Two people are invariably connected, but will they ever know it?
|Author's note: Please see my "Story Visual Aids" folder for images relevant to this novella.|
This story is preceded by its original, fuller synopsis (exceeds length permitted for static items)...
A young man obsessed with history struggles with psychic perceptions and memories of drug addiction. A woman whose life is characterized by tragedy finds hope where she least expects it. Their lives are invariably connected, but will they ever know it? A mythical but modern story, exploring aspects of Mayan cosmology.
by Darrell T. Smith
"Myths are clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life."
A simple, beautiful word with perhaps more connotations and significance than any other. It is an ancient Hindu word meaning origin of the world, world of illusion and simply enough, illusion. It can be found in the classic Mahabharata text as a reference to a wandering band of navigators and as the name of an admired figure who was an astronomer, astrologer, magician and architect.
In Sanskrit, Maya is used to mean magic, measure, mind, mother and great.
The mother of the Buddha was named Maya.
In Greek mythology, the mother of Hermes was called Maia, who was one of the seven Pleiades sisters and the brightest star in that constellation.
The Roman goddess of Spring, also called Maia, inspired the name for our month of May.
An Egyptian word for universal world order is Mayet. In the tomb of the boy-king Tutankhamen, whose treasurer was named Maya, there is an artistic depiction of a winged serpent with human legs. This same figure was worshipped in ancient Central America and southern Mexico, the only place in the ancient world where the Coca plant and its derivative cocaine could be found; yet this substance has been discovered in the nasal cavities of Egyptian mummies.
The Mayan people of Mesoamerica derive their name from Mayab, which designates the main area of Mayan activity, the Yucatan peninsula. Hopi, as in the name of a certain group of North American indians, was their word for illumination.
The word has been in use all over the world throughout history, yet a single source is uncertain. It has often been used to distinguish illusion from reality; but likewise, indicates the rift between them.
White light...then, warm darkness with long sleep and dreams of white light...
When Syd Barris was five years old, he found a kitten that his parents decided to let him keep. They asked him what he wanted to name the kitten and he said he didn't know yet, but that it would have to be something special. His mother bought him a book of names, and every now and then they would read names together at his request. For almost two years, everyone just called him Kitty, as Syd remained decidedly indecisive. Finally, on the morning of his seventh birthday, by which time Kitty had grown very fat and mellow, Syd announced to his parents that Kitty's name was Humphrey. His father was a little amused at the choice, but his mother found herself intrigued. She had known before the book of names, which included the meaning of names but which part had not been read to her son, that Humphrey was a name of Germanic origin, meaning giant and peaceful. She smiled to herself and let it remain a charming mystery.
A few weeks later, Humphrey managed to push open the screen door and run out into the street where he was immediately hit by a small truck. Syd's dad had been doing some yard work out front and looked up and around when he heard his son cry out, who'd seen it happen from behind the screen door. His mother turned him and held him as he cried, and the driver got out to apologize to his dad.
Then a bizarre thing happened...the ice cream man drove by playing that carefree, happy melody during this, the only horrifying experience of his childhood. The music echoed in his mind for the rest of the day. He would remember it as feeling like years of being made fun of compressed in a single moment.
Another few weeks passed, and Syd's parents were mildly surprised when he agreed without hesitation to the idea of a new Kitty. They brought one home from an animal shelter that was two years old, the age Humphrey would have been, and with a butterscotch coat. Syd and his mom read more from the book of names together. On that very first night with his new friend he named him Barnabas, a Hebrew name which means of prophecy and encouragement; but no one, including Syd's mother, was aware of that or would have taken note if they had known it.
One Sunday afternoon in 1962, that same year, Syd was playing with Barnabas in the hallway when the cat suddenly and anxiously followed the sound of a bird's chirping into his father's home office, and Syd followed him in. He saw the cat leaning up with his forepaws on the windowsill, silently moving his jaws and frantically watching the bird outside. Syd had never been in the room before and looked up to discover, on shelves not seen when passing in the hallway, a great collection of National Geographic magazines. Distracted from Barnabas, he pulled one out at random.
A new fascination was born as he looked at every photograph on every page of almost every magazine. He wished he could understand all the words that told the stories of the photographs they surrounded. People from past and present, strange and exotic animals and landscapes and structures, all over the world. As time went on and his reading skills developed, so did his interest in these wonders of the universe. His father would die many years later, and his own collection would start precisely at the month where his dad's left off, and stand in their own bookshelves opposite those which included paperback and hardcover books detailing many of the things overwhelming him now and countless more: supernovas, monoliths, giant craters, minke whales, beautiful and multicolored jellyfish, emperor penguins, Guatemalan jungles, Honduran coral reefs, Sumerian hieroglyphics, underwater spiders, Gothic architecture, Antarctic ice shelves, exquisite Peruvian tapestries, the bee hummingbird (the world's smallest bird, with the height of two pennies), New Zealand waterfalls and others in unnamed places, the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Great Wall of China, the giant underwater stairway off the Japanese coast, Australian aboriginal cave art, Moroccan music festivals, baby elephants, a praying mantis, infinite flowers of sharp and vivid colors, tropical fish, desert dunes, colossal Buddhist statues, the sun over the Giza pyramids, the moon over Stonehenge, maps of the stars, maps of the ocean floor, maps of the world as it appeared hundreds or thousands of years ago...all these things, all these people and places were real, and they had his imagination soaring. At one point, he was compelled to flip back to one of the waterfall photos and experienced his first deja vu.
The last image he saw that day as his mother called him out to dinner was of a limestone carving of a large-nosed man lying back in a mass of indeterminable shapes and looking up at the stars and sky. Young Syd was particularly attracted to this image because it reminded him of lying in the back yard on clear nights with his mom and dad looking up at the same thing.
