The plateau was on no particular mountain, and every mountain, both at the same time. Trees ranging in species from tropical willow, to deciduous birch to ever-green Douglass fur that had survived eons of climatic changes spoke to each other about their experiences, and who they had witnessed on this plateau of transition that always remained the same, to the human eyes as their bearers were acquiring other ocular sensors. In the center of it was a collection of fourteen rocks arranged in a circle, each of them throbbing their own color. Some of those hues had names on ‘planet earth’, and some emitted colors which had not been named yet by mortals, as the evolution of the human species regarding its Creative potential was still a ‘Work in Progress’.
But it was not so much which color the rocks emitted but the harmonic beats which they emitted light to. All of those colors of course in this porthole between life and what some still ignorantly called death when combined formed a White Light when seen from a distance. That Light was amplified by beams from above which penetrated into the Medicine Wheel, and below. The mantra which this porthole vibrated to was the continuous, thunderous ‘sound’ of Silence. The music, this ‘day’ anyway, the Overture from Parsifal.
Human souls about to experience different ‘bodies’ were guided to this wheel by various messengers. Some of those messengers had hoofs, carrying their riders at a rhythmic gallop that felt just as intense when on the rock hard ground as when it was over clouds which covered the plateau. Other messengers were winged, carrying their cargo with swooping movements that both utilized and created wind currents that opened and closed the ‘sky’ on their own terms. Still other messengers, on this porthole anyway, were Aboriginal in their former lives, maintaining their various Shamanistic dress, mannerisms and languages. They guided, on this day, mostly visually impaired pale-faced souls to the wheel. Most of the souls delivered to this mountain plateau, and porthole, had self-directed themselves there by absorbing the music of Parsifal, and other pieces written, or rather channeled through, Richard Wagner, which connected them to Spirit, big S. Some insisted that Beethoven’s 9th be played as they took in their last breath of earthly air. All of them, on this day in 2020 (according to the calendar ‘below’), were headed to a ‘good’ place. Valhalla, Nirvana, Heaven or a next incarnation which promised and delivered better ‘life’ than their previous one. All were allowed entry into the medicine wheel, passing by an old man with tight wrinkles on his still handsome face slumbering outside the connection of rocks, conducting another piece of music he as composing in the midst of a dream. That man, clad in a large purple beret, a felt coat, satin scarf and colorfully baggy trousers, was the assignment for a well muscled, over experienced and specially assigned Messenger Guide.
Said Messenger’s long, black hair was tied back in a long mane, complimenting a fringed buckskin overshirt and leggings. He called himself Omilik, though he accepted being referred to by a hundred other names during his service on earth dating back to Biblical times. And his service in the afterlife relating to people that there was far more to God, and Spirit, than what was written in the Bible, Koran, Gita, and even his most beloved Torah.
Omilik glanced down at the old man in the large purple beret and over the top flamboyant outfit for ANY century who was sleeping outside the medicine, wondering what he was dreaming about. Whatever it was, it seemed to be an intense dream. The old Bohemian’s hands seemed to be conducting an orchestra that was playing the music coming out of the Medicine Wheel. His voice hummed harmonics, then loudly sung complimentary melodies to the Parsifal Overture, which the composer of such had never published in his lifetime. Omilik stared at then into the old Bohemian’s wrinkled face, which reeked intensity through a constellation of human emotions, each one of them coordinated with the key changes coming out of the Porthole. “No, it couldn’t be,” Omilik said to himself, after which he pulled his cell phone from under his deerskin belt. A scan of the dreaming but certainly not sleeping self-absorbed Maestro’s eyes, which were open so wide the fire coming in set fire to the brain, confirmed Omilik’s suspicions, hopes and fears. Yes, it is Richard Wagner, delivered to this spot a mere 137 years after his soul was liberated from his body due to, ironically, a heart attack. From a man who some say had a heart as big as Valhalla, and other said had no heart at all. And it was time to determine which was the case. With Omilik specially assigned to the case.
“Hey, wake up, time to get up, Richard. Herr Wagner” he whispered to the still conducting composer in Cree, gently shaking his shoulders.
“Maestro Wagner!” the old but certainly not elderly man shot back with half opened eyes. “I’m not finished composing the newest version of my opera yet!”
“Parsifal is already four hours too long,” Omilik replied, in German, with rolling eyebrows, voicing the opinions of more than a handful of music, and even German opera, lovers. “It’ time for you to be woken up to… the next dimension,” he continued with a voice inviting the composer whose music invited listeners to experience infinite and ever expanding horizons with each passage of music that could be the finale on its own terms.
Wagner continued to conduct the new version of Parisfal in his continued dream, with a bolder voice, and bigger arm movements. One of his hands was clenched in a victorious and defiant fist, the other giving the third finger to Omilik.
After considering the options, and the time table his bosses sent on the cell phone, Omilik reached for the leather canteen strapped to his waste, emptying its contents onto the gyrating face of the composer who was embracing the most blissful elements of pain and pleasure.
Finally, Wagner woke up to the ‘real’ world. The music around him stopped, something Omilik didn’t expect, but now had to accept as part of the opera about to happen.
“Where…was I? How long have I been…?” Wagner screamed out as his eyes beheld the mountain plateau in all of its rugged and ever-changing glory, as if he knew every tree, bush and rock on it.
“Sleeping?” Omilik placed the cell phone in front of Wagner’s eyes, showing him the date. “Waiting in limbo…about 150 years, give or take…Or as measured in musical terms, a century past ragtime, 35 years since rock. 55 past Disco. And 5 years since fusion of everything into anything that soul dead distributors and conditioned listeners erroneously call ‘hip’, ‘cool’ and ‘new’.”
“And in political terms?” Wagner asked as he got up on his feet, dusted off his coat, then insured that his hat was securely in place in the oblique manner showing off his ‘good’ side. “And social terms? How long has it been?” the German composer demanded to know from the ‘noble savage’ who he seemed to value as a mentor as well as servant.
“Well, a hundred and ten years past Custer for us,” Omilik replied, gazing with a fond and bitter heart at the fourteen rocks of the medicine wheel, recalling the same arrangements of poles in a circle for teepees that felt more like home for him in three golden incarnations than the mansions he experienced in other lifetimes. “Two world wars on your side of the Pond for you,” he said, recalling the painful moans of agony and the mindless yelps of victory that had preceded them, on both sides battle-lines he had experienced. “And one more war on the way, if we don’t’ get something settled here,” Omilik continued, gazing down through a hole in clouds which was the ‘ground’ for the mountain into the ‘real material world’ valley of self-destructive mortals below heading to their high paying jobs at munion factories and the Army base nearby, blissfully beginning another day of ‘dog eat dog’ economics which they called Free Market ‘Our Country First’ Capitalism. “Here being…” he said, keeping his back turned to Maestro Richard.
“The doorway to Heaven?” Wagner inquired of his intensively pre-occupied guide, as he quietly snuck towards the inside of the Medicine wheel, which was now ten times the distance away relative to his position at his awakening, for reasons he could not understand but had to accept. “Valhalla? Nirvana? The place of final merging with the Infinite that is beyond definition, and any religion, but within all who seek to serve and become it.” Feeling the urge to be more boldly expressive with his humble inquiry, he sung with progressive key changes escalating its way through and beyond C major to his still back turned audience, “Where Sigfried and Brunhilde went when after they defied the old gods who kept humanity subservient. Opened to heroes when Brunhilde rode her horse through the impenetrable walls of the gods to toss their magic ring back to them so humanity, male, female and otherwise, could be liberated. Where Tristan and Isolde can and always have enjoyed the love they were forbidden while being mortals on earth…Where…I can see as well as feel the music that I wrote, and was used as a channel for Spirit that is beyond all theology, so that— “ The unauthorized entry into the medicine wheel that whisked bold warriors and even braver artists up to Valhalla, and beyond, was halted by an invisible brick wall the Maestro felt with his overgrown nose on his oversized head. Pulling back from it, to see how bad said schnoz was breathing, Wagner noted a smile on the side of the face of the nameless First Nations Shaman. The stone but certainly not stoned age Porthole Guard maneuvered a few more buttons on the small rectangular beyond 19th century device he held in his hand, which when operated with a few effortless maneuverings of his blister-less manicured fingers, lowered the intensity of the light coming down to the circle of rocks. The hard light of ‘normal’ day from the sun revealed a dark, black bottomless hole in the middle of the circle of magical rocks that now appeared as sharp, blood stained, cold stones that reeked of purulent flesh. That image of the abyss alternated with Light from above, closing the trap door to the bottomless pit with solid state ground covered with a thick layer of flower bearing grasses, providing the nose with the most soul-awakening and mind-pleasing aromas.
