This story is by W K Babb and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Brian trudged slowly down the street toward Señor Bob’s on a hot summer evening in Sedona, Arizona. His brain felt sluggish. He needed some comfort food. Despite all his efforts, his research project was stalled. Everything he thought up had been tried before or failed. His boss was unimpressed with his performance. He needed to get his brain out of this rut.
Waiting to cross the street, he found himself staring at an extremely attractive girl looking in a store window. As pleasant thoughts about her drifted across his mind, she seemed to sense she was being watched and looked around, searching until she spotted him. Even from this distance he could see her smile at him. He shifted his gaze to the crossing signal to hide the fact that he had been staring. As she turned and walked away, he felt his heart beat faster. He stood for a moment transfixed, watching her.
As he continued walking down the street, he thought how comforting someone like that could be. But no, he had enough troubles just now without that kind of complication. Still, the image of that beautiful girl lingered in his mind.
Brian got to the restaurant just in time to order before they closed. He had his usual cheeseburger, fries, and a coke. He ate slowly as he looked out the window with his mind on his worries, but always drifting back to that enchanting smile. Then suddenly, there she was again. That same girl was walking by his window. He felt warmth flooding his entire body. She turned and looked him straight in the eye as she walked by, smiling that same captivating smile, as if she expected to see him there. He tried to smile back, but only partially succeeded.
He was sorely tempted to run after her, to find out who she was, to introduce himself, to say something to her, anything to bask in that smile a little longer. But no, he would just embarrass himself. A beautiful young woman like that must be hounded by men constantly. She would just laugh at him. He didn’t need that. He had enough problems.
Walking back down the street after dinner toward his lonely apartment, his world felt small, limited, hemmed in on all sides. He walked in a daze, perplexing thoughts of that girl on his mind, head down, unseeing eyes on the sidewalk. When he got to the crosswalk, reaching for the crossing signal, he looked up. She was standing there, waiting to cross, and looking at him.
“Hi,” he said. He felt his face go warm.
“Hi,” she said, smiling, returning her gaze to the crossing signal. “I’ve noticed you watching me.”
“I wasn’t watching you. I just …, I just happened to see you a couple of times.”
“Oh, I see,” she said.
He hesitated, “I always notice beautiful young women.” He felt himself blush more than ever.
“Thank you. That’s very kind of you. I always appreciate compliments from handsome young men,” she said, without any sign of embarrassment. She looked at him again with that warm smile.
“Hello, I’m Brian.” He extended his hand.
She laughed lightly and took his hand. “Hi, I’m Julie.” A thrill shot through him at her touch.
The crossing light changed. “Where are you heading?” she asked as they started across the street.
“Back to my apartment. It’s been a long week. I need to unwind. How about you? Do you live around here?” Brian was going to walk whichever way she went.
“I’m walking out to watch the vortexes. I love watching them after dark.”
He turned his head to look at her, frowning slightly as they walked. Living in Sedona for several months now, he had heard a lot about the famous mystic vortex energy. “Vortexes? So, you can actually see them?” he said, trying not to sound too skeptical. He had never heard anyone say they could actually see them.
She laughed and glanced over at him. “Yes, of course I can.”
Brian thought it was a great shame that she should be one of the new-age nutjobs he occasionally encountered around town.
“I think it should be ‘vortices,’ but if you say ‘vortices’ to anyone around here they’ll just laugh at you. So, it’s ‘vortexes.’ Would you like to come see them with me?”
“I’d love to!” he said, trying not to sound too eager.
The long walk to the trailhead passed unnoticed as they walked and Julie talked about vortexes, vortex energy, how vast the universe was, how little of the universe people understood, and how many other inhabited worlds there were.
It was quite dark when they got to the trail. Away from the neighborhood streetlights the stars were brilliantly bright. He could see more stars here than he could anyplace he had ever lived. The Milky Way was brighter, clearer, and more impressive than he had ever noticed. Out here in the dark it was easier to believe her wild stories.
It was a comfortably warm night with a pleasant breeze as Brian followed her along a trail that he could only barely see. It was rough, with rocks and loose soil, but Julie was walking briskly. He worked hard to keep up with her and not slip. They came out on a small knob of a hilltop with an expansive view of the valley desert with the town below them, the hills above them, a thick carpet of stars across the sky, and a faint glow along the western horizon.
“This is one of the vortexes,” she said, as she seemed to breathe it all in. “Isn’t it spectacular?”
“Yes, it’s an amazing view. I’ve never been up here at night. Is this what you wanted to show me?”
“No, not yet.” She took his hand and pulled him gently to the crest of the hill, then put her hands on either side of his face. Her touch electrified him. As she looked into his eyes, his whole being filled with energy, with impending potential, with boundless possibilities. He felt energy radiating from Julie’s body. She took his hand in hers and turned to face the valley with him, “now look.”
Brian looked around the valley. He could see it now as well as in daylight. Several luminous multi-colored vortexes sprang from the ground, spiraling high into the air, twisting, merging with each other, and dancing across the sky like auroras. The earth itself looked as if a brilliant light underground was shining through myriad cracks in the dark desert floor.
They stood like that, holding hands, as she explained the vortexes, other worlds, the people on those worlds, and how she used the energy of the vortexes to travel between worlds. He saw phantomlike visions of trees, and large animals, and several kinds of humanoid shapes walking through lush fields in the valley below him. Unknown creatures and vehicles flew through the sky. Standing wide eyed with his mouth open, Brian tried to take it all in. The things she said were far outside his ability to fully comprehend, but he no longer doubted the truth of anything she said. When she released his hand, the vision faded, but he continued to see the incredible vortexes surging into the sky.
Hours later she was gone. He was standing alone, looking up at the stars fading from the early dawn sky. Brian wasn’t sure when or how she had gone, or where. He was thinking about the last thing she had whispered to him. “You’ve been chosen. Be great.” She had given him a peek at the infinite. He was a part of that vast universe and yet he didn’t feel small. He felt limitless. He had no limits other than those he chose to accept.
A few weeks later Brian’s life had completely changed. He could still see the vortexes at night, but he no longer saw problems, just exciting opportunities. His research was making astounding progress, and his boss was happy again. He sat with a group of new friends at Café José. Paul, a Sedona old-timer and self-proclaimed lore master, was telling tall tales and legends. He told stories of the ancient Anasazi, the town as it was in the old west, people disappearing in the desert, and what Sedona was like when he was young.
He told the legend of an enchantress, a local girl whose mystic powers and knowledge of the vortex energy was said to be boundless. She mysteriously disappeared some sixty years ago, but according to the story she reappears every couple of years, showing no sign of aging, and chooses someone to take out to the vortexes with her. Then she vanishes again, but whoever she takes out there is never the same again. Brian didn’t laugh at the story like the others did who heard it, he just smiled. Yes, that was the word for her: “boundless.”