She waited nervously, wiping her sweaty palms on her jeans. Nothing. She knocked again a bit louder. Waited and still nothing. She stepped back, eyeing the black numbers 177 to the right of the door. Yes, she was at the right house. She knocked again, quite firmly. Again, not a sound. Sher peered through the windows but was unable to see into the dark interior. Disappointment washed over her as she made her way down the porch steps and out to the sidewalk. She turned back again frowned at the card in her hand ‘177 Elm Street’. Sher certainly was here on the right day and at the right time.
She glanced up and down the sidewalk, walking towards her was an older woman pulling a flower cart behind her. As the woman passed her, she said “You will never get there from here, my dear.”
“Excuse me?” Caroline called out, as the women made her way down the street. My goodness she was moving fast. Caroline rush to catch up. “Excuse me, could you help me find 177 Elm Street? I seem to be …” she paused “confused”.
The women stopped, smiled up at Caroline. “You are not confused, dear, you simply cannot get there from here. The only to get there is to go back.”
“I am sorry” Caroline stammered “I don’t understand. I received an invitation to 177 Elm Street tonight at 7:00p.m; however, no one seems to be home.”
The old women lay her hand on Caroline’s arm and patted it. “It’s all on the card, Caroline. You just need to look back.”
And with that the old women continued her way down the sidewalk. In the blink of an eye, she disappeared around the corner. Only then did Caroline realize that the women had called her by name. She made her way back to 177 Elm Street and looked up at the house. A large deck wrapped its way around both sides of the house. It was the picture of coastal charm, filled with white wicker chairs and tables, a large swing, and hanging flower pots filled with red geraniums. A chalkboard sign read “Welcome to the Porch”. For a moment Caroline allowed herself to dream of owning such a porch.
‘What a magical place.’ She thought.
She looked back down to the card in her hand, its edges bent from being clinched in her hand. You need to look back; the women had said. Caroline turned the card over. There on the back of card, she read- 177 Elm Street, The Back. She stood there for a moment staring at the card, how had she missed this? She had picked up this card many times since she received it. Had she never once turned it over? Glancing at her watch, she hurried up the steps of the porch and made her way around to ‘The Back’ of 177 Elm Street.
A smaller back porch over looked a garden of flowers, herbs, and a small creek with a green Japanese bridge gave the feeling of being at Claude Monet’s home in Giverny, France. For a moment Caroline could imagine Monet painting his famous Water Lilies series right in front of her. She turned around and looked at the heavy oak door with a sign that read The Back, 177 Elm Street. A tall thin man in a dark suit smiled at her as she approached.
“Welcome, Caroline, come in.” He opened the door wider and beckoned her inside.
Caroline did her best not to gape and greeted the man in the dark suit. “Hello”, she put out her hand, “my name is Caroline, thank you for the invitation, I…”
“Let me take your things.” He reached out to take her coat, purse, and umbrella. “Someone will be along to take you to the library.” And with that, he was gone leaving Caroline alone in the lounge. The entire room was painted a soft butter yellow. Eight floor-to-ceiling diamond shaped windows allowed a breath-taking view of the night sky. Scattered about were Tulip tete-a-tete chairs covered in rosewood fabric. On tables everywhere, were vases of roses. Not a single vase was a duplicate. Vibrant stained-glass vases, nestled next to stained wooded vases. Each vase contained roses. The room was heady with the soft scent of rose. It was a kaleidoscope of color and beauty. It was a living garden.
On the walls were large dark picture frames, craved with swirls and flowers, surrounding what looked on first appearance to be pages from a book. She walked over to the furthest one, drawn to its home in the shadows of a large staircase, and saw that it was indeed a page from a book, with a small golden plaque with an itched name of the main character. Dream-Land by Edgar Allen Poe with the name of Eidolon.
‘Stranger and stranger’ she quoted Alice in Wonderful to herself. ‘Who would want to be known as a shadow?’ Caroline whispered as she read the dark and haunting poem. It was one of her favorites, but one that she only endaluged in when the sun was shining and she was sitting on a busy street. To read the poem at any other time would give her freedom to fall into its beautiful misery and be lost.
“Not many are drawn to this particular portrait.” Caroline jumped a little and whirled around to see a man leaning against the rails to the stair case. He was a striking man with ebony hair, deep set dark eyes that almost appeared to be violet in color, a strong chin, and muscular body. He looked as if he was a true reniancance man dressed in well cut jeans, a dark sweater, and a tweed jacket. “Welcome to the Raven Society. You must be Caroline?” He questioned the intruder.
Caroline walked over to where he was standing and offered her hand, “I think that I may be late. I was on time, but I didn’t notice that I needed to go to the back door. I must have read the card a hundred times, and I never saw….” She stammered.
“It does that sometimes.” He replied looking at the back door with faint amusement. “I am Eidolon. It is a pleasure to met you. Wont you join us in the library for drinks?”
