A short tale of life and the somewhat perversely humorous after life.
The lantern stands guard over Pamela’s cremated remains until one day magically transforms another living being into the remains the lantern is guarding so that Pamela takes new life in the other living being’s body.
The lantern stands guard constantly overlooking the ornate, Chinese red urn containing Pamela's remains. Almost like a person, the lantern is always looking from an angle, never taking its stare away from the urn. Its duty is to protect, watch over and remain a reminder that all is calm, peaceful, okay - A little like the eternal flame at JFK'S grave site.
By all appearances the lantern is normal looking, what one might expect at seeing a candle perched inside a window-latticed, red-lacquered, nautically designed portable lamp.
It's normal looking and serves its purpose as a lamp overlooking Pam's oriental urn. That is, except for when it decides to act independently and transform a living body's substance into cremated remains and then swap them out with Pamela's.
Admittedly a neat trick that not every lantern is capable of doing. Why it performs this rather perverse ritual, if one wants to call it that, is unknown at this juncture. It just does it. Randomly. It's as if the lantern has a sixth sense about the person with whom it selects to interact.
You might be asking yourself how I know this happens at all. Have I witnessed this rather profane exercise in transformation? Has it happened to me? It has not. Yet! Though I wonder what type of emotional ties does the lantern have with its "subjects". I sense it wants what's best for Pam, to bring her joy and comfort in some very strange and weird way.
Assuming this to be true, I'd surmise that my transformation would be soon to come. I am, after all, Pam's widower.
Can a lantern get jealous?, I asked myself one day. How can it?; it's not a living being, I reasoned. It's more of an entity, a thing that lights up. But it's an entity that keeps watch over a very important vase, one in which my wife's ashes are kept. Somehow, I think it knows that. It's seen me take them out of the vase since they're contained in a large plastic bag within the vase. It's watched me handle them with utmost care. It knows of their importance.
On the other side of Pam's urn is a cute little stuffed raccoon I gave her years ago. The raccoon, nicknamed Lil' Rocky, also stands guard. Pamela is well protected should anything bad befall her.
11:48 pm - that's when the lantern turns itself on every night. When that happens, it casts an entirely different light on its shelf. Though it doesn't cast that much illumination on Pamela's urn, it does cast a lovely glow that brings about a peaceful setting in the darkness.
Every time I get up during the night, I look over to notice the lamp and to make sure all is okay. This night was no exception. The lantern automatically turns off at about 4:15 am and all is dark in the living room. I go back to bed and wake up after the sun's up.
One morning as I was walking through the room heading to the kitchen to make some coffee, I looked over at Pam's urn and wished her good morning, just like I always do. After I made my coffee, I started walking back into the bedroom but paused my stride and turned back to glance in the direction of Pam and the lantern.
Everything looked the same but I stood there wondering why I had stopped to glance her way. I even walked up a few steps to get a closer look but nothing appeared out of the ordinary. I just thought I was still asleep since I hadn't even taken sip number one of my coffee.
I didn't realize at the time I wasn't the only one wondering if something was amiss.
As I returned to my work area later that day, I noticed nothing odd at all. I didn't give it another thought, so to work I went. Towards the end of this day as I was winding down, I went through my routine of shutting things off and getting ready for bed. Upon leaving my study, I glanced up to Pam's area to bid her goodnight and I noticed something was different, if ever so slightly.
Both the lantern and the Chinese urn were exactly the same but the little raccoon was different; she was now turned to a position where she was looking down at me, where I usually work. I kind of shook my head thinking I was viewing this in a bit of a haze. Upon another gaze, I realized I was seeing things correctly. The raccoon had definitely changed positions. How? I didn't have the foggiest idea!
I just stood there, staring up at the bookshelf where I had placed her. Without thinking, I reached up and turned her back into her original position at a slight angle, looking more at the Chinese urn than in my direction below. After doing that, I turned around and marched off to bed, turning off lights as I went.
The next morning, heading for coffee, I turned to Pam's urn, said good morning, and stopped cold in my tracks. The raccoon was gone. Then I realized she wasn't gone; she'd just moved onto the shelf below her. "How in the hell did she do that," I thought. "She's a stuffed animal!" I thought to myself. It was not like she fell or was knocked over. She was still sitting in her upright position as if someone had placed her on the shelf below, right in front of one of my glass awards.
I walked over to that shelf, picked her up and was in the process of putting her back onto the top shelf when I heard, "please don't do this; leave me be!" That's when I froze. I thought I was imagining things. Stuffed animals do not talk unless I provide the voice. I hadn't in this case.
