(End of 1st draft, let the editing begin…comments and criticisms appreciated)
…It was my duty to save them. Nainie’s retelling of the stories from the White Book of Rhydderch had a lasting impact on me. In Branwen uerch Llyr, King Llyr’s daughter is promised to Irish King Matholwch by her brother Bran. An awful man named Efnisien, her bastard brother, mutilates and maims Matholwch’s horses. He hadn’t been consulted regarding the betrothal and new alliances between Britain and Ireland. Branwen was devastated and did what she could to heal the less damaged horses. In compensation, the Irish king was given a cauldron with magical powers and returns to Ireland with his bride Branwen. They have a son but the Irish, rankled by the mistreatment of their horses, punishes Branwen, and relegates her to the kitchens.
Branwen gets a message to her brothers, who sail with their warriors to rescue her. Trickery and fighting ensues. The terrible Efnisien kills Branwen’s baby. Matholwch uses the cauldron to revive his dead warriors. Efnisien, furious, destroys the cauldron, but forfeits his life. King Bran, her brother, is also mortally wounded. He instructs the surviving warriors to cut off his head and bring it back to Britain. Branwen dies of a broken heart. After much wandering, Bran’s head is buried under the White Hill (Tower of London), where it’s rumored it rests to this day.
Such a tragic tale. It ended as sadly as my attempt to save the horses, who were swiftly returned to Mr. Pfeiffer. In the story, I’d always wondered why the maimed horses weren’t put in the cauldron and restored? Luck or nainie’s magic and an honest, former jockey and stallkeeper ratted on his boss and Pfeiffer was arrested and fined. The horses found new homes. I was shipped off to boarding school in England.
Rath’s breathing sounded labored, as if he’d just climbed the last hill, rather than being pulled up and over it. His arm was raised and quivering, as were my legs. I’d just maneuvered down the other side of the incline and was searching for a marker. Whether I went right or left, both ways involved climbing another incline and skirting around rocky outcrops and fallen tree trunks. Freya, goddess of lucky Friday’s, Tonkakota, anyone, I could use some help. A horse, a deer, even a trained pig would be lovely. “What’s wrong Rath? Are you trying to point me in the right direction? Do you know of a more down hill route?”
“Run,” he rasped, “run little sister.” I’d heard that before. I pivoted and glanced to my left, in the direction Rath was pointing. No, it couldn’t be. The can of cold beans I’d consumed had been bad or water I’d drank was making me hallucinate. About 10 feet up the left slope, there stood Vaughn, looking like the victim of a horrific car crash. Dried blood or mud had formed rivulets and stained either side of his face. One eye was puffy and discolored. The strip of cloth I’d torn from my shirt and tied to the tree to mark the spot where he and the pig had gone over the cliff was wrapped round his head. One arm was in a makeshift sling. The upper part of a leg was wrapped with what was probably the belt from my Barbour jacket. In his other arm he held the arrow he’d wrested from me. Something shiny glittered from his belt.
“Goldifox,” he shouted. “Rath, my man. This ain’t the way off the mountain. Let me set you straight.”
Linear time, as we experience it, is an illusion, not an absolute. Scientists have established time slows in conditions of extreme velocity and gravity (think black hole). The passage of time is also connected to our ability to feel awe, ecstasy, empathy, extreme disgust, and repulsion. That’s what I felt when I saw Vaughn—maximum loathing in real time.
I should have realized monsters aren’t easy to kill. Monsters confirm the reality of the impossible. They’re our fears made physical. The scientific age, in theory, banished otherworldly beasts and monsters to the realm of myth and nonsense. That didn’t mean they weren’t there. The age of science and reason even extended its many tentacle reach to philosophers. Nietzsche warned that folks who fight with monsters should beware lest he/she become one. David Hume declared there was ‘no amount of evidence that could prove the reality of something that violated the laws of nature.’
Vaughn simply couldn’t have survived the fall, or his injuries. This thing wasn’t Vaughn; it was his ghoul, his specter form. I must have murmured aloud ‘he’s not real,’ because Rath tugged on my pants leg and croaked yes he is and begged me again to run. Back in grad school I had several heated discussions with my favorite professor. I knew he’d gone to Stanford and hung out at Esalon. He’d once embraced all things weird and illogical. I simply couldn’t understand why he currently viewed the world only through the lens of science—by what could be measured, weighed, and proven. Nainie had revealed to me an entirely other world.
I tried to persuade him to pay attention to what couldn’t yet be measured—individual consciousness. He grudgingly agreed conventional tools couldn’t measure it—but not that one had to therefore rely on intuition, on flickering impulses that lit up like pin ball objects struck by a spinning silver ball. I kept insisting we had to make leaps in the dark. He remained adamant—one simply couldn’t measure the illogical. As proof, he quoted Twain ‘it ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.’
Were my eyes and ears deceiving my brain? In my haste to deliver Rath to the healing stream, I hadn’t brought any weapons, unless you counted my short, pointy stick and pocket knife. How was this possible? I had no idea how he’d extradited himself from the banks of the river, though he’d shared he was once a mountain climber.I made a tally in my head—Vaughn injured, addled; me—winded, but in better shape than Vaughn, approaching a state of panic.
Everything I’d done or not done in the past six days had brought me to this place, this point in time. I’d neglected to finish him off—assumed nature had done the task for me. Would I pay the ultimate price as a result? Would Rath? The last lines of a whimsical drinking poem I used to recite popped into my head ‘no cause for mirth or laughter, in the cold, grey dawn of the morning after.’
I estimated Vaughn was about 20-25 yards away from where I stood. Limping, he drew a few step closer, favoring his left leg. In a booming voice that bounced off tree tops he said “I had to see it for myself. How is it you’re still alive my man? What witchery did you use on him Goldifox?”
Rath raised himself up shakily, using both arms. In a voice strained and low, he replied, “Hate eats a man up, don’t it? Leave her alone. Go back to the cave and tend to yourself, else…” The arms propping him up gave out; he collapsed on the pallet, panting, gasping in pain. I wondered the same thing about Vaughn—how was it he was still alive?
Vaughn used his good arm to dig into a satchel he’d brought. He located something he rather carefully extracted. He reminded me of a magician pulling a bunny from a top hat. I couldn’t quite make out what it was, but did note he temporarily transferred whatever it was to the hand in the sling. Then he rapidly shook his other hand, as if he’d just touched something red hot. Fiery sparks flew and spewed, singeing the ground. “Can you guess what I’ve got Goldifox, and the fun we’ll have if either of you moves a muscle?” He slurred the last few words.
The sparks gave away what it was, though I wished with every fiber I was wrong. I’d seen a dozen or more of the dark red tubes when I looked through supplies in the cave earlier. I even considered helping myself to a few tubes, but the danger outweighed the possible usefulness. My initial shock was dissipating; replacing it was a rising anger, my very own ticking time bomb. What was the Laurel & Hardy catchphrase that never failed to make dads laugh? Something like ‘here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.’
