The Armstrong

Well, I’m wrapping up Halloween week here at evelynklebert.com with a short story entitled “The Armstrong.” It’s a tale of two people taking an extraordinary leap of faith to find each other. And given the chaotic state of the world right now, I thought it was important to close this Halloween celebration on an upbeat note of possibility. After all, what extraordinary things could flourish if we could embrace change and perhaps take that elusive leap of faith? I wish you all well and hope you enjoy “The Armstrong.”

The Armstrong

It was an old hotel. That was something that could be felt, its history, on her very skin.

She would have preferred something new, walls that hadn’t been around for so many years. Of course, the lobby was impressive with its chandeliers, effigies on the ceiling, vast spaces trimmed with mahogany accents.

But she would have preferred something new, not so vast, not so impressive.

Once she got upstairs, the halls were more narrow, skinny even, filled with rooms facing each other, past the elevator, and at one end, a painting slapped on the wall, an old plantation. Not much thought, someone just thought it looked pretty.

She moved quickly, swiping her room key, then slamming the hotel door behind her. Throwing her shoulder bag down onto the king-sized bed, she checked her watch. It was late, eight-thirty.

She didn’t know why she was here, why she’d come. This was pointless. All of it, but she couldn’t stop. She had no idea how to begin to stop.

After having been dropped off by a handsome cab, the lobby was full when he checked in. It was well into the evening, but there were all manner of individuals milling about The Armstrong — evidently serving as a center of social activity as well as a hotel. A valet had offered to carry his trunk and greatcoat, but he declined. As he took the lift to the third floor, he focused. It was necessary to achieve great concentration.

Fortunately, the narrow hallway to his room was deserted, unlike the downstairs. It could be any place, anywhere, and more than that, any time. He held the key that he’d been given tightly in his hand. And then he closed his eyes just before he put it in the door.

He allowed himself to be pulled, pulled by the life force he sensed. After all, time is an ephemeral construction. What is real power is energy, the magnetism of energy. He allowed himself to be drawn in, and then he opened the door.

“Lydia,” her eyes fluttered open.

Surely, she’d been dreaming. Then the fatigue swept over her, and her eyes drifted closed again. “Lydia, focus.”

Someone was talking to her, but she was asleep. Wasn’t she?

“It’s an in-between state of awareness. Not sleep, not awake. That is how I am able to contact you.”

“I—I don’t understand.”

“Just listen, my name is Charles Del Couer. I’m a doctor of sorts. And I’ve been looking for you for some time.”

That’s how it had begun, slowly, insidiously. These were contacts that she could attribute to imaginations, indulgences, then later even mental illness.

At times, they’d talk at length in that in-between state. “You’re not ill. You’re gifted. There is a vast difference.”

“What is it you want?”

“I want us to meet.”

“Meet? How? When?”

He seemed somewhat befuddled by her questions. He could see her, and she could see him in that in-between state, often just across the room from her, but the trouble was that he seemed so insubstantial, passing in and out of vision as though he was made of mist at times, a fluttering photo on a blanket of vacillating haze.

Befuddled, yes. “How? Might be a bit easier than the When.

“The When?”

“Yes, Lydia.” He called her Lydia. Her name was Lilly Page, but Charles insisted on calling her Lydia. He claimed to have known her as such.

“I don’t understand.”

“We need to meet in a particular place, a place where there is a link.”

“What sort of link?”

“It has to do with the When of things.”

She was sitting in the corner of the room, of the shadowed room, waiting quietly when the door began to open. She should have been scared, should have been terrified at what was happening. But she had slipped into the mindset, the altered state that he’d taught her. The one he had drilled in fact, nearly over an entire year, a few evenings a week, then in the last few months every day, every day striving to achieve a sort of mesmeric trance that he taught her.

