The Whale: Part II

Ω

Once his oration was finished, the wind-up priest’s arm lowered in a second-hand staccato back to his side. A winding buzz rose from within his throat. When the buzz reached a fever-pitch he threw his toy car into gear. The car and its driver vibrated together in an high, insectile drone as the tiny contraption shot across the miniature stage. At the lip a ramp rose to meet the speedster. He catapulted off the edge, zipping on down the dark hall. Jonah stood at the empty stage, confused as to what to expect next.

“Do I follow it?” he asked out to his unseen companion.

The Levanaut’s voice rumbled down the walls that pulsed with his words, “Do keep up with him. Pontificus hates to repeat himself. Odd for one who enjoys his own voice so much, heh.”

“… Right.” He walked on after the zipping priest once the floor had settled.

Ω

He caught up with the toy car and the radio MC voices crackled out from the disproportionately large mouth. As they made their way along the hall a fleshy bas-relief mural etched its way along the left-hand wall. Images of trees, dragons, and gods wove across the surface, throbbing with unnatural, muscled animation.

“Ages have passed,” declared Pontificus,”as humanity has slept in unconscious toil, working in the phenomenal world the will of the divine. They know not their true masters or the grand design of which they are a complex instrument. Complex, but an instrument, nonetheless. As the clay shell of the physical sleeps, the metaphysical, that part made by Wötan from Chaos’ carcass, reaches out into the invisible.”

The mural shaped into a globe, its surface dotted by raised figures. As the Pontificus spoke a sun circled overhead and sank, replaced by a crescent moon. The figures over the globe lay down and tendrils sprouted out from their heads. Branches of cilia now covered the globe.

“This portion returns to the Fulcrum of Dream where it resides inside a womb to gestate, growing in complexity and understanding with each reincarnation. The seed of every human mind incubates within the dream cells where it can begin to test the latent powers of creation within. Wötan Dream-Speaker directs humanity in secret with thoughts of imagination and ambition. They return to the waking world along their umbilical tether, manufacturing the divine blueprint on the face of Gaea.”

The multitude of cilia over the globe waved as though a breeze were passing through them. A great bearded man clad in armor manifested overhead grasping a spear. His chest swelled as though to take in a great breath and he exhaled. Wind seemed to flowed through the cilia, dashing them about in its wake. They twisted into the shapes of towers and bridges, works of great architecture strobing within the tendrils. Jonah could see the distinct image of the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Pyramids of Giza.

“Through feats of cooperation and engineering, humanity was awakening itself to the Cosmos. Order manifested itself in the phenomenal and the children of Chaos seemed to have overcome their nature. With their works made physical they drew themselves closer and closer to unity within the Fulcrum once more. But, the Leviathan, she lay sleeping still at the root of the Cosmic Tree. Dark dreams, fragmented forms seeped into Yggdrasil. The Terror of Sleep rose against Wötan’s works as the tide lays ruin to a house of sand.”

The globe was raised to the ceiling by a tree that sprouted up beneath it, suspended in its branches. The bearded man reclined amongst the branches next to his charges. Beneath the tree a serpentine form twined amongst the roots. It thrashed and writhed so no coherent shape could be defined. It was only a ghastly impression. War and fire danced across the surface of the globe.

“Wötan cried out to the Godhead, “O, miserable fate! To witness the end of my works, for Chaos to reign over all! For what can be done against ruin within?” The Godhead spoke unto Wötan Dream-Father and said, “Do not despair, Brother-Son. Theirs is a temperament borne from the ignorance and impulse of children. The Chaos within must be overcome for our sibling to return.”

“Wötan answered, “How can I aid the children of my mind? What can I give to them, that would bring them closer to ascendancy?”

“‘Grant them your flesh, the far sight of your right eye. It shall be the beacon of illumination to light their path towards us.”

“So great Wötan plucked his eye from its socket and delivered it to humanity. To them he gave the gift of inner sight and understanding, that they may know the world beyond which is within. The Gift of the Gray God’s Eye was humanity’s salvation.”

From the branches of the tree the bearded man pulled his right eye out and placed it into the center of the globe. The lidless eye gazed out towards Jonah. On the globe’s surface a small number of new cilia grew from the prone figures and reached down, connecting with the eye.

“To know the greater connection, the Cosmic Order, too often spells the destruction of the dreamer as a singular. Only the select few shall retain themselves, to act as the intermediaries between humanity and the cosmos.”

Jonah stopped. The figures connected to the eye were sucked through the surface and into the eye as though consumed. Only two remained on the separate.

“Hold on, ‘select few?’ What does that mean?”

Pontificus spun around, dropping his preacher’s tenor. “Those chosen. They are called heroes, Bodhisattva, prophets… those sort. Their duty is to exist within both worlds, specialized organs within the universe that operate to guide others towards the Cosmic whole.” He glanced upward. “Some of them, anyway.”

The hallway rippled with the Levanaut’s voice, “Hey, I’m guiding, wise-guy! Who do you think made all the pictures. I am rather proud of those, heh. Look, I even made a little one of you.” An unflattering caricature of the wind-up man appeared on the bas-relief.

“Most of the selected, when awakened inside the dreaming,” continued Pontificus, unperturbed, “return to the waking world to educate others of their experience in teaching, practice, and example. Some,” He looked up again, “use their transcendence to become a complete nuisance. You know the stories of Ananzi, Loki, and Coyote? That lot is a line of incarnations that are a ceaseless bother. Mostly because there always is one. The Levanaut here is the latest of the Tricksters and by far the most obnoxious of the bunch.”

“I resent that. Loki was way worse than I am! Hah.”

