Beyond the Island
by John W. Steele
Young Brian Mudd is proud of his ability to travel in the astral realms — until he encounters Lord Nagual, who prefers to be called “Max.” Brian becomes Max’s apprentice and finds him a harsh, even cruel master but nonetheless an effective instructor. Meanwhile, Brian is taken with Karen Frost, with whom he feels he has a karmic link. And Brian’s karma is trouble.
The air grew dry and frigid. I shivered, and my teeth began to chatter. High overhead, I saw what appeared to be a large pulsating dot. The black spot hovered in the sky, and I could not determine what it was. The form looked vaguely like a bird but I dismissed the idea, because I did not believe a bird could fly that high.
The image floated gracefully as if suspended at the end of a thread or a fiber connected to the heavens. I grew mystified and wondered if it might be a UFO. But the shape was irregular, and I could discern what appeared to be wings and a tail. The shadow it cast was enormous and drew the light from the immediate sky. Sunlight flowed around the design, creating patterns of energy like heat waves rising from the floor of a blazing desert. The object was spooky, and I grew tense.
The bird began to descend in a spiral of wide, concentric circles. The closer it sailed to the surface of the ground, the larger it became. As its features grew bolder, I could see that it was a crow. Eventually the crow grew so large that it obliterated the entire sky. I feared it was going to crush me.
There was no time to run. I buried my head in my arms. A pop like a starter gun sounded overhead, and then all was still. The light returned, and the only sound was the water crashing in the pool below. When I dared to look up, I saw a magnificent crow the size of a condor standing at the edge of the cliff.
The bird had large round yellow-green eyes. Its eyes were intense like the focus of a laser beam. They burned on my retinas like acid, and my eyes watered. I feared they’d blind me, and I looked away. The crow let out an ear-splitting screech that pierced my eardrum like an ice pick, and I knew it was Lord Nagual.
He claimed the ability assume any animal form he wanted, but he liked to shape-shift into a crow. He said crows and vultures were noble creatures, because they did not kill for their food, and that all birds but owls could be trusted.
He taught me that allies often use crows as sentries because they can see harmful entities hidden in nature, and that the caw of a crow should always be taken seriously. I’d been fond of crows since I was a kid, and it seemed they were always present no matter where I went.
After all that had occurred this day, I felt weary and fragile. My body ached, and the anger I expressed to free myself from the demon had left me empty and shaken. I wasn’t prepared to deal with Max, and I sensed something dreadful was about to occur. Though quaking inside, I put on a brave face and tried to appear undaunted by Lord Nagual’s awesome display.
“Why do you come to me like this? Where were you when I needed you?” I asked in a belligerent tone.
“Needed me?” he replied incredulously. “It looks to me like you handled the situation quite thoroughly on your own.”
I didn’t like his answer, or the fact that any time I had a problem with something or someone, he never offered to help me. His attitude towards my predicament was always cold and unbending. He said my limitations were mind-created and it was impossible to blame them on anyone but myself.
“That’s always the way it is, isn’t it, Max? The finger always points at me and only me. Doesn’t it?”
Max laughed in torrents; my answers were hilarious to him. But I had to admit that he was right about my confrontation with the ally. It dawned on me I had defeated Nestor on my own, without the help of gods, demons, or psychiatrists.
“We watched the show from beyond the island,” Max said. “It was thoroughly entertaining, especially when you cast the imp into Hell.” Max laughed so loud, the ground shook.
I remained steadfast in my feeling of abandonment by him and found no humor in his assessment. “Yeah... what would have happened if Nestor beat me and I jumped off the cliff?”
Max stopped laughing. His voice grew deadly serious. “Nestor would have been reborn to an island. His free will would have returned to him, and you’d be searching for a wanderer to torment.”
The idea of free will seized me with such force, I believed I was indomitable, even from the power of Lord Nagual. I wanted to resign my apprenticeship and tell him to go to hell, but the iron grip of his influence over me was unwavering. At times, his presence drove me mad, and sometimes I thought he was the spirit of horror. My fear of him was impossible to overcome, and I couldn’t find the nerve to disobey him.
He used the force, and my throat tightened. I knew he wanted me to remain silent. I imagined he was thinking, which means he didn’t know everything, and this for me was an epiphany.
The pressure on my neck eased and Max started to pace at the rim of the cliff. His gait was stiff, and his head bobbed from side to side. He looked magnificent and hilarious at the same time. When he spoke his voice was raspy like a rooster. “I don’t think you’re smart enough to understand what you did here today,” he said. “You slayed a powerful demon without help from anyone or anything. Not even your allies stepped in to assist you.
