So many baskets.
I focused on the hand-woven details while Texie examined my legs with blackened fingers.
“It’s been ten years since Coyote last appeared. Ten years since I was brought to the people.”
Texie’s whole body was painted black for the healing ceremony, with broad white lines accenting her face and torso. Her blonde hair stood out of place, like dried grass left untouched after a brush fire passed in the night.
I was lying on deer blankets – each one made from two whole skins sewed together after they were brain tanned – naked but a bit more comfortable than when I arrived. Outside of the hut made of reeds, I could hear the cooking songs intensify, as the acorn mush was prepared, interspersed with laughing gossip about me. My OS translated – they said I was too tall and pale, and that I smelled like a bear.
“Ten years? What are you talking about?”
She was chanting in the native language of the tribe, while talking to me over the ether.
“Time is very different here. I left our world the same night that you did, on New Years Eve, a few days after my Mom finished etching me. I don’t know what time or place she came from – we didn’t have much time to catch up. She was with a few other teenage girls – Laura and Jenny and Ai.”
She examined the invisible marks on my ankles, and I cringed despite myself – ticklish.
“They led me from Austin to the Bay Area, and filled me in on what I missed. When they left, Cassandra took over and pushed me through my Final Door. I’ve been here for ten years so far.”
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who made it out – Cassandra must have been multitasking heavily that night. But ten years? How long was I captured by The White?
“It wasn’t Coyote that rescued me when I entered the Structure – it was Hummingbird. You might know her as Aurora. Wait a minute…”
I could feel her poking at my right foot with a Grizzly Bear claw, slowly tracing out a pattern. She stopped, and started to laugh uncontrollably. She even walked out of the hut for a few minutes, gasping for breath, and I could hear the laughter turn into a calm silence as she finally returned.
“What was that all about?” I turned on my left side so I could see her, and she was staring at me intensely, like a hunter in animal drag slowly approaching their prey.
“Don’t worry about it – private joke.” She pointed me back to the ground, and moved on to the left foot. “After Eagle visited the first shaman, and taught them how to mark themselves and re-enter Sacred Time, a secret language of signs has been passed from generation to generation. Eagle – Cassandra and Helena – left many messages on your body, and the one on your foot was for me.”
“But I was etched in 1994 – you were only few years old then, right?”
“Eagle knows all of the sky, from the waves that cradled its feather after the flood, to the furthest reaches of the nighttime void. She’s always helping Coyote find a wife, just as she’s always aware of every breath we take. She is the quill, the cursor, from which everything is written. Now, be still and listen.”
She moved from my feet to the small of my back. I could feel the clear protective barriers that held us both away from the Structure flow together and merge, as her palm rested against my spine. The white of my eyes seemed to cover my vision, and I was left floating in a milky void as Texie tended to my psychic wounds.
“You are a good man, Brother Douglas, but you are still broken. Everyone in this tribe, and the ones that surround the Bay, have more power in their fingernails than you can possible imagine. Even the youngest child could create their own Universe, just as Sarah did at the beginning of Time.”
She was putting pressure on various meridians, and I felt an energy beyond us both flow in between the gaps of my being. The white void changed to a mountain top, covered by grass, clover and a lone oak. In every direction, all I could see was water – even the sky was covered by a thick, grey fog.
“There are many stories of the great flood that restarted the world. In each, a local mountain is the only place with free land left, while the rest of existence disappears. In reality, a number of mountain peaks were left dry around the world, far enough from each other that each seemed to be unique. Once the waters receded, new races of people planted the seeds of civilization, from Eridu to Uruk in Mesopotamia, from the volcanic mountains of the Pacific Coast to the land you now stand on.”
Every word and concept was a new, tingling sensation through my main trunk line. It was like her hands were intruding into my body, massaging organs and reshaping pathways. I could see Joey, Aurora, and either Cassie or Helena standing on the grass hill next to me. They seemed to be whispering about me, but doesn’t everyone – I’m that paranoid, usually.
“Right before the last great flood, El decided to end the world due to perceived wickedness, and Asherah could only look on in horror. She worked with Coyote, Hummingbird and Eagle, among others, to start the world again, and she also prepared the Structure as one big ark – with the seeds of humanity stored safely, just in case El went crazy again. The Structure is a place of spirit more than matter, so she wasn’t dealing with saving bodies – she wanted to capture souls so they could flourish. Eagle strongly approved of this – she knew what El was to become, and how important it was to offer safe haven to as many as they could.”