“Give it time,” the wind-up priest grumbled to himself. “Anyway, while I’m on the subject, there is always a Trickster. To counter that bunch there is also always a Thunderer. They maintain the balance, raising the alarm whenever the Tricksters are causing trouble. The worse the Trickster, the more often the Thunderer shows up. It’s why humanity remembers Thor so well. The actions of the two resonate throughout the connective web, the communal dream, of humanity as a legend.”

“Who is the Thunderer now?” Jonah asked.

“Oh, you’ll meet him soon. And I’m sure he’ll have something to say about that prank with the exploding woman, too.”

Pontificus started up his car again and returned to his narration. The bas-reliefs behind him started to make rude faces in his direction. The image on the wall of the little storyteller placed a very large part of a bull’s anatomy in its mouth. Jonah stifled a laugh trying not to spoil the joke.

Ω

“Are wondering what your role is in all this, Jonah.”

“It had crossed my mind.”

“Humanity has reached a crossroads. They are becoming highly receptive to the influence of the Fulcrum. Wötan has sensed it. There are more out there like you, cognizant, lucid within their dreams. The time is quickly approaching for humanity as a whole to cross over. You will be among the first to fully cross this threshold and then return to speak of what you have experienced.”

“You mean stay in their dreams? Permanently?” The idea of never waking was not an altogether pleasant one to Jonah. Engineering lost its luster when there is nothing to build.

“In a sense. The physical world will no longer be a necessity. Human life will evolve into a new organism within the universe, one that is part and parcel to the stuff of the cosmos. You will all recognize what you actually are without the crutch of material existence. Everything gets easier when you understand that.”

Jonah was starting to get a little twisted around. He could understand how some people lost themselves to the dream. “Then what does that make you?”

“The same as you, technically,” responded Pontificus. “We are all the same, You just don’t know it yet. I am a way for your particular material-calibrated brain to cope with a cosmic concept. I am an anthropomorphization of Story.”

“Then did me perceiving you create your personality?”

The Levanaut chimed in, “No, he’s always like this. Always a know-it-all.”

Pontificus ignored the Trickster. “My personality is maintained and given continuity by the collective mind of humanity. While somewhat tailored to your specific mind, my baseline manifestation is a composite of the entire world’s ideation of the story-teller.”

Jonah thought for a moment, “Makes sense, but why a wind-up priest?”

“Apparently you never liked priests, but listened to them anyway.”

Ω

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Chapter I: The Whale

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I am about to take my last voyage, a great leap in the dark. – Thomas Hobbes

Ω

Some find cicadas to be a nuisance, to others they are a lullaby. In the thick summer twilight the insect’s droning was a comfortable hypnotism to Jonah. Their buzz had a wholesome golden candor that matched the rich bronze patina of the sky. The hum of a fading day. Jonah was secretly afraid it was also a death rattle.

Late summer was  a drowsy time. A season’s weariness had started to set in and all were steeling themselves for the impending shift to autumn. The world around was resting itself in preparation for a new phase, a new spoke on the wheel of time. It was a liminal time, a time for crossing bridges and passing through thresholds into new expanses.

The vast tracts of cornfield played a different tune, with seemingly endless stretches of genetically identical homogeny. Walking between the rows was enough to trap the mind in a labyrinth of never-ending sameness. To the corn there was no beginning or end, simply a rest and an awakening, a new season of repetition that followed the last. Jonah felt awash this sea of agriculture. The sleepy Midwest landscape had gorged itself on the inhabitants during the warm days of summer and now prepared for its winter hibernation once more.

Ω

Jonah wanted out of this slumberland in earnest. After nearly two decades trapped by austere repetition his soul ached with atrophy. Obligation, though, can be a heavier chain than steel. As another season ended, Jonah held reverie once more on the decrepit porch of his family’s house. It was a modest building set back within a small glade on their five acre property. The peeling, white paint of the home had the appearance of a reptile shedding its skin. But, rather then rejuvenated body beneath, the flaking layer revealed rot. The white posts supporting the porch’s roof had the effect of a snarling cage of teeth, creating a square, sharp-edged beast grinning out into evening light.

The sun finally surrendered to the inevitable fall from the heavens and leapt into the waiting arms of the trees. They caught it and cradled it for a heartbeat before gently laying it down below the horizon. Jonah turned from this twilight realm and retreated into the beast’s throat with a slam of the door. Only one more season to outlive. Only one more debt to pay.

Ω

The little family home was Spartan. Nothing was without a function, except for the handful of framed family pictures that littered shelves and dressers. They scattered themselves as fallen leaves do around the small living room. The tree they had broken from was a collection of portraits on the back wall that captured a couple, a hard-featured man and his plain, large wife standing in front of the little white house. A child joined them in the portrait, a complete set of humanity.

Time illustrated itself with the subtle shifts of their bodies from one image to the next. The man started as a lean, taut figure, towering over his wife and nearly breaking out of the frame. He looked carved from a dark stone, then polished by wind and grit. Later on the pictorial timeline, the weather eroded him to a wisp. When he was no longer pictured it was apparent he must have been blown away completely. She was almost unchanged until her husband vanished. With him had left the joyful smile that had lasted for years. In its place was a resolute expression of brittle stubbornness. Where her husband had been stone, she was now crafted of cracked porcelain. Their child grew from a bundle held between the two, their combined joy, into a tall, handsome young man. While the son bloomed the father wilted. With the absence of his sire, the scion stood at somber attention next to his mother.

The house behind the family transformed with them. Its countenance had twisted since beginning as a fresh, smiling building. After the father’s death it had rotted and was patched together like a sutured ghoul. By the final photo it was a monster emerging from the woods to devour the surviving family.

