The Heart of Desire by John Klawitter

EXTRACT FOR
The Heart of Desire

(John Klawitter)


He was falling through air, weightless. The icy wind roared in his ears, whipped past the hairs on his naked body in a screaming flow. No, that long primal wail was coming from him as he plunged like a wingless angel, a broken-winged bird, a missile twisting on itself and gone awry. A few hundred feet now. A matter of seconds and he would wink out into blank nothingness. The bleak and frosty landscape below rushed up to greet him and…and…and…
He crashed through a brilliantly colorful stained glass skylight, all reds and greens and golds, still without a stitch of clothing on his bruised body, crashing down through the heavy tobacco and perfume-scented air of an Asian casino. He had time to think the word Macao as his arms and legs flailed. His skin was scratched and cut, and his torso heavily bruised in a dozen places, tokens from earlier things he’d fallen through. He had a flash impression of Asian men in top hats and formalwear, their ladies in bustle-narrow waists and ornate gowns. They looked up at him in stunned amazement as his battered body impacted hard on the green felt baccarat table and…and…and…
He crashed through the green cloth as if it were thin ice and he was falling through air, past skyscrapers, on his way down while people stared and pointed from the windows. He glimpsed short hair and beaded dresses, city girls looking up from their lunches, all black early Detroit motorcars and horse drawn beer carts and carriages. “Early 1900’s,” he thought as his left shoulder and one side of his face impacted on the cobblestone street and…and…and…
He crashed through the asphalt like a clumsy walrus diving through a sticky film of coagulated oil on seawater and he was tumbling down caught in the wake of a sinking steamship, down, down, down past the blue to the deep blue to the blue-black to the blackest black water crushing him from every side and…and…and…
He woke in a fit, shuddering and shaking with bruises and scratches and aches all over his body. He was alone in a small, cramped place on the deck of a boat. He waited while his thudding heart slowed. He listened to the low throbbing of the twin diesel engines from the engine room below. He took a shallow, hesitant breath. No more falling, no more falling...it his own whisper, a quietly begging prayer for release from the crushing reality of his fright. Even as he watched, he thought he saw the skin on his naked body healing and re-stretching itself over his wounds. The crushed bones on his left shoulder plumped, rounded and mended themselves. The bruises began to disappear. The aches were fading into near memory. No, that couldn’t be. Nothing more than his imagination. No one else ever saw him actually mending, or if they did, they never mentioned it. True, there were times when his friend, the Old One-Eyed Mexican, seemed as if he was about to say something. But then he would only purse his thin wrinkled lips and shake his head.
The pain subsided, the injustice to his flesh mended flawlessly until just one old scar remained, a long, thin scar that began on the right side of his forehead and ran straight down his body to a puncture on the arch of his right foot. He felt the raised line on his cheek and smiled in sad recognition.
He was back. He was awake…or was he still dreaming?
You have an adventuresome mind, don’t you? You’re not afraid to go into dark corners. You love life, you want to see it all. You’re interested in studying the dark and shadowy alley-lurkers as well as the gay dancers happily flitting across the sun-dappled meadows. Something in you probably also is drawn to mummies and tombs, curses, vampires, and worse…yes, there are worse things, unimagined things sitting on the rim of your awareness.
You see, humans actually only sense a small fraction of everything that is. It’s somewhere around 5%, I think. Of course you knew that; at least, you suspected it. Maybe it somewhere? No matter; you see, that tingle down your spine and the hairs raised in alarm on your arms do mean something, after all.
Some of the old hands at this business of living say it isn’t wise to look for trouble, and you’ve heard many times that it’s better to be safe than sorry…but don’t we all take the same journey? I mean, yours is a lot shorter than mine, but that’s not the point. The question is, do you really want to walk your little way with your hands over your eyes?
Not me. I’d prefer knowing where the vile scratchy spiders, the red-eyed snakelike spitting things and the mean-smelling flesh bugs are, just as much as I want to be sure to get my fill of the pretty brooks, the gentle purple leaves, the rolling fire-hills of home. That’s me personally, and probably a bit of you, too. That is why you’re here, isn’t it?
Still, a story like this…well, it’s going to stretch your mind a bit. It probably should never have been written. The Game Masters are already saying there should be rules against it, and in a few more years, there probably will be. Why? No real reason, it’s just getting to be that there are rules for everything. You’ve noticed that, too, in your own world, haven’t you?
In strictly human terms, you can’t defend this story. In the first place, it’s about impossible things. A pattern so against the law of averages is just not possible. Such odd patterns of events absolutely cannot be: Come on, now…danger and death at every corner. Violence and mayhem at every breath. Things happening all the time. And even more specifically, the strangely foreign beings, the demi-gods obliquely alluded to herein do not—cannot—exist.
