February 11, 2019
All during the final period of the day Melisande was restless. The snow falling outside was no help to her mood and she found herself having troubles focusing on what her teacher was saying. It wasn't that she wasn't interested in the subject. On the contrary, she enjoyed precalculus.
She just didn't enjoy what was coming after the final school bell rang. Her parents had recently decided that she needed counseling. There wasn't any reason for it. She was a good student, usually happy. She didn't act out: no smoking, drinking, and she didn't stay out late partying. Not that she didn't party at all. She had her group of friends and she enjoyed spending time with them.
There was no boyfriend for her parents to think was “all wrong for her,” or would “lead her astray.” None of the normal things that would cause a parent to worry so much that they forced her to go to a therapist.
Melisande's grandmother had died two weeks before. Mel had been close to her, loved her dearly. She'd gone to visit her two or three times a week at the assisted living facility, and they'd talked about everything together. Her grandmother was the one who had encouraged Mel to explore architecture as a future career. They'd been close, and yet Mel had not been able to cry. Not when she heard the news, not at the funeral, and not since.
Her mother was convinced she was in denial, needed to talk things through. Melisande disagreed. She knew why she hadn't cried. Her grandmother and she had talked about dying together, and Mel knew she'd see her again someday. The last few days of her grandmother's life, she'd been in extreme pain. Melisande was glad that she was no longer hurting.
All the same, she would have to go to therapy that afternoon. She would have time to get home, have a cup of hot chocolate, and go. The hot chocolate was a must. When snow fell and she had something she was dreading in front of her, hot chocolate was the only way she knew would see her through it. That was something else she'd shared with her grandmother.
The bell rang and Melisande stood. Heaving a heavy sigh, pulled her fuzzy black jacket on. It felt like she was wearing a knee-length coat of fleece, soft as a lamb. Pulling the dusty-rose colored backpack over one shoulder, she trudged towards the door.
The snow had fallen heavily enough that the square pattern on the pavement in front of her school wasn't seen, but she kicked it aside as she dragged herself towards the bus.
Dropping herself on the cold, hard seat next to her her friend, she allowed herself a smile. Betty always seemed to be excited about something, and it helped perk her up.
“What's up?” Betty asked.
“I gotta go see that person tonight.” Melisande crinkled her nose and dug through her backpack for her gloves and hat. It was cold, and she hated the cold. “I don't wanna.”
“Can you pretend you forgot?”
“Nope. Ma would know. She'd probably drag me to confession by the ear for lying.” She shrugged, then yanked the hat on her head. Chocolate strands of hair got tangled inside, so she began tugging them down. “It might not be so bad, but I just don't know what I'm gonna say.”
“Hey, those guys just sit and ask you what you're thinking…say ‘uh huh. uh huh. And how does that make you feel?’ It's not so bad."
“What? You've been?” Mel was surprised.
Betty's head bobbed quickly. “Yep. Momma thought I might have ADHD.”
“Well…I can't imagine why. You're just so quiet all the time.” Melisande's lips twitched, then both girls bust out in laughter. They kept talking until they reached Mel's stop.
As she got off the bus, she slipped on the ice, and tumbled forwards. Thankfully, there weren't many kids on the bus, so the laughter was minimal. All the same, she stood, took a mock bow to the bus, sending Betty into fits of giggles, then stomped through the snow to her house.
She glanced at the icicles that were already forming under the drainpipe and shrugged. They were pretty, she supposed, but she really was not fond of winter. Cold, too white, always went, sneezy, breezy winter was something that always sent her searching for a cozy blanket, a fire in the fireplace, lots of hot chocolate, and her dog. She didn't have time for all of that, but one thing was coming.
She pulled off one glove and shivered, then dug in her pocket for her key. Opening the door she let out a soft “ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” when the heat blasted her in her face. She slipped inside and kicked the door shut, then went straight to the kitchen.
Moments later, her hat and gloves were shoved in her backpack, the hot chocolate was brewing from the Keurig, and she was humming to herself. The second the last drip fell from the machine, Melisande grabbed her mug, took one sip, repeated another “ahhhhhhhhhhhh," then hoisted her backpack over her shoulder. She strolled to the stairs and took another sip.