Jonah passed over the frozen memories without a second glance. He had walked by the images of his parents so often they had faded from notice. The past was a tether that Jonah wished to cut as badly as he wished to escape his present. Each day swam into timelessness, a simple ritual of rising and falling. His numbed existence made the world a sleepy miasma and the expectations of the future a beacon on the coast of liberation. Jonah had to repeat his votaries this last season and the Midwest would spit him out before he was digested.

He threw himself onto his sagging bed, the day’s clock punched, the embrace of sleep waiting.

Ω

The antiquated rotary phone in the house rang, its clangor echoing through the house’s halls. Jonah was in no particular hurry. It was one of two callers, neither of which were a cause for expedience. It wasn’t the bill collector, the check had been mailed already this month. He didn’t need to be reminded how much his father, though dead, still owed.

It was his mother. Her thin, soft voice carried as a breeze through the phone line. She had been institutionalized after the death of Jonah’s father and the debt had piled up. Where his body had failed, her mind had snapped under the weight of tragedy and responsibilities. Jonah had been 19 at the time, working to earn his bachelor’s in chemical engineering. Without her son or spouse, alone in a home that slowly ate away at everyone within it, her nerves snapped. Jonah’s dreams of becoming a modern Nicholas Flamel were put on hold and he returned home. His only inheritance from his parents was his father’s legacy of poor finance and ghostly whispers of loneliness from his mother half a state away. Surrounded by his family’s sorrow, sitting on the phone as confidant to his haunted mother, Jonah could feel this place trying to break him as well.

Ω

“Peter!? Is that you?”

“No, Ma, it’s Jonah.”

“Jonah, hi, baby. I’m sorry, you sounded just like your daddy.”

“I know, it’s OK, everyone says that. Even the bill collectors,” Jonah chuckled a little, making light for his own sake.

Her voice rose in worry, “They still bothering you? Didn’t you make the last payment?”

“It’s next month. Don’t worry, I got it. Once it’s paid I can sell and get back to school. Things are finally working out.” Jonah tapped on the table top half-consciously.

“I’m glad, sugar. I won’t miss that place. Too many memories. Good ones, but too many. It was a heavy place to be, you know?” His mother’s voice start to become strained, drawn. She was audibly on the verge of tears.

“Yeah, I’m pretty done with it.” Jonah needed to change the subject, fast. When she got going her outburst were difficult, at best, to manage. It usually ended with her losing her phone privileges for several weeks and immediate medication until she calmed down again. “I’m ready to get back to school and make something of myself. This place is just too small anymore. Everything all right in Eden?”

Jonah’s mother was a resident in West Gardens Clinic for the Mentally Unstable. While not the worst, you just got your money’s worth out of it. The only humor Jonah could maintain with his mother was the irony of calling the place a biblical paradise. She was too high-strung for much else.

“Oh, honey, these people are crazy. That Simon character started going on again about the aphids all over his body and some nonsense about blue flowers. Heaven above, if I didn’t call you at least once day I don’t know what I would do. It’s just nice to hear someone normal for a change.”

She only called once a week. Any more than that caused her a great deal of anxiety. The medication she was prescribed caused her to lose a sense of linear time. Until she was stable, the doctors had said, she would have to remain in a state of limbo. None of those doctors could answer when she would be stable, though.

Ω

After his mother was taken off the phone (she didn’t have phone privileges past 8:30), Jonah finally settled down for sleep. His well-worn bed heaved under his weight. It was past its prime, but suited his needs. It only needed to last another month. One more month.

His dreams where nice little place to visit. They helped to break up the monotony of his daily drudgery, fueled by the handful of history books and dusty pulps his father had left behind. To Jonah, his dreams were a passing fancy, something to occupy the mind while the body rested and no more. Though vivid and often lucid, they were still only a time of rest before the start of the next day.

At some indeterminable time, Jonah knew he was asleep. He knew the world around him was of mind and not substance. This night’s dream world was a neon gunslinger mash-up, his opponents had taken something of value from him, of which he would determine later, and he was already in the middle of the action. Within his dreams Jonah had discovered that physical action rarely worked as it does in the real world. One had to imagine the outcome of an action to accomplish it rather than try to operate his body. He knew that his body, clad in a neon hybrid of Clint Eastwood and Tron, was as much a figment of his imagination as the dream, so it operated on similar rules.

His enemies, lean banditos wearing crimson scarves and surrounded by a violet light, sat gathered at a small table within an electric cantina. The entire room was blackness except for the pointed areas illuminated by tinted lights. Green, red, and violet dominated Jonah’s vision. The banditos stepped in between the lights with a swaggering gait that distorted their bodies. They appeared to as shadows that ran along an irregular surface.

They had not finished their bizarre march from the table when they had surrounded Jonah, their number indeterminable. Jonah drew his weapon, gleaming blue steel that ignored the psychedelic surroundings. It was sharp, clear, and concrete, a hard bolt of reason. Jonah’s dream-fighting technique came into play, and he spun in a deadly arc. His arms almost appeared to leave trace images of themselves to his eye, the gun multiplying to match each opponent. He visualized the bullet impact and the strike’s effect. To keep his concentration on the strikes Jonah instinctively leapt away from the grasping hands of the banditos. If the got a hold of him it would require considerable effort to escape. Whenever action shifted in the dream a new action focus had to be determined. It was similar to when a runner goes for miles without respite, the heightened concentration does not lend itself well to shifting gears.

The banditos lay in ruin about his feet, the iron in his hand balancing the equation they had presented. Now, for the prize. Jonah could feel the call and allowed himself to flow along its trail. Such were often the direct simplicity of his dreams; an imagined obstacle to overcome and pleasurable reward at the end. This night was no different.

