The truth is stranger than you've been lead to believe
June 25, 1990
Why were the oranges placed so oddly? There was one on top of the dusty mantle. One sat precariously on the crook of the stairway banister. Several were balanced on the armrests of the couch, still more had made their way to the tops of pictures, mirrors.
Ten year old Aaron sat down and rubbed his temples. He had finished fifth grade just three days earlier and his mother had dropped him off at his aunt’s house for the day so that she could go to work. It was terribly hot in this house and thinking about the bizarre orange arrangement was making his head throb. His aunt was nice enough, but he wished to be home in the comfort of their newly installed air conditioning with his games and familiar surroundings.
He stood to go into the kitchen and glimpsed another orange perched on the counter as he rounded the corner. His head twinged again and the orange seemed to lose its color. He blinked and looked at the orange closely; still it seemed to be colorless, less of a solid object and more like a portal.
He closed his eyes for a long moment, his head now seeming to pulse with his heart beat. He took a deep breath and grasped the edge of the counter to steady himself on his feet. If only it wasn’t so hot in here. The click of the door opening announced his aunt’s presence in the kitchen. “Are you o-“ he heard, as if his aunt was a video that had been paused mid-sentence.
His eyes snapped open and didn’t at first register his surroundings. His aunt was not standing in front of him; neither did he see her kitchen. The hum of his own refrigerator was the first familiar sensory cue that he became aware of, drifting in from another room.
Slowly his eyes took in his own living room, dark blue thick carpeting under his feet, the large television staring blankly from the entertainment center, the air conditioning unit in the window blowing blessedly cool air. An orange pillow caught his attention.
As he fixated on the pillow, it turned colorless as the orange had been. It was like looking through an open door. Not invisible, because it wasn’t showing the couch beneath, but a doorway to another place. He felt his elbow hit the thick carpet and watched the world take on its dark blue hue as he fainted.
When his eyes opened again, it was his mother’s face that he saw. She was leaning close, he could smell her slightly floral perfume and underneath it anxiety sweat. She pressed a cool washcloth to his head and her eyes met his as he regained consciousness. He could see confusion and fear there.
“How did you get back here?” she asked in a small voice.
“I’m not sure,” he said “I was in Aunt Carrie’s kitchen, I closed my eyes. When I opened them I was in our living room.”
“Did you faint when you were there?” Again, that small voice issued forth from his always sure and confident mother.
“No, I just closed my eyes for a second and heard Aunt Carrie come into the kitchen. She started to ask if I was okay and then…” he hesitated, glanced away from her eyes for a second to consider. Met her eyes again. “Then I was here.” He searched her eyes, hoping to find belief there. That thick layer of confusion remained on the surface, however, so he couldn’t tell whether she was with him or not.
“How long was I out for?” he asked.
His mother brightened at being asked a question she could answer. “About ten minutes. I heard a thump in the living room and found you asleep on the carpet.”
Being able to relay facts seemed to loosen her up a little and she continued. “I called out of work, I said you were sick and I had to stay home. I called your aunt, too.”
At this, some of that fear and confusion crept back into her gaze. “She said she came into her kitchen from the garden and found you holding onto the counter with your eyes closed. She said you looked pale and it scared her. She came over to you to see what was wrong and you were just gone. You didn’t fade or disappear, fall, or walk away. You were just gone, she said, like you’d never been there.”
The experience came rushing back to him, then. The oranges in weird places, the colorless orange. That pulse in his head. The awful heat in the house.
“Why were there oranges in weird places? What was with the oranges?” he asked aloud, unaware that he had skipped subjects.
A new look of concern crowded in with the other emotions storming in his mother’s light eyes. He knew his mental health had suddenly come into question.
“Maybe…” she began and what followed next reduced him to a dumb kid, or worse, a crazy one. He felt his ears burn as his ever rational accountant mother laid down her explanation. It was the one that would come to be accepted by even him.
October 27, 2000
The frat house was hopping, the deep bass softly massaging the soles of their feet as the boys approached. The front of the house was draped with an orange sheet of plastic, the two lit second floor windows and the black front door turning the whole house into a jack-o-lantern in the glow of the walkway lights.
Aaron felt a second of panic as he stared up into all of that orange, but couldn’t place it. The vibrations from the bass felt like a pulse moving through his body and crashing in his head.
Chris on his right and Jayson on his left didn’t notice his change of mood; they were too excited for the party. They each had their eyes on a girl that they hoped would be there. They had passed around a bottle of cheap vodka at their own frat house, hyping themselves up for the beer pong they would play and the smoking costumes that the girls would surely be wearing.
Aaron himself was very intrigued by a sophomore named Veronica. Her dark hair, dark eyes, and olive skin made him feel warm in the chest, but the real thrill of her was the intelligence and compassion that she radiated.
His feelings of trepidation subsided for a moment when he saw her. They were a mismatched pair in their costumes. He had dressed as Neo from the matrix, his dark shades and fitted black jacket giving him away, his clean-shaven face and haircut already in line with the look and requiring no effort.