Every once in a while, Syd's mom would wave over the ice cream man when he came down their street. His love of fudgesicles and sno-cones always overrode the unclear trepidation he felt near the driver. Syd was old enough to understand that the man had simply driven by with horrible timing the day Humphrey died, and that he didn't even know what had happened or how the music coming from his van had affected the situation, but his feelings cautioned him nonetheless. Eventually he began to sense that the man had become aware of his caution, bordering on fear, whenever he came by.
Syd's was one of the faces that had become familiar to the ice cream man, and he wondered why the boy had been acting so strange toward him lately. He also wondered why it was bothering him so much. After all, they were the ones waving him over to the curb. Otherwise, he just would have driven by to the next wide-eyed kids running out of their houses. He was always nice to both the kids and their parents, and when he said "Hi! How 'ya doin'?" he sincerely wanted to know how they were. A child's opinion of him had simply never occured to him, as he had few family members left in his life, none of whom were children. It would continue to perplex him everytime he saw the boy.
One day when Syd was stepping back in the house with a popsicle, he said to his mother, "The ice cream man is bad." She remembered Humphrey, and understood the association he was making. Nevertheless, she explained that he was just a man doing his job, and that he didn't mean to make him feel bad; but she also let him know that no feelings were right or wrong. Gradually her words sank into his burgeoning rationale. After all, his parents were right about almost everything.
Syd was one of the smartest students in his class, but in his junior year he discovered marijuana. By graduation, his intellectual curiosity was sharper than ever, though his thinking became more and more scattered throughout the following summer.
It was early one Saturday evening in 1973, two weeks before college life officially began, and Syd was about to take his first liquid acid trip. He was with his girlfriend Aubrey, his best friend Griffin, Griffin's girl Jamie, and fifteen or so other mutual friends. Mutual, that is, to all but Syd and Aubrey. There were a few they hadn't met yet, including a very low-key guy older than the rest with large, dark sunglasses and a permanent smile who was always stoned. All present would be tripping except one, in case anything went wrong. That person would be the one to deal with the X factor...cops, park rangers, gas station attendants...anyone not on drugs. That person would be in charge, so to speak, if need be. That person was the guy in the sunglasses. Griffin knew him and although not having said much about him, assured Syd he was cool. He had asked the guy earlier in the day if he would be willing to babysit some friends on a trip, some of which were first-timers and, agreeing instantly, word spread and the smiling stoner was thereafter known as The Babysitter.
They were at an old, abandoned barn, close to a public middle school, and they had just dropped. One entire wall of the barn, part of another wall, and most of the roof were gone. Weathered wood lay strewn in the tall grass. Between the barn and a mailbox near the road, there was a big, empty space where a house should have been, but there was no sign that a house had ever existed there at all.
The Babysitter climbed a fence behind the school's playground, trailing a long extension cord behind him, and plugged it in an outlet in one of the walls. He returned and began setting up a film projector inside the barn, preparing to present a slide show he'd put together which was to be shown on the partial wall, before which six of the bunch sat facing.
While everyone waited for the acid to kick in, someone lit a joint and passed it around.
"The wise see action and knowledge as one: they see truly."
--Sri Krishna, from Bhagavad-Gita
Yvonne Lockhart left her man Lee when she was forced to realize that the only thing she wanted was exactly what he didn't want, a child. It was the most difficult decision she'd ever made, but it couldn't happen any other way. She had to do it now, while she knew he'd be gone for at least the rest of the day. Never physically abusive, Lee was precisely what she had sought subconsciously...a male figure in her life with her father's characteristics...someone who was demanding, self-righteous, and said "I love you" a lot at inappropriate times and with ulterior motives.
One night when she was thirteen, her mother didn't come home. She just disappeared. Yvonne spent all of her teen years wondering what happened to her. Never a clue as to whether she'd been in a fatal accident, or kidnapped, or murdered, or if she'd even left her and her father for unimaginable reasons...which was almost more painful to consider than the other possibilities. Her parents had seemed genuinely in love, even though her dad tended to be domineering and put a real effort into trying to make people feel inferior for disagreeing with or disobeying him...those people usually being Yvonne or her mother. Yet, he often told them he loved them and however twisted the context, he truly meant it.
By fifteen, her father had become completely reclusive, depending on an old friend for food and other needs. He seemed not to care about anything anymore, and Yvonne even felt that he resented her in ways she couldn't understand. His eyes were always tired and red and his cheeks were becoming sunken. Still yet, he managed to say "I love you."
By nineteen her father died of heart failure. She had spent six years watching him fade away, and realized that all the while it had been what he wanted. After the funeral, she had to convince her family to let her walk home alone. She needed to walk alone. Halfway there, she fell to her knees on a street corner and broke down. She was crying hysterically and people looked at her like she was crazy...then the next thing she knew, Lee was helping her up. He saw a strong, good-looking girl with an afro and runny makeup washed down her cheeks, who needed someone to tell her everything would be alright. He hugged her...for fully ten minutes she cried as the two strangers held each other. Eventually the crying turned to embarrassed laughter, when finally she pushed lightly away from him. She saw a strong, good-looking, bald young man with worry in his eyes, and that he wanted to hurt whoever had made her feel this way.
He had lived all over California, and came here to Anytown, Arizona to live with a friend after he'd got in trouble with the law. His association with the Black Panthers had ended when they shunned him for involving himself and therefore their name in too many fights, most of which he had started. It seemed he loved the fight more than the cause they were fighting for.
A few weeks after Yvonne moved in with them, the friend was gone...disappeared just like her mother, but Lee was certain he'd been murdered by some nasty people who'd been looking for him, and he remained silent about his certainty even as he moved them into a new place without giving her reason for the rush. It was about this time he started telling Yvonne he loved her, and shortly thereafter raising his voice to her, and trying to make her feel inferior, and she fell into the familiarity of it all.
Just a few days ago during sex, he told her to call him daddy. As far as he was concerned, it wasn't an entirely unusual thing to say; but to her it was ugly, and it was the very first time she consciously wished for him to become a memory. She wouldn't have sex again for three years after, but in that time she would have the most vivid and erotic dreams of her life.