“This means your will is beyond reproach and equal to even that of a Nagual. Everything was against you. You’re so self-important you’d rather end your life than face the challenges you’ve created, and you’re so stupid you let Nestor sit on your head. I thought he had you there. But I have to admit, the eyeball trick was pure genius.”
I hoped I’d reached a turning point and that I was going to be set free. “Does that mean I’m a free man now? Am I enlightened enough to return to my former life?”
Max chuckled and scratched at the rock with the talons of his feet. “You really put on quite a show. When Moe saw what you did to Nestor, he crapped in his pants and ran back to Hell. Camille and Roger were so impressed by your performance they decided they no longer needed to baby-sit you. They’ve left your right shoulder and now exist one-fifth of a second ahead of you in time. It gives them a far greater edge to see the future and they feel you’re competent enough to deal with any force that dares approach you here in the present.
“I have to congratulate you, pork chop; you’ve emerged triumphant from a battle with a cunning and skillful enemy. You’re a warrior. Your will is a force without equal. There is no power in the universe that can defeat you, even if it kills you.”
It was the first time Lord Nagual had complimented me about anything. I’d sometimes wondered if I had learned anything at all from him, but now that he told me I had done well, it no longer mattered.
Early in my apprenticeship, he had said that it was not going to be easy to be his student. He warned me to listen carefully to the silence between his words. I remembered what he said: “If I think you’re worth the effort, I’ll beat the hell out of you. But if I see you’re growing weak, I’ll compliment you and tell you how great you are. Then one day, like dust in the wind, I’ll blow away and leave you to perish in the womb of self.”
Lord Nagual’s demeanor suddenly changed and he grew magniloquent. I knew he’d entered one of his Supreme Being moods by the tone of his voice and the scent of sandalwood that now hung in the air. When he spoke, his voice reverberated from the walls of the chasm. “I didn’t come here to inflate your already swollen ego. I want to know when you’re going to bring me the girl?”
Karen’s memory blew through my mind. I lowered my eyes and crouched on one knee. “She’s not like the rest of them. Why can’t we forget about her? I’ll do anything you ask if you’ll set her free.” I hung my head like a whipped dog. There was a long silence.
I glanced up and Max spread wide his enormous wings. Geometric patterns formed on the undersides, and I knew he was growing impatient.
“You never cease to amaze me with the depth of your thespian solicitations, pork chop. Never grovel for anyone. When you expose that kind of weakness, you insult your own spirit. You’re a warrior, and you have dignity. Besides, the girl’s a lamenter, and nothing’s going to change that.”
“Why are you forcing me to do this, Max? You’re beyond the island; you can have anything you want. There are no obstacles for you to overcome. Why do you need me to do your dirty work?” I tried to remain calm but facing Max created a sense of fear in me that bordered on anguish. My body tensed and my throat went dry.
The crow’s feathers began to glow. “That’s none of your concern right now, headcheese. You agreed to be my apprentice. That means you’re indentured until I choose to release you. Savvy?”
I needed a loophole fast and I hoped I could reason with him. “Karen hasn’t even agreed to see me yet.”
“She’ll see you. She’s eager to see you.”
I knew a full assault was the only method that would work with Lord Nagual. I reasoned I was already dead and had nothing to lose. I swallowed hard and forced out the words. “I refuse.”
A sound like thunder rumbled overhead and it seemed like the world came to a halt. “What did you say to me, you ungrateful little bacon strip? My hearing’s been off lately, and I want to be sure I understood what you said.” His voice was normal now, and this increased my anxiety.
“You heard me. I refuse to give her to you, Lord Nagual.”
Max turned and faced the falls. He fanned his tail feathers, and they grew radiant like a miniature rainbow. The colors in the tiny spectacle of light were soft and soothing. The effect on me was mesmerizing.
“Well, well, well, aren’t you the spicy little meatball? Do you actually believe swimming nude in a pool of molten copper is preferable to turning the girl over to me?”
My vision grew clouded. Something wasn’t right. I wanted to run, but I was giddy. “Karen’s not for sale. Send me to Tyreus or swallow me whole. Take the money and the added years of life. Take it all. I’m done with you and I’m not doing it.”
The Nagual’s form grew amorphous. The rainbow effect dissipated, and Max’s head emerged from his butt. His body reversed direction, and he was now facing me. I stared at Max and started to laugh.