She had gone for a comic approach that highlighted her passions. She was a manatee, her inflated costume billowing around her. He felt a glow from the vodka and her sunny smile as she spotted him. He laughed a little as she came closer, the exaggerated manatee face bobbing above her head.
When she was right in front of him, he realized that her smile was too wide. Her eyes didn’t meet his as she smiled up at him, but rather seemed to fix on a spot above his head. The smell of tequila emanated from her as she inched ever closer. She grabbed his hand and pulled him with such unexpected force that he almost fell, then quickly got his feet moving to keep up with her.
She pulled him into a bedroom and closed the door behind her with a clumsy attempt at delicacy. She immediately began removing her manatee costume, alarming him. They had spoken as friends and he could feel the affection between them growing stronger, but they had never even kissed. She smiled her too-wide grin and stripped off the costume, revealing simple jeans and a Halloween t-shirt underneath.
“It’s so fucking hot!” she exclaimed.
He could feel the heat, too. It was cool outside, but it seemed the heat had been cranked too high in here. She pushed herself on him, her tequila breath suffocating him, the bass pulse an achy throb in his head now.
Something was wrong, everything was wrong. He suddenly thought of his mother and the house she still lived in with its blue plush carpet in the living room and wished with all of his heart that he was there, hundreds of miles from here. He liked Veronica, he didn’t want to be put in this situation with her intoxicated and not in control of her faculties.
As he tried to figure out how to let her down gently through the pounding in his head, the vibrations of the bass, and the heat, the unbearable heat, she grabbed his hands and put them on her chest. He looked down at his hands on her bright orange shirt and a part of him was unsurprised to watch the color vanish. He could still see the writing on it, the black words sharp against the colorless fabric.
He felt his eyes cross and he closed them to get his bearings. The bass stopped as if paused, all the racket of the party outside the room pausing with it. He realized that he could no longer feel the fabric of Veronica’s shirt beneath his hands.
He opened his eyes and immediately registered the blue plush carpet. Any relief he may have felt at being pulled from his uncomfortable situation was cut short when he heard a sharp cry and a thump from the other side of the house.
Aaron ran to his mother’s room in time to find her laying on the floor moaning.
“Mom! What happened?”
“Aaron? When did you get here? What’s going on?” she winced and her hand flew to her head.
“Mom, stay still, I’m going to call 911.”
He grabbed the phone on her nightstand and dialed quickly.
As he waited for the ambulance to arrive, he held his mother’s hand and steered her carefully away from any further questions about how he arrived when he did. He was too shaken up to think about that and knew strangeness would upset his pragmatic mom. He looked into her watery blue eyes and told her the medics would be there soon, they would take care of her.
He took a brief moment to call his Aunt Carrie and tell her what happened. He asked her to give him a ride to the hospital.
Aunt Carrie and her husband Charlie pulled up in their Mazda a few minutes before the ambulance arrived. Carrie rushed in and hugged Aaron hard, questions about his reasons for being home temporarily forgotten. She held her sister’s other hand and whispered reassurances into her ear.
When the medics had her on a stretcher, Aaron and his aunt resumed holding her hands right up until she was about to be lifted into the emergency vehicle. At the last moment, she grabbed Aaron’s hands with both of hers, lifting her head off the stretcher slightly and wincing with the effort. Her blue eyes met his and she declared in a weak, breathy voice, “There is magic in this world!”
Her words shook Aaron to the core; he had never heard his mother speak of magic in his life. She was rational, analytical. She didn’t follow religion or the paranormal. When questions arose, she looked for scientific answers. Did she want to believe it now that she may be in danger, or was there some other reason she wanted to say that?
Aaron, Aunt Carrie, and Charlie set up camp in the hospital waiting room after their arrival; taking turns dozing uncomfortably in the small chairs and getting snacks and drinks from the vending machines. The rest of the family lived out of state, so they also took turns calling with updates as the night wore on. Aaron’s father had been out of his life since infancy, no one even had contact information.
A CT scan shortly revealed that Aaron’s mother had suffered a ruptured aneurysm. The doctors warned that there was evidence of bleeding on the brain. She was being prepared for emergency surgery.
Aunt Carrie asked Aaron how school was going, to break the tension and get their minds off his mother for a time. He filled her in on his grades (which were great) and his progression on his degree (not as agreeable.)
Eventually the conversation turned toward the odd words his mother had chosen before their departure from the home. Charlie and Carrie exchanged a look that Aaron was keen enough to pick up on.
Aunt Carrie explained, “Your mother and I talked about the odd incident that happened at our home that summer when I was going to watch you. We talked about it several times, but she refused to believe that anything out of the ordinary happened.”
Aaron broke in, “Well, I would say it was out of the ordinary. I climbed back into her car and hid so that I could return home, then fainted and dreamed up a whole story about teleporting home. I questioned my memory, my sanity, and my health – and so did Mom.” He crossed his arms over his chest.
Aunt Carrie looked stricken, but persisted. “Okay, so even the story that your mom told was out of the ordinary. It wasn’t true, though. Aaron, you didn’t go back in your mom’s car. You came with me to the garden when she left. You went inside first because you were hot.”
