Not Alone — Prologue



For the past five years, I have participated in NaNoWriMo with my English students. I write and they write. My stories come from student recommendations, and I do my best to include their input into my stories. With this story, the students challenged me to write a ghost story.

     I sneak a final glance at the the glossy travel magazine images of the Fortunate Islands as wheels beneath my seat jolt to a gradual rest. The head flight attendant recites a memorized welcome in Spanish, German and finally English. Her eyes betray her resignation to repeat the mandatory script to an indifferent audience. Although she insists we remain in our seats, a herd of anxious tourists converge to the center aisle. I stuff the magazine into the seat pocket in front of me, scan for the nearest exits, reclaim the magazine and stare at the pages promoting villages and beaches barely beyond my cabin window.

     The words aren't compelling enough to warrant a fifth review, so I reach into my shirt pocket for the only travel companion I need for this adventure. 

    To Mom: I'm in Spain.

     Mom insisted I text her the instant my flight touches ground. It was the sole requirement to allow her baby to travel so far away. That and and a signed contract that we would Skype daily.  Honestly, I'm shocked that is all it took--I don't know of many parents who would allow a 17-year-old to travel overseas without an adult chaperone.


     My left knee bounces to a beat tripping through my mind as passengers squeeze tighter together into the narrow aisles. I would love to stand and shake some feeling back into my hind region, but I prefer that numb-bum feeling over the funky-smelling congestion clogging my only escape route. I push the mini headphones hanging from my shirt collar into my ears and shift weight to my right cheek. The Police sing "We are spirits in the material world, are spirits in the material world." My left leg now taps rhythm with the band.  


     The impatient man who occupied the seat next to me, as well as part of my seat, during the last leg of the flight kicks his way past my knees and allows his shoulder bag to smack me in the face. I don't even get an apology as he imposes himself into the plague of slowly-exiting passengers.

     This three-day pilgrimage began at our remote Elko Regional Airport. I woke up early on a freaky frosty June morning so that I could leave for a connecting flight in Salt Lake City, which wound up being delayed due to late spring snow. The next connection in Saint Louis was also postponed because of severe thunderstorms and a rumored tornado.  When I finally arrived in New York City, the ticket agent at the departure gate told me I was too late--he gave my seat to somebody on standby. The best the agent could do was get me on a flight to Amsterdam, where I then waited an additional ten hours until I could board a flight to Madrid. I only had to to wait another four hours in Madrid before I was permitted to board the airplane to my final destination, which was another agonizing three hours away. I deserve to get off this airplane before any of you, I silently scolded the pushy passengers. I have already missed two full days because of delays.


     From Mom: Be safe. Avoid trouble. Remember who you are.


     Mom has turned worrying into an art, and I first noticed it on my first day of Kindergarten. She didn't think I noticed her stealthily follow my bus in her white Volkswagon Cabriolet. She parked at the Minuteman Diner across the street and feigned reading one of her educational journals until I entered the front doors of Marley Elementary. During recess, a group of mothers was talking and drinking coffee on the opposite side of the chain link fence that protected our playground. Mom was in the center of the flock holding a pair of binoculars and sipping from her 48-ounce water bottle.

     I am legally a minor, but Mom doesn't need to worry. The people at Fox & Fish Student Travel assured her that I would be staying with a responsible American roommate who has gone through extensive training and security checks and is familiar with the local culture and customs. An adult travel representative with the company will also check up on me regularly. With those security measures in place, what could possibly go wrong?

     To Mom: I'll be safe.

     From Mom: And you know where you will be staying?

     To Mom: I do. Calle Licenciado Calderín Number 13. I will B.O.K.

    From Mom: Be safe, sweetie. I already miss you. See if you can make friends with your roommate.


     It always bugged mom that I didn't have many friends. When she first became suspicious of my loner status, she began placing self help books on the foot of my bed. Next, she signed me up for soccer, basketball and baseball, but I lacked the athletic skills and interest and gave up. She paid for summer camps and was dismayed by the lack of any friend references in my letters. Although I belonged to nearly every non-athletic club in high school--at Mom's insistence--I was still an outsider. 

     When I first asked Mom for permission about this trip, she refused. "I don't want to discuss it" was all she said before locking herself in her bedroom. I wasted the next three hours on my computer. As I passed Mom's door, she hid my senior yearbook behind her back. She asked me to come in so we could talk. I listened to her concerns without arguing, but she finally agreed that a free vacation to the Canary Islands is an opportunity I shouldn't miss.

     I confess, I didn’t even know the Canary Islands existed until I won this two-week student-travel prize. I was researching colleges on when a pop-up window flashed on the screen. "Win a Vacation. Discover the World," the advertisement flashed on the screen and wouldn't close. I would normally close the browser to avoid possible viruses and SPAM filling my inbox, but I was feeling a bit rebellious and reckless. Without reading the official rules, I filled out the contest application and clicked the submit button. If I were to win, I wanted summer science trip to the Smithsonian Institute featured in the ad, but I wound up being awarded a two week cultural and anthropological adventure to these obscure Spanish islands.


     The exit line gets more congested and spills into my row. A large stomach in a sweaty white button-down shirt and tight blue blazer stares at me, so I open the travel magazine and attempt to shield myself from the invasion. I thumb through the pages until I rest on an article about Telde. Apparently,  the town where I will reside has a long history of witchcraft, and legend has it that a small coven turned the inhabitants of the village into stone a couple of centuries ago. Mysterious events occur on the anniversary of that event, and I am fortunate enough to be there to experience some of the magic which should begin next week.

     Note: learn more about the Telde witches while I am here.

     “Perdón señor,” a tall flight attendant says. She smiles, but her eyes judge my strawberry-blond hair and freckles. “Excuse me. We are ready to clean the airplane. You must exit now.”

     I fumble under the seat for my carry-on bag, heave it over my shoulder and nearly pummel the woman. I apologize, and the flight attendant tries to suppress a laugh until I trip over the seats that are positioned closer than comfort allows. “Bienvenidos a Canarias. Have a nice holiday.”

    She places her hand firmly on the small of my back as we walk to the front exit and immediately seals the door shut the moment I step onto the terminal corridor. Her heels click click click as she drags her travel bag past me. She stops next to a blond, middle-age airline pilot and kisses him on each cheek. I'm not sure, but I think she murmurs “Yanquis” as they walk away.

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