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By Kenneth Kohl
Did you know that the state of Maine has three-thousand four-hundred and seventy-eight miles of coastline? Fifty-one miles more than California. Pretty impressive, don’t you think? Most of that seaside real estate is located on one or another of over three-thousand small islands off the mainland.
With hundreds of towns to choose from, I was unlucky enough to pick Northwick for my retirement years. I was not what most people would consider old enough to retire from my career, but I had been blessed with large windfall that would allow me to live out my life without having to work another day. Ha! If only I’d known how short a time that would be, I’d have been much less frugal.
In such a small town, I knew it would be virtually no time before some neighbor came over to welcome me. The knock on my door came just one day after I had moved the last of my things into my small Cape Cod home. I opened the door to find a frumpy middle-aged woman in an equally frumpy dress waiting on my stoop. She had an impatient look on her face, as if she was put out.
She smiled at me, “Oh, hello. I came over to welcome you to the neighborhood. It’s not often that we see fresh blood around these parts.”
I felt unnerved at her use of the phrase “fresh blood” but I tried to be friendly anyway. “Hello. I’m Anna. Anna Lambert. It’s lovely of you to stop by Miss…”
“Mrs Eleanor Sprout,” emphasis on the missus part.
“Hello Eleanor. Oh, may I call you Eleanor?”
She pursed her lips as if she’d just tasted an unripe lemon. “You certainly may not.”
“Okay, then.” I opened the door a little further, “Do come in Mrs Sprout. Please excuse the mess but I’m sure that you know how it is. Moving and all.”
She shook her head tersely. “No, I do not know. I’ve lived on the island all my life. I was born here, and I expect to die here. Everyone dies here, eventually.”
Boy, I hoped that all my new neighbors were not like Mrs Sprout. Even one woman like her was more than enough; and to think, she had been the neighbor who was kind enough to act as the welcoming committee. I patted the couch cushions to brush off some dust and offered her a seat and a drink. She declined the drink.
It was then that I noticed she was holding a snow-globe. You know… one of those things that you are occasionally gifted as a child. It usually contains a pretty scene or photo surrounded by plastic flakes of white stuff. This one seemed very simple. It had a glass sphere of about three inches in diameter mounted to a simple, round, wooden base that had been stained a dark color. There was a little brass plaque on it. I couldn’t see the scene inside because of the way Mrs Sprout held it cradled like a baby in her lap. She was even stroking it like a baby.
We chatted for a bit, mostly about me: Why had I come to “her” island? How could I afford it? Why didn’t I have a husband like other women of my age? Some even more intrusive questions. She had only been there for fifteen minutes, but it seemed like hours to me. It was an awkward situation, as she obviously didn’t warm up to me, and I just wanted it to be over. She finally stood up to leave, and we made our final goodbyes at the door.
As an afterthought, I presumed that the snow-globe had been a housewarming gift and pointed to it. “Oh, uh… is that for me?”
From the look on her face, you would think that I had casually asked if she enjoyed eating babies or something. She grasped the globe even tighter and pulled away, snarling, “No! Of course not! What sort of presumptuous bitch are you?”
Wide-eyed, she turned and stalked away, leaving me with my jaw hanging open and eyebrows raised. Boy, that was unexpected. What the hell?
It took me a bit to compose myself. Confusion, anger, I can’t even tell you the other emotions that I was feeling. It took a stiff drink to get me calmed down enough to resume my cleaning. Just as I was beginning to forget the odd encounter, another knock came at my door. I groaned, wondering what this neighbor would be like. I tried to put on a smile, and when I opened the door I found Mrs Sprout standing on my doorstep once again, this time with her eyes downcast and a sheepish look on her face.
“Oh, Anna,” she said, “I am afraid that I’ve been quite rude. I thought that you were being presumptuous by assuming that the globe was for you; but now I realize that you’re new to town. How could you possibly know?”
I raised an eyebrow. “Know what?”
“That it was mine, of course.” Then she leaned in close. “You wouldn’t, by the way, want one of your own?”
I assumed that it would be polite to ask and said “Why, yes. I would like one. It looks beautiful,” although I hadn’t really gotten a close look at it.
For the first time, she actually looked friendly. Truly Friendly. Doe eyed, even. “Oh, honey, I am so glad to hear that. It will change your life. It will save your soul. I can tell that we will be the best of friends.”
