I wake heading up the 405 but my hands can’t grip the wheel. The car is weaving a little bit… not much… but still a little bit and I’m going fifteen miles an hour over the limit. I know I’m going in the right direction. It’s almost as if my vehicle is being pulled by a deep magnetic force pinning me gently to my seat… but I don’t know the destination. My eyes take turns gauging the distance between the traffic in front of me and scanning the car for clues.
An empty pack of Camel Lights rests in the passenger seat next to a stretched-off hospital bracelet. I lean over carefully and squint to make out the name on it when I hear the tires screaming in front of me. My foot shoots down to the brake and I look up to find myself flying toward the unforgiving back of a dead-stopped semi. As my car jumps to a stop feet from the truck, a ball-chain necklace with five pendants rolls out from under the driver’s seat.
I sit at the center of the quiet helipad on the roof of the hotel. It is night. Memories of the twelve glowing rods outside the airport illuminate the road of coincidence that allowed me passage here. I slowly rise to my feet and shout your name across the blackberry sky sugared with landing planes and crawling satellites. I came here for you. Through all this space, through all this time, alive through all these lives: I came for you.
I negotiate the Mayan-like edges of the building’s northeast side, descending one suite at a time, firing up each of the five jacuzzis along the way. Afterward I retire to the lounge on the twelfth floor in hopes of finding you there, but a green telltale apple on the glass table let me know you’d already been and gone. The simple couch welcomes my collapsing body and the waves of static from the flat-screen t.v. across the room rock me into a long overdue sleep.
I catch my breath and snatch the necklace off the passenger seat floor just as the traffic begins to crawl then walk then fly. The five pendants are cool in my hand and I want to get a better look at them, but I can’t take my eyes off the road again. I maneuver my hand around the seatbelt and plunge the necklace into my blue jeans pocket. Green figures in the dash read 3:33pm. On one level this means nothing to me. On another level- a much deeper level I don’t quite understand- I know I’m right on time.
I also know that I am excruciatingly hungry. I pull off the freeway and head west toward Manhattan Beach in search of scraps to fill me. There is a small old lady on the street corner with an even smaller black dog at leash’s length, straying out as far as he can toward a beat-up box of newspapers. On the street’s opposite side is a man with a purple ice-cream cart with a string of bells tinkling across the handlebars. Down the road a bit I spy an orange sign reading simply “El Amigo”. A small shack there plays host to a few outdoor tables and chairs. I pull into the lot, throw the car into park, and grab the trash off the seat next to me.
It’s great to stretch my legs. On the way inside the restaurant I toss the cigarette pack, foil, and cellophane into a garbage can by the door. Before disposing of the stretched-off hospital bracelet, I squint down to make out the type on it. I flatten the plastic across my warm palm and flip it over in the midday sun to read the name. All the blood rushes to my head as confusion swiftly takes the wind from me. The name on the bracelet is mine.
A small itch works its way around my ear. I am asleep. I am awake. My right hand rises a quarter inch before I feel the leather strap around it holding it down. I am groggy. I try to roll over only to discover there is also a leather strap binding my left hand. And my right foot. And my left foot. Stubbornly resorting to the sense of sight, I slowly open my eyelids to find myself lying in the middle of a dark room. Everything looks like a photo that hasn’t been fully developed. Clouds of soft yellow light filter in from a small square window in a metal door. My eyelids gently close on their own and I’m caught up in the sea again. I remember light. I remember color. I remember Dulce. Then something happened. I am awake but not fully here. There is cool air coming down on my face. I reach up and twist the nozzle closed and press the light for the attendant. After a few minutes she comes down the aisle
“Is there something I can get for you?”
I pull the blue blanket from under my chin and adjust the crisp white pillow behind my head. “May I have a ginger ale?”
“Right away sir.”
