"Good morning, Cicelians

Disclaimer: None of the characters of Northern Exposure (nor does the show itself) belong to me. Racine Wood, however, does, and the rest of this story. I'm aware that it's an unfinished fic, but I just found it and I don't remember how I was going to end it. If you have any suggestions, leave it in a review or some such thing and it'll get to me. I appreciate any input you can give me. Thanks.

"Good morning, Cicelians! This is Chris in the morning on KBHR, tellin you to rise n shine, up n at em! Today's the day, el veintiuno de diciembre, the solstice, the first day of winter. Pretty soon the snow will be fallin, the foxes'll be hibernatin, the ptarmigans'll be tradin in their brown feathers for white. For those of you affiliated in the Christian sect, in just four days you'll be singin Joy to the World around your Christmas tree.

"Speakin of, this just in, RuthAnn's still got two artificial trees left, if you need it, she's got it. Here's somethin for Old Man Winter and Jack Frost."

The sounds of "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" as sung by Dionne Warwick gently lilted out over the airwaves of Cicely. Their merry strains could be heard in cars, in the Brick, and in RuthAnn's store where Ed was busily sweeping in preparation for the day. He was humming along with the song quietly under his breath when he heard the door open. Assuming it was the proprieter, he called out cheerfully, "Hey, RuthAnn."

"I beg your pardon?" asked an unfamiliar voice.

Ed spun around and leaned on the broomhandle. There was a woman standing just inside the door, dressed in a crushed velvet green cape that went down to her ankles. Her red hair was curly and unkempt, strewn about like hay after a hoedown. Her grey eyes flashed in the store's dim light. "You're not RuthAnn," said Ed in mild confusion.

"You're absolutely right," said the woman. Her extraordinary cape swished to one side as one of her arms poked through the opening. "Racine Wood, pleased to meet you."

"I'm Ed," said Ed, "but we're not open yet." He shook her hand, trying to be cordial, and smiled at her.

Racine cocked her head to the side as if studying him. She took a step back, tilted her head to the other side, causing cascades of red hair to collapse over her shoulder, then shook her head. "Nope," she mumbled to herself. "You're not him."

"I'm not who?" asked Ed.

"I don't know," said Racine softly. "I'll know him when I see him. Listen, is there anywhere around here with a lot of people?" She moved her hands in expansive gestures as she talked, like an enthusiastic used car salesperson.

"Well, the Brick is right down the street, there are normally a lot of people there," replied Ed. He still wasn't too clear on what was going on, but he hid it admirably. Winter Wonderland switched to an instrumental piece for piano and violin that Ed couldn't identify.

"The Brick? What's that?"

"A bar," said Ed. He nodded as if to emphasize the point.

"Ah," said Racine. "Thanks, Ed, you've been a great help." With that, she turned and left the store.

Chris saw her moments later as she walked down Main Street. Her cape flew out from behind her, and underneath she appeared to be wearing some kind of black jumpsuit. Her feet were clad in leather boots that went up just past her knee, where they terminated in tied laces. Chris' brow furrowed and he called out, "Hey, Maurice!"

"What is it, Stevens?" asked Maurice from the office just beyond the glass cubicle.

"You recognize her?" Chris pointed out the window, where the woman was standing as if trying to get her bearings.

"No," said Maurice, standing. "She looks like a magician or one of Robin Hood's merry men."

The woman moved off, twitching her hair over her shoulder. Maurice frowned, stepping into the glass box and adjusting the hat on his head. "Who do you suppose she is?"

"Don't know," said Chris. He leaned back on the chair and reached for a record.

Knock knock. "Hey, O'Connell?"

There was no answer. He knocked again. "O'Connell, you awake?"

Once more receiving no answer, he opened the door and stepped into the living room. What he saw made him want to turn around and leave again, but he held his ground.

The place was totally ransacked. The sofa cushions were ripped from their places, the chair was on its side, the tree was askew. Christmas decorations hung every which way from the windows and door, and a bell fell from the doorknob and landed with a muted clang by Joel's right foot. It was a total disaster.

