The Lorelei Signal
Written by Phillip A. Myers / Lee Ann Barlow
What I’m about to tell you, you’re going to find crazy. I don’t blame you.
My name is…or rather was Walter Graves. I live in Baltimore. This is a story of my lives.
Yes, I said ‘lives.’ This will make sense later in.
Yeah right, no it won’t.
I was your average young man at the ripe age of thirty-five, living off my parents’ hospitality and income. All my time spent in my second-floor bedroom playing video games and watching online porn, only ever coming out for the occasional bodily sustenance and, er, disposal. With my low education and even lower aspirations, I found myself with only a scant number of job prospects.
Who am I kidding? There were no prospects.
All of this changed three years ago.
I’d been given an ultimatum, courtesy of dear mother and father. Either I take that janitor position that opened up at my younger brother Milton’s work or I move out and find my own place. I chose to go find a bar and get faced instead.
If the five shots of Tequila didn’t make me a complete mess, the two Long Island Iced Teas certainly finished the job. As I left Dead Freddies in my inebriated state, I found myself stammering around north Baltimore all night like a jackass. Last thing I remembered before losing consciousness was shooting at flying manatees with my imaginary finger pistol.
Next morning, I woke with a hangover lying in a sylvan glen.
I looked around and found no sign of any billboards, light rails, trash, broken bottles, condom wrappers, homeless people, or anything to indicate I was still in Baltimore. Instead, I saw nature and only nature. Trees lush with greenery, long rushing rivers brisk and blue and free of debris, and mountains reaching into the clear sky.
At first I thought I’d wandered into the Maryland Zoo, because apparently I was an idiot.
Eventually, I happened upon a small village unlike anything I’d ever seen outside Pennsylvania. There lay several farm patches outstretched with small hovels along dirt road; each home a patchwork of stick, straw and mud. People dressed up in old-timey clothes and worked the fields with outdated tools, and farm animals, chickens and goats, ran along the dirt street.
Far off in the distance, past houses and estates, I discovered an authentic medieval castle built from roughhewn flagstone. Each tower held a banner signifying a weird creature I wasn’t familiar with.
I was flabbergasted. This was fantastic! I had never seen the Renaissance Festival go all out like this before. This was absolutely worth sneaking in drunk late at night.
Then a Goddamn dragon swooped down and snatched a cow off a field.
That was pretty much how I realized I wasn’t in Baltimore anymore.
Culture shock set in along with my wet pants. I ran and hid inside a barn. Cradled in a fat ball beneath a pile of hay, I wondered what the hell was going on. Was I dreaming or did all the alcohol in my system incur permanent brain damage?
Eventually and reluctantly, I reached my only conclusion: somehow I’d been transported to a new world filled with fantasy and magic, almost like Narnia without the Christian allegory.
My mind was clouded with fear and despair. I was alone, stuck in an unfamiliar place with no family to support my slovenly lifestyle. If possible, I would never find my way home or see my loved ones again.
Then I figured ‘screw it.’ Not like my life was unicorns pooping rainbow fairies back home anyway.
Instead of moping about, I decided to look on this as a unique opportunity. I would travel this new world and exploit explore its many fantastic wonders. My own exciting adventure straight out of a fantasy novel, maybe I’d become a hero and vanquish whatever dark presence marshaled within the dark recesses of darkness.
Thus my new life began.
It turned out to be a very short one.
Three weeks later, I wound up lying on the streets penny-less and covered in muck and bruises. All my clothes and valuables were either stolen by bandits or ripped to shreds by wild animals. The only food I ate was rotten fruits and vegetables and raw meat leftover from carcasses. Everyone looked to me as some nutcase raving about this weird world.
Soon I suffered dysentery and died.
That’s right. I died. Because this was a horrible, horrible time period.
As I lay bleeding from my anus, I cursed God or whatever deity made me suffer such a pathetic existence. The only remaining comfort I had was the sweet embrace of death.
Thus my miserable life finally came to an end.
…then my newborn eyes awoke.
Yup. I reincarnated into the body of an infant. A baby girl, to be exact.
I won’t lie. I was a tad miffed, what with my balls gone and all. But just being born, I had no means of voicing my concerns. Strangely enough, I still retained all memories of my former life.
So I was a middle-aged man embodied in that of a little girl. Creepy.
My new name became Wilda Francia Irehouse. Yup.
My new parents were of high nobility, Viscounts to a vast estate. From birth they showered me with extravagances I could never imagine, fancy toys, exotic pets, and grand meals enough to feed all the starving warlords in Africa. We would take holidays to our summer cottage where I’d ride my pet unicorn and watch the sun set over the lakeside.
Indeed, despite the altered genitalia it was a dream come true.
…which all came to a rude awakening when I got kidnapped at the age of seven, fell off my captor’s horse and was trampled to death. Again, this was a horrible, horrible time period.
…then my newborn eyes awoke.
This time around, I found myself in the body of a baby male Dwarf. My name was Wallard Stonerock. Uh huh. I was a fat chubby Dwarf born with stubble on my chin and memories of both past lives.
