There are 486 of them on planet Earth. Originally, they were only 12 taken to the Giza Plateau in Cairo, Egypt over four-thousand years ago. Their purpuse was to hide the existence of their home planet, Siren from their sister planet Earth. They knew that the nature of mankind was a threat to their peaceful ways. Siren was spared the gamma-wave blast that originated from the destruction of the star called Xeries. But their benefactors, the Preculians can now protect them from hostile planets, and there is no longer any need for the Great Shield. Now the sirens have to decide whether to remain on Earth, or return to their home planet.
The Sirens from Earth return to their original planet, Siren, and find the mystical tribes of the Monopole Valley from whom they are descended. They also find addiction to flying by the use of the mag-belts over the "monopole." Aside from the deadly malnutrition that their addiction leads to, they also find that their outward displays of love and affection are not to be tolerated by the citizens of Christos, the capital city of the planet. Fortunately, they find a way to travel back to earth to found The First Church of Siren on a quiet lakefront in central Florida. Their actions there shape not only the future, but the past as well.
The year 2258 holds a future where mankind routinely visits the Online Distribution Center to change the way they look and feel. All are connected to a collective bloodline where you can access the genes of a different body, whether it be a breast increase or decrease, or a change in height, weight, skin or eye color. Disease is a thing of the past with the Online Distribution Center's cache vaccines and antibodies. Your lifespan is in the hundreds of years instead of dozens of decades. But not all embrace the ODC's. Some "originals" are content to live a mere hundred years without augmentation. Where do you suppose you might fit in?
You can order an autographed copy of The Sirens Trilogy for only $20.00 with free shipping. It makes a great gift for a Siren you might happen to know. Or if you prefer to have the books separately, the first two are only $12.00 each, and the third book is only $10.00. All autographed and with free shipping to anywhere in the U.S. To order any of the books, just click the order now button and you will be directed to Wig's PayPal account. Use the drop-down menu to choose the book and deposit the money along with your mailing address.
There is a deadly game of cat and mouse aboard the cruise ship, Chystal Sea. Psychic performer Eddie Corrigan enlists the help of the beautiful cruise director, Erin Kahill, to unravel the mystery behind the strange deaths that occur on the ship. The deranged Dr. Fitzsimmons from Eddie's alma mater, Columbia University, resurfaces aboard the Chrystal Sea a decade after his father was killed in a suspicious accident. Eddie and his brother Bobby left Columbia after the "accident" to become police officers. The use of Eddie's psychic gift gave him debilitating headaches, and he was forced to leave VICAP where he was profiling dangerous criminals. It seems that one of them just won't go away until he is put away by Eddie and his brother Bobby.
Kevin Murphy changed the world when his dog Misty uncovered a strange stone on the lonely beach in Florida. The glowing blue stone raised a space craft that was hidden in the Gulf Stream ninety miles off the coast of Melbourne Beach, Florida.
Nellie Brighton was framed into a drug conviction that landed her in prison for six months. When she was released, she was delivered into the hands of the nefarious Jackson Hand by her traitorous lawyer. To escape from the intricate web of Jackson's service company, she'll have to take him down or die trying. Fasten you seat belts for this wild ride.
Mack (Makenzie) Willis is a retired cop turned private eye who hits it off with an ex-NSA operative maned Martie. Together they solve the sordid stories behind some deadly sins.
The old building that used to house the "Oddfellows" turns out to be the perfect venue for a Halloween fundraiser for a fraternity at the University of Florida.
An unlikely friendship develops between the amnesiac Jerome and the eccentric heiress of Doe industries.
A Short Story by Wig Nelson
His tired eyes could just barely make out a train of sleds through the frost on the window. They went flying down and straggling up the gentle slopes of the Boston suburbs, and John Banner thought of death. As he bent forward to look through the wet panes, he could feel life on his face and chest from the heat below. The radiator became a device for daily rejuvenation, but his only real interest in life was how to leave it. John was a suicide. He was not suicidal. Indeed, the last thing his conscious mind was capable of was manifesting his own demise. He could never bring himself to use the loaded gun that he woke to each morning. And he could not bring himself to throw it away. John was a living contradiction by lack of conviction.
His blue blood was only flowing out of habit. He had never asked to inherit the weight of being John Banner Jr., and most of the time he felt that it was just as well that he was the last of his line. He had nothing to offer of himself-except his money.
A call ended the reverie. John supposed it was his 9:00 A.M. wake up call at the Quincy Sheraton’s front desk. He lifted the receiver, “Thank you,” and replaced it to its cradle.
Dr. Paul Simmons at the other end of the conversation was momentarily confused. Realizing what had happened, he redialed the phone, and once again reached the hotel’s operator, “John Banner’s room please.”
“I’m sorry,” said the operator, “Did I lose you?”
“No, I got through. I think he mistook me for the wake up call.”
“I’m sorry for your inconvenience. Here let me connect you again.”
“Thank you, operator,” Paul heard the phone ringing once again. John picked up on the first ring, “Hello.”
“John, it’s Paul at the clinic. I have good news. The wheels are turning smoothly, and I think we can get started as early as Monday. How does that sound?”
“That’s fine, John.”
“You don’t sound too excited. Having second thoughts?”
“No. I’m just tired. Not much sleep lately.”
“Well, I’d say that’s about to change.”
“Tell me about it,” John rubbed his eyes and stifled a yawn. “You line up a nurse?” he asked the doctor.
“I have one in mind. Someone who owes me a favor.”
“Is that really necessary?” asked John.
“It’s just a precaution. If she turns us down, I know I can count on her to keep her mouth shut, that’s all.”
“Why? It’s not illegal as far as I know.”
“Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
“So now you’re a lawyer.”
“No, but you might want to consult one before you commit to going under. This is all tricky stuff. You know that.”
“As far as anyone is concerned this is merely a sleep lab experiment. The Research Center does them all the time. Hell, I’ve been watching them since I was ten years old. One of the perks when your daddy’s name is on the front of the building.”
“Your name as well.”
“Don’t remind me. Who’s this nurse? I’d like to meet her.”
“We’re having dinner tonight. Would you like to join us?”
“It’s called The Immaculate Consumption. It’s a little place, on Boylston Street. We’re meeting around seven-thirty.”
“I know the place. Seven-thirty it is.”
John hung up the phone and said, “Wake up Eddie.” He was expecting the usual, ‘Sarah’s not here,’ from the African Gray’s cage. Even though the night cover still was on, John was surprised not to hear the parrot’s little voice, ‘Sarah’s not here! Sarah’s not here!’
Eddie was a parting gift from a former love named Sarah Mills. Losing her only added to John’s considerable army of demons. This haunting demon’s only promise was that it would be with him forever. Sarah died from rare complications of pneumonia shortly after their decision to evaluate their relationship from a distance. Absence only made the heart grow fonder in John’s case, and when he tried to contact her, he learned of her death the hard way. There was a new tenant in her apartment.
John was devastated. He tried to convince himself that it was his fault. That if he contacted her sooner her death could have been avoided. Surely he could have seen that she received better care. After all, his father was on the hospital’s board of directors for God’s sake! But he knew he was only kidding himself. Her care was excellent. It was a freak set of circumstances. A rapid lung infection led to failed attempts to oxygenate her blood, which could only lead to congestive heart failure. Mercifully, he learned that she didn’t suffer. She went code blue and was lost within minutes. He would suffer for them both. Why? Because he could!
John picked up a shoe and side-armed it across the room, hitting the wall with a loud ‘slap’ near Eddie’s cage. It had always gotten a rise out of Eddie but still there was no sound. John crossed the room to the cage and lifted the night cover. He saw his little friend lying on his side at the bottom of the cage and lowered his eyes to the shoe. Grief briefly locked around his heart and he said, “I’m glad you were spared that. Tell me Eddie, what’s it like to be a free bird?”
Alex Benson was a nurse at the Banner Medical Research Center on Boston’s Banner Boulevard. The Center was built by John’s father, as were libraries, civic centers and The Boston Art Gallery. Alex liked her career and working at the Banner Center, although she had begun to rethink the feasibility of affording a home in the Boston area on a nurse’s salary. At twenty-eight, she figured that although she was still young, five years in the work force had yet to accumulate an adequate down payment. At least she liked her apartment complex.
Alex was seated with Paul Simmons at a small table in a side room inside The Immaculate Consumption. A waitress approached their table, “I hope you enjoy your Immaculate Consumption. My name is Rain. I’ll be your server this evening. Can I get you something from the bar?”