The best of friends? Wow, that was a change of direction. I was not going to argue, though, and begged off saying that I would look forward to seeing her again soon. She said that – very soon – she’d bring me one of my own; and I’d finally feel complete. I just smiled and waved goodbye.
It took a few days, but the other islanders eventually warmed up to me. I supposed that it had something to do with Mrs Sprout. She seemed to be a gossip and a busy-body. I guessed (accurately, I suppose) that if she thought of me as “the best of friends,” as she so poignantly said, then others would follow in her footsteps. There were two other women that I took an interest in, or perhaps they took an interest in me. The was Lucina Broadwell, who did allow me to call her by her first name. Her nickname, actually. Lucy. There was also Tessie Perkins. I had not gotten to Tessie as well as Lucy, because she was a bit withdrawn. I wanted to get to know her because, like myself, she was not an original occupant of the island, hailing from New Jersey. I sensed that Tessie was not well accepted by the islanders, but I made it a point to stop by her place to introduce myself.
We had a discussion over tea one afternoon. We were discussing Mrs Sprout and Lucy when Tessie shook her head. “Stay away from those old biddies. In fact, get out while you still can.”
“Get out? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means get off this Godforsaken island before it’s too late.”
“Tessie, I think that it is too late. I just bought a house, just moved all my things here. I am here to stay. In fact, Mrs Sprout was just saying something to that effect ‘We all die here.” Odd way to put it but I imagine that means it’s her forever home.” I pulled a face. “Really, Tessie, it can’t be all that bad.”
“It is that bad, Anna. Trust me, you do not want to stay here. A house, your things. They’re not worth your life, are they?”
“My God, girl. I’m beginning to see why they hate you.” I put up my hands in a “back off” gesture. “I don’t mean that I hate you, but they might. You are giving their island a bad rap. I know that it’s not New Jersey but still… it has a certain charm about it, doesn’t it?”
“I can see it’s too late. Sounds like they have gotten to you. Go ahead. Enjoy your stay while you can. Just don’t accept one of those little things they carry around.” She had spat out the word “things” as if it were something horrible. I knew that she meant the snow-globes. I had seen people carrying them everywhere: the grocery store, the library, the post office. Weird, yes. Dangerous? How could they be?”
I thought good and hard about that conversation. At first, I thought that Tessie was half-joking, then just plain old over-reacting. Okay, so she obviously hated it here on the island. I could tell from her home that she did not have the means to move away, or I would have asked her why she did not leave if it was as bad as she made it out to be. I had promised to stop at Lucy’s house for tea the next afternoon, and I found out that the islanders had mutual feelings for Tessie.
Lucy left me alone in her little sitting room while she moved about the kitchen of her tiny house. She prepared some tea and a plate of cookies while she spoke to me.
“You just stay away from that girl, Anna. Mark my words, she is trouble.”
“Why do you say that?” I said as I walked slowly around the room, examining some little figurines she had and some pictures in antique-looking frames.
“She just hasn’t even tried to… fit in, I suppose. It’s not like we haven’t tried. You know, I’ve invited her to Church a few times and she refuses.”
“Maybe she’s just not the religious type.”
“Not the…” Lucy stuck her head around the corner. “Did you say not the religious type? Well, what does that say about her, then?”
I did not want to offend her, and I tried to make it sound innocuous. “I’m not exactly what you would consider holier-than-thou, Lucy.”
I could hear Lucy’s sputtering cough from the kitchen and imagined the shocked look on her face. I waited for her to come back to the sitting room and tell me to get out of her house, but she did not. She did not even respond.
I continued my tour of the sitting room, looking at her everyday objects to get a better idea of who she was. Then my eyes alighted on an item sitting in a place of glory on her fireplace mantle. I do not know how I had missed it earlier, that is how obvious it was. It was a snow-globe. This was the closest I had been to one since coming to the island and here I was, alone with it. I could finally get a good look at what was so special about them. As I approached it, I noticed that it was – for all intents and purposes – empty. Just one tiny object floating in the middle; barely visible. I reached out to take it down from the mantle when Lucy came back into the room.
“Don’t touch that!” she screamed.
I jumped, caught in the act, and immediately started apologizing. “I’m sorry. I just wanted to…”
“Just wanted to what? Steal my relic? Well, no siree, Missy. Not today.” She put the tea kettle down, no doubt leaving a burn mark on her end table. Then she began ushering me out, shooing me with her hands.