On the other hand, suppose, by the very act of writing and reading about such things, we cause them to come to pass? Now there’s a reason to pass a law!
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! Oops, I think that was the wrong Latin, I was thinking of an old Roman saying about innocence and out pops some old altar boy stuff about confessing. Oh well, maybe nobody will notice. After all, I don’t have anything to confess, unless perhaps there is something to those old beliefs. You know, original sin. After all, we are monkeying around with you people and your so-called puny destinies. Ahh, I was pure once. Trailing clouds of glory do we come, from heaven, that is our home. Milton? No, Wordsworth. Little matter, you won’t have to know the poets to follow along here.
The final word on this one—and you have to believe me—I’m definitely not human and so I don’t really know how important any of this could possibly be to you. And it’s your fault you’re hanging around here. You should be getting your kicks with far more sensitive creatures, mystics gebornen with spiritual talents, paranormally enlightened entertainers or perhaps hooded ones safely embalmed in their own prayers who can perhaps let you crouch under the lip of their ponchos and get into the sacred place when you die. Some people say Beware the storyteller. But isn’t that a bit like shooting the messenger?
This whole ramble reminds me of the two men walking along the seashore; the one flipping a coin and it always comes up heads, heads, and heads. Remember them, after Shakespeare? For God’s sake, what does it mean? The one asks the other, saying something like that. Well, R&G, maybe it doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it is just entertainment. Nothing dark about a coin that always comes up heads, is there? Nothing hinting at deeper meanings, unseen forces, alien claws or flesh-burning suckers in the apple pie.
Not to change the subject, but if you’ll indulge me for just a moment, don’t you think talking about the world’s greatest beer is a little like trying to discuss Hollywood’s top intellectuals? It’s not as if the young, sexy, in-the-know actors in the beer commercials can actually keg it and stay in the trim. Face the facts, friend; slurping up the suds makes you sleepy and sloppy. Drink beer and you belch, fart and grow fat. And yet the six-pack, the long neck, the wide-mouth and the kegger are celebrated the world over, probably because the noble brew numbs the brain—as if you all weren’t already in a stupor. Don’t get mad; all of us are, more or less.
Well, let’s scramble past that uncomfortable business for now, and move on to the beer. There is one little-known beer that was popular in South Vietnam during that political body called The United States of America’s fierce decade of participation in the wars there that had been going on for centuries before catching their attention. That beer is called Ba Muoi Ba, Vietnamese for the numbers Thirty Three. I’m told there’s something to the smoldering formaldehyde taste of 33 that reminds old Nam vets of the days when the world was young and there was thunder in their veins.
Which brings us to our hero, the fellow with the falling-through-realities dream. Otherwise known as The Man With The Scar. While he wasn’t a numerologist, he was a Vietnam vet, and at the moment we begin this complicated tale of lust, greed and violence, he is mulling over the fact that it had been 33 years since he’d been in Saigon. And this simple thought had him in a defeatist, even suicidal, state of mind.
The Terrible Thing had happened to him in Vietnam over three decades before. It was something strange and difficult to understand, and yet it had changed his life forever…and for no earthly reason that he could think of. He wondered, had he been carefully chosen? Selected for some spiritual virtue or genetic weakness? Picked at random? How could any of that be? To his mind, there wasn’t anybody more ordinary than he had been on that fateful night…or is anybody really ordinary?
The Man With The Scar felt the cool sea breeze on his face. He watched the last of his scratches and bruises fade. He concentrated on the substance of his surroundings, as if doing so would keep this reality from fading away. He was on a sport fishing boat, returning to the southern tip of Baja, Mexico. His boat wasn’t more than a couple miles out from their berth in Cabo San Lucas harbor. Their progress had been all too slow for his liking, and he had long since stopped looking ahead and had fallen asleep, and that had started those wicked dreams.
Now he sat up and stared numbly to the side, where the boat, a sturdy craft named the Southern Seas, was slipping past the gaunt flanks of the small islands known to local mariners as The Fingers. He was attracted to the desperate stretch of frothy surf where the jagged gray-and-beige tumble of uninhabited rocks slipped into the churning blue-gray sea. For the briefest of moments, he found himself wishing that he had the courage to leap over the railing and sink into the cold, dark water.
The day itself was predominantly gray colored, with the late afternoon sun little more than an annoying red orb hanging in a thick, foggy haze common in that part of the world at that time of year. There was no horizon, and the light was wavering, diffuse and somewhat confusing, like reddish lamplight through milky glass, dim reflections that had begun to lose their way in the thickening knots of fog.
You will now see for yourself the first example of how things conspire against The Man With The Scar. Realizing he wasn’t going to have the willpower to test his fortune on the waves, he went below to the small bunk area he called his own.