"O'Connell!" he called in alarm. He started to move through the room when Maggie stepped immediately in front of him, her face a mixture of annoyance and confusion.

"What is it, Fleishman?" she asked, moving around him to start rooting through the sofa.

"What the hell happened here?" asked Joel once his heart had started beating again. "It looks like a train wreck and Hurricane Hugo rolled into one."

"I really don't need this right now, Fleishman. If you're not going to be helpful I'd appreciate it if you left."

"Hey, hey, calm down. What can I do?"

"Well," said Maggie, now reaching under the sofa, "do you remember that little nutcracker my mother gave me, you know, for a housewarming present?"

"Yeah," said Joel, putting his coat on the chair after righting it. "Ugly little thing, as I recall."

"Well, ugly or not my mother's coming to visit me. If I don't have it out she'll think I hate it," said Maggie desperately.

"But you do," said Joel, hunkering down by the sofa.

"That's not the point," shot Maggie. "She's being nice enough to come all the way up here for Christmas, and she'll be insulted if I don't have it out."

"Just tell her the truth, that you lost it."

"Oh, yeah, that's nice," said Maggie sarcastically. She abandoned the couch and walked into the kitchen, which was likewise a wreck. "I loved her gift so much that I lost it the minute I got it. I can't say that. She'd probably torch my house intentionally this time."

"Gives a whole new meaning to the term housewarming gift," Joel murmured. He opened the refrigerator, shrugged, and closed it again.

"Was there a reason you stopped by?" asked Maggie, looking in the oven.

"I was just checking to see if you wanted to get some breakfast," said Joel. "I'll be busy all day today, so this would be the only free time I have."

"That's sweet of you, Fleishman, but I really want to find this. Some other time, okay?"

"Sure," said Joel. "If you haven't found it by tomorrow I'll stop by again."

He left Maggie's house and drove to the Brick, tapping his fingers idly on the steering wheel. Once he arrived, he sat at the bar and mulled over his order. "Hey, Dr. Fleishman," said Ed, who was standing by the bar with a large box in his hands.

"Hey, Ed," said Joel. "Whatcha got there?"

"Pimientos for Holling," said Ed. "I'm just waiting for him to finish with Racine."

"Who's Racine?"

Ed pointed to an unusually dressed woman at a table near the back. "Her," he said. "I met her this morning."

Racine looked up and waved to Ed with a grin, and then her eyes landed on Joel. They widened, but her attention shifted back to Holling. "Why'd she look at me like that?" Joel wondered.

"I don't know," said Ed. "Maybe you're the person she's looking for."

"Who's looking for? I'll take those, Ed, thanks," said Shelly. She took the pimientos and set them behind the bar.

"Racine," said Ed, pointing her out. "She's looking for someone."

"And you think she's looking for me?" asked Joel, looking over his glasses at Ed.

"I don't know," said Ed. "Neither does she. She'll know when she sees him."

"I see," said Joel. He swiveled on the stool, and seconds later a hand on his shoulder spun him around again.

"Excuse me, sir, but what's your name?" asked the redhead.

"I'm Dr. Joel Fleishman, why, can I help you?"

"A doctor," said Racine. Her eyes sparkled. "Wow."

Joel raised his eyebrows. Shelly, now much interested, leaned over the bar and pretended to wipe it down. Bruce Springsteen blared on the jukebox in the background. "I am just so glad to meet you," said Racine. She grabbed Joel's hand and pumped it eagerly. "My name's Racine Wood. Or it will be."

"Hmm?" asked Joel, missing it.

"You're my past life!" exclaimed Racine. "Or you will have been by this time when I will have been alive."

"What?"

"Bitchin," said Shelly, her eyes wide. Chris walked through the door and sat himself down beside Joel.

"Hey, everyone. What's goin on?" he asked.

"This is Racine. Dr. F here is her past life."

"No kidding!" Chris exclaimed.

"It's pretty interesting," Ed observed.

"What are you talking about?" asked Joel with a small laugh. "Are you telling me that you traveled backward through time in order to meet one of your past lives?"