Before she comes back I’m out again. I can hear the mumbling of voices right outside the door but I can’t make out the words. Further away I hear a woman laughing. I try to sit up, but my back can only muster a few inches arch before I’m pinned to the gurney by my wrists. I collapse and let out resignation’s sigh. I’m caught up in the sea again. I remember color. I remember music. I remember… a door. Then something happened and I am awake and fully here.
“Your ginger ale, sir.”
I stir, rub my eyes, and flip down the tray in front of me. I take the clear plastic cup with ice and ginger ale. The attendant asks me if I want the can too and I say yes. I put everything down on the tray and the attendant disappears back down the aisle as the cool liquid crackles and fizzes over the ice. I look out the window but everything is black. I cup my hands to block out the cabin light and now can make out dots of wild animals in the sky. I scratch the back of my ear for no reason.
Excuse me,” the fair-skinned woman looks at me sideways as her stride meets mine on 58th street. “This guy has been following me for the past 25 minutes…” Her index finger dances gently across her breastbone. “Pretend you know me.”
My arm instinctively wraps around her narrow waist. “Good to see you,” I smile and guide us seamlessly onto the escalator to a nearby hotel, our feet lit by chartreuse runners. A few steps below us stands the expressionless man of medium height, balding in a red t-shirt and simple jean jacket. By the time we reach the open air lobby above, he’s somehow vanished. The woman looks around briefly to confirm this, then lets out a small and sweet sigh. Her shoulders relax. Her mind settles to a spot safe enough to reveal a cute Spanish smile. “I owe you a drink.” she says, puling me by my forearm into the lobby bar, “My name is Dulce Vines.”
We settle down into oversized leather chairs—I with a bulbous snifter of rich brandy and she with a slim tall vodka tonic. I dive right in, “So what’s with the cloak and dagger routine? Who was that guy?”
“I have no idea,” Dulce laughs comfortably, pushing shoulder length brown hair from her chestnut eyes. “I first noticed him near the library. He got right up behind me and wouldn’t go away. So I made a small circle around the neighborhood and the second I saw he followed me through it, there you were. For some reason I… I just knew I could trust you.”
Dulce leans over for her purse and her simple white blouse slides over, revealing a necklace with some shiny objects attached: a pyramid, a cube, and three more complex shapes I’ve never seen before. When she stands up, cash in hand, the curious array of jewelry becomes again concealed by her clothing. “Another drink?” She catches me off guard.
“It’s my turn,” I insist. I return to the bar to order another round. As the bartender pours and stirs, I turn around to look at my only acquaintance in New York City. From afar, I watch Dulce sigh again, reaching an even deeper level of relaxation. It dawns on me that she looks very at home in this hotel bar which looks more like an ornate futuristic private library with its rows of books and colorful Tiffany lamps. It dawns on me further that Dulce Vines is the type of woman who could be at home anywhere.
This night I dream of Dulce. We sit side by side, she on my right, on the worn wooden planks of a long pier over a quiet lake. Silent birds v out under pink cirrus clouds. Dulce’s palms lay flat on the warm wood and her fingers dangle softly over edge, her face pointing outward toward the rising sun.
The water reflects the sky, or at least the surface does. But this is all I can see from here. This is my first time on the pier, but Dulce’s composure somehow implies that she’s been here before many times. We do not speak, but there is an understanding deeper than words might capture anyhow. She wants to show me something.
Dulce rises, wraps her legs around my waist from behind and begins to rub my neck as my bare feet hover inches above the waterline. The pressure from her fingertips work years of stress out from my body. All the routine meetings at work, all the mindless commuting, all the quarter-hearted conversations to which I’ve been subjected for months. Layer by layer dissolves until I am naked. Her hands make their way down my spine until her palms spiral the center of my back. A small breeze swirls around us. My heart begins to pound. A seagull boldly whines as Dulce laughs and shoves me off the pier and soundly into the deep.
I wake softly in the hotel room and she is gone. On the pillow next to me is a small blue USB thumbdrive.