“Most call me Omilik,” the Messenger replied by way of explanation, and regret, for reasons he kept to himself. “But to you, I’m assigned to be—“
“—-The manipulator of this opera that’s playing in my head because I drank the wrong bottle of wine, from one of my competitors who thinks he can make me think I’m crazy, insane, or a soul-dead, overpaid newspaper critic who wants to scare me into Fire and Brimstone Christianity who wants to make me think that I’m—-“
“—-Dead, Richard,” Omilok replied, showing the disheveled Maestro pictures of his own funeral on the small rectangular hand held device that flashed a different photograph with each swipe of his long fingers. “Dead, at least to the still ‘living’, Great Spirit bless and help them.”
Realizing what had been going on was not due to ingestion of the wrong firewater, or something slipped into a his drink, Wagner addressed ‘the devil’ in the pit while the gateway to his ‘kingdom’ appeared to his blood shot, mind altered eyes. “What the hell,” he voiced, thinking it to be a pun he could use in his next compositions, after which the medicine wheel turned back into its heavenly presentation to the faculties of vision and smell. “Or rather, what the ‘hec’ are You doing?” the Maestro address towards the Heavenly Light pouring down upon the collection of one again, magical stones. “Wasn’t it my music that enabled so many to find this place while still living? And find their way to at the time of dying, or rather…Resurrection, as you promised, pledged and are obliged to deliver?”
“Yes, for some,” Omilik said as he reached out his hand to help Wagner up off the ground.
“For…many!” Richard grumbled back, refusing to accept the guide’s hand, pushing himself back up on his own two, still intact, feet.
“For several,” Omilik conceded.
“Several million!” Wagner replied, hoping to see some kind of acknowledgment of that wishful posthumous hypothesis in Omilik’s poker face, but seeing nothing. “Who were guided here by my music!” he asserted, recalling, between ‘sleeps’, seeing souls humming, singing or shaking their defiant fists to the tune of his music on this plateau. Having seen no refuting of the power of his music, nor the people transformed by it at the time of passing, the humble Maestro proudly continued. “Music that made them act more heavenly, more Godike, and effectively for the common good while still on earth.
“Yes….You are accurate, Omilik replied as he punched in the numbers, allowing Wagner sneak in front of over his tall shoulders.
“I knew it!” Wagner proclaimed, his right hand up to the sky praising It, the anxious terror-driven pounding of the heart in left chest finally subsiding. .
“But not completely… right. Or…justified, to your music being the fuel that drives the Fires of Goodness to full expression,” Omilik replied, stealing the words out of Wagner’s mouth before he could voice them.
“What do you mean, justified?” Wagner barked back, feeling for the first time in this cold high plateau on the mountain taller than any other mountains, sweat pouring down his face “Am I going to hell? Where the devil is?” he mused, then considered as possible fact.
“To our people there is no such thing as hell,” Omilik assured him with a sincere voice and, somehow, all knowing eyes.
Wagner looked down at the ground inside the medicine wheel, pondering what would happen next, relieved that one of his nightmares was only a bad dream. Just as he took in a deep breath of air that found its way into a lightened chest rather than one that was heavy and tense, Omilik opened his overshirt, revealing a yellow Star of David on his over his, literally, bleeding heart.
Meanwhile, oblivious to that juxtaposition of cultures and dimensional rules, Wagner ranted on, the deep and dark musical dramatist turning what had that terrified him just moments ago into nearly wetting his Bohemian trousers into the object of ridicule and humor which, came out as a lyrical dance through his lips. “No punishment for sins, transgressions or miscalculations in a burning heap of fire for me then in my constant quest to use story to dispel theological lies and inspire human SERVING actions? No special hotel room for the Promethian rebel down below, hosted by a sadistic taskmaster Lucifer. Or his ‘wife’, the PMS bitch I almost hired to play Venus from Tannhauser, or my first wife, who wanted to sterile everyone’s soul to be just as non-committed to Life big L as her own was? Hmm?”
Omilik took in a deep, reflective breath, averting his eyes, then turned to Wagner, utilizing the gentility of his voice and the sharpness of his words. “For our people, Hell is having whatever you did on earth be discredited, perverted, or forgotten.”
Indeed, the arrow hit a bulls-eye at the Core of Wagner’s soul as he envisioned such happening. “Being forgotten, misunderstood or discredited. The worse kind of punishment for people like…me,” he related, and confessed, staring into space. “But heaven to your people is?” he asked, looking up at the tall First Nations guide with a vulnerability he dared not show any mortal while on earth.
Omilik turned his back on Wagner and the medicine wheel. Meanwhile, Wagner tried yet again to make his way into the wheel to enter the Kingdom of the Enlightened on his own terms. “Something we don’t think about when living, or at the time of transitioning,” Wagner heard from the Old Indian, in a diction that was…yes, Yiddish, with the musicality of that ethnicity which drove Wagner ballistic while he was ‘alive’ “Or heaven for us I suppose is having our Work survive us, the Chosen people. Yahweh help us,”
“Ah yes, your people,” Wagner said, noting condescension coming out of his mouth, which turned into apprehension, then guilt upon seeing the Jewish six sided star on Omilik’s First Nations’ chest. “The Lost Tribe of Israel, according to some, who found their way here. The chosen people,” Wagner replied, trying to transform his disdain for the Yiddish culture into an academic investigation.
“Or, maybe, if we obey the ten commandments and the other ones that came down from Sinai and the other mountains, we can continue our Great Works in a next lifetime,” Omilik, or perhaps ‘Omilikowitz’ replied, with defiance but amazingly, no bitterness “A mitzfa.” The Ancient Indian Jew with the face that never developed wrinkles smiled into empty space.
“Indeed, a mitzfa. A gift,” Wagner replied while taking still another step toward the Heavenly gate, revealing and showing his knowledge of the Jewish culture, to a Jew who, was clearly different than most. Or perhaps any Jew he had met in the flesh, or invented for the stage.
“Or…maybe, sometimes, to rediscover and continue it with a different consciousness and identity,” Omilik shot back.
“An idea I never did put into an opera because, well, Reincarnation…was not believed by everyone in the audience. Or my patrons. Who…” Wagner replied.
Just as Wagner was about to enter the wheel, merging with the Light coming down from below, Omilik pressed another button on his ‘notebook’. That Divine Light went out. The rocks turned into sand. Wagner found himself tripping over himself, falling ass first into a pile of dried buffalo dung.
While Wagner shook and scraped away what he could from his ass, Omilik changed into a three piece suit, the jacket containing a yellow Star of David plastered over the left breast pocket. .’Before we decide where you go, and what you become, and…can do, there is one question that has to be resolved. One charge. One offense that people from many cultures said you did,” Omilik, perhaps, as his Native self, and Omilikowitz said by way of explanation.
“—Six million of my people…Who died in the Camps? At the hands of your most fanatical and dedicated patron!” Omilik blasted back at Wagner with primal rage, his gentle brown eyes now beet red with anger as he pulled out a photo from his pocket, ramming it into Wagner’s confounded face. “Your most fanatical and dedicated patron! Him! Adolf Hitler!”
“Who seems to be a disturbed, and evil possessed, man,” Wagner replied, calmly, and analytically, as he stared at the face of the middle aged man with the strange mustache and possessed look in his oculars.
“Who started a war that nearly destroyed the world! That killed 70 million people! Orchestrated by YOUR music,” Omilik shouted into Wagner’s face so intensely that the saliva accompanying each word seemed to burn a hole into the German composer’ face.
“When, where?” Wagner inquired.
“1933 to 1945. EVERYWHERE, Maestro!”
“I died, according to YOUR calculations, fifty years before this deluded idiot and probably asshole did whatever he did. So, what did I do?”
“According the charges laid against you, by…many.
“This is…absurd.” Wagner replied, unable to find any other word to describe this ‘event’ which he knew nothing about. “This is…
“—history,” Omilik answered, directing fire somehow though his now calm voice than any of his blood curdling screams. ”And being responsible for your actions, intensions or…suggestions,” he continued, sounding once again like a Moralist, and overly experience still-justice seeking lawyer.
“I have a right to defend myself,” Wagner stated, crumbing up the paper, throwing it on the ground. The wind blew it back into his face. “I have a right to defend myself!” he screamed at Omilik, the paper, and whatever Fates delivered him to this strange, yet familiar, place.
“Thanks to Hitler and the Nazis being finally defeated, you do,” Omilik’s calm reply.
“Nazis? What or who the hell are they!!?” Wagner demanded to know, finally pulling off the paper the wind had glued onto his face, discovering blood on his cheeks, and hands. Having lost the handkerchief from his own pocket, he yanked the neatly folded one from ‘Omikilowitz’s’ jacket pocket to wipe it off.
“You really don’t know,” Omilik volleyed back, calmly.
“No, I don’t! Where did they come from? These Nazis?”