“I’d like a Dewar’s on the rocks with a water back,” said Paul.
“White Zinfandel for me,” said Alex.
“Would you like some blue corn chips and homemade salsa?’ asked Rain.
“Thank you,” said the doctor. “Someone will be joining us for dinner, so we’ll need another setup.”
“No problem. I’ll direct Mr. Banner to your table when he arrives,” the waitress smiled in response to their quizzical expressions, “John is a regular here. He called ahead and reserved this room for you. He described your appearance and when you arrived, the hostess seated you here.”
“He must have told you to look for this great looking guy with a gorgeous girl on his arm,” chided Paul.
“Actually, he did!” Rain closed her note pad and retreated to the bar for their drinks.
Alex was still in the dark as to why Paul had arranged the meeting. When the name Banner was mentioned, the slightest hint of an alarm went off in her head. When the name John was mentioned, it was much more than a hint. She was suddenly caught in a girlish reaction to celebrity - one that could hide neither excitement, nor the embarrassment of being excited. She found herself looking for a hole to crawl into. There was no recovery, “John Banner as in…”
“The John Banner Medical Research Center, that’s right,” said Paul.
“Thanks for the warning,” said Alex.
“What? I don’t follow.”
“You don’t follow. YOU DON’T FOLLOW?”
“Relax, Alex. He puts his pants on one leg at a time.”
“You don’t get it, do you? His name is on my paycheck for God’s sake. I effectively work for the man, yet I’ve never met him. He’s richer than God, and you don’t follow!”
“So what would you do differently if I had clued you in?” asked Paul.
“I don’t know. But I wouldn’t have worn this dress, I can tell you that. I look like I’m the queen of thrift shop house dresses.”
“Your dress is fine, Alex.”
“Sure, if you’re Aunt Bea. I didn’t even wear any perfume. Thanks a lot Paul. You’re a real pal!”
“Easy girl. He’s grieving.”
“I know. I’ve heard. I feel so bad for him. They say his heart is broken. It’s so sad . . . could’ve been Camelot, Paul.”
“Yeah, well life goes on - if you’re lucky,” said Paul. “Besides, for every Camelot there’s always a Lancelot somewhere in the picture.”
“You’re a fatalist, Doctor. What about the happy ending?”
“Show me one and I’ll believe in it,” said Paul.
As John approached their table, Paul rose and shook his hand, “John, I’d like you to meet Alex Benson. Alex, John Banner,” said Paul completing the introduction.
“Pleased to meet you,” said John extending his hand.
“Nice to meet you, too, Mr. Banner,” said Alex.
“Please, call me John.”
“As you wish, John,” She was surprised to find herself blushing. She hoped he didn’t notice.
“I don’t know whether Paul has filled you in as to why we set up this meeting, but it’s simply this; I need a nurse for a sleep lab experiment, and Paul said you’re a good one.”
“I’ve worked in the sleep lab, and yes, I’m very good,” said Alex feeling a confidence of which she was suddenly proud.
“I like that response, Alex,” said John. “I’m the one going under, and I don’t mind telling you your confidence is somewhat reassuring. I plan to go under for about five days. Paul here is directing the experiment, and I need someone familiar with life sustenance monitoring procedure. Paul says you’re the best.”
“Well, I’ll miss a week’s salary. If you’ll match it then I don’t see why not.”
“I’ll triple it.”
“You’ve got yourself a nurse, Mr. Banner.”
“John,” said Alex. “Why do you want to sleep for five days?”
“I’ve been doing a lot of meditation for the past few years along with shallow breathing exercises. At times I can lower my respiration and pulse by one third my normal rate. I’m hoping to get it down to about one-half during the experiment in the lab.”
“Isn’t that dangerous,” asked Alex.
“I don’t think so,” answered Paul. “We’ll use a controlled sedative through an I-V so we can maintain a stable heartbeat. But Alex, there’s something you need to know up-front. The I-V bag we’re going to use will be labeled D-5L,- Lactated Ringers. We don’t want to draw any unwanted attention to what we’re up to. As far as anyone knows, we’re giving John sugar water for hydration and that’s it. Do you have a problem with that?”
“You’re the doctor, Paul. I just follow orders.”
“That’s what I was counting on. You see, John, she’s a team player just like I promised you,” said the doctor.
Dinner progressed with pleasant conversation, mostly dealing with the disappointing playoff loss that the Patriots suffered to the Oakland Raiders, and when the check came, John signed for the bill, and Paul excused himself leaving the two of them alone at the table.
“Alex, would you care to join me for a walk to the gallery? It’s Tuesday night, and they’re open till ten.”
“Sounds good to me, John,” Alex was enjoying a light-headedness born of considerably more than the white zinfandel. Perhaps life was good after all. Maybe a girl could meet a man like John Banner and have a relationship without going to Radcliff and coming from a family with a truckload of money . . . but then again, perhaps not. At any rate, Alex was looking forward to a one-week raise in pay.
Alex and John walked up the short two blocks to the Boston Art Gallery. They played with the images in the Cezanne exhibition and found themselves enjoying each other’s company. Alex couldn’t help feeling that there was a sadness to John that was unspoken even to those close to him. Yes, he had lost someone dear to him, but it was more than that. She couldn’t shake the notion that John was merely placing one foot in front of the other. She had no business trying to guess his true nature after meeting him for the first time a short while ago, but she couldn’t help herself. She felt that John Banner was a man who felt that his fellow man had let him down. Such a lonely place to wake up to each day. Great expectations that shape up to be somewhat less than great. She wondered if his cross was any less burdensome to bear in light of the fact that all things material were well within his reach. She guessed not.
As the gallery was about to close, John said, “Come with me, Alex. I want to show you my favorite painting. It’s called Agony In The Garden, by Paul Gauguin. He painted it about three years before he died. I like Cezanne, but somehow landscapes don’t window the soul like a self-portrait. It’s not catalogued as such, but everybody knows that’s what it is. Orange hair, big nose and dark subject. You know; if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck… it’s a duck.”
It was the only painting on the east wall. Alex stood silent. It didn’t take her long to see why it was John’s favorite. The facial features were slightly different, but the expression was eerily similar in both men. Alex had a maternal instinct screaming to find a way to comfort John through his obvious torment, but realized that not only was this not the time and the place, but that it most probably would never be her place.
John placed Alex in a cab outside the gallery a short time later. Naturally she thought of him later in the evening after preparing for bed. Between the brushing of the teeth and the folding of the mind, there was indeed the dreaming of the man.
On the morning of John’s descent from a conscious state, the weather was once again a thing of ugly. It was cold enough to snow, but a projected cold rain cursed the northeast for the next three days. On the ride from his home to the Banner Center John remarked to Paul, “I won’t miss this weather, that’s for sure.”
“You’ll get to sleep right through it if everything goes all right.”
“Are you concerned about anything, Paul?” asked John.
“Just the duration. Five days is a long time.”
“If you don’t like the readout, you can always bring me back up,” said John.
“Listen, John. I’m willing to let the sleep plan go to term, but I think you need to be aware of the potential complications.”
“Atrophy for one. Hydration, nutrition, you name it.”
“So I won’t be able to play tennis for a while afterward, big deal. This weather’s only suited for hibernation anyway.”
“I’m not worried about your tennis game, John. The heart is a muscle, too. That just seems like a long time for a decelerated heart function, that’s all, not that we won’t have it under control. Alex is very good, and she’s had a lot of experience in the Center’s lab. She’s even picked up the nickname, ‘sandman.’”
“I don’t think I could ever mistake her for a man,” said John.
“She is attractive, isn’t she?” said Paul.
“I guess if I have to be in bed with a woman for five days, it doesn’t hurt that she’s a looker.”
“It’s nice to hear your sense of humor’s back in town. I was beginning to worry about you.”
“By the way, thanks for picking me up, Paul. I didn’t want to leave my car out in the weather. Besides, I’m not sure I’ll want to be driving right after I come back up.”
“No. You won’t.”
When John and Paul reached the lab they found Alex making final arrangements of the monitors, blood heater, muscle stimulator and numerous other medical marvels including an automated triple I-V which was controlled by feedback of the subject’s autonomic functions. The I-V was responsible for Hydration - (Saline solution), Nutrition-(Glucose D-5L Lactated Ringers), and Sedation-(Valium/Darvocet Drip). One needle was inserted into each arm, and the third I-V port was located on a small shaved section on the upper left side of the John’s head. When Alex was prepping John for the cranial I-V port she thought she’d have a little fun at his expense. Brandishing the razor she said, “Now I have to shave your legs, John.”