She had found herself adversely swayed by his politics...though her skin was black and she wanted change, she didn't want to become the anger-motivated temporal reactionary that he was. She could foresee the inevitable worthlessness of fighting fire with fire, and had to believe that people couldn't be generalized, despite the racism she'd endured. But that was just it...she saw racism coming from both sides, saw the ignorance that bore it and nurtured it, saw it all as if looking back from some future time and could only hope that the fire Lee was fanning would just burn itself out. She had as much pride as anyone though, and that's what allowed her to fall under Lee's six-year spell...but all things in this world come to an end. She was leaving.
Looking down at her feet as the front door slammed shut behind her, she noticed a crack in the pavement, out of which sprung a single blade of grass. It was exactly the sign she needed. When all hope seems lost, life begins anew. As she started walking down the sidewalk, her gaze moved slowly upward, and with every step, so did her spirits. In fact, by the time she got to the corner restaurant and sat down to a most welcome lone lunch, she knew for the first time since her mother sang to her as a little girl what pure happiness felt like. She smiled out the window and said out loud, "It's the end of the beginning."
Kris Kelvin: "When is take-off?"
Ground Control: "You're already off."
--Andrei Tarkovsky, from "Solaris"
As the last light of the sun crept away in retreat, the rising dope smoke made the sky a purple haze. Syd and Aubrey were lying on a mass of blankets with two other couples inside the barn, but the two of them were the only ones looking up where a roof once was at the sky and stars, so they were the only ones who didn't notice when The Babysitter knelt in front of his audience and snapped a Polaroid of them. Not everyone would be watching the film...a few people were wandering around out in the grass; there was a couple making out in a van, and another doing the same in the school's playground. There was a guy sitting next to The Babysitter holding a twelve-string guitar in his lap.
Syd had been silent for a little while. Aubrey kissed his ear and said, "Do you feel it?" He did, but he didn't know he did until she asked. He became aware of how accute his senses of both sight and sound were becoming. In reply, he turned to smile and kiss her back. Everyone present would remember this night as being typical of the time for people their age, everyone but Syd.
The projector flicked on. A square of light with rounded edges appeared on what remained of the wall in front of them. Syd and Aubrey sat up cross-legged as the others on the floor with them did. The slide show began, and the guitar player ushered in the moment with the opening chord of a Classical piece by Handel. The initial image was of a rising red sun, rising on the decaying grey wall of the barn behind which they'd just seen the real sun set. Syd heard Aubrey say "Wow," and it sounded like a recording of her voice played at a slower speed. A psychedelic phantasmagoria of images then poured off the screen as The Babysitter began filtering the slides through an oil which superimposed a kaleidoscopic fluidity on the otherwise crude-looking shifts of imagery.
As the film and the music went on...
Yvonne was being driven down a dusty road in the passenger seat of her friend Shauna's car. Some years back, she had suspected Shauna of fooling around with Lee behind her back. Although she confessed to wanting to, it had never happened, and the last thing either of them could have guessed did happen...they became friends. Now, at Shauna's invitation, Yvonne would stay with her as long as she needed to, as Lee was oblivious to her whereabouts. It was humid and the wind was producing strong gusts, but they were both enjoying the feel of it through the windows.
About a mile and a half ahead of the police station they'd just passed was a small house surrounded by ludicrously overgrown grass. It was the only house in the immediate area, and dark inside as the owner was away. Its driveway curved around the side into the back, where several car parts, tires and tools were scattered about. Near enough to all this, an armadillo moved in the grass and scared away a squirrel who, leaping off the edge of the back porch, knocked over a can of gasoline. The cap not being securely tightened, it poured out into the grass behind the house.
Yvonne took the last drag and flicked her cigarette out the window, aiming over the roof of the car at the road, but the wind took it to the lengthening puddle creeping around the side of the house.
Not long after, a cop driving the opposite direction saw first the smoke and then the flames, and he pulled over at the curb. He radioed for another unit, who confirmed and notified the fire department.
Two cops standing outside the station, just as they received word about the house down the street, looked up to see the smoke rise and follow the wind's random direction behind the upward light emanating from the building they stood in front of. They rushed to one of the cars, started it and headed out when both of them squinted and furrowed their brows and one said, "That doesn't just smell like fire...you smell that?" He did, replying, "Oh you gotta be kiddin' me."
The cop at the house could hear alarms approaching as he kicked in the weak front door. "Is anybody here?" he yelled. Calling out again and again, a quick but thorough search proved the house to be entirely clear. The alarms grew loud outside, then went off as he heard the voices of the other officers out front...one of whom was saying that growing marijuana just a mile and a half from a police station was both the dumbest and boldest thing you could do.
He was standing in the sole bedroom, shocked by evidence of something much, much worse than growing pot which he saw scattered on the floor and on a table across from the bed. They were Polaroids taken by a child pornographer. His lips tightened in anger. The other officers emerged to find him red-faced and trying not to cry.
There had been no sexual assault. The pictures had been taken and then he was gone. The only thing any of the children were aware of was a headache on a particular morning and a vague memory of a bad dream involving a stranger and flashes of light that came from his hands. The owner of that lone house would be charged with breaking and entering, poisoning (drugging) and intent to sell child pornography, and consequently be sent to prison where several of his inmates would beat him to death in the showers.
Yvonne would never know that she was the one responsible, however inadvertently. Had she known, she would have initially wanted to beat the man to a bloody pulp herself before the others had a chance to. Had she known, it might even have alleviated some of her own pain related to the disappearance of her mother. But had she known, she wouldn't have been able to deal with the guilt of being even part of the cause of another human being's death, even one such as he who karma would have found some other way; and her life would have taken a course it wasn't meant to take.
She and Shauna drove out of the early evening on into the night, and into her new life.
"You are what you do. A man is defined by his actions...not by his memories."
During the "experimental film", as Griffin had called the slide show, Syd and Aubrey were pressing their palms and wrists together while watching, sliding them up and down, and it would later in life be remembered as one of his most erotic experiences.