Ω

His dream woman sat at the table where the banditos had been moments before. She wasn’t so much a woman as a Minimalist impression of one, the correct line and implied form to conjure the image of ‘woman’ within a man’s mind. The only part that was definite was her face, the rest periphery. If Jonah could remember his thoughts at the time, he would have thought something along the lines of, so it’s one of those dreams tonight.

Her face was not strikingly beautiful, but she was to Jonah. To him, she seemed a reality and not an idealized illusion. Of course, this wasn’t true. Yes, her face had belonged to a real person, cropped and pasted onto this metaphysical simulacra. But, the face’s owner hadn’t been the woman Jonah remembered for years. The memory of her that Jonah clung to was as much an idealized falsehood as a Playboy Bunny.

He went to sit at the table. She was drinking what looked a martini-shaped neon sign. The curve of her body crossed its leg, her silhouette a demure invitation that somehow projected a confident mastery over the man who had come to share a drink with her. Her gray-blue eyes worked him over with wariness, but her smile was always soft, sad. When she looked at him it seemed that she were mourning a man already dead.

Ω

All the things to say. But none with any bearing. Whenever Jonah saw this phantom of the woman he had loved he was first struck with melancholy, then longing, regret, pangs of ‘could-have’s and ‘why-didn’t-I’s. After his emotions had run their course, he was content to let the scene play out, to give her the illusion of autonomy within the dream. The shade would act and answer as she had, or what he thought she would. A fiction, self-indulgent. Jonah knew it was wrong, cowardly, to dwell for so long on her, but he had yet to get past her leaving.

“You know, Jonah, part of forgiveness is realizing the present has no bearing upon the past.”

It was as if whoever had spoken had hit the ‘pause’ button within the dream. Even while at rest everything had a rhythmic pulsing. Now, everything was frozen in an unnatural stillness. The shade looked at Jonah still, a portrait of of subliminal mourning. Jonah looked to find the source, the intruder in his dream. He stood, pulling away from the table, gun drawn.

“Who’s there?”

The black around the table that created the appearance of a darkly lit dive was banished, as though the someone had flipped on flood lights. It was an empty white expanse, Jonah alone with the small table and the woman’s shade. Wires and neon signs hung like veins, decorating walls that didn’t exist. Jonah stared off into the distance, vainly attempting to find something across where the horizon should be.

“Turn around.”

The voice was deep, resonant, and mildly amused. It seemed to draw some pleasure from Jonah’s confusion. Jonah turned and, to his surprise, saw the dream-woman, now fully formed in flesh, wearing a red dress and stilettos. She stared at him with an intense, hungry lust, a look that had been absent from her face for so long Jonah had forgotten it even existed. She had perched herself on the table, body stretched like a jungle cat. Primal. Intent. She was at his ear, her lips barely grazing his skin.

And, in a deep, resonating, and distinctly male voice, she whispered, “Is this how you like it, cowboy?”

Jonah leapt back instantly, shaking her off of him. “What the Hell?!”

She leaned against the table, laughing maniacally in a low bass. The glee sharply written across her features twisted her face into a ugly mask. It appeared as if the face was simply worn and not part of her head at all.

“Oh, don’t be like that, Jonah! You want me, I know it.” She ran her hands along her body, pressing into her flesh. A normally erotic gesture turned into something horrific as the portions of her body that were under her hands squeezed like a tube of toothpaste, forcing her mass into odd extremities. Her lips pressed into an cartoony duck-face and she seemed to inflate.

Jonah continued to back away. “I think I’m going to… Look, I have some things to do…”

“You aren’t going anywhere, cowboy!” she bellowed. Now the size of a gorilla, the terrifyingly proportioned dream-woman went on all fours. Her mouth became gaping, slavering with a black drool. Golden blonde curls hung over tiny beetle eyes.

With a sound of trumpets she launched herself at Jonah. Instinctively he jerked up his pistol and imagined the bullet hitting the monstrosity’s flesh. The result on impact was not quite what he had envisioned. Rather than a simple hole blown through her bulk, she popped like a wet balloon. Her disembodied cackling filled Jonah’s ears. Her scattered parts rained down about him. And on him. Wiping the ichor from his eyes, Jonah saw the meat on the floor move, forming itself on the floor into a design. It was a mouth. The mouth moved in synch with the laughter that hung in the air. Eventually, it spoke to Jonah, animated like a stop-motion film.

“Ah, you should have seen the look your face made! Priceless! Dreamers are so funny looking when they get surprised. All in all, very good! For someone without any proper learning you figured out the dream basics quite well. Most can hardly understand how to affect their dreams, let alone cause directed action. You changed lights, moved objects, and maintain consciousness… to a degree.” The meat-mouth began murmuring to itself. It seemed more like someone speaking through a phone and leaning away to address someone next them.

“…onscious, but po… oor… tell hi… Well?”

The meat-mouth crawled up a wall that hadn’t been there before, but in the white expense only the table and Jonah really seemed to have any dimension. When it was head level with Jonah it began to speak to him again.

“Jonah, I am going to tell you some things about the world that are going to genuinely mess you up. You don’t really have a choice in the matter, heh, so I guess it was supposed to work out this way. Maybe I’m fixing you. I digress. I’m going to open a doorway. You are going to walk through my meat-mouth. Heh. Step in to my meat.”

The fleshy orifice drew itself up, elongating into the shape of a doorway. A vortex of torn bits spiraled within and created a hallway with no visible end.

“What if I don’t go in?” Jonah called into the hall.

