Episode 18, the final episode from Must Not Sleep, a new novel which takes place in shamanic space, a realm of shapeshifting and trance. Check out episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17. A free download of Michael Brownstein reading from the novel is available on Podiobooks.com.
A fire was blazing in the handsome stone fireplace. As we approached it, I noticed that our bodies cast no shadows along the floor.
Trailing after us, Dick said, "I owe both of you an apology. I never should have sent those goons to her apartment. They can't seem to search a place without ripping it apart."
"What were they looking for?" I asked idly, glancing around the cabin until I spotted a hooded figure in an orange jumpsuit slumped over next to the bed. One of his wrists was manacled to the bed frame. Dick's lariat lay uncoiled beside him on the floor.
"You, of course. Nobody crosses me and gets away with it. They were under orders to bring you back alive. I wanted to cut you open and hang your carcass from the rafters. Then I came to my senses. Where else was I going to find that healing light you embody so effortlessly? Because you're right, my heart's getting worse in spite of what the White House doctors say. They keep telling me not to worry, but they're interested parties, to put it mildly. They won't divulge what they really think, much less announce it to the nation. I mean, can you imagine? The Dow Jones would drop like a brick if it ever got out that Butch might be left alone behind the wheel…"
All the time he was talking, Georgia couldn't take her eyes off the figure slumped over on the floor. Finally she cried, "What are you doing to that poor soul?"
Before Dick could stop her, she rushed to his side and, bending down, removed the hood. A long dark beard popped out over the front of the jumpsuit and in a stupor Osama, his eyes hollow and glassy, his skin white as chalk, gasped for air.
"What has that monster done to you?" she asked.
"You're calling me a monster?" Dick thundered. "What does that make him?"
He winked at me.
"Just having a little fun with the wicked ingrate. He's my own personal enemy combatant. I'm holding him incommunicado indefinitely and without charges. I got fed up with his insufferable posturing. Thinks he's better than everyone else but I showed him a thing or two. Besides, it gets kinda boring out here in the desert. There's not much to do. The vice-president's in an undisclosed location, you know. In case the peace marches turn violent."
Pushing Georgia aside, he lunged toward the orange jumpsuit and slapped Osama on the side of the head.
"Don't let him charm you, dollface. I know you're a mark for anything in long pants but this one's off limits. He's slated for the guillotine as soon as we've squeezed every last drop of information out of his ornery hide. If it weren't for a certain prima donna research scientist who keeps claiming he's on the verge of producing the truth serum to end all truth serums, this infernal turkey would have been cooked a long time ago. And besides, his presence here is top secret. Nobody's ever gonna know that we've captured him. Searching for Osama is a key part of the war on terror. And the war on terror goes on forever, right?"
Holding Osama's limp body in her arms, Georgia stroked his hair and said, "No matter what he's done, he's a human being. The worse you treat him, the worse you yourself will be treated in the future. What goes around comes around."
Dick snorted. "My little girl's a philosopher now. Wonders never cease."
"Your little girl?"
She leaped to her feet screaming, "You have the nerve to call yourself my father? You loathesome bastard! I was all of six years old but that didn't stop you from violating me, did it?"
Sprouting razor-sharp fangs and six long arms, wearing a necklace of shrunken skulls, bright red Kali appeared in all her fearful splendor, coal-black hair cascading down her back to the floor. She pumped herself up until she stood at eye level with Dick. Seizing him by the lapels of his cowboy shirt, she rammed her forehead into his — once, twice, three times — until his face was streaked with blood. Then she wrapped her arms around his body like a spider crushing its prey to death. His terrified squeals were lost in the roar erupting from her maw.
"Wait," I said as I struggled to separate them. "If you kill him he's lost forever. No matter what he's done."
Furious, she relaxed her grip and stepped away, her features gradually softening and shrinking, melting back into Georgia's. Hyperventilating, clutching his chest, Dick collapsed onto the floor beside Osama.