“Your head, pen and music,” the Jewish Indian Lawyer stated as belief which had found its way into becoming, somehow, historical ‘fact’. “According to…some anyway,” Omilik related, and confessed.
“‘Some’ who I want to clear my name with,” Wagner asserted.
“And HAVE to clear your name, unless you are prepared to go…down there now,” he said, after which he pointed to the black hellish abyss inside the medicine wheel.
“And need to—,” the accused Maestro appended.
Omilik turned around, strolling towards a tree. Another burst of wind comes up. Wagner held onto his flamboyant hat, placing it on his head in defiance of the wind.
“Follow me. Here…,” Omilik instructed. “Gently, quietly. And hatless.” With that, he dissolved into the large trunked tree.
“Of course,” Wagner replied in English, German, French, Yiddish and Cree, the language of the tribe Omilik seemed to have been from. He boldly marched to the tree, singing at the top of his lungs, his hat still on, preparing to negotiate with History. The tree, and fates had different ideas. Wagner hit a brick wall as soon as his real flesh hit the tree. It produced a large, very real, and very hurting, bump on Wagner’s already oversized head.
“I said gently, quietly and…hatless,” he heard from Omilik from ‘inside’ the tree trunk. “Out of respect for…”
“I know,” Wagner conceded, leaving his hat behind, gently walking into the tree, then feeling himself transported to another realm which he could still not see. “But I demand compensation for my lost hat,” he was able to voice, just before he discovered he had emerged into—-.”
The skin-covered lump of bones, tendons, muscle and fluids of various smells as well as consistencies lay before Doctor Michalovitch as he put his stethoscope on the area where all the books, and his decades of real life experience, said there was a heart. Despite the advances in science and devolutions in the muscle between the ears that had transpired in the last 60 years of the 21st century in the world around him, the aging but defiantly not-extinct old-fart medical dinosaur who had been practicing medicine still believed that the heart was stronger, and smarter than the mind, or brain. And, so far anyway, that intensity-conferring fluid-pumping organ still lay on the left quadrant of the chest rather than between the legs. The cardiac tissue in this patient, the one he was born with amazingly enough, was still pumping blood to organs that needed them at the rates required for ambulatory life, and then some.
But there was something it was not pumping out of Doc M’s patient’s heart, which was pointed out without hesitation by the soon to be retired 80 year old dinosaur. M, as he preferred to be addressed by his patients, had refused surgical intervention to hide any feature of his real biological age, from the rivers and canyons of wrinkles sinking deeper by the day into his sagging face, to his thinning yet still straggly white hair, to his knobby fingers which were driven to continue working as a healer at lightening speed because as well as despite of the pain they projected back to his brain when he overused them.
“Chi,” the old Physician said to his younger and far more pleasing to look at associate at Interglobal Newer York Hospital regarding the patient whose vital signs all said ‘A OK’ but whose eyes were now more than half way to that realm which still remained a mystery to all of those in the land of the ‘living’. “This man is dying because there’s no chi going through him anymore.”
“Chi, Doctor M?” asked the Resident. Though she had been in service for 20 years at that position, she had not aged a day since her first day of work as a ‘bio-maintenance’ officer. “I know what Chi is,” continued Doctor (and if she had anything to do about it, Professor) Olivia, as she was called by nurses, fellow physicians of her kind, students, patients and friends alike. She searched the data banks on the computer under her lab coat. Professor-Doc Olivia’s big, blue overly eye-lashed eyes squinted to read the print through her long, blonde bangs which framed her perfectly shaped face, which sat atop an even more perfectly shaped body, as it pertained to the aesthetics of any century, including the Dr. M lived in between his ears. “Chi is an ancient medical term describing something manifesting as electrical current, and movement of bio-magnetically elements of yet to be determined identity that directs, regulates and organizes molecules, organelles and cells to….” she read, faster than Doctor M could think as the print became smaller to her seemingly open eyes but closed mind. “…behave,” she concluded, proudly with a regulatory tone and orderly smile.
Frustrated by the sight of such beauty housing a brain that was tragically sterile, and even more frightenly, fast, Dr M grabbed hold of the computer from Olivia. “Chi directs, regulates and organizes biological tissue to become ALIVE!” M screamed back. “That’s the way me and the other old farts wrote this wikapedia page back in—-”
“—A time when medicine was crude, ineffective and technologically underdeveloped,” Doctor M, Olivia calmly reminded her superior in the manner of a superior.
“But a time when it was about people serving other people, using the fire in their belly to figure out how to outsmart and work with Mother Nature at the same time!” the old man belted out to the young resident. “When intuition, instead of logic, ruled! When we promoted life and not just studied it! When we busted a gut to not only get our patients out of their beds, but up on their feet dancing, stomping on grapes or trudging up a mountain they would fall down from again! When we opened our eyes so wide that the fire coming in set fire to the brain, and gave us Promethian answers that made us as insightful as the gods and more effectively compassionate than any Deity we worshipped, prayed to or asked favors of! Do you understand that?!” he concluded, hard earned sweat pouring down his face, and chest.
“Do you require me to as you say, to understand that?” Olivia asked, without a trace of emotion, eminating professional detachment in the manner that was consistent with her position, as well the scientific demeaner training Dr M received at a younger age, but refused to accept.
M took in a deep breath, considering how bes to reach this, his most, according to some anyway, intelligent student. The one who the hospital staff was grooming to take his place when he retired. A retirement which was now mandated by law in six months, or immediately if the authorities saw through the forged birth certificate the old doc snuck through the hospital’s data banks.
The patient, identified by number in Olivia’s chart, eminated a death rattle in his breathing. Though he was only 30 years old, he clearly was on his way to dying. Not because of failed liver, kidney, brain or distribution of chi problems, but because patient 2308YJ3 lacked Purpose. A reason to continue. Dedication to a Cause that was bigger than himself, even though it had nothing to do with reality. Reality that the world as it had become valued anyway.
The brain scan meter showed defects in the patient’s Zapponian-Westfall-Vitalitus nucleus buried deep into the right and left cerebral cortex. Clearly, it was dull out disease. That still unrecognized malfunction of the Soul Mind that makes one lifeless, procedural, simplistic, and boring. And, most of all, a disease that makes one mindlessly happy. And why not? 2308, as his friends called him, had been raised by the most obedient and state of the art servants. A robot to drive him to school, then university, where another mechanical, non-biological mentor provided answers for every test he took, in advance of them being administers. ‘2308’ didn’t have to go to work to earn a living, as he had yet another robot that went to work for him, ‘who’ brought home the money. And an additional robot at home to do the cooking, cleaning and complimenting for all he hadn’t done all day. And a robot to recreate with as a caddy on the golf course and dance with at the bar afterwards. And a synthetic fleshed female andoid to take care of all of his biological functions, ranging from wiping his ass after taking a shit to providing an outlet for ejaculated sperm. But not a robot to do the dying for him. That, ‘2308’ had to do for himself. As well as to make the final decision about how to direct his death, into the two directions which were now available as the 21st century was being streamlined into the next one.
Olivia read out standard lines one gives to a dying patient, providing all of the tactile stimulation to the appropriate places on the patient’s body that provided comfort and relieved stress, according to 2308’s profile. “Everything will be alright”. “Death is another form of Life”. “Your suffering will be over soon.”
“That is IF the treatment we have in mind doesn’t work,” Doc M interjected, pushing aside Olivia with his knarly forearm, discretely trying to make it seem like he was effortlessly slipping into place to 2308, who was now his patient, servant and master. “And if this biological treatment I have in mind doesn’t work, you will be blessed with te wondrous challenge of facing death straight on without desperation or fear. And to beat the reaper, and redeem whatever mistakes you make in life, you will become a channel for the wisdom that is only reached at the time of dying. And you can share those Insights with those of us who are still living, so humanity can keep living and be somehow…Alive, big A!” the old man who had somehow averted the messenger of physical death whispered into the ear of the 30 year old patient whose ‘natural time’ was coming to an end due to natural, or perhaps unnatural causes. Seeing that 2308 was seriously considering the proposition he had never really thought about, or been told about by anyone else, Doc M whipped out a consent form out of his pocket typed by his own hands, with official hospital letterhead of course. “And if this new medication we want to try works, or if it doesn’t and you accept the NATURAL consequences of such, we need your signature,-” he continued, placing a pen into 2308’s shaking hand, pushing the fingers around it.
“But if Doc M’s newest experiment biological treatment fails, like it did for most of the others in this clinic trial,” Olivia interjected, dancing rather than pushing her way between her medical superior and the patient they were both responsible for. “There is a less painful and more sustainable option,” she gently related to 2308 in the manner of a mortal mother with an immortal, assuring maternal smile. She snuck in a contact of 2308’s face, next to Doc M’s offering. “One in which you will be transplanted into a synthetically-fleshed body that doesn’t age. So you can live forever.”
