Friday, September 02, 2005

Chapter 6: Trumpets of Providence

After countless hours, I still lay in utter darkness. I tried crawling in every direction and came face to face with jagged rock each time. There was nowhere to go, nowhere to move. My body ached from long periods of inertia. In between daydreaming and moving from my side onto my back, I explored with my hands. I met only dry, cold stone.

My mind moved like electricity at first, calculating and recalculating the moments of the fire and the forces that brought me to that desolate void, and then always, on to the incomparable story of Lorelei. Uncle Lee had gone on to say that, after that night by the lake, Lorelei moved in with his family, though they weren’t crazy about the idea. She seemed closed off for days after her mystical interaction with the demon, and by most accounts, she was just a sad, orphaned child, eager to live a stable existence.

After several months, during which time she rarely spoke, Uncle Lee woke one morning to find that she was gone. All that was left was a scratch of parchment and one of the tattered ribbons she had worn in her hair the first time she arrived in town. In the note she had written three words: “Thank you, Lee.” And that was the last anyone had seen of her. Recollection of Lee’s story brought me to sadness and wonder, and for at least a little while, I was distracted from my own dire needs.

When I had exhausted my mental search for clues, hunger set in. I nervously ground my teeth together, rubbing my stomach and envisioning warm food. The silence was the worst of it. I spoke to myself to break up the quiet spells, but even the sound of my own voice was murky, and its faint, fluctuating echoes frightened me. Complete loneliness and isolation is a torment of the fiercest degree, and as the stale contents of my waterskin gradually diminished, despair became my companion.

Like every other level of my senses, my eyes became accustomed to the oppressive blackness, and the absence of light became a void worthy of imaginative exploration. Though nothing actually appeared in my material vision, my eyes swam through colorful streams, and I became convinced that there was a network of passageways and corridors leading to light and water and possible escape. After some time, I was unable to discern whether my eyes were open or closed, and the feelings of hopelessness gave way to mild dementia.

Looking back now, I recall how my fear of death was overtaken by the will to survive, the empty desire to cling to any dim prospect of salvation. A desperate man’s search for providence, maybe by the grace of his creator, takes precedence over all other wants. Hunger, thirst, fear, sadness, physical pain; they are all secondary distractions. When my waterskin was emptied, I gave in to my clouded delusions, and after the last droplet of water touched my parched tongue, I resolved to follow the imagined passageways of light.

The cusp between life and death is a mystery, for most agree that no coherent man has crossed that precipice and returned to tell the story, without it being laced with fabrication. Those who speak of a great light or memories of their childhoods are likely trauma victims seeking attention. Who of us, then, can truly say what happens on the bridge to the afterworld? Or, I should ask, who is to be believed?

At the time, reason was no ally of mine, and I remember my hallucinations as only swirls of light and short transmissions of the waking world that had, until that point, been the only one I’d ever known. But in hindsight, my journey began the moment I surrendered all concern for my livelihood and decided to follow the tenuous route plotted by these ethereal visions.

I found that the paths of light were easy to follow, and the outcroppings of rock that had been my unyielding captors, seemed to open into shallow grooves, just wide enough to pass through. I trudged through the ghostly caverns, keeping my limited focus to the soft but radiant visual callings of the color spectrum. That slow, subconscious adventure touches little memory in my earthly affectations, but when I reached the other side, my life was changed forever.

I followed the serpentine beams into an opening and stopped to collect myself. All my senses came back in an instant, and I was nearly crippled by this sudden reconciliation. Injured, starving and beyond the brink of exhaustion, I collapsed in the dim chamber and the visions ceased. Torchlight that was no apparition or dream split the haze of the expanse, and my atrophied eyes burned into activation. I pulled my legs to my chest and sat panting, waiting.

“Well, you are no fluke, young buck,” said an excited voice, the first real sound I had heard in probably weeks. “I had my doubts about you, but now, mm hmm, it looks like there might be some celebrating on the horizon.”

What I saw then could not be adequately described by a young man from my era, and it is only with the knowledge and experience I have gained since then that I can describe it now. The speaker was a tall, slender man wearing a finely tailored suit, emerald cufflinks sparkling from his wrists above strong, well-kempt hands. His head was clean-shaven, gleaming in the dim light, and his dark brown skin was smooth and unblemished, the way I imagined angels to look. His eyes were a shade of green that complemented his cufflinks, and his face was sharp featured, handsome. He wore a smile that, given my despair at the time, can only be described as divine.

“My name is Troy Cloverdale, but you can call me Clover.” He approached me and offered a hand. I shook it without thinking. I was still too stunned, and relieved, to speak, so I just sat in a heap and stared at him. He pulled a cigarette from a shiny metallic case and lit it with a the flick of match.

“Well, young buck, you’re probably wondering where the fuck you are, how the fuck you got here and who the fuck I am. And the answers will come in due time, trust that. But for now, there are some things I gotta tell you, just so you won’t freak your shit later on.” This was all gibberish to me, but he spoke with fluid ease and confidence. His posture and movements exuded strength and sincerity, and I liked him immediately.

“I wasn’t sure you were gonna make it here, so count me among the surprised, but just so you know, those lights you followed to get here, they weren’t really there. I mean, they were for you, but not for anyone else. Some folks can use them, and we call them travelers. You’re a traveler, dude. Just like me. It will take some time, but close your eyes and picture them again, you’ll see them, and you’ll need to use them again, too. Cause there ain’t shit down here for either of us. You following me?” He looked at me with mild amusement.

“I think I understand,” I said. “But I don’t…understand.”

“Okay, young buck, things have been rough on you, so we’ll take it slow for now. But listen up, you’ve probably heard here and there in your life that you have some gifts, some special powers or something. That’s all true. That’s why you’re here. To be real with you, I don’t have a clue where you’re from or what it was like there, but judging by your gear, you come from like the 18th century or some time way back. Anyway, you’re here now, and though things will be crazy for you at first, I think you’ll come to realize that where we are going, and what we gotta do is pure bliss, dude. And guess what? I’ll be your escort.”

“Mr. Clover, what about my home — ” Before I could finished he threw a bottle to me. The contents were orange and, though sinister looking, made me salivate. I struggled to figure out how to open the container, but when I finally drank, the taste was euphoric. Sweet and cold and full of vigor. I spilled a third of it on my neck and chest with my ravenous intake. The bottle was empty in four swallows.

“It’s called Gatorade. But please, try not to be so wasteful.” He smiled and helped me to my feet. I wasn’t expecting to move again, but the drink gave me immediate energy, and I found I could stand without assistance. I had a million questions to ask, but I chose to wait while Clover continued his speech.

“Here’s the deal. I gotta take you somewhere to lay low for while, and catch you up to speed on what just happened to you and why. But trust me, it’s gonna be weird, no, damn strange. The place we’re going will be nothing like your world. It’s a world of the future and things have changed considerably since your day. Just don’t panic, and remember to do whatever I say. Follow me and try not to talk to anyone. Also, don’t shit your pants if you see an airplane,” he paused and looked at me with anticipation.

“A what?” I said.

“A flying machine. I’ve seen a dude have a seizure when he saw one for the first time. But that’s another story. So do you think you have enough strength to do this? It’ll take about ten minutes.” He produced a wide-brimmed hat that matched his charcoal suit and placed it on his head, then buttoned up his coat.

“I’ll do my best, Mr. Clover,” I replied.

“Just Clover. Now let’s go. Oh yeah, what’s your name?”


“Damn. We gonna have to change that shit.”
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