Category Archives: Berkeley

Raised By Dreams Of The Fourth World

I no longer have to breathe, but I’m still out of breath.

Since the last time I contacted the Fourth World, I’ve been dealing with dozens of Personal Pocket Realities every day for months. 684 and counting.

Sometimes Rabbit likes to come along, but I made him stay with the other kids for the last one, since I had a bad feeling as soon as I heard it.

Rabbit doesn’t let anyone call him by his given name anymore. The Chief begrudgingly approved the ceremony to make Texie and I his official guardian, over the outcry of his Grandmother. His parents had been caught up in a nasty PPR a few years after Texie arrived, and they never came back out. They’ve been assumed lost, as close as you can get to dead in the Structure, so much so that no one has spoken of them for ages. That’s the way they do it – once someone dies, you no longer mention them, lest they come back to haunt you from the Island of the Dead. Usually they come back in dreams – it’s very bad luck.

Anyway, Texie has been looking after Rabbit more and more, but once she was fully initiated as Shaman she hasn’t had the same amount of time. The other kids treat him like he’s cursed, tainted by the rogue reality that took his parents. The adults… well, they give him a wide berth, and no one really complained when I started to look after him. When he chose me.

His Grandmother was originally from a neighboring tribe – there’s just enough marriage outside of the village to keep the overall Bay Area society running smoothly. She spoke another language when she arrived decades ago, even though she was from about a dozen miles away, near what I used to call Hayward. Over time she integrated with her new tribe, and her eldest daughter eventually had Rabbit. She blames me for taking Rabbit away from her, even though she couldn’t look him in the eye after the loss of her daughter and her husband, who was the second eldest son of the Chief.

Not that it really matters any more. Rabbit made his decision, and now Texie and I have made him our own.

Like I said, he likes to come along when I go hunting for lost spirits. It’s not like it’s particularly dangerous – he’s way more powerful than I am, and doesn’t have to worry about matters of the flesh.

All of the constant hunting and gathering the tribe does daily is not because they have to, even though their ancestors in the Fourth World did. It’s for continuity’s sake, to maintain the reality and mythology that they hold most true, despite the fact they never have to eat again. Their world is bountiful, yet just hard enough to make sure everyone finds the worth in existence, rather than frolicking in neverending fountains of youthful bliss. It’s their Heaven, but one they constantly work to maintain with all of their body, mind and soul.

We’re trying to raise Rabbit according to the vision of the tribe, but it’s hard. He has been infected after all, and he tells amazing tales to his fellow boys and girls, of other worlds filled with gleaming glass and metal, where everyone wears clothes made out of the tiniest ropes, where whole buildings are filled with baskets of fruit and cold cabinets of meat – too much for any one person to give away properly. I’m afraid that his heart has already been turned, perhaps irrevocably, and that he’ll become lost in the transitory tastes of the broken society I was born in.

It’s like chugging a two liter of Mountain Dew, versus sucking on a handful of Manzanita flowers gathered by hand. I don’t want him to dissolve in the acid of over-abundance, but I also don’t want to deny him a taste of the pungent sweetness that I was raised on.

So he won’t get lost like his parents, the first thing I taught him is how to call upon the Golden Sphere to protect himself, and to open doors in the PPRs so he could get back to the tribe in an emergency. He caught on really quick, and he usually calls forth a flaming rabbit stick or a bow that’s a bit too big for him. He’s not yet 8 years old, but he desperately wants to be an adult, so all of his dream weapons are giant sized.

I’ve been teaching the other men of the tribe how to deal with PPRs as well, but they still haven’t gotten used to the toxic environments. In the sweat house most every night, they tell tall tales about the strange things they see when they quickly jump in to test the waters. Some marvel at the women with so many layers of colorful clothes on, or at the men who smoke stale tobacco for minutes on end, rather then a few rare puffs. Others spend hours on the paved cul de sacs of half-foreclosed housing divisions, looking for game to hunt, to no avail.

