Nova Mythos ~ Britt & Mora

Under a velvet sky of jet, ablaze with a billion silver stars, a man and a woman sat facing a campfire. Britt scooped a handful of sand and watched it slip through his fingers. The wind played with the sand as it struck the ground, making it dance.
“The sun will be up soon,” he offered.
“Tell me a story,” Mora said, her voice soft as reeds in a stream.
“Once there were four guys in the desert. Four turbulent and troubled individuals. One was named Reason, another named Magic, the third named Poetry, and the last one named Art,” Britt began.
“All men, no women?”
“All right three men and a woman . . . named Art. That’s short for Artilina. They were regents in their own right and owned many things of great beauty and worth, yet they were unhappy. They had come to the desert to forget the future and deny the past. The man called Reason had concluded that he was disconnected from everything else in the universe. Magic had become dark and filled with dark visions of pain, blood and decay. Poetry had become a diseased lover, perverted beyond recognition. Art had become disfigured in a war and could no longer bring herself to think of anything but her own despair.”
“Heavy overtones there . . .”
“I’m making it up as I go along,” Britt replied.
“That’s what frightens me,” Mora said with just the hint of a grin.
“Well they traveled for seven days without incident. On the eighth day they met a young man full in his prime,” Britt said.
“What was he wearing?” Mora asked.
“A loin cloth,” Britt answered.
“You wish . . .”
“Hush a minute, this is my story. Well Magic spoke first saying in a loud voice ‘I am death and life, how do you greet me?’, and the man replied ‘I embrace you.’ Wrathful with the man’s response Magic grew wings and talons and attacked the man. The man ducked and slapped at the thing that attacked him. In the battle the man lost his right eye, but finally he managed a grip on Magic’s throat. He pulled Magic up to his face and looked deep – with his remaining eye – into the eyes of Magic, only to find that there was nothing really there.
Next Poetry came up to him and said ‘I am your lover and your disease, how do you greet me?’, and the man replied ‘I dance with you.’
Poetry began the dance. He rippled and flowed in the sun and the man kept step. Often it seemed that Poetry would outreach the man, but then the man would pull from some inner oceanic soul and keep the step. The two blurred into one form and it was hard to tell one from the other. In time Poetry gave out and fell dead on the sand. The dance had badly hurt the man and he could barely stand.
Art came to the man and looked up at him with fearful eyes ‘How will you greet me?’, she asked. The man did not answer. “Will you not speak to me?” she cried out but the man felt he had no business with Art and so she died in hopeless despair.
Upon seeing their lifeless forms, the man, stricken with guilt, sought to flee. He feared that Reason would exact punishment on him for his part in the demise of Magic, Poetry and Art. He feared that he deserved it.
The man, half hobbling, ran and Reason ran after him. Despite the man’s injuries, they ran for a full day and a full night. Finally, unable to run any farther, the man stopped and turned to face Reason. ‘What have you to fear,’ asked Reason, ‘for I have brought you the things that you will need.’ Reason gave the man a new mechanical eye to replace the one destroyed by Magic. Reason gave the man a new knee joint that worked almost as well as the old one but the man still walked with a noticeable limp. Then Reason gave the man a heart augment device that would keep his blood rich and flowing. This did not keep the man from feeling guilt; but it kept the guilt from killing him.
The man took all these things and set off to wander the world. In fact, he wanders the world even now . . .”
There was a moment’s silence filled with the hissing flicker dance of the fire.
“What’s his name?” Mora asked.
Britt leaned back, his eyes dancing in the flickering fire light. “You tell me,” He said.

Pam and Mendusa

Pam and Mendusa share an apartment on the East side of Everland Under the Sea. Rumor has it Mendusa has never been kissed (maybe because she just can’t quite keep from turning young men into stone). Oh she beautiful, what with her golden cat eyes, translucent fangs and her dreads . . . exquisite . . .still . . .
And Pam Dora . . . she has . . . she has issues. Maybe Pam would throw Mendusa out, but she pays the rent and besides where would Mendusa go? Pam is, after all, kind of a slob and Mendusa doesn’t complain about cleaning up
Picture two in the darkness of the living room, Mendusa and a young man that shall remain un-named.

We hear his voice first, “Why’s it so dark in here?”
She says, “Trust me, you wouldn’t want it any other way.”
“Where’s Pam?”
“She’ll be back in an hour or so . . .”
Silence . . .
He says, “Dreads? Hey, one of those bit me . . .”
“Don’t be a baby, They’re not poisonous”
And wouldn’t you know it, Pam opens the door . . . “What the . . . ?”
Mendusa says, “Don’t turn on the light!”
Click, the light comes on . . . ZZZZzzzit
“Damnit Mendusa! What the fu . . .”
“Great, simply freakin great.”
“How am I going to explain this to his mother . . . ?”
“Pam , he was coming on to me. And don’t blame me, you’re the one that turned on the lights.”
“Gods you are such a bitch.”
“Don’t be mad . . .”
“Mad? Why would I be mad? You’re making out with the only guy who has spoken to me since the Flood and then you turn him into stone . . . Why would I be mad? Gods, look at his expression.”
Mendusa chuckles, “He was looking at you.”
“Very funny, he was just upset that I caught you two . . .”
“What are we going to do?”
“Friends will help you hide. Good friends will help you hide the bodies.” Pam moves to grasp the statued man.
“He’s kinda cute. . .”
“What, you want to leave him here?’
“He kinda adds something to the room . . .”
“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation. Help me, he’s heavy.”

The Eye of the Storm

The Distant Storm

An occasional boom, muffled and rounded, rolling across the barren Midwestern landscape. In the distance there are roiling clouds, dark clouds fractured by stroboscopic lightning.
Curled on the ground, Sharon is waking up.
“What? How the . . .?” Dazed, she struggles to a sitting position, a cloud of confusion on her face.
A man, not tall or short, not heavy or thin, approaches from the direction of the coming storm. Unsteady and reeling, she climbs to her feet and brushes bits of weed and debris from her clothing.
He wears a dark fedora, a ivory colored long sleeve shirt and dark pants. Though he is close it is difficult to see his face. “Nasty storm brewing.” His voice is deep and melodic.
“Maybe it will pass,” she returns.
“I suppose just about anything is possible. You from around here?”
“I’d rather not say,” she looks at his face, a kind but uneasy face.
“Don’t make anything of it, OK?” she says meeting his gaze.
“As you wish. You got a name?”
“Do you?”
“Roger Alastor at your service.” He executes a courtly bow, complete with exaggerated hat gesture.
A peal of thunder like a nuke in the distance. She flinches, he doesn’t. “Did you hear that?” she asks.
“Yeah, that was a big one.”
“No, there was something else. Something in under the thunder.”
“OK.” He does not look convinced.
“You didn’t hear it?”
“No.” Silence. “Look, take some advice, wherever you’re from you might want to head back in that direction. I can’t guarantee the weather around here.”
“Who can?”
“See ya.” He tips his hat and turns to leave.
“Take care.”

Water in Earth

She pulls her raven hair back and ties it to keep the rising wind from blowing it in her face. The storm has moved much closer or grown astronomically bigger, filling all parts of the sky from horizon to horizon. She is enveloped by the grey hanging rags of cloud emanating from the center.
In the distance there is a two story Victorian house painted in shades of cream and wheat. It floats on a gently swaying sea of grass and wild flowers. Bushes boil up around this house, bearing it up integrating it into the landscape. The storm is definitely closer, huge drops of rain pummel the grasses.
She has never seen this house before but on another level senses something . . . A look of comfortable recognition crosses her face. She climbs the steps to the porch.
There is a palatable silence inside the house accentuated by the din of the storm outside. The house feels cold, that bone numbing cold you get when a house has been abandoned for a long time.
“Perhaps a fire to cut the chill?” She jumps. He wasn’t there a moment before.
He produces matches from his left shirt pocket and lights the kindling in the fireplace. After the fire catches he asks, “Have you noticed that the storm seems to be headed this way? Does that seem a little strange to you?”
Shivering, she holds her hands to the fire. “Hadn’t thought about it.” A frown creases her face. “Why is there so much lightning?”
“Lightning is the closest thing the real world has to demons. Thunder is the laughter of demons. Lightning has a mind of its own.”
“You are not answering my question. Why is there so much? I hate it.”
“Its much worse toward the center.”
A sudden downdraft in the chimney blows ashes and sparks all over the floorboards.
“Aw Geeze,” he says. They stomp out the bigger sparks the smaller ones extinguish themselves.
She stops, listens. “What is that sound?”
“No, there is something else.”
“Something in the thunder?”
“No, something else. Like the ocean but it isn’t coming in waves.”
He frowns, turns and runs up the stair. She hears him moving around the second floor above the bedlam. He comes rushing down the stairs and grabs her arm, pushing her toward the door. She knocks him away.
“Look, There is a river out there and its coming this way.”
“That’s ridiculous, there was no river.”
“Its raining in case you haven’t noticed. We do not have time for this. Get to higher ground.”
Sharon pauses on the porch. A river that was not there before is visibly churning and chewing through the bank that separates it from the house. The sight paralyzes her. He returns and tries to drag her away from the house. There is a loud splintering sound and the whole house shudders as the ground under the back of the house falls into the angry, hungry river.
As they scramble up the hill she shouts, “What about the house?”
“The house doesn’t matter.”
A tidal wave of mud tries to shove them back into the twisting waters of the river. She holds to a gnarled tree. “This is so stupid, why does it have to be like this?” she screams.
“This is the way it’s always been. At least as far as I know.”
He grabs her arm and once again they start up the hill. She sees the gash in his arm. “Doesn’t that hurt?”
He wipes mud from his eyes. “It hurts plenty, but don’t worry, I was born to suffer. That’s how I got to be so good at it.”
She slips and he supports her.

