Isra Barca

Isra Barca

Elise touched her cheek, squinting into the radiant morning light streaming in through the living room window. She stood, walked to the couch, and reached down to touch the spot where he had been sitting the night before. Was it a dream? No. He had been here. And he had spoken to her.

She turned and walked into the kitchen. As she filled the coffee pot from the sink she stared absently out the kitchen window into the backyard. During his last days, he would sit in the sunlight, his face always turned toward the sun. It was his last bit of enjoyment on this earth. The water spilled over and she turned off the faucet. She scooped out coffee, poured water into the coffee maker, and flipped the switch. She had gone through this routine a thousand times before, and like everything else in her life, it had become automatic.

She walked down the hallway to her bedroom. She hesitated in the doorway. Her bed was unmade. She looked at the window, thinking about what had happened last night. Why had he come to her? And what did he mean when he’d said she needed to find someone who could tell her what she wanted to know, someone who knew about death and where Keiky was now? How would she go about this?

She thought about making the bed but went into the bathroom instead to pee. She sat on the toilet thinking about what he’d said last night. Everything he’d said. She flushed the toilet and washed her hands, staring in disbelief at the face of the skeleton staring back at her. She moved in closer to examine her bloodshot eyes. In disgust, she turned off the light, walked back into the bedroom, through the bedroom, and out into the hallway. She stopped in front of the closed door that led to the bedroom where he’d spent so many sleepless nights during his brief illness. She touched the doorknob but pulled her hand back. Not today, she thought. No, she wasn’t strong enough for this today.

She walked back to the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee and sat down at the counter. She usually enjoyed early morning, but this morning the sunlight burrowed into her consciousness. She hoped the coffee would help.

It was already seven o’clock. She would need to call Pepe, her assistant, to let her know she’d be late. They weren’t that busy. The business had been struggling lately with so much competition from the large travel agencies. The only thing that had saved her was her ability to find rare, out of the ordinary places that intrigued a certain clientele. She had Keiky to thank for this. He had traveled extensively while he was alive and had kept detailed travel journals which she relied on now to set up “once in a lifetime” trips. She thought about these journals, and it occurred to her that after he’d returned from North Africa he was never the same. Had something happened there? Why hadn’t she thought of this before now?

Something gnawed at her. When she got to the office she’d go through his last travel journal. Hopefully, she would discover something there.

She sipped her coffee with more urgency. After showering and dressing hastily, she poured another cup of coffee and walked out to the garage. It was dark and cool inside the garage and she hesitated before opening the car door. Her car had always been her sanctuary whenever Keiky was away. She always felt a sense of power inside its luxury. She slipped into the leather seat and set her coffee in the cup holder. The engine roared to life and the garage was filled with light as the garage door opened automatically. She backed out of the garage and into the street and sped toward the freeway.

Pepe greeted her when she walked into the office. “Sorry for being late,” Elise said.

“No problem,” Pepe said. “Not much going on.”

“Something’s come up,” Elise said. “I want you to find out everything you can about Illizi, Algeria.”

“Illizi?” Pepe asked. “Never heard of it.”

“It’s the last place Keiky visited,” Elise said. “And it changed him. I’m not sure how, but he was never the same when he came back. And within three months, he was dead. Might just be a coincidence, but something happened last night that leads me to believe there’s no such thing as coincidence.”

“I’ll get right on it,” Pepe said, turning her attention to her computer screen.

Elise walked into her small office, went directly to one of the three filing cabinets along the back wall, set her coffee on top and opened the top drawer. She pulled out a cloth bound journal and sat down at her desk. She opened the journal, hesitated, stood up, retrieved her coffee, and sat back down.

Her lips moved as she scanned the journal. She wasn’t sure what she was looking for, but she hoped she’d recognize it when she found it. If she found it. Illizi, Illizi, there was no mention of Illizi. But then she came to a section on the Tassili N’Ajjer National Park. She read through it eagerly, pausing only to pick up her coffee and reflect on what she’d read. She didn’t understand what he’d written, not entirely, but she hoped she’d discover more as she got deeper into his journals. She poured over the journal as if her life depended on it, the need to know consumed her.