“Mom said it was incredibly hot that day, we were all a little loopy because of the heat. Maybe we all remembered things…a little strangely,” even as he said it, he knew the explanation sounded weak. This story just didn’t hold up without his mother’s fervent fact wielding. Then he remembered the damned oranges.
“Why were there oranges in such weird places? I never got that.”
At this, Charlie chimed in for the first time in the conversation.
“I was using them for tests,” he explained. “Product tests, for the companies I do testing for. Hell, at this point, I don’t even remember what exactly I was doing with the oranges. I just remember they ended up in funny places. I kind of liked it. They reminded me of one of those surreal art pieces. I left them there for just that day because I had finished up late and thought they looked funny where they were.”
Charlie looked apologetic, but Carrie quickly gave Aaron another thought to chew on. “Don’t you see, though, Aaron? If you never went in the house that day, if you snuck back into your mom’s car before she left, how did you know about the oranges?”
October 28, 2000
Shortly after five in the morning on October 28, the doctor somberly informed Aaron and his family that his mother had passed away. He assured them that she was at peace when she passed. The three formed an awkward group hug as they cried.
Aril 20, 2021
The restaurant was a little fancier than Aaron was used to. He sat stiffly in his collared shirt in all of that marble and chrome, his discomfort with the dress and décor a somewhat welcome distraction from the bees buzzing in his head about the circumstances of the date. He was early, so he asked for a jack and coke.
Jenna, his date, had asked his coworker, Mark, about him. She was a friend of Mark’s wife Belinda and had noticed him when he picked Mark up for a round of golf. This would be his first date since divorcing Veronica a year earlier and he had the jitters.
Veronica and he had started dating after he returned to school following his mother’s passing. He was in need of a shoulder to cry on when he returned and she really was a good girl, in spite of her propensity to drink a little too much. They had a very pleasant run together, both accomplishing many of their dreams. She wanted to stay and continue the work that she had started in this area, however, and he wanted to travel.
Aaron’s wandering thoughts were captured like fireflies midflight when Jenna walked in the restaurant. She was a head-turner with her deep flame hair and green eyes. While she was certainly stunning, he didn’t feel that was enough to account for the electricity he felt as she approached.
Her mouth was covered by a plain black mask, but her eyes lit in a smile. She looked at him as if she had known him for years. As if she knew him better than he himself.
She sat without taking her eyes off his. The eye contact should have been unnerving, but it was energizing instead. Her eyes darted to his nearly empty glass and she seized an opportunity when the server approached.
“I would love some drinks, if you would be so kind! He will have an orange martini. For me, Merlot.”
When the drinks arrived, Jenna removed the fork from her dinner napkin and fished the orange slice out of Aaron’s martini. She held the dripping fruit over her bread plate, her hand outstretched beside it as though she were about to do a magic trick. Aaron felt the buzzing in his head turn to a pulse.
“This is your trigger, an orange. Orange, the color, can be. Oranges, start you up immediately, though. Your first jump was probably triggered by oranges.” She set the orange carefully on the plate, removed her mask, and picked up her merlot.
She swirled the wine as though she’d done it a thousand times, breathed deep of the aroma as the bubbles burst on the surface. She sipped and licked her lips, then smiled at Aaron.
“My trigger is merlot. My first jump came the first time I tried alcohol. I got this sense of unreality when I caught a buzz. I really wanted to be home in bed, and then suddenly I was. What was your first time like?”
Aaron heard himself telling her about the oranges at his aunt’s house, feeling a little of that unreality she had mentioned. He had repressed these types of memories so hard throughout his life that it felt a little like breaking the rules to just say these things out loud now. The release that he felt was so intense, however, that he felt the flood gates open.
He told her about the night that his mother died. Sharing this inexplicable event that Veronica, his peers, and himself had all hastily chalked up to trauma and drinking was scary but liberating. When he was finished, Jenna was silent for a beat.
“So you’ve only jumped twice?” she asked.
He stared at her without answering, comprehending the implications of the question.
She nodded sagely. “I’ve jumped hundreds of times. Once you understand your trigger, you can start to control it. There are other things, too.”
“You knew about me,” Aaron said.
“Yes!” she exclaimed. “I never met anyone else that could jump. I felt it when you pulled up at Belinda and Mark’s house. You never got out of the car, Mark went out with his golf clubs and I felt a pulse start in my head, like when I jump. There was a pull, though, I ran to the window to see when you guys were leaving and I knew you could jump.”
“The orange martini?” he asked.
“Well that was a bit of a guess. I got a glimpse of oranges when I looked into your eyes. I only hoped the orange martini would have an actual orange in it, otherwise my lead-in would have been spoiled.” She smirked.
“So you can ‘glimpse’ into my thoughts because we can both jump?”
“Oh no,” she lowered her voice. “I can glimpse into anyone’s thoughts. It’s another gift. I’m sure you’ll find that you can do more than jump, as well. “
Aaron thought about how he had arrived at his mother’s house just as she fell, how he had felt that something was wrong and wished so hard to go back to his childhood home.
“There is magic in the world,” he whispered, looking into Jenna’s green eyes.
She smiled and clicked her glass of merlot against his orange martini. “Yes, there is.”