A tale invented by several members of the William Blake Tarot Online Discussion Group at <firstname.lastname@example.org>, in which each Chapter is inspired by a card drawn randomly from the deck.
(©2001, 2014 by Ed Buryn & individual authors.)
by Kyle FiteBlake
The Blue Mountains could be made out through the mist as Tu pushed his sputtering jeep further on up the path. It was tricky with the rear flat but he didn’t have far to go. Hell, he thought, if I have to walk the rest of the Way. . . well, I can handle it.
Behind him, nestled in the Valley like an alien egg, the Pod pulsed softly, the lights of Commerce and Community flickering out predictable patterns beneath its protective surface. “The Covered City,” they called it. According to the State Head, it was necessary for all minors to remain in the City until they came of age. Then, if they wished to venture forth into the toxin-ridden wilderness that surrounded the Pod, they were more than free to do so. Of course, such a foolish and, some would argue, suicidal, decision would affect one’s chance of gainful employment later on. The Corporation would always choose a responsible young person fresh from the school over some vagabond prodigal returning home and expecting a handout. And even a handout would be unlikely for a disease-ridden contagion clawing at the glass and trying to infect the healthy and hard-working families within.
A Seed Craft shot across the white sky above Tu’s jeep. A delivery to the Pod, no doubt. Tu thought, for a moment, of his Teacher, Poe. Poe had personally overseen Tu’s work with the Seed Craft Simulator and believed his curious spirit would make a fine pilot, indeed. Why, Tu, he would say, you’ll even catch a bird’s eye glimpse of the Blue Mountains during runs to the Mother Pod.
“What kind of shit-head idiot did he think I was?” Tu asked himself with a smile. “And what the hell are birds, anyway?”
The rear wheel began to spin in the soft soil. Stopping the jeep, Tu hopped out.
“Looks like I WILL be walking.”
The Air was heavy and moist, like the Baths. Tu slipped into his Pack and pointed his body toward the Mountains as a strange insect bit his neck. He was too preoccupied with his mission to give it much notice and slowly scratched it away, leaving a small smudge of brown under his fingernails. The Blue Mountains. He was operating entirely according to a work of fiction he had found in the Library 2 years ago. A tale of what lay in the heart of that great Edifice of Nature.
Tu looked back at the Pod one more time, his eyes cold and indifferent, and began his walk. Truth or not, he would soon discover. But the possibility alone far outweighed all of what the City offered. He thought of his parents, his Teachers, his girlfriend, Luci, who would have most certainly married him had he stayed. Her voice suddenly snapped into his mind, nearly audible in its clarity: “You selfish son of a bitch!” He imagined his body, eaten away by some strange leprosy as he clawed at the Main Gate. He could feel the Guards kick hi corroded flesh away, beating him back with the butts of their rifles. A camera flash and his picture on everyone’s computer that morning: Vagabond Assaults City Walls. His Mother turning off the monitor in disgust.
And then he thought of what could POSSIBLY wait beneath that mile of rock.
And he stepped onwards.
He had worried about his troubles at the wall too soon. Like most journeys that seemed short at the beginning, this one had already turned long. The sun was close to setting, the land was a milky wash of mist and shadows. He didn’t feel any nearer to his destination. Walking through the “countryside” of his world, he wondered if he had chosen wisely. He was almost of water, and the few meager snacks he had brought along were quickly dwindling. His stomach growled. He plodded on through the mist, stumbling over rocks and branches, too tired to think about the path, focusing all of his energy on putting one foot in front of the other.
Sheer pride and stubbornness kept him moving – how could he turn back now? He would become a laughing stock. How come no one had ever spoken about how hard it was to get to the edge? Everything had seemed easy in the City, there were few hardships for anyone. He had never really been alone, had never really been hungry, except when he got messing around with friends for too long and missed a meal. He had family, food, training, opportunities, friends. Every need was met, except for the need he couldn’t name, the one that pushed him to leave.
Small doubts began to eat at the back of his brain, he imagined walking back through the streets of the city, tattered and starved, dirty and embarrassed, passing citizens pointing, whispering. If he did go back, Luci and his friends would want nothing to do with him, he was sure. He wondered for a moment if his stupid arrogance would be the death of him, if he had really known better than them all, the parents who had tried to advise him, the teachers who had tried to mold his path. He squashed the thought. So this was a little hard going. So what? He could make it. He would prove that he WAS different. But down deep there was a small, festering fear, that he may have given up a lot, for what? Who knew?
He stopped by a long tree, thought about a nap. Jumped when he heard a noise, but nothing was there. As he wandered along, he hadn’t considered that he might not be alone.
“Who or what could be way out here?” Tu pondered. He slowed his pace, allowing a little sliver of fear to trickle down his spine. His neck had begun to itch where the insect had bitten him and he scratched now almost incessantly. The fear of what might happen at the end of his journey overtook the fear triggered by the little rustling noise he had heard. And his mind kept returning to the tree he saw. He had not thought much of it then, but it had been the only tree he had seen since he left the Pod. There were trees in the Pod grown especially for the oxygen they produced, genetically modified by the Corporation to produce more oxygen than the ancient trees Tu had read about at the Library. The thick mist in the air must be feeding the tree, Tu reasoned.
