Ralphie and the Crystal
This story is about a 13 year old boy named Ralphie. His real name is Art— this is the name found on his birth certificate, and the name his mother and sister call out when they are looking for him or need something from him. In fact, the only person who calls him ‘Ralphie’ is his art teacher, whom he’s madly in love with. She endowed him with this nickname because he apparently bears a shocking resemblance to her brother. Ralphie is fully aware that his art teacher will only ever be his in his daydreams; because of this, and many other terrible circumstances pertaining to his home-life, he’s filled with scorn towards the universe or whatever cosmic powers are at play that have dealt him such bitter cards. He’s given up trying to be hopeful in life. There is no one Good out there in the world, or outside it for that matter, looking out for him. And this fills him with sadness. He is quite the somber 13 year old.
As to the members of Ralphie’s family: he has a mother who works full time as a real-estate agent, and a father who retired two years ago from Inland Steel. He also has a sister who is five years younger than himself. She can be an angel and a devil— it all depends on whether she’s well-rested. The poor girl suffers from night-terrors. If she’s had a peaceful night’s sleep in her own bed, she tends to be soft-spoken, warm-spirited, and altogether lovely to be around the following morning. If she has an episode at some unspeakable hour in the night, she’ll drag her pillow and blanket into Ralphie’s room and sleep on his tattered couch. When she has an episode, those following days are never easy for anyone in the family; they’re often filled with screaming and tears, and it is Ralphie who has to take care of her when she throws a fit. He is responsible for getting her up and ready and out the door for school because his mom has to be at work by 7am and his father no longer lives at the house.
His father has found another lover, but neither Ralphie nor his sister know this— all they know is he’s divorcing their mother— and Ralphie’s mother doesn’t think it’s the right time to share the news of his extra-marital affair with them. I’m fortunate to know that if Ralphie finds out prematurely about his father’s adulterous conquest, he’ll wind up on a proverbial road which will ultimately prompt him to commit suicide by falling on a wakizashi in his room while his mother and sister are cooking dinner. He thinks this is how he should go out in life because the samurai flicks his father and him watched on Saturdays have portrayed this notion honorable to some degree. Thankfully this isn’t how Ralphie is going to die. He’s going to fall dead at the ripe age of 94 in a cemetery.
Ralphie lives in Schererville, Indiana. Schererville has as much prominence in Northwest Indiana as Nazareth did in the Bible. It’s a small, unassuming town filled with lower-to-middle-class, mediocre residents, and Ralphie is about to become, by way of what seems like random chance, an exception to the rule. Had Ralphie not been riding a skateboard at the outskirts of his neighborhood on June 17th, 2004, he’d be a nobody like the rest of the people of Nazareth.
As he was kicking away, cruising down Swan Lane on his board, he heard a loud whirring overhead. When he looked up he saw through the clouds a helicopter wobbling in the sky, heading toward the cornfield on the other side of the subdivision. Ralphie pursued the aircraft and flew down Gull Drive on his skateboard, then Falcon, which ended up curving and turned into Jaskula Lane. This street spit him out onto Burr Road. He stood at the end of the sidewalk as if on a precipice at the edge of the world and watched the helicopter plunge into the field with a boom that shook him to the core. He dropped his skateboard and sprinted over the small corn stalks to get a closer look. He felt like a hero charging into battle. Two men were in the cockpit: one was moving his head slightly left and right, while the other laid there lifeless. Ralphie decided, against his better judgement, to close the distance between himself and the one who was clearly still alive. He quickly noticed that blood was draining from the top of the man’s skull down onto his face. In fact, there was so much blood, the man could barely see, and once he did get a glimpse of Ralphie, he desperately beckoned him. Extending a shaky and clenched fist towards the boy, he said,
Ralphie reached out and was handed a blue-ish, silver-ish crystal about the size of a car key.
“Hide this.” whimpered the man with blood stained teeth, “Don’t let them find it.”
Ralphie backed up slowly, and then fled the scene, retrieving his skateboard on the corner of Jaskula and Burr. He could hear the droning of police and ambulance sirens far off, but growing louder by the second, as he cruised back to his home. Another loud and terrifying sound boomed behind him, and again, shook him. The helicopter had exploded, but Ralphie didn’t know this because he never looked back; he ran inside his house and locked himself in his room, where he would sit on his bed and study his newfound gift.