I held her close. "It's our challenge to heal him — to heal both of them — for the sake of all the beings in the world whose lives are being wasted. He's not your father unless you get stuck in that story."
I bent over and dabbed at the blood congealing on Dick's face with the sleeve of my white shirt.
"You'll be all right," I said comfortingly. "She's here to help you. She just got carried away. Tangled up in one of the few remaining shreds of her past."
"But, Isaac, he hurt my mother and brother, not only me. That must be acknowledged. And not just for our sakes. God knows what he did to his so-called official' family, whether or not they were aware of it. I mean, maybe on the surface he was the good father and all, but can you imagine what went on below the conscious level? Deep down where the monsters live? And the alien thing. The extraterrestrials. What about that? You keep warning me about innocent people who are being turned into unfeeling entities. How many of them are out there wandering around? A thousand? Ten thousand? Several million? He has to be held accountable."
Immediately Dick's demeanor changed. Struggling to his feet, he took a few deep breaths and said acidly, "Aliens? What aliens? I never told you shit, baby boy. What kind of baseless rumors are you spreading now?"
"Please," I said, "no more lying."
He looked at me and smiled.
"OK. So she knows–or thinks she knows. Tell the world for all I care. They'll just laugh in your face. Whatever either of you say will only be taken as a further sign of your mental instability. I mean, look at you…A pair of sex-crazed nobodies…"
Turning to her, he said in a hushed voice, "The fact is, I tried my best to do right by you and your brother. And your mother as well."
He winced. "She was no picnic, believe me. Can you imagine, making my way in the world with an alcoholic albatross draped around my neck? In those days — the position I was in, the image I had to uphold — abandoning one's wife was out of the question. No wonder I got testy. And not only that, I had a lot on my plate. I was juggling more identities than you can conceive of. Two, three, four, a hundred Dicks, what's the difference? After all, consider the irony of the situation. Here we were, masters of the universe when our advance party first touched down on this godforsaken planet and yet, in order to fulfill my role as an active link, I had to conform to the cockeyed moral constraints of fundamentalist America. Talk about a double bind! Because I come from a locus outside the karmic loop, where earthly fixations about the consequences of one's actions simply don't apply. Love means nothing to us. We just don't get it. That's the main reason I'm having so much trouble with my ticker. We all are, those of us who've already incarnated down here. And it wasn't easy, either. Sort of like what you call cloning only infinitely trickier. We pulled it off, though. Human speech, human bodies, we finally got all that down. But feelings, they're another matter entirely. For us, the heart's a mechanism that pumps blood, no more and no less."
"Exactly," I said. "You're here now, living among us — where the consequences of your actions do apply — and yet you refuse to open your heart. You want to have it both ways but it won't work. You'll end up writhing in a ditch alone, clutching your chest and listening to your own death rattle. No matter how evolved you think you are are, that doesn't sound much like the fate of a master of the universe to me."
He stiffened and said disdainfully, "Who do you think youre talking to? Our sense of time is much more spacious than yours. We've been observing you from afar for what you call centuries. Centuries and centuries. And we're not the only ones. You're the laughing stock of the entire universe. From one end to the other entities are scrambling to get their hooks into you. They're incredulous when they look down and see you hopeless addicts fouling your own nest, destroying the ground on which you stand, blithely ignoring the laws of existence. They're hovering outside the gates of perception at this very moment, salivating in their eagerness to move in and take over. But we're one step ahead of the competition because we're the only ones who've been able to incarnate down here, even if imperfectly. Biding our time, waiting for the right moment. Waiting until a large enough percentage of humanity has taken leave of its senses, until you've brought yourselves to the edge of extinction. How else explain your mushrooming political and emotional polarization? Your rampant suspicion verging on out and out paranoia? You're so lost already that you can't see us making our moves. No matter how outrageous, no matter how blatant."