He thought about Luci again, feeling a small pang of regret as he stumbled in the near darkness. She would feel betrayed, perhaps even lonely – if anyone could ever find a moment alone in the city. But she would have Artemesia to keep her company. The thought comforted Tu. The old woman was a throw back to some earlier time, but Luci adored her, kept notes on what Artemesia told her about what she called the “plant medicines.” If Tu had been paying attention he might have known if that tree he passed would help the itch on the back of his neck, made more miserable by his hunger and desperate fatigue. Tu thought again about taking a nap, then again of the noise he’d heard. He was driven to move onward, but it was too dark now to see anything in front of him. And he feared tripping over one of the omnipresent boulders that were scattered on the wild lands. Finally he sat on the ground with his back against a boulder fighting the urge to close his
His thoughts turned to the Pod again, and to the sterile life he had left behind for good. Why had the Corporation put the Pod way out there? He used to think that it was to keep people away from the vast areas of pollution of the now-deserted “open” cities. How did it come to be that this place was free from the march of the ancient housing developments of the past? And how long had the earth been poisoned anyway? Tu looked forward into the great darkness ahead of him, ruminating about what he might find out here, wondering what he wanted out of this journey and why having every need met at the Pod was not enough. The next thing he knew he was dreaming. A sea of people stretched as far as the eye could see, turned into a sea of houses with mouths that ate up the land as they spread.
Tu woke abruptly, listening in the half-light of early morning. A twig had snapped close by. He was sure of it. Holding his breath he slowly got to his feet and moved painstakingly toward the noise. There it was again! Tu strained his ears toward the sound, a little further away this time. Getting to his feet, Tu pulled his Pack around him and took a tentative step toward the sound, then stopped. What if there were “animals” out here? And if there were what would they eat? A strange ambivalence crept over Tu as he considered this. He had read about large mammals at the library. But nobody believed they existed anymore. He had no way to think about this new development, no frame of reference on which to act.
The sun rose up in the pearlescent sky as hunger again claimed him. And Tu remembered he was thirsty. The noise came again and, as the sky grew lighter he made his way toward it, following an old road that led toward the Blue Mountains. The closer he got to the mountains, the larger the boulders became, reaching heights far over his head. Rounding a group of the giant rocks Tu suddenly stopped. Before him lay what he knew must be a river. The rising sun struck the water’s surface, turning the river into a dazzling ribbon of light. Forgetting his thirst and his hunger and the burning itch he stared spellbound while the sun rose higher above the rocks. Nothing he had read could have ever prepared him for the awesome beauty before him. Small plants sprang up along the water’s edge, small trees! Water tumbled over gray stones singing deliciously. Growing happy and warm at the sight, he understood that he must follow this river, that he must walk along
its banks to see where it would lead him. But first he must drink.
Tu found a spot where the river bank sloped down gently to the water. He knelt and scooped up the delicious cool liquid in his cupped hands, drinking his fill. Then he splashed water on his face and poured some clumsily over the back of his neck to wash off the dust of the road. He reveled in the soothing sensations.
As he prepared to take one last drink, he saw motion further out in the river, where the water deepened. He froze where he was and watched, concentrating so he could make out what he was looking at. There was some sort of *creature*, a living creature, swimming there! So astonished was he that he sat back on the riverbank with a thud. There was mention of such creatures in the work of fiction that led him here. What was it they were called? Fish . . . yes, that was it. If he remembered correctly, the hero in the story caught and ate them. His stomach rumbled at the thought of eating, reminding him how long it had been since he’d had anything. But how to catch a fish?
Tu looked down at his right leg, which had begun to pain him. A long scratch wound its way across his calf, the material of his garment rended from just below his knee to barely above his ankle. Not bleeding much, but it stung. It must have happened while he made his way down the steeper part of the slope. He remembered seeing a number of thick sticks which must have fallen from the trees. Searching back along his route, he soon found the culprit. Nearly a meter long, thick as his thumb, and sharp as the devil on the end he’d encountered. He hefted the stick and studied it. Hadn’t there been part of the story where the hero or one of his companions used something similar to spear his fish?
Back on the riverbank, Tu removed his boots and rolled up what remained of his trousers. He waded carefully into the river, makeshift spear in hand, and waited. The first fish that came his way escaped unspeared, though. He realized that the water distorted his perception of where the fish actually was, and thanked whatever power there was in the universe that he had also missed his foot. The next time was much closer, but the fish still escaped. In a way, it reminded him of some of the video games he’d enjoyed as a child. Finally, he was successful.
Tu regarded the fish impaled on the end of his stick. It thrashed once or twice, and then was still. Now what? Surely the characters he’d read about hadn’t eaten the fish raw. If it hadn’t been for the reminding rumbles from his stomach, he might have given up on the idea. Raw, dead fish looked most unappealing. Think! What had they done in the story? Aha, a fire, that was it. But Tu had never actually seen a fire used to cook food. Indeed, he’d never intentionally started a fire in his entire life. That time the simulator overheated was *not* his fault – Poe had said so.
The first thing he needed was something that would burn. He scouted back towards the road and found some dry twigs and grass, which he arranged in a small pile. How had they started a fire in the story? Something about striking two rocks together and creating a spark. Well, there were certainly enough small rocks around here. He selected two likely candidates and set about trying to make them spark. His arms ached by the time he’d managed to achieve this goal.
It took some trial-and-error to cook his meal that afternoon. He’d never been a cook; that had been Luci’s department, or his mother’s. He tried his best to guess the proper time required. Considering his mother had never prepared dinner by sticking a fish on a spear into a fire, he thought he’d done pretty good. Some of it was crispy, while other parts were quite obviously underdone, but he decided he’d never tasted anything so delicious in his life. Even the care he’d had to take to avoid the bones didn’t spoil his enjoyment. Finally, his stomach was quiet. He stretched out to relax, and considered how he might refine his techniques to make the next time easier. There was everything he needed to survive along this river, he realized now.