The guitar continued to play as did the pictures ahead: the sun, the Earth, the moon, a panoramic view of ocean waves breaking over rocks, a close-up of the lighting of a match, an explosion, a mushroom cloud, a desert wasteland, the division of cells, a human embryo, flowers, trees, birds, a busy wasp nest, ants carrying food in single file down the hole in their hill, a very old black albino man sitting on a front porch smiling and waving, an expressionless middle-aged man in a suit getting into a car, a young man on a motorcycle, a teenage boy on a bicycle, a young boy on a tricycle, Buster Keaton on a unicycle, a midget clown dancing with kids and passing out balloons, astronauts bouncing in slow motion on the moon, a silhouette of two people kissing in a window, writhing worms, footprints in snow, an Olympic torch-bearer running, a hooded executioner raising an axe, a caterpillar, then a butterfly, a baby, then an airplane pilot, Narcissus seeing his reflection in water, a Rennaissance fresco of Adam and Eve...
Then the images began to follow a more obvious theme. Syd saw the Egyptian pyramids, the Mesoamerican pyramids, the Baalbek monoliths in Lebanon, Stonehenge and Woodhenge, Notre Dame Cathedral, Easter Island, the Sphynx, an aerial view of the Nazca lines in Peru, the underground terra-cotta soldiers of China. On and on they went, images of either or both advanced knowledge and the remains of ancient civilizations.
Syd was enthralled and consumed by it, and it struck a nerve when he saw a picture he hadn't seen or thought of since he was seven years old...the limestone man with the large nose looking up at the stars and sky. It was a side view, his feet on the left, his head and hands in the upper right. This time, he discerned new details he couldn't have appreciated back then. It looked like the man was sitting or lying in some sort of machine. His foot was on a pedal, his hand was steering something, and there appeared to be a kind of breathing apparatus attached to his nose.
The image after that was the last...it was of the present audience, the Polaroid taken just before the show began. The Babysitter had slipped it in at the end of his film, just to sort of freak everybody out and maybe get a laugh. As soon as it was seen, Jamie pointed ahead, gasped and said, "Whoa! Grif, check it out!" They were all sitting there in the picture, waiting for the film to begin. Aubrey was mostly hidden behind someone, but beside her Syd could be seen. He was lying back on his elbows looking up. Jaime was about to speak again, but Griffin finished her thought, saying that Syd was sitting in the same position as, and roughly in proportion to the man in the previous image, and that both were watching the sky.
A little while later, when it was virtually impossible to hold a conversation that made sense and the acid had everyone laughing, Aubrey excitedly suggested they all go over to the playground. They did, along with the guitar player; but Syd stayed behind talking to The Babysitter, who was calling the stone-carved, big-nosed stargazer an "ancient astronaut." He was rolling himself another joint. Syd was all too open to the idea of discussing alternate views of history, no matter how blurred the line between fact and theory might become, but because of his present state he was doing more listening than talking.
The Babysitter was saying to Syd, "You know anything about the Mayans?"
"Some...but I mix up the historic cultures of the west. I've mainly been getting into Egyptian and Greek history, and mythology."
"Well...most recently, there were the Aztec and Inca empires...at least before the Spanish invaded, killing many if not most and stealing their gold, all in the name of Christianity. The earliest people we can trace them back to were the Zapotecs, the Toltecs and the Olmecs. Between the two eras, in the first Christian millenium, were the Maya. Like the Egyptians and the Sumerians long before them, they were a primitive people who seem to have abruptly come into possession of knowledge far ahead of their own time. I mean, to go from running about with wooden spears and bone-tools where your major concern in life is 'Can I eat it?' or 'Will this break?' to reading, writing, painting, architectural and geometric design, accurately charting the movements of stars and planets, and even understanding Pi. In each case, there just wasn't time for any of that to have evolved. It was suddenly just..." he snapped his fingers, "...there. But just as puzzling as the sudden appearance of their high culture was it's equally sudden disappearance in the ninth century A.D."
He could tell Syd was specifically interested in the image of the stargazer that had provoked the conversation, and he returned to it. "That's Pacal Votan, from a picture taken of the lid of his sarcophagus. He was a king revered as a god, whose Egyptian-style pyramid tomb was unique in that part of the world at the time. It was discovered in 1947. Strange year...that was also the year of the UFO crash in Roswell, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Tesla's Philadelphia Experiment, Yeager's breaking the sound barrier and...what else? Israel becoming a nation? Maybe that was the next year. Anyway, Pacal Votan founded the Mayan 'capitol' of Palenque, and according to some of the writing that's been translated, or deciphered, as it were, he 'fell down the throat of the Milky Way.' The symbolism decorating his resting place refers constantly to 'The Nine Lords Of Time.' I could parallel Dante's Nine Circles of Hell, or the Norse god Odin and his Rainbow Bridge to Pacal Votan and his Milky Way's throat. Odin. Votan. Oh, man, the similarities there..." Seeing Syd's bewildered and glazed expression, he laughed and added, "We can continue this another time if you like."
Finally I can say there exists a person who's more of a scatterbrain than me, Syd thought. "Yeah, I'd really like to. Sorry...I don't exactly...have control of my faculties at the moment."
Indeed he did not. The Babysitter attempted to conclude the subject. "Well, anyway, you should look into the Mayan Calendar. Interesting stuff there. According to them, the world will end on December 21st, 2012; but we're not talking about the usual doom and gloom found in other prophetic writings."
"How so? I mean, if the world will end..."
"Because the numerical value of the end date is equivalent to that of the beginning date...it will end only as we know it presently to make way for a new age...and that's all we've got to go on from what they've given us. It's up to us to figure out what kind of new age that will be, by making the right choices here and now, in our own generation. This calendar, called the Tzolkin or Harmonic Module, essentially serves the same purpose as the Chinese I Ching, which obviously, I mean, that was on the other side of the freakin' planet and was from much further back in time, but they're really both the same thing..."
"And what's that?"
