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.
Late Friday afternoon I got dressed and ready to pick up Karen. I thought about wearing a tie but it felt like a noose around my neck. I settled for a heavy gold chain with an enormous natural gold nugget attached. I left two buttons of my shirt open at the collar and admired myself in the mirror. I looked marvelous. The nugget was so opulent it was ridiculous. I loved it. I threw on a rust-colored lambskin sport jacket and headed for the door.
Parked in the ten stall garage was my black designer Hummer. I had it custom built, and all the hinges and external trim were chrome-plated. Even in the dim fluorescent light, the magnesium wheels shone like mirrors. I had the personnel carrier detailed almost every week, and the damn thing sparkled like a bejeweled chariot. I put on my shades and drove down the broken macadam road that led to the ramp on the interstate.
A few years ago, I was content to drive around in an old pickup truck with faded paint, worn tires, and a crack in the windshield, but Lord Nagual had changed all that. I sometimes wondered if I could ever be content living as a poor man again. It seems everything comes with a price, and I hoped I could afford what I’d gotten into. I was in too deep now. If Lord Nagual was lying, it would have been better if I had never been born.
He’d warned me about the subtle effects of materialism and how easily it was to become attached to things. Though I was aware of my thoughts, I had a sense of affection for this vehicle. There was a feeling of pride when I saw the look of admiration and envy this mass of chrome and steel elicited in onlookers. Though I didn’t want to accept it, the Hummer was an extension of me, and this machine suited my temperament to a tee.
Max said there is nothing wrong with wealth and sometimes a window opens that may provide a person with great riches. He said the problem occurs when a meatball despises the life he has to such an extent that he becomes obsessed with a fantasy life that is beyond his means.
Max said that many succumb to the lust of materialism, that some will do anything to acquire the temporary security and comfort money can provide. He claimed that the craving for luxury is a pitfall that can create an intense but artificial desperation. And he warned me, if the wrathful deities discover that a man’s affection is aroused by avarice, they will use jealousy and discontent to entice him to do things that are harmful to others.
I remembered a story Max told me about the vagaries of great fortune. I had just begun my apprenticeship, and he’d not yet showered me with a lot of wealth. The money came in stages as I grew more accustomed and compliant to his will.
An old-timer had told me about a deep spring tucked away in a tiny pocket of rock on the far northern shore of a lake in the Shawangunk Mountains. He said the mouth of the spring lay in about one hundred feet of water and gigantic lake trout fed at the edge of the underwater fountain.
Early one morning, I hauled my small fishing boat to the lake and launched it from the old brick ramp that led into the water. I had made little deliberation for the trip and acted on the spur of the moment.
The water was smooth that day, and it was a seven-mile voyage to the spot the man had told me about. When I reached the rock face, I tied the skiff to two railroad spikes that had been driven into the conglomerate of solid granite. The blue-gray cliff soared high overhead and was riddled with fissures. I cupped my hand over my forehead and stared up at the rim of the cliff. A falcon sprang from a ledge and soared out over the water.
The coastline of this area was too rugged for anyone to build a cottage or even pitch a tent. Boulders as big as automobiles dotted the shore and the area was strewn with ancient logs, saw timber that had escaped the banking ground on the drive to the mill. There was no sign of habitation for miles. A few misguided seagulls soared high overhead; their gentle twerping fell from the sky. The solitude was exquisite and the placid waves slapped the shoreline in a soothing muted yawn.
I weighted a steel shank with an ounce of lead and lowered a fathead minnow into the blackness of the deep. I placed the rod in the holder, cracked open a beer, and admired the pristine beauty that surrounded me. This was a place of great intensity. The colors swirled in a motif of abstract earth tones, and the pure air flowed into my lungs like the ghost of life itself. I liked the feeling of authority that dwelled in this forgotten place, so primal and untamed. I sat for a while and tried to understand if my encounters with the Lord Nagual were real or if I was slowly going mad.
I felt I’d truly lost my mind and I was desperately searching for it. Because of all Lord Nagual had shown me, I was beginning to understand that no one could transcend the borders of his island unless he lost his mind.
The Nagual said that islanders are brainwashed from the moment they are conceived, and the consensus of truth and ideals is impossible to withdraw from rationally. He claimed an island is constructed of fairy tales, half-truths, and outright lies that are passed from generation to generation by Mara, the Lord of Illusion, and that anyone who questions the conditioned insanity is labeled a heretic or criminal. He warned me that the pattern of a devolving reality is always the same. When the consensus of truth becomes strong enough, anyone who questions the evidence is imprisoned or put to death.
The line on my rod tensed and the tip snapped into an arc with such force it drew the bow rail into the lake. A large amount of water poured into the boat, and I thought it was going to capsize. I jumped from the stern and fumbled for the coffee can. The water was ice cold and my hand ached as I bailed the water from the hull.
Then the rod relaxed and the line went limp. I sat down, my eyes wide, my senses alert. In the distance, I saw the falcon drop from the sky. The predator let out a screech and snatched a seagull from the air. Feathers swirled like a small downy cloud, and the falcon returned to its nest in the cliff. It was bad omen and the skin on my back tingled.
Effervescent bubbles began to form on the surface of the lake. The bubbles were like foam that appears in a freshly poured glass of champagne. They extended out into the water for perhaps a hundred yards. The millions of bursting bubbles made a sharp hissing sound. I feared the surface of the water was about to give way, and that I would crash through the froth and collide with the floor of rock far below. The crackling sound grew louder until it became a voice. I’d learned Lord Nagual always made a grand entrance and I shuddered. The terror had found me.
Copyright © 2009 by John W. Steele