And she sat quietly as the door swung open. He stepped into the room, not a mist, not part of an imagination, not a dream manifestation. But real, in the flesh. Silently, he closed the door behind him, turning a lock she did not recognize. He placed his oversized black suitcase on the ornate rug covering a wooden floor and draped his long coat over a golden crushed velvet wing-backed chair. She breathed in sharply, somewhat shakily shifting her state. Lilly had become cognizant that her surroundings had shifted around her.

He stared at her from across the room. Blond hair, dark eyes, and dressed — her breath caught in her throat — dressed in a suit “from another time,” he finished. She straightened up in a chair she no longer recognized. He had completed her thought. “It’s a side effect,” he murmured. “From all the intensive alignment we’ve been working at.”

“Alignment?” she murmured.

“Yes, to make this possible. As I said, the When of things was always going to be more problematic. But we’ve overcome that.”

She was coming to herself now, out of the trance. The room had grown. In fact, they were in a sort of sitting room, and beyond an archway was another room. It was a suite, whereas she’d been in a single room. And the décor was more elegant, like the hotel — mahogany furniture, velveteen, and tapestry chairs, paintings of soft country-side scenes, placed on the walls as though someone had given it thought, not just haphazardly hung them.

“I don’t understand—”

“The place is a mix of your time in 2019 and mine in 1904.”

He had moved closer to her and was standing in front of her. “It doesn’t seem like a mix. It seems to be wholly in your court.”

“There are subtle differences,” he murmured, though his eyes seemed purely transfixed on her. “Can I take your hand, Lydia?” he said rather abruptly.

“Lilly, my name is Lilly.”

“I’m sorry,” he held out his hand for her as though she’d agreed. But she did allow it, allowed him to take her hand, and he rather firmly pulled her to her feet and then into a warm, intense embrace. “I don’t know if I believed it was possible to really reach you.”

It was the writings that he began to find first, in odd places, tucked away in books, in his desk, and on the pages of his own personal journal.

The penmanship was odd, not flowing, and well composed as most writing he’d encountered. But rough, and not in script at all, but rather some blockish-looking print.

It’s odd. I’ve been having these headaches more often lately. The doctor can’t find anything in particular wrong with me, just stress, she said.

He’d found the writing on an unfamiliar stationery stuffed in a book on Animal Magnetism that he was reading by Franz Mesmer.

She even did a CT scan, but nothing. Stress — the convenient diagnosis when they have no idea what is wrong with you. It’s frustrating, and I didn’t even bother to tell her about the dreams. After all, they are just dreams.

The paper was thin, filled with lines, and the ink was an odd color, a forest green shade. He had no idea where it had come from, perhaps just the shop where he’d purchased the book. But such a strange note.

And then he found another.

I’m starting a dream journal. Not sure why except I’m desperate to get things sorted out somehow.

He found this one on the same sort of paper stuffed in a nightstand by his bed. It was quite impossible unless the housekeeper or a maid had left it there. He would question them thoroughly as the hour was quite late when he’d discovered it.

Last night I dreamed I was walking through an unfamiliar house, a large place old-fashioned with a great staircase just past the entrance. As I ascended to the second floor, I put my hand on the rail, a heavy dark wood. I turned the corner past the stairs, and there was a long hallway filled with doors. Then someone was beside me, but I couldn’t turn to look. It was like a paralysis, but he whispered in my ear, a deep voice. “Which door will you choose, Lydia, or will you go back to whence you came?”

It shook him, the name Lydia. It was an odd sensation, not a word that was precisely in his memory but in his other memory, sense memory he’d read about in a book on magnetism. This was a deeper sort of holistic phenomenon attributed to the spiritual plane. 

He sunk down onto the mattress of his queen-sized bed. The scrap of paper he held in his hand was fluttering. And given his usually methodical nature, it was a bit shocking. But his hand was shaking, not just that he was trembling, trembling all over. He schooled himself to breathe deeply, calmly, but it was next to impossible. His eyes again scanned over the curious script. It felt familiar, something he should know or would know.

