The view of the Salt Lake valley from the attic window did little to lessen Juniper's Friday morning boredom with a life turned traditional. Somehow she had managed to take the burning curiosity of childhood and convert it into a massive adult frenzy of political correctness. One more load of politically correct laundry would probably make her puke. 'This is dumb,' she thought, 'I've got to get my act together. If I don't get moving I'll be late for work.' She had gone up to the attic to dig out some winter coats, but had been side tracked by childhood memories neatly tucked away in an old shoe box. Scooping the artifacts back into the box her eye caught the reflection of something very bright. "Must be a broken piece of glass," she mused. Using an old comb from the box, she dug through the remembrances of her adolescence. To her surprise and delight the broken piece of glass turned out to be a tiny purple crystal.
It had gotten a little chewed up over the years, but it's facets still reflected the ancient mystery of amethyst energy. Without thinking she retrieved the crystal from it's ancient burial ground, put it in her coat pocket and raced out of the house to her car. Juniper had worked for the same company in Chicago, since earning her MBA at the University of Utah. A year ago she had been offered a great promotion if she would be willing to transfer to Salt Lake City. She jumped at the opportunity not only because of the promotion but also because it gave her the opportunity to live a little closer to her family in Price, Utah.
Juniper normally enjoyed the challenge and responsibility of maintaining the computer codes that facilitated transferring large sums of money in international accounts. For all intents and purposes she was on-call 7 days a week, making it necessary to keep a log of access codes with her at all times. Lately though, she had been having vague feelings of restlessness. Even the 40 minute drive to work she used to find so relaxing was fast becoming irritating and the recent bad weather wasn't helping. To her dismay the traffic on the interstate was moving at a snail's pace. Last's night's heavy snow storm had left many motorists stranded and the plows were just now clearing the roads. In her usual style of "daring do" she maneuvered her car onto an exit ramp and opted to attempt the 5 mile drive to work by winding her way through the city streets. She wasn't concerned about the snow because her car had 4 wheel drive. However, she wasn't entirely sure of her directions. At first it seemed a simple task of just keeping the interstate in sight and then following along by way of the city streets.
Juniper had a talent for underestimating the complexity of any situation and within minutes was hopelessly lost down the winding side streets of a city blanketed in snow. She wanted to stop for directions, but she seemed to be in the only area of the planet that didn't have a convenience store on every street corner. In fact, there weren't any stores at all. Juniper was riding through the old industrial area which was primarily old abandoned ware-houses and factories. The city couldn't afford to demolish the buildings, so they stood as silent monuments to an age gone by. Trying not to focus on that sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, she pulled her car to the side and decided to search the glove compartment for a city map. The compartment was crammed with many interesting items, but not a map. Quick to making decisions she decided to retrace her path back to the interstate. Putting the car into gear she attempted a U turn from the curb. However her foot slipped off the clutch pedal and the car stalled. She quickly tried to restart the engine, but the car would not start.
She knew the engine was flooded but she was convinced that some solid cranking would kick it over. It wasn't long before she began to hear the slow death of her battery, which she meant to replace two years ago. With one last whimper the starter motor of her once very reliable and cute Subaru, ground to a halt.
Juniper was not one to panic, but she was feeling a little desperate. She could wait for a city plow to come or she could walk for help. Not being the patient sort she decided to leave the car. Walking over the top of snow drifts in an outfit meant for an office with central heating was probably not the smartest thing she had ever done. It wasn't long before the cold began to wear out her endurance. Just when she was about to give up and return to the car, she spotted an old cafe sign across the street. The building looked as abandoned as all the rest in this area, but there was one lonely light bulb shinning on the sign. With renewed hope she crossed the street and felt absolute relief when she was able to open the door to the cafe. Apparently she was the first customer of the morning because the cafe was quite empty. She could hear the sizzle of bacon coming from the kitchen and the smell reminded her that she had not had any breakfast; bacon and eggs sounded like a great idea. It wasn't long before the owner poked his head out and she thought he had said, "Your breakfast will be right out, just make yourself comfortable." Thinking that she had misunderstood, since she had not yet ordered, she sat at the counter waiting for his return. 'He looks quite old, Juniper thought, maybe in his late 60's.'