“As long as I get to wear a Teddy,” he joked back.
“Now that’s an image I could have done without,” she said.
“Sorry. I’m terminally kinky, that’s all.”
Alex gave him a sexy little wink and said, “Nothing wrong with that.”
“I can see I’ll be in good hands,” said John laughing.
Paul walked over to the bed that John would be sleeping in for the next one hundred twenty hours and said, “I’m glad you two are having so much fun because I’m about to spoil it. We’re a little behind schedule so it’s time for . . . the toys,” he joked as he held up the catheters that would be inserted shortly to facilitate John’s elimination of body fluids.
Paul and Alex watched carefully as John went under by his natural breathing exercises and yoga meditation. Their plan was to monitor his pulse and respiration to determine when it reached approximately two thirds its normal rate. Then they would begin the sedative drip.
John progressed smoothly down through three distinct steps in autonomic system reduction and reached their prearranged target level of seventy-percent heart rate in less than an hour. Alex started the sedative drip and watched as his heart rate slowly settled down and leveled out at one-half normal. Paul was with her the whole time to oversee the procedure and watch for any tell-tale signs of discomfort to John, either allergic or irritant in nature, due to the invasion of his normal bloodstream. Pleased to see there were none and that everything was running smoothly, he told Alex he would check in with her in about four hours. He gave her his personal cell phone number and instructed her to call if there were any changes outside of the five percent parameters they had agreed upon. Alex asked him, “Is it all right if I turn off this music. It’ll put me to sleep.”
“Sorry, Alex. The music stays on. John prearranged it. It’s his ride so if he wants the music, he gets the music.”
“I guess it’s not that bad.”
“I’ll tell him you said so. He wrote it.”
“Oh, in that case I love it!” swooned Alex.
“Keep your eyes on the monitors, Juliet. I’ll bring you some speed.”
After connecting the terminals to monitor John’s brain waves, Alex set an audio timer for twenty-minute intervals and sat down in a comfortable chair with a book. For the first few hours there were no changes. His heart and respiration were stable at about one-half his normal level. During her second response to the timer, Alex checked John’s body temperature and found it about three degrees low. She turned up the setting on his blood heater, which consisted of very small coils wrapped loosely around both of his forearms. The close proximity of the veins to the surface of the skin in the forearms provides a very convenient avenue to introduce either heat or cold into the bloodstream. It was then that she noticed a change in the brain wave monitor. At first she was dubious that the readings were accurate. She disconnected John briefly and placed the monitors on her own head to make a comparison. It seemed to be working properly, but she still had her doubts. She reconnected the monitor to John and found the same readings as before. John was sleeping in alpha!
It couldn’t be right. People don’t sleep in alpha. She was looking for theta. No one sleeps in alpha. It’s too active, beyond REM! She told herself to slow down. Then she told herself again. Call Paul? Yes, call Paul. Act casual, no big deal. She dialed the phone, and Paul answered after two rings,
“It’s me, Dr. Simmons. I have a surprise for you.”
“I don’t like surprises, Alex. That’s why I went to school for all those years, so there wouldn’t be any surprises.”
“John is sleeping in alpha . . . ”
There was a brief silence until the weight of her sentence could sink in. The doctor was suddenly all business, “I’ll be there in a minute. Close the door to the room. Don’t open the door to anyone but me. You’ve checked the machine?”
“On my own waves. I’m beta. It’s no mistake. John is sustaining alpha in a sleep state. It’s going on eighteen minutes now.”
“Go. The door! Now!”
Alex knew that the readings were unexpected, but what was the big deal? Close the door? Sheeze! Doctors are so melodramatic. Everything’s the Nobel Prize with them. She guessed it was an ego thing. Women were so much more practical.
Chanting . . . I hear chanting. There was a warm wet wind on John’s face and he looked about him expecting to see the lovely face of Alex in the lab. He was alone. Well, almost alone . . . he heard chanting,
“I am words . . . I am he who shall become much more than words . . . I am moving . . . I am moving to the place I am to be. There is no place before me in my memory . . . as by my word I am my word and soon I shall be free . . .”
John rose to his feet amid a vast desert. He searched the horizon for a point of reference and saw a man with long white hair and beard sitting on a bolder a short distance away. He was dressed in a long brown robe and woven sandals on his ancient feet. He was chanting very softly with his eyes closed,
“I am on the shores of Causia . . . I am with the children of the Ridge. I am moving forward, ever forward . . . leaving all the touchstones far behind. . .”
John called out to the man, “Pardon me, friend. I seem to have lost my way. Can you tell me where we are?”
“We are near The Road,” said the man.
“There is only one Road,” said the old man.
“One road? Where does it lead to?”
“It is the road to Catatome. Everyone knows this. You must be from a very distant place, isn’t that so?”
“I’m not exactly sure. I remember waking up a short time ago, and then I heard you chanting. I’m not sure how I got here or exactly where I came from.”
“It is of no importance. What you must focus on is where you are going.”
John asked the man, “Who are you?”
“My name is Stiles Arghen. I am a wizard,” said the old man.
“A wizard? Can you do magic?”
“I am a shaper of things unshaped. Perhaps your memory is in need of my services.”
“I’m not exactly sure what I need now. I’d like to learn more about this place. Which way is Catatome? Perhaps I should go there.”
“Come,” said the wizard. “I will take you to Catatome and answer your questions along the way.”
“Thank you, Mr. Arghen.”
“You may call me, Stiles.”
“And you may call me, John.”
“Pleased to meet you, John. Now what would you like to know about this place?”
“Well, first of all, you say The Road leads to Catatome, but where else does it go?”
“At the other end of the road is the turning point, which leads you back the way you came. Back to Catatome.”
“That’s it? Is Catatome all there is?”
“Not at all, John. Halfway to Catatome from the turning point is the city of Causia. And there is also the Inferius Ridge across the sea from the shores of Causia.”
“So there are basically three major areas where people live.”
“There is so much to learn here, Stiles,” said John. “It’s all very confusing.”
“I wouldn’t put so much emphasis on knowledge if I were you. If ever there was a fork in the road, it was faith and knowledge.”
“Tell me Stiles, how big is Catatome?” asked John.
“I’m not really sure. No one ever talks of the city limits. I have traveled many days through the city and never found the other end. I suspect that it is growing daily and so it is beyond measurement. Every day there are thousands of new Catatomians, so the city just stretches out before them.”
“You mean thousands of children are born every day in Catatome?” asked John.
“No, I don’t mean that at all. As far as I know there are never any new children in Catatome,” said Stiles. But there are thousands of adults who arrive every day.”
“What are the people like in Catatome?”
“I suppose most worlds are very much the same. Different people live in different places. The Catatomians spend much of their time with their touchstones.”
“What are touchstones?”
“I’m surprised to hear that you don’t know what a touchstone is, John. Perhaps you’ve lost a great deal of your memory.”
“Perhaps I have. I certainly don’t remember anything called a touchstone. What exactly are they?”
“It is a personal item someone can share with his descendants. It produces a chemical reaction in the mind of its user. It is a stone that one discovers, which when held in seawater, enables him to connect with the past lives of his ancestry.”
“Why would I deceive you, John. It is truth only which serves me.”
“You mean that when a person holds a touchstone, he can experience the life experiences of people from the past?”
“Only his specific bloodline. Seawater must be used as a medium to connect the stone to carbon.”
“What do you mean carbon?”
“We are carbon, John. All of us. All the animals, too. The whole of the world is either carbon or stone.”
“Can marriage partners share touchstones?”
“I’m afraid not, John. It is forbidden to marry within the same bloodline. Marriage partners each have a stone they can share with their children.”
“It sounds pretty complicated, Stiles.”
“It is much simpler than you imagine. Really a basic life function for many people.”
“What do the Catatomians do when they’re not using the stones?”
“They have to get nourishment and engage in physical activity. There is always a danger associated with using the touchstones. They can become very habit-forming and the body can waste away in a very short time.”
“So tell me about Causia?” Do they use the stones there also?”
“Not at all. In fact they are very much against the touchstones. The dwellers in Causia are called the Tabulas. They believe only in a very structured system of growth and self-improvement. There is no place in their social structure for touchstones. I’m afraid the two cities have very little tolerance for each other’s way of life.”
“And what was the other place that you mentioned?”
“The Inferius Ridge. It is off the shores of Causia-about half a day’s walk.”
“Walk? Across the sea?”
“The water isn’t very deep.”