“A drink sounds wonderful.” Caroline was aware that she was blushing and sweating. She had never been good at first impressions when first impressions counted. One of the many ironies of life. Being placed in a position to have to meet and talk to many people, but without the internal knowledge of how to do it. Since she didn’t know what else to do, she stood a little straighter and followed Lucas through the double doors on the right and into the library. It was breath taking. The most beautiful room that Caroline had ever seen before. Dark maghony book shelves two stories high lined the walls, windows just as large filled the room with natural light, the fire place stretch from the floor to the ceiling large enough to have 3 people sit inside of it. A large painting hung over it of what looked to be the final supper, but with what look to be famous authors instead of disciples. The couches and chairs were lined with plush red velvet fabric, inviting enough to sit in to read but not enough to fall asleep. Large tables and writing desks stood along the edges as if beaconing someone to sit down and write the next great novel. The ceiling was a painting of the Gods looking down at the occupants as if they were watching and waiting for the next miracle to happen. The room smelled of coffee, paper, ink, and apple wood smoke. Caroline stood in the doorway trying to take it all in. Eidolon turned half way through the room realizing he had lost his guest and slightly gasp at what he saw. The light from the fire place danced across Caroline’s face of pure happiness. She was instantly transformed into a goddess with the light from the large window shining a single ray directly on her spot. The other members turned to look also, each one of them seeing the same sight.
“Well, I guess we don’t need to do the interview anymore. We just got our answer.” A man standing next to the bar stated to a beautiful middle-aged woman who was making herself a drink.
“Don’t be draft Watson, of course we do the interview. It’s tradition.” She took a drink and set the glass down eyeing the contents. “One of my best if I must say.”
“Isabella, I have never saw you with a drink that you didn’t appreciate.” Her companion laughed as she walked toward Caroline.
Caroline was still standing in the doorframe spelled bound when Isabella appeared at her side.
“It is magnificent isn’t it? Makes you want to write, drink, and enjoy the pleasure of sin doesn’t it.” Isabella laughed at Caroline’s shock and confusion. “I would introduce myself, but it is against the rules until after the official introductions. I wouldn’t worry about anything. This part is more of a formality than anything, I have it on good authority that you were accepted before you even got your card.” She linked arms with Caroline and started walking her further into the room towards the couches by the window. “Not like me, I had to plea, beg, and borrow to get invited and even then, I was a nervous wreck on my introduction day. I changed my outfit seven times and ended up coming as my character. Looking back, I don’t think that I needed to do all that, but I did leave quit the impression.” Isabella smiled broadly as she sat down and patted the seat next to her “I think that we will be great friends. I feel it in my soul, like a blooming of friendship budding in my toes. You will be my Anne of Green Gables and I will be Diana. Except, a bit more worldly Diana.”
Caroline could not help but smile at this strange character sitting down. She was a world wind of words. The bracelets on her arm danced lightly with all her movements, spell bounding Caroline as if she was sitting next to a pixie. The most gorgeous pixie she had ever seen. Long, full blond hair that never stopped moving as if it was a river of gold flowing downward. She wore a light, flowing dress of mint green that was offset by her layers of long necklous and multi-colored scarf. The perfect pixie face that boasted dancing green eyes and the perfect red lips. No make-up. ‘Damn it’ Caroline thought ‘she is the perfect beauty if she doesn’t need to wear make-up.’
A man in a gorgeous three-piece suit walked up to them holding two drinks. “I thought that you could both use a drink.” Watson said as he handed them to the two new friends. “One to calm your nerves” he said looking a Caroline as she took the drink “two to tighten the lose tongue” as he smiled at the pixie.
‘Is everyone here a God or Goddess?’ Caroline thought as she peered at the new stranger over her drink. He is a Greek God. His blond hair played over his eyes, the light stubble of growth on his face just heightened the perfect formation of his chin and lips. His eyes were the most amazing golden brown that seem to dance like a fire. And the way that he looked down at Isabella, you could tell that there was friendship and an undercurrent of sexual desire. The new companion pushed his way down to sit in between them and causally placed his long arms along the back of the couch and stretched his legs out.
“I wonder how long today will take? I peeked into the kitchen and can tell you that the smells that were flowing out will take us all to a new level of heavenly delight.” He looked at Caroline with concern “You do know who you are going to chose don’t you? Please tell me that you have someone in mind. The last time we invited someone to the introductions, it took 3 hours.” Watson looked at Isabella laughing. “Do you remember that? What is her name? Wait, don’t tell me. Against the rules.” He said to Caroline with a smirk. He looked around the room. “I know that she will be here, poor dear has nothing else in her life that is remotely exciting.” He scanned the room for a few seconds. “Ah! There she is” he said quietly to Caroline. “Standing in the shadows of the books, pretending to be reading the titles.”
Caroline was shocked to realize that they were talking about Anna, the brazen leader of the Book Store Book Club. The last time she had seen her she was surrounded by her friends and was the obvious leader of the group. The person that stood in the dark corner was a complete transformation. What had happened? Caroline watched as Anna walked slowly along the rows of books, pretending to be engaged but instead watching the group in the room. As if she wanted to join in, but was waiting for someone to reach out to her.