Within a few minutes the owner re-appeared. Wiping his hands on a crisp white apron he said, "The toast is just about done."
A little confused, Juniper said, "But I haven't ordered yet."
With a mischievous twinkle in his eye, the old man said, "Didn't you want bacon and eggs with a toasted English Muffin and coffee?"
"Exactly, but how could you know that?"
Not responding to her question he simply turned towards the kitchen and said, "I'm glad I didn't get it wrong."
Thinking that the old man may be a little senile she dropped the conversation. Within seconds he returned with the promised breakfast.
Juniper wanted to call a tow service, but she could not see a public phone and the smell of bacon and eggs was nearly irresistable. Eating had become the priority. The old man just stood at the counter while she ate and made small talk. When she was finished she pushed her plate back and said, "I need to use your phone if I may. My car is stuck and I need to call a tow service."
Reaching under the counter the old man produced an ancient dial phone and placed it on the counter. "I'm not sure if it works," he said, "haven't used it in nearly 30 years."
Totally incredulous at his statement, Juniper began to laugh and said, "but how can you run a business without a phone?"
With a very strange look in his eyes he answered," I guess it would be a problem if this were a business, but since I'm only going to serve one breakfast it really doesn't matter."
Juniper was now totally confused. The conversation just didn't make any sense and she was beginning to wonder if she just wasn't understanding what he was saying. Also she was becoming a little tense. Sensing her anxiety the old man leaned towards her and said very softly, "Don't be afraid Juniper, this happens sometimes, but it won't last very long."
Now she was really frightened. Somehow he knew her name and seemed to know a lot more besides. She slid off the counter stool and was ready to bolt through the cafe door. But the door she had come through now seemed to have become part of the wall. There wasn't any door. Juniper was stuck, really stuck. No longer concerned about political correctness, she just started talking out loud to herself.
" This is crazy. I've got to be dreaming. Yea, sure, this is a dream. What's it called 'Lucy dreaming' or something like that. I'm still home asleep dreaming about following Alice down the rabbit hole." She turned and looked at the old man with a little more composure and said, "Sure, this is all a dream. And your just some person I created."
The old man just looked at her. He knew that no matter what he said she would not be convinced that this was not just a dream. At least not what she thought of as a dream.
Since there was little else she could do, Juniper walked back to the counter and sat down. "I guess I might as well enjoy it," she said. "So tell me how do I get out of this dream?" Her heart was still racing, but she could feel her self control making a gradual comeback.
Looking at her across the counter the old man said," This only seems like a dream because you don't think it's real. It's as real as any of your beliefs."
" Oh, yea, right, I'm suppose to believe that somehow a person I've never met knows that I'm going to be in a part of town that I wound up in by accident and has breakfast all ready for me. Not to mention the slight problem with disappearing doors. I think we have a credibility problem here."
With a long sigh the old man said, "You don't understand. When you put that crystal in your pocket you started writing a new script. Most of the time it's a fairly simple process, that is, if you just continue your normal thinking new events are created to match the script. But this time the events were somehow thrown out of normal script sequencing. When your old illusions cross with your with your present reality you get a feeling of 'deja vu'. This time you allowed the experience to go beyond just a feeling. And that's the message."
Since it was just a dream Juniper had no problem in playing along. She knew any minute her alarm clock would go off and she would wake up in her own bed. Looking into the old man's eyes, Juniper said, "OK so you know about the crystal." Smiling, the old man picked up her empty dishes and carried them back to the kitchen. The only sound Juniper could hear was the squeaking of the old kitchen door.