"...the coded form of an advanced science based on holonomic resonance rather than atomic physics, as everyone seems to think. But it is a mathematical matrix, consisting of thirteen horizontal rows of twenty units each; and the row down the center, known as the mystical seventh column, represents the conception of life...the place where two separate energy fields resonate and produce more energy. This Harmonic Module shows, clearly shows, that they not only knew of, but understood DNA."
"I'm not making this up! The Tzolkin, or calendar, maps out the double helix...the sixty-four codons, or twists and turns that the two snakes make around the ladder. The Indians knew about that, too...of India, I mean, not the ones you see around here...they used snakes and ladders to symbolize DNA. You know the board game, right? Snakes and Ladders...or, Chutes and Ladders?"
"This...is some fascinating shit." Syd thought he could have listened to the man talk all night, but he was having some trouble speaking since the acid had his thoughts speeding by so fast, and he could hardly hold on to one of them long enough to verbalize it. Even if he could remember how to put more than a few words together, he wouldn't have known what to say. It was the most startling thing he'd ever heard. At any rate, he was equally interested and dumbfounded.
The Babysitter went on, "They say there is a silver cord, called Kuxan Suum, extending from every man and woman's solar plexus through the sun to a place behind the sun called Hunab Ku, the galactic core, where the universal energy or lifeforce shared by all living things is centralized or concentrated."
"A place behind the sun?" Syd chimed in.
"Yeah. But here's the kicker...if this science, based on the principle of resonant harmonics, could translate the whole-number mathematics of these codons into wave structures of different frequencies and transmit the information through the Kuxan Suum as resonant transduction..." Syd hung on his every word as he concluded, "...then the Maya could transmit themselves as DNA code information from one star system to another."
"Let me suggest that you take a vacation...from yourself. I know, it souds wild. It's the latest thing in travel. We call it the Ego Trip."
His head all but exploded. It was too heavy for further consideration in his present state. They moved on to trading conspiracy theories at about the time the guitar player came back in. Then after some talk about The Man...working for The Man, The Man wants it all, The Man's running the whole show, etc...(not quite yet Syd's issues, being fresh out of high school) they jokingly decided to write an angst-ridden letter to the government. Pen, paper, and even envelope and stamp were produced from someone's car. The Babysitter started mock-dictating and Syd laughed so hard his stomach hurt. Ultimately, it was agreed they should keep it simple. The envelope was addressed to The Man, sender's address in the top left was You Know Who, and the folded letter inside read: To the powers that be...FUCK YOU.
Eyeing the pen and paper, Syd decided to write a little note to remind himself later about the conversation he'd had with the Babysitter, and to do some personal research. He wrote down a single word, folded it, and started to walk out of the barn, saying he was going to find Aubrey. The guitar player handed him the letter and said, "Hey, would you mind dropping that in the mailbox for me while you're out? I think the American people are ready for change and it's time for us to stand up and take the first step." They erupted into laughter again as Syd accepted it, stuck it in his back pocket, and walked out toward the street.
When he was about halfway across the grass between the barn and the mailbox, where the house that wasn't there should have been, he felt his head spinning and his senses reeling. His stomach still hurt, and he had to stop for a moment. Strong wind gusts moved over him and brought the tall grass brushing in on his face. He put a hand to his forehead and took a moment to just look around. A phrase kept repeating in his thoughts: Starkly Alive. Other strange or unlikely things were going in and out of his thoughts, after which he would comment to himself on his own previous thought, as if someone else had said it, such as: Nothing matters, but doesn't everything matter because of that? Then, What the hell are you talking about? Or: All is one, but one is only one, one of the infinite...but together, those infinite are one; then, What the fuck was that?
He couldn't move for about five minutes, or rather, didn't have the will to, and just stayed there on his knees feeling the wind on his face. Next thing he knew, he was standing and couldn't remember getting up. There was a reason he came out here, before going to the playground--what was it? He saw the mailbox. Oh, yes. His tripping brain was left with merely the concept of putting paper inside of it; and so, instead of the letter that was in his back pocket, he put the note to himself in the mailbox.
It's the beginning of the End.
He was about to turn and go find Aubrey when he felt her hands go around the sides of his head and cover his eyes. "Guess who!"
"...and Aubrey was her name..." he sang, not entirely out of key, from the song by Bread. She laughed and then they stood looking into the dilated pupils of each other's eyes for a moment. Starkly Alive.
"I feel like running," she said.
"You know, so do I!" He grabbed her hand and they did. The rest of the night was nothing but fun.
After a few goodbyes the next morning...actually early afternoon, but morning for them...Syd, Aubrey, Griffin and Jamie went to Syd's house for breakfast and coffee. His parents, neither of whom could stand not to work for more than a few days, were gone on a much deserved mini-vacation in Vancouver. There was a group sigh at the idea of being in Vancouver in August, as opposed to Arizona.
The coffee was hot, fresh, rich and strong and the air conditioner was blasting overhead. They were making some lighthearted, philosophical conversation as they waited for the heaviness to leave their heads; but like a lot of philosophy, it lost direction. "We are all always affecting each other's lives, even when we're unaware of it" Grif was saying. A short, dramatic silence. Then Jamie chortled, commenting on everyone's serious expressions.
As everyone had a laugh at Grif's expense, Syd got up and went to the front porch for the Sunday paper. He could still hear them laughing behind him when he picked it up. It was typically hot outside, but what he saw on the front page froze him. A moment later, Aubrey saw him through the screen door standing with his mouth agape. She went out to him. "What is it, babe?"
At first he couldn't speak, just like the night before. Putting an arm around his waist, she looked over his shoulder at what he was reading, and he pointed at the photo above the headline:
CHILD PORNOGRAPHER ARRESTED
"Who is that?" she asked him. He wouldn't have been lying if he said he didn't know, but he answered by telling her what he did know. "The ice cream man."
"I can't let myself be guided by emotions"
"Knowledge is truthful only if it's based in morality."
