by Justine C. Tajonera
Prompt: The stall at the end of the office CR is actually an entryway to another world.
For once in her life, Anna got exactly what she wanted for her twenty-fourth birthday.
Months before February 28, Anna had already been wanting to escape. She had made a game of it in her mind. She would book a one-way flight somewhere and never come back. She would disappear in the province. She would take five days off from work and just not come back. She made up scenarios in her head. How many days would it take for people to find out she was missing? There were a hundred ways, but she had never really acted on any of them.
No one would come looking anyway. That was what she told herself. She worked as a nurse at a hospital for mentally challenged patients. She rented a small cramped room near the hospital and regularly sent home money to her mother in Batangas. She hardly spoke to her mother, who was too busy raising the rest of her seven children by different fathers. The only time her mother ever spoke to her was to ask for money. When Anna sent money, there were no questions and no further need to talk.
There was a time Anna thought of herself as a healer. That was why she had become a nurse in the first place. However, the daily, depressing grind of her work at the hospital had dampened those notions. She just wanted to get over her physically and mentally exhausting days and retreat into her dark bedroom, not bothering to eat dinner anymore. The only thing that showed her any affection was her landlady’s scrawny black and white cat, Lambing. It was Lambing, in fact, that set the ball rolling for Anna on February 28.
Anna woke up at five in the morning of her birthday. She was prepared for another long day at work. She usually dreaded being greeted a happy birthday, which was why she had bribed the HR assistant who printed the birthday announcements with a basket of mangoes and a half kilo of her favorite Lucban chorizo. Anna’s name wasn’t on the list when the paper announcing all the month’s birthday celebrants was tacked onto the bulletin board near the nurses’ station on the first of February.
Before Anna could enter the bathroom that she and two other bed spacers shared, Lambing sidled up to her, rubbing her left side on Anna’s bare right leg. “Good morning, Lambing,” Anna yawned, reaching down to rub the cat’s head. And that was when Lambing dropped something cold onto Anna’s right foot. Anna crouched to pick up Lambing’s birthday gift. “What’s this, you silly cat?” Anna took a closer look at what seemed like a pebble under the fluorescent light. Upon closer inspection, it wasn’t really a random pebble but a deep blue stone with flecks of gold snaking around it. “Wow, Lambing, you’ve outdone yourself. Where did you get this, girl? No one’s ever given me anything like this!” Lambing only meowed and continued to rub her sides on Anna’s legs. Anna made a mental note to ask her landlady about the stone. Lambing may have picked it up from her landlady’s jewelry box for all she knew, not that she had ever seen her landlady wear jewelry. “You’ll get a treat later,” Anna promised Lambing.
At work, it was business as usual for Anna. From 7 to 7:30 AM she and her fellow nurses listened to reports from the evening shift. Nothing unusual. After that, it was time for a safety round and then the usual ferrying of patients with unit privileges to the dining where they would be given their own trays of food. It was around this time that Anna needed a pee break. After notifying the charge nurse, she headed towards the staff bathroom, choosing the stall at the very end, near the window. After she did her business, she took the stone from Lambing out of her pocket and examined it in the sunlight. And this was where things got weird.
Everything got dark. Anna wasn’t sure if it was her eyesight or if it was everything around her. All of a sudden she couldn’t see anything, not the stall around her or the door in front of her. Anna blinked twice and held out her hands in front of her, the stone still in her right hand.
“Thank you for displaying the key. But it isn’t necessary. Welcome to the passageway. Please follow me.”
What? What passageway? What was going on?
Anna blinked again and this time she could see. She was in a dimly lit room, blue light spilling from its corners. In front of her was a humanoid creature with a feline face, a very familiar-looking feline face.
“Lambing?” Anna asked instinctively. The feline creature smiled at her.
“My spirit sister whom you call Lambing shares many things in common with me. However, I am not Lambing. You may call me Bastet.”
“Okay, Bastet. But please, can you explain to me where I am and what this is? A few seconds ago I was in the staff bathroom of my hospital. And now I’m somewhere else. What happened?”
“Anna, I understand that this might seem very confusing to you. Please be assured that the answers will come. However, for now, time is of the essence. We need to travel. Once passageways close, it will take a very long time for them to open again.”