Water in Air

Miserable, wet and dirty, she scales the hillside that originally overlooked the house. Behind them, in the distance, the storm churns with apocalyptic indifference. The wind hurls wet, dead leaves at her like insults. The sleet cuts through her clothing and numbs her face, the accumulation whitening everything. Half the water on her face is her own tears.
Up the hillside a cleft, perhaps a cave, catches her attention. The climb up the slippery slope becomes everything. She falls several times.
Roger runs ahead.
He is standing in the mouth of the cave when she gets there. “We are not properly dressed for this kind of weather.”
“That’s an understatement,” she says.
He laughs. “You could run for home.”
“You keep telling me to run away, what keeps you here?”
“Unlike you , I have no choice.”
“Get into the cave,” she says.
He walks off in the direction of the storm.
“Suit yourself,” she says to his retreating back. “Besides, what makes you think I have a choice?” She is certain he doesn’t hear her.
The cave is narrow at the mouth and runs slightly down hill, but the rock lips of the cave keep the rainwater from rushing in. The floor is covered with debris and dry powder. She considers rolling in the dust to dry herself but decides that she would only succeed in encasing herself in a shell of vile muck. She finds a place back from the mouth and pulls her clothing around her. It is difficult to hear the sound of her crying above the noise of the storm outside the cave.
Hours pass to the frightening and dismal cacophony of the enraged typhoon outside. Perhaps a little bored she takes stock of her surroundings and notices that the walls and ceiling are glowing dimly. The source of the light is millions of hand-sized petroglyphs. They resemble some kind of scientific schema, though entirely unlike anything she has ever seen before. They appear in veins of translucent quartz embedded in salt and pepper granite. They flicker each time the lightning strikes.
Something coming, no stumbling, in from the mouth of the cave. She cowers against the cave wall. Indirectly illuminated by the lightning he stumbles in wounded, frozen and shivering.
“You scared me half to death.”
“Help . . .” He collapses.

He regains consciousness beside a small fire. She has assembled a mat of twigs and bits of wood gathered from the floor of the cave. His wounds are bound. She holds a wet rag up to the fire.
“You were out cold, I borrowed your matches. Hope you don’t mind.” She smiles a naughty smile.
“You are a stubborn woman,” he says. This makes her smile a second time.
“What happened out there?” she asks.
“Certain energies had to be . . . dissipated.” He closes his eyes.
“These energies have a name?” she asks.
“There things in the wind that you do not want to meet.”
She shivers, “Can’t you hear it?” She looks away, thoughtful. “There is something in the storm.”
“I don’t know. Its like a child crying.” She looks baffled.
She uses the heated wet rag to wipe some of the dirt from his face. “You live around here and you haven’t heard it?”
“I’m not sure I would call this living.”
“Then you’re a figment of my imagination?” She holds a fresh rag to the fire.
“For some reason that just doesn’t seem right. I am not part of you.” He shivers in silence. “I’m as confused as you. Maybe I’m a part of . . . this place.”
“Well, if you’re some kind of local color then where are we?”
“I . . . I don’t know.”
“Perhaps you’re not so much part of this place as a part of the storm,” she says. She applies the warm compress to a wound under his left arm, his body convulses. “Sorry.” He grimaces. “What’s in the heart of the storm?” she asks.
“Something hideous. If the outer part of it looks this bad, and believe me it gets worst, then the thing at the core must be horrible.”
“Have you ever been to the heart of the storm?”
“No one has.”
“Why is it coming this way?”
He pulls himself into a sitting position. “The storm knows you’re here.” Silence. “I can tell you this, if you leave it will not follow,” he says.
“What if I stay?”
“No one stays.”
Suddenly thunderous in its silence, the ever present rain ceases. Her ears pop.

Fire in air

She creeps to the mouth of the cave and he crawls up beside her. The core of the storm is closer and the rain seems to have moved past the cave. There is an eerie glow to everything. Everything is furry with some kind of Saint Elmo’s fire.
Suddenly the sky goes Escher. Starting in the distance, in the direction of the heart of the storm, the sky fragments into billions of electric blue snakes of lightning. There is no way to tell where the lightning ends and the darkness begins. All the leafless gnarled trees burst into fire and where the lightning strikes the ground lava erupts.
All of this and more is moving toward them.
The mud and earth, loosened by the deluge, has washed away to reveal some kind of vaulted structure right out of a gothic nightmare. It appears to have been under the Victorian house. He drags himself to a shaky standing position.
“This is weird. Looks like something you’d find on the darkside of the moon.” She says as she stands.
“Weird, surreal, what’s the difference?” she asks, somehow angry.
“Weird means contrary to reality. Surreal means above but not outside reality, next level stuff.” He stumbles off toward the building.
Lightning plays about the structure. A boulder lifts from the ground and leaps for the sky.
“You call that real?”
“You just don’t get it, do you?” He turns on her. “This is not some bullshit fairy tale that will evaporate when you wake up. This is real and bad things can happen here. Go home.”
She says nothing.
He moves off toward the structure. Dazed, she tries to follow but he gets away from her. He enters the grotesque building by way of a vast gaudy door and is gone.
Timid, she enters. The sound of thunder from the outside, perhaps a sizzling sound somewhere inside the house. She finds an ornate Victorian antechamber illuminated by flickering points of light embedded in the walls. Beyond an inner doorway she finds an egg shaped chamber. She ventures further in. The walls of the chamber are some kind of smooth, glittering translucent stone twisting up into a ceiling that is a vast bluish lens.
Suddenly the chamber screams with sizzling energies as lightning cascades down through the lens. She shrieks in cadence.
He is sprawled on the floor trying to crawl toward her, out of the chamber. The gates of Heaven open and a relentless salvo of lightning bolts sizzle him until he is curled in a fetal position on the floor.
“Oh God!” she screams. She runs to him and rolls him face up.
“You know that part where I said I was born to suffer. Cancel that. This hurts,” he says in a whisper.
“This isn’t funny. Why are you being tortured? What did you do?”
“Me? Nothing. I think this is supposed to dissuade you from staying here. Please go home.”
The lightning reenters the chamber, grabbing him the way a snake grabs a mouse. She jumps away. He twitches in the current of the firestorm like some kind of galvanized doll. Random bolts peel off and strike at anything. A part of the far wall is vaporized. In a sudden lull she can see the landscape outside the structure. “I’ve changed my mind! I want to go home,” she screams.
Barely audible, he says, “I’m not sure there is a way back.”
The lightning returns and chews on him again, then stops.
She wants to go to him but fears the fire. “Why is this happening?”
He weeps. He is bleeding from the mouth and around the eyes. “Honestly, I don’t know,” he whispers.
“Why is it hurting you?”
“You are not to be harmed directly. Whatever it is at the center of the storm, it wants you. It wants you alive.” He passes out.
Braving another bolt, she slides close to him and touches his hair, listens to his ragged breathing.
The lightning returns with a vengeance, licking the floor around him. She huddles in the door. In the heart of the firestorm there dance inhuman creatures of energy and light. She can’t see what they are doing, she is going blind and deaf in the maelstrom.
The door is ripped from its hinges and the walls crumble, falling into the sky. Only the doorframe remains.

The Thing in the Storm

Beyond fear and pain, entranced, indifferent to the chaos that surrounds her, she leaves the door and walks toward the center of the storm now only a short distance away. A dream walker in a nightmare, she navigates the landscape of lightning, molten lava and flying rocks. And the thunder, the thunder pounds her.
At length she can see a wall of water that must be the center of the storm. She tries to walk perpendicular to the wind, using it as a kind of compass.
One step closer and abruptly the wind ceases. The thunder ceases. She stands on level, rough ground. Dark chaotic fog hangs in sheets, like undulating curtains whipped by savage winds, an arm’s distance behind her. Now that she is at the center the storm has stopped moving and seems content to spin around her. Lightning plays across the walls but the silence is absolute.
Suddenly in pain she lifts her hands to her head. “I can still hear it, ” she screams. She shakes her head, trying to clear it. “I wish it would stop.” She stamps her feet. “Where are you?” she demands.
He materializes just off to her left.
“Is this the eye of the storm?” she asks.
“I guess . . . I’ve never been here, no one has. What happened to me?”
“It’s here, it’s got to be here. Look around,” she shouts, frantic.
Searching desperately in the scattered flotsam and debris in the eye of the storm she finds a canister. She fights first one end then the other. The lid grudgingly gives way. It is filled with a reeking, murky fluid.
“Help me dump this.” As gently as possible they decant the contents. At first she thinks it is a twisted rag in the bottom. It is a child. The child is a sickly shade of grey and cold to the touch. Somehow it looks like a folded thing, turned in on itself. Some kind of origami thing that got wet and is coming apart at the edges.
She cries out. It hurts to touch the child but it is the only way to stop the sound. Her hands shake and her body convulses but she forces her hands to close around the doughy body. It flinches!
“Its alive. Give me your shirt. Now!”
She wraps the child in the shirt and holds it close to her chest. A sound, centuries old, ceases.
“You brought the storm to you by standing still. How did you know?”
“The only way to catch a hurting child is by standing still.”

Who knows how long they remain so, or when the light that permeates all things fades into existence around them. Who can know when the storm stops, but it does. It can only be said that after a time they are on level, rough ground under a sky untroubled by clouds. “Hey little guy, wake up.”
The azure eyes of the storm child open.

