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Beyond the Island

by John W. Steele

Chapter 17

The lake suddenly grew calm and as still as glass. The panorama took on a character not unlike a 3-D picture post card. The effect was mysterious and disturbing at the same time. There was an eerie chuckle, and a hollow voice emerged from the water.

“How’s it going, pork chop?” the voice asked.

“It was going pretty good,” I said.

“What’s the matter? Ain’t the fish biting?”

“They were biting until somebody stirred up the water. Why are you here? Or is this just another hallucination?”

There was a long silence; the water took on a gorgeous indigo hue as if I were floating on a sea of liquid amethyst. In the distance a tiny whirlpool circled the boat. The hole in the water was luminous and pulsated with a yellow green light. A voice flowed out of the whirlpool. It appeared so suddenly it startled me.

“You’re a long way from the boat launch, ain’tcha?” Max said.

Though his tone was casual, I feared Max might have one of his mood swings and I grew wary. “So what?”

“Well at least you had enough sense to bring along your oars.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your lot in life is about to change, pork chop. So far you’ve managed to stay balanced on the high wire. Despite your trials, you haven’t tumbled to the floor of the arena like a tightrope walker with bunions and a belly full of Muscatel. But we’ve only begun, and you’ve got a lot ahead of you.”

I didn’t like where this was going. What he’d wanted me to do for him was beginning to trouble me deeply. “How much longer are you going to torment me?” I asked.

“Torment you?” Max replied incredulously. “It is you who torment me. We see each other through the same eye.”

“We might see each other through the same eye, but we both must be blind because I don’t get you, and you sure as hell don’t understand me.”

The whirlpool disappeared beneath the surface and then reappeared a dozen yards to the stern of the boat. The phenomenon was larger now, frightening. The crater made a gurgling sound.

The hole grew bigger and drew the boat toward the rim of its swirling maw. The lines secured to the spikes mysteriously dropped into the lake, and the boat drifted toward the rippling chasm. The skiff spun at the rim of the vortex. I grew dizzy and light-headed.

The revolutions gained velocity until my stomach churned and a feeling of intense vertigo consumed my awareness. There was a pop like a cork removed from a bottle. My vision clouded, and when it returned, I found myself sitting cross-legged in the middle of a wide street in a rustic old town.

Horse-drawn carriages rambled up and down the road, and wooden boardwalks lined the avenue. The buildings were made of a material that looked like adobe but it was finer and more compact, like tourmaline granite.

The design of the street and the shape of the structures gave this place an art deco feel. Shops and what looked like a saloon ran along the avenue, and the windows were painted with symbols in a script I’d never seen before. The fonts looked like a combination of Chinese and American Indian characters.

People ambled casually along the boardwalk. They chatted amiably and seemed indifferent to my presence. The men were dressed in western style clothing that looked like it was made of linen. Their garments were simple and very loose-fitting. They wore large hats, like cowboy hats, but the crowns of the caps flared out at the top. The hats were adorned with tiny bells that jingled as they walked.

The women were wrapped in earth tone colored shawls, and their hair was dark. Many of the women had their hair piled in a swirl like a beehive on top of their head. I tried to focus on the style and fashion of this mysterious place and correlate the mode and manner of the surroundings with the data in my memories. But I could not determine if I was in the Old West or some gaucho hick town in the middle of the Andes.

Far in the distance I could see a figure running towards me down the middle of the road. The figure moved with astonishing speed and agility. It seemed to be flying at me with the speed of an arrow. As the figure grew closer, I could see that it was a woman.

She waved her arms and yelled my name in a strange language I’d never heard, but I understood everything she said. Her behavior was galvanizing; I sprang to my feet and adopted a fighting stance. I had no idea what this character was up to, but she appeared to be insane.

The woman ran so fast I braced myself for a collision but she stopped on a dime about three feet in front of me. Her face was round and pleasant, but she was weeping hysterically. She was barefooted and wore a long black wooly skirt that hung to her ankles. Her deep brown eyes were clear and kind, but she looked terrified.

“You must help me,” the woman cried. “My baby is dying. Please, please help me.”