Anna was aware of the irony in the situation. She was used to be being in Bastet’s place, explaining the rules of the hospital to new patients. Some patients were disoriented or even violent, whispering or screaming at imaginary entities. This time, she was on the receiving end. Anna took a deep breath. She realized that she had gotten her birthday wish. She had somehow escaped. This had never been in any of her scenarios, though. Anna nodded at Bastet.
Anna followed Bastet through a series of corridors illuminated by the ubiquitous blue light. Anna turned around to figure out where she had come from.
“Don’t worry, we’ll come back this way,” Bastet said to her. The path was labyrinthian. Anna doubted that she would ever find her way back without Bastet.
They emerged in a chamber with a very high ceiling. When Anna looked up, she realized that the chamber had no ceiling at all. Above them was a vast twilight sky, a deep blue with hues of gold. She felt something warm on her throat. She found herself looking into Bastet’s emerald green eyes. Bastet’s down-covered right hand moved away from her throat.
“This is your second journey. You will have five journeys. Your first one was your journey to me. Keep your key in your hand. Do not lose it. Do not give it to anyone. No harm will come to you. Listen. Listen well. You will not be able to speak your truth unless you hear it first,” Bastet said to her.
And then Anna heard a ringing in her ears. Some time ago, before Anna had taken on her hospital job, Anna had taken up violin lessons at a mall near her university. She knew she was too old to really play well, but she wanted to experience playing music. Growing up, she had been too poor to take any music lessons. She was never really very good with the violin, but she had developed a basic competency that left her contented, accomplished even. As she listened to the ringing in her ears, she realized that the ringing was in a very clear note of G. At this realization, gravity shifted and felt herself falling into the vast sky. She reached up to Bastet, trying to catch her hands. Bastet’s hands grasped hers.
“Remember to listen well, Anna,” Bastet said before letting Anna go.
Anna was terrified. She was falling into something bottomless. Anna held out the blue stone in front of her. Bastet had warned her not to lose it. But if she was going to die, anyway, why not take her chances?
Bastet hadn’t called it “the key” for nothing. Below her, a cloud formation began shifting, gathering into a platform. Instead of crashing into it, as Anna had expected given the height of her fall, the clouds slowed her descent as a canopy of leaves would have. Her feet eventually landed on what felt like smooth stone. Anna took a closer look, waving aside some of the cloud cover and saw that the stone floor matched her own stone, a deep blue shade with veins of gold. Anna kept her ears alert as she marveled at the stone temple she found herself in.
Anna heard a baby crying. It immediately brought back memories of being in her mother’s house, having to take care of her siblings. It made her hair stand on end. Nevertheless, Anna followed the sound of the child.
The naked baby was in a basket, nestled in a depressed area of the floor. Anna approached the baby slowly, trying to figure out what it was. Was it a creature like Bastet? Was it a human baby? As she came closer, the baby’s cries became louder. Anna felt both guilt and resentment. Why did it have to be her? Hadn’t she done enough for her sisters? The baby was red with exertion, eyes scrunched up and all mouth, wide open with wailing.
But something tugged at Anna, a simple feeling of wanting to comfort. It didn’t matter that there was a strange child in the middle of the sky anymore. It didn’t matter that she had hang-ups about taking care of babies (there had been five before she left to study in Manila). She was overcome with the need to help. She moved closer to the baby and assessed its age. It was a little baby girl, not more than three months old. Anna carefully supported the baby’s neck and torso with her right hand and gently lifted its lower body with her left hand. She began swaying to soothe the child. Its loud wails were replaced with whimpers and then with long breaths. Before Anna could think of the problem of how to feed the baby, it opened her eyes and looked directly into Anna’s eyes.
The baby’s skin blended with Anna’s, a light nutty brown. So it was a bit of a surprise for Anna to look into blue eyes. And then she could hear the baby in her head.
Thank you for listening to my call, Anna. Come closer so I can touch your face.
The voice was warm, childlike, and peaceful. Anna leaned closer to the baby. Its right hand went to the center of her forehead.
Let me open this for you. Anna, close both eyes to see with the other.
Anna didn’t know how it happened, but she fell into the baby’s eyes.
