Scribings, Vol 5: Inversions by Jamie Alan Belanger by Jamie Alan Belanger - Read Online



Life is full of surprises. Sometimes changes upend everything we thought we knew, inverting our perceptions of the people and world around us. Part of the joy and terror of living lies in experiencing these inversions.

Scribings, Vol 5: Inversions presents eight stories from the Greater Portland Scribists, each with its own hidden twists and surprises. A former rock star who can no longer sing. Escaped convicts with much to atone for. A strange boy with an affinity for plants. Gods watch mortals make a seemingly simple choice. Tiny shoe prints lead to a birthday adventure. A hostage tries to salvage a botched bank robbery. A soldier flees war only to find it follows. And a quest for a missing corporate department that may actually be hiding.

Published: Lost Luggage Studios, LLC on
ISBN: 9781936489213
List price: $3.99
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Scribings, Vol 5 - Jamie Alan Belanger

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Cover art by Jamie Alan Belanger, using a photograph by D.L. Harvey

Interior glyph artwork by Jennifer Lynch

Cover art uses the free fonts Vera Humana 95 by BX Fonts and Benegraphic by Tepid Monkey



by Jamie Alan Belanger

Surprises surround us in every aspect of life. Prepare too much for one experience and the path inevitably shifts, revealing another, hidden path that you never anticipated. Sometimes the path inverts completely, upending any semblance of a plan and invalidating all your expectations. But what good is an experience if you know the outcome in advance? You can watch a movie dozens of times. As much as you enjoy the repeated experience, you know the first viewing had the most impact on you. Subsequent views can recapture part of that initial experience, but often you find yourself searching in the images, perhaps to find something else hidden deep inside, lurking in the background, hiding in plain sight. You peel apart the layers of the story, searching for another surprise hidden somewhere inside. All that searching is bound to pay off. The story doesn't change; you do.

Sometimes the surprise that lies in wait is a window to another world. Throughout history, people have constructed tales of hidden worlds beyond the reach of mere mortals. Stories from olden days talk of entire peoples hiding alongside us in mythical realms we are not supposed to know exist. Visitors to those lands have been witness to wonders and horrors nearly beyond description. Some say these layers of reality wrap and permeate us without our knowledge. Some say there are not just peoples but entire worlds parallel to our reality, an infinite rainbow of alternate universes. Concrete proof of just one of these places or peoples can change your entire view of our reality.

People also harbor surprises; thoughts and feelings they display on the surface, and others they bury deep inside. Hopes. Dreams. Secrets. Hidden agendas. The more you get to know a person, the more the layers peel away, revealing thoughts that surprise and delight you, or that you never expected to find, or that you hoped were not there. Part of the excitement of getting to know a person is in peeling away those layers to catch a glimpse of who they are on the inside. Everyone hides pieces of themselves from others; the reasons are as interesting as the people themselves. With any new discovery comes the potential of a radical change; a single action or piece of knowledge can shatter trust and completely invert how you see and feel about that person.

Some of these surprises challenge us, some entertain, and others push us to our limits. But all of these surprises achieve the same result: they turn our expectations around, inverting the perceptions we have of the people and the world around us. Part of the joy and terror of living lies in experiencing these surprises. The journey, as they say, is the reward.

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.

- John Lennon

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awakened, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.

- From Chuang Chi, trans. Lin Yutang

Sand Fleas

by D.L. Harvey

My driver had dropped me off at Turtle Crossing, a small, family-owned New England restaurant taking up the first floor of a stone building. Dried herbs dangled in the front windows and a sign stating All organically grown, harvested, and fed ingredients covered the window in the entrance door. I hadn't visited this town, an hour's drive from my woodland estate, before Laughing Lugh's Crew's invitation to collaborate. It was the only time during the LLC's tour when they'd be anywhere in Maine, so we'd settled on meeting here.

Unfortunately, the patrons had heard someone squeal, Eeeee! It's Polly Tate, interrupting the relative quiet when I'd entered the room. My name, poorly whispered, caused a cascade of murmurs. I'd seen one of the LLC's musicians in back, near a small bar by the kitchen entrance, waving me in while making a horrendously excited racket. I smiled as I passed the curious people; trying to communicate with my crinkling eyes my apologies for creating a scene, for interrupting their meals. My smile hid my distress at disrupting so many other people, the back of my mind reviewed how glad I was to be out of the spotlight, no longer having to worry about the possible circus this could've become in years past and the effect of smiling creating crow's feet on my brand. My brand; the packaging ala moi. I passed by, poised for any sort of interaction while the people stared. I didn't see anyone hoisting the gods' awful cell phones, but I could hear the volume of whispers growing in my wake. But I wasn't here about me.

LLC had asked me to be here to discuss reviving my career by working with them. They were getting involved at the grassroots level of some save-the-world-type cause, the Environmental Sanctuary Initiative. While long-distance communication would have kept my debilitating ailments a secret, they needed to know that my refusal wasn't about them or their desire to save Maine's coastal ecosystems. Their rising status was warranted and could weather the success or failure of engaging in such an ambitious movement. And I just wanted to meet some fellow musicians I admired and talk shop for a while. I'd expected to walk away feeling good, having made a connection with some potential friends.