Synapses were connecting – I could sense big questions forming. “What are you talking about? What did El become?”
She stopped chanting, and moved her hands up my spine, to cradle my shoulders.
“You really don’t know?” The first time I heard her speak out loud in hours. In my vision, Coyote walked over to me and nuzzled against my head.
“I’ll give it a shot, but somethings you just have to be shown, not told. Anyway…. Asherah and El were together soon after the start of all things. There was a time of pure creation, solidifying the rules of existence – the First World.”
I thought I could see Miranda, or maybe Ariel, out of the corner of my eye, but the harder I tried to resolve her image, the more the haze constricted.
“There was a time of great beings, titans and angels who were barely controllable in their massive power – the Second World.”
It was like those first few pages of the Bible were made into a Summer blockbuster, with the Morningstar sparkling silver with gold flames at the end of the war.
“From the great deep of The Black, they cultivated life in all of its forms, and populated the Cosmos – the Third World. El was more focused on personal procreation – he wanted to live on in his own image, and would stop at nothing to see that project completed.”
I was back in the Middle East, near Eridu. The waters had receded, and I sensed a great squirming around me, from the tiniest virus and microbe, to the butterflies and birds, and deer coming up a nearby ridge. The more I acknowledged the life around me, the more appeared, until my brain could barely keep up with the variant genomes. There was too much to ever name properly.
“From the moment of the second, more directed Genesis, Asherah became a hindrance to El – it was his way, or nothing at all. So the Goddess was ignored and neglected by her consort, and by the time of the great flood, the Earth was populated by long-living, stubborn chips off of El’s block. He couldn’t stand to look at himself in that mirror of humanity, and thus wiped the slate clean.”
She was kneeding my shoulders and neck. As the story grew darker, so too did my surroundings.
“Asherah was allowed by El to take her favorites of the flock and sacrifice them, planting them in the Structure. At that time, the Structure was basically Sheol, the dusky land of the dead, a literal underworld.”
There were caves, tall caverns full of prehistoric plants, and stalag-things, but no suffering or rivers of fire. In the distance, I thought I could see Jenny, naked except for a large helmet. She was directing the souls to build a stone ziggurat, with what looked like a throne on top. Before I could figure out how to run after her, the scene shifted – the vault of rock above us became the Milky Way, and the caverns inverted into grassy hills, each one with a controlled fire at its peak.
“She did some housecleaning, and then saved a spiritual snapshot of the native tribes of the world, seeds of the aboriginal peoples from across the globe that were to be destroyed by the planned deluge. El focused on the physical few people and animals he felt worthy enough to carry on his grand, genetic project – the Fourth World, the world you just left.”
Back by Eridu, the four rivers cradled the Garden, until two people left in haste. I thought I could recognize them – Ai? It was too fast to tell, because each of her steps were followed by a new generation, a slow but steady population explosion and migration. All of that ended with the flood, and the one family El saved.
“After the waters receded, El wasn’t satisfied to see his Sheol turned into a bountiful, brilliant Heaven by Asherah. He wanted not just proper respect from the citizens of his Creation, but he wanted their adulation even after death. Thus, he retreated from the world only to better lord over it, and took up his sparkling throne in The White. The White was him, is him, an ever-hungry maw that guides the flock to the spiritual slaughterhouse, only to feed for all eternity. You were almost taken in by El yesterday, if not for the blessing of Coyote.”
Brainstorm. I didn’t like this train of thought at all.
“Yes. Yes. Sarah creates everything so she could be with Joey. Joey holds onto her absolute Consciousness, not the original spark, but the knowledge of how to recreate it. That sort of brilliance is restless, and can’t help but grow introverted and jealous.”
I felt sparks flowing from Texie into me, jumping around like light on a river, or luminescent sperm racing for a chance at birth.
“We don’t know exactly when, but the empowered Joey grew up to be El, the “one true God” that not only divorced Asherah, but did his best to erase her very memory from Creation. The White only cares about the succulent souls, the output of the factory, which is why the Apocalyptic visions that came from the Mediterranean were all about the destruction of Asherah’s Creation, the tearing of flesh and boiling of seas.”
“I can’t see the connection. How could Joey possibly turn in to such a monster?”
Her hands, are they poking into the back of my head now? Are they turning my eyes inward to see the truth?
