Mary Raimes Curtis
The young woman tried to stand her ground, although her eyes closed as tremors shook her and sweat beaded her forehead. As each day passed it became more difficult to retreat into the world she longed for. “I’m a musician and my name is….” A harsh wind barreled into her, snatching the unfinished declaration away, and she almost toppled over at its ferocity. Anger at her weakness turned to concentration and she spread her feet to firm her stance, lifted her flute and began to play. Reality retreated as Morning from the Pier Gynt Suite drifted soft sweetly across the grassy plateau and floated down to where a white ship sailed far below on a cruise from Bergen to Oslo. Overhead the sky was touched with streaks of amethyst and gold as the sun rose above the mountain top.
Suddenly pain clawed at her belly until she dropped to her knees and rolled into a tight ball. Like mist, the fjord, music, flute and the beautiful day vanished. Melting drifts of snow, in the roadside ditch where she had fallen, soaked through jeans and her lightweight hooded jacket. Around her madness reigned. Multi-colored apparitions boogied in the air as wind-driven snow bubbled and fizzed before exploding into black confetti. The fever she had ignored for days spiked again, coating her skin with sweat that turned to ice as the wind blasted through her clothing.
Stupid! So stupid! Perhaps it wasn't Fraeling’s man watching as she played show tunes on the battered guitar outside the night club in downtown Winnipeg. Knowing she dared not take the chance, she once more did a runner only to end here on a Canadian back road to nowhere.
She reached out to pull her knapsack closer. Perhaps there was some chocolate left that would help boost her downward spiraling blood sugars. Her fingers clutched nothing as tremors racked her body and pain made her clumsy. She turned her head. The knapsack lay near her guitar case, too far to reach. Where had her strength gone? What a useless carcass she thought, not even fit for the knackers yard. Did they have knackers yards anymore? Perhaps not. She didn’t want to think of how animals were slaughtered, or where. She’d been a vegetarian before Fraeling, before…CLANG! Her mind skittered in circles like a mad gerbil. She should know better. The time before Fraeling was a no-go area.
Long ago Erin came to the conclusion that life was a bitch and only the wicked ruled. She was done with such pathetic crap. Too many times she’d wished for oblivion as her music deserted her. She’d lost the ability to compose not long after Oscar Fraeling was hired as her tour manager and began to twist her soul and shatter her creativity. Yet here she was, dying in a roadside ditch as a melody danced just out of reach. Laughter sputtered up and spun away into the night. Perhaps her creative block had became unglued as she wallowed here in icy mud. If only she could grasp the notes, she could compose her own funeral dirge. She nixed that idea. Dirges were too depressing.
Where do you go when you can’t go home? What home? It’s merely a word without substance? Useless, her brain was a quivering bog. As the eviscerating pain dulled, Erin blinked away snowflakes melting on her lashes to realize the grey light of day had quickly warped into moonless night. She had no idea where she was. There had been no signpost as she headed down the dirt road. It wandered through forest and drowned land, somewhere in Ontario she thought but couldn’t be sure. She only knew she was still in Canada, the last leg of a punishing concert tour.
During the long trek from Vancouver’s concert hall to this frozen gully, the mountains, roads, towns, truck stops, highways, cities all began to merge into a faded map never meant to determine destination. She was in no-man’s land and the thought that she might never see the light of day again was suddenly unacceptable. “You’re not a quitter, sweetheart.” The voice of her…CLANG! As the sound reverberated in her head, Erin began the monumental struggle to sit up.
Peering into the fast-falling rain, she could see nothing. The night was a black hole and she was alone in a bleak and vast landscape, far from comfort and a safe place to rest. Erin laid her throbbing head on wet knees. She was too drained, too cold, too bereft of any motivation to begin the monumental effort to stand. Once again a melody drifted like a pathway upon the darkness. It was faint, seeming to filter along endless corridors. If only she could run, track the notes along those meandering passages. She would have laughed if it didn’t take too much energy.
If only—the most ridiculous words in any language. If only she had planned her escape better. If only she had grabbed her down-filled jacket before escaping out the tiny washroom window at the concert hall all those months ago. If only she had been able to access her bank account. And what if she had made that phone call to Brian Doherty, asked for his help? She knew without a doubt he would have come to her assistance, even though he’d been fired from the team over a year before.
Her cold fingers touched the rough lump in the pocket of her jeans. It was all that was left of her favorite instrument. She could still see the remains of the flute—shattered plastic and twisted silver—scattered on her dressing room floor. No doubt the cleaners would have swept up the broken pieces during their early morning cleanup. It hurt to think of her beautiful instrument buried in a landfill.