Muttering to herself again she said, "of course he knows about the crystal, it's part of the dream.'" She reached into her coat pocket for the crystal and set it on the counter. Staring at it's radiant sparkle brought back fleeting memories of her 13th birthday. She remembered receiving the crystal in the mail that morning. There wasn't any card, just a note with some really weird marks but nothing you could read. Her mother thought that it was just some joke being played on her by classmates. She had carried that crystal with her all through her high school years. When she left home for college somehow the crystal got lost in the shuffle. She couldn't remember how it wound up in that old shoe box in the attic. Juniper's reflections were interrupted by the sound of the kitchen door. Expecting to see the old man, she looked up from the crystal and was somewhat startled by the appearance of a grubby looking man about her own age. The name tag on his dirty apron identified him as "Chip".
With a slight gasp she said," Where's the old man?"
"Who the hell are you talking about?" Chip answered rudely.
Now Juniper was not only confused, but irritated and insulted by this young man's crudeness. She said, rather abruptly, "The old man that just served my breakfast!"
" Look lady, I don't know anything about any old man. All I know is you owe me for the breakfast you just ate." And with a disgusted expression on his face he shoved the bill at her.
This was getting ridiculous, even for a dream.
Juniper reached for her purse and noticed that the front door had returned to the cafe. In fact everything appeared quite normal. With increasing irritation, she opened her purse and gave him a ten dollar bill. Chip reached for the money and gave her change from the till. Sarcastically she quipped, "Well, I don't suppose you would have a phone book?"
Without a word he reached under the table and placed a nearly new phone book on the counter. "Help yourself". The phone had now changed into a modern touch tone. Startled by yet another change, she asked, "but what happened to the old phone?"
" Lady there is no other phone. You asked for a phone and I put it in front of you. You wanted a phone book and you got that. I don't have time for this shit." Chip turned away from Juniper and disappeared back into the kitchen. Now Juniper was totally stunned. Everything seemed so normal that it was maddening. She began to question her own sanity. With slow deliberate movements she thumbed through the yellow pages and dialed the first tow service listed. Fortunately, it was also a mechanic shop. She told him her car was stuck about 5 blocks from the cafe. The mechanic, Don Gilleto, seemed to know the area and told her he would pick her up first and then retrieve the car.
Don arrived at the cafe about a half-hour later.
Juniper had spent the time in total silence and did not attempt any further conversation with anyone. When she saw his tow truck she literally ran out the door and quickly climbed into the cab. After hasty introductions Don attempted to make small talk and asked," How did you manage to get yourself stuck down here?" However, Juniper was in no mood for polite conversation. Her answer was a glib, "I don't have a clue."
Undaunted by her abruptness Don continued driving carefully through the snow. He stopped by the Subaru and lifted the hood. "You really should have locked your door in this neighborhood " he mumbled as he pulled his jumper cables out of the back. He tried to start the car without success. Climbing back into the truck he said, "I'll have to tow it, your battery is not quite dead; the reason your car won't start may be due to a faulty connection between the battery and the starter motor."
'That's not the only connection that's not working this morning,' she thought. Stealing a quick glance at his bearded face and long hair she guessed that being politically correct was not high on his list of priorities.
The rest of the ride was spent in near silence. By the time they arrived at the garage, Juniper was nearly exhausted from obsessing on her mental state. She wandered around Don's garage while he did whatever mechanics do to make cars better. The garage seemed to be unusually clean and instead of the usual smell of grease and oil, there was a faint, but lingering smell of herbs. She couldn't identify the odor, but it was definitely an herb of some sort. She wondered if maybe Don had been smoking pot in the garage.
"I have your battery in stock, " said Don.
"but that's not the only problem. There's a small part that connects the battery to the rest of the car, kind of like a switch, and it's burned out. The good news is that it's only a ten dollar part, but it may take awhile to get it here. I called the parts store and they tell me that all deliveries are delayed because of the storm. They think they can get it here in about an hour and a half. We could drive across town and pick it up, but in this storm it would take us about that much time to get there and back."