Three steps up, she paused, feeling a touch of vertigo. This was new to her, so she frowned. She closed her eyes, took a few deep breaths, then opened them.
Then closed them again.
Then opened them again.
Then gasped, stumbled, dropped her mug, sending hot chocolate flying in a beautiful and wasteful arc after it. The mug didn't break, but the hot chocolate was gone, lost into the plushness of the most vibrant green grass that Mel had ever seen.
“My hot chocolate!” Mel said, her mind denying what she was seeing around her and focusing on something familiar. She picked up the mug, looked into it as if the hot chocolate would miraculously re-appear, then looked around again.
She was no longer in her home in Framingham. The house was gone, as was the snow. It wasn't cold anymore. It was beautiful and she realized she was very overdressed for the weather.
If she was there. If she hadn't fallen and was hallucinating. She began to wonder if you retained your sense of smell in a hallucination, because the smells were everywhere. Beautiful flowers the likes of which she never had seen were strewn around, highlighting a stream with clear water that danced over rocks gave off the most enticing aroma.
She was growing hot, so she put the mug into her backpack, shoving it between the architecture book and the squashed half-sandwich. Next to go into her backpack was the sweater. She loved the asymmetrical bottom and collar, but they were making her overheat. The jacket was too big to fit in the backpack, so she draped it over her arm. In just her red blouse and jeans, she was far more comfortable and was better able to breathe and look around.
There was a large rock by the stream and she decided to sit on it and try to figure out what happened, where she was. Nobody was around to hear, so she began to speak to herself.
“Well. Not at home. It's beautiful here, but I'm going to miss my appointment. Mom's gonna kill me.” This made her frown. Her parents were going to think she'd been kidnapped if she didn't get home soon. If she wasn't really at home and dreaming all of this.
“Last thing I knew, I was on the stairs heading to my room. My head spun. Did I fall and hit it? Am I in a coma or dead?”
She felt a little hint of a tear at the corner of her eye and pushed it back.
“This is beautiful. The skies, the temperature, the stream, the flowers, the lion, the trees, the…lion?”
And this is when Melisande screamed.
Daniel sat on a bench in the courtyard of the Hillel school in Miami, book in hand. He'd figured on getting a jump on his Jewish Studies reading before rehearsal, but wasn't really focused on it. He carefully put it back in his backpack, wedged between his programming textbook and his copy of “The Book Thief.” It was a little cool for South Florida, so he slipped his sweatshirt over the light blue uniform shirt he wore. Like the shirt, his sweatshirt bore the lionhead logo of his school. He fingered the embroidered emblem which was as familiar to him as his own hands.
He'd been attending this school since nursery school, and it's where he'd be spending two years more after this one. He hadn't thought too hard about what came after, but he was considering politics. The idea of being the first Jewish president was one his father dangled at him enough that he had started warming up to the goal.
He had a secondary possibility of going to Broadway, but he knew his dad wouldn't like that as much. Not as profitable. Even so, he knew his dad encouraged his love of theatre.
"Que pasa, Danny?" Ariel Gonzalez plopped down on the seat next to him. She came from the typical student at the Hillel school he attended: her mother was American and her father was from Cuba. He admired the new diamond necklace her father, a wealthy investor, had given her for her birthday, then moved his backpack between his feet, to get it out of her way.
"Just waiting for rehearsal, Ariel. How'd you do on the Hebrew test?"
"I think I passed, but not sure. Got time this weekend to help me out?" Danny shook his head and chuckled.
"Of course. After all the times I've helped, you still need to ask? How about I come over after rehearsal?"
The two laughed, and Ariel leaned against his shoulder. "I always ask. Mom insists I be proper." Her face scrunched into a comical imitation of an upper crust society woman. “Tonight's great!”
"Could be worse, Ariel. Could have a mom who left you." Danny's hurt hadn't faded in the three years after his mother left with her lover. Last he'd heard from her, she'd moved back to Mexico with him. He had no interest in seeing her again.