Even for a toddler, I found the differences between Human and Dwarf quite astounding. My body, while short remained thick and stocky. It felt as though it was made out of stone.
None of which helped when an earthquake struck and a loose boulder fell on my infant skull. Read: horrible time period.
About ten rebirths later, I’d developed a healthy sense of paranoia. I wondered if fate had a sick sense of humor and I was secretly related to Taylor Kitsch.
Anyway, my newest life became that of a female Elf, named Walda Gravia Heartmoon because of course it damn well is. I grew up inside a massive oak tree among five brothers and sisters. Youngest, I was chided by my elder siblings as the acorn fallen farthest from the tree (Elven vernacular).
I couldn’t care less what they thought of me. This time around I swore to whatever Elven pantheon I would not die.
Having one past experience in an Elf body, I avoided climbing trees in fear of falling to an early death again. Regardless of the mockery by other children, I’d already learned the hard difference between Elves and squirrels and knew better.
Instead, my time was focused upon books and research. Around my seventh run, I’d taken a serious interest in studying magic. My hopes were to find a way back home to my own world, or at the very least learn how I wound up here in the first place. Or to recover my penis. But mostly to avoid death.
Not saying that I remained indoors an Elven shut-in. While honing my mind, I also took the opportunity to train my body so it didn’t tire as easily. I ran around my forest commune every morning and did pushups until I almost passed out. By the time I turned ten, I had a lean Elven body and a sharp mind to match.
At age twelve, I left my commune and travelled to the Magic Academy in the central city. There, I resumed my studies in magic breezing by the other students’ with all my accumulated knowledge from my former lives. And as an Elf, I was born with a strong affinity to magic. So I was pretty much running on cheat codes.
Before long, I could conjure fire without burning my dormitory down and risk self-immolation. I could dive into the minds of others and not explode either of our brains. And I could transfer my body from one corner of the city to another without trapping myself inside the middle of a stone wall. Twice.
My memories of the nobility afforded me the understanding of court politics and subterfuge. I solved numerous civil problems with food shortages, tax inflations, and even skirted a war with neighboring nations. Dwarf knowledge helped to discover several mining veins and mend the broken relations between Elf, Men and Dwarf.
The only real obstacle I encountered was the corrupt wizard who had betrayed and murdered me in my ninth life and had grown to status from my past demise. In the end we engaged in a Grand Wizard’s Duel for magical supremacy…but I don’t wanna bore you with the details. Basically I won, cause again: cheat codes.
I also learned to bake cookies! Not related, I just like cookies. I’m an Elf.
Before long, I obtained the title of Archwizard at only thirty years of age. People of high and low birth came to me for my counsel, which I offered willingly.
And yet I couldn’t help but feel so empty. True I was pretty happy with this new life, but deep down I still missed my home, my video games, and my penis. The longer I stayed here, I imagined, the further away from myself I’d become.
So even after finally establishing myself in this world, I still felt lost.
Thus my unceremonious return to Baltimore.
One minute, I’m walking through the woods searching for herbs to make tea. The next, I find myself stepping out of the thicket and into the Jones Falls Expressway.
I stood there staring dumbstruck at the familiar passing cars for a full hour before it dawned on me: at the age of thirty-five, I was back in Baltimore.
Ecstatic? Distraught? Irate? I was a little bit of everything there. Eventually I rejoiced with a solemn hollering in the street like a mad woman.
I then fled once I realized I’d been standing in midmorning traffic.
To my surprise, the local Baltimore Sun indicated only ten Earth days had passed since my departure. Seriously? What seemed like a hundred years in that Narnia fantasy gone George RR Martin turned out to be only ten days here? Nevertheless, I determined my first agenda: home.
It was around noon when I arrived at my parents’ house. Mom and dad were still working, so no one was at home except for the family dog Sleek. That little Pomeranian bastard didn’t recognize me at first, so I used a little empathy magic to calm the little fleabag down.
When I got in using the spare key under the left brown flower pot (please do not rob my folks), I decided to acquaint myself with the modern world’s most satisfying innovation. I took a nice long shower.
After removing all the grime out from every crevice, I took a look at myself in the mirror. The obese middle-aged Caucasian from another lifespan was no more than a distant memory; instead there stood a thin sleek woman of brown skin, young enough looking to pass for late teens. A vast improvement I admit, albeit no junk. My pointy ears stuck out a little, but my auburn hair did well to mask their appearance.
I entered my bedroom and caught a full whiff of my original body’s lingering BO. My Elven eyes stung with tears. The entire room was a testament toward my past failure. The floor was layered with used soda bottles and candy wrappers, my bed sheets discolored from overuse, and my computer desk littered with crumbs and…unused Kleenexes. I was afraid to touch my keyboard.
But swallowing my pride and my breath, I skimmed through my bedroom to find a clean sheet of loose-leaf and wrote a long-time-coming message for my folks. I apologized for the past thirty-five years, for abusing their love and care, and for leaving without saying goodbye. I informed them to not look for me because I was already dead, but that I’d always love them and they would always be in my heart.