The information from Don did little to sweeten Juniper's disposition. With annoyed resignation Juniper asked to use Don's phone to call her office. To her dismay, the only answer was from the voice recording on the answering machine. Looking out the window of the garage Juniper was greeted with the renewed vigor of last night's storm. In the short time she was in Don's garage the snow had piled up another three inches and now the wind was creating a huge drift across the entire front of the building.
She knew that it was now pointless in trying to get to work. Even if she did, she would likely be the only one there. And if anyone needed this week's computer access codes they could call her at home. Coiling into a comfortable lounge chair, she began to reflect on the mornings events.
Don was busily working on other cars. Every so often he would steal a glance at the pretty young woman sitting in the chair next to his work bench. 'Pretty, but prickly,' he thought. He tried to distract himself from her presence by tearing into the work waiting on the bench. However, his thoughts seemed to take on a life of their own. He guessed that she was single, because married women usually called their husbands when there was car trouble and she wasn't wearing a wedding ring.
Don had been divorced for almost two years and his life seemed to be going nowhere fast. However, this past summer a very strange couple walked into his garage and his life hadn't been quite the same since. They introduced themselves as Molly and Gaf Rockwood and asked him for permission to park their trailer for a few days in the empty lot next to his garage. They also asked if they could put up a small sign which advertised , "Tarot and Rune Readings". Don used some of the space to park cars waiting to be repaired, but most of it was just overgrown with weeds.
He didn't see any reason to refuse and agreed to the request.
Don's parents were killed in a plane crash when he was five years old. Molly and Gaf were about the same age his parents would have been had they survived. After his parent's death Don lived with his grandparent's until he went into the service. The words on the sign brought back fleeting images of his grandmother slowly turning over mysterious looking cards in a candle lit parlor. Don took pride in his practical, logical way of life and had never thought much of his grandmother's odd" hobbies". However, this logical, practical way of living gave him little satisfaction. Since his divorce, Don had been living a monastic lifestyle in the small apartment above the garage. His cousin Angelo, also a mechanic, loaned him the money to open his shop. Lately Don was a little concerned about Angelo's statement regarding roving gangs moving through south eastern Utah where his cousin lived with his family .
Don's occasional glance at Juniper did not go unnoticed. Juniper was beginning to have some regret about her abruptness with Don. With a sly grin she said, "Strange smell for a garage isn't it?"
"Oh yeah" he said, "I guess it is a little strange. It's sage, I burn some every morning before I open for business. It's a little tough to explain, but it started last summer. Some gypsy friends of mine kind of talked me into it."
" Why did they want you to burn sage?"
With a sheepish grin Don said, "Damned if I know. It seemed kind of crazy to me at first, but it does smell nice and I guess that's why I still burn it. Maybe they thought it would help attract pretty young women into my garage."
'Wrong,' she thought, 'more like crazy whacked-out young women.' Being a little cautious about revealing her brief encounter with schizophrenia she quipped, "Not much luck, huh?"
Before Don could answer the lights in the garage flickered and died. With a slight hesitation Don said, "...Uh, It's probably the circuit breakers, wait here and I'll be right back."
Within a few minutes Don returned explaining that the problem wasn't with the circuit breakers the power was probably off because of the storm. "In about 30 minutes its going to get real cold in here. It's a gas furnace, but it needs electricity to fire the burners, there's no pilot light. We'll have to go upstairs to my apartment so I can light the stove to heat the kitchen."
Juniper was not sure she wanted to "go upstairs" with a stranger. He seemed nice enough, but so did Ted Bundy. 'And dad always told me to be careful around strangers' , she thought. 'But if the old man were here, he'd tell me it was dumb to freeze your ass off because of lessons you learned as a kid.' "Lead the way," she exclaimed.
The stairway to Don's apartment was very dim.