The woman turned away and headed back down the street, then spun around and motioned me to follow. “Hurry!” she said. “We don’t have much time!”

Against my better judgment, I followed her down the rutted road. Near the end of the street, she turned left, and we entered a dimly lit ally. The woman ran down the side street with such alacrity I could hardly keep up with her.

At the end of the street stood a villa shaped like a perfect cube. The windows were round smooth holes in the wall. The door was a heavy green and brown fabric that looked like it was made of a thick fibrous material. The blanket had been dyed with a hypnotic red, green, and yellow circle in square, and square in circle pattern. The woman slid the blanket back and ran into the hut. I followed her inside.

There was a large open fire pit on the far wall that looked like it was made of dense multicolored seashells. I admired the craftsmanship of the hearth. The masonry was exquisite. The shells were laid in intricate and perfectly balanced designs as if they’d been placed in the mortar by the hand of a celestial artist. A healthy fire blazed in the fire pit and cast a soft crimson luminosity throughout the room. The ambiance was cozy and pastoral. But the air was stuffy and smelled of mold.

In front of the hearth stood what looked like a crib or a large footed cradle. The woman continued to pant and appeared beside herself with grief. She grabbed my hand and led me over to the cradle. “Do something, please do something,” she cried.

Lying in the crib was what looked like a small hairless monkey with no tail. Its ears were large and the baby was crying, wheezing, and gagging, all at the same time. The baby’s face was contorted and it had no teeth. The infant had turned blue and it looked like it was about to croak. I knew nothing about babies or medicine and I didn’t know what to do.

“Don’t just stand there, do something,” the woman cried. Her eyes were piercing and determined.

I picked the baby up and cradled it firmly in my arm. I raised my other hand and stuck my little finger in the baby’s mouth. A slimy, putty-like substance filled the baby’s mouth and had obstructed its airway. I dug deep in the back of its throat and scooped out a gob of black tiny bugs that looked like gnats.

The baby began to breathe a little more easily, and its whimpering eased. I carried the infant over to a wooden chair that stood near the wall and sat down. I laid the baby prone on my knees and gently pushed on its back and abdominal area. A large bolus of a goo-like substance with the viscosity of bile regurgitated from the baby’s stomach. The infant coughed and its breathing grew tranquil. I held the baby on my knee, and gently rubbed its belly and its chest with my thumbs.

“There, there, little fellow,” I said. “I think you’re going to be okay.” The baby had stopped wheezing, and the cherry color had returned to its cheeks. When I felt the baby was saved, I laid it back in the cradle, and it slept peacefully.

The woman approached me and curtsied. “Oh thank you, thank you, kind sir.” She walked over to the infant and sat down beside it. The woman began to hum the sweetest lullaby I ever heard. I grew enchanted by the beauty of the angelic melody.

My delightful reverie was interrupted by a gurgling sound outside the door. I pushed aside the blanket and stepped over the threshold. The blanket closed behind me with a muted thud, and I found myself surrounded by water and standing on the deck of my boat.

The whirlpool was gone, and the lake was once again smooth and placid. I looked over the bow and in the distance I saw an enormous bird floating on the water. I knew immediately it was a loon. But it was the grandest loon I had ever seen. The definition in the bird’s feathers was so sharp and distinct, it hurt my eyes. The loon did not face me, and I could only view its profile.

The glorious bird opened its wings and used them like oars to propel itself backwards across the water. Though I was thoroughly bewildered over what had occurred, the antics of the bird were so hilarious I began to laugh.

I knew it was Max, and I felt perplexed and amused at the same time. “What did you do to me?” I shouted.

The loon stopped paddling and drifted lazily on the lake. “I want you to remember the infant,” he said.

I could not fathom what he meant or why I had awakened in that mysterious place. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Where was I, and how did I get there?”

As usual, Max brushed aside my questions and answered me according to his interpretation of my questions.

“What I’m going to give you, you’ve earned,” Max said, “because a Nagual cannot bestow on an apprentice that which is not his own. But if I see you’re becoming like that baby, I’ll abandon you.”

