Charles was standing on a sidewalk in downtown Savannah. It was as if the city was alive. He stared up at the buildings. Some looked old and some a bit newer. All them had a story to tell, he thought to himself. People passed by him as he walked down Main Street, some nodded, some jabbering on their phones. All of them had agendas they were trying to keep. He often wondered what was so important to the people around him. Certainly what they were doing wouldn’t hold a candle to what he had to do. A selfish thought, but that’s subconsciously how Charles often felt.
Charles stopped for a moment to take in his surroundings. In the distance he could hear what was probably a local band covering a version of the song “All By Myself.” That seemed ironic, since the area was teeming with activity.
He wasn’t tired, but he just had one of those moments where a big yawn struck him – the kind where you close your eyes and try and take in as much oxygen as you can, for no apparent reason.
When Charles opened his eyes what he saw blew his mind. He was no longer standing in the middle of a booming metropolis. He was standing dead center in a quiet room. He tried to take in his surroundings, but panic was making chills run down his spine. He felt flush and for a moment worried he would collapse. As he scanned the room, the saw the walls were wooden, like a log cabin.
The room he was standing in appeared to be a small dining area between the kitchen and a modest living room. All of it was completely furnished. His worry grew, because now not only was he completely confused as to how he got there, he was starting to think he was in some stranger’s house. He saw a window in the living room and started to walk towards it. His legs were stiff from the panic and blood rush he’d had. The more he moved, the easier it got. His steps echoed through the quiet house as he walked across the hardwood floor toward the window. The curtains had been drawn so he would have to pull them back to see outside.
Charles gently grabbed one panel of the tan and brown curtains and pushed it aside. He gasped as he looked out on a snowy scene. It looked like he was in some secluded tundra.
“That’s not possible,” he said aloud.
His mouth was starting to get dry and he realized he just been standing staring out the window with his mouth wide open in disbelief. The living room looked to be at the front of the house so he made his way to the front door. He opened the door, not knowing exactly what he would see; the way things had been going. It was the same snowy lawn he’d seen out of the window. The air was icy and there was a slight breeze that blew flecks of snow like glitter in the air.
Charles walked outside to get his bearings. The house was in a mid-level valley and the sun had not yet crested the hill on the eastern side. To the west it looked wide open. He wondered what was out there. Of course, he didn’t know where “here” was, let alone “there.”
Charles walked back inside. He was starting to wonder if he was dreaming, or having some kind of mental breakdown. Then he chuckled to himself, thinking if he wasn’t having a breakdown, this current situation might bring one on. He sat on the couch in the living room and tried to gather his thoughts. It was then he realized that a fire had been going in the fireplace. Judging by the wood, it looked like it had been burning for little while. In fact, it needed another log to keep it going. Charles stood up and walked over to the fireplace. The crackling sound brought back memories of his grandparents’ cabin he used to visit as a kid. He remembered how his grandfather could nurse a fire for hours to keep it going. Charles grabbed the poker and jabbed it at the logs to try and stir it up some.
All of a sudden, the front door opened and a big, burly man came into the house. Charles jumped and whirled around.
“Well, I was wondering when you’d get here,” the stranger said with a smile on his face.
Charles realized that he had the fire poker braced in front of him for protection. The burly man was not fazed. “Looks like you could use another log,” he said handing Charles a piece wood.
The man’s voice was deep and somewhat gruff sounding. He seemed to fit the stereotype of a lumberjack. A big black beard covered most of his face, but as he smiled at Charles, his toothy grin shined through.
Charles turned and faced the fireplace putting the log on the dying fire. The burley fellow took his hat and gloves off and hung them by the front door.
“That wind’s got a bite to it, huh?”
Charles replied sheepishly, “Uh, yeah, it’s cold.” The man smiled at Charles. He had a strange kindness about him.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude,” Charles started, “But where am I and who are you? Oh, my name’s Charles, by the way.”
“Oh, I know who you are, my friend. I’ve been expecting you.”
“Ah yes, wait, what?”
“My name is Horace Fletcher, but most folks call me Fletch.”
“And is this your house?”
“It’s not my house, it’s yours Charles.”
“No, that’s not right. I live in a suburb of…”
“Not your physical house, it’s more than that.”
“I beg your pardon? I’m not sure I follow you. I’m well aware that this isn’t my physical house, since it’s not my house at ALL!”
Fletch grinned again. “You, my friend, have a few things to learn.”
Charles wasn’t quite sure how to take this. He actually felt a little offended. “I’m sorry, but I’m not about to take life lessons from some strange, hairy woodsman.”
“Oh, come now.” Fletch smirked a little. “I’m not that hairy!”
Charles’ mind was reeling. What in the world was going on? He wasn’t sure what he was feeling; he was scared, angry, confused.
“Look,” Charles said, “If you would just be so kind as to point me in the right direction of the nearest town, I’ll gladly be on my way. Then you can get back to your lumberjack lifestyle.”
“Sit your butt down,” Fletch suddenly demanded. Somewhat frightened by the large man’s demeanor, Charles obeyed.