The Thirteen Quixotic Temples of Light and Darkness

Chapter 1 ~ Egress on Route 9

It’s the ‘Dead of summer’ and Shalott wonders where you get an expression like that: ‘Dead of summer’?
Top down (yes, she has one of those T-birds) . . . her hair is going to be a mess, but she doesn’t care because it feels so good.
She careens down route 9, just before you get to Chestnut Hill Road.
Four days left on her ‘vacation of discovery’. And, you know, it was such a good idea that no one wanted to come with her. Forget the ‘Office Rats’, she is on a quest for local color.
Suddenly, a hand written sign, “Shalott ~ I have your beads”. What the . . .? She locks up the brakes and almost hits the ditch.
Backs up to re-read the sign: “Shalott ~ I have your beads”, shoe polish on cardboard. What a stupid sign. Was she looking for a sign?
She starts to turn around right there, to head back for the comforts of home . . . but she doesn’t.
She looks for people, looks for any sign of people, only to find a strip of tarmac cutting through a forest primeval, a blacktop road as old as the mountains through which she was so peacefully gliding . . . before this sign.
She looks at the offending sign one more time. This has to be one of Bengie’s jokes, but how could he have known? How many women have the same name as her and what would be the distribution on this rural mailing route? Couldn’t have been Bengie, she remembers that she had no plans to travel this road till this morning. Chosen quite on impulse. No way he could have been behind this.
A car comes up behind her and blows its horn as it swerves to miss her.
It’s still there . . .“Shalott ~ I have your beads”.
She decides to get to the bottom of this and puts the ‘Bird in drive. The wheels squeal.

Shalott comes around a curve, and there, big as life, “Beads ~ Beads ~ Beads”! Same shaky lettering as the first sign.
A ramshackle old fruit stand covered in a Universe of bangles, bobbles and beads. Oh, it’s delightful, complete with wizened old crone and multi-colored tourists in various stages of buying trinkets.
She starts to drive past, gets on the other side, and pulls over on the shoulder.
She pulls a scarf over her hair, walks in her practical pumps to the “Hillbilly Bazaar”. Honestly, she expects the sounds of banjos at war.
She is not an expert, but there is literally every kind of bead known to humankind, every conceivable color and shape (and some that aren’t) strewn about the weathered pine boards of the stand.
Then she sees it, the tattered sign above the crone, “Beads from ‘The Thirteen Quixotic Temples of Light and Darkness’”. It reminds her of the letting she saw on the wizard’s wagon in the Wizard of Oz
Oh, it’s fabulous. Shalott snaps a few photos while waiting for the other tourists to complete their transactions, so that she might talk with the old woman in private.
The wilderness grows quiet as the last minivan departs. The now motionless bead-monger meets her eyes and Shalott realizes this is no old woman, this is barely human and it’s staring right into her eyes. She breaks eye contact.
A crackling creaky voice from myth says, “Shalott, I was so afraid I’d miss you . . .”
“OK, how do you know my name?”
“You are Shalott, are you not?”
“How do you know this?”
“If you are Shalott, I have your beads . . .”
“Stop it! I mean it. Stop it.”
The old woman(?) draws back as though frightened, “Shalott? Have I upset you? He would be mad if I upset you.”
Shalott is feeling a little exposed. She’s wishing another minivan would pull in and relieve this awkweird moment.
The crone, befuddled and baffled in a harmless way, is not unlike her grand Aunt Alice. Like Aunt Alice looking for her keys when her car had been sold years ago.
Shalott tries to comfort the crone, “Look you startled me because you know my name and I do not know you. How do you know my name?”
“He brings the beads . . .he teels me your name . . .and he is a very good man. I can teel these things. He is so much concerned for you. He gives me these . . .” The crone pulls out the most extraordinary string of beads Shalott has ever seen.
The textures and colors . . .Some clearly ancient . . .some small wonders of nano technology, others, tiny little pocket universes, tiny little stories, all of them one-of-a-kind exceptions in a world gone mad with mass production.
The crone offers, her hands tremble . . . Shalott’s face softens a fraction. She asks, “Grand Aunt, what is your name?”
“Archna, you call me Archna . . .”
“Aunt Archna . . .”
“Archna. . . please call me Archna,” the crone interrupts.
“Archna, one of my friends is playing a joke on the both of us.”
The crone calms and offers the beads a third time.
Shalott opens her hand. The crone places the string across the young woman’s palm and the world disappears . . .

Chapter 2 ~ Through the Ante-Room of the Twelve Pathways

Shalott is standing in front of a broken mirror. Shalott is six year’s old.
Her grand-aunt’s stupid mirror is broken, and she is holding the doll. The bad doll that broke the mirror. And now her Aunt is going to be mad because this bad doll got mad and hit the mirror.
Sweet Aunt Alice comes into the attic and finds her there with the bad doll.
“Oh Shalott sweetie, what happened?”
“Are you mad at me Aunt Alice?”
“How could I be mad at you child . . ?”
Shalott interrupts, “This doll . . . she broke the mirror.”
“Child . . . don’t blame the doll. It’s not her fault. She is really a very good little doll.”
“No she isn’t. She breaks things . . .”
“Shalott . . . Let her break things then. Better she should break everything in the world then you be angry at her. She really is a very good doll”
Shalott looks at the mirror and realizes that she can walk through it, pass through the cracks. And she does . . .

Chapter 3 ~ The Temple of Broken Glass

A young woman named Shalott comes to awareness in the lobby of an old movie theater. And she quickly realizes that she saw something like this once in an old black and white photograph in her Aunt’s hat box.
An old movie theater: broken plate glass windows in every direction, rubble and dust on every surface. The Germans had bombed London, or something.
The crunch of broken glass behind her, she turns to see a man approaching her. A man neither tall nor short, not fat or thin, a man that you have to force yourself to look at because it is the natural tendency of your eyes to slide off this man onto anything else in the room.
“Shalott . . . “
“OK, this is getting out of hand. How is it everybody knows my name?”
She looks in her hand to find a string of beads, excellent beads. She is holding the one that looks something like a shattered marble.
He stops and holds up his hands. It’s like he’s surrendering or something. His expression: enigmatic.
“Shalott, my name is Finton and I am here to explain a few things.”
“OK, Finton, where the freak am I?”
Finton flusters as he pulls a small black notebook out of his pocket. “Right to the point I see. I guess this is only to be expected. You are at the beginning of an adventure, a tour of the Thirteen Quixotic Temples of Light and Darkness. This structure is your point of embarkation. These are the twelve doors.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
That got his attention. He consults several pages in the small black notebook and looks even more confused, “You are Shalott? Shalott de’Bailey?”
She doesn’t answer.
“If you are Shalott, then all of this is for you. If not, there has been a terrible mistake.”
“How do you know me?”
“I don’t know you personally . . .”
She interrupts, “How do you know my name?”
“It’s written right here . . .”
“Where am I?!”
“Technically, you are at a road side . . .at a ‘hillbilly bazaar’(air quotes), I believe you called it, on route 9, just before you get to Chestnut Hill Road, with four days left on your ‘vacation of discovery’(again with the air quotes).”
“You’re not real, so how is it that I see you?”
“I am your guide on said ‘vacation of discovery’.”
“How is that possible?”
He attempts to show her what look like technical schema in the little book. “You are between heartbeats. It happens all the time.” He sighs, looking somewhat worn, “Look, you can go back if you like. Nothing is keeping you here.”
She scuffs her foot, moving a shard of glass through the dust. He is waiting patiently.
Without making eye contact, she asks, “What’s the deal?”
“Not sure I know what you mean, Shalott.”
“What’s going to happen to me?”
“Technically, nothing at all. You may choose to go to the thirteen temples, of which this is the first, and witness the many things there, or you can return the way you came.”
He is waiting. She is still there and he takes that as an encouragement. He says, “You may exit at any time, just drop the string of beads.”
She looks at her hand. The broken glass marble bead has cut her palm, though not badly, one drop of blood. He offers a handkerchief, but she wipes it on her pant’s leg.
She asks, “How does this work?”
“You chose one of these doors. You take the next bead in your hand and you walk through the door.”
“Something bad is going to happen to me when I walk through . . .”
“Drop the string . . .,” he interrupts.
“Drop the string of beads and go home. It is clear you don’t want to . . . “
“I’ll drop it when I’m ready.”
The man turns without further comment, and walks through the wall.
She fingers the ceramic head bead that is next on the string.

Chapter 4 ~ Rapa Nui ~ The Temple of the Grooved Spheres

She steps from the shadow of the jungle, and there is nothing for miles, but grass. The wind cuts wakes through the unkempt grass growing like hair all over the place.
She looks to a perfect cyan sky and if she looks long enough, she might see that it really is a painting of a sky on some kind of perfectly smooth vault. Her eyes drift to the horizon.
She walks East, according to the painted sun that actually is as bright as the real Sun, for no particular reason. Over the rise, she sees Rapa Nui cupped in a picture perfect little valley. It reminds her of a drawing she saw in one of her world culture books, Aztec pyramids somewhere.
Except that these pyramids have carved stone heads at the corners. Huge heads from . . .no, she can’t remember.
Each head has a mysterious metal sphere at its apex: grooved spheres of a solid bluish metal with flecks of white.
She looks at her hand and sees the string of beads.
She looks to the temple.
Dancers in bird costumes cavort down the stairs on the pyramids and, while there is no music she can hear, they spin and whirl around their temple, round and round, all around. Suddenly they stop.
“This can’t be happening,” they screech. “This is the end of the World.”
All watch patiently, as one by one, each of them takes a turn at the apex of the temple, decrying the fall of the Western Empire. Over and over, they draw pictures of Chaos in the sands pounded flat by years of such dances. Monstrous diagrams of the mad god Chaos, with whirling eyes and drool running down its quivering chins.
They shout, “The thunder will eat our ears and rot our brains,” (as through Fear, the brother god of Chaos, wouldn’t do the same).
“This can’t be happening,” they sing. “This is the end of the World.”
Shalott watches as they put their heads in burlap sacks and run into one another.
She notices the Moon rises, much as it should, the Stars wheel and preen as they should. The Sun returns and the Cosmic Wheel turns, just as they always have, despite countless centuries of predictions to the contraire.
She tires of the show and walks to the horizon, which is strangely near.
She finds the crack in the World, and fingers the next bead. The bead that looks like a fragment gizmo from a computer. She takes the computer bead into her hand and steps through the crack.