At the same time, in the steering cabin of the Southern Seas, a scraggly-bearded young mate yawned behind the wheel. It was actually this young mate who first spotted the colorfully attired extremist kayaker paddling in the water near the barnacle-encrusted rocks of Land’s End.
“Look at that stupid Yea-hoo!” the young mate said to nobody in particular.
A bored chummer, a young fellow of a certain limited intelligence (but related by marriage to Captain Griggs, master of the vessel), was at that same time fiddling with the electronic fish finder, pushing buttons with a certain idle curiosity.
“Those things tip right over,” the chummer said, referring to the distant slim cigar shape of the kayak.
“Huh,” the young mate, with two fingers on the wheel, said, and as he spoke he made a small, precise adjustment, swinging his big charge a bit closer to the kayak.
“Careful, you might swamp it…” the chummer said, not really caring or paying much attention. “How come I can’t see him on the fish finder?”
“He has to be under water, stupid. Fish finder, get it?” And with that, the young mate gave the Southern Seas another nudge closer to the little banana boat.
The extremist kayaker, a novice weekender, looked up in fright as the huge sports fishing boat veered toward him. From his point of view, it looked huge as a freighter. The kayaker began to paddle frantically toward what he figured was the relative safety of the nearby jagged rocky fingers.
At the same moment, confidently in charge at the helm, the young mate reached for a can of Diet Dr. Pepper. Unfortunately, his foot slipped off the console on which he had rested it, and he started to slide off his chair. He regained his balance by grabbing the wheel. At his unintended command, the big boat lurched even closer to the kayak. The young mate recovered in an instant, but now the Southern Seas was racing far too close to the rocks and with a bit of a yaw that was narrowing the distance fast. Is this a coincidence, or do you see any fated intent in all of this? Well let’s continue; perhaps it’s too soon for you to be making judgments.
The chummer, no longer bored, stared at the young mate, the doomed kayaker and the rocks.
“Oh, wow…” he said in awe.
The Southern Seas, now swallowing up the horizon, slapped the kayak aside as if it was a matchstick and careened into the slime-coated rocky fingers that raked it from stem to stern.
So you see, The Man With The Scar wasn’t even on duty, and when the unfortunate accident happened he was actually below, lying on his bunk and trying to read an odd book by Jack London about a jailbird trapped in a strait jacket who learns to sort-of travel using the power of his mind…an ability, by the way, that you all have, but rarely, if ever, use.
When the boat scraped the rocks, The Man With The Scar dropped the paperback and rolled off his bed, instantly alert. His bleached strawberry blond hair was white at the temples, and there were streaks of white in his long, droopy moustache and beard, which over the last decade had been getting on with more salt than pepper. On close inspection, he looked closer to sixty than forty, but he was extremely nimble for a man of any age. He sized things up quickly, rolling athletically to a sitting position on the end of his bunk and pulling on his pants.
The scar that ran like a line down the right side of his face was clearly visible. As he grabbed his socks, he ignored the continuing scar line that ran on down his chest, his thigh and lower leg, finally ending in a dramatic star on the top of his right foot.
“Where is he?” Captain Grigg’s rage, muffled but still clear as to intent, could be heard from on deck up above. “Where is my bloody albatross?”

The Heart of Desire by John Klawitter

EXTRACT FOR
The Heart of Desire

(John Klawitter)


He was falling through air, weightless. The icy wind roared in his ears, whipped past the hairs on his naked body in a screaming flow. No, that long primal wail was coming from him as he plunged like a wingless angel, a broken-winged bird, a missile twisting on itself and gone awry. A few hundred feet now. A matter of seconds and he would wink out into blank nothingness. The bleak and frosty landscape below rushed up to greet him and…and…and…
He crashed through a brilliantly colorful stained glass skylight, all reds and greens and golds, still without a stitch of clothing on his bruised body, crashing down through the heavy tobacco and perfume-scented air of an Asian casino. He had time to think the word Macao as his arms and legs flailed. His skin was scratched and cut, and his torso heavily bruised in a dozen places, tokens from earlier things he’d fallen through. He had a flash impression of Asian men in top hats and formalwear, their ladies in bustle-narrow waists and ornate gowns. They looked up at him in stunned amazement as his battered body impacted hard on the green felt baccarat table and…and…and…
He crashed through the green cloth as if it were thin ice and he was falling through air, past skyscrapers, on his way down while people stared and pointed from the windows. He glimpsed short hair and beaded dresses, city girls looking up from their lunches, all black early Detroit motorcars and horse drawn beer carts and carriages. “Early 1900’s,” he thought as his left shoulder and one side of his face impacted on the cobblestone street and…and…and…
He crashed through the asphalt like a clumsy walrus diving through a sticky film of coagulated oil on seawater and he was tumbling down caught in the wake of a sinking steamship, down, down, down past the blue to the deep blue to the blue-black to the blackest black water crushing him from every side and…and…and…
He woke in a fit, shuddering and shaking with bruises and scratches and aches all over his body. He was alone in a small, cramped place on the deck of a boat. He waited while his thudding heart slowed. He listened to the low throbbing of the twin diesel engines from the engine room below. He took a shallow, hesitant breath. No more falling, no more falling...it his own whisper, a quietly begging prayer for release from the crushing reality of his fright. Even as he watched, he thought he saw the skin on his naked body healing and re-stretching itself over his wounds. The crushed bones on his left shoulder plumped, rounded and mended themselves. The bruises began to disappear. The aches were fading into near memory. No, that couldn’t be. Nothing more than his imagination. No one else ever saw him actually mending, or if they did, they never mentioned it. True, there were times when his friend, the Old One-Eyed Mexican, seemed as if he was about to say something. But then he would only purse his thin wrinkled lips and shake his head.