“Then you don’t wake up.”

Ω

The meat was moist, pliant under Jonah’s boots. He was still dressed as a cyber-punk neon gunslinger, the LEDs on his suit lighting the path with a phosphorescent glow like a cowboy lightning-bug. The deep voice from before crackled over a hidden intercom system as Jonah continued down the hall.

“Welcome, young dreamer,” it boomed, “to your second birth! I’m am your trusty guide, the Levanaut, the rising voyager, here to take you on the trip to pry open that third eye. Psychedelics not included, but highly recommended. Heh. For your safety, do not eat any of the world around you and keep all psychic extensions of self within the hallway at all times. And don’t touch the walls, they are sensitive. Heh. Thank you!

“Our first stop is a wonderful little informative about the next plane of dreaming you are about to ascend to, the Fulcrum. Let’s watch!”

Projected from the wall on Jonah’s right was a small stage built at one-sixth scale. A little, wind-up priest riding a go-cart buzzed out onto the stage. A tinkling bell chimed. the priest raised his arm and opened a clockwork mouth that was most of his whole body:

“A reading from the Gospel according to the Demiurge. ‘And lo, the Leviathan, that writhing and wicked wife of Chaos, was cast below into the Abyss. The Godhead, Slayer of Chaos, planted over the Abyss the seed of the Cosmic Tree, of which substance is knowledge and life in focus. Great Wötan, second in power to only the Godhead, took the ruin of Chaos and made the stuff of matter with his foe. Wötan cast the corpse of Chaos into the branches of the Cosmic Tree and from this flesh the Fulcrum was made. ‘This,’ said Wötan, ‘Shall be the lodestone of my creation, the joiner, the nexus, and the True North of Heaven.’

“Wötan stood upon the Fulcrum, his greaves furrowing the flesh. His footsteps were the birth of the seas, which filled with the Blood of Chaos. Upon a stone he smote the head of Chaos. Taking up the pulp of his foe’s brain, Wötan became the Demiurge in Action. He took a part in each hand. He placed together his hands, for no favor was given under the kind eye of the Demiurge, right or left. On his open palm stood the splinters of Chaos’ mind, man and woman.

“The Godhead did then speak unto Wötan, ‘Demiurge, take these, the children of thine enemy’s mind and thy own hand, and give them life outside the Fulcrum. Still they are too unformed, too much creatures of Chaos, to not cause strife in this place. Let them gestate until matured and can rejoin us. Until then, they shall be blind, deaf, and dumb.”

“So Wötan made pots of clay and placed the children of his hands inside. He placed them in the bosom of his sister-wife Gaea, who serves as both cradle and nursemaid. The children wait within the clay for the time of their full awakening, for now content with the childish fancies of the nursery.”

Jonas had the awful realization that he didn’t have his gun to shoot himself with.

Ω

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Prologue: The First Trick

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Ω

Blaring sound cut through the threshold. It ripped open the insulating wall between consciousness and the security of sleep. Morning. The time for waking and working had arrived, as punctual as it was oppressive. The dreamer was torn from the womb and reborn into the cold, demanding world of schedule, appointment, and expectation.

Ω

Alex Osterman hated going to his job. He hated riding the metro, he hated when he had to take a cab, or, even worse, trudge through the morass of early morning foot traffic to get there. His job was no better than the journey there. It was monotonous. The entire building must have been dedicated towards creating one contradictory memo after the other to pass down the line of brain-numbed employees. There were so many redundancies that it was only by the marvel of modern capitalism that the company even existed. All it seemed to do was reorganize its own paper refuse. Alex hated it. Already this week he had received thirteen different iterations of the same notice from his supervisor

with a follow-up note dictating he forward the notice to his own direct subordinate and so on.

Today was no different. They were never different.

Well, maybe today was the same, but with a dash more misery than usual. Alex overslept, as he was wont to do. Why hurry to something you hate? He missed his metro circuit because he overslept. He then couldn’t get a cab as there was a traffic jam outside the metro that he couldn’t take because he had overslept and missed his circuit. With shoulders slumped in resignation, Alex began the twenty minute walk through the noisy, crowded downtown. At least he would be late to work.

Ω

The office wasn’t a sanctuary from the trials of the morning commute. Rather, it was another stinky layer further down the onion of life, riper than the one before. Danté hadn’t mentioned boredom as a sphere of Hell, but Alex thought he really should have. He tried to pass his time in his office layer of stinky, onion-Hell by day dreaming. Unfortunately for Alex, staplers and stacks of notarized spreadsheets make for poor inspiration. Beyond his little cubicle was a sea of fellow uninspired drones who were somehow content to reading the same memo thirteen times a week. Alex probably hated them more than his walk to work. It was close, that’s for sure. He was certain that they were some sub-race of humanity, grey and mottled, that fed off others’ free-will to sustain themselves and their repetitive memos. He was certain that this is why he had been hired, to be the victim of their parasitism. There’s no other explanation as to why he could only imagine spreadsheets while at work.

Mind you, the office really wasn’t that terrible of a place. Alex had been working at Champion Mutual for almost seven years now. The most taxing action of his day was to raise a rubber stamp and deny someone’s insurance claim. Thump. All in red. ‘DENIED.’ He had full corporate dental and health insurance, he only worked from nine to five with weekends off, and, unlike most places in America, had three weeks paid vacation a year. Thump. It was just so damn boring. Thump.