Isabella leaned slightly forward to look at Caroline and whispered “She almost didn’t make it in. She was all over the place with her answer. Like she couldn’t decide who her character was and when she made the decision, she couldn’t explain it to herself let alone to the welcome committee.”
“Welcome committee?” Caroline looked at Isabella. She was beginning to sweat and there was not enough in her glass to steady her nerves. If Anna almost didn’t make it, with her overwhelming confidence, how was she going to explain herself?
“Yes, the welcome committee. They are the ones that will give you the run down of the whole operation. The ins and outs. The do’s and don’ts. The good and the bad. They are a bit ‘much’ if you ask me. Always with the rules.” Elijah said while taking a sip from Isabella’s drink. “They are the keepers of the keys.”
“What key’s?” Caroline asked. Elijah started to tell her, but they were interrupted by the man who Caroline had meet in the hallway. He had changed, and was wearing a cloak the color of midnight and dawn and draped the floor like a bride’s veil. The wearer of this majestic cloak glided across the floor and stood between two of the diamond windows. As the wearer turned the stars in the night sky appeared as a crown around his head. The man was at least 6 feet tall. His hair was so dark it matched the darkness of his cloak. His eyes were a deep blue almost violet. His smile as he greeted the society lit up his entire face.
“Welcome, I am your host, The Raven. Tonight, we will embark on a journey of stories. Each of you, through you have packed no luggage, have come fully prepared to commence upon this voyage. Your only required baggage is the character you have come with. Henceforth, we will know each other only by our character name. We will introduce and refer to each other only with those names. Indeed, until we complete our introduction, no further information will be revealed. “ Caroline was spelled bound as a man and a woman suddenly appeared behind him; chairs were placed on a small platform for them to sit in. They looked every much like royalty sitting above their subjects in their cloaks and emotionless faces.
“That’s the welcoming committee.” Elijah whispered.
“Knock them dead love!” Isabella said as she reached over and squeezed Caroline’s hand. Caroline’s eyes swept across the room; her mouth suddenly dry. She hadn’t settled on a character, not really. She had toyed with some, deciding on one, only to toss it aside the next day. Now, here she was and they were demanding a decision. Anne Boleyn didn’t feel this much pressure sitting in front of her Judge and Jury. The hooded master of ceremonies was looking around the room at two other people who were betraying their nervousness just as much as Caroline. A strange thought occurred to Caroline- what is one of them took her character? She hadn’t actually decided what she would say yet, but what if one of them took one of the three? What if they got chosen with her character and she was forced out into the chilly night air? Would her two new friends hustle her out the door without a word? She imagined it would be like being kicked out of the gates of Disneyland if she was booted by Tinker Bell and Prince Charming.
“I am known as Eidolon and these are my partners- Winston and Emma.” The two cloaked members nodded in recognition. “They are bearers of the keys. These keys are the symbols of opening and closing chapters in our lives. It can mean the difference between freedom and an entirety locked in a symbolic death. To hold a key, is to hold indefinite number of possibilities. Those of you who pass the first test will be given a key, unique in its own creation as you are to the story that is being told in these rooms.”
Caroline was lost in his words, an overwhelming sense of need for a key. If ever there was someone who needed and wanted a way to unlock destiny- it was her.
“Come forward visitors and tell us your stories.” A chair was brought to sit in front of the three-member welcoming committee.
“Get up there!” Elijah whispered pushing Caroline off the couch. She looked at him with daggers of death as Isabella snickered. “I will get you a drink as soon as you are done!” He promised.
‘Fat good that will do when I am escorted out like yesterday’s trash’, Caroline thought to herself as she walked to the formable group. ‘Welcoming committee my ass, I felt more welcomed at my yearly women’s doctor’s appointment. At least they played smoothing music and had a nice picture of a sandy beach on the ceiling!’ Caroline forced herself into the awaiting chair and faced the execution squad with a small smile and sweaty hands folded in her lap. She refused to look at the master of ceremonies and instead focused her attention on the one who was called Emma. Caroline wondered if she knew that she looked like Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter.
“Visitor. Tell us your story.” Caroline’s eyes unwillingly traveled to the center stage. It was that moment that she forgot all her previous choices. ‘Crap’ she thought. This was the moment she had months to prepare and she wasn’t ready. It really didn’t surprise her, she seem to always chock when it was time to be important. The last 30 years seem to fly through her subconscious, retelling every story of her failure. The lack of friends, the eating lunch alone in the lunch room, the nights of school dances that she never got invited too, the day she realized that people in college were just as mean as in high school, lunch in the office break room when she spoken too because people felt bad for her, the day that she quit her job and nobody noticed that she left. This was supposed to be the one area where she fit in. These were supposed to be her people. She was supposed to finally belong to something. An anger filled her. She wasn’t nervous anymore; she was angry that she had to prove that she was worthy. Damn-it!