"Her loss!" Ariel hugged Danny, then popped out of the seat. "Gotta go. Dad wants help shopping for a gift for mom for Valentine's Day."
"Have fun." As Ariel faded from view, Danny pulled out his cell phone and texted his father. "Late tonight, Dad. Helping Ariel with Hebrew."
He didn't get a response, but that wasn't surprising. His father was good at reading the texts, but really stunk at responding. Danny tucked the phone in his back pocket after putting it on vibrate, grabbed his backpack, then walked the few steps into the auditorium, where they were already building the set for the show he was in.
Danny went to the music director who was trying to get his keyboard and music set up. “Hey, I know I'm early, but can we work on ‘No More?’ I'm having troubles with that final note."
“Sure thing. Can you plug the keyboard in for me?” The director, Mr. Katz, began rifling through the music for the song as Danny re-adjusted his backpack on his shoulder then bent over to plug it in.
As he did so, he felt a large jolt in his hand, which caused him to gasp and swear. He shoved his thumb in his mouth and sucked on it, which he knew wasn't going to help, then turned to his music director…
Who wasn't there. Nor was the auditorium, his school, or anything he recognized.
Yanking his thumb free of his mouth, he turned around in a circle, gawking at the trees that surrounded him. There were all different kinds, some with fruits, some with vines. Some pines were mixed in next to some palm trees. It was uncanny…the trees didn't belong together, but they were gorgeous when side by side.
He was no longer cool, so he shrugged off his backpack, his sweatshirt, and then folded it neatly.
He listened to the song of birds as he carefully put the sweatshirt inside and picked up the black backpack. He glanced at his watch, but it was dead.
“Shorted out,” he muttered to himself. “Stupid smart watch.”
He inhaled and caught a distant scent of flowers, though there were only a few scattered amongst the trees where he was.
“Anything can happen in the woods…” he sang to himself, then felt a quiet laughter come over him. “I guess I really do have to go ‘into the Woods.’ Playing the baker is fine, but I do not want to become him!” The laughter stopped as he realized that he was talking to himself. That didn't stop him from doing it. “Where am I?”
Danny wasn't much of an outdoorsman, but he was a reader. In the stories he read, people got lost in the woods because they didn't have a plan. So he began to plan.
He looked around for any hints of where he was. No answers came to mind. Then he pulled his smartphone from his pocket. It came on, but had no service. He checked the battery: 75 percent. That would drain fast if there wasn't service. He tried using the GPS on it, but nothing came up. “No service,” he reminded himself before turning it off completely.
Finding a tree to act as the “center," Danny began to walk in a circle around it, trying to find a way back. As he did so, he felt his head to see if there were any bumps. There were none, and he felt like he was thinking clearly. “I'm really here,” he said to himself. “Wherever here is. How did I get here?”
He began to worry. His father didn't expect him home until late…how would he react if he never showed at all? He'd already lost his mom. Would he think Danny ran away to find her? No. He knew that would never happen.
“Who will play the Baker if I don't get back?” That random thought came to his mind and he shoved it away. “Who cares? I need to get back.” His circles around the tree became bigger, and his walk became more of a jog. No doors, no exits, no signs of the school. He decided to head back to the center tree, but found that despite all his planning, he was lost.
The shade from the trees created a false darkness, so he decided to head to the little section in the distance that seemed to have more light.
As he walked the scent of flowers grew stronger. The trees thinned out a little at a time until they were just scattered around.
And that's when he heard the scream.
At the same time Danny thought “Another person!” he also thought, “Someone's in danger!” While he wasn't the bravest man, he knew he had to try to help, so he ran in the direction of the scream, towards the light and the flower-smell.
As he ran, he stepped in a little stream, and splashed across it without thinking. The forest had cleared into a big clearing. There was the stream he just crossed, a frightened girl standing behind a large rock, beautiful flowers, many which he could not remember ever seeing before, and a lion. With a little squeak which he would usually be ashamed of, he ran to join the girl behind the rock.