Of course, he would check with his housekeeper, Mrs. Farrow, and the two maids, Cecily and Lucy. He didn’t really need two. He was a widower, but Lucy was Mrs. Farrow’s daughter, and she had asked for her employment, a sort of favor to help her find her way. There was still that possibility that it was one of them. He folded the paper over, putting it on the nightstand. The name Lydia, he knew it but from where?

Her head spun with dizziness. “Try to anchor yourself,” he whispered in her ear. She did. She focused on the reality she was experiencing now, in her mind accepting that this new place was now her plane of existence.

He continued to hold her, gently rubbing her back in a soothing manner. She didn’t know if it was helping or distracting, but she liked it, allowing herself to relax in his embrace. “I cannot tell you how pleased I am to meet you finally,” he murmured. And she felt it, through his touch, the emotions she felt in his thoughts seeping through the embrace. “You’re so sensitive.”

“I—” she began, having no idea where to begin.

“You must tell your mind that this is real.”

She felt her knees begin to buckle as the reality of her exhaustion swept over her. She felt him sweep his hands under her knees and scoop her up just before she collapsed. “I can’t—” she whispered as she lost consciousness.

When had all this started? She couldn’t remember, probably with the journal. It was supposed to be a dream journal but turned into something else, something she would scribble thoughts and feelings in at odd times during the day. She’d taken a semester off from work. She taught English Literature at a local university, but the inexplicable medical issues had made things too complicated. Kindly, they’d given her time to sort things out, though she was several months in and felt no closer to anything being settled.

One day though, a chilly day late in September, she’d opened her journal to find the curious writing just below her entry.

It was a fine penmanship and strange ink, completely different from her thick green ballpoint pen.

To Whoever May Receive This,

Please take note this is an experiment on my part, an indulgence if you will. The headaches you are experiencing may be connected to a hyperconnectic experience. Do not assume that they are traditionally physiological in the sense that most may experience.

She remembered staring at the page in total confusion. Lilly Page lived alone in a townhouse in New Orleans. No one else had access to this journal. Of course, the panic had surged up inside her. Maybe she was losing her mind. Maybe this was some sort of multiple personality disorder. The possibilities that she concocted were quite horrifying. So, she did the only thing she could think of, she answered.

Please tell me, who is this. You are frightening me.

Two days later, there was an answer in the same formal antiquated script.

Forgive me. My name is Charles Del Couer. I’m a doctor.

How are you doing this?

I found your journal in my bureau some days ago. I believe I am supposed to help you.

It’s difficult to know what to believe and what not to believe once events step out of your ordinary parameter of thinking. Lilly left the journal alone for about a week. She considered all sorts of things, primarily among them all that she was having some sort of a break from reality — schizophrenia, multiple personalities, a brain tumor. But no, they’d done a CT scan. That wasn’t a possibility.

She thought to throw the journal out into the trash. But she couldn’t bring herself to. The headaches continued, and she was becoming desperate.

Look, I can’t deal with much right now. I’m in too much pain. If this is some kind of trick or worse, or if it’s just me having some sort of breakdown, then have a little mercy and —

She stopped writing. What else could she say?

She closed the journal, put it on her little white desk in the corner of her bedroom, and pushed it away for a few moments.

Then tentatively, she slid the old-fashioned looking leather-bound book she’d purchased from Barnes and Noble back towards her. Taking a breath, she flipped it back open to the ribbon-marked page that she’d just written on. Just under her writing was a new entry, scribed in that exquisite penmanship.

Extraordinary,

It began.

So, I believe it falls upon me to convince you that I am not a delusion elicited from the depths of psychosomatic illness. Very well, as I said, my name is Charles Del Couer. I am a practicing physician at the Hotel Dieu, French Hospital, Charity Hospital, and Mercy Hospital. I am a member of The Society of Magnetism in New Orleans. I live in a house along the Esplanade Avenue near The Bayou St. John. I am a widower.