Anna blinked and she was elsewhere. Below her feet, the floor was a deep indigo blue stone that wasn’t cold to the touch. All around her were violet crystal walls of varying height. It looked like a maze. How will I ever get out of here? Anna felt stressed. She walked around aimlessly trying to listen for something. This time there was no crying baby to guide her. She looked at the crystal walls and realized that scenes from her life were captured in them. She saw her weeping mother. She saw her fellow nurses celebrating someone else’s birthday (never hers). Each of her siblings had a crystal wall to themselves. Everything in her life had a space on the walls, from difficult patients to Lambing. But what was the point?
Anna wanted to shrink from them. Was this really the extent of her life? And what did it have to do with where she was now? Anna knew she wanted a quiet life, but what she was seeing in front of her was her unremarkable life. She began to cry. No one would care, anyway. No one could see her. No one would judge her. If she never went back to her world… it seemed like no one would really notice. Maybe her mother. But not for any other reason apart from the lack of money. She walked until she could no longer walk anymore and she collapsed on the dark blue floor, crying in fetal position.
As Anna cried, she remembered the baby from not long ago. The baby was helpless as well, inconsolable, left all alone with no one to take care of her. She remembered the baby’s remarkable eyes. And what she said in her mind: Close both eyes to see with the other.
Maybe that was what she needed to do.
Anna closed her eyes. She stood up, wiping the tears from her face. With her eyes still closed, she took a few tentative steps. She didn’t bump into anything at all. With growing confidence, Anna kept moving. How could she describe it? She just followed her heart. She also heard a single note ringing in her ears, just as she had heard it when she floated into the sky. It was a clear A. She kept walking until she realized that the path was in her mind like a well laid-out map, constellations guiding her feet, the musical note steady in her ears.
It was a long walk, but it didn’t bother her. It was a tiring walk, but her spirit didn’t flag. Knowing where she was going was more important than the distance she was traveling. As she walked, Anna realized that what she saw with her eyes were the things she thought about herself. Now that she was walking the path with her eyes closed, she felt free. There was nothing to assess, nothing to validate. There was just the path and her feet walking on it.
And just as easily as she had seen the path in her mind, she knew that her journey was ending. There was a door in front of her, a door she could only see in her mind’s eye. She pushed it open.
Anna opened her eyes. She was no longer in the chamber full of crystal walls. In fact, when she looked around her, there was no sign that she had emerged from a chamber at all. She was on a mountain top with mist surrounding her. In the distance, she could hear thunder. Anna walked toward the edge of a cliff and sucked in her breath. The view was majestic. There were other lower mountains, hazy and purple, that stretched as far as she could see. It was late afternoon and the sunlight was turning golden. What am I supposed to do now?
With her newfound confidence in her mind’s eye, Anna closed her eyes and walked. What if I walk towards the edge of the cliff and fall off? Doubt clouded her mind and made her falter. She stopped for a few minutes and breathed the fresh air. Renewed, she walked again. This time, she didn’t stop to think. She simply followed her feet. As she followed her feet, she heard a sweet sound. This time, the note was clearly a B.
Something told her that it was time to open her eyes. Anna saw that she was in a clearing, and right in front of her was a bubbling spring. What amazed her, though, was the cluster of butterflies hovering over the spring. They displayed a multitude of colors. Just looking at them made Anna smile. Slowly, the butterflies left the spring and started flying towards her. At first, they surrounded her and then they moved above her. Anna looked up and saw the butterflies forming a many-petaled crown above her head. Anna closed her eyes once again and felt a white light envelop her, from the top of her head down to her toes. She heard the musical note of B, but it sounded like a choir of angels. She felt serene, even blessed. She opened her eyes. The butterflies were moving. Anna instinctively followed them.
The butterflies led Anna to the mouth of a cave. Here, the thunder that she had heard from a distance earlier seemed louder. She followed the butterflies into the cave. Even though it was dark, Anna could still see the butterflies. Their wings glowed. Anna moved with the light, a roaring sound growing in her ears.
After a while, Anna saw a pinprick of light that kept expanding. She had finally reached the other end of the cave. The roaring thunder was the sound of the waterfall that moved through the space and plunged to the river below. The butterflies hovered at the precipice and then dispersed. Anna wanted to laugh. She really was at the edge of a cliff now.
