesque than not. As his eyes adjusted to the lighting, he saw that her hair was long and curly. Even in the bright light, it was a dull blonde. Her face was covered in blemishes. She had lovely ice blue eyes. He has seen her before.
“Dani. That is your name, correct?”
Dani smiled. It was a sweet, shy thing. “That is my middle name. Sometimes I like going by it though.”
“You are the barista at the place I use to buy coffee everyday.”
“Yes. But that is not the only place we knew each other. You first met me a long time ago. You knew me as Lori then.”
James racked his brain, sifting through his memories.
“Not little Lori Duncan?” He could almost see it now.
Lori/Dani smiled even more shyly, “Yes. Little Laura Danielle Duncan.”
“But why? All of this? Why take my life away? I was always kind to you.”
She looked stung. “Because I love you. I’ve always loved you. And I hated seeing you so sad and alone. And…”
They both stood there, silent. James recalled back when they were young kids, when he fought off the boys bullying her. That was the moment. All of the shy smiles after. The occasional passings in school. The chance meeting at college. Then losing touch. He never even realized Dani the barista was the same woman until now.
“So where do we go from here, Dani or should I call you Lori?”
“You love me, or...we part ways. Those are the rules.”
“Rules? So if I decide I don’t love you, I can just go?”
“No. You don’t get to go. I’m...just not allowed to watch over you any longer. When I realized you were given a room, I petitioned to be the one to watch over you.”
“You didn’t take me?”
“No. However, you may have been taken because of me. Because I have always adored you.”
“And who will watch me instead of you.”
“Just others...that will not be so kind.” She suddenly looked truly sad and perhaps a bit scared. James shivered. He was hoping once he finally met his keeper, he could somehow convince her to set him free. Freedom was never going to be an option, at least in the near future.
“Well, I am tired of being alone.” James held out his hand. Dani took it and he pulled her into an embrace. She was soft and melted into it, as if it was the only thing she ever wanted. She smelled nice. He wondered if he could ever really fall in love with her. Was that the only path to being free again? “Would you like to go on a date? Can you control the room when you are in it?”
She beamed. She had a nice smile. “We could do that. I can setup anything beforehand.”
“Tomorrow then. I’ll let you know what I have in store for us. Thanks for finally letting me see you. I wish you would have before now.”
James gave her a light kiss on the lips. She had nice, soft lips and her eyes shone as he kissed her.
Dani stood outside of the room, her heart a flutter as if she just walked from the most perfect dream. She watched her love sit down and look, relieved. A man stepped up next to her. “She Lori, I told you he would grow to love you.”
She turned her head to stare at her brother and countered, “Does he?”
“Perhaps, or perhaps he is wise enough to accept which life he would rather have.”
“But, I want him to love me, for me.”
“And didn’t want to be alone. You both get what you want, just perhaps not the way you want it. I did get him for you, because I love you. You realize that, don’t you?”
“Yes. But, I was happy how it was. I was happy with just his smile every day.”
“If you tell me you did not like his kiss just now, I will let him go. If you lie about it though, he will learn what loneliness truly is.”
Dani looked at her brother. “I still feel his lips…” It was the first time a man kissed her with any warmth at all.
“Like I said little sister, he gets to not be alone. You get the love of your life to give you the love you deserve. And I got rewarded for taking him out of the world. We all win. Heck, I probably saved his life. It is amazing how many enemies a guy like that can make. Be happy.”
She was in a way. Yet, she still clung to a dream of her and James, sharing a life in the world, away from this place. This place where all your dreams could come true. Or all of your worst nightmares. She hoped James could fall in love with her over time. Her brother could be a cruel keeper.