Well it wasn’t too far off the truth. If I told them everything, I’d wind up in Sheppard Pratt.
After changing into some fresh, if not oversized, clothes and taking what little of my savings I had stashed away in my closet, I finally left my childhood home. This time for good.
…but not before I erased all the porn from my hard drive. Priorities.
My first year back, I lived in a woman’s homeless shelter passing myself off as an eighteen-year-old runaway. Most of my time that year was spent at Our Sister’s Place Women’s Center receiving free meals and finding part-time work no matter how menial. I took free classes in order to qualify for better employment, and whatever money leftover I used to open a savings account.
I did run into a bit of a snag early on though, thanks to my Elven nature. You see, while I can still cast some minor incantations, thanks to my magical affinity I tend to make a mess with most electronics. One touch, everything fizzles out. I first found this out when I ‘erased’ my hard drive back then. So I’m stuck wearing gloves whenever I use a computer now, but smartphones and touchscreens are right out. Oh well. I don’t even bother with television and video games anymore.
A year and a half in, I ‘acquired’ a new Social Security Card and Maryland Class-C Driver’s License. Under the assumed name Walda G. Hermun, I moved into my own rented loft someplace downtown so I could be close to all the jobs. I also bought a bicycle with a little extra money, that way I can ride to work whilst keeping in shape. At most, I worked two, sometimes three part-time jobs to pay for rent and food expenses.
I just recently turned ‘twenty-one’ this year, thirty-eight in my real Elf body, and one hundred and thirty-eight in mind and soul. It was then that I started asking myself: what was I living for now?
I’d spent one hundred years of repetitive life and death trying to find my way back home, and now that I found it, what purpose remained? Every day after work, I went home, ate ramen and rested up early ready for work the next day. And for what goal? What purpose?
What was the point?
Just thinking about returning to my miserable careless existence made me depressed. This thought was actually scarier than surviving in that other world. I even considered suicide at one point, maybe reincarnate into someone else if that was still possible on Earth.
Only my fear of death saved me.
Then last week I acquainted myself with another modern yet not-so-satisfying innovation: my gynecologist. I was worried at first my Elven physique would raise several questions in the field of medicine, but luckily I passed for a healthy young woman leaving nothing but the lingering cold sensation of metal.
Why did I mention this embarrassing segment? Well, whilst waddling my way through the lobby of Mercy Hospital, I ran into a familiar face, my younger brother Milton.
You see, I’d always resented my little brother. Only three years younger and he was the family prodigy. Everything just came natural to him be it school, sports, and women. While I attended an unknown college out west, he got into University of Maryland on several lofty scholarships. Smartass.
Last I remembered, Milton was about to get married to some slut from our old high school. He’d just earned his PhD and had work lined up with his fiancé’s family business. And to add salt into my jealous wounds, he’d offered me a job. Me, the older brother, a job!
It all seemed like a lifetime ago, probably because it was literally several lifetimes ago, but I still felt like slugging him in his smug face. I held back when his two-year-old son pointed at my funny ears and called me an Elf. Smart kid.
As Milton apologized, I laughed it off and made up some condition off the top of my head. Earitis? Anyway, we introduced ourselves, and he mentioned his son’s name.
He named him after his missing uncle.
Milton explained how bad he felt when his brother disappeared from home three years ago and wished they could have been on better terms, how he’d always looked up to him, and how he wanted what was best for his older brother.
I almost broke down crying. Instead, I said goodbye and left without mentioning anything. Instead of going home, I biked around the Inner Harbor thinking about everything that transpired.
I travelled to a magical world, died, resurrected several times over, and returned to Baltimore in better shape than when I left. And I was about to throw that all away? Again?
I felt ashamed for myself. And still sore from my pap smear.
So that brings us to today. Here I am in the Pratt Library typing away this drivel of a story on a computer next to some high school kid watching One Piece on Youtube. Earlier I enrolled in some online courses and plan to attend a local college to earn my Bachelor’s Degree. Maybe Physics? I’m interested if there’s a genuine link between magic and science, however intangible.
And it is here at the end of my ramblings I again pose the question: What was the point?
Fuck if I know.
Closure? Maybe I needed to vent before my head exploded. Or maybe I needed to affirm all the choices I made up to the present. Maybe I’m just bored, who knows?
What I do know is that I’ve been keeping this thing to myself for a long time, and I have to live with it for longer. I want to share this experience with someone. Whether or not you believe me, it doesn’t really matter.
All that matters to me is that I feel like I can finally start living again. As an Elf in Baltimore.
Was that end line there too corny or preachy? I don’t know. Whatever. I need get to work.
Phillip A. Myers is a Baltimore native with an avid interest in Science Fiction and Fantasy. He is an active member of the Baltimore
Science Fiction Society and has had a couple of other works published in various magazines, including another story for a previous
issue of Lorelei Signal.