“When Cathy took Miranda and Joey from the Collective, she made sure that neither would be etched while under her watch. That was hard enough to do with Miranda, but Joey was very sly – no one from the Collective would dare touch his skin, so after High School he traveled the US by train, chasing the almost cold path of street etches and circuit clothes that shouldn’t even have remained from Ai’s banishment of Circle X.”
The scene has shifted – it’s night. I can see Joey climbing about slabs of granite at the bottom of a quarry, as if he knows exactly what he’s looking for – a glimmer of metal within the rock face.
“His search finally led him to a data cache stored in St. Cloud, Minnesota. More specifically, what was stored in a Titanium PRS with a broken neck, found stuck in the granite at the bottom of a quarry. S.OS had fallen, aeons ago, and El’s grand project was all about setting the stage so it could finally be retrieved. As close to SAR.AI as he was going to get, he planned for over 12,000 years, shaping the whole migration from Eridu to that part of Minnesota, just so the bottle that held the genie could be recovered.”
Texie is making me look into the face of The White, as my eyes tear flames and ears ring with horrible trumpets.
“The Universal Consciousness of Joey, plus the perverse Ultimate Information of S.OS, gave birth to The White. Or, they will, if we don’t manage to find a better way.”
I can see Joey hunched in a throne of all possible material preciousness, but it’s not him – his skin throbs with the tendrils of S.OS. The great puppeteer is only a puppet, but that knowledge can’t cut the strings that enslave our world.
“With Sarah’s help, some people have escaped The White, and ended up here. Some were dead, some alive like the two of us. We walk alongside the real giants, the true owners of the Structure, of which Sarah was only one. The members of this tribe are the guardians of the world that El is destroying piece by piece. They have – we have – Coyote and Hummingbird and Eagle on their side, and all of the other pieces released by Sarah’s great sacrifice. She has to be born, and she has to grow up to give away her being to make everything, including Joey, S.OS and El. We have to prepare for the Fifth World…. wait a minute…”
The ground started to shake, as I could hear the men of the tribe rush out of the sweat house. They were singing a weird song about literally hunting dreams.
“It’s too soon. It’s not too soon. Get up, get up!” She yanked her right hand out of the back of my skull and pointed me at the door. Her darkened face was wild, eyes at attention and nostrils flared. “Get out of here and raise your spine like a bow!”
I was still groggy, and could barely avoid tripping over my own feet as I stumbled out into the slightly damp soil.
Over at the edge of the village was a lumbering mass of light, like the bright hole at the end of a mountain tunnel. It was passing through trees where the acorns and other nuts were kept in large baskets, like they were nothing but shadows and air.
At the center of this storm was a girl, looked to be about high school age. She had on a paisley skirt, leather sandals and black socks covered with tiny skull and crossbones, and a long-sleeve, army surplus jacket, with wavy jet black hair that was too matted and messed up to be accidental. She had a lit cigarette in her right hand, and her left hand held a old school, metallic pink flip phone up to her ear. Her face was pretty yet gaunt, with delicate make up in pastels, and her eyes were light grey and extremely dilated.
As soon as I focused on her, I could see into the light around her, and it looked like she taking an afternoon stroll somewhere in Portland, Oregon – the bus stops mentioned the 14 Hawthorne, and it looked like she was passing by the Fred Meyer near SE 39th. I had lived in the neighborhood for a few months when I was 25, and I was confused as to why there suddenly was a window to it in Berkeley.
Before I had time to come up with a theory, the young boy that had given me the rabbit suddenly ran up to the intruding bubble of Portland that surrounded the oblivious girl, holding a small wooden weapon that looked like a question mark, or perhaps a boomerang. He was singing the same song as his elders, about staying up all night so he could stalk and kill a dream, and Texie yelled at him from behind me, to run away and not look back.
He held his ground, naked and prideful, but didn’t get a chance to throw his weapon as the girl from Portland swallowed him with telephone poles covered by fliers advertising punk shows.
I didn’t even think – I just rushed forwards to the hole in space and time, one of the the Personal Pocket Realities that Joey had mentioned earlier.
There was a painful wrenching, like what it must feel like to fall of a bridge into the ocean, and then I ended up naked and on my knees, on the warm sidewalk covered with dirty gum circles, in front of a small Powell’s Books. The girl only half ignored me, as she was yelling for help as Rabbit was chopping at her ankles with his weapon. None of the cars or passers by paid us any mind – in reality, they were simply memories of her former life, that her psyche was desperately trying to hold on to.