“Now listen here, Chuck. There is no ‘nearest town’ or highway that leads back home. There is ‘here’ and there is ‘now.’ Those are your only options. I’m here to help teach you a few things.”
With a slight quiver in his voice, Charles asked, “What kind of things?”
“Well, for starters, you need to lighten up and relax a little.”
Charles swallowed hard. As if he was going to be able to stay calm while this oaf stood towering over him.
“Secondly, you need to think about how you speak to and treat folks. For example, as soon as I walked through that door, you jumped all over me, barking orders and carrying on. Like your business was more important than anyone else’s.” Fletch leaned in close and stared him right in the eye. “I can promise you, it ain’t. But deep down, you know that already. You just forget it sometimes.”
Charles covered his face with his hands, trying to process what was going on, but seemingly unable to do so.
“Are you all right,” a strange voice asked. He pulled his hands away from his face and he couldn’t believe his eyes. An elderly woman was looking at him. He was once again standing in the exact spot on the sidewalk in downtown Savannah. He was speechless.
He quickly scanned the area, his eyes darting back and forth. He felt like he was losing his mind.
“Where am I,” he asked the elderly woman, whose face was growing more concerned.
“You’re standing in the middle of downtown Savannah.”
“I am? How long have I been standing here?”
“How should I know? I only just saw you a moment ago. Is everything okay?”
“To be honest, ma’am, I really don’t know.” Charles wanted to crumble right there on the sidewalk, but he managed to stay upright.
With a determined look on her face, the woman motioned to Charles. “My name is Edith. It’s nice to meet you. Come with me.” Unable to get his thoughts together enough to decline, he followed her.
A few minutes later, they were sitting in the woman’s apartment. She set a cup of hot tea in front of Charles. He stared silently as steam rose up out of the mug.
“This really is very kind of you, but I need to be going,” Charles kindly said.
“Where,” the old lady asked. “Why don’t you sip on that tea and tell me what happened?”
The tension in Charles shoulders eased a bit as he drank the tea. He could feel it’s heat all the way down to his stomach as he drank it. The temperature in the apartment was a bit warmer than he thought comfortable, but he thought that often older people tend to get cold easily.
“I was standing about where you saw me,” Charles began, “I yawned and closed my eyes for just a second and when I opened them, I was…this sounds absolutely ridiculous.” Charles stopped.
“Go on,” the old lady encouraged. “I’ve heard all kinds of things in my life.”
He was wary of what this strange old lady would think of him, but he continued his story anyway. “When I opened my eyes, I was in a log cabin in the middle of a snowy valley.”
“Oh, my, that is interesting.”
“Yeah, like I said, it sounds ridiculous.”
“Not ridiculous, just interesting. You yourself are quite interesting. Please, continue.”
Charles proceeded to tell the elderly woman the whole story, as best as he could remember it, including the bearded fellow he met, Horace Fletcher. He snickered to himself and said the burly man’s named softly, “Fletch. What a strange character.”
“He’s known by many names,” Edith responded.
Charles knitted his eyebrows in confusion. “What do you mean?”
There was a knock at the door. Edith did not stand to get the door.
“Aren’t you going to answer the door,” Charles asked.
“Oh, I don’t think so. Probably somebody selling something. It’s easier if they think I’m not at home.”
The knocking continued and even started getting louder. Charles started fidgeting in his chair.
Charles stood up and made his way to the door. “Let’s just see who it is.” He started to open the door and he could hear Edith behind yelling.
“No, don’t answer it!”
As soon as Charles had opened the door, a hand grabbed him by the front of his shirt and yanked him forward. He yelled unsure of what was going on. He was thrown into the snow.
Snow! It was a warm Spring day in Savannah. “How is it…” Charles stopped and looked up.
“Howdy!” It was Fletch!
Charles scurried backwards through the snow, still sitting on the ground. “Wha…I don’t…uh.”
“Relax,” Horace Fletcher said, with a great big bearded smile. He reached out his hand to help Charles up. “Are you okay?”
“Am I okay?! Is that supposed to be a sick joke?” Charles voice was starting to escalate. “I have no earthly idea what is going on!”
“That woman whose house you were in,” Fletch started, but Charles cut him off.
“It wasn’t a house, it was an apartment.”
“Will you stop being so difficult?!” Fletch shoulders raised a little and he puffed his chest up. “That woman, what did she say?”
“Nothing really. Her name is Edith. She made me a cup of tea and wanted to know about my sudden teleportation, or whatever you want to call it, from sunny Savannah to a creepy encounter with the man from Snowy River!”
“That woman is not to be messed with.”
“She was a kind, old lady who saw me freaking out in the middle of downtown and offered some solace. Wait, why am I telling you. I don’t owe you an explanation. I opened her door, only to find it was you knocking at it and then I get tossed in the snow!”
“I was trying to save your life, now let’s get inside before your face freezes with that angry look on it.”
Charles actually admired what little bit of wit Fletch seemed to have. He followed him into the cabin.
They both sat in the living room, staring at the fire. The crackle calmed Charles’ nerves and he began to speak. “What did you mean you were trying to save my life?”