Exhausted she sat back in her chair. She looked down at the open journal on her desktop. “Pepe,” she yelled into the other room. Pepe came to the door. “What have you found out?” Elise asked. “Not a whole lot, other than it’s a commune located in Southeastern Algeria, the capital of Illizi Province, and the gateway to some National Park.”

“Tassili N’Ajjer,” Elise said.

“Yeah, whatever,” Pepe said. “And a couple other things: it’s hot and surrounded by a lot of sand.”

Elise laughed. “No, that’s not much,” she said. “What about getting there?”

“Oh, it is served by Takhamalt Airport, but you have to go through Ouargla to get there.”

“Thanks,” Elise said, turning her focus back to the open journal on her desk. Ouargla, Ouargla, was there any mention of Ouargla. She scanned the journal, more intently now. What had Keiky been doing there?

She felt close to him as she read through his travel journals. He was a wonderful writer. And explorer. She wished she’d been more like him. But she was content to stay behind and wait to hear all his wonderful stories once he returned. She dreamed now of this small commune in the heart of the Sahara Desert. And it occurred to her she couldn’t even recall how long he had been gone.

There had been clues in what Keiky told her last night. She needed to recall precisely what he’d said. Keiky had always been careful with his words. What had he said? Death isn’t as you supposed it to be. No one ever leaves, they just pass into a different reality. A different reality? Some people who remain behind understand this reality. Some people who remain behind? What did this mean? How do they remain behind? Do they pass through death somehow? Die but don’t die? Come close to death? How does someone remain behind?

Elise stood up and walked around her office. What would she find if she traveled to Illizi? Something she couldn’t find here? The questions flitted in and out of her mind. She opened up her computer and searched for psychics and clairvoyants in the greater metropolitan area. Among all the others, one name stuck out, and she read Isra Barca’s website carefully. Elise, her hand shaking, copied down Isra Barca’s phone number. She was hesitant, wanting to frame her questions just right before she called Isra Barca.

The phone rang several times before Elise heard the message: I have been waiting for your call, so please leave your phone number and I will call you back when the time is right. Puzzled, Elise hesitated before leaving her name and phone number. She wondered if this was all a waste of time. What was Isra Barca going to tell her?

Elise stood up and walked into the outer office. She walked to the front window and looked out into the street. It was a busy time of day, people carrying coffee, staring down at their phones, hustling to get to work. Everyone seemed intent on something other than what was right in front of them. She thought about Keiky, wishing she’d spent more time with him. Their relationship worked on many levels, but they hadn’t found a spiritual connection. Both of them had been too busy with their careers, she supposed. But he had reached out to her last night and told her something important. She needed to take this to heart. She needed to find out what it meant.

When the phone rang, Elise looked over her shoulder at Pepe. Pepe answered the phone, looking up at Elise, indicating with a flip of her head that the call was for Elise. Elise nodded, walked back into her office, and picked up the phone.

“This is Isra Barca,” the voice said. “You called.”

“Yes, thank you for returning my call,” Elise said.

“It is my pleasure,” Isra Barca said. “In fact, I have been waiting a long time for your call.”

Elise hesitated. How could Isra Barca know that she would call? Finally, she asked, “How long?”

“Five years,” Isra Barca said.

“Five years?” Elise said. “That’s impossible.”

“Why do you say that?” Isra Barca asked.

“Well, it just seems highly unlikely, that’s all,” Elise said. “How could you know something five years ago that I just decided on today?”

“There are lots of mysteries, aren’t there?”

“I suppose so, but it seems a stretch,” Elise said. “Until today, I didn’t even know you existed.”

“But I did exist,” Isra Barca began, “and I knew that when you discovered this, you would call.”

“Did you know my husband?” Elise asked.

“I knew him well,” Isra Barca said. “I knew him from his time in Algeria.”

Elise paused, taking deep breaths. Had Keiky lived a life she knew nothing about? From her voice, Elise tried to form an image of Isra Barca, but only images of Arab women with dark eyes came to her.

“But he wasn’t there long,” Elise said.

“A lifetime,” Isra Barca said.

Elise didn’t understand, too many things raced through her mind. A lifetime? This made no sense. She was tempted to hang up but her curiosity wouldn’t let her. Besides, she owed it to Keiky to find out what he’d meant. He (his ghost, his spirit) had come to her for a reason. What was that reason? And what had he meant when he said that certain people remained behind, people who could help her find what she was looking for? Was Isra Barca one of these people?