Although there was a window at the top of the staircase, the dark clouds from the storm made it gloomy. Juniper followed cautiously, but was determined not to be afraid. They worked their way up a winding stair case and finally tripped into the apartment. Juniper stood motionless while Don lit the old wood stove and some candles for extra warmth. The shadows cast by the stove and candles would have been delightful in her own home, but now they seem ominous. Don placed two chairs in front of the stove and invited Juniper to make herself at home.
Trying to make small talk, Juniper asked Don about his gypsy friends. "I met them this past summer, a really nice old couple. They do card readings, you know 'Tarot' and stuff like that. But mostly they seemed interested in what I was doing or thinking. They had a lot of stories to tell about their travels. Molly was really sweet, but sometimes she had a look in her eyes that said, 'dragon fire'. The old man, Gaf, seemed a little distracted at times, I guess I would describe him as a dreamer. Molly said he was prone to confusion, especially around cities. They were very entertaining though, I was sorry to see them leave. We've been keeping in touch with letters. Their last letter was from Nevada."
With a mildly disgruntled sigh she said," Seems to be an epidemic of confusion among the aging population lately. Not to mention a little confusion of my own. I guess you might call it a 'bad hair day'."
The sudden ring of the telephone startled both of them. "The storms bringing in business, as it usually does. Make yourself comfortable while I answer it."
" Don?" a shaky female voice inquired.
"This is Molly."
Surprised to hear from her he said "How're you guys doing?"
"Not too good right now. Gaf is missing and I could use some help."
Somewhat shocked by the news Don said, "What do you mean missing? Have you called the police? How long has he been gone?"
"He's been gone for four days. The sheriff and his men have been out here, but they haven't found a trace. The sheriff keeps asking me if we had a fight. I'm not sure he beleived me when I told him no."
"Where are you now?"
"I'm parked behind the cafe in Rachel. That's were I'm calling from."
In what he hoped was a calming voice, Don said," Stay right there, I'll see you in less than 12 hours."
Relieved and grateful over his willingness to come so promptly she said, "OK, I'll try to be patient. And please drive carefully. Gaf has been dreaming again, he said something about a storm, or a stormy young woman."
She paused for a moment, then said "I really appreciate this, Don."
"No problem," he answered.
With a perplexed look on his face Don hung up the phone and returned to the kitchen. He explained the entire phone call to Juniper with the exception of Molly's cryptic remark regarding stormy women. "I can drive you home and have a friend of mine return your car to you later this afternoon, assuming the storm cooperates. He's worked for me before and does really great work. It will only take me a few minutes to pack and I can have you home in less than an hour."
Juniper could do nothing but agree and resigned herself to the fact that the day was a complete loss. Don called his friend and made arrangements for Juniper's car and taking over the garage while Don was gone. The ride home was slow and conversation was almost non-existent. Seeing the turn coming up to her street, Juniper fished out a set of house keys from her purse. It's not too hard to understand how the next event occurred. The trials of the day had left her exhausted and not totally aware of what she was doing. In attempting to get out of Don's truck she absent-mindedly set her purse back on the seat, opened the door and slid to the snow covered ground. Don was halfway down the street by the time she realized what she had done.
Panic stricken about the loss of her purse and the company computer codes, Juniper ran to her house and fumbled the key into the lock.
Grabbing the phone in the hall and the yellow pages she looked for Don's phone number hoping that he might return to his shop before leaving. The ride back would take him about 20 minutes at most. Waiting to make a call under these circumstances is nerve wracking at best. What Juniper wanted to do was scream, which she did, but it didn't help the wait. In an attempt to distract herself she decided to call Sandy, a good friend with a heart of gold.
After hearing Juniper's dilemma, Sandy's only response was "Me and Hank will be right over! Hang in there."