Anna moved towards the edge of the cave and looked below. Big mistake. Her stomach heaved. It was a long way down. And yet everything pointed that way. The butterflies had led her to the edge. Her feet were ready to take the plunge. But Anna was overcome with fear. There was no way she would jump. No way.
Anna contemplated going back. But then, there would be no butterflies to guide her. Why did they bring her here? Was this the end? Was this going to be the death of her? Anna remembered her wish to disappear. Maybe this was it. Or maybe this was another door.
Anna remembered the blue stone in her pocket. She touched it with her right hand. With her heart hammering in her chest, Anna stepped forward. Without needing to close her eyes, her mind’s eye opened. She didn’t scream as she jumped. She marveled at the height from which she jumped, the spray from the waterfall enveloping her. Anna had her longest exhale ever.
Instead of plunging into the river, Anna found herself sprawled on the floor of the passageway where she had encountered Bastet. Familiar blue light surrounded her. She stood up and looked around. Would she be able to find her way out of the passageway? But where would she end up? That was the most important question.
“Oh my! You are positively glowing with light,” Bastet said, out of nowhere. Anna turned around and there was Bastet in all her regal feline presence. “Let me look at you.” Bastet’s eyes glowed in the semi-darkness.
“I thought I’d died,” Anna replied.
“Well, you have. Figuratively.”
“Bastet, what is this all for? I don’t understand what’s happened to me.”
“You don’t need to understand everything, Anna. What’s important is you answered the call.”
“Lambing gave you the key. You only had to use it.” Anna thought back to how this all started.
“I wanted to escape.”
“Escape. Adventure. Journey. These are all different words. The desire was in you.”
“What happens now, Bastet?”
“This is your journey. You decide.” Anna was silent. “Anna, your self-doubt clouds your light. You’ve opened all the doors already. Haven’t you realized your achievement in all this? You have the courage. You have the key.”
Anna thought back to everything that happened to her from the time she emerged from the bathroom stall into the passageway she was now standing in.
“Then it’s time to go back then,” Anna replied. Bastet heaved a sigh of relief.
“I did promise you that we would come through here again,” Bastet said. “But before that, follow me.” Anna followed Bastet down the winding passageway.
They emerged in what seemed like a cross between a temple and a library.
“Anna, first of all, not everyone has the desire. Second, not everyone who has the desire takes up the call. And lastly, not everyone who takes up the call has the stamina to endure,” Bastet said.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about your light.”
“The journey you just went through uncovered your light. That is how you can see even with both your eyes closed.”
“Oh,” Anna said, beginning to understand what had happened to her. “How did you know all this? I was alone all that time.”
“The journey is not the same for everyone. However, there are similarities. We all share the same meridians of the soul, after all. The end of the journey always involves the unleashing of the light.”
“And what do I do with the light?”
“What does anyone ever do with the light?” Bastet asked herself, smiling. “Seriously, Anna, only you can answer that. And I don’t mean to be catty,” Bastet laughed, exposing her sharp teeth. Anna wondered, briefly, what Bastet ate.
“When you were young, what did you want to do?” Bastet asked her. Anna thought back to her childhood.
“I wanted to heal people. That was why I studied to be a nurse,” Anna replied.
“And are you healing people?”
“I’m not sure. Sometimes I feel like I’m just going through routines. Sometimes I feel like I’ve actually helped someone. But those are few and far between.”
“Enough reason to want to escape, wouldn’t you say?” Bastet asked. Anna nodded in understanding.
“The light will allow you to really heal,” Bastet continued. Anna felt a jolt of recognition. “This is a power that few ever recognize in themselves. So you must use this gift as often as you can.”
“So, I can start using this healing gift as soon as I get back?”
“You already have it. The gift is not restricted to healing. You will learn this over time and with practice.”
“Will I be able to come back here?”
“Only when needed. You have the key, Anna. However, as I’ve mentioned before, passageways are limited. You’ll need to feel them to gain access. Once passageways close, they are closed for a long time.”
“So, you’re saying this was a lucky visit?”
“Luck or fate. It’s entirely your point of view. When the passageway is needed, it does appear. However, it doesn’t happen at will.”