Ignoring Vaughn’s sarcasm and command to stay still, I crouched and whispered to Rath to brace himself. I was going to grab the litter and high tail it 300 or so feet to my right, into a thicket of pines and bushes that looked like gorse. Then I intended to stand and face a wounded, but armed Vaughn.
I’d gone barely 4-5 yards when something long and round with a burning fuse thumped on the ground near the foot of the pallet. Without thinking, I dove for it, snubbing out the fuse by jamming the tube wick first into the earth. Still in doing, not thinking mode, I scrambled to my feet, yanked off a glove, and inserted the tube into it. I placed the glove in an outer vest pocket. Yelling to Rath to hold on, I pulled the litter with all my might.
Vaughn hobbled a bit further down the hill and threw another stick. This one really missed its mark and landed in a pile of leaves and rotted tree limbs. Dynamite fuses can burn for as little as 7 seconds or as long as 40 seconds before detonating. I started counting aloud.
A single stick of dynamite, 1 ¼ inches in diameter, weighs less than ½ a pound, yet releases about 1 megajoule of energy (depending on the amount of nitro or ammonium nitrate inside). Dynamite, invented by Alfred Nobel, who was dubbed the ‘merchant of death,’ has an optimum shelf life of about a year, after which, it will weep nitro. Old dynamite is unstable and dangerous. This was old dynamite.
Vaughn’s frightening firecracker fizzled. It didn’t explode. Casey and Jonsy would have known what to do. They were fascinated with the properties of nitroglycerin. A tiny bit applied to and left to dry on a piece of chalk made for an interesting classroom diversion. One highly melodramatic and bossy teaching aide was writing formulas on the board when the chalk sparked. He accused the entire class of trying to kill him. An omega sign and the number 5 was permanently imbedded into the chalkboard.
“Don’t move your sorry ass again. I got plenty more where these came from. Karma’s a bitch, ain’t it, just like you?” His words sounded thick, almost syrupy.
While Vaughn fumbled in his bag again—for another stick of dynamite or something else equally lethal, I defied him a second time. I managed to pull the litter well into the shelter of trees and shrubbery. I told Rath I’d finish Vaughn this time, no mercy. I intimated I would use every trick in my psychology playbook, every charm nainie ever taught me.
“Don’t tell him,” he whispered. “Our secret…”
I nodded. Thorns pierced my arms and neck, drawing blood as I scurried back the way I’d come. Staying clear of the area where the stick of dynamite had landed and fizzled, I turned to face the man who’d become my nemesis, an abominable monster that refused to die.
He shouted again, his voice slightly garbled. I suspected he’d taken more drugs to counter the pain. “Where’s your freedom now doc? What till you see what I got next for you to play with. All these surprises; we’re going to have such fun Goldifox.” He awkwardly advanced forward. The slope was steep, and he grabbed at and bent a few saplings to aid his descent.
“Freedom’s still here Vaughn. As long as there’s an element of unpredictability, we’re free. For instance, I could light up the stick you sent me, count to 10, and return it to you. This is Friday, Freya’s day; perhaps she’ll send you another feral pig. Or perhaps you’ll slip and fall—and blow yourself to smithereens. Although, now I think about it, your dynamite’s probably as much of a dud as you are.”
Professor Beechum pressed the palm of his hand to his head, which was moist with perspiration. “Foolish girl,” he said aloud. “Foolish, darling girl—as imprudent as….” His mind drifted back to a time when he was a grad student, wandering and exploring the Santa Lucia Mountains, standing in awe amid Big Sur’s redwoods, and matching his handprint to those left by the Esselen (I come from the rock) people. Most of all, he was intrigued then by the notion there was an untapped potential in people the right training and therapy could liberate.
Neither of us won the argument regarding the nature of consciousness. He wondered still whether logical or risky choices provided better clues? Is it to be Twain’s pragmatism or the frivolous words of one of the men you often quoted, Herr Jung. Will you make your own illogical, impulsive choice in the wilderness? Herr Jung was a man the professor once favored, but that was long ago, when he attended Stanford and on weekends sat cross legged on the lawn at Esalon discoursing with colleagues or practicing Zazen meditation. He still occasionally heard Big Sur’s surf slapping against rocks when he ruminated in the quiet of his home. Though he didn’t recall the last time he’d used the Zazen method.
Sometimes, after emerging from a reverie, he’d spot one of Esalon’s founders, Richard Price, who’d also attended Stanford Uni. He’d watch him stroll in serpentine fashion, his arms folded behind him, his head tilted slightly up, as if he was following a scent trail. The professor was sad to read of Price’s passing in 1985. The official cause of death was a fall while hiking. Some folks, himself included, had their doubts.
After all, one of Stanford founders, Jane Stanford, had been murdered in 1905. She noticed the mineral water she drank nightly at her Nob Hill home had a bitter taste and forced herself to vomit. It was tested and found to be laced with strychnine. Saddened, upset, and suffering from a cold, she sailed to Hawaii. When stomach troubles flared again while staying at a Hawaiian hotel, she requested bicarbonate of soda. Unfortunately, it was also laced with strychnine. This time she died. Stanford’s acting President alleged she’d died of a heart ailment. The two had been feuding and Jane planned to fire him. Her murder was never solved. Multiple persons had reason to want Jane dead. The professor suspected the pharmacist that sold Jane’s secretary the soda; they were romantically linked.
After Wilhelmina’s close encounter with the serial killer hired as an IT consultant, the professor told his students their university was no longer safe. She countered by bringing his attention to an article citing numerous murders committed on or near the Stanford campus since the 1930’s. She argued their campus was no different than most others. The professor knew about Jane Stanford’s murder, but not of other killings. There were multiple strangling’s, rapes, muggings, shootings, stabbings, at least one drowning, and one death each by hammer and by ice pick. How she loved to argue—sharp mind and sharper tongue.
The professor pursed his lips and shut his eyes momentarily, trying to recall a specific Jung quote.’…self is a hard to find treasure that lies in the ocean of unconsciousness—only the brave can reach it.’ How fine is the line between bravery and foolishness? Although, what choice did you have Wilhelmina, besides fight or flight? What did you think you owed this man Rath? I fear you are a quantum force, my girl, a quantum enigma. This outlaw Vaughn hasn’t figured that out.
As a grad student, the professor hadn’t exactly embraced Physicist Max Planck’s quantum theory. He struggled with a paper he had to write on the subject. He still struggled decades later when he taught the subject to his students. Willy was skeptical as well—at first. She was suspicious about any new theories and their sources. She questioned everyone’s credentials. She argued that observable data shouldn’t be a basis of scientific fact, the act of thinking should. Although, after doing some research on Planck and his theories, she came to admire the way he reasoned. She called his theory about radiation genius. Her favorite, oft recited Planck quote implied it sometimes took an entire generation for a new truth to be accepted.
I detected a bit of a bias in her writing occasionally. This is why we conduct blind reviews. She was generally diligent about checking sources and obtaining multiple viewpoints and evidence. Still, I can’t help but wonder, is this entire manuscript an example of confirmation bias? Has she revealed only what she wants us to know? I’m curious to know what Detective Frankel thought.