Chapter 5 ~ Schen Tal ~ The Golden Temple of the Ancient Model Aircraft

Shalott is in a hallway made entirely of those small twinkling lights that they twine in the branches of fig trees in nice restaurants. There is no apparent pattern, but subtle light animations seem to flicker in and out of reality. She has seen something like this once when she was a girl. It was raining and as she watched the standing water on a parking lot, she could almost see patterns arise and disappear.
She lets her eyes unfocus and she can see the glittering demons flicker, glide and scream within the Shrine.
Each has its own special shape, its own sound. Such tiny little creatures of light contrasting with shadow, they cavort and ripple. They call to one another and play the most baffling games.
The golden tooth with wings is Reason. Reason, the most beautiful of all the demons gathered in the Labyrinth hovers before her.
She smiles, holds out her hand.
Reason flutters just beyond her reach. In a twinkling it twitters and turns, joining the swarming masses.
She leaves by the Southern door.

Chapter 6 ~ Baian-Kara ~ The Temple of the Dropa Stones

Shalott steps into the middle of a street, a Suburban street. It smells like fresh-cut lawn and the end of a long day.
A young girl notices her immediately, and after a moment, comes over to talk
“My name is Kachina, and I bet you’re here to see the Phantom Planet.”
“Hello, Kachina, my name is Shalott and I don’t know about this Phantom . . .”, and then she sees it, just hanging there, bigger than the moon.
Kachina takes her hand, and leads her to huge stones that have been gouged out. They fit like recliners.
Kachina says, “These are the Dropa Stones. Have a seat.’
“Kachina, tell me about the Phantom Planet . . . “
“The Phantom Planet suddenly appeared in the sky three months ago, and no one knew how it got there. I mean, it looks bigger than the moon, but the man on TV said it wasn’t bigger, just closer”
Shalott leans back and lets the little girl tell the tale.
Kachina says, “People were running around all over the place shouting ‘It’s the End of the Known World.’ and things like, ‘Repent, repent, repent!.’ Like that, but even through it looked like it was moving closer the scientists told us it had become a satellite which means it’s just standing there, not really moving.”
The girl’s voice becomes conspiratorial, “Now I was looking for Space Monsters with big teeth and weapons of mass incineration. Mom expected Angels of Wrath. Come to break things in order to cleanse the Earth. Dad never said either way.”
“Everybody thinks they know, but no one expects it to just stand there, and that is exactly what it’s doing . . .”
“I sit here on winter nights and its warm here in this spot here in the Dropa Stones. No one can explain it, but its safe here, safe and warm. I know it. The colors, I love the colors, all swirling and flowing.”
The young woman and the girl sat and talked about all kinds of things most of the night.

Chapter 7 ~ Shalott Returns to the Temple of Broken Glass

Shalott pushes through an ancient door and finds herself in the lobby of the old movie theater.
He’s there, standing quietly with his little notebook in hand, “Shalott . . .?”
Awkward silence.
“How’s it going Shalott?”
“OK,” she pulls her hair back, a nervous habit from her childhood, “Finton, what is this really?”
“This is your adventure.”
“Who set it up?”
“You did”
He riffles back and forth in his ever-present black note book, finds whatever it is he was looking for, examines several pages, “Says here you set this in motion on your thirteenth birthday”
“I did this?”
Finton looks very confused, scratches his head, turns away and walks out through the wall.
“Thanks bunches, Finton,” she shouts to the place where he exited.
She examines the beads. This one that looks like a swan.

Chapter 8 ~ Leda-Tyndareus ~ The Temple of the Broken Swan

Shalott is struggling for air, she is underwater. Her thinking brain is somehow detached as her hindbrain galvanizes her into the thrashing of a drowning child. She breaks the surface. She coughs till it feels like her lungs will fall out her mouth. Her feet can barely touch bottom. The waves try to capsize her.
She wipes at her eyes. She slogs toward the beach.
She falls facedown in the hot sand, and for the longest time she tells herself to get up. She would wipe at her eyes some more, but her hands are caked with sand. She crawls toward the tree line.
She collapses in the dancing palm frond shadows, and dreams of a world where everything is clean and white, and enameled, a Land of Fine Appliances.
Later (Days later?), she swims into awareness. She is on her back, watching a sky untroubled by clouds, through a kaleidoscope of palm fronds.
At length she sits up and there it is, the most frighteningly picturesque shipwreck ever. A swan ship out of Fantasy, not s much wrecked, as Fallen. A shattered ebon-blue swan wrecked on the sand. The unnatural, gaping hole in the bow, biting the sand. A banshee screaming silence, a cygnae’s eternal lament for her idyllic exotic home. A home now lost forever. The swan ship orphaned on this alien shore, imprisoned by her frailty. Defeated. Deep melancholy, transience and decay . . .
Shalott walks across the burning sand and wishes she had shoes. She finds the name on the bow, ‘Andromache’, wife of the broken warrior.
She tries to find a way onto the deck, but can’t. She tries to enter through the mouth, but it’s too small. She tries to pry a hole big enough and only succeeds in nearly breaking her arm.
Shalott sits in the shadow of the ship and tries to talk to her. The ship will not answer. Shalott talks about our diminished age; compares our art with the greater ages that are behind us, ages from which we are exiles, tiny ships of flesh tossed by the hidden currents of Time and Fate, currents coursing the endless oceans of existence.
Shalott watches as the sun quenches itself in crimson robes as she tells the ship of turquoise waters, waters of infinite depth illuminated from below, a strange eerie and disturbing glow that terrifies her. This abyss, unlike any in the natural world, where Time eats all actions dreams and desires. Swallows even the words she speaks. Sequesters her litany of how all stories end in Silence and all voyages end in the Abyss.
The tide comes in and touches Shalott’s feet, with just a slight coolness, like a shadow brushing over her.
She looks at the string of beads; she has been holding the swan bead.
Shalott stands and brushes the sand from her clothing. She takes the next bead, triangular bead of citrine crystal, in hand and walks down the shore.
The ship doesn’t say goodbye.

Chapter 9 ~ Bishapur-Veta ~ The Temple of Water, Fire and Stone

Shalott finds herself in the middle of an ancient roadway, holding the triangular crystal bead. She walks in a southerly direction on a beautiful spring day.
She sees a sign in the distance. She reads “Bishapur” followed by archaic runes. It might be a mile marker, or something.
She walks about two hours in a south-westerly direction. She passes a beautiful and shallow lake, a water fall, a stand of oak trees.
At length she comes upon the ruins of . . . something. Some kind of ancient site becomes visible. Orange blossom fragrance drifts through her, a gift from a nearby orchard. The sky is cyan, the weather clement.
Shalott can feel muscles that have never relaxed, relax.
A river flows from the east to places further westward. City walls and an ancient gate speak of a grander time, a time now passed.
She enters. The floor is carved green stone tiles shot through with veins of obsidian. Occasional marble pillars still hold segments of roof; others are cracked, split and crumbling.
Shalott tries to picture the people responsible for building this temple.
Everywhere there were serviceable pools set in geometric patterns, aching in the dryness of the desert night. This temple seems to have been built for giants rather than mere mortals. An Altar . . . stairs leading upward and then it hits her. This vast Emptiness, no one . . .not a single soul .
The wind tugs at her sleeve, but there isn’t a sound. She can hear her own footfalls; it is not as though she has gone deaf. Somehow this silence is deeper than that.
A runic inscription on an eastern wall, she can’t read it. Was it placed there to encourage or dissuade, to tell of the future or lament the past?
She tops the stairs and finds a huge arena.
She enters the arena through the closest gate, emerging in the middle row of the viewing gallery.
This place is vast, tier upon tier of empty seats with aisles radiating from the center like the spokes of a cosmic wheel.
She decides it is an outdoor theater. The center of the theater is a tawny sand floored oval with a low stage at the end nearest her.
She hears the wind now as it walks the aisles between the seats, and stirs dust devils across the field. The seats have been carved of a jade colored stone.
Shalott sits in one of the seats and leans back. She wonders who will come to watch her ordeal, wonders who will come to test her.
Every nerve in her body is alive. There is no sound save the wind; it is as through everything in the universe is listening.
She gets out of the seat to go down to the field. She has a strange feeling that a part of her stayed in the seat to watch. She does not turn to look, “Well, I am to be the audience as well as the show, am I to be the Tester too?” she asks in a loud voice as she sets foot on the oval. The word “Too” echoes through the arena.
She laughs.
She had imagined so many monsters in this testing, but there are no monsters to be found. So many ordeals she had rehearsed and re-rehearsed and yet here she stands, at the final moment, alone.
She looks back to where she had sat and if she holds her head just right she can see herself up there. She waves to herself and the reclining figure waves back.
From the field she shouts, “Take notes, there may be a quiz!”
“Got it, no problem,” comes the reply.
Shalott walks to the stage and sits facing the far end of the field.
There is a distorted blur in the light at that end of the arena; a single figure emerges from the distortion, walking in Shalott’s direction.
“Right on time, I see,” the figure calls, as her features became clearer.
“I always try to be,” she answers, trying to be so casual, so cool.
The approaching woman’s face is not clear, but there is something very familiar in the way the other carries herself.
“It appears that the testing will be delayed,” Shalott offers the stranger.
“Far from it, this testing is concluding,” the stranger says just as Shalott recognizes her face.
The Shalott in the stands beholds Shalott walking up to herself on the stage. She is overjoyed.
She shouts, stamps her feet and applauds.
The two women on the field embrace, while the third one in the stands shouts and cheers like its New Years.