“Without experiencing the gusto of living with an Alive soul rather than a submissive, sedate, lifeless and obedient one,” M interjected, blasting that passion-infused contention into Olivia’s baffled and condescending eyes with a mixture of pity, and terror.
2308’s bloodshot and jaundiced eyes, to the extent that they could assess and process the world in front of rather than behind them, osculated between the two documents, while. Olivia and Doc M engaged in yet another unspoken dialog between them. In a move that surprised both docs, 2308 pulled his back up from the reclining, white bed, experiencing space between that final resting place and his own still vibrant flesh-covered spine.
“He’s making progress,” Doc M said to Olivia in early 21st Century Russian, a tongue that he was sure no one in the latter part of the century understood, nor used, as that Slavic tongue had now escalated in directly acquiring of English words so that it fit more easily into the increasingly technological times. “Some temporary progress, Doctor Michalowitch, I’m afraid have to admit,” Olivia added, in an emotionally detached but, somehow, not completely uncaring tone. Doc M allowed her truthful assessment to deflate his hopes in his latest biological ‘miracle cure’, which apparently were seen by 2308.
2308 lost control of his spinal muscular, falling back with a loud, hard and painful thud onto the partially upright mattress, He then slipped over on his right side, where his view of the world was, by human intention or some kind of divine design, confined to Olivia’s contract, losing the capacity for speech, then the ability to mouth inaudible words or grunts with his lips. “An alternative to the journey that, used to be the only option for us,” she said by way of explanation. “If you agree to it that is. With a ‘yes’ nod of your head.”
After careful consideration, so it seemed anyway, 2308 shook his head ‘no’ the her proposal for transplantation into a synthetically-fleshed body, then let his chin rest into the blood and vomit stained pillow underneath him. Doc M seemed happy for, and proud of the young man who would not have the opportunity to become an old one. Olivia was concerned, then, with ultimate reluctance, continued to describe to 2308 what he would experience beyond the veil on the way to the other side of the life-death line, according to the Tibetan book of the Dead, and other texts Doc M made her read. She related a plethora of ‘how to avoid taking a left turn into hell, an off ramp into purgatory, or a detour into the wrong next lifetime’ tips from the ancient manuals in a way that was clear, and, surprisingly more emotionally engaging than M could ever do it..
At that moment, Olivia seemed very human, to both 2308 and Doc M. A technological accomplishment, as she was, biologically anyway, a robot. Yet, a lot more to Doc M, for reasons he dared not admit to himself, or anyone else. But in the meantime, while Doc M was officially her boss, there was common purpose for the not yet forced into retirement old crotchety man and his still eternally young, and beautiful, humanoid machine. ‘2308’ held on to Olivia’s hand as if it were a fellow human’s. And why not?
The pheromones released from Olivia’s nose while she continued to council and comfort 2308 mimicked smells (and apparently images) in 2308’s childhood memories, as fished out of his olfactory cerebral cortex by the latest of M’s ‘dream viewing’ machines. Then her voice changed pitch and tone according to his parental profiles, matching, apparently, 2308’s auditory memories, completing the movie in 2308’s mind he was trying to put into focus. 2308 addressed Olivia with several terms of endearment, never once addressing her as ‘maternal unit’, as was the custom and habit of children in the later part of the 21st century who wanted ‘in’ on the wonders it promised those who embraced technology.
Doc M, recalling that in times of war, most dying men yearned to see their mother rather than a life saving Doctor or a Soul-saving Avatar, watched Olivia send 2308 off into a coma, from which some patients actually did emerge, though most didn’t.
Doc M, who preferred to be merely called M, in the tradition of his favorite 20th century author, Kafka, wanted what was best for 2308 of course, doing whatever he could to ensure that the patient would make his own decision, rather than be cajoled or forced into decisions that even well meaning Doc’s thought best. Above all, for now anyway, M hoped that 2308, the once-Alive big A musician had gone into a past time, when spirits were Alive and robots had not been invented, or used. It was a universe and dream for the future that Doc M held on to as tightly as he could. Even tighter than his determination that he would find the cure for dull out disease, which was killing more humans every day, and which, if he wasn’t careful, would come back to kill him. Particularly if he taught Olivia, the robot who he hoped would maybe become humanized in some way (functionally anyway), too much, too early. She was, after all, perhaps the only hope for humanity to survive the technology that was killing it off, or its primary executioner. For reasons he dared not share with anyone else. Particularly her.
Of course, the most critical decision of all was an ancient one that preceded the invention of electricity, and some say, even the wheel. “To live a short, painful, accomplished and (so those who survive you say) glorious life or to live a long, uneventful, comfortable one.” It was a decision that Doc M, Olivia and perhaps 2308 would have to make very soon.
MJ Politis, Ph.D.
Melanie Hamilton, M.D., didn’t know much about the world around her, but she did know that at the present time she had just left a space and time defined as Los Angeles, 1920. She also knew that this small town founded by a rowdy bunch of cowboys, working stiff Latinos and outcast Easterners half a century ago was about to blossom into something a lot bigger. She knew that most of the Westerns were being written in New Jersey and for the most part filmed there, through Thomas Edison’s contacts with equipment he wanted to stay in the East. She knew that this genre of story-telling in print and on screen was not going to go away, despite the fact that there were few real Cowboys left and, unless they were in the mountains south of the Rio Grande or north of the 49th parallel, wild Indians. She knew that writing Westerns was a man’s business, designed to serve the interests of men, and that being established in that genre was the most effective way her, so far unpaid and under-published, skills as a wordsmith could have an influence on men, and women. She also knew that despite the recent Amendment to the US Constitution that finally allowed all women to vote, few would go to the poles, and even fewer would vote according to their conscience rather than the wishes of their husbands.
But the still-single 35 year old, born and bred in very urban upscale New York physician also knew that she was a woman who would not bow down to any man. Melanie had clawed rather than climbed her way into becoming a doctor. A small-framed, big-brained woman who had cured the physical and mental ills of so many men and boys, many times having to pretend to be a nurse so she would have access to them. A woman who knew she was smarter than most of the men around her, and certainly more caring than such, which made her even more intelligent, and alone. A woman who somehow didn’t fit the WASP blue-blood heritage she was told that produced her. A woman who was brought up by a man-serving mother with whom less was said and more was withheld in any conversation, from both directions. A woman who was now an orphan, courtesy of an automobile accident involving her mother’s overpriced Rolls Royce Phantom I hitting a horse drawn ice-delivery wagon when the brakes on the former failed, instantly killing her father and putting her mother into the best of hospitals with the worst of injuries. A woman who now had to endure, and honor, one last request from her mother, delivered on her death bed.
“See to it that this woman is taken care of, and that you do everything you can to make her last days in the realm of the living peaceful and meaningful,” Melanie re-read yet again on the copy of the Will she had received in the mail as she walked through the hallways of the Sanitorium in Denver, past the guards who seemed to be more concerned with keeping patients in rather than un-infected people out. “You will be well compensated by my estate and by God for doing so,” the pledge in Melanie’s mother’s Will, put into print an hour before she passed due to un-repairable injuries. Injuries that maybe Melanie, if she had stayed at home in Long Island like a good, obedient and properly married off society girl, could have treated. Or, maybe not. It all was academic now.
Melanie showed her credentials to the orderly at the ward where this special patient, or perhaps soul, was being held. She looked away, seeing her reflection in the glass. She found herself primping up her stylishly chin-length bobbed hair under a fedora, then noticed in the reflection three traditionally clad nurses with long hair tied up in tight ‘granny’ buns who were not any older than herself looking disapprovingly at the trousers she was wearing. “It’s called liberation,” Melanie smiled at them.
“So’s death, ta the poor souls in this here ward anyway, Miss Hamilton,” the very male Orderly whose boots reeked of horse hair and cattle dung said as he pointed to a hastily put up sign above him with a western twang that made him sound both authentic, and illiterate.
“Doctor Hamilton,” Melanie reminded the jaundiced, and armed, yahoo whose breath reeked of tobacco of booze as she read the sign above the door reading ‘Spanish Flu Ward’ in paint that was still drying. “A Doctor who has been assigned to see a patient by the name of Maria Gonzales,” she continued, knowing fully well how deadly, and contagious, and painful, this new epidemic that came back with the Doughboys from France was.
“Assigned by who, ‘Doctor’ Hamilton?” the out-of-work cowboy asked with a sneer, more like a guard than a than an orderly.
“By the head of the hospital,” she said, placing her scarf over her mouth with one hand, handing over a letter from the Chief of Medicine at the hospital with the other.
“Whose signature I don’t quite recognize, Doctor Hamilton,” the guard replied with a sadistic grin.