Some time later, Tu stirred and dreamily realized he’d dozed off while he’d been thinking. It was nearly dark now. Suddenly, he heard footsteps crashing down the slope in his direction. He realized too late that his fire had caused smoke that could have been seen some distance away. What had he attracted to his position?
Suddenly, two large forms smashed through the bushes and lunged at Tu. Tu flung up an arm and frantically made a grab for the stick. “Yalt!” a voice shouted. The two creatures, still barking and snarling, skidded to a stop in the sand a few feet from Tu. Tu, his heart still thudding in his chest, looked up at the large faces and was surprised to see that these were not monsters, but dogs – peat-bulls, unusually large, and with markings he had never seen before. A moment later, the bushes on the opposite side ruffled softly, as if the wind was moving through them, and a man suddenly appeared – the most unusual man Tu had ever seen. He was pointing something at Tu, a primitive weapon right out of folk tales and ancient history, which was most certainly a “bo and a-ro.”
“No moving!” the man yelled.
Tu froze. The stranger approached slowly, fixing Tu with a defiant stare. He was covered from head to foot in a greasy green coating that looked like oily mud and glistened eerily under the last waning rays of sunlight. He wore nothing but a short buckskin kilt and sandals. Yet while Tu’s hair was cut short, in the manner approved by the Ministry of Personal Hygiene, this man’s hair was pulled up to the top of his head and tied with a buckskin thong so that it cascaded down his back in a waist-length ponytail. A wreath of red and green leaves shaded his eyes, which seemed to be an odd color. He could not have been much older than Tu, yet his blonde hair was shot through with streaks of grey that glinted like silver.
“What you are doing here?” the man demanded.
“You are a Poisoner!”
“You. . . you’re a MUTANT!” stammered Tu. “But you all died out centuries
ago! The toxins –”
“YOUR tox-ins. Answer now – who you are being? What you are doing here?”
The stranger spoke in a thick accent, using a dialect that Tu had never heard before. It was terribly hard to understand. And any mistake now might be deadly. Even the peat-bulls fell silent, as though waiting to hear what he would say next.
“I. . . I wanted to see the Blue Mountains,” Tu stammered. “My name. . . I’m Tu, from the Valley. . . the Covered City. The Pod”
The young man stared at him intently. Suddenly, Tu felt his mind waver (there was no other word for it) and a feeling of dizziness passed over him. For some reason, he found himself thinking of Artemesia. Artemesia. . . Something in his mind bending, wavering like a mirage on a hot day. And then the sensation faded. Tu realized that his eyes had closed, and he opened them to find the stranger had lowered his weapon and was regarding him with a curious look.
“Far you came, not dead even, yet not knowing the songs for travel. Never before this happened. SHE protects you.” Ettu contemplated him with a look that bordered on respect. It was hard to tell, though, with those strange eyes and that veneer of mud. And then he glanced at the remains of Tu’s dinner. He looked at the fish head and broken bones. Then his gaze traveled to the sharpened stick – and stayed there.
“You fish cooked on THAT?”
Ettu, suddenly solemn, pointed at the stick.
Tu was baffled. What was this strange Mutant upset about?
“I saw it when I got scratched.”
He gestured toward the cut on his leg, which was now red and swollen.
“I thought it would make a good spear.”
Ettu’s eyes widened. “That being Snakewood. It is taboo!”
He stared silently at Tu. Tu stared back. “What the Hell – ?
Ettu sank to his knees and whispered something. He drew a circle in the sand with his left finger, then untied a small bag from his belt. He shook the bag, then cast its contents onto the sand and began to sing softly.
And then . . . .
Walking with Artemesia and Luci, Tu felt strong and safe in the open air outside of the Pod. The air was different outside of the Pod – it felt so cool against his hot damp skin. Why am I so hot and wet, he wondered? It must have been from a very long walk, but outside of the Pod? Odd, he thought, I don’t remember being outside of the Pod before.
“You are outside of the Pod right now. Tu, do you know that you are outside of the Pod?” Luci spoke, yet she didn’t.
Tu sensed that Luci was speaking, but her lips weren’t moving; it was as though she was speaking within him.
“Luci,” said Artemesia in a very still voice, “One must be very gentle with the novice. Loving, comforting words of reassurance are called for now.” Again, it seemed that Artemesia did not physically speak, but Tu definitely heard and felt the words and knew he was among friends in a strange landscape.
“Tu,” Artemesia called to him, “Follow us, dear one, you are safe with us.”
Without warning, a strange sensation coursed over Tu’s awareness and his body shivered in fever. All was dark again for Tu. Ettu observed the shivering POD-man floating on the bed of moss and leaves in the river, that was the best cure for snakewood fever, but the boring gnat bite was another matter. It called for the healing expertise of the Mysterious Triune Temple.
“Dey make one known. Seed his body move, I did.”
Ettu nodded with authority toward the lifeless form.
“In dreamland dey take him. It be good. It be good time for dreamin’. It be good time for eatin’, too!”
The mutant impatiently moved to ease his hunger, but fought the primal urge to attend to the sacred matter at hand.
“No, I wait here for dream endin’ first. I watch the dreamer `til the lesson done. I be watcher, he be study.”
Ettu hunkered down again steadying himself with his tall spear. The sacred circle he had drawn by the river’s edge held the snakewood that had wounded the Pod-man. His had tossed his scrying balls within the circle and then lit the sacred herbs. The pungent smoke wafted straight up, and abruptly turned toward the Pod a meter above the circle. He sat opposite of the smoke that lazily drifted over the now lifeless form floating on the mattress of moss and leaves in the river. The young Pod-man’s form was lifeless after the encounter with snakewood. Ettu knew that the medicine required was sacred, and the best thing was to contact the sorceress in the Pod and watch the lesson unfold. He knew the smoke would alert Artemesia and that the Infinite One would soon reveal Itself in the moment. Patiently Ettu waited, and the peat dogs slept, waiting for a sign from the dreamer.