--Andrei Tarkovsky, from "Solaris"
In 1996, Syd turned forty-one. Until about six years before, almost all he did was drugs and read books. He had long ago left school to become a burnout, and was now working in hospital food service. He had been in a rehabilitation program for a short time with genuine intentions of quitting, then he started up again only to break down and quit for good, and soon thereafter found his job here. He had become deeply religious, but didn't belong to any group, organization, denomination, sect or cult. In the last few years, he had developed what he understood to be an emotion-based psychic ability. He didn't know what it was exactly, or what was bringing it about, just that he could feel other people's emotions. It wasn't always there when he wanted it to be, and it came to him inevitably when he wanted most to be away from it. Sometimes when he felt it, he couldn't figure out where it was coming from, as it usually happened near a known source. He thought it had its roots in his drug-induced experiences, and had trouble acknowledging it as a gift...if only he would use it as such, and wisely so...but he had lost his will.
The first time it happened, or rather, that he was truly aware of what was happening, was when he was leaving a convenience store a few years ago. A formidable man parked near one of the gas pumps, got out of his car and started filling his tank without turning off his very loud and lyrically harsh rap music.
Syd got in his own car. He rolled down his windows and, preparing the volume of his stereo, turned it all the way up and put in a tape. When he pressed play, the Overture to Wagner's Der Fliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman) began. He was going to just drive away, having made his point, but he couldn't help it...he turned and smirked at the man at the pump. The man's nondescript face simply looked at him, and the only change in his expression was a slight narrowing of the eyes. But Syd had never felt that kind of hate before. Most others would probably just pretend not to notice, or maybe impose an attitude with some tough talk at most, but this felt the way his rap song was goading its listeners to feel. Be negative and hateful and selfish and complain about what you don't have because you never earned it, then go out and demand it. Motherfuckin' dead man. This man wouldn't think twice about killing him if there were no one else around. Syd thought twice and got the hell out of there.
He had been consistently sad and desperate for a long time now, and it worsened as he tried to understand his capabilities. He felt more like eighty-one than forty-one. He could feel both light and darkness in people, and he knew it was all about choice...that was the point of most religious teaching, but he constantly felt people choosing to let the darkness smother the light; and whenever that happened, it usually followed that they wanted to smother other people's light, having thought themselves depleted of their own. He knew that nobody can ever be rid of it, that there's always at least a little, even when you think it's gone. He just didn't know he knew it. This is what horrified him...people decisively killing most of their own light. To come to terms with that understanding and to subsequently want more should be a good thing, but they tended to want more so that they could kill it. Collectively, he felt more darkness in people than light. He had to remind himself that his day-to-day world was much smaller than the entire planet, but he tended to think of it as a microcosmic universe, where the light/darkness ratio here was equal to that everywhere else.
"Strangers passing in the street, by chance two separate glances meet, and I am you and what I see is me."
--Pink Floyd, from "Echoes"
At the hospital one day, Syd was closing the door to a patient's room and about to push the cart of food trays back down the hall, when he saw a man and a nurse leave the room next door.
"...won't be staying here with her, then?" she was saying.
"Oh, I just need to go pick up a friend of ours. Doesn't have a car. I'll be back very soon."
"We'll just let them sleep then, and I'll check on 'em soon." Their voices faded away as they turned a corner.
Syd carefully opened the door and went inside without having any idea why, but then he knew. He saw a pretty, dark-skinned woman with rough features lying asleep in the bed. Near the foot of the bed, by the window, was a newborn baby. He could feel the light in both of them, they were brimming with it.
What he didn't know was that four months ago, the woman had been driving alone and, getting lost in her own thoughts, missed her turn and ran out of gas. She coasted over to the side of the road, sighed and threw her hands up in the air. There wasn't much to do but wait for someone to happen by.
To her right, she saw what was left of an old barn, a huge space where a house should have been, and just a few feet away, a mailbox. She sat in the car for a few minutes before getting out to stretch. Instinctively, she went to the mailbox and opened it. There was a small piece of folded paper inside. She opened it, read it, then stood there for a moment, puzzled.
A car was pulling up beside her. "Miss, do you need some help?" a friendly, elderly gentleman asked. It took her another moment to respond. Something important had just happened...a question had long been in her mind, and she wanted to understand how she could have found the answer where she did. She smiled to herself, then turned and smiled at the old man, and a minute later they were driving away.
Syd smiled at the sleeping woman and went over to her baby, who he saw was a beautiful little girl. He could almost see her big eyes through their lids. Instinctively, he placed his left hand over her warm little head, and looked at his own hand as if to ask it, "What are you doing?" As he touched her, he managed to stifle a sudden, impassioned cry. His heart was filled with peace, and it drowned out all the darkness he'd ever felt in people, including himself. Lightbringer. This little girl didn't simply have light...she had brought it, and he felt its purpose. He started crying quietly as his gift took a quantum leap. With his hand still on her head, he began to feel the rest of her life. Never before had he felt anything ahead of the present time: She will develop a gift for seeing straight to the core of any given situation, and use it productively. Everyone close to her will know it, too. Some will tease her about it, mistaking it for cynicism; others will seek her trustworthy and unabashed advice. She'll be affable but cautious, hard-working, studious, and one day would be personally responsible for a great discovery that will both benefit and belong to all of humanity. Her purity of heart and of purpose...
Here he realized that he was feeling something about her that had characterized her mother's entire life, which the girl would experience to a lesser degree, but which they shared nonetheless...
Their purity of heart and of purpose will ultimately triumph over much suffering, and when each of them reaches that point, at different places in time, they will know that whatever pain has clung to them is now gone forever and that they would be as happy as we were all meant to be.
He gasped. The hand he had on her head could feel the warmth of her soul, not just of her head. His right hand went below her throat to touch her heart, and her little hand closed tightly around his finger. When his gaze moved back to her face, he saw that she had silently awakened, and was smiling at him. Removing his hand from her head, but leaving the one she was holding, he leaned closer and looked right in her eyes. All that matters...is Light...and Life...and Laughter...and Love. Now her eyes were smiling, and he winked at her. But you already know that, don't you? He didn't know if he was giving her the thought, or if she was giving it to him, or if it was simply an understanding that resonated between them.