His lips creased into the facsimile of a smile. "Well, let's just say that maybe there was a conspiracy and maybe not. Maybe a rocket hit the Pentagon and maybe not. But whatever took place that day, believe we had a hand in it."
He gestured dismissively toward the figure in the orange jumpsuit slumped over beside the bed.
"Even if fanatics trained and financed by that clown did in fact board those airplanes, how could such an event have taken place? It never ceases to amaze us that you humans have lost track of the simple fact that you're all one, you're all related. Nationalism has been a disaster for you. Nowhere else in the universe have a planet's inhabitants reached a comparable stage of development while dragging such atavistic baggage along with them."
He cleared his throat and sighed.
"I don't mean to sound like I'm pulling rank on you. We see what's going on here so clearly because we've been there and done that. We had our own problems, our own disasters, our own shortsightedness. Nowhere near as primitive as yours but just as devastating. Our planet also got trashed because of greed and stupidity. We experienced the folly of self-interest firsthand. Although we were much more advanced technologically than you. We possessed the hardware necessary to lift off and get out. And not only the hardware. Because travel over vast distances of space and time is impossible without first de-materializing. So we had to leave our bodies behind while we searched the universe for a planet with the necesssary conditions for us to come together again. Don't think we didn't miss having bodies after wandering endlessly as nothing more than spirits! How impatient we are for you to finally get it over with and wipe yourselves out so we can move in. We want to have sex and have babies, we want to feel what it's like again being children and adults, growing old. We want to feel the ground under our feet. Feel the pull of gravity. Jump in a lake and feel the shock of the cold water, swim to the other side and back, climb up onto the shore winded and shivering. We want to wake up next to someone in the morning. We're sick of being weightless, we're sick of being alone…"
"But I don't understand," Georgia said. "You had a family –more than one, apparently — you made business deals and got involved in politics and were even elected vice-president. Weren't you embodied then?"
"I'm speaking for all my brothers and sisters still waiting in hyperspace, not just me. As I told you, I'm a scout. An advance man. Only a few of us were chosen to incarnate ahead of time, prepare the way for the rest. We won't risk incarnating on a mass scale until the situation's perfectly ripe. But it's actually been quite a strain on me. Juggling all these conflicting identities, especially this absurd vice-presidential mask I was instructed to wear. My leaders wanted one of us placed in the government of the world's greatest empire. Little did they realize how mindless the situation is down here. It's running itself into the ground without our help. But I'm stuck here. They won't let me leave."
He gazed at us with an expression of weary superiority, a closet Napoleon worn out by the weight of his grandiose self-image. And then he said, "I'm tired now. My chest hurts. I want a glass of water."
His voice breaking, he added, "I want to go home now."
My mind went blank and suddenly I saw it.
Of course! Why didn't I understand before?
"Go on, little one," I said softly, capturing his glance. "You can tell us. You're safe with us, you know that. We're your friends. Go on. Say it…"
Blinking away tears, he said in a tiny, frightened voice, "I want my Mommy."
Osama groaned and stared blearily around the room. Muttering in Arabic, he tugged at the handcuffs on his left wrist and then collapsed again. Georgia ran into the kitchen and returned with a glass of water. Lifting his head, she carefully tilted it to his lips.
"Don't I get any?" Dick demanded.
I placed my hands on his shoulders and turned his torso until he faced me.
"You're thirsty for a lot more than water. Forget about one-upmanship, it won't serve you any longer. We have work to do. And for that to be successful, you need to cut the crap and start looking inside."
I removed his eyeglasses and tossed them to the floor.
Then, holding my breath, I plunged my tongue deep inside his mouth. Soon we fell onto the bed and were embracing, his initial physical rigidity and shock giving way to abandon.
"Never in my wildest dreams," he kept repeating as I gagged from the putrid stench enveloping me.
"We're just greasing the wheels now," I finally gasped. "If you want your heart to heal, you have to cooperate. Unconditional love means loving everyone without exception. That includes Osama. So listen up: Georgia and I are walking out of here right now and never coming back unless you tell us where the keys to those handcuffs are."