Her eyes blinked. Some of those hospitals he listed she wasn’t even aware had ever existed, and the Society of Magnetism. What exactly was that? So how could she create something that she had no knowledge of?

Her head had begun again to pound unmercifully. So, she wrote with a shaky hand.

I’m not trying to insult you. I just have to be sure. It’s been difficult. She closed her eyes and let the pen drift from her hand, trying to mentally will the pain to subside.

“Breathe deeply.”

She could hear the sound in her ears, a voice murmuring in her mind. She began to take long, measured breaths, in and out.

“Try to focus on allowing the pain to subside. Let it drift away slowly with every breath.”

Again, she focused. With every breath in, she concentrated, and with every breath out she relaxed, allowing the pain to slowly drain away from her temples and forehead. And it was helping, she could feel it. The pain was still dull but a ghost of the intensity that it had been.

“Good, now try to lie down on your bed and rest for a bit. I will continue to focus energy to you.”

She didn’t reply. She simply groggily did as she was directed to do. She didn’t mentally put it together at that moment who was speaking to her and leading her. She was just grateful for the help. She drifted effortlessly into sleep, moving into quiet, until she dreamed of a great house near the water and a man speaking softly to her.

Dreams became a link between them. Perhaps from the first time when she’d read what Charles had written in her journal and then when he’d directed her, helped her, and perhaps mesmerized her into a deep sleep as was his way.

In this dream, she was still in her room, in the bed but now it was layered with a different room — one she didn’t recognize. She sat in the bed and saw the enormous mahogany rolltop desk against the wall and the man sitting in a straight wooden chair next to it.

He was there, but insubstantial as was his room, quite different from the usual space she inhabited.

“What is this?” she meant to speak but felt it as something else emanating from a place that wasn’t exactly sound.

“You should be resting Lydia, not forcing a connection at this juncture.”

“What does that mean? Forcing a connection?”

His clothes, suit rather, was antiquated, but his tie hung loosely untied at the collar of his white shirt. “We, you, and I clearly will be communicating. Somehow we’ve bridged the space that traditionally separates us.”

“Space?” she murmured.

“Yes, space is the only adequate description of what separates us. Time is an artificial construct.” Her eyes were examining him. He wasn’t old, older than her but not by much. His hair was a dark blond shade, and he had a well-kept beard and mustache.”

“You’re Charles,” she murmured.

He eyed her oddly, with curiosity, she felt, because she was feeling so many things. “Yes, yes, I am. You should rest.”

“My name isn’t Lydia,” she said, while she felt the fatigue take her over again.

“I know,” was the last thing she heard him say.

She slowly opened her eyes but wasn’t sure where she’d be when she opened them. She felt the pressure of his hand atop hers. Flesh upon flesh, not that insubstantial contact that she’d come to expect between them.

“Lydia,” he murmured, softly brushing her hair away from her forehead.

“Charles,” she whispered. “Where are we? Still in between?”

He nodded, “Seems so,” squeezing her hand. “How are you feeling?”

She glanced around the room, again seeing the ornate vintage furnishings but noting now tapestry-type wallpaper that she did not remember before. “It’s changing,” she whispered.

Again, he squeezed her hand. His eyes were blue with amber flecks. She’d never been so close to him to see that before. They were actually together. It worked.

“Yes, it has,” he said softly, looking at her with quite a degree of tenderness. He’d read her mind, heard her thoughts as he’d done before. And she remembered now how along the way she’d completely fallen in love with him.

“I don’t understand how this is possible.”

He’d led her through a guided meditation, initially writing her the instructions in her journal. After guiding her with his voice in her mind a few times, he then communicated with thought transference once she was deep in the meditation.

“Is this like hypnosis?”

“Not exactly, it travels well beyond simple mesmerism. We have genuinely connected on an astral plane.”

And it was dazzling, talking to him as though he were right next to her and sometimes seeing impressions of him in his home, but not concrete, more translucent.

