Reality Inspector, chapter 23
Copyright © 1982 John Caris
Copyright © 1982 John Caris
John is standing in a large, circular room that reminds him of a train depot. Four corridors branch out from the circular room; the walls of the room and corridors are lined with doors. The sound of instruments playing the key of C in many variations floats through the air.
In the center of the room, sitting cross-legged on his box, is Hank. Beckoning with his hand, he calls out, "The universe is filled with mysteries. Which one do you choose, John?"
As he walks over, Hank says, "Each door opens onto one of the universe's mansions. What is your interest?"
John laughs. "What do you have to offer?"
"The greatest mysteries, the most stupendous miracles, the evilest tyrannies, the waters of life, and much, much more."
"I'll be happy to."
The old man picks up his box and walks over to a door; the younger man follows. Hank opens the door. Three dimensional figures are moving about; they are like holographic images, lacking solidness. When the two men step through the door though, the figures become solid.
Hank and John are sitting on a park bench in a town square. Buildings surround the square; John feels closed in by the buildings. Then a raw stench bites his nostrils. Hank points to a building behind them; it is a stockyard and slaughterhouse. Underneath the raw stench are other odors, John notices. He looks at all the buildings bordering the square. There are many different types of factories and stores; each emits its own odor. John has always loved the smell of a bakery, but its odor is barely discernible.
People, going about their business, appear heavy, as if some great weight is pressing down on them. Their faces are constricted, as if their heads are drawn by a tight harness. Children do not act like children; they behave like miniature adults. Life is missing from this town. There is no play nor work here, only machine-like busyness.
People begin to gather around a speaker's platform. A tall, paunchy man stands on the platform. He starts speaking through a P.A. system.
"Citizens of Pell. Our great city is facing a terrible crisis. The evil city of Mell has refused to sell us any more cattle unless we pay their new exorbitant price. The city council has decided that the price is too high; we will not be blackmailed!"
People come out of buildings and hurry toward the speaker's platform. The crowd swells to several thousand. Cries of "Never!" "Our cattle!" "Kill the bastards!" sound throughout the square.
The speaker waves his fist in the air. "The city council has ordered all males and females between the ages of 18 to 21 to enlist in our liberation army. We will free our cattle from the evil hands of Mell. This is a true humanitarian venture."
"Are those people mad?" John asks. The old man gives him a knowing look.
The speaker continues, "All who die in this glorious struggle will live forever in our memory and gratitude. Sacrifice is necessary. We must punish those demons who refuse to give us our cattle. We will teach them a lesson; they must learn to serve us. "
The crowd is by now quite noisy and angry. A chant begins slowly; then it reverberates throughout the square: "War!"
"I've seen this before," John says. "They are mad. Let's go, Hank."
They stand again in the large, circular room. Hank opens another door and they enter.
They are in a meadow; the scent of life is about them. John breathes deeply. Bees buzz around merrily collecting nectar from flowers. Bird songs fill the air. Several deer are munching plants while a group of squirrels are chattering up a storm.
The two men stroll through the meadow, pausing now and then to watch. The ripple of a creek catches their attention. Minnows dart about gulping down food; crawfish are scampering along the shoreline. Suddenly, the water splashes and churns; a water snake has caught a fish.
They continue their leisurely stroll along the creek, which after awhile enters a woods. Several rabbits are nibbling on some leaves. Overhead a hawk is circling, waiting for the proper moment. Ants are running up and down a tree trunk. A covey of quail scurry into some bushes.
"Do humans live in this garden paradise?" John inquires.
"Why do you ask?"
"It's so natural, so beautiful."
"Yes, humans do live here."
"Can we see them?"
They leave the woods and climb a rocky hill. From the top they look down on a village. They follow a trail down the hill and into the village. The people here are obviously different from those in their first adventure. The people's movement has bounce; their faces radiate life. Here children are children, playing, running, laughing, enjoying themselves.
The villagers' economy is based on nature's bounty and follows the natural cycle. It is a hunting and gathering community which also tills a few fields of vegetables and grains. As they walk along a street lined with houses, John notices that many homes have signs indicating the talents of the residents--cobbler, baker (and John savors the delicious odor), herbalist, carpenter, tailor. During the proper seasons the villagers join together for hunting and harvesting; then they return to their personal work. Community spirit is high and so is personal responsibility.