He pointed to the mantle over the fireplace.
Georgia freed Osama and pulled his inert body toward the fire.
I noticed two fat white candles burning on the mantle and carried them to the center of the room. Placing them on the floor, I blew out all the other candles and kerosene lamps throughout the cabin. Then I untied my medicine bundle and took out a long, narrow quartz crystal.
Peering into it for a moment, I said to Dick, "Lie down between the candles and close your eyes. While we're working you need to be completely receptive. Like an empty vessel waiting to be filled. Let go of your bullshit mind with its bullshit stories and its bullshit rationalizations and its bullshit judgments. Let go of your fear. Otherwise healing won't happen for you."
I took some sage out of the medicine bundle and lit it, waving the pungent smoke along his body.
I smudged Georgia and Osama as well and then moved around the cabin, purifying the space of negativity, allowing the spirits to enter.
Kneeling beside Dick, I said, "A new day is coming. Have the courage to welcome it. Open yourself to the Mother. She walks with a rose rather than a sword…Let her embrace you…"
Eyes unfocused, I sang, "Grandmother, I see you sitting in the South. You are sacred and you are looking at me. I pray to you, pray to you…"
I sang the same invocation for each of the other directions as well as for the sky, for the Earth, and for my heart.
While I was singing, Georgia unzipped the orange jumpsuit and lay Osama's naked, bruised body on a big Navajo blanket in front of the fire. Pulling a plastic bottle out of her hip pocket, she poured scented oil into her hands, rubbed them together, and began to massage him. Semi-conscious, his eyes closed, soon he was moaning with pleasure.
"How long has it been, you poor thing?" she said. "How many arid lifetimes have gone by since you let the Goddess minister to you?"
I opened Dick's shirt, exposing his chest.
"Now's the time. You have the capacity to love. Otherwise you'd be unable to feel its opposite. Do you understand? Let go of all the patterns and programs that have been running you like a toy. Don't be afraid of the emptiness that's underneath them but embrace it. That emptiness is your greatest ally."
I stared one-pointedly at his chest. It peeled away to reveal a black hole out of which rose acrid fumes smelling of petroleum. As I continued looking into his heart, one image after another floated to the surface.
I saw him as a teenage boy, frozen out of his mother's affection, his mouth already set in a crooked line. I saw him younger, five or six years of age. He stood in a cramped little kitchen while she coldly informed him that she had never wanted to be pregnant with him. She told him that her dreams of escape were thwarted by his existence. I saw him as an infant alone in a dark room, his tiny hands curled tight as he cried.
And then I saw the moment of his conception. His father sloppy drunk, forcing himself on his mother, ignoring her cries of protest, slapping her into submission and them climbing on top of her. While they labored in a narrow, stifling room, cheap thin curtains hung motionless over the window beside the bed. Outside I could hear voices shouting and arguing and then the siren of a firetruck as it powered by.
"Not to harm but to heal," I said. "Not to menace but to mend."
Bending over him until my mouth touched his chest I started sucking out the garbage trapped in his heart. The cold was so intense that the skin around the hole froze to my lips. I sucked one image after another into my throat and then sat up and spat them into space. Choking and coughing, I sprayed the room with my spittle. I sucked and sucked until, long into the silent desert night, finally nothing remained.
Sitting up then, I called on the sun-faced being inside me to show himself. I asked him to fill my lungs with golden light.
"I AM the Cosmic Christ," I said.
The cabin glowed as I bent over Dick and blew warm rays of sunlight into his heart. As I continued to blow, feeling the light pour out of me, he gradually became younger and younger, transformed from a bloated old man to a slim boy in his late teens. His thick head of hair was like spun gold. His eyes were bright and clear, full of anticipation. His chest rose and fell as, smiling effortlessly, he inhaled the sweet new air.