“What are you talking about? Your reasoning is completely irrational.”

The baby was so full of its own excrement, it couldn’t breathe. It was drowning in its own filth. You’re about to receive a great prize. But if I notice that you’re becoming arrogant and proud, and I see that you harden your heart to the needs of others, I’ll sever our ties and let you suffocate on the island of self.

“Do not become enamored by your new mind-state and the trappings of your island; they are only temporary. When your merit expires, you will be forced to face the consequences of your actions, and the direction of your wheel will influence your perceptions and conditions for many lifetimes.”

I thought about what Max said but I could not conceal my excitement about the mysterious gift. “Great gift? What are you talking about? I can hardly pay my rent.”

“What’s that I smell?” Max asked. “Is it gasoline?”

I hadn’t noticed, but after he mentioned it, the smell of gas and oil wafted in my nostrils. I looked at the outboard and saw a tiny trickle of fuel dripping from the engine.

“Dammit!” I removed the cowl and peered at the motor. The fuel line had loosened from the carburetor, and the last drop of gas dripped from the tank.

“Looks like you’re left high and dry,” Max said.

“Not really,” I replied smugly. “I brought extra fuel.”

I stepped over the bench seat and reached into the small cuddy. I fumbled through the needless junk and pulled out the gas can. Much to my surprise, it was nearly empty. I had forgotten to check it before I left. And then it dawned on me: it made no difference anyway. I hadn’t brought any tools. There was no way to reconnect the gas line without a socket wrench.

“You’re a total pork chop,” Max said. “Your life is far too loose. We need to work on that. Let’s see, it’s around three in the afternoon. If you paddle like a madman, you just might make it back to the ramp after nightfall.”

Max cackled. I could see he found my predicament thoroughly amusing. “Aren’t you going to ask for my assistance?” he asked.

“I don’t need your help. I got myself into this and I’ll get myself out.”

“That’s the way a loser reasons,” Max said. “A loser never measures anything, and he ends up ruining whatever gifts he’s been given. He just wastes time crawling in and out of the same window.”

I cupped my hand over my forehead and looked far off in the distance. I could make out the mountain I needed to row toward. I remembered it because it looked like the silhouette of a voluptuous woman.

“Well, have a nice trip,” Max said. “A strapping young lad like yourself should be able to row that distance in no time.”

The loon ran across the water and soon it was sailing in the sky. I accepted my fate. I was proud that I had refused any assistance from Lord Nagual. I started rowing and felt confident I could make it back to the launch before nightfall. A strong sense of pioneer self-sufficiency and independence surged through me, and I fantasized about the mysterious gift.

Splat! From out of nowhere, I felt a cool dribble land on my head. I raised my hand and touched the wet spot. When I looked at my fingers they were covered with a slimy green fluid like diarrhea. I glared up at the loon floating gracefully overhead.

“You’ve got to keep looking up, pork chop,” the bird cackled. “Sometimes surprises come from above.” Max squawked like a randy goose. I watched him sail away beyond the mountain.

It was nearly 8 pm when my feet touched the ramp. The palms of my hands were blistered. I was sunburned, and if it weren’t for my beer supply, I would have been dehydrated. But I’d made it back and I’d dug myself out of another unnecessary jam.

By the time I got home, it was midnight. I opened a can of corned beef and devoured the contents like a ravenous animal, then fell into bed.

When I arose late the next morning, I was so sore I could hardly walk. Before I left to get breakfast, I checked the mail. There was an unusual letter in my mailbox that looked very official. I feared it was a summons. The return address was from a bank called Cartel National Trust in New York City. The envelope was smooth and heavy, and the paper was a creamy ivory color. I sat down at the table and opened the envelope with a butter knife.

Inside was a letter thanking me for the new account I had established with Cartel. Tucked inside the letter were two green box office passes to a Yankee game scheduled a month in advance.

The next page was a balance statement. I couldn’t understand the ledger columns but the bottom line hit me right between the eyes. According to Cartel, I had opened an account with them, and the balance in my name was three million dollars.

To be continued...

Copyright © 2009 by John W. Steele

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