I must say that I was pissed at her behavior. It was just a damn snow-globe. “Well, fine!” I shouted, “Mrs Sprout said she’d bring me one of my own and you can be sure that you’ll be the last to see it.” I scowled and repeated her insult, “Missy!”
This instantly had a calming effect on her. “Wait. Eleanor said that she’d give you one?”
I gave her a sideways glance. “Yes.”
Lucy snorted. “Hmph! One of the Lesser Gods, no doubt. Eleanor would not give you anything important. She is stingy and… and besides, she does not really know what you are. Heretic!”
“Lesser what? What did you say?”
With a guilty look on her face, she replied, “Noth… nothing. Just go! Go!” and she shooed me out the door again.
I started noticing them everywhere. I mean everywhere. Now that I was looking for them I noticed even more. They would be poking out of women’s purses. I could see globe-shaped bulges in briefcases, in coat pockets. I kept trying to get close enough to examine one, but I did not want to seem too nosy. I became aware of how protective people were. I even tried to cautiously make a point of using the words Lesser God in conversations. I was always greeted by a look of confusion. Then the person would attempt to change the subject or distract my attention.
The day finally arrived. Mrs Sprout had telephoned to say that she had my globe and would be bringing it over. I awaited her arrival with both excitement and trepidation. What would I see when I looked into one of these globes? I sat on my couch with my hands clasped together in my lap and stared at the door, willing Mrs Sprout to knock. When she finally did, I flew to the door and flung it open.
“Well, I can tell that someone is happy!” she beamed. She held a globe in her hands, which I recognized as hers. At first, I thought that she was going to gift it to me after all. Then I noticed the little bag that hung from her wrist. I looked like a bag from a gift shop. Beautiful, with alternating stripes of white and pale gold. Gold tissue poked from the top of the bag. I could see that she had wrapped it with great care. She transferred her snow-globe to one hand and handed the bag to me.
I eagerly accepted the present and, looking at her as a child on Christmas asked, “May I open it now?”
“Of course, child. Of course. We had better sit down.”
We both dropped to the couch, facing each other, knees together. I carefully extracted the tissue from the bag and set it aside on the couch. Then I pulled my snow-globe from the bag.
It was empty.
To be more exact, it was not completely empty. The globe itself resembled Mrs Sprout’s: a three-inch sphere on a stained wooden base. It was filled with liquid (what I assumed to be water or glycerin, whatever they put in snow-globes), but nothing else. Not even any of the fake snow. Wait. There it was. A speck floating in the liquid, barely visible to the naked eye. Even smaller than the speck I had seen in Lucy’s globe. Also, like Mrs. Sprout’s snow-globe, this one had a brass plate affixed to the base with two small nails. I read it aloud, or at least attempted to: “Mmacanoth.”
“It pronounced MAK-a-noth, dear.” Mrs Sprout corrected me.
I tried to hide my disappointment, but not very well. Mrs. Sprout seemed concerned. It looked like her feelings were hurt, but she immediately started to apologize. “I’m sorry, Anna. I know it’s nothing like C’habok here,” she gestured toward her globe, “but I guarantee that He will bring you boundless joy in the years to come.”
I forced myself to brighten and smiled. I set down the snow-globe and grabbed Mrs. Sprout by both hands. “I’m sure that I will. Thank you, Mrs Sprout!”
“Oh, no darling. Please call me Eleanor!”
“Really? I mean, of course I will. This truly is beautiful. I was just taken by surprise, left speechless. Thank you so much.”
“Of course, Anna. I misinterpreted your reaction. I remember now how awestruck I was when I first saw C’habok.” She nodded again toward her globe reverently. You know, like the Japanese greet each other as a sign of respect. “Now… I do not expect to see you without Him from now on. You must keep Him with you at all times.”
“Oh-okay,” I nodded.
“And I expect to see you in Church this Friday,” she wagged her finger. “Nine o’clock sharp. You know where it is, don’t you?”
I replied in the positive. Surprisingly, I did know where it was. It was the only church in town and it was obvious in its absurdity. Yes… it resembled a snow-globe. In place of a glass sphere, though, there was a polished dome which shined a bright white. I could not tell if it was made of concrete or some sort of plastic, like fiberglass. The entrance was in what would be the base of a snow-globe and the plaque above the door read “First Church of Northwick.”
I caught Mrs Sprout… Eleanor, before she left. “Bring the globe, right?”