The thought made her head pound ferociously. She had been unable to stop Fraeling as his anger turned violent. He had snatched the flute from her hand then slammed it again and again against the edge of the dressing table. Then he turned and his fist cracked into her cheek. As her nose began to bleed and her eye swelled shut anger and pain fractured her apathy. The destruction of something she treasured was the catalyst that finally forced her flight. The mouthpiece was all she could rescue before locking herself in the tiny washroom. Laughter erupted into the cold night air. What a farce. She had finally escaped to this…floundering in a ditch north of nowhere.
It was many hours since the elderly couple travelling from Winnipeg to Ontario stopped to offer a lift. They were headed for Fort Francis, farther north than she wanted to go. Parting when they stopped for gas at a small roadside diner and gas station, Erin headed for the washroom. An ancient map hung, tattered and faded, on the wall. It said YOU ARE HERE with an arrow pointing just south of Lake Superior. The woman, whose name was Phyllis, didn’t want to leave her there, until Erin insisted friends would be along soon to pick her up. Lies, how had she fallen into that trap? Even when she was a kid she couldn’t lie. In fact it hadn’t been necessary before…CLANG! Damn that door to memory would not allow her in. For so long her life had been lived in the moment. There was no before, there was only now and the need to survive.
She should have traveled north with the kindly couple, at least she the car had a decent heater. Suddenly she felt a rumble beneath her and the sound of an engine drew closer. She made one last effort to scramble out of the ditch to disappear into the dense forest bordering the road. Lights, kaleidoscopic, gyrated around her and spindly pine trees became monsters twisting and grasping ready to devour. She knew the hallucinations, and the gnawing pain, were more than the result of fever. They were the scum left over from her addiction to uppers, downers and whatever Fraeling thought would keep her in line and performing without complaint.
During the months since taking to the road, Erin had tried desperately to wean herself from the pernicious hold of the drugs. It was a long and painful process and she still went through periods when her body craved and crumbled and that malevolent voice tried to lure her into taking something to ease the torture. Knowing the why of her addiction did nothing to help defeat it. For so long a variety of pills and capsules had helped her through the days and nights where the world was perilous and no one cared that she was hopelessly lost until she didn’t know what was real and what was phantasm.
Once again tremors shook her and griping pain twisted her gut. Sweat popped out on her forehead, although she ached with cold. For a lucid moment she knew death wasn’t the answer, although she had often longed for oblivion. The one thing she feared most was being dragged back into the crucible of what Fraeling called ‘her team.’
Her head lifted as the lights grew brighter, the rumble louder. Rallying the last of her strength she tried to claw her way out of the ditch. It was hopeless. She could gain little purchase as snow turned to rain and the slope to a muddy morass. Finally her hands clawed, grasping a sapling above her head. She ducked her head as headlights swept over her and the sapling ripped away, causing her to tumble back into the mud.
She knew then it was over, she had no strength to try again. Lying there, she fought against the fear and darkness that threatened to overwhelm her. Dear god, don’t let it be Him! She wouldn’t, couldn’t go back. Responsibility—it had been hammered into her over and over again that she was accountable—to her team, to him, to the audiences along the tour route that paid to hear her play. She had nowhere to go. He was her life. The child she was and the woman she had once hoped to become had paid dearly until there was nothing left to give.
She knew it was useless to dwell on things she couldn’t change. Yet her befuddled brain couldn’t grasp what was important now. Unexpectedly the wind died down and the beam of light held a promise. Why that was she didn’t know. Erin blinked, and blinked again, still the featherlike stream of gold fell around her. Just another illusion, she though. Her hand reached out to capture the light, preserve it to guide her through the forest.
Then something heavy plunged down the bank. Her heart hammered as if trying to escape her chest. Maybe it was a bear foraging after hibernation. Perhaps that was her fate, to be a meal for a starving creature. Crap! A bear with a torch? For a moment the light blinded her. Then it blinked out as something large and darker than the night hovered over her and her brain did the only thing it could, it shut down.
Erin’s story is one that clamored to be told. I decided to tell it here, in A Writer’s Journey, as it evolves. I hope you continue to follow Erin’s journey as she battles to gain what she has lost. Unfortunately, some things can never be recovered, even so, Erin battles on. Candle Without A Flame will continue in the July issue of A Writer’s Journey. Please leave your name and e-mail address to follow Erin’s story. And to read about the journey other authors have embarked upon.