John considered what the wizard had told him so far. He wasn’t entirely sure he understood what he was talking about. But he was sure of one thing; he very much wanted to experience a touchstone. After walking for about an hour, the two men found themselves in front of a large iron gate. A voice from within the city called out to them, “Who comes to Catatome?”
“Carson, my old friend. Open your gates. It’s Stiles Arghen. I come with a friend to visit your fair city,” said the wizard.
“Then come ahead you grizzly old wizard. My fair city eh? This city is about as “fair” as it is “mine.” I just work here, Stiles, but it’s nice to see a familiar face once in a while. A gatekeeper’s work can be lonely sometimes.”
“I’m sure it can, Carson. This is John. We met about two hours out from the city along The Road.”
“What brings you to Catatome, Stiles? I know you don’t own a touchstone, so you haven’t come for the baths.”
“John wants to see them. He hopes to find a touchstone and bring it to the baths.”
“The baths?” asked John.
“The baths are a series of aqueducts that run through the city. They carry seawater across many meditation stations where people sit to use their touchstones,” explained the wizard.
“That sounds very relaxing.”
“It all depends on which part of the past you experience. I’m told it isn’t always enjoyable.”
“I’d still like to try it,” said John.
“You’d only be living in your own past. The touchstone starts with you and you pass it along to your children. Since none of your ancestors have touched the stone, you couldn’t share their experiences.”
“But maybe I could learn a little more about where I came from and what I’m doing here.”
“Well good luck,” said Carson, the gatekeeper. I’ve never been able to find a stone, and one was never passed down to me. Still I don’t think I’m missing anything. I feel sorry for most of those people using the touchstones. They’re literally wasting away. Wasting their lives!”
“We’ll be going now, Carson. We’ll see you on the way back out.”
“Have a good visit, Stiles. Maybe you can help some of the people at the baths.”
“Perhaps I can,” said the wizard as he led John toward the center of the city.
As they approached the Center Square, John could see people in meditation reclined in the baths. Their eyes were closed and they wore very little clothing. John supposed their nakedness was to prevent irritation of being half submersed in seawater for long periods of time. The thing that most surprised John was that none of the people meditating seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was really kind of sad. The wizard tried to offer physical support to the weakest ones by conjuring spells for health and projecting them forward like magic missiles. The ones that were hit seemed to gain strength from them immediately. But soon it was taking its toll on Stiles. He was growing weaker himself, almost as if he was sitting along with them meditating with his own touchstone.
John realized his growing weariness and said to him, “Stiles, you can’t save them all. At some point you have to save yourself.”
“Just a few more spells,” John.
“Take me to Causia, please. I want to go now,” said John, in order to make the wizard stop wearing himself out.
“All right, John. I’ll take you now if you wish.”
When they reached the city gates on the way out, Carson said to the wizard, “You don’t look so good, Stiles. You want to come in and lie down for a while?”
“I’ll be all right, Carson, but thanks for the offer.”
“He did too much at the baths,” said John.
“He always does, John. He always does.”
Stiles and John slowly made their way out of the city and down the road toward Causia. John asked more questions on the way, “Tell me, Stiles, what are the people like who live on the Inferius Ridge?”
“They are the children of the Others.”
“The Others?” asked John.
“The Others were a large group of artists and musicians who were banished to the Ridge from Causia. They were once citizens of Causia, who are called the Tabulas. The Others began painting murals on the buildings before the ruling body of the Tabulas could approve the subject matter. Some of the artwork was offensive to the city’s populace and a vote was called for to decide the fate of the artists. It was decreed that the artwork would be saved, but the artists themselves had to leave the city. They had no desire to live in Catatome. In order to pursue their artistic endeavors all the artists and musicians agreed to leave. They walked across the sea to the Inferius Ridge where their descendents live to this day. People on the ridge are the chidren’s, children’s, children of the Others. We call them simply, the Children of The Ridge.”
“I’d like to see some of the murals the Others painted.
I’d also like to walk to the Ridge if you’ll show me the way.”
“I would be happy to, John. I make the journey on a regular basis anyway and would enjoy the company. There is a powerful plant that grows on the Ridge that I use to restore my strength. It’s particularly helpful after a visit to the baths of Catatome.”
“That was kind of scary, Stiles. At one point there you looked as weak as the people you were trying to help.”
“It looks worse than it is, John. I am old, that’s all.”
When John and Stiles reached Causia the sun was halfway from its peak to the horizon. The path of the sun was what John imagined would be seen near a northern region during the dead of winter. He wondered how crops could be grown in such weak sunlight. When he asked Stiles if it were much warmer in the summer, he was surprised to learn that on this plane of existence, the idea of changing seasons was foreign to them. Apparently the axis of Stiles’ world was directly perpendicular to the constant rays of the sun. The road was located near the northern pole of the planet, which was fortunate because Stiles said the temperature at the equator was too high to support water based carbon life forms such as them. About fifty yards ahead of them John noticed a huge condor soaring high above the ground. Then he noticed that the giant bird was perfectly stationary.
“How does he do that?” John asked the wizard.
“Very simply,” he answered. “He is painted on a building.”
When John stepped a few paces closer he could see that indeed the bird was merely a picture painted on a building. The picture, however, was more life-like than any other that he had ever seen. It was not a static or still image at all. The picture moved slightly as if the wind were ruffling a great canvas. But the building that it was painted on was clearly solid stone. When John realized the actual size of the painting he was amazed. It measured at least one hundred-twenty foot wide, by two hundred feet tall. He had heard of posters manufactured in sections which approached that size, but he knew this was an original work of art done entirely by hand.
A doorway appeared in the center of the painting and a woman approached the wizard and John, “Oh, bless you Mr. Arghen. I knew you would come. Please help a poor old woman. Just take one more letter to Sondahl. I promise not to trouble you further for a very long time if you only will. Please! Just one more letter.”
“I shall be happy to deliver it for you, Mother Bhaney. It is really no trouble for me to do so, as I’ve told you many times before.”
“I know, I know. But you are the only one who has ever returned from the Ridge. The burdens you are given are well known. I know I’m not the only one with loved ones on the other side.”
“You can always come with me, Mother Bhaney,” said the wizard.
“You know I would if not for Sehwalen. She is only fourteen now. What kind of life could she hope for on the Ridge? She has no burning talent for the arts, and here in Causia there are always children who can make good use of such a fine teacher.”
“Give me the letter, Mother Bhaney. I’ll see that Sondahl receives it as soon as I get to the Ridge.”
“Bless your soul, Mr. Arghen. I’m sure that Sondahl will someday compose a ballad to immortalize your many deeds of kindness.”
“I have no use for immortality, Mother Bhaney. I choose to serve in this life only, for as long as I can.”
The woman then produced a large sack stuffed tightly with papers and bound with a vine. She then handed it to the wizard.
As the woman retreated back into the building, Stiles whispered to John, “I was afraid of that. This is one of the heaviest ones yet.”
“What was that all about,” asked John.
“Just a lonely old woman who greatly misses her son.”
“Her son is on the Ridge?”
“Yes. Sondahl Bhaney, minstrel and poet-banished to the Ridge. He was not yet twenty when he was forced to go.”
“What did she mean when she said you are the only one to return.”
“It is as she said. I am the only one who has ever returned from the Ridge. Possibly it is because my powers as a wizard allow me to be a citizen of all three cities on The Road, and at the same time, a resident of none. Then again it may be simply that I was never banished to the Ridge, but travel there by my will.”
“And you deliver things back and forth?”
“On occasion. I am fortunate that not many have chosen to abuse the privilege.”
“What about me, Stiles? Can I go to the Ridge and return again to Causia?”
“I make no promises, John. I can offer only to show you the way. Your destiny is of your own design, or merely the will of the winds.”
“That’s not very reassuring,” said John.
“It is only the truth. Truth is the only thing that serves a wizard. Perhaps you need to re-examine your desire to go to the ridge. It may not be the place for you after all.”
John and the wizard spent the rest of the afternoon traveling around the city of Causia. The people seemed pleasant enough if not indifferent to their presence. The buildings were magnificent. That alone was reason enough in John’s mind to travel across the sea to the Ridge. If he found that he was unable to return, perhaps he would find his true purpose there. He had a feeling it had something to do with music.
Soon John was feeling very tired. He asked the wizard if they might be able to sit and close their eyes for a short while. He was feeling kind of a sensory overload. Stiles took him to the house of a friend who was the curator of a collection of artifacts left behind by the Others.
“Please, Stiles. No more changing images just now.”