Isra Barca remained silent, listening to Elise breathe on the other end of the phone. She was in no hurry to hear this woman out. Elise Shell needed Isra Barca more than Isra Barca needed Elise Shell. Isra Barca was in control.

Finally, it came to Elise. She needed to see this woman for herself, she needed to visit her, and so she asked if this would be possible. Isra Barca laughed. “Anything is possible, my dear, but this, this is not only possible but inescapable. Come anytime. I will be waiting for you.”

Sitting on the edge of her desk, Elise held the phone for several minutes, until the silence that whispered in her ear shook her out of her trance. She hung up the phone and walked into the outer office. Pepe, pretending to study something on her computer screen, had been listening intently to Elise’s conversation with the mysterious woman on the other end of the phone, and she was curious about her and her relationship with Elise. She looked up at Elise in the hope she would fill her in on the details. Elise walked to the window, trying to come to grips with the brief phone call. She had a strong sense that this woman was one of the people, maybe the only person, Keiky referred to when he told her about the people who remained behind. For the first time, she was beginning to understand what Keiky was trying to tell her.

She wheeled around and walked quickly back into her office, leaving Pepe puzzled and disappointed. From the website, she jotted down Isra Barca’s address, grabbed her handbag off the chair, and, in a whirlwind of swinging handbag and arms, swept back through the outer office and out into the street, yelling to Pepe over her shoulder that she’d be back later.

Walking hurriedly to the parking garage, she glanced down at the address. She wasn’t familiar with this area but she’d find it. She sped out of the garage, turning west on 17th Avenue, asking her navigation system for directions. In no time she was on the interstate highway heading north, exiting the interstate, and heading west once more. She turned into an old neighborhood, driving slower now to find the right street. She pulled up in front of a bungalow overgrown with ivy and wildflowers. She couldn’t see the address but this had to be the place. She got out of her car, grabbed her handbag, and walked cautiously toward the front door. She looked once more at the address written on the slip of paper. Before she reached the front door, she looked anxiously back at her car parked in the street. Was she sure she was doing the right thing?

She stepped up to the door and rapped the knocker, the face of a crow, against the front door. She heard footsteps inside and the door opened. A dark woman, wearing a colorful scarf, spiral earrings, and a pink and yellow gypsy dress with curious necklaces layered around her neck, stood inside the door. She held the door open for Elise, silver bangle bracelets slipping down her forearm. “I’m glad you came,” Isra Barca said.

Elise stepped inside. The room was filled with antiques, three birdcages, two of which held squawking macaws and one a watchful raven, and an assortment of exotic plants. Isra Barca led Elise through a bamboo beaded curtain into a small room with a round table under a low hanging lamp with two chairs. Isra Barca motioned to Elise to sit down in one of the chairs and she sat down across from her. Elise held her handbag in her lap. A crystal ball sat on top of the table. Elise looked around nervously.

“Relax, my dear,” Isra Barca said. “You are in the right place.”

“It is exactly as I pictured it,” Elise said. “But I am confused about how you knew my husband.”

“I lived in Illizi,” Isra Barca said. “When he was there. He came by ferry from Cartegena to Oran across the Alboran Sea and from there to Ouargla by train and from Ouargla to Illizi by caravan. In all, it took him ten days. When I met him in the Café de Boulevard, he was a crumpled, exhausted man, covered from head to foot in sand, barely able to hold his head off the table. We talked. Once I discovered why he was there, I knew I could be of help to him. I offered him my assistance. This is how I knew your husband.”

Elise studied Isra Barca carefully. Several questions occurred to her but she held them until Isra Barca was through telling her story.

“What was he doing there?” Elise asked.

Isra Barca looked across the table at Elise. “Hunting treasure,” she said.

“Hunting treasure?”

“Yes, in Valencia he’d heard wild stories about treasures buried in the sand in Tassili N’ Ajjer.”

“And how did you help him?” Elise asked.

“I told him he was a fool,” Isra Barca said.

Elise looked hard at Isra Barca, not knowing how to respond. Finally, she asked, “Did he listen to you?”

“No,” she said.

“What happened?” Elise asked.