“Luci?” Tu called out quietly in the dark. “Luci are you still here? Is Artemesia here?”
Tu was alone in the dark and was very hot. “Luci, can I have some water? Please, Luci, bring me some water.”
“Yes, Tu, I am here with you. Please know that you are cared for in this moment.” Luci spoke softly. “Artemesia, is here as well, she cares very much for you. We are sending a message over the Blue Mountains for you, for your healing. There is one more to be called forth and present at this time.”
“Healing? What am I to be healed of, Luci? I am the strongest POD-MAN, am I not?” Tu proclaimed defiantly.
“Young man,” Artemesia spoke firmly, “You have a very strong will, yet your body is not invincible to the effects of the snakewood. If you had shown any interest to the ancient herbal lore, you would have avoided its ugly barbs. “Furthermore,” the hard lesson continued “if you had studied the creatures of the air you would know the good and the bad, and not have smeared the blood of the poisonous boring gnat into your skin!”
“The old one speaks the truth,” Luci said respectfully.
“Tu, we are in dreamland with you. Ettu called us forth in the ancient manner, and you may yet return to the life of the world. But it is your choice. What you believe, you will receive.”
A booming voice exploded in Tu’s awareness. All else seemed absorbed in the magnitude of this newly felt presence. A heavy presence it was too, overshadowing all familiarity of self and others. In the stillness Tu felt very cold and naked.
“Women of the Triune! I greet you!
What is this form below?
Is it Tu?
Tu, so reckless and defiant.
Tu, so feckless and buoyant?”
The voice laughed heartily, greatly disturbing Tu’s own humors.
“Luci, who is this one?” Tu anxiously queried.
“Eni Tha Rom, a High Priestess of the Ancient Lore. Be respectful. She knows many healing ways and many other ways as well. Speak carefully. Listen carefully. Wisdom of the world dwells within.”
“I have crossed vast spaces to be here in these desperate places. What have you up your sleeve, Young One, Aces?”
Eni Tha Rom moved within Tu’s awareness. The heaviness eclipsed Tu’s known world, and there was no light nor darkness˜only the presence.
“Come back, Luci!” Tu cried out desperately for the safety of familiar souls; he felt so very alone. Luci and Artemesia were someplace else, where did they go? The voice boomed within his brain, claiming his attention.
“TU! I AM FOR YOU, TU!
What seek you here, dew?
Morning dew vanished,
and young one banished.
Seek you what in this land?
Ettu may guide your hand.
Beware the servant dog,
and keep a well-drawn log.
Shivers of fever passes,
new ones arise from lasses.
Heed well the voice within,
life is just another beginnin’.”
Coldness and darkness enveloped Tu, sensations foreign to the POD-man. Shaking uncontrollably he opened his eyes to the sky above. A gray sky filled with rose colored balloons. He focused on the forms above in an attempt to disregard his shaking but had little success. He reached out with his hand to touch the forms and they vanished as his balance shifted and he toppled off the raft of moss and leaves into the icy-cold river. Ettu deftly stepped around the sacred circle reaching into the river to extricate the young one.
“Hey! What the hell!” Tu coughed and sputtered, gagging on the water he had swallowed.
“Dream done. Lesson learned. Time go.” Ettu said as he quickly gathered up items from the circle.
“What dream? What lesson? Where?” Tu anxiously asked the large mutant.
“Not time now. Must move. Speed be order. Follow, do not run front de dawgs. Step only where I be. Truth to you.”
Ettu looked deeply into Tu’s eyes to verify the healing was done. “You good. We go now.”
Tu felt something move within him, a still small voice said, “Trust. All is well.” In his innocence, he did.
Tu stood, dripping, on the river bank, where Ettu had pulled him to shore. He stumbled a few steps, then realized his leg no longer ached where he’d scratched it on the snakewood. A quick glance showed the leg had gone back to nearly normal color, and the scratch looked as though it had happened days ago.
He jumped up and down on the leg. No pain, no weakness. He jogged around in a small circle – still good. Let’s put it to a real test, he thought to himself. He turned a quick cartwheel, landing with a thump face-to-face with Ettu.
“Leg healed now, yes?”
He could have sworn Ettu was trying not to laugh.
“Yes, it’s fine. Thank you.” Tu looked back toward the river, where he saw the remains of the moss and leaf raft he’d lain on.
“I don’t understand what you – what she – I mean . . . thanks.”
“Lady help you. Is good now.” Ettu looked toward the peat-dogs. “We go now. Find more food on de way.” He strode off after signaling the dogs ahead of him.
Tu roused himself, realizing he needed to keep up with his new companion. He could see the faint imprints of the mutant’s feet in the damp soil, so he focused on following them.
Ettu moved through the bushes and into the dark shadow of the forest, the peatbulls at his side. Tu followed, walking in Ettu’s tracks, careful to avoid the spindly branches that thrust at him from all directions. It was night now, but thankfully the moon was full, and illuminated the way with a pale, ghostly light. Tu smiled. He felt alive, so alive, so glorious walking in the night with nothing between himself and the vast wildness beyond. There was no indecision and no fear, only the promise of a great journey with all its revelations and surprises.
“Good,” Ettu said approvingly, without turning around, as though Tu had voiced his emotions aloud. “You being not like the others, the Poisoners.”
