I wish you good fortune on your journey to meet the Wizard. He or She is waiting.
|Preamble: The Storm
I ignored hurricane Wilma. Despite history and warnings of those around me, I only took notice after it was raging and any chance I may have had to reduce the destruction had long passed. At the time, it seemed so innocuous. To divert myself, all I had to do was turn on the T.V. The destruction of other far more noticeable hurricanes, such as Katrina and Charlie, was all around. Wilma, on the other hand, was a small tropical storm sneaking across the other side of the state. It was just too easy to compare myself out of danger.
I mocked those who took precautions. Neighbors invested in hurricane shutters, followed the weather channel and talked with each other. They made plans. I simply thought they did not get the joke.
I still dismissed the storm even after the sky and the birds I always took so much pleasure in disappeared. It was not until the wind was shearing away everything I had worked so hard for were my eyes opened to the dark situation. I watched helpless as material items around the house began to deteriorate and be swept away altogether.
Then the unimaginable began to happen. Gusts of wind carrying waves of rain pushed through the seams between the windows and bowed inward the front door. The storm had entered my home. It ingrained itself in the wood and forever changed its makeup. I knew it could never be fully restored to its previous condition. I realized then I could not save myself, nor could anyone else. I lost all hope.
The eye of the hurricane past overhead and I was granted a brief respite before the inevitable. I had reached the end of the road.
“Please help!” I sobbed, convinced no one could.
I looked up to see the backside of the hurricane bearing down. I fell to my knees and gave in to the coming wind.
Chapter 1: Gilt
I stepped into a dream that was placed before me in stop time. All around me was gilded gold and polished copper. From the cobbled sidewalk beneath my feet that weaved through the hunched brick buildings of the town surrounding, to the landscape beyond, which laid across my vision like a loosely placed veneer, all things sparkled at their edges. Beneath each showed a sad juxtaposition of muted grey and dull hazel.
Mixed between the lampposts, benches, buildings and trees, that lined a golden road spanning the whole town, stood an assortment of oddly shaped people, each frozen in step, staring my way. Their small bodies seemed motionless, which belied the emotions in their dancing eyes. They were dressed in skintight suits clad with colored pendants, scarves and other adornments. Their brightly colored exteriors were betrayed by a dull gray skin color with a muted hue.
Time resumed in a frenzy. All the townspeople quickly pressed around my house, which I was astonished to realize was not only right behind me but in perfect condition. The strange people, I noticed after a moment, weren’t focused on me. They were all crowding around the far end of the house whispering frightenly and covering their mouths and eyes with their hands. I was compelled to walk over and join them, despite the continuing surreal situation. I could not help but wonder what was so special about my house.
I made my way to the back of the gathering crowd and wiggled my way toward the front. The tallest of the townspeople did not reach past my chest. I could not see a distinction between the men and women. They seemed androgynous in both their features and attire. The whole affair was quite entertaining in its absurdity.
Once I reached the front of the thrall, it took a turn for the worse. I stood aghast, much like my little accompaniment, looking down at two legs sticking out from under the foundation. My house had landed squarely on some poor soul. By the look of the shoes on the feet, black, sleek and pointed at the tips, they belonged to a woman. I had killed somebody’s mother.
I immediately looked around for the relatives, assuming they would be grief stricken. That is when I noticed there was no sadness on any face. It looked more like fear, terrifying fear.
It came on suddenly, like a trailing sonic boom. There was a crack in the sky above me and within a contained maelstrom appeared a woman with matching legs to those beneath the house. She was riding a lightning-cracked black walking staff. She hovered in the air a moment surveying the scene.
The townsfolk scurried in every direction until it was just the Witch and I, who had a foreboding look on her face. She descended slowly, her gaze focused on me unwaveringly.
“What do we have here?” her voice strung out like an untuned bow.
I was stymied. I could do nothing but maintain eye contact, hoping she would not look behind me.
She was magnifying. I felt a strange attraction to her. The feeling began to become compulsive as she moved closer to me. I suddenly wanted more than anything to join her, to ride through the sky upon her stick. I could feel the air whipping across my face, though my feet were still grounded. I could anticipate the Godly feeling at looking down at the world from so high. All thoughts of my house and those left behind to deal with the wreckage of the storm melted away. It was a familiar, comforting feeling. Though I knew joining her would take me farther from my home and family, this dream was made for me and not them. They would not envy me this chance at such an experience.
She got close enough to see her poor twin behind me and her eyes went from curiousness to blazon ferocity. I new then it would be the ride to end all rides. I was ready to leave straight away.
She bent down and stroked the tip of a shoe. Her hair hung low to the ground. Time seemed to stop again. For a moment I saw the situation for what it was, but the thought faded away and the Witch stood up and turned to face me. She had a look of finality.
“Come with me,” was all she said. No explanation was given and I did not need one.
“Yes mistress,” I spoke out loud, and she was.
“Get your hands off my baby boy,” came a voice above us.