Chapter 10 ~ Et’-Poth-Ra ~ Temple of the Rain

Shalott steps out of the woods.
She knows this house, this is the house of the first man she ever loved.
She remembers a time before. Remembers that just before the Tsunami comes, there comes a terrifying stillness. A time when the Sea is drawn back like the blankets on your parent’s bed, revealing many strange . . . things. Things wriggling in the sand and when you see an old lover, it feels just like that.
Before the Tsunami, there comes an out-rush of the air. Before the tidal wave, the wind leaves the land like exhaled breath, whistling through tattered palm fronds, and the sound of breath leaving your body.
Disheveled and unkempt, he stumbles from the house.
His eyes . . . wild, caged.
He hands her scribbles on a napkin and a fist full of currency. Says, “Build it . . . build it soon.”
She considers. She reflects, and at length, mercy flowers in her heart.
In the sunlight she pieces together ten thousand shapes, ten thousand surfaces. She assembles shiny pots and pans, small bits of copper, tin plates, shards of glass, even sheets of semi translucent plastic, with a little mortar and wood to hold it all tight.
Her work is true and she finds a kind of pride blossoming in her heart as she steps back. It is a thing of non-Euclidian beauty.
And then comes the rain.
Rattle tink, rattle rattle, tink tink. Ten thousand tiny voices gurgling in the mist. Chirping and hiss-wishing, clattering and plopping, and somehow the noise washes away the wind blowing from the abyss in her. Shalott is satisfied.
He’s standing there beside her and she doesn’t love him anymore, nor does she hate him. Somehow that is a good thing, somehow that is enough. The sound of the rain is like bacon on a spring morning.
She takes the string of beads from around her wrist, grasps the one that looks like a tiny glass eye, gives the man a friendly kiss and walks back into the woods.

Chapter 11 ~ Cahya-Zhi ~ The Temple of the Analakeeha Anomaly

Shalott is in some kind of tunnel, passage way, or something. The passage changes as she moves toward the center, it seems dimmer now. She quickens the electric torches and shadows dance the walls.
She tries to ignore the scurrying shadows down the cross passages and . . . something to the right is calling her name in a deep booming voice.
Rivulets of ooze trickle down the leathery walls. There are patches that rhythmically bulge and contract like the abdomen of a breathing leviathan.
She comes to a choice between a left branch and a right. She goes left. She finds the top of a stair twisting down into the gloom. There is a wall to the right and nothing, as far as the torches can pierce, to the left.
It’s like she has been on this stair her whole life, spiraling into the abyss.
At the bottom there’s a dimly-lit room. She rests on the stairs for a moment.
The room is filled with thousands of statuettes; some human, others alien creatures. And there in the very center, a bigger-than-life statue of herself with some kind of octopus creature wrapped around her legs.
She laughs a dry and dusty laugh, devoid of any real humor. Not a pretty sound. There is a motion and to the left a heinous two-faced figurine turns to regard her. Every hair on the back of her neck stands erect as she screams.
Something is in the room with her. A shattering crash comes from across the chamber. Her eyes can not register this moving mass of.
She runs on instinct. A million hallways and an eternity later, she bursts into an egg shaped chamber. The walls rough, glistening, white stone coiling up into a ceiling that is a vast bluish lens. The chamber hums with sizzling energies from the focused beam coming through the lens.
It’s in the passageway outside the chamber. She moves further into the chamber to get away from the door.
She sees it clearly for the first time. The hideous heads come through the door and it snags, the shoulders and bulk of the beast are too big for it to fit through the entrance. It’s writhing and squirming, enlarging the opening. Several of the legs have worked through the door and the heads are whipping around. The writhing reminds her of when, as a child, she watched a snake die.
One of the spines on the heads slices through the beam and is vaporized.
Her head can not contain the sound.
She backs away, further into the chamber, toward the beam running ceiling to floor.
It will come.
She will wait, standing with her back inches from the sizzle of the focused beam.
The light in the room is shifting, becoming more intense. Somewhere up there, dawn must be breaking.
The beast is in the chamber now. First one, then the other head regards her or perhaps the beam behind her.
“Come on baby,” she coos.
It rears up.
She step backs
It hesitates.
She feels the beam on her back, “Come on.”
It leaps and they fall back into a world of exploding light, where nothing hurts anymore.

She is back in the lobby and Finton is there.

Chapter 12 ~ The Third Visit to the Temple of Broken Glass

“Hey, look Finton, I’m sorry. No. Really, I am sorry.”
She uses her foot to doodle-draw a snake in the debris of the floor, “Finton, there are so many things happening to me, happening inside me. Things I thought buried, things I thought lost.”
Finton offers her perfectly folded, monogrammed handkerchief, because for some reason she is crying. His eyes are the color of kindness.
“Finton, what’s this all about? Am I dead?”
The man tries to suppress a laugh, “Shalott, you are certainly not dead. You are perhaps more alive than you have ever been.”
“But, what is this all about?”
“As with Life, it’s about whatever you chose for it to be about.”
“OK, that’s just crap, but I get it. One thing, Finton, why are you in this rundown old movie house?”
He chortles again, “Technically, I am not from around here. This place is of your making. I must say I don’t really care for the décor, but it serves.”

She grasps a tiny silver mirror bead.

Chapter 13 ~ Salve’-deFilmo ~ The Temple of Flesh

Shalott steps out of a mirror.
She hates this place, mirrors, mirrors everywhere, and not a drop to . . .
This mirror makes her look fat.
This one makes her lips look . . . pouty .
This is one of those that bends you every which way.
In this mirror she is comparing herself to others.
In this one she is always alone.
This one says things like, “Diet, stay out of the sun, men don’t make passes at girls who wear. . .”
Shalott turns away only to confront another saying, “Start an exercise program, play sports and eat healthy food.” This one says, “Straighten up. Smile and look straight ahead. You’ll look and feel more confident,”
She tries it. It doesn’t work.
There. Did you see that? Just as she turned, she caught a glimpse. Something . . . someone is in one of the mirrors, but when she looks right at it all she can see is herself.
She turns to walk down the hall, and runs right into a mirror, thump.
She thinks about it, extends her hand, and walks back in the direction she came.
Damn. There it was again. The gypsy woman?
“OK, come out, I know you’re in here.” Her voice echoes strangely.
This twisty mirror looks like rippling water, and she can’t make out her own reflection. She says, “You can come out now. Look, all I have to do is drop the bead in my hand and I’m out of here. So?”
She turns to face another mirror with no apparent distortion. She can see her whole body. The outline on the left gets fuzzy and her great-aunt Alice’s reflection detaches from Shalott’s reflection.
She sees lines in the kind old face. She sees things she never saw before. She discovers that she loves this woman with all of her heart.
“Don’t be so hard on her.”
“Hard on who?”
“You know she is a good little girl. I can just tell about these things.”
“Alice, hey . . . look at me. Yes. Hi. Hey Alice, tell me what’s the problem.”
“I don’t care about that stupid old mirror. I never liked it. And poor little Shalott, she was so upset when it got broken. I just wanted to tell her that I loved her and I didn’t care about the . . .mirror. Dear, are you crying?” It’s as though Alice has suddenly recognized Shalott.
“Yes, mam.”
“Oh Shalott, don’t cry. There’s really no point. You know what dear, cry all you want. A good cry is what we all need from time to time.”
“Thank you mam.”
“How are you?”
“But Aunt Alice, I am a bad person.”
“Hush, now none of that.”
“But I’ve hurt people and I am so alone, and. . .”
“Honey, you aren’t alone. Try getting old, now that makes you alone.”
“But Aunt Alice . . .it was my fault.”
“Your fault? Your Dad was an asshole, and your mom was too concerned about herself.”
“Alice. I’ve never heard you talk like that.”
“High time you did then.”
“But I broke your mirror.”
“No problem. My mother-in-law gave me that awful thing. I always hated it. Why do you think it was in the attic?”
“But I blamed the doll.”
“Shalott, hon, did you think I was so stupid?”
“No, of course not . . . I am sorry.”
“Hey, I was glad you didn’t cut yourself.”
“Aunt Alice, thank you.”
“Honey, what’s the problem?”
“I am so alone. Weren’t you alone?”
“Shalott, I had you. Even when you weren’t there, I could feel you. Oh child, you were my salvation.”
“Aunt Alice. I never knew.”
“Kinda makes you wish you’d paid more attention, huh?”
“Honey you’re never alone.”
“How’s that?”
“I’m inside you little one. How can you ever be alone?”

Chapter 14 ~ Enoch-Tor ~ The Temple of the Cloud Dragons

Shalott is falling in Darkness.
How long has she been . . .? She opens her eyes and quickly snaps them shut.
There is no ground. She is in free fall with no up, no down, no anything.
Shalott throws up and finds that vomit in free fall is a real nuisance.
She curls into a fetal position for an infinite time. She is in her head. She can hear the sound of a breeze. Her heart beats in her ears.
She fiddles with the strand of beads around her wrist.
She opens her eyes and finds a vast something filling a fourth of the sky. She will call it a planet. Tries to remember a movie where this guy named a planet. It is very fuzzy and hazy thing, maybe even rounded.
Shalott decides the planet, as yet un-named, is down.
There are things, clusters of jellyfish balloon things, undulating and meandering the ocean of air all around her. Myriad clouds, debris, everything but a kite, tumbling and floating in the air around her.
She swishes her hands and feet to get a better vantage point. She decides to relax and about that time a massive clump of green streamers passes between her and the planet. There are things crawling on the air-weed, there are things swinging around it.
And then she sees it, one of the Magnificent Cloud dragons of Enoch Tor. It resembles nothing so much as a windsock she had painted for her dad when she was thirteen.
The head is a cluster of eyes and feelers. The long sensuous body snakes out for miles behind it. The body striped with that iridescent green you sometimes see on the heads of mallard ducks. The intervening stripes are a pulsating maroon. It has three major fins at 120 degree angles, near the head.
It moves, it slides, it twists all around her, but makes no move directly toward her.
She is weightless in a sky suddenly alive and the iridescent dragon comes gently to stare into her face.
There are no words.
Beauty beyond. . .
No words.

And it’s gone.