Tu did not ask what Ettu meant by “Poisoners.” He knew all too well that Ettu was referring to what had happened following the Great War (the “war to end all wars,” they called it), when the Eastern and Western Empires had scourged the earth, and all its inhabitants, with every nuclear and biological agent at their disposal. In the end, there had been no winner, only losers, and the once-great cities were abandoned. In time, the Pod (and others like it)became home to Tu’s ancestors, who insulated themselves from the world – the Outer Regions – which their own leaders had rendered uninhabitable. But there were others, in more remote areas, who did not reach the shelters in time. These populations sustained terrible losses, suffered horrific disfigurements, and gave birth to a small number of tragically deformed children – the Mutants. Tu had heard that the ones who eventually made their way to the urban shelters were turned away like
lepers, lest they somehow contaminate the pure ones within. According to official history, these sad creatures and their few, ailing offspring became extinct long ago.
“Best to travel in night,” Ettu said. “There is poison in the sun. Daytime walking you should not go. Not without the protecting.”
He must be referring to the mud and leaves, thought Tu. That is how they managed out here for all this time. . . Yet many questions remained unanswered. Most of the trees grew in strange, twisted shapes that resembled nothing that he had ever seen in old laserbooks. Even the leaves looked and smelled strange to him – large and misshapen, as though plucked from giant fantasy trees and somehow glued onto these smaller earthly ones. Although he could not see any animals, Tu could hear them prowling and scuttling through the leaves. Now and then, he spotted a pair of red or yellow eyes glinting in the darkness. So much life out here where all life had long since been extinguished! Tu wanted to stop and examine some of the leaves more closely, and peer overhead into the leafy canopy where claws scuttled and creatures hooted softly, but Ettu was moving swiftly, and Tu knew he must keep up.
“Must be home before first light,” Ettu said, as though to explain his increasingly rapid pace.
“Home?” asked Tu. “Where is your home?”
“The Place of Birds,” Ettu said. “Where you call the Blue Mountains.”
Tu felt a strange bending, a wavering of his thoughts. Someone was looking at him, from inside and yet from far, far away. Large, luminous eyes peered into him, probed with fingers he could not see.
“Soon the knowing,” a voice hummed to him. A face leaned close to him, a strange yet kindly face, old and yet somehow young. He had seen this face before. . . where?
“Eni Tha Rom,” a voice answered, but he could not tell if it was the ghost-woman, Ettu, or his own mouth speaking the name. For a moment, everything flickered and rippled. And then Tu opened his eyes to find Ettu contemplating him with an interested look.
“So. She calls you.” Ettu gestured to him, and pointed up past the thinning trees. Tu could at last see a trail that led out of the forest and up a gently sloping hill. Just beyond lay the huge towering peaks of the Blue Mountains, a place known only in legend and ancient history.
“Come! The Seven wait for you!”
And Tu realized that very soon, nothing in his life would ever be the same again.
The trail led them out of the trees and into a narrow pass along the base of the foothills that skirted the great mountains. As Ettu slowed his pace Tu fairly shivered with anticipation. How many others would there be? And who were these “seven” whom Ettu said were waiting? Tu was filled with questions, as usual over-analyzing,or as Luci called it, Tu’s propensity for thinking too much.
At last the trail opened onto a small valley. Tu could not see the mountains that rose up on either side of it, but he felt them. He had felt their presence growing since he first started out, though he had not realized it until now. It was a ridiculous thought that the mountains could have a presence. And he laughed at the notion and at himself. But he had to acknowledge that he felt something here, something powerful, something he never felt before. A light flickered in the distance now, and a delicious smell greeted them as they made their way toward it.
And then he saw the people. He had not been aware of them at first, for they moved quietly and blended with their surroundings, becoming like the strange trees themselves. Some stopped to look at Tu momentarily, acknowledging his presence, and then moving away quickly. A woman swept up a group of children as Tu neared what he had accessed was a campfire. Along with the beautiful smell that must certainly be from the wood that was burning came an equally beautiful crackling sound. A small group of mutants was gathered around the campfire. And the people did not scatter as Ettu and Tu approached. Ettu touched one of the women on the shoulder and then sat down beside her, motioning for Tu to sit also.
“This one is Tu. He is hungry,” Ettu told the woman and turned to Tu. “Greet Bena.”
“Pleased to meet you, Bena,” said Tu.
Bena nodded to Tu. “We have something from Last meal,” she said. “But it is no longer warm.” She produced a water gourd and a wooden bowl filled with thick mush. Tu reached for the bowl of food first. But Bena smiled and said, “Wash first.” She raised the gourd reverently to the sky, then touched it to the earth, and then offered it to Tu. Tu poured the water over his hands, wondered how safe it was, realized again how thirsty he was. “Yes,” Bena said. “Drink.” When Tu had drunk, he accepted the bowl of food gratefully.
Bena extended her arm to a young man sitting next to her. “Tish,” she said.
“Good to greet you, Tish,” said Tu, then scooped up some of the sweet, nutty-flavored mass with his fingers, having no spoon. Tish gestured to two women who sat next to him. “Sara and May,” he said. “A pleasure,” said Tu, waiting for the last introduction to a man that sat next to him and across from Tish. May nodded to the man and said, “Tino.” “Good to greet you,”
“Tino,” said Tu.
Tish said, “Tino has been speaking. He says there is a giant Bird that lives on the mountain.”
“I say it again,” said Tino. “There is a Bird so big that when it flies it blocks out the sun.”
“There are only small birds. And only fools travel in the daytime,” Tish said, crossing his big arms and looking away from Ettu, who seemed hurt.
“I have seen it for myself!” Tino’s words were almost a shout and others nearby glanced at him in surprise. He lowered his voice again and spoke to the group. “There is much to see if you travel in the light.” He turned an approving gaze at Tu.