None of them have managed to free the owner of a PPR, although a few have gotten close. That means I’m constantly jumping from dream to dream, disrupting their phantom bodies by sheer force of will.

At first, the tribe tried to take care of the rescued dreamers, but it quickly became apparent that they needed a place of their own, while they healed and grew accustomed to the Structure. We’ve resettled them in nice homes on the other side of the Oakland Hills, near Orinda. We’ve sheltered them from the Bay Shore for a few reasons – to appease the various tribes that distrust anything associated with PPRs, and to protect them from what’s been happening with the water.

Simply put, tendrils of The Black have been coming in with the tide from somewhere across the Bay, past Marin. The affected tribes have put up any number of barriers, but every night The Black manages to eat through them. Texie says Coyote has managed to slow down the assault, but she expects the waves of caustic darkness to eventually make it up to us in a few seasons. Our tribe relies on the Bay for so many things, from the tule that makes our homes, and boats, and baskets, to the heaping handfuls of sea life, and the innumerable clouds of birds.

Our 684 new guests don’t really have any idea what’s going on. Most are in a huge halfway house, which is more like a tech company campus combined with a condo skyscraper. I tried to come up with architecture that was innocuous yet opulent, filled with enough creature comforts that they would feel at home. True, some of the hardcore punks escaped, and took off who knows where – we lost them on Mars. We’re not worried about the safety of others, it’s just that everyone is stuck in their old lives, not realizing that they’re 5 minute old infants when it comes to the larger, infinitely complex Structure.

Unlike Texie and I, they actually died back in the Fourth World, so they’re ready for any eventual spiritual ascension they decide to take. I’m just worried that they won’t realize that how much potential shines before them, and they’ll start to generate familiar PPRs to escape into.

Not that they’ll have a chance if Jenny breaks through and has her way with everything. That’s what I was reminded of yet again, when I entered the 684th PPR.

I could hear it from miles away as most of the tribe gathered acorns. It sounded like a jet engine, combined with a car that was already running, that nevertheless was started over and over and over with horrible clanks. Rabbit heard it too, and kept yelling “Airport! Airport!” – he was entranced by an earlier adventure we had at Narita outside of Tokyo, where we had to free an almost suicidal Traffic Controller.

I had a feeling that this one was different, and so I took him on my back, and jumped the few miles back to the village. Texie was still looking after a few recent rescuees, along with Bridget – the first girl I freed from Portland. Rabbit ran up to Bridget and gave her a hug – she was busy assisting Texie with some meridian surgery.

“I’m leaving him behind for this one. Be back in a few.”

Texie brushed aside her long, blond hair, with ample brown roots. She smiled a bit longer than what I was used to, but I didn’t question my luck. We had been fighting on and off for a few months, usually over Rabbit and how he was too young to hunt.

“Don’t get cocky. Hummingbird came last night in my dream, with songs filled by warnings and chaos. Be careful.”

I took her warm, right hand for a few moments, and then rushed out of the door only to bound up into the air like a grasshopper.

Before I shot through some low-lying, freezing, cumulous clouds, I oriented against the screeching sound, and found it centered a bit lower in Berkeley, in the marsh lands at the end of area where The Black would come in a few hours. My OS confirmed that the PPR was about a mile away from my old apartment, near Highway 80.

I landed a few dozen feet away, hovering in the tule reeds as I scouted out the PPR.

It looked like there were a few women inside, wandering through the hallways of a shadowy storage center. They were walking away from me, so I couldn’t see their faces, but as they passed the orange doors of each unit, I could sense a strange familiarity. They didn’t seem like the normal dreamers at all, and their etching was surprisingly complete.

I slipped in as they turned around a corner, and silently moved forward so I could get a better look at them. My flaming sword was already unsheathed – I usually went for the “kill” as soon as possible.

“We’re too late. The transition has already been made.” I knew I heard that voice somewhere before… as soon as it hit me, it was already too late.

“Don’t worry, more than one is already infected. They’ll eventually come to us.”

