Heartlands: Moment of Clarity

By: Mark Figueroa | Twitter: @anthony_abyss

The Heartland, a large county in North Western Jersey, is composed of several small suburbs and tranquil towns, like the illustrious snow-covered Thatcher Township, and peaceful Harwaven. Rich in culture and diversity, and best known for its oddities, the Heartlands are also home to the “Nànan Wàbi”, or the “Five See” mountains of Northern New Jersey.
The tallest peak of the “Five See” was where Algonquin Native American tribes would meet to discuss politics, trade and other matters while overlooking parts of what would later become Warren County, Sussex County, Morris County, Passaic County and Heartland County. The sprawling city of Arbordale rests along the base of the Nànan Wàbi, separated from Harwaven Lake by thick, uncontrolled woodlands. It is also the only place in the world where the Shimmering New Jersey Blue Pin Oak (or just Blue Pin) grows.

Gerard Valdez grabs a two-man saw from one end, while his long time coworker and friend, Palmer Tidwell, mans the other end of the blade. As they’ve done for years, they begin the painstaking task of sawing through a massive Blue Pin. “This close, Palmer. This close,” Gerard says, pushing forward on the saw. Palmer pulls and then pushes, both men alternating as needed. “I just don’t understand it. The guy just vanished like D.B. Cooper. He was the entire reason I became a Blue Pin Lumberjack in the first place. I don’t understand it.”

“Well, you’ll understand less if we don’t get this baby down by the sunset, Gerry. We still have to strip the branches and peel the bark. I don’t want to be here all night, if I can help it. My wife’s making lasagna wit’ prosciutto slices between the ricotta and mozzarella,” Palmer responds, indifferent. He grabs the water bottle on his utility belt and takes a sip. “Besides, wasn’t Dr. Franklin Duhl wanted for like stalking or something. Who cares if he went missing. Supposedly, he was wanted by the military or some nonsense. Damn big-brained scientists always thinking they’re on to something,” Palmer shouts, heaving forward with a graceful push. A sawtooth gets caught in the tree and the blade stops. “Don’t slow down,” Palmer shouts from the other side of the giant tree. Its thick and fuzzy, blue, needle-like leaves shimmering in the noon sun. “Gerry, pull!” he yells, but there’s no response. He peeks around the oak and sees Gerry frozen. “What’s up, pal?” Palmer asks, letting go of the saw.

Gerard’s mouth hangs open. He squints and adjusts his head to get a view of something that Palmer can’t seem to identify. After a few moments, Palmer marches over to Gerard. “Look, pal, this tree’s gotta come down and we’ve got some prep. Now, I know you ain’t a spring chicken, Gerry, but tonight’s Lasagna Night, man. Come on. Let’s get this tree down so we can treat it today. If we wait, the oak’s gonna dry up and the rings aren’t going to be blue anymore. You know those Big City Millennials can’t get enough of these.” He stares at Gerard, who’s still standing there, confused and staring into the distance. “You’re scaring me, man,” Palmer declares. He waves his hand to Gerard’s face. “Yoohoo, Earth to Gerry! Millennials need their fancy, one-of-a-kind wood and we got a ton of work to do.”

Gerard takes a deep breath and turns his head to Palmer. “Sorry, just that thing over there… What is that?” Gerard inquires, pointing at a glare in the distance.

“These trees, Gerry. We’ve been doing this long enough to know that these trees shimmer. They sparkle. They got the bling-bling for the people with pockets. What you’re seein’ is the reflection of money bein’ lost while you gawk into space with your thousand-yard stare, buddy. Get your head back into the game. We need to get the ball rolling on this specific tree, and it’s going to take time to cut it down since we can’t use the power stuff.”

Gerard sighs. “I’m serious. There’s something leaning against that sapling.”

“There always is. Now focus on the task at hand. Need I remind you: millennials with money, minus power tools, plus specialized labor rate equals big money. Of course, it’s all time-dependent.”

“The date range is ’81 to ’96. We’re millennials too, you idiot,” Gerard says, still focused on the glistening object. He tries to look away, but a flicker keeps his eyes fixated on the erratic sparkling. Gerard’s feet propel him forward. He walks around the marked Blue Pin Oak and shuffles like a zombie in a random direction.

“Gerry? Gerry? What the fuck, man? Where are you going? Yo!” Palmer calls out, getting louder and angrier as Gerard gets farther.

“Just come with me!” Gerard calls out with his back turned. He continues staggering forward.

“Fuckin’ asshole,” Palmer mutters under his breath. “I’m good here, Gerry. Just hurry the hell up. Lasagna Night.”

Gerard waves his hand and disappears into the forest.

Angry, Palmer pulls his cell phone out of his pocket to dial his wife. He grits his teeth when the call fails. “No service. Of course.” He sits up against the tree and crosses his arms. “Well, you wanna skate, pal, I will too,” he says, interrupted by a loud wail from Gerard’s direction. Palmer springs to his feet. “Gerry!” He screams. “Gerry, you okay, bud?” After several moments, Gerard lets out another wail. “Fuck this,” Palmer mutters, drawing a pistol from his utility belt. “I’m comin’,” he shouts, taking off in Gerard’s direction. He sprints past several beautiful, blue trees with leaves shimmering so brightly that he can hear them sparkling in the sunlight. Palmer pauses when he finally sees Gerard. His mouth dropped and hanging, he tries to speak, but nothing comes out. “Wha-wha-what the?” he asks, staring at a tall, reflective panel. “A window?” Palmer asks Gerard, who’s standing silently against the suspicious object.

“A mirror,” Gerard says, looking into the clear glass. The men pause and examine their surroundings, then reassess the tall mirror with a strange, thick, white frame made from pearls and decorated by rubies, sapphires and rare gems. “At least I think it’s a mirror.” He paces and touches the grooved, ivory mount. “When I walked up, I thought it was a person. I muttered something, but they didn’t say nothin’ back, so I kept tryin’ to make small talk. Then, I got closer and tried to reach to em’. My hand hit the glass and I panicked. Then, the guy turned around and shouted ‘Who’s there?’ looking directly at me. I shouted again, but he didn’t see or hear me.”

“So, what are you saying, Gerry?”

“Well, Palmer… I’m not really sure, but I think this is a mirror to another world. Maybe like one of them science fiction shows. It’s a mirror to another reality,” Gerard clarifies. He takes a deep breath and looks at Palmer. He cracks his knuckles, uneasy at the thought that something like this can exist. The men gaze into the glass and see a forest of blue sparkling pines similar to theirs, except there are strangers hiking and odd animals scurrying about and flying through the branches. “I turned it before and I saw another angle of this world, or this place. It looks like here, but different.”

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