Her mother began stirring in her sleep. He rose, and the girl squeezed his finger, then released it. Wiping his eyes and face, he reluctantly went back out in the hall. As the door closed behind him, its clicking noise caused the mother to wake, and she was looking right at the space under the door. She could see the shadow of someone's feet there. On the other side of it, Syd closed his eyes just for a moment and whispered to the baby girl, "Thank you," then walked away.
The mother squinted curiously...she knew someone had just been in here, and she turned toward her baby. Just for a fleeting moment, something about the way the sun was sneaking through the closed blinds and refracting through the transparent plastic guards around the girl's little bed, combined with the effects of her medication and slightly blurred sight caused her to see what appeared to be a halo over her daughter's head. It wasn't a yellow ring, as traditionally depicted in art. Rather, it looked like a bright white miniature star tinged with pink and violet, with a barely discernible ring of like color set just behind it. But it was gone as soon as it was there.
No less amazing to her, she was seeing her daughter smile for the first time, who was still looking at the door and beyond it. Fully awake now, she could clearly see thin lines of sunlight, but not how it had caused her to see a halo. She let it remain a charming mystery.
That smile! she thought. A hearty, intelligent smile...like the expression of an adult who in an instant understands some personal truth he or she has sought for long years. She said out loud, to no one in particular, "Thank you."
"Laboratory...synthetic stimuli...only goes to fuck up your third eye"
--Donovan, from "Riki Tiki Tavi"
Syd had known many hippies in his time, and he had felt that his becoming one was dangerously imminent in his younger years. But he thought their politics were as transparent as those they stood against. He kept hearing that acid would "set you free," and he had wanted to feel that. In ways, he did feel that, but he never wanted to fall into the trap of thinking you needed to keep doing it, and a lot of it, in order to stay free. It happened to so many of his friends, including Grif and Jamie and even his beloved Aubrey...they all talked about breaking away from conformity, when all they were doing was conforming to a particular brand of non-conformity. He didn't see the point in becoming a temporal reactionary. All the self-proclaimed prophets, the fake yogis and the like and pretentious talk about Zen...he wanted to yell at everyone that Zen does not mean "Just do whatever you want." On acid himself, he hypocritically had thought Why not simply make different choices in your life?
A particular aspect of the new world he'd found himself in which really bothered him was that it seemed in order to "tune in, turn on and drop out" or "let go" or "find yourself" or "be at peace and at one with everything and everyone," you had to sleep around with a lot of different people without really caring who they were...or more to the point, to be a whore. Of course, no one wanted to hear it put that way because it didn't sound beautiful, which is how they wanted to think of their lifestyle. He liked being with people who peacefully rebelled against socially prescribed lifestyles and was interested in many of the things they spoke of, but they misunderstood or misinterpreted much of the philosophy they claimed to be exemplifying. He cared about the environment, ate fresh fruit and vegetables, read many of the same books, and even loved the Grateful Dead. But he rather liked being clean, and believed in taking showers. He used soap, even if it was made with animal fat. He ate meat, and believed people were meant to eat it. Sometimes taking responsibility for himself, sometimes not, but never mooching off his friends when times were tough for "a place to crash" when what that usually meant was "I'm going to live here with you and expect to be exempt from sharing rent."
Such was the mold of his frustrated mid-twenties mindset, when drugs had their strongest hold on him.
He was glad to be leaving work, as the experience with the baby girl had left him so overwhelmed, he couldn't even bring himself to start the car. There was a new hope in his heart...if a baby not even a day old had enough light to balance, if not overcome, as much of the darkness he felt in people as he suspected...what else could she do?
It reminded him of his single experience with Peyote, at age twenty-three. In order to get some, he had had to do it with the Indians. They said he needed to prepare for it; and one of their number, a young man about Syd's age, was chosen to accompany him. The young man had prominent features, and an incredibly caring look about him. He was to play, in effect, the role of the Babysitter. But Syd knew this wouldn't be all about having fun...and in his mind he dubbed him The Guide.
For half a day, he was left alone in a cave to meditate in complete darkness. The next day, he thought he'd never been more ashamed than when, in his preparations, the Chief held before him a pot of soil, and he was instructed to masturbate into it. They knew it sounded strange to him. "The Earth gave you life", he was told, "now you must give life back to it."
On the third day, after he'd finally taken the Peyote and during the apex, he was standing at the edge of a cliff over reddish-brown canyons and having a vision, or was in a vision. He felt himself to be pure energy fighting against his own dual nature inside a reptilian body and mind. In that moment he was as if a winged serpent with human legs, and wanted to jump right out of his body, leaving it to stand there and watch him fly away as if to say to his baser physical self, If I can do this, just think what we can do together. The vision became singular in purpose...he saw himself falling from a great height, but it felt like rising. Higher and higher, all the way down. It was absolutely terrifying to see one, but feel the other. Physically, he was standing still at the cliff and screaming over the canyons and his voice multiplied in echoes coming back at him. He really believed in that moment that it would go on and on and on, forever...this simultaneous falling and rising. Starkly Alive.
Then something started to ground him and his terror almost doubled in that instant. His very life was suddenly and completely at the mercy of another conscious being like himself. It was the Guide, holding him from behind lest he take another step and fall over the lip of the cliff. One arm was around his waist, and the hand of the other was over Syd's forehead, who was still screaming and seemed on the verge of a seizure. He flashed: Aubrey. Her arm around my waist. The ice cream man. The Guide was silently tearful behind him, understanding what was happening as he held him. Syd gave in, though the vision still had him, and they both fell backward on the ground. The Guide had frightened, wide-eyed Syd lying back in his lap, and he started rocking him. Soon he calmed and the screaming abated, but the Indian man continued to weep. He said, "Do not be frightened. All is illusion. When you see through it, you see like a newborn child."