What Alex’s mind craved was adventure. His body certainly didn’t. He was stricken by poor bowl control (or so he thought), hemorrhoids (again, hypochondria), and he couldn’t recall the last time he had actually broken a sweat. If he tried anything daring he had no doubt that it would end with him lying on the floor in a pile of his own filth, cramping up terribly. Instead, he settled for imagining the greater life that he knew his job was cheating him of when not occupied by spreadsheets or the thump of his rubber stamp. This wanderlust had nothing to do with the 21 weeks of paid vacation he had on stand-by.

Ω

Late yet again. One would almost think he was doing it on purpose. Alex had to slink into his cubicle like a dog with its tail between its legs. The apathetic eyes of his co-workers bore into him with a paradoxically judgmental viciousness. Unless things were out of the ordinary, nothing registered to them. Too bad for Alex Osterman that he was out of their ordinary. As much as he tried to blend into this gray place he always felt that he couldn’t quite match their shade of indifferent subjugation. In reality, by trying so hard to avoid being noticed he ended up attracting more attention to himself.

“You’re late. This is becoming a habit, Osterman.”

Don. The Supervisor.

He perched on Alex’s cubicle like a vulture at the gallows. He always knew he was going to find some satisfaction by waiting at that spot.

“Yes, sir. I missed the metro and then had to walk. Traffic was jammed as well, so I couldn’t get a cab.”

“This is becoming a habit, Osterman. Didn’t you get the memo, Osterman? We need to all be a team, and a team has to be made of members with productive habits. Showing up late is a counter-productive habit. Work on this habit, Osterman. Or I’ll cut you from the team.”

Don seemed particularly pleased with that last bit. He had obviously been waiting for Alex to show up so just he could try it out. Don was worse than the cruel boy with a Red Rider waiting for birds at the feeder. Like all his lot, the cowardly, predatory type, he instinctively knew how to pick out the weakest link in a chain and exploit it. Don was the malicious imp in charge of his little sphere of Hell and he made a point to remind Alex of that fact.

“Yes sir. It won’t happen again, I promise.” Osterman chewed the inside of his cheek, hoping that Don felt he had made his point.

Alex hated Don more than the morning commute. He hated the way Don over-emphasized ‘productive.‘ It was probably the longest word Don knew.

The day continued along this trend of tediously worse with each progressive second. Stale donuts, no coffee in the machine, out-of-order bathrooms. As tempting as leathery Boston cream donuts are without mouth-scalding coffee to wash them down, Alex knew he couldn’t risk any food until the bathrooms were up and running again. Today was going to be another hungry day until lunch, so long as that fat cow, Suzanna from marketing, didn’t steal his sandwich again. For some unfathomable reason she seemed to think her name was spelled ‘ALEX.’ Come noon, Suzanna had surprisingly not eaten his tuna salad. Don took that honor.

Fortunately, it was Friday. Oh, yes, by the heavenly host, it was Friday! While all the other employees twittered about their weekend plans, Alex counted the passing hours until the best part of his week. His delirium from starvation helped wash time past him. Only one obstacle remained before the freedom of the weekend. He was in the middle of imagining a perfectly bland spreadsheet detailing the additive cost of walrus care with a three-year payment plan when-

“Hey, Alex! Anything exciting this weekend?”

It was Dave. A man who felt it was his duty to be everyone’s friend. Were anyone to be described as embodying Facebook, it was Dave. He remembered every photograph, every quote, and always knew the latest office gossip. Bluntly, he was a busy-body. Though good intentioned, the verbose mass was still another demon in Alex’s Hell. He was broad, balding, and mustached. Alex was sure that Dave grew the mustache in an effort to compensate for his receding hairline. It somehow kept a tight grip on his face even though Dave tugged at it when stressed, which was often. The poor bastard looked under constant internal pressure, as if someone had jammed the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man into a high school wrestling coach’s too-small skin.

“Hi, David. No, I will be staying at home, I think.”

“Alex, call me Dave, we’ve known each other too damn long. C’mon, me and the boys are going to BW3′s after we punch the clock. Come with us!”

Alex shifted uncomfortably in his chair, his imaginary hemorrhoids burning again.

“No, David, I’d rather not.”

Alex turned his chair around and hoped that Dave would just walk away. He never did. This ritual acted itself out every Friday. Alex hated it almost as much as Don. At least it only happened once a week.

“It’s not like you’re doing anything! You need to get out, dude, or you’re going to miss the best years of your life holed up with your cats!” Dave leaned forward and smacked Alex on the back. Osterman thought he was far too old to be saying ‘dude’ seriously. “Live a little!”

“I don’t have any cats.” Alex said the same thing. Every Friday.

“Even better! Grab a brew with us, for once.”

“No, David, I really shouldn’t.” He could have brought a script and simply read from it. By the third ‘no’ Dave usually got the hint and relented. Today, unfortunately, was unusual.

“If you don’t get yourself out there more you’re never gonna get some action. When was the last time you had a good lay?” Dave was now uncomfortably close to Alex’s face. He winked slyly at the last part, as if going to the bars to find a hook-up was some great secret. The smell of sardines was palpable. Alex figured it would take several beers before anyone would go near Dave, let alone sleep with him.

“No, David, I do not drink. It affects my sleep cycle.”

“Fine, suit yourself! More for me, I guess,” Dave tossed back as a he waddled down the cubicle aisle. He really didn’t need more.

At last, the final bell tolled. The journey home was always a blur. Alex never remembered the rush as he sped from the office. He gathered himself into his jacket and was out the door. Free! People were insignificant shapes. Time lost meaning. The trip was more like falling than walking or riding. There was a gravity to his resting place that simply drew him in like a magnet. He could have found his bed from across the globe with pinpoint accuracy. Alex Osterman did not live as other men do.