“I’m not sure, except he went into the desert for seven days, and when he returned, I saw him again at the Café de Boulevard. He had changed. He was stung by an unimaginable vigor. His eyes were on fire. His behavior frightened me. I told him whatever he’d found, he needed to return it at once. He said nothing, just stared at me with blazing, wolf eyes.” Isra Barca stood up and went back through the bamboo beaded curtain. She was gone for several minutes before she returned with a small hand-painted jewelry box which she placed on top of the table. Elise couldn’t even begin to imagine what was inside.

Elise waited for Isra Barca to sit back down but she remained standing. She put her hand on Elise’s shoulder and reached over to open the small jewelry box. Inside was a radiant emerald green crystal. Elise bent closer. The brilliance of the crystal left stunned her.

“Have you ever seen another one like this?” Isra Barca asked.

Elise turned around to look at Isra Barca. “No, why?” she asked.

“I’m afraid this is what your husband found buried in the sand in Tassili N’ Ajjer.”

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“No, you wouldn’t,” Isra Barca said. “But if he dug this out of the sand and brought it back here, he would have been in grave danger. Death would have followed close behind him. And this is why I came to your country.”

“But why now?” Elise asked. “Why have you waited until now to come forward?”

“If you’ll remember, you came to me,” Isra Barca said. “I waited for you.”

“But what does it all mean?” Elise asked. “And how did you come by the crystal if he had taken it from Tassili N’ Ajjer and brought it back here?”

“It came to me,” she said. “While I was still in Illizi. And this is how I knew your husband was in danger. It brought me here.”

Elise was confused. She was hearing something she couldn’t comprehend but she didn’t even know how to proceed, what questions to ask. Isra Barca knew this and tried to explain.

“Three days after my first encounter with your husband upon his return from Tassili, I saw your husband again in the Café de Boulevard,” Isra Barca said. “He was frightened, overwrought from three sleepless nights filled with terrifying visions and nightmares. He didn’t know where to turn.” Isra Barca paused and sat down across from Elise. She stared into Elise’s eyes. “You must listen to me carefully. Your husband dug up something that should never have been dug up. He had no idea what he had uncovered. Its power is unimaginable.” Elise was trying desperately to understand what she was being told. She sat back in her chair, but Isra Barca reached across the table and took hold of her hands and pulled her forward.

“The danger isn’t over,” she told Elise.

“But I still don’t understand why you are here?” Elise asked. “What has any of this got to do with you?”

“The crystal,” Isra Barca said.

“Yes, yes, I know about the crystal,” Elise began, “but how did you get hold of it?”

“As I told you, it came to me,” Isra Barca said.

“But this is what I don’t understand,” Elise said. “How did it come to you?”

“There are a lot of things you don’t understand about its power,” Isra Barca said.

“And why now? Why did it take you five years to come here?”

“It took me over a year to get out of Africa and then I was delayed again in Spain. These things aren’t always easy. And once I got to America, I had to wait for you to find me. This is what the crystal would allow.”

Elise pulled her hands away from Isra Barca and sat back in her chair. She studied Isra Barca for a long time until a suspicion that this woman might just be a trickster began to creep into her consciousness. What was this woman after? Finally, she asked, “Why did you feel you needed to help my husband? What is your connection to him?”

“The crystal, my dear,” Isra Barca said. “I have told you already it is the crystal’s power that drives me forward. I am powerless to fight it. Once it came into my possession, my will became its will.”

“I’m not quite sure how it came into your possession,” Elise said. She still didn’t trust this woman, but her curiosity wouldn’t let her go. “You have told me that my husband dug it out of the sand in Tassili N’ Ajjer and he came to you after several sleepless nights filled with frightening visions and nightmares.”

“He did not come to me,” Isra Barca corrected Elise. “I met him again in the Café de Boulevard, where we had met on two prior occasions, the first time before he had gone into the desert, the second time upon his return. This was no coincidence. I was the only one who could help him, but he ignored my pleas to return the crystal to the exact spot where he’d uncovered it.”

“Did he show you the crystal?” Elise asked.

“No, I never saw it until several days, maybe weeks, after he left Illizi when I discovered it in my flat.”

“It just showed up one day in your flat?” Elise asked skeptically. “This seems unbelievable.”