“I think you will be pleased to see just one more.”
“What is it? A painting? Another swirling vase?”
“It is a carpet. A very special carpet to be exact. With a minor spell it shall become a story most familiar to you. Your past.”
“My past? Why haven’t you said so before? You know my confusion. Were you trying to tease me?”
“You were not ready to see it, John. It takes some preparation for the spell to be effective. The carpet will act like a touchstone for you now, if you would like to try.”
“Of course, I’ll try it. Which way do we go?”
“We are already there,” said the wizard. “You have only to walk through that door right in front of you.”
John looked ahead of him and saw a small house painted as a waterfall, all across the front wall. The water was streaming down right over the door.
As he walked closer, the water flowing down slowed almost to a stop and the door began to open.
“I’m supposed to just walk into the house uninvited?”
“It will be all right, John. Just leave your shoes outside.”
John slipped off his shoes and walked through the door. He could sense the wizard following behind him. The first thing he saw on the floor before him was a group of dense white clouds to walk on. The perspective was that of Mount Olympus looking down on the poor mere mortals. Then the clouds began to become thinner revealing a clear view of a sprawling city below.
As he focused more intently, the images became closer and closer until he was looking at two people embracing on a park bench. He could see his own face on the male figure, but the female was turned in the opposite direction . . . then she turned and he saw her face. Sarah! He was sitting with Sarah on the Boston Common, the large beautiful park in the center of the city. It was Boston. Of course, Boston! My home!
John’s past came flooding back before him like the waterfall on the front of the building. He remembered everything. And he was exhausted. He slowly lowered himself to a chair by a small table on the side of the room. He said to the wizard, “Stiles. I remember now. I remember everything. It’s all come back to me. The woman in the picture was from my home.”
“And now she is on the Ridge. Sarah, the painter,” said the wizard.”
“What? What did you say?” asked John.
“The woman in the picture on the floor. I know her. Her name is Sarah. She is one of the Children of the Ridge.”
“Oh, Stiles. My head is spinning. I’m so confused. My eyes feel so heavy, I can barely keep my head up.”
“Then rest,” said the wizard.
John’s eyes were closed, but he was able to see everything around him. He could see the lab back in the Banner building. He could see himself lying on the table. When he opened his eyes he could see Alex’s lovely face smiling down at him, “Good morning,” she said. “How was your sleep?”
John gently rubbed his palms across his eyes. It was partly to bring him back to full consciousness, and partly to block the light. The room seemed exceptionally bright. All of a sudden his eyes had become extremely light sensitive.
“Why did you bring me back so soon? Was there a problem?”
“We went to term,” said Alex. “It’s been five days.”
“Five days? It barely seemed like one.”
“Did you know you could sustain alpha before the experiment?”
“No. I’ve never been monitored before.”
“Well, Paul is pretty excited. I think he’s planning to publish a paper.”
“Where is Paul?”
“He’s getting you some nourishment. Mostly liquids and lots of nice fruit.
“It was like a dream world, Alex.”
“Of course, it was. You were sleeping.”
“No. You don’t understand. I have total recall. It wasn’t really a dream, but life on a completely different plane.”
Paul entered the room and placed a small cooler on the counter. He plugged in the coffee pot and said, “Good morning John. How’d it go?”
“Fantastic, Paul. I was in contact with people on a different plane. Their world is a large island with a road running from tip to tip. I can’t wait to go back there. There’s so much to learn.”
“Now hold on a minute, John. You’re not going anywhere for a while. You have to get some strength back in your body, and then get some physical exercise. You don’t want your muscle tissue to deteriorate, do you?”
“Of course, not. When can I go under again?”
“I’d say a week. I’ll set it up for Monday the twenty-sixth.”
“That sounds great.”
“You sound great!” said Alex. “I’ll say one thing. This experiment has done an awful lot to improve you mood.”
“Life is good,” said John. “Alex, will you be my nurse again?”
“Thank you,” said John. “You too, Paul. Great job!”
For the next six days, John could think of nothing but going back to the world of the three cities. He wasn’t sold on finding a touchstone, however he knew he would have to make the journey to the Inferius Ridge. He had to take the chance to determine if he could be reunited with Sarah. He was hoping that Stiles could conjure a spell for him that would allow him to nourish his body from the other side. There was a new world waiting for him. It was a promising scenario that might prove to fulfill his dearest wish. To be reunited with his lost lover once again. A second chance.
On the morning of the twenty-sixth, John once again descended to the island world of the three cities. It didn’t take quite as long as the first time. In less than an hour he reached his meditative level of two-thirds pulse and respiration. When the sedative was introduced into his bloodstream, he descended to the rate of one-half within minutes.
He found himself coming awake in the same chair inside the curator’s house. This time the image on the floor was of the lab, with Alex and Paul busily attending to him. Stiles was, again, standing by the door holding the large sack of pages given to him by Mother Bhaney. John said to the wizard, “Stiles, you’ve come back for me.”
“You were only gone a short while, John. I suspected
that you were a wizard, also. I’m surprised that you didn’t mention it.” He then told John, “I need to be going soon. You will have to decide if you’re going to come with me.”
“Someone once told me, ‘If ever there were a fork in the road it was faith and knowledge.’
“I told you that, John.”
“I know that, Stiles.”
“You really must do something about that memory of yours,” said the wizard.
“What I mean to say is, I choose faith,” said John. “I’m coming with you.”
“As I knew you would,” said the wizard. “Here, I brought you a gift. It was made right here in the city of Causia. I hope you like it.
He held out a sack not unlike the one that contained Mother Bhanley’s letters. It was somewhat smaller and open at the top. Inside the sack John found a robe identical to the one worn by Stiles.
“Very nice,” said John as he slipped it on. It was a perfect fit.
“You’ll notice that there are no sandals in the sack, John.”
“I like the robe, Stiles. I didn’t expect anything else.”
“If you needed any, I would have provided them for you, but the Ridge is all sand. Pure sand, that is very friendly to your feet. I always leave my sandals on the shores of Causia. It’s a nice feeling to be without them for a while.”
John and Stiles walked into the gentle waves and turned around to take in a last look at the city. The Murals were magnificent. One was a continuous sea serpent that spanned three buildings. Behind the serpent was a high cliff with pines and palms reaching to the heavens. In front of the trees stood a long line of primitive Causians with torches raised high overhead. They seemed to be trying to chase the serpent back into the sea. The symbolism was not lost on John. He turned to Stiles and said, “Let’s go, Stiles. The serpent awaits.”
“That it does, my fellow wizard! It waits to embrace us. Let us away!”
By the evening of the thirty-first, John had been back in the island world for the planned period of five days. Unfortunately, Paul Simmons and Alex Benson were experiencing an unforeseen complication back in the lab at the Banner Medical Research Center. They had disconnected the flow of sedatives on the I-V unit connected to John Banner, but he was not responding.
Paul was reluctant to administer a stimulant into the bloodstream after such a long period of decelerated heart rate. He shook his head and said, “I was afraid of something like this, but there was no way to safeguard against it. It was the damned duration. Five days is just too long! You might as well go get some sleep, Alex.”
“Isn’t there anything we can do?” she asked.
“Keep him alive, I guess. He’s in a comatose sleep for now. Maybe he’ll come out of it on his own. His body must be producing its own sedative for the time being.”
Alex made her way home feeling tired and utterly defeated. She knew that the accident in the lab was not her fault, but she couldn’t help feeling responsible for someone in her care.
She showered and put on a pot of chamomile tea. She sat at her kitchen table for the next half-hour thinking of John and how the accident might have been avoided. Just as she was about to make her way to the bedroom, there was a knock on the door. She opened the door a crack and discovered two smartly dressed men standing in her hallway, accompanied by an armed security guard.
At their feet stood a long, narrow rectangular crate.
“Yes. I’m Alex Benson. Who are you?”
“We’re from the Boston Art Gallery. We were told to deliver this to a Miss Alex Benson at this address. Would you sign this please,” said the man holding up a delivery form.
Alex put her signature on the page, and the two men moved the crate from the hallway into her apartment.
“Could you open it for me?” asked Alex. “I don’t have many tools here.”
“Certainly, Miss Benson.”
Just then the phone interrupted them. She retreated to the kitchen to answer it, “Hello.”
“Yes, this is she.”
“My name is Frank Taylor. I am John Banner’s attorney. I’m calling to verify the delivery of a painting. A Gauguin. The title is Agony In The Garden.”