"This is a workable reality," John says; "I'd like to see some others."
They are back in the circular room, and Hank is opening another door. They enter.
The scent of perfume hangs in the air. The two men stand on a garden terrace overlooking a series of terraces. The flora is well kept, and a feeling of human care is present. John notices that all the people--sitting, standing, walking--on the terrace are women.
"You are a guest here," Hank says. "Any desire of yours will be satisfied."
He leads the younger man into a secluded part of the garden. The grass is soft under their feet. A bird bath stands next to a wood bench.
"Wait here," Hank says. "I'll send someone."
After the old man leaves, John lies down on the ground. He feels the soft, beckoning earth. What a gorgeous place this is, he shouts to himself. The scent of jasmine fills his nose. After a few minutes a woman enters the hideaway. She perfectly reflects his image of feminine beauty. She sits down beside him; and tenderly, she undresses him, caressing him with her gentle fingers. She kisses him, her lips moist and warm; she showers him with fiery kisses, from his head to his toes. She is hungry, and he enjoys being her food. She nibbles and tastes him everywhere.
After her hunger is satisfied, she takes off her transparent gown and lies next to him. He burns with living fire, and his passion pours out to her. He tastes and nibbles on her sweet flesh; a more delicious feast he has never known. Filled with intense longing, he embraces her, the two becoming one. Their feelings melt together, flowing with one rhythm. The tempo increases, and then they explode in a burst of energy. For awhile they lie quietly snuggled together.
Then they sit up and talk. She tells him about the garden terraces, that this is the land of Xanadu. Many women live here--women of different ages, sizes, and personalities. He asks about the arts and sciences. She describes the variety of artistic talents that the women have. Music is the most important art because it is closest to the soul. She unfolds for him the knowledge that their sciences have gained. She plays with these concepts deftly, sometimes giggling when she describes certain scientists who, she thinks, are too rigid, too dogmatic. John laughs too. There is little difference with his own world.
He asks whether any men live here. She says that they live in a garden terrace to the west. They also are very talented.
"Do you ever get together?" he asks.
"Of course we do."
"But why do you live separated?"
"It's nature, the way we're made."
"I don't understand."
"Simply, because we're opposites. But we get together--frequently."
"At meetings, at parties?" John is rather befuddled.
"Of course. But usually we get together like this." And she fills his mind with a glowing, warm presence. They sit there, one mind, one feeling; yet he is aware of her presence, subtly different from his.
When there are no more questions, when his mind is sated with knowledge, she withdraws and leaves him sitting on the grass, smiling. He has no desires; he is filled with calm and quiet.
Hank touches John on the shoulder. They are back in the circular room with its many doors. They walk down a corridor, and as they are about to go through another door, John turns and looks back into the circular room. He is startled. Helen and Mary are leaving one of the doorways. John starts to call out, but Hank quiets him.
"They have their own path," he says.
"I wonder where they've been?"
"Oh, that door opens onto the men's garden terrace in the land of Xanadu."
John blushes as he follows Hank into another mansion. They are in a room carved out of rock, a cavern lit by torches. John watches shadows play across the rock floor. The old man motions, and they descend a staircase hewn out of the earth. They come into a huge, cavernous room. A large throne stands in the middle of the room. On the throne sits a monstrous-looking person. In front of the throne is a young man. People are grouped around the room, talking and watching.
The monstrous-looking person speaks, its deep voice rumbling and echoing against the cavern walls. "Orpheus, I have considered your plea. I will grant your request on one condition. Eurydice will follow behind you. If you look back before you reach sunlight, she will return to my domain."
Hank touches John, and they climb back up the staircase to the small room where they started from. Hank takes a small flashlight from his box. He shines it on the rock wall. Two figures appear, one following the other up a long, stone staircase. The leading figure is the young man, Orpheus; the young woman Eurydice is following a few steps behind, silently.
The staircase is long and very steep, and their climb is slow. John feels the tiredness of their legs, and he hears doubt gnawing at Orpheus, chipping away at his resolve. Is Eurydice still following him? Oh, if he can only check--just a tiny peek.
