Hephaistos Themefic for December: At a conference three years ago, I was drawn
to a large painting hanging on the wall near our meeting room. I found it to be
intriguing, ripe with story, and just a little creepy. The young man in the
picture kept reminding me of Blair, (even though he admittedly looks more like
a younger Elvis Presley).
Please write a story inspired by the painting. The only requirement is that Blair *must* be the young man in the picture (dreams, memories, past events, and the like *are* allowed to explain the scene). Your choice whether or not to include the short hair.
Bonus points for having an exhausted Blair somewhere in the story (oh, what a surprise).
Sadly, the photograph doesn't really do the painting justice. I won't say a word about what *I* think is happening (don't want to unintentionally influence anyone!), but I will say that the setting is just as unclear when viewing the painting in person; I was sure they were on a beach with an angry stormy sea in the background, but my friend thought they were on the desert with windy night rolling in. You choose any setting that works best for you and still fits what we see in the picture. Also be sure to notice the translucent woman next to the young man -- I missed her myself when I first saw the painting and actually jumped when I finally did notice!
Essence of Time
Blair was sitting at Jim's computer trying to figure out where his partner's last report had ended up. "Jesus, Jim… you've got to stop taking your frustrations out on your keyboard. I think the 'e' is sticking again."
Jim walked in and bopped Blair on the back of the head. "I heard that, Junior."
Blair glared at Jim. "Not the hair."
"Not the hair," Jim mimicked.
"Do you want me to find your report or not?" Blair asked.
Jim rolled his eyes. "Okay, okay…you've got me. Please Chief, would you please find my report in that black hole from hell? Please, please, please."
"It's gonna cost you," Blair threatened.
"Oh yeah, what?" Jim grinned.
"Dinner, you buy and I pick the restaurant," Blair bantered.
"That's not fair," Jim whined. "If I pay I should get to pick."
"That's fine man. They're your reports."
"Blackmail Chief?" Jim raised an eyebrow. "Don't you know you could get arrested for trying to blackmail someone?"
Blair laughed. "If you arrest me, who's going to find your report for you?"
"Okay, Sandburg," Jim growled. "Find the report and I'll buy you dinner. I'll even let you pick the place. This time. I'm going to get some coffee, want some?"
"Sure. Thanks Jim. Give the master some room," Blair smirked.
Jim groaned and headed for the break room.
"Hah! They should all bow down before me. Am I good or what?" Blair heard someone coming up behind him. "Hey Jim, I told you I could do it. I'm thinking the Chop House… Copper River Salmon is in season and I hear they do a wonderful job with it. I'll even let you get a steak with no arguments because they serve organic beef and you did such a good job eating all your vegetables this week." Blair turned with a grin that slipped to a confused frown at the sight of the tall brunette next to him.
"You're not Jim," he stared at the woman in front of him. The confusion changed to recognition. "Kammie… I mean Dr. Houston?" Blair stuttered.
"You can call me Kammie," she said with a smile.
"Kammie. My God, I haven't seen you since…" Blair trailed off as he remembered the last time he had seen Dr. Houston. "It's been a long time," he finished lamely.
Kammie reached out and gently squeezed his hand. "A long time," she smiled.
"What are you doing here?" he asked. Blair suddenly jumped out of his chair grasping her hands in alarm. "Are you okay? Are you here to make out a police report?" Oh God, please no… not again.
"No Blair. Calm down. Everything is fine. I'm fine." Kammie reassured her friend. "I don't need the police. I'm meeting my date here."
"Date! Here?" Blair stuttered as he looked around the bullpen. "Who?"
"Blair," Kammie laughed, "I've reduced you to words of one syllable. I never thought I'd see the day."
"Kammie," Blair pouted. "Who are you meeting here?"
Kammie looked around the room and suddenly smiled at the approaching Brian Rafe. "Blair, have you met Brian?" she asked.
"Brian? Kammie. Brian!" Blair looked back and forth between the pair who now stood side by side. Brian grinned and put his arm around Kammie's shoulders.