Alex nearly dropped the phone. She peeked her head out of the kitchen just in time to see the two men lifting the painting out of the crate.
“It’s here,” she said in a voice that betrayed her stunned disbelief.
“I was instructed by Mr. Banner to set up a conditional loan to you. The condition being that in the event of his death, the painting belongs to you. Mr. Banner also told me to tell you that he won’t be back as soon as expected, and he hopes you enjoy the painting. Good night, Miss Benson.”
“Good night, Mr. Taylor.”
John and Stiles walked out to sea toward the Inferius Ridge for about an hour and a half when they came upon a sandbar. The water receded as they walked to the crest. The ground was dry enough for them to sit without soaking their robes.
“And old wizard needs rest,” said Stiles. “If only there were a spell for these old bones.”
“If I could help you I would, Stiles. I’m sorry that I’m not a medical man.”
“But you are a wizard, are you not?”
“I never claimed to be a wizard, Stiles. That was your idea.”
“Lay your hands on my head, John. Wish the rust away from these old bones.”
“It wouldn’t do you any good, Stiles. I’ve never healed anyone before.”
“Just humor an old man. Come. Lay your hands my head.”
John was feeling a little foolish as he reached out his hands and placed them, one on top of the other, on the wizard’s head. They just sat there facing each other for some time when Stiles finally said, “I’m waiting, John.”
“I’m afraid you might have a long wait. I told you that I don’t know how to give you what you need.”
“Nonsense! You have everything inside of you to change the shape of things unshaped. Change me now, John. I am well out of shape. Then we can be on our way to the Ridge.”
“But I don’t know how,” John protested.
“Say the words, John. But, they must be your words. And most importantly, they must be your will.”
John hesitated and then said, “Hear my prayer Oh Great Creator. Take the rust from this vessel of a wizard’s soul. Make new again the rise and fall of his breath. Give him strength to do your will and take from the breath of life. Be his breath that moves through the vast valley of mysterious motherhood. Breath for him to draw from as he will. So that the more he shall take of it, the more it remains.”
John continued to hold his hands lightly on the wizard’s head all throughout his prayer. At first he didn’t believe it would have any effect on Stiles, but he soon changed his outlook. Halfway through the incantation John felt an intense heat radiating through his hands into the head of the wizard. He felt that he was indeed conjuring a spell to improve the health of the old man, and his belief was enough to manifest the change. Stiles removed John’s hands after about two minutes. He shook his head briefly and said, “I think that’s enough for now. I think you burned me. You didn’t have to try to bring me back all at once!” Stiles jumped up and stretched his arms over his head, “Good job, John. I feel much younger. Your magic is very powerful.”
“I didn’t even know that I had any magic. All I had was good will. I merely wished that a small measure of your youth could return to you.”
“A small measure, eh? I figure it to be about twenty years. All I gave you was an antique robe from Causia. I’d say I got the best part of the bargain.”
“Glad to be of service,” said John.
“How do you feel?” asked the wizard.
“I feel a little weak. No, weak is not the word, it’s more like fatigue. Yes, that’s it. I feel tired.”
“That’s how you know that you have done your magic. That is your reward. The knowledge that you have accomplished the task that you intended to. There is no other way to be sure.”
John got to his feet and walked over to the water’s edge. He reached down with cupped hands and scooped up water to refresh his face. He was surprised to find it brought him more energy instantly. He was about to walk back over to where Stiles was standing when he noticed a glittering object just below the surface of the water. He reached down and picked it up. At first it vibrated slightly in his hands, then a great swirling miasma of images passed through his mind and across his eyes as well. It was then that he realized that his eyes were actually closed.
He was in a state of confusion as to what he was seeing with his eyes closed. Time was no longer a fixed progression moving forward in a straight line. It seemed that time was capable of moving laterally as well. He could move backward in the timeline of his life as easily as he examined the different parts of the building murals of Causia.
He went back to the last night he had shared with Sarah. They had been to the symphony. The Boston Pops was a favorite of John’s, and he always had tickets for the entire season. The concert that he and Sarah enjoyed together was the last in a summer series that featured Brahms and Beethoven. Brahms Symphony No. 1 was the feature for the evening and it was a magnificent performance.
He was reliving the experience while standing on a sandbar with Stiles Arghen in an alternate reality. He receded further back into the evening to relive the dialogue he had with Sarah just as the musicians were tuning their instruments.
“You’ll love this symphony Sarah. It took
Brahms twenty years to write. Some people think it was because he always lived in the shadow of Beethoven. That must have been very intimidating.”
“I’m sure it was,” said Sarah. “How many years will it be before we can hear your first symphony?”
“I don’t write symphonies, Sarah.”
“You know what I mean. Why don’t you publish?”
“Let’s not get into that right now. Can’t we just enjoy the music.”
“Sure. There’s always some good reason to cut this conversation short.”
“What’s your problem, Sarah.”
“I don’t think I’m the one with a problem.
If I had talent, I’d like to think I would share it with the world instead of hiding it.”
“I’m not hiding anything. I’ll publish in time. Just don’t push me, okay?”
“Okay, I’m sorry.”
Stiles interrupted his rumination about the night of the symphony by saying, “Ahh, I see you’ve found a touchstone.”
John opened his eyes and looked down at the stone in his hands.
“Is that what this is?” he asked. “I just had the strangest experience.”
“You traveled into your past, isn’t that so?”
“Yes, I think so. It was like dreaming, but less surreal. It was almost mundane in that I knew exactly what was about to happen before it did. It takes all the freshness out of the experience.”
“Not everyone reacts to the touchstones the same way. Some don’t tolerate them very well. The Tabulas of Causia are a good example of that. Tabulas choose not to own the stones. And if they find them, they throw them well into the sea. You have deposited your essence into that stone. You can now hand it down to your offspring and they can share your life experiences.”
“I’m not sure that idea appeals to me, Stiles. I’ve done some things in my life that I’m not all that proud of. I don’t want to be that exposed if you know what I mean.”
“I know exactly what you mean. Spoken like
a true Tabula.”
“Thanks, I think,” said John with uncertainty.
“You can put the stone back where you found it, or you can take it to the Inferius Ridge. Most of the people there don’t use them. They like to think of themselves as a people moving forward. They have no use to look back on their lives. You can only experience one thing or the other. If you see the past you miss the present.”
“I think I want to live the present. I want to be with Sarah again.”
“You will, John. She is waiting for you there. I believe her will has enabled you to find her. How else would you have found The Road and the three cities. Nothing happens by accident, John. The Creator has a method to his madness, even if it not obvious to us at all times.”
“So you think I should dispose of the stone?”
“I have no opinion on the issue. My life is my own. There is no place in my life for a touchstone, but I cannot answer for anyone else.”
“I think I’ll keep it for a while, even if I don’t plan to use it.”
“I hope your decision serves you well, John.”
Stiles and John then started out again across the water toward the ridge. John was surprised that he couldn’t see their destination because Stiles indicated that they would be there in less than an hour. As it turned out the Ridge materialized rather quickly and appeared suddenly about a half-mile away. They could see a number of the Children engaged in various acts of play on the shores of the Ridge. Some were sailing in the air on boards with sails attached, some were singing in groups with instruments, some were dancing, and some were just sleeping in the sun. Everyone was very happy. John looked eagerly for Sarah as soon as their feet touched the shore. She was nowhere to be found.
“Stiles, where is she?” asked John of the wizard.
“I am not sure, John. But I sense she is here, perhaps watching.”
“No, that doesn’t sound right, Stiles. If she were here, she would come to me right away, I’m sure of it. Please help me find her.”
“I’ll do what I can,” said the wizard.
John and Stiles asked many people if they knew Sarah and if so, where they could find her. No one was forthcoming with the information that they sought. At times, it seemed as if there was more information to be had than what was offered by the cryptic intimations of their ignorance. John was having a very hard time reading them, and he sensed that Stiles was reluctant to assist him in that regard. At the end of the first evening on the Ridge, John was very despondent. He told Stiles that he had no wish to stay if he could not find Sarah.
“This is not a large place,” said Stiles. “If we don’t find her tomorrow, then she is either not here anymore, or does not wish to be found.”
“I had such hope, Stiles. It’s not fair to come so close and then to come up empty handed.”
“There are many sorrows in the world as you know. Sometimes they have a purpose.”
“But what purpose could any God have for keeping us apart. We had a very strong connection to each other. Even when we were apart, she was in my mind always. She was a place for my heart to have a home.”
“As it still does, John. The home for your heart is there and always will be.”