“But you must not doubt the truth of what I’m telling you,” Isra Barca said. “I awoke one morning and the crystal lay on my table right next to my crystal ball, the same one you see here.” To Elise, the story seemed fantastic. “I knew the story behind the crystal immediately,” Isra Barca said. “And I knew then your husband was in grave danger.”

“But why did you feel responsible?” Elise asked. “What does any of this have to do with you?”

“You don’t understand, my dear,” Isra Barca said. “The power of the crystal touches everyone who comes in contact with it. I knew I had to get to your husband. He had to return it. No one else.”

“But he is dead now,” Elise said. “Where does that leave us?”

“This is why I am here now,” Isra Barca said. “You must return the crystal. This responsibility falls on you and you alone. Believe me, it will never let you rest until it is once again buried in the deep sands of Tassili N’Ajjer.”

“Why do you feel responsible for helping me?”

“My responsibility is to myself,” Isra Barca said. “I have been pulled into this through no effort of my own, believe me. But I know the power of the crystal. And I can tell you it is nothing you want to ignore.”

Elise was wary of this woman. The thought of traveling halfway around the world did not appeal to her in the least. And then spending days, or even weeks, getting to Illizi, finding the spot where she needed to bury the crystal, and then spending god knew how many interminable days getting back. The whole ordeal exhausted her just thinking about it. She was already exhausted from five years of sorrow.

“This is all too much,” Elise said. “The thought of having to travel to a foreign place, on top of Keiky’s visit last night.”

“What?” Isra Barca said. “What visit?”

“He came to me last night,” Elise said.

“Why didn’t you tell me this before.”

“It never occurred to me,” Elise said. “Why? Is it important?”

“Important? Of course, it’s important. Did you talk to him?”

“Yes,” Elise said with hesitation. The memory of last night brought her great discomfort.

“You must tell me what he said. Everything. In his exact words.”

“I’m not sure I can remember everything. Not in his exact words.”

“It is important,” Isra Barca said. “You must try.”

“He said that we never really die but pass into a different reality. He couldn’t tell me about this reality, but there are people who are left behind who could.”

“People who are left behind, those were his exact words?”

“Yes, I’m pretty sure those were his exact words,” Elise said. “At the time, I didn’t question him because I was so stunned by his appearance. He came to me as a shadow, a ghost of sorts. You can imagine how shocked I was.”

“Yes, yes, go on, my dear.”

“Well, he said I would need to find someone, someone who had been left behind. She would tell me what I needed to know.”

She? Are you sure he said she?

“Yes, I’m sure because it struck me as odd at the time.”

“Ah, that’s good, that’s promising,” Isra Barca said. She sat back, studying Elise.

“Can you see things in there?” Elise asked, indicating with her head the crystal ball on the table between them.

“That, no, that’s just a prop,” Isra Barca said. “People don’t understand how I see things, they don’t understand how visions come to me. I need to give them something they can wrap their heads around. I’ve had to make a living while I waited for you to come.”

“And you’ve made a living telling fortunes?” Elise asked her. Elise was trying to gauge Isra Barca. She still didn’t trust her.

“Fortunes? No, not fortunes. I’m an interpreter. I interpret for people those things they can’t interpret for themselves. I’ve managed to eek out a living.”

“And you’ve done this just so you could help me?”

“Not just you, both of us,” Isra Barca said leaning forward. “You have to remember, I’m in this, too.”

“And, so, what does it mean?”

“I have an idea,” Isra Barca said. “It might be possible to get your husband to come for the crystal. I think this is what he was asking you to do. He needed you to find the crystal. And you have. Now we have to let him know you have it.”

“I don’t understand,” Elise said.

“You don’t have to,” Isra Barca said. “If I’m right, he’ll come tonight and our problem will be solved.”

“Your problem will be solved, I still won’t have my husband.”

“But you do, my dear,” Isra Barca said. “He’s in here, in your heart. That’s the best place to hold someone.”

Elise thought about this. Maybe she’s right. But still, she missed his strength, missed making love to him, the smell of him, his wry smile, his sly sense of humor. She even missed his long trips away from her. These things didn’t exist in her heart. They existed only in her memory. But what if memory is nothing but an extension of the soul?

“What do we have to do?” Elise asked.