"So there I was talking to her the whole time, thinking it was you…" Blair said as the door to the stairwell closed behind him. He jumped into Jim's truck and slammed the door shut. He then fastened his seatbelt, talking non-stop. "And then he laughed at me," Blair sputtered. "He stood there with his arm around Kammie and laughed at me."
"Where'd they go Chief? Let's find them and I'll beat him up for you," Jim smirked.
Blair reached out and whapped Jim on the arm. "Get real man. We can't just go track him down and beat him up," he paused for a moment. "Nope, we can't. It just wouldn't be right. I'm glad we're going home… I really don't feel like going out to eat tonight."
"Who is she?" Jim queried.
"She was the TA on my first dig at Rainier," Blair said, a tender smile blooming on his face.
"First crush?" Ellison asked softly.
"No way man," Blair laughed. "My first crush was on sweet Mary Lou…" he trailed off with a sigh. "Man oh man… What a looker. She had long blonde hair that she wore in pigtails and…"
"Wait, let me guess," Jim interrupted. "When was this, second grade?"
"Jim," Blair yelped. "You're maligning me badly. The women have always loved me. It was first grade," he chuckled. "Yeah, sweet Mary Lou… ah the memories."
"Let's try and
get back on target here, Chief." Jim rolled his eyes. "Kammie.
We were talking about Kammie."
"Well I was trying to talk about Kammie and then you go off and ask about my first crush," Blair laughed again as he ducked the expected swipe.
"Sandburg," Jim growled.
Blair faked a terrified shiver. "Oh Jim, you are sooo scary," he laughed and rolled his eyes. "Not." Blair let the hand connect this time as he chuckled.
The truck stopped at a red light and Jim turned to let loose the full force of the Ellison glare upon his partner.
Blair made a warding off gesture. "Umm, Jim… buddy… the light is green now." Don't laugh… don't laugh or he will get you for it later. The death glare is supposed to work on everyone. He knows lots of places to hide a body.
"As I was saying…" Blair cleared his throat and waded back into the conversational pool. "Kammie was the TA in charge of my first dig with Rainier. Man that was a long time ago. We were at a really cool dig site on this island off the coast of Chile. The site was fantastic. It was at the edge of this huge rocky cliff. You could see the sea, but it was almost a hundred feet straight down to the beach," Sandburg swallowed hard and tried to regulate his breathing. Not now. Just breathe.
"Any way. We found some wonderful things at the site. Stuff that was going to cause major changes in what people thought about the culture and times of the Incan peoples. I mean, did you know that the primary language used in the Inca Empire was Quechua? They imposed the language on all the people they conquered. Because of this, Quechua is still spoken among large numbers of Native Americans throughout Central and South America. Before this dig, no one knew that the Incan civilization extended all the way over to present day Chile and the objects we dug up… Wow! They were really incredible. Everyone was so excited." Blair continued so engrossed in telling his story that he didn’t realize Jim had parked the truck in front of their building.
"We worked from sun up to sun down and only stopped to write up our notes around the campfire at night before crashing. Then we got up the next morning and started all over again. Everyone was beyond exhausted, but we kept going at that frantic pace because we were running out of time. The Chilean government had revoked our access to the site. We were creating a big controversy, one they didn't want to deal with any longer. We were able to get a three day extension, and then we had to leave.
One of the other students came back from a food run and told us a big storm was brewing off the coast and heading our way. We knew this would cut our time even shorter, but we decided to sleep for a few hours and get up at daybreak to tackle the job of protecting the site. There really wasn't much hope of protecting everything. All we could do was cover the exposed areas to the best of our ability then get the heck out of dodge before the storm hit." Blair rubbed his face with both hands and then unbuckled the seatbelt and got out of the truck. He slowly crossed the road and trudged up the stairs into the building.
"Hey, you okay?" Jim asked focusing his senses on his partner for a moment. He put a gentle hand on Blair's shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze.
"Fine, man… just fine," Blair tried to send a reassuring smile but failed miserably.
Jim steered his roommate through the door into the loft. He took Blair's jacket from him and hung both their coats on the rack.