Chapter 15 ~ E’Teli-Kapus ~ The Temple of the Four Muses

Shalott is in a bar, more correctly a tavern, a pub. Across the table sits a man she has never met, a man she has known all her life. Shalott is feeling strangely mellow.
She says, “Tell me a story.”
“A story? You want a story?”
“Yes, it might help to pass the time.”
He scoops a handful of peanuts. “Oh, OK.” A portion of the beer disappears.
“Once there were four men in the desert, four turbulent and troubled men. One was named Reason, another named Magic, the third named Poetry, and the last one named Art.”
“All men, no women?”
“All right three men and a woman, named Art. That’s short for Artilina.”
Shalott makes a face.
“They were regents in their own right and owned many things of great beauty and worth, yet they were unhappy. They had come to the desert to forget the future and deny the past.
The man called Reason had concluded that he was disconnected from everything else in the universe. Magic had become dark and filled with Dark visions of pain blood and decay. Poetry had become a diseased lover, perverted beyond recognition. Art had become disfigured in a war and could no longer bring herself to think of anything except her own despair.”
Shalott says, “You’re making it up as you go along, aren’t you?”
The man continues unperturbed, “Well they traveled for seven days without incident. On the eighth day, they met a young man full in his prime.”
“What was he wearing?”
“A loin cloth.”
“You wish.”
“Hush a minute, this is my story.
Well, Magic spoke first saying in a loud voice, ‘I am death and life, how do you greet me?’ And the man replied ‘I embrace you.’
Wrathful with the man’s response, Magic grew wings and talons and attacked the man. The man ducked and slapped at the thing that attacked him. In the struggle the man lost his right eye, but finally he managed a grip on Magic’s throat. He pulled Magic up to his face and looked deep with his remaining eye into the eyes of Magic, only to find that there was nothing really there.”
“Next, Poetry came up to him and said, ‘I am your lover and your disease, how do you greet me?’
The man replied ‘I dance with you’
Poetry began the dance. It rippled and flowed in the sun and the man kept step. Often it seemed that Poetry would outreach the man, but then the man would pull from some inner oceanic soul and keep the step. The two blurred into one form. It was hard to tell one from the other. In time, Poetry gave out and fell dead on the sand. The dance had badly hurt the man such that he could barely stand.”
Art came to the man and looked up at him with fearful eyes, ‘How will you greet me?’ The man did not answer.
Art caught fire and a deep passion came over the man. He forgot his pain and tried to embrace the flame. In a frenzy he screamed, only to find he was alone with nothing but ashes in the wind.”
Reason was the only one left. The man feared Reason, but Reason approached. The man, half hobbling, ran and Reason ran after him.
Despite the man’s injuries, they ran thus for a full day and a full night. Finally, unable to run any farther, the man stopped and turned to face Reason.
‘What have you to fear,’ asked Reason, ‘For I have brought you the things that you will need.’
Reason gave the man a new mechanical eye to replace the one destroyed by Magic. Reason gave the man a new knee joint that worked almost as well as the old one, although the man still walked with a noticeable limp. Then Reason gave the man a heart-augment designed to keep his blood rich and flowing. This did not keep the man from feeling that his heart was breaking, but kept the guilt from killing him.
The man took all these things and set off to wander the world, in fact, he wanders the world even now.”

Shalott sits staring at the man in silence.

Chapter 16 ~ Amun-Srete ~ The Temple of the Antikythera Mechanism

Shalott looks around. She is in her room (actually she is in the room she used to live in before she left home).
She watches a younger version of her hesitating at the door of her room.
Today is the first day of the rest of it, the rest of her life, and she hesitates there in the door.
She says to no one in particular, “What will we do today? Will the other kids be mean? What if the bus driver forgets me? How long before anyone notices, and what could happen to me then?”
She looks about the room at all her things and considers just staying in this room for the rest of her life. Considers going into a nunnery. Considers. . .
She walks through the door to breakfast, which is not such a new thing after all.

Time swirls and a slightly older, young Shalott hesitates at the living room door. She is touching the couch like it’s her best friend, “Will I have to take a nap, because I don’t think I could just sleep. Do these pants look OK?”
She sees the photos on the wall and suddenly wants to just look at them forever.

Another point on her time line, she hesitates getting into her mom’s car, “I think I have bronchitis. Jennifer Tomlin doesn’t like me, and she will be there you know. And all those boys, I hate boys. They stink and they’re stupid. Why do girls get stupid when they talk to boys?”

She hesitates at the bathroom door and considers what the cool kids will be doing when she goes to middle school.
“Why do I have to go? They don’t teach me anything. Just a bunch of middle aged jerks. Yes, mam.”

Time swirls and she hesitates at the gym door. Her prom dress is less than she wanted and Jimmy Farthing. I mean Jimmy Farthing, really?
Still he is nice to her and he doesn’t look nearly as bad as he usually does.

She hesitates at her dorm room door. What if she hates her room mate? What if she flunks out? What if she has all these student loans that force her to work in a job she doesn’t like and stay in one place when she really wants to roam?

Time coalesces and there he stands (I mean isn’t there always one of these guys in all the stories she likes?). And he is holding something in his hand. He’s smiling one of those enigmatic smiles.
She’s not sure if she trusts him, not sure he’s actually there and then he speaks. His voice is the color of kindness. He speaks of many things in her past and it as if he has always known her.
She still doesn’t trust him, but she wants to see what he has in his hand, so she asks him to show her what is there. His eyes are warm and weathered and he steps close enough to not be threatening.
In his hand is the Antikythera Mechanism, a bronze device the size of a tea saucer and dancing across the facets are all the things that have ever been, all the things that will ever be. And it’s all so much, and it’s all so small that she can’t make out any of it and she certainly can’t see her role in all this.
She says, “I’m not asking which to choose. I’m not even asking for a shove in the right direction. What I want is some clarity. I want to know what I’m choosing between. I want to know what I’m taking with me and what I’m leaving behind in the dust.”
“Young one, you are choosing between the opposites of human existence, and you’ve been choosing all your life. Choosing whether to go or stay, whether to run or play, where to go and what to do. It has always been you choosing.”
He offers and she withdraws her hands. She says, “But some of those choices sucked and things have been broken and face it, I’ve always been stubborn.”
“Strong willed perhaps, but that’s why you never chose drugs or the easy ways that lead to true despair. And yes, you have made mistakes, but you have learned from each of them.”
She indicates he might hold the thing up for her. “Why can’t I simplify all the stuff on that stupid disk? Why are there no equations? Hell, I’d even settle for some probability studies, just something.”
“Some things can be simplified into equations and some things can’t. When you’re looking at the Total Life Equation, it must be expressed with Chaos elements if it is to be Real.”
She is distressed. “I don’t like that. It makes me afraid.”
“No one expects you to like it, but that is the definition of courage, is it not? ‘She was afraid, but she went on anyway,’ and for the most part succeeded.”
“What are my choices?”
“The same as all your life: to go into the next room or stay where you are, to let Love course your veins, or remain pure and chaste. To take a chance on hurting yourself on the thorns that grow along the path to the future, or to play it safe in your room. You know most of these choices are not always in yin/yang pairs, and the odds are you will live through most of your mistakes.”
He pauses. She can’t tell if it was just for effect. He says, “You will choose whether to remain a child or become a woman, whether you face each day as a challenge or a curse. No one can make this choice for you, but you are not alone. You will never be alone.”
The stranger places the disk in her hand, and she tries to give it back. She says, “I can’t take this; It’s much too valuable.”
“I hesitate to say this gentle one, but you must take this. Consider it an offering.”
“Where did you get it?”
His eyes grow winsome and a smile glows at the corners of his mouth. He takes off his hat and bows to her, “Time is not linear, dear one. You gave it to me when you saved me.”

Chapter 17 ~ Tahl Sheeah ~ The Temple of the Eternal Moment

Shalott returns to the lobby, but Finton cannot be found. She lays the disk shaped object on the abandoned concession stand.
She examines the last bead; a smooth shiny sphere, blacker than a black hole.
She looks away for a moment, afraid of what this bead might bring. She considers leaving before trekking to the last temple.
She heaves a sigh. Picks up the Antikythera Mechanism and notices that there is a perfect hole in it, exactly the right size for the last bead. She places the bead in the hole and it disappears.
When she looks back up, she can see intense light coming from all around the last door. It seems to permeate everything.
She grips the disk, leans against the door.

Shalott is no longer falling or walking or . . . breathing, and somehow that is OK.
She is under the Sea and though she has never seen Atlantis, she finds herself beside a perfect Atlanten pyramid in the central square.
Dim and murky, who know how long, wait a moment. Something glowing in the distance, there is another, several now. Pinpoints of light moving toward her. She saw these lights in the eyes of a man in a dream when she was a little girl. She called them fairy lights.
There is a sound, a myriad of sounds actually, not unlike an orchestra tuning up. But it’s bedlam, total discord.
The first of the fairy lights swims by her. It’s a tiny flickering fish. She watches it taking a position on the pyramid and its song locks in. In fact, as each fish assumes its position, a part of a Universal chord engages.
There is a resonance building between the structures that surround her and the square. Iridescent resonant chords folding back on themselves. Harmonic frequencies undulating and subtle, in the eddies and cross currents of temporal flux. Standing waves gelling into matrices, coalescing in concordance with the undisputable laws of an infinitely hydrodynamic Universe. Energies coalescing into stratified sheets of clarified existence. Whisps interlocking into non-linear relationships, spiraling, collapsing, self recursive fractal spirals curling and unfolding, twisting into deceptively simple vortexes of the ever opening flower of Reality.
Across the ten dimensional crystalline matrix of the hyper conductive under pinning of the Universe electric dragons of dynamic oscillation cavort, attesting the rightness of the Universal pattern templates.
And building within the chord, a single, tight, searing note rakes the darkness. Pressure building . . . building . . . building, unable to release.
Shalott screams, “What’s it for?”
A ripping.
A rending.
A shattering. It is the sound of perfect symmetries breaking. It is that thunderous instant when a kernel of God burst into everything we know!
Alive for the first time, she stands, a stardust thing still quivering in the echo.