“We have to wait until dark,” Isra Barca said. “Shadows don’t appear in daylight. You come back at sunset, not before. I will have everything set. You just have to be here. It can’t happen without you. He won’t come to me alone.”

Elise, in a daze, stood up, clutching her handbag. She ducked through the bamboo beaded curtain and, not looking back, left the way she’d come in. It seemed as if it had been a lifetime, but she knew it had been only a short time ago. A short time. And when she thought about this, she realized now that it seemed as if it were only yesterday when Keiky had returned from Illizi. Now she knew he’d never returned at all. Was she prepared to see him again tonight? She had to trust Isra Barca. After all, she seemed to know what she was talking about. Keiky had directed her to find this woman. And she had come a long, long way. None of it seemed real, but her heart was telling her now that this is what she must do. And if she only had this now, if she could only hold Keiky in her heart, at least she had this.

Elise drove reluctantly back to the office. Pepe sat at her desk squinting into her computer screen. She looked up when Elise walked in. “You looked scruffed,” she said. “Where you been?”

“To see a clairvoyant, if you can believe that,” Elise said.

“What’s going on?”

“It’s all too bizarre, I don’t have time to explain it right now. I’ll fill you in on all the details tomorrow – if I’m still around.”

Pepe studied Elise to see if she was kidding, but she seemed deeply troubled, and Pepe knew better than to press for more information. Elise went into her office and closed the door. She sat down and laid her head on the desk. She had a splitting headache. She couldn’t get her mind around what was happening to her. It seemed to her as if she had awakened in another world, a world of strange twists and turns, a maze out of which it seemed impossible to escape. But she had to see it through. She didn’t have any other choice.

The one thing that puzzled her above everything else was how the crystal ever escaped Keiky’s possession to begin with. How had it come into Isra Barca’s possession? And why? If Keiky smuggled it out of Algeria, he must have had his reasons. Keiky wasn’t a thief. Or was there a side to Keiky she didn’t know? He’d told her he’d had secrets, he’d withheld things from her. What things? At first, she thought he was saying he’d been unfaithful in their marriage. But now she was beginning to see that this wasn’t what he meant at all. So what did he mean? Would she find out tonight?

Suddenly she looked up from the desktop. Isra Barca. She’s the key. Who is she? She isn’t who she claims to be. This whole thing with the crystal is too unbelievable. Even as her sense of reality had been challenged by Keiky’s return last night, Isra Barca’s appearance was even more unbelievable. But she would be there tonight, she would see this thing through to the end, whatever that might look like.

She stood up and walked back into the front office. Pepe looked up from her computer. “Is everything all right?” she asked.

“Yes, everything’s fine,” Elise said. “I need to take care of some things, that’s all. I’ll be out the rest of the day. Can you handle things here?”

“Sure, it’s kind of slow anyway,” Pepe said. “Is there anything I can do?”

“Do? No, I don’t think so. I’m not sure what I’d need even if there was something you could do. It’s all so fantastic I can’t even begin to put it into words. Pepe, do you believe in magic?”


“Yeah, things that go bump in the night, things that defy all reasonable explanation.”

“Sure, I guess so,” Pepe said. “I’ve seen things that have troubled me, things which I couldn’t easily explain. And I’ve heard stories from other people as well. I guess there’s a lot we just can’t explain.”

“Yeah, there’s a lot we just can’t explain,” Elise said. “OK, I’ll see you tomorrow. If anything comes up, I’ll be at home.”

Pepe, perplexed, stared at the door for a long time after Elise had left, wondering what Elise was up to. Maybe she’d find out tomorrow, maybe not, but she had the rest of the day all to herself, and she liked that.