Aware that all eyes were on him now, Tu panicked. What would be the appropriate response? Clearly, he was expected to take a side in this issue. Tu still held his bowl and now affected a serious expression and looked at Bena. “Boy, this sure is good. Did you make it? What’s in it?”
Bena shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t cook.”
Everyone laughed. “You mean we don’t LET you cook,” Ettu said, putting his arm around Bena affectionately.
Bena looked up sheepishly, “They don’t let me cook,” she said.
And they all laughed again. “When you have finished, I will take you to the Seven,” she told Tu.
And Tu ate hurriedly, hoping to avoid being put on the hot seat again. When he finished he handed his bowl back to Bena, which caused another round of laughter. It was then that Tino picked up the gourd and handed it to Tu again. Tu flushed, realizing his faux pas, and prepared to rinse out his bowl when he suddenly remembered Bena’s ritual. He lifted the gourd to the sky, then touched it to the ground, and then washed his bowl.
“You are not like the others,” said Tino.
* * *
Tu and followed Bena through the little valley, past what Tu figured to be scores of people, some sleeping, some talking quietly to each other. The ground rose as they walked, and again Tu had to work to keep up with his guide. He was again aware of the presence of these mountains, felt their power penetrate him. Finally they came to a campfire. “Wait patiently,” Bena said. And she walked past the fire to the mouth of a cave, where she called quietly, “Bena comes! And one from the Pod. Will you greet us?”
There was a long pause during which Tu became aware of odd chirping sounds directly overhead. He looked up but saw nothing. They must be birds! He heard fluttering sounds and peered excitedly into the dark canopy above, hoping to catch a glimpse of the creatures. They made what Tu thought was a happy sound, light and free. “The songs of Truth,” said a voice next to him. Tu turned to find himself face to face with an ancient woman, draped in flowing skin robes with wreathes of leaves her hair. And there were five more old women standing behind her.
“Greet the Seven,” Bena said. “The Keepers of The Knowledge.”
And Tu answered, “I’m honored to greet you.” But he counted only six women, apart from Bena. Then suddenly he knew. “Artemesia!”
The Keepers of The Knowledge smiled. “He is not like the others,” the woman next to him said.
“He is called by Tu,” said Bena.
“And I am also Two,” said one of the women. A third woman spoke. “I am the Third,” she said. “You must come with me. You must prepare your ritual for the next dusk.”
“What? Wait,” Tu said, losing his tone of respect for a moment. “You want ME to prepare a ritual?” All the women looked at him in silence. And then the Third woman said, “We all walk the Path with our own feet. We cannot make your ritual for you. You must create it yourself.”
“With each step,” said the Third. “Be with me.” And she turned and walked into the cave.
The Third walked directly into the side of the mountain and was swallowed up by the damp stone wall. What an amazing crone this ancient one was, thought Tu quietly to himself. He thought of the songs Artemesia’s soothing voice had sung over his sleep time and remembered the phrase “The journey is different for those with vision, In the Other World live many without decision, When the way is made in knowing, there is no cease of growing.” And now Tu moved with the rhythm of the verse, accepting the moment and strode forward without hesitation, and entered the Other World without fear.
Confident in his step, Tu stepped into the mountain and crossed over into the unknown yet oddly familiar space of Nanno-Tyme. The scenery changed dramatically from the dark foreboding forest to a blinding light that seemed to come from nowhere, yet from everywhere and everything. Instinctively, his eyes shut and he felt tears begin to stream from his eyes. Yet, even with his eyes closed, Tu had no fear of this strange place, nor its strange appearance.
Standing quietly in the moment, he began to sense the life moving around him, or rather, moving through him bringing to his awareness a vision beyond anything his teachers had ever spoke of before. He was surrounded and supported within a matrix of stars, and a small blue ball was placed in his hands. “I want to be there!” he suddenly exclaimed, and he was.
Tu bounced twice as he hit the mossy garden floor. He laid face down breathing the decay of generations of leaves and grass being turned over by persistent worms. He started taking inventory of his body to ensure that all the pieces were sound. Toes and ankles moved freely and he could flex his leg muscles with ease. He clenched his fingers and rotated his wrists, and slowly brought his arms closer in to his body. Lifting his head cautiously, he found no resistance, and rotated his head to the side in order to breathe freely and deeply of the cool atmosphere. He ran his hands down his ribs, and finding no sharp pangs that would indicate internal injuries, he continued down his abdomen and counted his most important features. Counting two on either side as well as the one in the center, he sighed with relief and turned over.
Laying there with his eyes closed the light glowing through his eyelids appeared less vivid, more mild perhaps; and he peaked out between his eyelashes to see what was about him. Unknown flowers and fruit hung heavy on the plants around him; things he could not recall having seen in any of the books, but perhaps legend had carried forward. What was that one child’s verse . . .
Coming out of his childhood reverie, Tu courageously sat up and looked straight forward, hoping to see something familiar, but it was all so different from the POD. Green and brown surrounded him, heavily punctuated with vivid colors streaming from the unidentifiable vegetation, promising the next generation with its emerging seeds. Tu had never seen anything like it in his short life. He breathed deeply of the essence of the plants auras and felt his own awareness expand and grow – he was a part of this, definitely – he was living in union with all that he surveyed before him. The air was alive with many life forms he could see, and others he could only sense.
Seven balls of light coursed around his head, and the blue-green was very close to his face. It seemed to want his attention and as he focused on the bright ball he could see Artemesia and feel her presence in his heart.
“Tu, this is for you. This is your creation. Claim it. Name it.” Artemesia lovingly spoke, like a grandmother bestowing a favorite child with unimagined freedom.