Ω

While his job may seem awful to him, the environment droll and the people grating, Alex really didn’t care all that much. His waking life was hardly a reality. Rather, in a topsy-turvy manner, Alex lived a fulfilling life within himself worlds of imagination while dreaming of a boring little man who thinks about spreadsheets and fears soiling himself. He was Alex without fault and a little more. Stronger, fitter, dressed like a science-fiction Shiva, this avatar bore little resemblance to the runt in the waking world. Alex dreamed himself perfect.

 levanaut5

It was difficult for Alex to know which memories were awake or dreams. The dreams were far more vibrant, colorful, and alive than his memories of the world he would leave behind. On the weekends, without work to attend to, Alex would stay in his dream. He fought with blue man-apes on Venus one day, visited the black bones of sand-whales whose skeletons sang their last words as the wind blew through them another. It was his little vacation home inside his mind. So detailed was his imagination that everything was fabricated down to the molecular level. Over the decades he had built wonders that stretched out into the horizons, a world populated by fragments of his own mind. It was a world with a permanence and consequence that rivaled the physical. His creation was certainly more alive than the co-workers of the waking life. It always seemed to grow and change while they grayed and wilted with each passing day.

It was while on a stroll through the surreal outback of hovering quicksilver lakes and cyclopean clock-towers on either Saturday or Sunday (time was a silly thing here), when Alex felt something that was not supposed to be. This place wasn’t the waking world. Things that Alex didn’t know about weren’t here. Yet, there it was. Something he didn’t know about. He could feel a presence, like when motes of dust are disturbed by the wind. Something external was affecting his dream. It was now a matter of following the disturbance to its source.

It was a door. Not an elegant door, like his own. Alex had exquisite taste in architecture. No, this door was hard edges, coarse steel and bands of iron, with a carved, rude-looking troll sitting atop its frame. Two ovalesque arches crossed over each other to form the doorway in a strange, Gothic peak. The portal tugged at his mind, as if there were a hook in his brain. A completely new sensation overtook Osterman. He had to follow this beckoning thread that drew him through this passage.

So, Alex opened the door. He didn’t twist a knob or push or pull. He simply opened it. Surprisingly, the other side was not the desolate outback or a drifting puddle of airborne mercury. Rather, it led into what appeared to be a crayon drawing of a room. Poorly controlled lines and angles from another dimension of non-Euclidean geometry jutted about to construct the furnishings and the walls. The effect was a of seven-year-old child’s attempt at drawing their grandmother’s living room in a nauseous pastel that twisted the edges of sanity.

“Oh, what the Hell.” Alex, for all his adventures in his own dreams, could not really fathom what he saw before him. “What is this, Elmo’s World?” He stepped forward into the pastel room. Where his foot made contact with the ground his own substance appeared to overlay, replacing the spastic material with meticulous, detailed order. Earth tones and a organic matter flowed out from the footprints and the outback followed in his wake. He could feel his world still, connected to it by a psychic umbilicus. A spasming creature (it was apparently a creature, though only eyes and a mouth were identifiable) sat in what appeared to be a rocking chair. It spouted quotes from the Price is Right and Wheel of Fortune between garbled, sing-song gibberish set to the tune of “Yellow Submarine.”

“Is there anyone here?” Alex called, both into the room and to himself.

“What’d you do to my wall!?” A strange caricature of Burt Reynolds in a Superman outfit burst from a stray squiggle and ran to the doorway that had opened. He examined the damage in simultaneous horror and confusion. Clearly, Super-Burt didn’t have many visitors.

“It was like that when I came in.”

“Oh. Then, who let you in?” He hadn’t decided whether to bring his unexpected guest some tea like a good host or show him the door. The door was such a new thing, though, that the Bizarro/Gator-hybrid was still trying to factor it into the equation.

“The door was open.”

“Oh. Wait. What?” Super-Burt started tugging at his mustache in confusion. That’s when Alex recognized him.

“You are David, yes?” Where-ever Alex touched shifted the world, matching the material of Alex’s own dreams. Color and form spread as dye through water in a dark bloom. Blobs of liquid metal began to condense in the air. Alex wandered into the room, tracing his finger along its walls, studying his surroundings like a pacing tiger.

“My friends call me ‘Dave.’”

“Very well.”

“You want a beer?” Dave had evidently decided that a beer was more appropriate than tea.

Osterman couldn’t help but smile at this. “You know I don’t drink, ‘Dave.’ It affects my sleep schedule.”

“Alex?” The fear crept into Dave’s tightening voice. “What are you doing here?”

“I found a door. I went through it, and here I am.” Alex was still probing the Dave’s room. He placed his hand on what appeared to be a lamp. It refined in his grasp from a mauve atrocity to a concrete, violet light, a strange juxtaposition of reality within the abstract world. “This is an odd little world you have made for yourself, Dave. Pretty imaginative, if I do say so, I never really pegged you as the artistic type.”

Alex turned around from a particularly intense interpretation of a wall-socket back to Dave, who was occupying himself by running on a green and red treadmill. Hanging in front of the machine was an image of a bank robber gang running in place. They wore the cliché black and white stripes with a domino mask, guns and dollar sign bags in each hand. Alex couldn’t help but chuckle.

“That seems like your stride,” he said aloud.

Dave, suddenly remembering that there was someone else present, hopped off the machine and over to Alex. “Who are you?”

It dawned upon Alex that perhaps Dave was not aware in his dream-state. While most dreamers are not aware of the dreaming around them, Alex was completely lucid, to the degree of forming memory and sequence. Dave, obviously, had the memory of a goldfish here. This realization opened all sorts of possibilities.

