Monday, June 23, 2008

Happy Birthday, Martin Aimes! (Part I)

On the eve of his 40th birthday, Martin Aimes travelled in time.

That’s how it felt to him anyway. It could easily have been a product of an undiagnosed aneurysm or a flashback from his more drug liberal days, but Martin was convinced that the rapid rush of images he saw was a personal journey through his own timeline. He’d never been one to buy into the idea of past lives or destiny, but the chair and the sights it showed him quickly changed his opinion on the subject.

Martin had spent the day prepping his house for the celebration that evening. Finger foods were in the refrigerator or oven as necessary, beverages chilling in one of the dozen or so coolers housed in the garage, decorations collected from Martin’s various journeys across the world had been hung or strategically placed throughout the house. He had even somehow managed to hang the 300 lb. ceremonial fertility sculpture he had acquired in Brazil over the arch connecting the living room and front entry area, though he was convinced it would probably come crashing down any second, leaving Martin to celebrate his 40th with a personal injury lawsuit. But he was incredibly proud of the sculpture and the journey it represented, so up it stayed. The use of his souvenirs as decorations was his way of celebrating the 40 years he had already lived, and of the many things he had seen in that time. It was also to be a reminder that he still had many things to see and do, and that despite this milestone in his life, he had many years in which to see and do those things.

Since he had already thoroughly cleaned his house to the point that every surface sparkled and squeaked, even the cloth curtains, he was almost completely ready for the party when the knock on the door came. He answered, expecting to see an early party-goer, and was instead greeted by a nice but modest looking chair on his front step. He stepped out and looked up and down the street, but saw no one running from his house, nor any cars he didn’t recognize from the neighborhood. Assuming this chair was an odd gift that would be explained at a later time, he dragged it into the house and closed the door.

Martin had several friends who were practical jokers, so he thought it prudent to thoroughly examine the chair for breakaway legs or a false back before trying to sit in it. The chair was of average dining room table size, solid wood that looked old and expensive and stained a light chocolate brown. It lacked any flourishes or adornments, and looked like it was created for solid function rather than airy form. There were no notes or greetings of any kind attached to the chair, save for a simple card reading “Happy Birthday, Martin Aimes,” so the mystery of its origins remained a mystery. But the seat was nicely padded, the construction looked to be of quality, and Martin (an avid lover of antiques of all kinds) decided that he owed it to the chair and the craftsman who created it to put it to its intended use, just for a moment. So he sat and leaned his head back against the chair’s back, and closed his eyes for a brief rest before making his final party preparations, which is how he ended up taking the strangest and most intriguing journey of his life so far.

The rush of dizziness that overtook Martin as soon as he had settled into the chair startled him, but he simply attributed it to the work he’d been doing since he got up at 8 AM that morning. He figured keeping his head back and eyes closed for now would allow the spell to pass. He realized how wrong he was when the smell of manure and dirty humanity hit him. Thinking again of the joker friends and the riot act he would read them for stinking up his immaculate house, he opened his eyes and quickly rose from the chair, but stumbled both from the continuing dizziness and from the sight that greeted his eyes.

Martin had been to France on several occasions, and loved every trip, but had never seen it like this. Everywhere he looked he saw horses, goats, cows, and other animals associated with farming. Stalls of fruits and vegetables surrounded him, all staffed by dirty and unkempt French people. Most alarming was the smell. His nostrils were assaulted by a mix of human and animal waste, rotten produce, and almost sentient funk of thousands of unwashed humans. Thinking he was dreaming, Martin pinched himself, but only succeeded in adding a smarting arm to the rotten stink and bizarre images surrounding him. Being an avid student of world cultures and history, he easily recognized the dress of the people as being from the mid-1700s. Certain of the impossibility of the situation he found himself in, Martin stood stock still and tried to simply observe, at least until a fat Frenchman started pointing and yelling in his direction.

Martin had never fully learned French, despite his numerous trips to the country. He understood some basic phrases, but would find himself hard pressed to communicate if left alone with solely French-speaking people. So he reeled from the confusion that hit him when he realized he could understand every word the fat man was yelling, and even more when he realized he was yelling back in French. Of course, despite the fact that Martin’s confusion and embarrassment made it feel like this exchange took an hour, it all happened in a split second. It was just enough time for him to realize that what the fat man was yelling was “Look out, you stupid pig! Above you!,” and for Martin to look up and see the globe-sized chunk of masonry hurtling toward his head from the building behind him. “Merde,” thought Martin, and then all was blackness and dizziness again.

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