“Yes, but I want Sarah,” said John. “I need to hold her, to love her.”
“She has your love, John. For a wizard you have much to learn, although, I must admit you took many years from my bones.”
“I’m glad I could help you, Stiles. Now help me, would you?”
“I may not be able to help you, John. The Creator may have other plans for you.”
“Plans? What plans could the Creator have for me?”
“I’m not sure. But, there must be a reason why you are not destined to remain on the Ridge at this time.”
The next day was fruitless as well. They searched every place that they could think of for Sarah and still could not find her. John could sense her presence, which made their efforts all the more frustrating.
He felt that God was somehow tormenting him. Possibly a cruel reminder that he missed a rare opportunity to be the right man for Sarah. Perhaps she was right about him not sharing his gift. God gives us gifts, which if not shared are taken away from us. At least that’s how the story goes.
After not finding Sarah, the various activities of the Children of the Others just served to make John more depressed. There was no sadness to be found on the shores of the Ridge. Everyone was contented. He felt as thought he was being mocked by their happiness and asked Stiles if they could leave the next day.
“Yes, John. I sense as well that it is time.”
John and Stiles returned to Causia the next day. It was a mindless trek devoid of the anticipation that fueled John’s excitement to be reunited with Sarah. He was merely going through the motions. Stiles tried to placate him with a positive thought.
“Just because this was not the time for your reunion, don’t resign yourself to the fact that there will never be one. There is a time for everything, John. Now it is time for me to walk The Road. Before I go, I have something to give you. It is a correspondence. It is a letter meant to shape a mind unshaped. Do me this favor and read it after you sleep for a while so that your mind is fresh.”
“All right, Stiles. If that is your wish, I will honor it,” said John. He was grateful for any help Stiles could offer him.
Stiles gathered his sandals from where he left them on the shore of Causia. He waved farewell to John as he started down The Road. John was feeling weary from his unsuccessful attempt to join Sarah on the Ridge. He made his way back to the curator’s house and once again settled into the large wingback chair for a much-needed rest.
After the administration of a series of amphetamines in the lab, John’s body was beginning to respond to stimuli. His pupils contracted when exposed to light for the first time in six days. It was a very encouraging sign. They decided to risk an injection of adrenaline directly into the heart.
Paul and Alex had locked the door and turned all monitors off. They didn’t want any record of their actions to haunt them if there ever was an investigation into John’s death.
Paul gently pushed the plunger of the syringe and disconnected the heating pads and electrical muscle stimulators from John’s body. At first nothing happened. Then John abruptly started breathing rapidly and his lower extremities began to shake.
“His blood is pooling, Alex!” said Paul excitedly. “He’ll black out again unless we can get it moving.”
He threw the covers off the bed and moved quickly to one of John’s legs and began a fierce massaging motion to simulate the circulation that John’s heart was struggling to accomplish.
“Quick Alex. Get the other leg. Massage the femoral artery now!”
Alex moved into position and massaged John’s other leg. The two of them worked very hard manually pushing the blood that had pooled in John’s lower extremities. After five very tense minutes, John’s eyelids began to flutter slightly.
“There we go,” said Paul. “I think we’re out of the woods, Alex.”
“Thank God,” she said. “I thought we were losing him.”
“We were losing him. He must have helped us from the other side somehow.”
John felt himself fading in the chair when he remembered the letter that the wizard Stiles had given him. He promised not to read it until after he had had some rest, but his curiosity just couldn’t let him leave it alone. He was feeling very sleepy. He almost couldn’t bring himself to read the words until he realized whom it was from. He recognized her handwriting. It was from Sarah. He began to read,
“My Darling adventurous man, I have been waiting here on the Ridge for you to come to me, but I’m sure you realize that now is not the time. I am not lonely because I have your love to comfort me. One day we will become one-spirit, My Love. Then you can hold me for all eternity and I will kiss all the trouble from your brow and fan the fire of your passion.
We shall ride the wind until the Creator sends us on another journey and our hearts shall be entwined for all of time. Please find companionship while your spirit occupies your earthly vessel. There is no jealousy here on the Ridge. There is no pain born of petty emotions that may trouble you on the other side. Here there is only love and God’s best work.
I don’t pine for you, My Love, for your soul is already a part of me. I wait for you patiently, and contentedly, blessing each day that Our Creator has designed for you to live. That is His gift. For you to come to the Ridge now would be to throw that gift into the wind. There is a time to come to the Ridge. You honor me by visiting as you have and offering to stay.
I saw you with the wizard, Stiles. I gave him this letter for you, My Love. He is a wise man. Not a word was passed between us, and none were necessary. He knew of my intention, as I’m sure he knew of the letter’s message. He will be here to guide you to me when it is time. Until then, I shall remain the part of your soul and the vessel of your love that dwells on the Ridge . . .
Yours forever, Sarah
John opened his eyes and saw Paul and Alex standing over him sweating profusely through their clothes.
“What happened to you guys?” he asked. “You look awful.”
“We thought we were losing you for a moment there. You started to have a slight seizure when you were coming around.”
“I feel fine,” said John. “Better than fine. I feel pretty darned good!”
“That’s wonderful,” said Alex. “You gave us such a scare. I’m not cut out for this kind of thing. If you plan to do any more trance traveling, I think you’d better find yourself another nurse,” said Alex.
“I won’t be doing any more traveling back to that plane, at least not for a long while. I know where my path has to lead me now. I’ve come to an understanding that I should have had a long time ago. For the first time in my life my heart is clear and my purpose is at hand.”
“What do you mean, John?” asked Paul. “What purpose?”
“I’ve decided to publish my music. Now I feel like I can do it for the right reason.”
“What reason?” asked Alex.
“Because it’s a gift.”
“I’d love to hear some more of it,” said Alex.
“You like my music?” asked John”
“Uh huh,” she said.
“Well, I’d like to share some other compositions with you,” said John to Alex.
“I’d like that, John. Very much.”
“I’d also like to tell you about Sarah. She was a soul-mate who passed over a short while ago.”
“I know,” said Alex. “I’m so sorry, John.”
“Oh, don’t be sorry, Alex. She passed over, but she’s not gone. In fact, I just got a letter from her. She said she’s waiting for me on the other side.”
“You got a letter?” asked Alex. “From the other side?”
“I sure did. It was beautiful. It made my heart fly like an eagle. It lifted all of my sorrows in the blink of an eye.”
“That sounds terrific,” said Alex.
“It is. That’s part of what makes me want to publish. For the longest time my creativity was a very private affair. Now I want to share it with the world. Sarah did that for me. She did it from the other side. Actually from the Inferius Ridge.”
“From where?” asked Alex.
“The Inferius Ridge. It’s part of the other plane that I traveled to. I have so much to tell. How about having dinner with me?”
“You want to have dinner with me?” asked Alex.
“Yes. I’d like that very much. Will you have dinner with me?”
“I’d love to, John. I want to hear all about your adventures in the other world.”
“I can’t wait to share them with you. I’ll pick you up at eight. Just write down your address for me.”
“You got it,” she said as she reached for a note pad on a table by the door.
Paul said, “You’d better take it easy for a little while, John. No heavy proteins and don’t spend too much time on your feet. Understand?”
“Aye-aye, Sir,” said John with a salute of his hand. “I’ll be good. But I can’t stay home. This is the first time in a long time that I feel like getting out and having some fun.”
“That’s nice to hear, John. I was beginning to get a little worried about you.”
“The letter from Sarah is what turned things around for me.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” asked Paul.
“Serious as a heart attack, Paul. It happened just like I said.”
“Incredible,” said Paul.
“It sure was,” said John getting gently to his feet. He gingerly took a few steps and appeared to be regaining his stamina and muscle tone very quickly. Paul and Alex left the room briefly as John got dressed in his jeans and sweatshirt. When they came back in John told them, “I’m going home for a little while. Believe it or not I feel like taking a nap.”
“That’s perfectly natural, John. Your body has been through the ringer for the last two or three days. You do need to rest,” said Paul. “I’ll have one of the nurses drive you home.”
One of the nurses whose shift was just ending gave John a ride to his house. Paul and Alex remained in the lab to clean things up and enter some information in the log.
“Do you believe what he said about the other side?” asked Alex.
“I believe he believes it. That’s all that matters. Reality is only what we perceive, Alex.”
“What about the letter? You don’t really think he got a letter from his dead girlfriend, do you?” she asked.
“Not really. But even if his mind composed the letter, there’s no harm in it. Perhaps he composed exactly what Sarah would have written had she been able to.”