Humoring myself, not to mention the raccoon, I asked, "where would you like me to put you?" Not missing a beat, she replied, "just put me on your desk, if you don't mind." So I did. There she was sitting near her "brother" whom I had originally placed on the corner of my desk to watch over me while working.
"You don't believe what's happening, do you?," she asked. Stumbling out a reply, I muttered, "Not really, no. I do know that raccoons can't talk and that you're a stuffed animal."
"And yet," she replied, "here we are having a conversation. It's been over a year since we've had one, Joe."
"Huh? What?," I stammered out. "What in blazes are you talking about?," I asked. "And what do you mean it's been over a year since we've had a conversation?," I inquired.
"You're not having a conversation with a stuffed animal, Joe. It's me, Pam. My essence has been transported somehow by the lantern and now reside in my Lil' Rocky stuffed animal. My lantern seems to have powers that even I didn't know about. God, it feels good to get off that top shelf and out of the urn. Pretty, red urn, by the way. Thank you for selecting it and getting me out of that black box from the funeral home," she said.
I fell back in my desk chair, stunned, not knowing what to make of this. I'm having a conversation with a stuffed animal whose voice does sound like Pam's, I think. It's in the morning hours, not even Happy Hour, haven't had my coffee yet. So, no, I think to myself, I'm not going crazy. Everyone starts their day like this, just as the folks at the asylum are probably now preparing my room!
"So now what?", I ask. "Since I’ve never talk to a stuffed raccoon before, I’m not really sure what to expect," I said.
"Do you think I know?", asked “Pam”. "I’ve never been a raccoon before, let alone a speaking one" she added.
"Pam, does the lantern have anything to do with this,"? I asked.
"It must," she said. "I mean, how else did I end up inside a stuffed animal? I’m really not sure what is going on here," she added.
"There’s just something about the lantern…" she said, trailing off.
"What about the lantern?" I asked.
"I don’t know," said Pam. "I just think that there are qualities about the lantern I don’t know about. It can obviously do some things that I thought were, frankly, impossible. Or at least otherworldly," she said.
"Well, I don't know about you," I intoned, "but this is freaking me out. After all, I did not marry a raccoon, no matter how cute I think she is!"
This banter went back and forth for some time until both were exhausted trying to figure out what happened and why.
"Look," I said, "this situation is obviously not going to change anytime soon or at least it doesn't appear that it will. I'm going to bed, thinking this may change by morning, although I have nothing on which to base that," I concluded.
"Good night, uh, Pamela"! I uttered. "Um, you can stay on my desk," I said.
"Gee, thanks," 'Pam' replied.
During the night when I had gotten up for a minute, I noticed the lantern was still aglow, as it usually is. There had been no change as I thought there might have been.
The next morning when I walked through the study area enroute to fix some coffee, I said "good morning" to Pam but this time I heard nothing in response. Normally, I wouldn't have but since yesterday normalcy went out the window.
I stopped, walked over to my desk area and spoke directly to the little raccoon whhich the day before had embodied Pam. I picked her up and spoke directly to her, "Good morning Pamela!," I said.
I repeated my greeting, this time adding, "What's the matter, 'coon got your tongue"? At this point I readily anticipated some caustic, sarcastic retort, but . . . nothing . . . Silence. I really didn't know what to think.
This being daylight, the lantern was turned off for the day. Evidently, so, too, was Pam.
At this juncture of our story, all seems well, sort of. I can't tell if the lantern is upset, evil, kind or just a trickster. One thing is for sure: it is not one's typical lantern. I went through the day not really knowing what, if anything, to expect. As it turned out, nothing really did. I accomplished what I had set out to do and before I knew it, was time to retire.
The next morning, same routine, fixed my coffee and walked over to my study, after opening the blinds to let the new day in. After a few minutes of normal routine, I had just begun to continue writing on my new blog post when I thought I heard something. I stopped, looked around and . . . nothing. Okay, my imagination is starting to work overtime, I thought.
Once again, I started to write on my new blog post and heard that same sound. This time it sounded like a "soft scuffling," of something trying to move.
I stopped. Cold. Looked around and then I noticed what was out of whack. The other little stuffed raccoon, Lil' Rock, who dutifully sits atop my desk watching over me, ever since I moved into my new, smaller residence following Pam's death, had moved closer to me and my laptop.
