Chapter I—The Presence
“Like eyes, awakened minds must be open to see.”
Varineya, First Oracle of Knola
Marty could feel it again. The presence from his dream the night before. Like cat’s fur, against the back of his neck. Claiming his seat from the first day of class, the recurring dream he’d had since he was four replayed itself, while conversation swirled around him unheeded.
In his dream, he soared through a night sky over a mountain city mantled in silvery fog, softening the carpet of lights below. Wind he sensed rather than felt swept him along. He’d struggled to control where he went, the first few times. But always the wind carried him where it would. Gentle, irresistible and without explanation.
So it had been last night, drifting to an unfathomable will, seeing things he didn’t understand, with a subtle but significant difference. Woven into his dream had been a presence, and the whisper of words, in a lyrical, unfamiliar language. Half-spoken, half-sung in a haunting mezzo-soprano.
He’d awakened and switched on the light, expecting to find someone or something in the chair next to his bed. Half right. His book pack, left there the afternoon before, rested against the arm of the chair. Marty went back to sleep hoping to finish the dream.
And the dream had returned, after he drifted off. But this time, the presence hovered in the shadows, observing him as he slept. A silent watcher who knew him better than he knew himself. Marty had awakened again, to prickling skin and the glow of the red numbers of his alarm clock, reading 2:42. Sleep eluded him after that. It wasn’t fear, exactly. Restlessness? Disquiet?
“Is this seat taken?” Jerked back to the present, Marty found himself looking up into dazzling amber eyes set in a face of delicate beauty, framed by curly, raven hair. A lovely, multi-racial woman. Asian, Polynesian, or…? Marty wasn’t sure.
The woman’s eyebrows lifted, quizzically, and he remembered his manners. “No. It’s all yours.”
“Thank you.” The woman slid into the chair next to his and reestablished eye contact. “What was covered last class? I missed it.” Her matter-of-fact tone was at odds with the intense warmth of her gaze and her English, though flawless, betrayed an accent Marty couldn’t place.
“Introductory stuff,” he heard himself reply. “Reading assignments for Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill. I’m Marty Tellus.” He extended a hand.
“Lysia.” Her hand, when she took his was more caress than handshake. “Lysia Uupao.”
“Hi Lysia. It’s a pleasure.” Marty finally let go of her hand in response to her subtle withdrawal.
“The pleasure is mine.” Lysia’s full lips bloomed into a whimsical smile.
“Uupao. I’m not—”
Her melodic laughter washed over him. “You’re wondering where I’m from.”
“Uupao is a corruption of an obscure Javanese name whose origin not even my family knows. Perhaps we should leave it at that, for now?”
“Fair enough,” Marty agreed. “I—”
“Alright!” A male voice amputated conversation. “I see fresh faces around the table, so those of you who were here last time know what’s coming.”
A slender man in a goatee and mustache trimmed to perfection stood at the head of the class. His gray herringbone sport coat was unbuttoned over a dazzling white shirt, open at the collar. Behind silver wire-rimmed glasses, eyes alight with intelligence and wicked humor appraised the class with the Olympian assurance of tenure.
“I’m Harmon Kittrick and this is Ethics three-oh-one. If you’re here for something else, you’re in the wrong place, which means someone, somewhere is this very instant pining over your absence.” Nervous laughter served as cover for a man slinking from class.
“Anyone else? Kittrick asked. “No? Okay. As this course has no prerequisites, I need to get an idea of what you may already know. So. Let’s go ‘round the room and hear your stories. We’ll start here.”
Kittrick pointed to a woman in a blue chambray shirt and dark brown hair in a single thick braid. “Please give us your name, major and why you think you’re here.”
When Kittrick got to Marty, he stumbled through his own introduction still musing over Lysia’s. A foreign student, here in the United States to improve her English, she’d said. Marty’s gut feeling was her English didn’t need all that much improving.
As class progressed, Marty’s awareness of Lysia seemed to grow, and the air around her felt charged with her presence. Attraction? Well, yes, but he couldn’t shake the feeling of eerie familiarity. Who was she, where had he seen her before and why couldn’t he remember? Those eyes, especially. He’d seen them somewhere, but—? Gone, like morning fog evaporating in the sun, leaving him tingling with déjà vu.
Pay attention…focus! But however hard he tried, even his active participation in the class discussion of contemporary ethical issues had an ethereal feel to Marty. As though he was in an altered state of consciousness. And all the while, his awareness of Lysia’s every reaction, her every move continued to swell. Strange, disquieting. That word again.
“Okay.” Kittrick rose from his chair at the head of the table. “Good discussion. Your assignment for next Tuesday. First, relevant to our consideration of healthcare. Write a paper arguing in favor of Mr. Tellus’ position, i.e., healthcare is a practical rather than ethical dilemma, provided you agree.
Healthcare? What the hell did I say? Marty wondered.
“If you disagree with Mr. Tellus’ position, make Ms. Rathbun’s alternative case.” Kittrick handed a stack of papers to the first student on each side of the table. “Keep it logical and under two pages, double-spaced. I stop reading after that.
“In addition. Wade through the readings for Tuesday on the handout making its way down both sides of the table. Come prepared to argue the relevance of those readings to our world today, or the lack thereof, if that’s your take. We’ll see you all Tuesday.”
Marty stuffed his notepad into his pack and zipped it closed, still wondering what he’d said about healthcare. Next to him, Lysia rummaged through her purse. As she withdrew her hand, a bottle of nail polish careened out, headed for the floor. Without thinking, Marty reached out and caught it, setting it casually on the table next to her purse.
“Good catch!” Lysia’s eyes met his and held them. “Thank you so much.”
Marty looked down, fighting an incongruous urge to lean over and kiss her. He even measured the distance, speculating on the probable repercussions.
She smiled, as though reading his thoughts. Time taffy-pulled into what seemed like an eternity, as he got lost in her amused, knowing gaze.
Finally looking away, Marty grabbed his backpack and stood. Lysia rose with him, the scoop neck of her silky, teal-green tunic giving him a peak at her modest cleavage. He looked up to meet her eyes once more.
“I will see you Tuesday?” she speculated.
“I’ll look forward to it.” Pivoting gracefully, Lysia seemed to flow—that was the only word for it—toward the exit.
Marty followed her with his eyes, until she disappeared around the corner. The space she’d vacated seemed to cling to her presence, as though reluctant to let her go.
About the Author
Dirk’s path to authorship wasn’t quite an accident, but almost. It’s not that he didn’t write. He did. But through two previous careers, first as a Marine officer and subsequently as a corporate trainer, Dirk started way more stories than he finished.” But in the backwash of the 2008 financial meltdown, his employer filed for Chapter 11. Cordially invited to leave and not return, Dirk found himself out of work and excuses.