Chapter 18 ~ The Temple of Hope (Formerly of Broken Glass)

She comes to awareness in the lobby of a brand new movie theater, huge plate glass windows in every direction. And she realizes that there are people in the theaters. Some watching comedies, some dramas, a few action-adventures.
“Hey Finton . . .” No answer.
She looks in her hand and finds the now familiar string of beads sold to her by the crone. She gingerly shoves them into her pocket.
She looks all around for Finton, can’t find him, and buys a box of popcorn and a Doctor Pepper. “Outrageous price.”
She waits, but he doesn’t come.
She gives it one last look around and walks out the door. She doesn’t see the man, a man neither tall nor short, not fat or thin, a man that you have to force yourself to look at because it is the natural tendency of your eyes to slide off this man onto anything else in the room.
He’s waving to her.

Chapter 19 ~ Return to the Ante Room of the Twelve Pathways

Shalott sees the little girl playing with her doll. The girl is kinda happy there in front of the mirror. Shalott notices that it is unbroken.
From below there comes the sweet voice of Aunt Alice
Shalott slips out of the attic.

Chapter 20 ~ Entrance on Route 9

The crone offers, her hands tremble . . . Shalott’s face softens a fraction. She asks, “Grand Aunt, what is your name?”
“Archna, you call me Archna . . .”
“Aunt Archna . . .”
“Archna. . . please call me Archna,” the crone interrupts.
“Archna, one of my friends is playing a joke on the both of us.”
The crone calms and offers the beads a third time. Shalott opens her hand. The crone places the string across the young woman’s palm. Shalott laughs with her whole body. The crone is pleased.
Shalott digs in her pocket and pulls out far too much cash.
The crone refuses at first, but Shalott insists.
Shalott climbs into her T-bird, takes one long last look around. Everything is totally electric and for the first time in years, the young woman breathes. How long has she been holding her breath?
She starts the car, shifts gears and is never seen in those parts again.

a less than perfect girl

I turn on something Baroque. Somehow techo just doesn’t seem right . . .
She says, “Well they can’t arrest you for something you only thought about doing . . . I mean they can’t take you in for just talking? Right?”
I put on some water for tea and search the cabinets for some reminiscent trace of the flax-seed cookies I bought last week.
She says, “That whole clipper chip thing that Bill Clinton wanted, it failed didn’t it? Like they would want to hear what I am saying half the time . . .,” She is examining my potted palm plant as though I had captured it against its will and forced the poor thing to live under these abominable conditions. As though free range potted palms live more exciting lives, running free in the sizzle of an unfiltered sun, dancing gently with an untamed breeze.
I consider Chinese noodles . . . She hated them the last time. Hmmmmm, maybe an appetizer of pitas with hummus? Toaster? Where is the stupid toaster?
Just before the pitas are done, she chuckles and says, “The price of freedom is vigilance. You know, I don’t really understand the relationship between unelected thought police perverts invading my privacy and the continuance of a free and democratic nation.”
I get sidetracked, wondering if the founding fathers might be pleased with our current state of affairs. The tea is ready.
She says, “I am a poet, and who can be a poet if the government is constantly second guessing your every movement? Poets dig for dirt and sing like caged birds when they find it. Poets run through the woods like wild animals but scream like babies when you catch them.”
She has a lovely, wicked smile. Her eyebrow raises (the left one).
She says, “We poets are Magic. We get it, get the beat. We dance with the constellations even when the night is overcast. Dance like snakes in silence. We bear an empathy so cancerous and hurtful and we never see ourselves for what we are.”

I watch her, watching me, watching her . . .
She says, “You, on the other hand, have not noticed the passage of time, and like Matsuo Basho, you are older now. You invited August and now complain about the chill.
The flickering candles dance her eyes. Youth has the power to swiftly pass, half the hours I have, have vanished. Pain and knowledge are a wisdom of sorts. Yet something dances in her eyes, something that has never faded.
She pilfers my best bottle of wine and digs in the drawer for a cork screw.
I cook spring onions in rain water with yellow millet. I cook with soy, sesame oil and ginger. The meat is browning nicely.
She offers me some of my own wine, saying, “Drink.”
I drain my wine-cup two times over, trying to satisfy the beast in my chest, that wants to eat the world and having that, eat the sun and moon and stars, and then . . . nasty beast.
She says, “The bright flowers have gone from the world, but they are only sleeping.”
Says, “Poetry unfolds the heart like an ever opening flower, Prose is the language of Reason and dead old men. Poetry is a language of the heart.”
I am leaning over the sink and she comes up behind me, puts her arms around me and places her nose on the back of my neck. I have never known a more awkward or deliciously intimate moment.
She says, “You know . . . I am a less than perfect girl, but that’s OK. This is a less than perfect world.”

For the Love of Virginia ~ a Christmas story

by: William C. Burns, Jr.
Susan R. Panagakos

Virginia is waking up.

“I’m in no mood for this Webster, if you have something for me,

spill it. Otherwise get out of my face!” She crawls out of her

ramshackle bed and makes her way to the coffee maker.

“Virginia, with Christmas only a week away, must you behave so?”

“Getting sensitive in your old age?”

“A situation is developing on Featherwood Road, near the old Watson

house. A hostage situation, one that promises to be a bit nasty. This

one, he is a very bad one.”

“One of your guys?”

“Oh, no. This one is quite human.”

The phone rings.

“Hello?” she answers. I can only hear her side of the conversation.

“Yes, I know. Featherwood. Its none of your business how I know. I’ll

be there in a half hour.”

I evaporate, leaving her there.


“Rotten son of a monkey’s uncle.” I grumble, looking longingly at the

steaming coffee just starting to drip. I could think of a hundred other

things to call that bogey, but I was taught to keep a civil tongue. I’ve

got to get a better grip on my overtaxed imagination. My clothes are

shocked to discover they can’t fly as I toss them off my body, they

crumple into disappointed piles on the floor. The water in the shower is

just one more shock I manage to survive. Soon I’m dressed, pressed and

ready to go . . . well, two out of three ain’t bad. I turn off the

coffee maker, pour a full cup, take a sip and I’m out of the door. I’ll

regret that nod to habit when I get back, it will mean one more dish to

wash, but I need the caffeine.

The car sputters to life like a chugging washing machine stuck in

the rinse cycle. The windshield wipers do little to help clear the oily

smear picked up from the dismal road. Dark, threatening clouds run the

sky overhead. Great, simply great, just the kind of day to have a

“situation”. My mind is running over houses, trying to remember what the

one at 1225 Featherwood Road looks like. Oh, yeah . . . modest two

story, “barn red” with white trim, front door, back door, garage access

and the occasional bush and tree. This person likes mowing lawns,

planting flowers and plowing fields. Not many places to take cover

around there. Damn.

A hostage situation, the guys will be standing around waiting for me

to show up. Calling me “old chastity belt” and other delightful

monikers. Like I need that kind of attitude. They don’t realize I

worked twice as hard to get through the academy and put up with all the

infantile macho slurs and comments the men made when I drew assignment to

their area. I scared them, a tough woman is a real threat to their egos,

but that didn’t make me feel any better when they’d make fun of me. It

really messed them all up when I was promoted ahead of them. Serves ’em


A familiar figure congeals in the seat next to me, like some sort of

double exposure effect. I hate it when he does that. Makes me feel like

I’m seeing ghosts or something and I don’t believe in ghosts.

“Wha’d’ya want now?” I demand. He turns to me, attempting to look

offended. This only succeeds in making him look silly and I allow

myself half a grin.

“Why do I have to want something?” he asks, “Perhaps I came around

just to enjoy your company?”

“Webster, you’ll turn my head,” I respond.


I have never really cared for the name Webster. She calls me that

because of the information I impart. She does not really accept my

existence, but I know she listens to me. She gets to pretend that I do

not exist and I get to spend time with her, as per my contract. Its not

a bad arrangement all told.

“Are you ready for details?” She nods making some kind of

noncommittal grumble.

“A mad man has taken a child hostage. He was driving a stolen

vehicle with two units in pursuit. He rammed the vehicle of the owner of

the house at 1225 Featherwood Road as she emerged from her driveway. The

mother was killed instantly, the daughter was protected in her child

seat. The child is now orphaned.”

“Is this kid all right?”

“The child’s name is Grace and she is safe for the moment. You must

restrain your fellow officers, lest in their zeal . . .”

“What’s so special about this child? Why are you so concerned?”

“I can only tell you that this is a very special little girl.”

“I despise it when you say things like that.”

“As well you should . . . You’ll arrive in ten minutes or so. Do

take care of yourself.” I try an effervescent, bubbling fade this time.

“I don’t need your crap. I was a plenty good officer before you came


“Nonsense Virginia, I have always been with you.”


I growl wordlessly. This demon is out to drive me absolutely crazy.

I try a casual shrug to off-set the growl, but he knows me better then

that. He chuckles, vanishing completely. Good riddance.

I arrive at Featherwood and find ambulances, police cars and every

possible vehicle with flashing lights on its roof present. I grumble at

being one of the last to arrive as I elbow myself through the throng of


“Mornin’, Ginny.” Jim Matts, the local paper’s reporter, drawls at

me, “What’s the scoop?”

“You’ll know soon’s I do, Jim.” I tell him, offering him a weary

smile, and I keep moving. I assess the situation, listening carefully

to what my people tell me and keeping a sharp eye out for movement from

within the house. I end up in a rather foolhardy stance (looking much

more casual then I feel) in front of the house, talking to the man

inside and attempting to get him to come out. I realize it isn’t going

to work when he takes a potshot at me.

“Damn!” I yelp, diving for the ground. Everyone scatters. I roll

and manage to put myself behind a tree. “Maxwell, Jensen take

position, wait for my lead and for God’s sake watch for the girl.”