The Black Witch winced and moved a step away. I looked up but saw nothing.
“You are too late Patricia,” the Black Witch said with disdain incarnate. “He is already mine.”
“Not so!” shouted the voice above.
Slowly, like a lantern when the wick is given new length, a light began to shine and overtake the day sky. It formed into a circle, expanded across my vision, then collapsed with a clap. Mere meters from me formed another woman. This one, however, had on regular clothes and wore an ordinary pair of spectacles with a silver chain that hung loosely. Unlike all others in this place, she radiated from the inside. The light was constant and strong. It did not glitter or sparkle.
“You have no power over my baby boy,” said Patricia.
“My sister has been killed. He killed her. This territory is now mine. He is now mine!” the Black Witch hissed.
“That’s unfortunate,” Patricia said wryly. “But it changes nothing. You see it was I who brought him here. I who rescued him from the storm.”
The Black Witch’s eyes got wide. Her lips pursed and turned white.
In one quick motion her walking staff flew to her, she mounted it and whirred off the ground. Some ways off, she halted and turned back.
“This will never be forgotten. You are mine ‘baby boy’,” she said with contempt.
The storm formed around her again and like lightning she was gone.
A caring hand touched my shoulder and to my surprise Patricia was standing next to me.
“Be careful of her, she’s insidious,” said Patricia softly. “She will use cunning to get you on her staff. If that happens I can no longer protect you. You will be lost. Because I brought you here, my stamp of protection will prevent her from forcing you into servitude. You now have a choice. But heed my warning. She will employ powerful deceptions to get you to make the wrong choice, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Baffling I know, that someone would willingly choose suffering.”
“I was ready to,” I said, suddenly aware of the insanity of my thinking. “I knew she only wanted to bring me pain, but the thought of flying through the sky seemed to drown out everything else.”
“Yes,” said Patricia. “That is the crux of her magic.”
“Matthew,” said Patricia in a sad voice. “You won’t be able to resist her long. Eventually you’ll bend to her will. It’s only a matter of time.”
“You mean I’m powerless to stop her? Can’t you just snap me out of it or something?” I asked frantically. I swiftly felt overwhelmed with the gravity of the situation.
“Maybe, for a little while. But, and I’ve seen it time and time again, sooner or later nobody will be able to reach you. The compulsion to enter her world will become too strong,” she said.
“Well then get me the hell out of her!” I demanded. “You said you brought me here. Send me back.”
“I cannot,” she said. “Anymore than I can always protect you from her.”
“What are you saying?” I cried. “I can’t go back?”
“No more than you would have survived the storm,” she said curtly. “That is why I brought you here. You were doomed out there.”
My world came crashing in. There was no lie in her eyes. She spoke the truth and I believed her. The almost comical events leading up to this meeting were exposed for their terrifying realness. I could not, or did not, want to believe it. But from deep within me, sparked by Patricia’s honesty, welled up and unfamiliar feeling that washed away all denial. Despite the insanity of the situation before me, I was forced to accept it.
“Can I fight back?” I asked, finally feeling some strength.
“No!” yelled Patricia. In a softer voice she continued, “You must not fight against her. That will only work to her advantage. She will use those feelings against you.”
“So,” I whispered, “there is no hope.”
“I did not say that my baby boy,” said Patricia. “In fact, there is much to hope for. There is One with all power. He gives strength to all in this world. The Wizard. The way out is through him. I have sent scores of men just like you to him and he has helped all of them, provided they were willing to accept it.”
“What happened to those who didn’t accept help?” I asked.
“They flew off with the Black Witch,” she said as she peered sadly into the far landscape. “They never returned.”
“Who would do that?” I asked incredulously. “Sounds like an easy choice to me.”
“You would think so,” she agreed. “But the journey is one you will have to make alone. Once you reach the Wizard, he will ask you to give up one thing in return for his help.”
“What’s that?” I asked suspiciously.
“I honestly don’t know,” she said. “Those who accepted passed out of my realm into the next. Those who wouldn’t have never said what it was exactly, just that it was too much.”
“Well,” I said matter of factly. “That won’t be a problem for me, even if it means giving up my house to get out of this crazy place. So, how do I find this Wizard?”
“Follow the golden glowing road,” she said, sweeping her arm out.
I could hear the shutter of my mind’s eye click as I took in the sparkling road that started just feet from us and spanned across the zig zagging terrain of this upside down world.
There are moments that the board of one’s life seems to come in complete focus. All the decisions, agreements and promises of the past, present and future appear as colorful pegs in the timeline. For a brief moment it all makes sense. Of course, as finite beings, the knowledge fades like a dream in the early morning. But there is a residue left. These moments are gifts. They provide a general sense of direction, hope and motivation.
I followed the luminescent road to the edge of my vision and became invigorated. I decided I would follow this path to the edge of reality and leap off in desperation if need be. In that moment I became willing to do anything to find the Wizard.