John watches intently as the two figures approach the final bend in the staircase. He cheers them on: not much further; hang in there, Orpheus.
As Orpheus comes to the bend, he glances out of the corner of his eye. Oh, a fleeting glimpse won't hurt. He catches an image of Eurydice vanishing. He turns completely around and stares into empty space. Pain strikes his heart, and tears flood his eyes.
Hank turns off his flashlight. In silence they step back into the circular room with its many doors. John rubs moisture from his eyes and breathes deeply. He sighs. The old man is already walking down another corridor. The younger man quickly catches up with him as he enters another doorway.
They stand in darkness. Out of the silence musical sounds stretch forth. John is pulled into the musical texture. Melodies overlap each other; chordal progressions interweave with them, making a sound tapestry. He reaches out and touches the fabric. He feels where it is sharp, where it is soft. He feels the large area of loudness and smaller area of quietness. He climbs the chords, hopping from one to the other. He slides along the melodies. Some are warm; others are cool.
Rhythm grabs him. He walks, he runs, he crawls. Jumping into the air, he turns several summersaults. He swims in the everflowing rhythm. He performs a water ballet. He is in free fall, directionless except for what he finds in his core. He glides, turns, twists around, levels out.
The darkness fades into a pinkish hue. More colors chase the darkness away. He reaches out and touches the colors. He feels their vibrations, their pulsating vividness. He tastes and smells the colors; he buzzes about sampling their nectar. The reds are sharper than the yellows. He drinks the blues and nibbles on the violets.
He lies exhausted, floating with melody and sated with color. He is the sound and color; they are one.
Then the old man appears out of the silence and motions to him. John swims toward him. Hank takes a piece of chalk from his box and draws a door with a knob on the colored tapestry. He opens the door, and John floats through.
John finds himself astride a horse covered with armor. His sword is at his side; his shield is hung over his shoulder; a lance is in his hand. Looking about he sees several peasants in front of him. On a small hill behind him sits a king with his standard bearer and his queen. The king and queen are talking. Suddenly, the queen runs down the hillside with sword in hand. She runs by John, and he sees another queen coming to meet her. They swing their swords at each other. Parry, slash, cut. They stand apart, and as quickly they go at each other again.
John wants to join the fray, to help his queen, but he has orders to stand still and watch. He must make certain that the enemy does not intrude in this personal struggle. He sees an enemy knight also watching. They glance at each other, feeling the heat of battle, anxious to join combat. They sit watching.
Both queens are bleeding profusely, yet their energy and strength increase. Then his queen slides her blade through the defense into the heart of her opponent. In desperation the enemy queen slashes out and sends her blade home.
John spurs his horse and gallops into enemy territory. While his opponents stay in a state of shock, he will capture a strategic position. He places himself in the enemy's rear line where he can block reinforcements, if they should appear. His fellow warriors are pushing the enemy troops backward, forcing them to make their last stand around their king.
Hank steps from a copse of trees. "John, get down and come with me." The old man leads him into a grove of redwoods. There in the shaded sunlight sit two men on the ground. A chess board is laid between them. One man has a small cross hanging from his neck; the other, a small Buddha. They are immersed in the game and pay no attention to John. As he watches the game, he realizes that, though they are playing against each other, they are building a unified structure. He knows that this togetherness is more important than their separation. After all, it is only a game, so why should they become antagonistic.
John feels a touch of warmth on the back of his head. Turning around, he sees a beam of light shine through an opening at the top of the redwoods. He looks up at the light. The sounds of a gurgling creek flow through his mind; his body tingles with a glow; energy infuses his living cells. He thinks of Orpheus. Why did that young man turn around? If his trust had been strong enough . . . If he had only felt Eurydice's presence . . . If he had realized that Eurydice was always with him. But no, Orpheus wanted visual confirmation, a physical separation. This was natural, of course. And so Orpheus must suffer because of his natural desires.
Bird song fills the redwood grove. John hears Hank's voice: "Do you wish to experience more mansions, or are you ready to choose?"
"I'm ready to choose."
"Remember, whatever your choice, you must stay for the required duration. You cannot leave until your time is up."
"I wish to be back in my normal reality but on the day after the chess match is concluded."
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