Racine nodded, sending her hair flying. "You've got it! Man, this is going to be easier than I thought. I was just so curious that I had to find out. You make past life number seventeen. I've got quite a few more to go."

"So, where you from?" asked Chris. "And when?"

"Fargo North Dakota," said Racine promptly, "two thousand four hundred and twenty six."

"This is ridiculous. What you're suggesting is not only physically impossible, it's insane," said Joel.

"This has nothing to do with the physical, Joel," said Chris, smiling. "It's the spiritual. What is a soul, but an embodiment of the physical self, released from its corporal prison once the body itself dies? Where does it go, hm? Most say heaven, to a kind of eternal jam session up in the Great Beyond for ethereal travelers.

"But what if the general consensus were reversed, y'know, that God or El Shaddai or Buddha were to descend from on high and say, 'Guess what, guys, there is no Heaven, no Nirvana, no whatever. As soon as you die your soul just sets up shop in the closest new body it can find.' That explains guys like Hitler and Dahmer and Bundy, when you think about it. When guys like Nero or Lucifer, the fallen angel himself bit the dust, maybe they didn't buy the house right away. Maybe they just rented for awhile until the perfect candidate for scumbuckethood came along, and they thought to themselves, 'There's some perfect evil fodder.'"

"At the risk or sparking further metaphysical dissertations, what if there are no souls at all? What if all this talk of karma and the afterlife is just theory? No one knows for sure. What if when we die, that's it?" asked Joel.

"If that's true, why even live?" countered Chris. "Our purpose may be revealed fully in death."

"The point of living is not death, Chris," said Joel. "Living may not have a purpose, and any attempt to give it one is probably fallacy. I'm not saying to run off and kill yourself, but certainly don't try to apply a meaning that isn't there."

Ed, who had been listening to this entire exchange with his eyes fixed on the bartop, nodded. "That's a good point, Dr. Fleishman," he said. "I mean, what's really out there? Do we even have a true purpose?"

"That's the $64,000 Existential Crisis," said Chris, standing and pounding Ed on the back. "See ya, I got to get back on the air."

Ed scratched the back of his neck. "Well," he said with an awkward smile, "hope they're good pimientos, Shelly."

"Thanks, Ed!"

"Ed, will you please restock the apricots?" No answer. "Ed? Ed!"

Ed started and looked at RuthAnn guiltily. "I'm sorry, RuthAnn, what did you say?"

"I asked if you would restock the apricots. There are only two cans left on the shelf."

"Oh, right. Well, I would RuthAnn, but, uh, they haven't come in yet. They're still on the way out of Sleetmute," said Ed.

"Oh," replied RuthAnn. She studied the boy's face intently. 'Are you all right, Ed?"

"I suppose so. I'm just having an existential crisis right now, is all."

RuthAnn stepped out from behind the counter and leaned against it. "An existential crisis?" she asked in mild disbelief.

"Yep," said Ed. "I was just talking to Chris, and Dr. Fleishman, and Racine - she's new in town - about the afterlife and whether it's there or not." He shrugged with a soft sigh. "I'm a little confused."

"Anyone's bound to get confused after listening to a conversation between Joel and Chris," said RuthAnn, amused by Ed's predicament. "They're perfect foils for each other. Besides, haven't you always believed in the afterlife as part of your upbringing?"

"That's just it, RuthAnn," said Ed. "That's what I've always been taught. But there's no proof at all. I've always accepted teaching as absolute truth, but I've never really questioned anything. I mean," he continued, starting to pace, "why are any of us alive? Why do some of us die early and others live a really long life?"

"Well, some say that you can't die until you finish everything you were destined to do. To lots of people, your fate is preordained. Personally, I think that's a lot of hooey. You can't be set to do something at the age of seventy five since the time you were born."

"Maybe," said Ed. "So, is there any way to know what we're supposed to do?"

"I don't believe so," said RuthAnn. "Right now I think you're supposed to be sweeping or stocking."

"Oh, right," said Ed. "I'll tell you when those apricots come in."