Our home sits at the end of a long and winded road. My wife Jean and I relax in a lazily rocking porchswing overlooking our backyard: across the greenest grass where our now-grown son is helping his own son through his very first steps through the garden where our now-grown daughter used to pick daffodils during the summertime.
We are now on the heels of autumn. Jean looks at me with the wondrous blue eyes I fell in love with forty-three years ago. She puts her gentle hand onto mine.
My grandson stumbles, laughs, and returns to his feet. He briefly turns to me showing off a giant smile, then goes about his adventure. He’s learning to walk much earlier than his father did, as his father learned to walk much earlier than I.
I turn to Jean and a wave of gratitude overtakes me. My eyes fill up with love and I place my other hand on top of hers.
Back at my apartment I begin to unpack my dark blue carry-on bag. Two pairs of jeans, a pair of brown slacks, and three button-down shirts of varying hues. Underneath the clothing sits the thumbdrive Dulce left for me on the hotel room pillow. I grab a glass of water from the kitchen, wander in to my office, then power up my desktop and slide the stick in the USB port. As the machine warms up in a sea of gentle clicks, my eyes move around the dark room. Traffic honks and swooshes outside my window.
I click open the drive and see a lonely mp3 file. Dulce left me a song? Completely curious I click the file and turn up the computer speakers. I recline in my office chair and the sounds of surf overtake me. But there is something more… a wave of sound beneath the water… an intense tone that seems to soothe my body but wake my mind at the same time. Over time, I begin to feel faint and the colors of the room become mildly polarized. Objects shift back and forth as I sink deeper into my chair. It’s almost as if I am dreaming. My eyes close and I fall deeper and deeper into the waves until I am about to completely dissolve.
I’m jarred wide-awake and my computer has rebooted itself. The screen flickers and the harddrive whirrs. The digital clock on my endtable is flashing 12:00. The traffic outside is gone and the streets are intensely silent. A unusually warm feeling pulses throughout my body. The colors around the room have an extra-wordly glow about them. Everything is so… real.
I laugh for the first time in years as I marvel at the mechanics of the world. This grand mosaic—this glorious communion between each person and every object in the universe. Everything makes… sense.
Suddenly I feel that Dulce and I share a secret. This point of view… this bold synchrony I now am experiencing… that she must be feeling it too. Maybe there are others. I imagine this is only the very first step of a very large plan. I have to find them. But where to look? A sense of urgency overtakes me. I yank the USB stick out of the drive to inspect it for some direction. I flip the light blue device over and over in my hand. There is no writing on it… but wait. There are small embossed letters in the side. “Hancock 2.0”
I dodge out of my apartment grabbing a jacket off the coat rack near the door. I shoot downstairs and head south down the one-way street when I realize that the three parked cars in front of me all have their rear hazard lights flashing orange. off. on. off. on. My adrenaline surges as I sense that something is off track. I spin around to the north instead and the brights of a parked car up the way flash twice accompanied by two quick beeps. I head in this new direction and my chemicals adjust to normal. Back on track. I jog over the train tracks and make it up to a larger road. Nobody is on the street. Nothing is moving but the wind. Then two pinpoints of light appear where the street meets the eastern sky. The wind picks up. The pinpoints grow to dots, then to circles. Then I see a small rectangular light above the others. It is a taxi cab. Newspapers blow from behind me and tumble out across the pavement. I wave down the cab and the driver whips over coming to a quick, pronounced stop. I open the back door and the street becomes filled with the bass and kick of funk music. Climbing in, I’m overtaken by lights of soft maroon and warm green. Hanging from the rearview mirror is a beaded necklace with a black cube hanging from the bottom. I lean over and speak loudly so my voice carries through the magic:
“John Hancock Building, please.”
The skyscraper welcomes me from its south side. I pass by an empty reception desk and a red velvet rope through an expansive marble hallway. Standing before me now are three gold elevators. The forefinger of my right hand is drawn to the call button which glows beneath my touch.