The pain subsided, the injustice to his flesh mended flawlessly until just one old scar remained, a long, thin scar that began on the right side of his forehead and ran straight down his body to a puncture on the arch of his right foot. He felt the raised line on his cheek and smiled in sad recognition.
He was back. He was awake…or was he still dreaming?
You have an adventuresome mind, don’t you? You’re not afraid to go into dark corners. You love life, you want to see it all. You’re interested in studying the dark and shadowy alley-lurkers as well as the gay dancers happily flitting across the sun-dappled meadows. Something in you probably also is drawn to mummies and tombs, curses, vampires, and worse…yes, there are worse things, unimagined things sitting on the rim of your awareness.
You see, humans actually only sense a small fraction of everything that is. It’s somewhere around 5%, I think. Of course you knew that; at least, you suspected it. Maybe it somewhere? No matter; you see, that tingle down your spine and the hairs raised in alarm on your arms do mean something, after all.
Some of the old hands at this business of living say it isn’t wise to look for trouble, and you’ve heard many times that it’s better to be safe than sorry…but don’t we all take the same journey? I mean, yours is a lot shorter than mine, but that’s not the point. The question is, do you really want to walk your little way with your hands over your eyes?
Not me. I’d prefer knowing where the vile scratchy spiders, the red-eyed snakelike spitting things and the mean-smelling flesh bugs are, just as much as I want to be sure to get my fill of the pretty brooks, the gentle purple leaves, the rolling fire-hills of home. That’s me personally, and probably a bit of you, too. That is why you’re here, isn’t it?
Still, a story like this…well, it’s going to stretch your mind a bit. It probably should never have been written. The Game Masters are already saying there should be rules against it, and in a few more years, there probably will be. Why? No real reason, it’s just getting to be that there are rules for everything. You’ve noticed that, too, in your own world, haven’t you?
In strictly human terms, you can’t defend this story. In the first place, it’s about impossible things. A pattern so against the law of averages is just not possible. Such odd patterns of events absolutely cannot be: Come on, now…danger and death at every corner. Violence and mayhem at every breath. Things happening all the time. And even more specifically, the strangely foreign beings, the demi-gods obliquely alluded to herein do not—cannot—exist.
On the other hand, suppose, by the very act of writing and reading about such things, we cause them to come to pass? Now there’s a reason to pass a law!
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! Oops, I think that was the wrong Latin, I was thinking of an old Roman saying about innocence and out pops some old altar boy stuff about confessing. Oh well, maybe nobody will notice. After all, I don’t have anything to confess, unless perhaps there is something to those old beliefs. You know, original sin. After all, we are monkeying around with you people and your so-called puny destinies. Ahh, I was pure once. Trailing clouds of glory do we come, from heaven, that is our home. Milton? No, Wordsworth. Little matter, you won’t have to know the poets to follow along here.
The final word on this one—and you have to believe me—I’m definitely not human and so I don’t really know how important any of this could possibly be to you. And it’s your fault you’re hanging around here. You should be getting your kicks with far more sensitive creatures, mystics gebornen with spiritual talents, paranormally enlightened entertainers or perhaps hooded ones safely embalmed in their own prayers who can perhaps let you crouch under the lip of their ponchos and get into the sacred place when you die. Some people say Beware the storyteller. But isn’t that a bit like shooting the messenger?
This whole ramble reminds me of the two men walking along the seashore; the one flipping a coin and it always comes up heads, heads, and heads. Remember them, after Shakespeare? For God’s sake, what does it mean? The one asks the other, saying something like that. Well, R&G, maybe it doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it is just entertainment. Nothing dark about a coin that always comes up heads, is there? Nothing hinting at deeper meanings, unseen forces, alien claws or flesh-burning suckers in the apple pie.