I dropped my thick and ragged looking hoodie on the back of the chair immediately. I kept the knit scarf on my head, restraining my large mass of curls I hadn't attempted to manage today. Looking at the casually dressed band, I knew the baggy shirt hanging half on and half off of my shoulders had been the right choice. Unlike the era during my career, the me-being-me look was an asset for comfortable informal meetings without lawyers, agents, and underwriters.

Thank you for meeting us, a young man in his 20s stood, leaning forward to shake my hand. His chin-length hair was almost as curly as mine, except his was like frosted, summer sunshine while mine was like the darkest, winter night. His eyes smiled with his lips, when he caught me looking at his hair. I'm Wick Hope. Yes, it's my real name.

I smiled, shaking his hand forgetting to volunteer that I knew who they all were.

This is Teddy James, he said as he motioned to the highly energetic male trying desperately to live in the height of fashion. He bent over the table to reach me and shake my hand.

Eeeee, Polly Tate! Teddy said again but quiet enough that only our table seemed to hear. He was bouncing in his seat and speaking rather quickly, I am so excited to meet you. I have been a fan since I was a kid, since you were a kid. I swear I know everything about you. You influenced my musical choices heavily throughout my entire life. From my research, I knew he was a gifted 24 year old drummer.

Oh My Gods, if I didn't know any better, I'd swear you were going to blow right here, remarked a rather dark pixie of a young woman to his left. Her hair was as short as Wick's but an array of pastel colors of straight tresses lay like a shimmery glaze over flat, black hair.

And Fynn MacCoil, Wick gestured at the bassist. She did not stand or extend a hand. Her large almond, grey eyes stared at me challengingly and gave me a quick nod. With the dark make-up and spiked collar with the similarly designed bracers, I thought she might not be a perky, cheerleader type.

I clasped Wick's hand and said, Hello. I clipped the word short to hide how breathless I'd become. My chest had tightened, typical of when I would meet anyone new, but there was a new fire in my stomach I hadn't felt before. The tightness didn't relent as I greeted each of the band members before I slid into a seat. I realized I needed to hide my hands, with my fingers curling in on themselves. A tension, the kind of which I had become increasingly familiar with, briefly flowed through my body. A pleasure to meet with you, I finally said.

Getting steamy in here, Teddy muttered, attempting to elbow Fynn, who was too far away.

I hid my face in the menu.

Fynn's response was interrupted by the waiter.

I chose the first thing my eyes recognized, Steak tips with mushrooms. Then, I added, A couple of glasses of water. He left quickly. I assumed he'd already taken everyone else's orders. Thank you for the invitation, but, I began.

Wick cut me off, "We know you haven't had a release, much less collaborated with anyone, in quite a while but we were hoping to talk you into a brief break in your retirement. It's for a fund raiser, something you have been involved with in the past.

But we'd also like to... He opened his hands, I mean, you could... He swallowed. Your albums and compositions are still some of the most innovative, inventive, and intense creations in the industry to date. And we want to be a part of that. He didn't sound rehearsed. He looked sincere.

I resisted showing the pleasure I felt at his nervousness. It was nice to be around a performer who was discombobulated at the intensity of his own sincerity. Then, I realized what he was saying. I resisted rolling my eyes at his implication that I was more than I was. I wanted friends and colleagues, not fawners. Oh, thank you. You're very kind. But really, I'm just well educated. And I was blessed with ample opportunity to experiment.

Out of the corner of my eye, the cranky bassist rolled her eyes, disbelieving something of my statement.

Teddy would not be contained, You've won awards for not just your songs but those performed across genres. Even movie scores. You're amazing! He declared as if a few awards were evidence of some fact left implied. Then, he proceeded to list each of the award winning pieces and commented about the competitions over the years and why I'd won. He didn't ever say it was luck, timing, or favoritism; Fynn implied that. Teddy was interrupted only by periodic snorts, questions, and one-liner judgments from the gothic pixie. He ceased upon the arrival of our meal.

I smiled and laughed along with Wick during most of Teddy and Fynn's vocal and percussive repartee. They made my steak and mushroom meal palatable.

The People's Choice Award for the musical score to Sweets in—

By the Gods, seriously? Fynn interjected instead of just rolling her eyes, making gagging noises, or coughing.

Fynn, I know your stance, but this is me-time, Teddy said.

It was a kids' movie, Fynn replied. When Teddy shifted uncomfortably, she added, About a cupcake.

I think I heard a diner behind me snort and start coughing. Even he knew how bad that movie had been.

It was a metaphor about how some people are so sweet and—

Fynn let her head drop to the table, Ow. Luckily, the food arrived after she'd groaned into the wooden surface. The person behind me and I thought it was funny. I believed I hadn't deserved that award, either. Usually, her comments were insightful and critical, more than just generalized, industry-oriented sycophant bashing. None of her comments were directed at Teddy personally and they revealed that she too was a fan who knew almost every piece inside and out, she just didn't do gushing. There was an odd moment of awkward silence when Fynn quietly stated, Your piece, 'Mend the Heart,' was magical, literally. There was a speculation in her voice and a discomfort in the following silence that confused me. I figured they were upset, disproportionate to the circumstance really, with her misuse of the word literally.