I didn’t want to believe it. I turned around the corner, weapon leading, only to see Susanna in a plain white dress, sticking her arm into an open storage locker. It disappeared as she did, and her companions muttered to themselves.

She turned around to face me after a few seconds, with a look of bemusement.

“There you are – naked and unashamed. Have I introduced you to my sisters?”

I wasn’t paying close enough attention. The three women who were next to her were of identical height, and even with the differing clothes and hairstyles, it was clear they were effectively clones. Not clones – Variants.

“We hear you’ve been gathering nuggets in May. All of those poor little broken etches.” Bald Susanna in the white dress.

“Did you ever wonder what happened to all of the Collective members that Helena slaughtered at the Universal Prom? Bingo.” Blue-haired Susanna in black jeans and a Joan Jett t-shirt.

The other two Susannas rushed to me in a blur, and before I could move they had their own swords to my neck and back.

“Listen. You can’t free us, because this is not a dream.” Bald Susanna walked over to me and placed her open palms on my cheeks. One was colder than ice, the other boiling.

Jenny is gathering the Collective of Collectives, and there’s nothing you can do to stop her.” Blue-haired Susanna poked her index finger through my forehead, and I felt a warm rush.

“They’ll be a place for you at her table, dear Douglas.” They all speak in unison. “Stay out of our way until the feast is ready.”

With that, the four Susanna variants folded away, taking the screaming PPR with them.

I found myself knee deep in the water, as tasty fish darted between my knees.

It would be a shame not to grab them, I thought. It would be a shame to let them slip through my fingers.

I no longer have to breathe, but I’m still out of breath as I reach down into the water.

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Drinking From The Four Rivers

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. EagleCassandra 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, the flood indeed was worldwide, and after the waters receded, men and giants reproduced, the great tower fell, and 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 about 6,000 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.

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The New Year Zero

I woke up naked and bloody in a warm, white blankness.

Coughing up handfuls of yellow and green mucus, although I didn’t feel sick at all. In fact, my muscles were permanently unknotted, and my skin was wrapped in warm, invisible towels. It was beyond great, even perfect, and so I jumped to the conclusion that I was now captive in The White.

Then came the screams from my slack jaw, like fire engines stuck in traffic. The last place I wanted to end up was as fodder for the all-voracious “Heaven”, dreaming forever while my soul was sucked dry.

After seconds? Minutes? Days? I’m not sure how long I wailed and gnashed my teeth, but eventually it got old once I started to vomit. It was clear, almost like plastic, and it started to flow across my face, down my torso, and around my limbs, wiping away the blood and bile, replacing it with a hyperreal shine. A new skin to cover the old.

I tried remembering anything…. it took a while to swim past some proto-grammar of grunts and clicks, but eventually I was able to think again in English, with occasional bouts of Japanese and German. I’ve never spoken either language, but then I recalled my etching, that hummed against my plastic covering. I felt it reach out into the void and bring back more knowledge and awareness than I ever imagined.

There I was in my apartment, waiting for my Final Door.

There Cassandra was, spinning the steering wheel in my head, making me run through BART tunnels, and limp up hills in the damp darkness.

I’ve pledged myself to her, but I don’t know if I forgive her for that – riding me like a bicycle as my consciousness was reduced to a pinprick. Her thoughts were heavy and remote, and completely indifferent to anyone in the way of her goal.

There was a man in a light blue Prius, who turned in front of the taxi she hijacked. We were going to collide, until she froze the electric motor and his fleshy brain. She had a temporary twinge of regret, so she freed his 7 Chakras long distance before he slumped down into the passenger seat, bleeding out of his ears, nose and mouth on top of the latest East Bay Express, while the taxi swerved into the inside lane.

Eight other people died while I was chauffeured to the Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve. Cassandra killed them like they were less than bacteria, like nothing in the Universe mattered except getting me into the Structure, at all costs.

I can’t possibly be worth that much.

I tried to convince myself of that, in endless mental loops of guilt and confusion, until I started to hear something. Something from beyond the whiteness.