“I really do like his music, Paul. I’m glad he’s decided to publish for whatever reason, she said.
“Me too. I’ve been trying to get him to do it for years. I think he’s finally starting to heal.”
“Do you think he would be interested in having a relationship with someone on this side, Paul?” asked Alex.
“Are you asking my permission?” he teased.
“Well, he asked you to dinner, didn’t he?”
“Sure, but that’s just to have someone to go out with.”
“I think that’s called a date,” said the doctor.
John and Alex went to a very nice restaurant located about twenty minutes out of town. It gave them a chance talk about Alex’s work and John’s music. He told her that he would like to write a musical someday. He didn’t usually write lyrics to his music, but his attitude and outlook on life were rapidly changing.
“I used to do a little writing in college,” said Alex. “Maybe I could help you with some of the lyrics,” she offered.
“I’d like that. We could be a team like Rogers and Hart.”
“Simon and Garfunkel,” she said.
“Simon and Schuster,” he said.
“Laurel and Hardy,” she said.
They both started laughing. It felt nice to laugh with someone again. John had missed laughter the most since he lost Sarah. Now he felt he could laugh again. He could live again.
There was a promise that he would be with her again on the other side. He was also enjoying Alex’s company. He had mixed emotions about that. Sarah’s letter expressed that it was perfectly natural to keep someone else’s company on this side. Was she with someone on the other side? He had the feeling that Sarah would be happy that he had someone to be with. When he examined his true feelings, he was happy with the idea that someone was comforting her as well.
When John and Alex reached the restaurant they pulled up to the front door under the large portico and let the valet park the car. He and Alex found the Maitre’d and were directed to a private table that John had arranged in a side room full of antiques.
The food was ambrosia. They started with a baked brie cheese covered with slithered almonds served with authentic San Francisco sourdough bread and French onion soup au gratin. The entrees that followed were, a rack of lamb with mint jelly for the lady, and John had a filet mignon with candied vegetables and bernaise sauce. John chose a very old cabernet that was one of his favorites.
Alex was feeling like she was floating on a cloud. She was really enjoying herself. Laughter came easily to their conversation and they were becoming fast friends. John said to her, “Thank you for having dinner with me tonight, Alex. It’s been a long time for me since I had some pleasant company.”
“It’s been my pleasure, John. I’m having a wonderful time.”
“Good. I hope we can do this all the time. I’ll show you the best restaurants in all of New England.”
“I’ll be as big as a house!” she complained.
“Too bad. Occupational hazard, I’m afraid.”
When they finished their coffee and dessert, John drove them back to Boston. His house was in an exclusive community on the north side. When they were nearing his house he asked Alex, “Would you like to share something with me tonight?”
“Alex wasn’t quite sure what he was talking about. She said, “Don’t you think you should get some rest, John. Paul said you should take it easy for a while. I’ll make you a deal,” she said. “You be a good patient and get some rest, and I won’t tell Paul you had that huge filet for dinner.”
Turning into his driveway he said, “Oh come on, Alex. It won’t take long. There’s something I’ve been putting off for a while. I think the time is right and I’d like to share it with you.”
“All right,” she said. “Is this your house?”
“Yes. It’s been in my family for a long time.”
The house was massive. It was an English Tudor with a separate carriage house and guest house. The three buildings were more than twenty thousand square feet in all. The home featured a movie theater, an indoor swimming pool and a small ballroom for entertaining. It was tastefully decorated with burgundy window treatments behind sheer draperies. There were hardwood floors throughout, with priceless antiques in every room perfectly arranged around very large hand-made oriental rugs. One of the servants greeted them at the door. He was a slightly overweight gentleman dressed in navy blue slacks with a light blue shirt and a white cashmere cardigan sweater.
“Good evening, John” said the gentleman.
“Good evening, William,” said John. “My lovely companion here is Alex Benson. Alex, this is William. He runs the show around here.”
“Pleased to meet you, William,” said Alex.
“The pleasure is all mine, Madam,” said William taking her extended hand and bowing slightly from the waist.
“William is your butler, John?” asked Alex.
“Yes, Madam,” said William.
“William is my friend,” said John. “I hope he can be yours also.”
“My sentiments exactly, Miss Benson,” said William.
“Well, if we’re going to be friends, then you’d better call me Alex. All my other friends do.”
“Very well, Alex. Will you be needing anything from the kitchen, John? Angela has retired, but I’m sure I could find you something nice.”
“No way,” said John. “We are absolutely stuffed. We went to Chez Armand.”
“Very nice choice, John,” said William.
“I’m glad you approve. William thinks he is the last word on gourmet cooking,” he said to Alex. “That beer belly of his all but adds to his credibility, don’t you think?”
“This beer belly, as you so call it, has taken me twenty years of a discriminating pallet to amass,” said William.
“Mass is the word,” said John, “or more like massive.”
“I’ll bet you had no idea how John mistreats the help, did you, Alex?”
She started laughing, “No, I didn’t, William. You’ve certainly opened my eyes.”
“Speaking of opening, William, would you please bring up the painting from storage?” asked John.
“The Mills?” asked William.
“That’s right, the Mills,” said John.
William left the room and then John turned to Alex and said, “Sarah was a gifted artist, Alex. Some of her work is hanging in the gallery we went to on the night we first met. I didn’t show you any of her work then because I was still working my way out of my grief. I feel free from it now and it’s a wonderful feeling. Sarah painted a picture for me and was going to surprise me with it on my next birthday. She died before she could give it to me. I’ve been avoiding opening the crate for a long time now. I think I’m finally ready to see it. I wanted to share the moment with you. Do you understand?”
“Not exactly,” she said, “but I’m honored that you want me to share it with you.”
“William is pretty excited also, but he’ll never let on. Sarah was his friend too. She was teaching a watercolor class at Boston College that he had enrolled in. After she saw his potential she agreed to give him private lessons.”
“So William is a painter also?” she asked.
“He’s a real talent,” said John as he motioned to a small watercolor hung above an end table. It was a very realistic portrait of an African gray parrot. “This is one of his.”
“It’s beautiful,” said Alex.
“Sarah thought so too. The bird’s name is Eddie. Sarah gave him to me, but he really took to William.”
“Do you still have Eddie?” asked Alex.
“No. Unfortunately he died a couple weeks ago.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said.
“Me, too. Anyway, life goes on as they say.”
“How did you meet Sarah?” asked Alex.
“Actually, it was William who introduced us. He’s been dying to open the crate for the last six months, but he always respected my wishes and waited until I was ready. I’m ready now.”
When William came back into the room he was carrying the crate which held the painting. He had with him a hammer and a flat-bar to pry off the nails. He leaned the crate against a small love-seat and placed the tools on a nearby coffee table. He then started to walk out of the room.
“Where’re you going, William,” asked John.
“I thought that perhaps you and Alex would like to see the painting by yourselves.”
“Well, you thought wrong, William. You loved her too, and you know she loved you. What do you think she would have wanted?”
“Thank you, John,” said William. “Here, let me get those nails for you.” William began to work on the nails holding the wooden slats around the crate. His hands were shaking slightly and John showed a small measure of amusement during his eye contact with Alex. He was aware of William’s nervousness and it warmed his heart. William had been with John’s family for over thirty years. Although he was an employee, he was also one of John’s closest friends. He gently lifted the painting out of the crate and set it on the love-seat.
“My, my, my,” said William. “She was awfully good!”
“Yes, she was,” added Alex. “What a beautiful painting!”
John stood frozen in place. His mouth was open but he couldn’t manage to form any words to convey his impression. He was stunned! Sarah had painted him into her masterpiece. He was standing by a beautiful shoreline in the painting. It was as life-like as any of the murals in the entire city of Causia. Sarah was standing with him holding both of his hands in hers. There were seabirds in the air and a crimson and lavender sunset was framing them as they smiled lovingly at each other.
William was also in the painting, sitting in a beach chair with a large drink in his hand. He was wearing a straw hat on which was perched a small African gray parrot. It was Eddie! They were all finally together again. When Alex saw the painting, she began to cry. She didn’t exactly know why she was crying, but she supposed it was because she never got the chance to know Sarah on this side of her existence. William stifled a tear as well with the back of his hand.
“Well, John? Say something,” said William.
The beauty of the painting enraptured John. He managed to finally say, “Thank you, Sarah. Now I can appreciate your wonderful gift.”
He looked at the brass plate that was attached to the bottom of the frame. It was there that the title of the painting was engraved. It said simply, The Children Of The Ridge.