"A big hello to the new girl in town, Racine Wood, also known as the future life of our own Dr. Joel Fleishman! Racine, hope you like it here. PS- Maggie O'Connell is still looking for her nutcracker, she describes it as about six inches high, with a red coat, black hat, and white beard. If anyone finds it anywhere, they can return it to her or the radio station. Here's one for you, Mags."

U2's "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" started blaring out over the radio waves. Chris grinned and took a swig of iced tea from a glass on the small table on his right, and stared out of the window. Nice day, kind of chilly, but sunny and bright out. Mere seconds later, as if on cue, Maggie stormed through the door of KBHR, casting furtive glances to the right and left. "Chris? Maurice?" she called.

"Right here, Maggie," said Chris, waving. Maggie went into the booth. "What can I do for ya?"

"Actually, I was wondering if I could look around here, you know, for my nutcracker."

"Well I doubt you'll find it, but search away."

"Thanks," said Maggie, smiling. She began to look behind the records, under the table, while Chris watched and grinned. "You know, I've looked everywhere - RuthAnn's store, Fleishman's office, I've looked in my plane. I can't imagine where it's gotten to, it just refuses to surface."

"Elusive," said Chris, "like Godot."

"Godot. That's the one from that Beckett play, where the two guys are waiting for him and he never shows up," said Maggie, giving a cursory glance to the top of the table.

"He's the proverbial conundrum wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Who is Godot? And where is he that keeps him away from the people who're waitin for him so diligently? And why are these guys waiting for him? What is it about Godot that makes them want to stand around for hours on end, just... waiting for him?" asked Chris. "Oh, hang on a minute." He removed the needle from the record, switched on the microphone, and said, "And here's one for Racine."

"I hardly think that the search for a nutcracker can be compared to a play like 'Waiting for Godot,'" said Maggie as "The Year 2525" began to play. "But it's interesting that you bring it up." She straightened. "Well, I don't think it's here, Chris, but thanks for letting me look."

"No problem," said Chris, settling back in his chair.

Joel walked into the waiting area and took off his coat. "Geez, it's freezing out there," he said, hanging it next to Marilyn's on the tree. "I should get a coat like yours, it looks warm."

Marilyn continued to knit, not looking up. "That time-traveler woman is in your office," she said.

"Racine?" asked Joel, rubbing his hands together to warm them. The heat in the office was already beginning to penetrate the layer of coldness that had hung on him since that morning.

Marilyn nodded. Joel sighed. "Probably wants to introduce me to her other past lives."

"I think there's something wrong with her," said Marilyn.

Joel chuckled. "That's for sure," he said, walking into the office. Racine was sitting on the table, her hands folded in her lap and her cape resting beside her. "Racine, what seems to be the problem?"

"My right hand feels like it's going to fall off," she said with a pained smile. "And both of my hands and my neck itch like crazy."

"Okay, let's see," said Joel, putting on a pair of gloves. Racine lifted her hands, and Joel saw that they were red. "Did you bump your wrist on anything or receive any bites, you know, bug bites or anything like that?"

Racine shook her head. "No," she said. "But there is this thing." She pointed at the middle finger of her right hand. To the immediate left of the nail was a blister, very small, but raised enough to make her fingertip look swollen. Joel smiled, recognizing it.

"Have you done a lot of writing lately?" he asked.

"Yes," said Racine. "I was taking a journal of my journeys. It's easier to take along for the trip than my Pru, so - "

"Your what?"

"My Pru. PRU, it stands for Personal Recording Unit."

"I see," said Joel, not really understanding. "But I think you have writer's cramp. It's a condition that anyone will get if they write for an extended period of time, especially if their hand isn't conditioned to it. Just rest your hand, maybe shake it out a little, it should be fine."

Racine nodded. "What about this itch?"

Joel examined her hands again, turning them this way and that. The fingers were long and agile, the nails short and ragged, as if bitten. "No evidence of infection or abrasions. Are you allergic to anything?"

"Not that I know of," said Racine.

"What about your cape? Have you washed it lately?"