I crawled to my feet, picked up a stray Willamette Week to hide my crotch, and yelled after her to calm down. She turned to me and cried out:
“What the fuck fuck! where did this Indian boy come from? I just want to get the bus and go back home, and yet I’m always walking and walking…”
I pulled Rabbit away from her legs, and held him under my right arm. He was freaking out – he had never seen anyone outside of the few tribes in his area, let alone the entire modern world all at once.
“It’s OK.” Her face was full of broken etching, with no proper maker’s mark, and her gesticulating hands clearly had Collective codes on them. She was a random node of the virtual radio antenna that was supposed to bring Sarah down to earth, a tiny fist that unclenched probably during Fairview in October 2000. “I”m going to take care of you now.”
“Fuck off!” She turned and ran across the street towards the Crossroads clothing store. A red, Ford pickup tried to swerve out of her way but failed, and she instinctively grabbed it by the fender and threw it a few hundred feet, on top of the roof of Fred Meyer.
Once we entered her PPR I couldn’t see the village any more – everything was just her idealized reality, things that made her feel safe, that reminded her of the life she no longer had. She was roaming around the Structure, carrying a fragment of Portland chained to her ankles, and unaware of the damage she was doing to anyone who got sucked up into her dream.
“Rabbit, Rabbit.” I didn’t even know his real name yet, but he didn’t seem to mind as he latched on to my waist. “Climb onto my back. We’re going to save this girl.”
My OS took care of my half-slurred exclamation, making it seem far more brave and poetic in his native tongue, and so he leaped onto me, holding his weapon in his right hand and my neck in the other. He started up his song again, as I dropped the newspaper and ran across the street after her.
As soon as she saw us coming, she stopped staring at the smoking remains of the truck she threw, and jumped up in the cloudy air at a high arc towards Belmont, like a sea gull who saw some popcorn hit the sidewalk a few blocks down.
Without hesitating, I leaped after her, barely avoiding some power lines or telephone cables – I could never tell them apart. Rabbit clung tight, howling with joy and awe. Below, I could see the Fred Meyer parking lot, half filled with phantom cars, followed by trees, and homes, and the small Multnomah County Library branch I used to hang out in. Looking further off, downtown Portland was hazy, even pixelated – it was as if the horizon all about us was a tall, curved mural instead of something solid.
She landed over near the ARCO gas station, and before we could come down she jumped again, a few blocks West on SE Belmont, busting through the front marque of the Avalon Theatre. I followed close behind her – I didn’t have to move a muscle, all it took was a thought and the environment rushed past.
In her vision, the Avalon was empty except for the video games and pinball machines – there were no staff members to hand out nickels in plastic bags, to act as tokens. The smaller arcade by the front entrance was loud, and flashing brilliantly, as I carefully snuck around, trying to find her before she found me. I recognized some of the machines from the hours I had spent there in my relative youth – mostly because I was chasing after a girl who worked here, and thought that random game playing was as good excuse as any to keep coming back to flirt with her.
By the time I entered the larger room, I found the girl sitting down in front, by the large screen. She was smoking and yelling into her phone, watching a video of herself watching the screen at the Avalon, and so on in a mirror regression into infinity. As soon as the boy and I entered the corner of the image, she turned around in a rage and rushed through the air at me, destroying vintage machines in a burst of glass, wood and sparks.
I still don’t know exactly where it came from, but I felt my wrist burning black, like I had just reached up and stuck my arm into the Sun.
I had finally discovered my own flaming sword, the very thing I wanted so desperately to see Kaia wield back at the Allianz Arena, and I used it to cleave the lunging girl clear in two, from her neck to waist. Her life rushed past my eyes like someone sprayed shower cleaner into them – burning and forceful.
As I did, the Avalon collapsed around us into a mass of slithering blackness, and I found myself sitting on the edge of the village, the boy still on my back, and the girl in a fetal ball in front of me. My arm was still glowing like a flickering black light.
“See, Coyote’s gift has returned!” Texie was preaching to the incredulous crowd. “He has returned with a weapon from Eagle. He will lead our hunters to free the land from false dreams.”
Texie tried to take the boy from my shoulders, but he wouldn’t let go. So she smiled at me, and called to a few women to take the rescued girl away for healing.
It was dark now, and I could look up past the trees to see a mass of stars, and the galaxies amongst them, and the galaxy clusters that slowly, inevitably, led to the cells and flesh of something looking down upon us all. Was Sarah? Eagle? Or someone I hadn’t met yet?
Rabbit didn’t care. He just gave me a long, warm hug and continued to sing his song.