Sandy loved country western music, Coors Beer, and her live-in boyfriend, Hank. She was immersed in all three at her waitress job for a local cowboy bar where Hank worked as a "bouncer". Although they had come from very different backgrounds, Juniper and Sandy had remained friends since high school. After Juniper left for college, Sandy escaped the small town to the big city. Her pursuit as a country singer/song writer had been consistently sidetracked by cute cowboys with tight butts until Hank entered her life. The bar was closed for remodeling this week and the couple had been discussing what they might do with the extra time off when Juniper called.
After talking to Sandy, Juniper attempted to phone Don. Apparently, Don had not returned to his shop. The phone was answered by his friend who informed Juniper that the parts store had called. Apparently the part she needed for her car was listed on their computer inventory by mistake. They would have to order it from Denver which meant a delay in delivery until Tuesday. Juniper was now positive that her purse, along with her sanity was on it's way to the outer limits. What would go wrong next? She began to wish she had stayed in bed this morning. The sound of Sandy's blue bomber broke into her reverie, 'She really needs to do something about the muffler on that old Pontiac,' Juniper thought .
Barging through the front door Sandy said," Hurry up kid, times a wastin'. He can't be far ahead. Oh yea, and grab your credit card, we're out of gas". Juniper looked up at the ceiling and exclaimed, "My credit card is in my purse, Sherlock!"
"OK, plan "B" we'll stop by the club and borrow it from the boss".
Sandy ushered Juniper into the back seat and they were off in a cloud of blue exhaust. Sandy loved the thrill of spontaneous activity, actually she thrived on it. Juniper, however, was fast becoming hysterical, she thrived on schedules and organization. Easygoing, mild mannered Hank thrived on being with Sandy. He noticed Sandy right away when she strutted into the smoke filled bar like a breath of fresh air two years ago. Because they often worked on the same shift, Sandy and Hank became friends. He desparetly wanted to ask her for a date, but couldn't muster the courage. Most of the women he met saw him as big, dumb and ugly. He was usually shy around women and was often the butt of cruel jokes around the bar. It was on one of these occasions of 'Hank bashing' by a loud and obnoxious customer that Sandy became a permanent part of Hank's life and love. The customer was proclaiming Hank the winner of the World Cup for 'Dumb and Ugly'. Sandy was doing a slow burn over the situation. However, she knew that Hank would only respond if the customer became abusive to another customer or to one of the other employee's. It was his job to take that kind of abuse without losing his temper. Unfortunately for the customer it wasn't Sandy's job. After numerous attempts to quieting the customer had failed, Sandy solved the problem by dumping a pitcher of beer over his head. To everyone's amazement she then announced that if anyone else wanted to make jokes about her 'boyfriend' they would answer to her. She then walked over to Hank, who was now completely stunned, grabbed him by the collar and said, "got any problems with this?"
Stammering, Hank's only response was, "Uh, no Sandy. Am I really your boyfriend?"
Giving him a kiss she said, "That's right. And I better not catch you even looking at another woman."
Hank drove expertly through the slushy streets and pulled up in front of the Frozen Dog Saloon. Sandy found her boss in the back room building new shelves to hold the beer cases. Sandy explained Juniper's problem and told him told him that she and Hank would be back from Rachel by Sunday. With very slight arm twisting Sandy convinced him into making the loan. Handing her two $100 bills from his wallet he grumbled something about it being the last he would see of it. She gave him a big kiss on his balding head and ran back to the car. Despite his gruff attitude and appearance Chuck was a sweetheart, she knew she could always count on him. Jumping into the car she exclaimed "We're set! Off to Rachel. " Startled by Sandy's bombastic entry Juniper stuttered, "Do you guys know where that is?" " Yup - Aliens and tigers and bears, oh my!" Sandy giggled. "Make a left at Wendover, Hank." Sandy's explanation of the supposed goings on in that area did little to ease Juniper's hysteria. Leaning back on the seat and closing her eyes she thought, 'This isn't a dream anymore, this is a nightmare; just what I needed, little green men, space ships and nut cases.' With a sigh Juniper slipped into that dazed state that so often accompanies emotional overload.