“Which maybe you will, on these documents?” Melanie shot back with a sharp, academic Southampton blue blood accent, presenting the guard with another envelope, retrieved from under her bra.
The guard gazed at the greenbacks in the envelope with satisfaction, then with desire at the location from which they were retrieved. Then finally at Melanie’s eyes, still wanting more.
“Alright, then,” Melanie offered, pulling out a larger stash of money from her waist-attached purse. She placed it into the jar labeled ‘Children’s and Widow’s Hospital Building Fund’. An act she had done many times for many patients, usually anonymously. Particularly the ones who were related to patients she couldn’t save.
By the way the orderly glanced at the roll of Hamilton, Jackson, Lincoln and Washington portraits, Melanie knew the three chinned bubba bellied stubble faced orderly in white with a black soul would extract more than his share of commission fees from the jar. And that she was running low on cash herself, barely having enough to get train fare back to her home in San Francisco and destiny in Los Angeles. But, if there was one thing Melanie’s mother was, it was being true to her word, economically anyway.
The three local yokul nurses still gazing at Melanie’s short hair and manly urban attire, one of them now with envy, another with fascination, were dismissed by the orderly requesting that they tend to their ‘divinely-assigned’ duties of ‘cleaning bedpans, rustling up some grub and lookin’ as pretty as they can’. Out of habit, fear or trickery, all three smiled, then went on their way. With no one watching, the orderly opened the door to the ward. “Twenty minutes, Doc,” he said to Melanie, as an order and warning. “After that, I ain’t responsible fer nothin’ that happens ta you in there,” he continued in a fatherly tone that, despite its ignorant
If felt like a warning given by Melanie’s father about being too independent, brave or honorable when it comes to dealing with men, or for that matter, other women. Or what would happen to her if in her urge to write the truth about humanity in fiction, like Melanie’s inspirational doctor-author Anton Chekov, she would find herself very broke, ostracized or perhaps dead in fact. Still, Melanie was on a Mission here. Even though the woman who sent Melanie on it kept it was an expert at telling lies, and even better at concealing the truth about anything.
The only thing Melanie had by way of identification of Maria Gonzales was a picture. An old one at that, which by the sepia tone and wardrobe had to be taken at least 50 years ago. Having seen young people age very quickly when their bodies acquired diseases, and being an underappreciated ace at facial reconstruction for soldiers wounded at the Front in France, Melanie had a sense of how young people looked, or would look like, when they became old. Maria Gonzales in her picture had eyes too expressive for her time and large for her small round face. Long black hair flowed over her slender, narrow shoulders. Her aristocratic Mexican presence seemed to be mixed with a small portion of Indian breeding somewhere in her pedigree. Most importantly, she had caring, intelligent and ‘wanting to trust but can’t allow myself to’ smile which reeked of self-infused intensity which honored defiance of herself and serving others, both at the same time. But there was something about this strange perhaps historically-significant woman who seemed to want to say so much to the camera, and those who would look at her photograph, that felt… familiar.
The woman in the bed bearing Maria’s name bore little resemblance to the photograph to any normal or objective observer. Her hair, what was left of it, was white. Her olive Iberian face was ghost white, her slender yet muscular arms now reduced to sticks of bone with thin, saggy slabs of thin tissue which barely looked like viable skin. From her once cautiously smiling lips came a death rattle. But her eyes were still Alive, the coral blue color of such attracting and not letting go of whoever dared, or chose, to look at her. She was strapped to her bed, bruises on her legs and arms most probably caused by futile attempts to release herself from them, or, according to her chart, uncontrollable seizures.
“I’m Melanie Hamilton,” Melanie said to the woman afflicted obviously with more than merely the Spanish flu, still keeping her scarf over her mouth. “And you are Maria Gonzales?” she continued in a soft, slowly delivered voice.
The old woman defiantly shook her head ‘no’, as affirmatively as her painful neck allowed her to do so.
“But the sign on your bed, says Maria Gonzales,” Melanie asked, gently, knowing fully well that patients of her age and in her condition were.
“Not me!” Maria pushed out of her mouth in a voice that Melanie could barely understand. “Who are you?” she pressed, demanding an answer.
“Melanie Hamilton,” Melanie replied as she took the woman’s hand. She then released the restraints from her arms and legs. “Doctor Melanie Hamilton!” she repeated, loud enough for a passing nurse pulling a rope out of his pocket to keep her distance. “Who was sent to help you, by…this women.” Melanie pulled out a picture of her mother from her jacket pocket, showing it to the patient. While doing so, Melanie shooed off the nurse like she was an unwanted servant, a trick she had acquired inadvertently from her mother, but one that always worked.
When ‘Maria’ glanced at the picture, her tired, death-welcoming eyes turned into oculars emitting primal rage. With all the strength she could, ‘Maria’ ejected a wad of blood-tinged spit at the picture, cursing it with phrases in Spanish that Melanie had never heard, but struggled to remember for future literary use.
“Then who are you?” Melanie asked, putting matters medical in front of literary, yet again. “Tell me who you are. And what you want me to do.”
Instantly Melanie knew that she had asked Maria, or whoever she really was, too many questions. She prepared herself for a constellation of answers.
“You go here,” Maria pushed out of quivering lips, in Spanish, a language that Melanie had learned despite her mother’s saying it was a useless tongue for American women. Maria requested with her shaking fingers to grab hold of the photograph of herself as a young girl, then a pencil. Melanie put herself in between Maria’s writing and onlookers, which now included a second concerned nurse, a young male doctor who rolled his eyes with condescension, and three other patients whose bodies and minds were well on their way to the other side of the veil. One of the patients, a tall emaciated man with uneven sideburns and a partially shaved off goutee pushed himself out of bed, slapped a children’s sheriff’s badge on his chest and shouffled towards an alarm bell.
“Here!” ‘Maria’ said, pulling Melanie’s attention to her as she continued to write, then lost a grip on the pencil, after writing ‘Utopia Falls, Wyoming’. “Go there, now! Quickly! Get my book, and write yours,” she said before closing her eyes and slipping off into a deep slumber.
The patient sheriff did reach the alarm bell, which brought in orderlies armed with muscle rather than kindness, accompanied by a small framed man in a clean, non-blood tinged suit. “I’m afraid Maria has to get some sleep now, Doctor Hamilton,” the chief administrator of the hospital said to Melanie through a mask that protected him from both the Spanish Flu as well having anyone he spoke to be able to see what he was really saying, and meaning. “We’ll notify you if there are any changes in her condition,” he continued as the restrains were put back on Maria’s wrists and ankles. “Her condition is very contagious. And unless we’re sure you are vaccinated….”
“…I know,” Melanie conceded, fully aware that enlightened madness and insight was a ‘condition’ far more contagious, and dangerous to the status quo, than the Spanish Flu..
Melanie was escorted in a professional manner out of the ward by the hospital administrator, then into a car waiting for her, the driver asking what hotel she wanted to be driven to. Playing along with the game, she requested a drop off at the Drover Inn. She entered, smiled goodbye to the driver, then looked at the scribbling on the back of ‘Maria’s’ photo, looking up the location on a map in the lobby. She couldn’t find Utopia Falls, Wyoming on the map in the lobby. Nor in the library, until she went to the historical section, and found it prominently displayed. In writing that both clear and which appeared ominous.
When Melanie inquired about the fastest way to get to Utopia Falls, the logical answer was of course the railroad. The iron horse that blasted its way through endless stretches of wild grasslands, mountains that defied any engineer to plow a road through, and bridges over rapidly flowing rivers that could swallow up even the best manned ferryboat across that were as high as any skyscraper in Manhattan. Indeed, such means of transportation allowed any mortal to go anywhere, especially those who were far more endowed with muscles between the ears than below the neck. The 1870s maps proudly portraying the Union Pacific Railroad name and its routes clearly indicated Utopia Falls in writing as bold and large as Laramie, and even Cheyenne. But as for the maps printed in the 20th century, Utopia Falls was not mentioned anywhere.
Armed with the assumption that money could buy anything or anyone, Melanie started out asking the clerk at the Railroad Station in Denver if the train going through Southern Wyoming could make a special stop at the location she had extrapolated as being Utopia Falls for a special fee of course. The senior clerk a middle-aged gentlemen with a clean shaven face and a Chicago accent containing no trace of Western twang, and not an ounce of charm or spice in his demeanor, had never heard of Utopia Falls. He informed her that if it existed at all, the wind had taken it away in many directions. Still, Melanie insisted that the railroad line DID go there and that there was a special off line that went directly there. “Maybe the train did go through there,, Ma’am, in the 1870s” the senior clerk at the Denver trains station finally conceded. “But the lines now, the ones that haven’t been torn apart or repossessed by mother nature say different.” Begrudgingly, he produced a large map of the railroad lines in Northern Colorado and Wyoming. “But maybe one of these routes may get you closer to where you think, or want to believe ‘Utopia’ is.”