Syd was sitting on a bench, forty-six years old and more sad and desperate than ever before; but soon that would change, and he knew it incontrovertibly. Since the experience with the baby girl, he continued to feel the same thing he usually felt in people...more darkness than light. But his new hope had never died, just went into hiding.
He'd begun writing journals. They were collectively his life story, intertwining random thoughts with musings on the symbols and connections he saw in history. The first entry described the day Humphrey had come into his life, and the last entry stated what he'd come here today to do. They were the last words he ever wrote...to save the light. He didn't even know what that meant yet, but he knew he was supposed to be right here, right now, to do it. After all, his own light had led him here.
He heard people's voices far ahead, and found himself tuning in on one of them. It was his cue: he stood and began to follow it. As he walked, he thought of the old proverb Know Thyself; and with every step, as he felt the return of his long-lost willpower and an impending urgency turned his walking into running, the words changed in his mind to Trust Thyself.
"I am another yourself"
All intellectual journeys inexorably arrive at simplicity. We build great, thriving civilizations and more and ever more material things which all always come crashing down and leave us to start from scratch...each and every time it happens, we can recognize what went wrong and how to do things differently...if we don't forget about The Fall, in time. If we remember, and act toward change in our new world, what greater example of a blessing in disguise?! But there can be no change without conflict.
--entry from the journals of Sydney Barris
Waterfalls...that's what her five-year-old girl had wanted to see, and that's what they now stood looking at from a great height at the Grand Staircase-Escalante, the Vermillion Cliffs...recently advertised as the country's newest national park. Most people present were in a semi-silent reverie, including the little girl, whose fascination briefly found a new subject. A big, beautiful butterfly had circled her head and was fluttering close in front of her. She reached out to touch it and it retreated. Someone approached Yvonne from her left and asked her the time when her daughter reached further out to the butterfly. The girl's hand slipped from her mother's as the butterfly brought her two steps closer to the small space between the edge of a fence and a large, leaning tree. All too quickly and easily, she lost her footing and went over the cliff's edge.
It happened in the space of a few seconds. Feeling her hand slip out, Yvonne lunged and would have instinctively gone over herself, but right then she saw a man dive over after her as she called out the girl's name in horror, "Maya!" Syd seized her by an ankle in mid-air, grabbed a thick branch of the tree with his other hand, swung and threw her right back to her mother; but the force of it broke the branch and subjected him to the laws of gravity. Her legs hit the fence hard, but Yvonne had her and pulled her over. As their figures faded away above him, Syd recognized the mother to be the sleeping woman from the hospital. And the girl...the girl...Maya...
Then he felt himself rise higher and higher though he fell, faster and faster all the way down and was gone from this world, from dreams of white light into warm darkness, and finally, into white light. Starkly Alive.
"When his task is accomplished, he lets go of it and seeks no reward or recognition. Because he does not claim credit for himself, his virtuous influence endures."
--Lao Tzu, from Tao Teh Ching
For her 16th birthday on December 21st, 2012, Yvonne gave Maya as a gift the first published copy of the book she'd spent years writing, after reading and perhaps over-analyzing the journals of the man who had saved her daughter's life by sacrificing his own. The book weaved her own story and Maya's through Syd's...including excerpts from his journals, in which she'd learned that he was the one who gave Maya her name, by writing it down and leaving it for time to deliver to her in an old mailbox.
It also detailed what she deduced to be the reasons for Syd's attraction to imagery and symbols depicting opposed forces represented together as a singular whole, with a perspective Syd himself would have greatly appreciated.
One chapter dealt entirely with Lee and her father and a nice man who she loved but never had the chance to marry, who's early death was similar to her father's. He was Maya's father, who had actively loved them both.
She offered speculation on the silver cord, the Kuxan Suum, saying that the Earth itself was a living body of energy and that perhaps it had its own umbilical connection to the place behind the sun.
The book went on to discuss Syd's powerful intuitions about her daughter after they'd made their secret connection that day in the hospital, and she expounded on her own theories of humanity's evolving psychic awareness...inspired by evidence of such in Maya, who seemed to have an inexplicable talent for languages. Someone could speak to her in a foreign language she'd never even heard the name of before, and she understood them at least at a basic level through the emotive cadences of their speech, coupled with a greater gift that she was only beginning to know she possessed.
Yvonne explained in the book why she believed Maya was born to teach people how to use that evolving psychic awareness constructively and selflessly.
Maya opened the cover and read the first page:
To And From The Place Behind The Sun
by Yvonne Lockhart
Dedicated to--Baby Girl, Maya Lockhart, Lightbringer
The second page began:
It is a great honor, privelege, and pleasure to introduce you to the most amazing man I never met...
About the time her daughter was finishing the book, Yvonne fell asleep and dreamed that Maya went in search of her namesake...
In the dream she was hacking her way with a machete through dense, unexplored jungles, and thereby through the fog that was the future. Along her path, all manner of flora bereft of direct sunlight were leaning in and forward toward where she passed, even the vines she cut...as if wanting to follow. Her gloved hands dug through moss-covered caves leading to a large, muddy well into which she was lowered by a thick rope, where she let go and dropped to a painful squat on a hard surface and coming finally upon a clearing lit vaguely from various indiscernible places. Many hands were at work widening the hole she'd entered through. The mud was draining through a stone ditch beside her and trailing out of sight. She stood slowly and drenched her face with the water from her canteen. At her appearance, monkeys and parrots and even snakes and giant spiders fled from sight. The vague light grew slowly and ever brighter now that she'd cleared a way to this place. Lightbringer. It was soon sparkling all over the gold and ruby and emerald and even rose quartz and jade and onyx that had been used to construct this underground city, which was the immovable jewel decorating what had once been called The Navel Of The World...an immense masterpiece of artistry and craftsmanship that had been lived in, not just admired like music or a painting. She stood in awe, and smiled in a way she hadn't since she was just one day old.