“Artemesia, it is so beautiful here, where is this place?” Tu implored her for an answer. “The air is so clear. The sky is so pink and blue. These plants are so magnificent, I can hardly describe my joy in this moment!”
“Follow your path. Heed your guides, and you will find direction. Heed not, and you will lack protection. Grow as the garden, bountiful in all ways, and your seed shall see many days.”
Tu watched the seven balls of light before his eyes, wondering what business they were about. Musing over their dance, he wished he had someone to share his thoughts with, someone who could actually exchange an idea with him, not just create parables and nonsensical rhymes that made little sense. He stood up and kicked at the leaves on the ground, impatient with the seven balls of light, hoping they would go away, and they did.
“Now what do I do?” Tu thought to himself. “Well, let’s go find something new and different.” Picking up the pack he found at his feet, he felt drawn to see what was on the other side of the garden. It was odd, not having the POD dome limiting his vision, and he saw another garden across a river not far away. “I’ll go there,” he declared to whomever (or whatever) was present, and boldly strode across the garden. Distance was a lesson yet to be discovered.
Tu stepped forward and felt himself push into an invisible plasmic barrier. It quickly enveloped his body and rushed into nose, mouth, eyes and ears. His limbs moved slow and sluggish, confined and restrained by the strange ubiquitous sap. For a moment he couldn’t move at all and, in his paralysis, was suddenly AWARE of a terrifying world around him. Flames rushed forward and licked his frozen form as a creature emerged before his blurred vision. It’s face was blue and bloated, sick and fishlike. It’s arms were long, sinuous and scaly, flapping senselessly about it. Unseen celestial beings wailed, the sound of their lamentations both sweet and sickening. Tu would have vomited had not his internal processes also ceased movement.
The blue-faced being opened it’s mouth yet Tu heard no sound. He watched as the creature’s head grew smaller and smaller as if he were being pulled away or yanked backwards. Indeed, he could feel fingers on the back of his neck, firm and commanding yet soft and warm.
Tu wrenched free of the clasp and turned around. Before him stood a woman, lovely and pale. Behind her sat a being who existed before the Blue Mountains ever saw the Limitless Sky.
Both the Woman and the Ancient Being spoke, as if their separate bodies were being operated from afar by the same Controller.
“We are Judy,” they said, as Tu sat aghast. “Welcome to Centered Source.”
“Yduj,” Tu repeated the women’s words as they nodded.
“Welcome to Centered Source,” they said again as Tu became aware again of the blue-faced form writhing about them. The women seemed to be floating also, expanding and contracting like waves, like the weird feeling in his arms and legs. Looking down at his limbs he saw that they were expanding and contracting, too. And his belly wavered in the thick gel like heat mirages.
There were more forms around him and behind the two women. Was the Ancient one a woman, then? He peered at her through the plasmic goo.
It was a woman, yet not a woman, yet not a man, either. The being defied all his senses, yet he knew somehow that it WAS a woman. Eni-tha-rom, he remembered. But where did this memory come from? Who was she, this Ancient One whom he knew had seen the Beginning? There were more forms around them all, writhing in the periphery of their circle-grotesque animals of every plan-snakes and pigs, lions and vultures-whining and panting and grasping.
The Ancient One and the pale woman spoke again. “You have come to make ritual,” they said as one.
“Lautir?” Tu said and the women nodded.
Tu looked around at the monstrous shapes about him, felt himself floating again toward the ground, undulating and vague. When he touched the ground he felt his form begin coalesce once more. “What is this place?” he said.
“It is the place you seek,” the Two said as One. “The place of your ritual.”
“Yes,” Tu said. “My ritual.” And he looked about him again and saw only misery. Then, closing his eyes, he took a step, and then another, and another until he had begun to dance. Leaping and spinning, he threw back his head and danced through the heavy gel, dancing with his whole being, his whole heart. He did not dance for the women, or for himself. He danced because of the animals brooding and moaning, because of the weird blue face with formless arms and legs, because of the heavy air that would not let him breathe. He danced in spite of it all.
Suddenly a cry pierced the air. Tu opened his eyes to see that his dancing had created a space in the plasma, an opening far above his head.
Above him soared an immense “bird.” And still dancing Tu watched as it plunged toward the opening he had made. “This is the one!” Tu exclaimed to himself. “This is Tino’s bird!” The bird screamed, raised its wings, and brought its talons down. And before he knew it, Tu was being taken up, up through the opening. He looked down to see the Two watching him as One, getting smaller and smaller the higher he went. Then Tu looked up, unable to believe what he saw.
A vortex. Blood and Light. Liquid Gold rolling through thick gobs of wax-like substance. Forms human and alien, male and female, plant, insect and animal-all simultaneously. All perspective vanished-there was no big and small, no close or far. Tu could see everything, from the Death Cycles of the Pod to the Death Cycles of the Blue Mountain. All swirling, spinning, weaving the Web. A Web of laughter unheard by mortal ears, that same laughter heard by Souls hurled from one world to another, that Sound obscured by ears stopped with the black slime of fear and guilt.
Tu stretched upwards and a hand met his, light pouring from it’s fingers and into his arm, burning away tissue and bone, evaporating the limb and leaving a faint afterimage in its place.
The young Initiate could feel the pull of gravity and his ascent stopped. For one moment all was frozen. He stood perfectly still between Heaven and Hell.
It was then that he could hear the Voice of the Blue-faced One as it’s long snaking arms reached up and entwined about his ankles.
It was then that he understood the Mystery of the Blue Mountain.