Melanie’s jaw dropped when she looked at the large network of rails, and drivable roads, that now traversed what was the Old West. Indeed, it was a complex network in which one could not go twenty miles without hitting some kind of path carved into the earth, except for ‘holes’ marked Indian Reservation or nothing at all. The largest ‘nothing at all’ holes in that network corresponded to where Utopia Falls was, theoretically anyway.
“So, it’s a ghost town then,” Melanie surmised.
“If it was a town at all, but if you’re looking for ghosts, I suppose you can find them there, so I heard anyway,” the clerk said with an indifferent tone with a face that revealed absolutely no trace of emotion. “Besides, Utopia is the name of an ideal place and as for ‘Falls’, as there’s no big rivers or waterfalls there, suppose that town means a place where dreams fall apart. Maybe put on those old maps as a warning for those who think there’s gold, glory or something else worth building or getting there.”
Though Melanie outgrew the fear of ghosts at the age of 8, and the fascination with angels when she hit 12, she did sense something ominous about this quest, as well as practical. As for the latter, there were lots of reasons to go to this town with a defeatist name. ‘Mother dearest’s money. The chance to get a story about the Old West that no westerner could come up with, so she could make a name for herself in the East. And, most importantly, the chance to fulfill a promise to Maria, or whatever her real name was, and maybe still is.
As for the train ride to Laramie, it allowed Melanie to fully appreciate just how big the Wild West was. And how different every sparcely populated valley, snow sprinkled meadow giving way to spring, and mountain still holding onto its blanket of snow really was. Each seemed to speak with its own voice, allowing her imagination to put cowboys, Indians, Mountain men AND mountain women into them in the movie writing itself behind her wide open eyes. She envisioned wagon trains traversing the wide expanses being watched by curious buffalo conversing in their own bovine tongues what these ill prepared yet adventurous palefaces were doing here. She imagined herself on a horse interviewing the wagon masters, cooks and pilgrims from every country in the world, along with the bison and on-looking Indians. She couldn’t wait to rent a horse and, by necessity, a guide, to take her to Utopia the way the original settlers, perhaps Maria, arrived there over half or more of a century ago. But after arriving at Laramie, the only option was a car, which she had to buy, which eventually became lame on its two hind quarters with an engine that decided to smoke itself into an early grave once it reached the location which her map, and no road sign, said had to be Utopia. Or maybe it wasn’t.
Utopia was now a scattering of rotten smelling lumber on its way to being petrified wood, broken steel rods that penetrated up through the snow threatening to cut open the feet of anyone not wearing thick heels and fecal-smelling sagebrush inhabited by mice or some other creatures hearty enough to make something of the place. Everything that seemed burnable looked charred, and seemed to smell of such, no matter how much spring snow or winter moss had covered. Indeed, some destructive force of man or vengeful act of nature had vented its full wrath on this place. All but for one building whose sloping roof still kept the snow from falling through, with four walls that seemed to have been repaired by mismatched lumber and metal siding. It was connected by wires to the sole surviving windmill, whose wheels creaked loudly with a ghostlike shrill as its moved in time and tempo with the gusts of wind that kept changing direction. Through windows covered with spider-webs on the inside, Melanie could discern stacks of books and tables which seemed to be covered with medical equipment and scientific instruments from both the last century, and some from centuries still to come.
A thought came to Melanie as to who the sole inhabitant of this seemingly functional one man laboratory in the middle of nowhere as an old man with a thick white beard in a an Eastern European waistcoat and 19th century wide brimmed stetson hobbled out of the front door, with a welcoming smile on his face. “Mister Tesla?” Melanie inquired, thinking that perhaps the elusive genius who was kicked out of Colorado Springs for tapping the electrical power of the sun and the depths of the earth. And evacuated by Federal order from his Long Island Laboratory for building towers that could transmit electrical current throughout NY City without wires, cables or pollution, which Melanie had seen only after they had been destroyed. “Is this Utopia?”
“To some, yes, and to some no.” the old man said with the diction and mannerism of a hard grading Yale University Professor, as his smile turned into a distrusting frown. He pulled a very low tech, authentic vintage sawed off shotgun from under his coat, pointing it at Melanie’s head. “Whether this is Utopia or not depends on who you are. And what your business is, aside from driving that piece of gasoline powered, air toxifying junk into my facility, expecting me to fix it.”
Melanie raised her right hand into the air and carefully pulled out the photo of Maria with her left. “My business for being here,” she said handing the photo of the young, beautiful, optimistic Hispanic woman to the old, now ugly and bitter beyond cynical man.
After an intense moment he shared only with himself, the old man looked into an through Melanie, still holding the gun on her. “Where did you get this?” he inquired, demanding nothing less than the truth.
“My mother, as part of what she willed to me,” Melanie answered, lowering her hands slowly. As she did, the mad scientist lowered the business end of his shotgun accordingly.
“And the other part of what your mother willed to you?” the old man asked the young woman, in Spanish. This time requesting the truth from a deep and vulnerable place.
“That’s my own business, Sir,” Melanie asserted, in Spanish. “Along with seeing if any of the books in your ‘dwelling’ there were written by her.”
The grimace on the old man’s face eased into a wide smile, which was made even bigger by a loud laughter emerging from his gut. As to what the old man was feeling as he put down his shotgun, looked to the ground, then the sky, then into somewhere behind his eyes with a blank stare, Melanie had no clue. A constellation of emotions seemed to be competing for his consciousness, with no doubt, even more memories behind them. She had never experienced such a lunatic, madman, psychopath, or saint.
Finally, the old man came back to the here and now of 1920’s Wyoming, planet earth. “Come, inside,” he said to Melanie. “I think I’ve been waiting for you for a long time,” he related and confessed as he led her to the ‘house’.
“And if you were waiting for someone else?” Melanie inquired as she walked slowly behind him.
The old man stopped dead in his tracks, then turned around and intensely stared at Melanie for what felt like hours. In those few seconds, she felt as if he had dissected every part of her soul, done exploratory surgery, then reconstructed the mess into a concoction that suited his own purposes. “I know who you are now,” he said, kindly and affectionately. “And you’ll soon find out who you are too. If you listen to what I have to say now, what this woman in the photograph you just met had to say then, and, well…hmmm.” The old man looked Melanie up and down, three times, the stared into her ocular portholes again, unlocking the protective blinds she tried so desperately to keep shut.
“Well what?” Melanie asked, then demanded, doing her hide the stench of fear in her sweating brow. “Are you sizing me up for intellectual amusement, carnal pleasure or cannibal stew? Make up your mind!”
Finally the old man smiled, in the manner of Old Saint Nick and Sir Walter Raleigh. “What do you want me to do for you, who fate has delivered to the doorstep of my humble abode where I negotiate with God on behalf of a hurting, yet undeserving, humanity?”
“The truth about this place, and her,” Melanie answered. “For my own reasons.”
“Which just may be ours,” he speculated with an aura of hope giving new life to his tired eyes. “And if not, I am assuming that you won’t take it personally if I do what Universal Justice demands,” the old man replied, after which he retrieved a rod from the ground. He aimed it at a snake about to help itself to Melanie meat. With the kind of strength that only primal rage could unleash the old man reached down to the still moving snake, breaking off its head with his bare hands. “So, the story of this garden of Eden,” he said with both the optimism of a naïve child who believe in the eternal power of goodness, and the cynicism of an adult whose punishment for living a non-virtuous life was to know too much.
The inscription on the gravestone featured one line, bolder than the name or the faith behind the departed life. “The only Real rest is in motion Itself.”
“Fly in peace, John Baldino,” the mourner said in a soft voice, muffled by the winter wind that echoed more silence than gust, more future than past. “See you later, Doc,” he continued, keeping a watchful eye out for the procession behind him, ‘commoners’ there for more legitimate purposes.
Jack caught a glimpse of himself in the reflection on the freshly-polished stone. “John, are you still in there?” he said to himself. “I know the ER surgeon did a good job on my face, or more accurately my nose, but I’m still not comfortable with it. By accident or ‘coincidence’ I may look like this guy on my new driver’s license, but even I can see that it’s still…me”
The procession approached, closer and closer, black suits to honor death. White shirts and blouses to show off the black.. Far more than ‘Jack’ expected to came to mourn the death of honorable, likable and even respected medico John Baldino, M.D., Ph.D., his now buried identity. Patients, students, nurses, and even fellow docs. Then there were the strangers, who didn’t look like lawyers, but something more insidiously powerful.