Ralphie kept his eyes locked on the crystal, for he was afraid to close them because every time he did he saw the startling image of the bloodied co-pilot’s face. No 13 year old should ever have witness something so gruesome, but that’s just my opinion. Here is where Ralphie’s life really takes a turn: there came a point when he was gazing wide-eyed into the crystal and, for the briefest of seconds, thought he’d seen a cloud swirl within it. He was in a trance, his mind in a chokehold it could not escape, and he wanted to scream but couldn’t. His body was paralyzed, and all he could do was breathe. He watched in horror as a deep, grey wind poured into his bedroom like smoke, yet it had no scent. Ralphie was then cast onto a couch in a living room somewhere that was filled with young men and women partying. Red cups brimming with alcohol splayed across his vision. None of the guests paid attention to him. He jumped to his feet and ran out the door of the apartment, down a flight of stair stairs, and into a parking lot. He looked up and saw a clearcut hole in the sky, as if creation were made of paper and had been punctured by Somebody with a divine pencil.
“Where am I?” yelled Ralphie. He yelled loud enough for me to hear him. So I walked across my room and looked down into the hole.
“You’re in the future, sorta.” I said.
This really spooked him. You’d be spooked too if a giant talked to you from the sky.
“Where am I?” he asked again.
“It’s a long story.” I said. “But I do happen to know that your future self is going to walk up to the door behind you in exactly thirty seconds.”
Sure enough, Ralphie watched as an old blue beater sputtered into the parking lot, and when the driver got out he realized that he was looking at an older version of himself. The real Ralphie looked up at me in confusion before he followed himself back into the party.
To help distinguish the real Ralphie and the other versions of himself, let’s call them by his real, adult name: Art.
Art was the life of the crowd once he got a little liquor in him. He jumped on tables and danced around, trying to woo whoever would cross his path. Ralphie didn’t know what to do, so he stood off in a corner near a potted plant and watched Art as he discussed what seemed to be a heated debate among friends.
“The crystal brought me here,” thought Ralphie.
“Yes, it did.” I said.
“You can hear my thoughts?” he asked.
“Yes, I can.” I said. “And watch this.”
Every eye in the room turned to the door in the apartment as it opened: there was a brunette with astoundingly blue eyes. Art stopped what he was saying, mid-sentence, and walked over to her so as to introduce himself. Dark clouds flooded the apartment and Ralphie was returned home on his bed.
Ralphie had stumbled across a magical stone, or at least that’s what he thought. In actuality, the crystal was a literary device used by me to teach Ralphie a lesson. I didn’t see a point in divulging this fact to the young boy, so I kept my mouth shut on the matter.
“I saw my future.” Ralphie thought to himself. “I want to see more.”
He took hold of the crystal and looked into it again. This time his room melted into a church auditorium. He sat in the back row, looking front and center at Art; Art was dressed in a black suit, on a stage, waiting alongside a staggered line of eight men. There was a subtle shift in the faint background music that was playing and all of the guests in front of Ralphie turned as if they were looking at him. Ralphie turned around too, and adorned in a dazzling white dress was that blue-eyed brunette. She was being escorted down the aisle by whom was presumably her father. Art couldn’t hold the tears back— they just kept flowing, and this made Ralphie cry. When she got to the base of the stage, Art came down the steps to meet her. He hugged her father and escorted her up the stairs carefully. They stood there while the preacher said a few words, and, after two songs, they concluded the ceremony with a grand kiss!
“She’s beautiful.” said Ralphie.
“That she is.” I replied. “And you’re going to be very happy you made this choice.”
“Really?” he asked.
“Would you like to fast forward and see?” I offered.
Ralphie nodded his head Yes, and off we were!
The auditorium exploded into a million colors, and all the colors, once they ran down Ralphie’s eyes like wet paint on canvas and settled, had formed a new scene: he was standing in a waiting room.
“Where’s this?” asked Ralphie. “A hospital?”
“You’re very smart, Ralphie” I said.
“Let me guess, I’m gonna have a baby?”
“To be more exact, Art’s wife is going to birth a baby because she possesses female reproductive organs.”
“I see.” said Ralphie.