Was this the end of me? Yesterday, when Vaughn and I faced each other at the precipice, an image flashed before me from a book I’d read long ago about girls who’d vanished forever while picnicking at a place called Hanging Rock, a part of Mount Macedon. They left behind boots, corsets, gloves—the trappings of a time when so many restrictions were placed on women. The author hinted her book was the result of a dream she had. However, there were reports, in the early 1800s, of actual girls missing, presumed abducted, in the area around Picnic Rock.
In the book, one of girls did return, hysterical, with no memory of what might have happened to the other girls or to their teacher. There were also strange occurrences reported in the area, an unexplained fire, a student suicide. The Smokies has had its share of missing persons and unexplained phenomena as well. Statistically, the odds were in my favor—12 million visitors to this wilderness wonderland and only a few hundred missing souls. I’d read about a new device being tested by archeologists to search for traces of missing civilizations. It detected electromagnetic radar pulses. It allowed field techs to take magnetic readings and register defining features of objects and disturbances deep below the surface. Would I become buried bits of carbon someone detected at some point in the future?
Absolutely not, I’d survived a week in these woods, and in my 30+ years, endured the machinations of countless men, institutions, corporations… My mind wasn’t addled by pain or drugs. I’d developed a keen appreciation of nature’s power. I’d gone from think outside the box to think outside—no box required. Vaughn had science based technology on his side, in the form of a weapon that could do a great deal of damage. It also might attract unwanted attention.
As I stood to face Vaughn, armed with a pocket knife and a pointed stick, I reached deep inside to summon a far more ancient weapon—magic. Nainie had often repeated ‘perform the right spell at the right time under the right conditions and you can move mountains. There’s no need for Archimedes lever. Science adheres to established, proven laws. Magic deals with bending and reshaping reality to enforce ones will. Psychology and mind manipulation parlor tricks wouldn’t work with Vaughn. Magic might, especially on Freya’s name day.
And yet, as Vaughn continued to glare at me from his perch, waving an unlit stick of dynamite, nitro sweat sparks flying everywhere, I attempted to reason with him. I begged him not to blow up any trees or upset the careful balance that allowed flora and fauna to live together here. And I pondered—if this was to be a battle of wills, which willful version should I use? There was Nietzsche’s will to power, Freud’s will to pleasure, Frankl’s will to meaning, and Crowley’s do what thou wilt. There was also a German, Oswald Spengler, a few years younger than Crowley, who even resembled him a bit. He had another explanation regarding willfulness.
Spengler studied cultural cycles and the rise and fall of various civilizations. He saw chaos throughout history and humankind’s general antipathy to nature. He thought people, in general, were jealous of what was uncontrollable—floods, earthquakes, droughts… Therefore, we developed a semi-mystical will to power, a drive to consolidate power in a few chosen people who dominated the masses—and molded nature to do their bidding. We erected cities to shield us from nature, destroyed forests and mountains, and polluted rivers and lakes in the process.
Vaughn ranted he had every right to do whatever he wanted, to rape this land, destroy trees, rocks, and undergrowth that hindered his way. He claimed the animals he killed had been sent to him, but it wasn’t enough. He raved on, claiming what he did was in retaliation for what had been done to him. I asked questions, trying to stall him from lighting another stick. He was an irate lunatic, shouting that evil earth demons had sent comets, lightning strikes, meteors, and earthquakes because nature hated us. It was only fitting that we hurt nature.
When he mentioned demons, anyone standing next to me might have heard a sharp intake of breath. Was that it—the man was possessed and needed an exorcist? How absurd—and yet—it was hard to accept Vaughn’s rapid onset of psychosis was a result of him ingesting meds he’d stolen from someone’s cabin or tent. Nor did it seem likely he had the raw materials needed to make potent drugs. However, he had managed to poison Rath. He had some knowledge of poisonous plants. Perhaps he even knew of an antidote.
There was a thread of believability in what Vaughn was pontificating about. Fringe scientists and even a handful of psychologist’s hypothesized humans might carry the memory of ancient traumas in our (junk) DNA, dreadful memories of old cataclysms. We invented gods and superheroes to banish or harness, and ultimately defeat nature’s mighty powers. Men later invented religions and stories about the promise of an eden’esque life after death to appease our fear of the unknown.
The truth about our beginnings, about the creation of the Himalayan’s, the Rockies, the Smoky Mountains… is elusive. We can select options from a list that includes big bangs, alien visitors, or invaders that tweaked our primitive DNA, primordial, gassy ooze…In one theory, as our universe cooled and aged, intricacies formed—at the atomic level—complex chemistry and systems mixed. Nothing and no one was in charge, until someone decided to create a linear timeline to make sense of the unknowable. We’ve all heard the theory, how we crawled from a soupy swamp, stood upright, gathered food, then hunted, then became farmers… This eventually led to acquisition and ownership of people, property, and sparkly, shiny stuff. We killed each other and fought over who owned what. Cities rose and fell and with it the rudiments of civilization: laws, license to kill, contracts, campfires, marketplaces…
Academics estimate we’ve wiped ourselves out a dozen times and started over from scratch. In this go round, and likely earlier ones as well, we developed advanced cognitive capabilities (at least some humans have), and embrace, even worship at the feet of science and technology, capitalism and dictatorships, greed and hedonistic desires. We also invented new ways to evaluate or second guess what our past was like. We employ climatology, botany, pollen analysis, carbon 14 dating, ice core sampling, satellite photos, soil assays… If only we were more diligent ferreting out lies and cover ups.
In A Brief History of Time, Steven Hawkings asked how is it we recall and venerate our past but not our future? Is it because the psychological arrow of time (our perception) prevents us from experiencing non-linear time? In less than a week, I felt I’d lived a lifetime, or at very least an Aztec week, which lasts 13 days. I’d completed a cycle. Instinctively, I knew I had all the info I needed to defeat Vaughn. Something inside me had been triggered, something that had been sleeping, waiting.
Vaughn must have heard my thoughts. He was now only 15 yards from where I stood. “Friday’s the day you end doc. Nobody’s gonna find your rotting remains or your little boyfriend’s. If they do, they’ll think it’s the carcass of a big ol cat. I’ll make sure of that by bashing your skull in until it’s unrecognizable. For all your supposed smarts, you’re one dumb cunt. And you’re outta time.” These words were bullet sharp, not slurred.
Fight or flight? I chose the latter, darting into the woods along the path I’d forged hauling Rath and the litter from the cave. I ran in the opposite direction from where I’d stowed Rath, knowing he was running out of time. I ran in part because it felt familiar and it gave me a slight advantage. I ran so Vaughn would chase me and not blow Rath up. I ran searching for a place where I might have an advantage, where I could pull off more than a slight of hand trick, where I could summon nainie’s magic to defeat Vaughn. I ran knowing my thoughts sounded as crazy as the man pursuing me.