“Movie producers,” John told himself whimsically. “Or literary agents. My death was the story of the year. I entered a burning building after that terrorist attack, and saved ten trapped people, twenty-five according to the News magazines. Who would have thought that a suburban doc with twenty-five years of experience in a Lower Westchester kvetch clinic would spend his last hour on earth stitching up wounds, arteries and bones with nothing more than an emergency medical bag and a head full of smarts? It would be nice if all of it were true. The intended plan was to find an accident and be its victim, not its hero. A man who knows too much about life on this side of the rainbow, and Oz, is too dangerous to be allowed to live. John Baldino has to die, but…”
John felt the wind interrupting him through the bottom of his kilt, the traditional pattern and length dating back to the times before the Industrial Revolution invaded the Highlands, complimented by a walruss Mustache on his upper lip.. “I better keep my mouth shut if I’m going to pull this Scotsman thing off,” he thought to himself. “Facejob or no facejob, someone in that crowd is going to see John Baldino’s eyes in Jack McFarland’s face. Maybe McFarland, the trauma patient that DIDN’T make it, can look into the world of Doctor John Baldino’s legacy and not be stared back at. But sometimes it DOESN’T pay to be to careful. And it was my choice to come here, I think.”
The instructions from John’s underground contact were explicit. Erica Fisher-Burger, MD, arranged for John’s reconstructive facial surgery, found the accident site and even ghost-wrote the obituary. John’s former fellow resident, friend and one-time lover knew how organized international terrorism worked, and how organized anti-terrorism had to fight it. Only she knew where John’s brother Vincent really was. Only she knew that Vincent was between wars, not the deceased victim of the last one, and on the way to foiling another plot to destroy the world by forces neither Jack, Ian Flemming nor even Oliver Stone on a paranoic brand of Ganja would imagine. The orders ultimately came from Vincent, as would the ultimate connection, or so Erica said.
Erica had never lied to Baldino, in the past or in the present…or so it seemed. Her actions were innovative and heroic. She re-contacted him after she had dropped out twenty years ago in her ‘accident’. She identified herselt to John when he was underdoing his ‘trial by hallucination’ through a radio broadcast in code only he knew. She intervened just in time to save him from certain death or brain damage after BITE, the Brotherhood of International Terrorists Elite, unzipped his past memories and almost got the formula for Baldino’s recently discovered ‘brain rebuilding’ agents with the most elegant mind-altering drugs available. Mind-wrapping and brain-killing toxins that even the ultra-accomplished bench-to-bedside Research Doc didn’t know about. She knew more about John’s super-spy parents and superman brother than he ever did. And she knew John’s most important secret—that he was ready to move on from being a healer of individual bodies to being a healer of the collective human soul, starting with his own, in the places of change—those places where new forces–some good, some evil–manifest in a location where there may be a war, a revolution or a more quiet, yet still pivotal change, that will spread to the entire world.
Cars approached the gravesite from all sides, solid-colored clean sedans. “Feds,” John muttered to himself with a Scottish roll to the tonuge. “Or worse, ” he said in his own Westchester County-altered Bronx diction as one of the G-men, and/or hit-men gave him ten second stare.
“He likes my legs, I hope,” John thought. “At least I hope he’s not gay….Hell, I hope I’m not. I haven’t been anyone but John Baldino, M.D., Ph.D., for…at least 25 years.”
Jack caught another glance at himself in the reflection of another tombstone, a black laminated affair that served more as a mirror to the mourner than a marker for the deceased. Through the blonde mustache on the upper lip, rouge on the sunken cheeks and rather handsome and shapely bare legs under the wind-blown kilt, there were still wrinkles around the eyes and chin lines that said ‘face over forty’. Yet the eyes were still that of a child, pure in spirit, not hardened by pain or hardship.
Until the two week ‘vacation’ John had taken after experiencing those bizarre neurological symptoms which he thought were the prelude to certain death to a brain tumor, he had been on the watching end of pain, and the helping side. He fixed thousands of bones, and never had one broken. He patched up neurological wiring with the most intricate of tools, but had never experienced what is was like to look at a hand, leg or finger of his own that refused to move no matter how hard the mind willed or wished it to.
All of that, of course, changed with ‘disease 137A’, delivered by terrorist organization BITE, through the loving hands of Kathleen Brady, the landlord at the beach house who really did learn to love the ‘mark’ she was supposed to interrogate, then kill.. The 137A combo was a potent peyote-like pellet that gave one tremors, hallucinations, headaches and just enough transient paralysis to make you know what helplessness if all about.
But without being slipped 137A somewhere between the Doctor’s Lounge and the Doctor of the Year Award toast, John would have never written his memoirs about people, places and patients who changed his life as a resident. He would not have seen dead people from his past come back and teach him about life, each visitation occurring on the night after he wrote about those people in the world of Reality. He would not have also been contacted by those gone, but far from dead, who would now be his closest friends. He would not have been cured by the patients and people he treated in the past—a very fair, but bizarre, exchange of medical fees, favors and fantasies.
BITE had 137A, as did everyone else who really know what biological warfare was about. Knowing too much about 137A, with its fine-tuned effect on fifteen established known and seven lesser-known neurotransmitter receptors could get you killed. But it enabled John Baldino to cross the life-death line. With strength of will, and an actively-opened mind, he could get answers from the living AND the dead. Some would call it highly advanced intuition, some mysticism, while others rebuking it as psychotic nonsense. But once ‘bitten’ by 137A, and after having mastered it with Erica’s even more highly-patented antidote, Baldino was a superman in Kansas, Oz or anywhere in between. For that reason, visiting his own Italian funeral had to be done as a Scot.
The primary emotion that hit John as the procession approached, then surrounded, the grave was vulnerability. “Maybe it’s the clothes,” he thought as he felt the emotions, accusation and threats from everywhere, and everyone, even though no one seemed to notice his presence. “Kilts are so…open”, he noted with the writer’s pen in his head, speaking with a loud voice, jotting it all down as fast as his eye scanned the group of friends, colleagues and strangers that seemed like a crowd now.
“We are gathered her to pay tribute to John Baldino, M.D.”, the priest pontificated as the ashes of the a corpse that would die with no name was sprinkled into the ground below. “A friend, physician, healer and salt of the Earth who will be missed by many communities. The community of medicine, the community science and the community he lived in…”
“Where the hell do I live now?” John thought as the eulogy went on in words sincerely written but mechanically delivered. “I’m supposed to be dead now, but I’m supposed to find Erica and then Vincent, then, somehow, save the world getting destroyed by a Terrorist Organization that knows more about biological weapons than scientists do…And what’s worse, they know how to dull the human spirit with drugs, wirelessly-transmitted electical frequencies and, according to Erica’s latest theory, top forty musical melodies and lyrics. It’s bad enough that AM radio programmers are killing the collective human soul with sound waves, in the form of top-forty hit melodies. Maybe they don’t know how devastating, ultimately, ‘happy’ tunes are, or maybe they are the victims of the poison they inflict on the public. And as for the Net, who really can say what subliminal messages are getting spread out there? It’s bad enough that kids these days are flattlined into geekdom by computer games, or fascinated with inflicting cruelty on their fellow humans with guns, knifes or chains, with NOTHING inbetween. And then there’s the ultimate conspiracy…mischief. Keep people thinking that they’re making big, major holes in the System’s Wall by kicking their heels up at the country bar dance floor, or getting drunk on illegal booze or zonked on ‘smuggled’ drugs, and you have them dead tired and submissive by Monday Morning after a hot weekend of partying…And then there’s the–”
“Ego!” a voice spoke softly and assertively from behind.
Erica never looked more determined, and interesting. Of all the mourners, she alone wore orange, the color of courage. Underneath the tight jeans and spandexed top lay a figure a 22 year old model would die for. But between the bangs of the platinum blonde wig, eyes that would kill anyone who dared look at them with the wrong reason, or motive.
“It’s only an egotist that comes to his…or her..own funeral, me lad Jack,” Erica said out of the side of her mouth to John with more of a Irish Brogh than Highland roll to the tongue.
“Or someone who wants to see what I really did leave behind,” John countered. “I had to see what my old life was all about.”
John was struck by something he never had seen in the faces of the people he knew so well— From the identity of for-real-departed Jack McFarlan, a common Scottish Janitor who did so many uncommon things in his time away from work. “Small, I think,” John noted about his now officially-ended life. “John Baldino may have been the biggest status symbol for Westchester General Hospital and Columbia Institute of Neurological Research, but his life was small. A few research papers that got over-rated, a lot of patients who were cured as much by Mother Nature as by ‘Doctor John’. Curing people in a small part of the world where nothing really changes. But…” trying to find a cure within the disease, he speculated again. “Doing what you can within your safety zone is a start, right?”
“As long as you keep on moving,” Erica countered, with a strangely assertive, yet clandestine, subtext.
“What do you mean by that?” John dared to look into her, despite the risks of being looked at himself.