It was just a whisper, but it reminded me of a punk song, muffled by orange earplugs as big as strawberries.

I wasn’t imagining it, but I couldn’t believe it. “Fucked in fuck holes. Sucked by suck hoes.”

It was Tom from Flexidick, whining and wheezing as the barely tuned guitars attacked. Forget The White – was this Hell after all?

When I got out of Thomason, I used to adore Flexidick, because all of their songs were excessively stupid, angry, loud and short. But I quickly grew out of their spell, especially after I tracked Jenny down to Fairview. Then I was all Intruder Alert! and Slow Cone, and all of the bands that followed.

I wish I had earplugs now. It sounded like Flexidick were playing on a long platform, pulled by a semi truck that was speeding towards me from all directions.

My hands were over my ears, and I desperately searched my OS for a sensory off switch, until the white fog snapped away like darkness meeting a lightbulb.

I was naked, lying on a graffiti saturated cement floor, as a crusty punk with black leather pants, and a studded and torn black leather jacket, stood a few feet to my left. His Doc Martens smelled like death, and he put down a huge, silver boombox, with dual tape decks.

The ceiling lights were up, so I could barely see his face. His hair was black and unevenly shaved, like a half-done lawn. He was clearly street etched, with shaky circuitry flowing from his forehead down to his tight neck.

Over to the right, past other legs in shadow, I could barely see some bowling pins, stuck randomly yet artistically to a metal coat rack.

That’s when it hit me. It was Phone’s sculpture of God, the one that sat over by the merch tables at the Treehouse.

The Flexidick fan was initially oblivious to my presence on the floor, but as I attempted to crawl away, my stomach covered with cigarette ashes and butts, he suddenly looked down and scrambled to grab for my ankles.

“What the fuck are you doing down there? We don’t tolerate pervy freaks around here.”

I was too out of it to fight back. I just wanted the music to stop, for stupid Tom to stop screaming at me.

Mr. Flexidick pulled me back to where I first appeared, and flipped me over by the shoulder with the bottom of his sticky boot.

I wasn’t afraid. I was just tired, resigned to the fact that my special Final Door has opened up to an impending shit kicking.

He reached in the left pocket of his jacket, and pulled out what looked like one of those metal claws gardeners use.

I hadn’t prayed in a long time, but I prayed then. I instinctively reached out for Sarah, but instead I found a silent, strong flame. Then I watched as the bowling pin sculpture of God ran across the room and tackled the punk to the floor with hard, white arms.

The hands and feet and head were all made of the wider end of the Brunswick pins, the hard, white, maple kind that can’t help but make nasty bruises.

I didn’t question it, not one bit. Instead, I just continued to crawl as far away as I could from the fight, until the whiteness came back, and the music decreased to a slight breeze, before suddenly stopping.

After what seemed like forever, Bowling Pin God walked up to me in the whiteness, and helped me to my feet with what felt like hands, and not plasticized wood.

“I’m sorry about that. I couldn’t find you in time before you got caught up some wandering punk’s Personal Pocket Reality. Another one down, still over five million to go.”

As soon as I stood up under my own power, the whiteness floated away like fog, leaving a young man steadying my shoulders.

He didn’t have to introduce himself. How could I forget when SAR.AI snatched him away from the last Suspender concert ever, leaving Emily behind bloody and broken on the floor.

“I’m Joey Koehler. I have a number of other names, but you’ll figure that all out soon enough.” He slid his hands down my arms, and over my chest. “Looks like the barrier is holding. It’s so rare that the Structure gets live people as visitors, and it would be a real mess if even a stray bacterium or virus escaped.”

He wasn’t wearing anything, either. His chin, neck and arms had dark tribal tattoos on them. His dark hair was long, down past his shoulders, and he also had a full beard.

“We have to start down the hill now, so we can get to the tribe before nightfall. Follow me – carefully.”