“You need to rest,” Horace Fletcher said, in a kind, soft voice. He didn’t look much older than Charles, but Fletch seemed to have a fatherly quality about him.
Charles slowly opened his eyes. The fire was crackling in the fireplace and he could see the brown wooden walls around him in the room. For a split second he thought he was at his grandparents’ cabin in the mountains. When Charles snapped out of his dazed, he realized he was in the strange house he had been in before he fell asleep.
The door open and both Fletch and some of the winter air came rushing in. “Brr,” Fletch said trying to shake off the cold. “Ah, I see you’re awake.” Fletch grinned his bearded, toothy smile.
“I don’t even remember falling asleep,” Charles said with a confused look on his face.
“You were out before I even left the room. You were exhausted. You’ve had a big day!”
“Yeah, that’s one way to put it.” Charles rubbed his eyes and stood up.
“Are you feeling better?”
Charles was feeling much better actually, but not wanting to make Fletch too happy, since he still didn’t know who he was, he simply said, “A bit better, thanks.”
“Come in here to the kitchen.”
Charles followed behind Fletch to a small table, that he thought was supposed to pass for a dinner table. It only had two chairs.
“Sit at the table. I’ll make us some dinner. We need to have a chat.”
Charles sat down and replied, “You’re right. You need to tell me what in the world is going on!”
Fletch pulled a large plate of meat out of the fridge and set it on the counter and put a skillet on the stove. Charles couldn’t see exactly what he was making, but he didn’t care. Charles had just realized he hadn’t eaten anything all day. The hunger intensified as the smell of whatever Fletch was making wafted through the kitchen.
“That smells really good,” Charles said, with a hint of excitement.
“Thanks. It’s not much, but it’ll stop a belly growl.”
“So, are you going to tell me what’s going on?”
“I supposed you should know. Let me start by saying that none of this is real, and at the same time, it’s all very real.”
“What are you, the Riddler?”
“I suppose that does sound rather cryptic. What I’m saying is, there is a fight for your mind.”
“My mind? Who is fighting for my mind? I was just taking a stroll in the city, when all of sudden I’m in the Alps!”
“Exactly. You see, you were starting to relax a bit. You’re an uptight person, Charles, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
Charles gave Fletch a sideways look. “So you took it upon yourself to make sure I don’t relax?”
“Quite the opposite,” Fletch replied. “I want you to relax, but…”
“And what about that old lady, Edith? She sat me down and gave me tea to make me relax when I was standing in the street panicking!”
“Will you let me finish, Charles?” Charles sat quietly. “Thank you,” Fletch said.
“I want you to relax, but what I don’t want is for you to think only of yourself.”
“I’m afraid I don’t quite follow.” Fletch came over to the table and sat a cup of hot coffee in front of Charles. “Thank you,” Charles responded.
“When you were standing on that sidewalk looking around at all those people, do you remember what you were thinking?”
“Well, I was just wondering where everyone was going. They were all in such a hurry.”
“Imagine what you look like most of the time to other people.”
Fletch sat a plate of food in front of Charles. It smelled delicious and Charles immediately dug into it. Fletch sat his plate down and sat down at the table across from Charles. He watched as Charles devoured the food.
Charles realized that he was being watched and looked up. Fletch stared at him for a moment and softly said, “Do you remember what else you were thinking?”
Charles stared back at Fletch with a forkful of food in his hand but stuck halfway between the plate and his mouth. He set the fork back on the plate and stared blankly at the table.
“I thought,” Charles said somberly, “I thought what they were doing was not as important as what I was doing.”
“And that’s why you’re here,” Fletch said what a slight grin of kindness. “Do you remember when you first looked around outside this house?” Charles nodded. “What did you think, how did you feel?”
“I felt alone. There was not another house in sight and you were the only person around.”
“And how about when you sat in this house all alone while I was out.”
“I felt…empty. The loneliest I had ever felt. There was no one.”
“You’re here as an opportunity to see what the world around you would be like if all those people you see every day, your family, your friends and acquaintances, even strangers no longer existed. As if you were given the wish of your mind, that you were truly the most important person who ever existed and no one else mattered.”
Charles sat speechless. He moved his lips a little, but nothing came out.
“That’s what you’re doing. That why I’m helping you. And that’s why there’s a fight for your mind.”
“But Edith, she was so kind”
“She pretends to be. She appeared to you as a kind old lady, because she figured that’s what you’d respond to. She has no desire to help you. She wanted to feel safe and relaxed because that’s what you wanted. To be protected above all else—to matter more than anyone. Edith wants you to keep thinking of yourself. That’s a poor way to live life. Think about all the times you’ve hurt someone because you didn’t take into account their needs.”
“So how is it you were able to rescue me from her place, but she hasn’t come here to take me back?”
“Because I’m good and good always overcomes evil.”
Charles rubbed his hands over his face to try and process what he’d heard. When he pulled his hands away and looked around, he was laying in his bed at home. The sun was starting to shine through the windows. He could hear a quiet voice in the back of his mind saying…
“This is the first day of the rest of your life.”