"Yes," said Racine. "Why, what would that have to do with it?"

"Did you use your own detergent?"

"No. I borrowed Shelly's."

"You were probably allergic to it," said Joel, looking at the red ring around her neck. "I see this sort of thing all the time. If you rewash it in a different detergent, one that's more sensitive, you should be fine. I'll write you a prescription for some modified calamine."

"Thanks," said Racine, smiling gratefully. She pointed at his gloves. "Can I have a pair of those? I'll have to carry this cape home, and I don't want to make this itch any worse."

"Good thinking," said Joel, handing her a couple.

She eyed him critically. "You still don't believe me, do you?"

"Don't take it personally," said Joel. "I'm a natural skeptic, and I find it preposterous that anyone believes she can travel through time. Nor do I believe in reincarnation."

"Why not?" asked Racine.

Joel chuckled. "It's not in my nature," he said. There was a slight pause as he studied Racine. Earnest type, he thought, except for the fact that she could concoct such bizarre things. "Just for the sake of argument," he said, "how did you discover that I was your past life? How did you figure any of this stuff out?"

"I was curious one day," said Racine. "I used to be real into astrology, and I read once about a woman who had found out that she was that Anastasia chick in a past life, even went back to try and meet her. I finally met this woman, and she told me about a hypnotic regression that she went through to find out who she had been. As it turns out, she was more than just Anastasia. She was several other people, at least fifty she said.

"So out of curiosity, I went to the doctor she went to, and he was able to take me back and see all of the people I had been and will be. I talked to a few of them, not all, but I saw you. I recognized you. And it was so strange - I couldn't possibly have known all of them, but they were all so familiar, it was a spooky feeling." She gave him a glance that was piercing yet somewhat amused. "Why don't you try it?"

Joel snorted. "What, you mean a regression? I don't think so."

"Come on," said Racine, jumping off the table, "it'll be fun! I mean, I can't do it, but I bet you can find someone who can."

Joel turned to look at her, a slight smile spreading across his face. "You really believe this, don't you?"

"I found you, didn't I?" asked Racine. She met his gaze equally, not diverting her eyes.

"Okay," said Joel after a moment. "If I can find someone, I'll try it. That doesn't mean I believe that it works, but to humor you, I'll give it a shot."

Racine grinned. "You won't regret it," she said, smiling. "It's absolutely amazing."

"Ed! Hey, Ed!"

Ed didn't hear him, just kept shuffling along Main Street with his head down and his hands jammed in his pockets. His thoughts were a million miles away. Luckily there were few people on the sidewalk, or he would have run into them.

Chris jogged up alongside him and fell into step with him. "Hey, Ed, buddy, what's up?"

Ed looked up quickly and then back down to the sidewalk. "Nothin, Chris."

"Where you goin?"

"Nowhere, really," Ed replied. "I've been walking this sidewalk for awhile now, just thinking, you know."

"You still stuck in that Meaning of Life crisis?" asked Chris.

Ed nodded. "It's just that one day, everything might seem so clear, and then wham, the nexy day, everything's out of sync. I mean," he said, folding his hands and pausing in his walk, "how are you s'posed to know what you're s'posed to do? Am I s'posed to be a shaman, or a movie maker?"

"You can't really know til you get there," said Chris. "The answer to the question of life is a very obscure thing, you know. Your options go from the strict and clear-cut to the obscure."

"Options?"

"Well, Deep Thought said that the answer to everything was a simple number, forty-two, and everything boiled down to that number. Made life seem kind of futile and meaningless. Then you got your philosophers, who say that 'Life is what you make it.' Well, if that's true, you control your future and your fate, and life can have great meaning if you want it to."

Confused, Ed asked, "But how do you know which one to go with?"

Chris shrugged. "Whichever one suits you best. I'll see ya, buddy." And with that, he left.

Ed sighed and continued until he got to the store. When he walked in, Joel was waiting for him. "Ed," he said, "I have a favor to ask you."

LATER

"Hey, Racine."