Not to change the subject, but if you’ll indulge me for just a moment, don’t you think talking about the world’s greatest beer is a little like trying to discuss Hollywood’s top intellectuals? It’s not as if the young, sexy, in-the-know actors in the beer commercials can actually keg it and stay in the trim. Face the facts, friend; slurping up the suds makes you sleepy and sloppy. Drink beer and you belch, fart and grow fat. And yet the six-pack, the long neck, the wide-mouth and the kegger are celebrated the world over, probably because the noble brew numbs the brain—as if you all weren’t already in a stupor. Don’t get mad; all of us are, more or less.
Well, let’s scramble past that uncomfortable business for now, and move on to the beer. There is one little-known beer that was popular in South Vietnam during that political body called The United States of America’s fierce decade of participation in the wars there that had been going on for centuries before catching their attention. That beer is called Ba Muoi Ba, Vietnamese for the numbers Thirty Three. I’m told there’s something to the smoldering formaldehyde taste of 33 that reminds old Nam vets of the days when the world was young and there was thunder in their veins.
Which brings us to our hero, the fellow with the falling-through-realities dream. Otherwise known as The Man With The Scar. While he wasn’t a numerologist, he was a Vietnam vet, and at the moment we begin this complicated tale of lust, greed and violence, he is mulling over the fact that it had been 33 years since he’d been in Saigon. And this simple thought had him in a defeatist, even suicidal, state of mind.
The Terrible Thing had happened to him in Vietnam over three decades before. It was something strange and difficult to understand, and yet it had changed his life forever…and for no earthly reason that he could think of. He wondered, had he been carefully chosen? Selected for some spiritual virtue or genetic weakness? Picked at random? How could any of that be? To his mind, there wasn’t anybody more ordinary than he had been on that fateful night…or is anybody really ordinary?
The Man With The Scar felt the cool sea breeze on his face. He watched the last of his scratches and bruises fade. He concentrated on the substance of his surroundings, as if doing so would keep this reality from fading away. He was on a sport fishing boat, returning to the southern tip of Baja, Mexico. His boat wasn’t more than a couple miles out from their berth in Cabo San Lucas harbor. Their progress had been all too slow for his liking, and he had long since stopped looking ahead and had fallen asleep, and that had started those wicked dreams.
Now he sat up and stared numbly to the side, where the boat, a sturdy craft named the Southern Seas, was slipping past the gaunt flanks of the small islands known to local mariners as The Fingers. He was attracted to the desperate stretch of frothy surf where the jagged gray-and-beige tumble of uninhabited rocks slipped into the churning blue-gray sea. For the briefest of moments, he found himself wishing that he had the courage to leap over the railing and sink into the cold, dark water.
The day itself was predominantly gray colored, with the late afternoon sun little more than an annoying red orb hanging in a thick, foggy haze common in that part of the world at that time of year. There was no horizon, and the light was wavering, diffuse and somewhat confusing, like reddish lamplight through milky glass, dim reflections that had begun to lose their way in the thickening knots of fog.
You will now see for yourself the first example of how things conspire against The Man With The Scar. Realizing he wasn’t going to have the willpower to test his fortune on the waves, he went below to the small bunk area he called his own.
At the same time, in the steering cabin of the Southern Seas, a scraggly-bearded young mate yawned behind the wheel. It was actually this young mate who first spotted the colorfully attired extremist kayaker paddling in the water near the barnacle-encrusted rocks of Land’s End.
“Look at that stupid Yea-hoo!” the young mate said to nobody in particular.
A bored chummer, a young fellow of a certain limited intelligence (but related by marriage to Captain Griggs, master of the vessel), was at that same time fiddling with the electronic fish finder, pushing buttons with a certain idle curiosity.
“Those things tip right over,” the chummer said, referring to the distant slim cigar shape of the kayak.
“Huh,” the young mate, with two fingers on the wheel, said, and as he spoke he made a small, precise adjustment, swinging his big charge a bit closer to the kayak.
“Careful, you might swamp it…” the chummer said, not really caring or paying much attention. “How come I can’t see him on the fish finder?”
“He has to be under water, stupid. Fish finder, get it?” And with that, the young mate gave the Southern Seas another nudge closer to the little banana boat.
The extremist kayaker, a novice weekender, looked up in fright as the huge sports fishing boat veered toward him. From his point of view, it looked huge as a freighter. The kayaker began to paddle frantically toward what he figured was the relative safety of the nearby jagged rocky fingers.
At the same moment, confidently in charge at the helm, the young mate reached for a can of Diet Dr. Pepper. Unfortunately, his foot slipped off the console on which he had rested it, and he started to slide off his chair. He regained his balance by grabbing the wheel. At his unintended command, the big boat lurched even closer to the kayak. The young mate recovered in an instant, but now the Southern Seas was racing far too close to the rocks and with a bit of a yaw that was narrowing the distance fast. Is this a coincidence, or do you see any fated intent in all of this? Well let’s continue; perhaps it’s too soon for you to be making judgments.