“When do I go back?”
“Before you go back, I’ll need to teach you a few things first. Now that you have the light shining bright within you, you need to trust your mind’s eye. You’ll begin to see things differently.”
“Differently? Like I’ll have a different perspective?”
“Not just that. You’ll see things you don’t normally see.”
“You’ll be able to see people’s feelings. Their essence. The things that are disturbing them. This new way of seeing will actually help you heal them.” Anna’s hair stood on end.
“Will there be instances when I won’t be able to heal people?”
“Yes, there are times when someone will not want to be healed. Or they are under the influence of someone else,” Bastet continued.
“Will I ever run out of light?” Anna asked.
“Do you regret the gift that you were given?” Bastet asked. Was this a trick question?
“I appreciate it. But didn’t ask for it,” Anna stated.
“Are you certain, Anna? Asking for the light also comes in different forms.” Anna didn’t argue. She knew that her desire to escape had something to do with it. How long had she wanted it? Long enough, she supposed.
“Once the gift is given, it can never really be taken away. However, your light may be diminished by doubt and despair. I don’t want you to go back without being properly prepared,” Bastet said.
“All right then. Teach me.”
Bastet went towards a high wall behind her filled with honeycomb openings. She took out a scroll from one of the compartments.
“What did you notice through your journeys? Was there anything that stood out for you?”
“I noticed ringing in my ears, certain notes.”
“Good. Sound is a manifestation of the light. Did you know that?”
“Music is one way to strengthen your light.”
“Yes. Do you own a musical instrument?”
“I have a violin.”
“That’s good. Very handy.”
“But I’m not a very good musician.”
“You don’t have to be a master musician. Playing the right note will be enough.”
“Like the B note? I heard it before I came here. But it was as if angels were singing. I could never play like that.”
“You won’t need to play music exactly like that. Just playing that note will be an antidote. Remember what you heard and look for pieces that reflect those notes. Take a look at this scroll and remember the notes that are prescribed.”
Anna saw B, A, A#, F, F#, E, D, D#, C, C#, G, and G#.
“What else did you notice?” Bastet continued.
“I noticed that my stone key was actually a big help,” Anna held up her deep blue stone with gold skeins.
“Can I take a closer look?” Bastet asked. Anna handed her the stone.
Bastet took the stone and held it tightly in her right hand as she closed her eyes. She opened her hand and the stone was already set in a silver ring.
“Lapis lazuli is very useful. Not only is this your personal key, it’s a shield against the darkness. Keep it close to you at all times. Wear it always,” Bastet instructed her. Anna took the beautiful ring from Bastet and marveled at how wonderfully it was remade. The ring looked like many intertwined silver strings holding a smoothed down blue and gold stone on its crown.
“Thank you, Bastet,” Anna said.
“You’re welcome. I’m just making sure you never lose your key. What else did you notice?”
“I remember colors. I was looking into a baby’s blue eyes, I saw violet crystals, and butterflies that glowed white in the dark.”
“Good, good. Remember these colors. You need to surround yourself with these kindred energies. Look for beings that reflect these.”
“Reflect those colored energies.”
“How will I know? Will I see them?”
“There are more ways of seeing than with your eyes.”
“Oh, right. I heard a child say: close both eyes to see with the other.”
“Wise words. Heed them.”
“And what did you mean by beings? Human beings?”
“Human beings, yes. And any entity who will help you. Lambing, for example.”
“Oh, right. I really like Lambing.”
“Keep her close.” Anna didn’t mind. Lambing was the one who kept close to her.
“Will I ever be in danger because of the light?” Anna asked. What she really wanted to know was whether there was an opposite of the light.
“As in life, there will always be danger in your midst,” Bastet replied, as if reading Anna’s mind, “There is darkness where there is light. With or without your gift, both are always present.”
“You’re right,” Anna agreed. “But what if I am overcome by darkness?”
“The shadows can be overpowering, indeed. First, don’t doubt the light within you. You are always equal to the task. Second, you can always ask for help.”
“Yes, from me. But not just from me. Other beings are willing to help, you’ll see. Don’t let fear precede you.”
“Is it time?”