The Smoky Mountains form an unbroken chain of peaks and valleys. Mount Guyot, Mount Buckley, Old Black, and Mount Chapman are but a few of the names ascribed to its highest peaks. The Cherokee that inhabited the Smokies had their own names—Kuwahi (mulberry place); Inola (place of black fox); and overall Shaconage (land of great smoke). Many names referred to a specific expanse of space denoting a particular longitude/latitude coordinate or attribute. The ground under my feet (in real time) bore little resemblance to the ground that was here 200 or 2000 years ago. For all I knew, the Cherokees might have named the hill I was hurtling down Precipitous Passage.
As I huffed my way up another particularly steep hill, I hoped a few ghosts still lingered here. Rath had pointed out on my earlier trek to the stream that beneath the three towering, inward leaning oaks that encircled this hill, several terrible battles had once been fought. Cherokee oral history told of an ancient battle between warring tribes. Another appallingly bloody battle occurred in the 1860s–lost confederates soldiers versus the mostly peaceful Cherokees that still guarded the land. While the bodies of dead warriors were retrieved, the bones of the Confederate soldiers remained, at least what wasn’t carried off and gnawed by hungry critters.
Bones have been used for many millenniums to communication with ancestors, to retrieve or tap into energy lying dormant, as a ritual tool, or to help one travel between worlds. Bones are thrown to predict the future, or mixed with fine clay to make bone china. Aborigines’ still cast death spells by singing magic into a bone and pointing it at a potential victim. It was once thought a headache could be transferred from a person to a skull by driving a nail into the bony skull. The expression I have a bone to pick with you dates to the 16th century, and may refer to the way a dog always picks a bone clean. Among Celts, it meant one felt a wrong had been done that required an explicit explanation. Bad to the bone was a phrase that fit the man pursuing me.
Clouds overhead seemed to mimic me, huffing and puffing across a sky that had turned from cornflower blue to lead gray, bringing with it a blast of wind, which was rustling leaves off trees. I stopped to listen and plan my next move. Vaughn was heading my way, taking a longer route that skirted the hill I was climbing. His words and callouts were a repeat of what he said the day before but with added menace and virulence. I caught a whiff of something acrid and unwoodsy drifting by—sulphur, gunpowder, hot lead? Were these old, resurrected smells that had nothing to do with Vaughn and his knapsack or was he testing a new device, a homemade bomb perhaps?
The woods surrounding this hill still elicit a nervous quiver of anticipation—for the energy generated by conflict, spilled blood, and suffering doesn’t dissipate—it waits. Like an insomniac awaits the sandman or a mountain lion anticipates its prey a ½ mile away, it watches silently. Pious people and holy men claim bodies buried in unconsecrated graves lie uneasy. Esoteric folks have a different interpretation. They posit the past can upend the present and summon the future. This hill held the bones of men separated from kin and colleagues, doomed to fight a war of race, class, and cultural differences to the death. Or at least, to what we interpret as death.
These soldiers (and Cherokee braves) never thought they would die here. I certainly didn’t imagine being here on a Friday during the ancient festival of Samhain, pursued by a raving lunatic and sociopath. Where was Laing when you needed him? R.D.Laing was a Scottish psychiatrist who took a different approach to mental illness. He posited negative feelings shouldn’t necessarily be purged from a person or suppressed via drugs, straight jackets, shock therapy, lobotomies…He cautioned we really didn’t know much about how human emotions and the hormones and chemicals that are a byproduct of strong emotions. Psychosis may be another form of consciousness—the mind processing a trauma.
I was certainly no behaviorologist. In fact, I disliked Skinner, his Harvard cronies, and their operative conditioning theories. He was arrogant enough to state humans had no free will or individual consciousness. He said we didn’t really think. Everything was a consequence of our behavior. He ignored the role of biology, peer influences, individual personality, cognitive sciences… His book Walden Two was one of the few books I ever considered burning. Dads was a Skinner fan; it was all about rewards and punishments with him. I was his great disappointment, someone he couldn’t mold or incentivize.
There was no time to find out what branch of science might work on Vaughn. Nor was I a trained killing machine like Rambo, able to fashion weapons and nooses from saplings and vines. Or for that matter, from the odds and ends in my pockets, dental floss, paper & pen, Tarot cards… I did need a trick, an illusion that would enable me to summon real magic. Much like a car needs a spark from a battery to start its engine, I required a catalyst to jump start or manipulate my innate will. Nainie explained magic as the art of manipulating links between things with the intention to effect change. Control or harness the energy produced as a result and you had a powerful tool at your command. Failure to do so resulted in utter chaos or worse.
Magic was anathema to science; textbook physics requires physical contact to effect change. Magic accomplishes change invisibly, through some unknown method, forming links, synchronicities, new meanings and outcomes. My favorite professor would be cross. Would he tell me to throw the dynamite at Vaughn or run back to the cave? He was never comfortable with quantum theories, quarks, and photons—too much constant commotion. It was one of the few times I actually tried to teach my esteemed mentor something. I tried to explain how the quantum world complimented Newton’s scientific world. However, it required you to descend to nearly imperceptible sub-worlds—become a Dr. Seuss Who-Villian—in a manner of speaking.
Below the conscious world was an atomic level. It had a slightly different reality and set of rules. Below or within that level were nuclear particles. Still further down was the level of photons. Though every level had rules, the further down you went, the more the denizens of these levels could be bent and manipulated.
As if on cue, a hawk with a magnificent wingspan flew overhead. A single feather floated through the trees, landing three feet from where I stood. I deliberately picked at one of the many crusted over scratches I’d gotten as I exited the bushes where I’d hidden Rath. I nudged a drop of my blood from my cut onto the feather. My mortal engine was charged. A new plan formed. I would creep back the way I’d come; let Vaughn assume I was heading to the cave. I was out of time; I had to fetch Rath and haul him the rest of the way to the stream.
Professor Beechum shuddered. He’d often wondered if it was a mistake, not telling anyone, not recording what he experienced and participated in while at Stanford and on loan to SRI. Was there even a word for it—diabolical magic, mind manipulation…If it hadn’t been for Esalon… No! He vowed he would never again open that door, that chasm in which lurked unimaginable horrors.
Wilhelmina was correct; she was always coaxing me, and most of the class, to challenge assumptions, old ways of thinking. But she went too far too often, questioning the most sacred principles of science. It was mildly annoying to hear her repeat the famous Arthur Clark quote ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’
She’d say, ‘we’re star dust, memories, ceiling wax, and silly string—our skin plumped by the element water, as Thales envisioned, and motivated by an eternal spark of fire, as Pythagoras surmised’. And time is the ultimate trickster, a clever illusion that misleads our senses and perceptions, much like the effect you get with a flicker book. When you slowly, manually turn the pages, you see a series of images that change very slightly from page to page. When you fanned through it, the images appeared to be animated—running, flying, punching, or disappearing. Time isn’t a flowing river; we are. What if we could change that dynamic was a question she frequently asked.