I didn't know how to respond. I hadn't been coached for an interview. I didn't have a script prepared, so I stared at the candle. I could've sworn the flame on the candle in the middle of the table turned blue for a moment. I looked to Wick, whose eyes reflected the firelight's exact shade. He was staring at the young bass player. When I looked at her, she managed a rhythmic tap on the table before turning away from him and defiantly addressing me. She recited the three lines that had always given me problems:

"The magic of hope is faith in us,

Faith is a tryst that must

Wallow in pain-endured trust."

While my smile may have been rooted in polite gratitude for her dedicated recitation, I really wasn't prepared for a deconstruction of two decades of work. My body decided it was time to redirect my attention from the topic. Near the end of Teddy's review of my career, my jaw muscles seized into a fixed position forcing my teeth to grind together. I looked like I was grinning, and I had been—mostly. With a few drawn out inhales and exhales, my jaw loosened but wasn't hugely mobile. I had managed to hold that flattered, surprised smile the whole time. Resting my chin on my hand, I discreetly massaged my jaw. But it was time to talk, and I had no idea what to say. I am not that writer anymore. I haven't played a single instrument in months, or been able to write anything in over a year.

They each had an interesting reaction to my non-response to Fynn's rather stimulating comment. Wick leaned back crossing his arms. Teddy looked confused. Fynn leaned forward resting her chin on her laced fingers and paused to study me. I tried to look sorry, but kept a smile on in hopes of placating any disappointment.

I saw you at the Children's Hospital fundraiser out in Denver, a few months ago, Fynn contradicted me. She accused, You sang an aria.

It was a fund raiser for neurological research in Denver, Colorado. I smiled, giving her a half nod. I'd originally planned to sing something more expansive and longer, a bit of a real performance to show off my classical training. But during rehearsal, my notes trembled, my throat had faltered under the strain from the forced flexibility and usage. Still, I said, resisting dwelling on what had actually gone wrong that night, that's not my own composition. It had been Giordano's 'Amor ti Vieta,' from Fedora. I couldn't resist adding in spite of my shame for such a faulty performance. I could barely sustain the notes. A song that lasted just over two minutes rendered speech afterward almost impossible. I took another bite of my meal, savoring the juices, to stall any more words coming out of my mouth.

I met Wick's gorgeous, blue eyes again. This time was my first disorienting experience with my eyes; Wick appeared to be encased in mist. He, who had chuckled and shared side-long amused glances with me during Teddy and Fynn's antics, was smiling in my direction. The lead guitarist-slash-composer-slash-lyricist's eyes softened as the smile fell away and he became serious. He spoke with a voice that should have been lead vocals and yet rarely was, We're not going to be able to convince you, are we?

I swallowed. I listened to your last two albums. You've got quite an extraordinary originality and style all your own. I carefully placed my fork down on my plate, parallel to the knife and pushed the almost-finished meal away. I took this meeting to insist just how much you don't need me. Regardless of my accolades, I was only a pop performer. You've introduced such interesting and innovative themes into your compositions that you've been affecting the entire music industry all on your own. I seriously doubt I could add anything. The last word was drawn out just a moment longer than normal. I used a finger to flick my carefully placed fork so that it flipped into the air. It landed on the floor beside me, providing a cover for me to retreat from view.

Are you okay? Wick asked the moment I bent below the table. His eyes had widened in the middle of my speech, when I could feel the color drain from my face, turning my copper complexion to birch white. It was when my muscles took on a mind of their own and I had trouble speaking. I had stayed too long.

The pain that blossomed in my abdomen had passed with relative speed. Still, I'd hid for five long breaths, a technique I learned to get my muscles to relax. As a well-trained and versatile vocalist, I thought I'd understood everything about breathing techniques. But the focused meditations raised my skill level higher.

Are you okay down there? Teddy called.

My hand waved drunkenly in view of my dinner companions in a universal I'm fine gesture during my breathing exercises. Upon surfacing again, I used their environmental-political agenda to redirect their attention from my display, I wish I could contribute in some way to the preservation of the local saltwater marshes of Maine's coast, but outside of being a big fan, I have nothing else to say. I vaguely remember standing and effusively complimenting them in their artistic skills, their business acumen, and the nobility of participating in The Environmental Sanctuary Initiative. And I glided out. Only steady, smooth movement reduced the chance of the abdominal spasm's return.

* * *

Muscle twitches had soured my notes long before they destroyed my career but now they arrive with unpredictability and increasing frequency. Walking usually helped ease the pain. I had been looking forward to strolling the empty beach in the early autumn dusk. I desperately wanted to visit the stretch of sandy coast I'd grown up on, since getting the invitation to Turtle Crossing. The salt air drove home that desire to return to the area where I'd sung as a girl. I hadn't returned since I'd been found.

I started my walk from the fountain and statuary that separated the amusement park from the carnival games. I left my car and driver in the shadowy alley between the games and the restaurant on the corner. All