His eyes were closed, as if lost in a muse, and his voice took on a grievous rattle. “When you became my apprentice, certain irrevocable bonds were established. The alliance of a Nagual and an apprentice is deep and inviolable. After all we’ve suffered, do you think I’m just going to let you walk away? Once you choose the path, there is no turning back.”
I knew I was doomed, and I wondered how I had ever made it this far dealing with this pompous celestial monarch. There were questions that I didn’t want to carry with me to Tyreus. I decided to go for broke. “You’re the spirit of death aren’t you, Lord Nagual? Why do you pretend to be something else?
Max remained motionless, a curl of smoke flowed from the holes in his beak. “I’m not the spirit of death, you depraved idiot. Who the hell would want that job? I told you: you are a reflection of me. You are my window to a dimension where great knowledge can be gained. You’re a suit of armor I wear when combating the forces of ignorance, but you are disposable.
“I transcended the borders of my island many ages in the past. I tread asunder the shackles of ego long before this cycle, and I can never be confined to a nine-holed sack of meat again. I am freed from the illusion of self and other and cannot return to a world such as yours.
“My world exists at the very border of Id. You and I are of the same vibration. The only difference between us is the octave on which our awareness is established. Mine is far higher than yours. But our purpose is to gain knowledge because when you evolve, I will evolve.”
“I don’t want to evolve like this. Karen is innocent. I will never give her to you.”
“You’re vexing me, pork chop, and that is not a good sign. You think because I transcended the material world that I have no responsibilities? Maybe you think I just sit around for ages listening to harps, seducing nymphs, and eating ice cream? Regardless of the innumerable life forms that exist in the realm of Id, they all fall into only two categories: those evolving and those devolving. We’re evolving!
“I am a conqueror. My progress depends on the quality of my word and the perfection of my reason and judgment. I need the girl, and the window is seven days. Bring her to me by Sunday or the consequences of your actions will be disastrous.”
My mind grew placid. I was suddenly very relaxed. My senses remained alert, and I understood what was happening around me. But it seemed like the world had taken on a rose-colored hue, and time had slowed to a crawl.
Max spoke softly. His words landed like downy snowflakes in my mind.
The world had become a giant cartoon show. It made no difference what became of me now. I wanted to be rid of this superhuman nut job forever. Without free will, life had become meaningless. I was tired of being his puppet. My guilt was unbearable. I’d reached the turning point — liberty or death.
“I told you I’m not doing it. For a reflection, you have a short attention span. Now leave me. I dismiss you.”
The sunlight grew crimson. The waterfall froze in midstream and stopped flowing.
“You dismiss me?” He laughed long and deep. Thunder roared in the sky and the wind began to howl. “Do you think you’re the first apprentice that’s grown too big for his britches? Let me show you what awaits those foolish enough to ignore the gift of evolution.”
Max opened his eyes and they began to expand. They bulged from their sockets until they were as big as basketballs. He fixed me with his gaze, and I was unable to look away. My head felt like it was squeezed in a vise. I was completely immobilized.
“You think there is no greater suffering than pain or fear, don’t you, Brian? And you think you’ve experienced all that these two forces have to reveal. Perhaps you believe Tyreus is the epitome of torture.
“But I assure you there is a realm beyond pain and more penetrating than your deepest fears. It’s called Chaos, and its power is greater than all sensations in all dimensions. Only the Unborn can control chaos. It exists beyond the artificial construct of Id. Not even a Nagual can withstand the intensity of its freedom.
“Those that evolve beyond Id can never be reborn. They are forever with the Unborn, freed from Chaos for eternity. Chaos existed before the Alpha and Omega of all things primal and unimagined, and cannot be destroyed. Without Chaos, the universe would collapse.
My body felt like it was made of marshmallow. A feeling of bliss not unlike that of drunkenness consumed me. A pressure jabbed in my hara as though a sharp point had pierced it.
“I’m going to let you dangle like a worm on a hook to give you a glimpse of Chaos. I hate to do this, Brian, but you need to be aware of the consequences of your decisions. I’d like to say it’s going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you, but I’d be lying.”
Lord Nagual gazed into the heavens. The sky opened and exposed a tidal wave of leaden energy. The tsunami was riddled with craters like the suckers of a giant octopus. An earthquake shook the ground, and the ocean of oblivion burst forth. The material dimension dissolved like an ice cube dangled over a torch. Just before the wave of power consumed me, Lord Nagual cried, “Behold the realm of — Chaos!”
Copyright © 2009 by John W. Steele