The chummer, no longer bored, stared at the young mate, the doomed kayaker and the rocks.
“Oh, wow…” he said in awe.
The Southern Seas, now swallowing up the horizon, slapped the kayak aside as if it was a matchstick and careened into the slime-coated rocky fingers that raked it from stem to stern.
So you see, The Man With The Scar wasn’t even on duty, and when the unfortunate accident happened he was actually below, lying on his bunk and trying to read an odd book by Jack London about a jailbird trapped in a strait jacket who learns to sort-of travel using the power of his mind…an ability, by the way, that you all have, but rarely, if ever, use.
When the boat scraped the rocks, The Man With The Scar dropped the paperback and rolled off his bed, instantly alert. His bleached strawberry blond hair was white at the temples, and there were streaks of white in his long, droopy moustache and beard, which over the last decade had been getting on with more salt than pepper. On close inspection, he looked closer to sixty than forty, but he was extremely nimble for a man of any age. He sized things up quickly, rolling athletically to a sitting position on the end of his bunk and pulling on his pants.
The scar that ran like a line down the right side of his face was clearly visible. As he grabbed his socks, he ignored the continuing scar line that ran on down his chest, his thigh and lower leg, finally ending in a dramatic star on the top of his right foot.
“Where is he?” Captain Grigg’s rage, muffled but still clear as to intent, could be heard from on deck up above. “Where is my bloody albatross?”

EXTRACT FOR
The Heart of Desire

(John Klawitter)


He was falling through air, weightless. The icy wind roared in his ears, whipped past the hairs on his naked body in a screaming flow. No, that long primal wail was coming from him as he plunged like a wingless angel, a broken-winged bird, a missile twisting on itself and gone awry. A few hundred feet now. A matter of seconds and he would wink out into blank nothingness. The bleak and frosty landscape below rushed up to greet him and…and…and…
He crashed through a brilliantly colorful stained glass skylight, all reds and greens and golds, still without a stitch of clothing on his bruised body, crashing down through the heavy tobacco and perfume-scented air of an Asian casino. He had time to think the word Macao as his arms and legs flailed. His skin was scratched and cut, and his torso heavily bruised in a dozen places, tokens from earlier things he’d fallen through. He had a flash impression of Asian men in top hats and formalwear, their ladies in bustle-narrow waists and ornate gowns. They looked up at him in stunned amazement as his battered body impacted hard on the green felt baccarat table and…and…and…
He crashed through the green cloth as if it were thin ice and he was falling through air, past skyscrapers, on his way down while people stared and pointed from the windows. He glimpsed short hair and beaded dresses, city girls looking up from their lunches, all black early Detroit motorcars and horse drawn beer carts and carriages. “Early 1900’s,” he thought as his left shoulder and one side of his face impacted on the cobblestone street and…and…and…
He crashed through the asphalt like a clumsy walrus diving through a sticky film of coagulated oil on seawater and he was tumbling down caught in the wake of a sinking steamship, down, down, down past the blue to the deep blue to the blue-black to the blackest black water crushing him from every side and…and…and…
He woke in a fit, shuddering and shaking with bruises and scratches and aches all over his body. He was alone in a small, cramped place on the deck of a boat. He waited while his thudding heart slowed. He listened to the low throbbing of the twin diesel engines from the engine room below. He took a shallow, hesitant breath. No more falling, no more falling...it his own whisper, a quietly begging prayer for release from the crushing reality of his fright. Even as he watched, he thought he saw the skin on his naked body healing and re-stretching itself over his wounds. The crushed bones on his left shoulder plumped, rounded and mended themselves. The bruises began to disappear. The aches were fading into near memory. No, that couldn’t be. Nothing more than his imagination. No one else ever saw him actually mending, or if they did, they never mentioned it. True, there were times when his friend, the Old One-Eyed Mexican, seemed as if he was about to say something. But then he would only purse his thin wrinkled lips and shake his head.
The pain subsided, the injustice to his flesh mended flawlessly until just one old scar remained, a long, thin scar that began on the right side of his forehead and ran straight down his body to a puncture on the arch of his right foot. He felt the raised line on his cheek and smiled in sad recognition.
He was back. He was awake…or was he still dreaming?
You have an adventuresome mind, don’t you? You’re not afraid to go into dark corners. You love life, you want to see it all. You’re interested in studying the dark and shadowy alley-lurkers as well as the gay dancers happily flitting across the sun-dappled meadows. Something in you probably also is drawn to mummies and tombs, curses, vampires, and worse…yes, there are worse things, unimagined things sitting on the rim of your awareness.