A younger me might have conceded time is a peculiar thing, upon which we must agree—that it runs forward, not back; that it can be measured…that it’s comforting to know one hand of a clock repeats itself every hour; that fruit falls down; and calendars reaffirm a circle of life. Even during my Stanford days, I preferred stability to uncertainty. Wilhelmina was indeed every bit as imprudent as Zara. She would have interrupted my train of thought and asked ‘why don’t we consider time might run backwards, or stop entirely? What if we could speed it up, observe the world like a reel of time motion photography? Why indeed? My one regret—if I could reverse time I’d make sure I didn’t lose her again. The professor sighed. No, second chances don’t exist. Zara’s gone forever. He filled the tea kettle and stared out the window, hands folded behind him. But he didn’t see the nearly bare trees outside his door, he saw only a girl he once knew.
Like an awkward, amateur Ninji, I managed to sneak down the other side of the hill without making too much noise. Once back on the path, I didn’t care about twigs snapping and leaves crunching underneath my feet. I sprinted towards where I’d left Rath and didn’t stop until I was a quick jog from where the trail forked. I estimated I had at least a 10-15 minute lead on Vaughn, even if he circled back as I had. I was wrong, damn was I wrong.
Bending over, I pulled burrs off the tops of socks that spilled over my boots. About 10 feet into the woods, I spied a boulder shaped like a giant molar. It looked inviting. Perhaps I’d rest and catch my breath for just a few seconds. There was a thin puddle of water in the hollow of the rock molar. Was that reflection in the water really me? Hair matted, cheeks flushed, smudges or bruises along the jaw line. Something was moving through the undergrowth just beyond a tangle of trees to my right. I didn’t linger to find out whether it was a hungry bear or another feral pig.
Up ahead I could see where the path diverged. Rath told me this was once an old Indian hunting trail. The litter was about 300 yards beyond the right handed path. A figure stood dead center near the bottom of the left hand path. No, it couldn’t be; but it was. Vaughn had circled back as well.
“Well, I’ll be. Did you lose your way again Goldifox? Or something else? You know it’s time, you got just a few seconds left, both you and him.”
Adrenalin was pumping through me. “Since when did the world turn on your say so? I think we’d both agree a second is 1/86,400 of a day and a minute is 1/60th of an hour. Other than that, time is a matter of interpretation of planetary motion, or wishful thinking. You think my time is up. I think yours is. I will it.”
“Yeah, well your will’s not going stop this from going off.” Vaughn pulled out a dark, oval shaped object and positioned the index finger of his good hand over the pin.
I gulped. He’d brought a grenade. If he pulled the pin and threw it, I had a chance of surviving. If he counted to 5, then threw it, my chances diminished. Idioms about time filled my head, time flies, no time to lose, time is of the essence, it’s crunch time, doing time, no time like the present, wrong place at the wrong time…What I needed was a small miracle, occurring in real time, in the nick of time.
Time spent reasoning with this sociopath was wasted time. However, I needed questions answered, so I stalled for more time. “Fine, you showed me yours. Should I show you mine? Should I tell you there was more than one grenade in the cave Vaughn. You pull that pin, I’ll pull mine.” It was a reckless bluff. I didn’t know how many grenades he’d hidden in the cave. I didn’t have anything in my pockets that vaguely resembled a grenade. I was trading barbs with a crazy scorpion, a creature that didn’t, couldn’t change its nature. Not to mention the rising sign at October’s end was Scorpio, ruled by jealous, unforgiving Pluto and Mars, the stubborn, vengeful warrior. “I’m curious, where’d you find this stuff?”
Vaughn edged closer. “I didn’t quite catch that. Did you ask where I did my shopping? From here it don’t appear you got any boom balls at all in your pockets.”
“When did you become a bitter, mad scientist? What made you turn to killing?” My voice must have sounded as desperate as I felt.”
I was surprised when he replied. “I was never a scientist. I was a man the world ignored. Now I’ve evolved.”
“You mean devolved, from Dr. Frankenstein, to Frankenstein’s monster.”
“Ah Goldifox, what’s that make you, the crackpot scientist’s dead wife? You’ve been an intruder here, a thief, a lying whore… You don’t belong.”
In the 100s of movie thrillers and mysteries I’ve watched, many are filled with long, sweaty chase scenes, on foot, in boats and race cars, across tottering bridges and amid crowds at rush hour. I couldn’t recall a single movie where the protag exchanged reckless barbs with an antag who had a finger on a grenade pin. How long could I keep this mindless banter up? How long until a solution to my problem appeared? Storm clouds gathered overhead. Thor was about to pay Freya a visit.
Again, as if he was reading my mind, Vaughn taunted me. “You know, I never liked those flicks where the dedicated man of science was made out to be some wild haired, google eyed mad man, with a stained lab coat and a foreign accent. What was fascinating were the shows where the chemist found a cure for some god awful disease, then destroyed it because he knew people didn’t deserve it. Just like you don’t deserve to live.”
“Why is that Vaughn? Why don’t I, why doesn’t your friend Rath deserve to live?”
“Easy. He made choices; he chose wrong. That’s why. He’s one sorry motherf …”
“I just want to know one thing before you, before I…did you always feel like this, even when you were a kid. Or did someone hurt you?”
“What fucking difference does it make?” Vaughn shifted his weight and that must have triggered a jolt of pain. He howled and seemed momentarily confused. He stared at the grenade as if it were some mysterious object.
Could I charge him and knock the grenade out of his hand or would we both end up blown to smithereens? Rath was attempting to sit up. I could hear him whisper let her go man, but I don’t think Vaughn could hear him.
He’d moved the grenade to his slinged hand and fished what I surmised was another pill out of a pocket. He swallowed it dry and for a moment, stared off into the distance. The wind had quieted. Nuts fell from trees, leaves sauntered to the ground. I stood frozen in place, teeth and fists clenched. “All right, all right. You fucking want to take to your grave what they did. All right then. It’s fitting, don’t you think? Mine will be the last words you ever hear.”
It’s funny how the mind fishes for distracting images and thoughts to stifle a sense of sheer terror, to suppress the urge to scream. Mine kept repeating a sing songy phrase that sounded oddly biblical my will be done; the truth’s begun. I’m not dying today. An image flashed in my mind to the ornate Brahman caves I’d visited in Ellora, India. I could hear the tour guide saying the ancient Vedics said power belongs to the one who knows.
“College; it was in college. I needed money—a bunch of us suckers signed up for this frigging government sponsored program. They said they would pay us to play games. Pay us more than we could make waiting tables or mopping floors.” He spaced out again, staring at or beyond the towering trees. We waited for Vaughn to continue.
“Except nobody that signed up knew it was going to be fucking mind games and a bunch of drugs they slipped in our food and drink, even sprayed on clothes they made us wear. Nobody warned us about the nightmares, rashes, heads filled with unholy thoughts. Two of their test subjects committed suicide. Not one damn person helped us. By the time a few of us figured out what they were doing, the damage was done. They fucked us up ten ways to Sunday. I got over it, created my own games…”
He stared directly at or through me; I’m not sure which. And perhaps for a few seconds I did the same. Dads! This was the work of men like my father, and the twins, who followed in his footsteps. Covert ops done under the auspices of secret, nefarious programs undertaken from the 1940s to the 1980s; over 80 institutions and groups involved. Colleges received donations they put towards new buildings or used to make enhancements to existing departments.