They’re the best sharp shooters on the force, I trust them. I draw my

gun, not really wanting to kill the man, but what choice has he given

me? I figure this to be the only way out of this situation. I lay on

the ground, my gun firmly in both hands, and wait, watching the house.

You’d be amazed how much of this job is waiting. I have to do this

carefully. I see the curtain twitch and then the man peers out. I

shoot, once. Right on the mark, both snipers open fire. He’s down.

Without thinking, I’m first through the door, I’m always first

through the door. I find him face down in what must be the dining

room. I snap around, gun raised, responding to a sudden flicker of

motion behind me. For a long, cold moment I stare down the barrel of

my gun at a frightened girl-child.


Virginia has finished dinner and is preparing a cup of Yerba Mate.

I materialize on the far side of the table in her condo apartment. She

sets me a cup as a kind of sarcasm. Perhaps one of these days I will

drink it and shake her up a bit, but that would be a breach of our

working agreement.

I turn to gaze out her frosted window. “Are you holding up


“Me? I’m tough as nails.”

“You’ve one more thing to do.”

“Yeah?” she mumbles grouchily, “And what’s that, Webster? You

need the dead guy’s hand or something?”

“That’s disgusting, Virginia. What possible use could I have for

such a thing?”

“Look, spook, job done, case closed, the end. I interviewed the

shaken witnesses, briefed my fellow officers, and gave that gossip Jim

just enough information to keep him happy. I even wrote up all the

freak’n paperwork up. I despise paperwork.” There is a silence.

I ask, “What of the orphan?” Visibly shaken, she rummages through

the clutter on the top of her refrigerator and lights a cigarette that

she finds there. Her hands are shaking. She turns on me.

“Get out, get out of my life Webster! I never asked for you and I

sure as hell don’t need you!”

“Virginia . . .”

“SHUT UP! I don’t want to hear it!”

“Virgin . . .”

“Go away!”


Webster stands there, refusing to budge, as the memories flood my

mind. Damn that kid. Why’d she have to complicate my life? Why did she

have to remind me of Jenny? Years peal away like the outer layers of a

rotten onion and I find myself eleven again.

“Virginia!” the screaming voice of my father rang through my head,

“I told you to shut your sister up!” Jenny, all of five years old,

crying because I’d told her she wasn’t old enough to “help” in the

kitchen. I was too tired to clean up the mess she would have made.

“Why don’t you go outside and play on the swing?” I offered as an

alternative, “You can help me put the ice cream in the bowls later.”

This was an acceptable trade-off to a five year old mind.

Dad doing his best to raise us alone. I did what I could to

help. Jenny was the one who paid for the fact that neither of us had

been ready for parenting. I was making an attempt at putting some food

together, too busy and too tired to be bothered with a five year old’s

desire to be grown up. Dad was in the other room mourning mom’s

passing three years earlier with his usual disappearance into

television and a beer can. Jenny decided to prove she was a big girl

on this hot summer night and went swimming in the pond out back all by

herself. It was the last thing she ever did.

“I can’t save her.” I shake my head and try to still my shaking

hands, “I just can’t.”

“Her name is Grace.” I heard Webster’s voice break into my head,

“She’s five years old, alone and very frightened. Her chances of being

adopted are virtually nonexistent. Most couples prefer babies.”

“I don’t need this. Leave me alone.” I muttered, but my voice had

lost its punch. He’s still looking out the window, his eyes far away.

“She’s in a hospital bed, in a vast empty room, right now.” he

continues, cruelly. “I am certain they have no idea what to do with her.

No father, mother, or family, she could disappear without a trace.”

“The nurses would notice,” I insist.

“You are certain of this?”

I give him a sharp look, knowing he’d caught where my mind had gone.

He vanishes through the wall, headed in the general direction of the


“Yeah, you’d better run.” I mutter, staring into the ghostly steam

rising from the tea. Suddenly, I don’t want tea any more . . . I don’t

want much of anything right now.

“Run.” I continue talking to myself, “Is that what I’ve been doing

all this time? Running from Jenny?” A tear slides down my cheek,

followed by another.


Christmas Day and Virginia’s desk at the precinct is empty for the

first time in countless years, the ash try is cold and the coffee mugs

remain discolored. This is as it should be. That reporter… Jim

Matts, yes, that’s his name, is talking with Officer Jensen. Most

curious, they decide, the meanest woman alive adopting an orphaned girl.

Arrogance . . . Still, I forgo the pleasure of spooking them.

Perhaps it is better they not see my hand in this. They are not the only

ones deceived. Virginia is under the delusion that she has somehow saved

the girl-child, Grace, but in her act of caring she is embarking on the

path to a deeper healing. Her old spirit will brush the shadows from its

shoulders and learn to dance again. This is always the gift brought by

the young. She has saved herself.

Grace is warm, well fed and loved tonight. I savor a small taste of

her contentment, bright and amber, even at this distance. One of the few

indulgences allowed in my arrangement. I gaze out the fogged window,

finding peace in the falling snow.

Gemini Christmas

by: William C. Burns, Jr.

Christmas Eve and the sky was threatening to snow. Lester knew he

should head home but instead turned his beat up Honda civic into the

parking lot of the “Oh!-Aces!”. Lester always favored the setting of

this particular bar as often as possible. Several of the regulars

called ‘hello’ as he came through the door. So what if it was

Christmas Eve, he just didn’t feel like going home right away and there

was no one there anyway.

Three beers into the evening, Lester was none too happy with his

life. As long as memory served, he always felt something missing and

Christmas Eve had a history of making him particularly cantankerous.

Most of the time he blamed these empty feelings on his childhood in the

orphanage. Other-times he blamed them on his poverty. This particular

night he was blaming Christmas. Hadn’t the guy on the radio said this

time of the year made everyone depressed?

Looking into his sixth beer, he began to speculate that rich

people did not have this kind of problem, especially not at Christmas.

Lester spent the balance of the evening lamenting all the things never

owned and all the people never met. He was less than delighted when

the barkeep pronounced last call.

Trudging through the snow, on the way to his car, an idea struck

Lester. Why not just drive up and see how all those rich snobs spent

Christmas Eve?

The roads weren’t very good and he was none too sober at the time,

but he managed to get to Eastside, where the really enormous houses

were. The blatant display of multi-colored lights on all those fine

houses, struck him almost physically and the longer he drove, the

madder he got.

Toward midnight, Lester came upon one house that stood out from

the rest. Every straight edge of the house was aglow with lines of

tiny white lights. He drove past it, but for some reason those lights

stuck in Lester’s mind and without thinking, he turned back. Pulling

to the side of the street, he stopped the car across from the over

decorated house. He sat in silence the longest time, just staring and

thinking very heavy thoughts. On impulse, he decided move in a little

closer to those rich folks.

Inside the house in question, Stephen Wallace, of Wallace, Wallace

and Sons, was also spending Christmas Eve alone. Stephen had long

since concluded that most people tolerated him only because he was rich

enough to pay off the National Debt. He had busted his butt building

up the company inherited from his step father. He never had much luck

at relating to people, as his ex had often attested in court and

elsewhere. He oftentimes attributed this deficiency to a childhood in

the orphanage. The therapist diagnosed him as an over-achiever trying

to compensate for feelings of insecurity, loneliness and neglect by

building up vast stores of money. Stephen had noted, with a certain

smugness, the therapist had no trouble accepting payment for such

useless information.

Stephen decided to spend the evening with a pot of Earl Grey, in

front of the fire, curled up with a new Louis Lamour. Having lit the

fire, and donned his favorite smoking jacket (yes he had a smoking

jacket, paid top dollar for it), he picked up his tea tray and headed

for the living room.

Lester, his judgment more than just a bit clouded, opened the car

door. Without thinking about what he was doing, he headed across the

snow-choked street, up the short stair and across the lawn to the


Inside the house, Stephen rounded the alcove wall and happened to

look out the window at the same instant Lester looked up into the

window, and for a electrified instant each was convinced they were

seeing their own reflections in the window.

You see, Stephen and Lester were twins, separated at birth. A

common practice at the time of their adoption. It was easier to adopt

out a single child than to find homes willing to take on twins.

Lester, standing in the snow, looked up through the window and saw

his own face in a fine robe with a tea pot on a tray and a book under

his arm. Stephen saw himself in grubby clothes, standing knee deep in

snow, out in the weather. Neither could tell if he was seeing some

sort of twisted reflection of himself or someone else.

When finally it occurred to them that they were facing strangers

Stephen ran back to the alcove to grab the phone. Lester ran across

the lawn, hiding behind a hemlock. Both peeked around the edges.

Stephen wanted to call the police and Lester knew he should run, but

both men were curious and afraid. Neither knew just what to do.

Lester wanted to see if the man in the house was real while

Stephen tried to think of a way to talk to this stranger without risk.

Suddenly, a truck turned the corner and started swerving on the

icy road as the driver fought to avoid Lester’s car. In slow motion

the bulky vehicle jumped the sidewalk and raked the short brick wall

separating Stephen’s yard from the street. With a terrible screeching

of metal against stone, the truck came to rest, crashing against

Stephen’s mailbox post.

Their situation all but forgotten, both Lester and Stephen dashed

to the wrecked truck to see if they could help. Lester reached the

truck first and climbed into the cab. He pulled the man, slumped over

the wheel, into an upright position and tried desperately to remember

some of his first aid training. A tiny rivulet of blood trickled out

of the truck driver’s mouth. Lester shouted for Stephen to call 911,

and bring a flashlight and some blankets. In the pre-dawn darkness,

both men labored in tandem to keep the man alive. The paramedics told

them later their combined effort was the only thing that saved the

truck driver’s life.

As the wrecker pulled the truck from the mail post in the breaking

light of dawn, both Lester and Stephen regarded each other and smiled.

“Care go inside and put my fire to good use?” Stephen asked.

“I believe I would like that,” Lester answered.