Blair went to his room, dropped his backpack on the floor by the bed, then shuffled back out to the living room and sat on the couch. He rubbed his arms as if chilled and then started to talk again. "I was worried we wouldn't be able to save the site. I've seen some of those big storms before… they can take huge chunks out of islands. I thought there'd be no way I was going to get any sleep that night. Turns out I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow." Blair paused with a frown. "I had the strangest dream… I found myself talking to this girl…"
Jim's chuckle interrupted him.
Blair glared at his partner. "I haven't gotten to the weird part yet."
"Sorry Chief," Jim chuckled again. "I just never thought I'd hear you using the words strange dream and girl in the same sentence. I'm better now. Go ahead."
Blair glared at Jim again for good measure and then started again. "So there I was, talking to this girl. She was dressed like someone out of an old movie. You know what I mean… the shirt with the long sleeves that push up and stay up with a piece of material that attaches to a button. Flared peddle pusher pants. Really kinky curly bleached hair pulled back from her face with a big barrette. The kind of thing you'd expect to see on 'Happy Days.' She was terrified. She told me that it was up to me to stop it from happening again."
Blair rubbed his arms again. "I asked her what 'it' was, but she just urged me to hurry up or it would be too late. She," Blair paused, his stunned eyes meeting Jim's momentarily. "She called me a Shaman. I'd forgotten that part. She kept repeating that I had to hurry or it would happen again. I really hate it when dreams are so cryptic." Blair shoved both hands through his hair pushing it back from his face in frustration.
Jim snorted. "Welcome to my world."
Blair looked at Jim in surprise and then chuckled a bit when he thought about what he'd just said. He grinned and shrugged sheepishly before continuing. "So anyway, there I was trying to figure out what I was supposed to do, when I suddenly realized that I wasn't dreaming anymore."
Jim scooted a bit closer to Blair as he heard the younger man's breathing and heart rate increase sharply. He reached out and gently squeezed the nearby arm. "Hey Chief, you're okay now. This is all in the past and it can't hurt you any more."
Blair let out a breath that turned into a deep sigh. "I woke up standing next to the dig site. Kammie was down at the bottom of the hole. She… she was naked. For a few moments, I didn't know if she was dead or alive. It was still dark and really hard to see. I looked around for the ladder, but I couldn't find it anywhere. I was lying on the ground looking into the pit, trying to figure out how to get Kammie out when I heard a noise. The dream girl, ghost… what ever you want to call her, was beside me, whimpering. I wouldn't have thought it was possible for her to get any paler, but she did. Then it got really weird. It's hard to explain, it was almost as if the ghost's essence was flowing down into the pit and settling on Kammie." Blair got off the couch and started to pace. "Scared the shit out of me," Blair muttered. "Then… then I found out what had panicked the ghost."
Blair continued to pace around the room. Jim monitored his friend carefully. As Blair's heart rate started to sky-rocket, the Sentinel became concerned that he was working himself up into a panic attack. "Chief," Jim said softly. "You need to settle down. Do your deep breathing exercises." Jim got off the couch and slowly approached Blair. "Go sit down on the couch and I'll get you some tea."
Tea in hand, Jim returned to the couch and his somewhat calmer roommate. "Here you go Chief. Be careful, it's hot."
Blair took a sip of tea, put the cup down, and then continued his story. "Thanks. Where was I? Oh yeah, so I'm trying to find a way down to Kammie and the ghost girl is doing this weird essence-fog thing and I'm seriously freaking out. So what else could go wrong I ask? I really should stop asking that question. Really, I should," Blair rambled. He spoke faster as his anxiety level rose again. "I suddenly understood the ghost's fear when something jabbed me from behind. I looked around and saw a bunch of armed, unhappy natives. They were all pointing spears at me. Seems they blamed me for messing up their sacrifice or something and decided that an untrained Shaman was better than a naked virgin any day."
Jim cleared his throat, manfully trying to suppress a chuckle.
Blair waved his hands in the air. "You know what I mean."
Jim murmured soothing noises at his partner and offered Blair his tea cup back.