You see, humans actually only sense a small fraction of everything that is. It’s somewhere around 5%, I think. Of course you knew that; at least, you suspected it. Maybe it somewhere? No matter; you see, that tingle down your spine and the hairs raised in alarm on your arms do mean something, after all.
Some of the old hands at this business of living say it isn’t wise to look for trouble, and you’ve heard many times that it’s better to be safe than sorry…but don’t we all take the same journey? I mean, yours is a lot shorter than mine, but that’s not the point. The question is, do you really want to walk your little way with your hands over your eyes?
Not me. I’d prefer knowing where the vile scratchy spiders, the red-eyed snakelike spitting things and the mean-smelling flesh bugs are, just as much as I want to be sure to get my fill of the pretty brooks, the gentle purple leaves, the rolling fire-hills of home. That’s me personally, and probably a bit of you, too. That is why you’re here, isn’t it?
Still, a story like this…well, it’s going to stretch your mind a bit. It probably should never have been written. The Game Masters are already saying there should be rules against it, and in a few more years, there probably will be. Why? No real reason, it’s just getting to be that there are rules for everything. You’ve noticed that, too, in your own world, haven’t you?
In strictly human terms, you can’t defend this story. In the first place, it’s about impossible things. A pattern so against the law of averages is just not possible. Such odd patterns of events absolutely cannot be: Come on, now…danger and death at every corner. Violence and mayhem at every breath. Things happening all the time. And even more specifically, the strangely foreign beings, the demi-gods obliquely alluded to herein do not—cannot—exist.
On the other hand, suppose, by the very act of writing and reading about such things, we cause them to come to pass? Now there’s a reason to pass a law!
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! Oops, I think that was the wrong Latin, I was thinking of an old Roman saying about innocence and out pops some old altar boy stuff about confessing. Oh well, maybe nobody will notice. After all, I don’t have anything to confess, unless perhaps there is something to those old beliefs. You know, original sin. After all, we are monkeying around with you people and your so-called puny destinies. Ahh, I was pure once. Trailing clouds of glory do we come, from heaven, that is our home. Milton? No, Wordsworth. Little matter, you won’t have to know the poets to follow along here.
The final word on this one—and you have to believe me—I’m definitely not human and so I don’t really know how important any of this could possibly be to you. And it’s your fault you’re hanging around here. You should be getting your kicks with far more sensitive creatures, mystics gebornen with spiritual talents, paranormally enlightened entertainers or perhaps hooded ones safely embalmed in their own prayers who can perhaps let you crouch under the lip of their ponchos and get into the sacred place when you die. Some people say Beware the storyteller. But isn’t that a bit like shooting the messenger?
This whole ramble reminds me of the two men walking along the seashore; the one flipping a coin and it always comes up heads, heads, and heads. Remember them, after Shakespeare? For God’s sake, what does it mean? The one asks the other, saying something like that. Well, R&G, maybe it doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it is just entertainment. Nothing dark about a coin that always comes up heads, is there? Nothing hinting at deeper meanings, unseen forces, alien claws or flesh-burning suckers in the apple pie.
Not to change the subject, but if you’ll indulge me for just a moment, don’t you think talking about the world’s greatest beer is a little like trying to discuss Hollywood’s top intellectuals? It’s not as if the young, sexy, in-the-know actors in the beer commercials can actually keg it and stay in the trim. Face the facts, friend; slurping up the suds makes you sleepy and sloppy. Drink beer and you belch, fart and grow fat. And yet the six-pack, the long neck, the wide-mouth and the kegger are celebrated the world over, probably because the noble brew numbs the brain—as if you all weren’t already in a stupor. Don’t get mad; all of us are, more or less.
Well, let’s scramble past that uncomfortable business for now, and move on to the beer. There is one little-known beer that was popular in South Vietnam during that political body called The United States of America’s fierce decade of participation in the wars there that had been going on for centuries before catching their attention. That beer is called Ba Muoi Ba, Vietnamese for the numbers Thirty Three. I’m told there’s something to the smoldering formaldehyde taste of 33 that reminds old Nam vets of the days when the world was young and there was thunder in their veins.
Which brings us to our hero, the fellow with the falling-through-realities dream. Otherwise known as The Man With The Scar. While he wasn’t a numerologist, he was a Vietnam vet, and at the moment we begin this complicated tale of lust, greed and violence, he is mulling over the fact that it had been 33 years since he’d been in Saigon. And this simple thought had him in a defeatist, even suicidal, state of mind.
The Terrible Thing had happened to him in Vietnam over three decades before. It was something strange and difficult to understand, and yet it had changed his life forever…and for no earthly reason that he could think of. He wondered, had he been carefully chosen? Selected for some spiritual virtue or genetic weakness? Picked at random? How could any of that be? To his mind, there wasn’t anybody more ordinary than he had been on that fateful night…or is anybody really ordinary?