"Give me a hug," I said.
He sat up and we embraced. His breath smelled fresh and clean.
"Get up," I said. "Take my hand. Let's go outside."
"Wait, I want to wear something comfortable."
He undressed, throwing the black shirt, stiff jeans and lizard skin boots into the fire, then walked over to a wooden wardrobe in the corner. Pulling out a t-shirt and old, faded jeans, he said, "And look–I even found a pair of sandals. I haven't had sandals on my feet in years!"
As the sky over the high desert brightened into dawn, we ran through the sagebrush. Unarmored at last, released from his demons, Dick laughed, stopping now and then to take me in his arms. His face, the skin glowing and unlined, his full, sensuous lips, his agile body — there was no trace of the dark, manipulative entity who, hours before, had surrendered himself to be healed.
At one point we stood watching the long, broad valley come alive with morning light. Dozens of antelope bounded across the horizon while nearby the air filled with a rich tapestry of birdsong. High overhead a bald eagle circled lazily. And in the distance, the faint but relentless hammering of the oil wells.
He grimaced and said, "I'm getting it now. Invading Iraq is insane. Militarizing the planet is insane. Runaway capitalism is insane. We have to find a way to live in harmony with life. We have to come up with a form of energy that doesn't destroy everything. This world is perfect as it is. It's so very beautiful. How could we even think of bleeding it dry?"
Then he added self-consciously, "You know, I wish I could join the peace march. Do you think it's still going on? Of course, I'd have to wear a disguise. Because once we leave this sacred place I'll be an active link again, waiting for my orders from above. I'll be forced to impersonate the vice-president again, won't I? That poor sick man making his dreary moves. I'll grow old and infirm again."
Why not tell him?
"No, Dick, you won't. Belief creates experience and you're finished believing you're an extraterrestrial. You're finished believing you're the Vice-President of the United States of America. You're awake now. Those were stories you told yourself out of fear and estrangement. Stories to keep you asleep so you wouldn't have to face the fact that all those years you were something infinitely sadder than an alien. You were the man with a frozen heart."
He gave me a dubious half-smile. "Are you saying the aliens don't exist? Then I don't exist."
"But then you don't exist either, Isaac. Because let's be honest. No secrets betweeen us, OK? I know how you survived being buried alive. It wasn't the coyotes who dug you up and licked your face, that's for sure."
That half-smile again.
"Don't laugh at me, Dick, because the joke's on you. We came through a major healing for you last night but you can lose it all. You can revert to being who you were before. Is that what you want? It's your choice. As for the aliens, it takes two to tango. They're real in the same way that military base in the middle of the desert is real. Heart-stopping extraterrestrials, pitiless killers armed to the teeth, they both exist as a result of a scheming, paranoid mindset. The moment we transcend that fear-based garbage, they fade away into nothing."
Holding his glance, I said, "So it's up to you. You're free to join us in waking up from the American dream. Join us in living a life of no last names. No separation. No private property. Be playful with the time you have left on this planet, Dick. Otherwise who's kidding whom?"
He embraced me and pulled away, his eyes glittering with tears.
"I'll try. Goddamnit, I'll try. I'm not promising anything, though. Because there's no way I can escape their surveillance. You have no idea. They're all over the map. In every nook and cranny. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about. I'll have to get their permission first and that won't be easy. Although of course it's certainly within their power. All they have to do is come up with another entity to take my place. He'll look like Dick, walk like Dick, talk like Dick. Nobody will be able to tell the difference because there is none. My replacement and I are the same. From here to eternity. A seamless transition. A perfect fit."
I groaned. "You keep forgetting. Everything's up to you. Why can't you see that?"
"But you don't get it, Isaac."
"No, you don't get it."
We strolled past ancient juniper and pinyon trees, their trunks spiralling upward out of the desert sand like strands of DNA. As the sun rose in the sky, cold early morning air lost itself in the gathering heat of the day and we made our way back to the cabin.