Elise walked down the street to a small coffee shop on the corner. She needed to be alone but not alone. She wanted to surround herself with strangers. The place was crowded, and she looked for a table in the corner as far away from everyone else as she could get. She hung her handbag across the back of the chair, pulled out her cell phone, and sat down. The dark outline of her head stared back at her from the black screen on the phone. Shadows. Everything is a shadow. Nothing is as it seems to be. This is what Keiky had told her. Isra Barca. Was she real? Elise stood up and walked to the front counter. People sitting at the tables and along the long counter in the middle of the room seemed real to her, but maybe they were all just part of the illusion. Maybe she’d made them up so she wouldn’t be alone. She didn’t want to be alone. But maybe she was. Utterly alone. Keiky, who she had been closer to than anyone else in the world, was nothing but a shadow now who sneaked into her bedroom in the dead of night. The girl at the front counter smiled at her. Elise hesitated. She was confused. She stepped away from the counter and studied the board above the girl’s head. What did she want? She couldn’t focus. The girl continued to smile at her. She wasn’t going anywhere. Elise looked at her. She wasn’t just a figment of her imagination. She was standing there, apart from Elise. She was real. Elise was sure of it. She stepped back up to the counter and ordered the house coffee.

“Do you want room for cream?” the young girl asked.

“No, thank you,” Elise said. It was easy enough. And she would take the coffee back to her table and sit down and drink the coffee, hot and strong. And if she tried to drink it too quickly, it would burn her tongue because this is what happened when you drank coffee while it was too hot. It burned your tongue. And it would be painful. And the pain would remain until the tongue had a chance to heal itself. But what about the heart? How did the heart begin to heal itself?


Elise paced around her kitchen, looking anxiously out the kitchen window, waiting for sunset. Isra Barca said to come at sunset, not before. But sunset was such a vague thing. It wasn’t an exact time. It was somewhere between light and dark. But when exactly? She wasn’t sure.

Finally, Elise couldn’t stand it anymore and walked into the garage and got into her car to drive to Isra Barca’s. If she had to she’d sit in her car in front of Isra Barca’s bungalow.

When she drove up to Isra Barca’s, the sun was low in the sky. Low enough, she thought. In her way of thinking, she had arrived at sunset, so she parked, took her handbag from the seat next to her, slid out of the car, and walked to the front door. Before she knocked, Isra Barca greeted her.

“You are here,” Isra Barca said.

“Yes, why wouldn’t I be?” Elise asked.

“These things sometimes unsettle people,” Isra Barca said. “I wasn’t sure what kind you were, one who would be unsettled, or one who would face the unknown.”

“Well, I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Come in,” Isra Barca said, stepping aside for Elise. As Elise brushed past Isra Barca, she turned. Isra Barca was staring out into the gathering dusk. Elise waited. Finally, Isra Barca turned back to Elise. “I’m glad you came.” Isra Barca closed the door.

They pushed aside the bamboo beaded curtain and sat down at the round table. The painted jewelry box sat on top of the table next to the crystal ball. It was closed. Elise stared at it as if it held the secret to everything. But she knew it didn’t. It was just a closed box. In the dim light of the single candle, Elise stared across the table at Isra Barca. It would be dark soon, she thought. And she would be alone with Isra Barca’s shimmering smile.

Nervously, Elise asked, “What now?”

“We wait,” Isra Barca said.

“For what?”

“We’ll see.”

Elise looked through the bamboo beaded curtain into the growing darkness. She was surprised at how quickly the darkness had descended upon them. The silence pressed in on her. She wished Isra Barca would say something. Anything. Explain to her why she was here. Were they waiting for Keiky? She was still unsure of Isra Barca and the whole story of the crystal. A part of her couldn’t believe it. But she had seen Keiky last night, she couldn’t deny this.

They sat quietly for an hour. The whole time, Elise’s back ached and her legs were numb, but she sat as quietly as possible. How much longer would she have to endure the pain? She looked across the table at Isra Barca, wholly unmoved, it seemed to Elise. She was a statue. And now the room was closing in on her. Her breath pounded in her head. She stirred in her chair. She needed to stand up. She needed to stretch her back and legs. She needed to move. But she remained seated, staring across at the shimmering outline of Isra Barca. Finally, unable to stand it any longer, she asked, “How much longer?”

“For what?”

“How much longer are we going to have to sit here? My legs are killing me.”

Isra Barca didn’t say anything. She stared hard at Elise, until Elise turned away, looking through the bamboo beaded curtains into the dark. Something stirred. The curtains swished. A silent breeze touched her cheek. She looked back at Isra Barca, her eyes closed now. The candle flickered. The highlighted image of Isra Barca’s face fluttered above the table in the dim light of the candle. Someone else had come into the room. Isra Barca sat silently. Elise looked down at the box on the table. It was open now. The crystal glowed. Elise closed her eyes.