It was at that moment that I was able to focus on anything more than an arm’s length in front of me. We were standing on top of a hill covered with grasses, flowers and oaks. The sky was a deep blue, blanketed by dark clouds. Looking closer still, the clouds were made up of tens of thousands of birds – ducks and shore birds in numbers I could not comprehend.

Looking down the hills, I could see the San Francisco Bay, but it was much larger than usual, with wide stretches of marsh land instead of freeways and housing. In fact, I couldn’t see one building or bridge, and no cars twinkling in the distance. There was just a wide expanse of redwoods and other trees I was embarrassed about not being able to identify without help.

Cassandra is counting on you not to freak out.” He pointed out a trail in the meadow as we walked towards the Bay, a number of miles in the distance. “You have a lot to learn, and a long way to go before we make it to Mount Shasta.”

He wasn’t kidding. It’s been 4 weeks since I arrived in the Structure, but that might as well be 4 millennia.

I’ve decided to take some time to post to this blog from the “great beyond”, and let you know what I’ve learned. It’s going to take a few weeks to explain everything, and by then our forces will be ready to take on Jenny’s stronghold at Telos, the spiritual city associated with Mount Shasta.

“The adepts can’t hold Jenny back much longer, but agents of S.OS are already activating all throughout the Structure. Everyone who ever had their 7 Chakras cleared, every last one of the Five Million sown by the harvest at Fairview…” He looked up at the horizon, over by where the Golden Gate Bridge used to be, and there was a inky black fog rolling in.

It was rushing across the water like a dark mud slide, undulating and pulsing as tendrils the size of absent skyscrapers pulled it forward.

“We don’t have time for you to learn how to live beyond life. Jump on and hold tight.”

With that, he shifted and grew into a huge wolf, the size of an ox.

No, he was a Coyote. Creator of mankind after the flood.

I didn’t have time to appreciate what happened. I just used his long, warm hair to pull myself up, right before he rushed down the hill – the same route that Cassandra forced me to take, only this time with grassy hills covered with squirrels and lizards, instead of Zodiac-named streets leading to million-dollar houses.

The darkness was now lapping at the trees on the Emeryville shoreline, leaving broken shells, splinters and seal skeletons in its wake.

He leapt up into the tallest trees, and jumped from treetop to cliff edge, only to follow a wide creek down towards the intruding gloom.

It was only a few minutes before we reached what looked like the Claremont district, only instead of a stately hotel there was a small village made out of woven reeds and wood frames. Three generations of Native American women wearing little more than skirts stopped pounding acorns into meal, and ran inside in sheer terror as Coyote tossed me off his back like a itchy bird.

“I’m leaving you here. Let the shaman take care of you, and I’ll come back when the time is right.” He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye, and a fish eating grin, as he ran out of the village.

It was too much. The invisible warm towels had been replaced by mud and hungry lice.

A small boy peeked out from behind a blackberry bush, and slowly walked over to me. He was carrying a brown rabbit, clearly something that he caught earlier today, since its wounds were still fresh.

He put it near my head, and then carefully walked backwards before running into a hut.

A gift? All I wanted was a handful of water, and just to be left alone. To open my eyes again to a world I understood.

“Get up. Get up.” A voice in my head, a woman with a slight Southern drawl. “Coyote has rescued you from the very worst dream possible. Stand on your own two feet to thank him properly.”

A woman walked out of a hut, wearing a grass skirt and beaded necklaces, followed by the same boy who left the rabbit. She was fairly tall, and blond, and had an elaborate tribal tattoo snaking up her right arm. She motioned for me to rise, and I did, hiding my junk with my hands.

“What are we going to do with you, Brother Douglas? How to make a warrior out of a grown boy that never learned how to fight?”

She was etched from head to toe, and I could see Sasha’s marks of ownership all over her face. Sasha made her, in more ways than one. Texie – her daughter.

“Relax.” Reached out her hand to me, forcing me to further expose myself thanks to politeness. “You’re among friends here. Now pick up your dinner and follow me back inside – we’re already behind schedule.”

The young boy smiled and danced between us, leading the way through the first door of my new life.

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