The Man With The Scar felt the cool sea breeze on his face. He watched the last of his scratches and bruises fade. He concentrated on the substance of his surroundings, as if doing so would keep this reality from fading away. He was on a sport fishing boat, returning to the southern tip of Baja, Mexico. His boat wasn’t more than a couple miles out from their berth in Cabo San Lucas harbor. Their progress had been all too slow for his liking, and he had long since stopped looking ahead and had fallen asleep, and that had started those wicked dreams.
Now he sat up and stared numbly to the side, where the boat, a sturdy craft named the Southern Seas, was slipping past the gaunt flanks of the small islands known to local mariners as The Fingers. He was attracted to the desperate stretch of frothy surf where the jagged gray-and-beige tumble of uninhabited rocks slipped into the churning blue-gray sea. For the briefest of moments, he found himself wishing that he had the courage to leap over the railing and sink into the cold, dark water.
The day itself was predominantly gray colored, with the late afternoon sun little more than an annoying red orb hanging in a thick, foggy haze common in that part of the world at that time of year. There was no horizon, and the light was wavering, diffuse and somewhat confusing, like reddish lamplight through milky glass, dim reflections that had begun to lose their way in the thickening knots of fog.
You will now see for yourself the first example of how things conspire against The Man With The Scar. Realizing he wasn’t going to have the willpower to test his fortune on the waves, he went below to the small bunk area he called his own.
At the same time, in the steering cabin of the Southern Seas, a scraggly-bearded young mate yawned behind the wheel. It was actually this young mate who first spotted the colorfully attired extremist kayaker paddling in the water near the barnacle-encrusted rocks of Land’s End.
“Look at that stupid Yea-hoo!” the young mate said to nobody in particular.
A bored chummer, a young fellow of a certain limited intelligence (but related by marriage to Captain Griggs, master of the vessel), was at that same time fiddling with the electronic fish finder, pushing buttons with a certain idle curiosity.
“Those things tip right over,” the chummer said, referring to the distant slim cigar shape of the kayak.
“Huh,” the young mate, with two fingers on the wheel, said, and as he spoke he made a small, precise adjustment, swinging his big charge a bit closer to the kayak.
“Careful, you might swamp it…” the chummer said, not really caring or paying much attention. “How come I can’t see him on the fish finder?”
“He has to be under water, stupid. Fish finder, get it?” And with that, the young mate gave the Southern Seas another nudge closer to the little banana boat.
The extremist kayaker, a novice weekender, looked up in fright as the huge sports fishing boat veered toward him. From his point of view, it looked huge as a freighter. The kayaker began to paddle frantically toward what he figured was the relative safety of the nearby jagged rocky fingers.
At the same moment, confidently in charge at the helm, the young mate reached for a can of Diet Dr. Pepper. Unfortunately, his foot slipped off the console on which he had rested it, and he started to slide off his chair. He regained his balance by grabbing the wheel. At his unintended command, the big boat lurched even closer to the kayak. The young mate recovered in an instant, but now the Southern Seas was racing far too close to the rocks and with a bit of a yaw that was narrowing the distance fast. Is this a coincidence, or do you see any fated intent in all of this? Well let’s continue; perhaps it’s too soon for you to be making judgments.
The chummer, no longer bored, stared at the young mate, the doomed kayaker and the rocks.
“Oh, wow…” he said in awe.
The Southern Seas, now swallowing up the horizon, slapped the kayak aside as if it was a matchstick and careened into the slime-coated rocky fingers that raked it from stem to stern.
So you see, The Man With The Scar wasn’t even on duty, and when the unfortunate accident happened he was actually below, lying on his bunk and trying to read an odd book by Jack London about a jailbird trapped in a strait jacket who learns to sort-of travel using the power of his mind…an ability, by the way, that you all have, but rarely, if ever, use.
When the boat scraped the rocks, The Man With The Scar dropped the paperback and rolled off his bed, instantly alert. His bleached strawberry blond hair was white at the temples, and there were streaks of white in his long, droopy moustache and beard, which over the last decade had been getting on with more salt than pepper. On close inspection, he looked closer to sixty than forty, but he was extremely nimble for a man of any age. He sized things up quickly, rolling athletically to a sitting position on the end of his bunk and pulling on his pants.
The scar that ran like a line down the right side of his face was clearly visible. As he grabbed his socks, he ignored the continuing scar line that ran on down his chest, his thigh and lower leg, finally ending in a dramatic star on the top of his right foot.
“Where is he?” Captain Grigg’s rage, muffled but still clear as to intent, could be heard from on deck up above. “Where is my bloody albatross?”