As the seconds pass I recall the cab ride that brought me here. During the nine mile trip we didn’t encounter a single car on the road or a single pedestrian on the streets- only the mad wind at our backs. At ride’s end I reached for my wallet in my back jeans pocket. Gone. My empty face looked up at the driver in the mirror. “You’re good,” he smiled.
The golden doors of the center elevator part. Out smile two brightly dressed teenage girls who look unusually like young versions of my mother and her sister who passed away years ago. I sidestep the thought, pass into the elevator, and begin my ascent.
Ninety-six floors into the sky, the doors peel open revealing a roaring cocktail room. I quickly get the feeling that if you’re awake in this city, you’re here. I glide in slow motion through the party and stake my claim at one of the remaining seats along the recessed bar.
«Ah. You’re here. Good,» emotes the bartender, back turned, her fingers curling around the back of her neck. «I’ll be right there.»
«Take your time,» I think loudly. «When you make it over, I’ll take a glass of Malbec.»
She spins around and looks me right in the eye silently. «You’re going to have to ask me for that out loud. There are rules to this you know.» As she returns to a customer at the other end of the bar, her tight blonde ponytail swings playfully, coming to rest across the collar of her black button-down shirt.
I laugh quietly to myself, look to my left, and scratch the opposite side of my face. The city sprawls out below- an intense system of well-lit veins pumping out to the west and south. The black ink of Lake Michigan looms on the eastern edge of the grid.
I look up and now she is in front of me, wearing a gold and silver name tag with the name ‘Sandra’ boldly etched.
“You look like a wine guy.” She says aloud.
« I said I’d like a Malbec. »
«You know, anybody looking just sees you staring blankly at me. If you choose to speak out loud you might get better results. And not look so weird.»
“Uh- Malbec please?” The first words to leave my mouth are somewhat rough.
“Excellent choice,” returns the bartender, reaching beneath the bar for the dark colored bottle.
“So how long have you been able to commun–” glancing over my shoulder I notice a sign near the stairs that reads ‘Watch Your Step’. «How long have you been able to communicate this way, Sandra?» I look down to my left and touch the back of my neck with the index and middle finger of my right hand.
«Since forever. But I’m not Sandra.»
«I don’t get it. What’s with the name tag then?»
«Oh honey- I’m traveling.» She pauses. «I’m actually sitting in a lawn chair in my backyard in Brisbane. Sandra is my host body.» I start to shift in my seat. «Don’t worry, she’s cool with it.» I look out over the blackness of Lake Michigan for a few moments hoping the softly breaking white waves will somehow help me understand this.
«I’m confused. Is this… telepathy?»
«We don’t call it ‘telepathy’, we say we’re speaking spiritually, and yes, Sandra can hear us, and by the way she’s finding this all pretty amazing at the moment.»
Sandra places a traditional wine glass on the bar in front of me and begins to pour.
«Well how come she isn’t saying anything to us?»
«We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Sandra happens to be a super host, but is herself spiritually mute. Since she is my host I’m able to feel her emotions if I want.» Sandra is standing in front of me with wide eyes and a wider smile. She’s giving me a good pour. No, it’s a really good pour. It’s almost to the rim. Ok, Now the wine is over the rim and burbling over the glass and on to the bar.
“Woah… woah!” I tap the bar. “Sandra!”
She shakes her head, regains what composure she can and begins to mop up the burgundy puddle. When finished, she picks up the bottle of wine, smiles at me, and continues to pour more wine over my already full glass and back onto the bar.
«Shit. This was a mistake. I thought she’d be able to handle this. Hang on. This could get a little… weird.»
At that moment, the balding man in a red t-shirt and simple jean jacket appears and slides into the bar chair on my right. The cash-register starts chunking out a long receipt with a line of maroon ink down the edge. A low moan comes out of nowhere and the skyscraper begins to sway. The wine bottle is now completely empty and Sandra is standing with all the verve of a mannequin.