The goal, the government assured, was noble—to get an edge on foreign competitors already engaged in experiments to turn minds into weapons. It was the patriotic thing to do. Dad’s had enrolled me in one of their junior programs. I’d seen right through their ploys. They created hundreds of nasty sub-projects with ridiculous monikers, each project worse than the last. By merely saying the name of the overarching program, you ran the risk of being laughed out of the room. Vaughn was right. He was FUBAR (fucked up beyond all recognition). Except I should have recognized just what kind of monster MKULTRA had created days ago. Who was I kidding? What difference would it have made?
Vaughn was done talking; he retrieved the grenade and removed his arm from the sling so he could pull the pin. He was exacting revenge on a world that had damaged his mind and the souls of 100s, if not 1000s of other people. Rath and I were stand ins for the people he should have gone after. Who would be next if he wasn’t stopped?
It happened so fast. I can’t be sure, even now, that I accurately recalled what happened, or in what order. The wind was still, the forest full of looming shadows. The woods and all its creatures seem to hold their collective breaths. Vaughn hobbled forward. I lurched to my left, which was further away from where Rath’s litter was parked. I chanted the words nainie had taught me. Out of the corner of my eye, something was approaching, moving in serpentine fashion near my right boot. Vaughn pulled the pin. I leaned over and snatched the copperhead snake at my feet and flung it at Vaughn. It latched onto the side of his neck and he screamed. Then I dove to my right, behind a chunk of a rotted log.
There was an oddly muffled boom, followed by a 2nd boom, and a sharp bang. Dirt and debris flew everywhere. Rath shouted my name, followed by the words if you hurt her I’ll... From my prone position, after checking to make sure limbs were intact, I saw him struggle again to sit up. From the woods behind Rath, men dressed in soft suede shirts and pants emerged, grabbed the wrong end of the litter, and pulled him out. One of them bent over my fallen friend. Another held a canteen to his lips.
I rose shakily to my feet. Where Vaughn had stood a minute earlier, there was a crater and surprisingly little evidence of blown to bits body parts or blood. Had he pulled the pin but was unable to throw the grenade or had sparks from sweating sticks of dynamite set off an explosion? He was indeed, really sincerely munchkin dead. I hoped the timber rattler that presented itself as a sacrifice had escaped the blasts. What killed him—the venomous bite or the weapons he’d brought with him? Was it indeed a timber rattler I’d thrown or a harmless milk snake often mistaken for their venomous counterpart?
Professor Beechum uttered a long, drawn out ‘ooooooo,’ which might have resembled, were words things, a caterpillar armored with soft quills and rubbery pointy teeth. He covered his face with his hands. But what he was thinking was nooooo, it can’t be. Wilhelmina’s father was one of them? How had she, why didn’t she ever… In a strange way, it made sense, her fierce dislike of rules and protocols. Her insistence on examining and questioning every fact.
All those deaths at Stanford I never questioned, the experiments, the unexpected funding of projects outside the parameter of core curriculum, the high number of students that left mid term or transferred out of state… I did nothing.
For the longest time, I stared at the convex hole. Had justice been served? What an odd phrase, as if justice was a menu item—a choice from a list that included life with no parole, or death via electric chair, lethal injection, or firing squad. Sorry, you’re not fixable, redeemable, worth saving…no rehabilitation for you broken man. No punishment either: go straight to death. Justice, ‘just us’; who else would ever know, or care? Rath did deserve justice, fixing, healing…
I didn’t recognize the men hovering over Rath. They’d moved the litter further away again, into a small clearing. The person holding his head looked Native American. The two other men could be Slavic or Mongolian. Without bothering to ask if they understood English, I blurted out a string of disjointed phrases, save this man; help me get him to the stream; not sure what kind of poison; we need to go now….. Two of the men nodded as if they understood; the third man, the Native American, wearing a long, braided rawhide string of quartz crystal and polished gem stones, shook his head.
A bizarre, violet smoke arose from a small campfire the men had started. “No,” I cried, I begged. “We must get him to the stream.” The men gazed at me with a look I mistook for pity, while I continued to rant, to try to reach the other end of the litter so I could continue the journey.
“Wilela, stop, rest.” The third man spoke and removed his necklace. He placed it over my head. It felt heavy; in addition to the crystals and gems, pieces of shells, bits of oiled wood, and a few downy feathers were threaded throughout. Several of the gems had been painted with bright yellow and red squiggly lines and black dots.
I sunk to the ground, whether by command or utter weariness or defeat, I can’t say. Two of the men helped Rath sit up. He still looked terrible but not in pain. His eyes were brighter, the one Vaughn had injured was noticeably less swollen. Unlike Odin, he hadn’t lost his eye. Rath’s voice was stronger as he introduced me to the men.
“The one that gave you his serpent necklace is Amaraka, a name they sometimes use for what you call America. This is Philolee and that’s well, you can call him Ty. Amaraka would like you to tell him how you came to know serpent spirit.”
“How. That’s funny, I mean clever, since how is an old cliche people say when they’re mocking indigenous people. Merde, apologies, not funny at all and rightly so. Tell him my nainie taught me all I know about snake charming, including their occasional summoning.”
“Now I need to tell you, listen up doc, we don’t need to go no further. Amaraka is Yunwi Usdiga Ada’wehiyu, which translates to medicine man and magician, or shaman. This here lavender smoke is helping me and they brought water from the stream. Sit down doc, there’s something else you need to hear, and I guess I owe you a heap of gratitude for doing what you did.”
“But I failed. I didn’t get you to…”
“I said listen. He be one troubled soul, but if it hadn’t been for that man, I might never got free of the Inferno. Trouble be following me since I was neigh high to a grasshopper. I might as well admit to killing him too.”
“You’ll do no such thing. He got himself killed, and he probably had DID. I thought he was just a run of the mill psychopath. You’re fortunate that ‘troubled soul’ didn’t try to off you a long time ago.” I rushed out the next words in a voice that was high pitched and slightly addled. “Did you forget what he admitted to doing—killing over 20 people…and he said he was glad the bomb he designed blew up more people than he thought it would. Not to mention the three people he admitted to killing at the nursing home. Oh, that’s right, you missed that part of his story. I’m glad he’s dead.”
Amaraka spoon fed Rath some steaming liquid from a gourd. It must have been bitter, because Rath grimaced. Amaraka altered spooning him more liquid with sips of water from the canteen. He offered me a swig, which I accepted. The other men sat quietly.
“Listen, I have a few very good friends in Jamaica. If I can sneak you onto a boat and get you to them, they can help you go anywhere. That is if some lovely Jamaican lady doesn’t snap you up. Or I’ll hire the best lawyers money can…”
He said the next few sentences with a tone half pleading, half exasperated. “It don’t matter none. I ain’t going nowhere else. They be preparing me for where I be going next. They need me. He got DID. Are you making fun of my vernacular doc?”