“Your perception is improving. It is time. Come.”
Anna followed Bastet out of the library temple and back into the blue-lit passageway. Anna suspected that Bastet navigated the passageways with her mind’s eye as well. Her gait was confident, her bearing regal. There was no question on where she should turn and whether she needed to duck when the passageway’s ceiling became low.
They came to a wide hall.
“This is the place,” Bastet declared. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Anna.”
“Thank you for your guidance, Bastet,” Anna said.
“Close your eyes, Anna.”
“How do I know if this was all just my imagination?” Anna asked.
“Is there anything wrong with that?”
“I mean, was any of this real?”
“Is having a soul real? Is seeing through your mind’s eye real?”
“To me, they are.”
“Then that’s all that matters. Close your eyes, Anna.”
This time Anna did as she was bid and saw the door with her mind’s eye.
Crossing back to her world wasn’t as jarring as leaving it. Anna opened her eyes and she was back in the bathroom stall of her hospital. It was as if no time had passed at all. The only way she knew that her journey had happened was the lapis lazuli ring on her right ring finger. It hadn’t been there before.
Anna remembered to flush the toilet bowl and proceeded to the wash basins. She looked at herself in the mirror and didn’t see anything different. She still looked the same. Anna washed her hands and splashed some water on her face.
Was she really any different?
“Doc Mapili’s looking for you, Anna,” Cora said from the open door of the bathroom. From the mirror, Anna could see Cora’s reflection. It seemed like a dull green color was surrounding Cora’s body. Anna turned around to face Cora just to make sure she wasn’t imagining things. A dull green color really was emanating from Cora. Before she could even ask herself what it meant, she knew somehow that Cora was carrying resentment in her heart.
“Thanks, Cora!” Anna called back. Cora walked down the corridor before Anna could say anything else. What was she supposed to say, anyway? Are you okay? You’re looking a sickly green today?
Anna hurried out to go to the acute crisis intervention center. Either Doc Mapili had something urgent to discuss before the unit meeting or he had a new patient that he needed to endorse right away.
The consultation room at the center was open. Anna still knocked, anyway.
“Come in, Anna!” Doc Mapili called out. Anna felt the wind knocked out of her breath by what she saw with her newfound eyes.
Doc Julien Mapili’s body was surrounded by a bright yellow color. Anna instinctively knew that even if he didn’t outwardly show it, he was feeling fear, in particular, a fear of losing control. This was unusual for Doc Mapili because he was usually very in control in any situation. The reason for his fear soon became obvious to Anna. Sitting across him in a wheelchair was a woman in her thirties who was surrounded by the colors black and red from head to toe. The colors weren’t intense, though. They seemed like a mist floating all around her. Beside her was a man of similar age also surrounded by an intense yellow, even brighter than the one surrounding Doc Mapili.
“Anna, we have a newly admitted patient, Mrs. Claudia Rosales. Her papers are in order at the nurses’ station. This is her husband, Mr. Anton Rosales. Mrs. Rosales was administered Chlorpromazine at the ER.” That explained the diluted intensity of the colors surrounding Mrs. Rosales.
“I got this, Doc,” Anna assured Doc Mapili.
“I’ll just need to discuss Mrs. Rosales’ case with Mr. Rosales. Please do see to it that Mrs. Rosales gets settled in the observation unit. We need to observe her further.”
“All right, Doc,” Anna replied.
Anna wheeled out Mrs. Rosales. On the way to the observation unit, Anna instinctively touched Mrs. Rosales’ shoulder to assess how badly she felt. Strangely, Anna wasn’t scared. It seemed like Mrs. Rosales had a lot going on in her head. But Anna’s compassion won out. Anna could see that her hand with the lapis lazuli ring was glowing with a blue flame. Let’s hope this helps.
The effect was immediate. The blackness dissipated but the red color remained, flickering into orange. Better than that angry red. How Anna knew this, she had no idea. But she found a new sense of purpose.
I can do so much.
For once, Anna felt happy on her birthday. Now, what can I get Lambing later? I wonder if I can tell her all about Bastet.
She heard herself humming. In her mind, she could hear the lyrics for the song Yellow by Coldplay (key of B Major). She felt herself shining. ☁
Anything to share? :)