“Why, Dave, it’s me, your friend! Did you forget me already?” Alex twisted his face into as genuine a smile as he could. The effect was a disturbing, Oni-mask of fictitious emotion, but Dave apparently didn’t have the sophistication to tell the difference. “I was just about to tell you all about our day at work.”

Alex wrapped his arm over Dave’s shoulder. At his touch, Dave’s substance boiled and reduced. He yelped and twisted in pain beneath the arm.

“Listen, Dave, I’d really like it if you didn’t talk to Alex any more. We are friends, Dave, but, you and Alex, you aren’t friends.”  Alex touch continued to cause Dave’s body to react in a caustic manner, while the substance that composed Osterman’s dreaming spread like an infection. “If you keep bothering Alex at work, I’ll have to come back and pay you another visit. I really think you should leave Alex alone, Dave, and take a breath-mint every once in a while. You stink of rotten fish.”

“I… I… D-don’t understand!” Dave sputtered. He was shrinking like a burning candle, the bloated, grotesque superhuman-physique withering into a child hiding behind a mustache. The loose Superman costume became a snare of red and blue. Teeth fell from the mustache like hailstones. He dropped away from Alex to the floor and pitifully tried to crawl away in a panic.

Alex watched in fascination at his victim. “No. But I think I am beginning to.”

“Stop! I’ll do whatever you want! Please, just STOP IT!” Dave spat out between falling enamel. He was a small pile of jumbled squiggles and shrieks by now.

Alex leaned in close, his darkening countenance pulled tight to his skull. The hand that stuck to his chest pulled into him, adding to his mass. His normally lean appearance took a sharper quality that drew his face into daggers. Dave tried to crawl away, but Alex bore down, hawk-like upon him Fingers blackened and tapered out to talons as Alex placed his hand around the cartoon neck. From that point of contact, the substance of Alex flowed outward. The whole world convulsed. A smile split his face.

“I think this is going to be a beautiful friendship, Dave.”

Ω

On Monday, Dave didn’t come in to work. No one knew why. Don swore up and down the cubicle aisles, screaming to no one in particular that if Dave didn’t answer his phone like a “team player” then he was was going to be “cut.” Don made quite a show of it.

On Wednesday, Dave returned to work. He didn’t talk to anyone, enough to let everyone know something was amiss. A haunted exhaustion seemed to pervade him as though an imp sat on his back, wearing him down. Don didn’t even reprimand him. The office was silent.

On Friday, Dave didn’t ask Alex if he wanted to get a beer. Alex glanced up as he passed.  Like a startled hippo, Dave broke into an unexpectedly quick dash. His bulk sent papers flying in his wake and Dave was gone before they settled to the floor. Alex smiled and returned to daydreaming about spreadsheets.

Ω

Alex sat in meditation within his outback and probed outward. As he had before he searched for the pathways he had felt, the same threads he had tapped to enter the mind of Dave. He reached beyond the edges of his tangible dream-world. He could feel them, those outside his mind. Though beyond his scope of vision they had a pull, a gravity that affected his mind. He had never felt them before but now these bodies were as obvious as the moon, pulling upon the tides of his dream. Osterman was a child who realized for the first time the the stars were more than simple lights in the sky. This discovery left him with a desire, a need the had to be quenched.

Hunger.

He hungered for what was outside of his little world, this new frontier beyond himself. He was awakened to the weaving orbits of substance outside his consciousness that connected him to the greater worlds around him. He wanted those worlds. He wanted the unknown. Finally, the adventure his bored mind had craved.  Now, it was a simple matter of reaching out… and… grasping.

He found it. He brought it to himself.

Before Alex rose massive door, one that dwarfed the previous passage into Dave’s mind. It materialized from seemingly nothing, but Osterman knew that there is really no such thing as nothing. It was composed of the everything that surrounded him. Cavernous overhanging arches swept skyward, as if to support the vault of heaven itself. It appeared to be crafted from a pearly alabaster, traced with flawless weaving patterns of jade. it was composed of single, great pieces without seam or mortar. This door was his exit. Alex stood from his repose, the triumph written upon his features. He walked to the passageway, the sweeping angles and intersecting archways beckoning him forward.

He was mere steps from the portcullis when it opened of its own volition. The substance tore from the center like a caesarian and a golden light blew through the aperture, blasting away the Alex’s world. There was only a vast blankness.

Ω

His first thought was that he was. Simple, but the fact that he existed was something. Better something than nothing, after all. Next, there was the sensation of company. It could only be described as the feeling when a stranger sits down beside you in a car with your eyes closed. You knew they were there without seeing them. But, when someone sits down next to you with your eyes closed, you’re bound to open them. At first, the vision was overwhelming, too much information too fast. The light was painfully loud in its cross-sensational intensity. Rampant energy slowly coalesced into a rational aspect of firmament. The being, the other, stood well over eight feet tall, with sweeping robes of a deep, royal blue floating about him. It appeared to be male as it wore a silver beard that hung past its armored chest-piece. Intricate patterns and knots decorated the plate visible beneath the rich cloth. Sun-discs, swastikas, and triquetra wove across the surface of golden armor. The bracers on his forearms were detailed by the gaping mouths of dragons. He held a spear with a ten-foot shaft of ebony, tipped with a head styled after ancient Roman lances. A corona encircled his time-worn face, a blazing star of divinity. On each shoulder perched a raven, both the size of a full-grown dog. Placing the butt of the spear on the same plane as his feet, the grey giant leaned on it like a walking cane to peer down at the new-comer. His single eye was a vivid pool of cerulean that at once saw him and beyond. He smiled down with the warmth of a father greeting a lost son.

“I am Wötan, the Demiurge. Welcome to the Fulcrum.”

Wötan2

Ω

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