I had to chuckle. “Sorry, that is funny. DID stands for Dissociative Identity Disorder. It’s sort of like multiple personalities in the same body, although it’s more accurately described as multiple sets of behavior, some normal, some definitely abnormal. These imbedded behaviors can remain hidden for years. I wonder… One of MKULTRA’s sub-projects was called Monarch. DID can be triggered by post-traumatic stress or an object, like a broken mirror, which acts as a symbol of something else, or by certain words or even a strand of music. In college, Vaughn was apparently subjected to unscrupulous testing, drugs, sensory deprivation, and other conditioning methods. He would also have had a handler.”
The implications were staggering. Deprogrammers suspect people like Charlie Manson, Sirhan Sirhan, Ken Kesey, Whitey Bulger, Ted Kaczynski, and many serial killers were MKULTRA subjects. Though the bulk of its records were destroyed in the late 80s, a telling portion of documents weren’t. Had I triggered Vaughn somehow, which resulted in him attacking his best friend? I was happy to see Rath was improving, but in the pit of my stomach, there was a sinking feeling. “Who exactly are you talking about that needs you. What do you mean?”
“What do you know now you didn’t know before, besides how to command snakes and other spooky shit and the wise words of all them philosophers—and your granny? Don’t answer, that was what you call rhetorical. Just listen doc and hold out your hand.” ### END OF MANUSCRIPT
Post Script added by W. Rhyderth: In seven intense days I’ve experienced a year’s worth of internal seasons, the shedding of masks and skins, the pruning of deadwood… Pine cones plumped, berries withered and hardened; forest creatures scavenged amid a dwindling bounty in nature’s marketplace. Deer rutted and sparred. Critters burrowed into dens and shored up tunnel systems. I was reacquainted with the feeling I once had to honor the natural passing of time, to embrace familiar cycles and patterns not forced on us by a need for routine and ritual. I’m still deciphering what the mountain told me. Just as economists measure changes in monetary value systems and journalists map cultural and political activity, philosophers analyze and interpret moral changes and meanings. What did that mean? Before you leave us, the mountain whispered, you must understand your purpose.
Saturday afternoon, I skipped down the gravel road and turned round in a circle, giddy with the accomplishment of finding my way back (with expert help). It was only then I realized Amaraka was gone. Walking, what a marvelous invention…ability? A sure fire way to cure cobwebs, see the world up close and unvarnished, a tool to scythe through mental paths overgrown with debris.
Aloud, and to myself I recited snatches of words from a poem I once knew by heart ‘…two bums walk out of Eden…they leave a little briskly, heedful to waste no time…now a shade darker is a shade less dark’ How ironic, I’d accomplished one of my most important desires, created my own philosophical niche. It didn’t matter. What Rath had told me, what Tonkakota and his band of brothers and sisters had offered me was so much bigger, grander, and important than any philosophy.
Though the hood was covered in 12 inches of soggy leaves, there was Jake’s jeep, right where he’d left it a week, a lifetime ago. I opened the door and engaged the gear shift, allowing the jeep to drift backwards. The hardest part came next. Not having a key, I had to jump start the jeep once I had it pointing in a downward direction. As I cleared the gravel road and the tires touched macadam, I yelled out my open window to the trees It’s achingly beautiful, isn’t it, this charming, disarming planet?
These last six months I’ve experienced a conversion akin to a silk worm’s metamorphosis. The trappings of my former life are gone—sold, given away, repurposed, or reinterpreted. All that remains is to perfect my going, and become the misunderstood divine fool on the hill, the sublime companion to Oedipa Maas in Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, the being that vanished in Saki’s Open Window, the last leaf in O’Henry’s story… Is a sense of mystery not more important than a sense of ending? Shall we ask Virginia Dare, Barb Newhall Follett and her house without windows, Amelia Earhart and her plane, Harry Holt and his bathing trunks, Jimmy Hoffa and his cement shoes, de St. Exupery and his Little Prince, Frank Morris and his rubber raincoat raft, D. B. Cooper and his remaining missing cash…?
The last thing I’m doing is disappearing. Were that my objective, I’d follow one of the many books that tell you how to do it. It’s all perfectly legal to join the 260,000+ women counted as missing, or missing, presumed dead. Mainland USA has 3,717,790+ square miles of space and 4.09M miles of navigable roads. A brimmed hat, decent wig, sunglasses; monochrome, loose fitting clothes, and a scarf flung round the neck is often enough to fool a security camera. Spy books recommend adopting habits of people from another country—hold your fork in your left hand, stand straight or slouched, lower your voice. Taxis and Greyhound still takes cash, no ID’s required. It’s also easy to pay cash for a temporary credit card. The Philippines is the best place to quickly obtain a fake death certificate. Yes, one can still purposefully disappear.
If I’ve done my job well, and this manuscript is read by the right people, a few may hike into the Smokies and search for what I’ve described herein. Of those few, only one will reach the place where worlds kaleidoscope and the fabric of our material world thins like a membrane.
Some alchemists think there’s a hidden eighth step, and designate CONJUNCTION as the final step of transformation. Just as the seven first notes in the musical scale lead to an eighth note that is a repetition of the first note—at a higher level of vibration and of quality—so do the operations of alchemy lead to the realm of matter at a higher frequency of consciousness. The last words Rath spoke to me were from a book I’d given him A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens. He quoted the last line, “It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done; it is a far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” I wish I’d given him another book, Dostoyevsky’s Crime & Punishment. He might have quoted from it instead: “That’s the beginning of a new story—the story of the gradual renewal of a man, of his gradual regeneration, of his passing from one world into another, his initiation into a new unknown life, which might be a new story; our present story is ended.”
I realize a story without an ending is no story at all… We also know the ouroboros doesn’t devour its tail; it pursues it eternally. Consider me gone to Netherlands. Have I fashioned the ultimate great escape? All you need to know is everything I’ve recorded in this manuscript is true—except for one small lie. You wouldn’t understand where I’m going, why I consider this my ultimate and final destination. If I told the truth, you might misinterpret my intention. Know I go willingly, though I don’t yet fully understand. I’m not trying to mystify or confuse. Perhaps you’ll understand when next you encounter a thought, lyric, a passage in a book that moves you though you can’t say why.
***** ##### ***** #####
Professor Beechum dropped the manuscript, as if it were a red hot poker or an object possessed. What have you done? How did you . . . Why would you waste my time with such a fanciful story? Are you telling me to question everything—what you wrote, science, myself? You’ve crossed a line I can’t follow. What was Canter thinking?
The professor had once been a fan of Welles and Picasso, who both figured in the 1970’s docudrama F for Fake, loosely based on the exploits of master forger Elmyr de Hory, and on Wells investigation of authorship, originality, and those that verify authenticity. De Hory stayed one step ahead of prosecution, never signed a painting, and made sure no one ever saw him paint. At the end of the film, Welles quotes Picasso. ‘Art is a lie that makes us see the truth.’ A few years after releasing F for Fake, Welles made a short film, which he called a trailer for F for Fake. It contained material never found in the original film. Welles was a lifelong member of two magician oriented organizations.
What a fanciful tale you’ve spun for those determined to give merry chase and those left to puzzle over your faked disappearance. I shall not pursue this any further. Professor Beechum slid the manuscript and his lab book into a bottom desk drawer. There it would remain until the following May. He composed a brief letter to Detective Canter, which left out a bulk of the questions and comments in his notebook.