"Hi, Ed," said the traveler. Her cape was slung over the arm of a chair, and she was perched on the edge of the chair's cushion.

"Okay, let's get this over with," said Joel, sighing as he closed the door behind Ed. Ed took a small bag out of his pocket and told Joel to sit and close his eyes.

"I've only done this once," said Ed in what may have been embarrassment, "so you'll have to bear with me."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Okay, let's see. Picture your mind like a dark, empty room." Ed spread his hands, even though he knew Joel couldn't see it. "There's a candle in the back of it."

Joel opened one eye. "Thought you said it was empty," he said.

"Keep your eyes closed," said Ed mildly.

"Sorry."

"Go to the back of the room, slowly." Ed waited. Joel sighed, trying to make himself do as Ed told him. He was still skeptical, and who could blame him, but he was determined to give it a try. Suddenly there was a strong, acrid smell under his nose.

He coughed, and asked with his eyes closed, "What was that?"

"Ssh," said Ed. "Light the candle."

Joel opened his eyes and looked down. Sure enough, in the dim light he could see a tall, white candle with an unburnt wick. He reached out to touch the wick, and a flame left from his hand to the candle. He stepped back, not so much in surprised, but to keep himself from being burnt. As Joel turned away from the candle, he saw familiar surroundings taking shape around him. Ed's voice was now almost nonexistant, fading into the background with the jukebox, which was playing a song Joel couldn't recognize.

He was in the Brick, and it was empty except for a tallish redhead sitting at the end of the bar. Racine. She turned. "Hey, Joel," she said. "They'll be showing up soon. Just sit awhile and wait with me, okay?" This said, she rested her arms on the bar again.

Joel walked to the bar and sat down, and as he did so a flood of people walked through the restaurant's double doors. They were of all shapes and sizes and colors. The first was a short, dark-skinned man with a stake through his nose and a necklace of teeth. There was a woman in pioneer dress carrying a baby. There was a little girl in a frilly, lacy dress beside a tall, regal man with a wreath of leaves around his head. There was an old black man and a young Japanses girl. And more and more people came streaming through those doors.

"I recognize most of these people," said Racine confidentially. She pointed to the Japanese girl. "That's Sun Li. She died in 1945, Hiroshima. And the baby, Joseph, he was drowned in the flood."

Joel blinked. "The flood?"

"You know," said Racine, making 'rain' motions with her hands, "the flood. The big one. God's wrath, the whole mess."

Joel looked at the wreathed man, who was studying him intently. The man said something in a language that Joel vaguely recognized. "I'm sorry, my Latin's a little rusty." He lowered his voice and spoke to Racine. "Who's that guy?"

"Charlemagne," said Racine softly. Charlemagne bowed, smiling.

"Would you like us all to introduce ourselves?" asked the pioneer woman.

"Please," said Joel. The woman stepped forward.

"I'm Annie Blake," she said.

"Q'nix," said the short, pierce-nosed man stoutly.

"Vanessa Mignonne," said the frilly-dressed girl.

The introductions went on and on, for what seemed like hours. Then, the crowd parted, and Ed walked through, smiling and holding his hands behind his back. "Hey, Dr. Fleishman," he said.

"Ed, hi," said Joel, still a little taken aback. "You can't be one of my past lives."

"Oh, no," said Ed, chuckling a little, "I'm just here to tell you it's time to come back. He took one of his hands from behind his back and held out the candle. It was now almost completely burned down, and Ed's hand was covered in wax. "Blow it out, Dr. Fleishman."

Joel breathed in deeply and puffed at the candle, and then he jolted upright on the stool as the caustic odor invaded his senses again. When he opened his eyes, he was looking at Ed, and Ed was putting the little bag back in his pocket. "Whoa," said Joel.

"Welcome back, Dr. Fleishman," said Ed cheerfully. "Did it work?"

"I assume so," said Joel. "How long?"

"Oh," said Ed, "about thirty seconds."

"Thirty seconds," Joel repeated, more a statement than a question. Racine was smiling at him.

"Charlemagne's a pretty nice guy, isn't he?"