Blair took another sip and put the cup back on the table. "They dragged me away from the dig site to a place about a mile or so down the coast. The cliff was even higher there and directly over the ocean. Right in the path of the oncoming storm. Most of the natives began to chant and dance … but they hadn't forgotten me. Several of them took off my clothes. I fought, but there were just too many. Once I was naked, they bound my hands and feet with seaweed. They spun me around until I was so dizzy I could hardly keep my balance. One man, I think he was their shaman, pushed me even closer to the edge. I was on the very edge of the cliff, facing the water. God, it was so far down… that was what I remember most. It was so far down. So very, very far…" Blair trailed off.
"What happened next?" Jim asked softly not even realizing he had a death grip on his partner's arm.
"Evidently I was taking too long to fall … one of the warriors got impatient and gave me a push. When…" Blair shook his head and tried to jump up off the couch. He was pulled to an abrupt stop by Jim's hold on his arm. Blair looked at Jim with shocked realization. "It was the jaguar!" He sat back down and tried to remember how to breathe.
"I was starting to fall, when suddenly, out of no where, this large black cat jumped me and pushed me to the ground away from the edge of the cliff. The cat stood over the top of me and growled at the tribesmen. They dropped their spears and ran. I… I'm not really clear on what happened after that. The next thing I really remember is waking up in the local health clinic with a bump on my head. The doctor told me I'd been injected with some sort of local hallucinogenic. The team found Kammie and me at the dig site. We were lying side by side, fully dressed and totally unconscious.
The police came and took our statements." Blair snorted. "Yeah, like I was going to tell them what I thought I remembered. Eventually, it just seemed like some really strange dream. One that faded away with time… except, I still have this thing about heights.
Jim realized that he still had a death grip on his partner's arm. He changed his hold so that he was rubbing instead of gripping Blair's arm in an unconscious attempt to sooth them both. "You," Jim stopped and cleared his throat before trying again. "You're okay now. You're safe here. I'm going to do my very best to keep you safe." Jim reached out and pulled his partner into a rough embrace. "I could have lost you before I even found you."
"Blessed Protector," Blair murmured. "I've always felt safe here. With you."
Jim gave him another quick squeeze then let go ruffling Blair's hair as he sat back into the couch. He grabbed his mug and made an attempt to get things back to normal. "So… what does Kammie remember?"
"Not much," Blair bit his lip. "Or at least she didn't say much back then. I'm not sure if she's remembered more of it now or not. She remembered waking up at the bottom of the dig site with out any clothes on. She saw me being taken away by the tribesmen. That's it. Nothing before or after. It was just easier to let it drop. For both of us."
"So, um what about the ghost girl? Did you ever she her again?" Jim asked.
"Sorta… I did some research," Blair began.
Jim snorted in amusement. "No! You? Research?"
Blair glared at his partner then chuckled as he relaxed a bit more. "Yup, even me. It's been known to happen. So anyway, I did some research and found her after a while. Her name was Marion, Marion Cunningham. She was on vacation on the island with her parents. It was supposed to be a graduation present before she went to school to study anthropology. She disappeared without a trace right before a big storm hit. Everyone thought she probably died in the storm. I found a story in the paper from the Cunningham's home town. Complete with picture. It was her."
Jim shivered and decided a change of topic was in order. "So, aren't the Jags playing tonight?"
Blair gave Jim an accepting look. Too much for you big guy. Message received. "How 'bout some popcorn?"
"Sounds good," Jim said. He followed his friend into the kitchen not wanting to be too far from his Guide right now.
A few minutes later the two men were ensconced on the couch. Surrounded by beer and popcorn. A pizza on the way and basketball on T.V. What more could you ask for.
Jim looked at Blair.
Blair felt the glance and looked up at his partner.
I'm really glad that you're here. You help me so much. I don't think that I've ever thanked you before. Jim stared for a few minutes then simply said, "Thanks."
Blair met Jim's gaze and saw the unspoken message there. The last of his tension and worry disappeared. He looked at his friend, partner, and Holy Grail for a moment, then gave Jim one of his mega-watt smiles.
Feedback is greatly appreciated. Cheryl