**** ##### ***** #####
Chapter 8 – Days a Week Epilogue
Whereto does the eagle fly when earth and water is on fire? Native saying
“I shall be as secret as the grave.” Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
May 1st Beltane.
A package arrived at the university, addressed to Professor Beechum, Eyes Only. Nonetheless, the package was placed with others to be x-rayed and tested for the presence of drugs, toxins, and any component used to make a bomb. After receiving an inspected stamp of approval, it was delivered to the professor’s office mid-afternoon. He’d spent several hours in his office that morning, grading papers and researching textbooks sources for a scientific paper he was writing. He had no reason to return again that particular day. He wanted to beat traffic and take a quick shower at home before meeting colleagues for dinner at a new restaurant specializing in Himalayan food. It was more a feeling that he’d forgotten something that made him detour on his way out, around 3 pm.
He recognized the handwriting immediately and shakily slit open the binding with an ornate letter opener Wilhelmina had brought back from Turkey.
Dear Professor Beechum:
There’s more you want to know, isn’t there? If I’m right, keep reading. If not, I doubt any answer I could provide would satisfy you and that makes me feel, as the French might say trieste.
I did listen to Rath, and I held out my left hand, knowing energy and magic is received with the left hand and given with the right hand. The wind had kicked up, and the sun was as absent as it had been the previous Saturday, when I first entered these glorious mountains. Rain or more snow was coming. You could smell it. I also knew I’d be leaving in the morning, though not exactly how I’d get back to ground zero, Jake’s camp and the jeep, or drive the jeep without a key. Or explain how it was just me returning from seven days in the Smokies.
You might be interested to know the weighty necklace Amaraka gave me contained nuggets colored with red, yellow, blue, and black paint. Underneath the paint were gold nuggets, worth about $25-30K. I did wonder if, on Freya’s day, I’d been given a version of Brisingamen. In Norse lore, Freya possessed a gold and amber torc made by mountain dwarfs. She earned it the hard way, as they say, by servicing the dwarfs for a night and a day. Never mind that she was both queen and goddess, married to a god, and mother of princes and princesses. She tried to hide the necklace and her shame. Her trickster son Loki outed her. Odin left her. She begged his forgiveness. He demanded that immortal, immoral Freya wander the earth, bearing the weight and gravity of the necklace and the crime she committed—a wanton desire for a thing of beauty. She was never allowed to remove Brisingamen. Eventually, bits of the necklace fell off and lodged in deep veins of rocks around the world, per the prevailing lore.
Though time has passed, Professor Beechum, my perspective hasn’t changed. What has forever altered is my viewpoint, the haphazard way I once looked at my surroundings and searched for patterns. I thought you might appreciate that. Desire and ambition have been supplanted by something of far more value. I willingly leave the trappings and creature comforts of my life behind to embrace something of higher quality, which coincidently is also something as old as the rocks that form the Smokies backbone. My last act is to say goodbye and hello, to invite you to join me, to let you know, if you don’t already, you are needed here.
As I sit on a lumpy packing crate and adjust my posterior, I wonder how my manuscript was and my exodus will be perceived: as a steamy pile of manure, or as an encoded esoteric manifesto as difficult to comprehend as Dr. Dee’s Enochian Treatises? Were there parts of my story I should have made clearer? Before you answer, consider what someone might do with a knowledge he or she didn’t understand or wanted to use for selfish and disastrous reasons?
The ancient past is ever present, despite the majority of people that choose to ignore it. It’s in the name of a newspaper, the logos Fortune 100 companies adopt, messages hidden in a jingle or meme, and in traditions and customs still observed. If we’re very fortunate, our former ways of seeing things is burned off, like the morning mist arising from the Smokies, and though slightly singed as a result, we can then see what remains in a brilliant, clear new way. It can appear subtly, as in switching from a concern of the immediate now to the uncertain potential of a new idea of the future. It can be a way forward because the old linear way of thinking isn’t working. It can shape thoughts for revitalizing magic again. In an age of holograms, Hollywood, supersonic travel, and weapons of mass destruction it becomes harder to astonish ourselves. We can refocus our sense of wonder, surprise, and mystery. We really can if we acknowledge magic originates within us, within known and to be known elements. It permeates the cosmos. It’s still all about being able to channel and redirect energy.
It’s difficult to describe how a mere seven days in the Smokies utterly changed me. When I returned, I reread our history, America’s story as a tale of independence, manifest destiny, and bravery. It wasn’t real. It certainly didn’t begin in 1492.What united us in 1776 and in the 20th and 21st century hasn’t changed. We were a motley lot of immigrants that inserted ourselves into a continent that was both innocent and ferocious. We spoke more than a dozen languages and brought diverse customs, superstitions, and prejudices to this fertile land. We agreed to live by a code, a set of rules outlined in a Constitution and a shared vision for prosperity, the realization of dreams, the endowing of fruits of our labor. We were ambitious, ruthless, thoughtless, greedy interlopers. The truth will out; it always does. We must make amends.
I’ve stopped asking questions. I listen now to questions the cosmos poses. As with the Cumae Sybil, the last thing remaining, after memory of me fades, are words. Whether you find what I’ve written to be instructions, a warning, ravings of a madwoman, or something else is up to you. The vision quest Rath and his adopted tribe gave me was to find the red rock and waterfall without any human aid or tools. I have until de ha lu yi, the month of the green corn moon (June) to find it. Wish me luck. Upon their departure from the known world of Cherokee towns and villages, the Ani Tsa’gu hi informed other Cherokee clans of their departure, saying “We go where there is much food. Do not fear they kill us, for we will be ever alive.”
Fearless finally, or at very least able now to fashion fear into something useful, I live to shatter rules that benefit the few. I leave behind little evidence I ever existed. You might conclude this manuscript is my last bit of vanity, ego—an attempt to reach a few people who might understand what I’ve tried to reveal. I have precious few regrets. I’m sorry I’m not able to show Jake’s family where his remains are. I’m disappointed that when I called dads he told me he had just a few minutes to spare. My mother never returned my call, and the twins sent me a 50 word email—they were glad I survived my big rock candy mountain encounter. They described their recent purchase of side by side seaside bungalows near Carmel, and told me I owed them a visit. I didn’t, it was the other way around. I’m ready.
What I now know is to be lost is to be ever present—immortal in a way, if one can grasp and embrace the unfamiliar, that which eludes our waking moments. Often, to find something is to lose something else. You see, it wasn’t being lost, it wasn’t the climb to the alpine reaches of mountains that changed me—it was the descent. Only then did I grasp my sojourn made me part of the mountain, which resides within me now. Both of us have been transformed. Goodbye Professor. I can’t show you what I saw, experienced, survived… I can only tell you what you need to do. Find the black bear’s trail, follow it. She guards the eternal falls.
Love, your former student
Have we heard the last from Willy? While pondering that possibility, find clues about Willy in upcoming chapters of Remains to be Seen… Stay tuned for more Grave Goddess, Acts of Ambition, and Coached in Death ! Thanks for reading this first draft effort!