She was sleeping soundly, and he knew he dare not disturb her, no matter how tempted he was. He paced the room, noting that it did indeed seem to be slipping away from her timeline and more into his. He wasn’t sure why exactly, only that things seemed unstable.

“The headaches, my love, are they worse after our sessions?”

He didn’t know when it had started, when he’d started referring to her as my love. It just seemed to have popped up organically, and she didn’t stop him. It was easy, easy to slip into. She seemed so vulnerable and accessible in some way though insubstantial, like some sort of a dream.

“No, they’re actually better after I spend time with you. They crop up when I’m doing other things, going to work, doing things in the outside world here.”  He was extremely focused on her as she spoke, having glimpses into her life, flashes of her moving through her life. And then deeper, slipping deeper into the physiology of what was happening.

He could see her, see her body in two spaces. There was tremendous stress on her energy systems. In her modern era, Lilly’s aura was becoming chaotic, bleeding energy to stabilize itself.

He questioned if he’d caused this, if their contact resulted in this divided stress.

“Can’t you rest, my love?” he’d asked.

“It’s difficult. I’m always tired, bothered, even when I sleep.”

“Sleeping isn’t always rest, you know,” he murmured. “Some believe it’s traveling to other realities.”

“Realities?”

“Yes, this life, this awareness we experience in waking hours is only a small part of actual living.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Give it time Lydia,” so odd how that name kept slipping out. “Then you will understand.”

Of course, she fell in love with him. Why would she agree to attempt such a thing, such an unthinkable meeting, attempting what rationality told her was impossible? But what was really rational and what was not?

She opened her eyes to look around the room. On the bedside table was a platter of fruit and cheese and a bottle of wine next to it.

She sat up shakily in the unfamiliar bed as it wasn’t the one that had been there once she’d checked into the hotel. “Are we celebrating?” she murmured.

He was across the room, back to her, staring out a window whose heavy brocade drapes he’d pushed back with his hand. He turned around quickly in response to her inquiry. “How are you feeling?”

She smiled, “I’ve no clue yet. Dizzy, I guess.”

“I thought you’d want to eat something.”

He sat beside her on the bed, taking her pulse without asking, then lightly feeling her forehead. “Will I live?” she asked lightly.

He squeezed her hand, and she felt that draw to him. She’d always felt it before, but not concrete, not like this with his skin next to hers. “You better. I’ve put a lot of effort into this.”

She nodded, “What now, though?” She wasn’t sure she wanted an answer. If they succeeded, they hadn’t really discussed it. And now that they had what was on the other side of this moment was the question.

“Why don’t you eat something? Then we can sort things out.”

She reached for a strawberry holding it in her hand for a moment, and a curious thought crossed her mind. She felt a bit like Persephone, eating the pomegranate seeds in the Underworld. Once she took a bit, would she be unable to go back? Would she be forever linked to where he was? She looked at him oddly, wondering, feeling as though he indeed did know the answer. She didn’t really hesitate. She didn’t regret anything. She simply took a bite. 

Copyright © 2022 by Evelyn Klebert

“The Armstrong” first appeared in a collection of short stories entitled Appointment with the Unknown: The Hotel Stories.

In “Too Many Pens,” an artist finds a very routine stay at a hotel slowly transforming into a place of romance and mystery. “Slipping” is the story of a young woman finding herself threatened by unexpected interdimensional attacks. Two unique travelers find love and themselves trapped in a French Quarter hotel during an unexpected tropical tempest in “The Storm.” In, “The Armstrong,” two people from different eras try to bridge the gap of time itself in an old historic hotel. “Variables” tells the story of a dimension traveler battling to rescue a man from a devastating fate. And “Hotels in the Time of Covid,” explores a relationship between a news reporter and her spirit guide.

Follow the unpredictable lure of the supernatural in this collection of Hotel Stories.


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