«Ok. This is beyond fucked up. We’re going to have to do this somewhere else. Just leave, and I’ll catch up with you later,» my traveling Australian cohort says frustratedly.
«What? I don’t understand where I’m supposed to go.I don’t even know your name.»
«Relax. Everything is fine, it’s just… annoying. Go wherever you want. It’s an incredible night. Believe me: I’ll find you. My name isn’t important.»
«What about the wine? I can’t pay for it.»
«Are you kidding me? Look around you. Do you think any of this matters?»
The balding man scratches a scab on his head until a small stream of blood trails down his dome. A woman in a ripped cocktail dress bangs her chair at the 4-inch thick glass window on the other side of the room.
«Ok.» I laugh out loud. I stand up. “It was a pleasure meeting all of you!” I holler. “Have an exceptional evening.”
I take a small bow, then crash out the emergency exit which renders a bleating fire alarm.
I break out and the seasons are in flux. My feet crinkle in the soft frost laying atop blades of grass made dark by the orange sun in its permanent set. Muffled traffic can be heard on the two streets flanking this eternally long field, but as before, none of these cars or trucks can be seen.
From my left I hear a woman’s quiet “Hi beautiful”. I can tell she’s about two feet away, but like the traffic her voice too is muffled. It’s as if a tiny hand is covering my ear.
“Hello?” I answer, and not long after notice a set of small bare-foot prints plotting their way slowly next to mine. I can feel her there. It’s a familiar presence, but still-same she is a ghost to me.
“It’s Sandra,” she pauses, waiting for a response “…the Bartender?”
“You’re hard to forget,” I tell her. Another set of bare foot prints begin to form on my left. Then a third set, this time on my right side. “Why are you all barefoot? It’s freezing out.” I punctuate my point by zipping up my jacket to lock in what warmth I’ve got left.
We’re not just barefoot. We’re naked.” More sets of footprints join the procession. “All of us women are walking in solidarity of—
“But I’m not naked,” I interrupt. I look around at all the footprints forming, step ahead of step unfolding. I take a deep breath and relax myself. I begin to see the very faint shapes of gorgeous women short and tall marching just behind me and evenly out to my sides as bare as the day they were born.
“You may have clothes on where you are, but where we are you are naked. You’re absolutely beautiful,” Sandra says.
“So wait- I’m in two worlds at once?”
“You’re evolving very quickly… moving from one world into the next. You are the original soul. You are the world navel, the point in the universe from which all energy flows…” Sandra’s voice speeds up and rises in pitch as if she’s on a cassette tape that’s gone haywire.
The sounds and footprints fade as the phalanx of beautiful naked women wing me into the next world.
I continue through the field until I see a solitary figure walking ahead of me. Not a ghost this time, but a solid human being. He is wearing a pea green army coat and has an electric guitar bag strapped over his right shoulder just under his dirty blonde hair. I move up until I am walking just a few paces behind.
Without turning around, he speaks to me. I realize he is not just a grunge rocker… he is the grunge rocker.
“Nice to be god, eh?” he asks.
“I guess. But it can’t be true?”
“Sure,” he chirps. “You’re god, I’m god. We’re all god. You know that. You think what happened to you back there was uncomfortable… imagine having thousands of people thinking that you’re god and that they’re not.”
“Does this have something to do with why you killed yourself?” I ask.
He stops walking but still doesn’t turn around. I stop walking too, still several lengths behind. He lets out a huge laugh. A high and loud and happy laugh. He crunches down on his knees until the bottom of his guitar bag touches the ground and then he laughs some more. “I never killed myself! I just made it look that way. No, no, I blew town. I live down in Tennessee.”
“What? Tennessee? Why?”