The Blue Mountain was a doorway. Tu knew it in an instant. He knew, too, that unless he shook off the Blue-faced One that his ritual would be incomplete, that he would remain bound to what lay below him. He had to go forward ˜ it was the only possibility he could see. He had to escape the clutches of that Blue-faced One, and as he struggled and kicked to be rid of it, the long snaking arms grasped at his legs more strongly, planting it’s long jagged claws into Tu’s flesh.
“Aiyeee!” Tu’s scream pierced the space before him. Such a scream had never been uttered in this nether region between Heaven and Hell. The vibration shattered all other sounds, and all creatures turned to face this new presence. No longer taunting and laughing all beings were stilled and stood as quiet as frozen trees in a foggy gray sunrise.
Stunned by his own cry, Tu shook with pain as he surveyed the stillness he had created. He looked down at his legs, and the Blue-faced One looked back at him smiling, with claws retracted. The blood coursed down his knee from the wounds in his thigh, and he could feel warm liquid flowing down his back; the creature had marked him deeply. Suspended in time, with no direction save his intuition, Tu felt isolated and separate in the midst of all these beings. He sensed movement in the midst of the crowd and realized he had to act quickly ˜ he could feel the Blue-faced One taking a deep breath of renewal. Oblivious to what lay forward, Tu also drew deeply the breath of life, kicked sharply, and dove straight up through the now undulating masses. Sticky, filthy hands reached towards him, fangs were barred, and all laughter was absence as the beings sought their prize.
“Aiyeee!” Tu’s cry rang out. Piercing the mob, the ceremonial cry echoed across the Blue Mountain, and Tu was sucked across time and space. When he finally had the courage to open his eyes, he was standing above the world. “Standing. Yes, I am standing. This is not floating as I was in the river. I am definitely standing.” Tu reassured himself that there was a difference, and as he looked down, he saw Ettu with his favorite dog and Bena with another animal Tu had never seen before.
“Hey, Ettu! It’s me! Tu! Hey! Up here!” Tu called out in vain, but no one bothered to look up. “Don’t they care about me? I’m injured and bleeding, I need care! Help! Help!” Tu screamed in vain. “Why should they care about me? Why should they be any different than those creatures that were trying to eat me for lunch! They don’t. They just don’t care. What am I going to do now? They can’t see me, they can’t hear me, I can see them, but I can’t hear them. See they are talking. They are talking about me, I know it! Oh, please! Someone help me!”
“Tu. Tu, be silent.” Artemesia’s voice was very calm and soothing.
“Artemesia? What happened to my ritual? Is it done? I do so want it to be done. Can I go back to the Pod now?” Tu whined and whimpered as he wrapped his torn thigh with a tourniquet.
“Tu. You have chosen this path. You have created this time for yourself. What you gain from this ritual will stay with you for always and all ways. A ritual is most certainly composed in one’s heart. That, my dear student, is where you will find yourself. No riddle here now. No parable. Be still and know.”
Finishing with the tourniquet knot, Tu heaved a sigh of surrender. Looking around again he contemplated Ettu’s kindness and willingness to aid an injured Podman. “Wish he could look at this nasty gash,” Tu said aloud.
“No telling what kind of infection lies beneath this filthy rag.” Tu thought about the food Bena had provided, and realized he was very hungry again. He thought about Luci and how angry she always made him, and how frustrating Artemesia could be. He thought of the all the beings that had tried to snag him, and trip him up so that he would fail: those beings he had just met and the beings back in the Pod who had deceived him again and again about the other world. Tu was getting very angry, and then Artemesia’s words crossed his mind again.
“It’s in my heart.” Tu said softly to himself.
“What’s in a heart? Blood and muscle, rhythmically beating. That’s all a heart is. What else can it be? A birthday card? A kiss from a wet-lipped grandmother.
What’s in my heart?” Tu screamed out loud in his frustration and confusion. “All I ever wanted was a Pepsi!” Tu fidgeted as he struggled with the idea of heart.
“People have always made me the fall-guy! I’ve always had to pay for someone else’s folly. It’s never my fault for what happens! This isn’t fair.” Tu said flatly. “My own curiosity and openness has made me search beyond the known. I was encouraged, even by Luci and Artemesia – even be Ettu and Bena! And despite everything, and even the fact that I’m standing about 50 feet in mid-air, all I want to know is what makes it all work! So, I guess it is my own entire fault. I’m here and I’m responsible for being here, so I can accept that. I can forgive myself for being here, and accept that if I’m quiet (like Artemesia said) the answer will come. Okay.”
“ARTEMESIA!” Tu yelled out, “I’M QUIET NOW.”
Tu closed his eyes, and thought about how his life in the Pod had been a good life. He thought about the joy of freedom that he felt when he left the Pod. He thought about the presence of Luci that he carried within his heart. And it was good. It was good to be Tu. He could feign to know no other person or being as well as he knew himself. Tu knew he could not claim even the remotest understanding of anyone else’s experience. He realized that his heart was more than muscle and blood ˆ that love is the centering source for all that is in one’s heart and mind. And he knew more, but he didn’t know how he knew, and he was still in the silence. Focusing into this awareness he opened his eyes, and was surrounded and carried by the Seven. Gently, ever so gently they began to move toward the ground. Tu felt the cool air moving past him, the exhilaration was overpowering
“Aiyeee!” Tu let loose his cry again.
Ettu and Bena heard the third cry and looked knowingly at each other. They watched as the Seven hovered with their student over a greasy green pool that looked like oily mud and glistened eerily under the last waning rays of sunlight
“Tu now ready for his bath in sacred pool,” Ettu grinned widely at the thought of his part in Tu’s next step of initiation.