“And what do you mean by that?” the woman of Fire and Warmth slurred out from the side of her mouth, looking just below John’s crotch.. “Black on gray is such bad color coordination, and that Scottish plad is so…Irish,” she noted. “Though, I have to admit, from the waist down, you do look like a very hot lad….or lass.” A hidden agenda grew behind her eyes.
“I’m impressed,” John sighed, with a Scottish accent that felt convincing, to him at least.
“A man’s legs always look more sexy than a woman’s after we reach the big 35,” Erica noted, enviously.
“I thought our relationship was going to be…professional, Erica.”
“First, I have to know if that surgeon took off some flesh between the legs after he finished rebuilding your schmucked up your nose and cheeks.”.
“How does it feel, not being the one wearing the pants?” Erica asked.
“It’s a bitch. Not pun intended…But it does feel…different.”
“There’s gonna be a lot from here on in that feels different, John.”
“In what way do you mean….”
John turned around. As quickly as Erica had appeared, she vanished. In her wake, she left a whiff of perfume that said ‘yes’ in John’s reconstructed nostrils. In his hand, she left a note that said ‘Absolutely!’. On the envelope, “Place of Change Number One” scribbled in Latin, handwriting only understandable to a Pre-Microsoft physician-trained eye. A glance of its contents was even more cryptic, beginning with “Beaver goes to college with Tonto and share a Tombstone pizza”.
“The SouthWest.” Baldino surmised.
“Flagstaff”, echoed from behind him. Was it Erica? Was it the wind? Or was it yet another case of crossing the life-death line, a warning from a ghost beckoning “All that enter here, lose all fear, or pay the consequences!”
MJ Politis, Ph.D. and Punky Jennings
All rights reserved.
Copyrighted Mar 20, 2019
What you called the Grey Bar hotel with windows that were only opened within the imaginations of inhabitants inside it depended on who you were in the social hierarchy that built it. For the so-called ‘law abiding’ citizens who had not yet been prosecuted for the multiple offenses of moral and civil law they had to commit to stay alive, sane and purposeful, it was an unseen place where you could send those who threatened the common good. For the operators and especially owners of privately operated and government sanctioned ‘Correctional Facility 128’, every new prisoner who was ‘checked in’ resulted in healthy profits for themselves, and their law-abiding families. For the country, it was an opportunity to use free, ‘morally liberated’ and/or well-under minimum wage labor in a variety of new emerging industries to maintain itself without the burden of having to pay anyone, and to be competitive in a world where only the strongest of nations were allowed the God-given right to stay alive, particularly with the most recent ‘America First, Fuck everybody else’ President that had been elected to the White House. For the priests who came to visit the inmates, it was a place to put into practice the ‘morality readjustment’ theories they had learned in Seminary School or the college courses in humanistic psychology they took on line. For the inmates, it was a chance to have their heads shaved for purposes of ‘hygiene’, their bodies ‘conditioned’ by labor, and their brains medicated by drugs as well as sensory-deprivation routine so they could experience ‘new insights’ that could find their way into their defective and misled minds. But for one priest and inmate, it was a very personal reunion that was fated to happen for nearly half a century.
“So, after all these years of schooling and all my years of trying to make that schooling count, it comes to this,” Father John said to the prisoner after the door slammed behind him and the guards finally went back to their card game, in a country where gambling outside the walls was illegal. “What do you have to say about all of this Mister Petrakis?” the old man in the long beard and thinning long main on top of his century old year old head demanded to know.
“Happy almost birthday?” Inmate Petrakis replied with a sly grin revealing three recently forfeited teeth, and sorrowful 40 year old eyes that he knew would not see a cake with forty candles on it.
“Or maybe so,” Father John said, placing a Bible he had brought into the maximal security cell on the ‘table’ provided to the chained inmate whose body was covered with purulent bruises that went down to the bone. “Saint Basili,” he continued, handing over an icon from his left pocket, then opening it up, revealing a piece of baklava inside. “It’s not the usual cake one gets on one’s birthday, but imagine it is a yellow cake with chocolate icing and walnuts on top. Your favorite, as I and you fondly remember.”
“Which I don’t deserve to eat, but, do deserve to imagine that I can’t have,” Petrakis said, smelling the pastry which had gone stale, and was crushed into more of a wafer than a cake in the process of being smuggled in to him. “For the sin of envy.”
“For which you got those beatings?” Father John asked. “Which, the guards, warden and the lawyer you refused to access the services of said were mostly self inflicted?”
“And if Jesus had gone to the cross with unblemished skin, his crucifixion would have not been that effective,” Petrakis countered, stroking his bloody hand over the head shave done himself that indeed went below the scalp on a once handsome, plentifully follicled heartthrob. “But I heard Lorena thinks bald martyrs are sexy, and their photographs make their movements more long lasting. Yet in these advanced civilized times, I do know that the duration the public will be moved by a crisis of injustice has dwindled from four months to two weeks. Which doesn’t give you much time, Father.”
“Time for what?” Father John demanded, pounding the icon of the pacifist Saint on the table, blasting fire and brimstone into the condemned criminal who he volunteered with giving last rights to. “Time for me to try to get your sentence reduced? You know what you did. It nearly destroyed the entire financial system of this country! And will cause irreparable damage to the carefully constructed American economy for the rest of this century and the next. Jesus told his followers that they should pay their taxes to the Romans while on earth, and accept the fact that there will always be some who have earthly wealth and some who don’t!”
“And He kind of lost it when He went into the Temple and asked the money lenders there in a very loud and assertive voice, with fists instead of flowers, to take their ungodly business elsewhere, Father,” Petrakis replied, calmly. “And that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven.”
“It was my job to tell you those things, then,” Father John answered, apparently recalling simpler, though not necessarily kinder, long ago. He took in a deep breath, smelling the sweat that had accumulated on the overgrown hairs on his shaking upper lip, than let it out again, smelling the putridness of his churning stomach and inflated gut. “And it’s my job to encourage you to repent for your extreme, immoral, stupid, ineffective and destructive attempts to re-distribute America’s wealth. And self-destructive to your Soul as well,” the Orthodox Priest said with firm, yet desperate, resolution.
“As it will be, despite what you get paid to do now, your job to tell Lorena why I did it, and why I have to be punished for much more than what I am convicted of doing, and actually did do,” Petrakis affirmed, with an even more intense calmness, seeing into the emotionally desperate Old Priest’s soul with Ancient eyes which were about to be soon closed by the executioner’s needle. “A story which starts when you were still a young priest working for a corrupt clergy, government and Arch Bishop, and I was a young boy who thought you were just a good, moral, nice, and caring man who smelled like incense and couldn’t afford anything other than a single plain, black robe and scuffed black shoe-boots. As did, maybe, my brother. Who—”
“—Was your best friend, Mister Petrakis, way back before….the world separated you from each other,” he replied, procedural compassion and theological reason tempering his primal rage.
“We separated ourselves, for committing the sins and civil crimes of—“
“—Theft, fraud, embezzlement!” blasted out of the Orthodox Priest’s parched mouth through his overgrown beard, accompanied by a wagging finger attached to a shaking hand. “And murder, and—“
“—Envy!” Petrakis countered into Father John’s accusatory face. “Envy for what the other one was, and what the other one has…or rather had.” The beet red rage in Petrakis’ cheeks became flooded with tears streaming down from his glassy eyes. Reason overtook Petrakis, pulling the tears back into his oculars and making him see another pathology that had afflicted so many, and still was. “And the sin of selective compassion. Caring for my family, friends and fellow citizens of my own country so much more than other people’s family, friends, and citizens of foreign countries that the latter become irrelevant, then expandable. What harm am I doing by killing, starving or mutilating a thousand strangers’ spawned brats and underfed rug-rats if it will get my kids into Oxford. Making my family more happy does justify making everyone else’s miserable. Right, Father?” Mad laughter now overtook his parched throat. “Family and country first, everybody else last! Glory to us, and no one else, except of course the Heavenly Father who’s will is for US to be on top and everyone else on the bottom. Just like you taught us.”
Before Father John could have yet another arrow shot into the many Achillies heels in his non-intentionally corrupted soul and, finally, guilt ridden heart, he pulled out a notebook, and a pen, from his briefcase. He handed them to the prisoner he had known ever since he was a free-wheeling child, blessed with so many gifts from the heavenly Father as well as his earthly one. “For your final confession,” he said, firmly and now coldly. “Which I will not infect my ears by hearing! And I have no legal or moral obligation to absolve you of your guilt. And if you commit suicide before your execution, or decide to draw satirical pictures of me, the judge, or your accusers in this notebook, I will personally see that you go to hell!”
“I’m already there,” Petrakis related, picking up the pen and commencing to put into print how the most bizarre, unexpected and destructive re-distribution of wealth and power in his still beloved country was implemented. “And you will hear exactly what I’m writing, with your eyes and ears.”ThePriceofKnowing
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