When she opened them again, the box was once again closed. In the faint light of the candle, Elise looked straight into the burning eyes of Isra Barca. Behind her on the wall, she could make out a faint outline. Was it Keiky? She wanted to call out to him, but the burning eyes kept her silent. She was in the presence of something evil. And she feared her slightest gesture or utterance would bring Isra Barca’s wrath down upon her. Through her urgent stare, she beseeched the shadow for his assistance. The shadow stirred. Elise felt a flicker of hope. She wasn’t alone.

All of a sudden the candle flickered and went out. Elise was surrounded by darkness. She listened. Silence. Only her wildly beating heart came to her. She looked across the table into fiery eyes. Isra Barca. Panicked, she dared not flinch. Thoughts raced through her mind. She’d never be able to outrun Isra Barca to the front door, she was sure of that. Elise couldn’t see, but she was sure those fiery eyes could. Her only hope now lay with Keiky.

The eyes were fixed on her. She moved to the edge of her chair, trying to brace herself against a rush from the evil behind those eyes. What was she prepared to do, Elise asked herself? And against what force?

The eyes shifted. They ascended. Isra Barca stood up. Elise stretched her hand out feeling for the jewelry box. What was there? What power could she call forth from the crystal? If indeed it had belonged to Keiky, if he had dug it from the sand of Tassili, and smuggled it out of North Africa, it had some meaning to him. How Isra Barca had come into its possession, she didn’t know? But she knew now that Isra Barca’s story wasn’t true. Isra Barca had come into its possession by evil design. And probably Keiky’s soul, too. Isra Barca had stolen it.

She might never know the truth behind the crystal, but she knew one thing for sure, Keiky had never withheld anything from her. It had all been a deception. An evil lie. And what happened to her now didn’t matter. Her life had ended when Keiky went away. Would she ever be able to get her life back? She didn’t know. But she owed it to Keiky to try. He wanted this, she now knew. And if he could, he would come to her. But he couldn’t. Keiky was gone.

Shadows don’t foretell the future. No, they are portals into our own souls. She realized this now. They tell us only what we need to tell ourselves, one more way to stave off loneliness.

She clutched the box and swung at the pair of burning eyes. She connected, and still holding onto the box, she flew through the beaded bamboo curtains, clawing for the front door. A shadow crossed in front of the front room window moving toward the front door. Somehow, even in the pitch black night, Elise managed to find the door, fling it open and run wildly toward her car. She didn’t dare look back. Only when she was inside her car did she dare glance back at the bungalow. It was dark.

Sitting in her car, staring in disbelief at the bungalow, it suddenly occurred to Elise she didn’t have her car keys. Where were they? She couldn’t think clearly. Where had she left her handbag? Had she taken it inside? She couldn’t remember. But she didn’t think so. She would have locked her car. But it wasn’t locked. She had flung the car door open and scrambled inside. She reached for the passenger seat. Nothing. The floor. She felt nothing. And then something touched her lightly on the shoulder. She turned around.

No one was there.

Elise looked toward the bungalow. In the window behind the glow of a single candle, she could make out the outline of Isra Barca. Elise peered deeper into the darkness. Isra Barca was holding up her handbag.

In despair, Elise laid her forehead on top of the steering wheel. She closed her eyes against the darkness. Her head ached. She tried to think, but nothing came to her. There was no way out. She opened her eyes. It was all right. She didn’t care. She looked down. In her lap, she made out the hand-painted jewelry box, where she’d dropped it in her frantic search for her handbag. She picked it up, turning it this way and that way, squinting fiercely into the darkness, trying to squeeze what little light she could from the darkness, hoping to make out the intricately painted details. It was no use, there wasn’t enough light.

She dropped the box back in her lap and stared straight ahead. She knew what she’d find if she opened it up. Like her life, it was filled with futility and emptiness.

She waited. She wanted desperately to feel the gentle touch on her shoulder. None came.

She stared into the gloom, guided only by a far away streetlamp. And then it came to her. Her life was one of shifting shadows and broken illusions. And something else, too. She suddenly saw that she was alone, utterly alone. She looked over her shoulder into the back seat. And she saw what she knew she would see. A shadow. A shape. For an instant, and then it was gone.


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