“That you do.” I said before teleporting him into the room where Art and his wife were holding their newborn baby girl.
“What’s her name?” asked Ralphie.
“Grace.” I said. “She’s named after her grandmother.”
“I love her.” said Ralphie. “She looks just like me.”
“That she does.” I said.
“What a peaceful moment.” said Ralphie.
“It’s not all good all the time.” I said. “Things get tough, but you guys make it.”
“What does that mean?” he asked.
“It means marriage is tough. And it’s a matter of being selfless. Selfless people are the secret to successful marriages.” I said.
I could tell this was going over his head.
“So our marriage works out because we’re both selfless.” he said.
“Not exactly.” I corrected. “You’re both deeply selfish people. You simply acknowledge this fact daily and try hard with all your might to be less selfish.”
“So we try hard to be good?” he asked.
“Nope! You undoubtedly fail.” I said. “Nobody can become less selfish by their own strength.”
“Tell me the secret of selflessness!” yelled Ralphie.
“You’ll figure it out, kid.” I said.
The dark clouds came swirling in again and, before Ralphie knew it, he was back in his bedroom.
“What happens next?” asked Ralphie. “I need to know more. I need to know my future!”
Ralphie looked into the crystal again. In fact, he did this over and over and over and over and over and over and over, until, that is, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I thought, enough is enough. So I beamed him up to meet me face to face through the hole in the sky. He looked around for me, but I’d shrunk down to his size and was up in a great big tree. We were in a sunny forest that had no end.
“Up here!” I yelled.
“You’re the one I’ve been talking to this entire time?” he asked.
“You betchya.” I said.
“Come on down!” he yelled.
So I obliged his request. I didn’t have to climb down the tree or anything like that because I’m special— I slowly and ever-so gracefully floated down instead.
“Who are you?” asked Ralphie.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” I said, causing a mug of coffee to appear out of thin air.
“Are you God?” he asked in a hesitant tone.
“Far from it.” I said, sipping my drink. “Here’s the thing, I’m not too interested in talking about who I am. And you’re far too interested in wanting to know who you might turn out to be.”
“Might?” said Ralphie. “What do you mean, ‘might’?”
“Didn’t you get my memo?” I asked. “In the very beginning of showing you all this cool stuff, I mentioned that this was ‘sorta’ your future.”
“So none of those things happen?” said Ralphie in frustration. “All of this has been a waste of time?”
“Don’t see it that way.” I said, patting my friend on the back. “If you really want to see more of what could happen in your life, I’ll show you.”
“I’m not interested.” said Ralphie.
“Too bad.” I said.
So I cast Ralphie down the hole into a darkness that makes the night seem bright and he screamed in terror as he was ripped limb from limb and reassembled on a platform. His eyes glossed over and he saw little Grace grow up into adulthood. She went to college, he gave her away in marriage to a nice young man from New Jersey, and she came to have a child of her own— a boy named Alec. Sorrow cut through him as he watched himself witness the death of his wife, as he watched himself roam about his home with great loneliness, as he watched himself sit on a couch alone during the winter months— on and on his suffering went, until he begged me to be free of the visions.
And so I decided I would release him, but not a second before I got the chance to speak with him once more, face to face.
Ralphie materialized in front of me.
“Let me go home.” he whimpered.
“Certainly.” I said. “Look into the mirror behind you.”
He turned around and cried hysterically.
“What have you done?” Ralphie screamed.
I felt bad for the fella.
“Art, you sat there on your bed so long, looking into what could’ve been, you forgot to live.” I said. “It’s too late now, you’re 94 years old, your best bet is to look into the crystal one last time before you die.”
When Art came to his senses, he looked around his bedroom— it was covered in a thick sheet of dust— and he studied his bony hands. They were unrecognizable, and he wept bitterly because of his choices. The crystal had fallen on the bed between his knees, and he strained forward and clutched it. Through the tears, he lost himself once again to a vision not far off.
It was a warm summer day, and Art was standing on a grassy knoll. A concrete staircase led him down to where he found Grace sitting among rows of tombstones. He knelt beside her and sobbed. His name was engraved on the slab of concrete before them.
“What have I done?” whispered Art as he fell over in the grass. “I’m such a damned fool.”
©Alchemy & Elegy 2020