A big fire was burning in the stone fireplace.
"Hello," I called out.
"We're in here…"
We found Georgia and Osama naked in the bathroom, their beaming faces reflected in the mirror over the sink as she stood on a stool and finished shaving off the towering man's beard.
"I had to use a kitchen knife at first because we couldn't find any scissors. You can't imagine how much hair I've taken off."
"My onion has the great idea," Osama said in heavily accented English.
"My onion?" Dick repeated.
"That's what he calls me," she said affectionately. "He's been trying out his English on me. He knows more than he lets on."
Soon he was bending over the sink, splashing his clean-shaven face with cold water.
"Mmmm…Good. My skin is great," he exclaimed.
"That's another word he likes. Great. Everything is great."
"My legs are great," he pronounced meticulously, the accent gone. "My penis is great. My belly is great. My chest is great. My face is great. My hair is great."
"Allah is great," Dick interjected, and we all laughed.
"Yes, this is true. Allah is great."
Embracing Georgia, Osama added, "My onion is great. Her breasts are great. Her heart is very great."
We were giggling as we left the bathroom.
A fresh white light pervaded the cabin. Everything I laid my eyes on sparkled. The crisp, pungent smell of ozone was in the air as I approached the fire and peered into the flames. I saw the spirit of this landscape–a blue deer with large, intricate antlers–staring back at me.
"He doesn't want to wear his robe and turban anymore, Dick," Georgia said. "Do you have anything he could put on?"
"Sure." He pointed at the wardrobe in the corner. "I don't know what'll fit him, though."
Georgia opened the wardrobe doors. Soon she emerged with a pair of canary yellow Burmuda shorts and an orange and blue Denver Broncos jersey with a big number 8 on its back and, above that, the name PEOPLES in block letters.
"What about these, Osama? Everything else looked way too small for you."
He climbed into the shorts, which kept sliding off his rail-thin hips. Then he donned the football jersey.
"Cool," Dick said. "He's ready to play."
"Play!" Osama shouted.
He turned to Georgia, who was slipping back into her clothes, a diaphonous white long-sleeved blouse and white linen drawstring pants.
"With you I will play," he said, his dark eyes gleaming as he reached for her embrace. "The rest of my life. Let's go to the beach. Let's party! Please. It will be great."
Laughing, she took a step away from him.
"Yes, Osama, but not with me. There's someone else out there waiting for you. Isaac and I have to leave now. But our paths will cross again, don't worry."
As he deflated, sagging toward the floor, Dick rushed to his side.
"Yes," I said. "The two of you have some fences to mend. Forgive each other. Be gentle and loving. The Goddess will be nearby. She's always present. All you have to do is acknowledge her."
Georgia and I walked outside into brilliant morning light.
The two black horses looked up as we passed and she paused to stroke their noses.
"Cold and wet."
The sun warmed us as we made our way along the dry riverbed past two huge old cottonwood trees I hadn't noticed before, their narrow, silvery leaves shivering in the wind.
As soon as we left the riverbed, turning away from the line of distant mountains, the bald eagle appeared out of nowhere, his white face hovering directly in front of us, his yellow eyes blazing.
I bent down and touched the braid of red yarn tied around my left ankle. "Take us to Mexico," I said. "A little town two hours outside of Oaxaca. It's called–"
"It's called San Miguel de Tulucan," Georgia interrupted.
A wave of panic swept through me when I turned and saw her blank stare.
"How could you know that?"
"Where Quetzalcoatl is waiting," she continued, the black and white lines of a bar code flashing on her forehead. "To carry us up another octave. Right, baby boy?"
"But Georgia, I don't understand. I–"
The rustling sound of the eagles's huge wings beating in mid-air exploded in my ears, stopping all thought. I bent down and touched the braid again.
"What a kick in the head," I said, my voice strong and confident now. "Let's go."
Image by bucklava, courtesy of Creative Commons license.