He was now sitting right beside the computer as if to double check what work I had done. Nothing weird about that, I thought; doesn't every writer have a stuffed raccoon as their copy chief and editor?
How he had moved this far, let alone moved at all, I had no clue. He was just, uh, there! Hadn't spoken a word, though.
Until now . . ."Morning Joe," he announced. "Working on one of your blogs?" he asked.
Not again, I thought to myself. Seems "Pam" has switched bodies, er, uh, raccoons. Actually, it would appear that our lantern friend has been up to his tricks again.
"So, uh, Pam, do you realize you're in another body, albeit one that's stuffed?" I inquired.
"Yes," she immediately responded. "Interestingly, the so-called transition felt seamless. I didn't detect a thing until I knew I was sitting on top of your desk," she added.
"I gather there was no time in between body transfers that you were in direct contact with the lantern?," I asked.
"None whatsoever," she replied.
"Damn!" I said. "I was hoping to get some idea of what's going on with the lantern, why it's doing this. This has never happened before. I can't help but wonder what's next," I said.
"Don't look at me for answers," said Pam. "This all just brings back memories of watching old horror films like 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' or even the Twilight Zone," she stated.
As it happened, I spent the day trying to work on my blog post while conversing with Pam/Lil' Rock. The only thing that was certain seemed to be that if I wanted or needed "Pam" to move off my desk, I would have to pick her/him up to do so.
"Pam" seemed to be at ease sitting atop my desk. After all, Lil' Rock had been sitting there since I moved in over a year ago. I couldn't help wonder if he was growing restless.
Surprisingly, the next few days were pretty much the same; no surprises. I had almost gotten used to "Pam" being on top of my desk and carrying on a conversation with her in Lil' Rock's stuffed body. I also realize how weird that sounds.
And then one day it all stopped. Everything, it seemed, had returned to the way it was. It was as if time, itself, had been rewound. Weeks went by, even months. The lantern was acting like all lanterns do, turning off and turning on when set to do so. Stuffed animals, raccoons notwithstanding, not talking (unless a voice is supplied for them).
Pam was silent.
Until she wasn't.
Nor was the lantern. One night, when all was silent, I noticed a blinking effect emanating from the living room. It was like none I had witnessed before. Naturally, I got up to see what this weird strobe effect was and from where it was coming.
I stopped dead in my tracks as I approached the study area. The lantern, it seems, had taken on a life of its own; flashing, blinking on and off, as if it was sending some sort of signal. It usually flashes when its batteries are low but nothing like this. It was as if it was building up its intensity to do something that needed much more energy than previously expended.
Little did I know.
"Joe," said an alarmed Pam's voice. I say "voice" since I couldn't tell from where it was coming. "I know this sounds silly but I'm scared. What the hell is going on?," she asked.
"I think I'm still here on the sh . . .," she said before her voice just stopped.
There is nothing that could have prepared me for what happened next. First, the blood-curdling scream, the lack of sensation in my hands and body, disorientation . . . the smell of smoke, the burning of my eyes.
And silence. Deafening silence.
I heard Pam's voice but it wasn't sounding like Pam. It was masculine sounding. And why did I feel like I was floating, so light as if being suspended in the air?
"Joe?," asked Pam's voice. "What happened and where are you," she/he said. "Where did you go?" she asked.
"I'm right here . . . I think . . . I'm, wait, Oh God! What has happened,"? I shrieked.
"Uh, Joe," Pam stuttered to speak. "Oh, dear Lord, no!," she exclaimed.
"Joe, I think the lantern has switched us. I . . . I . . . I'm now in your body near your desk, and you . . . you must be in Lil' Rocky's body on the shelf near the . . ." she trailed off.
"Near the what, Pam?" I anxiously asked, still feeling light headed and disoriented because of all the smoke that was still clearing.
"Near the lantern, Joe. Except . . . there . . . there . . . is . . . no . . . lantern, not anymore," she stammered.
"Of course there is, Pam, I can see it," I said. "The smoke is clearing now and I can see . . . Holy Mother of . . . the lantern . . . it's . . . it's gone; it's totally destroyed. Only thing left is part of its frame," I said.
"Then how . . ." started Pam.
"Do we get back into our own bodies, so to speak"? I asked.
"I think our lantern had other ideas," I mumbled.
For our two erstwhile residents of their up-to-now normal living quarters, it would seem they have stumbled upon a not-so humorous truth: not all lanterns are the same. A word of caution to those of us in need of a little extra decorative candle light - caveat emptor, especially if its label reads "manufacturer: unknown".