She laughed. “Mmacanoth. Of course! Why would you come to Church without Him?”
Friday evening arrived and, feeling a bit silly, I carried my snow-globe to the church. Dozens of town residents milled about outside, no doubt waiting for the doors to open. It bordered on ludicrous, seeing all these people respectfully carrying their snow-globes. I received many friendly greetings and nods – more than I had ever been given before – most likely because I had my snow-globe with me. Once the doors were thrown open, people filed in. I followed, and we climbed a set of spiral stairs, which I deduced took us up into the globe on top of the structure.
As people entered the globe, they began placing their individual snow-globes into niches in the sides of the structure. Eleanor found me and guided me toward a niche that had already been labeled Mmacanoth. I placed the globe in the niche and stepped back. Then I felt as if I just had to know more. I needed to know what this was all about. It was just too ridiculous.
“Mrs Sprout… Eleanor. I am sorry. Truly, I am but… Well, I really do not understand what all of this is about. Why does everyone carry the snow-globes? Why is there nothing in them? What are we doing here?”
First, she gave me a look of slight disappointment, then understanding. The tension dropped out of her shoulders and she pulled me to the side. She spoke quietly. “Dear Anna, these are not ‘snow-globes,’ as you called them. That is a very derogatory term and the islanders do not like it. It is enough to get you labeled as a heretic.
“There is something in them. Each one contains a God. A God of a different universe. They were once of ours, but they transcended. Good people, chosen people, became saints and transcended into other universes. They each became Gods of their own cosmos. You see? Each globe contains a universe, and each universe has one God.”
I blinked. “That’s crazy!” I said, a little too loudly. People began looking over at us. “Is that what this is all about? You people are nuts!”
The globes in the walls began to glow. As the volume of my voice intensified, so did the light thrown off by them. I looked around and everyone was staring. Then they started chanting, “Heretic. Heretic.”
A gentleman stepped forward. I had never met him, but I could tell by the way he was dressed that he was important. A priest of some sort. He put up his hands and shushed the crowd.
“Not a heretic, my children. She is simply a non-believer. She must be shown.”
He smiled at me. An understanding smile, like a parent readying to explain to a child why the sky is blue. “Come closer, Anna.”
I did not understand how he knew my name, but there were a lot of things I did not understand about this place, about these people. I approached him.
He ushered me toward a large snow-globe… Sorry. I mean globe. He gestured toward it, bowed in its direction, then pointed. “This is Mh’obra. The old one. One of the Greater Gods. One of the First.” He reached into his robes and pulled out the most magnificent looking magnifying glasses I had ever seen – mahogany handle, gold plated rim, a crystal lens. It must have been an antique. He placed it near the globe and beckoned to me. “Come, Anna. See and believe.”
I hesitated, then approached the glass. I peered into it and was first astonished, then horrified. Inside, floating in the center of the liquid contained within, was a tiny man. He moved. He looked at me. He saw me!”
“Do you see?” asked the priest. “Do you see the Great Mh’obra? He is the most holy of saints. Do you see how he prays? It is all he does. He gazes out upon his universe and prays.”
I did see. I did see Mh’obra; and I did see how one could mistake his actions for praying. He cast his mournful eyes up at me. He clasped his hands together and shook them; but he was not praying. He was pleading. I did not know what he wanted, but he seemed to think that I could give it to him. I know now that he wanted to find a way out. In lieu of that, he wanted someone to put an end to his misery.
“And how long has he… has Mh’obra been around?”
“The Great One has passed from generation to generation, for as long as people have inhabited this island. Perhaps longer. It is said that he was brought here from the old country.”
I did not know what old country he meant but it did not matter anymore. I heard a sound. A loud screaming. Then I realized that the screaming was coming from me. People looked at me. The globes began to glow again. Brighter. Brighter. A blinding light.
When I regained consciousness, I could tell that a great deal of time had passed, but I could not tell how long. I looked around but saw nothing but soft white light. I heard nothing. I felt nothing. I was weightless. I was startled when the light brightened from one direction. Was it up? Down? I did not know; but the light was followed by the appearance of a face. An enormous face. The largest face I had ever seen, looking at me. Gazing at me with what seemed like boundless love.
I am trapped in a snow-globe. You know… one of those things that you are occasionally gifted as a child. It usually contains a pretty scene or photo surrounded by plastic flakes of white stuff. Now it contained only me; and it would for a very, very long time.
They call me anna’itral.