He stands up straight and begins to walk again. I wait a moment, then follow suit. He speaks:
“You know how that just happened to you back there? People, although in many different ways, acted like that around me all the time. I had to get away. It was nuts.”
“But what do you do with yourself down south?”
“I work at a gas station outside a very small town. Think about it: I totally look like a hick! I totally fit in down there with my flannel shirts, drinking beer and shooting guns. I even put on the accent. It’s hilarious!”
“Well don’t people recognize you?”
“Of course they do. That’s what’s so ridiculous. They’re like (puts on drawl) ‘You luuk like that Kirt gah, n yer name iss Kirt’ but they never put two and two together! It’s too outrageous.”
“That’s hilarious!” We both start laughing.
“It’s a frickin’ riot! I’m a total hick!” Our laughing winds down and he speaks again. “Well look, I gotta get going. It was nice talking with you. Believe it or not, I’ve heard a lot about you. I know you’re going through weird times, but I want you to know that you’re not the only person that this has happened to. In fact, the journey you’re on has been undertaken by many since the beginning of time.”
“Well how come nobody ever talks about this stuff?” I ask.
“Oh, but they do. In movies, in literature, all over the place. You just need to know what to look for. They are maps to guide you through this crazy shit.” he says, stopping again. He turns around and I finally see his face.
“Take care. It was nice meeting you, Kurt.”
“Nice meeting you too finally. I’ll be seeing you again soon enough.”
«Don’t let them fool you. You are only at the beginning of your journey.»
I peer through the fog into the corners of the field and up through the haze to the stars sewn across the belt of the upper universe. I see nobody.
«Yeah, sure, we are all god. That’s grade-school stuff. Are you ready to move forward?»
I know her voice, and I move my head around to locate the source, but she’s nowhere to be found.
“Ok, ok” I say aloud “where the hell are you?” and then I see her. Larger than life, but still just a lightning bug pulsing toward me from the north.
“How are you doing this?” I wonderfully inquire. She pulls into a hover a foot from my face.
«I am full of surprises, aren’t I?» she says, landing on my right forearm. «Aren’t I cute?» She sends two quick amber blinks.
“Yes. You are cute. What journey? Where am I going?”
«Everywhere and nowhere. Far beyond but right here all along.»
“You realize you’re telling me almost nothing.”
«Nothing and everything. Seriously. You need to listen to me.»
I become slightly uncomfortable as it dawns on me I am taking advice from a firefly.
«For all your years you’ve known there was something more than the simple merry-go-round life. Something behind what you can see, hear, and touch. That’s obvious or you wouldn’t have gotten this far. Well, the distance ahead is as treacherous as it is magical, but if you’re able to survive the challenges in front of you, you’ll come out the other end fearless as the wind and centered as the earth below.» She floats up and lands gently on my right hand. I lift her up to my eye.
“What do you mean ‘if I survive’… I mean, how dangerous can it be?”
«About as dangerous as having your boat smash into a million pieces in a raging storm. There are people walking by. You do realize you’re talking to a firefly.»
I turn to my left and sure enough, a young couple is passing, heads bent, staring right at me. «I’m sorry. I forget I can talk to you this way.»
«No skin off my wings. You’re the one who people think is insane. They might say that your metaphorical ‘boat’ is smashing into a million pieces.»
«Oh my god. I understand.»
«Good. First things first. You will see Dulce again but not for a very long time. She sends her love and wishes you luck. Now. You need to go to a club called ‘The Tetrahedron’. The guy at the door is a complete menace and only lets certain people in…»
«Oh, you mean only the ‘cool’ people or something? I don’t like this already.»
«No- it’s the furthest thing from it. You just have to be yourself and he’ll let you in.»
«What do you mean I just have to be myself’?»
«If you don’t know what that means, then I’m afraid we’re all in trouble.»
I stand completely silent. She blinks. She hovers. She blinks.
«I’ll figure it out.»
Blink. Hover. Blink.
«Yes you will.»